Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 12 July 2016: UN tribunal rules on South China Sea dispute between Philippines and China; long-awaited Iraq Inquiry report leads to fresh calls for Tony Blair to face legal action over his role in Iraq war; opposition fighters launch attack on government-held districts in Aleppo after Syrian government forces cut supply route into city

The weekly briefing, 12 July 2016: UN tribunal rules on South China Sea dispute between Philippines and China; long-awaited Iraq Inquiry report leads to fresh calls for Tony Blair to face legal action over his role in Iraq war; opposition fighters launch attack on government-held districts in Aleppo after Syrian government forces cut supply route into city


Africa: Fighting breaks out between opposing army factions in South Sudanese capital; Zambia’s Electoral Commission halts political campaigning ahead of next month’s general elections.

Americas: Sniper shoots dead five white police officers in United States following further incidents of police brutality against black men; security in Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro is cause for concern in run-up to summer Olympic games; a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announces that it will not demobilise under potential peace deal with Colombian government.

Asia-Pacific: North Korea test fires ballistic missile from submarine; UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea rules on dispute between Philippines and China over latter’s claims to South China Sea.

Europe: Long-awaited Iraq Inquiry report finally published and leads to fresh calls for former British prime minster Tony Blair to face legal action over his role in Iraq war; home secretary Teresa May to become next British prime minister; leaders of NATO member states meet in Warsaw and agree to bolster collective security.

Middle East: Four security officers killed and another five injured in suicide attack in Medina, Saudi Arabia, just before start of Eid Al-Fitr; opposition fighters launch attack on government-held districts in Aleppo, Syria, after government forces cut their last supply route into city.

Polar regions: North Dakota senators suggest that Grand Forks Air Base, currently used for recovery and maintenance of surveillance drones, be converted to fulfil mission to provide US military presence in Arctic.

South Sudan

Fighting between opposing army factions broke out in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, on 7 July, the day before the country’s the fifth independence anniversary. More than 300 people have so far been killed, including civilians and a Chinese peacekeeper. At first, the rival president, Salva Kiir, and vice-president, Riek Machar, called for calm, but a spokesman for Machar claimed the country is now back at war following intensified fighting on 10 July. The fighting is likely to continue, posing a significant threat to the fragile peace created by the April 2016 agreement that saw the rebel leader Machar return to Juba and be sworn in as vice-president in Kiir’s unity government.


Zambia’s Electoral Commission halted political campaigning for 10 days on 8 July in response to violent clashes ahead of next month’s general elections. The campaign has been marred by a number of incidents involving supporters of the incumbent president, Edgar Lungu, and the opposition leader, Hakainde Hichilema, and the recent closure of popular independent newspaper the Post. There have been claims that the most recent suspension is politically motivated, as Lungu has experienced difficulty in attracting the same level of support as Hichilema. Campaigning is expected to begin again on 18 July.

United States

A sniper shot and killed five police officers and injured seven others at a 7 July demonstration in Dallas, Texas, where citizens had gathered to protest against the recent shootings of African-American men by white police officers. In two high-profile events earlier that week, police officers using excessive force shot and killed black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (on 5 July), and Minneapolis, Minnesota (6 July). The Dallas sniper, Micah Johnson, who was black, had expressed upset over these recent incidents and stated that his motive was to kill white officers. Johnson was killed by a bomb-carrying robot after a long standoff with police. He served in Afghanistan with the US Army Reserve, before facing sexual harassment charges that were eventually dropped. A group called the Black Power Political Organisation (BPPO) has come forward to claim responsibility for the Dallas shootings, but this has not been confirmed by the authorities. This incident will almost certainly bring the issues of gun violence and criminal justice reform to the forefront of political debate once again. Local outbreaks of civil unrest are also likely if future demonstrations turn violent or if there are additional incidents of police brutality.


Security in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro has been cause for concern in the run-up to the summer Olympic games, set to take place there from 5 August. The state has requested an emergency federal bailout of R$2.9 billion after announcing that it was unable to fund essential public services. State police and firefighters have been protesting over low wages since 4 July, and angry police officers have been camping out at the international arrivals hall of Rio de Janeiro’s main airport for several days, holding banners reading ‘Welcome to Hell’ and warning visitors that they will not be safe in the country. The protests highlight increasing labour unrest in Rio de Janeiro state, as well as possible vulnerabilities within the state’s security. While there have not been any direct threats to the Rio 2016 Olympics by terrorist organisations or extremist groups, the high-profile nature of the international event makes it an appealing target.


The Armando Rios First Front, a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), announced on 6 July that it will not demobilise under a potential peace deal with the Colombian government. The statement comes only two weeks after FARC leaders and the Colombian government announced that they had reached a ceasefire deal after three years of peace talks. The First Front called on other FARC units to join forces and continue the fight. The Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, has said that any guerrilla unit that did not adhere to the peace agreement would be killed or jailed. The First Front’s decision to break away from the ceasefire deal underscores division with FARC and increases the possibility that other guerrilla units may follow suit, thereby undermining the effectiveness of the peace agreement as a whole.

North Korea

South Korea’s military reported on 9 July that North Korea had test fired a ballistic missile from a submarine. The missile reportedly failed in its initial flight stage. It is the latest of several attempts North Korea has made this year to launch a missile, which it is banned from doing by the United Nations because of concerns that the country is developing nuclear weapons. It is possible that the launch was a reaction to the 8 July agreement between the United States and South Korea to deploy a missile defence system to counter threats from the north. The United States had earlier in the week also placed North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, and other senior officials on a blacklist for human rights violations, which Pyongyang called ‘an open declaration of war.’ The latest moves make it likely that North Korea will close down diplomatic channels with the United States, and tensions are highly likely to increase in the region in light of the missile defence agreement between the United States and South Korea.


The UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has today ruled on the dispute between the Philippines and China over the latter’s claims to the South China Sea. The decision was in favour of the Philippines, and there are now concerns over how China will react. China has stated that it does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction over what it sees as its territory, and the country will almost certainly denounce the tribunal’s ruling. It is likely that China will continue its construction activities on the islands in the South China Sea. It is also possible that China may now declare an air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the area. If this occurs, the United States will most likely pressure Beijing to comply with the verdict and increase its own presence in the region.

United Kingdom

The long-awaited Iraq Inquiry report was finally published on 6 July. The 2.6-million-word report examines every stage of the build-up to and execution of the 2003 Iraq war and the occupation and insurgency that followed. Its damming conclusions include that the legal basis for the war was ‘far from satisfactory’; military action was not a last resort; the intelligence community had not shown beyond doubt that Iraq was developing chemical and biological weapons; there were gaps in the preparedness of the UK military; and the planning for the aftermath of the war was ‘wholly inadequate’. There are renewed calls for the then British prime minister, Tony Blair, to face legal proceedings of some sort; however, it is not clear what charges he would face and under which jurisdiction. It is possible that the families of some of the British service personnel killed in the war will bring a civil case against Blair, and that he may also face contempt charges in the House of Commons. More widely, it is likely that future conflicts involving UK forces will be more carefully debated and that the justifications for war will require a higher burden of proof.

United Kingdom

The energy secretary, Andrea Leadsom, withdrew her candidacy for the Conservative Party leadership following controversial comments she made in a newspaper interview and suspicions over her exaggerated CV and opaque tax affairs. The announcement left the home secretary, Theresa May, as the final candidate for leadership of the Tory party and the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. David Cameron has announced that he will stand down as prime minister after Prime Minister’s Questions on 13 July; May will take over on the same day. May adopts traditional conservative economic values, has a strong stance on curbing immigration, and is in favour of replacing Trident with a new nuclear weapon system. As home secretary, she has been a key backer of the controversial investigatory powers bill – known by critics as the ‘snooper’s charter’ – which she tried to rush through parliament earlier this year, before being forced to agree to a number of concessions over privacy. As prime minister, May’s biggest challenge will be negotiating the country’s exit from the European Union following last month’s referendum on EU membership. She has announced that she will wait until the end of the 2016 before triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally begin the process of the United Kingdom leaving the EU.


The leaders of the 28 member states of NATO met in Warsaw, Poland, on 8 July. They agreed to bolster collective security by sending more troops to eastern alliance members, promoting the importance of cyber security to a unique domain within the NATO structure, and ensuring the missile defence network is operationally capable. These three main developments appear to be focussed on building the security of those areas in which Russia could pose a threat. Although in the short term little will change, these developments suggest a further escalation of tensions with Russia.

Saudi Arabia

Four security officers were killed and another five injured in a suicide attack in Medina on 4 July, just before the start of Eid Al-Fitr. The bombing, which took place at the Prophet’s Mosque – the second holiest site in Islam – was the third attack in the Kingdom that day following earlier attacks in Jeddah and Qatif. While no group has claimed responsibility, the attacks are thought to have been carried out by Islamic State after a series of attacks across the region during the holy month of Ramadan. Saudi security forces have since claimed that the majority of perpetrators were of Pakistani origin. It is highly likely that the Saudi authorities will seek to step up security to try and prevent such attacks happening again.


Opposition fighters launched an attack on government-held districts in Aleppo, Syria, on 11 July after government forces cut their last supply route into the city – the Castello Road. State media reports that eight people were killed and dozens wounded in the attack. Twenty-nine rebels were killed trying to reopen the Castello Road the day before. Despite the offensive in Aleppo, the rebels have been unable to advance due to heavy aerial bombardment by government forces. The closure of the rebel’s last supply route into Aleppo has already led to shortages of food and fuel in the east of the city, and the continued closure of the road leaves an estimated 300,000 people under siege for the foreseeable future.


Both of the North Dakota senators have suggested that the Grand Forks Air Base, currently used for the recovery and maintenance of RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones, be converted to fulfil a mission to provide a US military presence in the Arctic. China and Russia are increasingly interested in the Arctic, and the US foreign policy is increasingly focussed on ensuring US access to Arctic resources and deterring hostile actions against the extraction of those resources. Using drones in the Arctic makes some sense in light of its harsh climate and large expanses of wilderness, and it is likely that the United States will deploy surveillance drones to the region. Armed drones are unlikely to be deployed at present; however, if tensions with Russia and China continue to rise, the desire for a US military deterrent in the region would likely bring the debate back to the potential use of armed drones in future.

Prepared by Kirsten Winterman, Erin Decker and Matthew Clarke.

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