ICG Global Overview MAY 2019 | Security Risks Asia Made with Humane Club

ICG Global Overview MAY 2019

Published Jun 04, 2019
Updated Apr 14, 2020

Overall Review

May saw an alarming rise in tensions between Iran and both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and an escalation in Yemen’s war, which could intensify further in June.

Pro-government forces in Syria stepped up bombing in Idlib, and fighting worsened in and around Libya’s capital, Tripoli.

Relations between Somalia’s federal government and regions deteriorated and Al-Shabaab upped attacks, boding ill for June.

Sudan’s military council resisted demands to hand over power to civilians and is already stepping up repression of protesters.

Militia violence rose in north-western Central African Republic, intercommunal raids left dozens dead in eastern Chad, and in western Niger suspected jihadists ramped up attacks.

Benin’s security forces cracked down on opposition protesters, constitutional reforms that could give Togo’s president two more terms worsened tensions, and Guinea-Bissau’s political stalemate could trigger unrest in coming weeks.

Anti-Muslim violence rose in Sri Lanka, and tensions spiked within Kosovo and between Kosovo and Serbia. In Honduras, violence broke out as the government faced large protests against planned reforms.

In Nicaragua, talks between the government and opposition stalled fuelling concerns they could falter in June, further deepening the country’s political crisis.

Trends and Outlook

As we have warned, a marked rise in tensions between Iran and the U.S. could lead to a military confrontation – direct or by proxy – unless both parties and outside actors take greater steps to de-escalate.

The U.S. tightened its economic stranglehold on Iran, revoking waivers that allowed countries to import Iranian oil, and announced it would bolster military assets in the Middle East.

Tehran responded by downgrading its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and threatened to step up uranium enrichment if the accord’s other parties (the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) failed to protect Iran’s oil and banking sectors from sanctions within 60 days.

Unclaimed attacks on four oil tankers off the United Arab Emirates – which Washington claimed Tehran directed – and drone attacks on a pipeline in Saudi Arabia added fuel to the fire.

The latter strikes were claimed by Huthi forces in Yemen, but Saudi Arabia accused Iran of guiding the Huthis’ actions. In apparent retaliation, the Saudi-led coalition launched airstrikes in Yemen’s capital Sanaa causing civilian deaths.

Fighting also escalated on several fronts across Yemen, raising fears of more violence on Yemeni soil and more Huthi attacks on Saudi and Emirati assets in coming weeks.

In Libya, hundreds were killed in and around the capital Tripoli as fighting intensified between Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces and those nominally loyal to the UN-backed government.

To prevent a protracted regional conflict, the warring parties and their external backers should agree an immediate ceasefire, including a partial withdrawal of Haftar’s forces, and give the UN a chance to restart talks.

Pro-government forces in Syria intensified a bombing campaign against jihadists in Idlib province in the north west, with hundreds reportedly killed, many of them civilians.

In Somalia, already fraught relations between the federal government in Mogadishu and the regional states soured further, raising the risk of greater political turmoil and insecurity, just as Al-Shabaab ramped up attacks in the capital and rural areas.

After talks between President Farmajo and regional leaders collapsed with no agreement on critical issues from the electoral process to resource sharing, two regions suspended cooperation with the centre. Hope for a peaceful transition in Sudan after President Bashir’s ouster is fading fast.

In May, the ruling military council resisted pressure to hand over authority to civilians and soldiers twice reportedly opened fire on protesters.

Violence could rise in June; already clashes erupted when security forces tried to clear a sit-in protest from outside the defence ministry in Khartoum. In neighbouring Chad, inter-ethnic attacks spiked in the east, and militia violence rose in the Central African Republic.

Suspected jihadists ramped up attacks in western Niger near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso, killing several civilians and dozens of soldiers.

After disputed elections in Benin, security forces clashed with opposition protesters in the economic capital Cotonou, reportedly leaving at least seven dead.

Both the government and opposition hardened their positions, prompting fears that violence could worsen in June. Neighbouring Togo’s parliament voted through constitutional changes that could see President Gnassingbé, in power since 2005, stay until 2030, much to the opposition’s ire.

In Guinea-Bissau, President Vaz continued to resist pressure from the ruling party to name a new Prime Minister after the March elections and allow the formation of a government.

Thousands took to the streets to protest, and there are fears security forces could forcibly suppress further protests, especially around the end of Vaz’s term on 23 June.

In Sri Lanka, the fallout from the Easter Sunday terror attacks continued as intercommunal tensions and anti-Muslim violence increased, with hundreds of Muslim businesses, homes and mosques damaged or burned during attacks by Sinhala Buddhist extremist groups. In Europe, tensions rose within Kosovo and between Kosovo and Serbia after a police raid on organised crime suspects in the Serb-majority north.

In Honduras, political tensions flared as protests continued against the government’s planned health and education reforms, leading to violent clashes between protesters and the police.

Talks between Nicaragua’s government and opposition stalled, with fears that the political crisis could worsen in June as the agreed deadline for the government to release political prisoners expires, and the country faces expulsion from the Organization of American States.