Tuesday 19 December 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 19/12/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Choppy waters: US Navy sailors and Marines off the coast of Palau

Image: Alamy

Politics / Aleksandra Gadzala Tirziu

Security alarm

The US Senate returned to work this week, having delayed its holiday recess in the hope of reaching an agreement on a key national security funding package before the end of the year. So far, deliberations about the White House’s supplemental funding request have mostly centred on aid to Ukraine and Israel, and on efforts to secure the southern border of the US. The package also includes provisions that, if not passed, could pave the way for Chinese militarisation of the Indo-Pacific region.

Since the 1980s the US has maintained Compacts of Free Association with Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands, collectively called the Freely Associated States (FAS). The compacts grant Washington exclusive military access to the FAS, as well as strategic denial rights. The latter means that foreign forces can enter these states’ territory only if explicitly authorised by the US. In return, America provides them with security, defence and economic assistance.

The pact with Palau is due to expire in September 2024. Those with Micronesia and the Marshall Islands have already technically expired – the latter pacts have been extended to 2 February. Short-term extensions are better than nothing but in the meantime, across the Pacific, China has been asserting its strategic influence. It has built infrastructure, influenced politicians and secured fishing agreements that give its vessels access to FAS waters.

The renewal of the pacts appears to have bipartisan support. Yet, as the Senate continues to deliberate, there’s a chance that it might not get through. If the US steps out of this arena, China will step in, with grave implications for American influence in the Pacific and the region’s wider stability and security. With so much at stake, a Senate holiday can surely wait.

Aleksandra Gadzala Tirziu is the founder of the geopolitical risk and public-affairs firm Magpie Advisory and a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.



Blood and treasure

The Wagner group, the state-funded Russian private military company, has been accused of laundering money in Africa. The Blood Gold Report is the result of a research programme launched in September to investigate the links between Western mining companies, authoritarian African governments and Russian mercenaries. According to the report, the Wagner group has been generating more than €92m a month in the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mali through its activities in the continent’s gold trade.

This has allegedly become an important source of funding for Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine. “Russia wants access to gold and other mineral resources in order to counter sanctions but it is also seeking to establish military bases in Africa,” says Tara O’Connor, founder and executive director of Africa Risk Consulting. “As there are important elections coming up in 2024, we should be alert to Russia’s destabilising tactics.”

For more on the report, tune in to Monday’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle Radio.

Weird science: Odeuropa’s on-the-nose research

Image: Sara Meinz

SOCIETY / Europe

On the scent

Scientists and researchers are investigating an intriguing, under-explored aspect of European heritage: smell. Funded by the EU, Odeuropa is the first international project dedicated to preserving past and present scents, ranging from the aroma of plague-fighting herbs used in the 17th century to the smell of new cars. Mapping such scent-scapes, however, is no easy task.

“Most European languages tend to describe smells in relation to objects, such as comparing them to chocolate or coffee,” William Tullett, a researcher for Odeuropa and author of Smell and the Past: Noses, Archives, Narratives, tells The Monocle Minute. To bridge this gap, Odeuropa has developed an online encyclopaedia that showcases Europe’s olfactory heritage. “The Smell Explorer has more than 2.5 million references to texts and images ranging from the 1600s to the 1920s,” says Tullett. “We have begun to write entries and storylines on particular odours, which will allow people to follow their noses through the past.”

Illustration: Karin Kellner


Raising the bar

Looking for the perfect present this holiday season? Then let us inspire you with our Advent gift guide. Every day until Christmas, we’ll be showcasing one item featured in our Alpino newspaper, which is available now in kiosks and from our online shop.

Christofle silver barware
This silver barware set by French heritage silversmiths Christofle will bring glimmers of mid-century elegance to your drinks counter. Anyone for a rosemary-infused negroni?

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Eduardo Martino

Q&A / André Namitala

Perfectly formed

Brazilian fashion brand Handred, helmed by André Namitala, has just released a new collection, for which it teamed up with the Sergio Rodrigues Institute to create pieces inspired by the Brazilian furniture designer. Here, The Monocle Minute speaks to Namitala to find out more.

Tell us a little about Handred.
It all started in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro with a small line of shirts: there were about five shirts in five different models. At the time I didn’t know anyone in fashion. Then people slowly started to find out about the brand. It was all very organic – and still is.

The new collection is based on the life and work of furniture designer Sergio Rodrigues. How did that come about?
We have a considerable number of architects buying our designs. The layout of the shop takes inspiration from the Brazilian modernist movement of the 1950s and 1960s. We wanted to talk about Brazil in a modernist way. Rodrigues was one of the first designers who sought to create definitive Brazilian furniture. That’s why he is so special: he opened up so many ways for me to understand furniture.

Do you have plans to sell the brand’s wares internationally?
I have always wanted to sell abroad. Since 2020 we have been selling via Farfetch and many of our classic pieces have reached places such as Hong Kong and California. Of course, we have international customers who come to the shop when they are visiting Brazil. We plan to establish ourselves in cities such as Paris and Milan next year.

To listen to our full interview with André Namitala, tune in to our latest episode of ‘The Monocle Weekly’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, New York

Mary Holland tells the story of one of New York’s most beloved festive traditions.


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