United Nations: All rise.
Also: the US, Central Asia, Britain, France, Somalia and Argentina.
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UNITED NATIONS. All rise.
The great ritual begins.
The 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly began on Tuesday, gathering leaders and their representatives in New York. Of the permanent five members of the UN Security Council, however, only Joe Biden turned up.
INTELLIGENCE. UN ‘Leaders’ Week’ is keenly watched for a sense of each member’s priorities, even if little else is achieved. As each leader, starting with President Biden, took their 15-minute turn, several themes emerged. The war in Ukraine was condemned. Climate change was another constant, particularly from the most vulnerable states. Many discussed the importance of multilateralism. Azerbaijan’s offensive in Nagorno-Karabakh had several mentions.
FOR BUSINESS. The General Assembly is a forum for airing grievances; not for resolving challenges. But it does provide a window into the general mood. It is notable that political issues – war, invasions, sovereignty, and the environment – remain forefront, but economic and trade issues were barely discussed, even if political issues impact economic outcomes. Judging from speeches, pandemic issues are also now behind us in the minds of leaders.
UNITED STATES. CENTRAL ASIA. Centrally aligned.
Two years after Kabul, the US is back in the region.
Joe Biden on Tuesday became the first US president to host a meeting of the C5+1 group of Central Asian states. Held in the margins of the UN, he met counterparts from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
INTELLIGENCE. Central Asia has long endured foreign domination and internal fragmentation. The region contains major trade and military routes through Eurasia, making it of enduring strategic importance. While the US has historically overlooked the ‘Stans, its Central Asian Strategy (2019-2025) and this leader-level meeting demonstrates a change. Following exercises with Armenia, it is also a message to Russia, the region’s traditional hegemon.
FOR BUSINESS. Business ties can help to increase political ties, and the US’s strategy has a strong economic focus. This includes “creating a more favourable business environment for US trade and private sector investment.” The US is also pushing for further investment in the Trans-Caspian Trade Route, an alternative route through to Europe, bypassing Russia. Given the region’s vast mineral wealth, Biden also proposed a C5+1 Critical Minerals Dialogue.
With the brevity of a media digest, but the depth of an intelligence assessment, Daily Assessment goes beyond the news to outline the implications.
BRITAIN. FRANCE. Starmer me up.
The UK opposition leader makes a push on the global stage.
Britain’s opposition leader Keir Starmer met with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, ahead of King Charles’s state visit to France. This follows Starmer’s recent meetings with Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Europol in The Hague.
INTELLIGENCE. Starmer is showing he is an international statesman, as his confidence grows in defeating the Conservatives at the next election. France has been careful to downplay the meeting’s significance, noting Macron met with Olaf Scholz prior to the 2021 German election. But presidents don’t meet with opposition leaders for no reason. With Starmer a distinct if not probable chance, getting ahead of a possible change in UK policy is wise.
FOR BUSINESS. With the UK bogged down by a cost-of-living crisis, stubborn inflation and trade-related difficulties with Europe, business will watch the next election with interest. Should there be a change of government, Starmer has indicated that migration policy and Brexit are two key areas to change, both of which could significantly affect cross-channel business relations. Starmer says he won’t undo Brexit, but he wants closer ties with the EU.
SOMALIA. Withdrawal symptoms.
A security vacuum looms in the Horn of Africa.
The African Union said on Sunday the second phase of its troop drawdown from Somalia has begun. Eleven Somali soldiers were killed and three injured in a roadside explosion on Monday. Somalia has been in civil war since 1981.
INTELLIGENCE. A UN Security Council resolution last year supported Somali forces to take responsibility for internal security by December 2024, with the drawdown to occur over three phases. There is currently an African Union force of close to 20,000 in Somalia. However, security is far from assured through the transition. Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab fighters ambushed AU peacekeepers just days ago, with heavy casualties on both sides.
FOR BUSINESS. Somalia remains one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries. Corruption is endemic. Around 80% is nomadic or semi-nomadic. Climate change has exacerbated food insecurity and instability has spilt into neighbouring Ethiopia and Kenya. The EU has just suspended local funding for the World Food Programme after an investigation revealed widespread theft. Somalia has vast untapped resources, but security issues are intractable.
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ARGENTINA. Taxing times.
An attempt to stimulate a faltering economy.
Argentina’s lower house passed a bill on Tuesday proposing tax cuts for the country’s top earners. Argentina's economy shrank for the first time since 2020, official data showed on Tuesday. The agricultural sector contracted 40.2%.
INTELLIGENCE. Buenos Aires estimates that around 800,000 would have their taxes cut if the bill passes. Many of these beneficiaries are supporters of opposition candidates Javier Milei and Patricia Bullrich, who received 30.5% and 28% respectively in August's primary polls. A first-round election will be held on 22 October. Argentina is caught in an economic crisis, with unsustainable public subsidies, energy inflation and the lingering impacts of COVID-19.
FOR BUSINESS. Argentina recorded a second-quarter contraction of 4.9%, while inflation soared to 124.4% in August. Drought has destroyed any hope of an agricultural trade surplus. Official estimates are that the new tax measures would reduce government revenue by $2.8 billion in 2023. There is good reason to doubt the anaemic economy will make up the difference. There is also good reason to doubt the government will still be in power by then.