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EU Sovereignty, Scotland & Wales Stress the UK, East African Drought and the Week in Review

Blog

EU Sovereignty, Scotland & Wales Stress the UK, East African Drought and the Week in Review

EU sovereignty. 25 European Union member states signed a joint declaration pledging up to 10 billion euros to create a “European Alliance on Industrial Data and Cloud.” Denmark and Cyprus did not sign owing to what a German minister told Euractiv was a “technical holdup.” In a separate but related development, Dutch and French minister co-signed a declaration calling for the EU to investigate U.S. tech giants like Facebook and Apple and even potentially to “breaking up big companies.”

What it means: Well, first of all, if the EU cannot even get everyone to electronically sign a document of this importance because of technical glitches, the EU has a long way to go. That said, this is a continuation of two major trends we’ve been hammering away at now for months. First is the idea of EU sovereignty and how COVID-19 is leading to a new sense of European identity. The Netherlands and France coming to a similar position on major U.S. tech companies speaks to this: in the past Amsterdam and Paris have not been on the same page on this issue, but now they have found common ground. There are plenty of countervailing trends in the EU preventing a more cohesive EU from emerging – we briefly looked at a few of them two weeks ago – but we also think observers are too readily dismissing the forces pushing EU member states closer together.

The second trend is the general emergence of distinct and sovereign tech ecosystems. The U.S.-China trade war, and the attendant U.S. attempt to destroy Huawei and cripple China’s high-tech industry, is accelerating a trend of nations hiving off their networks and technology from each other. To be fair, this trend really began with China’s Great Firewall – but China’s censorship and protectiveness of its own networks was always an exception to the rule. As it turns out, China was not an exception but a trendsetter. that began with China’s Great Firewall. Now, as supply chains transform and as zero-sum national security concerns infect more sectors, national governments are asserting sovereignty over their data, their networks, and their critical infrastructure. China, Russia, the U.S., India, Turkey, and now the EU are all working on this. Welcome to the age of techno-nationalism.

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Scotland the Brave, Wales the Perturbed. A new Ipsos MORI poll on Scottish independence indicates that 58 percent of Scots would vote yes in an independence referendum and 64 percent believed the UK government should allow such a referendum within five years if, as is expected, the Scottish Nationalist Party wins a majority of seats in the upcoming 2021 Scottish Parliament elections. The Welsh government announced unilateral COVID-19 measures to include bans on people entering Wales from COVID-19 hotspots in other parts of the UK.

What it means: The last time we updated y’all on this issue was in mid-June when a Panelbase poll of Scottish voters showed that 50 percent of respondents were in favor of independence. That, in combination with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hard negotiating tactics with the European Union and a COVID-19 response that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon decried as “shambolic,” was enough for us to ring the alarm bell of the risk of Scottish independence becoming a major issue threatening the future viability of the United Kingdom. Indeed, before Jacob even knew he wanted to start a new consulting company, he was warning about the dangers of these risks back in December, when all we had to worry about was a potential U.S.-Iran war. (Ah, the good old days.)

We aren’t about to freak out over a single poll result – but we aren’t going to ignore it either. 58 percent support for independence! That is a huge number. Perhaps the more important number however is the 64 percent who want a referendum if the SNP wins a majority in upcoming Scottish Parliament elections. The SNP has seen a slight decline in its overall support in polls – but it is still far and away predicted to be the largest party in Scottish parliament by far, and who knows what the British government will do in the intervening months to further harden Scottish hearts against the union? The fact of the matter is Scotland voted by a 62-38 percent margin to remain in the EU and it feels it is getting dragged out of the EU against its will and in an incompetent fashion. Compounding that problem by saying Scotland is not allowed to vote on its status as a nation again seems sure to increase support for independence even more.

Yes, we can hear the naysayers now: Scotland isn’t economically viable as an independent nation, and besides, the EU is never going to pay any attention to them. People don’t make emotional decisions about their national identity based on actuarial tables about whether the nation can afford it or not. As for the EU, it likely won’t welcome Scotland into the fold unless it leaves by a legal process…which only the British government can approve. Johnson and future British prime ministers have a difficult choice to make then – let the Scottish people vote and hope cooler heads prevail or prevent them from voting and sow seeds of mistrust and indignation that will eventually come home to roost. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Add to all this the fact that this is increasingly not just about Scotland anymore. Wales, like England, voted to leave the European Union…and yet it is so dissatisfied with British government policies on COVID-19 that it is unilaterally doing its own thing. One recent YouGov poll even showed the support for Welsh independence is also creeping upwards. Northern Ireland’s eventual reunification with the Republic of Ireland is an inevitability as well. Put all the pieces together and suddenly the future viability of the UK looks quite uncertain indeed.

Let’s be ruthlessly clear about what we are saying here. We are not saying a breakup is the most likely scenario going forward. We are saying it is a risk that can no longer be ignored, and we suggest adjusting mindsets and plans accordingly.

A “devastating” potential drought in East Africa. A new article in Nature and a recent post by the Climate Hazard Center conclude that there is a high likelihood (80 percent) of lower than average rainfall in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia primarily) until the end of December, as well as increasing likelihood of a poor rainy season in March-May 2021, leading scientists to predict a potentially “devastating” drought in the region.

What it means: Have you noticed that people tend to glaze over when you start talking about “Africa,” but if you mention the “Indo-Pacific,” suddenly everyone is all ears because of the tragedy of great power politics and the U.S.-China trade war and everything else happening in the region? Most of the time when news of Africa reaches Western media sources it is because of a new coup, Islamist insurgency, or disease somewhere. This obscures the rich diversity of African regions and countries and also hides how deeply some of these regions and countries are going to affect (and be affected by) international political developments.

Trying thinking of it this way: Africa is a huge, diverse continent, made up of multiple regions, and blessed with copious resources. Demographically it is the fastest growing continent in the world by far. And if that’s not enough to start paying attention, consider that East Africa is really just the western border of the Indo-Pacific region and also happens to sit astride the Bab el-Mandeb, which along with the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal is one of the most important maritime trade routes in the world.

Now consider that in this strategically located region, which is a borderland between Christianity and Islam and which is a melting pot of indigenous tribes, various ethnic groups, and a mix of Indian, Arab, Western, and Chinese cultures that have been trading and even ruling parts of these areas for parts of centuries, is facing huge challenges. Food security is becoming an increasingly important issue, in part because of this year’s horrific locust plagues, and now with a potential drought along the way. As we’ve seen in the Middle East, where Syria suffered years of drought in the lead-up to the Syrian Civil War and the sudden emergence of ISIS as a political force, food insecurity is a dangerous additive to an already combustible mix of political competition, economic fragility, and security vacuums. What happens in East Africa won’t stay in East Africa, of that we can assure you.

Honorable mention

President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has published the 12th volume of his inestimably awesome series on the medicinal plants of Turkmenistan. Mazel!

The water level of the Paraguay River is at its lowest in 50 years.

The state congress of Mexico’s Sonora state has declared a humanitarian emergency over the forced disappearance of “thousands” of people.

Kyrgyzstan President Jeenbekov resigned. New Prime Minister Sadyr Japarov has assumed the president’s office as well as the premiership. Russia announced it would be suspending all financial aid to Kyrgyzstan until the political situation in the country had stabilized.

Azerbaijan and Armenia continue to trade accusations that the other side is breaking the cease-fire.

Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, traveled to India and met with top Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Brazilian police investigating Brazilian senator Chico Rodrigues, an ally of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, discovered over $5,000 worth of presumably ill-gotten gains between his buttocks.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said Canada was working on a “new framework for relations with China” that would be published later this year.

The U.S. said it “deplored” Turkey’s decision to being survey activity in the Eastern Mediterranean and urged Turkey to “end this calculated provocation.”

Russia refuted the notion that it had agreed to a New START treaty extension, calling the U.S. stance “unacceptable” and “unscrupulous.”

Thailand’s government declared a state of emergency and after thousands of protesters flooded the streets to demand political reforms.

Indonesia’s Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology signed an MoU with Huawei to develop the Indonesia digital ecosystem.

10 days of consecutive rain in Cambodia have led to widescale flooding in the country’s rice growing regions.

Mass protests throughout Nigeria led President Muhammadu Buhari to announce that he was dissolving the controversial “Special Anti-Robbery Squad” (SARS) and promising “extensive” police reforms in order to meet the demands of protesters.

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