The Early Edition: December 22, 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.

DONALD TRUMP’S FOREIGN POLICY

Recent terrorist attacks in Europe proved him right about restricting Muslim immigration to the US, Trump declared yesterday, the Hill’s Jordan Fabian reports.

The only way to maintain China-US ties is for each country to respect the other’s “core interests,” China’s foreign minister said today, remarks apparently underlining that China’s position on Taiwan is unnegotiable, Gerry Shih reports at the AP.

“Fierce critic of China” economist Peter Navarro has been appointed head of new national trade body the White House National Trade Council by the president-elect, the BBC reports.

Trump convened top military officers to discuss “trying to bring costs down” on high-priced Pentagon projects including the F-35 fighter jet yesterday, Jeremy Herb reports at POLITICO.

Secretary of defense pick retired Marine Gen. James has the toughest management challenge in US government, and he will rely on companies whose business is leveraging technology to produce maximum military lethality at minimal costs, writes George F. Will at the Washington Post.

Could “wheeler-dealers” Trump and Rex Tillerson backed by “warriors” like Mattis really make big deals with other countries to alter the “geopolitical chessboard” in America’s favour and reduce tensions in the Pacific Rim, Eastern Europe or the Middle East? Possible – but unlikely, concludes Daniel W. Drezner at the Washington Post.

RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE in the US ELECTION

Malware used against the DNC was similar to that used against the Ukrainian military by hacker group Fancy Bear, believed to work for the Russian military intelligence agency the GRU, according to a report released by computer security firm CrowdStrike today. The Wall Street Journal’s Shane Harris reports.

Identifying perpetrators of cyberattacks is notoriously difficult as sophisticated hackers can conceal their identities, caution Demetri Sevastopulo and Courtney Weaver at the Financial Times.

The challenge for the US now will be deciding how much evidence to make public and how to balance the benefit of increased transparency with the potential risks, writes the BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Corera.

Legislation that would impose sanctions on foreign entities that attempt to interfere in US elections was introduced by Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Cristina Marcos reports at the Hill.

The White House opposed Republicans’ calls to create an executive-branch task force to fight Russia’s interference in the election earlier this year, according to a document obtained by POLITICO’s Austin Wright.

The Obama administration’s “hysteria” over claims of Russian interference in the presidential election is the first time in years that the Democrats have objected to a government targeting political leaders for hacking or attempting to get involved in a foreign election, according to Ashe Schow writing at the Hill.

SYRIA

The evacuation of the remaining civilians and rebel fights from eastern Aleppo will take place in the coming hours, the International Committee of the Red Cross said this morning. [AP]

Bad weather is complicating the last phase of the evacuations from eastern Aleppo, a rebel spokesperson told Reuters today.

Convoys of evacuees made slow progress out of the city in snow and sub-zero temperatures after enduring nearly 24 hours stranded at checkpoints without food or warmth, Emma Graham-Harrison at the Guardian reports.

It is “highly likely” that an attack on an aid convoy on the outskirts of Aleppo in September was carried out by the Syrian airforce, according to a UN board of inquiry, which added that it was unable to reach a definitive conclusion. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

An investigative body that will help to document and prosecute serious violations of international law including possible war crimes in Syria will be established by the UN following a vote by the General Assembly yesterday, the AP reports.

Turkey suffered its worst losses in Syria so far in clashes with the Islamic State in the town of al-Bab yesterday which left 14 Turkish soldiers dead, the BBC reports.

The evacuation of Aleppo will inevitably lead to long-term displacement and increased vulnerability in Idlib province, an International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson voicing concern that the sieges and bombings will follow the evacuees into Idlib, writes Sultan Barakat and Sansom Milton at Al Jazeera.

Strategically, the Assad regime may yet win Aleppo, but lose Syria, Alia Brahimi describing the “troubling realities” glossed over by Russian and Syrian depictions of the Aleppo offensive as a successful counterterrorism operation, including the fact that the defeat of Aleppo is no defeat for the Islamic State, at Al Jazeera.

IRAQ

Three Islamic State-claimed vehicle-borne bombs were detonated in Kokjali today, an eastern suburb of Mosul that authorities claimed was retaken from the jihadists nearly two months ago, while four aid workers and at least seven civilians were killed during aid distribution in Mosul this week, Reuters reports.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 20 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Dec. 20. Separately, partner forces conducted five strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

BERLIN TERROR ATTACK

Tunisian Anis Amri is the main suspect in Berlin’s deadly terrorist attack Monday, Anton Troianovski and Ruth Bender at the Wall Street Journal reporting that Amri was previously investigated by suspected terror ties and authorities previously tried to deport him, revelations that sparked anger among politicians over what they call dangerous gaps in Germany’s immigration policy.

Amri was suspected of preparing “a serious act of violence against the state” by an investigation launched in Joly 2015, which involved placing him under covert surveillance, Germany’s security services under intense pressure to explain how, despite this, he was able to carry out Monday’s truck attack. [The Guardian’s Philip Oltermann]

German authorities are also facing criticism for their failure to neutralize Amri following the attack, Valentina Pop and Ruth Bender report at the Wall Street Journal.

Police questioned Amri’s family, a spokesperson said. [AP]

Terrorists are “targeting our way of life,” EU security chief Julian King said in response to Monday’s attack, David M. Herszenhorn and Jacopo Barigazzi reporting at POLITICO.

New York City’s Christmas market is being guarded by the NYPD’s heavily-armed Critical Response Command following the attack in Berlin, Michael Daly observes at The Daily Beast.

Europe’s ability to repel the terrorist threat that has moved from the Middle East into its midst is undermined by bad leadership, political divisions and economic weakness combining to create a “uniquely vulnerable moment,” writes Simon Tisdall at the Guardian.

The EU will enter 2017 “under siege from without and within,” Alastair MacDonald proving a list of the 10 faces the bloc will be watching next year at Reuters.

ANDREY KARLOV ASSASSINATION

US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen was implicated in the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Ankara Andrey Karlov by Turkish President Erdoğan, Gulen rejecting the accusation and condemning Karlov’s murder today, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports at the AP.

Karlov’s body was returned to Russia today, President Putin taking place in a farewell ceremony in Moscow before a state funeral, the BBC reports.

RUSSIA

Relations between Russia and the US have all but ceased, the Kremlin stated yesterday, prompting hasty denials from US State and Defense officials. [NBC News’ Ken Dilanian and Cynthia McFadden]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A draft UN resolution that demands an end to Israeli settlement activities in Palestine was circulated by Egypt yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Israel urged the US to veto the resolution, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tweeting the appeal in the middle of last night, Jeffrey Heller and Michelle Nichols report at Reuters.

AFGHANISTAN

Three Taliban militants who attacked the home of a prominent Afghan lawmaker, killing several of his relatives and security guards, were gunned down by police after an all-night battle this morning, Ehsanullah Amiri and Jessica Donati report at the Wall Street Journal.

A recently released Taliban video depicting hostages Caitlan Coleman, an American, and her Canadian husband Joshua Boyle and their two children was the first time Boyle’s parents saw their grandchildren, who were born in captivity, they said. [AP]

JAPAN

The US returned over 9,909 acres of land in Okinawa to Japan in controlled since World War II today, in exchange for which the Japanese government – under the terms of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security – built several new helipads on the island for use by the US military, leaving local activists who’ve campaigned for the removal of US bases from Okinawa for decades angry. CNN’s Emiko Jozuka reports.

Japan is trying to win a contract to supply Thailand with an air defense system as it attempts to counter growing Chinese influence in that nation, Japanese government officials and an industry source told Reuters’ Tim Kelly and Nobuhiro Kubo.

An increase in military spending for a fifth successive year was approved by Japan’s cabinet today, Alastair Gale reports at the Wall Street Journal.

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL INVESTIGATION

Efforts to unseal videos of depositions taken in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit are being resisted by two of Hillary Clinton’s top aides and the State Department, the Hill’s Katie Bo Williams reports.

The FBI’s affidavit unsealed Tuesday appears to argue that the government has the right to seize any information it considers classified from any place it has reason to think that information might be, according to some experts, warning of “terrifying and unacceptable” implications. [POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The UK’s Investigatory Powers Act 2016 will face a host of legal challenges from privacy campaigners following a ruling by the European Court of Justice that blanket state surveillance without proper safeguards is unlawful, the Guardian’s Alan Travis reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Millions of dollars-worth of drones supplied by the US to Ukraine have proved ineffective against jamming and hacking, according to Ukrainian officials, Reuters’ Phil Stewart reporting.

Jordan’s King will respond with an “iron fist” to the Islamic-State claimed attacks on police and tourists this week that left 14 dead, the AP reports.

Hundreds of jailed Colombian guerrillas are waiting on an amnesty bill that will release them as part of the peace deal between the FARC and the Colombian government, Alba Tobella reports at the AP.

Linking the spate of terrorist attacks across the world this weekend is misguided, and fails to understand that the attacks took place in countries facing very specific challenges, writes Natasha Ezrow at 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