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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What's going on in the World Today-160607

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USA

A New U.S. Brigade Won't Change the Status Quo in Eastern Europe

Washington grabbed international headlines Wednesday when it announced plans to deploy another armored brigade to Eastern Europe. This is the latest step in Operation Atlantic Resolve, the United States' effort to show its commitment to NATO's collective security in the face of Russia's growing assertiveness in Ukraine. The plans include the nine-month deployment of 4,500 troops beginning in February as well as the withdrawal and refurbishment of some of the United States' pre-positioned equipment on the Continent. Despite the attention the combat rotation is getting, however, the U.S. military is making other moves in the region that are just as important, if not more so, in signaling its intentions for Russia....

AFRICA

On the Road in South Africa

By Eugene Chausovsky

I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa's bustling commercial capital and largest city, not knowing what to expect. I knew that the country had undergone a major political transformation when apartheid ended in 1994. I also knew that, like so many trading nations around the world, South Africa was in difficult economic straits because of the plunge in global commodity prices. But beyond that, I had no preconceived notions of it; most of what I heard from friends who had visited or lived there was too contradictory to offer much guidance....

Squeezed by Its Rivals, al Qaeda Fights to Stay Relevant

A string of unusual attacks by al Qaeda's North African branch could shed some light on the jihadist group's latest predicament. Pressure is mounting on al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to counter the Islamic State's growing encroachment on its territory, resources and pool of recruits. The rise of an effective rival for the helm of global jihadism has forced al Qaeda to step up its game, especially in areas where it has been weakened. Northern Africa — and particularly Mali, where France's military intervention has significantly degraded AQIM's capabilities over the past few years — is one such place...

ASIA

On the Road in South Africa

North Korea attempted to fire a missile from its east coast on Tuesday but the launch appears to have failed, South Korean officials said, in what would be the latest in a string of unsuccessful ballistic missile tests by the isolated country.

The launch attempt took place at around 5:20 a.m. Seoul time (4.20 p.m. ET), said the officials, who asked not to be identified. They did not elaborate.

Tension in Northeast Asia has been high since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test in January and followed that with a satellite launch and test launches of various missiles.

Japan put its military alert on Monday for a possible North Korean missile launch.

"North Korea shows no sign of abandoning the development of nuclear missiles and so we will continue to work closely with the U.S. and South Korea in response and maintain a close watch," Japanese Minister of Defence Gen Nakatani told a media briefing.

North Korea appeared to have attempted to launch an intermediate-range Musudan missile, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said.

North Korea attempted three test launches of the Musudan in April, all of which failed, U.S. and South Korean officials have said...

North Korea: Government Restarts Plutonium Reprocessing

North Korea has restarted its program to reprocess spent fuel rods into fissile plutonium, an unidentified U.S. government official said June 7, Reuters and KBS World Radio News reported June 8. According to the official, North Korean scientists are taking spent fuel from a reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear facility and then transferring it to the reprocessing facility. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors previously speculated that the Yongbyon facility that it could produce up to 6 kilograms (13 pounds) of fissile plutonium per year, enough for at least one nuclear weapon. It is unclear whether North Korea has modernized its process since IAEA inspectors were expelled from the country in 2009.

EUROPE

France: Paris Mayor Announces Migrant Camp North Of Paris May 31, 2016

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced May 31 the creation of a new migrant camp north of Paris, France Bleu 107.1 reported. According to Hidalgo, the camp will resemble the Grande-Synthe camp in the northern city of Dunkirk and will be open within the next six weeks. Though Europe's current crisis is unique in many aspects, previous migration experiences offer some indications of how it could affect the Continent.

Romania: President Stands By Anti-Missile Shield

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis voiced support on May 31 for the U.S. Aegis Ashore missile defense system, which Russia has criticized as an act of aggression by the United States, Sputnik reported. Moscow has said the defense system's true aim is to give the United State first-strike capability in the event of war, and a Russian commander said May 10 that Russia is working on developing missiles capable of penetrating the shield. Iohannis said the missile defense shield, a complex system designed to track and shoot down Europe-bound missiles, has nothing to do with Russia.

Germany: 4 Syrians Arrested For Alleged Attack Plot

Four Syrian men suspected of being members of the Islamic State have been arrested for allegedly planning a terrorist attack in the German city of Duesseldorf, German prosecutors said June 2, The Independent reported. According to the prosecutors, three of the men were sent by the Islamic State from Syria to Germany through Turkey and Greece. Upon reaching Europe, they convinced the fourth man to join in the attack plot. The suspects, three of whom were detained in Germany while the other was detained in France, reportedly planned to attack Heinrich-Heine-Allee street with two suicide bombings and an armed assault on civilians.

Europe's Chronic Jihadist Problem

Forecast

European authorities have arrested a number of suspects linked to the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, but the arrests address only the immediate threat, not the root of the problem.

Europe's jihadist threat will continue to be deeper and more complex than North America's because of differences in their Muslim communities.
Despite recent counterterrorism successes, the threat of attacks in Europe will remain high for years to come.

As long as the ideology of jihadism survives, and as long as Europe's Muslims remain marginalized and disenfranchised, European security services will not be able to arrest their way out of this problem.

Analysis

Like the assaults in Paris last year, the March 22 terrorist attacks in Belgium prompted a wave of arrests and energized attempts by European authorities to disrupt the Islamic State and other jihadist operations. But arrests will not solve the intractable problem of radicalized Muslims bent on attacking Europe. Until the underlying issues that help drive radicalization on the Continent are addressed, authorities will be neutralizing only the immediate threat, not countering its root cause. In the meantime, jihadists will continue to pose a threat in Europe and elsewhere.

Police and security forces across Europe arrested dozens of purported Islamic State operatives in the wake of the Brussels bombings. The arrests have not been limited to Belgium and France; they have also taken place in Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Though these operations may help to identify and dismantle an Islamic State network (or a network of networks), Europe's problems run much deeper than this one layer of jihadists....

MEXICO/LATIN AMERICA

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan: Number Of Internally Displaced People Has Doubled Since 2013

The number of internally displaced people in Afghanistan has reached 1.2 million, double what it was in 2013, a new report by Amnesty International says, the Washington Post reported May 31. Most of the country's displaced flee to major cities such as Kabul, stretching the country's already limited resources. The displaced often wind up living in illegal encampments without electricity or other basic services, and there have been reports of violent evictions in which migrants have been killed and their makeshift homes razed. The most recent developments in the government's battle with Taliban militants leave little hope that the situation will improve. Despite the recent death of former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the militant group has already elected his replacement and has lashed out with more attacks, showing that the insurgency in Afghanistan is alive and well.

CHINA

China’s New Silk Road Into Europe Is About More Than Money

China is actively building out the European portion of its ambitious new “Silk Road” plan, with port deals from Greece to the Netherlands, railroad investments in Greece, Serbia, and Hungary, as well as a handful of historic, high-profile state visits this spring by President Xi Jinping.

Beijing’s multibillion-dollar plans to build overland and maritime links across Central and South Asia — whether that means huge investments in Pakistan or gas pipeline deals in places like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan — grab the lion’s share of attention. But the ultimate prize in the Silk Road plan — also known in China as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative — is someplace else: Europe.

That’s true both because Europe represents a bigger and richer market than the relatively poor countries that dot the steppe, and because Beijing’s ambitions aren’t purely commercial.

“It is not an economic project, it is a geopolitical project — and it is very strategic,” said Nad├Ęge Rolland, an analyst at the National Bureau for Asian Research, a think tank. As it has across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, China is trying to parlay its economic heft into bigger diplomatic influence in Europe, especially in cash-strapped states in the east and southeast.

That task is made easier thanks to the increasing weight and reach of Chinese state-owned companies. Beijing began encouraging consolidation among competing firms last year as a way of trying to deal with overcapacity in Chinese industry, where having several giant firms in the same sector was leading to inefficiencies.

The resulting mergers created giants like such as CRRC Corporation, formerly a pair of railroad equipment makers and now the world’s second-biggest industrial company, and COSCO, cobbled together from a pair of state-owned shipping firms and now the world’s fourth-largest shipping company....

China Moves to Expand Its Nuclear Capabilities


China will significantly adjust its nuclear force structure, even as it officially maintains its no-first-use and minimal deterrence policies.

Adjustments will include enlarging the Chinese nuclear arsenal while enhancing its mobility and capabilities.

As China's nuclear force grows, the United States and Russia will make a greater effort to include Beijing in future arms control agreements....

China: Jets Intercept U.S. Reconnaissance Plane

The United States said two Chinese fighter jets carried out an unsafe intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance plane over the East China Sea on June 8, AFP reported. A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Command said the Chinese jets flew too close to a U.S. RC-135 reconnaissance plane conducting a routine patrol in the area, though China downplayed the incident. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the United States was exaggerating what occurred, adding that the Chinese pilots acted accordingly. He added that the United States should discontinue surveillance activity over the East China Sea if it would like to avoid similar encounters in the future.

IRAN

Exclusive: Iran Teams With Taliban to Fight Islamic State in Afghanistan


Exclusive: Iran Teams With Taliban to Fight Islamic State in Afghanistan

Iran is working with the Taliban to set up a buffer zone along its border with Afghanistan to keep out the Islamic State, the latest sign of how the rise of the Syrian-based terror group is turning longtime rivals into uneasy allies.

Tehran’s growing push to secure its 572-mile border with Afghanistan, which hasn’t previously been reported, marks a significant shift for the Shiite power. Iran had long seen the Taliban, a militant Sunni group, as a direct threat. Tehran also provided weapons and other assistance to the Northern Alliance during its war with the Taliban in the years before the American-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

But Iran now believes that the Taliban pose much less of a threat than the Islamic State, whose expanding affiliate in Afghanistan is thought by U.S. officials to have as many as 3,000 fighters. President Barack Obama, who had once promised to end America’s longest war before leaving office, has instead given the Pentagon the green light to ramp up its air campaign against the Islamic State fighters inside Afghanistan. Between the beginning of January and the end of March, U.S. warplanes carried out roughly 100 strikes in Afghanistan, the vast bulk in the eastern province of Nangarhar, an Islamic State stronghold…

Iran: Nuclear Official Says European Countries Will Buy Heavy Water

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, said unnamed European countries are prepared to buy 20 tons of heavy water from Iran, Tasnim News Agency and Sputnik reported May 31. Salehi said Iran is also negotiating with Russia over the sale of 40 tons of heavy water. Though heavy water has medical and research applications, it can also be used to manufacture plutonium for nuclear weapons. Iran's nuclear deal with the West has come into effect, but that does not mean international concerns about the country's nuclear program have been fully resolved.

India’s $500 Million Bet on Iran

India’s plan to spend $500 million on a new port complex on Iran’s Indian Ocean coast caps a decade-long quest to find a way to get sorely needed supplies of energy. But the Chabahar port deal also offers India a way to outflank Pakistan and elbow its way into the economic and diplomatic jockeying that is reshaping Central Asia.

During a visit to Iran this week, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a spate of deals that included the long-sought accord to develop the port of Chabahar, which sits less than 50 miles from Gwadar, the deepwater port China is developing in Pakistan. The development plans will give Iran its first deepwater port, to finally allow it to conduct global trade with big cargo ships rather than the small ships its ports can currently handle, thus ending its reliance on the United Arab Emirates as a shipping intermediary.

The Chabahar plans also include factories as well as road and rail links to Afghanistan and beyond. Once complete, the new port could help India bypass Pakistan and deepen its ties with energy-rich countries in Central Asia like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Chabahar also promises to give Afghanistan an outlet to the sea, potentially boosting the trade prospects of the landlocked and war-torn nation....

Iran: Government Orders Instant Messaging Apps To Store User Data

Iran's Supreme Council of Cyberspace has ordered that instant messaging apps such as Telegram must store data about users within Iran, BBC reported May 31. Telegram is free and users' messages are encrypted, making it extremely difficult for authorities to keep track of what people are sending to one another. Iranian officials monitor citizens' emails, social media and text messages in the name of protecting the nation's moral fiber and national security. In Iran, as in other countries around the world, new communications technologies present both an opportunity and a challenge to leaders striving to stay in control.

Iran: Shell Resumes Crude Oil Purchases

Royal Dutch/Shell has resumed purchasing crude oil from Iran, trading sources and data surrounding an upcoming shipment show, Reuters reported June 8. According to the shipping data, the oil firm fixed a Suezmax tanker to deliver 130,000 tons of crude oil from Iran's Kharg Island to Rotterdam on July 8. Though company officials declined to comment, news of the shipment makes Shell the second major oil firm after Total SA to restart purchases from Iran following the lifting of international sanctions earlier in 2016.

IRAQ

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

ISRAEL

NOTHING SIGNIFICANT TO REPORT

RUSSIA

Watching Russia for Signs of Progress in Ukraine Negotiations

Summary

Recent developments suggest that significant progress in negotiations over the conflict in Ukraine may be possible for Moscow, Kiev and the West. Russia's announcement that it will end military operations in Syria, however tenuous and hedged it might be, is notable given the interplay between negotiations over the Syrian conflict and the crisis in eastern Ukraine. Lately there also has been a marked uptick in diplomatic activity between Russia and the United States. On March 23, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin. Both Syria and Ukraine were discussed at the meeting, and Lavrov called on Moscow and Kiev alike to do more to implement the Minsk protocols and resolve the Ukrainian crisis...

A Guard for Putin's Security

Russia just got yet another security service. On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the creation of a Russian national guard. Officially, the new national guard will combat terrorism and organized crime and will take over riot and SWAT duties from the Interior Ministry's troops. But more than law enforcement or security concerns, the surprise announcement signals that the Putin administration is worried about instability, in Russia as well as the Kremlin itself....

SYRIA

Syria: U.S. Special Operations Forces Assisting In Raqqa Offensive

U.S. special operations forces are playing a key role in the offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to retake the Islamic State's self-declared capital of Raqqa, SDF commanders said, Naharnet and AFP reported May 27. An SDF field commander said the special operations forces were using anti-tank missiles to target vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices used by the Islamic State. Reporters in the area spoke of seeing men in U.S. uniforms in the village of Fatisah, which the SDF recently retook from the Islamic State. The U.S.-led coalition also carried out heavy airstrikes against Islamic State targets around Raqqa.

Syria: U.S.-Backed Rebels Advance Against The Islamic State

Syrian rebels backed by coalition airstrikes and supported by U.S. special operations forces are advancing against the Islamic State in Aleppo province, U.S. officials and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said June 1, Reuters reported. The Syrian Democratic Forces are trying to capture the town of Manbij from the Islamic State, and have already retaken over a dozen villages in the area. U.S. military sources say the operation aims to cut off smuggling routes that allow fighters to travel back and forth between Europe and Syria. But there are questions surrounding the makeup of the rebel fighting force taking part in the assault: The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says most of the fighters come from the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), while U.S. military sources have said they are mostly Syrian Arab fighters. This matters to Turkey, which does not want to see YPG fighters making gains this close to the Turkish border. U.S. officials have said the YPG forces will only participate in the initial assault to retake Manbij, after which they will withdraw

Syria: Fighters Beat Back Islamic State, Open Supply Lines In Aleppo

Al-Mutassim Brigade, a group of fighters affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, took back several key villages from the Islamic State in northern Aleppo province, reopening supply lines to the key town of Marea, NOW reported June 8. The al-Mutassim Brigade said it had regained control of the villages of Sandaf, Kaljibrin and Kfar Kalbin, all of which lie north of Marea along the road to Azaz. A source in Marea said the U.S.-led coalition carried out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in the area. News of the group's success against Islamic State forces followed a May 27 offensive by the Islamic State in the area, which severed supply lines and left thousands of civilians trapped in Marea and Azaz.



MIDDLE EAST GENERAL

Libya: U.K. Wants To Send Warship To Fight Islamic State Smuggling

British Prime Minister David Cameron said his government would seek U.N. approval to send a warship to the Mediterranean Sea with the goal of preventing arms smuggling to the Islamic State in Libya, BBC reported May 27. Speaking at the G-7 summit in Japan, Cameron said the lawlessness in Libya and the presence of the Islamic State posed a danger to the world, adding that the United Kingdom would also like to send a team to help train Libya's fledgling coast guard. Libya's Government of National Accord has asked for assistance in training its coast guard and navy, and in cracking down on migrant smugglers. Cameron said he would deploy the warship to the south central Mediterranean once a U.N. Security Council resolution allowing for it is in place.

Kuwait Stumbles Amid Critical Reform



Summary

Kuwait has always played a unique role in the Gulf. Too small to defend itself from neighboring Iraq, it has had to rely on powerful allies for security, namely Saudi Arabia and the United States. But it has also managed to maintain a high degree of independence, remaining neutral enough, for example, to host peace talks on the contentious conflict in Yemen. Unlike its neighbors, it has a relatively strong parliamentary system and a healthy economy. This independence has put Kuwait at the vanguard of the critical economic reforms that all Gulf states will eventually need to implement to make their governments more fiscally solvent and less reliant on oil revenues in this period of low oil prices.

How Middle Eastern States Consolidate Power

By Kristin Fabbe

Commentators speculating on the chaos engulfing the Middle East almost inevitably point to the Sykes-Picot Agreement as its underlying cause. The artificial borders laid down by the colonial-era deal, the argument goes, primed the region for ethnic and sectarian conflict. At some point the borders would have to be redrawn, and when they were, the process was bound to be painful. We need only look at Syria's drawn-out conflict and growing calls for its partition to see that...

The Sun Sets on Libya Dawn

Summary

For the Islamist government in Tripoli, the arrival of a new unity government in the Libyan capital spells the beginning of the end of its hold on power. The General National Congress, or GNC, has controlled Tripoli since the violent Libya Dawn uprising in 2014. Now a newly formed unity government is ready to take over the country, and the GNC is more or less powerless to oppose it. After months of organizing in Tunis, the unity Government of National Accord (GNA) entered Libya's capital March 30. Less than 48 hours later, the prime minister of the GNC, Khalifa Ghweil, finally rescinded his threats to violently force the new government out and fled to his hometown, the coastal city of Misrata...

In Saudi Arabia, Sunni Militancy Claims Another Victim

Analysis

The Islamic State's April 5 assassination of a Saudi army officer underscores a disquieting trend that has emerged over the past two years: The number of attacks perpetrated by Sunni militants is rising. The latest incident took place in Dawadmi, 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Riyadh, where unknown assailants shot and killed Col. Kitab Majid al-Hammadi in his car on his way to work. An Islamic State affiliate calling itself Wilayat Najd — literally "Najd Province," a naming convention referring to the location of the active cell — claimed the attack. The group identified al-Hammadi as the director of internal security for the region of al-Quwayiyah. Wilayat Najd has become increasingly active in the region, having already claimed responsibility for the April 3 detonation of two explosive devices next to a police station in the al-Kharj area of Riyadh, which killed one person and damaged three police vehicles....

Libya: Forces Loyal To Unity Government Advance On Islamic State Stronghold

Forces loyal to Libya's U.N.-backed Government of National Accord are advancing into the Islamic State-held city of Sirte, an official taking part in the offensive said June 8, AP reported. Brig. Gen. Mohammed al-Ghasri said anti-Islamic State forces seized a key bridge inside the city and are now about five kilometers (three miles) from the city center. It is worth noting that, given this distance, fighters are likely still on the city's outskirts. Most of the militiamen taking part in the advance are fighters from the city of Misrata. Other officials said the forces, having encountered little resistance from the Islamic State in recent days except roadside bombs, are moving toward key areas in the city, including the port and the Ouagadougou convention center, the Islamic State's headquarters in Sirte. Retaking Sirte from the Islamic State would significantly damage the militant group's goal of building up a presence in Libya.



MISC

Borders Come and Go, but Geography Remains

A quote from Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl comes to mind as my Global Affairs colleagues consider Parag Khanna's Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. The anthropologist famous for his voyage on the Kon-Tiki said, "Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.”

Combating Intellectual Complacency

By Philip Bobbitt

Four claims one hears a good deal these days concerning the wars on terror are not exactly wrong but need some unpacking to render them truly valuable. Without a bit of analysis, these claims encourage the intellectual complacency that has marred much of the public debate about these wars and fortify the self-confidence of a certain kind of critic who believes that anyone who demurs in the face of such allegedly clinching claims is willfully ignoring the obvious...

Surveillance in the Information Age

By Fred Burton

Those who conduct surveillance — either for nefarious or protective security reasons — frequently have used available technology to aid them in their efforts. In earlier times, employing such technology might have meant simply using a telescope, but in more recent years, surveillants have used photographic and video gear, night vision aids and electronic equipment such as covert listening devices, beacons and programmable scanners. These efforts have been greatly enhanced by the advent of personal computers, which can be used to database and analyze information, and the Internet, which has revolutionized information gathering...



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