Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 11 October 2016: North Korea likely preparing for new nuclear test, United States blames Russia for recent hacks of American political groups, Ethiopian government declares state of emergency

The weekly briefing, 11 October 2016: North Korea likely preparing for new nuclear test, United States blames Russia for recent hacks of American political groups, Ethiopian government declares state of emergency

by Chris Abbott, Erin Decker, Kirsten Winterman and Matthew Clarke

Briefing

Summary

Africa: Ethiopian government declares state of emergency; Nigeria’s domestic intelligence agency seizes $800,000 and arrests seven senior judges in series of raids.

Americas: US intelligence agencies blame Russian government for recent hacks of American political groups and subsequent leaks; hundreds of people killed and thousands displaced in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew.

Asia-Pacific: Indonesian war planes stage large-scale military exercise on Natuna Islands, located on periphery of South China Sea territory claimed by China; North Korea likely preparing for new nuclear test

Europe and Central Asia: Syrian migrants capture IS suspect after two-day manhunt in Germany; Russia announces suspension of agreement with United States to dispose of stocks of weapons-grade plutonium.

Middle East and North Africa: Justice and Development Party wins most seats in Morocco’s general election; thousands of demonstrators take to streets of Yemeni capital after airstrikes kill over 140 people and injure at least 500 others attending Houthi funeral.

Africa

Ethiopia

The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency on 9 October after months of civil unrest, including a number of anti-government protests, primarily in the Oromia region of the country. The state of emergency provides the Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, with increased control over the security services, and is expected to last for six months. The government has previously blocked the internet in an attempt to prevent protesters from using social media to mobilise. Protests have reignited in the past week following a deadly stampede at a protest at a religious festival in the Oromia region on 2 October. It is likely that the protests will continue, as the state of emergency does nothing to address the underlying causes of discontent in the Oromia region.

Nigeria

Nigeria’s primary domestic intelligence agency, the Department of State Services (DSS), announced on 9 October that it has seized around $800,000 in cash and arrested seven senior judges after a series of raids. Widespread corruption was one of the key areas that the president, Muhammadu Buhari, pledged to tackle since taking office in May 2015. However, the Nigerian Bar Association has cautioned against the arrests, accusing the authorities of a ‘Gestapo-style’ operation. Buhari has argued that the arrests are an assault on corruption, not an attack the judiciary itself. It is too early to determine the impact of the arrests on the independence of the judiciary as the third arm of government after the Nigerian executive and legislative.

Americas

United States

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a joint statement on 7 October publicly blaming the Russian government for the recent hacks of American political groups and subsequent leaks. US intelligence agencies claim that Moscow is seeking to interfere in the forthcoming US presidential election on 8 November, though the joint statement did not over any evidence in support of this claim. Russian officials have repeatedly rejected accusations that the Kremlin has undertaken or supported hacks of US political targets. However, Washington believes that the hacks were carried out by groups believed to be run by Russia’s military intelligence agency (GRU) and Federal Security Service (FSB). The ODNI/DHS statement puts pressure on the Obama administration to respond to the alleged Russian hacking at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow have grown increasingly strained over Russian actions in Syria.

Haiti

Thousands of people have been displaced in Haiti after the Category-4 storm Hurricane Matthew struck the island on 5 October. The death toll has risen to over 400, and continues to rise as the full scale of the storm’s impact becomes clearer. The telephone service and electricity supply are still down, and food and clean water are in short supply. Haiti had never fully recovered from the deadly 2010 earthquake and the cholera outbreak that followed. It is feared that the latest devastation could result in a surge of cholera cases due to the strain on the country’s sanitation system. Although international aid organisations are working to provide disaster relief, conditions in Haiti are almost certain to continue to deteriorate in the near term. Furthermore, the destruction of livestock and topsoil will almost certainly have longer-term impacts on the country’s food security and economy.

Asia-Pacific

Indonesia

On 6 October, Indonesian war planes staged a large-scale military exercise on the Natuna Islands archipelago, which is located on the periphery of the South China Sea territory claimed by China. Indonesia stated that it was conducting the exercise in order to strengthen the defence capabilities of its outer islands. The exercise will almost certainly add to the already tense situation in the South China Sea, which has been a source of territorial disputes between China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam, among others. While Indonesia has not thus far been part of the disputes, it does not agree with Beijing’s inclusion of waters around the Natuna Islands within China’s claimed territory. While any direct conflict between China and Indonesia is unlikely at this point, Jakarta’s show of force has added to the uncertainty in the South China Sea and will likely increase tensions between the two countries.

North Korea

It is thought that North Korea is preparing its Punggye-Ri Nuclear Test Site for a new test after the successful nuclear detonation on 9 September. 38 North, a programme of the US-Korea Institute at the John Hopkins University, has confirmed from satellite imagery that there is increased activity in all three tunnels of the Punggye-Ri complex. South Korea has also indicated that the North is ready for a new test at any point. Pyongyang may be preparing for another nuclear test or a test of its long-range weapons system in build-up to or aftermath of the upcoming US presidential election. Should North Korea manage to successfully develop a long-range nuclear strike capability, it would pose a very significant risk to South Korea and regional and global security.

Europe and Central Asia

Germany

A 22-year old Syrian refugee living in Germany since February 2015 has been arrested in Leipzig after a two-day manhunt. On 8 October, police found explosives in Jaber al-Bakr’s apartment in Chemnitz in east Germany. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the explosive was triacetone triperoxide (TATP), the same substance that was used in both the Paris and Brussels attacks. German police have linked al-Bakr to Islamic State, and he has been under investigation by intelligence officials for some time. Coming after a series of attacks and foiled attacks in Germany, the arrest is likely to spur increased anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiments in the country, though that fact that it was three Syrian migrants who overpowered al-Bakr and informed the police may mitigate the public reaction.

Russia

Russia announced on 3 October that it was suspending the US-Russia Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), an agreement the two countries signed in 2000 to dispose of their stocks of weapons-grade plutonium. The announcement came shortly after the US government stated that it was suspending efforts to cooperate with Russia in Syria following what is thought to have been a Russian airstrike on a humanitarian aid convoy in Aleppo last month. Although Russia’s suspension of the PMDA is considered to be a largely symbolic move, it does show that Moscow is willing to use nuclear disarmament as a bargaining chip in its disputes with Washington over Syria. The move comes as Russia as deployed nuclear-capable Iskander short-range ballistic missile systems in Kaliningrad, its exclave between between Poland and Lithuania. The lack of cooperation and limited communication between the United States and Russia with regard to actions in Syria will almost certainly increase the atmosphere of distrust between the two countries, and a further escalation in ‘tit-for-tat’ measures is likely.

Middle East and North Africa

Morocco

The Justice and Development Party (PJD), which has been running a coalition government in Morocco since 2011, won the most seats in the country’s general election on 7 October. The Islamist PJD secured 125 seats against the Authenticity and Modernity Party’s (PAM) 102 seats, with a low voter turnout of just over 43%. The multi-party system in Morocco means that one party cannot win outright, and it is therefore likely that King Mohammed VI will invite the PJD to form a new coalition government. PAM is not expected to join this coalition. The new coalition government will face significant challenges in improvement employment, healthcare and education.

Yemen

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, on 9 October after airstrikes killed over 140 people and injured at least 500 others attending a funeral on 8 October. The attack targeted the funeral of the father of the Houthi-appointed interior minister, Galal al-Rawishan. The unrecognised Houthi-led interim authority has blamed the Saudi coalition for the attack. Saudi Arabia and the United States have indicated that they will launch their own investigations into the airstrikes. The attack has led to increased tensions between the allies, and has prompted the United States to review its support for the Kingdom’s military actions in Yemen. Many prominent Houthis in favour of a cessation of hostilities were killed in the attack, further jeopardising the chance of restarting Yemeni peace talks.

Prepared by Chris Abbott, Erin Decker, Kirsten Winterman and Matthew Clarke.

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