The threat spectrum

Planet A

Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica have pledged to protect reefs and marine biodiversity by connecting their individual protected marine territories into a single ‘Eastern Tropical Pacific Maritime Corridor’. This fishing-free ocean highway will span more than 500,000 square kilometres from the Galapagos to the Pacific coast of Central America. The area contains crucial migratory routes for rare and endangered turtles, sharks, rays and whales.

This is the first time nations with adjoining maritime borders have combined their protected territories in this way. It brings a new approach to conservation that encompasses the migratory movement of marine species rather than piecemeal protection.

The move supports a UK-led COP26 initiative to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 and will help preserve local marine biodiversity by curbing illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Thriving ocean ecosystems play an important role in mitigating climate change, as they can remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere four times faster than terrestrial forests.

Democracy watch

Protestors across major Polish cities have rallied under the slogan ‘not one more’ after the death of a 30-year-old woman, identified only as Izabela, from sepsis, which they say resulted from the country’s near-total ban on abortion. A controversial court ruling last year gave Poland some of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, sparking the ‘women’s strike’, the country’s largest protest since the fall of communism. Under the authoritarian and staunchly Catholic ruling Law and Justice Party, even harsher abortion laws are on the cards that would remove exceptions for rape, incest and endangerment of the mother.

Izabela’s family believes that potentially life-saving care was withheld because doctors feared breaking the restrictive law. Women’s rights activists have claimed that doctors in Poland ‘now wait for a fetus with severe defects to die in the womb rather than perform an abortion’.

The steady erosion of women’s, LGBTQ and minority rights in Poland has violated core EU membership principles, increasing the likelihood of EU sanctions.

Information operations

Ukraine’s State Security Service (SSU) has revealed the technical and tactical details of cyber espionage group Gamaredon and identified five of its members as operatives of the Crimean branch of Russia’s intelligence agency. The SSU says Gamaredon is responsible for more than 5,000 cyberattacks on Ukrainian state entities, including targeted cyber intelligence operations on security and military institutions and attempts to take control of critical infrastructure facilities.

While Gamaredon’s targets also include entities in the United States, Canada and India, the group has a long record of attacking Ukrainian targets. The SSU’s technical report will allow analysts to attribute cyberattacks to the group while also temporarily reducing the operational effectiveness of Russian state hackers by limiting their toolkits.

The report comes amid talks of deepening Ukraine–NATO relations and as the Kremlin ramps up pressure on Kyiv in response by sending Russian forces to the Ukrainian border. Ukraine’s leaders likely hope the report’s findings will help defend against cyber intrusions as the potential for conflict escalates.

Follow the money

China and Russia have introduced a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council calling for the easing of sanctions on North Korea. Predictions of famine in the isolated country become increasingly dire after pandemic restrictions and a series of typhoons depleted the country’s food supplies. The resolution proposes sanctions relief on ‘agricultural products, seafood, textiles and oil products’ to improve the quality of life of North Korean civilians.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has compared the situation to the infamous ‘March of Suffering’ in the 1990s, when perhaps millions of North Koreans starved to death. The UN estimates that North Korea’s food supplies are two to three months’ short coming into winter. The DPRK has responded to the crisis by sending in the army to gather the remaining harvest. In a sign of desperation, culinary shows on state-run television are offering recipes using potatoes instead of the usual staples of rice and flour.

This latest UN resolution is unlikely to find the necessary support in the Security Council, and it’s likely that Russia and China will have to provide food to ease the crisis.

North Korea’s food woes have also highlighted the role of climate change. The country is among Asia’s fastest warming with a 1.9°C rise between 1918 and 2000.

Terror byte

Last week, Islamic State Khorasan (IS-K) claimed responsibility for an attack on Afghanistan’s biggest military hospital that killed 19 people and wounded 43. Rising tensions between IS-K and the Taliban government in Afghanistan have led some to suggest that the terror movement poses a serious threat to the new regime.

Since the Taliban’s capture of the country following the withdrawal of the US and its allies in September, the group’s leader, Haibatullah Akhunzada, has warned of undercover operatives in its ranks ‘working against the will of the government’.

IS-K has carried out numerous attacks, including the bombings of a Kandahar mosque and the Kabul airport. Now tasked with maintaining the nation’s security, Taliban forces have been especially challenged with protecting civilians and fending off insurgencies. However, the relationship between the two groups is murky, and Qatari officials suspect the Taliban of using IS-K as a bargaining chip for greater international aid. It has even been suggested that IS-K’s resurgence could force Western military intervention alongside the Taliban to protect Afghans.