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SnapshotsJun 16, 2020 | 15:48 GMT
North Korea and South Korea Inch Closer Toward Low-Level Military Confrontation
A mounting inter-Korean spat over propaganda balloons, amid domestic political developments deemed provocative in both countries, is raising the risk for low-level military confrontation while threatening South Korea’s efforts to begin its COVID-19 economic recovery. Over the past several days, despite the 20th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit, North Korea has demolished the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong, threatened to scrap a 2018 bilateral military agreement aimed at easing inter-Korean tensions, stopped the daily calls between the two governments, and issued several warnings against South Korea's inaction to stop activists and defectors from sending propaganda-laden balloons into North Korea.
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AssessmentsJun 8, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
Members of the Saudi special forces stand aboard a landing ship off the coast of Bahrain during a military exercise in the Persian Gulf on Nov. 5, 2019.
Austerity Will Force Saudi Arabia to Revise Its Military Priorities
Facing severe budgetary strain due to COVID-19 and low oil prices, Saudi Arabia will likely reduce its arms purchases, while avoiding spending cuts that could impede its internal security or the development of its defense sector. Riyadh will be careful not to trim spending that hampers the monarchy’s internal security or goal of building its domestic defense production capacity. Saudi leadership will calibrate its decisions and seek to limit damage to its Vision 2030 goals, as it keeps an eye on the U.S. presidential election and plans for increasing U.S. scrutiny of its human rights and security policies.
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AssessmentsMay 12, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
An image of a gas flare at the Mozyr Oil Refinery in Belarus on Jan. 4, 2020. Russia recently resumed its oil deliveries to Belarus after a pricing dispute prompted Moscow to halt its supplies at the beginning of the year.
By Diversifying Its Oil Imports, Belarus Limits Russia’s Leverage
In recent months, Russia has weaponized its discounted oil deliveries to coerce Belarus into accepting a level of economic and political integration that would essentially guarantee its loyalty. This strategy, however, has only emboldened Minsk’s push to diversify its oil imports. But Belarus’ continued dependence on Russia’s close trade ties and natural gas exports will still leave Moscow armed with other sources of leverage to wield over its smaller neighbor in future negotiations.
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AssessmentsApr 27, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
An Iranian warship takes part in celebrations for “National Persian Gulf Day” in the Strait of Hormuz on April 30, 2019.
Trump Ups the Ante With Iran in the Persian Gulf
Iran and the United States may be heading toward another round of confrontation, even as both countries deal with significant COVID-19 outbreaks at home. Following a recent incident where 11 Iranian ships harassed U.S. vessels transiting the Persian Gulf, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted April 22 that he had "instructed" the U.S. Navy to destroy any Iranian vessels harassing U.S. ships. It remains unclear the extent to which, if at all, the United States will adjust its rules of engagement in response to Iran's latest maritime provocations. But the exchange highlights how Washington and Tehran’s current hawkish streak and inclination toward public threats could lead to another round of miscalculation and/or escalation between the two rivals. 
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On SecurityMar 16, 2020 | 17:21 GMT
Police officers engulfed in flames from an incendiary device during protests in Caracas on July 30.
Plan. Prepare. Avoid a Mad Dash When Crisis Erupts
As the prospect of escalating conflict looms over Venezuela and the Korean Peninsula, it is important to revisit the theme of evacuation planning and preparation. Political and environmental crises over the years afford us the opportunity to discuss the contents of your fly-away bag, considerations to take when planning an evacuation route and the importance of coming up with your own plans instead of relying solely on others. This guidance still holds up and we hope that readers in Venezuela and on the Korean Peninsula are reviewing their emergency evacuation plans. Thanks to dozens of case studies looking at previous evacuations during crisis events, there are further lessons to consider, particularly for private individuals and companies that have their own evacuation plans in place.
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AssessmentsFeb 24, 2020 | 09:00 GMT
This photo shows a dry irrigation canal in Crimea.
Under Russia, Crimea’s Future Grows Dimmer -- and Drier
Water scarcity is quickly dimming Russia's hopes for economic growth on the Crimean Peninsula. Reservoirs throughout the region are at record lows for this time of year, with only a few months of reserves left to cover the Crimean population's daily consumption. But while an unusually dry winter is partially to blame, Russia's annexation has been at the core of Crimean water woes by prompting Ukraine to close off the North Crimean Canal in 2014.  Without access to external fresh water resources, permanent relief for the peninsula can be obtained only by either desalinating water from the Black Sea, or by building pipelines to feed water from Russia's Kuban River directly into Crimea. But unless Moscow coughs up the capital needed to fund such costly infrastructure projects, Crimea risks becoming a mostly barren military bastion as its industries, agricultural lands and population shrivel alongside its water reserves.
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SnapshotsFeb 7, 2020 | 21:37 GMT
The IMF Foresees Trouble for the GCC's Oil-Heavy Economies
The International Monetary Fund on Feb. 6 released the results of its study of the fiscal sustainability of the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which do not bode well for the region in the 2030s. The study concluded that at their current fiscal stance, the GCC as a region would see its fiscal wealth turn negative in 2034 under a baseline real oil price scenario of $55 per barrel. Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia are the three countries with the most exposure to oil price difficulties. In the study's baseline oil scenario, the debts of Bahrain's government would outstrip its assets in roughly the next five years, Oman would reach roughly the same point within a decade and Saudi Arabia would turn negative in roughly the next 15 years. With the GCC's strongest financial position, Kuwait would meanwhile not hit the negative wealth threshold until the 2050s under the same study
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Contributor PerspectivesJan 31, 2020 | 10:45 GMT
North Koreans rally in support of the Workers' Party at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang on Jan. 5, 2020.
North Korea's Kim Jong Un Finds Himself in a Bind of His Own Making
There is a long-standing, somewhat cliched view in the community of North Korea experts that Pyongyang always holds the strategic initiative when dealing with the United States. While it may well have been the case in the past, North Korea may no longer have much freedom of action. Pyongyang finds itself in an unenviable position facing a stark and narrow choice: Start real denuclearization as demanded by the United States and lose much, or even all, of its hard-won nuclear and missile potential, or cling to the nukes and accept its rising dependence on China, with existential risks for North Korea's sovereignty.
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On SecurityJan 28, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie speaks as a picture of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen during a press briefing Oct. 30, 2019, at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
The Global Jihadist Movement in 2020: The Threat Lens Forecast
As 2020 begins, the world is firmly in the post-Islamic State "caliphate" phase of the jihadist struggle. In 2019, the Islamic State lost the last sliver of the vast territory it had seized during its rapid rise in 2014. The group also lost its "caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a U.S.-led raid in October 2019. The conditions that fueled its growth and propelled it to the forefront of the jihadist movement have clearly changed. But the threat hasn't disappeared.   The movement continues to be split generally between the Islamic State and al Qaeda. However, in practice, the jihadist ecosystem is really far more complex.
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AssessmentsJan 16, 2020 | 10:00 GMT
A map of the Persian Gulf region.
Gulf Arab States Brace for a New Normal of U.S.-Iran Confrontation
As the U.S.-Iran confrontation heats up, Iran's regional neighbors are assessing where they stand in the event of a serious escalation. Washington and Tehran have stepped back from the brink of war following the U.S. assassination of senior military figure Qassem Soleimani. But should such a tit-for-tat escalation occur again, spiral further or last longer, the Persian Gulf risks being increasingly perceived as a dicey business environment, which could have lasting economic repercussions for the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In defusing this threat, however, these GCC countries have little control over Washington's regional strategy -- even when it puts their physical security in harm's way, as evidenced by the Iranian strike on Saudi oil facilities in September. Thus fears of another U.S.-Iran confrontation and the economic blowback will push them to consider their own de-escalation efforts across the Persian Gulf.
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GuidanceJan 3, 2020 | 05:02 GMT
Iranian Quds Force Cmdr. Qassem Soleimani attends a meeting with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in Tehran on Sept. 18, 2016.
The U.S. Assassination of a Key Iranian General Throws Fuel on the Fire
It's the spark to ignite a major conflagration: Late on Jan. 2, the Pentagon said it launched an overnight strike in Baghdad killing several officials linked with Iran, including Qassem Soleimani, the powerful commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force. In addition to Soleimani, the head of the Iraqi Kataib Hezbollah militia, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and the deputy head of Hezbollah in Lebanon, Naim Qassem were reportedly killed -- although the latter's death has yet to be confirmed. The Pentagon explicitly noted that among other reasons, the United States conducted the strike in retaliation for the attempt by supporters of Kataib Hezbollah to overrun the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone on Dec. 31, but the decision to target one of Iran's most important military figures is sure to raise tensions between Iran and the United States in the Middle East to new heights.  Soleimani's death, which followed a stark warning by U.S. Secretary
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AssessmentsDec 20, 2019 | 10:30 GMT
Tribesmen loyal to the Houthis ride in the back of a vehicle during a gathering to mobilize more fighters on Nov. 1, 2016, on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen.
In Yemen, Saudi Arabia Takes the Path of Pragmatism
After close to half a decade involved in Yemen's conflict, Saudi Arabia appears to be changing tack. No longer as determined to vanquish the Houthis, the desert kingdom is increasingly trying to protect itself economically and security-wise from a conflict that Riyadh cannot realistically hope to win militarily. In adjusting its strategy, Riyadh is now acknowledging that it will have to allow the Houthi rebels a permanent place in Yemen's political future, even if this leaves the Yemen conflict unresolved to Riyadh's liking, opens the door to semi-permanent Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula and -- most crucially for the Saudis -- fails to give them the peace they crave on their southwestern front.
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