The Early Edition: July 11, 2018

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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.

N.A.T.O. SUMMIT

President Trump once again criticized N.A.T.O allies over their military spending as he began his seven-day tour through Europe – one that starts with the N.A.T.O. summit in Belgium and that will end with a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The trip will likely thrust into the limelight two of Trump’s foreign policy preoccupations: his argument that the U.S. has been unfairly treated by its European allies and his interest in improving relations with Moscow, Rebecca Ballhaus reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump seemed poised to provoke a transatlantic fall-out as he departed Washington yesterday, suggesting to reporters that of his upcoming meetings, “Putin may be easiest of them all.” Trump described U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May as facing turmoil, and when asked whether she should remain in power, Trump replied, “that’s up to the people,” Philip Rucker, Michael Birnbaum and William Booth report at the Washington Post.

“N.A.T.O. has not treated us fairly but I think we’ll work something out,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn, adding “we pay far too much and they pay far too little … But we will work it out and all countries will be happy.” Brett Samuels reports at the Hill.

Lawmakers in the Senate yesterday overwhelmingly voted in favor of a motion supporting N.A.T.O., with 97-2 voting for the nonbinding motion proposed by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) who described U.S. support for N.A.T.O. as “ironclad.” Avery Anapol reports at the Hill.

“Frankly it helps them a lot more than it helps us,” Trump said of the alliance before departing for the summit, later sending a message on Twitter from Air Force One suggesting that he may demand reimbursements from the European member nations. The president landed in Belgium last night, Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire report at the AP.

“U.S. doesn’t have and won’t have a better ally than EU,” President of the European Council Donald Tusk retorted in a message sent on Twitter. Tusk added “we spend on defense much more than Russia and as much as China. I hope you have no doubt this is an investment in our security, which cannot be said with confidence about Russian & Chinese spending,” Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.

Trump began the Brussels summit today with an unexpectedly severe outburst against Germany, accusing Berlin of being a “a captive of the Russians” due to its dependency on Russian energy supplies. Trump told N.A.T.O Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that “we are protecting Germany, we are protecting France, we are protecting all of these countries and then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they are paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia … I think that is very inappropriate,” Ewen MacAskill reports at the Guardian.

“We are stronger together than apart,” Stoltenberg claimed in a retort to Trump’s comments, but Trump countered by asking how the N.A.T.O. alliance could be stronger when Germany is “making Russia richer.” Jeremy Diamond reports at CNN.

Trump did say that he had “great confidence” in Stoltenberg, praising him for working to deal with the “unfair burden” Trump contends is being foisted on the U.S. Jonathan Allen reports at NBC.

Germany’s energy spending “is a national decision,” commented Stoltenberg in remarks made following the breakfast meeting, adding “It’s not for NATO to settle that issue.” Stoltenberg told reporters that Trump has a “very direct language” but that there was fundamental agreement on the necessity of “fairer burden sharing in the alliance,” Al Jazeera reports.

“Germany does a lot for N.A.T.O.” Merkel hit back, adding that “Germany is the second largest provider of troops, the largest part of our military capacity is offered to N.A.T.O. and until today we have a strong engagement towards Afghanistan … in that we also defend the interests of the United States.” Ewen MacAskill reports at the Guardian.

Trump is due to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron in meetings later today, according to White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. Live updates at the AP.

European leaders have been anxious in the build-up to the summit, fearing that Trump may follow through on his threat to pull U.S. military protection. One senior European official commented that N.A.T.O. members are preparing for a worst-case scenario  should Trump repeat his threat to end or curtail defense cooperation with N.A.T.O. allies that not on track to hit their defense funding target of 2% of G.D.P. by 2024, Zachary Cohen, Barbara Starr and Elise Labott report at CNN.

European observers are worried that Trump has linked the issues of trade and security, with Trump’s position suggesting a misunderstanding of how the alliance functions.  One former ambassador commented that “if it’s really a threat linking security to trade, that can destroy the basis of N.A.T.O.,” Isahaan Tharoor comments at the Washington Post.

“I’m looking forward to seeing President Trump… There’s much for us to discuss,” commented U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, refusing to directly answer a question about Trump’s friendship with Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, her main political rival. Reuters reports.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Brussels yesterday, where he intends to hold meetings on the fringes of the N.A.T.O. summit aimed at increasing pressure on Iran and reassuring allies about alternative oil sources. Reuters reports.

Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said today that he was not worried that Trump will withdraw the country from N.A.T.O, also claiming that “there is nothing inherently wrong” about Trump meeting with Putin while he is travelling in Europe. Reuters reports.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu today criticized the U.S. and N.A.T.O. for moving forces and bases close to the Russian border, claiming in a newspaper interview that “I have long wanted to give American colleagues a globe so they can look at it and explain why the declared ‘enemies of America,’ are located in the Middle East and the Far East and all their military bases and forces are snuggled up to Russian borders.” Reuters reports.

Canada has offered to lead N.A.T.O.’s new military training mission in Iraq, with President Justin Trudeau claiming ahead of this week’s summit that “we have to build that democracy and strengthen it … those sorts of tangible elements are at the heart of what N.A.T.O. stands for …you can try and be a bean counter and look at exactly how much this and how much money that, but the fundamental question is: is what you’re doing actually making a difference?” Lorne Cook and Jamey Keaten report at the AP.

N.A.T.O. SUMMIT: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

“Can N.A.T.O survive U.S. President Donald Trump?” Jonathan Marcus asks at the BBC, providing a background to the multinational organization and a breakdown of the current state of play.

A breakdown of Trump’s relationship with individual leaders at the N.A.T.O summit is provided by Raf Casert at the AP.

Trump’s focus on sovereignty may be fueling nationalism among U.S.’ European allies – “undermining political support for multilateralism …even as [their] governments battle to defend it” Simon Nixon comments at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump’s neglect of his European allies goes far beyond U.S.-European policy disagreements of the past, senior officials from more than a dozen of the U.S.’ allies have attested, pointing to unfilled positions, truncated communications and lack of policy clarity. David M. Herszenhorn reports at POLITICO.

Trump “needs N.A.T.O. more than ever,” and must demonstrate at this week’s summit shows that the U.S. “can lead the world rather than simply transacting with it on a short-term basis”. Eliot L. Engel and Anders Fogh Rasmussen comment at CNN.

Trump’s actions toward N.A.T.O. risk “pissing away the greatest achievement of American history:” a peaceful, liberal and democratic world order, argues Claire Berlinski at The Daily Beast.

Though Trump derides N.A.T.O. as ‘obsolete’ the Baltic nations still are reliant on the alliance, Marc Santora writes at the New York Times.

An analysis of the U.S.’ contribution to N.A.T.O is provided at the BBC.

An analysis of Trump’s European allies’ stance ahead of the N.A.T.O. summit is provided by Alice Fordham at NPR.

TRUMP-PUTIN SUMMIT

“So I have N.A.T.O., I have the U.K. which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly Putin may be easiest of them all. Who would think?” President Trump told reporters yesterday at the White House, referring to his trip to Europe to meet with N.A.T.O. allies in Brussels, then to the U.K. – which has been experiencing tensions due to the government’s plans for exiting the European Union – and then on July 16 he will travel to the Finnish capital of Helsinki for a summit meeting with the Russian President. Reuters reports.

“It’s even worse for him [Trump] to meet with a very, very clever, out-for-himself man like President Putin, alone. And I am very much afraid what he would give away without any advisers to keep him in check,” the Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters yesterday. Jordain Carney reports at the Hill.

A delegation of Republican senators traveled to Moscow last week to meet with officials and there were mixed reactions to their visit, including criticisms that the senators were naïve to the risks posed by Russia. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who led the delegation, warned the president that he should “be careful” when he meets with Putin, Nicholas Fandos and Andrew E. Kramer provide an overview of the trip at the New York Times.

Trump should make a deal with Putin on Syria when they meet in Helsinki, Samuel Charap and Jeffrey Martini write at Foreign Policy, arguing that it is only a matter of time before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the support of his Russian and Iranian allies, challenges U.S. allies in eastern Syria and Trump can cut a deal to avoid a confrontation and to also help limit Iran’s influence in Syria.

The Trump-Putin summit offers the opportunity for the two leaders to extend the nuclear New START treaty which has reduced the risk of nuclear warfare. Jon Wolfenstahl writes at Foreign Policy.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

North Korea should begin discussing human rights and the humanitarian situation in the country with the U.N., the top U.N. official Tomás Ojea Quintana said yesterday, praising the recent efforts toward denuclearization pursued by the two Koreas and the U.S. and North Korea, but stating that “there can be no genuine, peaceful and sustainable transition” without a dialogue on human rights. The U.N. News Centre reports.

Trump autographed a CD of Elton John’s album featuring the song Rocket Man to be gifted to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but it was not presented to Kim by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when he traveled to Pyongyang last week as Pompeo was not granted an audience with Kim. The CD refers to insults traded between the two leader last year and Trump’s description of the North Korean leader as “little rocket man,” Benjamin Haas reports at the Guardian.

“The four-paragraph declaration signed by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12 was long on promises and short on specifics,” Victor Cha writes at Foreign Policy, warning that “by boasting about policy successes that have not yet happened, the president not only risks embarrassing himself but also puts undue pressure on his point person [Pompeo].”

Trump’s mishandling is the cause for disarray over the denuclearization talks and not China, experts have said, explaining that Trump’s suggestion that China has been derailing talks because of frustration with U.S. trade policies is not the cause of North Korea’s recent pushback. Keith Johnson writes at Foreign Policy.

SYRIA

The Syrian government widened its offensive to recover the southwest from rebel forces today, extending operations to the Yarmouk Basin area between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan and held by the Islamic State group-affiliated Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army. Reuters reports.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in southern Syria that killed more than a dozen pro-government soldiers, the attack striking the southern village of Zeizoun captured by government forces earlier this week as part of the major offensive against rebels in the area, the AP reports.

Syrian government forces bombed towns and villages in the northwestern province of Idlib yesterday, following an ambush by insurgents that reportedly killed two dozen soldiers, according to activists. The U.K.-based monitor Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the government bombardment killed at least five civilians, while activist-operated Idlib Media Center put the number of casualties at four, the AP reports.

Israel yesterday refused to rule out eventual contacts with Syria under President Bashar al-Assad, in what appeared to be an acknowledgement of his regime-consolidating advances. With Assad’s Russian-backed forces on course to reach Quneitra – a rebel-held district abutting the Golan Heights frontier – Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman leveled threats that “any Syrian soldier who will be in the buffer [at the Golan Heights frontier]  risks his life,” although Lieberman seemed to concede that Assad would regain control of the Syrian side of the Golan, Reuters reports.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 31 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between July 2 and July 8. [Central Command]

AFGHANISTAN

Militants in Afghanistan carried out two separate attacks yesterday in the eastern city of Jalalabad and in Ghazni province, killing at least 15 people and carrying out the strikes as Islamic scholars were gathering in Saudi Arabia to discuss the legitimacy of the Taliban’s war against Ghani’s U.S.-backed government. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Ghazni and the Islamic State group said its local affiliates carried out the attack in Jalalabad, Sayed Salahuddin reports at the Washington Post.

At least 10 people have been killed today in an attack on an education department building in eastern Nangarhar province, according to a provincial official. It is not immediately clear who is responsible for the bombings and gunfire, Al Jazeera reports.

The White House is preparing to undertake a review of Afghanistan strategy, according to U.S. officials, who say the president has grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress since he launched the strategy last August. Idrees Ali and Jonathan Landay report at Reuters.

The U.K. will send an extra 440 troops to Afghanistan to support the N.A.T.O. mission in the country, bringing the total number of British troops to 1,100. Pippa Crerar reports at the Guardian.

The Taliban have ignored Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s call for peace talks and have made advances during their annual spring offensive, dampening hopes of an end to the nearly 17-year conflict. Rahim Faiez reports at the AP.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The U.K.’s Information Commissioner’s Office (I.C.O.) has fined Facebook for allowing the research firm Cambridge Analytica to harvest private user data, levying £500,000 against the social media company. Cambridge Analytica has been in the spotlight due to its ties to the U.K. campaign to leave the European Union and Trump’s presidential campaign, Aliya Ram, Barney Thompson and Hannah Kuchler report at the Financial Times.

A hacker stole sensitive information about U.S. military drones and tried to sell the documents on the “dark web,” according to research by the threat intelligence firm Recorded Future. The Air Force has not immediately responded to requests for comment, Jenna McLaughlin reports at CNN.

YEMEN

Yemeni government negotiators and the deputy U.N. envoy to Yemen Maeen Sharim will meet this month to discuss peace talks with the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, with an official saying that the gathering in the Saudi capital of Riyadh aims “to crystallize the discussion topics before going to direct talks with the Houthis.” Reuters reports.

Saudi Arabia’s military intercepted a missile launched by the Houthis towards the kingdom’s southwestern Jizan region, state media reported yesterday. Reuters reports

IRAN

The U.S. has added the Iran-backed Bahrain-based al-Ashtar Brigades militant group to its list of terror organizations, Max Greenwood reports at the Hill.

The Vienna-based Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi has been charged by German prosecutors with activity as a foreign agent and conspiracy to commit murder at a gathering of the exiled Iranian Mujahedin-e-Khalq (M.E.K.) group in Paris earlier this month. The AP reports.

The SUPREME COURT

Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, have devised a strategy to block U.S. Appeals Court Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh from becoming Supreme Court Justice after he was nominated by President Trump on Monday, with Schumer saying that Kavanaugh’s confirmation would risk American’s “substantive rights being taken away.” Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report at the Washington Post.

Republicans have rallied around Judge Kavanaugh and hope that he can be confirmed swiftly. Kristina Peterson and Peter Nicholas report at the Wall Street Journal.

The battle over Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation has begun in earnest. Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Mark Landler and Thomas Kaplan report at the New York Times.

Democrats have used special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election to attack Judge Kavanaugh, highlighting Judge Kavanaugh’s past views on indicting a sitting president in a criminal investigation. Lydia Wheeler and Jordain Carney report at the Hill.

There are four key policy areas that are hurdles to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation: health care, the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, surveillance and Mueller’s Russia probe. Burgess Everett and Heather Caygle explain at POLITICO.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The Pakistani Taliban today claimed responsibility for an attack killing 21 people at a political rally yesterday, saying that the suicide bombing was an act of revenge for the Awami National Party’s rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province from 2008-2013. Riaz Khan and Munir Ahmed report at the AP.

Killings and atrocities in South Sudan may amount to war crimes, according to a report issued by the U.N. human rights office yesterday, prompting the U.N. Hugh Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, to call on the South Sudanese government to halt all attacks on civilians and hold the perpetrators to account. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The U.N. Security Council yesterday commended the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Eritrean President for signing a joint peace declaration ending their 20 year war, the AP reports. 

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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

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).