Syria, the US: Still here.
Also: Papua New Guinea, China, cybersecurity, Kosovo, Serbia and the European Union.
SYRIA. UNITED STATES. Still here.
The US makes a visible show with its stealthiest jets.
The US pledged $920 million and the EU €3.8 billion for Syrian refugees in a funding conference held on Thursday. On Wednesday, the Pentagon said it had deployed F-22 Raptors in response to “unsafe” actions by Russia inside Syria.
INTELLIGENCE. With the support of Iran and Russia, the Assad regime is normalising ties with its neighbours, but the US and Europe are reminding that they too still have interests in Syria. Despite a greater focus on Ukraine, Washington is messaging its resolve by redeploying its best fighter jets. Yet this is not just a signal for Moscow or Damascus, but also Tehran and Tel Aviv. The presence of Iranian proxies is of concern to Israel, which worries the US is going soft.
FOR BUSINESS. Should the US agree an oil-for-peace deal with Iran, it needs to mollify Israel through a visible presence in the region. But ongoing deployments in Syria are unpopular among a public tired of Middle Eastern forever wars. Americans were reminded of Syria on Monday when the Pentagon disclosed a helicopter accident, which injured 22 US personnel in the country’s northeast. Around 900 US troops and contractors remain in Syria.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA. UNITED STATES. The next frontier.
Competition with China spans the globe.
Papua New Guinea said on Thursday a majority of legislators supported a defence agreement with the US, which was tabled in parliament on Wednesday. The deal was signed during a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in May.
INTELLIGENCE. The pact would give the US unrestricted access to six key ports and airports. It will likely be agreed but will cause disquiet in a neighbourhood wary of great power competition. Washington and Beijing are rushing to lock down regional toeholds amid rising tensions in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea. A victory in either theatre would require bases outside enemy range. With Guam and Okinawa in China’s crosshairs, PNG fits the bill.
FOR BUSINESS. Basing in the remote Pacific illustrates the growing geographic extent of Washington’s contest with Beijing. It also foreshadows the costs. Pentagon budgets are big, but not infinite, and competition with China will require more funding than for relatively concentrated conflicts in Ukraine or the Middle East. Expensive wars are also politically unpopular. Despite current consensus on China, Congressional support can never be assumed.
CHINA. THE WEST. Dealing with the devil.
Both sides want to keep trading with the enemy.
As the US Secretary of State visits China, China’s premier will visit Germany and France, Beijing said on Thursday. The USS Ronald Reagan, a nuclear aircraft carrier, entered the South China Sea on Wednesday, according to Chinese media.
INTELLIGENCE. Amid economic uncertainty, neither side wants tensions to stop trade or diplomacy, even if China’s generals are not yet willing to speak. Despite what it deems to be hostile US acts, Beijing will meet Antony Blinken this weekend. And notwithstanding Berlin’s release on Wednesday of a national security strategy calling China a “growing threat”, Premier Li Qiang will be received with open arms on his first overseas trip since taking office.
FOR BUSINESS. Henry Kissinger said yesterday a war over Taiwan was “likely” unless tensions cooled. But while the music plays you have to dance. Neither China nor the US will want to fully decouple until the bitter end. Precedents abound. Britain and Russia were Germany's top trading partners in 1914. Despite embargoes, the US was Japan's in 1941. If either side were to economically divorce the other, such a move would only harm their own strategic position.
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CHINA. CYBERSECURITY. Unclear and present danger.
High-profile hacks highlight widespread vulnerabilities.
Security firm Mandiant said on Thursday that suspected Chinese state-backed hackers had broken into hundreds of corporate networks through a hole in Microsoft Exchange. Around a third of the targets were government agencies.
INTELLIGENCE. Cyberespionage is a constant threat, with blurred boundaries between state and private actors. On the same day as Mandiant’s report, US officials admitted the Department of Energy and other agencies had been compromised by a Russia-based group, Cl0p, which had exploited a file-transfer vulnerability. Cl0p said it would not exploit government data. For the Chinese group, dubbed UNC4841, exploiting government data was likely the point.
FOR BUSINESS. Firms generally consider the greatest threats to be scams and ransomware, but state-linked cyberspies also target vulnerabilities in businesses that work with the public sector. Governments usually require state-level protocols for contractors in critical areas, but security experts can only try to stay ahead of each new vulnerability. The uncertainty means blunt instruments, such as the banning of Huawei, are often the only solution.
KOSOVO. SERBIA. Arresting developments.
Serbia detains three Kosovar police officers.
Kosovo closed its border to Serbia on Thursday, following the arrests on Wednesday. Albania cancelled a leaders’ meeting on Tuesday due to “Kosovo’s aggravated relations with the entire Euro-Atlantic community.”
INTELLIGENCE. With even Albania shunning Kosovo, Pristina is becoming as diplomatically isolated as Belgrade. External powers, notably Moscow and Ankara, continue to leverage tensions, but like the West, they will be wary of allowing ethnic tensions to get out of control. Serbia and Kosovo share an interest in allowing EU funds to flow, but stirring up historic grievances is an easy way for underperforming politicians to regain popularity.
FOR BUSINESS. Serbia's president, Aleksandar Vucic, and Kosovo's prime minister, Albin Kurti, have faced rising protests over the last year. In a long Balkan tradition, they are appealing to nationalism amid discontent over domestic policy. Kurti's challenge is energy. Shoddy infrastructure left Kosovars burning wood over winter. Vucic's is organised crime and guns. Mass shootings in May enlivened debates on Serbia’s violence and Vucic’s alleged links to gangs.
EUROPE. No longer the fringe.
The far-right succeeds in the periphery and the core.
Finland's prime minister-designate said Thursday he would form a multi-party coalition including the Finns Party. Alternative for Germany (AfD) beat the ruling Social Democrats for the first time in national opinion polls on Tuesday.
INTELLIGENCE. The Finns Party and AfD both deny alleged neo-Nazi links but until recently the mere suggestion had put them beyond the pale of most voters. European politics has been trending right for several months and what was once a mainly Eastern European phenomenon is now mainstream in the West. Inflation is behind much of the swing – and will be exacerbated by the ECB’s rate rise on Thursday – but migration is once again a central concern.
FOR BUSINESS. The capsizing of a boat carrying around 400 off Greece on Wednesday may prove to be Europe’s worst refugee disaster since the 2015-16 migrant crisis. The tragedy may provide a boost to those again voicing discontent with Europe’s porous borders. It may also raise calls to utilise third-country migrant relocation rules agreed by EU ministers last week in a way similar to policies in Britain, where refugees could soon be processed in Rwanda.
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