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CWA # 555, 19 September 2021

The World This Week
The AUKUS pact, North Korea's New Missile Test, New SpaceX Mission, and the State of EU address

  GP Team

The World This Week #137, Vol. 3, No. 38

Lokendra Sharma, Keerthana Nambiar, Harini Madhusudan, and Joeana Cera Matthews



AUKUS: The US-led new security alliance brings UK and Australia onboard but upsets France
What happened?
 On 15 September, the US President Joe Biden, the UK PM Boris Johnson and Australian PM Scott Morrison, in  a joint virtual press conference, launched a new security partnership in the Indo-Pacific. AUKUS is an acronym for Australia, the UK and the US. According to the joint statement, the AUKUS "will focus on cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and additional undersea capabilities". However, the main highlight is the pledge by the US and UK to "support Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy". 

The US President Biden said in a statement: "Today, we're taking another historic step to deepen and formalize cooperation among all three of our nations because we all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term". Australia PM Morrison called it a "next-generation partnership" while the UK PM Johnson called it "a new chapter in our friendship". The Chinese Foreign Ministry called the move "extremely irresponsible" and said that the alliance "seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race and undermined international non-proliferation efforts". 

On 16 September, New Zealand's PM reaffirmed her country's decades-old policy of being a nuclear-free zone. She said: "New Zealand's position in relation to the prohibition of nuclear-powered vessels in our waters remains unchanged".

On 17 September, France recalled its ambassadors to the US and Australia over the cancellation of the multi-billion-dollar deal for conventional submarines by Australia in lieu of the new deal for nuclear-powered submarines. The French Foreign Minister called it "unacceptable behaviour between allies and partners".

What is the background?
First, the US efforts to build multiple alliances in the Indo-Pacific. Considering China as the primary security threat and in continuation with the Obama-era pivot, the US has in recent years been shifting its attention to the Indo-Pacific from the Trans-Atlantic and Middle East regions. This has entailed establishing multiple arrangements like Quad (and now the AUKUS), strengthening engagement with regional groupings like ASEAN and repurposing long-standing alliances like Five Eyes. 

Second, the centrality of Australia and the deteriorating China-Australia relationship. While Australia was already a part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance and the Quad, membership in the AUKUS has cemented the centrality of Australia in the Indo-Pacific strategy of the US. It has also pushed the already deteriorating relationship between China and Australia over maritime and trade issues to a point-of-no-return. 

Third, the UK's role in the Indo-Pacific. While Australia and the US are part of the Indo-Pacific, the UK is not (except some colonial territories). The UK's assertiveness in the region has increased in recent months, especially after Brexit, to arrest its declining global influence. In July 2021, a British naval strike group led by the country's largest warship HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed through the hotly contested South China Sea and held naval drills with Japan. The UK has also announced its intention to station two patrol ships permanently in the Indo-Pacific with logistical support from Japan, Australia and Singapore.  France has also increased the frequency of naval deployment in the Indo-Pacific, including the South China Sea. 

What does it mean?
First, the significance of nuclear-powered submarines. While the AUKUS alliance partners have clarified that the submarines would not be armed by nuclear weapons but would only be powered by nuclear energy, it would still give Australia the capability to project power in the maritime region. These submarines are capable of staying underwater for long durations and also are comparatively more silent and harder to detect. This will be disadvantageous for China, which, despite decades of investment in its navy, still lags in underwater warfare capabilities. 

Second, the US move to build a security alliance with the UK and US while sidelining Quad for this purpose implies a realization in the US that India and Japan would be reluctant to give the Quad an explicit security and military character. It appears that the US is moving forward on a two-pronged strategy to contain China in the Indo-Pacific region: a security alliance on the one hand and a larger political alliance on the other. This will also pave the way for further expansion of Quad to include other countries threatened by China. How China reacts to this two-pronged strategy beyond the usual rhetoric has to be closely watched.

Third, while the cancellation of the deal by Australia after years of negotiations has instilled a sense of betrayal in France, it would take considerable diplomatic effort to heal the strained ties between the AUKUS members and France. The divide, however, would be a temporary one. 



North Korea: New missile tests to challenge the US, Japan and South Korea
What happened?
On 12 September, North Korea successfully fired a new long-range cruise missile described as "a strategic weapon of great significance". According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the missile hit targets 932 miles away, flying along with different patterns, before falling into the North Korean territorial waters. 

On 15 September, North Korea launched two ballistic missiles from a train to test the new weapons. The missiles flew 497 miles (800km) before striking a target in the sea off North Korea's east coast. Pak Jong Chon, a North Korean marshal and a member of the Presidium of the Politburo of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea, who oversaw the test said: "The railway-borne missile system serves as an efficient counter-strike means capable of dealing a harsh multi-concurrent blow to the threat-posing forces." 

What is the background?
First, North Korea's missile programmes. Though the latest tests would be the first known testing since March 2021, North Korea has been orienting towards qualitatively refining and quantitatively expanding its missile and nuclear capabilities. The missile programs over the past five years have transformed subsequently. During 2016-17, North Korea tested a series of missile nuclear weapons and missiles which led the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to place new sanctions. While during this period, most missile tests were short-range, medium-range, intermediate-range, it also started testing intercontinental ballistic missiles in 2017. After a break in 2018, it resumed missile testing in 2019 - short-range ballistic missiles, intermediate-range ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The latest ones, tested in September 2021 are reported to be long-range cruise missiles.

Second, the arms race in the Korean peninsula. The tit-for-tat missile tests on the Korean peninsula have scaled up tensions in the region. South Korea tested a new submarine-launched ballistic missile the same day North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles, making it one of only seven countries with this technology. The arms race has accelerated under the leadership of Moon Jae-in, including his push for more foreign policy autonomy. Therefore, South Korea plans to develop all other capabilities to deter North Korea and show who the strongest Korea is.

Third, the regional responses. Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga condemned the missile launch as "simply outrageous" and said it was a "threat to the peace and security" of the region. He declared that the testing was a violation of the UN Security Council resolution, expressing his strong protest and condemnation and further added that the Japanese government will continue to monitor the area. In contrast, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Seoul said: "By choosing cruise missiles, North Korea is trying not to provoke the US and China too much." 

Fourth, the extra-regional responses. The United States condemned North Korea's launch, pointing it violated UN Security Council resolutions and posed a threat to Pyongyang's neighbours. The United States claims to remain open to diplomacy and dialogue with North Korea but, on the other hand, holds a tight reign on the sanctions. France's ambassador to the UN, Nicolas de Riviere specified the need for a 'political dialogue, a political solution, but the precondition is compliance' is a requirement with North Korea alongside the UN Security Council resolutions.

What does this mean?
First, the recent activities highlight the continuing instability in the Korean peninsula. North Korea's push towards nuclear and missile tests threatens its neighbours and the international community. Second, the tests underline North Korea's strategy in using missiles and nuclear weapons as a tool and a leverage at the regional and global levels, however, without much success.



Inspiration4: SpaceX captures new heights, with a three-day mission in space
What happened? 
On 15 September, SpaceX launched their first private orbital spaceflight with four all-civilian crew and no professional astronauts. The mission included a billionaire sponsor Jared Isaacman, a healthcare worker, and two contest winners. This mission marks the beginning of SpaceX's venture into the Space Tourism market. 

On 18 September, the four civilian astronauts returned to earth, with their capsule landing off the Florida coast Florida after a three-day mission. Extending his encouragement from the International Space Station, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet on Twitter said, "No matter if you're a professional or not, when you get strapped to a rocket and launch into space, we have something in common. All the very best from, well, space."

What is the background? 
First, the mission. The three-day orbital mission included four all civilian crew members. Jared Isaacman is the primary donor and is now the third billionaire to launch a tourist mission to Outer Space during July-September 2021. The crew included a 29-year-old bone cancer survivor who works as a physician assistant. The other two crew members are winners of sweepstakes - a 42-year-old data engineer, and a 51-year-old community college educator. The mission used a recycled Falcon Rocket, launched from the Kennedy Space Center Pad, which was previously used by three of SpaceX's astronaut flights for NASA. This time, the Dragon Capsule aimed for an altitude of 575 kilometres, which is 160 kilometres higher than the International Space Station. 

Second, the significance of the mission. The Inspiration4 mission marks the third space tourism mission and the first orbital tourism mission. The mission took an all-civilian crew for a period of three days, longer than the earlier two initiatives. The mission portrays three important issues; diverse crew with minimal training; clever strategy to raise funds; sustainable use of technology in outer space by launching a reused rocket and capsule. 

Third, the emergence of the private space industry and space tourism. Three American space-based companies are leading the industry. They are likely to initiate several alternative modes of space tourism. After successfully displaying their capability, these private companies can be expected to begin tourism services from 2022. SpaceX has already announced its next trip with a crew of three wealthy businessmen and a retired NASA astronaut in early 2022. Other countries are expected to join the tourism market. The Russians have also announced that they would be launching an actress, film director, and a Japanese tycoon to the Space Station in the following months.

What does it mean?
2021 should be seen as the year of the steady expansion of space tourism. The activities of the Inspiration4 crew would be released as a Netflix documentary and are known to be conducting scientific experiments. This would confirm that outer space is accessible to all kinds of civilians and also promise to offer a relatively sustainable travel experience. Though tourism capabilities have been shown, every participant would still need a few months of training before they are launched to outer space. Also, other issues need to be addressed: legal clarity on the liability, insurance, and monitoring measures to ensure the safety of investments. 



Europe: The Annual State of the EU address 2021 by President Ursula von der Leyen
What happened?
On 15 September, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressed the European Parliament on the State of the Union in Strasbourg, France. A large portion of her annual State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech dedicated itself to climate change, the importance of European youth, and the larger issues affecting the bloc. She said: "But as I look back on this past year, if I look at the state of the Union today, I see a strong soul in everything that we do... We did that together as Commission, as Parliament, as 27 Member States. As one Europe. And we can be proud of it." 
 
What is the background?
First, the primary issues of the speech. In her second SOTEU speech, von der Leyen primarily focused on two issues impacting Europe – climate change and the pandemic. Recalling the recent European summer - the Belgian and German floods, the wildfires from Greece to France, and placing this alongside the latest IPCC report implied tackling climate change held utmost priority. Calling the Union to resemble the present generation as it was one with a conscience, she stressed the importance of the European youth in bringing about climate awareness. Along with commending the European Green Deal and related schemes, an additional EUR four billion was proposed to finance poorer countries fighting climate change. She also urged speeding up the global vaccination rates to avoid a case of the 'pandemic of the unvaccinated'. Acknowledging the supply disparity between rich and poor countries, an additional 200 million doses were also pledged to low-income countries fighting the pandemic.

Second, other issues covered. A range of other issues like defense, security, freedom, migration, etc was covered. Citing the sudden fall of Kabul to the Taliban, calls for women's rights and the importance of regional security was emphasized. An Afghan support package will be unveiled in the coming weeks alongside EU's jointly financed humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan being furthered another EUR 100 million. 

Third, proposed plans. One of the primary proposals was HERA – Europe's health crisis body to increase preparedness and future response measures to pandemics. A European Chips Act, which would boost Europe's microchip industry to rival the US and China was another major proposal. A unified approach wherein member states wouldn't compete within the bloc but build together to create a 'state of the art ecosystem' of microchip companies. This decision comes after Europe suffered a chips shortage due to global supply chain disruptions. Von der Leyen maintained that it was not just a matter of competitiveness but of 'tech sovereignty'. The much deliberated-upon "Global Gateway' project was also promised by the EC Chief as she stated her intention to 'create links and not dependencies', hinting at Europe participating in China's BRI. 

Fourth, reprimands in the SOTEU address. The EC President sharply criticized Belarus' instrumentalization of migrants and said that the move was not appreciated. Further, she vowed that no concessions over democratic standards would be made regarding battles with Poland and Hungary. In fact, they were threatened with more legal action and blocking of funds. 

Fifth, China as a priority. Though Beijing's climate goals were praised, she enquired on how it intended to achieve them. Europe's 'Global Gateway' scheme and the new EU-Indo Pacific strategy, are both seen as a counter to China. A move to ban Chinese goods produced by forced labour was also announced. The rise of China seemed to be a primary focus of her speech as Xi Jinping's name found a mention in her speech over USA's Biden.  

What does it mean?
Von der Leyen's concluding note maintained that the EU would undergo a test of character next year as well. Her prioritization of climate and the pandemic showed what the EU will be focused on. Without sounding complacent, she commended the actions taken by the bloc while reprimanding undemocratic moves within. The rising China and efforts to balance this will be another EU focus. 



Also, in the news …
By Sukanya Bali, Avishka Ashok and Juan Mary Joseph
East and Southeast Asia This Week 
China: IMF Chief denies pressurizing World Bank staff on data 
On 18 September, IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva denied the allegation of pressuring World Bank staff "to alter data to favor China," during her tenure as its CEO. Reuters reported, Georgieva told IMF staff, "Let me put it very simply to you. Not true. Neither in this case nor before or after, I have put pressure on staff to manipulate data." Georgieva showed her discontentment with the report which was prepared by the law firm, WilmerHale.

China: The US resumes talks with Huawei 
On 17 September, The Globe and Mail reported, "the US has resumed discussions with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and lawyers for Meng Wanzhou about a possible deferred prosecution agreement for the Chinese executive." The agreement will allow Meng, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei to return to Beijing. The report also stated the US will end the extradition request and criminal proceedings against Meng if she pleads guilty and pays a fine.

China: Shenzhou 12 returns after a 90-day mission 
On 17 September, Shenzhou 12 with three Chinese astronauts returned after a three-month mission from the new space station, to earth. The state media reported: "Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming, and Tang Hongbo – landed safely in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in the north of China." According to China Manned Space: "Up to now, the Shenzhou 12 astronaut crew has worked and lived in the space station complex for 90 days, setting a record for Chinese astronauts' space residence time in a single mission."

China: Tariff on 81 products from the US exempted
On 16 September, Beijing extended tariff exemption on 81 products imported from the US. Reuters reported China's Finance Ministry said, "The items had received exemptions from retaliatory tariffs imposed by China on US goods as countermeasures to US Section 301 action." The report added, these exemptions had now been extended until April 2022. Prior to this, Beijing's last extension included gold ore and rare earth metal ore.

China: Xi urges SCO to help Afghan transition; Chinese experts warn India not to 'poison' the cooperation 
On 17 September, Chinese state media reported, President Xi Jinping said, "the SCO should help drive a smooth transition in Afghanistan. The member states should guide Afghanistan to develop an inclusive political structure and follow moderate internal and external policies." Global times reported, Chinese experts warned India to not "poison" cooperation under the SCO, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the Afghan issue and connectivity with Central Asia.

Taiwan: Chinese aircrafts enter Taipei air defense zone
On 17 September, ten Chinese aircrafts entered the Taiwan air defense zone. The Taiwan Defense Ministry said: "The latest Chinese mission involved 6 J-16 and 2 J-11 fighters plus one anti-submarine and one reconnaissance aircraft." The ministry also added: "Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them." According to the map issued by the ministry, the aircraft flew in an area close to Pratas island and Bashi Channel which separates Taiwan from the Philippines.

Taiwan: Calls on the EU for trade talks amidst the Chinese threats
On 17 September, ANI reported that Taiwan called on the European Union for trade talks as the latter wanted to bolster its economic relationship with the former. Taiwan has initiated the call for pre-negotiation work to start on the Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) after the European Commission adopted the EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. The Commission's newly released report described Taiwan as an important partner to establish semiconductor supply chains, and to have a dialogue on data protection. China had earlier this month expressed opposition to an "EU-Taiwan Political Relations and Cooperation" report saying that it violates the country's "One-China principle." 

South Korea: Chinese Foreign Minister visits Seoul
On 14 September, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Seoul, as part of a four-nation Asia tour. Wang Yi met President Moon Jae and agreed to boost ties. Wang said, "China and South Korea are inseparable neighbours, as well as mutually beneficial and win-win partners." He also said, "China firmly supports the efforts of the two Koreas to overcome difficulties, remove interference and improve relations."

Thailand: Lawmakers pass draft legislation against torture and abduction
On 17 September, a draft law "against torture and forced disappearance" passed the first reading in the Thai Parliament. The Jakarta Post reported, according to the UN, since 1980, there have been more than 80 disappearances. Move Forward Party MP Rangsiman Rome said, "This is considered as an initial success after we waited for a year and a half for the draft bill."

Malaysia: Bipartisan deal signed between government and opposition bloc PH
On 13 September, a bipartisan deal was signed between the Malaysian government and opposition bloc Pakatan Harapan (PH), under which "Malaysia is not expected to go to the polls for at least another year." The deal was called a Memorandum of Understanding for Transformation and Political Stability and covered six main reform areas that include transforming administration and empowering Parliament. Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said, "The 'Malaysian Family' spirit stresses unity, camaraderie, and togetherness. This has manifested itself in the MOU between the government and (Harapan) this evening."

Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi corruption trial to begin from 1 October 
On 18 September, Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyer said, the trial on corruption charges against the leader will begin from 1 October. Lawyer Khin Maung said, "the judge declared the trial would be held at the Special Court in the capital, Naypyidaw, on every other Friday." Suu Kyi has been charged with five cases. The upcoming trial will focus on charges of sedition, violation of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, illegal importing walkie-talkies, and the unlicensed use of the radios.

Myanmar: Military junta arrests of two journalists
On 17 September, two Myanmar journalists were arrested by junta forces. According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a total of 53 journalists have been held since the military coup. RSF said, "Since the military's 1 February coup, Myanmar has become the world's second-biggest jailer of journalists, after China." Irrawaddy stated, the journalist was charged under "Section 505(a) of the Penal Code, which criminalizes the spreading of false comments or fake news targeting government officials."

South Asia This Week 
India: US climate envoy's visit
On 14 September, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, made a pitch for India to reduce emissions to "net-zero" (carbon-neutral) by 2050 during his two days visit to India. The call for the pledge at the upcoming COP26 summit in the UK in November, is to ensure global warming is held at 1.5 degrees Celsius. He added that the US was keen on helping India finance its latest target of building 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030. However, the Indian government hasn't yet given a commitment date to achieve carbon neutrality and said that it does not consider the "net zero" goal its only priority at present.  

India: PM Modi calls for investigation into the origin of COVID-19 
On 9 September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the BRICS summit, called for a "transparent investigation" into the origin of COVID-19. Modi said, "Today global governance needs credibility. There must be a transparent investigation into the origins of the virus under the World Health Organisation's framework, and this must receive full cooperation from all countries." According to The Hindu, President Xi urged, "BRICS countries to oppose politicization in origin tracing."

Pakistan: PM Imran Khan visits Tajikistan to attend SCO summit 
On 16 September, PM Imran Khan visited Tajikistan to address the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council of Heads of State (SCO-CHS) Summit. Khan stated: "The Taliban must fulfill the pledges made above all for an inclusive political structure where all ethnic groups are represented. This is vital for Afghanistan's stability...It is now in the international community's collective interest to ensure that there is no renewed conflict in Afghanistan and the security situation is stabilized."

Afghanistan: Donors pledge USD 1.1 billion to help Afghanistan
On 13 September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, sought USD 606 million to meet Afghanistan's most pressing needs while speaking at the conference seeking. Guterres added that food could run out in Afghanistan by the end of this month, and the World Food Programme said that 14 million people were on the brink of starvation. Donors have pledged more than USD 1.1 billion to help Afghanistan as the political crisis in the country threatens to be a much graver humanitarian crisis. 

Central Asia, Middle East and Africa This Week
Tajikistan: CSTO summit calls for funding support for Afghanistan
On 17 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to discuss Afghanistan's probable future at the parallel summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). The leaders also urged the world governments to provide the necessary funding and support to prevent the country from becoming a breeding ground for terrorism and drugs. The appeal to countries to unfreeze Afghanistan's assets and increase the funding support to the government in Afghanistan. Putin said: "I think it also makes sense to work with the United States [and] other Western countries for a gradual unfreezing of Afghanistan's reserves and restoring programs through the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund."

Armenia: Azerbaijan accused of human rights violations at the International Court of Justice
On 16 September, the International Court of Justice accepted Armenia's application which accuses Azerbaijan of human rights abuses against its citizens for decades. The court revealed that the Armenian representative claimed that: "Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture, and other abuse." While accounting for the violations of human rights, the country also accused Azerbaijan of continuing the torture and murder of the Armenian prisoners of war, hostages and detainees. 

Iran: Ambassador to the IAEA rejects reports as unfair and unprofessional 
On 16 September, Iran rejected the reports published by the IAEA as "unprofessional" and "unfair" right before the two entities were scheduled to hold a meeting to resolve the issue of the origin of uranium particles at the undeclared sites in Iran. The existence of these particles suggests the presence of undeclared nuclear material at three locations in Iran. The Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA referred to the report and said: "The statement of the Agency in its report is completely unprofessional, illusory and unfair. How is it possible that an insignificant amount of material belonging to two decades ago affect the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of a country, while that country is hosting more than 20 percent of the Agency's inspections at the global level?"

Iran: Shanghai Cooperation Organization grants full membership
On 17 September, the Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the 21st Summit of the SCO that the organization would accept Iran as a full member. The eight-member countries and the four observers attended the summit when Xi Jinping announced the new developments. Iranian President addressed the gathering and said: "I hope that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which has succeeded in gaining a prominent regional and international position in a short period of time will continue its growing path." He also urged the member countries of the SCO to stay away from sanctions that threaten the world economic exchanges.

Lebanon: IMF provides funding support while the EU introduces sanctions on officials 
On 16 September, the newly formed government in Lebanon received USD 1.135 billion from the International Monetary Fund's Special Drawing Rights. However, the government has not yet revealed its plans to use the funds which have been injected at a crucial stage when the country was almost crumbling to a standstill after the shutdown of most power plants and essential services. While these funds may not be enough to kickstart the stalled economy, a resolution was introduced in the European Union's Parliament to sanction corrupt Lebanese officials who restricted the investigation into the Beirut port explosion. The resolution was introduced by Christophe Grudler; he said: "We know who is responsible for the political and the economic crisis: all factions, most ministries, many corrupted MPs. We are writing black and white what everyone in Lebanon knows."

Saudi Arabia: The US moves its advanced missile defence systems
On 17 September, AP News reported that the US removed its advanced missile defence systems from Saudi Arabia after high-resolution images showed a lack of battery pads at the site. Following the finding, the Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby affirmed that some of the defence assets had been moved despite the continued attacks by the Yemeni Houthis. However, he reconfirmed the US support to its allies. He said: "The Defense Department continues to maintain tens of thousands of forces and a robust force posture in the Middle East representing some of our most advanced air power and maritime capabilities, in support of US national interests and our regional partnerships."

Egypt: Government signs 14 MoUs with Unity government in Libya
On 16 September, the Egyptian government signed a series of deals with the Unity government in Libya. The deals include cooperative agreements and infrastructure projects as Egypt tries to engage with its oil-rich neighbour. A total of 14 memorandums were signed with Libya, covering industry, hydrocarbons, agriculture, communications and civil aviation. The deals mark the first engagement of Egypt with the Unity government after it backed it opponent in the previous conflict which lasted for almost a decade.  

Sahel: French troops kill IS head in Greater Sahara
On 16 September, the French President Emmanuel Macron reported the death of the head of the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi. He referred to the death and called it "another major success in our fight against terrorist groups in the Sahel." Although Macron did not disclose the details of the attack, the French Defence Minister Florence Parly tweeted that the death was caused by Operation Barkhane force's strike. She called it: "a decisive blow against this terrorist group and the fight continues."

Guinea: ECOWAS imposes sanctions on the military government 
On 16 September, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposed sanctions against the military government of Guinea and held it responsible for slowing Mali's post-coup transition. The sanctions include freezing of assets and a travel ban on Guinea's military leaders and their family members and demanded the release of President Alpha Conde. The ECOWAS also pressured Mali to hold elections in February 2022 and come up with an electoral road map by the next month. It also threatened to impose sanctions on anyone who restricted the elections in Mali. 

Ethiopia: The US government prepares to sanction individuals and groups 
On 17 September, US President Joe Biden gave his consent to sanction individuals and groups engaging in violence and restricting humanitarian aid in Ethiopia. Although the names of the individuals and groups have not been named, the sanctions are considered to be one of the strongest warnings issued by the US to Ethiopia. On the same day, the UN World Food Programme revealed that since July 2021, more than 445 trucks with food had been dispatched to the Tigray region, but only 38 have returned. The lack of trucks has caused an obstacle to international organizations and prevent them from reaching out to the famine-struck population in the region. 

Somalia: President restricts Prime Ministers powers 
On 16 September, the Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed suspended the Prime Minister's power to hire and fire until the end of the election later this year, further deepening the conflict in the country. Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble was accused of violating the transitional constitution by President Mohamed. He said: "The prime minister has violated the transitional constitution so his executive powers are withdrawn, especially his powers to remove and to appoint officials, until the election is completed." Roble also reacted to the development by rejecting the order and said: "The prime minister reminds the president to preserve the principles of the constitution of the separation of powers of the government's institutions."

Europe and The Americas This Week
Russia: Apple and Google delete the Navalny app on the day of the parliamentary vote
On 17 September, jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's aides said that Apple and Google have deleted Navalny's apps from their online stores after Russian authorities threatened jail terms for their employees. The app contained recommendations for Navalny supporters to cast their ballots in favour of challengers to the pro-Putin ruling United Russia party during the Sept. 17-19 poll. The move comes as the elections are being overshadowed by an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition. The tech giants succumbed to state pressure a month after Russia's communications watchdog Roskomnadzor issued a takedown order, citing a court ruling that declared the opposition leader's network as "extremist."

Russia: WHO suspends Sputnik V approval process over manufacturing breaches 
On 16 September, the World Health Organization (WHO) suspended its approval process for Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine after an inspection of at least one Russian factory manufacturing the vaccine. WHO officials said at a press briefing that Russia's bid for emergency authorization of the vaccine had been put on hold after a number of manufacturing infringements were uncovered during a WHO inspection in Russia in May. The WHO had previously found multiple infringements and raised concerns relating to the risks of cross-contamination at a Pharmstandard factory in the Russian city of Ufa. The health organization suggested that new inspections of the facilities would be required before the body would grant approval to Sputnik V.

France: Paris attacks trial defendant blames military action as the cause
On 15 September, Salah Abdeslam, the main defendant in the trial and the only surviving member of the IS cell responsible for the November 2015 Paris attacks, sought to justify the murder of 130 people as retaliation for French military action against Islamic State (IS) jihadists. Relatives and survivors in the courtroom were upset by his latest remark, even as he disrupted the trial with two outbursts in the past week. Some of the survivors of the attack are to start giving evidence later this month. He singled out former President François Hollande and said that the authorized air strikes on IS militants in Syria which didn't distinguish between men, women, and children, made the militants want "France to go through the same pain". He rejected the terms "terrorists" and "radicalism" and told the court that theirs was an "authentic Islam".

France: More than 400 migrants cross the Channel in three days
On 17 September, the Home Office confirmed that more than 400 migrants crossed the English Channel in the past three days. The French authorities stopped 267 people from making the crossing in nine boats over the same period. More than 15,100 people have reached the UK in small boats this year. About 8,400 people made the crossing in 2020, four times greater than 2019.

Belarus: Lukashenko eyes $1 billion arms deal with Russia
On 12 September, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko visited the Zapad military exercises underway with Russia and announced the plan to acquire $1 billion worth of weapons from Russia by 2025. He said that they were prepared to counter the West's 'hybrid aggression'. The drill, which unsettled neighbouring Poland and Ukraine, concluded three days later. Russian President Vladimir Putin had overseen the live drills and visited the troops previously.

The UK: Boris Johnson reshuffles cabinet to replace ministers under fire
On 15 September, after months of criticism of top ministers in his cabinet, British PM Boris Johnson began reshuffling the cabinet to align with his 'levelling up' agenda to boost the economies of England. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, who was under fire for his handling of the Kabul fall was demoted to Justice Minister. Other reshufflings included that of the education secretary and the housing secretary.

Netherlands: Foreign minister and defence minister resign over the Afghan evacuation crisis
On 17 September, Dutch defence minister Ank Bijleveld became the second cabinet member to resign over the Afghan evacuation debacle preceded by the resignation of foreign minister Sigrid Kaag. Kaag had lost a no-confidence vote over her mishandling of refugee evacuation in Afghanistan last month after which she resigned. During a parliamentary debate later, she conceded that the government's response to the worsening situation had been slow, implying evacuation of a lot of Dutch and associates weren't evacuated in time. The Dutch ministers are believed to be the first western officials to resign over the chaos after the Taliban's takeover of Kabul, although Britain's Dominic Raab was demoted as foreign secretary earlier this week.

Haiti: PM sacks justice minister amid murder inquiry
On 17 September, Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry sacked the justice minister after the latter backed prosecutor Bed-Ford Claude who sought charges against the former over the murder of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July. The government is in disarray as senior officials are resigning, saying that they won't work under a prime minster "who had come under suspicion for the murder of the president". The investigation took a dramatic turn last when the prosecutor sent a letter to the Prime Minister which had phone records showing that the latter had phone conversations with one of the key suspects just hours after the president was killed.' The suspect - former justice official Joseph Felix Badio - is suspected of giving the order to Colombian gunmen to kill the president. Police have arrested 44 people - including 18 former Colombian soldiers - in connection with the killing but it is not yet clear who ordered the killing.

Argentina: President reshuffles cabinet after crisis within the coalition
On 18 September, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez reshuffled his cabinet to draw a line on fighting within the governing Peronist Judicialist Party, which seemed to threaten the government coalition. The move was preceded by the powerful Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's criticism of the government. The reshuffle has seen new ministers in the key roles of Cabinet chief, foreign minister and agricultural minister. The president's office said that Regional Governor Juan Manzur would take over as Cabinet chief, replacing Santiago Cafiero who will now become the foreign minister.

Venezuela: UN investigative report says that the judiciary contributes to rights abuses 
On 16 September 2021, UN investigators said in a news report that judges and prosecutors in Venezuela have played a significant role in serious rights violations against government opponents. According to the report, the lack of judicial independence and the deficiencies in the justice system have allowed violations, including the use of torture, to continue with impunity.

The US: Pentagon acknowledges 29 August Afghan drone strike was a mistake that killed ten civilians.
On 16 September, the Pentagon acknowledged that the last US drone strike before American troops withdrew from Afghanistan was a tragic mistake that killed ten civilians, including seven children, after initially saying it had been necessary to prevent an attack on troops. The acknowledgement will place President Biden and the Pentagon at the centre of a growing number of investigations on how the administration and the military carried out the order to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The US: California to examine tighter rules for recall elections after Newsom victory
On 15 September, Reuters reported that Californian lawmakers, including the Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional Amendments, are considering ways to reform the state's system for recalling elected officials. The move comes after the recently concluded elections saw voters rejecting a Republican effort to oust the Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.

The US: Blinken defends Afghan withdrawal at a congressional hearing
On 13 September, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan at a congressional hearing where at least two Republicans called for his resignation. He blamed the previous administration for lacking a plan when the former Republican President Donald Trump had negotiated the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban. He said that this absence of plans stopped the State Department from helping Americans and at-risk Afghans from being evacuated. He added that the current Biden administration couldn't renegotiate due to threats from the Taliban to resume killing Americans.'

The US: Security measures for an upcoming pro-Trump rally
On 17 September, the Department of Homeland Security warned to boost security measures against the possibility of potential violence at a planned pro-Trump rally that supports people charged with the deadly riot in January. The "Justice For J6" rally is expected to bring hundreds of far-right demonstrators in the District of Columbia.

The US: Navy, Boeing conducts first refuelling between unmanned tanker and F-35C
On 15 September, the US Navy's MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker conducted its first aerial refuelling with an F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, the third aircraft type to take fuel from the Navy's unmanned system.
 
The US: Celebration of one year of Abraham Accords
On 14 September 2021, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the yearlong success of the Abraham Peace Accords at the Abraham Accords Institute of Peace. He acknowledged the presence of the UAE, Bahrain and Israel in the meeting along with Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Morocco. He said: "We will continue to urge more countries to normalize relations with Israel – and will look for other opportunities to expand cooperation among countries in the region. As a result, I expect Israel's group of friends to grow even wider in the year ahead."



About the Authors
Lokendra Sharma and Harini Madhusudan are PhD Scholars in the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies. Joeana Cera Matthews and Keerthana Nambiar are postgraduate scholars in the Department of International Relations in the University of Mysore.  Sukanya Bali and Avishka Ashok are Research Associates at NIAS. Juan Mary Joseph is a research intern at NIAS. 

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