Adrian Olivier,

Sunday 12 November – Sunday 19 November:

Over the weekend, almost all of the Icelandic fishing town of Grindavik’s 3,800 inhabitants were evacuated. The village is located in the Reykjanes Peninsula, where there has been intense volcanic activity since October.  The Reykjanes Peninsula sits above two tectonic plates that are being pulled apart. The strain that builds up is released in bursts as part of a centuries-long cycle. It is expected that there will be a series of eruptions in the area for the next 200 to 500 years following a period of inactivity that has lasted between 600 and 1,200 years. In preparation for the impending eruptions, Icelandic authorities said they were preparing to construct a large dyke designed to divert lava flows around the Svartsengi geothermal power plant, located just over six kilometres from Grindavik. “Time’s finally up,” said Edward W. Marshall, a researcher at the University of Iceland’s Nordic Volcanological Center. “We can get ready for another few hundred years of eruptions on the Reykjanes.” Seismic activity began increasing in the south of the peninsula in October, with hundreds of earthquakes recorded there each day. 

On Sunday, American Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met with South Korean President Yoon, who said he was pleased with the increased security consultations with Washington over the North Korean threat. The Secretary was in Seoul for annual security talks with South Korean military officials, including Defense Minister Shin Won-sik, which were focused on boosting nuclear deterrence against North Korea. They also talked about how the allies could coordinate over broader geopolitical issues, including Russia’s war on Ukraine and China’s regional assertiveness. During their Security Consultative Meeting, Austin and Shin signed a new version of their countries’ Tailored Deterrence Strategy agreement, which was revised for the first time in a decade to address the growing threat of the North’s military nuclear program. Shin said the new document spells out that the United States would mobilize its full range of military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend the South in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack. He also said the document will provide a template for the allies to strategize how South Korea could assist U.S. nuclear operations in such events with its conventional capabilities but didn’t elaborate further. 

On Monday, The United States and South Korea on Monday updated a bilateral security agreement with the aim of more effectively countering North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. The move followed high-level military talks in Seoul, where the allies also discussed enhancing three-way defense exercises with Japan and improving information-sharing on North Korean missile launches. Ahead of the inaugural defence ministerial meetings on Tuesday between South Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command member states, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Monday criticised the planned meeting, calling it a “dangerous scheme to ignite a new war of aggression” against the North.

On Monday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak appointed former prime minister David Cameron as Britain’s new foreign secretary. The move came as a surprise and as part of Sunak’s major government reshuffle as he tries to improve the Conservative Party’s standing in opinion polling. It marks the first post-war example of a former prime minister serving in a successor’s Cabinet since the 1970s, when Conservative Alec Douglas-Home was named foreign secretary in Ted Heath’s government. The Labour Party accused Sunak of using the ex-PM as a “life raft.” Home Secretary Suella Braverman, a key figure on the party’s right was fired. James Cleverly, previously the foreign secretary, has taken over from Braverman at the interior ministry. In a statement following his appointment, Cameron said the U.K. would “stand by our allies, strengthen our partnerships and make sure our voice is heard.” And he added: “Though I may have disagreed with some individual decisions, it is clear to me that Rishi Sunak is a strong and capable prime minister, who is showing exemplary leadership at a difficult time. I want to help him to deliver the security and prosperity our country needs and be part of the strongest possible team that serves the United Kingdom and that can be presented to the country when the general election is held.” 

On Tuesday, Xi Jinping arrived in San Francisco for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. This is the first time Xi has been to the U.S. in six years. When asked by a reporter on Wednesday if Biden still believed Xi was a dictator, Biden answered that he was. “Look, he is. He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country.” Biden’s remarks came after a four-hour session with Xi — the first meeting between the two in a year. China’s foreign ministry denounced Biden’s comment. “This statement is extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters on Thursday. On Thursday President Biden hailed a new economic agreement among 14 Asia Pacific countries aimed at countering China’s regional economic dominance, saying the deal leaders signed at the summit – which is not a formal trade agreement – will address key issues such as future semiconductor shortages by improving supply chain resilience. The summit wrapped up on Friday.

On Wednesday, North Korea announced it had successfully conducted tests of a new solid-fuel engine for its banned intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM), according to state media. The country “has developed new-type high-thrust solid-fuel engines for intermediate ballistic missiles again, which are of important strategic significance,” the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported. “The test provided a sure guarantee for reliably accelerating the development of the new-type IRBM system,” KCNA said, adding that the tests took place on November 11 and 14. Military analysts say solid-fuel missiles are easier and safer to operate, and require less logistical support, making them harder to detect than liquid-fuel weapons. North Korea’s General Missile Bureau said the recent tests were essential for enhancing the strategic offensive capabilities of the military in light of “the grave and unstable security environment facing the country” and the “vicious” collusion of its enemies, KCNA said. The announcement came as a Russian delegation led by Moscow’s natural resources minister Alexander Kozlov was in Pyongyang to hold talks on issues from trade to economy, science and technology.

On Thursday, David Cameron traveled to the Ukrainian port of Odesa in his first overseas trip as Britain’s new foreign minister, and pledged that the U.K. would continue providing military support until Ukraine is victorious in its war with Russia. “I admire the strength and determination of the Ukrainian people,” he told Zelenskyy in a video posted by the president. Cameron said the U.K. would continue to provide moral, economic and diplomatic support “but above all, the military support that you need not just this year and next year but however long it takes.” “A good meeting,” Zelenskyy wrote on Telegram on Thursday. “Weapons for the front, strengthening of air defense, protection of our people and critical infrastructure. I am grateful to the UK for its support!” 

On Thursday, Spanish President Pedro Sánchez won an absolute majority in an investiture vote after agreeing to a controversial amnesty for Catalan separatists. He secured 179 of Spain’s 350 MPs. Sánchez’s party, the Spanish Socialist Workers party (PSOE) and his allies in the leftwing Sumar alliance cobbled together enough support by acceding to the amnesty demands of the two main Catalan pro-independence parties – the pragmatic Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the hardline Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia). The amnesty deal has enraged the rightwing in Spain, with the People’s party (PP) leader, Alberto Núñez Feijóo, saying that “the democratic warning lights” were flashing now that Sánchez had yielded to the independence movement. “We’ll try to work for our country and to recover the sanity that the personal ambition of the man who is now prime minister had led down a blind alley,” he said. A day earlier, Feijóo had launched a scathing attack on Sánchez for agreeing to an amnesty that would include Carles Puigdemont, the Junts leader and self-exiled former Catalan president who masterminded the 2017 attempt to secede before fleeing to Belgium to avoid arrest. “You are the problem,” he said. “You and your inability to keep your word, your lack of moral limits, your pathological ambition. As long as you’re around, Spain will be condemned to division. Your time as prime minister will be marked by Puigdemont returning freely to Catalonia. History will have no amnesty for you.”

On Saturday morning, SpaceX’s Starship lifted off from Boca Chica, Texas. Starship launched on top of a 70 metre tall Super Heavy rocket. About two and half minutes into the flight the two craft separated and the Starship craft fired its own engines. Starship climbed to an altitude of about 150 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, reaching the edge of space. SpaceX, in a statement on X said “The booster experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly shortly after stage separation while Starship’s engines fired for several minutes on its way to space. With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and today’s test will help us improve Starship’s reliability as SpaceX seeks to make life multiplanetary.” 

In the week ahead:

The results of Argentina’s runoff election on Sunday will be released. 

By Editor