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22 Feb 23. No real increase in already stretched SA defence budget but boost for border security. National Treasury has not given the Department of Defence (DoD) any real increase in funding over the next two years, but R3 bn is being allocated to strengthen border security.
Today (22 February), Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana delivered his 2023 budget speech, which revealed little good news for the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The allocation of funds to the DoD in 2023/24 comes to R51.1bn, decreasing slightly to R51.04bn in 2024/25 before increasing to R53bn in 2025/26. This compares with R50.8bn for 2022/23 and R49.09bn for the previous year.
Some good news is that National Treasury has allocated an additional R3.1bn to the Department of Defence to enhance border security (air, land and maritime) and territorial integrity. “This allocation is expected to provide for the procurement of prime mission equipment and technology that will serve as a force multiplier in internal and external operations, as well as repair and maintain navy defence systems to improve maritime security.”
Over the three-year Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) period, the South African National Defence Force will continue to maintain 15 units (against 22 ideally) for border safeguarding in the Free State, KwaZulu‐Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West. Additional investments in vehicle and technology are expected to amount to R500m in 2024/25 and R200 m in 2025/26 in the Force Employment programme. This should help “maximise the impact of the units in reducing transnational crimes, the illegal flow of undocumented migrants and illicit economic activities.”
An additional R850m is allocated in 2023/24 to support the deployment of the South African National Defence Force in Mozambique through Operation Vikela, on condition that personnel are deployed there beyond 2022/23.
To ensure maritime safety, in each year over the three-year period ahead, the South African Navy will continue to conduct a targeted four coastal patrols and spend 8 000 hours a year at sea.
An additional R1bn allocation in 2023/24 will be used to procure or upgrade the “medium air transport capability”, which should help the SA Air Force (SAAF) ensure that 12 000 hours are flown per year over the medium term. “This will enhance the South African National Defence Force’s capability to transport troops and equipment during urgent internal and external deployments.” The SA Air Force is looking at either accepting second hand C-130 Hercules from the United States and/or upgrading the existing fleet.
The majority of the defence budget (61.6%), or R127.3bn over the MTEF, is going to salaries, including an additional R2.5bn for cost‐of‐living adjustments. “To ensure the department remains within the expenditure ceiling for compensation of employees, it will continue to implement various human resource reforms over the medium term. These include the implementation of the voluntary severance packages for South African National Defence Force personnel at an estimated cost of R800m in 2023/24, reducing the number of reserve force person days to 1.9m per year [for comparison, in the 2021/22 financial year, 3.2m mandays were used], recruiting military skills development system intakes every alternate calendar year, and capping the annual increases of regimental and operational allowances.”
“In consultation with the department [of Defence], National Treasury conducted a spending review in 2021/22 that highlighted the need for efficiency improvements in the management of commuted overtime. In response to this, R188.2m is reprioritised over the next 3 years from compensation of employees in the Military Health Support programme towards payments for capital assets – such as ambulances, X‐ray machines and deployable field medical equipment – within the same programme.”
Of the R51.1bn allocated for 2023/24, Landward Defence will get R15.7bn (down from R15.9bn in 2022/23); Air Defence R7.1bn (down from R6.3bn); Maritime Defence R4.9bn (up from R4.7 bn); Military Health Support R5.4bn (down from R5.6bn); Defence Intelligence R1bn (down from R1.1bn); and General Support R6.8bn (up from R6.5bn).
The SANDF will be able to tap into extra funding allocated to respond to national disasters – R695m has been made available this financial year for immediate relief in the wake of flooding, and a further R1bn will be available next year. “The contingency reserve will also be used to fund emergency responses, including as undertaken by the Defence Force.”
The total peace and security budget allocation for 2023/24 is R227.3bn, with the police receiving R112.1 bn; the military and state security R52.7bn; law courts and prisons getting R51.4bn, and home affairs R11.1bn.
Aerospace and defence analyst Dean Wingrin points out that the SA Air Force is struggling to keep its Oryx and Rooivalk helicopters flying, yet helicopter funds are down 30% for 2023/24, although the transport budget is increasing, indicating funding for new equipment or upgrades.
“The Navy will continue to struggle in getting its vessels to sea – the frigates and submarines are in desperate need of a mid-life refit. A meaningful mid-life upgrade is out of the question for both types,” he cautions. “With a loss of up-to-date offensive weapons and defensive systems and capabilities, the SA Navy may have to transition from a modern fighting force to a constabulary mission, if not yet done so already.”
Meanwhile, Wingrin warns that “the Army and Military Health Services are left to hobble on, just enough to keep alive, but not enough to maintain and grow. Will there be enough to rescue Project Hoefyster (the Badger infantry combat vehicle)?”
He concludes that the SANDF is so severely underfunded it cannot meet the commitments required of it in terms of its mandate and defence policy. “Costs are increasing by more than the small budget increase received, yet the SANDF is still required to deliver more with less.” He suggests either fully funding the SANDF according to the current Defence Review, or keep the funding and reduce the capabilities and missions required of it. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
22 Feb 23. Russia and China vow to strengthen ties despite international ‘pressure.’ Vladimir Putin and Wang Yi, China’s top diplomat, vowed to strengthen ties between their two countries despite “pressure from the international community” ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Wang’s visit to Moscow, the first by a senior Chinese official since Putin ordered the invasion last year, highlights the deepening relationship between the Russian president and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping as the war drags into its second year. “We are prepared to maintain our strategic focus and determination alongside Russia,” Wang said as he met Putin on Wednesday. He added that the two sides would deepen “political mutual trust and strategic co-operation”. Beijing has provided an economic lifeline to Moscow as western sanctions bite, stepping up its purchase of Russian energy exports. It has also increased its supply of technical components that Russia can no longer import from western countries because of sanctions. “China-Russia relations have withstood pressure from the international community and are developing in a very stable manner against the backdrop of a very complex, changing international situation,” Wang told Putin. His trip is part of a diplomatic tour of Europe after the end of three years of Chinese isolation under Xi’s “zero Covid” policy. After meeting Wang at the weekend, US secretary of state Antony Blinken warned that China was considering supplying Russia with weapons to replenish its arsenal, depleted by a year of attritional warfare and hamstrung by sanctions against its defence industry supply chains. Beijing denied the accusations and accused the west of fuelling the conflict by supplying Ukraine with advanced weaponry.
Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Wang also met Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and security council secretary Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow. Patrushev told Wang on Tuesday that Russia would support China on Taiwan — the island over which Beijing claims sovereignty — as well as the Chinese-controlled regions of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong, which he said were being “used by the west to discredit China”. In meetings with senior western officials at the Munich security conference at the weekend, Wang outlined a peace plan that China would announce on Friday, the first anniversary of the invasion. Although China has not released any details of the plan, western diplomats are deeply sceptical of China’s efforts after it failed to condemn Putin’s invasion, hailed a “no limits” partnership with Moscow, and helped prop up the Russian economy. Xi met Putin last year but has not spoken to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the invasion. (Source: FT.com)
21 Feb 23. Somalia: Attack consistent with al-Shabaab tactics, sustaining heightened bystander risks in Mogadishu. On 21 February, al-Shabaab militants detonated a vehicle-born improvised explosive device (IED) outside a house in the northern Mogadishu district of Abdiaziz, before engaging in an eight-hour gunfight, killing around 10 civilians. In a statement, al-Shabaab claim that it targeted the house because it offered accommodation to military officials and wounded militia members from the central Hiraan region, which government forces pushed al-Shabaab out of last year. The incident is consistent with al-Shabaab’s ongoing campaign to demonstrate its local influence in Mogadishu and other major cities despite government offensives. Further attacks will drive heightened risks to bystanders in cities in central and southern districts, including Mogadishu, particularly surrounding hotels that are used by government and military officials. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Feb 23. Philippines-US: Joint coast guard patrols in the South China Sea would improve maritime operational safety, sustain regional tensions. On 20 February, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson stated that the likelihood of joint Philippine-US patrols in the South China Sea was ‘high’ and that negotiations were ongoing. Despite not providing a timeline, both countries previously agreed to restart joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea, bolstering US-Philippines defence ties in an effort to counter China’s territorial reclamation efforts. It is probable that joint patrols could occur within the medium term. US Coast Guard (USCG) vessels would provide additional deterrence and crisis mitigation capabilities against Chinese coast guard, and militia vessels harassing Filipino and other foreign ships operating in disputed areas. While their presence will sustain bilateral animosity and regional tensions, local and regional energy and fishing operations will benefit from gradually improving safety and operational conditions. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Feb 23. China and Indonesia host bilateral cooperation talks.
Chinese foreign minister Qin Gan is travelling to bilateral cooperation talks between China and Indonesia in Jakarta this week.
Minister Gan will chair the fourth meeting of the Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation from February 21 to 23, at the invitation of Indonesian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Retno L. P. Marsudi.
Both parties are expected to discuss areas of trade and investment, infrastructure, maritime, health, connectivity, people-to-people contacts, regional and global issues of common concern.
The Chinese envoy will also visit the president Joko Widodo, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat and Indonesia’s Coordinator for Cooperation with China and Coordinating Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Minister Gan will also meet with Secretary-General Dr. Kao Kim Hourn and the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN.
“This will be Foreign Minister Qin Gang’s first outbound visit after the Chinese New Year and his first visit to a neighbouring country after he took the post,” he said during a regular press conference on February 20.
“In recent years, under the strategic guidance of the two presidents, China-Indonesia relations have shown remarkable resilience and vitality. In particular, President Xi Jinping and President Joko Widodo reached the important common understanding on jointly building a China-Indonesia community with a shared future last year, which opened a new chapter in our bilateral relations.”
Last year Indonesia’s trade with China hit a new record of USD 133.65 bn, according to the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the same period, Chinese investment accounted for the second largest in Indonesia.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the China-Indonesia comprehensive strategic partnership and twentieth anniversary of China joining the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.
“We hope Foreign Minister Qin’s upcoming visit will further boost the efforts to deliver on the important common understandings between the two presidents, consolidate bilateral and multilateral strategic cooperation and result in more fruitful efforts to build a China-Indonesia community with a shared future,” Ministry spokesperson Wenbin said.
“We look forward to working more closely with Indonesia and ASEAN to advance the building of a peaceful, safe and secure, prosperous, beautiful and amicable home, deepen the China-ASEAN comprehensive strategic partnership, advance East Asia cooperation on the right course forward and promote regional peace, stability and prosperity.” (Source: Defence Connect)
21 Feb 23. China: Further monetary easing to boost borrowing remains possible, despite hold on key rates. On 20 February, China’s central bank kept its benchmark lending rates unchanged for a sixth consecutive month, while adding USD 28.9bn to the financial system as a liquidity injection to boost the economic recovery. The one-year loan prime rate stays at 3.65%; the five-year rate, a reference for mortgages, was held at 4.3%. The People’s Bank of China’s (PBOC) latest moves come as domestic and external headwinds continue to present challenges to the economy’s post-zero-Covid recovery. Despite a robust rebound in the service sector, consumer confidence remains weak, as illustrated by sluggish big-item sales, most notably cars and properties. Households will likely remain cautious about spending due to Covid-related impact on jobs and incomes. Rising inflation affecting many economies also depresses global demand for Chinese goods. As well as boosting liquidity for banks, the PBOC will probably cut key rates later this year to stimulate borrowing and reverse the real estate downturn. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Feb 23. SANDF in “tatters” FF+ claims. Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald maintains the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) is in “tatters” following a weekend report of soldiers accommodated in torn and tattered tents while generals had luxurious accommodation for Armed Forces Day (AFD) 2023 in Richards Bay.
The report in Rapport, South Africa’s lone Afrikaans Sunday weekly, has it today’s (Tuesday, 21 February) AFD parade where President Cyril Ramaphosa is wearing his SANDF Commander-in-Chief cap, will cost R220 m.
The cost when taken alongside Groenewald’s take on the readiness of the SANDF, including it cannot keep cooling working some information technology (IT) systems and band members having to fork out bus fare for the trip to Richards Bay, paint “a sombre picture of the decline in the force”.
He also points to a loss of discipline and order saying in a statement “it is becoming ever more evident all SANDF components have declined to a large extent”.
By way of illustration he notes R26m could not be found in the defence budget to provide equipment needed to maintain the data system, used for among others, salary payments and procurement.
“Yet there is R220m to create the impression South Africa’s national defence force is ready and able.”
Groenewald maintains only four of 11 Rooivalk combat support helicopters are serviceable and only two Gripen fighter jets, costing bns each, are operational, with pilots “sitting on their hands”. He adds “there is basically no warship” to participate in the Mosi naval exercise with China and Russia.
“The Navy only has two ships participating in the controversial exercise, one a survey ship, which is more than 50 years old and the other the frigate SAS Mendi (F157),” his statement reads. The newest addition to the SA Navy (SAN) fleet – the multi-mission inshore patrol vessel (MMIPV) SAS King Sekhukhune 1 (P1571) is also in Richards Bay for Mosi.
South African defence and military watchers point out AFD, in addition to its memorial and showcasing components, is an extended and large logistic exercise, “definitely part and parcel of force preparation and training”. (Source: https://www.defenceweb.co.za/)
21 Feb 23. Burkina Faso: High casualty events likely to increase risks to government stability. On 20 February, the military confirmed that unidentified jihadists killed at least 51 soldiers in an ambush in Oudalan province, in the northern Sahel region on 17 February. Both al-Qaeda and IS-aligned groups are active in this region. The incident marks one of the highest reported death tolls in a single attack in years of conflict with Jihadist groups. Previous mass casualty events have driven significant unrest within the armed forces, with military coups in January and September 2022 driven by allegations that the government was failing to contain jihadist violence. There is a possibility that civil society groups will organise protests in Ouagadougou in response to the violence, including those calling for the military to finalise agreements with Russia for greater assistance. Such demonstrations would likely also include anti-French elements driving threats to street-level French business assets. Further such incidents will exacerbate divisions in the military, raising threats to government stability. (Source: Sibylline)
21 Feb 23. Russia is suspending its participation in New START nuclear weapons treaty, Putin says. Russia is suspending its participation in the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. Moscow is not withdrawing from the agreement, but is suspending its participation, Putin said in his state of the nation address. Under the key nuclear arms control treaty, both the United States and Russia are permitted to conduct inspections of each other’s weapons sites, but inspections have been halted since 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the New START treaty is still in force after a previous agreement between Moscow and Washington extended it through February 4, 2026. (Source: CNN)
20 Feb 23. Recent North Korean Intercontinental Ballistic Missile launches: UK Statement at the UN Security Council.
Statement by Ambassador Barbara Woodward at the UN Security Council briefing on North Korea
As we know, on Saturday, the DPRK launched an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile without warning. This is the third ballistic missile test this year and the ninth test of an ICBM since 2022. It reached an altitude of just under six thousand kilometres, landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone. The DPRK quickly followed this test with two additional short range ballistic missiles today.
We condemn in the strongest terms this serious breach of Security Council resolutions, which clearly threaten international peace and security. We continue to call upon DPRK to cease its illegal activity and to engage meaningfully with the offers of dialogue that the United States and the Republic of Korea have repeatedly made.
We believe the Council has an important role to play in addressing the international community’s very serious concerns about the DPRK’s nuclear weapons, and supporting peaceful dialogue. This is despite the disagreements within the Council that have left us unable to respond to the worsening situation in the DPRK in recent years. It is this Council’s responsibility to act when the resolutions passed by this Council are ignored.
We therefore welcome the US proposal for a Presidential Statement on this issue and look forward to working with other Council members on this text.
President, we know that while new missiles are displayed on the streets of Pyongyang, the people of the DPRK continue to face a serious humanitarian crisis. The investment in each of these missiles could feed many thousands of people. Despite this, there is international aid available. We urge the Government of the DPRK to provide access for UN staff, to allow aid to flow freely into the country, and to invest in food and medicine for its people, rather than its illegal weapons programme. Thank you. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
20 Feb 23. Burkina Faso: Mounting security threats will likely disrupt further NGO operations. On 17 February, the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) suspended its operations in Burkina Faso, while it conducts a risk assessment. MSF will only respond to life-saving emergencies during the suspension. MSF has halted all activities in the northern Boucle de Mouhoun region since 8 February, when a gunmen opened fire on an MSF-branded vehicle transporting four staff members along the N10 road between the towns of Dedougou (Mouhoun province) and Tougan (Sourou province), killing two. Alongside the security concerns, the suspension also possibly reflects increasing anxieties over the Burkinabe government’s growing hostility towards French organisations amid deteriorating relations. Mounting insecurity combined with growing concerns about the reliability of the Burkinabe government as a partner will increase the likelihood of similar action to other NGOs as threats to staff safety rise. These issues will likely exacerbate the domestic humanitarian crisis. (Source: Sibylline)
20 Feb 23. Papua New Guinea: Hostage incident underscores high-risk security environment in Highlands. On 20 February, reports emerged that five people, including an unnamed Australian university professor, had been kidnapped in the Eastern Highlands province by an armed gang demanding a ransom equivalent to USD 1.4m. The professor was conducting a research trip in the remote region, accompanied by local students who were also kidnapped. Prime Minister James Marape claimed that negotiations were ongoing via intermediaries while the security forces were on standby. The incident highlights the lack of law and order in the area and the wider Highlands region. As well as the remote terrains making travel difficult due to a lack of adequate infrastructure, crime is prevalent, including violent crime such as armed robbery. Disputes between the many tribes in the region can often suddenly escalate into violent unrest. The lack of effective oversight by the state authorities exacerbates the security concerns. (Source: Sibylline)
20 Feb 23. Israel: First reading of judicial reforms will represent a flashpoint for nationwide civil unrest. Today (20 February), Israel’s Knesset will conduct its first reading of the government’s controversial judicial reforms. Thousands are expected to gather at the Knesset located in Givat Ram, Jerusalem, from 14:00 hrs local time. The legislative amendments have triggered widespread protest activity in recent weeks, as workers from multiple different sectors conduct strikes and demonstrations to denounce the government’s plans (see Sibylline Alert – 10 February 2023). National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has urged police forces to prevent protesters from blocking roads and junctions, while activists have gathered near the residences of Members of the Knesset (MKs) to air their grievances. Protests and strike action will pose low-to-moderate business disruption in cities such as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Demonstrations will heighten duty of care concerns for businesses regarding staff safety, while road blocks will sustain travel and operational disruption. Additional readings in the Knesset will represent further flashpoints for unrest in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
17 Feb 23. North Korea: Warning underscores persistent threat to Korean Peninsula; limited aviation, maritime operational disruptions possible in coming week. On 17 February, Pyongyang warned it would take an ‘unprecedentedly persistent, strong’ response if US and South Korean forces proceeded with planned joint military exercises, underscoring the threat to both countries and the region. While Pyongyang did not specify which exercises, it has consistently opposed all forms of joint exercises and will continue to do so, sustaining the risk of escalation on the Korean Peninsula. Moreover, Pyongyang’s warning followed Seoul’s announcement that a US-South Korea table-top exercise aimed at bolstering US nuclear deterrence would take place on 22 February in the US. There is a moderate possibility that North Korea, which last year conducted a record number of missile launches, will undertake provocative military actions around 22 February to dissuade military cooperation. As such, unannounced missile launches could occur, which would pose limited operational disruptions to the regional aviation and maritime sectors. (Source: Sibylline)
17 Feb 23. Armenia-Azerbaijan: Unclear whether Baku would accept demilitarised Nagorno-Karabakh amid push for larger concessions. On 15 February, the Armenian government submitted a proposal for the demilitarisation of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan and the OSCE Minsk Group. The proposal comes amid a two-month blockade of the Lachin corridor by government-backed Azerbaijani environmental protesters, which has increased tensions and triggered a humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabahk. Azerbaijan’s agreement to the proposal is likely to be conditioned on Armenia accepting other concessions, potentially including the establishment of the Zangezur corridor that gives Azerbaijan access to its landlocked Nakichevan exclave. It remains unclear whether Baku would accept the demilitarisation proposal given their overall strategy of applying pressure on Yerevan to make larger concessions. However, any perceived concessions will be a potential flashpoint for anti-Pashinyan unrest amongst Armenian nationalists in the short to medium term, with the threat of a resumption of hostilities remaining. (Source: Sibylline)
17 Feb 23. Russia: FSB claims to have thwarted ISIS terror attack; threat of Islamist extremism remains credible. On 17 February, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) alleged that it had prevented a terrorist attack at a chemical plant in Kaluga Oblast, southwest of Moscow. The FSB claimed that two Central Asian nationals planned to detonate fuel and lubricant tanks at the plant by using an improvised explosive device (IED). According to the FSB, the perpetrators had sworn allegiance to ISIS, and stated that they planned to travel to conflict zones in Syria. While the FSB has often released dubious claims of thwarting attempted attacks, ISIS and extremist Islamist groups continue to pose a credible threat to Russia’s security and business environment. In December 2022, Russia’s national Anti-Terrorism Committee claimed to have foiled the activities of 68 clandestine cells of international terrorist organisations. Thousands of Central Asian nationals have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria in recent years and while security services continue to competently mitigate the threat across Russia, organised and sole-perpetrator attacks will remain an enduring threat. (Source: Sibylline)
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