By GPF Staff
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is fighting to keep her government together. Her interior minister, with whom she has butted heads over the issue of immigration, has concluded that the agreements reached at last week’s EU summit are insufficient, and according to some reports, he has threatened to resign if upcoming meetings with Merkel do not go well. It’s always possible that they can patch things up, but the prospects for reconciliation look worse with each passing day. It won’t help that Eastern European states are claiming Merkel is playing up aspects of the agreement that they never actually agreed to.
As domestic politics consume Germany, the European Commission took a step toward punishing Poland. On Monday, the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against Poland in response to a new Polish law that lowers the retirement age for supreme court justices. This being the EU, the proceedings will be a protracted affair, an already monthslong process that will also allow Poland one month to respond. Even so, it’s a significant step forward and yet another destabilizing element for the EU to deal with.
Could war be brewing in the South Caucasus? Tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia have been simmering for a while, but now Armenia’s defense ministry claims to have prevented Azerbaijan from reinforcing its position in Nakhchivan by destroying an Azerbaijani fortification. Azerbaijan has denied the reports but meanwhile kicked off a four-day, 20,000-strong military drill. One major Azerbaijani news agency ran an op-ed saying Azerbaijan should launch an offensive. This conflict has been going on for a long time, and when tensions are at a constant simmer, as they are here, little upticks like this happen every so often. Still, we should never discount the possibility that this will turn into a bigger conflict.
In a rare bit of good news for the Middle East, the Saudi economy appears to be doing well. Data from the country’s statistics agency showed that economic growth was 1.2 percent higher in the first quarter of 2018 compared to last year. Even more encouraging is the 1.6 percent year-on-year growth in non-oil sectors. Saudi Arabia has had a rough go of it lately, with palace coups, billionaire shakedowns and ineffectual foreign policy, all of which work against its efforts to diversify its economy. Single-quarter growth does not solve all the kingdom’s problems, but progress has to start somewhere. We’ll be taking a much closer look at these figures.
Of course, this is the Middle East we’re talking about, so there’s also plenty of bad news to accompany the good. With that in mind: The Islamic State is up to its old tricks. Local media have recently reported upticks in kidnappings, murders and infrastructure sabotage by IS-affiliated fighters in central Iraq. If this doesn’t seem like that big a deal, consider the fact this is the very strategy the Islamic State employed the last time its back was up against the wall, and that just a few years later it stormed up the Euphrates and overtook vast parts of Syria and Iraq. There is still a lot of opposition to IS in the region, and there’s no power vacuum in which it can thrive, but the Islamic State is patient, and by all accounts, it is merely biding its time for an opportunity to strike.
Iran and Russia have no shortage of domestic challenges, but it appears as though they are managing them fairly well – at least for now. While economic protests in Tehran have died down, new protests against water shortages have resumed in southwestern provinces, in some cases leading to clashes between police forces and protesters. This comes as Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, travels to Switzerland and Austria. That Rouhani is willing to take a trip abroad amid so much domestic uncertainty demonstrates an unfailing confidence in the structural integrity of his government. Meanwhile, protests were held in at least 30 Russian cities over pension reforms but have yet to evolve into anything dangerous. This is the permanent state of affairs in neither country, but it’s the current one. We’ll let you know when that changes.
Finally, it would be remiss of us to exclude the latest on North Korea. U.S. and North Korean officials held talks at the demilitarized zone over the weekend ahead of a potential visit from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang. Japan, meanwhile, has lowered its alert level for North Korean missile launches. But all this could be overshadowed by leaks from U.S. officials that North Korea has continued to produce nuclear fuel and may continue to do so even as negotiations progress. Of course, it is not nuclear fuel that concerns the U.S. – North Korea has had plenty of fuel for some time now. It’s reports from the Middlebury Institute for International Studies, which suggest North Korea is expanding a key missile-manufacturing plant, and from The Diplomat, which suggest North Korea is continuing to build missile launchers, that keep Washington up at night.
- Turkey’s Exporters Assembly, an organization that represents Turkish exporters, reported that Turkish exports to the Balkans increased 22 percent in the first five months of the year compared to 2017. We’re always on the lookout for examples of expanding Turkish influence in that part of the world.
- Turkish armed forces are surrounding a Kurdistan Workers’ Party base in northern Iraq, close to the Iran border.
- U.S. President Donald Trump suggested on Sunday that he would delay signing anything NAFTA-related until after midterm elections in November.
- Mexico has a new president.
- Poland’s state-owned defense industry is languishing, according to the Polish Chamber of National Defense Manufacturers. Polish daily Rzeczpospolita has reported that the navy is especially bad off.
- Russian media have reported that the U.S. will send “next-generation” nuclear weapons to bases in Turkey, Germany and Italy. It’s interesting that Russian media are pushing this line.
- The world continues to wait for the other shoe to drop on potential U.S. tariffs on automobile imports. The conclusions of a U.S. Commerce Department investigation may have wide-ranging effects throughout the world.