During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.
If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.
The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.
Erdogan's Africa travel obsession is part of a broader policy. Since first coming to power as prime minister way back in 2003, Turkey has massively increased its presence in Africa. The number of embassies has soared from barely a dozen in 2009 to more than 40 today. Turkish Airlines crisscross African skies, flying more than 50 routes linking the continent's cities to Europe and the Middle East.
Across Africa, Turkish companies have built splashy and popular infrastructure projects: massive sports complexes in Senegal and Rwanda, the new national mosque in Ghana, a gleaming international airport in Niger, and critical rail lines in Ethiopia. And on the softer power front, Turkish schools dot the continent, while the country's soap operas are a pop-culture hit, particularly in East Africa. Turkey now even refers to itself as an "Afro-Eurasian" country.
At the same time, Turkey has waded into the continent's geopolitics, building its largest overseas military base in Somalia, taking sides in the Libyan civil war, and stepping into the Sahel by training local troops and inking a defense pact with Niger. Turkish arms sales to the continent are growing as well.
Why is Turkey so interested in Africa? For one thing, there's an economic rationale. Erdogan is keen to unlock opportunities for Turkey's powerful infrastructure, mining, and consumer companies. Finding new foreign markets is part of Erdogan's vision of Turkey as an export powerhouse, says Emre Peker, Eurasia Group Turkey analyst.
But there's something bigger going on as well. Ever since coming to power, Peker says, Erdogan has seen Turkey as a kind of geopolitical heir to the old Ottoman empire — a powerful player in the Middle East and beyond, willing to act independently of its Cold War-era partners in Europe and the US. While much of that has meant being more assertive in the Middle East, expanding Ankara's influence into Africa is a part of that broader vision.
Why are African governments interested in Turkey? For the same reason they are interested in partnering with other outside players: investment and infrastructure.
But while Ankara hasn't anywhere near the resources that, say, China can bring to the table, one big thing that Turkey has going for it is what it's not. "Turkey has a lot of advantages," says Tochi Eni-Kalu, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, "but number one is that it's not France or the UK or Belgium or any of the other post-colonial powers." At the same time, Erdogan presents Turkey as a smaller and more sympathetic alternative to great powers like the US and China.
Who's not so happy about this? While there hasn't been much backlash against Turkey among African populations, Ankara's inroads have raised hackles in other world capitals. France is extremely unhappy about Turkey's presence in West Africa, with President Macron openly accusing Turkey of inflaming anti-French sentiment there.
Meanwhile, Turkey's bitter regional rivalry with the UAE is also playing out in Africa. The two powers back opposing sides in Libya's civil war, and are locked in a contest for greater influence in East Africa as well. Ankara reportedly viewed the April 2019 coup against longtime Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir, a partner of Ankara's, as a Gulf-backed swipe at Turkish influence in the region.
Still, let's put this all in perspective. As much as Turkey's ties with Africa have grown, the continent remains far less important economically for the Turks than Europe or the Middle East. Consider that while in recent years Turkish trade with Africa has quintupled to about $25 billion annually, that's still ten times less than its trade with Europe, and three times less than with Asia. China's trade and investment in the continent, which runs to the hundreds of billions of dollars annually, dwarfs anything that Turkey can reasonably achieve.Upshot: While Turkey will never compete directly with the military resources of the US and France, nor the economic resources of China, Ankara has found ways to pick its spots in Africa in ways that interest local governments, but which also stoke Turkey's other regional and global rivalries.
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Former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi was killed by rebels on 20 October, 2011, after a NATO intervention designed to protect civilians helped strengthen an uprising against his regime. Since then, the country has been mired in chaos as different factions have battled for control, resulting in extensive destruction and human causalities. Libya has been nominally governed since 2014 by warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east of the country. Last year, UN mediation efforts finally began to gain traction with an agreement on a cease-fire and a roadmap for elections to be held later this year. We talked with Eurasia Group expert Ahmed Morsy to find out how things are going.
Is the cease-fire holding?
For the most part it is, though there have been some localized clashes. Also, the parties have not followed through on commitments to remove foreign-backed mercenaries from the country, including groups financed by Turkey, UAE, and Russia. The lack of movement on dismantling militias and withdrawing foreign fighters highlights the continued lack of trust between the warring factions. Military might is used to assert power and extract concessions.
How about the elections?
Last year's agreement yielded a new Government of National Unity headed by Abdulhamid Dbeibah and a three-member Presidential Council headed by Mohamed al Menfi. It tasked them with working with existing institutions to prepare presidential and parliamentary elections. Yet the different political actors have been bickering about who has the power to make laws, and what are the main requirements for prospective candidates. The eastern-based parliament, for example, passed electoral laws without input from other groups, prompting interventions from UN officials and other local leaders to lower tensions and search for a consensus. These dynamics and the clashes between eastern- and western-based personalities suggest it will be difficult to hold elections on time. Meanwhile, the rivalries are delaying agreement on other issues such as the budget, reconstruction plans, and military unification.
Have economic conditions improved?
The relatively positive steps taken over the past nine months and overall improved security have helped Libya's oil sector, the main driver of its economy. Oil production is at an eight-year high, averaging 1.2 million barrels a day since January 2021, and high oil prices are boosting revenue. The National Oil Corporation has ambitious plans to double its output by 2025. Yet the investments needed to meet this goal could be undermined by the country's still fragile security environment and political process, posing the risk of setbacks for the country's crucial oil sector.
What is the status of migration flows to Europe?
Despite the improvement in security conditions, the interim unity government has been unable to follow through on arrangements with its European partners to combat illicit migration, and Libya has continued to serve as a hub for criminal gangs operating detention centers and exploiting the lucrative and illegal human-trafficking business. According to the UN, the number of migrants intercepted at sea in 2020 in the first half of 2021 has already surpassed last year's total. Many of them are refugees from war-torn regions across Africa. This problem will not likely be resolved until a new government and representative bodies are in place and can enforce the country's borders.
Ten years on, what lessons have been learned from the NATO intervention in Libya?
The NATO intervention was critical for protecting civilians, but it also contributed to the overthrow of Qaddafi's regime. Then, crucially, it was not followed by any serious work to help rebuild the country and unite Libyans under a single state. This allowed for tribalism and factionalism to take over amid a power and security vacuum and an abundance of weapons. While overall security in the country since has improved, vast ungoverned areas remain a playground for numerous extremist and criminal groups, many of which are supported by outside powers.
Ahmed Morsy is a Eurasia Group senior analyst covering North Africa.
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October 18, 2021
China's GDP grew a lower-than-expected 4.9 percent year-on-year in the third quarter of 2021, a whopping three percentage points less than in the previous period. It's a big deal for the world's second-largest economy, the only major one that expanded throughout the pandemic — and now at risk of missing its growth target of 6 percent for the entire year.
Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.
Why is GDP growth slowing down now? For one thing, a combination of rising coal prices, tighter regulations on power consumption related to climate policy, and soaring demand in countries that buy a lot of Chinese-made stuff have all resulted in an energy crunch that'll likely worsen disruptions to global supply chains that rely heavily on China.
For another, Xi's crackdown on excessive borrowing in the real estate sector — which accounts for almost 30 percent of China's economic activity but was so in the red that it posed a systemic risk — is causing a lot of pain. Evergrande and other large property developers are missing deadlines to pay their creditors, and halting projects for homes they've already sold but have no money to build.
Finally, there's the pandemic itself, via strict local lockdowns that have hurt Chinese retail and travel in the only country in the world that still believes in zero COVID.
China's leader thinks that an economic slowdown, however painful in the short term, will be worth it in the long run because the economy needs structural reforms to narrow the income gap and deliver what Xi calls "common prosperity."
In a speech that stunned the business community two months ago, Xi confirmed that "common prosperity" means vastly expanding China's middle class, partly by raising taxes on the rich. He wants some of this wealth to be redistributed in order to make China a more equal society. (Indeed, the 1 percent have seen the writing on the wall — a single mention of regulating "excessively high incomes" prompted several panicked CEOs to immediately donate billions to charity right when Xi was going after the tech sector.)
Xi's goal is for China's GDP to continue expanding, but at a less ambitious pace so Chinese workers have time to earn more and become more productive at the same time. China, he says, should move away from mostly churning out cheap exports that pollute the planet as Chinese factories have done for decades to focus on producing high-quality, sustainably-made goods for the local market.
But it's a risky move. Winding down economic activity to the 2-3 percent annual growth levels of mature economies like the US or Germany will be a tricky balancing act for China. Sluggish growth that drags on could deter investment, and trigger social unrest if unemployment gets too high as a result.
Meanwhile, slower Chinese economic growth will have serious ripple effects for the rest of the world, given China's outsize role in the global economy.
The so-called "factory of the world" will probably continue exporting a lot of stuff, but not as much as it did before, and more of its exports will be high-value tech goods. Local companies will also likely outsource more of their manufacturing to lower-cost neighbors such as Bangladesh or Myanmar, and over time most Chinese-made products will get more expensive.Xi's "common prosperity" vision comes with many risks for China's juggernaut of an economy. But if he delivers on his promise, expect him to stay in power for a long time.
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Hard Numbers: Poland vs Belarus, Afghan kids to get polio jabs, Chinese coal surge, NZ city fires wizard
October 19, 2021
6,000: Poland has doubled the number of troops guarding its border with Belarus to almost 6,000 because of a surge in migrants trying to cross over (there were 612 attempts on Monday alone). Warsaw accuses Minsk of sending non-EU migrants into Poland as payback for EU sanctions against Belarus.
10 million: The Taliban will allow the World Health Organization to vaccinate 10 million Afghan children under the age of 5 against polio. In the past, Taliban fighters have killed polio vaccine workers in Pakistan, claiming that such immunization campaigns were a CIA plot to sterilize Muslims.
260: The Chinese government may intervene in the country's coal market to stem the rising price of the commodity, which has jumped more than 260 percent since the beginning of the year. Low coal supplies are partly to blame for China's energy crunch, one of the main reasons Chinese GDP growth slowed down in the third quarter of 2021.10,000: The city of Christchurch in New Zealand has laid off the only wizard in the world believed to be on a government payroll, who'd been making $10,000 a year to perform rain dances and other "wizard-like services" — mainly for tourists — since 1998. But the wizard, who has called himself "a provocateur" won't be missed by many after joking often about gender-based violence.
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What We're Watching: Bangladesh religious violence, Ecuadorian drug emergency, Lebanese to vote, Russia ditches NATO
October 19, 2021
Religious tension rising in Bangladesh: Clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Bangladesh have surged over the past week, leaving at least four people dead. After an image was posted on Facebook showing the Quran at the feet of a statue at a Hindu temple, Muslims burned Hindu-owned homes and attacked their holy sites. Both sides have taken to the street in protest, with Hindus saying that they have been prevented from celebrating Durga Puja, the largest Hindu festival in the country. Such acts of sectarian violence are not uncommon in Bangladesh, a majority-Muslim country where Hindus account for nine percent of the population. Indeed, as Eurasia Group's Kevin Allison recently warned, unverified social media content stoking inter-ethnic conflict is a massive problem throughout South Asia, where for many people Facebook is synonymous with the internet.
Ecuador's state of emergency… again: Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso has declared a nationwide state of emergency to deal with surging crime fueled in large part by drug trafficking. The measure allows the government to limit freedom of movement and assembly, and gives the military authority to patrol the streets. This comes less than a month since Lasso, a pro-business social conservative elected in February, declared another state of emergency after a gang war inside a jail in the port city of Guayaquil killed more than 100 people. The oil-rich Andean nation of 17 million people has become a transit country for Colombian and Peruvian cocaine where Mexican drug cartels are becoming more influential. The state of emergency might limit burglaries, auto thefts and homicides in the short term, but what happens when it's lifted?
Will Lebanese elections matter? Less than a week since Lebanon saw some of its worst sectarian street violence in years, its parliament voted to hold new legislative elections on March 27, two months earlier than planned. (However, a simultaneous vote on introducing female quotas in parliament failed to pass.) It'll be the first popular vote since 2019, when mass protests over political corruption and economic crisis rocked the country. The pressure is now on for Najib Mikati — who became interim prime minister in July after months of political deadlock — to secure a financial recovery package from the IMF that would pave the way for more international investment and aid as the country plunges further into one of the worst economic catastrophes in modern history. Talks with the IMF will be tough because the government and banks aren't willing to implement the public sector reforms or debt restructuring initiatives that the Fund wants. Indeed, as sectarian tensions linger and many kleptocrats retain prominent roles in Lebanese political life, the upcoming election may not move the needle at all.
What We're IgnoringRussia breaks up with NATO: Russia says it'll sever diplomatic ties with NATO and withdraw its representatives from the alliance's headquarters in Brussels. This isn't a massive surprise given that relations between Moscow and the EU have been strained for years, particularly since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. But things heated up recently when the EU expelled eight Russians from its offices for alleged spying (Russia's diplomatic presence in Belgium has been steadily shrinking for years because of espionage claims; Moscow denies them.) Perhaps as a tit-for-tat, Russia announced Tuesday that it would not supply more natural gas supplies to power-hungry Europe as it had previously pledged to do. The EU, for its part, has long accused Russia of using gas exports as a political weapon, but this latest move couldn't come at a worse time as energy prices have reached record highs across Europe. As a bonus, stirring up trouble with NATO allows Vladimir Putin to drive a wedge between Eastern and Western European members, one of his favorite pastimes.
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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?
It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.
Now I'm saying that. I never felt that way about big oil or about the banks or any other major multinationals. And the reason for that is because they all exist in real physical space. And as a consequence, they are regulated in physical space or sometimes not effectively regulated. But nonetheless it is inside sovereign government entities, and their territories that they exist.
Technology companies actually have sovereignty over their digital space. They not only determine what the rules are going to be. But they actually create it from the ground up. They're the architects. They drive the algorithms. They own the data. They decide what to do with it. I mean, everything about that space is the mandate of the tech companies themselves. And that is the kind of power in digital space that increasingly feels like a parallel world to physical space where governments are in charge.
And so we see a couple of interesting things that come from this. First of all, I first became aware of this after January 6th. By far the biggest event that had transpired in terms of domestic political stability, instability of my lifetime by a domestic actor. And the response did not come from Congress, did not come from the executive, did not come from the judiciary. They all failed to act.
The responses came from the tech companies deciding to de-platform Parler, Amazon and Apple, de-platforming the sitting President of the United States by Facebook and by Twitter. And to the extent that people were eventually arrested and then tried, that came because of information they had posted on social media platforms. Now those companies, I mean, no one's voted for their rules. They decide in a kind of capricious way, what they do or don't want to do to respond.
I'm not saying that they didn't take responsible decisions. That's an entirely different point. But the fact was, they exerted sovereignty. It wasn't just true about January 6th. Was true, the most important attacks on the United States and on its allies, last year was the SolarWinds attack. And the US government and the Europeans weren't even aware of the attacks when they occurred. It was Microsoft that found out about them. And they were the ones that, with other private sector companies, figured out how to attack back.
In other words, whether you're talking about the economy or politics or national security, as all of those areas increasingly moved to a mixture of the virtual world and physical space, and as tech companies dominate the virtual space, they increasingly exert sovereignty. And so if we want to understand what the world is going to look like in 10 to 20 years and the balance of global power, we need to understand what drives these tech companies. What kind of actors are they? What do they want? What are they orienting towards? And then see which of those models are likely to play out what the balance of power looks like, including them as geopolitical actors.
Now, two other things I want to say aside from "read the piece "so you can see what I have to say about all this. The first is, to the extent that we need to think about how these firms operate. Well with governments, we think about whether or not they're democracies or authoritarian regimes. And of course, no one is the perfect democracy. No one's really a perfect authoritarian regime. But you exist on a spectrum. Some countries are vastly more authoritarian, North Korea on one end, China and Russia towards that end. Some countries are much more democratic, Germany, Canada on one side, the United States towards that side, but slipping down, countries like Hungary and Turkey, not so much.
Okay. In the technology space, there is no tech typology. We don't have one. All we think is, "Well, they want to make money." But actually, if you think about the relationship of these companies to the state, they do have very different models. In fact, I'd argue they have three. One is the globalist model, kind of an outgrowth of their historic libertarianism, which is don't get involved. Don't regulate me. We want to have strong lobbying that allows us to capture regulations of the public sector. We want to be dominant in the space, be able to write the rules that the government will use to regulate us and achieve, maintain monopoly status in spaces that we exist in. I would argue that Apple is much closer to that kind of a model, Tencent, for example, in China.
And there's also national champions. And national champions are the technology equivalents of Lockheed in the 20th century, but for the 21st century. And these are companies that actually want to align with governments, think of the governments as very important partners. And they're not trying to invest as much in a global world, but instead understand there's going to be a much more fragmented world. I would argue that Microsoft is more in that direction, Amazon to a degree, Google a little bit. And they're balancing more between the two. And in the case of China, a company like Huawei would certainly be in that environment.
And then finally you have techno utopians, people that believe driving their corporations, that the government is literally going to go away. They're not going to be relevant in their space. I think Vitalik Buterin from Ethereum would definitely be in that space where he thinks that the future of currency will be crypto and not sovereign currencies, not fiat currencies anymore. So the government just won't matter in the digital space. It will be crypto. And some of what Elon Musk is trying to do with space is in that orbit. Some of what Mark Zuckerberg talks about in the metaverse would look like that. China used to have someone like that in terms of Jack Ma, but they don't anymore because they certainly don't want that model to exist in China.
The big remaining question then is where do we go from here? Who's going to win? And it's too early to say. But it's really interesting to play out three quick thoughts. One to the extent the globalists win, which means that the governments don't continue to do a lousy job of regulating the space. They don't align with the corporates. The corporates would rather continue to capture the regulatory space, that implies, we don't have a technology cold war between the US and China. Global models for technology continue to work more effectively over time. And it means Europe is actually much more important because they probably to the extent that anyone is developing effective rules of the road. They're going to be better at that, more thoughtful at that than the Americans or Chinese would be.
If the national champion model wins, then it is the Chinese continue to focus on squeezing the private sector. Everyone has to align with the government. The Americans increasingly do that too. It becomes a technology cold war. And there's very little space for Europe. In fact, everybody else needs to align to one or the other.
And then finally, you have the techno utopians. And it's hard for this to play out what happens to the world if the techno utopians win. Because in part it depends on if they win at what? Do they win at currency? In which case, central banks start mattering a lot less. And the US looks like it's in decline. Why? Because you no longer have the global reserve currency as the US dollar.
What happens if the metaverse ends up being a space that's completely ungoverned by the United States and other governments? Well, it means the governments will be expected to do a lot less. Federal power will erode. And the social contract will be driven either by those corporations in those spaces or not at all, a lot more inequality in that kind of an environment. Anyway, a lot to think about here, a piece that I've been considering pieces of for a long time now. I hope you find it worthwhile and we'll be talking more soon. Be good.
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October 18, 2021
China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.
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