On the Record
We need a #Weltpolitikfähigkeitsverlustvermeidungsstrategie.
(German for "a strategy to prevent the loss of the capability to shape world affairs.")
Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference
On Our Radar
Spanish Political Collapse. The Spanish government called an early general election for April 28 after the Socialist administration of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to win support in parliament for its 2019 budget proposal. The April vote will lead to a fragmented parliament and lengthy negotiations to form a coalition government. Polls suggest that a government including three center-right and right-wing parties is possible, but this coalition would only lead to renewed friction with pro-independence forces in Catalonia. While the Spanish economy has proved to be considerably resilient to political turbulence, prolonged uncertainty could take its toll on one of the fastest-growing economies in Western Europe.
Nigeria Postpones Elections. Nigeria's independent national election commission delayed the country's presidential and National Assembly elections by one week, citing logistical difficulties just hours before polls were scheduled to open on Feb. 16. At this time, signs do not suggest a suspicious reason for moving the vote to Feb. 23, but the delay may increase tensions in an already tense affair. Indeed, while militant attacks and election irregularities are possible, the more pressing concern is that a disputed election will emerge between President Muhammadu Buhari and his top challenger, Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president. Buhari has been accused of trying to push out the country's chief justice, Walter Onnoghen, who would oversee any legal challenges to the election's outcome. Onnoghen also is from the Niger Delta, an area Buhari lost by a big margin in 2015. Buhari and Abubakar are proposing very different economic visions for Nigeria. The election's outcome will play a key role in Nigeria's trajectory and stability moving forward.
Get Your Car Tariff Engines Ready? After months of discussion, the U.S. Commerce Department's report on whether vehicle and auto part imports can harm national security is due on President Donald Trump's desk by Feb. 17. The report is widely expected to come back affirmative, setting up a high-stakes game for Germany, Japan and other car-exporting countries as they negotiate trade deals with the United States. What remains unclear are the options for remedies the report will recommend. One proposal under discussion has been a tariff of up to 25 percent on all auto imports. Other proposals have been narrower – targeting only a handful of countries, for example, or next-generation electric and autonomous vehicles and the components for them. Trump will have 90 days to decide whether to accept or reject the report's recommendations.
Risky Business for Transactions in the Middle East. The European Union has now designated Saudi Arabia a high-risk jurisdiction for suspicious money-laundering and terrorist-financing transactions. Although Riyadh's Middle East rival Iran has been on the European Union's blacklist for a while, the bloc added Saudi Arabia this week as it expanded its list and introduced its own methodology to test other countries' frameworks. The designation will cause European financial institutions to enhance their due diligence measures when dealing with Saudi transactions, adding an additional burden to an already ambitious Saudi reform plan.
On Our Minds
An Unprecedented Bombing in Kashmir. The deadliest bombing in the three-decadelong insurgency in Kashmir took place Feb. 14, when a militant belonging to the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed group detonated an explosive-laden SUV as he rammed it into a bus carrying personnel from India's Central Reserve Police Force, killing 44. The Pakistani army has long covertly employed militant proxies to pressure the Indian military in the disputed territory of Kashmir, but the timing of the Feb. 14 attack threatens to cast a cloud over Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to Pakistan on Feb. 17, undermining Islamabad's aim to project the country as a safe investment destination and raising questions about Pakistan's control over its militant proxies.
Thai Political Intrigue. This past week or so saw the Thai monarchy shoot down a short-lived bid by Princess Ubolratana Mahidol to stand for prime minister in March 24 elections. Election officials declared her selection illegal, following a royal decree by her brother, King Maha Vajiralongkorn, calling her move "unconstitutional." Now a Thai court is deciding whether to disband Thai Raksa Chart, the party aligned with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that nominated her. The king's move to neutralize what would have been a major challenge to the military's candidates is a boon to the junta and a clear signal of his intention to check any effort that would challenge his own dominance. And if Thai Raksa Chart is disbanded, it could severely damage efforts by Thaksin's proxies in the election — an eventuality that could lead to a backlash in the form of street protests.
The Kremlin Carves Out the Russian Internet. The slow fragmentation of the internet continues as Russia seeks to create its own domestic internet, known as Runet. This week, the State Duma passed the first reading of a bill aiming to increase Russian control over issues like data localization, Domain Name System root servers and other internet infrastructure. In addition, Russia is planning to test whether the domestic internet it is building can be successfully cut off from the global internet by April 1. Ostensibly, the Kremlin says it wants to ensure that its domestic internet can operate if Russia is cut out of the global internet during a military conflict. In reality, Russia hopes to gain greater control over content and information flows that it can use during sensitive times at home, like in the lead up to an election. Russia is not the only country trying to increase its sovereign control over the internet or impose its regulations over information flows. The question at this point is how fragmented will the internet become?
A Libyan Field Marshal Gets His Oil Field. Field Marshal Khalifa Hifter and the Libyan National Army that he commands gained control of the Sharara oil field this week. The field, Libya's largest, has been shut down since early December. Hifter has said he plans to hand the field back to the National Oil Corp. so production could start relatively soon and add 300,000 barrels per day to the global oil market. Long-term, however, the field's seizure could result in Libya's oil production becoming more volatile as Hifter — who rejects the internationally recognized government in Tripoli — now has a stranglehold over Libya's explorative and extractive, or upstream, oil sector and both sides could try to use oil and oil revenue as a political card between them.
Venezuelan Aid Showdown. Opposition leader Juan Guaido plans to bring humanitarian aid into Venezuela from Colombia and Brazil on Feb. 23. There's just one catch: The government of President Nicolas Maduro plans to use the armed forces to prevent the entry of any aid into the country. The United States, Colombia and Brazil have been slowly collecting humanitarian aid and preparing to deliver it, but so far only a limited amount from Brazil has trickled past border controls. Guaido's announcement raises the possibility that negotiations between key members of the Venezuelan armed forces, the opposition and the U.S. government have advanced to the point that the Venezuelan military will allow aid into the country. Such an event would mark a significant split between Maduro and the military, and would demonstrate the extent to which Maduro's power over Venezuela's institutions has eroded.
In Case You Missed It
On Our Calendar
In the coming week, Nigeria holds presidential and parliamentary elections, delayed from Feb. 16; Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visits Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and India; and Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his state-of-the-nation address. For more, see our Geopolitical Calendar.
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