FPI Overnight Brief: May 31, 2017

The Must-Reads

Middle East/North Africa

Iran
 
David Albright and Olli Heinonen write: Iran says it has initiated mass production of advanced centrifuges. Taken at face value, this statement implies that Iran could be in material breach of the nuclear deal. The mass production of these centrifuges (or their components) would greatly expand Iran’s ability to sneak-out or breakout to nuclear weapons capability or surge the size of its centrifuge program if the deal fails or after key nuclear limitations end. The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) need to determine what Iran is doing and provide assurance that Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing is consistent with the nuclear deal. – Institute for Science and International Security
 
Syria
 
Russia launched four cruise missiles at Islamic State targets in Syria from a warship and submarine in the Mediterranean, the Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Hundreds of Iranian-backed militiamen, fighting alongside government troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, are amassing near a U.S.-training base located near the country’s border with Iraq, the Defense Department confirmed Tuesday. – Washington Times
 
U.S. aircraft over the weekend dropped a series of leaflets around the Tanf border crossing between Syria and Iraq, warning pro-Syrian regime militia to avoid the deconfliction zone around a small base there. – Military Times
 
The United States started Tuesday to deliver weapons to Kurdish fighters closing in on the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, the Pentagon said. – Associated Press
 
As the U.S.-led coalition ratchets up operations in Syria, there are concerns that it will result in a rerun of what happened in Iraq, where $1 billion in weapons supplied to local fighters is unaccounted for. – Associated Press
 
The U.N. humanitarian chief accused the Syrian government on Tuesday of increasingly using civilian suffering as "a tactic of war," saying it denies aid to the needy and pushes people in besieged cities to choose between starvation and death or fleeing to locations that are just as unsafe. – Associated Press
 
Iraq
 
The Pentagon on Tuesday warned the Iraqi militias fighting alongside Iraqi forces to liberate the Islamic State-held city of Mosul to fall in line behind commanders in Baghdad, amid rising sectarian tensions between Iranian-backed Shia militias and Kurdish peshmerga in the war-torn country. – Washington Times
 
Arabian Peninsula
 
Cholera deaths in war-torn Yemen have surged into the hundreds, more than a quarter of Yemenis face famine, and parents are selling girls into marriage to buy food, the United Nations said on Tuesday. – New York Times
 
It’s not exactly set in stone, but the $110 billion Saudi arms deal President Donald Trump came home with last week could include the THAAD missile defense system and new coastal patrol ships for the Kingdom. – Defense Tech
 
Just 10 days after President Donald Trump called on Muslim countries to stand united against Iran, a public feud between Qatar and some of its Gulf Arab neighbors is jolting his attempt to tip the regional balance of power against Tehran. - Reuters
 
A Bahraini court on Wednesday ordered the dissolution of the main secular Waad opposition group and the seizure of its assets, Waad said on its Twitter account. - Reuters
 
North Africa
 
Editorial: Legislators should block the distribution of new military aid to Egypt until the nongovernmental-organizations law is repealed or revised and political prisoners released. Grave damage will be done to U.S. strategic interests in the region if Mr. Sissi is allowed to pocket billions in American aid even as he consolidates what amounts to a totalitarian state. – Washington Post
 
Samuel Tadros writes: Many Copts insist that they will never leave Egypt. The terrorists will not win, they proclaim, and the Lord who protected his people throughout these centuries will continue to shield them. But the Coptic exodus from Egypt is unfolding in front of our very eyes…With trends increasing both as a result of persecution in Egypt, and the increasing ability of immigrant Copts to bring relatives once they settle down, it is not unforeseeable that, in another 50 years, half the Coptic population will be living outside of Egypt’s borders. – Washington Post
 
Turkey
 
Two Kurdish German men accused of helping to kill their sister in 2005 because of her Western lifestyle were acquitted on Tuesday in a Turkish court, in the latest failed attempt to prosecute them in a case that became a benchmark for cultural tensions between Turkey and Germany. – New York Times

Asia

South Asia
 
A truck bombing near the Afghan presidential palace early Wednesday killed at least 80 people and wounded hundreds, officials said. The death toll seemed certain to rise, and the attack appeared to be one of the bloodiest of the long Afghan war. – New York Times
 
Gunmen in northwestern Pakistan on May 30 gunned down a close aide and relative of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan militant leader who signed a peace deal with the government last year, officials said. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Nawaz Sharif has ordered power companies not to cut electricity supplies in the hours before or after the daily Ramadan fast, as outages in the first few days of the Muslim holy month threaten to embroil Pakistan’s prime minister in a political crisis. – Financial Times
 
China
 
A labor activist researching working conditions in a Chinese factory that makes shoes for Ivanka Trump’s label has been detained by police, according to his wife and a labor advocacy group, while two others have gone missing and are presumed also to have been detained. – Washington Post
 
The biggest political story in China this year isn’t in Beijing. It isn’t even in China. It’s centered at a $68 million apartment overlooking Central Park in Manhattan. That’s where Guo Wengui, a billionaire in self-imposed exile, has hurled political grenades at the Chinese Communist Party for months, accusing senior leaders of graft using Twitter as his loudspeaker. – New York Times
 
A major Chinese telecommunications company linked to the Beijing government has been selling equipment to U.S. government security agencies, raising new concerns about electronic espionage and sabotage. – Washington Free Beacon       
 
Senator John McCain has accused China of acting like “bully” in the Asia-Pacific region by using its economic strength to coerce neighbours and making territorial claims in the South China Sea that are not backed up by international law. – Financial Times
 
China’s first cyber security law will increase costs for multinationals, leave them vulnerable to industrial espionage and give Chinese companies an unfair advantage, business representatives and analysts have warned. – Financial Times
 
Police in China's northwestern city of Xian briefly detained nine gay activists, saying the city did not welcome gay people, after they tried to organize a gay rights conference there, one of the activists told Reuters on Wednesday. - Reuters
 
Korean Peninsula
 
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea ordered an investigation on Tuesday into why the Defense Ministry had failed to inform him that four additional launchers for a contentious American missile-defense battery had been brought into his country. – New York Times
 
The Pentagon asserted Tuesday it has been “completely transparent” with South Korea's government about the deployment of its missile defense system after reports surfaced that President Moon Jae-in wasn’t informed more launchers were deployed to his country. – The Hill
 
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is expected to press for greater cooperation to contain North Korea's nuclear and missile threat at a regional security forum in Singapore later this week, where for years Washington has sought to spotlight China's expansion in the strategic South China Sea. - Reuters
 
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday the Trump administration believes China is using “back channel networking” with North Korea to try and get Kim Jong Un to stop nuclear and ballistic missile testing. – Associated Press
 
North Korea, which is testing ballistic missiles faster than ever, is rapidly becoming a better equipped and more formidable adversary. Some experts believe it might be able to build missiles advanced enough to reach the United States in two to three years. And that poses a game-changing problem for the U.S., which for its part is also escalating, successfully shooting down a target ICBM launched from a Pacific island with a California-based interceptor missile on Tuesday. – Associated Press
 
East Asia
 
A House committee chairman has introduced legislation aimed at increasing cyber cooperation with allies in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. – The Hill
 
U.S. Pacific Command has plans to put into practice a joint-service concept to integrate air, land and sea operations, with a mandate for all the services to incorporate the concept into their exercises in a lead-up to the Army sinking a ship at next year’s Rim of the Pacific exercise, the PACOM commander said last week. – USNI News
 
The governor of Okinawa is preparing another lawsuit challenging the relocation of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a remote part of the island, according to multiple Japanese media reports. – Stars and Stripes
 
Southeast Asia
 
President Trump on Wednesday will greet Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House, the clearest sign to date that Washington and Hanoi, once-implacable foes burdened by a bloody and tragic history, increasingly share overlapping strategic interests and a mutual outlook on the region and the world. – Washington Times
 
Philippine military chiefs have called on Islamist militants in Mindanao to surrender after a week-long siege that has claimed more than 100 lives. – Financial Times
 
A week-long assault by Islamist rebels in a southern Philippine city is being fuelled with stolen weapons and ammunition and fighters broken out of jails, the military said on Wednesday, as troops battled militants resisting ground and air attacks. - Reuters
 
Dozens of foreign jihadis have fought side-by-side with Islamic State sympathizers against security forces in the southern Philippines over the past week, evidence that the restive region is fast becoming an Asian hub for the ultra-radical group. - Reuters

Security

Defense Budget
 
After more than a year of talk from Navy and Marine Corps aviation leaders about needing to fund “aviation enablers” to boost readiness, the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request shows exactly the investments that are needed to get more planes ready to fly. – USNI News
 
The Trump administration is claiming an increase of 56,000 troops in its newly released fiscal 2018 defense budget request, but the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee called it a "ruse" on Tuesday. – Washington Examiner
 
Bryan McGrath writes: Seapower advocates looking for a fleet expansion should not yet lose hope, as it appears the Trump administration is wisely and methodically taking the first steps toward sustained growth. But navies grow slowly, and effort must be sustained across many years, requiring sustained presidential leadership and attention. Whether this can be expected of the current president remains to be seen. – War on the Rocks
 
Katherine Blakeley writes: Forgoing asking for additional defense spending in its first federal budget, when a new administration has the greatest chance of making big course corrections, is a strategic mistake. Unless Congressional defense hawks and appropriators jettison the deficit-hawk priorities that the White House’s 2018 budget tightly embraces, there won’t even be a paper defense buildup. – Defense One
 
Defense
 
The Air Force will know in June whether the KC-46 tanker program will be set back by another round of schedule delays, a service official told lawmakers Thursday. – Defense News
 
The Air Force plans to activate more C-5M Super Galaxies after removing a number of the cargo planes from active service due to budget constraints, officials said. – Military.com
 
The Army is now vigorously testing its new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle for possible combat missions in 2020 to include sling-loading the vehicle beneath a Chinook helicopter to increase battlefield maneuverability, service officials said. – Scout Warrior
 
The Air Force is facing a massive pilot shortage — in both its remotely piloted aircraft and conventional manned aircraft — which for RPAs has affected the ability to train and game new concepts. – Defense News
 
With advanced adversaries like Russia and China copying the smart weapons, stealth fighters, and networked electronics that were once an American monopoly, the Defense Department is urgently seeking a new technological edge. They think they’ve found a key part of it in AI, artificial intelligence. – Breaking Defense
 
There’s widespread agreement in the military that artificial intelligence, robotics, and human-machine teaming will change the way that war is waged, Work told an AI conference here Thursday, “but I am starting to believe very, very deeply that it is also going to change the nature of war.” – Breaking Defense
 
Strategic Issues
 
The U.S. military destroyed a mock intercontinental ballistic missile thousands of miles over the Pacific for the first time Tuesday, a step forward for a missile-defense program that has taken on new significance in light of North Korean threats. – Washington Post’s Checkpoint
 
One of the Senate’s top missile defense boosters is applauding Tuesday’s successful intercept test for sending a “clear message” to North Korea’s “unstable dictator.” – The Hill
 
Rebeccah Heinrichs writes: The successful GMD intercept confirms great work has already been done to protect the nation from ballistic missiles, and that is something to celebrate. However, let the celebration be short because there's much more work before us. – Real Clear Defense
 
Keith Payne writes: The long-held policy notion that uncertainty and ambiguity with regard to Western deterrence strategy are adequate for deterrence needs to be reconsidered.  Historical and contemporary evidence is overwhelming that, as with conventional forces, uncertainty and ambiguity sometimes are not adequate for deterrence or assurance. Rather, explicit and direct statements are necessary in some cases; establishing effective deterrence of the Putin regime in particular appears to be such a case. – Strategic Studies Quarterly (PDF)
 
Michaela Dodge writes: In 2017, the Trump Administration has a unique opportunity to reassess some of the wrongheaded assumptions that guide the current U.S. nuclear weapons posture, modernize and strengthen U.S. nuclear deterrence, and contribute to building a consensus on the needs for a 21st-century nuclear arsenal. – The Heritage Foundation
 
The War
 
Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly is still eyeing expansion of the ban on electronic devices being carried onto airplanes, the department said Tuesday after Mr. Kelly held follow-up negotiations with European officials. – Washington Times
 
President Donald Trump says he has given U.S. military commanders “total authorization” to make complex combat decisions, a move that alarms some senior Democratic members and national security experts. – Roll Call
 
Alexandre de Juniac writes: The security of our passengers and crew must never be compromised. We understand that the U.S. has compelling reasons to mandate countermeasures in response to a credible threat. But we urge all regulators to weigh the consequences of such measures on the passengers and their safety, the economy and the airlines and to look for ways to minimize the negative impact while keeping air travel secure. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)

Russia/Europe

Russia
 
A Moscow court is set to hold a second day of hearings in a defamation lawsuit filed by Kremlin-connected oligarch Alisher Usmanov against opposition politician and anticorruption activist Aleksei Navalny. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
 
Business leaders and government officials from Russia and abroad are likely to get an unexpected exposure to raw political campaigning at the country’s largest annual economic conference in St Petersburg on Thursday. – Financial Times
 
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has dismissed allegations of Russian meddling in last year's U.S. presidential election as "fiction" invented by Democrats to divert the blame for their defeat. – Associated Press
 
Europe
 
In a decision laden with symbolic value, Dutch lawmakers agreed on Tuesday to closer ties and the creation of a free-trade area with Ukraine, completing a long and contentious negotiation that pushed Russia and the European Union to the edge of confrontation. – New York Times
 
Editorial: Still, as Russia-policy-resets go, Mr. Macron’s remarks on Monday mark a big improvement over the Obama Administration’s gimmicks with red plastic buttons. Let’s hope Mr. Macron follows up by insisting that any lifting of sanctions would be conditioned on Russian proxies withdrawing from occupied territories in Ukraine. While he’s at it, France might also consider arming Kiev with defensive weapons so it can to increase the cost of Russian aggression. De Gaulle would approve. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Jamie Fly writes: The press was quick to highlight every breach of protocol and anonymous sniping from European officials, but the reality is that European leaders are pleased with the professionalism that has marked their engagements so far with the Trump administration. While his rhetoric and domestic political distractions generate concerns about the sustainability of American leadership, the worst fears about Mr. Trump’s posture toward Europe have yet to materialize. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Jerry Hendrix writes: Our NATO allies should realize that if they don’t quickly move to meet their 2 percent commitment, they might not be able to count on the U.S. to bail them out for much longer. – National Review Online
 
United Kingdom
 
They are known as “double shafras”—after the Arabic word for telephone SIM card. It is a reference to the young Libyans who straddle two worlds, those of Britain and Libya’s collapsing state. Salman Abedi, who killed 22 people last week when he detonated a bomb strapped to his back outside an Ariana Grande concert, was one of them. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Manchester suicide bomber Salman Abedi likely purchased most of the key bomb components himself and many of his actions were carried out alone, British police investigating the attack said. - Reuters
 
Prime Minister Theresa May could lose control of parliament in Britain's June 8 election, according to a projection by polling company YouGov, raising the prospect of political deadlock just as formal Brexit talks begin. - Reuters
 
Germany
 
President Trump escalated his feud with Berlin on Tuesday, even as Germany’s leader and Trump’s own spokesman tried to defuse the conflict, which has sent tremors through Washington’s core postwar alliances. – Washington Post
 
German officials say a suicide bombing for this week was thwarted after the arrest of a 17-year-old asylum seeker who arrived in 2015. – Washington Times
 
Germany runs a chronic, yawning trade surplus with the United States, which Trump administration officials say Germany has widened by exploiting a weak euro to put American exports at a disadvantage. That, more than differences over NATO, Russia or climate change, is driving a wedge between the two countries. – New York Times
 
While Mr. Trump gets a lot wrong about trade, on this particular point he’s right. Germany’s current account surplus, which combines trade and investment income, is now the world’s largest. Along with China’s, it is a dangerous imbalance that leaves others, including the U.S. and the rest of Europe, worse off. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
German intelligence has informed the United States that it is not looking for help staving off the same kind of election hacking attributed to Russia during the U.S. campaign, NBC News reported Tuesday. – The Hill
 
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Tuesday fired back at Germany, assuring foreign partners that America has “the backs of our allies.” – The Hill

Americas

United States of America
 
President Trump interviewed two more FBI director candidates on Tuesday in what has become a winding search to find a new leader for the nation’s premier law enforcement agency. – Washington Post
 
After President Trump lashed out at the nascent effort to buy a new Air Force One, the Pentagon might be forgiven for soft-pedaling the launch of its effort to replace the four Boeing jetliners that serve as Air Force Two. – Defense One
 
President Donald Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief's communications. – Associated Press
 
Russian Election Interference
 
The congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election now reportedly includes President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. – The Hill
 
House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes said Democrats are unsatisfied with congressional probes into Russia because they believe only an independent commission will come to the conclusion Hillary Clinton was cheated, according to a report published Tuesday. – Washington Examiner
 
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is asking intelligence leaders to provide any documentation of their conversations with President Trump about ongoing Russia probes, following a report that Trump asked them to publicly push back on the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference. – The Hill
 
Flynn
 
Last fall, as retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn traveled the country stumping for Donald Trump, his business partner holed up in a small Washington hotel room with the former head of Turkish military intelligence to work on a special project…The hotel room meeting was filmed as part of a documentary the Flynn Intel Group was producing for a Turkish businessman, who paid $530,000 to the lobbying shop to polish the country’s image after a botched military coup. That contract has landed Mr. Flynn in legal jeopardy. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its probe into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned. – Associated Press
 
Latin America
 
The opioid epidemic that has caused so much pain in the United States is also savaging Mexico, contributing to a breakdown of order in rural areas. Heroin is like steroids for drug gangs, pumping money and muscle into their fight to control territory and transportation routes to the United States. – Washington Post
 
Mexico’s foreign minister says the country is “inevitably” set to review rules of origin when renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, giving a boost to President Donald Trump’s manufacturing push. – Associated Press
 
The leftist party of presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was in a photo-finish race to strip control of Mexico's most populous state from the country’s ruling party, polls showed on Wednesday. - Reuters
 
Goldman Sachs Group Inc's statement that it never transacted directly with the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro when it bought $2.8 billion of bonds for pennies on the dollar was dismissed by the country's opposition on Tuesday as an effort to "put lipstick on this pig." - Reuters
 
Maria Corina Machado writes: Today, Venezuela is paying with the dear blood of our youth for the deliberate impoverishment of an entire nation, carried out by a corrupt elite through obscene, complicit deception. Rest assured that lessons have been learned. Dignity should not be mistaken for naivete. These are the final days of a brutish, mafia-style dictatorship, and we must maintain our guard as it prepares its final, desperate blows. – Washington Post

Africa

The U.S. military faces a two-decade struggle to help bring stability to Africa, where the lack of an overall government strategy is complicating operations, according to the general in charge of special operations on the continent. – Stars and Stripes

Trump Administration

Four people who work closely with prospective nominees told POLITICO that some potential hires are having second thoughts about trying to land executive branch appointments as federal and congressional investigations threaten to pose a serious distraction to Trump’s agenda. - Politico
 
Haley’s trip last week to Jordan and Turkey showcased the outspoken former South Carolina governor-turned-Trump diplomat’s emergence as Trump’s foreign policy alter ego: still bold, still brash-talking, but with greater attention to America’s traditional global roles and the personable side of diplomacy. – Associated Press
 
General H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn write: This historic trip represented a strategic shift for the United States. America First signals the restoration of American leadership and our government’s traditional role overseas—to use the diplomatic, economic and military resources of the U.S. to enhance American security, promote American prosperity, and extend American influence around the world. – Wall Street Journal (subscription required)
 
Dov Zakheim writes: Kushner should recognize that he does not belong in Washington, where he is doing little good. Instead, he should return to his current New York residence and to his real-estate business, where a long and potentially successful future awaits him. – The National Interest

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More