Home > Publications > Political and security risk updates > The weekly briefing, 29 November 2016: South Sudan accepts deployment of UN-mandated regional force, UN official accuses Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing, Russia steps up military presence on disputed Kuril Islands

The weekly briefing, 29 November 2016: South Sudan accepts deployment of UN-mandated regional force, UN official accuses Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing, Russia steps up military presence on disputed Kuril Islands

by Kirsten Winterman, Matthew Clarke and Raphaël Zaffran

Briefing photo

Summary

Africa: South Sudan accepts deployment of UN-mandated regional force to Juba; car bomb in Somali capital kills at least 10 people and injures dozens more.

Americas: Donald Trump appears to back-pedal on some of his more-controversial campaign promises; Cuban politician and revolutionary Fidel Castro dies.

Asia-Pacific: UN official accuses Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya community; Russia steps up military presence on disputed Kuril Islands.

Europe and Central Asia: European Parliament passes resolution calling for EU countries to take more action to oppose propaganda from both Russia and Islamic State; Ukraine fears being abandoned by United States under Donald Trump.

Middle East and North Africa: Opposition groups in Kuwait win 24 of country’s 50 contested seats in parliamentary elections; government forces in Syria retake over a third of rebel-held territory in Aleppo.

Africa

South Sudan

On 25 November, the South Sudanese government agreed to accept the deployment of a UN-mandated regional force in their capital, Juba, with ‘no conditions’. The decision follows the withdrawal of Kenyan troops from South Sudan in early November and reverses several months of refusal to allow into the country the additional 4,000 East African troops proposed by the UN Security Council. While the South Sudanese president, Salva Kiir, agreed in principle to the deployment in September, the UN has criticised the failure of plans to date to deploy the troops. It is hoped that once deployed the additional troop numbers will assist in bringing stability to Juba, which has experienced heavy fighting since opposition leader Reik Machar was removed from his position of vice-president in July.

Somalia

A car bomb in Somalia’s capital city, Mogadishu, on 26 November killed at least 10 people and injured dozens more. The attack took place in a busy marketplace in the Waberi area while the Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, was visiting a nearby university. The death toll is expected to rise. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but the evidence suggests that al-Shabaab is responsible. Al-Shabaab frequently carries out attacks against the Somali government across the country. The attack comes while Somalians continue to vote in parliamentary elections in the country. However, the outcome of the elections and the subsequent election of a president have been delayed until mid-December at the earliest due to the continuing poor security situation.

Americas

United States

The US president-elect, Donald Trump, appears to be backpedalling on some of his more controversial campaign promises. In a widely-covered interview with the New York Times, Trump announced that he ‘does not feel strongly’ about prosecuting his opponent and former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as he had repeatedly warned he would if elected. Trump also signalled that he is keeping an open mind about pushing for US withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. Trump’s view that climate change was in fact a hoax invented by the Chinese government to undermine the US economy was one of his most-repeated campaign statements. Now that the president-elect is publicly softening on some of his most controversial campaign promises, it is likely that the traditional Republican base in Congress and some of the more conservative Democrats will become more accommodating of his agenda once president. However, it is also likely that Trump will aggressively follow through with some of his other polarising promises. It is already clear that this will likely include the deportation of millions of illegal immigrants and possibly the construction of some version of his infamous wall project along the US border with Mexico.

Cuba

The death of the Cuban politician and revolutionary Fidel Castro was announced on 25 November. The death of the 90-year-old former Cuban president generated mixed reactions from inside the country and across the world. Castro is praised by some in Cuba as a hero and liberator; others have long perceived him as a brutal dictator. It is the disconnect between some of his progressive social policies on the one hand and his tight grip on power over more than five decades on the other that made him such a polarising figure. So while Castro implemented universal access to education and healthcare in Cuba, his progressive social agenda was always tarnished by his regime’s human rights abuses and its repression of any political opposition. Castro’s death comes as relations between the United States and Cuba are thawing after a half-century of tensions spanning 10 US presidents and a US embargo that has contributed greatly to the country’s isolation and political status quo. It is unlikely that the country’s president since 2008, Fidel’s brother Raúl Castro, will depart from Cuba’s slow and modest opening to the world now that the revolutionary leader is gone. However, despite some possible concessions in terms of individual liberties and possibly increasing foreign investment, the one-party state that Castro established is likely to survive him as long as his brother and fellow revolutionaries are alive.

Asia-Pacific

Myanmar

John McKissick, the head of station for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar, has accused the Myanmar government of the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. McKissick said that soldiers were ‘killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river [bordering Bangladesh]’. The Myanmar government has denied the allegations, and accused McKissick of overstepping his position as a representative of the UN. The latest crackdown comes after nine border guards were killed in a coordinated attack in October, which the government blamed on Rohingya militants. The Rohingya are seen by many in Myanmar as illegal Bangladeshi migrants, and are denied citizenship in the country despite having been the region for decades. It is likely that tensions will continue to rise into the end of 2016, with autonomous military units using so-called enemy-centric counterinsurgency tactics (kill and capture) to supress the region. Without a more sophisticated response, there is a small chance that the region will erupt into a full-blown insurgency.

Japan

Russia has stepped up its military presence on the disputed Kuril Islands. The islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan, are a chain of four islands that were traditionally Japanese, but were seized by Russia at the end of the Second World War. On 22 November, Russia announced plans to station two anti-ship missile stations on the islands, which are home to 19,000 people. Until recently, Russia and Japan have been attempting to find a compromise on the future of the islands; however, the likelihood that the United States will withdraw from Asian politics and abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) under Donald Trump, is encouraging increased links between Russia and China as they attempt to dominate the region, though whether this will result in direct collaboration or direct competition remains to be seen. It is likely that we will see an emboldened Russia and China filling the void left by the United States in Asia.

Europe and Central Asia

European Union

The European Parliament passed a resolution on 23 November calling for EU countries to take more action to oppose propaganda from both Russia and Islamic State that is being released into Europe. MEPs condemned the propaganda as being designed to divide the EU, distort the truth and incite fear, and blamed pseudo-news agencies and social media campaigns from Russia as well as the radicalisation of some Islamic scholars in Europe. The EU resolution encourages awareness raising, education, investigative journalism and lessons on information literacy in order to counter the misinformation. The MEPs also recommended that media outlets use local language reporting in EU and neighbourhood countries. The resolution is the EU’s first active and public effort to counter the information threats to Europe, at a time when ‘post-factual politics’ is being blamed for both Brexit and the US presidential election result. It is likely that the European Union and its member states will take these threats more seriously from now on.

Ukraine

The Ukrainian elite is growing increasingly concerned that the United States will abandon their country under Donald Trump. Senior Ukrainian politicians, including a vice-prime minister, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, have voiced concerns over the US president-elect’s potential attitude towards Ukraine and the possibility that the United States might alter its non-recognition policy towards Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Such a move by Trump would derail efforts by European countries and the Obama administration to put diplomatic pressure on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Moreover, it is possible that such a U-turn by the United States would empower Russia to make similar territorial claims in other European countries, such as the Baltic states. Now, the Ukrainian government is faced with the difficult strategic decision of either seeking a settlement with its Russian neighbour or attempting to accelerate the accession process for NATO membership, which Russia would likely perceive as provocation.

Middle East and North Africa

Kuwait

Opposition groups in Kuwait have won 24 of the country’s 50 contested seats in parliamentary elections on 26 November. The elections are the first that the opposition have chosen to contest after a four-year boycott in response to the government’s amendment of the key voting system. The elections were called after the Emir dissolved parliament on 17 October due to ‘security challenges’ in the region. Around half of the new opposition MPs are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups. Many of those who have been elected campaigned against the government’s recent austerity measures designed to boost non-oil income. While the government’s majority has been significantly reduced, they still retain power because unelected cabinet ministers also become members of parliament. It is essential that the new parliament addresses the budget crisis and encourages the generation of further non-oil revenue.

Syria

Government forces in Syria have retaken over a third of rebel-held territory in Aleppo after heavy fighting in the east of the city on 28 November pushed them out of northern neighbourhoods. Retaking the whole of Aleppo is a key goal for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. The government advance took place during renewed heavy aerial bombing, which rebel-held areas of the city have been subjected to since 15 November. Human rights monitors estimate that around 10,000 residents have fled from east Aleppo in order to escape the fighting, and the risk of further civilian casualties is a serious concern.

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