The Early Edition: August 6, 2019

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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.

The KOREAN PENINSULA 

North Korea fired another round of projectiles yesterday – its fourth such launch in less than two weeks following the start of joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea. The North fired “two projectiles that are assumed to be short-range ballistic missiles” from South Hwanghae province across the peninsula into the sea to the east, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, AFP reports. 

The launches came as Pyongyang described U.S.-South Korean drills as a “flagrant violation” of diplomatic efforts to reach peace on the Korean peninsula which demonstrated a lack of “political will” to boost relations. “Despite our repeated warnings, the United States and South Korean authorities have finally started the joint military exercise targeting the D.P.R.K.,” a spokesperson for the North’s Foreign Ministry said in comments carried by state news agency K.C.N.A., the Guardian reports.

North Korea remains “unchanged in our stand to resolve the issues through dialogue … [but] we will be compelled to seek a new road as we have already indicated [if the two countries continue with] hostile military moves,” the statement continued. While the main drills will start on Aug. 11, low-key preparation has begun, Reuters reports.

The statement said the joint exercises leave the North “compelled to develop, test and deploy the powerful physical means essential for national defense,” Kim Tong-Hyung reports at the AP.

South Korea declared yesterday that combined exercises with the U.S. will “proceed as scheduled” notwithstanding warnings from North Korea. Spokesperson for South Korea’s Defense Ministry Choi Hyun-soo told reporters that exercises will be targeted at “verifying Seoul’s capabilities for retaking operational control of its troops from the U.S.,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

The U.S. has said it was “monitoring the situation and consulting with South Korea and Japan,” the BBC reports.

Japan’s defense ministry insisted it did not see “any imminent threat” to Japanese security after North Korea launched two projectiles yesterday. In a statement, the ministry said the missiles had not reached its territory, Reuters reports.

A new report to the U.N. Security Council says North Korea is paying for its sustained missile tests with “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” cyberattacks on banks and cryptocurrency exchanges. North Korean cyber experts have illegally generated income for the country’s weapons of mass destruction programs with total proceeds estimated to be up to $2 billion, Andrea Mitchell, Abigail Williams, Ken Dilanian and Courtney Kube report at NBC.

CHINA AND HONG KONG 

A general strike in Hong Kong yesterday shut down parts of the city, “paralyzing” transportation networks at rush hour and forcing cancelation of over 200 flights into and out of the region as workers, including air-traffic control staff, joined the strike. The strike is increasing pressure on Hong Kong’s government to agree to the pro-democracy group’s demands for a full withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill, investigation of police tactics in recent weeks and greater democracy, Casey Quackenbush and Shibani Mahtani report at the Wall Street Journal.

China yesterday called on the U.S. to “stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs,” and said it firmly stands behind the one country, two systems. In a statement, the Foreign ministry warned that “no one should underestimate China’s resolve to safeguard the stability of Hong Kong,” Reuters reports.

Military intervention in Hong Kong would “backfire” on China’s economy, Ben Westcott warns at CNN, noting that there has not yet been indication that Beijing is planning to deploy troops to restore order.

IRAN

Britain yesterday announced it would join the U.S.-led naval mission to patrol the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz against perceived Iranian threats. “The U.K. is determined to ensure her shipping is protected from unlawful threats and for that reason we have today joined the new maritime security mission in the Gulf,” British Defense Minister Ben Wallace told reporters; no other countries are yet involved in the initiative, Rebecca Klar reports at the Hill.

“Both the U.K. and U.S. are committed to working with allies and partners to encourage others to join and broaden the response to this truly international problem,” the U.K. government said. The details of the cooperation have not yet been finalized, Max Colchester and Isabel Coles report at the Wall Street Journal.

“The mission will see the Royal Navy working alongside the U.S. Navy to accompany merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz,” the British government said in a statement, explaining British forces would play a “leading role” in the operation. The mission – previously titled Operation Sentinel – is being “rebranded” with the hope of enticing more participation: “The rebranding, I’ll be frank, is to make this as open to as many nations as possible,” a British official explained, adding “some of the nations may have regional qualms or concerns or they may have economic qualms or concerns about badging any particular mission in a certain way,” Wesley Morgan and Nahal Toosi report at POLITICO.

Germany declined the U.S.’s request to take part in the mission to protect shipping through the strait and “combat Iranian aggression”. “The chancellor [Angela Merkel] does not see a participation in a U.S-led mission in the current situation and at the current time – everyone in the German government agrees on that,” a government spokesperson told a news conference yesterday, Reuters reports.

The Trump administration is monitoring the movement of tankers linked to China’s largest state-run oil company China National Petroleum Corporation (C.N.P.C.) following signs that the vessels are shipping Iranian crude oil to China in defiance of U.S. sanctions against Tehran, David Sheppard, Demetri Sevastopulo and Lucy Hornby report at the Financial Times.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said yesterday that he was sanctioned by the U.S. after rejecting an offer to visit the White House. “[W]hile @realdonaldtrump may want photo op, the U.S. isn’t interested in talks; rather, Iran’s submission,” Zarif stated in a message sent on Twitter, adding “that will never happen … an example of U.S. tactics: threatening to designate somebody in two weeks unless he accepts your invitation to chat in the Oval Office,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

A group of twenty-eight bipartisan lawmakers are pushing legislation to prohibit the use of funds for military action against Iran without congressional authorization, according to an internal letter obtained by Foreign Policy. “Bipartisan majorities in both chambers have spoken up to defend Congress’ constitutional authority over matters of war and peace,” the letter, addressed to the chairs and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees which oversee the defense bill, states, adding: “with regional tensions high, the risk of the U.S. entering into war with Iran without authorization remains acute,” Robbie Gramer reports at Foreign Policy.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM 

The U.N. is investigating allegations of corruption and fraud within its own agency’s office in Yemen. W.H.O. internal auditors are looking into claims that staffers diverted donated food, medicine, fuel and money from Yemenis amid their country’s five-year civil war, Maggie Michael reports at the AP.

The U.S. should talk to the Iran-aligned Shi’ite Houthi rebels, Robert Malley argues at the New York Times, commenting that “a Houthi missile or drone strike aimed at Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Red Sea shipping lanes could spark a broader conflict involving the United States, its Gulf allies and Iran.”

SYRIA

Syrian rebel commanders declared yesterday they are prepared to join Turkish troops in an offensive to regain largely Arab-populated towns and villages in Kurdish-held territory in Syria.“There are over 14,000 fighters who are ready to engage in combat operations east of the Euphrates alongside Turkish forces,” spokesperson for Turkey-backed rebel grouping the National Army Major Youssef Hamoud told reporters, Reuters reports.

The Syrian army will resume military operations in a Russian-led campaign in northwest Syria, the army announced yesterday, blaming Turkey for not complying with its commitments under a ceasefire deal. “The agreement to a truce was conditional … this did not happen … we resume our military operations against terrorist organizations,” a statement released by the army said; the truce was dependent on militants abiding by a Russian-Turkish accord last year aimed at creating an Idlib buffer zone, Reuters reports.

The U.S. “intends to prevent any unilateral invasion by Turkey into northern Syria” and any such move by the Turks would be “unacceptable,” U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said today. “What we’re going to do is prevent unilateral incursions that would upset, again, these mutual interests that the United States, Turkey and the S.D.F. share with regard to northern Syria,” Esper told reporters, stating the U.S. is attempting to find an arrangement that addresses Turkey’s concerns, Lolita C. Baldor reports at the AP.

An explainer to the “major risks” involved in a Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria is provided by Zeynep Bilginsoy and Zeina Karam at the AP.

PAKISTAN-INDIA RELATIONS

India’s lower house of Parliament is expected to ratify a bill today “downgrading the governance of the Indian-administered portion of Muslim-majority Kashmir.” The measure, approved by Parliament’s upper house by a two-thirds majority, will downgrade Kashmir from a state to a union territory with a legislature, Emily Schmall reports at the AP.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to revoke special status for the disputed Kashmir region attracted both praise and criticism in India, with the country’s state media calling the move “a bold gamble to end a three-decades old armed revolt and draw the territory closer to the rest of India,” Reuters reports.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged India and Pakistan to “exercise restraint,” after India yesterday revoked the special status of Kashmir, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters. Dujarric added that a group of U.N. peacekeepers observing a ceasefire between India and Pakistan in the state of Jammu and Kashmir “has observed and reported an increase in military activity along the line of control,” the AP reports.

The U.S. has called for “peace and stability” along the border that separates India and Pakistan in Kashmir. Spokesperson for the US Department of State Morgan Ortagus said Washington was following events in Indian-administered Kashmir “closely,” adding “we are concerned about reports of detentions and urge respect for individual rights and discussion with those in affected communities,” Al Jazeera reports. 

An analysis of the consequences of India’s cancellation of Kashmir’s special status is provided by Jason Burke at the Guardian.

“The Kashmir problem has not been solved … on the contrary … it’s just gotten a lot more complicated — and potentially a lot more destabilizing,” Michael Kugelman argues at Foreign Policy.

U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday cautioned that Moscow would “start developing short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles if the U.S. started doing the same” after the U.S. formally left the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty with Russia last Friday, Reuters reports.

Putin upped Russian spying on U.S. builds – saying Moscow would match any missiles deployed by the U.S.. “I instruct the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Foreign Intelligence Service to monitor in the most thorough manner future steps taken by the United States,” Putin said in statement posted on the Kremlin website, Thomas Gove reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“Our actions related to the development … production and deployment of ground-based intermediate-range missiles will be exclusively reciprocal and mirrored,” Putin said, adding “we will not deploy them until the U.S.-made intermediate-range missiles are deployed [in areas where they may threaten Russia],” Vladimir Isachenkov reports at the Washington Post.

Putin called for arms talks with the U.S.: “In order to avoid chaos without any rules, restrictions and laws, it’s necessary to weigh all the dangerous consequences and start a serious dialogue without any ambiguities,” Putin said yesterday, adding “Russia considers it necessary to resume full-fledged talks on strategic stability and security without any delay,” Chris Mills Rodrigo reports at the Hill.

“With Putin and Trump having torn up a Cold War pact that lowered the risk of nuclear war … America should build more conventional missiles to catch up with Russia and China,” Timothy A. Walton warns at the New York Times.

VENEZUELA 

The Trump administration imposed an economic embargo on the Venezuelan government yesterday, in a significant escalation of pressure against President Nicolás Maduro’s regime and countries such as Russia and China that continue to offer support to him, Michael Crowley and Anatoly Kurmanaev report at the New York Times.

U.S. President Trump signed the executive order late yesterday freezing all government assets and barring transactions with it – unless specifically exempted. The move, the first such action in 30 years, puts Venezuela on a par with North Korea, Iran, Syria and Cuba –  the only other nations currently under such severe U.S. measures, Viviana Salma reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump took the step “in light of the continued usurpation of power by Nicolas Maduro and persons affiliated with him … as well as human rights abuses,” according to the order, CNN reports.

U.S. MILITARY 

China today warned it would take unspecified countermeasures if the U.S. proceeds with plans to deploy ground-based missiles in the Asia-Pacific region. The comments came after U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper declared the U.S. was now free to deploy the weapons following its withdrawal last Friday from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty with Russia, Christopher Boded reports at the AP.

“China will not stand idly by and will be forced to take countermeasures should the U.S. deploy intermediate-range ground-based missiles in this part of the world,” Director of the Arms Control Department at the Chinese Foreign Ministry Fu Cong said. “And we also call on our neighbors, our neighboring countries, to exercise prudence and not to allow a U.S. deployment of its intermediate-range missiles on [their] territory … that would not serve the national security interest of these countries,” Cong added, naming Australia, Japan and South Korea, AFP reports.

TRUMP-RUSSIA AND CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS

Federal Judge Reggie Walton yesterday indicated he may be willing to consider releasing some of the restricted portions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian electoral interference and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign. During over two hours of oral arguments in Washington, Judge Walton appeared on numerous occasions to side with lawyers for BuzzFeed News and the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (E.P.I.C.,) which are trying to remove redactions covering nearly 1,000 items in Mueller’s 448-page report, Darren Samuelsohn reports at POLITICO.

Judge Walton expressed concerns about Attorney General William Barr’s initial handling of Mueller’s report, suggesting that he considers there were “discrepancies in how Barr characterized the report and the former special counsel’s actual findings.” “I do have some concerns because it seems to me difficult to reconcile the contents of the Mueller report and statements made by the attorney general [about the report],” Walton said, Jacqueline Thomsen reports at the Hill.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler yesterday said that his panel could decide whether to move forward with articles of impeachment by late fall, presenting a rough timeline for possible efforts to remove President Trump just days after a majority of House Democrats signaled support for an impeachment inquiry. “If we decide to report articles of impeachment, we could get to that late in the fall perhaps, in the latter part of the year,” Nadler told reporters, Kyle Cheney reports at POLITICO.

Top Republican on the House Administration Committee Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) yesterday posed a series of questions to the Election Assistance Commission (E.A.C.) in connection to election security oversight issues and Mueller’s recent testimony. “I remain committed to ensuring that local election officials have every resource they need to provide for a secure election in 2020,” Davis wrote in a letter to the E.A.C., Maggie Miller reports at the Hill.

EL PASO AND DAYTON KILLINGS

U.S. President Donald Trump yesterday called on America to reject racism and white supremacist ideology – in an unusually direct condemnation of racists following two mass shootings over the weekend that killed at least 31 people, Demetri Sevastopulo and Peter Wells report at the Financial Times.

The top two members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee yesterday penned a letter to Attorney General William Barr – probing how the Department of Justice (D.O.J.) is protecting Americans from the threat of domestic terrorism and requesting information on the amount of resources devoted to the matter, Laura Strickler, Julia Ainsley and Ken Dilanian report at NBC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not acted on calls from lawmakers to end Senate recess in order to take up gun control legislation following the two mass shootings. McConnell said that Republicans are prepared “to work in a bipartisan, bicameral way to address the recent mass murders which have shaken our nation,” without providing a  timeline to do so, Dareh Gregorian reports at NBC.

“American law enforcement needs to target white nationalists with the same zeal that they have targeted radical Islamic terrorists,” the New York Times editorial board argues.

A recap of the growing problem of right-wing extremism and white supremacy in the U.S. and what the government should do about it is provided by Just Security.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.N. has called for  financial sanctions and an arms embargo against Myanmar’s military – known locally as Tatmadaw. The panel also urged a consumer boycott, Joshua Carroll reports at Al Jazeera.

A car bomb explosion late Sunday outside a hospital in Egypt’s capital Cairo which killed at least 20 people and injured another 47 was terrorist-related, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said, Sudarsan Raghavan reports at the Washington Post.

Sudanese Revolutionary Front rebel group has said it will not accept a power-sharing deal signed late Sunday between the ruling military council and the pro-democracy movement. The group argued that the constitutional document did not include “basic principles” to achieve peace in Sudan and the protest coalition had also “ignored” the rebels’ positions on peace; the rebels declared they will seek to alter the deal before the final Aug. 17 signing, the AP reports.

At least 42 people were killed and 60 more wounded yesterday in an air raid in southern Libya, an official said, as the U.N.-recognized government blamed forces loyal to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar for the attack, the BBC reports.

The U.S. and the Taliban have “resolved differences in peace talks over U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan,” as well as over insurgent pledges on cutting ties with other extremist groups, a Taliban official said today, Cara Anna and Kathy Gannon report at the AP.

Data protection officials in several nations – including the U.S. and U.K. – have expressed concerns over the “privacy risks” of Facebook’s crytocurrency Libra. The joint letter, also signed by Australia and Canada was issued yesterday, Hannah Murphy reports at the Financial Times. 

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About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

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