This month's security bulletin focuses on:
- Middle East
- The unknown
The ongoing situation in Middle East with the regional powers jockeying for position has been a dominant feature of the year for me. Whilst it hasn’t really impacted travel safety in any meaningful way the potential remains whilst Iran agitates and acts through its proxies for things to escalate quickly. The threat to shipping remains – it is a relatively easy way for Iran to make a big impact through the world’s media. The potential for issues from Tehran supported groups (especially those in Yemen and Iraq) also endures. Add into the mix the still unresolved situation in Syria, the involvement of the Iranian affiliated Hezbollah and resultant reactions from Israel and the potential for escalation is still present. Turkey seems to be becoming more directly involved, especially since the US withdrawal from N. Syria and this dynamic will be increasingly important in the coming months.
Since the middle of the year Hong Kong has been experiencing ongoing unrest – although initially aimed at disputing a controversial extradition bill, they have morphed into a more general pro-democracy/ universal suffrage movement. At times the protests have impacted travel – with international flights being affected when the airport is occupied. Generally, however, travellers and citizens have been able to go about their business un-impeded so long as they avoided protest areas. For the time being the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has avoided getting too directly involved in the protests, although rumours of the Peoples Liberation Army personnel being inserted into the Hong Kong police persist. The question is how long the PRC will allow the situation to continue before it decides it has lost too much face and directly intervenes.
Protests more generally have been a feature yet again this year. Bolivia witnessing a regime change as a result of protests following the election results. The demonstrations in Peru did not have the same political impact but were severe enough that a number of business travellers did evacuate the country. Around the world there have been other protests that all have the potential to disrupt business travel as well as pose direct danger to individuals. Staying abreast of the media and the local situation can help in these situations, but also having plans in place to react if events develop quickly can be equally important.
As always there have also been the unforeseen events. It is worth bearing in mind that things will happen that come as a shock and that no amount of planning for can ever be sufficient. Robust, clear and simple crisis management plans, with clear communication and escalation procedures will give you a framework within which to act when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Examples of this for me in 2019 include the Ethiopia Airways 787-800 MAX crash in March and the volcanic eruption on White Island in New Zealand. Terror incidents, such as the recent stabbings on London Bridge in the UK will continue to be a threat and there is still a sense that we may have more to come with returning fighters from Syria.
It is not all doom and gloom though – Ukraine and Russia seem to be making progress on the situation in the Donbass region, firstly with a prisoner exchange and more recently with further talks and agreement to exchange all remaining captives by the end of the year. Whilst difficult questions over the region’s status remain to be answered the developments are a positive sign.