What We Are Reading

What We Are Reading

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Key Reads

U.N. Security Council to Try Again for Syria Cease-Fire Resolution
Scott Neuman / NPR
The United Nations Security Council is expected to try again on Friday to approve a draft resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria. The cease-fire is meant to allow emergency aid to be delivered and medical evacuations to take place in some of the country’s hardest-hit regions, such as Ghouta, the rebel-controlled eastern suburb of the capital, Damascus, which has been pounded by government warplanes for more than a week. An attempt on Thursday to get such a resolution through the council failed when Syrian government ally Russia, refused to go along.

White House Unveils ‘Largest Ever’ Set of Sanctions on North Korea
Ian Talley, Michael R. Gordon / Wall Street Journal
The Trump administration on Friday levied what it called its largest ever North Korea sanctions package, hitting dozens of shipping and trading companies as it seeks to further cut off foreign-currency revenues keeping the nuclear-armed regime afloat. The administration sanctioned nearly 60 companies and ships and one individual it says are aiding North Korea in its efforts to evade an international ban on coal exports and fuel imports. Those efforts help leader Kim Jong Un maintain power as he pursues an intercontinental ballistic missile that can target America’s mainland.


American Competitiveness

U.S. Jobless Claims Near 45-Year Low as Economic Outlook Brightens
Lucia Mutikani / Reuters
The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to a near 45-year low last week, pointing to strong job growth in February and solid momentum in the economy. The economy’s brightening prospects were also underscored by other data on Thursday showing a gauge of future economic activity increasing for a fourth straight month in January. Labor market strength should continue to underpin consumer spending, despite a drop in retail sales in January. “Firms are extraordinarily unwilling to part company with workers reflecting, in all likelihood, the difficulty of replacing them,” said John Ryding, chief economist at RDQ Economics in New York.


Asymmetric Operations

Pentagon Won’t Confirm Russia’s Su-57 Stealth Jet Arrival in Syria
Oriana Pawlyk /
Russia’s Su-57 stealth fighter, like China’s Chengdu J-20, has become a bogeyman to the United States in the competition to possess the best fifth-generation fighters in the world. But has the Su-57 made its debut in Syria? The Pentagon, won’t confirm it. “The addition of fifth-generation fighters into Syria would certainly not be in keeping with Russia’s announced force drawdown,” said Eric Pahon, Defense Department spokesman. “We do not consider these jets to be a threat to our operations in Syria, and will continue to deconflict operations as necessary,” Pahon said in a statement Thursday.

Putin Ally Said to be in Touch with Kremlin, Assad Before His Mercenaries Attacked U.S. Troops
Ellen Nakashima, Karen DeYoung, Liz Sly / Washington Post
A Russian oligarch believed to control the Russian mercenaries who attacked U.S. troops and their allies in Syria this month was in close touch with Kremlin and ­Syrian officials in the days and weeks before and after the assault, according to U.S. intelligence reports. In intercepted communications in late January, the oligarch, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, told a senior Syrian official that he had “secured permission” from an unspecified Russian minister to move forward with a “fast and strong” initiative that would take place in early February.

Pakistan to Be Placed Back on Terror-Financing List, Source Says
Christ Kay, Kamran Haider, Faseeh Mangi / Bloomberg News
Pakistan will be placed back onto an international terrorism-financing watch list from June, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter, a move that may hinder the country’s access to financial markets. The move follows a push from the U.S., U.K., France and Germany to get Pakistan placed on the Financial Action Task Force’s “grey” monitoring list during a review meeting in Paris this week. China, which is financing more than $50 billion of infrastructure projects across Pakistan, removed its earlier objections to the move, said the person, who asked not to be identified as the discussions are private.

Syrian Militias Enter Afrin, Dealing a Setback to Turkey
Carlotta Gall / New York Times
Militias loyal to the Syrian government swept into the northwestern enclave of Afrin on Thursday in support of Kurdish militias, reclaiming the territory and stealing a march on Turkish forces that have been battling toward the city for nearly a month. Television broadcasts and social media postings showed crowds celebrating in the main square of the city of Afrin, waving flags and holding posters of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan, who is imprisoned in Turkey on terrorism charges. The entry into Afrin of forces loyal to Mr. Assad — the result of a deal between the Syrian government and Kurdish militias, with the backing of Iran and Russia — has harmed Turkey’s ambitions in Syria.


Climate Security

Arctic Temperatures Soar 45 Degrees Above Normal, Flooded By Extremely Mild Air on All Sides
Jason Samenow / Washington Post
While the Eastern United States simmers in some of its warmest February weather ever recorded, the Arctic is also stewing in temperatures more than 45 degrees above normal. This latest huge temperature spike in the Arctic is another striking indicator of its rapidly transforming climate. On Monday and Tuesday, the northernmost weather station in the world, Cape Morris Jesup at the northern tip of Greenland, experienced more than 24 hours of temperatures above freezing according to the Danish Meteorological Institute. “How weird is that?” tweeted Robert Rohde, a physicist and lead scientist at Berkeley Earth, a non-profit organization that conducts analyses of the Earth’s temperature. “Well it’s Arctic winter.

One Arm of the Trump Administration Thinks Climate Change is a Security Threat
The Economist
Until America gets a grand military parade, a drive along the wharf at Naval Station Norfolk, in Virginia, is the next-best thing. Destroyers, missile-cruisers, nuclear-powered submarines and, most fearsome of all, two 333-metre (1,092-foot) Nimitz-class aircraft-carriers, are enough to make Americans’ spines tingle and enemies shudder. But the menace that most concerns Captain Dean VanderLey, the chief civil engineer for the navy in the mid-Atlantic region, is one that is undeterred by military might. In the 100 years since the base was first built, the sea level has risen by half a metre. In a major hurricane, he says, while surveying the piers and a road linking them to an airfield, “a lot of this would probably be flooded”.


Energy Security

Row Over Kenyan Oil Revenues Threatens to Delay Production
Duncan Miriri / Reuters
In the decades before oil was discovered in the northern Kenyan region of Turkana South, 100,000 poor villagers living in arid scrubland relied on a lone church-run health center in Lokichar town for medical help. Since Tullow Oil found crude there six years ago, the London-listed company has funded a 40-bed referral hospital, school classrooms and dormitories, provided village water points graded roads, and paid for scholarships to generate goodwill. Seeing the potential benefits of oil, residents of the poorest of Kenya’s 47 counties now want the central government to make up for decades of neglect by ploughing nearly a third of expected oil revenues back into Turkana.

Crude Set for Another Weekly Gain as Inventory Levels Decline
Jessica Summers / Bloomberg News
Crude is set for a second weekly increase as U.S. crude supplies drain and a key Libya oil field shuts. The futures price has climbed more than 2 percent this week, buoyed in part by U.S. government data showing inventory levels at the Cushing, Oklahoma storage hub are at the lowest levels since 2014. News of a production halt at Libya’s El-Feel oil field also helped push prices higher Friday. “Yesterday’s inventory report was very bullish for crude oil,” John Kilduff, a partner at Again Capital LLC, a New York-based hedge fund, said by telephone.


National Security & Strategy

S. Sudan Military Officers May Have Committed War Crimes – U.N.
U.N. investigators said on Friday they had identified more than 40 South Sudanese military officers who may be responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. It was a sharp departure from previous U.N. reports that documented crimes but not perpetrators. Oil-rich South Sudan gained independence from neighbouring Sudan in 2011 but slid into civil war in December 2013. More than 4 million people, a third of the population, have been uprooted by violence.


Nuclear Security

Iran Hints at Seaborne Reactors While Respecting Nuclear Deal
Francois Murphy / Reuters
Iran has fired a diplomatic warning shot at Washington by raising the prospect of building nuclear reactors for ships while staying within the limits set by its atomic deal with major powers, a U.N. nuclear watchdog report showed on Thursday. U.S. President Donald Trump has long railed against the 2015 nuclear deal for reasons including its limited duration and the fact it does not cover Iran’s ballistic missile program. He has threatened to pull out unless European allies help “fix” the agreement with a follow-up accord.

Europeans Look for a Way to Preserve Nuclear Deal While Punishing Iran and Satisfying Trump
Karen DeYoung / Washington Post
When French President Emmanuel Macron called last week for new international sanctions and “surveillance” over Iran’s ballistic missile program, there was one person in particular he hoped was listening. France, Germany and Britain have been scrambling for months to convince President Trump that they want to join him in cracking down on bad Iranian behavior — missile tests, terrorism support and regional meddling. If they can sway him, they hope he will agree to preserve intact the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement he has argued is fatally flawed.


U.S. – Russia Relations

Rick Gates, Trump Campaign Aide, to Plead Guilty in Mueller Inquiry and Cooperate
Mark Mazzetti, Maggie Haberman / New York Times
A former top adviser to Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign indicted by the special counsel was expected to plead guilty as soon as Friday afternoon, according to two people familiar with his plea agreement, a move that signals he is cooperating with the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The adviser, Rick Gates, is a longtime political consultant who once served as Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman. The plea deal could be a significant development in the investigation — a sign that Mr. Gates plans to offer incriminating information against his longtime associate and the former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, or other members of the Trump campaign in exchange for a lighter punishment.


On Our Flashpoint Blog

The U.S. Lacks a Plan on Libya, Russia Stepped In
Sarah Illis
Europe, alongside the U.S., may be able to work in cooperation with Russia, using its influence to negotiate a political agreement between Haftar and the GNA to establish stability.

ASP’s Director of Studies and Senior Fellow for Energy and Clime, Andrew Holland, Interviewed by CNBC on China’s Arctic Strategy
Jessica Bateman
Late last month, China released a White Paper on its new Arctic strategy and how it expands on the One Belt One Road initiative. ASP’s Director of Studies and Senior Fellow for Energy and Climate, Andrew Holland, was recently interviewed by CNBC discussing how the United States shouldn’t feel threatened by this.

Counter Air Defense: Deterrence Equally as Strong
Jessica Bateman
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) was recently released by the Department of Defense, and within it a new modernization path was outlined for the nuclear arsenal. This path includes developing a new low-yield nuclear weapon to place on a submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM). The United States currently has a diverse arsenal of weapons in the nuclear triad, including the B61 low-yield gravity bomb.

DNI Worldwide Threat Assessment Notes Climate Security Threats
Esther Babson
As a part of the Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released the latest Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, outlining the major threats to national security around the world.

Reductions to Exchanges in the FY2019 Budget are Shortsighted
Matthew Wallin
The major savings and reforms document in the president’s budget proposes a severe reduction in U.S. Government funding for educational and cultural exchanges. The President’s request proposes a reduction from the enacted funding of $619 million in FY2017 to a paltry $159 million for FY2019.

Russian Presidential Elections: Impact on American Foreign Policy
Sarah Illis
Presidential elections in Russia are coming up this March and Vladimir Putin confirmed that he will be running for a 2nd consecutive term (4th overall). Based on Putin’s 80% approval ratings, Russian analysts told the New York Times that his victory is certain, making him the longest-serving leader of Russia since Joseph Stalin was dictator of the Soviet Union.