The Early Edition: December 19, 2017

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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.


“Any nation that trades away its prosperity for security will end up losing both,” President Trump said yesterday when unveiling his new national security strategy (N.S.S.) with a speech that criticized previous presidents for focusing on nation-building abroad, portrayed China and Russia as rivals undermining U.S. interests, and called for the strengthening of the military. Michael C. Bender reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The strategy denounced North Korea and Iran as rogue regimes and called for the government to put “America First,” however the tone of the president’s campaign-style delivery of the speech and the content of the N.S.S. report have sent out confusing messages about his administration’s foreign policy approach. Mark Landler and David E. Sanger report at the New York Times.

Previous presidents “drifted from American principles, they lost sight of America’s destiny, and they lost their belief in American greatness,” Trump said, Kevin Liptak reports at CNN.

The N.S.S. document constitutes a broad outline of U.S. policy that guides the administration’s priorities and planning, and the Trump version of the strategy is organized around the “America First” doctrine. Anne Gearan and Steven Mufson report at the Washington Post.

Trump did not mention human rights or climate change in his speech and described the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord as a success. The BBC reports.

The N.S.S. document has opened the possibility for a wider role for nuclear weapons, including against “non-nuclear strategic attacks,” Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Trump said the U.S. would work to “build a great partnership” with Russia and China, despite describing them as rivals, similar sentiments cannot be found in the strategy document. Eliana Johnson reports at POLITICO.

“Through modernized forms of subversive tactics, Russia interferes in the domestic political affairs of countries around the world,” the N.S.S. document states, however it stops short of accusing Russia of interfering in the 2016 U.S. election – a conclusion that was reached by the U.S. intelligence agencies. Steve Holland and James Oliphant report at Reuters.

National security spokesperson Michael Anton could not say if the President had read the entire strategy document when asked yesterday, Ellen Mitchell reports at the Hill.

The reaction to the strategy in China was confused, Trump called Russia and China “rival powers” but his approach was softer than expected in the rest of the speech, which set out few new details on his China policy and has reinforced the impression in China that there is a disconnect between what the president says and what the president does. Emily Rauhala reports at the Washington Post.

The five key points from the new strategy are set out by Jeremy Diamond at CNN.

The Kremlin cannot agree that Russia poses a threat to the U.S., the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said today, adding that Russia would carefully study the new strategy which demonstrated an imperialist character. Reuters reports.

“Of course we have to counter Russia’s destabilizing behavior, and the sophisticated campaigns of propaganda and disinformation,” the national security adviser H.R. McMaster said yesterday following Trump’s speech unveiling the new strategy. The BBC reports.

The president’s speech was incoherent and revealed a “dissonance between Trump’s words and his administration’s now-stated policy.” Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

The N.S.S. embraces realism in an increasingly precarious world, offering a different and contextual approach that contrasts with the idealism expressed by Obama, the strategy is also successful in singling out Russia as a source of destabilization, however the president himself must be aware that realism requires a foreign policy approach that is not based on personal and transactional relationships. The Wall Street Journal editorial board writes.

The strategy does not address the “domestic threats, risks, and systemic harms that Americans experience every day,” Michael Zenko writes at Foreign Policy, arguing that the strategy should be ignored.


The U.S. yesterday vetoed a U.N. Security Council draft resolution that reflects regret about “recent decisions regarding the status of Jerusalem,” the text also called on Member States “to refrain from the establishment of diplomatic missions in the Holy City of Jerusalem,” and was made in the context of Trump’s decision on Dec. 6 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The U.N. News Centre reports. 

“The United States has never been more committed to peace in the Middle East,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said, adding that the U.S. was not embarrassed by the use of its veto power and that a peace process “that is damaged by the simple recognition that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel is not a peace process.” Felicia Schwartz reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Haley described the votes of the 14 other members of the Security Council as an “insult” that would not be forgotten, the other members all voted in favor of the motion. The BBC reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the U.S. for using its veto, saying in a message on Twitter that Haley had “lit a candle of truth” when making her comments on Jerusalem, on the other hand, the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas called the U.S. veto a “provocation.” Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

“The United States being left alone in the vote is a concrete sign of the illegality of its decision on Jerusalem,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement, separately the Turkish President Reçep Tayyip Erdoğan and British Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in a phone call that tensions that could endanger the Israel-Palestine peace process should be avoided. Reuters reports.

The U.N. General Assembly will hold an emergency session as soon as possible on the status of Jerusalem following the U.S. veto at the Security Council, Al Jazeera reports.

Vice President Mike Pence has postponed his trip to the Middle East, his office said yesterday, stating that Pence wanted to see domestic legislation on tax cuts “through to the finish line” and that Pence would visit Egypt and Israel in January. The postponement comes amid rising tensions due to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy there, Michael Tackett reports at the New York Times.


The Saudi-led coalition intercepted a ballistic missile fired toward its territory by the Yemeni Shi’ite Houthi rebels, Saudi state media reported today, Houthi-controlled TV said the missile was targeted at “a meeting of the leadership the Saudi regime in al-Yamama Palace in Riyadh.” The BBC reports.

At least 136 Yemeni civilians and non-combatants have been killed by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes since Dec. 6, the U.N. human rights spokesperson Rupert Colville said today. Tom Miles reports at Reuters.


White House lawyers are scheduled to meet with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team this week, the outcome of the meeting could deepen tensions as the White House lawyers are expected to seek assurances that Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and the focus on Trump, will end soon. The assurances are unlikely to be given and people with knowledge of the investigation have stated that it could last at least another year, Devlin Barrett, Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonnig report at the Washington Post.

Senior F.B.I. officials warned Trump in a high-level counterintelligence briefing about threats from foreign spies, a similar briefing was given to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and both candidates were told about attempts to infiltrate their campaigns. Ken Dilanian, Julia Ainsley and Carol E. Lee reveal at NBC News.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating the Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein for potential “collusion with the Russians,” Stein attended a 2015 dinner in Moscow where the former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian President Vladimir Putin were present. Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

Putin has been handling Trump like an “asset,” the former director of national intelligence James Clapper said yesterday, reflecting the unease that national security experts feel about the relationship between Trump and Putin. Kevin Liptak explains at CNN.

House Republicans have sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nany Pelosi demanding an inquiry into leaks about the Russian investigation by members of the House Intelligence Committee, Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.


North Korea was behind the “WannaCry” cyberattack in May, Trump’s homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, revealed yesterday at the Wall Street Journal, saying that the allegation is based on evidence that accords with the findings of other governments and private companies, and adding that North Korea would be held accountable for its behavior.

“WannaCry” affected computers across the world, the U.K. government declared in October that it believed North Korea was behind the attack, this was then followed by a previously classified assessment by the C.I.A. in November which drew a similar conclusion. Ellen Nakashima reports at the Washington Post.

Japan is set to buy two U.S.-made ground-based ballistic missile interceptors in response to growing threats from North Korea, a statement by the Japanese Cabinet said today. Justin McCurry reports at the Guardian.

Japan and South Korea have agreed that China must play a larger role in curbing the Pyongyang regime, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kano said today following talks with his counterpart. Kiyoshi Takenaka reports at Reuters.


U.N.-backed peace talks have yielded “nothing,” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told reporters yesterday, adding that the Russia-hosted negotiations set to take place in Sochi would provide a better alternative. The AP reports.

Assad labeled the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) as “traitors” in a statement yesterday, Assad also welcomed a U.N. role in Syrian elections in a meeting with the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, stating that elections must take place on the condition of recognizing Syria’s sovereignty. Reuters reports.

France is unfit to talk about a peace settlement because it has “spearheaded support for terrorism and their hands are soaked in Syrian blood,” Assad was quoted as saying by Syrian state media, making the comments after French President Emmanuel Macron said that the Syrian government had done nothing to reach a peace agreement. Reuters reports.

Macron today called Assad’s comments “unacceptable,” adding that the U.S.-led coalition should be credited for its military successes against the Islamic State group. The AP reports.

The situation in the rebel-held Damascus enclave of Eastern Ghouta has reached a “critical point,” the International Committee of the Red Cross warned yesterday, stating that life has slowly become “impossible” for the civilians who have been besieged by the Syrian government and its allies. The BBC reports.

The fractures within al-Qaida may help Assad to regain the province of Idlib, al-Qaeda dominate the province but have been beset by internal rivalry that may evolve into an all-out war. Bassem Mroue explains at the AP.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 14 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between December 8 and December 10. [Central Command]


President Trump discussed rescinding the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court earlier this year, according to several people familiar with the conversations, with one source saying that Trump was worried Gorsuch would not be “loyal.” Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Robert Barnes report at the Washington Post.

The Iraqi central government denied that it plans to attack Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, the Kurdish Regional Government said in a statement that Iraqi forces were planning to continue their operations that started in retaliation to October’s controversial Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. Reuters reports.

Chinese warplanes flew into airspace claimed by South Korea yesterday, the South Korean Defense Ministry said yesterday that it scrambled the warplanes and the incident reflects ongoing tensions between the two countries despite attempts to repair relations. Andrew Jeong reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“The nuclear deal will not collapse … Those who hope that Trump will cause its collapse, are wrong,” the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech today, referring the 2015 nuclear deal and Trump’s decision in October not to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Reuters reports.

The founder of the Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Lab plans to file an appeal in federal court against the Department of Homeland Security for banning government agencies from using its software, Joe Uchill reports at the Hill.

An Afghan regional strongman and wealthy governor has either resigned or been fired, according to various statements yesterday, his departure could unravel Afghanistan’s unity government and trigger further instability. Sayed Salahuddin and Pamela Constable report at the Washington Post.

The U.S.-Egypt relationship is outdated, Egypt is not a good ally and the two countries need to reset their relations based on mutual objectives rather than unconditional support. Andrew Miller and Richard Sokolsky write at the Wall Street Journal. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK