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What We Are Reading

What We Are Reading

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Key Reads 

Soldiers injured in fresh border skirmish between India and China 
Joanna Slater / The Washington Post 
Indian and Chinese troops clashed at their disputed border last week with minor injuries on both sides, Indian officials said, underscoring the persistent tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. India and China share an unofficial frontier that stretches 2,200 miles. Last June, the deadliest border conflict between the two countries in five decades killed 20 Indian soldiers and caused an unknown number of Chinese casualties. Since then, tens of thousands of Indian and Chinese troops have been locked in a stalemate near the site of the clash in Ladakh. Soldiers are enduring brutal winter temperatures high in the mountains as talks have failed to make progress. 

Oxygen Scarcity Swells Covid-19’s Death Toll 
Samantha Pearson, Joe Parkinson, and Santiago Pérez / The Wall Street Journal 
As Covid-19 cases increase sharply in much of the world, a scarcity of oxygen is forcing hospitals to ration it for patients and is driving up the coronavirus pandemic’s death toll. The problem is especially acute in the developing world, but has also hit hospitals in London and Los Angeles. From Brazil to Zambia, overcrowded hospitals with too few resources are calling for emergency resupplies of oxygen. In Mexico and South Africa, people are stockpiling oxygen canisters to try to avoid overflowing Covid-19 wards, sending prices higher and making it harder for poorer families to rent tanks. In Mexico, armed bandits are stealing oxygen tanks. 

American Competitiveness  

Biden to Sign Buy American Order for Government Procurement 
Yuka Hayashi / The Wall Street Journal 
President Biden will sign an executive order Monday imposing tougher rules on government procurement practices to increase purchases of products made in the U.S., a step toward fulfilling his Buy American campaign pledge to strengthen domestic manufacturing. The new policies will include tightening the government procurement rules to make it harder for federal agencies to purchase imported products, revising the definition of American-made products and raising local-content requirements. The executive order also ensures that small and midsize businesses will have better access to information needed to bid for government contracts. 

China takes new foreign investment top spot from US 
BBC 
China has overtaken the US as the world’s top destination for new foreign direct investment, according to UN figures released on Sunday. New investments into America from overseas companies fell by almost half last year, leading to the loss of its number one status. In contrast, UN figures show direct investment into Chinese firms climbed 4%, putting it number one globally. The top ranking shows China’s growing influence on the world economic stage. 

Asymmetric Operations 

Heavy fighting erupts in Somali town near Kenyan border 
Hassan Barise Associated Press 
Heavy fighting broke out overnight in a Somali town near the Kenyan border between Somali forces and those from the state of Jubbaland, as Somalia’s election troubles spill over into violence. Somalia’s information ministry in a statement early Monday accused Kenya-funded rebels of crossing into the town of Bulo Hawo and attacking Somali forces. But the Jubbaland vice president, Mohamud Sayid Adan, told reporters that Jubbaland forces stationed outside the town were attacked by what he called forces recently deployed to the region by the government in the capital, Mogadishu. 

Burnt bodies found in vehicles on US-Mexico border 
BBC 
The burnt bodies of 19 people have been found close to the Mexican border with the US, according to officials from Tamaulipas state. Police found two burnt-out vehicles on Saturday and initial findings indicate the people were shot and then set alight. Violent drug gangs operate in the area, where migrants also try to cross the border into Texas. An official said the victims may be undocumented migrants, reports AFP. The north-eastern state of Tamaulipas is known for violent killings and disappearances, often linked to powerful drug cartels who battle for territory. 

Climate Security 

Kerry: US will make up for 4 years of lost action on climate 
Mike Corder / Associated Press 
World leaders are converging — virtually — on the Netherlands Monday for a summit that will seek to galvanize more action and funding to adapt the planet and vulnerable communities to the effects of climate change. The Netherlands-based Global Center on Adaptation last week called on governments and financers around the globe to include funding for adaptation projects in their COVID-19 recovery spending… World leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also are taking part in the 24-hour summit, along with new U.S. President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry. 

World’s Ice Is Melting Faster Than Ever, Climate Scientists Say 
Robert Lee Hotz / The Wall Street Journal  
From Antarctica to the Arctic, the world’s ice is melting faster than ever, according to a new global satellite survey that calculated the amount of ice lost from a generation of rising temperatures. Between 1994 and 2017, the Earth lost 28 trillion metric tons of ice, the survey showed. That is an amount roughly equivalent to a sheet of ice 100 meters thick covering the state of Michigan or the entire U.K.—and the meltwater from so much ice loss has raised the sea level just over an inch or so world-wide, the scientists said. 

Energy Security 

Indonesia seizes Iran, Panama-flagged tankers over alleged illegal oil transfer 
Agustinus Beo Da Costa / Reuters 
Indonesia said its coast guard seized the Iranian-flagged MT Horse and the Panamanian-flagged MT Freya vessels over suspected illegal oil transfer in the country’s waters on Sunday. Coast guard spokesman Wisnu Pramandita said the tankers, seized in waters off Kalimantan province, will be escorted to Batam island in Riau Island Province for further investigation. 

National Security Strategy 

North Korea’s acting ambassador to Kuwait defects to the South 
Min Joo Kim / The Washington Post 
North Korea’s top diplomat in Kuwait secretly defected with his family to South Korea, where they have been living since 2019, two people in the defector community familiar with the case said Monday. Ryu Hyun-woo, who was North Korea’s acting ambassador to Kuwait when he fled, is one of the highest-level regime officials to defect in recent years and a potential source of embarrassment for the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. His defection, which was first reported by South Korea’s Maeil Business Newspaper, has raised fresh questions about the loyalty of North Korea’s privileged elite, especially those who have exposure to the outside world. 

Pandemic aftershocks overwhelm global supply lines 
David J. Lynch / The Washington Post 
One year after the coronavirus pandemic first disrupted global supply chains by closing Chinese factories, fresh shipping headaches are delaying U.S. farm exports, crimping domestic manufacturing and threatening higher prices for American consumers. The cost of shipping a container of goods has risen by 80 percent since early November and has nearly tripled over the past year, according to the Freightos Baltic Index. The increase reflects dramatic shifts in consumption during the pandemic, as consumers redirect money they once spent at restaurants or movie theaters to the purchase of record amounts of imported clothing, computers, furniture and other goods. 

China Sends Warplanes to Taiwan Strait in a Show of Force to Biden 
Austin Ramzy / The New York Times 
China sent warplanes into the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, a show of force to the Biden administration that signals Beijing’s plans to maintain pressure on Taiwan even as it calls for a reset with the United States. Taiwan’s military said that four Chinese fighter jets, eight bombers and one anti-submarine aircraft entered its southwestern air defense identification zone and crossed the midline that divides the Taiwan Strait on Saturday. That was followed by 12 fighters, two anti-submarine aircraft and a reconnaissance plane on Sunday. 

National Security and Space 

Five Takeaways From the Developing Space War Between China and the U.S. 
William J. Broad / The New York Times 
The stars of the new space age include not only famous entrepreneurs but a rising generation of dreamers and doers. Small companies, developing states and even high schools now loft spacecraft into orbit. But Beijing is intent on dominating the democratized space age. It is building ground-based lasers that can zap spacecraft and rehearsing cyberattacks meant to sever the Pentagon from its orbital fleets. Seven years ago, Washington seized on a new strategy for strengthening the United States military’s hand in a potential space war. The plan evolved during the Obama and Trump administrations and, it is expected to intensify under President Biden. 

US-Russia Relations 

Navalny Protests Sweep Russia as Kremlin Cries U.S. Interference 
Colm Quinn Foreign Policy
Russian authorities have attempted to deflect attention from Saturday’s nationwide street protests—the largest in years—by accusing the United States of interfering in the country. On Saturday, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the U.S. embassy in Moscow of fanning the flames of dissent by publishing protest times and routes (as part of a notice to avoid such gatherings) on the embassy website. “What was that: a setup or an instruction?” Zakharova told the Russian news agency TASS, adding that if the Russian embassy in Washington had done the same during U.S. protests “global hysteria” would ensue. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added on Sunday said the U.S. embassy move was, albeit indirectly, an “absolute interference” in Russia’s internal affairs. 

Recently Published  

Perspective – Diplomacy in the 21st Century Middle East 
Patrick Hines 
This report explores three diplomatic projects in the Middle East, in an effort to highlight noteworthy efforts at collaboration in contrast to stories about conflict.

On Our Flashpoint Blog  

Biden Administration Intends to Extend New START for 5 Years  
Landon Cooke 
The Biden administration has stated that it will seek a five-year extension of the bilateral New START treaty with Russia, which is set to expire in February of this year. Russia is expected to readily commit to an extension of the treaty which, if allowed to expire, would allow for an unlimited build-up of strategic nuclear arms. Amid increased tension between the two largest nuclear powers, this comes as a welcome development for stability and security. The New START treaty limits both the U.S. and Russia each to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads and a maximum of 700 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and heavy bombers. Additionally, the treaty includes strong confidence-building measures to increase transparency between the American and Russian arsenals which is integral to preventing another Cold War-style arms race. 

The Rise of Great Power Influence in Africa
Claire Brenner 
Home to an abundance of natural resources and many of the world’s fastest growing economies, Africa is rising in strategic relevance and has become the playing field for Great Power competition. Beijing and Moscow’s increasing economic, political, and military activity pose a threat to American influence on the continent. Engagement in Africa should be at the forefront of U.S. grand strategy in order to combat malign engagement and reassert its commitment to promoting peace, prosperity, democracy, and governance in the continent.  

Why the U.S. and Russia Should Make Arctic Cooperation a Priority 
Rylee Boyd 
Increasing international attention to the Arctic necessitates greater cooperation in the region. The U.S. and Russia should collaborate on search and rescue coordination, environmental protection, and oil spill response and prevention.  

Statement from General John Kelly, USMC (Ret.) 
American Security Project 
“You know, in the history of our Republic, 42 million men and women have worn our nation’s cloth, and of those over a million have paid the ultimate price all to defend our democracy from overseas threats.  They did it with happy hearts, but with a profound understanding of what the price could be.  They were willing to do it because our democracy, and our way of life is so unique…so precious.  Many endured horrible conditions, many suffered terrible seen and unseen wounds, many put their buddies in body bags and sent them home to grieving families.  We, who did all of that could have never imagined, until today, that the threat could come from within, encouraged in some cases by officials sworn to uphold that democracy. I watched Wednesday’s actions on the Hill brokenhearted. Horrified. That’s not us. Are peaceful protests allowed? Yes, it is our right. Have there been criminal riots in our past over any number of issues? Yes, and we should condemn and hold the rioters accountable regardless of the issue at stake.”  

The Year that Was with BGen Steve Cheney, USMC (Ret.) 
Annie Aleman 
Host Andrew Holland and ASP President BGen Steve Cheney, USMC (Ret.), review 2020 and ASP’s work throughout the year. 

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