April 18, 2013
Discussion in Europe continues to revolve around finding a way to move past the Continent’s socio-economic crisis, focusing much attention on the banking sector while spotlighting a range of interesting aspects — from a potential bailout for Slovenia to an anti-euro party being set up in Germany. Meanwhile, there are also regions outside of Europe where tensions seem to be reaching a boil, and it is not only due to the economic hurdles these countries are facing.
During the past week, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said North Korea has mastered the miniaturization process. South Korea’s defense minister said April 15 during a parliamentary meeting that Pyongyang is believed to be ready for a missile launch, but there are no signs that the DPRK is preparing to start a full-scale war. On the same day, NATO Secretary Gen. Anders Rasmussen warned in an interview in Japan that North Korea’s unpredictability amid the current tension on the peninsula may constitute the greatest risk to security in the region, and he urged dialogue to resolve the standoff. On Sunday, April 14, North Korea refused the South’s offer for dialogue on the future of the Kaesong joint industrial zone, calling the offer an empty political gesture. Tensions in the peninsula have increased after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent threats as well as the decision to relocate some of Pyongyang’s medium- and long-range ballistic missile systems — a move that corresponds with the country’s strategy of shaping and dominating the psychological battlefield.
Asked whether there is any risk of a real conflict emerging, Stratfor analyst Rodger Baker explained that while the chance of North Korea striking with a nuclear weapon at South Korea — and particularly the ability of the North Koreans to strike at Japan or the United States — is extremely remote, North Korea has a large conventional force which is forward deployed, and both North Korea and South Korea claim to be adjusting their rules of engagement. This is why Rodger Baker considers that “The danger is not coming from the carefully choreographed moves of the North Koreans to try to shape the psychological battlefield, or even the countermoves by the United States to play in the same sort of psychological space. But it comes from the potential for a miscalculation or a misunderstanding at a very small level that could quickly escalate out of control.” In addition to the danger from North Korea, there is stemming from the potential South Korean response to any provocation, since Seoul has suffered criticism for not responding adequately to previous attacks. Another interesting issue, less well known in the media, is the complicated relationship between China and North Korea. Beijing seems to have started looking at North Korea differently, and China could put more pressure on the regime. This is where economics come into focus: Stratfor’s latest analysis on the topic talks extensively about the relationship between China and North Korea, highlighting less noticed elements such as North Korea’s fear of Chinese domination and China’s unwillingness so far to seek total control.
Meanwhile in Latin America, Venezuela elected a new president on April 14. The narrow victory of Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolas Maduro has led to protests organized by both sides in the elections. The National Electoral Council has said it will not hold a recount of the votes, and police on April 15 fired tear gas and rubber bullets at opposition protesters in a wealthy district of Caracas. The marginal victory makes it even harder for Maduro to maintain its position. The next president must have the ability to address the country’s many challenges. Venezuela has entered a period of significant policy adjustment, in which issues such as declining energy industry, foreign exchange shortages and deteriorating infrastructure must be addressed. Consumers have seen their quality of life be negatively affected by currency shortages, which exacerbate food scarcity and inflation. Assuming he retains power, Maduro, and in fact any other president of Venezuela, will need to make sure that the political system established under the Chavez administration remains in place. This is how the winner can ensure the support of dependent social sectors and thus minimize the risk of unrest in the country. However, considering the economic challenges of the country, the winner will need to find the (almost magical) solution to continue to fund that system.
The recent events at the Boston Marathon on April 15 remind us that terrorist attacks continue to happen. Tactical analysts say it is not surprising that such attacks happen — that in fact the greater surprise is the length of time that the U.S. hasn’t faced a major terrorist event at home. The attack in the U.S. could have been carried out by either international or domestic actors. The “propaganda of the deed” has been employed since the 19th century as an effective tool for terrorizing the masses, taking advantage of media coverage to amplify the impact of militant action.
The current problems that the Europeans are facing and the continuous instability in North Africa made me think about the jihadist threat to Europe, especially after hearing the news that the Islamic State of Iraq, an offshoot of the al Qaeda core, announced on April 9 that it would merge with Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, adding further to the concern of a jihadist proliferation in an eventual post-al Assad Syria. In a recent analysis, Stratfor explains that the links between North Africa and Europe are deep and are more dangerous under current socio-economic conditions. Moreover, due to Europe’s concentrated and disenfranchised Muslim population, it is not difficult for radicalized European Muslims to find confederates who are not police informants. The two graphs below show not only the link between immigration (a very much debated issue during the last few months) in the Eurozone and the Muslim population but also the fact that the pace of jihadist activity on the Continent is increasing.
Another important development – one that has been a constant preoccupation since the European economic crisis developed into a political crisis of the European Union – is the Russian resurgence, as well as Moscow’s use of energy resources to ensure its political influence over European states. Another step taken in this sense is the potential expansion of North Stream. Meanwhile, Serbia’s constant balancing of the EU and Russia shows the change of winds in an important neighborhood of the European Union.