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Energy & Economics
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This Time, Try Supporting Honduran Democracy

by Mark L. Schneider , Aaron Schneider

Imagine a future in which countries desperate for investment give up a patch of their territory and subcontract governance to a board chosen by a foreign corporation. Sound like the East India Company of the past? Until the 2021 election of Honduran president Xiomara Castro, the past was now—Zones for Employment and Economic Development (Zonas de Empleo y Desarrollo Económico in Spanish, or ZEDEs) had been permitted to establish their own near-tax-free paradises in company-governed territorial fiefdoms. The investor-governed territories include one that accepts its own cryptocurrency and allegedly tramples rights of indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations, another where small farmers were forced to sell their land—all were criticized by the United Nations as threatening basic human rights and criticized by Honduran civil society for worsening problems of tax evasion and narcotrafficking. What is clear is that they violated basic democratic principles of representative government and undermined national sovereignty, including denying the validity of international labor and environmental treaty obligations agreed by the Honduran state.   It all began when a 2009 Honduran military coup ousted a democratically elected president. The next Honduran president and the Congress passed a law to cede portions of its territory to corporate investors as “charter cities” but were blocked by the Supreme Court. In response, Congress impeached the judges, packed the court, and engineered a new law to create ZEDEs. According to a study published in Central American Journals Online, ZEDEs are comparable to the Spanish colonial model, creating foreign-controlled economic zones on Honduran territory. The president of the Congress, Juan Orlando Hernández, went on to be the next president, governing two terms after his handpicked Supreme Court-sanctioned reelection. Eight years later, Hernández now sits in a U.S. jail awaiting trial for narco-trafficking, the same charges on which his brother was sentenced to life in a U.S. prison. Last year, the first opposition government elected since the coup made doing away with ZEDEs part of its electoral campaign, and among the first laws passed by the new Congress was ZEDEs elimination. The law passed unanimously, including votes from the very party that had put the ZEDEs in place. The reversal was the culmination of a broad civil society movement that brought together women, indigenous, Afro-Honduran, labor, and local business interests. Predictably, only the foreign investors want the paradises to remain. It is worthwhile to look at the record of the ZEDEs. They found resonance among conservative Honduran economists and were championed by Paul Romer, an economist who extrapolated from the experience of places like Singapore and Hong Kong to presume that cities could carve out independent regulatory regimes to promote development in the midst of poorly governed areas. Originally part of an oversight board to the charter cities, Romer resigned in response to Honduran government evasion of oversight processes and lack of “transparency.” Romer’s fears appear to have been well-founded, as the oversight board established for the ZEDEs is now a self-perpetuating body that even a think tank founded to support charter cities views skeptically for including "Ronald Reagan’s son (a conservative media personality), anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and a member of the Habsburg dynasty.” It goes on to say that “the ZEDEs were clearly more of an ideological exercise than a practical exercise to generate development.” Romer may have gotten out just in time for additional reasons, as the record of the ZEDEs has been poor in terms of economic, environmental, and democratic impacts. Compared to what Honduras would have collected otherwise, even conservative estimates suggest the tax exemptions offered to the ZEDEs would cost equal to almost half of current sales taxes by 2025 and a value equal to all current import taxes by 2026. Worse, some of the ZEDEs build investor paradise workplaces and residences but appear to provide almost no public services, except their private police, even as they deny the Honduran state sufficient tax revenue to provide schools, health clinics, and courts. Pitched as model cities, ZEDEs are actually far from that, including one that offered preferential treatment for agricultural investments and mining concessions, evading existing environmental and other regulations on decidedly nonurban activities. In the face of social opposition to the ZEDEs, the Honduran Congress had toughened punishments for blocking property or businesses, making it easier for ZEDEs private security forces to repress protesters. Private security force and paramilitary violence against opponents of megaprojects like ZEDEs is common in Honduras—and in one case a lawyer representing indigenous communities opposed to the original charter cities law was murdered, sparking condemnation from the State Department, but impunity for the killers meant there was no proven link to his political work. In spite of this poor record, most of those who want to preserve the ZEDEs point to potential benefits without any evidence. Supporters claim ZEDEs will be a boon to employment, but rates of unemployment have remained unchanged since ZEDEs began, estimates of the actual number of ZEDEs jobs created hover around 15,000 in the eight years ZEDEs have been on the books, and ZEDEs undermine and evade existing labor legislation. Supporters present ZEDEs as complementary to U.S. nearshoring, but estimates of benefits to Honduras from nearshoring lag behind eight other Latin American countries, none of which have ZEDEs. Supporters argue ZEDEs will head off growing Chinese influence, but China is one of the countries interested in investing in ZEDEs. Supporters suggest ZEDEs will address problems of corruption, but the director of the ZEDE oversight board was secretary of the presidency to the jailed former president and has continued to draw a salary even after fleeing to neighboring Nicaragua to escape his own corruption and narcotrafficking investigations. Supporters argue ZEDEs will generate trade, investment, and growth, but since the ZEDEs law was passed in 2013, trade as a percentage of GDP dropped in five of eight years and is now lower than it was before, foreign direct investment decreased as a percentage of GDP every year except 2018, and GDP growth was below 4 percent in six of the eight years. Overblown aspirations have two main problems: first, they violate basic democratic principles of citizen representation, adherence to rule of law, and international treaty obligations; and second, in the eight years since ZEDEs were allowed, none of these promises have been fulfilled. Why the sudden kerfuffle about an obscure scheme abandoned by its founder, instituted by a corrupt politician now in jail in the United States, revoked by the country that adopted it, and that showed minimal actual impact? Perhaps because one ZEDE investor has provided grants to think tanks to start a dialogue on the issue, the results of which may have convinced some in the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, and a few members of Congress, even threatening the newly elected Honduran government with reprisals such as withdrawal of aid, forced restitution payments, or limiting the Honduran share of the Partnership for Central America, the private sector investment plan led by Vice President Kamala Harris. For the richest country in the hemisphere to threaten to withhold or extract resources from the third-poorest country lends credence to the critiques of those who viewed the ZEDEs as colonial. Worse, withholding funds or forcing restitution would undermine the core intent of the Harris plan—invest in Honduras to stem outmigration, address low growth, and improve governance. Instead of listening to those who are advocating for a few private corporations’ desire to cash in on their fiefdoms, the United States should be supporting stronger Honduran institutions, starting with respecting the democratic will of the Honduran people.

Energy & Economics
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Russia: LNG exports up in 2022

by Iwona Wiśniewska

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Novak has announced that Russia’s production and exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) rose by almost 9% to around 33 million tonnes (c. 46 bcm) in 2022. Most of the Russian LNG was produced at the Yamal LNG project (c. 20 million tonnes), whose main shareholders include Russia’s Novatek (50.1%), France’s TotalEnergies (20%) and China’s CNPC (20%) and the Silk Road Fund (9.9%). Nearly 15 million tonnes from this project went to Europe (up 14% y-o-y), and around 5 million tonnes were shipped to China. In addition, more than 10 million tonnes were produced in the Gazprom-controlled Sakhalin-2 project in the Russian Far East, an increase of 2% year-on-year. The main customers for this gas were Japan (the Japanese companies Mitsui and Mitsubishi are shareholders in the project) and China. According to Chinese customs data, a total of 6.5 million tonnes of LNG were shipped to the PRC from Russia in 2022, up from 5.7 million tonnes a year earlier. LNG is also being produced in two small-scale projects in the Leningrad region in the Baltic Sea. The Novatek-owned Vysotsk terminal produced around 700,000 tonnes and the Gazprom-owned Portovaya LNG produced around 350,000 tonnes. Gas from both projects was supplied to the European market. The deputy prime minister also asserted that Russia intends to deliver on its ambitious plans to double its LNG production in the next few years, and increase its LNG exports to 100 million tonnes in 2030 as a result. This would be achieved mainly through the development of Arctic LNG projects, including the Novatek-owned Arctic LNG 2. This expansion has been promised even though Russian production may decline in 2023 due to planned maintenance work on two (out of four) Yamal LNG production lines. CommentarylLNG was the only Russian fuel whose supplies to Europe increased in 2022. Consequently, the importance of LNG has increased both with regard to Russia’s exports (LNG accounted for 25% of all Russian gas supplied to the EU) and the EU’s imports (less 20% of the EU’s total LNG imports).lIt will be very difficult, if possible at all, to realise Russia’s ambitious plans for a robust increase in LNG production in the years to come. Forecasts from the Russian Ministry of Energy published in May 2022 showed that LNG production will be much lower than previously assumed. Under the current baseline scenario, LNG exports are projected to reach almost 31 million tonnes in 2023 and 35.7 million tonnes in 2024, compared to the previous target of over 50 million tonnes. lAs a result of sanctions following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s LNG sector has been cut off from the Western technology and equipment which played a key role in the development of this sector. Many foreign companies (German, French, Spanish and others) have withdrawn from cooperation with Russia in this area; for example, one of the shareholders in Arctic LNG 2, France’s TotalEnergies (10%), has stopped investing in the project and started the process of completely withdrawing from the venture, which should be finalised in the first half of 2023. Nonetheless, the Russian authorities are insisting that they will manage to complete the construction of the first Arctic LNG 2 production line by December 2023 (about 90% of the work had already been done when the sanctions were introduced), and that the next two lines will also be put into operation according to the original schedule, that is, in 2024 and 2026. Leonid Mikhelson, the CEO of Novatek, has affirmed that the corporation has managed to purchase the necessary equipment by cooperating with companies from countries such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Russian companies are also working on developing their own gas liquefaction technologies. At present, these are inefficient (the production lines are capable of producing a maximum of 1 million tonnes per year) and often fail. It is unlikely that Russia will be able to fully replace Western technologies and equipment by circumventing the sanctions or developing its own solutions. Indeed, the effectiveness of such efforts so far proven to be limited.  

Defense & Security
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Iran’s quest for Russian Su-35s and its impact on West Asia’s strategic calculations

by Kabir Taneja

With Western actors preoccupied with the Ukrainian crisis, the Middle East may be heading towards a significant time of churn in 2023 As much of the West’s political capacities get bogged down with the crisis in Ukraine and the return of a Cold War-like geopolitics between Washington and Moscow, other areas of contention that were taking precedence only a few months ago, like Iran, have taken a back seat. During this period, in light of the war, ties between Russia and Iran have used the prevailing situation as an incubator to further the bilateral. According to reports, Iran is expected to receive new Sukhoi 35 fighter aircraft from Russia. When delivered, these jets will be the first major purchase by Tehran for its ageing air force fleet which currently, and perhaps ironically, still includes old American airframes from the pre-1979 Revolution era such as F-14s and F-5s along with older Soviet-made MiG-29s delivered in the early 1990s. Iran has been subjected to stringent sanctions over the decades, severely depleting its ability to purchase weapons from abroad. However, the silver lining for Tehran has come in the way of robust domestically sustained industries, specifically in the realm of defence, that manage to keep the country’s aged military infrastructure up and running with little outside help. Arguably, the pinnacle of this outcome has been the country’s indigenous drones programme. Iranian-made Shahed-136 drones, provided by Tehran to Moscow for use in Ukraine, became a symbol of Iran–Russia bonhomie at a time when the Kremlin was struggling to gain significant military wins in the conflict, and others, such as Türkiye, were providing Kiev with its now globally successful Bayraktar TB-2 drones. The Iranian government maintains that it is not taking sides in the conflict, which may be true strategically, but tactically, the evidence points to the contrary. However, the Su-35s are expected to add a significant boost to Tehran’s conventional arsenal. Geopolitically, the jets themselves tell a story of the volatility and constantly shifting interests in the region. Originally meant for Egypt, the Su-35s are being seen as Russian repayment for a consistent supply of drones by Iran (Moscow – Tehran cooperation on drones pre-dates the Ukraine war). From an Egyptian perspective, the Su-35s were an add-on to the country’s fleet of Russian MiG 29s, both being inducted due to Washington’s unwillingness to sell Cairo F-15s (a demand standing since the 1970s), in part owing to the country’s chequered human rights record. The US has been criticised for allowing partner states in the region to hedge their interests with the likes of Moscow and Beijing by taking too long in making strategic decisions. Iran’s move towards a degree of modernising its frontline fighter aircraft fleet comes at a time when the Middle East (West Asia) is staring down towards a complete collapse of the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA) and attempts to revive the same. The outreach to Iran by the West is perhaps at its lowest juncture, with the United States (US) saying it would, by all means, disallow Iran from gaining nuclear capabilities to the European Union (EU) looking to brand the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terror organisation. With European capitals and the US overwhelmed with the reality of a war returning to Europe, the Middle East may be heading towards a significant time of churn in 2023, including a possibility of the region going nuclear, and this does not only elude to Iran’s nuclear programme, but others in the region as well pursuing nuclear energy. The US remains the most influential power in the region, however, others such as China and Russia have made their own inroads. For example, while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) remains one of the closest allies of Washington in the region, it baulked initially when it came down to voting against Moscow’s aggressions at the UN. This was backed by the fact that a lot of Russian money trying to escape the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grab along with skirting sanctions ended up in places like Dubai, boosting the Emirati economy. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which still has a fractious relationship with the administration of US president Joe Biden, works closely with Russia as part of the OPEC+ construct, influencing global oil pricing. Along with this, most capitals in the region are looking to not get caught in the middle of future big power rivalries, specifically between the US and China. The above, interestingly, includes Israel, America’s ‘all-weather ally’ in the region. With the return of Benjamin Netanyahu to power with a coalition of far-right political parties in tow, Israel is expected to harden its posture against Iran in the coming year. With the news of Su-35s, Israel is already said to have approached the US for the purchase of 25 F-15EX aircraft, an advanced variant of the airframe already in extensive use by the Israeli Air Force (IAF). This purchase is specifically intended to build capacity to strike Iran’s heavily defended nuclear sites. Israel already operates the most advanced fighter aircraft in the region, the stealth F-35 Lightening II, and to maintain its military superiority, with its new political composition in a leadership role, may continue to be one of the issues stalling the UAE from attaining the same capabilities despite both signing the historic Abraham Accords in 2020. This shows that a level of divergence may always remain beyond the surface of Israel–Arab rapprochement. Both Israel and the US, although having differences over the political trajectory of the former in the recent past, are also conducting the largest-ever bilateral military exercise, with the US showing its full support behind Israel’s regional security interests. On the sidelines of the exercise, a senior US defence official has said that “Iran will not be allowed to go nuclear, period”. The unravelling of diplomatic efforts to engage with Iran had arguably been slowly running out of steam for some time, and the conflict in Ukraine has added a spring in the heels of Russia–Iran cooperation. With China remaining a silent outlier for now, despite having deep ties with both Moscow and Tehran, this defence cooperation may bring benefits for both parties in the time to come despite a complex diplomatic relationship that includes Russian presence in Syria as a point of contention. With domestic political compulsions out of the way for now, Biden has a window to restrengthen his position amongst traditional partners in the region. And with him continuing Trump’s bullish policies against Iran rather than the Obama-era approach of offering a buffet of carrots, the US taking a harder approach will be palatable in the region. However, the jury is still out on what the coming year looks like for the Middle East. Iran has consistently postured towards taking talks forward, while also continuing its strategic and tactical policies and not ceding any space in these areas of its interests. 2023 may witness an inflection point in the region, moving away from the prevailing status quos, specifically if there are significant strides made by Tehran with its nuclear programme. While Israel previously has covertly targeted the programme inside Iran, often at its own will and pace, there has been a period of lull with such operations, raising questions on where talks with Tehran stand today, and what the future holds for diplomacy which has been short-changed by strategic mistakes by both the US and Iran alike.

Defense & Security
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No peace without a military victory

by Jana Puglierin

Russia has been at war with Ukraine for more than 10 months, with no end in sight and with just as little prospect for direct negotiations between the warring parties. These were last broken off mutually on 17 May 2022. Since then, there have been repeated calls in Germany, whether in opinion articles or open letters, for more diplomatic efforts to end the hostilities. Such calls were often combined with demands for the federal government to cease arms deliveries to Ukraine: when all is said and done, peace is achieved not with arms, but with a truce, the argument goes. And continuing the war with the already unrealistic goal of a Ukrainian victory and the recapture of all the territory occupied by Russia would only mean useless bloodshed. These calls are all too understandable given the horrific images of suffering and destruction that reach us daily from Ukraine. Even so, it would be wrong right now to urge Ukraine to negotiate – or even give up parts of its territory and the people living there. Surely, no one wants the guns to go silent more than the Ukrainians themselves. They are the victims of this war. It is their hospitals, kindergartens and schools that have been destroyed by Russian missiles and drone attacks. Many have lost their homes. When the air raid sirens sound, it is they who sit in the shelters and who go without heating, electricity or running water, often for hours or days on end. The exact number of soldiers who have died at the front is unknown; US estimates put the count at up to 100,000. And yet, the Ukrainian government wants to continue the fight against the Russian aggressor – and only negotiate directly with Russia if and when the Kremlin first answers for its war crimes before an international tribunal and withdraws all troops from Ukraine, including from the illegally annexed areas. In this,  the government is supported by the vast majority of the Ukrainian population. Putin wants total control of UkraineIt is clear to the Ukrainians that the Russian President Vladimir Putin is not interested in finding a way for a secure coexistence with a sovereign and independent Ukraine that can determine its own future.  He wants it gone. In his view, today's Ukraine is nothing more than a ‘colony with a puppet regime’, an externally controlled and hostile ‘anti-Russia’, set up against the ‘real cultural, economic and social interests of the people and the true sovereignty of Ukraine’. For Putin, Ukraine and Russia are ‘one people’.  A Ukraine that is independent of Russia and wants to open up to Europe along the lines of its central European neighbours is unacceptable because it calls into question the very foundations of the Russian imperium, which Putin is determined to prevent from falling apart. The repeatedly expressed assumptions that Russia is ultimately only concerned with preventing Ukraine from joining NATO, or only has geographic interests in the Donbas, are wrong. In truth, Moscow wants Ukraine to relinquish much more: its freedom, its identity, its self-determination, its culture. The destruction of Ukrainian life, Ukrainian art and Ukrainian statehood, together with repressions – from murder to rape to abduction – in the occupied territories are clear demonstrations of this. So far, there is no reason to believe that Putin's thinking has changed in recent months. On the contrary, with every further step, Putin makes clear that he is not ready to make concessions. Although he and other members of the Russian government regularly mention the word ‘negotiations’, they have so far not presented a concrete option. As recently as the end of December 2022, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated the call for the ‘demilitarisation and denazification’ of Ukraine and described the illegally annexed areas of Ukraine as Russia’s ’new territories’. Clearly, Putin has not abandoned his goal of complete political control over the country but has merely adjusted his approach and timeline. Because Russia was not militarily successful, the devastating airstrikes on the Ukrainian civilian population and the energy infrastructure are now intended to break the population's will to resist and to wear down the country – until Russia is able to launch a new offensive in the spring. Putin is also counting on the fact that the western supporter states – also under pressure from their populations – will soon tire and run out of weapons, ammunition and money for Kyiv. If the West were now to press for a ceasefire or peace negotiations, perhaps with the threat that it would otherwise end support for Ukraine, that would signal to the Kremlin that its method is working and that all it has to do is wait until we lose patience. So far, none of the advocates of an imminent ceasefire have been able to convincingly explain how Putin can be persuaded to make concessions without exerting further military pressure on him. Preventing Russia from dictating peaceWe Germans, in particular, have for years been repeating the mantra that ‘there is no military solution’ to this or that conflict. Unlike Vladimir Putin: in Georgia, the Crimea and Syria, he has learned that he can very successfully use military force to achieve his political goals. In the current conflict, therefore, only Ukraine's military successes prevent such a dictated peace from happening. In other words, Russia must first be stopped and pushed back militarily before there can be any chance of real diplomacy. It's about enabling Ukraine to hold its own against the Russian invasion and showing Putin that even a new military offensive in the spring has no chance of succeeding – and that this won't change over time. The West itself has a paramount interest in Putin not making any gain from his war of aggression. His ambitions are a danger to all of Europe. If he gets away again with using force and nuclear blackmail to bring parts of another state under his control, this invites repetition elsewhere, be it by Russia or another state. The goal of an overall revision of the European security order, which is essential for peace and prosperity also here in Germany, was announced by Russia in the treaty texts of December 2021. The decision by Germany, the US and France to now also supply Ukraine with armoured personnel carriers and reconnaissance vehicles is therefore logical. It emphasises that the major military powers of the West will not force Ukraine into an unacceptable deal with Russia.  Of course, the danger of escalation must always be kept in mind when providing military support. However, the reactions after missiles fell on the Polish-Ukrainian border in particular has shown that the West is aware of this and is reacting prudently and is capable of risk management. Real negotiations will only begin again when both Russia and Ukraine come to the conclusion that there is more to be gained from a truce than from fighting on. Perhaps the cards will be reshuffled after spring — if the ’hot autumn’ and the ’winter of fury’ in Europe fail to materialise, if the western democracies continue to stand firmly on the side of Ukraine and if a new Russian offensive proves unsuccessful. What is certain is that any negotiations and compromises will reflect the resulting balance of power between the parties. Our goal must therefore be to get Ukraine ready as well as possible for this point in time and to prepare together with Kyiv for the moment when the window for diplomacy indeed opens.

Defense & Security
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Bound to Comply: the Philippines’ One-China Policy and Mutual Defense Treaty with the U.S.

by Aaron Jed Rabena

In the event of hostilities in the Taiwan Strait, Manila’s defense treaty with the United States will give it little room to manoeuvre. President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s recent visit to China underscores his intent to have a constructive relationship with China, and a balanced and diversified Philippine foreign policy. But as Sino-US relations deteriorate and United States President Joseph Biden veers towards strategic clarity to defend Taiwan amid heightened cross-Strait tensions, the risk of getting entangled in a Sino-US conflict over Taiwan has become a major policy issue for Manila.  All Philippine presidents have strictly adhered to the One-China policy which is enshrined in the Joint Communique on normalisation of Sino-Philippine ties in 1975. Even President Benigno Aquino III, who arguably pursued the most critical China policy in 2010-2016, toed the line on the One-China policy and repatriated wanted Taiwanese nationals to Beijing in 2011. Manila’s adherence to the One-China policy was reaffirmed by Marcos Jr. after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last year.  In the event of a Sino-U.S. conflict over Taiwan, the legal status of Manila’s commitment to the One-China policy would be tested against its obligations under the 1951 Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT). The treaty highlights the “sense of unity,” “common determination” and “collective defense” against an “external armed attack” and “potential aggressor”, but it is ambiguous about the specific geographic scope of its application in the Pacific. While the Philippines sees the utility of the MDT primarily for a South China Sea contingency, the U.S. can invoke Article IV of the MDT in a Taiwan conflict. The article states that each party deems that “an armed attack in the Pacific area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”  With respect to “constitutional processes”, the 1987 Philippine Constitution gives the Congress the power to declare “the existence of a state of war”; only under such conditions or another national emergency, would the President be authorised by law to wield the necessary powers “to carry out a declared national policy.” As such, congressional intervention would be an important variable that needs to be closely watched. Manila can also mitigate entrapment risks by exercising its sovereign authority on where and how the U.S. military could access and use its facilities. The preamble to the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) states that “US access to and use of facilities and areas will be at the invitation of the Philippines and with full respect for the Philippine Constitution and Philippine laws.” Yet, history has shown how the Philippines could be involved in a war over Taiwan even in the absence of a U.S. formal invocation of the MDT. Manila could send boots on the ground and/or provide logistical access for U.S. military operations. This was the case in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Put differently, Manila is caught in a bind. On one hand, it fears Washington’s abandonment in the event of a South China Sea conflict with China. Manila has repeatedly demanded clarity and immediacy in U.S. alliance commitments. To this end, Manila concluded the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the 2014 EDCA with Washington to secure U.S. military presence in the region and security guarantees. On the other hand, the Philippine security establishment increasingly fears entrapment, where the country’s military is drawn into a Sino-US conflict over Taiwan. This reality became evident following former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August 2022. In September 2021, the Philippine ambassador to America said that the U.S. can use Philippine bases in a Taiwan conflict if it is important for the Philippines’ security. The condition, however, remains open-ended and is contingent on many indeterminate factors.  At the moment, the risks of entrapment are increasing, at least from the operational perspective. Since its coming to power, the Marcos Jr. administration has taken steps to bolster security ties with Washington. Both countries have agreed to explore joint patrols in the South China Sea, and accelerate the implementation of the EDCA through infrastructure enhancement at various locations. Both allies are looking at adding more sites for American military access, including in the northern province of Cagayan near Taiwan, to facilitate faster response to crisis situations. They have also agreed to double the number of troops involved in joint exercises and plan to sharply increase the number of bilateral defence activities in 2023. Given the timing of these initiatives, Beijing would likely see these Philippine moves as siding with America to undermine its One-China principle and enable U.S. military prepositioning for war-time contingencies. Should the Philippines provide basing access in a cross-strait conflict, Manila would certainly face Chinese sanctions. China could also play hardball in the South China Sea and its ballistic missiles could target countries facilitating U.S. combat operations. But if tensions in the South China Sea escalate and coincide with tensions in Taiwan, there will be a greater incentive for Manila to strategically align with Washington and accommodate U.S. military hardware.  How the Philippines should respond to a Taiwan contingency is not simply a legal question but a critical national security concern. There are around 200,000 overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan; repatriating them during an armed confrontation over Taiwan would be an enormous undertaking. This will be compounded by a massive human migration of Taiwanese nationals.  Even if Manila manages to sidestep the risks associated with entrapment in a Taiwan Strait conflict, it cannot escape the geopolitical ramifications of such a historic event. Should China successfully reunify Taiwan by force, China could inch closer to the northern Philippines and it will be easier for China to break through the First Island Chain. China’s takeover of Taiwan would also augment its power projection capability in the South China Sea. This would consequently impact Philippine maritime and security interests. Given the Philippines’ geographic proximity to Taiwan, its status as a U.S. defence treaty ally and its stakes in the South China Sea, there will be complications in Manila’s desire to be neutral in a Taiwan contingency.

Defense & Security
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Fiji’s electoral crisis: when is a coup not a coup?

by Richard Herr

When is a coup not a coup? When it’s called a constitutional crisis. But make no mistake, there’s a coup attempt in progress in Fiji, even if its foot soldiers are in the bureaucracy and courts rather than the military. The political history of this Pacific archipelago has been so regularly punctuated by the non-peaceful transfer of power that the term ‘coup culture’ has been created to explain the cancer that has corrupted Fijian democracy for decades. Four recognised coups have occurred in Fiji since its independence in 1970. Three of them were staged by the Fijian military—April and September 1987, both led by Sitiveni Rabuka, and December 2006, led by Frank Bainimarama. The fourth, in May 2000, was a hybrid civilian–military coup led initially by George Speight. Less well appreciated is that there was an earlier, non-violent coup in March 1977. It was labelled a constitutional crisis but was nonetheless a coup to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Today, arguably, that event is serving as the template for a fresh attempt to hijack the electorate’s vote for change in government. When the National Federation Party (NFP) won 26 of the 52 seats in the 1977 general election, it expected to form government with the support of an independent member of parliament. However, the governor-general, Ratu Sir George Cakobau, claimed to be unpersuaded that NFP leader Siddiq Koya could form a stable majority. He reappointed the defeated Alliance Party leader, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, as prime minister. The Alliance Party moved a motion of confidence in Mara when parliament met to test his support. The motion was defeated and Cakobau dissolved the parliament and issued writs for new elections in September. The Alliance Party won handily after the NPF leadership broke into two factions—the flower and dove—that opposed each other in the election. In 1977, the head of state had the key institutional role. The same is true now. Just as Cakobau declined to call on Koya to form a ministry quickly after the election, President Wiliame Katonivere has been slow to issue a proclamation to call the parliament into session. His delay is constitutionality significant on two scores. The first is that the power of delay (up to 14 days after the return of the writs) gives the outgoing FijiFirst government time to destabilise or legally challenge the tripartite coalition—comprising the NFP, the People’s Alliance Party (PAP) and the Social Democratic Liberal Party (SODELPA)—by questioning whether it actually can muster the numbers to govern or, indeed, by breaking up the capacity of the coalition to hold together. The delay also plays into formal parliamentary processes. Since no party received more than 50% of the vote in this month’s general election, the constitution requires a vote in parliament to determine who the parliament will accept as prime minister. So long as the parliament isn’t called into session, that vote can’t be held. However, the fortnight window for the president to call the parliament into session is absolute. The second element of the 1977 playbook was to foment and amplify divisions within the NFP to sustain the line that an NFP government would be incapable of guaranteeing supply. This white-anting is occurring both within SODELPA and through bureaucratic pressure. SODELPA’s general-secretary, Lenaitasi Duru, resigned his post after claiming that the internal vote to join the PAP–NFP coalition was invalid due to unspecified anomies in the way it was conducted. Duru wrote to Katonivere to ask him not to call parliament into session as scheduled. He also approached the registrar of political parties, Mohammed Saneem. Saneem responded by requiring the SODELPA management board to revisit the vote to join the PAP and NFP in forming the governing coalition. SODELPA’s vice president, Anare Jale, expressed a belief that the board would reconfirm its original decision. This reaffirmation has now been given, with the management board repeating its original decision. Nonetheless, the delay caused by compelling the SODELPA board to recast the vote gave FijiFirst’s general-secretary and Fiji’s attorney-general, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, the opportunity to charge that Jale had failed to be completely honest with FijiFirst’s initial bid to SODELPA. The second pitch was allowed, but it didn’t change SODELPA’s decision. The risk to the formation of a Rabuka-led government now shifts to the three elected SODELPA members and the possibility that they won’t honour the party’s pledges of support to the PAP–NFP coalition. That risk has become greater or, at least, less uncertain because of an ambiguity in constitutional language. Depending on how that ambiguity is resolved, there may be no way of enforcing the constitutional controls over parliamentary party members. The 2013 constitution provides for an MP to be expelled from parliament for voting against the party’s direction when the ‘leader and the secretary of the political party’ notify the speaker of the parliament of the lapse. The precise definition of these officeholders isn’t clear, especially with regard to whether the party leader is the parliamentary leader or the machine wing leader. It appears from media reports that SODELPA party leader Viliame Gavoka’s position became vacant under the party constitution, and Duru claims it will remain vacant until the party holds its annual general meeting in 2024. Now that Duru has resigned, it appears that SODELPA is without an official secretary, though that depends on when his resignation becomes effective (he has argued that it doesn’t take effect for 30 days). The celebrators who believed that the way ahead for a new government was clear two days ago are now facing the reality that their expectations may be dashed on the rocks of political manipulation and obstruction. Despite the best efforts of FijiFirst to frustrate the transfer of power, it can’t be certain that its efforts will succeed. Nor can it be certain that it will be the recipient of a stable majority if the tripartite coalition collapses. It might be satisfied with the fallback of a second election à la the 1977 crisis, but it can’t count on winning in a new poll. The decision by Bainimarama’s allies in defence and national security to call on the Republic of Fiji Military Forces to assist the police with maintaining security and stability serves as a reminder that if 1977 proves not to be the right template to prevent a peaceful transfer of power, there are other models.

Defense & Security
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From Shadows to Spotlight - The Kremlin’s Not-So-Covert Gambit for Ukraine

by Annabel Peterson

Introduction: The Culmination Points The war in Ukraine has been raging for 19 months and is yet to exhibit a conclusive imbalance of forces and means. This is good news for Ukraine, who was expected to surrender within days, and an unprecedented embarrassment for Russia, who planned for a Crimea 2.0. What we are witnessing today is undoubtedly the result of a cluster of Russian intelligence failures, both in terms of reconnaissance and operational support. A lot has been written about the general errors in autocratic intelligence management, as well as Russia’s resistance to modern tactical realities such as crowdsourcing open-source intelligence (OSINT), but few have considered the overall weakness of the underlying strategic intelligence assets. For Russia, a loyal collaborator network, the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), and certain advanced cyberwarfare were central to preparing the ground for a quick surrender. All of these, however, reached their culmination points after the initial intervention in Ukraine 8 years prior. The culmination point of attack is a well-known Clausewitzian military concept describing the inevitable equilibrium reached as a result of the defender’s counterbalancing activities and the attacker’s consequent loss of initial superiority. At this point, the attacker is still able to hold the defence, yet continuing the offensive in the same manner would mean defeat. In Russian doctrine, the same laws apply to a clandestine battlefield, where the culmination point is reached with the exposure of one’s true goals, means, and methods. Intelligence operations that fail to adapt to the operating environment and enemy responses naturally become counterproductive to the attacker’s strategic goals. The annexation of Crimea was an example of a successful deployment of clandestine means at the height of their strategic influence. The operation has been described as a clever adaptation of tactics after being cornered by the failure of Russia’s original active measure campaign in 2013. However, the aftermath of that operation brought the remaining Russian influence assets to their culmination point, thus calling for a clear change of strategy. The Kremlin’s political-strategic goal – ever since Ukraine’s declaration of independence – has been to subordinate it to Moscow’s will. In pursuit of that, Moscow has attempted to instal various puppet entities into Ukraine’s political system, starting with the illegitimate “Donbas people’s republics” in 2014. Eight years and two Minsk Agreements later, the Kremlin had not achieved the desired results and decided to extend the puppet network into Kyiv’s central government. Similarly to Crimea, a successful power transfer merited a quick (and preferably bloodless) surrender of the government. Setting the stage for a Crime-type power transfer was, therefore, the venerable goal of the Russian intelligence services in the leadup to the invasion. The Federal Security Service’s (FSB, Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) 5th Directorate – tasked with combatting dissent in Russia’s “near abroad” – carried the heaviest weight in preparing Ukraine for invasion. Some western security officials would even hold the FSB accountable for the trickle-down failures of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces (GRU, Glavnoye Razvedyvatelnoye Upravlenie) and Russian military intelligence, who were forced to work with flawed base information regarding the potential for Ukrainian resistance. Adding to this the obsoleteness of Russia’s agent network, Orthodox authorities, and cyberwarfare upon which its success largely relied, the invasion was doomed to fail from the start. 1. A Network Without Collaboration The primary covert asset – required for a swift occupation of Ukraine – was a reliable Russian agent network on the ground to provide strategic intelligence and prepare the information conditions enabling a smooth power transfer. Such a cultivation of the soil for a Russian takeover started already in the 1990s, eventually unleashing a competition for the most impactful ground presence among the Russian intelligence services. According to Bellingcat’s lead investigator, Christo Grozev, Russia’s internal security service and military intelligence, in particular, have been competing to set up the most far-reaching fifth column in Ukraine. In pursuit of that, both the FSB and the GRU have targeted not only Ukrainian politicians, activists, and security officials but also the judiciary, journalists, and former Yanukovych associates. By 2014, Russia’s agents of influence had provided enough leverage to convert existing political divisions, weak institutions, and high- levelcorruptionintoaquicksurrenderof Crimea and Donbas. Researchers from the Estonian Academy of Military Sciences identified the saboteur network’s systematic spreading of panic and propaganda as a key factor enabling Russian success in Donbas. It entailed fake news that alleged heavy Ukrainian casualties and the untrustworthiness of the government in Kyiv. Separatist collaborators, together with professional Russian intelligence officers, stood at the centre of these information operations. Such officers would, for instance, arrive at conflict hotspots, alongside the “journalists” specialised in propaganda, and fabricate the developments to appear unfavourable to Ukrainian resistance. It meant that by the start of the physical confrontation in Donbas, the region had been thoroughly primed for Russian intervention and that incoming troops had no trouble convincing Ukrainians to surrender entire settlements without resistance. Weeks prior, a similar scenario had unfolded in Crimea, with the collaborator network enabling deep deception and fast evolution of events on the ground. At the height of that unprecedented operation, the appearance of Russian troops without insignia made it difficult for Ukrainian counterintelligence to diagnose and respond to the situation, not to mention the paralysing confusion in local civilian masses. The covert operation ran smoothly, owing its success to widespread collaboration from the local police, security service, political, and criminal elites, whom the Russians had managed to infiltrate and corrupt. The efficient informational cover and timely intelligence provided by the collaborator network allowed Russian forces to swiftly seize key strategic positions on the peninsula and thus deny grassroots resistance by deception. However, what the Kremlin may not have realised in 2022 was that underlying the success in Crimea were extremely favourable political conditions and the complete novelty of the chosen approach, which could not be replicated in other operations. Moscow’s human intelligence (HUMINT)-enabled and deceptive diversion operation in Ukraine, therefore, reached its culmination point in 2014. At that moment, Russia still retained enough plausible deniability to avoid direct proportional consequences, but the opposing security communities became hyper- focused on the “hybrid” elements in Russian offensive operations, thereby suggesting exposure of the Kremlin’s covert methods. The operation’s political technologist, Vladislav Surkov, was sanctioned by the US immediately after the annexation, despite the frantic efforts of his aides to deny his involvement to the Western public. Experts interpreted Surkov’s careless reaction as a mere bluff. Notwithstanding the evident exposure of the covert operation, Russia’s game plan for a successful military intervention in 2022 remained unchanged. As the most comprehensive post-mortem of the intelligence failure details, the Russian asset network was meant to paralyse the Ukrainian state and condition Ukrainian officials to accept a pro-Russian course; the next step would be provoking mass protests against the government’s sudden inability to serve Ukrainian national interests. The systematic spreading of false narratives regarding the protests would help fracture Ukrainian resistance and provide a moral justification for an invasion. Analogous to the 2014 operations, Moscow’s agents on the ground were supposed to maintain pro-Russian sentiments in the contested territories until Russian forces secured critical strategic positions. The main goal of the GRU’s ground network was to ensure the physical passage of Russian troops and members of the FSB’s planned puppet government. A principal role in this was to be played by one of the GRU’s most crucial assets and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, Andriy Derkach, recruited in 2016. By the time of the invasion, Derkach and his assistant Igor Kolesnikov had been put at the centre of the entire network. However, at the final preparatory and initial active stages of the invasion, multiple malfunctions occurred, signalling a premature burnout. • The first setback was the sanctioning of Andriy Derkach in 2020 for his interference in the 2016 US presidential election. In addition to provoking mass protests and misleading Ukrainian counterintelligence, Derkach was to lead the dissemination of disinformation about the dangers associated with Ukrainian nuclear energy production – all of which failed to materialise after his landing on the blacklist. Complete exposure of Russia’s intended psychological operations became clear weeks prior to the invasion when the UK and US had strategically declassified comprehensive intelligence about Moscow’s plans to politically subvert Ukraine. Remarkably, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU, Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrainy) had apparently been aware of the Derkach network – and allegedly neutralised it at the beginning of the invasion by detaining Kolesnikov, identified as the key manager of funding. • The second setback partly followed from the first. Such public and attributed disclosure of Russian psychological operations gained superiority for the Ukrainian narrative and mobilised a resolute international alliance (even though Ukrainian officials had been initially denying the possibility of a Russian attack). Moreover, in the face of Russian aggression, domestic public opinion was uniformly in favour of EU and NATO integration. This should have been interpreted as a clear sign that the lack of societal cohesion and international support no longer formed a weakness to exploit. Unlike in 2014-15, there were indicators that the West would intervene. However, the FSB chose to conduct its own polls, overseen by a former Yanukovych aide in charge of sleeper agents, and then interpreted the numbers to support the armed intervention. As RUSI researchers have explained, the invasion was likely based on the premise that those institutions in which the population showed the most trust – i.e., the military and the civil society organisations – could also be easily neutralised by the Russian network on the ground in Ukraine. Battlefield success during the initial stages of the invasion, therefore, relied on similar influence and diversion tactics as in 2014. In grave contrast to the former, the invading troops instead found the local population in the contested territories assisting the Ukrainian intelligence services to sabotage Russian positions. Hence, sticking to the methods of 2014 was counterproductive for the agent network of 2022. • This led to the third setback: the questionable loyalty of Russian junior agents and informers in Ukraine. The FSB’s strengths in the Ukrainian theatre came with a considerable expansion of its operations and the establishment of a “curator system,” whereby over 120 FSB curators would manage around 5-10 asset relationships. It involved a shift from targeting exclusively the highest- ranking officials in 2014 to virtually everyone associated with influential people, down to their service personnel in 2022. A key characteristic of this approach was that assets were recruited on a flexible, temporary, and project basis, which sometimes did not align with their professions and, therefore, took a toll on the assets’ quality and loyalty. In the words of the SBU’s reserve Major General Viktor Yahun, the expanded spy network in Ukraine was corrupted by its own structure. As assets got tangled in a “circle of responsibility” to cover comrades and improve their own results, the intelligence reaching the decision- makers at the top was being tailored to support the illusion of an easy Russian victory. The status of Putin’s favoured service, earned by the successes of 2014, also deepened patrimonialism within the curators themselves, whose tool to advance one’s career was to validate the Kremlin’s pre-decided policies. The GRU was facing the same problem: most of the influence agents they had recruited would not cooperate directly with their curators after “D-Day,” suggesting that they may have never been supportive of an operation of this kind. In this regard, Christo Grozev brings a noteworthy example of an asset inside the SBU that the GRU had to execute to preserve its credibility among other collaborators. The structure and modus operandi of the Kremlin’s agent network in Ukraine, therefore, suggests that it was expected to behave similarly as did in 2014 – i.e., to condition both the authorities and the local communities to surrender without resistance. However, as one puts all the setbacks together a clear picture emerges: once a functioning asset network had been reduced to ashes by the start of the invasion. 2. A Church Without Faith The collaborator network was interconnected with the ROC – a de-facto state institution that, in the words of Russian religious scholar Sergey Chapnin, “less and less resembles a church in the traditional understanding of this word.” It is rather a multifaceted influence asset of the Russian state that has prematurely culminated first on the strategic and then on the operational level. The ROC attains its strategic significance from its special status as a formally depoliticised extension of the state’s hand – its main function ever since Peter the Great’s imperialistic reforms. Stalin’s revival of the church during WWII and the recruitment of its priests as the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD, Narodnyi komissariat vnutrennikh del) agents set up a patrimonial security structure that outlasted the collapse of the USSR. Up to date, Patriarch Kirill, the current leader of the ROC, continues to emphasise the close relationship between the church and the state. A deep dive into its history shows that in 1992, the church’s public discourse began to glorify Russian combat soldiers as saints. Indeed, in the context of war, there is no asset as useful as one that can justify and encourage dying en masse for the Motherland. However, events took a downturn for the ROC on the eve of the Crimean annexation. Leaked emails from the operation’s leading architect, Vladislav Surkov, revealed that the ROC had failed its grand strategic mission already in the leadup to the Ukrainian Euromaidan, making the annexation the last resort rather than a demonstration of power. This happened as the Kremlin sought to use the church as a tool to steer Ukrainian public sentiments towards “Eurasia” but, after various propaganda campaigns, found all the Orthodox churches in Ukraine still formally favouring integration with the EU. Having failed to influence the general direction of Ukraine, the ROC, nevertheless, maintained substantial social authority in the target country. The FSB’s polls found that ahead of the invasion, the church was still highly regarded by over half of the Ukrainian population. The deep intelligence infiltration of the Moscow Patriarchate’s domains allowed the church to remain the main cover organisation for Russian operations since the 1990s. The ROC’s impact was the most visible in Ukrainian domestic politics, where its presence secured Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory by cultivating a “religious nationalist” political faction, promoting the narrative of inherent religious unity between the two nations. Drawing on this uncontested institutional authority, the real value of the ROC was in enabling the Kremlin to uphold an elected pro-Russian representation in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine throughout multiple election cycles. What was left of the ROC’s strategic influence on Ukraine’s political and religious divisions peaked just before the start of the conflict in 2014. The culmination point was reached with the annexation of Crimea when the church first came under fire. Yet, it was still able to escape blame and distance itself by portraying the Russian intervention as a religious dispute within the context of a “Ukrainian civil war.” Since no creative adaptations to the strategy followed, the increasing public questioning of the ROC’s loyalties after the annexation took a toll on its influence, eventually leading to a formal secession of the Ukrainian church from the Moscow Patriarchate in 2019. It delivered a fatal blow to the ROC as its main reason for existence had become the “one Orthodox nation” myth used to maintain control over Ukraine. Whereas the ROC’s central strategic narrative had simply failed to make an impact before the occupation of Crimea, after the annexation, it was outright swept out of existence. Beyond political strategies, the ROC also had an operational role in capturing Ukraine. In the 2014 battles, for instance, priests were found fighting among separatist ranks in Donbas and operating torture chambers on the premises of religious facilities. Paramilitaries with a distinct Orthodox identity made a significant contribution to the separatist war effort, especially wing to the participation of local “Kazak” units familiar with the landscape. In the ongoing war, Estonian Foreign Intelligence recognised the ROC’s provision of multifunctional safehouses to be a critical constituent of the Russian ground network. Even more importantly, it was the ROC’s associates who provided the most valuable HUMINT if compared to the otherwise underperforming network. Naturally, the church’s special status as a religious institution, with a mandate to oppose the Kremlin, grants it the most auspicious position to conduct social network analysis and gather overall situational awareness. Christo Grozev also admits that church associates constitute a pool of trustworthy pro-Russian “spies and gunners” who assist with the actual conduct of hostilities. In continuation of the 2014 efforts, ROC priests were again among the most important local agents promoting the invaders and reporting the non-conformists to the Russian occupant forces. The ROC’s operational community manage- ment duties maxed out during the initial phases of the occupation in 2022, with the loss of plausible deniability regarding its involvement. Following the secession of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church during Poroshenko’s presidency, the ROC’s positions began to deteriorate, while the reach of malicious Russian networks and influence tools embedded in it was reduced. It had, nevertheless, enjoyed relative immunity up until the invasion due to the Ukrainian government’s political fear of limiting religious freedom and offending the remaining Ukrainian patriots among the ROC’s followers. However, uncovering the extent of Russian war crimes during the Ukrainian counteroffensive left the ROC no more room for denial and resulted in a systematic targeting of the church and its associates. It was at this point that the maintenance of the ROC as an operational asset became counterproductive. Ukrainian counterintelligence soon confiscated its physical property and made sure to expose all suspicious findings to the media. Statistics show that most believers consequently began to see Russian Orthodox priests primarily as intelligence agents; a tectonic shift in formal allegiance to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has occurred, thereby dealing a final blow to the ROC’s legitimacy in Ukraine. 3. Attack Without Leverage The final asset – crucial to shaping sentiments on the ground and complementing Russian military strikes – was state-sponsored cyberattacks on Ukraine’s critical infrastructure. One particular GRU cyber unit named “Sandworm” was the prime actor associated with this task since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. After hacking various news and government websites to spread disinformation and encourage the population to surrender to occupation authorities, the GRU’s cyber strategy culminated with a large-scale attack on Ukrainian critical infrastructure in December 2015, leaving thousands of civilians without power for a prolonged period. This was another classic attempt to undermine societal trust in Ukraine’s capabilities to withstand aggression and provide for its citizens. For external observers, Sandworm’s attack constituted both an escalation from previous disruptive incidents and the first successful sabotage of a state’s energy infrastructure by a covert cyber campaign. The West – while acknowledging the campaign’s highly sophisticated and systematic nature – was left dumbfounded by Russia’s technical capability and fearful of Moscow’s potential to politically subvert Ukraine. That ominous precedent exemplified to multiple stakeholders and observer states the necessity of securing their power grids from hostile foreign state actors. The 2015 attack became Sandworm’s culmination point: Ukraine was severely affected but recovered fast amidst the international attention. The GRU managed to hit the target’s weakness in a highly unexpected manner while initially retaining an umbrella of deniability, plausible enough to avoid legal repercussions. In theoretical terms, a retreat – or change of strategy – at that point was warranted to avoid burnout. However, the GRU approached the attack rather as reconnaissance by combat – i.e., a subtype of reflexive control aimed at gaining intelligence on the target’s capabilities and potential responses by way of attack. Having witnessed Ukraine’s inability to resist or respond to such incidents, Sandworm carried out occasional attacks in the following years. Continuing the cyber campaign without any modifications became counterproductive when private companies and other external entities entered the game on Ukraine’s side. By 2022, highly capable private actors such as Microsoft had already pre-emptively intervened and offered real-time assistance to Ukraine in countering Russian cyberattacks throughout the invasion. Likewise, the Starlink communications technology not only derailed Russian attempts to disturb Ukrainian command and control but became a lifeline for civil resistance. In a direct affront to Russia’s cyber campaign’s goals, the donated Western technology enabled sophisticated intelligence collection and fire support operations capability for the Ukrainian forces. The turn of tables became apparent with two main events. • First, in the beginning, stage of the invasion, Sandworm launched large- scale wiper attacks on Ukraine’s critical digital infrastructure, with Viasat, a military communications provider, among its targets. As in the old playbook, the goal was to undermine Ukraine’s political will and collect intelligence on all levels. While significant tactical complications for the target followed, the attack failed to affect Ukraine’s societal and military morale as planned. On the contrary, the Ukrainian Armed Forces managed to leverage the public for intelligence value, further strengthening societal resilience. • Second, reassured by the 2015 experience, Sandworm attempted another ambitious cyberattack on the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant a few months into the invasion, aiming to leave millions without energy. However, this time, the aid provided by Ukraine’s private supporters enabled a complete denial of the fatal attack or any force-multiplying effects to entail. Furthermore, the resemblance of the offensive software to the 2015 attack facilitated a faster neutralisation of the cyberweapon. Russia’s efforts again failed to account for the greatly enhanced resilience that Ukraine’s digital infrastructure would display after learning from the initial shock attack. The Ukrainian side, on the contrary, demonstrated an understanding of the GRU’s modus operandi and gained silent battleground superiority by capitalising on the initial exposure of Sandworm. Conclusion: The Common Denominator There was one common denominator between Andriy Derkach, the ROC leadership, and Sandworm: they were all products on the Kremlin’s covert action shelf whose expiry date had passed almost a decade ago (although they may still often come up to describe Russia’s hidden strategy to condition Ukraine into a quick surrender). What started as a markedly successful leveraging of covert assets in support of territorial gains and political concessions in 2014 culminated with a complete strategic blunder that was the 2022 invasion. A premature culmination of those three strategic assets is one way to explain the outcomes. After the successful annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of Donbas, the FSB expanded its Ukraine operations but failed to realise that the loyalty and public sentiments that triumphed in 2014 would not be the default in 2022. The GRU’s efforts against Ukraine were exposed both on the ground and in cyberspace, which helped Ukraine gain external support and build up resilience against the two types of subversion. In the meantime, the FSB and the GRU were heavily relying on the ROC, which had been gradually losing all leverage in Ukraine after the 2019 schism and the 2022 exposure of its direct involvement in the conflict. On the one hand, the turn of events suggests that Russia’s tools and theories of hybrid warfare may be neither as sophisticated nor effective as feared after the annexation of Crimea. The flip side of this implies that the current war will rely more on Russian biomass and hard power, especially now when assets of influence and non-military subversion have been exhausted. On the other hand, our understanding of Russia’s performance in this regard may be somewhat biased since we are, by definition, only able to analyse intelligence failures – not achievements. Another aspect to consider is the continuing revelations of Russia’s successful meddling in democratic political processes abroad, which suggests that some Russian covert assets outside of Ukraine may yet reach their culmination points. The central questions are if and what the Kremlin learns from the strategic failures in Ukraine, as well as whether it becomes more open to the structural improvements needed.

Diplomacy
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What’s at Stake in Upcoming Taiwan Election

by June Teufel Dreyer

BOTTOM LINE • Taiwan’s presidential election is scheduled for January 13, 2024. • A down-to-the-wire effort by two of the three opposition candidates to unite against front-runner William Lai Ching-te failed dramatically, while the third candidate made a grand last-minute exit. • Disarray among the opposition will not necessarily guarantee Lai’s election, with the latest polls showing him barely ahead of his two remaining challengers. • Both challengers, though averring their preference for a strong relationship with the United States, favor warmer relations with Beijing in a manner that may portend some degree of willingness to accept unification with China that would adversely impact US and Japanese security interests • Chinese efforts to influence the vote have included military intimidation, veiled threats of invasion, and disinformation. On Saturday, January 13, 2024, Taiwan will go to the polls to choose itsa next president and 113 seats in the country’s unicameral Legislative Yuan (LY). Current president Tsai Ing-wen is term-limited and at first four, now three, contenders are seeking to succeed her, making this the most contested election since 2000. What’s at Stake for the United States The United States is significantly involved in one war in the Middle East, another in Eastern Europe, and is hence at pains to avoid confrontation in Asia. It has sent two aircraft carrier groups and ammunition to support Israel as well as large quantities of weapons to the Ukrainian government, leaving concerns in both America and Taiwan about how much assistance it could give the country should Xi Jinping decide to attack. Given China’s avowed desire to annex the island by force if Taiwan’s citizens do not agree to unification amicably, and Beijing’s strong reaction to anything that it construes as moves to further legitimize Taiwan’s de facto independence, the Biden administration prefers a Taiwanese president who will avoid both actions that could prompt an attack and measures that would bring the island under Beijing’s control. More than democracy and human rights are at issue: Since Taiwan sits astride sea lanes that are vital for international commerce and security, ceding the country to China would enhance Beijing’s control of both. An estimated 40 percent of world trade passes through the South China Sea, which China has increasingly asserted its control over. Japan, a US treaty ally, has what is arguably an even greater stake in stability in the Taiwan Strait since a Taiwan under Chinese control would bring its territorial waters perilously close to Japan as well as potentially adversely impact the shipping that is so vital to its economy. China also contests control of areas of the East China Sea with Japan. Since Okinawa hosts the only US bases within 500 miles (the unrefueled combat radius of US fighters) from Taiwan, China might well strike those bases at the outset of a conflict. Japanese leaders have explicitly said that a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency and therefore an emergency for the Japan-US alliance. The Dramatis Personae Lai Ching-te (English name William Lai) is Taiwan’s incumbent vice-president and the nominee of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Born in 1959 and the son of a coal miner, he is a medical doctor with expertise in spinal cord injuries, though he has dedicated his later career to politics. Regarded as a lackluster campaigner, he can however point to his extensive record in office as a legislator, then premier, and most recently as vice-president. Hou Yu-ih, born in 1957 and the son of pork sellers, represents the Kuomintang (KMT) or Chinese Nationalist Party. After graduating from the Central Police Agency and obtaining a doctoral degree in crime prevention and corrections, he had a long career in law enforcement before becoming deputy mayor and later mayor of New Taipei City. Hou says that his background in police work is excellent preparation for service as president. Ko Wen-je, born in 1959, is a medical doctor known for his expertise in organ transplants before going into politics. Ko successfully ran for mayor of Taipei as an independent, though with the endorsement of the DPP. In 2019, Ko founded the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) as a challenge to the KMT and DPP. Terry Gou (Chinese name Guo Tai-ming) was born in 1950. A late entry into the race and formerly a KMT member who twice sought and was twice refused the party’s endorsement for nominee, he then announced he would run as an independent backed by the $7 billion fortune he made as founder of Hon Hai Precision Industries. Hon Hai, known abroad as Foxconn, is the world’s largest contract manufacturer of electronics. His parents, from Shanxi, fled to Taiwan in 1949, with his policeman father having fought for the KMT during the war. Gou believes that his extensive business experience makes him ideally suited for the presidency. Where They Stand All candidates face the dilemma of having to solicit the support of voters who overwhelmingly reject unification with China while not antagonizing China with its oft-repeated vow to achieve the “sacred task” of unification by whatever means. A poll released in late November showed almost no support for this: only 0.7 percent of respondents replied that they supported independence as soon as possible with 11.5 percent advocating maintaining the status quo while working toward unification. By contrast, 35.8 percent supported maintaining the status quo while working toward independence and 44.3 percent favored forever maintaining the status quo. On other issues, as do politicians worldwide, they must be wary of making promises they will find difficult to deliver on if elected. Lai, who has previously described himself as an advocate of Taiwanese independence, is careful to qualify the statement by adding that, since Taiwan is already an independent sovereign state known as the Republic of China, there is no need for a declaration of independence. He has rejected the so-called 1992 Consensus and pledged to continue Tsai Ing-wen’s non-confrontational policies. The 1992 Consensus refers to the outcome of a meeting in Singapore between the allegedly unofficial representatives of the Chinese Communist Party and the KMT, which then governed in the name of the Republic of China. Members of the opposition party objected. The Consensus, a term that did not exist until 2000, eight years later, holds that each side agreed that there is but one China and that Taiwan is part of China, but that each side has its own understanding of what China is: for the CCP, it is the People’s Republic of China; for the KMT, it is the Republic of China. KMT supporters continue to accept the latter definition, while the opposition DPP reject it, arguing that Taiwan is a sovereign state independent of the PRC. In 2010, newly elected president Tsai Ing-wen offered a concession in that she accepted the historical fact of the conference, but Beijing immediately rejected it as “an incomplete test paper.” The only one of the four candidates to support gay marriage, which has been legal in Taiwan since 2019, Lai wore a rainbow-colored scarf and spoke at a large parade in October to celebrate the law, declaring that equal marriage was not the end but the starting point for diversity. None of the other three presidential candidates attended, although the KMT’s youth wing did, with its members shouting that their party also supported equality as they passed by Lai. Hou Yu-ih accepts the 1992 Consensus, though adds that he objects to both a formal declaration of Taiwan’s independence and China’s offer to rule the country under Beijing’s interpretation of the one-country, two-systems formula. In a Foreign Affairs article that was obviously aimed at a US audience, Hou stressed the importance of urging both sides of the Taiwan Strait to jointly promote democracy, human rights, and mutual trust. He accepts, however, the need for deterrence against invasion and that Taiwan must deepen collaboration with the United States in areas such as intelligence sharing and regular joint training exercises. Hou has vowed to defend the Republic of China if it were attacked. It is significant that he did not use the word Taiwan, thereby implicitly endorsing his party’s position on the One China policy. On healthcare, Hou has promised to raise spending levels on national health insurance to 8 percent from its current 6.5 percent. Observers were puzzled at his choosing to emphasize this policy against two rivals who are medical doctors. Lai immediately countered that rather than announce a spending target, Hou should explain specifically what areas should be targeted for improvement and then suggested several that he, Lai, would pursue. Ko Wen-je emphasizes his pragmatism and rationality. On cross-strait relations, he advocates a middle-of-the-road approach that is neither anti-China nor overly pro-China. Ko has called for regular security talks among senior officials from Japan, Taiwan, and the United States regarding China’s intimidation of Taiwan. He argues that cutting off communication with China increases the risk of war and has expressed willingness to sign economic agreements with Beijing while also advocating that Taiwan follow the United States in de-risking. Agreements would be reviewed and referred to the Legislative Yuan for ratification—a backhanded reference to former president Ma Ying-jeou’s effort to push through a trade agreement with China that aroused a massive protest and closed down the Legislative Yuan for weeks. Ko has called on China to propose a new framework for engagement with Taiwan that explains what Beijing has to offer, telling inquisitive foreign reporters that “it’s their obligation [to do so] not mine” and adding that Beijing must also define exactly what it means by One China, whether it be political or economic. While economic cooperation with China is negotiable, he claims that politically there is “nothing we can do,” though he has said elsewhere that confrontation can be eased through dialogue and cultural, sports, and economic exchanges. Ko has also proposed turning the small offshore island of Jinmen, also known as Kinmen, into an experimental zone for peace between Taiwan and China. Critics immediately pointed out that, apart from being unconstitutional, Ko has not explained whether he would countenance suspending Jinmen’s elections, regulating its residents’ freedom of speech due to Beijing’s censorship and insistence on “internet sovereignty,” or imposing social controls on them to conform with Chinese practice. Terry Gou, whose Foxconn has over a million employees in its factories in China, has denounced the Taiwan independence movement while calling for de-escalating Sino-American tensions. He accepts the 1992 Consensus and advocates positioning Taiwan as equidistant from both the United States and China. As of now, it is “like prey on a tightrope”: If either America or China increases tensions even a little bit, Taiwan “will die a horrible death.” Critics believe that Foxconn’s heavy presence in China would make him vulnerable to pressures from Beijing; Gou responded that he has not managed the company’s operations since 2019 and in fact resigned from Foxconn’s board of directors in September 2023. Denying that he has ever been controlled by China, Gou vowed to reply “yes, do it!” if Beijing threatens Foxconn’s assets. As if to test his mettle, two months later, China announced an investigation into the tax and land use of Foxconn subsidiaries in several provinces, without supplying details. Foxconn management replied that it would “actively comply” with the investigators. Gou is an avowed opponent of gay marriage. Now no longer formally a candidate, he has vowed to keep advocating for these policy views. Taiwan does not possess indigenous fuels, so the energy issue is highly controversial. Opponents of nuclear energy argue that a Fukushima-type meltdown would devastate the much smaller and similarly earthquake-prone island. Proponents point out that without nuclear power, Taiwan would become still more vulnerable if it completely depended on imports to keep its heavily trade-dependent economy healthy. Due to a 2016 government decision to phase out nuclear power by 2025, usage has declined from over 20 percent to about 9 percent at present. Most citizens voted in 2021 to reject finishing a partially built plant whose completion has been suspended for three decades. Only Lai has vowed to make Taiwan a nuclear-free country by 2025, although he has not ruled out retaining some nuclear capability in case of emergencies like a Chinese invasion or blockade. All three other candidates claim that the nuclear-free homeland policy has failed, with Hou explicitly saying that he would revive nuclear power, including restarting two already decommissioned units, extending the operational period of a third, and evaluating whether to revive an abandoned fourth nuclear power plant. While warning of power shortages, no candidate has addressed the questions of safety or of finding a long-term solution for storing nuclear waste. Who’s Ahead? Taiwan, perhaps one of the most extensively polled countries in the world, has so many organizations collecting data that the Taiwan News regularly reports a poll of polls. Lai has been the consistent front-runner. Except for briefly exceeding 40 percent after a stopover trip to the United States en route to Paraguay, he until recently polled in the mid-thirties, with Ko and Hou in the mid-to-high twenties and Guo in the low teens. But Lai’s lead has been eroding. More concerning to the DPP, at the end of October Ko and KMT head Eric Chu reached an uneasy agreement—notably, Hou was not present— to share candidates in some constituencies in order to get a majority in the Legislative Yuan. If this succeeds and Lai is elected, the coalition could block Lai’s initiatives, leading to gridlock, as indeed happened during Chen Shui-bian’s presidency. It would also encourage Beijing to court them, as it has done during previous DPP administrations. Since the DPP has been in power for eight years, it has a track record that its opposition and non-committed voters can criticize. Rural citizens interviewed by a Canadian researcher believe that the party has forgotten about them while urbanites complain about inflation and lack of affordable housing and point out that wages have remained stagnant despite healthy growth rates. The youth vote, which had previously been a mainstay of DPP strength, has shown signs of shifting to the TPP. Many, including supporters of the party, believe that a social justice program is badly needed. They accuse the DPP of positioning itself as a progressive party but not behaving like one, urging it to enact policies that meaningfully tax the rich and invest the money in green technology, infrastructure, and innovation. The opposition has said that a DPP victory would mean war with China. Chinese Efforts to Influence the Election Beijing’s least favorite candidate is surely Lai. Rather than overtly interfere, a strategy that backfired badly in the 1996 election, it has tried a mixture of sticks and carrots. Sticks include Chinese fighter jets so regularly crossing the median line in the Taiwan Strait that a new normal now exists, ominous warnings from high military figures, and covert attempts such as disinformation. Carrots include hosting youth delegations to visit China, and a plan to make Fujian province a zone for integrated development with Taiwan, including encouraging Taiwanese firms to list on Chinese stock exchanges and supporting innovative ways of cross-strait capital cooperation. Entry and exit visas for “Taiwan compatriots” are being eased. While such initiatives are above board, some others are not. In late October, Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau seized $354.6 million in illegal remittances to candidates regarded as sympathetic to China. Among the conduits were businesspeople, contributions to temple charity events, dummy accounts through unregistered banks, and cryptocurrency. It is difficult to tell how successful these tactics are, with anecdotal evidence indicating that while some people are intimidated by China’s threats, others respond negatively. Taiwanese are well aware of the fate of Hong Kong, where the party-state ruthlessly quashed civil liberties in contravention of the promises it was treaty-bound to honor and often used as a cautionary tale to those few who view unification more favorably. Unexpected Last-Minute Developments At the meeting to discuss cooperation on fielding candidates for the Legislative Yuan, Ko and Hou also discussed having one of them agree to become vice-president while the other would be the presidential nominee. Assuming—a big if—that most of the supporters of one would agree to vote with supporters of the other, they would comfortably beat Lai. The possibility of an alliance at the top was always risky: In addition to each man having a healthy ego that would make subordinating himself to the other difficult, Ko was on record as saying that the things he hates most are “mosquitoes, cockroaches and the KMT.” He founded the TPP as a counterweight to both KMT and DPP, attracting many supporters, particularly among the young, who were disenchanted with the two. While some of the young voters might accept an alliance, others would likely feel betrayed. Whether Ko or Hou would get top billing, they pledged to abide by the opinion polls on who was the stronger. After much discussion, the two settled on accepting six of the nine major polls, but then disagreed on who was ahead based on differing interpretations of the margins of error. Former president Ma Ying-jeou then stepped in to mediate, summoning Ko and Hou to his office on November 24, the deadline for filing for the election. Only Hou appeared, waiting several hours fruitlessly. Ko later agreed to meet at a hotel and even then arrived late as a gaggle of media waited impatiently outside. The result was a dramatic failure with the candidates sniping at each other live on the country’s television networks: They will run separately. The event even upstaged Terry Gou’s also dramatic departure wherein the typically flamboyant Gou announced that although he “might be forgotten by the people,” he had chosen to sacrifice himself for the greater good, showing his “utmost dedication to his homeland.” With barely five weeks before the election, analysts have scrutinized the newly announced vice-presidential picks of the remaining three candidates. Lai has chosen Hsiao Bi-khim, the highly regarded woman who has served as Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to Washington for the past several years. But whether and by how much the choice will increase Lai’s popularity remains to be seen. Beijing has denounced Hsiao as a “diehard secessionist” and says the decision could “mean war for Taiwan,” which could scare some voters. Asked about this at a television interview soon after her selection, Hsiao responded carefully, saying that all Taiwanese reject war and that any candidate “must approach [relations with China] with utmost responsibility.” Hou’s choice for vice-president, the avowed pro-unificationist media executive Jaw Shaw-kong, also has negatives as well as positives. Presumably chosen to appeal to the KMT’s conservative base, Jaw is apt to alienate more moderate KMT members and voters who fear unification. His more assertive personality and markedly different view of unification raise the possibility of friction between him and Hou. Kou’s vice-presidential pick, Cynthia Wu, is likewise problematic. With very little political experience, she has been an executive of a family-founded major life insurance company that has been fined for speculation and questionable land deals. This undercuts the TPP’s claim to be the party that represents the interests of the young and underprivileged. Meanwhile, polls show Lai’s lead over Hou shrinking to about one point, with Ko less than four points behind Hou. At this point, the election is too close to call. Expect the Unexpected? Should it have to live with Lai, Beijing’s least bad scenario would be a divided Legislative Yuan, which would enable it to work with the opposition, as it also has done with previous DPP-led administrations. Assuming, as is likely, that Lai can be trusted to keep his promise to continue his predecessor’s nonconfrontational policies, he is certainly Washington’s preferred candidate. But, as evidenced by the events of the past few weeks, Taiwan’s politics are full of surprises: Neither the United States nor China can be sure that the election will go in its preferred direction. Dealing with democracies is inherently uncertain, for both autocracies and other democratic countries.

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France-United States: strategic allies, economic rivals

by Pascal Boniface

Emmanuel Macron has just completed a state visit to the United States of which everyone, both on the American and French side, is pleased with the success. In the entourage of the French president, it is put forward that it was a state visit, therefore of primary importance in the protocol order. France also highlights that this was the first state visit by a foreign head of state to the United States since Biden's election, demonstrating the good relationship between the United States and France. . But it is always embarrassing to note that European countries systematically boast of being Washington's favorite, when the United States never boasts of maintaining good relations with a European country. This testifies to a recognition, on the part of Washington, of the peripheral status of European countries in relation to the United States. Sumptuous dinner in the gardens of the White House, successful visit to New Orleans to highlight the French-speaking world, celebration of unity against Russia in Ukraine… Some unfortunate subjects were nevertheless on the program, particularly on the economic level. . There was indeed talk of the US plan called the Inflation Reduction Act amounting to 370 billion dollars aimed at supporting the greening of the US economy, which, in the words of Emmanuel Macron, is “hyper-aggressive”. We can only be pleased that the United States is greening its economy. Moreover, at first, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen congratulated the United States for embarking on such a plan. But very quickly, France, Germany and European countries in general realized that this plan risked having extremely negative consequences on a European industry already in bad shape. Indeed, industrialists, regardless of their nationality, can recover up to 40% of their investment if they invest in the United States or in countries that have free trade agreements with them, namely Mexico. and Canada. The great fear of Europeans, exacerbated by the fact that the continent is already experiencing an economic crisis due to rising energy costs, inflation and an industry that is generally not doing very well, rests on the fact that American industrialists present in Europe can return to the United States to benefit from this aid, and even more so that European industrialists drop their investments in Europe to direct them to the United States. Some big names in European industry, particularly Germany, have already threatened to do so, also because of the extremely attractive cost of energy in the United States. Emmanuel Macron made very strong statements on this subject before his visit. This would have, according to him, allowed him to be heard by the American president. Heard okay, but not sure he was listened to. Joe Biden has indeed said that the United States does not apologize, that he does not apologize. He made no concessions to the demands of European politicians. Emmanuel Macron did not return with any tangible results. In the interview he gave to Le Parisien on Sunday December 4 on the plane that brought him back to Paris, Emmanuel Macron declared that American officials had told him that their objective was not to weaken European industry. If the goal is not this, it could be the result. Let's hope that this trip will have at least made it possible to awaken European consciences in the face of this danger for their economies. Once again, Europeans are lagging behind American decisions. Emmanuel Macron declared that for the moment no European voice had been raised against this American law. He is right, but we must now take action and not be content with good words, as was the case after the AUKUS affair. Joe Biden then assured Macron during a reconciliation meeting in Rome that the Americans would not do it again. France, which had recalled its ambassador to Washington, then sent him back. Not much had happened then. France and Europe cannot simply be satisfied with comforting, even anesthetic words from the Americans if they are not accompanied by concrete gestures and positive results. In reality, the United States defends its national interests, they are right to do so. Not acting in the same way, because divided and paralyzed, it is the Europeans who are at fault. There is not a “Buy European Act” like there is a Buy American Act. China on the one hand, the United States on the other really defend their interests, Europe does not. When France evokes the idea of defending the national interest against the United States, Paris is quickly accused of anti-Americanism. On the other hand, the United States is not accused of anti-Europeanism when it defends its national interest vis-à-vis Europe. Joe Biden is on the way to achieving what Donald Trump wanted to do, but he is doing it slowly. Donald Trump banged on the table, threatened and insulted, Joe Biden speaks in a soft and calm voice and assures Europeans of his friendship. We have often heard that it is time to get out of naivety about Russia or China. It may also be time to do it with regard to the United States because through such legislation they are not treating Europe as an ally. If the transatlantic strategic alliance is undeniable, especially in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine, the relationship remains, from a commercial and economic point of view, a competition. With this plan, this competition is no longer quite fair from the United States. It is essential to be aware of this in Europe. From a strategic point of view, the Europeans are paralyzed by the Russian military threat, they think that only the United States can defend them against this threat and that it is worth some concessions. But in fact, there is no major Russian military threat to European Union member countries. Indeed, Russia is proving unable to conquer the Donbass as a whole, and fails to control the territories it has illegally annexed. This makes the prospect of an attack on Western Europe difficult to envisage. The Russian military threat is therefore certainly to be put into perspective. It is not a question of doing so regarding the aggressive intentions of Vladimir Putin, but of measuring this threat from a capability point of view. If this military threat is more supposed than real, then this does not imply neglecting European economic and commercial interests to benefit from American protection. Emmanuel Macron therefore issued a warning cry. Now we have to take action.

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Another Leftist Coalition Government in Spain, Though Just Barely

by Bonnie N. Field

Pedro Sánchez, Spain’s incumbent prime minister, was sworn into office for the third time on 17 November 2023. He once again heads a minority coalition government. This time, it includes the prime minister’s Socialist Party (PSOE) and Sumar (Sum or Add Up), a new left wing political platform launched by Yolanda Díaz, the incumbent and continuing labour minister and second deputy prime minister. While clear continuities exist, there are important changes regarding the junior party partner in the coalition. Sánchez’s previous cabinet, formed in 2020, included the radical left Unidas Podemos (United We Can), an alliance of Podemos and the United Left, the latter centred around the Spanish Communist Party. After much public discord, the weakened Podemos joined the Sumar alliance for the July 2023 parliamentary elections. Yet none of Sumar’s five ministerial posts (out of 22 total) in the new government went to Podemos. While Díaz hails originally from the United Left, Sumar is a more moderate ally for the Socialists, at least in terms of the likely tone and style of its government representatives. It remains to be seen how the disgruntled Podemos, with 5 of Sumar’s 31 seats in the Congress of Deputies, will affect governance and Díaz’s nascent platform. Continuing the practice on the political left of gender parity or majority women cabinets, the new government has 55 percent women ministers, four of whom are also deputy prime ministers. This government also confirmed Spain as a world leader in minority cabinets. Since Spain’s return to democracy in 1977, 75 percent of its cabinets have been minority ones, meaning the party or parties in the cabinet do not control a majority of seats in the parliamentary chamber to which the government is responsible. While Spain is used to making these cabinets (mostly) work, this may be the most complicated governing scenario to date. The leftist government faces a political right that is strong, angry, and mobilized—though this both challenges and serves as a buttress that could fortify the new government. The conservative Popular Party (PP), led by Alberto Núñez Feijóo, won the most votes and parliamentary seats in the July election, two percentage points and 14 seats more than the Socialists, yet far from a majority. As was already clear when the election returns came in, the PP candidate could not cobble together enough votes in parliament and failed in his attempt to become prime minister in September 2023. He received the votes of the PP, the far-right party Vox (Voice in Latin), and two representatives of right-leaning regional parties. Feijóo’s defeat was, in part, due to his party’s proximity and expected governing alliance with Vox. The political right is also strong in local and regional governments in Spain. Following the May 2023 subnational elections, the Popular Party leads 11 of Spain’s 17 powerful regional governments—in five it governs jointly with Vox. The Socialist Party only leads three regional governments. And the PP has a majority in Spain’s upper, though weaker, chamber of parliament, the Senate. The right has questioned Sánchez’s legitimacy, persona, and alliances stretching back at least to 2018 when he replaced PP Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, whom parliament removed in a constructive vote of no confidence. Sanchismo has become a popular buzzword the right uses to capture its disdain for the prime minister. Nonetheless, the anger and mobilisation on the political right, particularly from Vox and its supporters, but also from the PP and its supporters, peaked once it became public that Sánchez and the PSOE would support an amnesty for those involved in the 2017 Catalan independence push, despite Sánchez’s prior opposition to an amnesty and his claim that it would be unconstitutional. An amnesty was part of a deal to gain the support of pro-independence Catalan parties, ERC and Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia), for Sanchez’s election as prime minister. The controversial leader of Junts, Carles Puigdemont, who resides in Brussels to escape Spanish judges, and would be the main beneficiary of an amnesty, has forewarned that the party’s support for the new government depends on clear advances in the devolution of central state powers to Catalonia and the recognition of the Catalan national identity. Amid significant societal division over the agreement, far right groups, in Trumpist style, engaged in violent protests in front of the PSOE’s headquarters. Protesters frequently showed support for Francoism and denounced what they considered to be a coup-d’état by the parliamentary majority. The extremist tone has put the PP in an uncomfortable position – it has attempted to calibrate its response via numerous demonstrations, expressing firm opposition while also trying to avoid being linked to the autocratic values visible at other demonstrations. The agreement with Junts also met with unprecedented criticism in judicial circles, particularly furious because the agreement mentions alleged lawfare, in reference to what Catalan nationalists view as an excessive legal response to the Catalan push for independence and its leaders. In contrast, most of the electorate that supported the parties of the new majority are relieved that the right-wing forces did not take control of the Spanish government, even though 40 percent of the PSOE voters are against this amnesty. To pass legislation (and survive), the government will need to consistently forge agreements among the government partners and with a diverse set of regionally based parliamentary allies. The latter include Catalan separatists on the left (ERC) and right (Junts), the centre-right Basque Nationalist Party, the Basque left-wing separatist EH-Bildu, the Galician nationalist and left-wing BNG, and the centre-right Canary Coalition. The government has almost no margin. Jointly these parties’ votes add up to 179, only three votes over an absolute majority. The Catalan Junts, with seven seats, is the most significant wildcard. While relative majorities of more yes than no votes are sometimes sufficient in Spain’s parliament, the opposition sums 171 votes. The most relevant ministers that have surrounded Sánchez since he became prime minister remain in the new cabinet, ensuring continuity in the main policy areas (finance, security, external affairs), although the influential minister of economy, Nadia Calviño, is expected to leave the executive in the coming weeks to become President of the European Investment Bank. The newcomers are expected to provide loyalty and a leftist hue to the government agenda, seeking to maintain their voters’ support in a polarised environment. This may be particularly significant in the new legislative term since the new executive will face more dilemmas when negotiating the policy agenda with its parliamentary partners. It will need to rely more on right-wing parties (PNV and Junts) than the prior government. Policy contradictions among the government’s allies will necessarily arise as many of them (PNV and EH-Bildu, Junts and ERC) are electoral opponents that will compete in the regional elections in the Basque Country and Catalonia in the coming months. We’ll need to wait and see how well the Spanish prime minister can live up to the spirit of his book, published four years ago, Manual of Resistance. Keywords government spain pedro sánchez spain prime minister socialist communist party democracy elections