The Early Edition: July 8, 2016

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

NATO SUMMIT

President Obama arrived in Warsaw, Poland, this morning for the NATO summit, taking place over the next two days against a background of increasing Russian aggression, the European migrant crisis, and fears of disintegration within the EU prompted by Britain’s recent Brexit decision, Mark Landler reports for the New York Times. Obama’s first meeting on Friday will focus on how the US and the EU can continue to cooperate in the absence of the UK, according to Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser at the White House. [Wall Street Journal’s Carol E Lee]

Poland’s president, speaking last night, pointed out that “the EU and NATO are quite separate organizations” and that “the UK is one of the strongest members of NATO.” Despite this, Brexit is causing anxiety among NATO allies: increased nationalism encouraged among NATO countries by the UK decision and the loss of trillions in market value affecting perceptions of Western strength appear to be key concerns. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger]

A 500-strong battalion of UK troops are to be dispatched to Poland and Estonia as part of NATO’s efforts to “reassure” those countries that they will be protected from Russian aggression, reports the BBC.

The perceived threat from Russian-instigated “hybrid crisis” will dominate much of the NATO summit, writes Jonathan Marcus for the BBC. Military experts reportedly believe that the Baltic States are more or less impossible to defend from a rapidly-mobilized Russian attack, so the aim of the summit is to try to convince the Russia that “NATO means business.” The nature of that hybrid threat is something less than full war, and more akin to what’s happened in Ukraine. “A typical scenario ‘war gamed’ is of infiltration by Russian special forces into one of Nato’s Baltic members – Estonia, for example, where there is a significant Russian-speaking minority. Unrest leads to violence; Russian-speakers are killed; and one morning Nato wakes up to find that over-night a Russian ‘peace-keeping’ force has seized a town like Narva, near the Russian border, to “protect” the local population. So what does the alliance do then?” 

 “Cold war, hot war or neither?” What sort of threat does Russia pose to the Baltic States? Al Jazeera suggests Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – are feeling vulnerable because of their large ethnic Russian minorities, and the possibility that Russia may seek to stir unrest among them. Beyond this, there is little reason for Russia to launch a direct attack on those nations’ sovereignty by directly invading them.

“We have suffered under the guns of Russian aggression in Crimea and Donbas.” Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, writing in the Wall Street Journal, recalls the original purpose of NATO, to defend peace and global order after World War II. Russia is now deliberately threatening that, Poroshenko writes. In responding to that threat, NATO could benefit from Ukraine’s “experience and intelligence.”

Tukish President Tayyip Erdogan called on NATO to do more to fight global terrorism before he departed for Warsaw last night. He said the alliance needed to “update” itself to be able to deal with new security threats. [Reuters’ Humeyra Pamuk] Echoing those sentiments at the start of the summit, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance needs to come to the aid of partner nations in the Middle East and North Africa facing extremist violence, in addition to reinforcing its own armed forces, reports the AP.

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

The State Department has reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information now that the FBI investigation has come to an end and the Justice Department has decided not to pursue criminal charges against her. Spokesperson John Kirby has said he is unable to provide details of the investigation at this time. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch; BBC]

FBI Director James Comey was questioned for almost five hours by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee yesterday on his decision that no criminal charges should result from the FBI’s year-long investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email set-up while secretary of state. Republicans repeatedly asked Comey how Clinton’s public statements differed from the FBI’s findings, how he could consider Clinton “careless” but not criminal, and whether Clinton was being let off the hook because of who she is. Matt Zapotosky reports for the Washington Post.

In response, Comey acknowledged that a number of Clinton’s “key assertions” in defense of her email system were “contradicted” by the results of the FBI investigation. He also disclosed that Clinton had failed to provide “thousands” of emails to the State Department – contrary to her public statements. Under questioning, Comey swapped the word “careless” for the word “negligent.” However, he did insist that he had not applied double standards in order to spare Clinton from criminal charges. [New York Times’ Eric Lichtblau and Michael D Shear.]

Following the hearing, House Republicans said they would seek a new FBI Investigation into Hillary Clinton, this time focusing on whether she lied to Congress about her handling of classified information. [Wall Street Journal’s Kate O’Keeffe and Byron Tau]

“Facing the same set of facts” John V Berry’s clients would “be in serious jeopardy of losing their security clearances.” Writing in the Washington Post, the Virginia-based lawyer specializing in cases involving security clearances sees a clear “lack of consistency” in the security clearance process and “a bias in favour of the well-connected.”

IRAQ and SYRIA

Turkish fighter jets hit Kurdish militants in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey today, killing 12 militants, according to security sources. Seyhmus Cakan and Humeyra Pamuk report for Reuters.

The Islamic State has claimed a triple suicide attack on revered Shiite shrine the Mausoleum of Sayyid Mohammed north of Baghdad yesterday evening which has claimed the lives of a at least 37 people, with 62 others wounded. The attack, in Balad, began with mortar fire on the Mausoleum and an adjacent market. A suicide bomber then targeted police guarding the Mausoleum, which opened the way for a second bomber and nine gunmen to enter, who attacked security forces and those who had gathered inside to celebrate Eid al-Fitr. A third bomber was killed before he could detonate his explosives, reports the AP.

The death toll resulting from the Islamic State car bombing attack on a commercial area of Baghdad early Sunday morning has risen to at least 292, Iraq’s health ministry confirmed yesterday. Ali A Nabhan and Karen Leigh report for the Wall Street Journal.

Iraq’s prime minister has dismissed three top officials in charge of Baghdad’s security following the weekend’s bombing. [Reuters’ Saif Hameed and Maher Chmaytelli]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on July 6. Separately, partner forces conducted 15 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

President Obama’s decision to keep some 8,400 troops in Afghanistan will shore up Afghans’ wavering faith in the United States, serve as a warning to the Taliban and encourage NATO allies and international donors to remain engaged with the country, suggests Pamela Constable in the Washington Post.

Obama’s decision to withdraw around 1,400 troops from Afghanistan won’t adversely impact the US mission there, head of the US military’s Central Command General Joseph Votel has said. [Reuters’ Phil Stewart]

Australia has extended its military mission in Afghanistan to mid-2017, today, and pledged to continue its $100 million annual commitment to the Afghan National Army and National Policy until 2020, reports the AP.

GUANTANAMO BAY

The search for missing former Guantánamo Bay detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab has been taken up by other South American countries, Brazilian officials saying yesterday that there is no sign that he is in their country. [Wall Street Journal’s Jess Bravin and Paulo Trevisani]

Previous released Guantánamo Bay detainees who went on to kill Americans were freed by the Bush administration – the current standard is “more rigorous and intensive.” The Obama administration’s envoys for the closure of the prison defended the ongoing policy of releasing detainees to other countries before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, reports Carol Rosenberg for the Miami Herald.

THE CHILCOT REPORT

“Some questions remain” after the release of the Chilcot Report, write Luke Harding and Richard Norton-Taylor for the Guardian. What is more, it is unclear how Chilcot’s recommendations could be put into practice if an intervention scenario arises in future.

Iraq was the first time since WWII that the UK had taken part in an opposed invasion and occupation of a sovereign state, and “the inexperience showed.” Henry Mance and Andrew England examine Britain’s “humiliations” in Iraq as set out in the Chilcot Report. [Financial Times]

The decision to remove supporters of the Ba’ath party from Iraq following the war was the US’s most disastrous mistake in Iraq and led to the formation of the Islamic State, UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said yesterday. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour and Ewen MacAskill]

“We are grateful to President George W Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair for liberating us from Saddam Hussein.” Ranj Alaaldin, now a Middle East specialist at the London School of Economics, was “one of the fortunate Kurds who fled Saddam’s Iraq.” Saddam Hussein killed over 180,000 Kurds in the late 1980s, he reminds us. Post-invasion, the Kurds “developed a stronger economy, better foreign relations and a growing middle class thanks to oil wealth and stability,” which Alaaldin says they owe to Bush and Blair. [Wall Street Journal]

Is the Middle East better off post-Saddam? The Guardian’s Ian Black examines the veracity of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s defensive assertions, made following the release of the Chilcot Report, testing it against global terrorism statistics, Iran’s increased role in Iraq and its fuelling of Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions, the situation in Syria, and the fact that, post-Iraq war, “Britain is perceived as an ineffectual junior partner to a discredited US” in Arab world.

NORTH KOREA

The US and South Korea have agreed to deploy an advanced American THAAD missile defense system in South Korea. The two nations have been in talks for months about implementing the system, and are at the stage where South Korean officials are recommending a site for a THAAD base to their defense chiefs, according to senior Defense Ministry official, Ryu Jae-seung. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun]  China has lodged protests with US and South Korean ambassadors over the decision, China’s Foreign Ministry said today, arguing that the installation will harm regional peace and stability while doing nothing to help denuclearize North Korea. [Reuters’ Ben Blanchard]

North Korea has called US sanctions against Kim Jong-up a “declaration of war” and a “hideous crime,” North Korea’s official KCNA news agency has reported. [Reuters]  It warned it is planning its toughest response to the sanctions. The US has urged Pyongyang to refrain from making statements likely to raise tensions in the region. [Reuters’ Michelle Nichols and Arshad Mohammed]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Saudi Arabia has arrested 19 people, including 12 Pakistanis, in connection with the suicide bombings in Medina, Jeddah and Qatif on Monday, and has also identified the bombers. [Al Jazeera]

An Algerian asylum seeker was accused of helping to identify potential routes into Europe for the alleged ringleader of the November Paris attacks by German prosecutors yesterday. Bilal C is already in prison for theft and fraud. [Wall Street Journal’s Ruth Bender]

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a controversial package of counterterrorism measures yesterday, which include tougher sentences for extremism, and increased electronic surveillance of Russian citizens. The measures have provoked the condemnation of rights activists in Russia, and of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, reports Andrew Roth for the Washington Post. 

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE