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The Early Edition: September 19, 2017

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.


President Trump’s first address to the U.N. General Assembly today will put forward his “America First” values that are driven “by outcomes, not by ideologies” and an appeal to U.S. nationalism and the nationalism of other countries, according to a senior White House official. Farnaz Fassihi and Eli Stokols report at the Wall Street Journal.

Trump will warn U.N. member states that they risk being “bystanders in history” if they fail to confront global threats such as North Korea and Iran, according to a senior White House official, presenting the two countries as forces for greater instability if the international community fails to address their behavior now. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Trump will also target Venezuela and Islamist militants in his speech, senior White House officials said, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason report at Reuters.

“We are giving it an absolute go,” Trump said in relation to the Israel-Palestinian peace process at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the U.N. yesterday, marking a different tone to Netanyahu who focused on bashing the Iran nuclear deal. Mark Landler reports at the New York Times.

 “Make the United Nations great,” Trump told reporters yesterday after attending a session focused on reforming U.N. institutions, stating during the meeting that leaders of the world should not settle for “business as usual.” David Nakamaru and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho is scheduled to arrive in New York today to attend the General Assembly amid increased tension on the Korean peninsula. The AP reports.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission faces significant cuts in its budget and must consider how to do more with less funding, Trump telling the assembly yesterday that the U.S. “ask that every peacekeeping mission have clearly defined goals and metrics for evaluating success,” adding that he wanted to cap the U.S. contributions to the mission. Aaron Ross and David Lewis report at Reuters.

Live coverage of the General Assembly meeting is provided by the Wall Street Journal.

The global challenges that will dominate the annual gathering include the North Korea crisis, the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, international terrorism, climate change, and the Gulf crisis. Edith M. Lederer observes at the AP.

Trump was a subdued figure at the first day of the General Assembly, pledging to cooperate with world leaders to restructure the U.N. and refraining from aggressive anti-U.N. rhetoric deployed throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, however a different and hardline side of the president is expected today during his inaugural speech. Peter Baker and Somini Sengupta observe at the New York Times.

The annual meeting will feature plenty of discussion but few actions to deal with the crises facing the world, Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.


The actions by the U.S. and its “vassal forces” to put pressure on North Korea “will only increase our pace towards the ultimate completion of the state nuclear force,” a statement on North Korean state media said yesterday, Al Jazeera reports.

The U.S. has military options to deal with North Korea and the U.S. has not intercepted recent North Korean missile launches because they have been falling “in the middle of the ocean,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters yesterday, stating that a North Korean missile aimed at Guam or U.S. territory “would elicit a different response,” Helene Cooper reports at the New York Times. Continue Reading »

Why Trump Should Support the UN, Even in the Era of “America first”

Tomorrow, President Trump will address the United Nations for the first time in what is sure to be a spectacle of high-drama. Trump and his administration have made no secret of their disdain for the U.N. and for global cooperation in general, including by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in June.    

The President famously dismissed the U.N. as “just a club” for people “to talk and have a good time.” It’s true that the U.N. can seem like an over-politicized bureaucracy where progress moves at a frustratingly slow pace, but despite its flaws, there is no substitute for the convening power and life-saving work of the U.N.. Every day the U.N. is working to alleviate hunger, to provide humanitarian assistance to victims of war, and to stabilize conflict zones. The diplomat Richard Holbrooke once said that blaming the U.N. when things go wrong is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the Knicks play badly. As a member with unrivaled influence, the U.S. could be a powerful player for good at the U.N..

Yet due to the nativist and isolationist impulses of the Trump team, they have treated the U.N. as a foe. The administration has sought drastic cuts to U.N. peacekeeping, its humanitarian aid budgets, and has threatened to withdraw from some of its key institutions at a time when the world faces serious conflicts and humanitarian crises. Trump officials have said cuts to the U.N. will be redirected to military spending as part of the President’s “America first” policy. But what the Trump administration fails to understand is that ceding America’s role at the U.N. will only weaken U.S. influence in the world.  Continue Reading »

National Security-Related Congressional Hearings, September 18-23

Tuesday, September 19

10:00am – Senate Committee on Armed Services – Recent United States Navy Incidents at Sea (here)

10:00am – Senate Committee on Foreign Relations – Business Meeting (here)

10:00am – Senate Committee on Foreign Relations – Nominations (Immediately Following Business Meeting): The Honorable Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. of Utah, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of The United States of America to The Russian Federation; Mr. A. Wess Mitchell of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary Of State (European and Eurasian Affairs) (here)

2:30pm – Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – Briefing: Intelligence Matters (Closed) (here)

Two Powerful Speeches from the NATSECDEF Conference

Last week, George Washington University Law School hosted the third annual “NATSECDEF” conference, a gathering organized by attorneys of the Military Commissions Defense Organization (MCDO), the National Coalition for the Protection of Civil Freedoms, and Witness Against Torture. We’re pleased to provide, for those who were unable to attend, copies of two powerful speeches from the conference: The opening address by Brig. Gen. John G. Baker, Chief Defense Counsel of the MCDO titled “The GTMO Military Commissions — Where We Are and the Way Forward,” and the keynote address by Alberto Mora, titled “Building National Security on Inalienable Rights.”

General Baker’s speech is available here. Mr. Mora’s speech is available here. I commend them both to our readers…

Why Congress Can’t Ignore the Health Impact of DACA


Nearly 700,000 young immigrants will spend the next six months in limbo, waiting to see whether the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed them to legally live and work in the United States, will get a lifeline or be allowed to expire—potentially sending them back to home countries they barely know.

Now that the Trump administration has said it plans to rescind these protections, their fate is up to Congress, which for the past 16 years has tried and failed to pass legislation like the DREAM Act. Adding some hope to the situation but also sowing chaos, President Donald Trump reportedly struck a deal last week with congressional Democrats to protect the undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” and tweeted his support for the very people his own administration’s policy would place in jeopardy.

While this plays out in Washington, D.C., many DACA recipients worry about more than thwarted plans for a college degree or dream job: They are also raising children who were born in America. In the debate over the program’s future, those children are often overlooked, though their well-being hangs in the balance.

How do their lives change when their parents no longer have to be afraid they could be deported? New research from Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab finds that these families see dramatic improvements in their children’s mental health. Continue Reading »

The Early Edition: September 18, 2017

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.


North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is “going to have to give up his nuclear weapons,” White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said yesterday, reiterating the White House position that North Korea must denuclearize and that “all options are on the table” if the regime continues to threaten the U.S. and its allies; prompting criticism from some who argue that Kim would be unlikely to give up developing his nuclear weapons program. Gordon Lubold and Ben Leubsdorf report at the Wall Street Journal.

If Pyongyang’s “reckless behavior” leads the U.S. to defend itself or its allies, “North Korea will be destroyed,” the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said yesterday, adding that “none of us want war” but that “something is going to have to be done.” David Nakamura and Anne Gearan report at the Washington Post.

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we can do at the Security Council at this point,” Haley also said yesterday, stating that it was not an empty threat when the president said last month that North Korea would face “fire and fury” if it continued its belligerent behavior. Eli Watkins reports at CNN.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized that the Trump administration seeks a peaceful solution to the crisis, in an interview yesterday, but stated that “if our diplomatic efforts fail, though, our military option will be the only one left,” Rebecca Savransky reporting at the Hill.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and President Trump agreed on the need to “exert stronger and practical sanctions” on North Korea and to strengthen cooperation, a spokesperson for the South Korean presidential Blue House said yesterday. Reuters reporting.

Trump asked President Moon how “Rocket Man is doing,” the president tweeted yesterday, seemingly mocking the North Korean leader and making the comments after his advisers reiterated the White House position that the regime would face destruction if it continued its behavior. Joanna Walters reports at the Guardian.

North Korea’s aim “is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the U.S. and make the U.S. rulers dare not talk about a military option,” the North Korean state K.C.N.A. news agency quoted Kim as saying on Saturday, the AP reports.

China and Russia began joint naval exercises today close to the Russia-North Korea border, the U.S. and South Korea also conducting joint military exercises today, flying bombers and fighter jets over the Korean peninsula. Ben Blanchard and Hyonhee Shin report at Reuters.

Kuwait will expel North Korea’s ambassador and four other diplomats, in response to pressure from the international community to limit its relationship with Pyongyang, Kuwait providing the only diplomatic post for North Korea in the Gulf. Jon Gambrell reports at the AP.

Direct talks and a “security guarantee other than the nuclear bomb” are needed to deal with the North Korean threat, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said in comments reported by a German newspaper today. The AP reports.

The ban on North Korea’s garment industry will have an impact across North Korean society and will primarily impact women, according to analysts – marking a change from previous U.N. Security Council resolutions which emphasized that sanctions were targeted at the regime. Anna Fifield reports at the Washington Post.

“The international community must stay united and enforce the sanctions” in light of North Korea’s threat, and the adoption of U.N. Security Council sanctions would be ineffective without proper implementation. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe writes at the New York Times.

North Korea’s missile program may no longer be reliant on outside suppliers and the regime may be producing the potent U.D.M.H. fuel needed to power the missiles itself. William J. Broad and David E. Sanger explain the perspectives of intelligence officials and experts at the New York Times.

Russia could be an effective broker with North Korea, having interests in Pyongyang like China but not as directly affected by the regime’s nuclear ambitions than the U.S., South Korea or China, Dmitri Trenin writes at the New York Times.

Sanctions can only go so far and diplomacy remains the “final option,” the Trump administration would be wise to consider the North Korean threat within a wider Asia strategy and a long-term policy goal that ensures that the U.S. and its allies are militarily dominant in the region. James P. Rubin writes at POLITICO Magazine.


Russian forces struck a location “known to the Russians to contain Syrian Democratic Forces and Coalition advisers” near the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, causing injuries to U.S.-backed Kurdish-dominated S.D.F. fighters, according to a statement by Operation Inherent Resolve on Saturday. Continue Reading »

Recap of Recent Pieces on Just Security (Sept. 10 – Sept. 15)

Trump Administration Homeland Security Policies

Trump-Russia Investigation

AUMF and the Forever War

U.S. Drone Sales


U.S. State Department

The Civilian Casualties and the War in Syria

Climate Change

Ezra Cohen Watnick

9/11 Military Commissions

Norms Watch

National Security Law Podcast

Protecting Civilians Critical to Syria Talks’ Success


“They will kill us all,” Ahmad, a Syrian aid worker, told me last month, referring to the many armed parties to the Syrian conflict.

We were talking about Idlib, a province in northwest Syria that is home to around 2 million people, about half of whom are displaced, and is mostly under the control of Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), widely acknowledged to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. Ahmad is from Idlib and had seen the province go through everything from airstrikes, to chemical attacks, to suicide bombers – a microcosm of the violence that is the Syrian conflict. Still, he believed the worst was yet to come.

There have been announcements that Russia, Iran, and Turkey will be making progress on a de-escalation zone in Idlib as part of the Syria negotiations taking place in Astana, Kazakhstan this week. But Ahmad’s concerns about the area where he is operating highlight the fear that over the past six years of the Syrian conflict, the urgent need to protect civilians has been sidelined in most of the international negotiations. The series of de-escalation agreements aimed at securing peace have unfortunately been no exception.

The talks in Astana have been the most ambitious to date. Russia has brought on board two of the key outside military actors in Syria – Turkey and Iran – to participate.  Continue Reading »

Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (September 8-September 15)


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Trump again suggests both sides were to blame for Charlottesville violence. The administration takes the next step in its leak crackdown, and the press secretary suggests a journalist should be fired for criticism of the president.

Trump Repeats Claim That Both Sides To Blame For Charlottesville

Speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One Thursday, Trump resurrected his claim that those protesting neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville last month were as much to blame as the alt-right marchers. Trump was characterizing his side of a conversation on Wednesday with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), during which Scott said he confronted Trump over his earlier claim that “both sides” were to blame for violence. “Especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there, you know, you have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also,” Trump said. ‘Antifa’ refers to anti-fascists, who counter-protested the neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“Now because of what’s happened since then, with Antifa, you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville — a lot of people are saying — in fact, a lot of people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump might have point,” the president said. “I said, ‘You’ve got some very bad people on the other side, which is true.’” Trump was roundly criticized for drawing a moral equivalence between white supremacists and counter-protesters at his press conference immediately following the Charlottesville violence last month.

Press Secretary Calls Journalist’s Tweet Criticizing Trump “Fireable Offense”

After ESPN host Jemele Hill tweeted that Trump was a “white supremacist,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the criticism a “fireable offense by ESPN.” It is highly unusual for the White House to call for a journalist to lose their job, or to exert this kind of influence over any private business.

Continue Reading »

We Need to Know More About Government Searches of Travelers’ Electronic Devices

Relying on directives from the George W. Bush administration, U.S. border patrol and immigration officers have been subjecting travelers crossing U.S. borders to intrusive searches of their cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices at significantly increased rates over the past year.

Those directives (here and here) authorize U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers to search and detain travelers’ electronic devices without suspicion that the individual’s devices contain evidence of any wrongdoing.  In other words, border officers may compel travelers to hand over their digital lifelines for any reason whatsoever or for no reason at all.

On Wednesday, the ACLU and Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) filed an important new lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of those searches under the First and Fourth Amendment.  The lawsuit details the harrowing searches of eleven plaintiffs — including a limousine driver, nursing student, NASA engineer, artist, filmmaker, professor and former Air Force captain, and two journalists — conducted at U.S. international airports and the U.S.-Canadian border.  As the plaintiffs’ stories reflect, phones and laptops often store people’s most intimate information, capturing their thoughts, explorations, activities, and communities.  Those devices may also store privileged or confidential information that their owners are duty-bound to protect, such as the identities of journalists’ confidential sources.  Thus, government searches of electronic devices not only intrude upon personal privacy, but may also infringe freedoms of expression, association, and the press.  Continue Reading »