Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced his resignation on August 20 just before his deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, was set to trigger a vote of no confidence in their government. Conte’s decision also spells the end for the alliance between his Five Star Movement and Salvini’s Lega (League) party, which formed the current government in June 2018.
Fissures in the unsteady alliance between the two parties emerged in August when Salvini, who also serves as interior minister, called for snap elections following a dispute between the two governing parties over plans for a new high-speed rail line between Turin and the French city of Lyon. The results of the European elections in May also stressed the partnership, as Salvini’s League performed nearly seventeen points better than the Five Star Movement, despite being the junior coalition partner. The League continues to lead opinion polls and could unseat their coalition partners if new elections were held.
Hong Kong has been gripped by a brave protest movement sparked by Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s proposed Extradition Bill, which, though suspended, has yet to be withdrawn. Though protestors have moderate and measured requests, they have been met with the flagrantly irresponsible use of riot control devices such as tear gas in the Kwai Fong metro station. Police have turned a virtual blind eye to attacks on the press and protestors alike in Yuen Long. The protestors’ persistence has called into question whether Beijing might employ force to end the protests, envisioning another Tiananmen Square crackdown, and how Washington should potentially respond.
Since the conclusion of its civil war in 1996, Guatemala has struggled to root out corruption within its public institutions. After prompting by human rights organizations, in December 2006 the United Nations (UN) and the administration of President Oscar Berger finalized terms for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG). Despite the successes of this exemplary anti-corruption initiative, tensions between the CICIG and Guatemalan political elites prompted Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to not extend the commission’s term past its September 3, 2019 expiration date. The election of former prison director Alejandro Giammettei, a vocal CICIG opponent, as the nation’s next president on August 11, 2019 further cemented the UN initiative’s fate. Without a doubt CICIG’s impending departure is a notable blow for regional corruption crusaders. As result of CICIG, however, civil society in Latin American is more determined than ever before to pursue political accountability and champion the fight to address impunity.
With the flurry of investor attention in the world of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impact funds and socially responsible business, the climate-friendly and environmental aspects are front and center. The other facets of ESG—the social and governance elements—are slightly more nebulous, however, and are sometimes forgotten amidst the great green gold rush.
One clear example is the focus on diversity and, specifically, increasing the participation of women in senior corporate management and board governance. Yet, just as there are accusations of “greenwashing” in climate finance, the championing of women can often be viewed as just lip service. To put it bluntly, companies may strategically highlight their token female executive among their top ranks but fail to make much substantive or sustainable change beyond what’s in their marketing material.
Months-long demonstrations in Hong Kong escalated on August 13, when riot police and protestors clashed in Hong Kong’s international airport. Demonstrators began occupying the airport on August 9, the latest move in a protest campaign that began in June. The violent encounters between protestors and riot police could spark a crackdown by Chinese authorities, Atlantic Council resident senior fellow Robert A. Manning said, adding that “this will not end well.”
Recently, US President Donald J. Trump announced that the United States would apply a 10 percent tariff to $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, adding to already existing tariffs. In retaliation, China devalued its currency, prompting the US Treasury Department to officially label China as a currency manipulator. Behind the fiery rhetoric from both camps, China posted its lowest economic growth numbers in twenty-seven years and the US Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the first time since the Great Recession, despite low unemployment and reasonable growth.
The Russo-German Nord Stream gas pipeline projects—Nord Stream I, completed in 2011, and Nord Stream II scheduled to be completed around the end of 2019—are bad projects because they increase European dependence on Russian gas in general, and especially because they give the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin the option of delivering gas to Germany while bypassing other European countries. Putin’s Russia has a track record of using gas exports as political pressure, for example, against Ukraine in the years leading up to Putin’s attack on that country in 2014 and has threatened to do the same to Central European countries, including those in the European Union. Given this, and their long experience on the receiving end of Kremlin ambitions, the Ukrainians, Poles, and Baltic countries are understandably skeptical about energy projects that would extend Putin’s ability to pressure them while simultaneously keeping German gas customers satisfied, which is what Nord Stream gives the Putin regime greater capacity to do.
Even as the US-China trade war proceeds to the next gripping chapter, another trade drama is unfolding between the Trump administration and the US Congress on the fate of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) as a replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The administration missed the opportunity to obtain Congressional approval for USMCA prior to the August break, and House Democrats’ insistence that there be key changes to the agreement before it is taken up remains a central dynamic in its future prospects.
For years, policy makers in Washington have been focused on measures to reduce their European allies’ dependence on natural gas from Russia, from the promise of the Three Seas Initiative to pending bipartisan legislation championed by Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introducing economic sanctions against foreign companies helping construct the controversial Nord Stream II pipeline from Russia to Germany.
Amidst this push, the US House of Representatives and US Senate are preparing for the final conference on the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which will also have an impact on Russia’s export of gas to Europe. The House version of the NDAA contains a floor amendment—the Huffman Amendment— sponsored by Congressman Jared Huffman (D-CA), striking out NDAA legislative language that calls to limit the use of Russian Federation fuels at US defense installations in Germany and other European nations. This amendment works against the goal of US energy policy in Europe that aims to boost energy security and help its allies diversify away from Russian gas.
US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman announced in an August 6 letter to US President Donald J. Trump that he intends to resign from his post effective October 3, 2019.
Huntsman, who has served as the US ambassador in Moscow since October 2017, reportedly told Trump that he had made the decision to leave so he and his wife could “reconnect with our growing family and responsibilities at home.” Huntsman previously served as US ambassador to Singapore from 1992-1993, governor of Utah from 2005–2009, and US ambassador to China from 2009–2011. Huntsman served as chairman of the Atlantic Council from 2014 until his confirmation as ambassador to Russia in 2017.