Daily Memo: Postponed Elections in Hong Kong

Delayed elections in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is pressing the pause button on its next legislative election. Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the city, with Beijing’s support, will invoke an emergency ordinance to delay the elections by a year due to a worsening coronavirus outbreak. Lam has also submitted an emergency report to China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, for support in resolving legal issues over the election’s postponement. The move creates some distance between elections and pro-democracy sentiment, which erupted over a controversial Chinese security bill in June. The law also narrowed the pool for prospective parliamentary candidates, barring from running those who violated the law or failed to pledge allegiance to local and national governments. The pro-democracy activists who were hoping to capitalize on public agitation during elections will now have to wait until September 2021. Ukraine and Russia at loggerheads. Ukraine’s first president (1991-94), Leonid Kravchuk, who this week assumed the leadership of Ukraine’s delegation in the Trilateral Contact Group on the settlement of the conflict in Donbass, announced his readiness to compromise to secure peace in eastern Ukraine. Kravchuk said, however, that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine must not […]

On Astropolitics

The first time space power was used for terrestrial warfare was the Gulf War, during which satellites contributed significantly to military operations in the Middle East. Since then, there has been increasing demand for technology and war modeling for operations in space. Space, it seems, is slowly but surely becoming an essential component of warfare. It is therefore time and prudent to start giving thought to and building a framework for understanding the parameters of space operations and conflicts. If geopolitics concerns all things earthly, then we can refer to how nations interact among the stars — relations among colonies on planets, satellites and space stations, as well as economic cooperation, resource competition and the order around which this is built — as “astropolitics.” There’s still a lot we don’t know about the physics of outer space, of course. We don’t even know what kinds of technologies we will need to develop to operate there. Even so, a theoretical approach to thinking about space power should start with things we do know: naval operations and air operations. Like the oceans, the expanse of outer space can be thought of as a global commons. This means the two share some inherent […]

Daily Memo: Dismal German Economy Stats

Dismal German economy stats. German statistics agency Destatis released preliminary data for the second quarter on Thursday, and though final figures won’t be published until Aug. 25, it’s already clear that the first half of 2020 was one of the most challenging times in history for the German economy. German gross domestic product contracted in the second quarter by 11.7 percent year over year and 10.1 percent quarter over quarter, the largest decline on record, according to Destatis. By comparison, German GDP declined by 4.7 percent in the first quarter of 2009, following the global financial crisis that year. Government spending also increased in the second quarter, but it was not enough to lift the economy out of the slump, even after quarantine measures were eased. Although German businesses are beginning to return to full-time employment, results vary by sector; workers in more than 80 percent of basic metals manufacturing companies are still working fewer hours than normal. German automaker Volkswagen cut dividends after announcing an 800 million-euro ($943 million) loss in the first half of the year because showrooms and factories in key markets were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, VW expects sales to recover in the […]

Forecasting Russia: Strength and Weakness

Our forecast for Russia, dating back to my earliest books, was two-fold: first, that Russia would reassert itself and at least appear to be a significant force facing the European Peninsula and in the Caucasus, Russia’s two essential frontiers, and second, that the forces that brought the Soviet Union to its knees would continue to haunt the Russian Federation. In other words, there would be a resurrection of Russia followed by a second crisis that would tear it apart. The first forecast was accurate. We are now seeing the second unfold. My view was that with the emergence of Vladimir Putin, an old KGB man, the perception of Russia as broken and weak after the fall of the Soviet Union would be reversed and, once reversed, that Russia would be at once overestimated and underestimated as a global power. It would confront the West enough to be seen as a threat but never enough to go to war. Putin understood that appearing to be a threat is far safer than appearing to be weak. Other countries take advantage of the weak and are cautious around the strong. It followed that Putin would attempt to make Russia stronger and, more important, […]

Daily Memo: Hedging Bets in the Asia-Pacific

Hedging bets in the Asia-Pacific. Australia’s defense and foreign ministers met with the U.S. secretaries of defense and state in Washington on Monday and Tuesday. According to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, the emphasis was on bolstering multilateral initiatives “such as the Five Eyes, ASEAN, the Quad, the Trilateral Infrastructure Partnership, the East Asia Summit,” with the overriding goal of developing a “network of nations that share our vision of an open, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific.” Canberra has been trying to nudge the U.S. back toward an embrace of multilateralism since 2017, and the benefits to both sides are obvious. But the Australian side also made a point of signaling that it won’t automatically follow the U.S. lead on anything it thinks may spark a confrontation with China. Indeed, hedging will be the name of the game across the Asia-Pacific for some time to come. Also on Tuesday, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong gave his latest in a string of speeches condemning both the U.S. and China for destabilizing the region. Singapore is quietly one of the more important countries in the region, given its invaluable location at the nexus of the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, […]

Azerbaijan’s Slow Drift Toward Turkey

On July 12, Armenian and Azerbaijani forces clashed in the Tovuz border region – far from the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, where such clashes usually take place – and the sporadic violence has continued ever since. At first, the countries’ two larger neighbors with a geopolitical interest in the region, Russia and Turkey, did not interfere. On July 23, however, Russian forces took part in pre-planned exercises with Armenian troops. The Azerbaijani government promptly announced that it would host large joint air and ground exercises with Turkey. Armenia’s position against Turkey is fixed, a product of a century of bad blood, but Azerbaijan has traditionally attempted to balance between Russia and Turkey. This month’s flare-up, however, may represent more than another scuffle between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. It may instead mark the beginning of a gradual realignment by Baku away from balancing and toward Ankara. Turkey’s Ascent, Russia’s Descent Turkey’s and Russia’s interests intersect in the Caucasus. For Russia, having allies in the South Caucasus guarantees a degree of stability in its border regions. Moreover, Azerbaijan provides Russia with strategic access to the Middle East. Turkey, which is enmeshed in the gradual construction of a neo-Ottoman project to establish its dominance in the […]

Daily Memo: Making Moves in the South China Sea

South China Sea moves. During his annual state of the union address on Monday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ruled out allowing the U.S. to set up military bases in the country, arguing that China is “in possession of” the disputed waters and that allowing U.S. base access would lead to nuclear war on Philippine soil. This leaves the fate of the landmark 2014 basing agreement with the U.S., implementation of which has stalled under Duterte, further in doubt. (Possibly related: He also said that he had pleaded with Chinese President Xi Jinping to think of the Philippines first if and when it developed a COVID-19 vaccine.) Other littoral states, apparently, disagree with Duterte on the question of whether might makes right in the South China Sea. Vietnam, for example, is mulling following the course set by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, and initiating international legal action against Chinese claims. Indonesia, meanwhile, has been ramping up maritime drills around the Natuna Islands. Perhaps most notably, Australia and the U.S. are expected to hold talks Wednesday on ramping up joint drills in the South China Sea. Eastern European cooperation. Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania announced on Tuesday the creation of the Lublin Triangle, a grouping […]

Racial Cycles

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Slavery was the law of the land when the United States was founded, and it would take nearly a century, and a civil war,...

Daily Memo: Update on Azerbaijan-Armenia Hostilities

Update on Azerbaijan-Armenia border clashes. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry on Monday accused Armenia of violating a cease-fire 45 times over the past day using high-caliber machine guns and sniper rifles. Armenia’s Defense Ministry, however, said one of its contract servicemen was killed overnight by sniper fire from Azerbaijani forces. Turkey and Russia seem increasingly interested in the conflict. Turkey will participate in tactical exercises hosted by Azerbaijan next month involving both countries’ ground and air forces. And on Saturday, roughly 5,000 protesters held a rally in Istanbul’s Bayazid Square to express their support for Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Armenia last week hosted joint exercises with Russia, though they were scheduled prior to the outbreak of the latest hostilities, according to Armenian authorities. Turkey and Russia undoubtedly don’t want a confrontation right now, but both countries will be keeping a close eye on what happens on the Azerbaijan-Armenia border as, in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own words, the situation is “very sensitive.” Exchanging fire. Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged heavy fire after Israel Defense Forces said they foiled a Hezbollah attack in the contested Mount Dov area on Monday. Hezbollah reportedly launched a Kornet anti-tank guided missile at the IDF, though Israel denied this. […]

The Presidential Elections in Belarus

On Aug. 9, Belarus will hold presidential elections at a time when the country has never faced so many threats from so many directions. That’s according to incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who has held office since 1994. Self-serving as that may be, he may also have a point. Belarus is divided between opposition groups that want to bring it closer to Europe, and thus away from Russia, and groups that want the opposite. For Lukashenko, who has generally sided with Russia in his time in office, confronting the public divide means grappling with the geopolitical issues critical to Belarus’ future. In that sense, he has two objectives: one, to maintain the country’s sovereignty by balancing between Russia and the West, and two, to stay in power long enough to do it. Short of a Western-backed revolution – which doesn’t appear to be on the table – his position is secure. Stuck in the Middle Lukashenko understands his country’s dilemma, stuck as it is between Russia and Europe, and he knows the conflict in Ukraine only makes it worse. He’s gone so far as to warn that Belarus could revert back to its 1921 borders. Territorial loss is extremely unlikely, but […]

Daily Memo: Coalitions in the Med

Coalitions in the Med. Europe is scrambling to resolve the standoff in the Eastern Mediterranean. French President Emmanuel Macron held a meeting with Cyprus’ president, Nicos Anastasia, during which they called for sanctions on Turkey and criticized the European Union for doing “too little” in the face of a power struggle with Turkey and Russia in the Mediterranean. A spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry criticized the proposals and reiterated Turkey’s intention to defend its “legitimate rights” in the Eastern Mediterranean. But as Turkey and France participate in a war of words, Greece and EU leaders are conducting backdoor discussions to build a coalition against Turkey and explore possibilities for de-escalation. This past week alone, Greece’s foreign minister has discussed options with the foreign ministers of Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the EU. Greece is hopeful the situation can be defused without coming to blows. Its national security adviser, for example, has ruled out the possibility of military confrontation, saying talks brokered by Germany were trending toward de-escalation. Conflicting reports in Iran. Iran Watch reports that the recent explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility was caused by a bomb allegedly planted by a contracted engineer, who had worked at Natanz for […]

The EU Opens the Door to More China Trade

After 10 years of negotiation, the European Council earlier this week authorized the EU to sign a trade agreement with China. The deal will protect geographical indications, a type of intellectual property for products like Camembert cheese from Lower Normandy and Prosecco from Veneto that possess certain qualities unique to their place of origin. The agreement will prevent these kinds of products from being produced elsewhere and sold using expressions such as “kind,” “type,” “style” and “imitation.” The deal may not sound like much; it covers just 100 products from each side, and some EU members are more represented than others on the list of products. (French goods, for example, represent a quarter of the protected products.) But it is notable that the EU, at this critical time, is laying the groundwork for a broader trade agreement with China. Indeed, the timing of the deal is interesting. It had been under negotiation for a decade, a long time even by EU standards, and it still needs approval from the European Parliament (which is mostly a formality at this point) before it can take effect. Moreover, the European Commission called China a “strategic competitor” as recently as 2019, and opinion polls […]