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Diplomacy
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Russia-UAE talks

by Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin held talks with President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi. The agenda included the current state of multifaceted Russia-UAE cooperation and prospects for the further expansion of ties, as well as topical international issues with a focus on the situation in the Middle East. Before the consultations began, an official welcoming ceremony for the Russian President was hosted by the President of the UAE at the Qasr Al Watan Palace. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov, Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Industry and Trade, Russian co-chair of the Russian-Emirati Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Technical Cooperation Denis Manturov, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office – Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov, presidential aides Igor Levitin, Maxim Oreshkin and Yury Ushakov, Russia’s Ambassador to the UAE Timur Zabirov, as well as Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, Central Bank Governor, heads of the Roscosmos State Corporation, Russian Direct Investment Fund, Rosatom State Corporation, Rosoboronexport, VEB.RF State Development Corporation, and other officials took part in the talks on Russia’s side. * * * Beginning of Russia-UAE talks President of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (retranslated): Welcome, my dear friend Vladimir Putin, to the United Arab Emirates. I am glad to see you again. Let me begin by emphasising the historical nature of relations between the Russian Federation and the UAE. Over the past years, we have witnessed a substantial push to develop these relations in various spheres for the mutual benefit of our nations and people. I would like to express my great appreciation for your personal and effective contribution to strengthening our bilateral relations. In this context, I would like to say that the UAE is Russia’s biggest trade partner in the Middle East and in the Gulf Region. Let me note that the UAE is a major investor in the Russian economy. Investment in the non-oil sector increased by 103 percent over the past year. I would like to specifically mention that this is an unprecedented breakthrough which demonstrates the special nature of relations between our countries. I will be glad to continue working together on strengthening bilateral cooperation in various spheres. Of course, promoting development in energy, infrastructure, and high technologies, as well as elsewhere has special priority. In addition to this, I would like to mention that the United Arab Emirates and the Russian Federation have been working together and cooperating within various international frameworks. For example, we work together within BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, where the Emirates were granted dialogue partner status in May 2023. We are also developing and promoting the strategic dialogue between the Russian Federation and the Gulf Cooperation Council. This helps us reinforce our relations and expand them in various spheres, promoting a proactive exchange of views on key international and regional matters, as well as on key items on our bilateral agenda. Once again, Mr President, welcome to the United Arab Emirates. I wish progress and prosperity to the Russian Federation and its people. President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Your Highness, friends, First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting us and for this colourful and friendly welcome. The other day, the United Arab Emirates celebrated the 52nd anniversary of its founding. I want to congratulate you on this and I want to recall that the Soviet Union was among the first to recognise this independent, self-reliant, and sovereign state. Today, our relations – thanks to the position you have taken – have reached unprecedented heights. You and I are in constant contact, and our colleagues work together on a permanent basis. In fact, the United Arab Emirates is Russia’s main trade partner in the Arab world. Last year, trade grew by 67.7 percent. This year, I think, the figures will be even higher. The same goes for investment activity. There is also progress in industrial cooperation, by which I mean cooperation to build certain industrial facilities in the United Arab Emirates and in the Russian Federation. A number of major oil and gas projects are being implemented. We also cooperate through OPEC Plus. We certainly attach due importance to humanitarian ties. Tourist exchanges are making headway: last year, almost one million tourists from Russia – a little over 900,000 – visited the UAE. A Russian school has been opened, and we are grateful to you for ordering land set aside to build a Russian Orthodox church. We also cooperate internationally. As a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, the United Arab Emirates makes a huge contribution to stabilising the situation in the world. We will certainly discuss with you the situation in the main hot spots, primarily, of course, the Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I will certainly inform you of the developments in the context of the Ukraine crisis. I am quite pleased that the United Arab Emirates is beginning to work within the BRICS system. In 2024, Russia will chair this organisation. We will continue contacts on this. We look forward to meeting you at the [BRICS] summit in Kazan in October 2024. The UAE is currently hosting one of the world’s most important environmental forums. The first results of the effort to implement the Paris Agreement are being summed up. As expected, you are holding this event at the highest level, and very many people in the world, even those who do not identify themselves with environmental movements, are certainly grateful to you for this work. A Russian delegation is also involved in this work at the highest level. We wish you success. I have no doubt that it will be so. Shukran! <…>

Diplomacy
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China Exploits Russia’s Vulnerabilities

by Ksenia Kirillova

According to reports from Chinese media in late November, Beijing has refused to invest in the construction of the Power of Siberia-2 natural gas pipeline, proposing instead that Moscow fully cover the multibillion-dollar project. China also insists on substantial discounts for Russian gas, demonstrating strong “bargaining power” in negotiations with the Kremlin (South China Morning Post, November 24). Power of Siberia-2 is pivotal for Russia in mitigating the losses incurred after Gazprom’s withdrawal from the European market. As Western sanctions have weakened Moscow’s geopolitical leverage with its energy resources, Beijing has capitalized on the situation to increase energy flows to China at cheaper prices. Most economists argue that Moscow cannot fully compensate for the losses resulting from limited access to European markets. They also point out that the gas supplies currently flowing through the Power of Siberia-1 pipeline are already being sold to China at almost half the price of rates for the European Union and Turkey. Russian oil and gas analyst Mikhail Krutikhin emphasizes that Beijing has little interest in the construction of the Power of Siberia-2 pipeline, as China does not require large quantities of natural gas. He notes that the planned capacity of the new pipeline is 50 billion cubic meters (bcm), while Gazprom, on average, has exported 155 bcm to the West. According to Krutikhin, with the discounts, Russian gas exports to China do not even cover the operational costs of their extraction and transportation. The Kremlin, nevertheless, is forced to construct a second gas pipeline because it cannot guarantee the promised gas supplies of existing agreements without it due to the limited gas deposits supporting Power of Siberia-1 (VOA Russian Service, November 28). China’s exploitation of Russian vulnerabilities should not come as a surprise. Experts observed last spring that Beijing only supports Moscow to serve Chinese interests, for example, leveraging Russian anti-Western narratives in its own propaganda and treating the Russian Far East as a “resource colony” (see EDM, February 6). China will not assist Russia to its own detriment. Marina Rudyak, a professor of Sinology at Heidelberg University, believes that the Chinese government may genuinely fear that a Russian victory in Ukraine could strengthen Moscow’s influence in Central Asia and beyond (Svoboda, May 21, 2022). At the same time, Beijing has provided practical assistance to Moscow for projects personally important to Russian President Vladimir Putin. For example, China has actively shared its experience with censorship and digital control over the Internet since 2015, offering insights on the functions and capabilities of China’s “Great Firewall” (Kremlin.ru, June 5, 2019; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 5). This cooperation, however, does not prevent China from competing with Russia for influence in Central Asia, the South Caucasus, and other regions (Gazeta.ru, September 20, 2019; see EDM, October 5, 2022, November 15, 2022, May 24, August 10). Moscow’s predicament lies in unrealistic expectations for cooperation with its “Eastern partners,” including China and other “non-Western” countries. Putin has repeatedly stated that the expansion of the BRICS countries (originally Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) will become a movement “against the hegemony and neo-colonialism policy of the West” (Izvestiya, August 23). In contrast, the organization’s members are not planning to sever relations with Western countries and are attempting to extract maximum benefits in finding a balance between the East and West. Another of the Kremlin’s unrealistic hopes was the dream of creating a single currency for BRICS members to strengthen Moscow’s ability to circumvent sanctions. Such talks began emerging in the Russian press at the end of last year (Sibnovosti.ru, December 3, 2022). By mid-summer, central Russian media predicted that the currency would be created in August, noting that the realization of this idea was “closer than ever before” (Moskovskij komsomolets, July 9). Pro-Kremlin experts discussed how the new currency would replace the “toxic and inconvenient” US dollar and be used for intergovernmental payments and settlements (Vechernyaya Moskva, July 3). The most optimistic among them speculated that the dollar might not withstand this challenge (Iarex.ru, May 17). Following the August BRICS summit, Russian officials were compelled to acknowledge that their partners had no intention of creating a single currency in the near future. On August 24, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov officially relented on Moscow’s hopes for a unified currency at the summit in Johannesburg (Rossiyskaya gazeta, August 24). That same day, South African Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana announced that the creation of a single currency had never been discussed within the BRICS format, even informally (Forbes.ru, August 24). A parallel situation of unrealistic expectations for allies is unfolding for Russia with Iran. In early 2022, Russia extended a credit line of $1.4 billion for the construction of the Sirik thermal power station in Iran, a debt that Tehran has yet to settle. In July 2022, Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company signed a memorandum of understanding and cooperation, leading to agreements on projects valued at $40 billion. These projects encompass the development of the Kish and North Pars gas fields and Russia’s involvement in the operations of the South Pars field (Nezavisimaya gazeta, November 7, 2022). Even with the agreements in hand, little tangible progress has been made. The lack of progress in joint Russian-Iranian projects closely mirrors the breakdown in Russian-Chinese cooperation with Power of Siberia-2. Independent analysts noted last year that Moscow should not anticipate Iran’s assistance in modernizing underdeveloped infrastructure along the “North-South” corridor. Russia has sought to develop this route to connect with the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean via the Caspian Sea and Iran. Even if the new corridor is further developed, it will not be able to wholly replace the traditional transit routes Russia utilized before its war against Ukraine (Carnegie Politika, October 28, 2022). Russia is being increasingly forced to supply strategic resources to partners on highly unfavorable terms in exchange for minor displays of political support and assistance. In the long run, such a policy will likely result in significant losses for Moscow. While cooperation with China and Iran has improved in some areas, the current circumstances underline that, in the end, both Beijing and Tehran will pursue their own interests, even at Moscow’s expense.

Defense & Security
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Wars create opportunities for peaceful change: Will the Gaza war serve as a case in point?

by Elie Podeh

History teaches us that wars, unfortunate as they are, can sometimes create opportunities for major changes that were previously unthinkable, improbable, or impossible. World War I, World War II, the First Gulf War, and many other conflagrations led to formidable political, military, and economic changes. Some of these conflicts and their immediate consequences laid the ground for future wars (like the punitive Versailles peace treaty following World War I), but others gave rise to peaceful arrangements (like the multilateral political and economic institutions as well as security alliance systems that emerged after World War II). The history of the Arab-Israeli conflict is no different. Indeed, all the major Israeli-Arab wars, as well as the many violent Israeli-Palestinian clashes, offered opportunities for change. Some were seized; others were squandered. When a chain of circumstances produces a favorable opportunity, a liminal period is created, which makes it possible to achieve a breakthrough in a deadlocked conflict. The opportunity may arise from a military or political event that significantly affects the status quo. Particularly when this event causes a traumatic experience affecting both leadership and society, the likelihood of significant change occurring increases. If this moment — or opportunity — is not seized, it is likely to disappear. While war is still raging in Gaza following Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 attack on Israel, it nonetheless arguably offers an opportunity for a profound shift in the modalities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which looked unlikely in the period preceding the war. Based on analysis of several examples from the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one can assert that in order to seize the opportunity, both sides will need legitimate leaderships that enjoy international support and are willing and determined to make concessions and build trust. Opportunities seized The Arab-Israeli conflict saw at least three opportunities turn into successful peace agreements: the Israeli-Egyptian treaty (1979); the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians (1993, 1995); and the Israeli-Jordanian treaty (1994). The Israeli-Egyptian treaty was the culmination of a series of agreements signed in the aftermath of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The sense of trauma engulfing Israeli society following the surprise Egyptian offensive and initial military success, in tandem with Egypt’s sense of triumph over an invincible army, created a semblance of balance between the warring parties, paving the way for a major psychological change on both sides. In addition, the contacts that preceded the war (see below) as well as the two post-war Disengagement Agreements (1974-75) built a certain degree of trust between the Egyptian and Israeli decision-makers. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and then-newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin also enjoyed domestic legitimacy and were determined to pursue peace, even at the price of major concessions. Finally, the mediation of U.S. President Jimmy Carter was crucial in bridging all the gaps. Thus, the 1973 war offered an opportunity that was successfully seized by the parties. The second efficacious opportunity was the Oslo Accords, reached in the aftermath of three major international and regional events: Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait and the war to liberate it, led by the United States and a Western-Arab military coalition (1990-91); the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War (1989); and the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-91). These events resulted, inter alia, in the September 1991 Madrid Peace Conference. The Intifada boosted the Palestinian cause internationally and regionally, convincing many Israelis that they could no longer ignore this major problem on their doorstep. And while the Intifada strengthened the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) position, the group soon turned into a pariah over its support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Thus, following a psychological turnabout, both Palestinians and Israelis were drawn, reluctantly, into the Madrid Conference. Though the consequent Israel-Arab bilateral talks soon deadlocked, the secret Israeli-Palestinian track gained momentum, culminating in the first Oslo agreement two years later. These talks built a certain degree of trust between the two sides, while Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat — both of whom enjoyed domestic legitimacy — were willing to make painful concessions in order to sign a historic agreement. Though the Oslo Accords were never fully implemented due to Rabin’s assassination and leadership mistakes on both sides, the fact of the matter is that the opportunity created in the aftermath of all these events was consummated. The third successful opportunity was the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. The same set of events that paved the way for Oslo was relevant here as well. Yet this opportunity had been waiting mainly for a breakthrough in Israeli-Palestinian relations, since the level of mutual trust between the Israeli and Jordanian leaderships was already high by this point, as were their respective levels of political legitimacy and willingness to move forward. This state of affairs was a result of many years of military and political cooperation behind the scenes, stemming from mutual interests and common enemies. The high level of trust and cooperation between Israel and Jordan made American mediation unnecessary or redundant. Thus, in contrast to the two other case studies, there was no psychological barrier or trauma effect that needed to be overcome. As all these successful examples show, when an opportunity presents itself after a fateful war that generates a psychological shift, only legitimate leaders convinced and determined to achieve what they see as a necessary change can develop sufficient trust to move toward a peaceful solution. Superpower involvement may be a contributing factor, but it cannot replace the inner convictions of the warring parties. Opportunities squandered The Arab-Israeli conflict is rife with failures to make use of opportunities in the aftermath of wars, regime changes, and so on. In fact, research on these opportunities shows that although most of them were not seized, they were not necessarily missed. Rather, the majority of failures to capitalize on them was due to the lack of legitimate leaders at the time, insufficient resolve to make concessions and put an end to the conflict, as well as lack of mutual trust and international support. That said, some opportunities were in fact squandered because of leadership mistakes, negligence, or even deliberate sabotage by one side of the conflict: some notable examples included the United Nations’ 1947 Partition Plan, the 2000 Clinton Parameters, and the 2002 Arab Peace Plan. In this context, it is worth analyzing the unseized opportunities arising from the 1967 Six-Day War and the Second Intifada (2000-2005). Following the 1967 war, Israel possessed cardinal negotiating chips: Sinai (vis-à-vis Egypt), the Golan Heights (vis-à-vis Syria), and the West Bank (vis-à-vis Jordan or the Palestinians). Yet none of these territorial assets were used to seriously advance peace. The swift and dramatic victory over the Arab armies bred Israeli complacency. Thus, when Egyptian President Sadat offered a peace initiative for the first time in 1971, the Israeli response by Prime Minister Golda Meir was hardly encouraging. Over half a century on, the question of whether an opportunity had indeed been missed is still under debate, yet it is clear that neither side was ready to seize the opportunity that presented itself in the post-1967 war period. Undoubtedly, the sense of trauma associated with the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which was absent after 1967, as well as leadership intransigence contributed to the failure. At the same time, ideological considerations within the Israeli government hampered progress vis-à-vis Jordan as well. The Second Intifada was a traumatic experience for both Israelis and Palestinians. More than 1,000 Israelis, 70% of them civilians, were killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks and some 8,000 were injured. Around 4,000 Palestinians, between one-third and one-half of them civilians, were killed in Israeli counter-terrorism operations, and over 30,000 were wounded. The devastating toll on both sides, as well as al-Qaeda’s terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., in September 2001, opened the door to several conflict resolution initiatives: namely, the Saudi peace plan in February 2002, which became the Arab Peace Initiative a month later; the U.S. Road Map in April 2003; and Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in the summer of 2005, following the end of the Second Intifada. In theory, that combination of major events with formal peace initiatives created ideal opportunities; yet none materialized. It seems that in spite of the number of victims, neither side had reached what U.S. political scientist Ira William Zartman calls “a mutually hurting stalemate” that generates certain “ripeness” and willingness to compromise. In addition, neither leader possessed sufficient legitimacy or was convinced of the necessity to reach a settlement based on meaningful concessions. The 2023 Gaza war It is difficult to contemplate in the midst of war how the day after might look. Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, and particularly its atrocities against civilians, shook the foundations of Israeli society, thrusting to the forefront searing memories of the Holocaust and sparking calls for revenge. Israeli retaliation against Hamas has already led to the deaths of more than 15,000 Palestinians and injured tens of thousands more. The end of the war is nowhere in the offing, and the fate of Gaza remains unknown. The war will undoubtedly leave residues of deep trauma on both Israeli and Palestinian societies. A sober assessment would draw a distinction between immediate and long-term repercussions: In the immediate future, the polarization between the two peoples may grow, with extremist groups on both sides attempting to galvanize public opinion against each other. Scholars Ilan Peleg and Paul Scham suggested, in a 2010 Middle East Journal piece, that “a traumatic experience or a significant change might turn out to be a precondition for peacemaking in the Middle East in the years to come.” Thus, the traumatic effects of the current events may create an opportunity in the longer run. Evidently, the Hamas attack — barbaric as it was — rekindled the Palestinian issue, placing it on the international and regional agendas after it was sidelined by the 2020 Abraham Accords and the emerging normalization with Saudi Arabia. The current trauma may offer an opportunity to deal not only with the problem of Gaza, but with the Palestinian issue in its entirety. Many ideas have been presented by various players for the “day after.” One such idea is for the Biden administration to promote Saudi-Israeli normalization in a way that would include a significant Palestinian component. Embedding the bilateral Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the wider regional setting may improve the U.S.’s chances of cementing a durable deal. However, even if the stakeholders identify the existence of an opportunity “to do something,” there are currently no broadly supported political leaders determined to pursue peaceful ideas on either side, while trust is also completely lacking. Thus, in order to seize an opportunity that seemingly exists, the two sides first need to elect legitimate leaders capable of making major decisions that entail concessions and build a modicum of trust with the help of international and regional powers. Only then will the opportunity arising from this bloody war stand a chance of being seized.

Energy & Economics
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To Deal or Not to Deal: How to Support Tunisia out of Its Predicament

by Michaël Béchir Ayari , Riccardo Fabiani

Tunisia is beset by deepening political and economic challenges. President Kais Saied is transforming the country’s parliamentary system into an authoritarian presidential one that has become increasingly repressive. Arrests and convictions of opposition politicians have surged. Saied’s aggressive anti-foreigner discourse has fuelled xenophobic sentiment and contributed to a spike in violent attacks against sub-Saharan migrants. Economically, Tunisia is grappling with the fallout of a decade of sluggish growth compounded by a series of economic shocks since 2020. The nation’s public debt has soared, with significant debt repayments looming. As the country tries to deal with mounting financial constraints, its inability to attract foreign loans is further clouding its economic future. Saied now must decide whether to embrace a credit agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or potentially default on Tunisia’s foreign debt. Against this backdrop, the EU and, in particular, Italy have a pivotal role to play. They can either help steer Tunisia toward a more stable economic future or watch it descend into chaos. A worrying political and economic outlook While the protests that led to the Arab Spring began in Tunisia, the promise of a more democratic and egalitarian society in the North African country did not come to fruition. To be sure, the protests did lead to the overthrow of autocratic Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011. Moreover, Tunisia was the sole country to emerge from the regional uprisings with a new democracy. That experiment, however, foundered after Saied – who was elected to the presidency in 2019 – seized a monopoly on power in July 2021. Over the past two years, he has replaced the country’s semi-parliamentary system with one lacking checks and balances, consolidating power in his hands. People’s fear of repression resurfaced. Since mid-February 2023, arrests and convictions of public figures, especially politicians, have accelerated, undermining a disorganised and divided opposition. Meanwhile, large sections of the population have focused on survival in the face of a worsening economic crisis and have increasingly disengaged from politics. President Saied has attempted to shore up his dwindling support by pushing nationalist policies. He has jailed members of the opposition in a move that seems aimed at bolstering his standing with swathes of the public who are frustrated with the former political class. Saied has also xenophobically accused sub-Saharan migrants of conspiring to change Tunisia’s identity, creating a climate conducive to repeated violent attacks against a vulnerable minority. Economically, the country is still reeling from a decade of slow growth. After the 2011 uprising, the Tunisian government combatted rising unemployment in part by hiring hundreds of thousands of civil servants. Today, the public sector is the country’s largest employer and half of the annual budget is spent on the public payroll. At the same time, public and private investment in infrastructure, research and other growth-enhancing spending items has dropped significantly, leading to a sharp decline in GDP growth. External factors also chipped away at the Tunisian economy. The Covid-19 pandemic brought a collapse in tourism. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, meanwhile, led to a spike in commodity prices. Surging inflation – particularly in food prices – and shortages of basic goods have eroded Tunisian living standards. Against this backdrop, Tunisia’s public debt has skyrocketed, reaching nearly 90 per cent of GDP in 2022, with substantial financing requirements needed to maintain current levels of spending. Credit rating agencies have downgraded the country as it struggles to balance its budget. The latest downgrade took place in June, when Fitch lowered Tunisia’s rating to CCC- (well into junk status territory). As a result, access to international financial markets has been virtually shut off, given the prohibitive interest rates (over 20 per cent) that this sovereign rating would entail. While the current account deficit has shrunk and foreign currency liquidity has improved over the past few months because of an uptick in tourism revenues and remittances from Tunisians working abroad, servicing its external debt will continue to be extremely challenging. With 2.6 billion US dollars in repayments scheduled for 2024 (including a euro-denominated bond maturing in February, equivalent to 900 million US dollars), it is still unclear how the government will be able to secure sufficient funds to meet these liabilities. The 2024 budget draft anticipates loans from Algeria and Saudi Arabia, as well as other, as yet unknown, external sources. The IMF deal and the role of the EU Despite these financing difficulties, Tunisia has not yet signed a deal with the IMF. In October 2022, Tunisia and the IMF agreed on the terms of a 48-month, 1.9 billion US dollar loan aimed at stabilising the economy, but Saied rejected the deal, fearing social unrest from cutting subsidies and reducing the public sector wage bill. The IMF board postponed the deal in response. Since then, the president has remained steadfast in his rejection of what he calls “foreign diktats” from the IMF and Western states. The Europeans – in particular, Italy – have pressed the IMF to reopen negotiations and offered incentives to persuade Saied to accept a revised deal, despite their internal divisions on how to treat Tunisia. They are applying this pressure largely because the economic fallout from a debt default could further increase the number of people – both nationals and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa – leaving Tunisia for Europe. While some EU member states, such as Germany, have taken a more critical stance towards Kais Saied’s authoritarian turn, eventually the migration, security and economic interests of Italy and, to an extent, France seem to have prevailed within the EU. Due to its geographic proximity to Tunisia, Italy would receive a majority of a migration influx, at least initially. For this reason, the Italian government has reiterated its concerns over Tunisia’s economic situation on multiple occasions, while refraining from expressing any criticism of the country’s increasingly authoritarian turn and violent attacks against sub-Saharan migrants. The EU has offered incentives to Tunisia to accept a deal with the IMF. After Giorgia Meloni and later EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte visited Tunis in June, they unveiled 900 million euros in macro-financial assistance conditioned on a deal with the IMF and 105 million euros for joint cooperation on border management and anti-smuggling measures to reduce irregular migration to Europe. Despite the sweeteners the EU offered, the likelihood of a revised deal between Tunisia and the IMF has receded. In August, Saied removed the head of government, Najla Bouden, who had been directly involved in the negotiations with the IMF, and replaced her with a more pliant official, Ahmed Hanachi. Since then, Tunisia hasn’t put forward a revised proposal to the IMF. In October, the president reinforced his position by sacking Economy Minister Samir Saied after the latter claimed that a deal with the IMF would send a reassuring message to Tunisia’s foreign creditors. Tunisia has also rejected part of the funds offered by the EU. On 3 October, Saied rejected the first tranche of EU financial help, declaring that this “derisory” amount ran counter to the agreement between the two parties and was just “charity”. The repercussions of this refusal on the rest of the EU’s financial incentives are unclear. A fork in the road There are obvious reasons for Tunisia to secure a loan from the IMF. It would send a reassuring signal to Tunisia’s foreign partners and creditors. It could encourage Gulf Arab states to provide additional financial support in the form of government loans and deposits with the central bank, and investment in the economy. That would provide the Tunisian government with breathing space. But implementation of reforms required under the loan’s terms could set off anti-government protests by the country’s main trade union (the UGTT) and, in turn, government-led repression. To forestall such a scenario, the president himself could incite protests and riots by using nationalist rhetoric to scapegoat the IMF for any unpopular measures required by the loan. A no-agreement scenario, however, would have much more severe and potentially even catastrophic consequences. Without a loan, Tunisia would struggle to find alternative funding sources to meet its scheduled foreign debt repayments. Saied could then resort to a politically motivated strategic default, followed by negotiations to restructure the country’s external debt. Some Tunisian economists and supporters of the president are advocating for this approach: they say that declaring bankruptcy on external debt would allow the government to hammer out a restructuring plan with creditors and argue that the impact on the economy would be fairly limited, thanks to Tunisia’s capital controls and its banking sector’s low exposure to foreign bonds. But this approach carries great risk, as a foreign debt bankruptcy could lead to a run on Tunisian banks and destabilise the financial sector. In addition, the government could end the central bank’s independence to print money, fuelling an inflation spiral. Politically, a default and its socio-economic repercussions could open the door to a dangerous spiral of social and criminal violence. It could also boost irregular outward migration, with Tunisians fleeing the growing political and economic chaos. Widespread protests may erupt against the disastrous social effects of the president’s failed economic policy, prompting a violent response targeting businesspeople and political opponents for their alleged links to the West, as well as Western diplomats and the local Jewish community. Balancing economic support and respect for rights In light of these two possible scenarios, the EU and Italy should continue to encourage the Tunisian authorities to negotiate with the IMF, which remains the least politically and economically destabilising option on the table for Tunisia, if carried out with due care. At a minimum, a revised deal should include reduced expenditure cuts compared with the earlier proposal, particularly in the context of energy subsidies. At the same time, Italy and the EU should exercise caution and avoid turning their understandable concerns about Tunisia’s stability into a blank check for the president. In particular, they should press the authorities to rein in the abuses perpetrated against migrants and stave off potential attacks against opposition politicians, businesspeople and the local Jewish community. Aside from humanitarian considerations, this would serve Italy’s overarching goal of curbing migration: after all, attacks against the sub-Saharan minority have spurred outward migration, a trend that would accelerate if government persecution becomes even more severe. While supporting the deal, however, the EU and Italy should also prepare for the possibility of Tunisia continuing to reject it and declaring a foreign debt default. In such a scenario, the EU should be prepared to offer emergency financing to the country to help with imports of wheat, medicines and fuel. In doing so, the EU should synchronise the positions of member states to prevent conflicting agendas. Schisms have already emerged between countries like Germany and Italy over how to address Tunisia’s authoritarian drift. For this reason, acknowledgement of the importance of internal stability could provide a common ground in overcoming divisions and helping prevent a new wave of anti-migrant violence.

Defense & Security
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Why Yemen’s Houthis are getting involved in the Israel-Hamas war and how it could disrupt global shipping

by Leena Adel , Dr. Ben Rich

In recent days, three Israeli-linked commercial vessels were targeted by ballistic missiles and drones launched by Yemen’s Houthi rebels, marking a clear escalation in maritime attacks in the critical Bab el Mandab strait between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Houthis have claimed responsibility for two of the attacks, as well as an earlier hijacking of a Japanese-operated cargo ship by helicopter last month. On Sunday, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Saree reemphasised that all Israeli-affiliated vessels travelling along the Yemeni coast would be fair game if Israel does not cease its attacks on Gaza, which have claimed the lives of at least 15,500 Palestinians since October 7. Who are the Houthis? The Iranian-backed Houthis, also known as Ansar Allah, are insurgents that control most of Yemen’s north, including the nation’s capital, Sana'a. The group emerged in the 1980s as a political-religious revivalist movement out of the Zaydi sect from Yemen’s northern highlands, namely the ancient city of Saada. The movement’s broad motivations emerged from longstanding grievances that left many Zaydis feeling like second-class citizens within the wider Yemeni social and political order. Many in the Houthi leadership received religious education in Iran before returning to Yemen in the early 2000s and becoming more politically active. The Houthis are not mere Iranian “proxies”, however. Attempts to portray them as such tend to overemphasise this connection and ignore the indigenous nature and causes of the movement and its ideology. The group engaged in ongoing struggles against the Ali Abdullah Saleh-led Yemeni government throughout the 2000s, ultimately contributing to its collapse following the 2011 Arab revolts. Following the Arab Spring and increasing chaos in Yemen, the Houthis gained significant momentum. In 2014, they were able to oust the Saudi-backed transitional government and seize power over much of Yemen, rapidly blitzing into the country’s south – a move that shocked international onlookers in its brazenness and efficacy. In response, a Saudi- and Emirati-led coalition launched a military intervention, which they believed would rapidly overwhelm the insurgents with their technological superiority. The operation went awry, however. Thanks to their own tenacity, along with increasing support from Iran, the Houthis were able to bog down the coalition forces into a bloody stalemate. This brought untold misery to the wider Yemeni population, but allowed the Houthis to hold onto power over much of the country’s north. A series of backchannel negotiations led to a halt in the fighting in 2022. Although peace talks officially commenced in April, Yemen remains in a state of precarious peace. Because this is such a critical time for the Houthis, it begs the question: why are they risking their hard-won gains over a conflict thousands of kilometres away that doesn’t directly involve them? Why Israel? The Houthis are part of the so-called “axis of resistance”, an alliance of proxy militant and insurgent groups that Iran has built throughout the region, including in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Within this wider context, Israel has attempted to implicate Iran in Red Sea attacks, but Tehran denies it. To interpret the Houthi attacks on Israel as solely an extension of Iran’s wider geopolitical manoeuvring would be overlooking a crucial Houthi political strategy. The group’s support of the Palestinians is also a way of garnering domestic and regional support for its own position in Yemen. While many countries in the region have sought a detente with Israel in recent years, it’s clear that support for the Palestinians remains high among the wider Arab population. As such, the Houthis clearly see an opportunity to step into the vacuum and generate positive public opinion for their cause. This not only strengthens the Houthis’ authority at home, but is also critical to reinforcing the legitimacy of the Houthis as Yemen’s governing authority in the eyes of the international community. Why is the Bab el Mandab Strait important? Yemen has always been at the centre of regional geopolitics due to its strategic location on the Bab el Mandab Strait, also known as the “Gate of Tears,” which separates the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean beyond. Because vessels need to traverse the 30-kilometre-wide strait to travel between Europe and Asia (via the Suez Canal), it serves a pivotal role in global trade and energy security. Oil and natural gas shipments pass through the strait from the Middle East to Europe and North America. Historically, the strait is no stranger to conflict. In 1973, for instance, Egypt blockaded the strait to prevent ships from reaching Israel during the October war. The Houthis are aware of how critical this waterway is. And its attacks on the vessels, which may seem to be a nuisance for now, could potentially cause larger problems for Israel and its allies. For Israel, diverting its shipments to Asia around the southern tip of Africa – instead of through the Red Sea – would significantly increase shipping costs and transit times. Any disruption to this trading route would have serious global economic costs, as well. Global maritime insurance companies are already hiking their prices and limiting their coverage of high-risk shipping as a direct result of the Houthi attacks. The Houthi threat also serves to ratchet up the wider tensions in the region, potentially changing the calculus of the US and Israel, who might become more cautious in their actions as a result. For the Houthis, these provocations are ultimately low cost and high return. Given the insurgent, battle-hardened and dispersed nature of the group, for example, it would be difficult for Israel or its allies to try to respond to the attacks. So, as long as the war in Gaza drags on, the Houthis will likely continue to play a disruptive role and look for new ways to create uncertainty and risk in the region.

Diplomacy
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Russian-Saudi talks

by Vladimir Putin

A meeting between Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince and Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud took place in the Saudi King’s al-Yamamah Palace. At the Conclusion of the Visit of Vladimir Putin to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a Joint Statement has been adopted. Beginning of Russian-Saudi talks Crown Prince, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (retranslated):We can find many topics and subjects of common interest, on which we are working together to promote stability and development around the world, including in the Middle East. Over the past seven years, we have achieved a lot in our bilateral relations, for example, in the energy sector, investment and agriculture. In addition, our political cooperation and interactions have had a positive influence on several Middle Eastern issues and helped enhance security. Moreover, our future political ties and cooperation will, no doubt, have a positive bearing on the international environment. We have broad and far-reaching opportunities ahead of us, and by seizing them we can work together for the benefit of our nations and the entire world. I would like to reiterate, Mr President, that you are a cherished guest here in Saudi Arabia. We welcome you on behalf of its government and its people. Welcome! President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Thank you. Your Highness, first, I would like to thank you for the invitation. We expected to see you in Moscow. I know that the circumstances have affected these plans. But, as I said, nothing can prevent the development of our friendly relations. Indeed, being in this region on a scheduled visit to the United Arab Emirates, I used your invitation to come and see you and all our friends that we have been vigorously developing our interaction with over the past seven years. That said, the next meeting will hopefully take place in Moscow. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (retranslated): Of course, we are ready. Vladimir Putin: Agreed. Indeed, the Soviet Union was among the first to recognise the independent state of Saudi Arabia. This was almost a hundred years ago. Our relations have developed in different ways during this time. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud: I would like to note that it was the development of independence rather than the independence of a state that was recognised at that time. Vladimir Putin: In any event, we respected the will of the subjects of Saudi Arabia to build their future independently. Much has happened in our relations during this time, but over the past seven years, they have certainly reached a truly unprecedented level. This was achieved owing to the wise policy of your father, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King of Saudi Arabia with your direct participation. We have stable, very good ties in political interaction, the economy and in humanitarian area. And, of course, it is now very important for all of us to exchange information and views on what is taking place in the region. No doubt, our meeting is timely. Thank you very much for your invitation, once again. Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud: Welcome! <…>

Diplomacy
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More than just a climate deal: The Australia-Tuvalu Falepili Union treaty and the EU’s potential contribution to the Pacific

by Manisha Reuter , Frédéric Grare

The Falepili Union treaty prioritises Tuvalu’s urgent concerns about climate change. As the EU looks to deepen relations with partners in the Indo-Pacific, it should tailor its offers to regional priorities  In early November, on the sidelines of the Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands, Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese and Kausea Natano, his counterpart from Tuvalu, a Polynesian archipelago, announced that they would elevate their bilateral relationship to a more integrated partnership known as the Falepili Union. Under the Falepili Union treaty, Australia commits to Tuvalu’s safety – including through a special visa arrangement for Tuvalu citizens to migrate to Australia, as well as by uplifting its development assistance and support for Tuvalu’s climate adaptation efforts. In return, Tuvalu will mutually agree with Australia any security and defence partnerships it concludes with other states. Both countries also commit to protecting and promoting each other’s collective security and sovereignty. For Australia, the partnership is a way to help pull Tuvalu away from China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific. Security and defence partnerships include those on policing, border protection, cyber security, and critical infrastructure (such as ports, telecommunications, and energy infrastructure). Natano has downplayed the importance of Tuvalu’s obligation to consult Australia on its partnerships, saying that the treaty only requires his country to approach Australia first on military issues, but the clause gives Australia veto power over any security arrangement Tuvalu may be tempted to conclude with other nations. Despite the distance, the Falepili Union treaty did not go unnoticed in Europe. European officials have focused on the significance of the agreement in the context of the climate crisis, arguing that it highlights the need for all countries to drastically reduce carbon emissions. In the media, the treaty has sometimes been referred to as a strategic victory by Australia over China, though little if any attention has been paid to the actual security provisions. But the partnership holds important lessons about how to engage with potential partners in the Indo-Pacific. As an archipelago of nine low lying islands with their highest point just 4.5 metres above sea level, for Tuvalu – much like other South Pacific countries – climate change, not China, constitutes an existential threat. The Falepili Union illustrates the fundamental gap between the threat perceptions of big countries in the Indo-Pacific such as Australia, whose concerns are primarily strategic, and those of smaller and more vulnerable ones such as most South Pacific islands. These countries operate at a sub-strategic level, with their location their only real strategic asset, but one which larger countries cannot ignore. The Falepili Union treaty responds to Tuvalu’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. It is not the first programme facilitating mobility in the Pacific. New Zealand’s “Pacific Access” visa category and Samoa quota resident visa enable 2,400 people to move from the Pacific to New Zealand on a permanent basis every year. The United States offers similar possibilities to eligible citizens of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau to live and work in the US indefinitely. However, the Falepili Union treaty is the first agreement to link mobility explicitly to climate change, allowing migration in anticipation of climate-related disasters. It is also meant to help Australia deepen its ties with other Pacific countries by easing the critique that it should be embracing stronger climate action. The response by Pacific nations has so far been positive. Unsurprisingly, the US, New Zealand, and even Taiwan, have expressed their support for the initiative. But the Falepili Union has also been publicly backed by the prime minister of the Cook Islands, Mark Brown, and, more surprisingly perhaps, by the foreign minister of the Solomon Islands, Jeremiah Manele, whose country signed a controversial security partnership with China in 2022. There have also been speculations in diplomatic circles that Kiribati and Nauru might sign similar agreements with Australia in the future, with Australia’s foreign minister Penny Wong declaring that the Falepili Union “does signal how we are prepared to approach our membership of the Pacific family”. Taneti Maamau, Kiribati’s president, though, has so far been noncommittal about the possibility of concluding a similar treaty, saying that Kiribati has its “own strategies and [its] own initiatives”. No Pacific island wants to be drawn into a great power rivalry involving China, nor be coerced in any way by Beijing’s opponents. The treaty illustrates that the struggle with China for influence in the Indo-Pacific is not just about military power, but also about the capacity to assuage the anxieties of the Pacific states regarding their own survival and future. The Falepili Union should thus inspire Europeans to tailor their partnerships according to the needs and interests of countries in the region and provide them with attractive offers for cooperation. As Europe looks for ways to deepen partnerships in the region, it will find that many of the smaller island states’ own priorities overlap with Europe’s aims. It would thus make strategic sense for the European Union to prioritise climate adaptation projects, which also have the benefit of enabling knowledge transfers to and from Europe. It can use the EU strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific and the EU-Pacific Green-Blue Alliance, funded through the Global Gateway to achieve these objectives. In addition to support designed to address the effects of climate change on island nations, the EU can also contribute to capacity building for monitoring, policing, and enforcement. Island nations in the South Pacific have limited capacities in these fields, which are crucial for guaranteeing their maritime security. The EU’s decision to extend CRIMARIO, an EU-funded initiative to help partners better govern their maritime spaces by enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness through information sharing initiatives, capacity building, and training is one example of what the EU can propose. Technical and financial capacities would offer South Pacific island states additional options to choose their partners and alleviate the pressure resulting from being caught in great power rivalry. Such an approach would also allow the EU to promote the “inclusive and effective multilateral partnerships” that are at the heart of its Indo-Pacific strategy. None of these steps bring absolute guarantees against an increased and potentially hostile Chinese presence in the region, but they nevertheless help reduce the strategic and political space in which Beijing can operate. The views and opinions expressed in this article solely belong to the author and do not represent the perspectives or stance of World and New World Journal, nor do they reflect the opinions of any of our employees. World and New World Journal does not endorse or take responsibility for the content, opinions, or information presented in this article. Readers are encouraged to consider multiple sources and viewpoints for a comprehensive understanding of the subject matter. Thank you for your understanding.

Energy & Economics
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Disquiet in the world’s middle class

by Homi Kharas

“Originally published by Homi Kharas at Brookings Future Development on 21 November 2023,” “Middle-class life satisfaction rests on two pillars. The first is the idea that hard work and self-initiative will lead to prosperity. The second is that thanks to this prosperity, the children of middle-class families will enjoy even more opportunities for the good life. Both pillars are shaking.” Joining the middle class has been a ticket to the good life for two centuries now, a history I trace in a new book “The Rise of the Global Middle Class.” The American Dream, the glorious years of European reconstruction after World War II, miracle economic growth in Japan and other East Asian countries, Xi Jinping’s great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, and India’s software revolution each brought hundreds of millions of people into the ranks of the global middle class. Today, thanks to this progress, most of the world, upwards of 4 billion people, enjoy a middle-class or better lifestyle for the first time ever. Yet, across the world there is a clear sense of disquiet in the middle class. In the U.S., Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have documented the prevalence of “deaths of despair” due to suicides, opioids, and alcohol poisoning among non-college educated white middle-class males. The Japanese have coined a specific word, karoshi, to describe deaths due to overwork among salaried professionals. China is seeing a campaign of tang ping, or lying flat, to protest the “996” expectations of employers—9 a.m. to 9 p.m. 6 days a week. India ranks 126th out of 137 in the rankings of the 2023 World Happiness Report. What is amiss? Middle-class life satisfaction rests on two pillars. The first is the idea that hard work and self-initiative will lead to prosperity. The second is that thanks to this prosperity, the children of middle-class families will enjoy even more opportunities for the good life. Both pillars are shaking. The first is threatened by the effects of technological change on jobs. The foundations of the second are being undermined by climate change, pollution, and the destruction of nature. For most of history, technology has changed the nature of work by reducing repetitive, routine, and manual labor. During COVID-19 and the ensuing recovery, many workers changed occupations. Those with good jobs, requiring cognitive, non-routine tasks, did better than those engaged in manual, repetitive tasks. There are pathways to high-wage work, but, as my Brookings colleagues Maria Escobari and co-authors have shown, access to these paths is unequal, and that is creating stress and mental health problems for many middle-class workers. Stepping-stone occupations that serve as a bridge between low-and higher-wage occupations, and even high-wage occupations themselves, are increasingly under threat from artificial intelligence. When the Writers Guild of America went on strike in May 2023, they demanded that ChatGPT be used only as a research tool, not for actual script writing, the creative process that is at the heart of their jobs. The wobbly second pillar of middle-class satisfaction is that young people are worrying that the mass consumption of the middle-class is responsible for unsustainable levels of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and species extinction. On current trajectories, children born today will live in a world that is at least 3 degrees warmer than pre-industrial levels. The impact of such changes, according to the best available science, is terrifying. “Is a middle-class lifestyle consistent with a livable planet? Thankfully, the answer is yes, but only if there is significant change in economic policies.” This science forces the middle class to confront an existential question. Is a middle-class lifestyle consistent with a livable planet? Thankfully, the answer is yes, but only if there is significant change in economic policies. Consider the case of Switzerland, one of the richest economies in the world. The Swiss emit only 5 tonnes of greenhouse gases per person per year, less than one-third the U.S. level. One reason is that Switzerland buys a lot of electricity from France’s nuclear reactors. But on other measures, too, such as building efficiency, moving people on electric trains and buses, and insulating homes, the Swiss middle class outperform many of their peers. True, this is not enough. The 5 tonnes must be reduced to zero by 2050, but Switzerland’s case shows that most of the current levels of carbon emissions are not tied to middle-class standards of living but simply to bad or thoughtless policies in rich countries that can be readily corrected. In similar vein, pollution is a man-made problem, not a necessary corollary of high living standards. In its current form, recycling is not effective. A new concept of a circular economy offers much more promise. The idea is to “design out” waste and pollution, recycle materials and regenerate nature. One of the first problems the circular economy concept is tackling is the issue of plastic packaging. Because of its ubiquity, plastic continues to accumulate in our oceans (and increasingly in our bodies). There are, however, alternative materials that can be used for packaging, and already the European Union is on track to make all packaging recyclable by 2030. A third area of concern is human encroachment into nature. The current global system of food production is based on expanding croplands to grow feed or as pasture for animals, especially cattle and sheep. This system has a double cost. It contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, and it destroys wildlands and biodiversity. The simplest option would be to encourage the middle class to switch to a vegetarian diet. If this magically happened in the world, a land area stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego could be returned to nature. In a less extreme version, if beef and lamb were taken out of our diets, an area the size of North America could be re-wilded. These examples are not offered as realistic policy options in the medium term. They do, however, serve to make a point. If the middle-class is serious about preserving nature, it will require a major change in diet. That could come about through taxes on land-intensive foods or through technology—lab-grown meat is available but only at a higher price point, and it has yet to scale. The common theme in these threats to a middle-class lifestyle is that the values of hard work and personal responsibility that are the hallmark of middle-class success are no longer enough. Policymakers are caught in trying to deliver higher living standards to their citizens and more sustainable living standards for their children. There are long-run strategies where economic growth and sustainability go hand-in-hand, but no countries have yet shown how to manage the transition onto these low-carbon pathways in a rapid, credible way. So the future is uncertain, and the middle-class, which hates uncertainty, will remain disquieted until they are clear about how to best secure the lifestyles and progress to which they have become accustomed.

Diplomacy
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Another Leftist Coalition Government in Spain, Though Just Barely

by Bonnie N. Field , Juan Rodríguez Teruel

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

Defense & Security
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North Korea’s Spy Satellite Launch Is One Giant (and Dangerous) Question Mark

by Bruce Klingner

Pyongyang successfully launched its first military reconnaissance satellite after two previous failures. North Korea has developed a robust missile arsenal but, until now, lacked a remote reconnaissance capability to identify, track, and attack U.S., South Korean, and Japanese military targets. The satellite’s capabilities, as well as whether it incorporated Russian technology, remain unknown. North Korea announced the satellite surveilled U.S. military bases in Guam and vowed to launch several additional reconnaissance satellites “in a short span of time.” South Korea responded by suspending portions of an inter-Korean military agreement meant to prevent military clashes along the DMZ, raising tensions on the peninsula even further. On November 21, Pyongyang conducted its third attempt at launching its Malligyong-1 military reconnaissance satellite onboard a Chollima-1 rocket. Previous launches in August 2023 failed to achieve orbit, but clearly, North Korea learned some valuable lessons. The South Korean navy salvaged some of the rocket and satellite debris from the ocean floor, enabling technical analysis, though the results have not been disclosed. Kim Jong-un declared the regime’s intention to develop a military reconnaissance satellite in his January 2021 directive to the regime’s defense industry. Other delineated military projects included a solid-fuel ICBM, tactical nuclear warheads, hypersonic gliding flight warheads, and a nuclear-powered submarine. >>> North Korea and Russia: How Far Could Their Partnership Go? North Korea reported an “important final-stage test” in December 2022 involving a mock satellite and subsequently released two poor-quality images of the Korean Peninsula. Experts denigrated the grainy, low-resolution images as being of far worse capability than commercially available imagery. Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader, responded angrily that the test was to show the feasibility of the system rather than the eventual quality of the imagery. In April 2023, Kim underscored the importance of having “several reconnaissance satellites on different orbits [for] securing real-time information about the hostile forces’ military scenario and moves.” Ironically, North Korea’s most recent satellite launch occurred the same day the regime criticized South Korea and the United States for “recklessly” militarizing space, describing Seoul’s upcoming launch of its own reconnaissance satellite as an “extremely dangerous military provocation.” It is possible that Russia provided technology to improve North Korea’s satellite launch capabilities in return for Pyongyang’s shipments of massive amounts of artillery ammunition to Moscow. During Kim’s September 2023 trip to Vladivostok, President Vladimir Putin hinted at providing military and technological support to North Korea. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia was providing “technology and support” for North Korea’s military programs, though without elaborating on details. A South Korean military official told reporters that an 80-ton liquid fuel engine was transferred from Russia to North Korea even before the September summit. Russian engineers traveled to North Korea after the summit. More likely, however, North Korea’s long-planned launch occurred too quickly after the Kim-Putin summit to have incorporated new Russian technology. Pyongyang announced it had developed the satellite and launcher “by its own efforts and technologies.” Pyongyang has frequently failed initial tests of new missile systems before eventually succeeding. South Korea responded to the launch by partially suspending the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement, which then-President Moon Jae-in hailed as a major step in improving relations with Pyongyang. The accord established mutual risk reduction and confidence-building measures to reduce the potential for inadvertent military escalation. However, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration declared that North Korea repeatedly violated the agreement and criticized provisions of the deal, which curtailed allied reconnaissance and military training activities. The Yoon administration announced it would suspend Article 1, Clause 3 of the agreement and restore airborne reconnaissance operations along the DMZ. >>> Next-Generation Interceptor Needed in Greater Quantities to Stay Ahead of the North Korean Missile Threat Any North Korean launch using “ballistic missile technology” is a violation of numerous U.N. resolutions, regardless of whether it is depicted as a civilian space launch. While China and Russia will veto approval of any new U.N. resolutions, the United States should step up its enforcement of U.S. and U.N. sanctions and work systematically with the international community to target North Korean violators, as well as entities in Russia, China, and elsewhere that facilitate Pyongyang’s transgressions. The U.S. should also counter the growing North Korean military threat by strengthening security cooperation with allies South Korea and Japan, while encouraging these two allies to improve their bilateral cooperation. Last year, the U.S. resumed large-scale military exercises with South Korea and restarted rotational deployments of strategic assets, both after a four-year hiatus. Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo also restarted trilateral military exercises. These measures have augmented allied deterrence and defense capabilities. The three nations should consider a return to pre-2018 training levels as a minimum requirement for future training schedules. Given the escalating growth in North Korean nuclear and missile forces, Washington should confer with Seoul and Tokyo on a training regimen that includes all military services and goes beyond ballistic missile defense and anti-submarine exercises to include air and ground forces. The historic trilateral Camp David Summit in August paved the way for greater American-led military, economic, and technological cooperation against common security threats in the Indo-Pacific. The three leaders, however, will need to operationalize the extensive security agreements they reached as well as commit greater resources to offset advancing Chinese and North Korean military capabilities represented by this launch. This piece originally appeared in The National Interest https://nationalinterest.org/feature/north-koreas-spy-satellite-launch-one-giant-and-dangerous-question-mark-207448