What We Are Reading

What We Are Reading

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Key Reads

Sanctions Are Hurting North Korea. Can They Make Kim Give In?
Choe Sang-Hun / New York Times
On a dark February night, the trucks unloaded their contraband near Hyesan, a North Korean town across a narrow river from China. As border guards looked the other way, workers used carts to pull the cargo of metal ore — tungsten, lead, zinc, copper and gold concentrates, all banned from export under United Nations sanctions — across the frozen river. By sunrise, all that was left were tire tracks and footprints across the river’s frozen surface. A North Korean witness told an acquaintance living in South Korea that ore, as well as other materials, was being smuggled into China at the crossing almost every night. He said smugglers also headed the other way, moving sugar, flour and 50-kilogram sacks of fertilizers into North Korea.

EPA to Unveil Policy Aimed at Avoiding Legal Action Over Oil and Gas Polluters: Source
Miranda Green / The Hill
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) office of enforcement will announce a new policy aimed specifically at helping polluters in the oil and gas industry, The Hill has learned. The new policy, which has not been finalized, will focus on offering more flexibility to oil and gas companies that choose to self-audit their emissions and report any failures to meet EPA’s regulations, according to an EPA employee with knowledge of the plan. EPA’s head of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), Susan Bodine, has plans to announce the policy Friday at the EarthX Law and Policy symposium in Dallas. The announcement is timed with Earth Day, which is Sunday.


American Competitiveness

Steel Tariffs Likely to Lead to U.S. Job Losses, Fed Economists Find
Michael Derby / Wall Street Journal
U.S. tariffs on steel imports are likely to cost the American economy jobs, according to new research from Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists. “Although it is difficult to say exactly how many jobs will be affected, given the history of protecting industries with import tariffs, we can conclude that the 25% steel tariff is likely to cost more jobs than it saves,” the economists said in a Thursday posting on the New York Fed’s Liberty Street Economics blog. “The new tariffs are likely to lead to a net loss in U.S. employment, at least in the short to medium run.” The research comes a day after the Federal Reserve said U.S. businesses reported rising steel prices due to the new tariffs.


Asymmetric Operations

Insurgents South of Syrian Capital Surrender, Says State TV
Angus McDowall / Reuters
Insurgents in the last area outside Syrian government control near Damascus agreed on Friday to withdraw, but the army’s bombardment continued pending a full surrender deal, state media and a war monitor reported. The development heralds another advance for President Bashar al-Assad’s push to retake remaining enclaves and strengthen his position around the capital after retaking eastern Ghouta this month. Large puffs of smoke could be seen on state television rising from a row of buildings as an artillery salvo struck home before one collapsed in a cloud of dust, accompanied by the rattle of automatic fire and the sound of distant blasts.

Missile Strikes Are Unlikely to Stop Syria’s Chemical Attacks, Pentagon Says
Thomas Gibbons-Neff / New York Times
A barrage of missiles against Syria by American, French and British forces most likely will not stop President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons program, a Pentagon assessment has concluded, despite President Trump’s “Mission Accomplished!” declaration hours after last weekend’s strikes. The military intelligence report, put out less than three days after the attack, said the allied airstrikes likely set back Mr. Assad’s production of sarin gas. But it found that the Syrian president is expected to continue researching and developing chemical weapons for potential future use, according to an American intelligence analyst who has seen the document and described it to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity.


Climate Security

Climate Change is Making Deadly Air Pollution Worse in Cities Across the U.S.
Justin Worland / Time
Environmentalists worry that climate change could cause problems with rising sea levels and crop failures in the coming decades, but one group of researchers has found it’s already causing health problems now. Temperature increases linked to climate change are worsening air pollution in communities across the country right now contributing to a range of health problems from asthma to premature death, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. The total number of Americans exposed to unhealthy air rose to nearly 134 million, according to the group’s 2018 State of the Air report. That represents a spike from 125 million in the previous year.

Bangladesh PM Says Country ‘Cannot Wait’ For Help with Climate Action
Zoe Tabary / Reuters
Bangladesh must take climate adaptation matters into its own hands and “cannot wait for assistance”, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said on Tuesday. Bangladesh has received “many promises” but “very little” international finance to tackle climate change, Hasina said at the Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think tank. “So we have to do something for ourselves,” she said. Among the measures the government was taking, she said, was building schools “that can double up as shelters in case of a cyclone”, constructing storm-resilient homes, and improving health and sanitation conditions in refugee camps.


Energy Security

Oil Declines After Trump Blasts OPEC for Inflating Prices
Alex Longley / Bloomberg News
Oil fell in New York after U.S. President Donald Trump criticized OPEC and said crude prices are “artificially Very High.” The comments came as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies including Russia showed willingness to further tighten oil markets and boost prices. Futures in New York dropped as much as 1.2 percent. “Looks like OPEC is at it again,” Trump said on Twitter. “Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!” Oil ministers from Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates pushed back on the charge, saying there’s no such thing as artificial prices and that current market levels reflect geopolitics. Crude has rallied in recent weeks as output cuts from OPEC and its allies were compounded by heightened geopolitical risks, including the possibility of renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Sanctions Imposed on Russia Present a ‘Huge Risk,’ Energy Minister Says
David Reid / CNBC News
The Russian energy minister said that sanctions imposed on his country are economic competition measures that impact negatively on its relations with certain countries. Prices of oil and metals have leaped following U.S. sanctions on Russia, which has raised investor fears over the availability of supply. Alexander Novak, the Russian energy minister, told CNBC’s Steve Sedgwick in Jeddah Friday that every fresh sanction had an adverse effect. “We can see non-economic measures of competition. Unfortunately, such tools are being used with an increased frequency and they represent a huge risk,” he said on the sidelines of the OPEC and non-OPEC members meeting in Jeddah.


National Security & Strategy

Romanian Govt Supports Moving Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, President Concerned
Luiza Ilie / Reuters
Romania’s government has backed moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, drawing a warning from the president – who has the final say – that the move could break international law. Romania would be one of the first countries to relocate its embassy following the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, infuriating Washington’s Arab allies and dismaying Palestinians who want the eastern part of the city as their capital. “Yesterday, the government adopted a memorandum deciding to start the procedure to effectively move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Social Democrat leader and lower house speaker Liviu Dragnea told private television station Antena3 late on Thursday.

North and South Korea Open First Direct Phone Line Between Leaders
Jonathan Cheng / Wall Street Journal
North and South Korea established for the first time a direct telephone line between their leaders, a move aimed at building trust and momentum one week before the two men are slated to meet at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone. The presidential office in Seoul said Friday that it had successfully tested a phone connection with the personal office of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The establishment of the direct phone line comes as Mr. Kim prepares for a summit meeting next week with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, ahead of a planned summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June or earlier.


Nuclear Security

America’s Nuclear Headache: Old Plutonium with Nowhere to Go
Scot Paltrow / Reuters
In a sprawling plant near Amarillo, Texas, rows of workers perform by hand one of the most dangerous jobs in American industry. Contract workers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pantex facility gingerly remove the plutonium cores from retired nuclear warheads. Although many safety rules are in place, a slip of the hand could mean disaster. In Energy Department facilities around the country, there are 54 metric tons of surplus plutonium. Pantex, the plant near Amarillo, holds so much plutonium that it has exceeded the 20,000 cores, called “pits,” regulations allow it to hold in its temporary storage facility. There are enough cores there to cause thousands of megatons of nuclear explosions.

European MPs Implore U.S. to Not Quit Iran Deal
Ken Bredemeier / Voice of America
More than 500 British, French and German lawmakers wrote to their U.S. counterparts Thursday, urging them to support the international pact restraining Iran’s nuclear weapons development and to keep President Donald Trump from abandoning it. Trump has demanded that “dangerous flaws” be fixed in the 2015 deal and has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull the United States out of the agreement. Tehran agreed to the pact with the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China in exchange for ending economic sanctions that had hobbled its economy. Trump has called the agreement crafted under the administration of former President Barack Obama “the worst deal ever negotiated.”


U.S. – Russia Relations

Russia is Opposed to ‘Sanction-Swapping’ with the U.S. – But is Prepared to Defend Itself, Finance Minister Says
Sam Meredith / CNBC News
Russia stands ready to retaliate against the latest round of U.S. sanctions, the country’s Finance Minister Anton Siluanov told CNBC. The U.S. slapped sanctions on several Russian oligarchs, businesses and agencies thought to have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. It prompted a dramatic market sell-off in Moscow, with investors seen dumping Russian assets amid elevated concerns over the country’s economic position. Speaking late Thursday on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) spring meeting in Washington, Siluanov told CNBC: “We are not in favor of sanction-swapping. Nevertheless, our MPs (members of parliament) have drafted legislation that would allow us to introduce certain restrictions, both on exported goods and on goods imported into the country.”

Russia: Trump Promised to Make Reciprocal Visit to Moscow
Vladimir Isachenkov / Associated Press
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin discussed the possibility of visiting each other’s country when the U.S. president rang his Russian counterpart last month to congratulate him on his re-election, Russia’s foreign minister said Friday. Sergey Lavrov told Russian state television that Trump indicated he could make a reciprocal trip to Russia if Putin were able to accept his invitation to the White House. Previously, both the White House and the Kremlin had only revealed that Trump had invited Putin to the White House during the same call on March 20. Lavrov says the Trump administration hasn’t followed up on the offer and Russia has urged the U.S. to discuss specifics about such a meeting.


On Our Flashpoint Blog

Chair of ASP’s Business Council, Dante Disparte, In Forbes and International Policy Digest on Rebuilding Puerto Rico’s Energy Sector
American Security Project
Last month, ASP Chair of the Business Council, Dante Disparte, authored an article for Forbes discussing Puerto Rico after Hurricanes Irma and Maria and laying out the opportunities and challenges for the future.

Deterring Russian Aggression: Compromise or Action?
Sarah Illis
Improving the U.S.’ relationship with Russia would involve offering Russia more influence and participation in areas of common interests to allow it to achieve its own strategic interests, which in some cases conflict with the United States’. There would need to be compromise from both parties in any scenario.

Pakistan, Sanctions, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group
Jessica Bateman
In late March, seven companies in Pakistan had sanctions imposed on them by the US over suspicions that they have engaged in nuclear trade. The sanctions implemented could affect Pakistan’s application to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, however there are benefits that could be had from admitting them to the group.

Event Recap: National Security Implications of Climate Change in Maine
Esther Babson
ASP hosted events in Portland, Maine on climate security. ASP’s Lieutenant General John Castellaw, USMC (Ret) and ASP’s Climate Security Program Manager Esther Babson participated in numerous events including, media interviews, public and private events providing insight into the security threats of climate change.

Rolling the Dice with Russia in Syria
Patrick Savage
Following an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria, President Trump attacks Syrian President Assad as an “animal” and promises an imminent decision on strong response, floating military action. But should the United States will need to consider an increasing possibility of coming into conflict with Russian military.

Event Recap: U.S. Military Facilities in the Middle East- Furthering America’s Strategic Interests
Sarah Illis
On April 5th, the American Security Project hosted an event on U.S. military basing in the Middle East and the U.S.’ strategic interests in the region. The panel included ASP’s CEO Brigadier General Stephen Cheney, USMC (Ret.), David Des Roches, Staff Major General Nasser AbdulAziz Al-Attiyah, Qatar Armed Forces, and was moderated by ASP adjunct fellow Asha Castleberry.


Upcoming Events

Extreme Weather and Our National Security
May 7 @ 5:30pm – 7:00 pm
Coral Gables, FL
Join ASP’s Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, USN (ret.) for this critical conversation about Florida, the preparedness of our armed forces in the face of extreme weather, and how climate is creating new conflict zones.