In Other News – The Blurring Lines Between Official and Non-State Diplomacy

In today’s world, the lines between official and non-state diplomacy are blurred, increasing the risk of global instability. This week, Henry Kissinger’s death marks the end of an era of international relations and geopolitics writ large where a single man and a single nation could drive the agenda. Whether you saw him as a great statesman or merely a flawed diplomat with a series of wins and missteps, when Kissinger was Secretary of State, he was the leader of a coalition of nation states that followed America’s lead – and all our significant matters were coordinated through the U.S. government.

Today’s political environment, however, is one where non-governmental entities have a powerful influence. In this environment of instantaneous news, and the immediate distortion of news and events for ideological or political purposes, the challenge to lead constructively requires a kind of diplomacy that wasn’t required of Kissinger. America’s ability to influence a single conflict, let alone the course of human development, is increasingly complicated and becoming far more reliant on private sector actors who – by their extraordinary influence and wealth – are becoming power centers of their own.

Elon Musk, who recently visited Israel and met directly with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, serves as a prime example. In addition to his influence over which ideologies proliferate online – as demonstrated by his governance of Twitter – his decisions can have a tactical impact. Ukraine, for one, has relied on Starlink – Musk’s satellite internet technology, to maintain connectivity while under attack by Russia. Modern diplomacy then, is reliant not only on the ability to build alliances between states, but between and among public and private institutions.

This also requires defending the economic success of our companies, and it demands protection against forces of corruption or malign foreign influence in our universities and institutions. It also means maintaining, and securing, an advantage in technology – whether it be social media, military, or artificial intelligence. We’re now tasked with cultivating important security partners in places like Qatar and the UAE, and sharing critical emerging technologies with them, that inevitably risks enabling China to access these tools through its own partnerships with these nations.

The multiple channels being activated for hostage negotiations also underscore multipolar conditions. It’s telling, for example, that the Thai government worked directly through Iran to negotiate the release of Thai citizens who were kidnapped by Hamas on October 7. Even more notably, perhaps, a group of Thai Muslims – highlighting the significance of transnational, non-state ties, and Thai government officials traveled to Iran and met with senior Hamas figures in October. Indeed, while the Thai Foreign Minister also traveled to Egypt and Qatar, it was Iran that claimed responsibility for the successful release of 10 Thai hostages last week via social media postings made by the Iranian Embassy in Thailand.

Putin has likewise had some success securing the release of some Russian hostages – which Hamas is calling a gesture of “appreciation” for Putin’s stance on the Israel-Hamas conflict. While Hamas welcomes Putin’s position, the deal speaks more to Putin’s friendship with Iran- a relationship that’s been strengthened over the course of the past two years of Russia’s war on Ukraine for both economic and political reasons. It’s also a demonstration of how increased trade and financial relationships can provide a foundation for diplomatic ones when needed.

Notably though, these indirect relationships outside of formal diplomatic channels can result in negative, unintended consequences. For example, European media reports that Ukrainian-made aircraft parts that were sold to the UAE and Kyrgyzstan were possibly purchased by Russia and used against Ukraine in battle. Given the interwoven and interdependent nature of modern technology and trade, we’re operating in a new world that’s evolved from the Kissinger era where nation-nation interaction was predominant.

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 – 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.

In Other News – Israel and Hamas Provide a Distraction for Putin and Xi

October 27, 2023

Countervailing forces are at play in the Israeli strategic decision about when and how extensively to execute its ground invasion in Gaza. Over two weeks after the brutal Hamas massacre, the Israelis are strategizing how to best decimate Hamas while saving as many hostages as possible. In a small country like Israel, that has historically been willing to make substantial concessions to bring home even a single Israeli hostage, the impact of several hundreds being held in Gaza should not be underestimated in their collective calculus. In the past two days, Israel has conducted two significant incursions into Gaza in preparation for the much-anticipated invasion.

Growing international pressure to allow aid into Gaza and preserve civilian casualties, while essential from a humanitarian perspective, could also be delaying the ground invasion even further. And it seems that with every day that Israel delays, it loses some of the initial support and political momentum that it had immediately after the Hamas attack.

What’s more, there is growing instability in the West Bank where clashes between Palestinians and both Israeli settlers and Israeli security forces are increasing. Border skirmishes and missile attacks from Hezbollah are also threatening Israel’s northern front, further distracting IDF efforts against Hamas targets in Gaza, and threatening regional security for its part, Hamas also continues to bombard Israel with rockets- most of which, thankfully, are intercepted, but some of which still make it through.

In addition to these challenges, there has been a significant increase of drone and missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, and Washington has been trying to calibrate its response to avoid further escalation. On Friday, U.S. fighter jets conducted precision airstrikes on IRGC targets in eastern Syria, but the extent of the damage is unclear- as is what Iran might do next. And Hamas is openly making calls for others to join their war and Iran, as well as other proxies including the Houthis in Yemen, say they would join if there was a ground invasion into Gaza.

Further, there are growing tensions between the Netanyahu government and the Israeli military. There’s also the question about what thee diplomatic aftermath will be for Gulf States and other Arab States with regards to Israel- some say that the Arab Street will force governments to reverse course on efforts to normalize relations with Israel, while others believe these tragic and violent developments open an opportunity to advance a permanent two-state solution.

Tensions are high, implications are wide-ranging, and behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts are in full force - but just as Hamas surprised so many with its initial onslaught, it remains to be seen what comes next. For more on the current crisis, listen to Arkin Group President Jack Devine on Bloomberg Radio: Bloomberg Radio – Jack Devine on The Tape – Israel-Hamas War.mp3

Putin and Xi are both delighted by these developments as they bring a welcome distraction from the War in Ukraine and China’s domestic leadership upheaval as well as its faltering economy. That American attentions are now divided between two critical matters is seen as a strategic opportunity for disruptive action- whether it be Chinese sabre rattling in the South China Sea and launching China’s first nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine or expanding the budding Russian alliance with North Korea and Russia’s simulating of a catastrophic nuclear retaliatory strike. What’s not lost on either of these leaders – who are both intent on undermining the Western-led democratic order- is that there is an opportunity to try and exacerbate cleavages between allies with conflicting priorities.

Indeed, at the first public meeting of the “Five Eyes,” an alliance of intelligence officials from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States, officials gave numerous examples of how China is deploying cyber-active measures to propagate misinformation, exert oppressive tactics overseas, steal intellectual property, and disrupt domestic politics in the West.

Russia will also be almost singularly focused on disrupting the expansion and growing strength of NATO, which will soon count Sweden as an official member now that Turkish President Erdogen has finally given his approbation. Putin will see the next series of elections in the West as existential and will deploy all possible means to influence the outcomes and policies. What’s clear is the knock-on effects of the War in Ukraine and Crisis in Israel are having unforeseen and complicated downstream effects.

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.

Jack Devine’s Opinion in the Wall Street Journal

How Hamas Caught U.S. and Israeli Intelligence Unaware

The Hamas attack requires Washington to take a hard look at our current intelligence strategy, and to refocus our spying priorities and methods to meet the present threat. In this Op-ed, I share some insights on the Hamas attack from the intelligence perspective and offer some suggestions for how to bolster our collection efforts moving forward. Most importantly, we need to expand and better fund our human intelligence programs and adapt our spying methodology to be effective in today’s tech-driven counterintelligence environment.

How Hamas Caught U.S. and Israeli Intelligence Unaware – WSJ

In Other News – Hamas and Israel

October 19, 2023

The catastrophic aftermath of Hamas’s attack on Israel continues, resulting in extensive loss of civilian lives and exceedingly complicated political calculations. Hamas and Israel are now engaged in both a physical and information war, as demonstrated by the response to this week’s al-Ahli hospital explosion in Gaza where multiple social and traditional media mistakenly blamed an Israeli airstrike for the destruction.

On October 18, the day after the explosion, US President Biden arrived in Israel to express solidarity with the victims of the Hamas attack, and to negotiate humanitarian aid deliveries for Gaza’s civilians through Egypt’s border with Gaza. Biden was supposed to meet with Palestinian, Jordanian, and Egyptian leaders on his visit, but they pulled out of the summit in the aftermath of the reporting on the hospital and the corresponding widespread outrage of the greater Muslim world.

What happened to the hospital- and the world’s reaction to it, are indicative of the broader security and political implications of this regional conflict. Several hours after the hospital explosion, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) determined the attack was not attributable to an Israeli airstrike- which US intelligence has since confirmed. But by then, it was too late to control the narrative. Instead, misinformation and disinformation immediately spread like wildfire and have been threatening political discourse and the security of Muslims and Jews worldwide ever since.

Indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been going on for decades, is only further exasperated by inaccurate reporting – making verified information more critical than ever. While the world wades through a slew of disinformation and misinformation regarding the Middle East, it’s also worth highlighting that some global war crimes are irrefutably true.

For example, we can say with certainty that since February 24, 2022, Russia has regularly and deliberately attacked hospitals in Ukraine. The WHO’s surveillance system for attacks on health care (SSA) recorded 1,147 attacks on health care, including hospitals and other facilities, in Ukraine from February 2022 to August 2023. And yet, Putin is rarely held to account for this by the press or many of the world’s leading autocrats– who are opportunistically decrying events in Gaza.

Instead, the autocrats appear to be exploiting the instability to advance their own agendas. President Xi is cozying up to Putin at this week’s Belt and Road summit and shoring-up China’s budding alliances with the principle Middle East autocrats. It’s going to be important to watch how Xi tries to further exploit the instability in the Middle East and Ukraine to propel forth his vision for an alternative to Western hegemony and whether he will change his calculus of if and when to invade Taiwan.

Further, what we just witnessed through Hamas’s violent onslaught serves as a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to sort through troves of disinformation or misinformation to see what’s happening: it’s been clearly articulated to us through the very words of our adversaries. They are who they say they are. For years, Putin has expressed his view that territorial sovereignty means nothing, and Ukraine belongs to Russia. Putin made no mystery of this with his 2014 invasion of Crimea and in nearly all the subsequent speeches and proclamations that he’s made ever since. But it was still easy to dismiss or underestimate the threat Putin posed to Ukraine – especially as economic relations normalized between Russia and much of Europe – even while he was speaking it to us right there in plain language.

Likewise, for years, Hamas has been motivated by its mission to wipe Israel off the map. Although over the past two years relations between Israel and Hamas had seemingly normalized, or at least normalized enough for Israel to drop Hamas further down the list of its multiple security concerns, Hamas was never hiding what it was truly aiming for – it’s articulated right there in the Hamas doctrine.

Dismissing an adversary’s stated or written goals has implications for our assessment of President Xi as well. Throughout his rule, Xi has consistently espoused the One China principle whereby Taiwan is an “inalienable part of China.” Last March, in four separate speeches, Xi delivered consistent messaging about China’s preparations for war, further amplified by conducting extensive military exercises and more generally expanding his defense budget which has been steadily increasing for years.

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 – Crisis in Gaza

October 13, 2023

Hamas’ terrorist onslaught made a hard landing in Gaza inevitable. Last Saturday, Hamas launched a seismic and devastating attack on Israel- killing at least 1300 individuals and holding over 100 more hostage. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had no recourse but to declare war, and the Israeli Defense Forces are now actively targeting and attacking Hamas operatives in Gaza- even tracking and identifying some through the social media postings uploaded by the terrorists themselves. Over 1000 Gazans, many of them civilians, have already been killed during Israel’s retaliatory attack, and Israel has called for mass evacuation of northern Gaza in preparation for a ground offensive.

While some immediate developments like the newly formed Israeli unity government and the presence of now two US aircraft carrier groups offer potentially moderating forces against further escalation – and an important deterrence for further conflagration with Iran and Hezbollah – the intensity of the conflict has increased the risk of growing violence and terrorism across the world. Just as Azerbaijan and a series of African military coup-leaders seized on the vulnerabilities caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to make their move, others – including many non-state players- will be looking to leverage this latest crisis to reset the balance of power to their advantage. The conflict between Hamas and Israel is likely to be a galvanizing event for many extremists to react with more violence.

Further, this crisis, in addition to the ongoing war in Ukraine, is going to widen the distance and competition between forces of autocracy and democracy. There’s now likely to be an even sharper demarcation between these two visions of governance on the global scale. These crises, combined with the self-reinforcing nature of autocracy, are also likely to empower extremists who are trying to deepen ideological and nationalist divisions in favor of autocrats. We’re already seeing this in the longstanding, theocratic governments of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, the entrenched autocracy of Putin’s Russia, the emergent autocracy of Xi’s China, the metastasizing military autocracies spanning Africa from Guinea to Sudan, and the waning democracies of India, Turkey, and Hungary.

There are also sharp internal divisions and efforts to reduce democratic processes within some of the world’s most longstanding democratic nations, which are likely to be amplified by ongoing conflicts and discussion of resource allocation and prioritization. NATO, the West, and allies, will be pressed to respond both forcefully and diplomatically to an increasing number of fronts and potential conflicts, and it will be complicated. But this effort is essential, and our support and promotion of democratic rule worldwide is what will determine our future political and economic security.

For more on how the ongoing crisis will impact intelligence and geopolitics, listen to Jack’s interview on Bloomberg Radio – starting at minute 38:26: Israel, Geopolitical Risks, and Market Response – Bloomberg

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 – Russia, China, and Western Influence

October 6, 2023

US adversaries use multiple strategies to counter Western influence around the world – some more successful than others- but either way, it’s worth paying attention. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine jolted the established world order and cracked open an opportunity for global realignment. Since the war began, we’ve been watching as nations like China, Russia, and Iran have adopted a variety of approaches to gain allies and influence in regions like Latin America, Africa, and Central Asia. Like the Ukraine-Russia battle itself, these influence efforts adopt both traditional and modern tactics and offer examples of both increased collaboration and animosity.

Over the past few decades, China’s been deliberately expanding its efforts in Latin America, with Chinese stakes in everything from critical infrastructure in Peru, to telecom with Brazil. What’s notable in the way that China’s operating now, however, is that it’s trying to develop new structures and institutions instead of operating within the established ones. For example, China wants to create a new China-Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) space cooperation forum – looking to collaborate with CELAC instead of the established Organization of American States (OAS) that boasts US participation. Softer efforts are also apparent, like the prevalence of the Chinese Covid vaccine in the region, which was substandard but still viewed favorably by recipients, and educational exchange initiatives.

Likewise, Iran has long adopted soft power means for influence in regions like Latin America- at times accompanied by direct, physical threats to anyone standing in the way. While often ineffective, Iran understands that Latin America holds special geostrategic significance to Washington and tries to employ the influence of its local Shi’a clerics to deliver and encourage anti-American sentiment. Over the past few months, for example, Tehran has been actively propagating a new Spanish translation of its state-sponsored text Cell No. 14 that bolsters the image of the religious leadership of Iran. This softer effort appears to complement Iranian President Raisi’s summer trip to Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba where the focus was largely on energy and defense.

Similarly, Russia also seems to be taking the hard/soft approach when it comes to Latin America. In late September, Moscow hosted the first Russia-Latin America International Parliamentary Conference under the theme “Russia and Latin America: Cooperation in a fair world for all.” In his welcoming remarks, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov highlighted that trade, economic and cultural exchanges never stop, and scientific and educational ties are strengthening between the two regions.

But while Russia might be trying to maintain influence in places like Latin America, in other areas it’s seemingly losing it. Indeed, while the regional conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is longstanding, complex, and politically fraught, Russia’s relinquishment of its peacekeeper role – and failure to maintain calm in the tumultuous region- is being viewed by most Armenians as a betrayal. Putin was apparently either too preoccupied with Ukraine or trying to send a broader message about what happens when his friends start to look West. Either way, Armenia isn’t going to be quick to rejoin the fray.

Further, while Moscow might have hoped that his inaction would punish Armenian Prime Minister Pashinyan for his outreach to Western partners, it will be instructive to see what happens next. Putin might be hoping that Armenians will push Pashinyan out, potentially making room for a more Russian-friendly successor. But right now, Armenia seems to be doubling-down on its Western-facing efforts more broadly by moving to join the International Criminal Court- which has an open arrest warrant out for Putin.

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.