By bus to Baghdad

International crises are like London buses, it seems. You wait ages for one and then a whole load arrives all at once.

The last few months have seen a dizzying succession of problems that have grabbed international attention. We have seen the proliferation of al-Qaida franchises in North and East Africa, the military take-over in Egypt, political chaos and violence in Libya, the annexation of Crimea by Russia, the mass kidnapping of school girls in northern Nigeria, rising tensions between China and its neighbours in the South China Sea, the use of chemical weapons in Syria and now the rapid territorial expansion in Iraq by ISIS and the proclamation of a self-declared caliphate straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. No wonder that a recent survey by Barclays Bank rated geo-politics as the number one concern for international investors. [Read more...]

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A tale of two nations

The past few weeks have pushed Nigeria’s capacity for stark juxtaposition to new heights. Just as its economy leapfrogged South Africa’s to become the largest in Africa and the World Economic Forum gathered in Abuja, more than 200 school girls are kidnapped by Boko Haram, whose leader then posted a distressing video laughing at their likely and grisly fate. [Read more...]

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Indonesia calls the shots

By Angela Mancini, Managing Director, Control Risks New York

I distinctly remember packing up my small apartment in Kemang, doing one final, weekend yoga retreat in the hills outside Jakarta and leaving Indonesia to move back to New York. Back then, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, or “SBY” as he’s known, was a newly elected, popular reformist president leading a strong anti-corruption drive. His top economic and development priorities were improving infrastructure, tackling corruption and attracting Western FDI.

That was then. Now with a husband and toddler twins, and much less time for yoga, I am packing up an even smaller apartment in Manhattan and preparing to move back to Asia –  this time to Singapore – to lead Control Risks’ account management team in the Southeast Asia region. [Read more...]

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Would The Real Vladimir Putin Please Step Forward

It is reported that the young Vladimir Putin was described by his KGB trainers as having “a reduced sense of danger.” It is hard to know if this is a genuine verbatim quote from his mentors alarmed at the apparent reckless potential of the young Soviet spy or if it has been retro-fitted into his biography by modern-day Kremlin spin doctors to reinforce the image of President Putin as the hard man of international politics.

Either way, it—usefully for the Russian leadership—implies a character that is cut from a different cloth than his adversaries in the West and one not to be underestimated when it comes to the brutal business of bringing Ukraine back into the fold.

What is apparent from the drama over Ukraine is how little U.S. and European leaders seem to have a clear sense of President Putin. Is he a master tactician with a powerful determination to restore Russian power and pride or is he more a superb improviser with deft crisis management skills? He evidently enjoys and excels at this type of raw knuckle politics but beyond the nationalist rhetoric does he have a coherent plan to fulfil a restoration of Russia’s status? And how far will he go to in defending what he sees as the legitimate right of Russia to defend its interests? [Read more...]

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Letter from Baku: the City of Winds in the Land of Fire

By Tim Stanley, Market Director, Control Risks Russia

There’s something slightly unreal about arriving in Baku. The trip from the airport sets the scene. For starters, there’s the taxi fleet – London-style cabs painted regal purple, by decree of the First Lady. Faux medieval crenellations line the velvet-smooth airport highway; closer to town they yield to the fluid lines and gleaming white tiles of what looks like an Azerbaijani space centre but is, in fact, the Heydar Aliev Centre, a cultural complex designed by celebrity architect Zaha Hadid.

Surveying it all from posters and statues across the land is the silent-movie star visage of Aliev himself, the former President and founder of the modern state. This is Alice in Wonderland meets Ali Baba. [Read more...]

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Big Macs and Banh Mi

Dane Chamorro, Managing Director, South-east Asia, Control Risks

I walked past Paul, the French bakery, in Jakarta this past week and noted that at 5pm, it was packed to the gills with well-off Indonesians enjoying themselves. Granted, this was arguably Jakarta’s most upscale mall (a property owned by a notorious businessman), but it is emblematic of how Southeast Asia’s emerging economies are proving fertile ground for Western consumer brands.  [Read more...]

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BRICs, MINTs and the Winter Olympics

Charles Hecker, Global Research Director, Global Risk Analysis, Control Risks

Dissecting risk as a career brings with it certain professional pitfalls. One of them is to think that the world is constantly on the verge of calamitous change. This temptation must be held strongly in check. There are only so many times you can say the sky is falling. Most of the time, it’s not.  [Read more...]

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Super-hero politics – Britain’s search for a world role continues.

Earlier this week, I watched American television news break the story of the Iranian nuclear agreement. A few hours and a transatlantic flight later and I watched the same story reported in the British media. I had to stop and check that I was watching the same events. In the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry was alone in bestriding the globe bringing the possibility of peace in the Middle East a step nearer; only his lack of a mask and cape denying him full superhero status.  [Read more...]

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No Man is an Island.

In an idle moment this morning, I was browsing the sale particulars for the Isle of Wiay, a deserted island in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Pretty soon I was making mental plans of how I would restore the dilapidated croft, build a jetty and where I would position the wind turbine to avoid spoiling the extraordinary contours of the landscape.

This is what happens after a week in Shanghai. It is not just the scale of Shanghai that is overwhelming; it is the knowledge that this city is now just one of many mega-cities that have sprung up right across China. Just thinking about how this densely populated corner of this massive city is replicated across this vast land is exhausting and makes a depopulated island perched in the Atlantic on the edge of the European land mass seem quite alluring.

Each time I come here I am staggered by the sheer enormity of what it must take to run this country particularly because the stakes are so high. Keeping the Chinese economy growing, making major structural adjustments and meeting the material aspirations of the population is not just a domestic political imperative for the Chinese Communist Party. We all now depend on Chinese success given the extent to which China has become such an integrated and vital component of the global economy. [Read more...]

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All Spaced Out

I wonder what it felt like to be an astronaut aboard the NASA-managed International Space Station when the news came through that the US Federal Government was closing down due to the Congressional impasse over the budget.

“Don’t worry folks. Keep orbiting. Try not to break anything and we’ll be back in a week or two.” You hope these were not the parting words from the scientists at Mission Control as they along with thousands of other federal workers headed home while the politicians in Washington DC remain deadlocked in near-mortal combat.

This is not a good advert for democracy (or indeed space travel) and makes the task of promoting democratic values in the Middle East and elsewhere all the more difficult. With the Russians calling the shots over Syria and the president having to cancel a planned visit to the APEC Forum to stay home and try and sort out the mess, it has been a bad week for Brand America on the world stage. [Read more...]

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