The Geopolitical Importance of the WHO

In 1958, the Soviet Union proposed a global effort to eradicate smallpox, a disease that kills roughly a third of those it infects, including 300 million in the 20th century alone. On Dec. 9, 1979, it was completely eradicated. This public health triumph – perhaps the greatest in the history of mankind – would not have been possible without the efforts of the U.N.’s World Health Organization, which coordinated the immunization campaign. The magnitude of this achievement – removing a microbe from existence – cannot be overstated. (click to enlarge) Past Glories As a general rule, for an infectious disease to be eradicable, there must be a way to treat or prevent it (e.g., with a vaccine) to stop it from spreading. It also helps if the disease has a limited host range and does not survive inside other animals or in the environment. Smallpox infects only humans, which made it an ideal target for eradication. Currently, at least five infectious diseases are on the cusp of eradication: polio, measles, mumps, rubella and dracunculiasis (Guinea worm). But science, technology and public health policies aren’t enough to do the trick. There must also be political will, which plays the vital role […]

Daily Memo: Russian Protests, Egypt’s Options

Russian protests. Unauthorized protests took place in St. Petersburg and Moscow on Wednesday against constitutional amendments that were approved in a referendum earlier this month. Protesters gathered in the centers of both cities and collected signatures to support efforts to reverse the results of the referendum. The monitoring group OVD-Info reported that authorities detained 147 people, while the Ministry of Internal Affairs said it was 132 people. It’s unclear exactly how many people participated in the protests, but reports indicate it was several hundred. That’s not a large number, and so far public opposition to the amendments appears limited. But demonstrations like these, depending on their spontaneity, scale and frequency, can pose a problem for the Russian leadership, so they’re worth keeping an eye on. Egypt considers its options. Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Mohamed Zaki, met in Cairo on Wednesday with U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie to discuss regional issues and military cooperation. Though the visit is part of the U.S. commander’s regional tour, many in the media believe it is connected to Libya’s ongoing civil war, as there are growing concerns that Egypt could be drawn into the conflict. The two officials likely also discussed Ethiopia’s announcement […]

Daily Memo: Clashes in the Caucasus, Pre-election Protests in Belarus

Clashes in the Caucasus. Azerbaijan said it destroyed an Armenian military facility along the Azerbaijan-Armenia border as cross-border shelling, which began on July 12 in the Tovuz region, continued on Wednesday. In Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, more than 1,000 protesters took part in a rally in support of the army, chanting slogans like “Our Karabakh” and “Glory to the army,” according to Russian news outlet RIA Novosti. Meanwhile, Armenian hackers attacked several Azerbaijani news websites, including Day.Az, Milli.Az, AMI Trend and the Azernews and hacked a database operated by the Azerbaijani navy, according to the Facebook page of the hacker group Monte Melkonyan Cyber ​​Army. Armenian Ambassador to Moscow Vardan Toganyan said Yerevan hoped Russia would use its influence in the region to help de-escalate the situation. However, Armenia’s Defense Ministry said the situation was under control and that it would not ask the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization, an alliance of six post-Soviet states, to intervene at this time. Yet, several countries have already commented on the latest round of fighting in the region. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke by phone with officials in Azerbaijan and Armenia to offer to mediate between the two countries. Turkey’s […]

Moscow Under Stress on Its Periphery

Two weeks ago, Russia concluded a constitutional referendum meant to shore up the power of the Kremlin and especially of Vladimir Putin. Under the revised constitution, which was approved by nearly 79 percent of voters, Putin can theoretically remain president until 2036 – by which time he would be in his 80s. The move came not a moment too soon: Crises involving Russia-backed partners are erupting in the Levant and the Caucasus, not to mention the long-standing war in Libya, where Russia is a key player. And as if that wasn’t enough, there are faint signs of anti-government unrest in Siberia. For a while, Russia has faced a number of serious economic problems, and we have been alert to signs of domestic destabilization. Thus, any signs of domestic trouble, not to mention events on Russia’s periphery that threaten its strategic interests and raise the likelihood of high-stakes conflicts, are quick to grab our attention when they appear on our radar. Domestic Instability At its core, the internal threat for Moscow concerns the government’s ability – or inability – to maintain a basic standard of living for Russians after a sharp decline due to low oil prices, sanctions and, most recently, […]

Daily Memo: Beijing’s South China Sea Claims, Europe’s Posture Toward Russia

Washington rejects Beijing’s claims. On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expanded the U.S. condemnation of China’s expansion in the South China Sea, rejecting several Chinese claims in disputed waters beyond what was covered in the 2016 arbitral ruling in The Hague. That ruling invalidated several Chinese claims to reefs near the Philippines in the Spratly Archipelago. Pompeo said the U.S. would also regard as illegal Chinese harassment of fishing fleets or oil exploration in certain areas off the coast of Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam. This is a notable shift for the U.S., which has traditionally just encouraged regional states to work out their myriad disputes either bilaterally or at international arbitration courts. But China, of course, has not been deterred by international rulings like the 2016 decision, and has been steadily increasing its harassment of regional states over their oil exploration and fishing activities. Indeed, over the weekend, Vietnam lost another foreign partner helping it drill for oil off its southeastern coast. The problem for the U.S., however, remains persistent doubts among regional partners about U.S. willingness or capability to go beyond rhetorical defenses of their interests. A U.S. move in May to deploy warships to waters […]

The Truth About the US-China Thucydides Trap

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We remember Thucydides as a historian thanks to his documentation of the Peloponnesian War, but we often forget that he was also a philosopher....

Daily Memo: Protests in Eastern Russia, Clashes in Azerbaijan

Russian protests. Protests broke out in Russia’s Far Eastern territory of Khabarovsk after Gov. Sergei Furgal was arrested and accused of organizing the murders of two businessmen in 2004-05. Unofficial reports said as many as 35,000 people participated in the protests, which claim that the arrest was politically motivated. (The region’s Internal Affairs Ministry said there were 10,000 to 12,000 protesters.) Furgal became governor of Khabarovsk in 2018, defeating candidates from the dominant United Russia party. Local authorities called on the protesters to abstain from violence and accused “non-systemic opposition and bloggers” of instigating unrest. In a separate incident in the Far Eastern Amur region, workers, many of them foreign, at a heavy industries plant that contracts with Russian energy giant Gazprom clashed with police over unpaid wages. Armenia and Azerbaijan clash. Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry on Sunday accused Armenia of violating a cease-fire and shelling Azerbaijani forces in Azerbaijan’s Tovuz district near the two countries’ border. Azerbaijan said 120 mm mortar bombs landed on a village, but Armenia said the attack targeted army engineering infrastructure and technical facilities. Both sides resumed their attacks on Monday, resulting in the deaths of three Azerbaijani soldiers and an unknown number of Armenian casualties. […]

Turkey’s Defense Industry and the Projection of Regional Power

Turkey’s relations with the West have never been smooth, not even when it adopted secularism and became a member of NATO. This has had a profound effect on the country’s defense industry. A history of arms embargoes and, alternatively, vast supplies of sophisticated weaponry convinced Ankara that it needed to fend for itself. Indeed, when the West imposed an embargo after Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, Ankara established the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation, a significant enterprise that coordinates the activities of 14 arms manufacturers. It’s been busy ever since. In 1975, the Turkish Armed Forces Foundation established the Aselsan Corporation to meet the country’s rapidly expanding military electronic needs, such as advanced automated systems, guidance, electro-optics, communication and information technologies. Roketsan, which specializes in missile launchers and sea defense systems, was founded in 1988 and is Turkey’s leading defense contractor. In 2007, Turkish Aerospace Industries, in collaboration with British AgustaWestland, launched the T-129 helicopter project. The government also established the Presidency of Defense Industries in 1985 to oversee the country’s defense needs and ensure national security. It’s now under the Office of the President. Since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assumed power in 2003, domestically made military equipment rose from 20 […]

Daily Memo: A Japan-Russia Peace Treaty, a New EU Budget

Japan and Russia talk peace. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Russia has presented Japan with a conceptual framework for a World War II peace treaty but has received no reply from Tokyo. On July 2, following a referendum on constitutional amendments that include a ban on ceding any Russian territory, the Japanese government said it had not changed its position on a treaty and on the South Kuril Islands. Both countries claim the South Kuril Islands, which remain the major barrier blocking a treaty that has been under negotiation since the mid-20th century. Moscow had said the amendments would not affect the negotiation process with Japan. Lavrov stressed that Russia was ready to discuss a peace treaty in accordance with the 1956 joint declaration between Japan and the Soviet Union. He also said that an agreement should reflect the current situation in the region, and that Russia did not agree with Japan that a peace treaty should be signed only after the territorial issue was resolved. Tokyo continues to claim the islands of Kunashir, Iturup and Shikotan as well as a number of other territories in the Kurils, while Russia has said it would not make concessions […]

Europe Is Still Waiting for a Recovery Fund Breakthrough

Earlier this month, the European Commission released its midyear assessment of the state of European economies. The so-called summer interim report was a lot less sunny than the commission’s initial predictions in May. Right out of the gate, Brussels defined the coronavirus crisis as a watershed in European history, with the report’s first sentence stating that in the first half of 2020 the Continent has seen its “deepest output contraction since World War II.” The majority of EU member states’ economic forecasts, with notable exceptions like Germany, were revised downward by significant margins. Of course, these figures aren’t set in stone. Accounting for uncertainties over supply chain disruptions, investor confidence, external demand and a potential second wave of infections, the picture for Europe’s economy could very well become bleaker. The 52-page report factored in a slew of economic indicators, assessing countries’ lockdown measures and fiscal responses, pre-COVID economic prognoses, net exports, affected industries, changes in inflation rates and joblessness, just to name a few. The report did not, however, account for one potential fiscal boost in its calculations: the “Next Generation EU” 750 billion-euro ($850 billion) recovery package, which will bring the size of the bloc’s revised 2021-27 budget up […]

Daily Memo: Slow Trade Growth in Germany, Fallout From the Hong Kong Bill

Slow recovery in German trade. Germany’s Federal Statistical Office released new trade figures on Thursday showing initial signs of recovery. Exports increased by 9 percent in May over the previous month (calendar and seasonally adjusted) as lockdown measures were eased. Imports also increased, by 3.5 percent over April (calendar and seasonally adjusted). On an annual basis, however, the figures are much more daunting. Exports fell in May by 29.7 percent year over year, and imports by 21.7 percent. Exports to countries outside of the European Union decreased by 30.5 percent year over year while exports within the eurozone declined by 29.1 percent. The steepest drop was in exports to the U.K., a major trade partner for Germany, which fell by 46.9 percent to 3.5 billion euros ($4 billion). Exports to the U.S. declined by 36.5 percent to 6.5 billion euros and to China by 12.3 percent to 7.2 billion euros. These figures indicate that, although the recovery has started, the German economy has a long way to go before reaching pre-pandemic levels. Asia-Pacific responds to the Hong Kong bill. A flurry of strategic defense discussions are underway in the Asia-Pacific as the fallout from China’s Hong Kong security bill continues. […]

How Paraguay Gets By

Not all countries are created equal. Geopolitics revolves around power – its acquisition, maintenance and loss relative to other countries. How much power a country has stems from the resources it has, the challenges it must overcome, the constraints that inhibit its ability to act, and so on. Some countries are simply better positioned to acquire and wield power than others. The rest must play the hand they are dealt. Even so, relatively weaker countries still abide by the same geopolitical principles of their stronger counterparts, which means they can still shape the behavior of other nations albeit on a much smaller scale. Paraguay is a case in point. Nestled inland between regional giants Argentina and Brazil, Paraguay is marginal as a global force. It’s home to just over 7 million people and covers just about 157,000 square miles (407,000 square kilometers). Its economy relies heavily on agriculture and very modest manufacturing. In 2019, its gross domestic product was $38.15 billion, accounting for a mere 0.03 percent of the global economy. Exports comprised just under 35 percent of GDP, a little over half of which – primarily soybeans and related products, mineral fuels and meat – go to Brazil and […]