assessments

Oct 16, 2009 | 21:36 GMT

14 mins read

Intelligence Guidance: Week of Oct. 18, 2009

Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Editor's Note: The following is an internal STRATFOR document produced to provide high-level guidance to our analysts. This document is not a forecast, but rather a series of guidelines for understanding and evaluating events, as well as suggestions on areas for focus. 1. U.S. strategy in Afghanistan: The debate over the United States' Afghan strategy is clearly intensifying, but we are getting hints that U.S. President Barack Obama likely will end up approving a 40,000 troop "surge" to show that his administration is not about to hobble U.S. top commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal and his counterinsurgency strategy. There is still a paradox in the McChrystal strategy that we have to untangle: A true hearts-and-minds campaign like the one McChrystal advocates assumes that the United States will take a defensive posture in Afghanistan. Such a strategy likely would end up playing to the strengths of the Taliban, who can avoid combat against large formations and instead focus on targeting more vulnerable U.S. outposts. At the same time, there is discussion of continued offensive action by special operations forces, which would entail drone strikes that seemingly run counter to the counterinsurgency doctrine. So what's the real strategy? The number of troops isn't the real issue here — 40,000 more will not be a game-changer. We need to see if there is something more to this McChrystal strategy than what's been articulated in the public thus far. 2. The continuing Iran crisis: Do not take your eyes off Iran. Things have been quieter over the past week, but that does not mean that the crisis is dissipating. Stay alert for any unusual moves from the United States, Israel, Russia and Iran in the coming weeks. Given Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's trip to Poland and Czech Republic over the past week — a clear warning to the Russians to back off Iran — we need to get a better idea on how coordinated (or uncoordinated) Israeli moves are with the United States these days. We also must seriously consider the possibility that Israel is running a more unilateral foreign policy on Iran out of its distrust of the Obama administration. 3. U.S. officials in Eurasia: The United States will be sending key officials all over Russia's near abroad this week. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Alexander Vershbow on Oct. 19, will travel to Georgia, and the next day U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will begin a series of visits to Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania. These visits are not just for fun. The Americans are strengthening their position in spots critical to Russia at a time when relations between Moscow and Washington are rapidly declining to the point of crisis. The U.S. motive is clear: Washington wants to pressure Moscow to pull back on its support of Iran. What we really need to watch now is Moscow's reaction to the U.S. moves, its attitude toward the countries the U.S. officials are visiting and especially its relationship with Iran. 4. Possible trouble in the Kremlin: Something is shifting or destabilizing inside the Kremlin, and STRATFOR needs to figure out exactly what. Protests among political parties within the State Duma over the recent municipal elections were broadcast live on state television. The dissent and its publicity are unheard of in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Russia. The protests themselves are irrelevant, but they may be hinting at greater conflict within the Kremlin. STRATFOR needs to determine if this is just the beginning of a greater destabilization among Russia's political factions — something that could have repercussions throughout Russia and affect Moscow's ability to concentrate on matters beyond its borders. 5. Gates' travels in Asia: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will travel to Japan and South Korea Oct. 19-22 to discuss bilateral defense relations and North Korea. Gates' tour comes a month before U.S. President Barack Obama's planned visit to Asia. In Tokyo, Gates will address Japanese requests to reassess U.S. troop plans for Okinawa and discuss options for Japanese activities in Afghanistan. In Seoul, Gates is to reaffirm the U.S. defense commitment to South Korea. Japan and South Korea have or are embarking on updated defense programs aimed at strengthening their forces and defense capabilities without overreliance on their alliances with the United States. Watch for nuances in the discussions that could offer insight into future changes in Japanese or South Korean defense policies and procurement. 6. Turkey's diplomatic efforts: The Turks are busy this week with meetings between the Turkish leadership and the French, Czechs, Kazakhs and Serbs. As we watch Turkey's resurgence, these meetings should give us a better idea of Ankara's intentions for central Europe, the Balkans and Central Asia. When Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visits Paris to meet with his counterpart Bernard Kouchner, watch for any more movement on the Armenia deal, and keep an eye on how Turkey is handling the Iran situation. Also, see if Turkey and Russia have set the date for another visit from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It will be interesting to see what the Turks and Russians collaborate on ahead of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's planned visit to the White House at the end of October. 7. Mexican internal politics: Watch Mexico carefully this coming week. Mexican President Felipe Calderon's management of his current public relations crisis after the seizure of a state-run energy distributor could set the stage for Mexican politics for some time. If Calderon can continue making bold moves, he might be able to make serious inroads into hacking away bits of Mexico's highly inefficient bureaucracy. However, Calderon's real challenge is managing the reaction from the powerful unions. It remains to be seen how much civic unrest is too much. We will need to tap our sources for clues to Mexico's next steps. 8. The Balkans: Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will visit Serbia on Oct. 20 to mark the 65th Anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Belgrade. The Serbian government is pulling out all the stops for the visit. Medvedev will be bearing gifts, including a much needed $1 billion loan and potential energy deals. STRATFOR has heard that Belgrade and Moscow are becoming even cozier than seen in the past year. Meanwhile, the United States is turning its attention to Bosnia — and using a team that has been working on the Bosnia issue since the 1990s — to negotiate among the various factions there to try to restructure the Bosnian constitution. Interestingly, one of the key players in these negotiations — Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik — will be in Serbia, meeting with Medvedev. Pay attention to whether the West can make any progress in Bosnia, and to whether Russia is complicating the situation in Bosnia while strengthening its relationship in Serbia. 9. Brazilian-Colombian talks: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will meet this week with Colombian President Alvaro in Sao Paulo. The two will focus largely on the potential for economic cooperation, an important topic as both countries recover from the economic downturn. STRATFOR will watch of course for economic deals between the regional powerhouses, but our real interest is in whether or not they will seek further defense integration. A partnership between those states could very well define South America's strategic realities for some time. 10. Zimbabwe's political situation: The relationship between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) hit a new low Oct. 16 when Tsvangirai announced that he was "disengaging" from the shaky coalition government which has been in place since February. Tsvangirai made it clear that the move does not mean the MDC is completely pulling out of the government, though it is uncertain what exactly it does mean. The announcement was a response to the recent decision to imprison leading MDC official Roy Bennett, an old Mugabe foe who is facing charges of terrorism dating back to an alleged plot to overthrow Mugabe in 2006. Bennett subsequently was released on bail, but Tsvangirai's next move remains unclear. STRATFOR sources are closely monitoring the situation, as Tsvangirai's departure from the coalition could hinder Mugabe's future attempts to secure loans such as the recent $510 million special drawing rights allocation given by the International Monetary Fund.

EURASIA

  • Oct 19: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be in Brussels for a meeting of the EU-Russia Permanent Partnership Council.
  • Oct. 19: The United States, Russia, France and Iran will continue discussions in Vienna on the possibility of Iranian uranium being enriched abroad.
  • Oct. 19: An official U.S. delegation led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow will travel to Tbilisi, Georgia.
  • Oct. 19-21: The Russian and Vietnamese intergovernmental commission on economic and trade cooperation will meet in Hanoi, Vietnam.
  • Oct. 20: Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will visit Serbia on the anniversary of the Soviet liberation of Belgrade for a meeting. Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Republika Srpska, has said he will be present during Medvedev's visit.
  • Oct. 20: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn will visit Bosnia to continue talks at Butmir and discuss steps to Serbia's integration into the European Union.
  • Oct. 20: Swedish Minister for European Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom will meet with Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat, Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou.
  • Oct. 20-24: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic. In Poland, he will meet with President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk to discuss the new missile defense system, the mission in Afghanistan and economic cooperation. After a one-day visit in Romania, Biden will meet with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and President Vaclav Klaus on Oct. 23.
  • Oct. 22-23: NATO defense ministers will meet in Bratislava, Slovakia, to discuss Afghanistan.
  • Oct. 21: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit France to meet with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.
  • Oct. 21-22: The foreign ministers of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization (BSEC) member states will meet in Baku, Azerbaijan. BSEC member states include Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
  • Oct. 23: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.
  • Oct. 23: Moldova's parliament will hold elections for a new president. The leader of the Moldovan Democratic Party, Marian Lupu, is the only presidential nominee from the ruling alliance.
  • Oct. 24: Turkish President Abdullah Gul will visit Serbia to meet with President Boris Tadic.

MIDDLE EAST/SOUTH ASIA

  • Oct. 16: Turkish President Abdullah Gul will host Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov and hold a joint press conference. Ivanov is also slated to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Oct. 17: Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade will visit Iran.
  • Oct. 19-20: Czech Deputy Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Kohout will visit Turkey.
  • Oct. 20: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Finnish President Tarja Halonen will meet in Cairo to discuss the latest developments in the Middle East and relations between their countries.
  • Oct. 21: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will meet with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris.
  • Oct. 21: Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will arrive in Turkey for a three-day visit.
  • Oct. 24: Egypt will host the sixth meeting of interior ministers from countries surrounding Iraq.
  • Oct. 24-25: Turkey will host the Central and Eastern Europe Energy Forum.

EAST ASIA

  • Oct. 7-21: Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping is visiting Europe. He will finish his five-country tour with an Oct. 18-21 visit to Romania.
  • Oct. 13-23: East Timor is holding joint military exercises with the United States.
  • Oct. 14-24: Vietnam Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai is leading a delegation that is visiting Belarus, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
  • Oct. 17: United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship leaders plan a mass rally in Bangkok outside the Government House to demand a progress report on the petition for royal pardon for convicted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
  • Oct. 18-21: Bosnian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Alkalaj will visit Japan, and will meet Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada.
  • Oct. 19-21: U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Japan and South Korea next week and meet with senior government and military officials. The relationship between the United States and Japan, North Korea and Afghanistan are expected to be on the agenda.
  • Oct.20: Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono will be sworn in for his second five-year term.
  • Oct. 20-25: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will visit Vietnam Oct. 20-22 and Cambodia Oct. 22-23, before attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Thailand. Lee will meet with Vietnamese and Cambodian government leaders and discuss energy and economic cooperation.
  • Oct. 23-25: The 15th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit and related meetings will take place in the southern Thai beach resort towns of Cha Am and Hua Hin. In addition to ASEAN members, China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand will attend. Some additional meetings, including a possible meeting between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, will take place on the sidelines of the summit.

LATIN AMERICA

  • Oct. 16-22: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin will visit Cuba for an exchange on hurricane emergency and disaster preparation. Nagin's delegation will meet with Cuban officials from the external relations and culture ministries, defense officials and the Latin American Center for Disaster Medicine.
  • Oct 17: The Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) conference will be held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Political and business leaders from Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, and a number of observer states will attend.
  • Oct 18: Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez will receive Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos and possibly Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
  • Oct 19: Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing.
  • Oct: 19: Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva will meet in Sao Paulo over bilateral and regional issues, especially commercial issues.
  • Oct 19-30: Chile will host the Salitre military exercises in Antofagasta. Aircraft from France, the United States, Brazil, Chile and Argentina will participate.
  • Oct 20: A tentative meeting to discuss Brazil's climate change plan, to be announced later in October, is scheduled. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Environment Minister Carlos Minc and Brazilian Climate Change Forum Executive Secretary Luiz Pinguelli Rosa are among the officials expected to attend.

AFRICA

  • Oct. 17: All 15 heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States will meet in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss the situations in Guinea and Niger.
  • Oct. 19: Roy Bennett, leader of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change and nominee for deputy agriculture minister, will stand trial. He is charged with possessing weapons for use in terrorist attacks.
  • Oct 16-25: Uganda will host the East African Community Partner States' Defense Forces and the U.S. Africa Command for training exercises.
  • Oct. 20: Niger will hold a parliamentary election.

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