A week in geopolitics: Independence, migrants, and the far-right

Britain’s Supreme Court has heard arguments this week on whether there should be another Scottish independence referendum. The Scottish National Party leader, Nicola Sturgeon, claims that the issue has gone to court because the British government has no respect for Scottish democracy. If the court finds against the nationalists, Ms Sturgeon says she will use the vote in Scotland at the next general election as a de-facto referendum on independence. As the body that makes authoritative rulings on constitutional matters, the UK Supreme Court has been asked to rule on whether the Scottish Government’s intention to hold another independence referendum falls within its legal authority. The decision for Scotland to become independent is not a devolved matter and the UK Government maintain that there is no justification for another vote so soon after the referendum held in September 2014. It could take several months for the Supreme Court to reach a decision, which will likely delay Sturgeon’s plans to organise an Independence Referendum by October next year.

Joe Biden said there would be “consequences” for America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia following last week’s decision from the OPEC group of nations to cut its supply of oil ahead of the winter season. OPEC is ‘The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ and, along with their allies in Russia, agreed to slash their output of oil by two million barrels per day. The group state that the decision was taken due to the “uncertainty that surrounds the global economy and oil market outlooks” and Saudi Arabia’s energy minister emphasised the country’s role as a market leader and its responsibility to stabilise the energy markets. However, following the announcement, the price of Brent crude oil rose 1.7% to $93.29 per barrel from $79 at the beginning of the year. This will further increase the already soaring energy prices and, leading up to Winter, will inevitably lead to deaths. The move appears short-sighted and vindictive, provoking some Democrats in the US to claim that OPEC is supporting Russia’s war as Russia also benefits from higher oil prices. Consequently, Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promised to freeze arms sales to the Saudis. President Biden may release further strategic oil stocks to lower prices but assessments are ongoing. As a result of the frosty relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, Biden has “no plans” to meet with the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman at next month’s G20 summit in Indonesia. Regardless, the White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has confirmed that Biden will continue to act methodically and strategically in regard to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Following months of American mediation, longtime foes Israel and Lebanon reached a deal over their maritime border. The agreement establishes where the border is for both countries, providing the opportunity for offshore energy exploration in the Mediterranean Sea. The border is defined by the demarcation line, called ‘Line 23’, between the two countries. Negotiations involved regular disagreements over the amount of territory being ceded from both sides but the agreement ensures that Israel retains full rights to develop the Karish field while Lebanon retains full rights in Qana. The deal contains complex caveats and royalty deals with individual operators of each block, requiring the United States to oversee the negotiations when cross-border deposites are discovered. The deal does not specify the profit distribution and Israel’s royalties from Lebanon’s Qana field are yet to be established, but Israel are seen to get the better end of the deal by taking advantage of Lebanon’s current economic crisis. The deal will be made official by Washington upon receipt of letters from Lebanon and Israel, who will also send the new boundary’s coordinates to the United Nations. Future decisions on new charts or coordinates will be agreed bilaterally but, due to the volatile relationship between Israel and Lebanon, both parties will only ever negotiate with a third party present and they have been clear that no peace agreement will be signed anytime soon. More widely, the deal provides a lifeline for Europe who are eagerly looking for new sources of gas and oil to solve their energy needs as they attempt to disengage from Russia.

Japan’s Epsilon-6 space rocket was forced to self-destruct just ten minutes into its mission, destroying its payload of eight commercial satellites. JAXA, The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, sent the command to the rocket after space agency officials realised that it was straying from its trajectory and they could not predict where it would go, making self-destruction the safest option as it could have landed on a populated area if allowed to continue. Consequently, the rocket and its satellites fell into the sea, east of the Philippines, and no injury or property damage was reported. The failure, Japan’s first since 2003, is being investigated but the company have acknowledged that it could affect their foray into the commercial satellite business, a business worth $279 billion and accounting for 72% of the world’s space business.

Local council elections held in New Zealand, from mid-September to October 8th, resulted in a tilt to the right, as big cities elected conservative mayors. Mayoral candidates aligned with the Labour Party-Greens government suffered a resounding defeat as hostility mounts against the Labour Party led by Jacinda Ardern, whose approval as Prime Minister has plummeted to 30%. While the results are damning for “the left”, they reflect a widespread apathy among the nationwide electorate as turnout was just 36%, a record low, down from 42% in 2019, partly due to the absence of any left-wing alternatives to vote for. The country is just one of many that are shifting to the right, as Italy and Sweden recently voted in nationalist governments to manage the economic collapse partly due to the war in Ukraine. Additionally, there has been nationwide condemnation of the constant Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns which mirrored China’s ‘Zero Covid Policy’. The rigid restrictions are seen as part of Ardern’s “admiration” for China, after China promised New Zealand investments as a way to keep them on side, in response to the AUKUS deal made last year.

Following elections this month in the south African country of Lesotho, an error was discovered by the electoral authorities which has thrown the entire election into dispute. The October 7th election resulted in the populist ‘Revolution for Prosperity’ party (RFP) winning the most seats but falling short of an overall majority. The main opposition party, the ‘Democratic Congress Party’ were mistakenly assigned 11 compensatory seats instead of eight while the ‘Alliance of Democrats’ (AD) was incorrectly assigned three seats instead of two. While the error will have no effect on the overall result, there is concern that it could raise wider questions about the election results and opposition parties may challenge the result and the entire election process. Regardless, in an attempt to recover from years of political instability, the RFP proceeded to form a coalition with two opposition parties, one of which is the affected AD party who could lose a single seat. These elections have been some of the most eventful in Lesotho’s history as the winning RFP were founded just six months ago by a business tycoon and won 56 of 120 seats in parliamentary elections. The win, and the consequent three-party coalition, signifies a maturing political system as the country was a one-party system from 1993 to 2012 and elections were constitutional rituals that were only held to confirm the status quo. In order to succeed, the coalition will need to be “one government” and their initial tasks will be eradicating corruption within the government, the long-awaited reforming of the political system, and reviving Lesotho’s collapsed economy. These elections echo the shift away from established parties experienced across Africa as growing numbers of voters are backing a new style of candidate. For example, in Nigeria Peter Obi, an outsider, took an early lead in polls as campaigning started for presidential elections in February.

Mexico has agreed to accept unauthorised Venezuelan migrants expelled by America. The Biden administration in the United States agreed to accept up to 24,000 Venezuelan migrants who fly to America directly and Mexico have agreed to take back those who arrive in the U.S. illegally. Those who walk or swim across the border into America will be returned to Mexico under a pandemic rule called ‘Title 42’ that suspends rights to seek asylum on grounds of preventing the spread of Covid-19. More than 7 million Venezuelans have fled poverty, violence and repression in Venezuela over the past five years, making it the second-largest external displacement crisis in the world. The UN says that more than half of the them have trouble accessing food, housing, and stable employment as 80% of them are now living in Latin America and the Caribbean who already struggle to provide health and education to their own people. Due to the mass migration across Latin America, Venezuelans are unknowingly spreading measles, diphtheria and malaria, diseases that were once eradicated but now prevalent once again due to the collapse of the country’s health system, Fleeing Venezuelans are suffering even more as resources and attention are diverted from their struggle towards other international crises, including the war in Ukraine, the famine in East Africa, and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Following the trend across Europe of electing far-right governments, Sweden has elected a new prime minister whose government will be backed by a far-right party. The new PM, Ulf Kristersson, and his Moderates party will form a centre-right coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Liberals, along with support from the Sweden Democrats (SD). There have already been typically right-wing pledges made to cut taxes, cap benefits, enact tougher immigration policies and provide the police with greater powers. SD surprisingly won a fifth of the vote, with 73 seats out of 349, having been shunned by the mainstream for decades due to being founded by Nazi sympathisers. Focusing their election campaign around combating immigration and violent crime appealed to many Swedish voters following a sharp rise in gun violence and gang crime. However, Green Party leader Per Bolund has denounced the government’s policies as “authoritarian, conservative and nationalistic”, marking an end to eight years of a centre-left government led by the Social Democrats.

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