In Other News – Lithuania stands up to China as Taiwan opens a de facto embassy in Vilnius & More – 11/19/2021

November 19, 2021

Lithuania stands up to China as Taiwan opens a de facto embassy in Vilnius. In defiance of ongoing pressure from Beijing, on Thursday Lithuania announced that Taiwan had formally opened a de facto embassy in Vilnius using the name Taiwan. Other Taiwan offices in the United States and Europe refer to themselves as “Taipei” and avoid refence to the island itself, which China continues to view as its own. Back in August, when Lithuania refused to reverse its decision to open a de facto Taiwan embassy in Vilnius, Beijing recalled its Lithuanian ambassador and demanded that Vilnius follow suit. Chinese state media further remarked that Lithuania was “crazy” and epitomized the anti-China path in Europe.

This week Lithuanian Foreign Minister Landsbergis, who has called upon Japan and the United States to step-up joint coordination against China, said that economic pressure from Beijing poses a test for Lithuania, and that democratic countries must align in opposition to China’s coercive measures. Other Central European states like the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also been growing closer to Taiwan and could economically benefit from Taiwanese investment and strengthening trade; but this is a trend that China would like to avoid. Taiwan’s foreign ministry stated that the new Vilnius office would chart a “new and promising course” for relations with Lithuania, and cooperation on industries like fintech, lasers, and semiconductors is anticipated.

On visit to Europe former Brazilian President Lula da Silva is treated like a head of state but at home he’s taking concerted measures to become an effective one. Former Brazilian President Lula was making the rounds in Europe this week, trying to consistently differentiate himself on global issues from current Brazilian President Bolsonaro. Lula, whose corruption charges were annulled last spring and is currently the leading candidate for the upcoming 2022 Presidential elections, visited French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris and was received in a manner usually reserved for a current head of state. Macron and Lula reportedly discussed the future of the European Union and integration of Latin America. Lula also gave a speech before a committee within the European Parliament where he received a standing ovation.

While Lula’s international reach is apparent, he’s also making dramatic efforts back home to make sure that if he does secure the presidency, he’s going to be able to lead effectively. Two weeks ago, Brazilian journalists broke the news that Lula was reaching out to a historic nemesis, Brazilian politician Geraldo Alckmin to serve as his vice president. Whether or not the two ultimately unite, Lula’s outreach to Alckmin, who ran against him in a heated campaign in 2006 and has consistently supported Lula’s opponents, suggests that the former president is willing to take great strides to form a broad coalition and ensure a future majority in congress.

In Other News – US Appeals Court allows WhatsApp to move forward with a lawsuit against NSO Group & More – 11/12/2021

November 12, 2021

Turkish drones continue to grow in influence and sophistication, placing Turkey in esteemed but complicated geopolitical position. This week, leading Turkish defense company Baykar announced that it will be testing two new unmanned aircraft with the ability to take off from naval ships, further securing Ankara’s position at the forefront of drone technology. According to Baykar’s CEO, the new drones should be ready in about two years and will extend the nation’s capabilities from land to sea. Over the past twenty years, Ankara has made a concerted effort to build up its defense industry and designing advanced drones has been central to this effort. The results appear to be paying off, as the use of Baykar’s Bayraktar TB2 drones has contributed significantly to recent military victories in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Azerbaijan, among others, and the firm has signed export deals with 13 countries. Turkey is now reportedly one of the world’s top four drone producers along with China, Israel, and the United States.

But Ankara’s efforts to be at the forefront of drone technology also puts it in a delicate geopolitical position. Turkish drone strikes in northeastern Syria continue to target areas controlled by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, contributing to tensions with Washington. And even when Turkey isn’t directly behind the strikes, its drone sales are viewed as indirect support of a nation. Egypt was recently angered by news of potential Turkish drone sales to Ethiopia, and Russia continues to be upset by Ankara’s ongoing relationship with Ukraine. In 2019, Ukraine, who has been critical in the development of the TB2 platform, signed an agreement for over ten Turkish drones and joined a venture with Turkey to produce nearly 50 more. Two weeks ago, Russia warned Ankara over arms sales to Kyiv after a TB2 drone attacked pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and on Wednesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed concern about “unusual Russian military activity” along the Ukraine border that hints at a possible Russian invasion, a scenario that would put Turkey further in the balance.

US Appeals Court allows WhatsApp to move forward with a lawsuit against NSO Group, implications for accountability of tech companies. NSO Group, the Israeli developer of Pegasus spyware that’s reportedly been used by authoritarian governments worldwide to surveil political opponents and journalists, took a hit earlier this week when the US Ninth Court of Appeals concluded that the immunity granted to foreign governments that prevents them from civil litigation in US courts does not extend to NSO. WhatsApp is accusing NSO of targeting its California servers with malware and hacking into 1,400 WhatsApp user accounts in violation of US state and federal law. This week’s appeals court decision supports an earlier 2020 ruling from a lower court and comes just a week after the US Department of Commerce added NSO to its “entity list,” which limits the group’s access to US components and technology. NSO is expected to try to reverse the sanctions and has argued in court that its technology is designed to help law-enforcement authorities gain insight to terrorists and criminals who are hiding behind encrypted apps to plot attacks or crimes. But thus far US courts have concluded that whatever NSO’s government customers do with the software and services does not render NSO an “agency or instrumentality of a foreign state.” It is possible that NSO could try to take the case to the US supreme court, but it’s uncertain whether the court would take the case.

“A Spymaster and a Gentleman, Jack Devine Dispels CIA Myth and Dispenses his Truth,” Jack Devine on The Live Drop November 8, 2021

Jack Devine speaks to The Live Drop about his initial impressions of Santiago in 1971, the vast difference between liberalism and communism, and he clarifies the extent and limitations of US involvement in both of Pinochet’s coup attempts.

Link to podcast

In Other News – Tech companies & US try to curb Russian Influence in Nicaraguan Elections & More – 11/5/2021

November 5, 2021

Before Nicaraguan elections, tech companies, US government take action to curb corruption and Russian influence. For several months Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his Vice President wife Rosario Murillo have been locking up political opponents and driving dissidents, businesspeople, and journalists out of the country to prevent any viable competition for the November 7 presidential elections. But Ortega, who has been in power since 2006, has also been running an online disinformation campaign since 2018, and this week Facebook parent company Meta announced that it had taken down 1000 fake accounts controlled by Ortega’s government. While the misinformation effort hasn’t been directly linked to Moscow, Russian’s strong influence in Nicaragua is apparent in several realms – through the sale of Russian tanks and military equipment to Managua as well as the construction of an alleged satellite facility. The two nations also recently signed an IT security agreement that effectively allows Russia to use Nicaragua as a platform for electronic and cyber operations. In response, this week the US Congress approved the RENACER Act, calling for new sanctions on Nicaragua and increased monitoring of human rights abuses and Russian activities in the country, and Washington will also review Nicaragua’s participation in Central America Free Trade Agreement.

Pressure from the Gulf worsening Lebanon’s crisis. Lebanon is in a dire economic crisis and Saudi Arabia, a key economic partner and traditional ally of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community, just dealt a blow to Beirut by cutting off all diplomatic and economic ties. Saudi has clearly been frustrated with the degree of Iran’s power in Lebanon via Tehran’s support of Hezbollah, but the breaking point was a recent comment made by Lebanese television personality-turned Interior Minister George Kordahi that asserted Saudi Arabia was responsible for the war in Yemen and Iran-backed Houthis were only defending themselves. Anger over the remarks has spilled over and other Gulf states like the UAE, Bahrain, and Kuwait have also withdrawn their diplomats from Lebanon. Critically, the Saudi spat could have grave repercussions on an already ravaged Lebanese economy. The Lebanese pound, pinned to the US dollar for over 20 years, has depreciated by more than 90% since 2019, and the economy further plummeted with the devastating Beirut port bombing in 2020 and effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati is reportedly trying to get Kordahi to resign and appease Saudi Arabia, but it’s unclear if Kordahi’s resignation would even do much given Saudi’s clear aggravation with Iran.

New US Government report links security and climate change. In late October, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the first-ever National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on climate change, assessing that global warming “will exacerbate risks to US national security interests as the physical impacts increase and geopolitical tensions mount about how to respond to the challenge.” Nations are arguing about who should be fiscally responsible for the global transition to clean energy and competing to see who can profit from the shift. While countries have historically used control over resources as a political weapon or asset, they can truly exploit their position now that prices for coal and gas are high, supply is low, and alternative greener options are not yet viable. The NIE also highlights how the fight for limited natural resources, like water, could lead to new territorial claims and reignited border disputes. We’re already seeing this with China’s water pursuits in the Himalayas, impacting both India and Tibet. Humanitarian crises caused by flooding and other natural disasters are also anticipated to rise and could make certain areas entirely uninhabitable, further increasing global political instability.