In Other News – Frustration with the Status Quo

Frustration with the status quo leads to global disruption and possible opportunities. This week, we’re continuing to witness frustration with the status quo on everything from political leadership to current geopolitical dynamics. In Argentina, voters demonstrated their exasperation with the status quo when they elected libertarian Javier Milei to serve as their next President. Milei, who is nicknamed “the madman” by fans and calls himself “the lion”, has a sizable economic challenge before him — with inflation in Argentina topping 140% and the threat of a deeper recession. But there are also notable growth opportunities in the country, with a possible boost in exports and more energy self-sufficiency.

Milei’s policies could also have geopolitical implications — on the campaign trail he stated that if elected, he might cut ties with China and Brazil. Argentina was also recently invited to join the BRICS, but it is rumored that Milei will reject the group. Already, BRICS is limited by interpersonal conflicts of key members India and China, and in addition to Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Iran were recently invited to join the BRICS. Indeed, if the BRICS status quo was to represent the Global South, sharply diverging viewpoints among members – replete with leaders who are in direct competition and opposition with one another- could readily lead to disruption.

Ties between Argentina and Russia might also be challenged by Milei, who supports Ukraine and wants the United States and Israel to be Argentina’s top partners. Indeed, as the battle between Ukraine and Russia has evolved into stalemate, we’re seeing more policy-level discussion about how this war might ultimately reach some sort of resolution. While it will be up to the Ukrainians to decide exactly how long to continue their righteous battle, the status-quo of this conflict will eventually need to shift into something more sustainable.

Further East, the precarious status quo between Israelis and Palestinians was devastatingly transformed by Hamas on October 7. Since then, Israel has been on a critical mission to dismantle the terrorist group that has served as the de-facto leader of Gaza for too long, and to prevent Hamas from ever accumulating that kind of power, access, and military arsenal again. But while Israel fights to defeat Hamas, the Arab Street– which is also now manifest in cities throughout much of the Western world- sees the disruption of the regional status quo as a different kind of opportunity.

Instead of recognizing that this war inevitably presents an opportunity for more stable borders and better conditions for Israelis and Palestinians alike, the Arab Street and its sympathizers see this as an opportunity to eliminate the Israeli state altogether. Unfortunately, this contingent has support within international institutions like the United Nations, which spends a disproportionate amount of energy railing against Israel instead of empowering Palestinians.

Indeed, several million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza are still categorized as refugees by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, decades after the initial conflict erupted. While Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank need healthcare, educational services, and aid, it doesn’t make sense for them to still be viewed as refugees when they’re living in recognized Palestinian territory. This contributes to a sense of impermanence that serves as an impediment to building a viable economic and political system.

It’s going to take a shift in mind frame to upend the status quo that hasn’t served either the Israelis or Palestinians well over the past 75 years. Indeed, while Israel no doubt has an important impact on the Palestinians’ ability to flourish, such an entrenched conflict is also going to require support of the international community and in particular the support of key Arab states to move forward. As hostage negotiations continue, and Israel shifts into Gaza’s southern region to further dismantle Hamas, Israel is fighting both a ground battle and a war of global opinions that could impact the region for the foreseeable future.

Happy Thanksgiving to all from The Arkin Group.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – A View from Abroad

Once a month, In Other News features a short op-ed heavily informed by the European perspective. We hope that these special monthly pieces will offer our readers an enriched understanding of global events and allow for a more robust international risk calculus.

In a time of great geopolitical upheaval, nations are hedging their bets and opportunities for new alliances abound. With two active and influential wars in Ukraine and Gaza, and a battle for competition among global superpowers, the world has entered a new geopolitical reality. China’s heightened global posture and Russia’s aggression have led to a renewed impetus for NATO in the West and encouraged enhanced relations among the United States, European Union, Japan, South-Korea and Australia. But China and its subordinate Russia have also enhanced the BRICS format with six additional states, strengthened their security collaboration within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and increased their respective economic and military activities in Africa.

During the Cold War, ideology was a dominant and decisive factor in geopolitical alignment. Countries closely linked to the Soviet Union, and China, adopted communist state and economic systems, while countries associated with the United States and Western Europe generally adopted more democratic and capitalist systems. But in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the strict ideological divide has blurred and eroded, and for most nations it’s no longer a matter of simply choosing sides. While there is still an element of democratic versus autocratic systems, this difference does not define the foreign policy choices countries make. Instead, most nations are now hedging their bets based on a narrow definition of their national interest “Staatsräson”- the interest of the State.

These national interests are being driven by factors like geographic proximity to United States or China – and to a lesser extent Russia, economic prosperity, security considerations and transactional profitability: “what is in it for me?” This calculus is visible in the actions of Saudi Arabia and UAE – who are pivoting in their foreign policy away from Washington towards China, and the renewed focus of Latin American countries towards China. Many countries in Africa and the Caribbean have also made very clear pro-China choices in exchange for huge financial investments. Some countries make these choices quite explicitly, while others try to remain as invisible as possible, recognizing that “when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”

Some countries are also trying to work both sides to their advantage, as demonstrated by Central Asian states like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Traditionally, Central Asian countries naturally focused politically on Moscow, as many are former Soviet Union republics, and others focused heavily on Beijing for economic opportunities. With Russia’s current pre-occupation with Ukraine, however, and the Kremlin’s power seriously reduced, Central Asian nations have an opportunity for political maneuvering.

Outside powers are also recognizing that Central Asia is fertile ground for new partnerships. Germany has been investing in enhanced economic ties in the region, and French President Macron visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at the end of October, focusing on energy relations. An October EU meeting in Brussels also concluded with the EU Central Asia Roadmap for deepening ties between the EU and Central Asia, as well as the agreement on the 2024 EU Central Asia Summit in Uzbekistan.

For its part, Washington is also looking to deepen ties in the region. President Biden hosted an inaugural C5+1 summit with Central Asian heads of state during this year’s UN General Assembly in September, and US State Department officials visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan last week to build upon the success of the summit. Another key regional player, Japan, also recently organized a meeting with regional leaders to focus on the supply of oil, gas and minerals. Moscow looks at these new ties with concern, and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has remarked that “the West is trying to pull Russia’s neighbors, friends and allies away from it.”

For many countries, linking political friendships with economic advantages and playing the United States and Europe against China and Russia, will be an attractive strategy in the years to come. This will have direct implications- especially for European foreign policy. The EU member states will have to make a balanced decision whether their own external policies, heavily dominated by human rights and value related considerations, should take precedence over their own naked financial and security self-interests.

Indeed, while it might have been straightforward for Washington and the EU to support Ukraine because of their shared values – including an adherence to democracy, human rights, and international law, this calculus is not always so straight-cut. In regions like the Middle East and parts of Africa, for example, where the West might want to maintain alliances for security and economic purposes, these political relationships will be challenged by a divergence in ethical standards that isn’t easily resolved.

At the same time, however, smaller states in these regions ultimately profit from the protection of the international legal order. And during times of political upheaval like the present, there exists a real opportunity for Western democracies to play into the national self-interest of smaller nations via economic and political outreach. Taking this into account, in the coming months we’ll be keeping a watch on regions like Central Asia, to understand how effective this burgeoning outreach might be and what it might indicate regarding the future geopolitical landscape.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – Long Term Global Security at Stake

Multiple conflicts and war fatigue might challenge policy makers, but long-term global security is at stake. As Israel enters the next phase of its battle against Hamas, with ground troops entering Gaza and reportedly encircling Gaza City, the dramatic, decades-old regional conflict has recaptured the world’s attention. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has cautioned that the physical war will be long and difficult and has suggested that Israel will manage Gaza’s security indefinitely after the battle’s eventual end. As much as members of the international community might try to pressure Israel into a “humanitarian pause” or “ceasefire” in Gaza, Israel recognizes that every pause presents an opportunity for Hamas terrorists to escape through the Egyptian border, re-equip, or further abuse Israeli hostages.

While Israel does its best to weaken Hamas on the ground, outside of Gaza the war is being fought with fiery media and activist rhetoric, contentious political debate, UN votes and debates about funding. Further amplifying the conflict, the information war is in full force: many social media postings in support of the Palestinian cause have devolved to the point of denying that Hamas even kidnapped Israelis on October 7 at all – regardless of the extensive footage documented by the terrorists themselves showing otherwise. Ruthless Hamas leaders have also proudly declared that they launched the attack in all its brutality – and that they’d do it again and again.

But it’s getting harder for social media consumers to know what’s real and what’s fake, and this is impacting real-world behavior. Online, China and Russia are both employing their well-honed propaganda machines – long used to indoctrinate their own populations – to influence individuals far beyond their borders. Photoshopped and frequently mis-attributed battlefield images are spread across the screen in unprecedented numbers. It is unclear what Washington is doing to counter the rampant disinformation that has permeated social media via TikTok and Telegram.

In addition to the disinformation being propagated via social media, many traditional media outlets are also covering the conflict in a slanted manner, sometimes elevating it beyond other critical global stories. For example, for months Qatar-funded media giant Al-Jazeera carefully tracked the war in Ukraine – noting nuanced developments both on the battlefield and in foreign policy. But now the entire platform is overwhelmed with one-sided information on the Israel-Hamas war. While it’s not surprising that a Middle Eastern company with a personal stake in the conflict would quickly forget Ukraine and move on to the crisis in its backyard, Ukraine has seen less airtime in many Western media outlets as well.

Further, in the case of Ukraine, there are both media and policy developments that highlight the potential threat of war fatigue. This week, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy’s head of office Andrii Yermak claimed that rumors of Ukrainian war fatigue were being driven by Russian propaganda efforts. But he also stated that “Even if there are people who feel this fatigue, I’m sure they don’t want to wake up in a world tomorrow where there will be less freedom and less security, and the consequences of this last for decades.”

Indeed, when we commit to supporting our allies, it ensures that aggressors know that there are devastating consequences for their unjustified actions. While Ukraine might have initially been surprised by Russia’s brazen attack and advance towards Kyiv, Russia was likewise surprised by Ukraine’s immediate and persistent defense. Likewise, while the Hamas attack was shocking in its tactics and scale, Israel’s response is likely to be stunning even to the terrorists who knew that there would be military retribution. Both Ukraine and Israel recognize that if their adversaries aren’t firmly deterred, they indeed will live under the continued threat of further attacks for eternity.

It is important to understand that Washington’s continued funding of Ukraine – while simultaneously supporting Israel against Hamas – is a critical investment in the democratic world order that we want to live in, and a way to have an immediate impact on our adversaries. It also sends a strong and essential message to Iran and China that we are willing to actively defend our values.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.

In Other News – A View from Abroad

The first week of every month, In Other News features a short op-ed heavily informed by the European perspective. We hope that these special monthly pieces will offer our readers an enriched understanding of global events and allow for a more robust international risk calculus.

The Hamas attack and subsequent war in Gaza expose the European Union’s divisions but highlight a shared mission for long-term security in the Middle East. The impact of the October 7 Hamas attack- and of Israel’s retaliatory actions in Gaza- is reverberating throughout Europe on both political and personal levels. But when it comes to weighing in on how Israel should best respond to Hamas, European Union (EU) members are divided and face pressures on both domestic and international levels.

From the European perspective, the EU Commission- its executive branch- blundered in the first days after the Hamas attack. One Commissioner announced that the EU would end all its financial support for the Palestinian Authority, only to be corrected within 24 hours. At the same time, EU Commission President Von der Leyen, who herself has only limited foreign policy competencies, went out on a limb in support for Israel. Over 600 EU civil servants drafted a letter to the Commission, criticizing the first pro-Israel reaction by Von der Leyen as too one-sided. Indeed, Von der Leyen’s move was in clear disagreement with the EU’s High Representative – the de facto EU Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, who advocated for a more balanced approach.

Traditionally, EU member states themselves are divided and impassioned when it comes to the Middle East. This can be seen in the divergent responses of EU member states on the recent UN vote calling for a ceasefire- where there was a three-way split: eight votes in favor, four against and 15 abstentions. As it currently stands, after much diplomatic wrangling, a common EU position has evolved balancing the right of Israel to self-defense while simultaneously stressing Israel’s obligation to respect international law and allow for UN-led humanitarian access.

The Middle East is always a heated topic in Europe, where furious protest activity- and antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks- have been on full display over the past several weeks. While treatment of the Europe’s local Jewish populations has historically varied starkly based on place and time, the past several decades have also seen an increase in Muslim citizens throughout Europe. This is a relevant factor in today’s domestic political calculus as well; in the UK this is called the implication of the new “Muslim vote” for the political position of major parties.

In addition to domestic constituency concerns, EU leaders are also under pressure from the international community. Some leaders from the Global South are already using the war as an opportunity to express grievances against Washington and Europe more broadly. Political representatives from Africa, Asia and South America are imploring European leaders to explain why international law principles, used by Europeans in their stance against Russia’s attack on Ukraine, don’t also apply in the current crisis and to the fate of the Palestinian people. And ironically enough, Russia and China are also trying to use this argument to undercut global support for Ukraine.

European leaders are watching as Arab nations are likewise trying to balance domestic and international expectations. Nations that have established diplomatic relations with Israel – Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, Sudan – face the dilemma of maintaining these relations and profiting from them – both economically as regionally- while their populations are overwhelmingly in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Normalization between Saudi Arabia with Israel has been put on hold. While the Iranian affiliation and extremist orientation of Hamas does not endear it to Arab governments, the Hamas attack has significantly shifted the paradigm, and Arab leaders need to be strategic in how they respond. Syria seems to have made clear that it will not allow Hezbollah to attack Israel from Syrian soil, but no such limits exist for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Indeed, Hezbollah and Israel have been exchanging fire on the border, and tensions and violence have skyrocketed in the West Bank. This week, Yemeni Houthis, another Iranian proxy like Hamas, reportedly launched missiles and drones into Israel, raising the question of what Iran might do next, or how much control Iran ultimately has over some of its proxies. Fears abound that the regional conflict could spiral into a multi-nation siege. Meanwhile, the United Nations overwhelmingly voted for a ceasefire and refused to collectively condemn the initial Hamas attack.

Amid all of the chaos, the most effective option for EU member states will be to stay closely aligned with the United States. Both the EU and Washington share the long-term goal of regional security in the Middle East. However, it remains to be seen how effective the EU will be in its efforts to pressure Israel to respect international law and to allow UN-led humanitarian efforts in Gaza, while also working with Arab countries to put pressure on Hamas to release the hostages.

The Arkin Group is a strategic intelligence firm offering investigative research, due diligence, international risk and crisis consulting, and security & preparedness services. We can be contacted at 212-333-0280.