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Geostrategy 11 Apr 2017

Geo-World: Conflict & Social Unrest - March 2017 Update

After the chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilian population, the US launched its first military strike against the Assad regime sending a clearer message to Syria and North Korea. However, it is still early to know whether this is a tactical message or part of a broader strategy. Europe and Asia kept with low conflict levels, while in North Africa, instability rose.

For more information, please visit BBVA Research’s website

After the chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilian population, the US launched its first military strike against the Assad regime sending a clearer message to Syria and North Korea. However, it is still early to know whether this is a tactical message or part of a broader strategy. Thus, uncertainty concerning US policy strategy in the region is alive as well as the response from key regional actors such as Russia and Iran. In Iraq, the ISF continued to gain ground. Tensions in North Korea also worsened and became one of the key concerns in Trump foreign policy. Social unrest in Latin America eased in most countries. Europe and Asia kept with low conflict levels, while in North Africa, instability rose after the recent attacks in Egypt.

The US intervened in Syria and Russia reacted by showing its defensive capabilities

Key messages:

· The BBVA Research World Conflict Intensity Index increased during March
Diverging from its long-term average (1980-2015).

· US military intervention sent a clearer signal in the Middle East
The US launched its first military strike against the Assad regime in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack on civilian population.

· North Korea nuclear weapons program escalated tensions with US
President Trump threated to take action if North Korea does not curb its activities.

· Conflict between Russia and Ukraine remained contained, although political tensions increased
A blockade set up by the nationalists heightened tensions in eastern Ukraine.

BBVA Research world conflict map 2017

The BBVA Research World Conflict Intensity Index[1] increased during March after last month’s relaxation. approaching to its long-term average (1980-2015).The main developments during the month were:

Mosul is steadily being recaptured by Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), but tensions are arising between Turkey and Iran through their backed Kurdish-Iraqi militias in the region of Sinjar, a historic spot of conflicting between Turkey, Iran and Kurds. Russia is also attempting to gain influence on the region through economic agreements with Kurdish-Iraqi government. This seems to be an inflection point on the Iraqi war where post-ISIS influence structures will be determined.

The US conducted its first missile attack against the Assad regime base in northern Syria at the beginning of April in retaliation of the chemical weapons attack on civilian population, which killed close to one hundred people in a rebel-held town in Idlib Province. So far, President Trump’s reaction should be taken as a clearer signal about red lines but it is still early to define it as a reorientation of US strategy in the Middle East. The Assad regime and Iran reacted cautiously to the US action, while Russia condemned the action and reacted conducting military exercises as a show of force of its defensive capabilities. During March, Russia conducted aggressive air operations in central Syria while Al-Qaeda resumed large-scale offensive operations against the regime after its consolidation in Northern Syria. In Iraq, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) made significant progress in gaining ground on Mosul, although their advance had slowed by the end of the month. Russia is also attempting to gain influence on the region through economic agreements with Kurdish-Iraqi government. This seems to be a turning point in the Iraqi war where post-ISIS influence structures will be determined.

· In Eastern Europe, while the conflict eased for the second consecutive month, political tensions are on the rise. Ukrainian activists started a blockade against territory in Eastern Ukraine occupied by Russian proxies which increased political and social tensions in the rest of the country. Russia increased its economic and political support of its proxy forces in order to put further pressure on Ukraine, which is struggling to deal efficiently with the blockade crisis.

· Disputes in the South China Sea stabilized, but tensions in North Korea escalated on the back of further proliferation of its nuclear weapons programme and ballistic missile testing. President Donald Trump reacted to the missile tests and asked China to take steps towards limiting North Korea’s nuclear program and sending naval forces to the area.

Summary

US intervention in the Syrian war opens the door to multiple strategies such as a reorientation of US policy in the area with multiple actors on the ground. This, together with the concerns about North Korea activities surrounding its nuclear program, increases uncertainties concerning US strategy in the coming months. European upcoming elections should also be monitored.

More information at BBVA Research’s website

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