Sentinel minutes for week #27/2024

Status:green

Forecasters did not anticipate events spiraling into global catastrophes this week.


Geopolitics

Middle East

Israeli negotiators have expressed optimism about the truce talks with Hamas, which could in turn help to defuse tensions with Hezbollah. In aggregate, forecasters believe that there is a 49% chance (range: 40%-55%) of a temporary or permanent ceasefire between Israel and Hamas before the US Presidential election in November.

In the meantime, however, Israel killed a senior Hezbollah commander in an airstrike as hostilities continue, and Lebanese farmers have accused Israel of using white phosphorus, which international conventions (to which Israel is not party) prohibit. Forecasters give a 30%-65% an Israeli offensive in Lebanon by November (range: 30%-65%). A Polymarket market gives a 30% chance to an Israeli invasion of Lebanon by September, down from heights of 55-65%.

A reformist candidate won the Iranian Presidential election. We highlighted this possibility a couple of weeks ago, but it still comes as a relative surprise. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince has also said that he is keen to bolster ties with Iran following the election result, after tensions between the two countries eased last year following a China-brokered deal to re-establish relations.

The US has imposed new sanctions on Iran due to its nuclear escalations, some of which we also previously covered.

Eastern Europe

The New York Times reports on Ukraine autonomous drones. We raised the topic two weeks ago, and since then one of our forecasters has been reading a book about The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry. The book points out that after a given conflict ends, demobilization means that the supply of former soldiers increases, which spurs conflict elsewhere as some fraction is hired as mercenaries. Similarly, makers of autonomous drones who gained expertise in Ukraine will probably offer their skills in the open market after the war ends.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, which angered some EU leaders who accused him of appeasing Putin.

Putin has also said that Russia should resume production of intermediate and shorter-range nuclear-capable missiles, previously banned under the Cold War-era INF treaty, and then consider where to deploy them. Trump withdrew the United States from the treaty in 2019.

NATO allies, meanwhile, are set to unveil a “bridge to membership” plan for Ukraine at next week’s summit in Washington. This is significant because it was ruled out by NATO states prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As a security guarantee for Ukraine, it could form part of a broader land-for-peace deal to end the conflict. NATO will also announce steps to bolster Kyiv’s air defenses at the summit.

Asia-Pacific

The Indian and Chinese Foreign Ministers met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit. They expressed a willingness to try and resolve the border disputes between their two nuclear-armed countries.

China seized a Taiwanese boat with five crew members on board. The reason given was that illegal fishing was taking place in its territorial waters. Forecasters think that this is exceedingly unlikely to lead to an escalation.

Tensions continue in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines. China continues to send vessels to the Second Thomas Shoal, which the Philippines claims as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). China and the Philippines did hold talks this week, which seem to have de-escalated tensions in the short term; the Philippines also turned down an offer of help from the US. However, China just parked its largest coast guard vessel in the EEZ. The situation does not seem likely to lead to a military escalation in the immediate future but warrants continued monitoring.

Jemaah Islamiyah, a deadly terrorist group in Indonesia, is set to disband:

The decision to disband the organisation, said Jones, was likely driven by several factors including the influence of intellectuals within Jemaah Islamiyah who are less interested in violence, and a cost-benefit analysis on the best way to protect the group’s biggest assets – its schools.

United States

The leader of the pro-Trump Project 2025 says that the United States is set to undergo a new revolution that will be “bloodless if the left allows it to be”, raising the specter of a civil war in the United States. However, forecasters continue to think that a US civil war is unlikely to occur by 2030; in aggregate, they believe there to be a 6% chance (range: 4%-10%) that one will be sparked, which is higher than the annual base rate of approximately 0.5% would suggest.

Project 2025, which Trump claims not to support, also contains plans to shut down the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which could among other things impair the country’s ability to forecast hurricanes, or solar flares. Conditional on a second Trump term, forecasters think it unlikely (21% in aggregate, though with significant disagreement ranging from 8% to 60%) that this would happen.

Biorisk

A fourth US case of highly pathogenic avian influenza was diagnosed in a Colorado dairy farm worker. However, there remains no sign of sustained human-to-human transmission.

Moderna has secured federal funding for a new mRNA vaccine to combat H5N1, as fears of an H5N1 pandemic grow.

Tech

OpenAI was reportedly hacked in 2023. The hacker gained access to the company’ internal messaging system but was not able to access the systems where the company houses and builds its AI.

China has warned that American targeting of AI investments in China is not conducive to the “healthy development” of AI and hinted that it could undermine efforts to govern the safe development and deployment of AI.

Cybersecurity experts met this week to discuss their growing concerns about cyber risks.

Over 2 dozen humanoid robots were showcased at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in China, including one by Tesla.

Misc

A category 5 hurricane formed at the earliest time ever in the season in the Atlantic, highlighting the continued effects of climate change.

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