🌍 Ukraine bill passes US Senate

Plus: global defence spending takes off

Hi Intriguer. A friend recently described Intrigue as the “anti rabbit hole”: we scurry down them so you don’t have to, re-emerging all sooty and bleary-eyed, clutching a nugget of what you really need to know.

It’s no easy task - we’re trying to prove to the world that you don’t need to be polarising, political, or pandering to succeed. So if you think it’s worth your time, we’d love it if you’d consider sharing Intrigue with a friend.

To say thanks, we’ve got a few treats in store - our first is revealed below, following today’s top story on why the world is watching Congress.

- Jeremy Dicker, Managing Editor

Was this forwarded to you? We're a team of ex-diplomats producing a concise and engaging geopolitical briefing for 85k+ leaders each day. It’s free to subscribe.

TODAY’S NEWS

Indonesians head to the polls. Voters in the world’s fourth-most populous country have headed to the polls today (Wednesday local time) to elect their next president and other lawmakers. Prabowo Subianto, a former general, has taken an early lead. He must win over 50% to avoid a run-off election in June. You can check out our special edition on Indonesia’s elections here.

Ukraine sinks Russian landing ship. Ukraine’s intelligence directorate has announced the country has used a naval drone attack to hit the Caesar Kunikov, a Russian amphibious ship. The vessel is the second Black Sea ship to be hit by Ukraine in the span of a month.

Pakistan parties agree on coalition. Two military-aligned parties have agreed to form a coalition government which excludes the allies of jailed former leader and cricket superstar Imran Khan. The two coalition parties came in second and third (after Khan’s movement) in last week’s general election.

US inflation looking sticky. The consumer price index was up 3.1% in January from a year ago, more than what most economists expected. With inflation looking persistent and rate cuts therefore looking less imminent, the news triggered a drop in US stocks and bonds yesterday (Tuesday).

Republicans impeach homeland security secretary. The House has voted narrowly to impeach homeland security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, accusing him of refusing to enforce US border laws. The move, which followed an unsuccessful attempt last week, makes Mayorkas the first sitting cabinet secretary to be impeached. The charges against him are expected to be rejected in the Senate, where conviction would require a two-thirds majority.

TOP STORY

The world watches as major US aid package moves to the House for a showdown

Canva AI prompt: The world is watching the US

After a bruising five months of negotiations, the US Senate passed a $95B aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan just before sunrise on Tuesday (local time), in a 70-29 vote.

The bill, which now needs to pass the House, includes support for Ukraine's defence against Russia, Israel's conflict with Hamas, regional efforts to deter aggression by China, and humanitarian aid for Palestinians and Ukrainians.

By today's standards, the vote was remarkably bipartisan, with leaders backing it for similar reasons: the Senate minority leader said it's about rebuilding the US military and restoring US credibility, while the majority leader said Moscow, Tehran, and Beijing will “act accordingly” if the US fails to defend its allies.

In passing the bill, the Senate overcame two main objections: 26 senators argued the US should focus more on priorities back home, and another three objected to aiding Israel given the death toll in Gaza.

So what happens next?

That's for the House to decide:

  • The Speaker (Mike Johnson) can decide there’ll be no vote at all

  • If he calls a vote and it passes, it goes to President Biden for signature

  • If the House instead rejects the bill, we’re back to square one

  • Or the House could split the bill and send its parts back to the Senate (though the Senate first combined them to push it all through), and

  • Some have even flagged the possibility of using a 'discharge petition' to bypass the Speaker and force a House vote, though this rare move would need serious bipartisan buy-in

So for now, it’ll come down to whether Speaker Johnson puts the bill to a vote. There’ve only been a handful of modern instances where such a bipartisan Senate bill hasn’t gone to a House vote, and Johnson himself has previously backed the bill’s ideas. If this bill went to a vote, there’s a solid chance it’d pass.

But in his initial statement after the Senate vote, Johnson gave a pretty strong indication he won’t bring the bill to a House vote because it “fails to address America’s border crisis”. The Hill also points out that if he brings the Senate bill to a vote, he risks “a revolt from conservatives; a bid to end his Speakership”.

Whatever happens, the current legislative schedule means we might not have any answers until the end of February, or later.

INTRIGUE’S TAKE

This Senate Bill is trying to do a few things at the same time: ensure Putin’s invasion of Ukraine fails, deter China from attempting something similar on Taiwan, and send a message generally that rumours of America’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

So, what we’re watching play out in Congress is really about how the US sees itself in the 21st century. For most of our lifetimes, the US has seen the value in upholding the post-WWII order it helped build (and yes, which it’s also undermined).

But the costs of upholding that order are now higher than ever. At the same time, for those countries that want to maintain the current world order, the costs of the US pulling up its drawbridge are now higher than ever, too.

So leaders from Kyiv to Canberra and Tokyo to Taipei will be watching what the House does and, we suspect, hoping Churchill was right when he reflected on similar frustrations from WWII: “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.

Also worth noting:

  • An earlier bipartisan Senate bill last week included major border reforms, but was voted down by its original Republican backers after the party's presidential frontrunner (former president Donald Trump) opposed it.

SUPPORTED BY MONEYPICKLE

Talk To An Advisor You Can Trust, For Free

Why do less than 32% of investors go to a financial advisor?

Many reasons: It’s difficult to know if you can trust them or if they’re just shilling you expensive financial products.

  • Not every advisor is the right fit for you, and finding the perfect one has always been the hardest part.

That was before - today, there’s Money Pickle, which matches you with top financial professionals through an easy, fast, and free process.

  • Need second opinions on major decisions? Is it time to delegate your finances to someone you can trust? Their network of vetted advisors are ready to help.

Third-party advisors at Money Pickle can even assist you in going over your investments, estate, or retirement planning, all through a convenient video call.

MEANWHILE, ELSEWHERE…

  1. 🇯🇵 Japan: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is reportedly intensifying efforts to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve key issues, like the release of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 80s. The last meeting between Japanese and North Korean leaders was 20 years ago. 

  2. 🇦🇹 Austria: New figures show Austria’s dependence on Russian gas has increased over the past two years, from 80% to 98% of the country’s total gas imports. The country’s energy minister has conceded that the “diversification of our gas imports is progressing far too slowly”. 

  3. 🇹🇭 Thailand: Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra will soon walk free after his parole was granted, just six months after his return from exile in the UAE. A polarising figure in Thai politics, he was arrested on various corruption-related charges after returning home in August. 

  4. 🇺🇸 US: Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has cancelled his upcoming trip to Europe to meet NATO counterparts after being hospitalised for complications linked to prostate cancer. Austin had previously been criticised for keeping an earlier hospitalisation from the White House. 

  5. 🇲🇼 Malawi: Malawi has lifted visa restrictions for visitors from 79 countries as a tourism-boosting measure. It’s part of a broader trend we’re seeing in Africa, after Kenya and Rwanda moved last year to grant visa-free arrival to African nationals.

WHICH LANGUAGE WILL KICKSTART YOUR CAREER?

As a team of former diplomats and general international relations enthusiasts, we know how important learning an extra language can be - not just for your professional success, but also for the sheer fun and adventure it brings.

Still, it can be hard to know which language to choose. So we’re breaking it down for you in our latest special edition - only accessible to subscribers.

Read up, share it with friends, and let us know which language you would (or already did!) choose. It’s never too late to start 👊

REPORT OF THE DAY

Ukrainian troops fire at Russian positions on the frontline in the Donbas region. Credits: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images. 

Global defence spending rose 9% to $2.2T last year, according to a report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. 

And the British think tank believes this trend will only continue as we head into “what is likely to be a more dangerous decade, characterized by the brazen application by some of military power to pursue claims — evoking a ‘might is right’ approach — as well as the desire among like-minded democracies for stronger bilateral and multilateral defence ties in response”.

Anyway… how’s your week going?

Yesterday’s poll: Which is the closest city to you?

🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩🟩 🇺🇸 Washington DC (29%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇮🇳 New Delhi (1%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇯🇵 Tokyo (1%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇲🇽 Mexico City (6%)

🟨🟨🟨🟨⬜️⬜️ 🇺🇸 New York (22%)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇬🇧 London (12%)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇫🇷 Paris (10%)

⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇳🇬 Lagos (1%)

🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ 🇦🇺 Sydney (5%)

🟨🟨⬜️⬜️⬜️⬜️ ✍️ Other (write in!) (111)

Your two cents:

  • ✍️ K.G: “Culturally, geographically, financially, or linguistically?”

  • Honourable mentions: Ottawa, Miami, Budapest, Dallas, Montreal, LA, Berlin, Brussels, Dubai, Chicago, Johannesburg, Santiago, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Cairo, and Dublin.

Thanks for your responses! We’re cooking up some ways to connect with Intriguers around the world, so it helps to know where y’all are at 🙏🌎

Join the conversation

or to participate.