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.
Korean Peninsula: South Korea and the United States have confirmed that they will restart joint military exercises in the coming months. Unsurprisingly, North Korea objects. The confirmation came just after South Korean President Moon Jae-in ruled out the possibility of an inter-Korean summit. Meanwhile, a Chinese city near the North Korea border said it wants to construct an economic zone on an island on the Tumen River – a move that may violate sanctions. Together, these developments suggest that the attempts to contain North Korea are not working. We need to decipher the motivation behind all of these moves and what they say about the standoff.
The Middle East: According to the head of the Israel Defense Forces, the condition of the Middle East might require Israeli military involvement. The Lebanese army issued a statement saying it would confront Israeli military action. These kinds of statements are meant to prepare the public, not impress other nations. Is another war in the Middle East so far-fetched? We should look at the preparedness of the Lebanese armed forces and monitor for any movement of Israeli troops.
Iran: Five members of Iranian security forces were killed and some 300 protesters were arrested during clashes in Tehran with protesting Sufi Muslims, or Muslim mystics. The protests began when a Sufi dervish leader was arrested. These new protests obviously have religious, not economic overtones, and though the economic aspect of the earlier demonstrations may have been a bit trumped up we still need to figure out if they are at all related. We also need to be on the lookout for public reaction to the incident.
Syria: Iran is encouraging Russia to play a larger role in the conflict in Syria. What does Iran have in mind, and can Russia even oblige Iran? Turkey, Germany and the United States, meanwhile, seem to be close to reaching a deal on how to cooperate there. U.S. support for the Kurds, whom Turkey is currently trying to push out of Afrin, has always been a sticking point between Ankara and Washington. This may be an early indication that Turkey is moving back into the U.S. camp. Let’s see what happens.
Russia: Last month, Russian companies transferred back to Russia nearly $12 billion in overseas holdings, according to Raiffeisen Bank. The Romania-based bank considered the amount unusually large and attributed the transfers to fear among Russian business owners that they would be targeted by sanctions. Sanctions, of course, never materialized, but that doesn’t mean they never will. We should take advantage of the lull to figure out how likely it is that new sanctions will be levied and, if levied, who in Russia is the most vulnerable to them.