RANE Geopolitical Digest 8/19/2022


AUGUST 19, 2022

The Week Ahead:

South Korea and the United States Conduct Military Drills. South Korean and American forces on 22 August will begin the so-called Ulchi Freedom Shield military drills in South Korea involving about 10,000 US troops and up to 200,000 South Korean soldiers. These will be the first large-scale military drills on the peninsula since 2017, after which the Trump administration and then pandemic restrictions limited their scope. The drills will focus on defensive activities, such as missile response, field communications, drone maneuvers and counterdrone activities, and troop deployments, and will involve artillery, armor, aircraft and naval landing craft. North Korea will likely greet the exercises with bellicose rhetoric, and potentially with artillery, cruise missile or ballistic missile tests or launches, but this would not signal a prelude to war or invasion by North Korea.

Ukraine Observes its Independence Day. Ukraine on 24 August will mark its independence day, traditionally one of the country's most important national holidays. This year, the date will be a normal working day, and some formal celebrations including the annual military parade in Kyiv will not take place. Ukraine's military has expressed concerns that Russia could attempt massed missile strikes across Ukraine or on Kyiv using weapons it has been accumulating in Belarus. Ukraine's military meanwhile could attempt to strike deep behind Russian lines or in Russia to boost morale and provide further cause for celebration on the date. Internationally, Ukraine is seeking to organize demonstrations it is calling the Free World Gathering, calling on those who aspire to freedom globally to take to the streets and form human chains in solidarity with Ukraine, which will serve as a proxy indicator of public support for Ukraine abroad.

Angola Holds a Presidential Election. President Joao Lourenco of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) will face off against Adalberto Costa Junior of the opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) on 24 August. The MPLA has dominated Angola for decades, but intensifying grievances ranging from poverty to police brutality to suppression of political dissent have fostered increased support for UNITA in recent years. Even so, the MPLA's long-standing dominance and willingness to use misinformation, political intimidation, press leaks, illegal voter registration and payouts to win means that Lourenco is very likely to secure a second term. If so, Lourenco would likely continue to foster a pro-business environment to facilitate continued investment in oil and gas projects.

Please read on for our coverage of the week that was...

 • Key Developments - Analysis • Other Stories We're Tracking - Curated Content
High Inflation in Israel Could Return Netanyahu to Power

What Happened: Israel's Consumer Price Index rose 1.1% month-on-month and 5.2% year-on-year in July, according to the country's Central Bureau of Statistics, well beyond the 3% forecast by the Bank of Israel, The Time of Israel reported on 15 August. The yearly rate was the highest in 14 years, and was driven by housing (annual 17.8% increase), fruit (8.5%) and transportation (3.3%). Israel's current interest rate is 1.25%, and was raised in July from .75% as inflation, slow to reach Israel, began to bite.

Why It Matters: Inflation is likely to feed into Israel's political instability and potentially tip the 1 November national election in favor of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel's housing prices are socially and politically sensitive subjects, with the country having a longstanding housing shortage that has incentivized expansion into the West Bank and empowered populist leaders in the political system. With 44% of voters saying in a recent survey that their votes would be decided by a party's economic platform, Netanyahu and his allies will attempt to capitalize on inflation as a reason they should return to power, while settlers will argue high housing costs are a reason to expand settlements and even annex territory in the West Bank.
Source: RANE Worldview
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Sri Lankan President Will Not Extend State of Emergency, Signaling Improved Business Climate

What Happened: Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe announced he will not extend the country's state of emergency beyond this week, Reuters reported on 16 August, citing the president's media office. The state of emergency, which enhanced authorities' powers to enforce law and order, was imposed on 18 July in the run-up to the country's presidential election.

Why It Matters: The decision illustrates the lack of large-scale, disruptive demonstrations following Wickremesinghe's election, which has helped bring about relative stability in the country and temporarily reduced related business disruptions, even as long-term challenges remain. Relative political and social stability will also likely limit interruptions to negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and creditors intended to open financial funding avenues for the crisis-stricken country. The risk of civil unrest will persist, however, as former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa appears intent on returning to the country sometime soon -- many protesters have expressed distrust of the current government and Wickremesinghe in particular due to his links to Rajapaksa -- and because the country's economic crisis is unlikely to end in the near term.
Source: RANE Worldview
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Assessments: Reassessing the Risk of Another Gaza War
On 6 August, Israel began a pre-emptive military campaign against the Palestinian militant group PIJ in the Gaza Strip, after Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) became convinced that PIJ fighters were plotting an imminent attack in retaliation for the IDF's capture of the group's high ranking leader in the West Bank earlier in the month. Hamas stayed out of the latest round of fighting because it wasn't directly targeted, and because attacking Israel would have threatened Hamas' access to foreign aid that it depends on to maintain its legitimacy as Gaza's leader. In the run-up to its national elections on 1 November, Israel's government will likely continue its crackdown on PIJ, including airstrikes on Gaza, while trying to avoid provoking another escalation by Hamas. However, repeated attacks against the Gaza Strip will still anger Palestinians, who will eventually demand Hamas join PIJ to retaliate against Israel — raising the risk of another flare-up akin to the 2021 Gaza war, as well as another bout of inter-communal clashes inside Israel.
Source: RANE Worldview
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Assessments: Turkey Raises the Stakes in Northern Syria
On 16 August, local observers reported heavy fighting between the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkish forces near the northern Syrian city of Kobane, which lies in between two Turkish buffer zones and also hosts some Syrian government troops. Fighting will likely remain localized along Turkish-SDF lines of contact — including skirmishes around Kobane, Tal Rifaat and Ayn Issa — unless Russia unexpectedly gives Turkey the go-ahead to launch a major invasion. But if SDF attacks lead Turkey to begin a major military operation beyond the current lines of contact, it would drive a wedge between Ankara and Moscow that could complicate their carefully calibrated relationship amid the ongoing war in Ukraine. Such a Turkish campaign would also force the SDF closer to the Syrian government, in turn undermining the SDF's relations with the United States and giving the Islamic State a chance to resurge.
Source: RANE Worldview
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Essential Geopolitics: What's Happening With Elections in Kenya and Senegal?
In this episode of RANE's Essential Geopolitics podcast, we look at the circumstances and implications of Kenya's and Senegal's recent elections. RANE sub-Saharan Africa analyst Clara Brackbill describes the short- and long-term effects of these elections, both within their respective countries and across Africa. The Essential Geopolitics podcast series is part of RANE's Geopolitical Intelligence Solution. Please click on the RANE Worldview link below to access the podcast.
Source: RANE Worldview
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Confrontation to Conflagration: Asia's Six Likeliest Wars
Recent tensions between China and Taiwan have underlined the potential for the “frozen” conflicts of Asia to become hot again. Amid the rise of a new era of geopolitical competition, Nikkei Asia has weighed the likelihood of a major conflict in the next five years. China’s aggression toward Taiwan increases following Pelosi visit. China vs India, repeat or escalation of summer 2020 Himalayan border clash on the horizon. China vs. Japan, tensions over East China Sea islands could boil over sooner than expected. New president in South Korea and further militarization in the North spells end of tentative thaw. India vs. Pakistan, disputed Kashmir territory still a source of tension. One year after Taliban takeover, major fighting has ended but regional rivalries and a humanitarian crisis remain.
Source: Nikkei Asia
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South Korea Seeks Closer Strategic Links With Australia
Little noticed publicly in either Australia or South Korea, Seoul has taken steps in recent months that suggest intent to forge closer strategic links with Canberra. The trend has accelerated under Korea’s new administration.
Source: Australian Strategic Policy Institute
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Vietnam Eyes China’s Expanding Presence in Cambodia
In June 2022, several media reports announced that China was opening a military base at Cambodia’s Ream naval base located on the southern tip of Cambodia close to the contested waters of the South China Sea. But while Ream is not vital for Chinese power in the South China Sea, it has strategic importance for Vietnam. Vietnam’s east coast faces the Chinese island of Hainan where the PLAN’s south fleet is based. China could blockade the east coast of Vietnam quickly, including its main naval base at Cam Ranh Bay.
Source: East Asia Forum
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India and Pakistan at 75: Prospects for the Future
India and Pakistan, the two nuclear-armed giants of South Asia, each mark the 75th anniversary of their independence this week. Disputes over their shared border and the territory of Kashmir have been a recurrent source of conflict between the two countries over the course of their histories, and new geopolitical alignments, changes in conventional and nuclear military capabilities, and deep mistrust continue to forestall any normalization of ties. China’s rise and the attendant great power competition have complicated both Islamabad’s and New Delhi’s strategic calculus as they both look to balance relations with Washington and Beijing.
Source: United States Institute of Peace
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