The threat spectrum

Planet A

Australia’s 2023–24 budget allocates $4 billion to combat the impacts of climate change and turn Australia into a ‘renewable energy superpower’. The commitments include $2 billion in incentives to accelerate the manufacture and export of renewable hydrogen gas and $80.5 million in program support to attract and monitor foreign investment in Australia’s diversifying critical minerals sector. These measures highlight the importance of striking the right balance between industry growth and international engagement.

The budget has been criticised for its lack of further funding for climate support in the Pacific. The Australian Defence Force will share in a $1.4 billion package to bolster cooperation with Pacific island countries on security infrastructure, maritime security, law enforcement and criminal justice. Only modest amounts will be spent on improving regional architecture and humanitarian relief and disaster preparedness. This suggests that there’s more work to be done as Australia looks to increase its international energy competitiveness and address the threats posed by climate change and other emerging security issues.

Democracy watch

Thailand’s election produced a strong expression of voter discontent reflecting a widespread yearning for change and raising questions about the willingness of the military-backed establishment to embrace the sentiment. The election outcome was a political earthquake as prodemocracy parties triumphed over their military-backed counterparts, with the progressive Move Forward party leading the pack. The party campaigned on the once-taboo topic of monarchy reform, a bold move in a country with a strict lèse-majesté law.

Given the military’s substantial influence and historical involvement in political affairs, including coups, any interference carries the risk of street violence and instability. The election outcome was a blow to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former coup leader whose popularity has declined.

Despite Move Forward’s clear majority, the presence of military-appointed senators in the electoral process could hinder the formation of a coalition government. The opposition is confronted with multiple challenges, including the undemocratic framing of the constitution, the need to form a democratic coalition, and the looming possibility of legal action to invalidate the election results.

Information operations

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a 14-second clip during a rally to accuse his rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, of colluding with Kurdish militants. The video purportedly showed Kilicdaroglu rallying his supporters alongside apparent members of the banned PKK. However, it was later revealed that the video was a skilfully edited montage, part of the disinformation campaign that has plagued this crucial election. In response, Kilicdaroglu, running closely with Erdogan, claimed that foreign hackers recruited by Erdogan’s team were preparing deepfakes and manipulated videos to discredit adversaries before the election.

This election has witnessed the weaponisation of misinformation propagated on social media platforms and counterfeit campaign materials. While the country has enacted legislation criminalising the dissemination of fake news, the government hasn’t enforced it during the electoral process. The disinformation campaign has intensified polarisation but it is considered unlikely to significantly sway the outcome. The extent of international involvement in spreading disinformation remains uncertain, with local political factions primarily responsible.

Follow the money

China and Pakistan have agreed to extend the Belt and Road initiative to Afghanistan. The decision to include Afghanistan in the multibillion-dollar project and to extend the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor to it, was included in broader commitments to expand trilateral contribution to boost Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

The BRI’s extension is a win for the Taliban, who have expressed their wish to be included, as they struggle to govern a cash-strapped nation and meet its infrastructure needs. Afghanistan’s central bank’s reserves of US$9 billion have been frozen since 2021. Meanwhile, the UN has estimated that US$4.6 billion is needed to alleviate the dire humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the nation.

As other countries continue to debate whether to engage with the Taliban, China is swiftly moving to fill a gap left by nations once heavily involved in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Earlier this year, the Taliban signed an oil-extraction contract with a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, and other Chinese firms have expressed an interest in investing in the country’s mineral resources, worth an estimated US$1 trillion.

Terror byte

France’s parliament has unanimously passed a non-binding resolution intended to encourage the European Union to register Russia’s Wagner Group on its list of terrorist organisations. In a speech to parliament last week supporting the resolution, MP Benjamin Haddad argued that Wagner wasn’t driven by financial motivations and instead followed ‘a broad strategy, from Mali to Ukraine, of supporting the aggressive policies of President [Vladimir] Putin’s regime’.

The EU’s terrorist list, which is approved by leaders of member countries at regular meetings, comprises 13 people and 21 groups or entities including al-Qaeda and Islamic State. The addition of Wagner Group to the list would allow EU countries to freeze its assets and those of its members. European countries and their citizens would be barred from dealing with the group. Aside from France, the parliaments of Lithuania and Estonia have similarly labelled Wagner a terrorist organisation, and the British government is reportedly planning to follow suit.