PLA border buildup: As tensions heat up on the Korean Peninsula, China is adding troops to its 1,416 kilometer border with North Korea, Robert E McCoywrites, with one media report saying Beijing recently conducted live-fire military exercises in the area. The troops are reportedly part of a newly formed military brigade that is seemingly there to control an expected mass exodus of refugees should war or some other catastrophe break out. It is certainly true that the People’s Liberation Army could easily be put to that use, but it seems like overkill to assign highly-trained military troops to that task. READ THE STORY HERE
Since the operation to take back Mosul began last year, approximately 180 women, girls and children from the Yazidi ethnic minority who were captured in 2014 by the Islamic State, or ISIS, have been liberated, according to Iraq’s Bureau for the Rescue of Abductees. Women rescued in the first two years after ISIS overran their ancestral homeland came home with infections, broken limbs and suicidal thoughts. But now, after three years of captivity, women like Souhayla and two others seen last week by reporters, are far more damaged, displaying extraordinary signs of psychological injury. – New York Times
A French-brokered deal in Libya between the political elite may secure short-term interests at the expense of long-term stability. Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar and Government of National Accord (GNA) prime minister-designate Fayez al Serraj committed to terms for a conditional ceasefire and presidential and parliamentary elections in 2018. This deal does not set conditions to address underlying grievances and further empowers Haftar, whose actions have weakened local governance structures and driven support to Salafi-jihadi groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) and al Qaeda. [Read Emily Estelle’s assessment Haftar’s role in the perceived return of the Qaddafi regime. Stay tuned for a forthcoming paper on Haftar’s rise and its implications for U.S. policy.]
U.S. Special Operations Forces: Taking the Fight to Terror in Africa
By Kaitlin Lavinder, The Cipher Brief: “The U.S. Special Operations Command Africa now conducts around 100 activities in 20 countries with 1,700 personnel at any given time.”
It’s a cruel irony: Africa’s wealthiest and most populous country, an energy superpower, is having trouble feeding its own people. Children like Isiaka have come to symbolize Nigeria’s plight as chronic corruption, declining oil production and falling global prices, and the fight against Islamic State-affiliated Boko Haram and other militants and separatist movements exacerbate the country’s year-old recession. – Washington Times
Suspected Boko Haram insurgents have kidnapped 10 members of a university research team prospecting for oil in northeast Nigeria, the state oil company, which contracted the work, said on Wednesday. - Reuters
Zimbabwe's parliament on Tuesday changed the constitution to give back to President Robert Mugabe sole power to appoint the country's top three judges, a move the main opposition said could undermine the independence of the judiciary. - Reuters
Interview: In April, President and Mrs. Bush led their seventh Bush Center delegation to Africa since leaving office. After their return from Botswana and Namibia, they spoke with Catalyst Editor William McKenzie about the roots of their shared commitment to Africa, the challenges they see in developing democracy and a strong middle class across the continent, and the reasons they are bullish about Africa’s future. – The Catalyst
Holly Kuzmich writes: Continued investments in global health, economic growth, and increased trade with Africa are vital. What happens overseas matters more than ever here in the United States, especially to our security and stability. – The Catalyst
Iran continues to house and support Al Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline.” @thomasjoscelyn @billroggio @followfdd
A document presumably authored by Osama bin Laden in 2007 refers to Iran as al Qaeda’s “main artery for funds, personnel, and communication.” That same letter referred to the “hostages” held by Iran, meaning those al Qaeda figures who were held in some form of detention and not allowed to freely operate. Bin Laden was not against attacking Iran in principle; he simply did not think the costs of such action were worth it.
Iran’s relationship with al Qaeda has survived for years, despite numerous disagreements and conflicts between the two. For instance, one file recovered in bin Laden’s Abbottabad lair shows that he was troubled by Iran’s attempt to expand across the Middle East and he conceived of a plan to combat the Shiite jihadists’ growing footprint. Al Qaeda has also kidnapped Iranian diplomats in order force hostage exchanges. Several high-level al Qaeda leaders were reportedly released as part of one such exchange in 2015, although their status beforehand inside Iran was murky.
Most importantly, the two sides are clearly at odds in Syria and Yemen, where they have fought each other and affiliated proxies for several years.
Yet, throughout all of this, Iran has allowed al Qaeda to maintain a key facilitation hub.
In July 2016, for instance, the US Treasury Department sanctioned three senior al Qaeda leaders “located in Iran.” One of them, Faisal Jassim Mohammed Al Amri Al Khalidi (a.k.a. Abu Hamza al Khalidi), has served as al Qaeda’s “Military Commission Chief” — meaning he was one of the most important figures in the group’s international network. Al Khalidi was identified in Osama bin Laden’s files as part of a “new generation” of leadership al Qaeda groomed to replace their fallen comrades. As Treasury’s July 2016 designations made clear, some of al Qaeda’s most important men continued to operate inside Iran. [See FDD’s Long War Journal report, Treasury designates 3 senior al Qaeda members in Iran.]
A United States Navy spy plane had to take evasive action to avoid crashing into a Chinese fighter jet that suddenly pulled up in front of the American plane in contested skies above the East China Sea on Sunday, the Pentagon said. – New York Times
Newly released video of the killing of three American Special Forces soldiers in November at the gate of a military base in Jordan shows that the episode, which was initially explained as a split-second mistake by a Jordanian guard firing on Americans who failed to stop, was actually a six-minute gun battle where Americans crouched behind barriers and repeatedly waved their hands in surrender as the gunman closed in and killed them. – New York Times
Silk Road standoff? The current border dispute between China and India is little more than a sideshow as South Asia’s tectonic plates shift in a direction that makes New Delhi’s resistance to Beijing’s global trade initiatives seem futile, writes Pepe Escobar. China’s trade connections now surround India and as Beijing is New Delhi’s top trade partner, nationalist attempts to block Indian involvement in the New Silk Road look increasingly counter-productive. READ THE STORY HERE
China-India, border endgame: With Beijing drawing a non-debatable ‘red line’, the month-long military standoff between China and India on the border near Sikkim may be about to enter the home stretch this weekend. M.K. Bhadrakumar writes that the Chinese Defense Ministry has waded into the discourse for the first time, saying the People’s Liberation Army will defend Chinese territory “at all costs” and this means Beijing’s conclusion will be that India must leave “Chinese territory” unconditionally, unilaterally and without further delay. READ THE STORY HERE
INDIA, CHINA: Border Dispute: China Won’t Back Off, India Can’t Back Down
By Will Edwards, The Cipher Brief: “After six weeks of tension between China and India over a Chinese road building project on contested territory, neither side is prepared to back down. Known as the Doklam Plateau, this small area high up in the Himalayas where Bhutan, India, and China share a vaguely defined border, is now the center of a potential conflict with much larger geopolitical consequences.”
Poland’s president defied expectations on Monday and vetoed two proposed laws that would have given the right-wing governing party direct control of the judiciary, in a move that had been widely condemned as a violation of democratic norms. – New York Times
The Polish Parliament’s move on Saturday to subvert judicial independence has opened a searing debate about whether a nation once held up as a paragon of post-communist democracy has slid back into a darker era. – Washington Post
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has vowed to defend Poland from EU sanctions over Warsaw’s attempts to purge the country’s highest courts, deepening an east-west European split over the contentious judicial reforms. – Financial Times
Editorial: On Friday, the State Department issued a bland statement calling on “all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland’s constitution,” while saying it was “confident about the strength of Poland’s democracy.” That faith hardly seems warranted — and if Mr. Trump himself is perturbed by the impending liquidation of the “freedom” he lauded, there’s no sign of it. – Washington Post
People’s Republic of China Options Toward North Korea
By Paul Butchard, Divergent Options: “For the PRC, their relationship with the DPRK is a regional policy issue and a central element of PRC-United States relations. President Xi Jinping is forging an outgoing, “Striving for Achievement” foreign policy for the PRC. Simultaneously, the PRC has displayed more public disapproval of Pyongyang’s destabilising behaviour than previous years. The course of action the PRC adopts towards the DPRK will play a major role in the relationship between Beijing and Washington in years to come, influencing events globally."
Trump’s China policy emerging. @michaelauslin @hooverinst @gordongchang
In June, the White House delivered three blows to China. First, it imposed sanctions on a Chinese bank and two individuals for abetting North Korea’s financial transactions. Second, it listed China in the category of worst offenders in human trafficking. Finally, it announced a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan. The Trump administration also made several lesser-order jabs, among them calling for more freedom in Hong Kong and conducting another freedom-of-navigation operation near the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It did all this as Chinese President Xi Jinping tried to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China from Britain.
FPI Board Member Eric Edelman and Charles Wald write: The Trump administration must not abide this untenable and deteriorating situation. The United States now needs what it clearly lacked before: a comprehensive strategy of robust leverage against all of Iran’s destabilizing behaviors. - Politico
RUSSIA: Russia's New Sukhoi Su-30SM1 Fighter
By Dave Majumdar, The National Interest: “Designated as the Su-30SM1, the aircraft leverages the operational lessons that Russia has learned during its operations over Syria, according to a report in the Russian-language newspaper Izvestia.”
RUSSIA: Russia's New Su-57 Stealth Fighter
By Dave Majumdar, The National Interest: “Russian President Vladimir Putin’s July 30th decision to expel 755 U.S. diplomats is the logical result of another senseless sanctions bill. Yes, Putin's regime is authoritarian by Western standards. And yes, Moscow most likely interfered in the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. But will sanctions "punish" Putin, or will they only edge our two countries closer to catastrophic war?”
Sanctions? What sanctions? North Korea’s economy grew at its fastest pace in 17 years in 2016, despite the isolated country facing international sanctions aimed at curbing its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Christine Kim reports that Pyongyang does not publish economic data but South Korea’s central bank figures say gross domestic product in the North last year rose 3.9% from the previous year and this expansion, driven by mining and energy, marked the biggest rise since 1999. READ THE STORY HERE
Getting Beijing's Attention About Pyongyang Via Beijing & What Trump Should Do About Russian Nuclear Treaty Violations
North Korea: The Flaws of Deterrence
By Crispin Rovere: "David Santoro’s advocacy for deterrence over war is an essential contribution to the North Korea debate. In paraphrasing my argument for war, Santoro also adds important theoretical context, including the ‘stability-instability paradox’ and alliance ‘decoupling’ that underpins my analysis. Santoro and I concur on some fundamental elements. We both accept that war with North Korea equals enormous sacrifice of blood and treasure, but that these costs will increase substantially once North Korea has an advanced nuclear arsenal and China achieves greater conventional parity with the United States. We also agree that North Korea may become more aggressive as its nuclear capabilities develop and that America’s failure to curtail North Korea’s nuclear program is increasing anxiety in allied capitals."
How to Respond to Russia’s INF Treaty Violation
By Gary Schmitt & James Cunningham, RealClearDefense: “When The New York Times reported that Russia had likely deployed a nuclear-armed cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, declared the treaty “in tatters” and the deployment a lesson “about the price of not confronting aggression.””
The extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, Mexico’s long-dominant drug lord, has led to an explosion of violence in his home state of Sinaloa, the birthplace of the country’s narcotics industry. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
John Bolton writes: In the last six months, Iran has made six more months of progress toward posing a mortal threat to America and its allies, and now totals two years since the JCPOA was agreed. This U.S. approach is both dangerous and unnecessary. Care to bet how close Tehran — and North Korea — now are? Consider the costs of betting wrong. – The Hill
Russia’s eastern boom: The Russian Far East is experiencing a boom and has attracted more than US$36 billion in direct investment, with more than 95% of this coming from the private sector, writes Alexander Ohkrimenko. Vladivostok will soon host this vast area’s third annual Eastern Economic Forum and Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East, Alexander Galushka, explains what is attracting business, investment and tourism — from Asia-Pacific and beyond — to the region. READ THE STORY HERE
Katherine Zimmerman testified: Al Qaeda has become more resilient and ready to exploit our own strategic weaknesses. It seized the opportunity presented by conflicts in the Muslim world to advance its strategic objectives. It has acted deliberately below the thresholds that would set off alarms in Washington. It embedded itself in local insurgencies from Mali to Syria to Afghanistan that will serve as a source of strength for the global organization. The rise of the ISIS galvanized the Salafi-jihadi movement globally, which will continue to strengthen al Qaeda long after ISIS is gone. America’s strategy to counter al Qaeda has remained relatively unchanged since 2001 even as the organization has adapted. The US does not even recognize any more the seriousness of the threat al Qaeda poses. – American Enterprise Institute
Liu Xiaobo, the renegade Chinese intellectual who kept vigil at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to protect protesters from encroaching soldiers, promoted a pro-democracy charter that brought him a lengthy prison sentence and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while locked away, died under guard in a hospital on Thursday. He was 61. – New York Times
The loss of the country’s most prominent dissident, Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who died of cancer under police guard at a Shenyang hospital on Thursday, leaves China’s fractured activist community at its weakest in a generation – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The death on Thursday of China’s most prominent political prisoner, Liu Xiaobo, set off a frenzied effort by government censors to block discussion of his legacy online. – New York Times
China’s economic might is catching up to the United States — or is seen to be catching up. That’s according to a new report from the Pew Research Center, which released results of a 38-nation survey Thursday afternoon. While the majority of those polled still correctly believe the United States is the world’s biggest economy, 12 nations — including Canada, Russia, and most of western Europe — believe China has the largest economy in the world. – Foreign Policy’s The Cable
Friends of China's Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident Liu Xiaobo, who died of liver cancer in custody, said on Friday they were unable to contact his widow, Liu Xia, and that ensuring her freedom was now a top priority. - Reuters
Analysis: Mr. Liu’s fate reflects how human rights issues have receded in Western diplomacy with China. And it shows how Chinese Communist Party leaders, running a strong state bristling with security powers, can disdain foreign pleas, even for a man near death. – New York Times
Editorial: Shortly before Mr. Liu died, the man ultimately responsible for this and so many other abuses in China, President Xi Jinping, was basking in the glamour and glory of international politics at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg. Yet throughout Mr. Xi’s rule, the true locus of honor in China has been any place of confinement occupied by Liu Xiaobo. – Washington Post
Editorial: Without political reform, China will continue to use its growing economic and military clout to spread its authoritarian model. Pressuring Beijing to free the imprisoned human-rights lawyers who have taken up Liu’s freedom fight would serve the interest of China’s people, as well as the rules-based international order that its undemocratic government seeks to subvert. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Editorial: Liu Xiaobo was, in a sense, the leader of China. He was the country’s foremost proponent of freedom, democracy, and human rights. He thought that Communism was a gross imposition on China and that it could not last indefinitely, if enough Chinese stood up against it. – The Weekly Standard
FPI Senior Fellow Ellen Bork writes: Today, we are discovering that America’s posture of uncritical engagement has far-reaching consequences. China is not only crushing democracy at home but challenging the universal rights and liberal democratic norms and universal abroad. A response to this will not come from the White House. Just hours after Liu died, President Trump praised Xi Jinping as a “terrific guy” at a press conference in Paris. Liu cannot comment on Xi’s ascendancy, and the attendant U.S. retreat. But we still have his writings to guide us. “Tyranny is not terrifying,” he wrote in 1996, “what is really scary is submission, silence, and even praise for tyranny.” – The Weekly Standard
Xiaorong Li writes: Liu Xiaobo never harbored the illusion that nonviolent action would not be returned by violence. Chinese lawyers who used the courts to challenge the state-controlled judiciary, attempting to hold the police accountable for using torture to extract confessions or keeping detainees in secret locations, have been detained or tortured themselves. But Xiaobo didn’t let the repression cloud his unflappable optimism. His firm belief that freedom is “the source of humanity and the mother of truth” should continue to guide all of us. – New York Times