The threat spectrum

Planet A

Climate security must become a higher priority for Australia in the region, says former Australian Defence Force chief and current executive member of the Australian Security Leaders Climate Group Chris Barrie. Barrie recommends creating a new Pacific climate security initiative to facilitate regional re-engagement, particularly after the Solomon Islands alarmed Australia and its allies by signing a security agreement with China.

Barrie has issued similar statements in the past, recommending a new climate security partnership between Pacific nations and partners like Australia. Climate change has long been considered a significant issue in the region. In 2018, the Pacific Islands Forum adopted the Boe Declaration, which expanded the concept of security to include environmental security.

Barrie provides a couple of examples about what should be included in such an initiative, such as more money for the UN Green Climate fund. While a climate security package would be welcomed by Pacific leaders, it would also need to include economic aid and proposals to handle climate-change-related people movement.

Democracy watch

As the Philippines’ presidential and vice-presidential election campaigns enter the final days before the vote on 9 May, polling suggests that the Bongbong Marcos – Sara Duterte ticket will likely win, with a 36.5% lead over the nearest rival, Vice-President Maria Robredo. Marcos and Duterte both claim political pedigrees—Bongbong is the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Sara is the daughter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte.

The election has been described by some analysts as a vote on the future of democracy in the Philippines democracy, with the Marcos–Duterte ticket embracing a revisionist, authoritarian platform and centre-left challenger Robredo promising government reform. Campaigning has been mired in widespread disinformation, tracing back to narratives of Robredo having ‘stolen’ the vice-presidency from Marcos in the 2016 election.

Southeast Asia’s authoritarian backsliding in recent years has dimmed the optimism of the early 2000s that rising economies would lead to the strengthening of democracy. A Marcos victory in the region’s second most populous country would be a further setback for democratic norms.

Information operations

The US Department of Homeland Security has unveiled its new disinformation governance board tasked with monitoring and advising on disinformation campaigns of state and non-state actors. Ironically, the board has itself been the target of disinformation, with critics saying it was set up to suppress the speech of US citizens.

The board has no operational authority and is primarily a bureaucratic instrument to assist the department’s efforts to counter disinformation. The timing of this announcement also coincides with a broader discussion on the limits of freedom of expression. Elon Musk recently escalated his ‘free speech crusade’ by moving to acquire Twitter and signalling his intention to limit its content moderation policies.

There’s a growing awareness of the vulnerability of liberal democracies to foreign and domestic disinformation campaigns, as anti-democratic actors weaponise people’s commitment to liberal values. The issue of what to do about disinformation continues to be hotly debated and will likely feature prominently in the US midterm elections in November.

Follow the money

The European Union is preparing a sixth package of sanctions against Russia for its war in Ukraine, including a proposal for an oil embargo.

Germany, which was initially reluctant to support strong energy sanctions, has now come out in favour of them, but says it requires a ‘few months’ to adapt its infrastructure before ending all crude oil shipments from Russia. Countries that border Russia or Ukraine, like the Baltic states and Poland, have advocated immediately blocking Russian oil imports. Hungary and Slovakia have said they will not back the embargo, but it’s possible they could receive an exemption or extension of time to avoid a veto on the measures.

For weeks, such a ban has been considered pivotal to depriving the Russian war machine of money to sustain the invasion. However, some have urged caution, saying it could contribute to a regional recession.

Terror byte

In an internal memo to member states, the EU Council’s French presidency warned that the ‘online presence of right-wing violent extremist groups has been continuously rising, since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic’. The memo said that most potential attackers were loners, and the time spent in isolation due to pandemic restrictions could exacerbate mental health problems.

The pandemic’s impact on terrorism and counterterrorism is a growing concern in the EU. Isolation and disruption to people’s daily lives has increased susceptibility to radicalisation, and terrorists are linking extremist propaganda and recruitment material with Covid-19-related posts.

To respond to these concerns, a new regulation addressing the dissemination of terrorist content online will come into force on 7 June in the EU. The regulation recognises the major threat posed by far-right terrorists to European security. However, social media takedown policies may not be effective since much of this material has migrated to encrypted messaging systems like Telegram, which are much harder to police.