Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 8 November 2017: US joint chiefs of staff conclude that a ground invasion is only way to completely destroy North Korean nuclear programme, Belgium court releases ousted Catalan president and four other former ministers pending investigation, Mugabe fires Zimbabwe’s vice-president

The weekly briefing, 8 November 2017: US joint chiefs of staff conclude that a ground invasion is only way to completely destroy North Korean nuclear programme, Belgium court releases ousted Catalan president and four other former ministers pending investigation, Mugabe fires Zimbabwe’s vice-president

by Kirsten Winterman, Matthew Clarke and Raphaël Zaffran

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: Elections scheduled in DRC for December 2018; Robert Mugabe fires Zimbabwe’s vice-president, clearing way for eventual succession of president’s wife.

Americas: United States hit by separate vehicle-ramming attack and shooting spree; Argentina’s former economy minister and vice-president arrested on corruption charges.

Asia-Pacific: US joint chiefs of staff conclude that a ground invasion is only way to completely destroy North Korean nuclear programme; Australian prime minister proposes new rules to compel MPs and candidates to declare their citizenship status.

Europe and Central Asia: Belgium court releases ousted Catalan president and four other former ministers pending investigation; Large crowds demonstrate in Moscow to commemorate centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Middle East and North Africa: Libyan factions split over future role of Libyan National Army commander; New anti-corruption body headed by Saudi crown price arrests a number of senior figures in Saudi Arabia.

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The electoral commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced on 5 November that it has scheduled the long-awaited presidential election for December 2018. The election was due to take place in December 2016, but was delayed due to the ongoing conflict in the Kasai region and the need to register voters. The opposition accuses the country’s president, Joseph Kabila, whose mandate expired in 2016, of manipulating the situation in order to allow time to amend the constitution and remove the term limits clause that prevents him from the seeking a third term as president. Meanwhile, fighting broke out in the eastern city of Bukavu on 4 November between Congolese troops and those loyal to the former army colonel Abbas Kayonga, who was sacked from his position as the head of a body investigating fraud and corruption on 2 November. Kayonga then surrendered to MONUSCO troops on 5 November.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, fired his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on 6 November claiming that he was disloyal. Mnangagwa was previously seen as a leading candidate to succeed Mugabe. His dismissal suggests that Mugabe’s wife, Grace, the head of the Zanu-PF women’s league, will likely become Zimbabwe’s next leader. It is likely that she will be appointed vice-president in December at the Zanu-PF party conference. Mugabe’s wife had previously publicly warned that Mnangagwa and supporters were behind an alleged coup plot and had called for his removal. Opposition politicians argue that the Mugabe’s are not the sole shareholders in Zimbabwe’s future.

Americas

United States

There were two major security incidents in the United States in the last week. On 31 October, an attacker drove a truck into pedestrians in New York City and killed eight people. On 5 November, a gunman opened fire in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and killed 26 people and 30 injured others. The New York attacker has been identified as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old man from Uzbekistan who had been living in the United States legally since 2010. He was shot and wounded, and has been charged by US prosecutors. The Texas gunman was identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, a US Air Force veteran who was court-martialled in 2012 for domestic violence, and was therefore barred from owning guns. Kelley reportedly killed himself after he attempted to flee the scene. The US president, Donald Trump, took to Twitter following both events, but his reaction to each attack was dramatically different. While Trump dismissed the Texas attack as to do with mental health issues and not gun ownership, it is highly likely that the New York attack will result in the government cracking down further on immigration from predominantly-Muslim countries, possibly adding Central Asian countries to the US travel ban list.

Argentina

On 3 November, Argentina’s former economy minister and vice-president, Amado Boudou, was arrested on corruption charges (racketeering and money laundering) along with alleged associate Jose Maria Nunez Carmona. It is the second time that a member of former president Cristina Fernandez’s administration has been indicted, with the arrest of former planning minister Julio de Video on 25 October. Boudou’s attorney has called the arrest ‘arbitrary’. The charges against Boudou date back to 2009, when he became economy minister, but it was following Fernandez’s re-election in 2011 and Boudou’s rise to the vice-presidency that suspicions of his corruption started building up. Considering that the current wave of arrests is occurring briefly after the ruling Cambiemos (Let’s Change) coalition secured a landslide victory in mid-term elections, it is possible that the arrests are politically-motivated.

Series of corruption arrests in Argentina possibly politically-motivatedClick To Tweet

Asia-Pacific

North Korea

The US joint chiefs of staff have concluded that a ground invasion is the only way to completely destroy the North Korean nuclear programme, as the infrastructure is believed to be in underground facilities – making conventional aerial bombardment ineffective. In a letter outlining this option, the vice director of the joint staff, Rear Admiral Michael Dumont, told Congressman Ted Lieu that discussions should be held in a confidential briefing but admitted that calculating fatalities would be extremely difficult. North Korea has a relatively strong military, but would struggle against the technologically advanced – and highly experienced – US military. However, a US ground invasion would risk a North Korean nuclear counter-attack. Lieu said that the assessment made it clear that there were no good military options for North Korea. Dumont also made it clear in his letter that he supported economic and diplomatic solutions ahead of any military action.

There are no good military solutions to the North Korea nuclear questionClick To Tweet

Australia

Following the discovery that six Australian federal MPs held foreign citizenship (often unknown to them), the country’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has proposed new rules to compel MPs and candidates to declare their citizenship status. Dual citizens are not allowed to hold federal office under Australian law. If passed, the new rules will require politicians to declare their citizenship, their time and place of birth, and that of their parents. If they hold foreign citizenship, they will need to identify when and how they will relinquish it. Current MPs will have 21 days to make the declaration, while new MPs will need to make the declaration on their election. The new rules will be voted on by both houses of parliament. MPs are likely to pass the rules, as they seek to provide a feeling of greater transparency. Furthermore, continued resignations over the matter could change the political balance in parliament.

Europe and Central Asia

Belgium

A Belgium court has released the ousted president of Catalonia, Carles Puigdemont, and four other former Catalan ministers pending an investigation. Spanish judges issued an arrest warrant for the five after they fled to Brussels in the wake of the Spanish government dissolving the Catalan government. Puigdemont and his colleagues are wanted on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds, but claim that they would not receive a fair trial in Spain. The accused have asked for the trial to take place in Belgium, and handed themselves in to police in Brussels. Puigdemont and the other former ministers are due back in court within 15 days. Belgium has 60 days to return them to Spain.

Russia

On 7 November, large crowds demonstrated in the streets of Moscow to commemorate the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution. The communist groups chanted socialist slogans and waved red flags. The Kremlin downplayed the event, preferring to focus on World War II commemorations and organising a military parade in Red Square with veterans. It is likely that the Kremlin’s selective approach to commemoration and its attitude towards the state’s responsibility for addressing the past is directly linked to the president’s own political agenda. It is highly likely that Vladimir Putin will seek a new six-term in the 2018 March election. The Bolshevik Revolution is inextricably linked to political upheaval and the political repression that followed, narratives that Putin will be keen to avoid to avoid framing positively or being associated with.

Middle East and North Africa

Libya

Libyan factions are split over the role of the commander of the Libyan National Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, as UN-backed talks continue in Cairo. Despite sources claiming that the various groups are close to creating a transitional government, Haftar’s future remains a divisive issue. The primary question is whether the UN-backed Government of National Accord in Tripoli will have the power to name the head of the armed forces and unify the Libyan army as per a clause in the political settlement struck in 2015. The UN-backed talks aim to create an administration that will then allow for elections in late 2018. Uncertainty in the talks has allowed for a recent escalation of violence in both Derna in eastern Libya, where 47 people were killed and wounded in airstrikes on 31 October, and in Aziziya in western Libya.

Saudi Arabia

A new anti-corruption body headed by the Saudi crown price, Mohammed bin Salman, arrested a number of senior figures, including royals, ministers and businesspeople, on 5 November in a major purge against corruption in the Kingdom. The move is backed by the US president, Donald Trump, and is understood to be the first step in a wider campaign. Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world and the owner of investment company Kingdom Holding, is thought to be one of those under arrest. A number of other high-profile individuals, including the head of the Saudi National Guard, were also arrested. Bin Salman has made a number of risky decisions in the past few months, including a modernisation drive within Saudi Arabia and the blockade of Qatar, and it remains unclear as to whether these risks will pay off in the long-term or whether they will create further instability.

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