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.
U.S.: The Trump administration will reportedly make an announcement March 22 on a wide range of punitive U.S. tariffs against China, probably worth around $50 billion, on goods ranging from shoes to electronics. China is already on the rhetorical offensive, with the Chinese Commerce Ministry saying that it would respond to U.S. trade restrictions. At the national level, the U.S. has more leverage here than China – but there are sectors and U.S. companies vulnerable to Chinese responses. There are also a number of U.S. companies for whom China is a major market. Apple and others using China to assemble electronics, for instance, seem easy targets. How will China respond to U.S. trade restrictions?
Brazil: Earlier this week, thousands of people protested in a number of Brazilian cities to honor a slain Rio de Janeiro city councilor, who had opposed military intervention to curb violence in Rio, and to demand justice. (A Brazilian judge reportedly linked the councilor’s death to her alleged ties to drug traffickers.) The issue here is whether this will coalesce into more unified opposition to Brazil’s military intervention in Rio, a move we have been tracking and which has been rife with controversy due to Brazil’s history of military intervention into politics. We’re trying to determine how serious the opposition is, and whether the violence has gotten worse.
Russia: Earlier this week, it was reported that Russia would not increase defense spending. But according to a report on Jane’s 360 on March 21, budget execution data from the Russian Federal Treasury confirmed that defense expenditures will increase 8 percent in 2018, to $51.6 billion. The report also says that the draft budget for 2018 released in September had indicated a 5.1 percent decline, not an 8 percent rise – a pretty big difference. We are monitoring Russia’s spending plan.
Islamic State: The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for an attack in Chechnya on March 20. BBC reports this is the first activity claimed by IS in Chechnya since March 2017. The attack does not appear to have been very sophisticated – a gunman shot and injured a police officer before being killed. But the possibility of Islamist violence in Chechnya would be a major development and challenge for Russia, so even a small attack deserves further scrutiny. Are there any signs of a growing IS presence in Chechnya?
Macedonia, Turkey: Macedonia’s defense minister was in Ankara on March 21 for meetings with Turkey’s prime minister and foreign minister. According to Macedonian state news agency MIA, Turkey expressed continued support for Macedonia’s bid to join NATO – the same organization that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been lambasting lately in the media. NATO aside, what’s notable here are Turkish-Macedonian relations. Turkey has issues in the Middle East it must deal with right now, but even the slightest indicators that Turkish power is also radiating northward deserve attention. What’s the current status of Turkish-Macedonian relations, and how does Greece feel about them?
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan: Kazakhstan’s president made a surprise visit to Uzbekistan on March 21 to meet his Uzbek counterpart, just five days after the two had seen each other at a summit of Central Asian presidents. According to an Uzbek website, the meeting was bland, and discussions revolved around developing relations and simplifying border crossings. But such meetings are always bland. Uzbekistan is emerging as an increasingly confident and independent player in Central Asia, and that may be causing friction with Kazakhstan, which sees itself as the leader of the region. What do these two leaders have to talk about so soon after seeing each other?
Syria, Turkey: A Turkish military convoy has deployed north of Aleppo city, according to pro-Assad website Al-Masdar. The Islamic State now holds a small district in Damascus after successfully attacking and pushing aside Syrian army units. Meanwhile, rebels in Eastern Ghouta have reached a deal that allows them to withdraw in return for safe passage to northwestern Syria. Is Turkey gearing up for a more ambitious assault deeper into Syria, or just defending its current gains? Also, we need to verify reports that IS has attacked Syrian army forces in Damascus.