Fdd's overnight brief

April 23, 2021

In The News


Signs are emerging of a shift under way in the oil market, with demand weakening in Asia and picking up in the West, just as supplies of Iranian crude oil have climbed. That marks a reversal from 2020, when a bounceback in economic activity in China and India powered a recovery in crude prices after the blow dealt by Covid-19. – Wall Street Journal 

Iran is attempting to avoid direct state-on-state conflict with the U.S. pending the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, General Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on Thursday. – Jewish Insider 

As Iran faces what looks like its worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic yet, Tehran commuters still pour into its subway system and buses each working day, even as images of the gasping ill are repeatedly shown on state television every night. – Associated Press

Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to up to 60% purity at an above-ground plant at Natanz to one cluster from two, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog seen by Reuters indicated on Thursday. – Reuters

A top U.S. general said on Thursday that Iran had not done anything in its nuclear program that was irreversible. – Reuters

Activists have expressed astonishment over the election of Iran to the United Nations’ top forum for women’s rights, apparently with the backing of at least four Western democracies. – Times of Israel

Iran flew a drone over a US aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, capturing detailed footage of fighter jets aligned on the deck, crewmen on board and other military equipment, according to a report. – New York Post

Ariana Shargi and Hannah Shargi write: We are calling on the U.S. government to do everything in their power to bring home our dad and the other American hostages being unjustly detained in Iran: Siamak Namazi, Baquer Namazi and Morad Tahbaz. The detention of American citizens for political leverage is a continued pattern, and their freedom and return home should be the top priority during ongoing nuclear talks and other negotiations. – Washington Post 

Bobby Ghosh writes: The greatest threat comes not from stray rockets fired off by Assad’s forces but from precision-guided Iranian missiles assembled in Syria and supplied to Tehran’s catspaws in the country or in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon. […]Preventing such an outcome ought to be a high priority for the Biden administration and the other world powers represented at the talks in Vienna. Last night’s events should serve as a reminder that a deal limited to its nuclear program will not greatly limit the danger Iran represents. – Bloomberg

Eli Lake writes: Even if all the sanctions are lifted, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will pressure banks and oil companies to stay away from Iran’s economy as a condition for doing business in their countries. Meanwhile, companies that choose to invest in Iran will still have to weigh the risks that any Iranian dual nationals that work for them are at risk of arbitrary arrest, as has happened time and again in Iran since the 2015 nuclear deal. Biden’s policy also offers false hope on nuclear security, as the best he can get will be an Iranian return to enrichment limits that expire by the end of the decade. – Bloomberg

Sardar Aziz writes: While the Biden administration has vocally stressed the importance of human rights, this narrative is even more important in the age of civilizational discourse as a way to maintain the integrity of those states Iran would like to see subsumed under its own influence. – Washington Institute 

Amos Harel writes: But the incident did dramatize, to the Iranians and to whoever is looking for new ways to harm Israel, the country’s high level of vulnerability to ecological disasters. Two months on, Israel has done very little to improve its response to this danger, which could be repeated either deliberately or accidentally. […]No improvement was registered in the routine monitoring of pollution hazards; while at the same time the possibility that someone will try to foment “ecological terror attacks” has only increased, in light of the activity attributed to Israel and the accusations made by the government itself. – Haaretz


A missile launched from Syria flew into southern Israel early Thursday, triggering air raid sirens near a nuclear facility, according to the Israeli military, raising fears of an escalation in ongoing tensions among Israel, Syria and Iran. – Washington Post

Ten years after the start of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Denmark has become the first European country to start revoking the residency permits of some Syrian refugees, arguing that the Syrian capital, Damascus, and neighboring regions are safe. Yet few experts agree with Denmark’s assessment. – Associated Press

Natasha Hall and William Todman write: The crisis in Syria is not the first time many of these problems have arisen in humanitarian operations, but the scale of the challenges must finally motivate donors to act. The Syrian crisis demonstrates that donors must provide local organizations with more support so that they can operate more effectively and safely. Donors should increase their support to local organizations in four key areas. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


President Joe Biden is poised to became the first U.S. president in 40 years to recognize the 1915 mass killings of Armenians as genocide, according to a person familiar with the matter, a move that risks upsetting an already tenuous relationship with Turkey, a NATO ally. – Bloomberg

President Tayyip Erdogan named a prominent member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mehmet Mus, as trade minister on Wednesday and split another ministry into two, in what officials said was the first move in an expected broader cabinet shuffle. – Reuters 

After a three-year hiatus, an Israeli minister has been invited to Turkey to attend an official conference sponsored by the country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. – Times of Israel 

“Where is the $128 billion?” The question, turned into a political slogan by Turkey’s largest opposition party and emblazoned on posters and billboards in Istanbul, has rattled the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. – Bloomberg

Michael Rubin writes: The possibilities of such actions, however, should be less cause to delay recognition of the Armenian genocide and more reason to question the basis of the U.S.-Turkey alliance; simply put, allies do not blackmail allies with behavior more reminiscent of rogue regimes. […]That said, he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken should prepare for Erdogan’s temper-tantrum and make clear that the United States will hold all Turkish officials accountable for their incitement and the actions of their proxies. – 19fortyfive


The United States cautioned against allowing Palestinian politicians who do not recognize Israel or who support terrorist activity — such as members of Hamas or the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — from running in the upcoming Palestinian elections when it addressed the United Nations Security Council on Thursday. – Jerusalem Post 

Hours after Israeli soldiers shot and killed Osama Mansour at a temporary checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, the military announced that it had thwarted a car-ramming attack — but the facts didn’t seem to add up. – Associated Press

The United Nations and European members of the Security Council called Thursday for Israel to permit all eligible Palestinians in East Jerusalem to be able to vote in the first Palestinian legislative elections in 15 years. – Agence France-Presse

Dozens of people were injured and arrested late Thursday night as far-right Jewish extremists marched into east Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs.” The protests took place mainly at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City where Arab youth hurled rocks and bottles at police as the daily Ramadan fast came to an end. – Reuters 

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi will travel to the United States on Sunday to discuss the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and its entrenchment throughout the region, the military said Friday. – Times of Israel

Facebook said Wednesday it has broken up a hacker network used by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ intelligence service in an attempt to keep tabs on journalists, human rights activists and government critics. – Associated Press

Simon Henderson writes: Hence the significance of the Israeli officials due to turn up in the U.S. next week: the national security adviser, the chief of staff of the army, the head of military intelligence, and the director of the Mossad spy agency. They will be wanting to clarify what U.S. negotiator Rob Malley and his team is discussing with the Iranians, supposedly only via intermediaries. Both Washington and Jerusalem no doubt will spin these talks as positively as possible. – The Hill 

Amos Harel writes: Though the security focus is naturally on Iran, the Palestinians also merit careful attention. […]As the elections loom, an announcement cancelling them could spark an intra-Palestinian confrontation, alongside signals to Israel in the form of rocket fire. An emergency situation in the territories could also be to Netanyahu’s benefit, who also has to fight Israel’s democratic process if he wants to maintain power. – Haaretz


The examples of Lebanon, Syria, and perhaps also Yemen suggest that without direct and active American support, anti-Iran forces (with the exception of Israel) have trouble making headway, and quickly founder. This fact explains the current Iranian push to make the ground burn beneath the feet of the remaining American forces in Iraq. Tehran understands that in order to reach the prize of the Lebanonization of Iraq, it must first expel the American presence. This issue is set to be tested in the period ahead. – Jerusalem Post 

At least three rockets landed in the perimeter of Baghdad International Airport late on Thursday, Iraqi security officials said. – Reuters

As the U.S. prepares to draw down its last 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, the head of Central Command told reporters Thursday that there are no current plans to begin a similar withdrawal of the last 2,500 in Iraq. – Military Times 


Saudi Arabia

The family of a former top Saudi intelligence official who is living in exile and locked in an international feud with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman say they have become pawns in the kingdom’s efforts to bring the spy chief home. – Reuters

Yemen’s Houthi movement launched an attack with a drone on an Aramco facility in the southwestern Saudi city of Jizan as well as targeting the King Khalid air base with two drones, the Houthi military spokesman said on Twitter. – Reuters

Which one of Yemen’s possible futures becomes reality depends much on Biden’s calculus to push the country towards peace. Pressure Saudi, pressure Hadi’s government and ease back on the Houthis appears to be his current approach. Marib may yet prove the international lever that ultimately prompts compromise, but for now, anything could happen. – CNN

Middle East & North Africa

Jordanian authorities said Thursday they would release most of those arrested this month for allegedly plotting to destabilize the rule of King Abdullah II. – Washington Post

The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group current stop in the Middle East could be extended to help cover the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, two defense officials confirmed to USNI News on Thursday. – USNI News 

An Algerian court on Thursday convicted a high-profile university professor specializing in Islam of offending the Muslim religion, and sentenced him to three years in prison. – Associated Press

Amin Mohseni-Cheraghlou writes: The popular view that addressing climate change comes at a net cost to the economy is no longer true because, as briefly highlighted above, environmental degradation directly undermines long-run economic development and prosperity by imposing significant costs on the economy. It is long overdue for policymakers, business leaders, and consumers in the MENA region to acknowledge the fact that environmental sustainability is a necessary — but not sufficient — requirement for the region’s inclusive, long-run, and stable growth. – Middle East Institute

Korean Peninsula

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been uncharacteristically quiet as the new Biden administration weighs its policy for the divided Korean peninsula, but there are signs that’s about to change, with Pyongyang’s propaganda operation springing into action this week to whip up popular enthusiasm over promised major advances in the country’s ballistic missile program. – Washington Times 

As tension continues to ramp up between the United States and North Korea, that country is “working to develop capabilities that can degrade or even defeat U.S. missile defense systems deployed in its region.” That’s according to a new report issued by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), as cited in an article by Yonhap News Agency. – The National Interest

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) announced on 22 April that the exploratory development phase for the 6×6 Unmanned Surveillance Vehicle has been completed, with the agency now set to move on to full-scale development of the strike-capable platform. – Jane’s 360

President Moon Jae-in made the announcement at a virtual climate summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. The White House is said to have asked South Korea to withdraw from recent coal projects, but the Asian nation will only halt funding for future plants abroad. – Bloomberg


Hong Kong’s police chief warned journalists they could be investigated for reporting “fake news.” A newspaper controlled by the Chinese government called for a ban on the city’s biggest pro-democracy news outlet. – New York Times

Under the Communist Party’s top leader, Xi Jinping, China has punished and shamed a series of tycoons who amassed enormous wealth and influence but were seen to overstep their bounds. – New York Times

An increase in Chinese military activity near Taiwan and U.S. concerns about Beijing’s intentions are putting a new focus on the island’s capabilities to deter any future invasion. – Wall Street Journal

As President Xi Jinping targets China’s massive tech giants, the big question now is how he’ll get them to share key data as part of a sweeping plan to transform the world’s second-biggest economy. – Bloomberg

The U.K. Parliament unanimously voted to declare China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region a genocide, marking the latest country to impose the designation on China’s human rights violations in the area. – The Hill

US President Joe Biden’s reported plan to formally recognize as genocide the World War I-era killings of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by the Muslim Ottoman Empire risks plunging relations with Turkey into deep crisis. – Agence France-Presse

China’s President Xi Jinping will attend a U.S.-led climate change summit on Thursday at the invitation of President Joe Biden, in the first meeting between the two leaders since the advent of the new U.S. administration. – Reuters

Over the last decade, China has rapidly expanded its financial presence across the globe. It has issued massive loans through its flagship foreign policy project, the Belt and Road Initiative. It has inked contracts with governments from Latin America to Africa and Eastern Europe to South Asia. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Gordon Chang writes: Until countries establish enforcement mechanisms in climate agreements, and maybe not even then, Beijing’s pledges are worth nothing. Chinese leaders will clean their air or not, for their own reasons. Not Kerry’s. Not Biden’s. Not the world’s. – The Hill

Peter Suciu writes: Chinese President Xi Jinping has made it clear that his government will never allow Taiwan to become formally independent and has refused to rule out the use of force to reunite the island with the mainland. In addition to the flights by Chinese combat aircraft, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has deployed warships including the aircraft carrier Liaoning near Taiwan’s east coast. – The National Interest

Jake Morris writes: Beyond public health and biological warfare, other aspects of China’s historical information operations could give us clues to tomorrow’s strategies and tactics. With time, like the declassified Soviet records, uncovered documents may provide proof that China knowingly spread disinformation about covid-19. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Edward Lucas writes: China’s expert in other forms of espionage too, of course. The cyber-security firm FireEye reports that hackers with suspected ties to China have exploited a popular VPN (typically used to access corporate networks from outside the office) to break into government agencies, defense companies, and financial institutions in the US and Europe. – Center for European Policy Analysis


President Biden set no conditions when he announced that the U.S. was pulling out of Afghanistan. Angry voices are sure to be raised in Congress when the most vicious terrorist groups, such as the Haqqani network, appear in Afghanistan. The White House would be wise to set a red line for Afghanistan, guaranteeing continued operations against terrorists who seek to attack the West. – Wall Street Journal 

A combat mission that has dogged four presidents — who reckoned with American casualties, a ruthless enemy and an often corrupt and confounding Afghan government partner — will at last come to an end. – New York Times

President Biden’s plan to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan has drawn sharp criticism that it could allow a takeover by the Taliban, with brutal consequences, particularly for the rights of women and girls. – New York Post

The announced withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan will grant Iran one of its biggest wishes and lead to the departure of all foreign forces, which Tehran has long blamed for insecurity in the region. Analysts say the pullout of U.S.-led NATO forces from Afghanistan could potentially give Iran more room to maneuver within its war-torn neighbor, with which its shares cultural and religious ties. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

The general in charge of U.S. forces in the Middle East area said Thursday he is worried that Afghanistan’s military may not be able to “hold on” after American troops leave later this year. – Military.com 

The top U.S. general in the Middle East expressed concern Thursday about Afghan forces’ ability to fend off the Taliban after U.S. troops withdraw from the country. – The Hill

The Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group current stop in the Middle East could be extended to help cover the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan, two defense officials confirmed to USNI News on Thursday. – Defense News

David Schanzer writes: Biden’s bold decision on Afghanistan, however, has paved the way for assessing these expenditures, and other aspects of our foreign policy, through a clear, rational assessment of costs and benefits, free from the oversized influence that the long-departed bin Laden has been exercising for far too long. – The Hill

Mark N. Katz writes: The Taliban’s return to power, then, will certainly not be good for America—especially if the Taliban once again support Al Qaeda. But the Taliban’s return to power will probably be a lot worse for Russia, China, Iran, and even Pakistan than it will be for the United States. […]Perhaps some or all of them will even see cooperating with Washington—whether overtly or tacitly—against the common Sunni jihadist threat as being in their interests. – The National Interest

South Asia

Authorities are investigating whether the Chinese ambassador was the target of a suicide bombing in a restive Western province, Pakistani officials said, in what could be the latest attack in the country directed at a Chinese target. – Wall Street Journal

French state-controlled power group EDF (EDF.PA) has made a binding offer to build six third-generation EPR nuclear reactors at the Jaitapur site in India’s Maharashtra region, EDF said on Friday. – Reuters 

Sushant Singh writes: Its shift has been more rhetorical than actionable, especially because the country has not been able to overcome the constraints of geography; India can’t physically access Afghanistan without going through Pakistan or Iran. […]Having experienced firsthand in 1999 how India struggles to exert power barely a few hundred miles from its borders, Doval surely doesn’t want his hand forced again. And avoiding that will be the bottom line for New Delhi’s policy in Afghanistan. – Foreign Policy


The Myanmar military’s coup and brutal crackdown on dissent have left it with few allies in the West. But one of the most sophisticated corporate lobbying operations in Washington has mobilized to head off intensifying pressure on the Biden administration to impose broad sanctions against the state-owned oil and gas company helping to finance the junta. – New York Times

An award-winning Hong Kong journalist was found guilty of a crime Thursday for using a public database to expose police failings, the first time a member of the news media has faced prosecution in the Chinese territory for an act of reporting.Washington Post

There’s only one problem: Since giving a dramatic speech in February at the UN in defense of his country’s demonstrators, Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun has been fired by the Myanmar junta, and many of the people he claims to represent have been thrown in jail. – Bloomberg

The U.S. military will use its aircraft to help look for an Indonesian submarine that went missing Wednesday with 53 people on board. – The Hill

When the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations holds a special summit Saturday to discuss Myanmar, the regional body will be under as much scrutiny as the general who led the February coup ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. – Associated Press

Australia’s cancellation of two infrastructure deals with China prompted Beijing on Thursday to accuse its leaders of a “Cold War mentality” and threaten a possible response. – Associated Press

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will not attend a summit of leaders of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries in Jakarta this weekend, his spokesman said on Thursday. – Reuters

China’s foreign ministry warned on Thursday that Australia should avoid making already strained bilateral ties worse, after Australia scrapped two accords between Victoria state and China under Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road initiative. – Reuters

Editorial: The Biden administration can break this impasse by enacting sanctions on MOGE. These could be tailored to allow Total and Chevron to continue gas production — provided they do not transfer profits. Alternatively, the Treasury department could sanction the bank accounts in Thailand and Singapore that MOGE uses to collect royalties. (Some of these come from China, via a South Korean company.) The Tatmadaw seized power in part so that it could monopolize the wealth Burma’s natural resources generate. Take that away, and the generals may finally accept that their coup has failed.Washington Post

David Ignatius writes: Armenians around the world surely will rejoice in Biden’s planned announcement. They will celebrate the affirmation of justice and truth after so many decades of Turkish denial of the horrific events of 1915.[…] Justice is often denied and suppressed, as we know from the United States’ centuries-long struggle against racism. But there must be an eventual reckoning with the past, as we saw this week with the murder conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — and then, hopefully, we move into the future, sharing the blessing of truth and justice with others. – Washington Post 

Cyrus Newlin, Heather Conley and Matthew P. Funaiole write: The April 10 images make clear that there are presently enough Russian troops to credibly threaten Ukraine. The planned departure of troops from Crimea and Pogonovo would change this dynamic. However, the decision to keep a significant arsenal in Pogonovo through the summer suggests Russia’s final force posture along Ukraine’s border remains unsettled. The time required for Russian troops to redeploy to the camp and take up an offensive posture will be significantly reduced. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Russia’s Defense Ministry ordered a partial pullback of troops from the border with Ukraine on Thursday, signaling a possible de-escalation in a military standoff that had raised alarm that a new war in Europe could be looming. – New York Times

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Thursday said the U.S. is closely watching Russian plans to drawdown troops near its border with Ukraine, winding down a tense several weeks during which Moscow and Kyiv appeared poised for conflict. – The Hill

Frida Ghitis writes: After more than 20 years in power, with Navalny balancing between life and death, Putin just signed a law that makes it possible for him to remain in power until 2036. There may still be a few aspiring autocrats around the world who admire his brazen consolidation of power. But most people certainly don’t see his regime as an example of what they want for their own countries or themselves. Modern-day Russia may still inspire fear, but it generates very little in the way of respect. – Washington Post

Leonid Bershidsky writes: His partial pullback of Russian forces from the border with Ukraine represents a de-escalation of sorts, but Putin has made his point. The question the West still really needs to answer is, what can be gained by getting serious about punishing Putin the back-of-the-class outlaw with serious countermeasures like sanctions on Russian energy exports or bringing Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? […]Unless Putin takes drastic action like overrunning Ukraine, the answer appears to be no — and that’s precisely why Putin isn’t taking that action, despite his bluster. – Bloomberg

Tom Rogan writes: This directive offers Putin a way to get his ground forces home before their ill-discipline and poor morale become truly corrosive (it isn’t easy to be a Russian soldier). It also allows Moscow to save money on the logistics costs of an extended forward deployment. But the 41st Army’s equipment also gives Putin the means to increase his pressure on Ukraine should he so desire. – Washington Examiner


Russia’s unraveling relations with the West took a dramatic turn for the worse on Thursday when the Czech Republic, furious over what it said were Moscow’s fingerprints on a military-style sabotage attack on a Czech weapons warehouse in 2014, ordered the expulsion of as many as 60 Russian diplomats. – New York Times

Germany rejects a redrawing of borders in the Western Balkans along ethnic lines and the idea has been “put back into a drawer”, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Thursday. – Reuters 

Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union allowed the bloc’s fishermen to keep fishing deep into British waters, but only once they had received a license. – Reuters 

Slovakia expelled three Russian diplomats on Thursday and gave them a week to leave the country, Prime Minister Eduard Heger said in a televised briefing. – Reuters 

A polite disagreement between Pacific Ocean neighbors on Thursday showed a fissure among U.S. allies over China, underscoring the difficulties Joe Biden faces in forging a common front against Beijing. – Bloomberg

Caroline de Gruyter writes: Without the new framework agreement, existing bilateral agreements remain in force. But Brussels refuses to update them if Switzerland keeps stalling the new agreement. If the EU stands firm, Switzerland could already lose access for new medical devices to the EU in May. More sectors would get locked out progressively. Brussels has ruled out Swiss access to the EU’s electricity and health market as well. – Foreign Policy


But the secret of the rebels’ striking success thus far lay behind them, across Chad’s northern border in Libya, where they have been fighting as soldiers of fortune for years, amassing weapons, money and battlefield experience, according to United Nations investigators, regional experts and Chadian officials. – New York Times

Chad’s political opposition has urged the military to hand over power to a civilian transitional government following the killing of longtime President Idriss Deby Itno, saying on Thursday that the immediate appointment of the slain leader’s son as interim leader amounted to a “coup d’etat.” – Associated Press

Mozambique’s humanitarian crisis from the extremist insurgency in the country’s north is rapidly spiraling, with more than 950,000 people in urgent need of food aid, the U.N. World Food Program said Thursday. – Associated Press

The withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Somalia has hindered intelligence gathering, making continued U.S. counterterrorism operations more difficult, the top U.S. general for the region said Thursday. – The Hill

Foreign leaders arrived in Chad on Thursday for the funeral of slain president Idriss Deby as France backed the new military leaders in the face of rebel threats to resume an offensive on the capital N’Djamena. – Reuters

The U.N. Security Council expressed concern on Thursday about the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, particularly abuse of women and girls, a week after the U.N. aid chief said sexual violence was being used as a weapon of war. – Reuters

Britain on Thursday condemned the killing of Chad’s leader and called for an end to violence as the slain leader’s son took over as president and armed forces commander, dissolving the government as rebel forces threatened to march on the capital. – Reuters

The U.S. government has seen no evidence of a withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia’s Tigray region despite Eritrea’s assurances that they would pull out, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Ecological issues are threatening livelihoods in the area in central Mali, even as inhabitants have to contend with jihadists and armed groups. – Agence France-Presse

The Americas

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido plans to make the biggest one-time withdrawal from offshore accounts frozen by U.S. sanctions to purchase Covid-19 vaccines as well as pay wages, legal fees and expenses. – Bloomberg

Josh Rogin writes: Even while we prioritize vaccinating those in the United States, there are things we can do now. The U.S. program to loan surplus vaccines to Mexico and Canada, to be repaid later, could be expanded to other Western Hemisphere friends. […]We may wish for a world where our pandemic response is separate and apart from our strategic interests, but that’s not the world we live in. China is using vaccines to expand its power and influence in our backyard. If we’re not in that game, we’ve already lost. – Washington Post

Paul J. Angelo writes: An enhanced role for the U.N. is a practical and welcome measure to handle the current border emergency. But the outbreak of fighting is but a sign of what lies in store for Venezuela come what may—shifting alliances among criminal groups, the fragmentation of Maduro’s governing coalition, or even a negotiated political solution. It is in addressing these larger, more enduring challenges that the U.N. can make a lasting contribution to Venezuela’s reconstruction, but the U.N. can only expect a seat at the table if it chooses to walk through the door. – Foreign Policy

P. Michael McKinley writes: A failure to reach, however, risks leaving U.S.-Latin America relations adrift at a historical moment when our influence can no longer be taken for granted; when there are significant economic, social, and political pressures on regional governments; and when China is offering a competitive vision on economic development and global cooperation. It does not seem too much to ask that U.S.-Latin America relations be placed on a more strategic footing as early as possible—just as the administration is doing with parts of the world much further removed from our shores. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

United States

The Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation on Thursday aimed at strengthening federal efforts to address hate crimes directed at Asian-Americans amid a sharp increase in discrimination and violence against Asian communities in the United States. – New York Times

On Wednesday, both Democrats and Republicans agreed on a $100 billion spending bill going towards basic and advanced technology research and science, in an effort to compete with China. – The Hill

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday called climate change an “existential” threat to U.S. national security, committing the Pentagon to “doing our part” to alleviate it. – The Hill

The Pentagon has briefed top lawmakers on intelligence surrounding suspected directed-energy attacks against U.S. troops, and officials identified Russia as a likely culprit, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter. – Politico


Technology giants, including Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc., spent millions on lobbying in the first quarter of 2021 as they face heightened scrutiny from Democrats and Republicans over alleged anticompetitive practices. – Bloomberg

The freedom and security of the internet is at risk from the competing world views of China and Russia, and Western nations must adapt to face the threat, a U.K. spy chief will say on Friday. – Bloomberg

The Army, primarily a land force, is looking to optimize its forthcoming electronic warfare equipment to operate in the Indo-Pacific theater against maritime targets, according to an Army official. – Defense News

Thomas Feddo writes: Rapidly developing technologies in fields like machine learning, quantum computing, autonomous vehicles, robotics and biotech will dramatically affect our way of life. The U.S. must maintain leadership in innovation and infrastructure, while clearing foreign capital to fund the next generation of industry-leading companies. The Trump administration handed Mr. Biden a powerful tool to do so. The world is watching to see how he uses it. – Wall Street Journal

Justin Sherman and Simon Handler write: Information conflict is reshaping the future of cyber conflict. If the U.S. national security community continues to focus just on the 1s and 0s, it will doom the United States to continually suffer successful attacks against its democracy and security. Similarly, to the extent that the government continues to pursue cyber conflict as a purely government problem, as opposed to part of a broader contest involving the likes of media outlets and internet platforms, the United States will fail to mount the society-wide response needed to effectively deter harmful foreign activities and better compete in this contest for information. – The National Interest

Ferial Ara Saeed writes: Out-competing and out-innovating China requires that America remain the world’s most attractive innovation hub, enticing the best talent, drawing in the most venture capital, and generating the largest revenues to support U.S. leadership of technology’s newest frontiers. It means continuing to “move fast and break things.” The ethos that made America a technology superpower can keep it so. It also means injecting some strategic realism into U.S. policy. As former Secretary of Defense William Cohen put it, China’s actions have caused the United States to say, “we can’t do business the way we’ve been doing business,” but, “we still have to do business.” – War on the Rocks


The Defense Department is pausing its efforts to field replacement software for the F-35′s troubled logistics system due to a lack of funding, the head of the F-35 program office said Thursday. – Defense News

The Navy plans to experiment with an information warfare cell at a maritime operations center during a big exercise this year, according to a top official. – C4ISRNET

Two influential Democrat lawmakers warned on Thursday that they will not support boosting the number of Lockheed Martin-made F-35 joint strike fighters in the upcoming fiscal 2022 budget unless the program makes headway in addressing a laundry list of problems. – Defense News

A requirement to return a portion of the Air Force bomber fleet to alert status ultimately would  deteriorate and exhaust the force, a key general said Thursday. – Military.com

Any Marine operating or riding in a waterborne amphibious assault vehicle will now get a supplemental emergency breathing device, Military.com has learned. – Military.com

The Coast Guard will say goodbye Saturday to the last of its workhorse open-ocean cutters of the past 50 years, the 378-foot high endurance cutter Douglas Munro. – Military.com

The US Army is scaling down an autoloader for its new Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA) programme and will not meet its initial goal of having the enhanced capability ready by 2024. At the same time, however, the service has awarded five companies with contracts to look for alternative ways to accelerate the weapon’s rate of fire. – Jane’s 360

Peter Huessy writes: In fact, through the deployment of the Minuteman II, Minuteman III, Peacekeeper and an upgraded Minuteman III, the United States through twelve administrations, has kept numerous crises from breaking out into open conflict, won the Cold War and ended the Soviet empire, and continued to keep the nuclear-armed superpowers from direct armed conflict with each other in the Pacific, the Middle East and in NATO. In short, America’s ICBMs and its nuclear triad are a key stabilizing factor in U.S. deterrent policy. – The National Interest

Long War

A Bangladeshi immigrant who in 2017 set off a bomb in a busy subway artery beneath Manhattan’s Port Authority bus terminal was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for the attack, which authorities said was inspired by his devotion to the Islamic State terrorist group. – Washington Post 

France defended the Chadian army’s takeover of power on Thursday after the battlefield death of President Idriss Deby presented Paris with an uncomfortable choice – back an unconstitutional military leader or risk undermining its fight against Islamists. – Reuters

A co-founder of the British neo-Nazi group National Action has been charged with remaining a member after it was outlawed. Ben Raymond, 31, from Swindon, is also charged with three counts of possessing documents useful to a terrorist. – BBC 

Unknown gunmen suspected of terrorism killed two members of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, the official IRNA news agency reported on Thursday. The Guard members also killed two gunmen and wounded several of their accomplices in the Wednesday night shootout near Kurdish town of Marivan, near the border of Iraq. – Associated Press 

Vinay Kaura writes: Whatever the outcome of its debate on the TLP’s demands, what remains beyond a doubt is that Pakistan has moved precariously closer to a point where hardline Islamist groups and parties dominate the agenda, with state agencies losing a crucial battle in the face of Islamist radicalism. Pakistan’s ruling establishment is wholly responsible for this sorry state of affairs as it has allowed the TLP to propagate its radical agenda unchecked, without learning from past mistakes. – Middle East Institute