The Week Ahead: 7-13 January 2018

The Week Ahead: 7-13 January 2018

North and South Korea prepare for Olympic talks. Iran protests raise more questions. Consumer Electronic Show lights up Vegas. U.S. budget showdown looms. All in The Week Ahead. 

North and South Korea: Olympic talks approach

  • This Tuesday, the North and South Korean governments are slated to communicate in Panmunjom, a city on the southern edge of South Korea that served as the location of the Korean Armistice in 1953. The main purpose of the talks is to ensure North Korea’s Olympic delegation will be able to travel to Pyeong Chang in South Korea for the Winter Olympics in early February.
  • North Korea has been adamant about participating in the Winter Olympics, and South Korea has been open to North Korean participation. The South Korean government’s department of reunification has indicated that although the topic of discussion will be coordinating North Korea’s participation in the games, the two sides are also slated to discuss other issues.
  • The US has also responded by postponing a joint military exercise in South Korea, and other countries have been relatively cautious in their approach.

GRI take: The prospect of the Olympics was very likely a motivating factor in the last quarter’s escalation on both sides, jockeying for position in potential talks. If North Korea achieves its goal of inclusion in the Winter Olympics, further talks are certainly possible, and Kim’s regime has recently called for “peaceful resolution of its Southern border”. Notably however, this does not carry implications for relations with the US or for the nuclear programme, which will most likely continue to be a source of tension and potential escalation.

Iran: Protests begin to ebb – but what’s next?

  • This week, the Iran protests are likely to continue, though with a rise in casualties as government agents respond to protestors with deadly force, the protests may begin to subside. In contrast to previous contemporary protests in Iran, like the Green Revolution in 2009 that specifically arose from political issues related to specific events – in that case, the likely fraudulent reelection victory of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – these protests appear to have been principally motivated by opposition to the regime itself. This is notable, in part due to the specific focus on the structure of the regime, but also because the opposition that has arisen both to the current president Rouhani and Supreme Leader Khamenei spans Iran’s political spectrum.
  • Over 1,000 people have been arrested, and many have indicated that the reform agenda that President Rouhani had presented in his election campaign has been for naught, as recent budget plans released in mid-December indicated a reduction in support for programs that focus on the poor, while maintaining the budget for security forces and expanding it substantially for religious institutions that are not required to be financially accountable.

GRI take: While President Rouhani’s economic policies undoubtedly played a role, much of the ire is focused on the regime itself and its supreme leader, coming up with a suitable response will be extremely difficult for the government. With the position of the supreme leader seemingly unyielding, it remains to be seen what action the president will take to ameliorate the issues presented by protesters. One of the largest takeaways for President Rouhani is that his reputation as a reformer or “moderate” within the Iranian regime may no longer be taken seriously by a wide swathe of Iranians he would need to support his administration and reelection bid.

Technology: Consumer Electronic Show brings world technology experts and entrepreneurs to Vegas

  • This Tuesday, tech leaders from around the world will converge on Las Vegas, Nevada for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. The week-long event is likely to host nearly 200,000 attendees, and will include events hosted by nearly every major technology firm: Amazon, IBM, Alibaba, Google, Facebook, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Apple, LG, and Samsung.
  • The CES, which can only be attended by members of the consumer electronic industry, government officials, and media, has been used as a launching point for past innovations among large firms, and a proving ground for smaller companies gearing up to introduce new products to the market.
  • Each year, the event also usually plays host to one major company’s substantial investments, a reflection of the company’s goal to play a more prominent role in a certain technology space. Last year, it was Amazon with a major push to advancing its Alexa home devices. This year, the major market promoter appears to be Google.

GRI take: This year’s show is likely to highlight technology’s expansive role in other industries, with major displays focused on digital and smart medical devices, home smart devices, artificial intelligence for vehicles, and virtual reality devices. Following Amazon’s push last year, Google will be promoting its own smart device, Google Home, as part of its broader approach to develop an umbrella ecosystem of tech goods to compete with Apple’s established ecosystem of consumer electronics and Amazon’s push to enter that space.

United States: budget talks continue as discussions of president’s mental stability roil Washington

  • This week, budget talks will continue between senior Democratic and Republican leaders on a longer-term budget plan — or at least one that lasts beyond the 2018 Congressional elections in November. Several sticking points remain, though there are two in particular that will be difficult to overcome.
  • Meanwhile, questions continue to surface on President Trump’s mental stability and capacity to hold office. After revelations from an explosive book that the president was unstable, that staff handled him delicately or avoided him in tense situations, that he doesn’t read or even really process information that rests outside his gut instincts, the president responded on twitter by noting he was “like, really smart” and that he was a “stable genius”.

GRI take: The first contentious point is determining the level of spending that will be allocated to defense and non-defense spending. Current rules require that both defense and non-defense spending be cut, but conservatives are calling for an increase only in defense spending and Democrats are calling for an increase in both. The second is finding a legislative solution for the undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, often referred to as Dreamers. Democrats and liberal pressure groups have made offering formal protection from deportation to Dreamers as a top goal in their negotiations, particularly as President Trump rescinded the protections made under the Obama administration and tens of thousands will be subject to possible deportation by the summer.

About Author

Brian Daigle

Brian is an energy and Latin America researcher at a political consulting firm in Washington, D.C. He is a London School of Economics (LSE) graduate in political science and political economy, where he focused on trade and transatlantic relations. Brian received his dual BA in political science and history at the University of California-San Diego.