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04 Aug 23. Russia doubles 2023 defence spending plan as war costs soar. Russia has doubled its 2023 defence spending target to more than $100bn – a third of all public expenditure – a government document reviewed by Reuters showed, as the costs of the war in Ukraine spiral and place growing strain on Moscow’s finances.
The figures shed light on Russia’s spending on the conflict at a time when sector-specific budget expenditure data is no longer published.
They show that in the first half of 2023 alone, Russia spent 12%, or 600bn roubles, more on defence than the 4.98trn roubles ($54bn) it had originally targeted for 2023.
Defence spending in the first six months of 2023 amounted to 5.59trn roubles, 37.3% of a total 14.97trn roubles spent in the period, the document showed. Russia’s budget plan envisages 17.1% of total funds spent on “National Defence”.
Russia’s government and finance ministry did not respond to requests for comment on the numbers.
Rising war costs are supporting Russia’s modest economic recovery this year with higher industrial production, but have already pushed budget finances to a deficit of around $28bn – a figure compounded by falling export revenues.
Higher spending on defence, as Moscow prosecutes what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, could widen the deficit further, while the boost in output could cannibalise other sectors and crowd out private investment.
Reuters calculations based on the document showed that Russia had spent 19.2% on defence in the first six months of all initially planned budget expenditure for 2023 as a whole.
The last publicly available data showed Moscow had spent 2trn roubles on the military in January and February. In the first half of this year, budget expenditure was 2.44trn roubles higher than the same period of 2022. Based on the document, 97.1% of that extra sum was directed to the defence sector.
The document provided a new estimate for annual defence spending of 9.7 trn roubles, one third of the total spending target of 29.05trn roubles, which would be the highest share in at least the last decade.
Between 2011 and 2022, Russia spent a minimum of 13.9% and a maximum 23% of its budget on defence.
Russia has already spent 57.4% of its new annual defence budget, the document showed.
Military production has driven a strong recovery in industrial output, and analysts say that state defence contracts have been a key driver in Russia’s economic recovery to GDP growth so far this year from a 2.1% contraction in 2022.
Specific defence funding falls under closed expenditures, but some data, though no longer public, is circulated. For example, the document shows that Russia spent almost 1trn roubles on military salaries in the first half, 543 bn roubles more than in the same period last year.
Deputy Prime Minister Denis Manturov said in July that the defence industry was now producing more munitions each month than it did in the whole of 2022.
Funding for schools, hospitals and roads was already being squeezed this year in favour of defence and security, but as the share of defence spending grows, other areas could face cuts.
“The military industrial complex is enabling industrial growth, ‘civilian’ industries are slowing down again,” said Dmitry Polevoy, head of investment at Locko-Invest, after last week’s industrial output data for June.
That showed a 6.5% year-on-year increase, largely thanks to last year’s low base effect. When excluding seasonal production, growth stopped altogether.
CentroCreditBank economist Yevgeny Suvorov said the military industry was running at full capacity.
“We don’t know what the potential for a further increase in the output of tanks and missiles is,” Suvorov said on his MMI Telegram channel. “But we know that increasing this output even further is possible only at the expense of haemorrhaging more staff from other sectors of the economy.”
Net exporter Russia typically posts budget surpluses, but will post a deficit for the second year running, with the value of energy exports down 47% year-on-year in the first half.
Higher budget spending adds to inflation risks. The central bank hiked rates to 8.5% in July and analysts expect the cost of borrowing to rise further.
The Bank of Russia forecasts GDP growth at 1.5%-2.5% this year, in line with analysts polled by Reuters last week. The International Monetary Fund in April forecast 0.7% growth this year, but with global isolation to dampen Russia’s prospects for years to come.
“Abundant fiscal ‘steroids’ are helping fairly well for now, but are hardly improving the economy’s medium- or long-term position,” said Polevoy. “As soon as fiscal consolidation becomes unavoidable, there will be a rapid economic slowdown.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Reuters)
04 Aug 23. Niger: Rising tensions elevate threats to Western, particularly French, assets. On 3 August, the Nigerien military junta announced the dissolution of military agreements with France, recalled diplomatic missions from France, the US, Nigeria and Togo, and suspended the domestic operations of French broadcasters France24 and Radio France Internationale (RFI). The announcement came the same day that a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) briefly visited Niger, without meeting deposed president Mohamed Bazoum or the junta leaders. Increasing hostility towards Niger’s former partners indicates that the ECOWAS delegation likely failed to progress in talks with the junta’s representatives, just days ahead of their 6 August deadline for restoring Bazoum to office. While military intervention from ECOWAS remains unlikely, the threat is increasing, with regional defence chiefs set to finalise discussions on the crisis later today. If ECOWAS launches a military intervention, unless the junta is rapidly deposed, threats of harassment and detention to expatriates, particularly French nationals, will likely increase due to perceptions that ECOWAS is being backed by the West. (Source: Sibylline)
04 Aug 23. Colombia: Government, ELN begin ceasefire; risk of kidnappings, extortion likely to remain elevated. On 3 August, the Colombian government and the ELN guerrilla group formally started a six-month ceasefire. The ceasefire proposes to halt hostilities between the group and the Colombian police/military nationwide. The truce follows progress in demobilisation talks between the ELN’s top command and the government. Nevertheless, there is significant uncertainty surrounding the ability of the ELN’s top command to control separate guerrilla fronts, notably those operating near the Venezuelan border. While most fronts have tacitly endorsed the ceasefire, several deadly attacks occurred last month, including the killing of three Colombian police officers at the Venezuelan border. Notably, the ceasefire does not contain a prohibition on kidnapping and extortion, which remain significant sources of revenue for the ELN. Therefore, while the ceasefire may reduce clashes, kidnapping and extortion risks are likely to remain elevated in the medium term. (Source: Sibylline)
04 Aug 23. Ethiopia: Risk of armed conflict increased in Amhara; enhanced government response likely to reduce violence in coming weeks. Today, 4 August, a state of emergency was imposed in the Amhara region, following an escalation in the conflict between the Ethiopian military and Fano, an Amhara ethno-nationalist group (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 2 August 2023). On 3 August, heavy fighting was reported in Gondar (Amhara region), and internet access across the region was restricted. Fano militiamen have claimed that they are attempting to encircle the regional capital, Bahir Dar and have captured Merawi 18 miles (30km) to the south (both Amhara). The local government has requested federal support, likely resulting in a significant escalation in the military presence in Amhara and further communications disruption. Further clashes will significantly elevate threats to local staff and assets, including in major urban centres across Amhara and disrupt supply chains. As in April, the Ethiopian military will likely be able to resecure Amhara cities and suppress Fano in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
04 Aug 23. Armenia-Azerbaijan: Stable peace settlement unlikely in short term; further negotiations needed to reach mutually acceptable compromises. On 3 August the Azerbaijani foreign minister Jeyhun Bayramov claimed that progress has been made on certain unspecified ‘articles’ of a future peace agreement between Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, a Russian Foreign Ministry official warned on 4 August that a hastily devised peace treaty risks creating grounds for potential future conflicts. The EU, US and Russia have separately attempted to mediate peace negotiations between Yerevan and Baku in recent months, with such attempts yet to result in a major diplomatic breakthrough. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan stated in an interview published on 2 August that reconciliation with Azerbaijan is possible and necessary but noted work still needs to be done. While modest progress towards a peace settlement remains a realistic possibility in the short to medium term, further rounds of internationally-mediated negotiations in the coming months will remain crucial for both sides to reach a stable, rather than merely short-lived, peace agreement that will prevent further outbreaks of hostilities. (Source: Sibylline)
03 Aug 23. U.S., Mongolia Discuss Military-to-Military Relations During Pentagon Visit.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with Mongolian Prime Minister Luvsannamsrain Oyun-Erden for talks on the military-to-military relations between the two countries.
It was the first time a Mongolian prime minister has visited the Pentagon.
Mongolia is a nation surrounded by Russia to the north and China to the south. The prime minister referred to the United States as Mongolia’s “Third Neighbor.”
“I emphasize that the United States is not only our strategic third neighbor, but it is also our guiding pole star for Mongolia’s democratic journey,” Oyun-Erden said at the beginning of the Pentagon meeting.
Austin noted that the two countries share democratic values. “Today’s historic meeting underscores our deepening, our defense cooperation,” he said. “Our two democracies share a common vision for the Indo-Pacific region, and a fundamental desire for peace and stability.”
Mongolia deployed forces to assist in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they fought “shoulder-to-shoulder” with American forces. They also have a large footprint in U.N. Peacekeeping Missions. U.N. officials said there are currently 900 Mongolian service members involved in missions. “Mongolia provides an outsized impact on global peace and security,” said Michael S. Chase, deputy assistant secretary of defense for China, Taiwan and Mongolia. “It is an example of how a country can use a well-resourced military to carry out critical U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world, as well as strengthen its own democratic resiliency.”
The joint operations are the foundation for the U.S.-Mongolian partnership and that strengthens both countries. “It helps us tackle the full range of today’s security challenges,” Austin said. “I look forward to talking with you about regional security issues.”
Austin said the Pentagon meeting is a symbol of the deepening U.S.-Mongolia defense relationship. “And so are the 20 joint light tactical vehicles that Mongolia will be receiving from the United States to support your important U.N. peacekeeping mission,” he said.
DOD personnel participate in Mongolia’s annual Khaan Quest peacekeeping exercise hosted by the Mongolian Armed Forces. “DOD’s support and participation in this exercise … is another sign of the value we place in our shared vision for U.N. peacekeeping, and the bright future of working with Mongolia to promote peace and stability around the world,” Chase said. (Source: U.S. DoD)
03 Aug 23. Thailand: Further delay in prime minister vote prolongs political uncertainty, sustains protest risks. On 3 August, the Constitutional Court accepted a petition from the Move Forward Party (MFP) contesting leader Pita Limjaroenrat’s rejected renomination for prime minister (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 20 July 2023), with a ruling to be made on 16 August. Consequently, the house speaker postponed the third prime minister vote until the court had ruled. Regardless of the court’s decision, it is clear that Pita cannot garner enough support from the military-appointed senators to become prime minister. The opposition to the MFP from the senators and other parties led the Pheu Thai (PT) party to announce it will seek to form a government without the MFP, with Srettha Thavisin as its prime ministerial nominee. This announcement prompted demonstrators to gather around PT Headquarters in the capital Bangkok to protest the party’s alleged betrayal of the MFP, although the protest remained largely peaceful. Political instability will persist while the government-forming process stretches on. (Source: Sibylline)
03 Aug 23. Niger: Meeting with Mali junta reflects increasing threats to French, Western interests over long term. On 2 August, Mali’s interim president met with a delegation from Niger’s military government in the Malian capital Bamako, underscoring increasingly close relations between the two juntas. The visit comes amid heightened tensions between Niger and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) following a coup on 26 July. Mali’s military government announced that it would interpret any use of force by ECOWAS in Niger as a declaration of war, significantly elevating regional tensions. This visit indicates the increasing likelihood of long-term disruption to French interests in Niger, including military co-operation in combatting jihadist groups in the Sahel, humanitarian operations and commercial interests. There is a realistic possibility that the meeting facilitated contact between Nigerien authorities and personnel from the Wagner Group, which has approximately 1,500 troops deployed in Mali. While a deployment over the coming days is highly unlikely, there is a realistic possibility of Wagner’s engagement in Niger in the long term. Such a move will fundamentally undermine European military engagement in the country and sustain sanctions and compliance risks, particularly for the mining industry. (Source: Sibylline)
03 Aug 23. Bangladesh: Jail term for opposition leader will likely drive unrest risks ahead of 2024 election. On 2 August, a Bangladesh court sentenced Tarique Rahman, the interim president of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), to nine years in prison on charges of accumulating wealth illegally, in addition to a fine of USD 2.7m. The sentence against Rahman, son of convicted former prime minister Khaleda Zia, is the latest in a series of convictions against him during his exile in London (UK). The sentence comes as the BNP is increasing pressure on the ruling Awami League (AL) to allow a neutral caretaker government to oversee the upcoming election, scheduled for January 2024 (see Sibylline Global Weekly Review – 2 August 2023). Amid ongoing political rallies and heightened tensions, the court decision will likely trigger further protests and sustain the heightened risk of domestic unrest nationwide. (Source: Sibylline)
03 Aug 23. Iran: Naval deployment consistent with Tehran’s military posturing; risk of conflict remains low. On 2 August, Iranian state-affiliated media announced the deployment of naval vessels equipped with 373-mile (600km) range missiles in military drills off the coast of Abu Musa island, the ownership of which is disputed with the United Arab Emirates. The announcement also came alongside statements from Iranian Revolutionary Guard officials reiterating regional sovereignty over the Persian Gulf and condemning the US presence. Such statements and bolstered military presence do not indicate an increased threat of direct conflict and remain broadly on trend with expected military posturing following the US deployment of additional aerial resources in July (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 18 July 2023). Iranian naval operations will likely increase disruption to maritime movement through the Persian Gulf, particularly the Strait of Hormuz, and raise the risk of hijackings. The recently bolstered US presence will partly mitigate this threat, though further military posturing will likely fuel regional tensions and reduce prospects for progress on nuclear negotiations(Source: Sibylline)
03 Aug 23. Kuwait: Record spending in new budget unlikely to eliminate policy risks over medium term. On 2 August, Kuwait’s National Assembly passed the 2023/2024 budget containing the largest spending package in the emirate’s history, projected at KWD 26.2bn (USD 85bn). Most of the budget’s spending is allocated for wages and subsidies, with an expected deficit of KWD 6.8bn (USD 22bn). However, the vote comes after the finance ministry announced a surplus of KWD 6.4bn (USD 20.8bn) on 26 July, the first budget surplus in nine years. Furthermore, the new budget takes into account conservative oil revenues, increasing the likelihood of its sustainability. The approval of the budget is a positive sign for government stability following the government formation in June, the fifth in less than a year. However, the budget does not address current large spending on wages and subsidies or further plans to reduce reliance on oil. Tensions related to financing and policies remain within the government and will likely continue in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
02 Aug 23. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard drill on disputed Persian Gulf islands. Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard launched a surprise military drill Wednesday on disputed islands in the Persian Gulf, just as the U.S. military increase its presence in the region over recent ship seizures by Tehran. The drill focused primarily on Abu Musa Island, though the Guard also landed forces on the Greater Tunb Island as well, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported. Swarms of small, fast boats took part, along with paratroopers, drones and truck-launched surface-to-sea missile systems, footage aired on state television showed.
“We always try for security and tranquility; it is our way,” the Guard’s chief, Gen. Hossein Salami, said in a televised address during the drill. “Our nation is vigilant, and it gives harsh responses to all threats, complicated seditions and secret scenarios and hostilities.”
Salami later told state TV: “There is absolutely no need for the presence of America or its European or non-European allies in the region.”
The drill comes as thousands of Marines and sailors on both the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan and the USS Carter Hall, a landing ship, are on their way to the Persian Gulf. Already, the U.S. has sent A-10 Thunderbolt II warplanes, F-16 and F-35 fighters, as well as the destroyer USS Thomas Hudner, to the region.
The Pentagon has said the deployment is “in response to recent attempts by Iran to threaten the free flow of commerce in the Strait of Hormuz and its surrounding waters.” Some 20% of the world’s oil passes through the narrow waterway connecting the Persian Gulf to the wider world and the U.S. views it as crucial to both its national security and keeping global energy prices stable.
Meanwhile, Iran now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapon-grade levels after the collapse of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The use of Abu Musa and Greater Tunb in the drill also provides another message to the region. Those two islands remain claimed by the United Arab Emirates, home to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Iran’s late shah seized the islands in 1971 just before the UAE became an independent country and Tehran has held the islands since. Lesser Tunb Island was also seized.
Seizing those islands reminds Iran’s neighbors of its military might as Tehran’s diplomats have been trying to convince Gulf Arab countries allied with the U.S. that “foreigners” aren’t needed to secure the region.
Meanwhile, Iran has been trying to signal its displeasure over recent comments about the islands made by Russia, which Tehran has supplied with bomb-carrying drones for their war in Ukraine. Russia earlier this summer in a joint statement with the Gulf Cooperation Council called for “bilateral negotiations or the International Court of Justice” to decide who should control the islands. That prompted an outcry in Iran and Tehran summoned the Russian envoy over the remarks. (Source: Defense News)
01 Aug 23. SECDEF Concludes Productive Trip in Indo-Pacific. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III returned from a weeklong trip to the Indo-Pacific region, with “productive” stops in both Papua New Guinea and Australia, said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder. While Austin has made multiple trips to the Indo-Pacific region during his tenure, this trip was the first time a U.S. secretary of defense has ever visited Papua New Guinea.
“The secretary and PNG leaders discussed the recently signed U.S./Papua New Guinea Defense Cooperation Agreement and agreed on the importance of continuing to deepen U.S. and Papua New Guinea defense ties to advance our bilateral cooperation and advance our shared goals in the Indo-Pacific region,” Ryder said.
Immediately following the trip to Papua New Guinea, Austin headed for Australia to participate in the 33rd Australia/U.S. ministerial consultations, also called AUSMIN.
“I’m proud to say that the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Australia has never been stronger,” Ryder said. “Coming out of the AUSMIN discussions are two nations committed to advance several key lines of shared effort to include enhanced force posture cooperation, capability development and defense industrial base cooperation, and regional security integration.”
As part of the AUSMIN meeting, Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met July 29 with Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Penny Wong.
Together, those four leaders made headway on a variety of topics, including enhanced force-posture cooperation, capability development and defense industrial base cooperation, and regional security integration.
The leaders agreed, for instance, to conduct more regular and longer expeditionary visits of U.S. submarines to Australia starting this year, to continue with upgrades at key Australian bases in the north, and to an arrangement to collaborate on a flexible guided weapons production and maintenance capability in Australia. An initial focus there includes co-production of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, or GMLRS, by 2025.
While in Australia, the secretary also visited with American service members participating in the ongoing Talisman Sabre 2023 exercise, which involves more than 30,000 military personnel from 13 nations. That exercise is scheduled to end Friday.
” greatly appreciated the opportunity to speak to some of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, guardians and DOD civilians who are supporting the exercise, as well as troops representing international allies and partners,” Ryder said. (Source: U.S. DoD)
31 Jul 23. Russia: Further de-facto nationalisations likely despite claims government is not planning fresh takeovers. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on 29 July that his government is not currently planning to take over the management of other foreign assets. Putin signed a decree on 16 July authorising the state to take control of food producer Danone’s Russian subsidiary, as well as beer company Carlsberg’s stake in a local brewery (see Sibylline Daily Analytical Update – 17 July 2023). According to the Russian president, these were ‘special cases’. However, the de-facto nationalisation of Carlsberg and Danone likely forms part of the Kremlin’s attempts to deter corporate flight. Irrespective of Putin’s remarks, the risk of de-facto nationalisations remains elevated for Western corporations, particularly those seeking to exit the Russian market. Companies continuing operations in Russia will likely face reputational risks, such as calls for boycotts from human rights groups, consumers and Ukrainian officials. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Jul 23. Georgia-China: Strategic partnership will reinforce Georgia’s intermediate trade position, increase exposure to secondary sanctions. On 31 July, the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, reported that China and Georgia have elevated their bilateral relations to a strategic partnership. The announcement was made during an official visit made by Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili to China. The strategic partnership will most likely boost commercial ties between both countries, which signed a free trade agreement in 2018. Given that Georgia and Azerbaijan are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, the strategic partnership will likely consolidate Beijing’s growing economic footprint in the South Caucasus and reinforce Georgia’s intermediate trade role between China and Russia. While the upgraded bilateral ties will help boost Chinese investment and aid in infrastructure, it will likely expose the country to ‘debt trap’ risks, deterring other Western investors. Furthermore, the partnership will likely reinforce Georgia’s role in Moscow’s parallel import strategy, thus sustaining the heightened risk of secondary sanctions. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Jul 23. Colombia: Risk of political instability, severe unrest unlikely despite arrest of president’s son. Police arrested President Gustavo Petro’s son, Nicolas Petro, on 29 July as part of a money laundering and influence trafficking probe. According to officials, Nicolas Petro allegedly collected bribes from convicted drug traffickers to lobby his father to include several armed groups in his high-profile ‘Total Peace’ policy, which will grant amnesty to some criminal groups in return for demobilisation. In a statement, the president denied any involvement in the matter, stressing that police should be able to carry out their work without any interference from the executive. President Petro has repeatedly distanced himself from his son when faced with previous allegations of corruption. At present, there is scant evidence to suggest that the president was involved in the matter. This will suppress the risk of political instability in the near term, however, further graft allegations involving Petro’s family will possibly impact his political capital and ability to pass any legislation. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Jul 23. Egypt: Sinai security facility attack underscores continued operational volatility in the near term. At least four Egyptian police personnel were killed in a shooting attack at a security facility on 30 July in a suburb east of Al-Arish (North Sinai governorate). Detainees reportedly managed to seize weapons inside the National Security headquarters, further injuring several others, in the confrontations. No group has claimed responsibility, though Islamic State Sinai Peninsula has been a primary threat actor over the past years in the area. The incident is the most recent attack after a separate shooting targeting security forces took place in late February in St. Catherine (South Sinai governorate). Developments underscore the continued volatility of the security environment, despite a substantial decline in the frequency and scale of attacks since 2021. This will sustain safety and bystander risks for staff and assets in the near term. A heightened security posture throughout North Sinai is highly likely in the coming days, sustaining moderate travel and operational disruptions. (Source: Sibylline)
31 Jul 23. Lebanon: Clashes at Palestinian refugee camp elevates security, property damage risks. On 31 July, clashes between Fatah and Islamist factions in Lebanon’s Palestinian Ain el-Hilweh refugee camp near the southern coastal city of Sidon (South governorate) continued for the third consecutive day. Clashes have killed six people and injured over 40 others since their inception on 29 July, following a failed assassination attempt on a leader of the Islamist al-Shabab al-Muslim group. The clashes have continued despite a ceasefire agreed on 30 July, with efforts to de-escalate violence continuing as of today, 31 July. Clashes are likely to continue throughout the day, with sporadic incidents in the coming days regardless of progress on ceasefire talks. Stray bullets and mortar shells will elevate security risks for people and property in the vicinity of the camp. There is a realistic possibility of spillover into nearby neighbourhoods in Sidon, as well as nearby towns such as Miye ou Miye. (Source: Sibylline)
29 Jul 23. Australian, U.S. Leaders Say Alliance Is More Relevant Than Ever. The main message of the annual Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations in Brisbane, Australia, is that the alliance is stronger today than it ever has been.
The consultations – commonly called AUSMIN – featured Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, who also serves as deputy prime minister; Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong; U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken; and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III.
Those involved commented on the strength of what is commonly called “the unbreakable alliance.”
The meeting follows the AUSMIN held in December in Washington; the defense leaders furthered their work on force posture cooperation, capability development, and effort on outreach to allies and partners in the region. “It all points in the direction of an alliance that’s doing more than ever for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific,” said a senior DOD official.
“Today, we have had a very fruitful and rich conversation about the state of the alliance — about the state of the world in which we are both operating, its complexity, its volatility, its threat,” Marles said at the conclusion of the meeting. “And as we engage in that world together, all of us have felt that the alliance has never been in better shape than it is right now.”
The meeting was held under the cloud of the crash of an Australian helicopter involved in Exercise Talisman Sabre, a biennial exercise designed to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific. Four Australian service members are missing, and search and rescue efforts continue. Austin told his Australian friends that U.S. forces in the exercise stand ready to help in any way.
Austin said the strategic alignment between the United States and Australia has never been greater. “We share a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we’re committed to investing further in our alliance to uphold this vision,” he said.
One concrete example of this cooperation is that the U.S. will “deepen” force posture cooperation with Australia, the secretary said. This also includes upgrading critical air bases in the Northern Territory and pursuing important infrastructure project projects at new locations. “Taken together, these initiatives will strengthen our ability to respond to crisis in the region while enhancing our interoperability,” he said.
The U.S. military will increase the rotational presence of U.S. forces in Australia. This includes Navy maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to enhance maritime domain awareness in the region. “We’re also introducing new rotations of U.S. Army watercraft and expeditionary submarine visits to Australia,” Austin said. “These efforts will bolster deterrence by strengthening our interoperability and enhancing our sustainment and logistics capabilities for critical missions.”
Regular rotations of Army watercraft will enable the United States to determine logistics-related requirements and to facilitate rotations, officials said. “This is fundamentally about building out our combined logistics and lift capability,” the senior defense official said.
The U.S. military will also establish an enduring logistics support area to further expand logistics and sustainment cooperation, Austin said at the AUSMIN press conference.
“We further agreed to expand our cooperation in space, which will improve our ability to coordinate more deeply with Australia in this new and important domain,” the secretary said.
Marles also highlighted efforts in the crucial domain. “In terms of force posture initiatives, we agreed that space cooperation would now form a key part of what we do in our military and defense cooperation, and this is a critical step forward,” he said.
The four leaders called for advancing ties with other regional partners. “We endorsed plans for enhanced, trilateral cooperation with Japan and Australia, which will include F-35 training and cooperation,” the defense secretary said.
The AUSMIN joint statement called enhancing trilateral interoperability “an important investment in credible, effective deterrence.”
The example of the U.S.-Australian ties – and the security benefits realized – is seen throughout the Indo-Pacific, senior defense officials said. Nations of the region see the benefits of a free and open Indo-Pacific where goods, ideas and people can flow freely.
The United States works closely with many nations in the region including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and the islands of the Pacific, and those nations see the benefits of working together.
Increasingly, the nations of the region – including U.S. treaty allies like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand — are working with other like-minded nations on new ways to support the rules-based international order.
These are initial steps that may – over time – thicken the relationships among the nations of the region. “It’s a really important moment,” the senior defense official said. In 10 years “when the order is strong and has been sustained and maintained and built, I think folks are going to look back on this period and … identify some of these initiatives as the, as really the key building blocks.” (Source: U.S. DoD)
29 Jul 23. Fact Sheet: Secretary Austin’s Eighth Trip to the Indo-Pacific Region. On July 29, 2023, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and their Australian counterparts, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Penny Wong, met in Brisbane, Australia for the 33rd Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN).
The principals determined that the Unbreakable Alliance between the United States and Australia has never been stronger – and that the Alliance remains a partnership of strategic interest rooted in common values and a common determination to preserve stability, prosperity, and peace. Against the backdrop of historic momentum for the Alliance, the United States and Australia committed to advance a number of key lines of shared effort, including:
ENHANCED FORCE POSTURE COOPERATION
Reaffirming their respect for each other’s sovereignty and their commitment to operationalize the Alliance, the United States and Australia advanced key priorities across an ambitious range of force posture cooperation efforts, including:
- Continuing to progress upgrades at key Australian bases in the north, including RAAF Bases Darwin and Tindal.
- Scoping additional upgrades at new locations, RAAF Bases Scherger and RAAF Curtin.
- Conducting more regular and longer expeditionary visits of U.S. submarines to Australia starting this year, with a focus on HMAS Stirling, as Australia prepares for Submarine Rotational Force-West, an important milestone for the AUKUS Optimal Pathway.
- Enabling a regular rotation of U.S. Army Watercraft in Australia, starting with participation in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE.
- Reaffirming their commitment to deliver the ambitious trajectory of Enhanced Force Posture Cooperation across land, maritime, and air domains, as well as the Combined Logistics, Sustainment, and Maintenance Enterprise.
- Through Enhanced Air Cooperation, rotating U.S. Navy Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft to Australia to enhance regional maritime domain awareness, with a goal of inviting likeminded partners to participate.
- Establishing an interim location at Albury-Wodonga (Bandiana) for the Combined Logistics, Sustainment, and Maintenance Enterprise as a precursor to an enduring Logistics Support Area in Queensland.
- Stating their intent to declare Enhanced Space Cooperation as a new Force Posture Initiative, which would enable increased space integration and cooperation under the U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement, as well as stating their intent to increase space integration and cooperation in existing operations and exercises.
CAPABILITY DEVELOPMENT AND DEFENSE INDUSTRIAL BASE COOPERATION
Reaffirming the importance of maximizing the strategic and technological advantage of the Alliance in an age of heightened strategic competition, the United States and Australia advanced a number of key priorities to strengthen their advanced capabilities and the health of their defense industrial bases, including:
- Committing to collaborate on critical technologies and innovation to ensure the Alliance’s asymmetrical capability edge and to explore opportunities for regional co-development, co-production, and co-sustainment aligned to agreed capability priorities.
- Agreeing to advance cooperation on Australia’s Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance (GWEO) Enterprise by entering into an arrangement to collaborate on a flexible guided weapons production and maintenance capability in Australia, with an initial focus on the co-production of Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems by 2025.
o The United States also announced its intent to pursue reforms to the regulations governing the transfer of guided weapons to Australia with the aim of accelerating delivery, to transfer technical data for the M795 155mm artillery shell in support of future production in Australia, and to identify opportunities for Australian industry to address constraints in the U.S. industrial base.
o The principals reaffirmed their commitment to progress the maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade of priority munitions in Australia, with an initial focus on MK-48 heavyweight torpedoes and SM-2 missiles.
- Welcoming progress under the AUKUS partnership toward Australia’s acquisition of a conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarine capability and the development of advanced capabilities to safeguard stability and security in the Indo-Pacific. They reaffirmed their commitment to transparency and urged others to take a similar approach to their capability development.
REGIONAL SECURITY INTEGRATION
Committing to uphold a global order based on international law, including the fundamental principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, the United States and Australia advanced a number of key priorities to strengthen their mutual alliances, partnerships, and trilateral and multilateral security arrangements, including:
- Announcing their intent to develop concrete proposals with Japan for trilateral cooperation that will increasingly invite Japanese participation in exercises and training-related activities in Australia, including F-35 cooperation.
- Agreeing to enhance trilateral integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) cooperation with Japan.
- Exploring opportunities to opportunities to further deepen cooperation with partners, including Japan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea, noting the dividend for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.
- Committing to leverage – in consultation with Pacific Island countries – the planned deployment of a USCG Cutter to the Pacific in early 2024 to further maritime domain awareness and training in the region to address maritime security priorities including illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
- Reaffirming their commitment to enhance interoperability with the militaries of the Pacific through a range of exercises. The principals also welcomed Fiji, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga’s participation in Exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2023 for the first time, as well as India, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines as inaugural observers. (Source: US doD)
28 Jul 23. Japan forecasts large boost to defense spending over next five years. Japan will spend more than double on defense over the next five years compared to the previous five amid a host of security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, according to the country’s latest defense whitepaper.
The English version, released July 28, projects Japan will spend $309.75bn on defense between fiscal 2024 and fiscal 2028, compared with $122.48bn between fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2023.
This includes $35.62bn for standoff defense capabilities that Japan only recently started to acquire; the country spent $1.4m on that effort in the previous five years. These standoff defense efforts include the acquisition of air-launched standoff land-attack missiles such as the Joint Strike Missile for its F-35 fighter jets, a program to extend the range of its Type 12 ground-launched anti-ship missile, and the development of hypersonic weapons.
Japan’s forecast spending also includes $21.37bn for integrated air and missile defense; the country spent $7.12bn on that in the previous five years.
The document argues that Japan needs these capabilities “to counter opposing forces from a safe distance without being attacked.”
Projected spending on the integrated air and missile defense system mentioned in the document will likely primarily go toward two Aegis system equipped vessels that Japan plans to build in lieu of the scrapped Aegis Ashore missile defense system.
The ships, which are due to enter service in 2028 and 2029, will feature Lockheed Martin-made SPY-7 radars that Japan originally procured for its Aegis Ashore program. Local news agency Jiji Press previously reported that the vessels will each have 128 vertical launching system cells for missiles.
The whitepaper also said Japan is facing an “increasing diversity and complexity of airborne threats,” such as missiles flying at hypersonic speeds, low altitudes and on irregular trajectories.
Other areas expected to see a large investment boost over the next five years include sustainability and resiliency, as well as cross-domain capabilities. The former encompasses ammunition stockpiles, sustainment and maintenance costs, and improving the resiliency of defense facilities. Funding for that is to jump from $42.73bn to $106.8bn.
Spending on cross-domain capabilities is anticipated to increase from $21.4bn to $56.9bn as Japan continues investing in the integration of its self-defense forces. The whitepaper also touched on what it calls “the most severe and complex security environment” since the end of World War II, and warned the country “needs to squarely face the grim reality and fundamentally reinforce its defense capabilities, with a focus on the capabilities of its opponents and new ways of warfare.” (Source: Defense News)
28 Jul 23. The US will provide Taiwan with $345m in weapons, marking the first time the Pentagon will send arms directly to the country to boost its defences amid rising concern about assertive Chinese military activity. The White House on Friday announced its plan to provide weapons from US stockpiles in the first tranche of an annual $1bn “presidential drawdown authority” Congress approved last year to support Taiwan. Successive US administrations have approved the sale of weapons to Taiwan. But this is the first time the arms have been directly provided under the PDA — the same authority that the Biden administration has been using to send weapons to Ukraine. The move comes as concerns rise in Washington about activities that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army is conducting in the waters and airspace around Taiwan. It triggered a protest from China, which claims sovereignty over the island. “China is firmly opposed to US’s military ties with and arms sales to Taiwan,” said Liu Pengyu, the Chinese embassy spokesperson in Washington. “US . . . stop selling arms to Taiwan, stop creating new factors that could lead to tensions in the Taiwan Strait and stop posing risks to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Liu added. The administration did not specify what weapons it would provide, unlike when it gives US defence companies permission to sell arms to Taiwan. But one official said the package would include anti-armour and air defence capabilities. The White House declined to say if the weapons would include MQ-9 reconnaissance drones, but the official said the package would include “multi-domain awareness” capabilities. The Financial Times recently reported that the US, Taiwan and Japan had agreed that they would share real-time data from MQ-9 Sea Guardian drones, which are manufactured by General Atomics. The arrangement would help the three countries create what is known in military terms as a “common operational picture” — a critical capability in the case of a conflict over Taiwan that would involve Chinese warships and submarines operating around the island. The state department said the use of the PDA was “just another example of our continued commitment to help Taiwan maintain a sufficient self-defence capability, in line with our longstanding policy”. “The secretary of defence and other senior leaders have been very clear that we do not believe an invasion [of Taiwan] is imminent or inevitable, because deterrence today is real and strong,” said a state department spokesperson. “The department is doing more than ever to ensure that it stays that way.”
“Taiwan continues to raise the need to procure capabilities to deter a kinetic attack as well as address grey zone and blockade scenarios, highlighted post then-speaker [Nancy] Pelosi’s trip last August, greater available resources, including PDA, should press the Biden administration to adjust its narrow view of what Taiwan can buy and start to address the full scope of military challenges Taiwan faces from China,” said Hammond-Chambers. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the top Democrat on the House China committee, welcomed the move by the White House. “Our . . . committee’s bipartisan recommendations on bolstering Taiwan’s self-defence called for expediting provision of critical tools for deterrence, and I applaud the important steps President [Joe] Biden has taken consistent with those recommendations.” Michael McCaul, the Republican head of the House foreign affairs committee, welcomed the “much-needed” weapons package, saying it was necessary as “China eyes further aggression” against Taiwan. But he accused the administration of “pandering” to Beijing by not more aggressively expediting the approval of weapons for Taipei. The notification came hours before defence secretary Lloyd Austin and secretary of state Antony Blinken were due to announce measures in Australia with their counterparts to boost deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. (Source: FT.com)
28 Jul 23. UK strengthens Indo-Pacific defence ties. Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey engages with top defence officials in Australia, Fiji, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, and Singapore.
The UK has strengthened its defence ties with key partners in the Indo-Pacific following the visit of a senior defence minister, demonstrating our commitment to the security and stability of the region as the UK Armed Forces carry out joint exercises in the area.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey visited Australia, Fiji, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore, as part of a regional engagement plan to demonstrate the UK’s continued commitment across Asia and the Pacific.
The Minister’s visit coincided with a large-scale deployment of over 150 members of the Royal Marines, Army and RAF for the Australian-led Exercise Talisman Sabre. This is the largest training activity between Australian, UK and US Armed Forces and ensures interoperability in regional operations. In addition, UK forces are also deployed on Exercise Mobility Guardian, which saw an RAF A400M conduct its longest ever flight of twenty-two hours from RAF Brize Norton to Guam, demonstrating the UK’s ability to deploy into the region.
The UK’s commitment to the Indo-Pacific region was reaffirmed in the recently published Integrated Review Refresh and Defence Command Paper Refresh (DCPR). The DCPR confirmed the continued deployment of the Royal Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessels HMS SPEY and HMS TAMAR, which have been deployed in the region since leaving the UK in September 2021. The UK’s persistent maritime presence is only set to be increased with visits from Commando Force Littoral Response Group later this year, and the Carrier Strike Group which will return in 2025, building on its maiden voyage in 2021.
Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey, said: “The UK is committed to strengthening our existing partnerships with friends and allies in the region, towards maintaining peace and protecting the rules based international order. During my meetings with defence ministers, military chiefs and senior government officials across the region, I reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to playing a full and active role in ensuring a free, safe and open Indo-Pacific.”
The Minister first visited Singapore where he met his counterpart, Deputy Defence Minister Zaqy Mohamad, to discuss ongoing defence cooperation, the UK’s Defence Command Paper Refresh and lessons learnt from Russia’s war against Ukraine.
In a subsequent visit to Fiji, Minister Heappey met Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and thanked him for Fiji’s continued contribution of service personnel to the UK Armed Forces and discussed the UK and Fiji’s work to tackle maritime security threats in the South Pacific and support for UN peacekeeping missions.
In Australia, Minister Heappey met with Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, the defence ministerial team, chiefs and senior officials to discuss the UK’s security ties with Australia – including Five Eyes and AUKUS – and the direct link between security in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions. The Minister also met the crews of the ships maintaining the UK’s persistent presence.
This was followed by a visit to Malaysia where Minister Heappey met the Minister of Defence, Mohammad Haji Hasan, to strengthen our bilateral defence partnership, in addition to the UK’s continued contribution to the Five Powers Defence Agreement.
The trip culminated with a visit to the Republic of Korea, where Minister Heappey represented the UK at national commemoration events for the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War Armistice. The Minister laid a wreath at the Battle of Imjin Memorial, also known as the Gloster Hill Memorial, in memory of personnel from The Gloucestershire Regiment who died in one of the conflict’s deadliest battles. He accompanied 11 British Korean War Veterans and four who served in Korea following the War, at national commemorative events. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/ Euromaidan Press)
28 Jul 23. Haiti: US orders the evacuation of government personnel over instability, highlighting increasing risk of kidnapping. On 27 July, the US State Department ordered the departure of all non-emergency US government employees and family members from Haiti, citing the deterioration of the wider security environment. The order noted the risk of civil unrest, kidnapping and inadequate healthcare in the country. It also recommended US citizens not employed by the government leave Haiti. Incidents of kidnapping have grown significantly in recent years, increasing bystander risks across all major cities. The National Human Rights Defense Network’s (RNDDH) latest report on 13 July recorded 40 kidnapping cases in Haiti between 1 May and 12 July. Nevertheless, these figures are unlikely to completely represent the wider risk environment, given the extent of underreporting. The US evacuation order suggests that the security environment is likely to deteriorate further in the medium term. (Source: Sibylline)
28 Jul 23. Democratic Republic of Congo-Rwanda: Cross-border attack likely to elevate regional tensions, increasing domestic unrest risks. On 27 July, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) armed forces accused Rwandan forces of crossing the border and attacking security forces in North Kivu province. The incident comes amidst a general uptick in attacks by the M23 rebel group, which is allegedly supported by Rwanda, and a broad failure of the ceasefire agreement signed in March. The allegations are consistent with previous claims of Rwandan troop incursions during periods of heightened conflict with the M23. An escalation to direct conflict between Rwanda and the DRC is unlikely, though rising tensions will increase the threat of anti-Rwanda protests in Goma (North Kivu) and the capital Kinshasa. Despite mounting pressure by the M23 on Congolese military positions, the threat of significant territorial loss will be mitigated by the expected deployment of Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops in the coming weeks. (Source: Sibylline)
28 Jul 23. Syria: Latent security, operational risks will persist near Shia religious sites despite end of Ashura. On 27 July, an explosive device detonated in a taxi outside the Sayeda Zeinab Mosque located in a southern suburb of Syria’s capital Damascus, killing six individuals and wounding tens of others. The mosque hosts an important shrine and is the country’s most visited Shia pilgrimage site. The incident, a day ahead of the Ashura Shia commemoration (28 July), follows another car explosion in the same area on 25 July that killed two people. Both explosions remain unclaimed at present. Previous attacks targeting the shrine have been claimed by the Islamic State (IS), and Shia places of worship are frequently targeted by IS-linked Sunni extremist groups. An extended heightened security presence in Damascus is highly likely in the near term, though the threat of attacks is lower due to Ashura ending. Nonetheless, security and bystander risks will persist for staff and assets based in and/or travelling in close proximity to Shia religious sites in Damascus and Syria more broadly. (Source: Sibylline)
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