- SYRIA – The Syrian Civil War which has raged across the country for the past eight years experienced yet another twist in October when President Erdogan ordered Turkish troops into the north of the country. Whilst ostensibly a peacekeeping mission with the objective of safeguarding Turkish territorial integrity in the border zone, it has been widely argued that Erdogan’s recent move is merely his latest attempt to undermine the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces which Ankara regards as supporting terrorism within Turkey. Despite a tenuous Russian-brokered ceasefire, tensions remain high in Northern Syria as both Turkish and Syrian leaders calculate their next move. Elsewhere, US Special Forces operating under the direct instruction of the President managed to kill elusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi on 26th October after identifying his safe house in northwest Syria. Despite this symbolic blow, the probability of an ISIS resurgence remains strong with the group already seeing increased activity in areas of Iraq and Syria formerly under the group’s control.
- LEBANON – After almost two weeks of incessant protests against the government’s failure to resolve Lebanon’s deteriorating economic crisis, President Saad Hariri announced his decision to resign on 29th October. The demonstrations, triggered by the announcement of a new tax on FaceTime and WhatsApp calls have evolved into a wider expression of discontent at Lebanon’s economic stagnation and the corruption endemic to the country’s confessional political system. Despite Hariri’s resignation, Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah have announced they will not accept any change in government. As of yet, the situation in Lebanon hangs in the balance. Will the transition to a new regime take place smoothly, or will Lebanon be plunged into yet another era of political instability?
- TWITTER – Social networking platform Twitter announced its decision to ban all political advertising on the site in response to claims the site is utilised to spread fake news and disinformation for political ends, prompting calls for other social media platforms to follow suit. Despite the relatively recent advent of social media, the technology has already emerged as a new frontier of geopolitical competition with states and non-state actors vying for the upperhand in cyberspace. Despite this welcome development, some commentators have expressed cynicism over Twitter’s true motives, claiming that the decision was motivated by the desire to undermine rival Facebook which operates a controversial political ad policy. The decision has also come under fire in some political quarters, with Brad Pascale, Trump’s digital campaign chief calling Twitter’s decision ‘yet another attempt by the left to shut down Trump and conservatives’. Will other ‘Big Tech’ giants follow Twitter’s lead? Only time will tell.
Geopolitical Risks Today
- ISRAEL – After months of deadlock, the current crisis rocking Israel’s political system seems to be no closer to a solution. Talks of coalition between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and its largest rivals, Benny Gatz’s Blue and White party, have foundered over political differences and diverging visions for Israel in the future. Indeed, it has been disclosed that Netanyahu is even contemplating holding a direct election for the position of prime minister between himself and Gatz if discussions continue to fail. Until that point, however, Israeli policy has been put on hold. President Trump’s peace plan remains unimplemented, and a definite future for the region appears ambiguous. However, it seems that Israel’s political problems are not interfering with its involvement in Syria as of yet. Indeed, Israel continues to support the Kurds with arms and supplies in their struggle against invading Turkish forces. What implications this will have for Israeli-Turkic relations, as two key US allies, remains to be seen.
- ARCTIC – As climate change – and the global warming caused by it – continues to exacerbate geopolitical tensions in the Polar region, the border between Russia and Norway is emerging as a particular concern. Having established a presence in Norway some time ago, US troops are rehearsing military exercises in earnest at the moment. Recently, a 650-strong contingent of American Marines joined 3,000 fellow soldiers from the Norwegian Armed Forces drilled along the Norwegian-Russian border. Recent Russian actions, ranging from major submarine exercises in the North Atlantic to the modernisation of its Northern Fleet – situated in the Kola Peninsula – have pushed Norwegian concerns to fever pitch. While these exercises remain speculative in nature, this added tension may have implications for the spread of NATO forces across Northeastern Europe, as competition may shift from the Baltic and into the Arctic.
- IRAN – In its first overt movement away from the limitations imposed under the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, Tehran has prevented an inspector from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) from entering the Natanz nuclear facility. Citing fears over the potential that she was carrying ‘suspicious material’, Iran has actively disobeyed the deal – struck between itself and the West – that entailed economic support for the Islamic Republic in return for limitations being placed on its nuclear programme. Moreover, Iran has also decided to inject uranium into centrifuges sited at its installation in Fordow. These recent moves, decried as damaging by states such as France and Russia, have been pinned to President Trump’s decision to remove America from the deal last year. Regardless of the reasons, recent events in Iran are increasing tensions with geopolitical rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as provoking concern amongst those European states that are still trying to keep the deal alive.
Monthly Risk Forecast
- TRUMP IMPEACHMENT – The House of Representatives decided to formalise the impeachment process against President Trump on 31st October after revelations emerged of the President’s abuse of executive power through pressure on the Ukrainian President. Claims emerged over the summer that Trump sought to pressurise President Volodymyr Zelensky, making U.S. aid to the Eastern European country contingent on Zelensky’s announcement of a public investigation into former U.S. Vice President and 2020 Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s business interests in Ukraine. The announcement of this formal decision to initiate impeachment proceedings is likely to further damage perceptions of the U.S. position at home and abroad, strengthening claims from leaders such as Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Hassan Rouhani that the U.S. Democratic system is a sham whilst distracting the world’s only superpower from rising threats abroad.
- TRADE WAR – As the US-China trade rolls on, the damage it is doing to the global economy is persisting: US manufacturing is taking a downturn, Chinese exports are being hurt, and faith in international markets remains fragile. While a long-awaited trade deal between the world’s two largest economies would do something to address the geopolitical, geo-economic, and diplomatic problems currently raging, it has recently been announced that such a solution may not be reached until December. While presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping were supposed to sign an interim deal ending the trade war this month, efforts to establish a suitable meeting point – most likely in Sweden or Switzerland – have so far failed. Although it appears that both sides are intent on reaching a deal sooner rather than later, given the mounting economic and political pressures that both are facing at home, it is clear that the global uncertainty posed by this trade war will be persisting for yet another month.
- AGE OF PROTEST – Across the globe an upswell of political protest over recent months has been met with caution by leading investors. Whilst drivers behind the protests are as diverse as they are widespread, ongoing protests in Hong Kong, Lebanon, Chile and Venezuela are unified by the common themes of anti-corruption, economic reform and pro-democracy sentiments. Whilst the continuing appeal of the democratic system may be met with support across Western capitals, the appetite of incumbent regimes to weather the storm is likely to make investors wary. As the month progresses, we will undoubtedly see the tensions in these current geopolitical hotspots escalate as the ongoing crisis points reach a head. Investors be warned.