The plunging price of oil, the escalating costs of its intervention in Syria and the dramatic effect economic sanctions were having on its economy, “the last thing the Iranians were going to do was walk” away from nuclear arms talks, the author of a new book on relations between Washington and Tehran contends. – USNI News
Walter Russell Mead writes: News that North Korea has detonated another bomb comes as no surprise; few things are as obvious in this crazy world as the fact that this murderous dictatorship is making steady progress on its weapons program. The Norks are getting better and better at making more powerful bombs and longer range missiles to put them on. President Obama, like Presidents Clinton and Bush before him, sputters indignantly and wrings his hands, but the tick-tock tick-tock of North Korean nuclear build-up goes on. – American Interest
Nicholas Eberstadt writes: It’s really very simple: North Korea is methodically and deliberately preparing to fight and win a limited nuclear war in the Korean peninsula against the USA and her allies. – American Enterprise Institute
Van Jackson writes: Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s approach to developing its strategic forces is markedly different—more aggressive—than it was under his father or grandfather. The striking change puts the Korean Peninsula on a path to nuclear war unless the U.S.-South Korean alliance can adapt to the constraints of deterrence and defense against a second-tier nuclear-armed adversary. – Foreign Affairs
The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his country’s test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile this week had achieved the “greatest success.” – New York Times
The missile that North Korea test-fired from a submarine off its east coast on Wednesday momentarily brought together three nations that have recently had reasons to squabble. – New York Times
The U.N. Security Council agreed at an emergency meeting late Wednesday to consider issuing a statement on the latest North Korean missile launch. – Associated Press
North Korea marked its “Military First” holiday on Thursday with mass dancing, outdoor concerts and boasts of a successful - and potentially game-changing - submarine-launched ballistic missile test it hopes will serve as a warning to Washington and Seoul to stop holding joint military exercises Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion. – Associated Press
Editorial: The U.S. hasn’t sanctioned a single Chinese entity for helping to arm or otherwise sustain the Pyongyang regime. The U.S., South Korea and Japan are expanding and integrating their regional missile-defense systems. But defenses are a last resort and can’t substitute for a counterproliferation strategy that should seek to cut Kim’s access to sophisticated technologies at their source. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Nuclear Friday. North Korea conducted its fifth underground nuclear test -- and second this year -- on Friday, shrugging off threats of deeper sanctions from the United States and the U.N. in the process. The test demonstrated a “nuclear warhead that has been standardized to be able to be mounted on” its ballistic missiles the North proclaimed in a statement.
The South Korean government confirmed the test on Friday after recording “an unnatural” artificial tremor originating from Punggye-ri, where the North has conductedfour previous tests. Officials in the South and other experts said that the test was the country’s largest to date, sparking worries that the country is making real progress in its efforts to build a functional nuclear warhead.
North testing like never before. The pace and tenor of North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests have undergone a “big change” this year, Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation told SitRep. Since February, North Korea has fired off more than 30 ballistic missiles with a range of at least 200 km, “more than the number fired previously by North Korea, ever,” he said via email. “These more extensive tests should allow North Korea to convert its missile force from a strategic threat/showcase to an operational force that seriously jeopardizes all of its neighbors, including China.”
As usual, the international community reacted with outrage. China said it was “firmly opposed” to the test, while Japan "protested adamantly" and U.S. president Barack Obama -- on his way home from his last trip to Asia as president -- warned of "serious consequences.”
More reax. Karl Dewey, an analyst at IHS Jane’s said in a statement that the threat of further sanctions is hardly a deterrent to the regime of Kim Jong Un, as his military “is thought to have a small standing stock of nuclear weapons, with some estimates placing the national inventory around 15-20 weapons. Sanctions will not have affected this stockpile, or the North's ability to test.”
The Center for Naval Analysis recently dropped a new look at efforts to deter the North Korean regime, coming to the conclusion that as Kim Jong-un continues to consolidate his power, South Korea and the United States “should expect that provocations will continue to be a part of North Korea’s strategy.”
North Korea is capable of detonating another nuclear device at its main atomic test site any time it chooses, Seoul officials said Monday, as the United States reportedly planned to send two nuclear-capable supersonic bombers to the South in a show of force against Pyongyang. – Associated Press
China responded Monday to calls that it needs to do more to rein in North Korea's nuclear program by saying that American officials were truly to blame for inciting conflict on the Korean Peninsula. – Associated Press
The Rason Special Economic Zone, a North Korean experiment in limited capitalism, isn’t likely the next-big-thing-in-Asia that officials here paint it to be. But even as the country is hunkering down under the toughest U.N.-backed sanctions in decades for its nuclear and long-range missile programs, it is, by North Korean standards, thriving. – Associated Press
Michael O’Hanlon writes: The United States and other countries should keep its same goal of North Korean denuclearization, the complete and verifiable elimination of its existing arsenal of perhaps 10 to 12 bombs (maybe more), as the only way for Pyongyang to gain a lifting of sanctions and greater economic aid in the future. But we also need a shorter-term and more pragmatic approach that would seek to freeze North Korea's progress. – USA Today
Mongolia’s newly-minted government has revealed a budget deficit equivalent to nearly one-fifth of economic output, underlining the dire state of its finances that have sent the currency tumbling. – Financial Times
Activists who have advocated independence for Hong Kong say they have been harassed or followed by pro-China local newspapers in recent months, while Beijing has stepped up its rhetoric against what it calls the "dangerous absurdity" of independence. - Reuters
Bill Gertz reports: China’s military is developing offensive and now defensive missiles in preparation for a future missile-dominated conflict with the United States. – Asia Times
Editorial: The challenge for the West is how to maintain free-market rules for the global economy while reviewing the torrent of Chinese investment likely in coming years. The next U.S. Administration will have to work hard to support free investment while paying particular attention to countries like China that would abuse the free system for their nationalist ends. – Wall Street Journal (subscription
The Colombian government signed a historic peace deal after four years of negotiations with the FARC rebel group on Wednesday night. The agreement, which ends 52 years of war, includes provisions for addressing the illegal drug trade, agrarian reform, transitional justice, and the laying down of arms. After negotiators for the FARC and the Colombian signed the accord, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the plebiscite in which Colombian voters will have the chance to accept or reject the deal will be held on October 2.
“We think we’ve done the best possible job, but it’s the Colombians who will judge us,” said Humberto de la Calle, the chief negotiator for the Colombian government. “We have to wait for the citizens’ verdict.”
Most polls show that a majority of Colombians will vote in favor of the deal, but there is still a chance that voters will strike it down. The former president, Álvaro Uribe, who is known for his tough military stance against the FARC, is leading the campaign urging Colombians to vote No on the deal. He and his party, the Centro Democratico, have said that it gives impunity to FARC guerrillas who have committed war crimes by allowing them to avoid jail time and instead face alternative punishments if they tell the truth.
China Isn't Ready To Be A SuperPower & China Violates South Korean Air space As Foreign Ministers Meet over U.S. Missile Defense
Chinese military jets flew into South Korea's air defense identification zone (ADIZ) just as the two countries' foreign ministers are set to meet. The Korea Times reports that three Chinese planes showed up at the margins of the two countries' ADIZs, prompting South Korea to scramble fighter jets to intercept them. The incident comes before Wednesday's meeting of foreign ministers from Japan, China, and South Korea for talks in Tokyo. The talks are likely to touch on disagreement between China and South Korea over the deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to defend against North Korean ballistic missiles. China opposes the deployment, fearing the system could be used to target Chinese missiles, as well as North Korean ones.
Unspeakable horror hit Turkey once again over the weekend as a suicide bombingcarried out by a child killed more than 50 people at a wedding party. The New York Timesreports that the child bomber, 14 years old, hit a Kurdish wedding in Gaziantep. Turkish officials say the attack, the most lethal to hit the country this year, was orchestrated by the Islamic State.
A child suicide bomber blew himself up at a Kurdish wedding party in the Turkish city of Gaziantep on Saturday night, killing at least 51 people and wounding nearly 70 others.
“Initial evidence suggests it was a Daesh attack,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
Also placing blame on the Islamic State, the pro-Kurdish political party HDP said the wedding was for one of its members. The bride and groom survived, but not the groom’s uncle and sister.
A statement released by the party said it was “quite significant” that the attack came hours after a militant Kurdish organization announced plans to negotiate a peace deal with the Turkish government. The child bomber struck as guests were leaving, reportedly targeting a group of people dancing.
The Islamic State has tried to inflame Turkey’s ethnic tensions in past attacks, launching its deadliest one in October, when a pair of suicide bombers struck a rally of Kurdish and labor activists in Ankara, killing more than 100 people.
The wedding bombing came hours after Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said his country would allow Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad to temporarily stay in office during a transition of power. Turkey has previously called for Assad’s immediate ouster and given extensive support to Syrian rebels. Yildirim’s conciliatory statement followed an unprecedented attack by Syrian government warplanes on Kurdish rebels, who are seen as a paramount security threat by the Turkish government.
Hannah Thoburn writes: Putin and his Kremlin seem to have successfully renewed their cadres. With a strong and trusted figure like Volodin at their head, it seems unlikely that anything—at least in this arena—will go awry for Putin’s continued control. – World Affairs Journal
Russia may jail its own separatists, but that did not hinder a nominally independent Russian organization from laying out the welcome mat on Sunday for an oddball, global troupe of liberation movements, including, improbably, four from the United States. – New York Times
Lilia Shevtsova writes: Putin’s Russia has thus succeeded in adapting to the ambiguities of a globalized world much faster and more thoroughly than the liberal democracies. True, the Crimea annexation and war with Ukraine have to some extent reminded the West of its principles. But the Western elite, long used to living in a postmodern world, is already looking for ways to return to it. In this world, there is no “containment”—only words like “competition” and “cooperation.” – The American Interest
Analysis: Incorporated into what appears to be an overarching strategy to assert Russian primacy in their self-identified “near abroad” the Russians are doing several things simultaneously, the most important of which may well be the large-scale exercises in Crimea as part of an apparent larger strategic war game. While many may argue the relative merits of various aspects of Russian power, sanctions, diplomatic isolation and other lines of effort, there is no denying that Russia is synchronizing a strategy to keep Europe off-balance, potential allies encouraged and possible enemies deterred from the Baltic to the Black Sea and further afield. – USNI News
A main concern in that transitional period will be money, or a shortage of it. Russia is spending billions of dollars to cover a budget shortfall of around 3 percent of gross domestic product because of low crude prices and international sanctions, and it is expected to exhaust one of its two sovereign funds next year. There are contesting visions of how to fill the gap, but cutbacks on social entitlements would be one likely solution. – Washington Post
Christopher Harmer writes: Debate about whether or not Russia would deliver the long-promised S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system to Iran has somewhat obscured the strategic implications of the delivery that is now taking place…The deployment of S-300 components to Iran, however, is a strategic game changer in the region, and a challenge to which international attention should now turn. – AEI’s Critical Threats
Russia is bolstering its military presence on its western border, sending tens of thousands of soldiers to newly built installations within easy striking distance of Ukraine. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Russian military forces are carrying out "logistical exercises" in and around the Crimean Peninsula, the Ukrainian Black Sea region that Russia annexed in 2014. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine on Thursday reported the heaviest rebel shelling attack in the separatist east for a year in what the president said could be a prelude to a full-scale Russian invasion. - AFP
A member of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush's administration says that until the attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991, nobody in the U.S. government imagined the Soviet Union would collapse by the end of 1991. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Leon Aron writes: Tocqueville compared enduring national institutions to rivers that “after going underground re-emerge at another point, in new surroundings.” Driven deep into the ground today by the weight of repression, monopolistic propaganda, and war-mongering paranoia, the great August revolution, too, will re-emerge. – Foreign Policy
David Kramer writes: We should stay true to our values and restore the notion of “linkage” by making clear that Putin’s mistreatment of his own people — and his neighbors — will adversely affect our bilateral ties. The next administration should implement more aggressively the Magnitsky Act for gross human rights abuses and maintain — even ramp up — sanctions against Russia for its ongoing violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. – Washington Post
Anders Aslund writes: The increasing opacity of Russian politics has opened a window of opportunity for Kremlinology to make a comeback. Many people ridicule the field of study as little more than reading tea leaves, but it can be a helpful analytical tool when done properly. – The American Interest
Martha Simms writes: Trump and his gang of Putin admirers have unexpectedly provided the realists with an opportunity to creep back from their Reagan-era exile—to the surprise of conservative internationalists. These differing views of U.S. power and foreign policy are in theory broad and cover all regions and issues. However, the U.S. relationship with Russia is bringing this disagreement front and center and is fast becoming a litmus test of one’s place within the party. – The Cipher Brief
Matthew Bryza writes: It has been a long time since I have sensed any cause for optimism about the prospects of a political settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Indeed, Armenia and Azerbaijan nearly resumed full-scale war in April, when their troops clashed along the line of contact with a level of ferocity unprecedented during the twenty-four years since the previous ceasefire. As the dust has settled, however, two new openings have emerged, one rather unexpectedly from Russian President Vladimir Putin and another from a regional business leader. Both merit Washington’s close examination and perhaps its embrace.– Atlantic Council
Russian Missile Technology
Russian bombers are putting the Kh-32 cruise missile through its final trials, according to UPI. The missile, which reportedly travels at a blazing 3,300 miles per hour and can reach the stratosphere at heights of up to 130,000 ft., is being tested aboard long-range bombers. Russian sources also claim that the Kh-32 is impervious to the latest American air defense systems, able to evade Patriot missiles.
Russia isn't kitting up its fighter jets in Syria with its latest and greatest air-to-air weapons, according to the National Interest. Once in a great while, an Su-35S Flanker E will appear in Syria outfitted with R-77 RVV-SD missiles, but more often than not, Russian air-to-air defense is provided by Su-30SM Flanker-H and Su-34. Experts say the newer R-77 RVV-SD missiles remain in relatively shorter supply and Moscow isn't in a hurry to arm its fighter jets with advanced air-to-air loads because it's not sweating the possibility of a throwdown with American fighter jets in Syria.
China is putting the finishing touches on its first homemade aircraft carrier, according to satellite imagery reviews by IHS Jane's. The pictures reveal that shipbuilders in the Dalian Shipyard show the hull, bow, and other sections of the Type 001A aircraft carrier nearly complete. China has been modernizing its military and attempting to develop platforms that will allow its forces to operate further abroad. The People's Liberation Army Navy currently has one aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, a Soviet era carrier which it purchased from Ukraine and has been using for training purposes.
Plans for China's third aircraft carrier appear to have leaked online, according to imagery posted on Chinese military forums and reviewed by IHS Jane's. If the images are authentic, the ship does away with the curved ski jump deck seen on the Type 001A, currently under construction, leading to speculation that it will use a catapult system to launch aircraft. Once finished, the ship will be China's second indigenously-produced flattop. The People's Liberation Army Navy purchased its first carrier, an old Soviet vessel, from Ukraine and is nearly finished building its first homemade one.
Lee Smith writes: The price Obama paid to ink an agreement with Iran continues to mount. What's certain is that to get that agreement, Obama made his peace with Assad ruling over Syria and prosecuting a war that has claimed half a million lives so far. For the White House and its surrogates in the media, the moral reckoning for that deal is still to come. – The Weekly Standard
Iran is permitted to pursue the construction of two newly announced nuclear plants under the parameters of last summer’s nuclear agreement, Obama administration officials informed the Washington Free Beacon, setting the stage for Tehran to move forward with construction following orders from President Hassan Rouhani. – Washington Free Beacon
The Obama administration is withholding from Congress details about how $1.3 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds was delivered to Iran, according to conversations with lawmakers, who told the Washington Free Beacon that the administration is now stonewalling an official inquiry into the matter. – Washington Free Beacon
Eli Lake reports: Obama wasn't just reluctant to show solidarity in 2009, he feared the demonstrations would sabotage his secret outreach to Iran. In his new book, "The Iran Wars," Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon uncovers new details on how far Obama went to avoid helping Iran's green movement. Behind the scenes, Obama overruled advisers who wanted to do what America had done at similar transitions from dictatorship to democracy, and signal America's support. – Bloomberg View
A series of bombings struck five provinces in Thailand, mostly at sites popular with tourists, on Thursday and Friday morning, in what a senior Thai official called a coordinated wave of attacks. Four people were killed and dozens wounded, the police said. – New York Times
Tens of millions of tourists to military-ruled Thailand face being tracked via special sim cards under plans that have sparked a mixture of outrage, mockery and puzzlement. – Financial Times
Former Philippines president Fidel Ramos has been invited to Beijing for formal discussions about the two nations’ maritime disputes after “ice-breaking” talks with a senior Chinese diplomat in Hong Kong. – Financial Times
The Philippines wants formal negotiations with China to explore pathways to peace and cooperation, the Southeast Asian nation's special envoy, Fidel Ramos, said on Friday, after a meeting with former Chinese deputy foreign minister Fu Ying. - Reuters
A proposed law in Singapore spelling out contempt of court and setting out tough penalties has drawn criticism from rights groups and raised questions among foreign diplomats over the implications for freedom of speech in the wealthy city-state. - Reuters
August 18, 2016
Libyan forces advancing on Isis holdouts in Sirte claim they are close to securing victory in the coastal city that is a critical battleground in the fight against the jihadi group. Now comes the hard part for Libya’s weak authorities: curbing the instability and violence that have blighted the North African nation since the 2011 overthrow of Muammer Gaddafi. – Financial Times
Suicide bombings against Libyan forces battling to oust Islamic State from their former North African stronghold of Sirte killed at least 12 fighters and wounded about 60 there on Thursday, a hospital spokesman said. - Reuters
Libyan officials were cautious on Thursday about declaring complete victory over the Islamic State in the coastal city of Surt, saying unknown numbers of the militant organization’s extremists remained ensconced in three neighborhoods. – New York Times
[A]nalysts said Islamic State, which has made resiliency its hallmark, probably retains the ability to imperil Libya’s fragile government, as well as more distant targets, by shrugging off territorial and battlefield losses and turning its attention to guerrilla-style insurgency. – Los Angeles Times
Even as airstrikes authorized by President Obama have enabled Libya’s embattled unity government to seize the Islamic State’s critical stronghold here, a struggle between the feuding political and religious factions is putting those battlefield successes in doubt. – Washington Times
Italy has used a new law to send special forces to fight the Islamic State group in Libya without informing Parliament, according to Italian reports. – Defense News
Support for the U.N.-backed unity government in Libya is "crumbling" amid increased power outages and a weakening currency that is hitting crucial imports, the United Nations' envoy to the embattled north African country told a newspaper. - Reuters
It’s considered the star performer of the ill-fated Arab Spring, the one country in the region where representative democracy has made major strides. But even here, the fight against radical Islamic violence requires an unceasing vigil. – Washington Times
Russian summer. Moscow is dispatching thousands of soldiers to its border with Ukraine, along with more armored vehicles, more aircraft, and more missile defense systems in moves that have Kiev on edge, and U.S. military officials watching closely. And Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Crimea Friday for meetings with security officials.
What does it all mean? Most U.S. officials are highly skeptical that Moscow is planning a move into Ukraine, saying that the maneuvers could be just another round of exercises and planned troop rotations, or an effort to stir up nationalistic passions before upcoming parliamentary elections next month. Still, tensions between Russia and Ukraine have flared in recent weeks after Russia accused Ukraine’s military of killing two Russian soldiers during alleged cross-border raids into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Over the past two weeks, the Institute for the Study of War’s Kathleen Weinberger says, Russia has deployed new naval, ground, and air units, along with the S-400 air defense system on near Ukraine’s borders. “These new deployments constitute a significant expansion of Russia’s force projection capabilities and may signal preparations for a large-scale military conflict. Russia’s current force posture allows it to threaten or conduct military operations into Ukraine from multiple directions.” Speaking on Ukrainian television Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that "we don't rule out full-scale Russian invasion."
The Donbass. Things are heating up in eastern Ukraine as well, where government officials say they've been on the receiving end of the biggest artillery barrage in a year. August has been a typically violent month since the conflict broke out in 2014, with fighting peaking around the late summer. That pattern seems to be holding once again, with a Ukrainian military spokesman saying troops have seen 500 mortar and 300 artillery rounds fired at them, raising fears that an even more direct Russian intervention could be forthcoming.
Russia has deployed an advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile battery to the Crimean Peninsula amid escalating tensions there, according to Russian news reports. The missile system, once operational, would be able to target aircraft deep into Ukrainian airspace. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
Arch Puddington writes: Illiberal governments understand that they are susceptible to defeat at the ballot box. They will thus use every available tactic to ensure victory: gerrymandering, intimidation of the opposition, arranging crony takeovers of major media, threatening businessmen with opposition sympathies. We are living in a period in which democracy is at least as likely to be eroded through sneak attacks by elected politicians as through military coups or foreign invasions – Freedom House’s Freedom at Issue
Editorial: An assault by Russia-backed forces into eastern Ukraine would lay bare the failure of Western diplomacy that mostly restrains Ukrainian self-defense. Mr. Putin started a war in Georgia in the waning days of the George W. Bush Administration eight years ago, and he may want to stir more trouble while Barack Obama is heading out the door. The next U.S. President needs to revisit Mr. Obama’s refusal to sell Kiev the lethal weapons it needs to defend itself against the Kremlin’s aggression. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Hannah Thoburn writes: The Minsk II agreement has been moribund for some time, and despite the fact that it was Russian aggression which began the conflict more than two years ago, Moscow has persisted in blaming the Ukrainians for the slow implementation. Now, should Russia succeed in portraying Ukraine—rather than Russia—as the problem creator, that beleaguered nation may come to find itself increasingly friendless and, even worse, potentially excluded from future negotiations about its border and its future. Stay tuned. – Hudson Institute
Adrian Karatnycky writes: Russia’s accusations should not be regarded as a new stage in its war of attrition against Ukraine. They are more likely part of the long-running disinformation campaign that has accompanied the country’s military aggression. - Politico
Russia is building large numbers of underground nuclear command bunkers in the latest sign Moscow is moving ahead with a major strategic forces modernization program. – Washington Free Beacon
Anders Aslund writes: Putin has taken a big daring step by sacking Sergei Ivanov, but he has so far failed to seize control of the security council, which could oust Putin himself for his adventurous policies. This instability in the Kremlin is likely to impact its Ukraine policy, but at this point it could go either way. The security council might want to contain the adventurous Putin, or Putin might want to use a new small victorious war in Ukraine to seize control over the security council. – Atlantic Council
The Pentagon has identified eight staging areas in Russia where large numbers of military forces appear to be preparing for incursions into Ukraine, according to U.S. defense officials. – Washington Free Beacon
In a nation struggling with economic troubles and Russian aggression, media professionals suspect they are being targeted in a far-reaching campaign of abuse whose perpetrators, like Sheremet’s unidentified killers, have so far acted with total impunity. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine says it thinks Vladimir Putin is planning a new invasion, and it's not hard to see why: the Russian leader has built up troops on its border and resumed the hostile rhetoric that preceded his annexation of Crimea two years ago. But despite appearances, some experts say Putin is more likely seeking advantage through diplomacy than on the battlefield, at least this time around. - Reuters
Ukrainian government forces control the ground in Avdiyivka, but pro-Moscow rebels just across the front line of a two-year separatist conflict dominate the airways, along with stations beamed in from Russia to the east. The result is that people on the Kiev-controlled side can end up flooded - whether they like it or not - by news telling Russia's side of the story, through TV channels that demonize the Ukrainian government and its cause. - Reuters
Daniel Baier writes: The conflict in eastern Ukraine remains a chosen tragedy: an unnecessary war with horrific human costs inflicted by Russian intervention. The road map to end this tragedy—the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements—starts with a complete, sustainable cease-fire, followed by additional security and political steps. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission can do its job only if it has safe, unfettered access on the ground. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
Kathleen Weinberger writes: Vladimir Putin has mobilized military forces in Crimea and on Ukraine's northern and eastern borders. … There is nothing normal about this mobilization, but neither does Putin desire a war with Ukraine. He intends, rather, to use this mobilization and escalation of conflict to create leverage to weaken EU sanctions, destabilize the Ukrainian government, undermine NATO, and present the next American president with a series of faits accomplis. He is likely to succeed in all these aims. – Institute for the Study of War
Joseph K. Grieboski writes: Russian President Vladimir Putin is globally acknowledged as a war hawk, known for the type of driving military campaigns that led to Russia's intervention in Ukraine and its military support of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria. A lesser-acknowledged aspect of Putin's tactical maneuvering is his mastery of soft-power tactics, influencing Russia's global perception as a power to rival the United States. – The Hill
More than a month after deadly unrest flared up in the disputed Kashmir region, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged residents to pick dialogue and development over agitation as stone-pelting protesters continue to clash with security forces. – WSJ’s India Real Time
Harsh Pant writes: Indians and Pakistanis immediately understood Mr. Modi’s message. New Delhi is willing to take on the challenge that Islamabad poses on Kashmir by making the Pakistani province of Balochistan the object of similar Indian attention. If Pakistan continues to meddle in Kashmir and incite violence and terror, India will be forced to expose the atrocities Pakistan commits in restive Balochistan. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
A political split in South Korea over the deployment of a United States missile defense system sharpened on Monday, as six opposition lawmakers began a three-day visit to China and President Park Geun-hye accused them of siding with Beijing in a dispute of major national import. – New York Times
Japan warned China on Tuesday that ties were deteriorating over disputed East China Sea islets, and China's envoy in Tokyo reiterated Beijing's stance that the specks of land were its territory and called for talks to resolve the dispute. - Reuters
Interview: The adversarial relationship between China and Japan reaches back centuries, and the memories of Japan’s imperial past continue to plague a productive and peaceful relationship. Recent events between the two countries continue to stymie what is one of the world’s most valuable economic relationships. The Cipher Brief interviewed former U.S. Presidential Advisor Dennis Wilder on how the most recent incidents are shaping the security landscape of East Asia’s two most powerful countries. – The Cipher Brief
Bruce Bechtol writes: The North Koreans are serious about developing new advanced ways to threaten South Korea and the United States. We should be serious about deterring them with the best systems we have. – Korea Times
Daniel Twining writes: Beijing’s campaign to dig up every ounce of dirt in Japanese history for Western and Asian audiences with no memory of the Pacific War is designed to cloak China’s present-day revisionism with tales of Japan’s wrongs long ago. The best antidote is for the United States to side with Prime Minister Abe in his campaign to ensure that Japan has the right to defend itself and become, as he puts it, a “proactive partner for peace” to America, India, and other democracies — precisely so that the future of Asia does not resemble its bloody past. – National Review Online
The photos, collected and scrutinized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based research organization, show the construction of what appear to be reinforced aircraft hangars at Fiery Cross, Subi and Mischief Reefs, all part of the disputed territories. – New York Times
David Feith interviews Admiral Harry Harris, USN: An arch villain in China’s narrative is Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific, who last year had the gumption to warn that Beijing is building a “Great Wall of Sand” in the South China Sea. The four-star former reconnaissance flight officer also happens to be the son of an American father and a Japanese mother, a fact oft-noted by Chinese state media as proof of malign intent. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
The International Monetary Fund said Thursday that it would grant Egypt a $12 billion loan over three years to help Egypt mend its ailing economy after years of unrest. – New York Times
The Egyptian military announced that it killed Abu Duaa al-Ansari, the leader of Sinai Province, the Islamic State affiliate in the Sinai Peninsula, in a series of airstrikes near Al-Arish.
• Ali Gomaa, a former Grand Mufti who has been critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, survived an assassination attempt at a mosque west of Cairo today; the gunmen escaped on a motorcycle after wounding one of Gomaa’s bodyguards.
“Law and Lawfare in the Islamic State” (Mara Revkin, Lawfare)
“Historians and political scientists have long recognized that legal institutions greatly facilitate the formation of modern states by legitimizing violence, protecting economic transactions and property rights, and justifying taxation and military conscription. If we take seriously the “state” in ‘Islamic State,’ then we should also take seriously the institutional building blocks of that state, including its legal system. Like all legal systems, the Islamic State’s has (1) rules—based on the divinely revealed body of Islamic law known as shari‘a—(2) a judiciary to apply them, and (3) a law enforcement apparatus to ensure compliance. The Islamic State appears to be using this legal system to advance at least three different state-building objectives: (1) establishing a legal basis for territorial sovereignty and expansion; (2) enforcing internal discipline within the Islamic State’s own ranks; and (3) justifying taxation, which has become an increasingly important source of revenue for the group.”
Egypt’s former grand mufti survived an attempt on his life in a western Cairo suburb when two masked gunmen opened fire as he was walking toward a mosque to hold Friday prayers, officials said. It was the first assassination attempt against a high-profile figure in the Egyptian capital this year. – Associated Press
Oren Kessler writes: The tightening ties between Egypt and Israel are an increasingly rare example of America's Middle Eastern allies cooperating to mutual benefit. With the region roiled by civil wars in Syria and Iraq, and a post-coup purge in Turkey, the Cairo-Jerusalem partnership is a rare piece of good news in a region offering precious little of it. – The Hill
Eli Lake writes: All of this is important because the Iranians learned an important lesson: Hostage-taking works. Despite the completion of the Iran nuclear deal a year ago, the payment of cash, the release of Iranian nationals and the State Department campaign to encourage foreign investment in Iran, Iran's regime is keeping to form. – Bloomberg View
Fred Fleitz writes: Given the negotiating record of the nuclear talks, it is impossible to believe there was no link between the Iran deal and the release of the American prisoners. More likely, the Obama administration desperately wanted Iran to release the Americans as part of the nuclear agreement but Tehran refused until sanctions were lifted and it received a large ransom payment. – National Review Online
Marc Johnson writes: Since the Obama administration appears to want to maintain this policy of turning a blind eye in service of extending the JCPOA past November, it’s up to Congress to act to ensure the agreement’s integrity. Congress should set up an independent verification mechanism to assess Iran’s compliance with the JCPOA. – National Review Online
In untangling land disputes, the new government will have to contend with powerful business interests, many linked to the military. That could put Suu Kyi on a collision course with the generals and threaten Myanmar’s fragile transition to democracy. - Reuters
Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said on Tuesday she rejected a draft constitution sponsored by the generals who toppled her government two years ago, and would vote against it in an Aug. 7 referendum. - Reuters
North Korea fired a ballistic missile into waters near Japan on Wednesday, a day after President Park Geun-hye of South Korea said her government remained firm in its plan to deploy an advanced American missile defense system despite protests at home and from China – New York Times