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Monthly Review September 2019

Monthly Review September 2019

Europe

France: militarizing space

On September 3, French Defense Minister Florence Parley signed an order to establish and organize a “Space Command” (Commandement de l’Espace – CDE) to work in tandem with the French Air Force. France plans to transform the new Space Command into joint Aerospace Forces. Paris does not exclude the possibility of mobilizing weapons for use in and from outer space.

France’s intention to utilize space for military purposes indicates that Paris is ready to join the ongoing extra-planetary arms race: it has already claimed leadership among European countries in this regard. At the same time, the country’s efforts are being made within the framework of NATO, which implies that the defense pact as a whole is looking to expand its influence upward.

Italy: a globalist government is formed

On September 5, the new Italian government led by Giuseppe Conte was sworn in on Thursday in the presence of President Sergio Mattarella. The cabinet was created after the previous government coalition split, with Matteo Salvini’s Lega party moving to the opposition. Salvini insisted on an early election, but his former partners from the Five Star Movement teamed up with representatives of the Democratic Party to outmaneuver him. One of the first actions taken by the new government was the admission of more migrants into Italy, a measure which Salvini had previously been blocking.

UK: the law breaks Brexit

On September 24, the British Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament until October 14 was illegal and annulled it, allowing the parliament to reconvene.

As a result, Britain’s exit from the EU, which Boris Johnson declared would take place on October 31, is threatened. Parliament is likely to interfere with the process once again, hoping to come to an agreement with Brussels. Johnson’s premiership is also at stake: his adversaries have discussed the possibility of a no-confidence vote and snap elections, there have even been murmurs of impeachment. At the very least, early parliamentary elections are likely in the near future.

Austria: Kurtz’s triumph

On September 29, early parliamentary elections were held in Austria. The winner was the Austrian People’s Party headed by former Prime Minister Sebastian Kurtz who secured 37% of the vote. His former partner in the coalition government, the Eurosceptics of the Austrian Freedom Party, received only about 16%. The party’s poor showing is a consequence of the government crisis of May 2019, when the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party, Heinz- Christian Strache, was targeted in a high-profile political provocation case.

Kurtz’s party is now looking for a partner with whom to create a new coalition, but the Austrian Freedom Party is a rather unlikely candidate. The Social Democrats, the traditional rivals of the Austrian People’s Party, have already rejected the possibility of a coalition, which means that the Greens with a chance to enter into the government for the first time. The liberal party NEOS is also likely to join forces to help form a government. These changes undoubtedly signal that Austria will continue to trend toward liberalism and conformity with Brussels.

Eurasia

Negotiations in Astana

On September 16, Ankara hosted a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani. The central theme of the summit was the situation in Syria. The three presidents announced the need for the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and expressed their commitment to maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria. The situation in Idlib was also discussed. The Astana format continues to be an effective means of resolving problems regarding relations between Russia, Turkey and Iran in Syria.

Georgia: Saakashvili’s return

On September 30, Georgia’s ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili announced in a television interview that he would return to his homeland in the coming months ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections. He said he intends to “complete the reign” of the leader of the ruling party “Georgian Dream”, billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, “together with the Georgian people.”

Saakashvili’s statement is aimed at consolidating his supporters in Georgia on the eve of the 2020 elections. His possible attempt to return is designed to foment protests and perhaps even color revolution. Last summer in the center of Tbilisi, anti-Russian protests organized by his supporters highlighted the weakness of the authorities.

Middle East

US and Afghanistan: Talks come to a halt

On September 7, US President Donald Trump announced that he had canceled the talks with the Taliban leadership and the official authorities of Afghanistan that had been scheduled for the following day. Trump cited an attack that Hezbollah had carried out in Kabul which killed 12 people, including one American soldier, as the reason for his decision. Two days later, Trump said that any negotiations with the Taliban are “dead.”

The Taliban accused the United States of disrupting the signing of a peace treaty, noting that the document was already ready at that time and only needed to be signed. After the breakdown in relations with the United States, Taliban delegations visited Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, showing that it has other potential partners besides the Americans.

Saudi oil exports under attack

On September 14, two oil processing facilities owned by Saudi Arabia’s Aramco at Abqaiq and Khurais were hit by drone attacks. The attack was claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen. The next day, the company said that, as a result of the attack, the level of oil production in the country was halved, losing exports of around 5.7 million barrels per day.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, once again, immediately blamed Iran for the attack. The United States responded by reinforcing its military presence in the region and promising to tighten sanctions. Trump also said he had not ruled out a military strike on Iran.

The damage to the oil facilities demonstrated the fragility of the Saudi Kingdom’s security and the unreliability of its American defense equipment, especially the air-defense systems. Despite Trump’s threats, the American side’s meager response demonstrates the US’ unwillingness to unleash a full-scale war with Iran.

Davutoglu vs Erdogan

Former Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced his withdrawal from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Friday, September 13. The country’s governing party, chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, unanimously approved sending a request to the party’s disciplinary board for expelling former Davutoglu shortly before his resignation.

After the attempted military coup in Turkey in 2016, Davutoglu and Erdogan began to have a falling out. Many experts believed that former Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Davutoglu had participated in the preparations for the coup. Like the putschists, Davutoglu has consistently pushed for a closer alliance with the United States in his foreign policy, and has strong support from the White House.

Davutoglu is now attempting to create a new political force to oppose the AKP. Erdogan will soon have a new party to contend with, backed by his geopolitical opponents.

North America

Bolton’s resignation

On September 10, US President Donald Trump announced that he had fired John Bolton from his post as National Security Advisor to the President. During his time in office, Bolton affirmed his reputation as an obstinate warmonger and dense neo-conservative. All of Bolton’s major initiatives (a new wave of pressure on Venezuela and the “government” of Juan Guaido, as well as increased pressure on Iran) ended without his having achieved the intended results. Bolton intentionally complicated and nullified progress in the negotiations between the United States and North Korea, and pushed for Washington to leave several major weapons treaties.

Bolton was replaced by Robert O’Brien, who had recently worked at the Department of State as the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. O’Brien is undoubtedly a war-hawk like Bolton, but he is also considered to be far more loyal to Trump. While things will likely not change significantly, O’Brien will be more likely to adhere to Trump’s attempt to establish a more hands-off approach to foreign policy.

Democrats initiate another impeachment attempt

On September 25, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. The action was taken as a result of a conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, in which Trump allegedly asked his counterpart to examine allegations of corruption by former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Hunter, while his father was vice president of the United States, was appointed to the board of directors of the Ukrainian oil and gas company Burisma. Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani also promise to unveil a new batch of Biden revelations.

The Democrats accuse Trump of trying to engage a foreign power to meddle in the American elections. Internal contradictions in the United States are exacerbating the contradictions between the two competing parties. A lot depends on whether Trump can produce any evidence of Biden’s involvement in corruption.

Elections in Canada

On September 11, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the dissolution of parliament and scheduled federal elections for October 21. Trudeau’s ’achievements’ as Prime Minister of Canada included the legalization of marijuana, the widespread promotion of gender equality and opening the country’s border for large groups of Syrian refugees. According to current opinion polls, Trudeau’s Liberal Party is nearly tied with the opposition Conservative Party, both estimated to pull in about 30% of the vote. However, it is unlikely that Canada’s foreign policy will change dramatically regardless of who is elected.

Latin America

Rio Pact vs Venezuela

On September 17, the US State Department announced the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, the so-called Rio Pact, due to the situation in Venezuela. The agreement assumes that the use of force against any of its participants is equivalent to an attack on all states that have signed the document.

The US Foreign Ministry also said that the United States and its allies intend to discuss multilateral economic and political solutions that they can use to address the security threat posed by Maduro’s government.

The actions of the United States can be seen as a threat to the use of force and another attempt to put pressure on Maduro.

Asia

Hong Kong Protests: colonial style

Throughout September protests continued in Hong Kong. The protests ostensibly started in opposition to a law that would have allowed the extradition of criminals to mainland China. However, they continue despite the fact that the law has been canceled, taking on a pro-western and anti-Chinese character.

On September 15, the protesters organized a rally in front of the British Consulate, under whose jurisdiction Hong Kong had been until 1997. Demonstrators sang the British anthem and asked the British government for support. They also attacked London for putting insufficient pressure on Beijing. Chinese authorities continue to argue that the protests are funded and organized by Western countries, primarily the United States. The protesters are resorting to violent actions on the streets of the city almost every day.

India: rapprochement with the US

On September 23, US President Donald Trump, at a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announced that the first US-Indian tri-service amphibious exercises would be held in November. Washington and New Delhi will demonstrate their increased defense cooperation, with the obvious target being China.

However, the United States is not the only power with whom India’s military ties are developing. India recently concluded a contract with Russia for the supply of S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems against the US’ will and warnings.

Japan: the path of militarization

On September 27, Japan released its 2019 defense white paper. According to the document, Tokyo intends to increase its potential in the field of cybersecurity, space defense and electronic warfare. At the same time, Tokyo does not name its potential opponents, concentrating instead on allied relations with Washington.

Like France and the US, Japan seems to be prioritizing building up its space forces. On September 7, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that the country’s air force could in the future become an aerospace force.

Japan is becoming an increasingly powerful military partner for the US. At the same time, the growth of its own military potential will lead to Japan’s ability to take up a more independent position geopolitically.

Africa

Mugabe’s death

On September 6, Robert Mugabe, the first leader of independent Zimbabwe, died in Singapore at the age of 95. Two years ago, the country’s military had deposed the long-time ruler, but Zimbabwe’s foreign policy remained unchanged, directing itself toward sovereignty and cooperation with China.

The Pope goes to Africa

On September 4, Pope Francis began his tour of Africa, arriving in Mozambique. He also visited Madagascar and Mauritius during his trip. This is Pope Francis’s fourth visit to the continent since becoming the head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2013.

One of the reasons for the pontiff’s frequent visits to the African continent is the rapid growth of African Catholicism. The Catholic population of Africa is growing faster than on any other continent. The Catholic Church seeks to maintain and increase its influence on the Continent which is currently the center of attention for the world’s leading geopolitical powers.

Tunisian elections: an unexpected result

On September 15, presidential elections began in Tunisia. In the first round, the independent candidate opposition candidate and professor of jurisprudence, Kais Said, won a surprise victory with more than 19% of the vote. Media tycoon Nabil Karui received the second-highest number behind him at 4%. Karui’s numbers are still impressive considering the candidate is currently under a legal investigation and has been detained. He is accused of money laundering, corruption and tax evasion.

Among the main presidential contenders were Prime Minister Youssef Shahid and Defense Minister Abdelkerim Zbidi, however, they have both already knocked out of the race.

The victory of what have been referred to as “random” candidates has been a strong shock to the current authorities. The results of the elections showed the desire of the people of Tunisia to adjust their political course significantly.

The second round of presidential elections will be held no later than October 13.

Oceania

Exercise in Australia

In mid- September, the five countries that belong to the Five Power Defense Arrangements (FPDA) – Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the United Kingdom, conducted joint military exercises. Exercise ’Suman Warrior’ was held from September 8 to September 20 in Australia.

These were command post exercises focused on planning ground operations. Despite the ostensibly defensive nature of the exercises, the leading role played by the US allies in the Pacific Ocean (Australia and Great Britain) indicates that they are in reality directed against China.

Taiwan: losing support one country at a time

The Solomon Islands and Kiribati severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and established them with the People’s Republic of China.

As a result, the number of countries recognizing the sovereignty of a self-governing Chinese island worldwide has fallen to 15, the majority of which are smaller states in Latin America, Africa and Oceania, which Taipei provides with strong financial and economic assistance.

The strengthening of China’s position in regard to Taiwan and the interest of Pacific countries in Chinese investment will likely lead to more countries abandoning diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The decisions indicate that China’s strategy of increasing its influence in the region is moving along successfully.

Indonesia: Papuan revolt continues

On September 30, the President of Indonesia, Joko Vidodo, accused the armed separatist groups operating in the east of the country in the Papua province of organizing riots which resulted in more than 30 deaths.

According to government officials, the victims are predominantly non-indigenous people. The clashes in the Indonesian part of New Guinea island have been on-going since this summer.

 
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