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Watch List: April 12, 2018

Preparing for a possible attack in Syria, friction in Pyongyang, military posturing in China

|April 12, 2018

The items listed below represent potential emerging issues that our analysts are tracking. These can be long term or short term, but will be updated daily. If an item on our Watch List becomes critical, we will email you a full analysis explaining its significance.

Each Saturday, we will follow up our daily Watch List for each week with our conclusions on these issues.

Syria: There are reports that the Syrian military is repositioning air assets and that British submarines have received orders to prepare for a possible strike on Syria. Russian warships are also reportedly leaving the Syrian port of Tartus. Meanwhile, Turkey’s president spoke to his American and Russian counterparts on the phone about the Syrian situation. The United States is asking the United Kingdom, France and Australia to back a possible joint military response to the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma. All three said they would likely support military action provided there was firm evidence that the Assad regime was responsible for the attack. French President Emmanuel Macron publicly stated that his country has evidence that Syria used chemical weapons in Douma. We will watch these developments closely.

North Korea: North Korean state media reports that two officials who previously were considered trusted advisers to Kim Jong Un have been dismissed. Additionally, Kim did not attend the latest meeting of the Supreme People’s Assembly. There was much speculation that Kim would use the meeting to send a message to the U.S. and South Korea. The inner workings of North Korea’s political system are rather unknown, though it would not be inconceivable to imagine differing opinions over the denuclearization talks. How unusual is it for Kim to be absent from an assembly meeting? Do the two events indicate some sort of tension within the North Korean government?

China: China announced that it will hold one-day live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait next week. This comes after repeated warnings to the U.S. not to sell submarine-related technology to Taiwan and a recent air force amphibious exercise that local military analysts said simulated a raid on Taiwan. China’s upcoming exercise appears to be part of continued military posturing. What has been the U.S. reaction to China’s warning, and what is the status of the technology sale? What other options are available to China to deter further cooperation?

Russia: There have been multiple reports about U.S. sanctions against Russia hurting the economies of other countries, particularly Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. Russia cannot afford a destabilized Central Asia or Ukraine right now. Let’s map out the areas in Central Asia that could be affected by Russian sanctions and measure the level of impact.

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