Key Global Events to Watch in March

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.

March 1: EU and Iran Seminar on Nuclear Cooperation, Brussels

The European Union and Iran began a seminar to foster cooperation on nuclear energy in late February and will conclude talks on March 1. The event builds on links established through implementation of 2015’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which limited Iran’s nuclear program to peaceful means in return for international sanctions relief.

March 1: US and South Korea Begin Joint Military Exercises

The United States and South Korea began joint large-scale military exercises at the start of March amid heightened concerns over the nuclear threat of North Korea, which is thought to be approaching intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities. The drills also come as Seoul announced a deal to acquire land for the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, aimed at countering Pyongyang. China and Russia have coordinated opposition toward the deployment, which they believe will also compromise their security.

March 1: Colombia’s FARC Rebels Begin Disarming

Colombia’s FARC rebels were scheduled to begin disarmament at the start of March in line with the terms of a peace agreement signed with the government last year. FARC leader Ivan Marquez told a February 28 press conference that the group would begin turning over weapons to United Nations officials, “as a concrete first step in the process of laying down our arms and as a sign of our conditional commitment to peace.” The deadline for full disarmament is June 1.

March 1-3: Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development, Bonn

United Nations and German government agencies have joined with several NGOs to host the first Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development, in Bonn from March 1-3. Conference organizers expect to attract leading thinkers, policymakers, business leaders, and civil society members. The summit focuses on interactive and immersive sessions aimed at addressing the “tough choices and trade-offs in the 2030 Agenda” on sustainable development.

March 1-28: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Tours Asia

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has embarked on a month-long tour of Asian countries including Indonesia, China, Japan, and Malaysia. The trip is ostensibly economically motivated, with the Saudi ruler pursuing agreements aimed at increasing the worth of state oil giant Saudi Aramco ahead of an upcoming initial public offering. It will also help to firm up cultural and political ties with several Muslim majority countries in the region.

March 1-14: Parallel Syrian Peace Talks, Geneva & Astana

United Nations-brokered talks on ending the Syrian crisis began in late February in Switzerland and are due to end on March 3. Reports from the negotiations indicate little progress has been made, with the United States taking more of a back seat role in the early days of the Trump administration. Russia, meanwhile, is expected to host another parallel round of talks on Syria in Kazakhstan on March 14. In late February, Russia and China vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on the Syrian government over its use of chemical weapons.

March 9-10: European Council Elects New President, Brussels

A European Council summit in Brussels from March 9-10 will conclude with the election of a new council president for a two-year term. Incumbent Donald Tusk is said to enjoy broad support from European leaders but has long been opposed by his home country of Poland, whose ruling Law and Justice Party has floated the idea of replacing him with Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a Polish member of European Parliament. The summit will also discuss the ongoing refugee and migration crisis and external security and defense threats.

March 12-24: 61st Commission on the Status of Women, New York

Representatives of United Nations member states and agencies will attend the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women from March 12-24. This year’s event will focus on women’s economic empowerment in the context of changing international labor markets. Representatives of civil society will also participate in a dedicated NGO forum, which will discuss means of lobbying governments to enact necessary economic changes.

March 13: UN Report on Rohingya Situation in Myanmar Due, Geneva

Yanghee Lee, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, is due to deliver a full report on potential human rights violations committed against the Southeast Asian country’s minority Rohingya population. An earlier flash report from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documented killings, mass rapes, beatings, and other abuses committed by security forces against the Rohingya, including babies and young children. Lee has indicated she will urge member states to sponsor a resolution establishing a commission of inquiry into the situation.

March 13-17: 60th Session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Vienna

The 60th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) will take place in Austria from March 13-17. It will be the first CND session since the United Nations General Assembly convened a special session on the world drug problem in April 2016, and will follow up on developments from that event. Draft resolutions for the 60th session include improving the governance and financial standing of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

March 15: UK Prime Minister Likely to Trigger Brexit, London

United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May is widely expected to trigger Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty on March 15. The move would begin a two-year time period in which London and Brussels must complete negotiations on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. The country’s voters elected to leave the bloc in a June 2016 referendum, but the process of triggering Article 50 has faced delays such as the UK Supreme Court ruling that parliamentarians must be consulted prior to doing so.

March 15: The Netherlands Holds General Elections

The Netherlands will hold general elections on March 15, with the contest being presented as the latest between pro-European parties and rising nationalist forces. Current polling has the rightwing Party for Freedom led by longtime anti-Muslim immigration campaigner Geert Wilders likely to win the most parliamentary seats, though it is unclear if he has enough support to form government. The Dutch result will be closely watched ahead of upcoming elections in France and Germany and in light of the populist turns of the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote and election of Donald Trump in the United States.

March 20: Timor-Leste Holds Presidential Election

Timor-Leste will host the first round of a presidential election on March 20, with a potential second round of voting scheduled for April. The field of candidates includes independence leader Francisco Guterres but not Nobel laureate José Ramos-Horta, who decided after months of speculation against running for the position he previously held from 2007-2012. Incumbent Taur Matan Ruak is not standing for reelection but is expected to contest parliamentary polls in July with the newly created People’s Liberation Party.

March 29: 28th Arab League Summit, Amman

Jordan will host the 28th Arab League Summit on March 29. As with past events, the annual meeting of 22 heads of state and other officials is likely to place the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict at the top of discussions. Yet the summit takes place in a markedly different geopolitical context than in previous years, particularly with continuing uncertainty over United States policies under President Trump and the growing role of Russia and Iran in regional affairs. Jordan took over as event host from Yemen, which cancelled due to its ongoing unrest.

March 25: European Union Celebrates 60th Anniversary, Rome

Leaders of the European Union will mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on March 25. The 1957 treaty established the European Economic Community, which was a precursor to the EU. Leaders agreed on a roadmap for the future of the bloc at a meeting in Bratislava in late 2016, including a period of reflection that would conclude with the celebrations in the Italian capital. Continental cohesion has suffered in recent years as a result of economic hardships, the regional refugee and migration crisis, and associated political backlash such as the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote.

March 26: Bulgaria Holds Parliamentary Elections

Bulgarians will vote in snap parliamentary elections on March 26—the third major polls in the country since 2013. The elections comes just months after a caretaker government was installed. This followed the mass resignation of the previous center-right government in November 2016, after the presidential candidate of the ruling GERB party, Tsetska Tsacheva, lost to the Socialists’ Rumen Radev. The GERB has a slim lead over the Russian-friendly Socialists according to latest polling, but either party will need partners to form government.

March 27-31: UN Conference on Banning Nuclear Weapons, New York

A conference to attempt negotiation of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons will be held at United Nations headquarters in New York from March 27-31, with a follow-up event to come in June this year. The event follows a December 2016 General Assembly resolution for a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.” All UN member states have been invited to take part, along with international organizations and members of civil society. While the 2016 resolution attracted support from 123 nations, the nine known nuclear states either opposed it or abstained from the vote.