Fdd's overnight brief

December 18, 2020

In The News


Iran has begun construction on a site at its underground nuclear facility at Fordo amid tensions with the U.S. over its atomic program, satellite photos obtained Friday by The Associated Press show. – Associated Press 

Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday rejected the UN atomic watchdog chief’s suggestion that reviving Iran’s nuclear deal after a new US administration comes to power would require striking a new agreement. – Reuters 

Reviving Iran’s nuclear deal under U.S. President-elect Joe Biden would require striking a new agreement setting out how Iran’s breaches should be reversed, U.N. atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said. – Reuters

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer called on the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden to not repeat what he called “the mistakes of the past” when it comes to dealing with Iran, while stressing the pro-Israel bona fides of the new American leader. – Times of Israel  

In a December 9, 2020 interview with Arman TV, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used an antisemitic term for Jews – jahood in Persian. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

A U.K. citizen has been sentenced in Florida to two years and six months in federal prison for attempting to smuggle industrial equipment to Iran. – Radio Free Europe / Free Liberty 

Come January 20, Joe Biden will have the busiest domestic agenda since the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, but a major foreign policy challenge remains: angling for a détente with Iran while not alienating Israel and Washington’s allies in the Gulf. – Haaretz

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran’s calculation now is that dissidents won’t operate from Iraq or Turkey, and they likely will live in fear throughout Europe. This is laying the groundwork for Tehran’s next move, which will be more military escalation in the region and outreach to further bond itself with allies in Turkey and Russia, seeking to counterbalance the US and also work with China. – Jerusalem Post

Firas Elias writes: These proxy groups continue to demand the removal of U.S. forces from Iraq, and both Iraqis and regional U.S. allies will likely carefully observe how Biden will navigate this point of ongoing tension. For better or for worse, it is clear that any new steps that President-Elect Biden may take in his dealings with Iran will directly impact Iraq’s internal affairs as well. The same could be said for the other Arab countries in which Iran has attempted to create a foothold. – Washington Institute


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke this week with his Turkish counterpart surrounding the decision by President Trump to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase last year of a Russian missile defense system, the secretary said Thursday. – The Hill 

A Turkish philanthropist businessman and human rights defender is again standing trial in Turkey on Friday, accused of espionage and attempting to overthrow the government in connection to a failed coup four years ago. – Associated Press 

Turkey will not reverse its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems and will take reciprocal steps after evaluating U.S. sanctions imposed over the acquisition, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday. – Reuters

President Tayyip Erdogan’s nationalist ally said Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP party, the country’s third biggest, should be banned for separatism – a move the HDP’s co-leader condemned on Thursday as a bid to silence six million voters. – Reuters

Greece’s government said Thursday it will pay 2.32 billion euros ($2.8 billion) for the purchase of French-made Rafale fighter jets and an upgrade of compatible missiles, under a major military overhaul amid tensions with neighboring Turkey. – Associated Press 

Editorial: After years in which Turkey’s leadership has threatened the region, invaded countries and attacked minority groups while working with Iran and Russia, the US has finally slapped sanctions on Ankara over its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system. The sanctions come after years during which Washington tried every avenue to get Turkey not to acquire or use the new system. – Jerusalem Post 


Jerusalem must remain a united city, but there will be a place for a Palestinian capital within its boundaries, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a rare interview published on Thursday with the London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. – Jerusalem Post

Start-Up Nation Central (SNC), Nobex, Hybrid and Fusion LA created a new community aimed to form and bolster connections within the innovation-technology-business sector between the UAE and Israel. – Jerusalem Post 


Turkey and Iraq agreed to resist mutual foes in talks Thursday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, as concerns over the influence of Kurdish militants bring the neighbors closer. – Bloomberg 

Sardar Aziz writes: This personalistic approach might be compatible with the nature of the institutions in Kurdistan, but if the United States is looking for a long, stable and mutually beneficial relationship, it might need to support institutions rather than personalities. It is not just Kurds; Europe and a big part of the world seem to have a nostalgic feeling with Biden. While this may be warranted in certain respects, all need to prepare for the possibility of a different, mixed reality. – Washington Institute 

Jonathan Spyer writes: The details of the kidnapping and judicial murder of Ruhollah Zam reveal both the deep penetration by Iranian state agencies of exiled opposition circles and, no less gravely, the extent to which certain agencies of the official Iraqi state now appear to be openly doing the bidding of Tehran. – Jerusalem Post 


Lebanon’s prosecutor investigating last summer’s horrific explosion at the Beirut port has paused the probe for 10 days, following legal challenges to his authority by the same senior officials he accused of negligence that led to the blast, the country’s official news agency said Thursday. – Associated Press 

Latin American Jews could be targeted by the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah as they have been in the past, Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Thursday night. – Jerusalem Post 

John Irish writes: Hezbollah has become the overarching power in Lebanon, with elected members of parliament and positions in government. While its support from Iran has been hit by U.S. sanctions, the group remains a pillar of Tehran’s regional influence. […]Iranian officials said that Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was in contact with Tehran on how to handle Macron’s initiative, but they would not allow Hezbollah to be weakened. – Reuters


In an October 29, 2020 article in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, Egyptian author and intellectual Dr. ‘Ammar ‘Ali Hassan discussed ways to combat religious extremism in the Arab and Muslim societies. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

A human rights watchdog Thursday accused Egyptian authorities of making modifications to a notorious Cairo prison that amount to “collective punishment” of inmates following an escape attempt that left four policemen dead. – Associated Press 

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In the wake of the Abraham Accords and political normalization with Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt are signaling their determination to consolidate ties with the Eastern Mediterranean region, starting with a high-level meeting between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo. – Jerusalem Post 

Gulf States

An annual Gulf Arab summit, usually held in December, will be hosted by Saudi Arabia on Jan. 5, Kuwait’s foreign minister said on Thursday in remarks published on the ministry website. – Reuters

President Donald Trump spoke with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia on Thursday, discussing regional security issues, according to a statement from the White House. – Reuters 

Reem Abdellatif writes: But the actions of the Saudi state, and particularly of leaders like Mohammed bin Salman, have so far demonstrated that they fear empowered women and independent thinkers. No matter how much money is poured into puff pieces in the international press and public relations campaigns, it is that message that the kingdom is sending out into the world. – Haaretz 

Maya Carlin writes: Hopefully the Biden team will realize that if Saudi Arabia and its neighbors believe the US won’t leave them in the dust as Iran continues to expand its regional influence, they will be less inclined to secretly build up their own deterrents and replace their relationships with the United States with new agreements. – Jerusalem Post


Libya’s Central Bank said its board has approved a single official exchange rate for its currency, the dinar, following its long-awaited meeting Wednesday. The United Nations hailed the move as “important and much needed” amid a years-long conflict that crippled the economy of the oil-rich North African country. – Associated Press 

A group of 18 sailors who were seized by Libyan patrol boats in September while fishing in the Mediterranean have been freed by authorities in eastern Libya, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Thursday. – Reuters

Ranwa El-Kikhia writes: The prevalence of violence used to silence and intimidate female activists in Libya is a major obstacle to women’s participation in Libya. These attacks are coupled with a near-complete absence of accountability and justice measures for perpetrators. This dangerous reality needs to be clearly addressed as part of the LPDF process and the upcoming transitional government. – Washington Institute 

Middle East & North Africa

He’s among hundreds of Tunisians who have turned to the desperate act of self-immolation in the past 10 years, following the example of Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old fruit seller in the town of Sidi Bouzid who set himself ablaze on Dec. 17, 2010, to protest police harassment. – Associated Press 

Algeria has announced tighter state controls over online media, sparking alarm in the North African country whose pro-democracy movement is under heightened pressure from the government. – Agence France-Presse

Morocco’s Ambassador to the UN said Thursday that his country’s Jews never faced persecution, glossing over some historical tensions, a week after Rabat’s decision to normalize relations with Israel. – Times of Israel 

Tunisia on Thursday marked 10 years since a local fruit and vegetable seller set himself ablaze in protest after police took his cart, an act that enraged the country and snowballed into the revolution that toppled the North African nation’s autocratic leader months later and triggered the Arab Spring. – Associated Press

Eugene Kontorovich writes: There is a huge gap between many countries’ stances on Western Sahara and the West Bank that can’t be explained by legal differences. It will be a bad look for a Biden administration to harp on Israeli “occupation” and “settlers” while maintaining recognition of Morocco’s 1975 takeover. The U.S. recognition makes eventually doing the same for Israel in the West Bank much easier, and indeed a matter of consistency. – Wall Street Journal

Steven A. Cook writes: Yet looking back over the last decade, it is hard to fathom why anyone would venture to argue that the uprisings produced much more than sorrow. That does not mean that the uprisings were a mistake—as if such unpredictable events could even be categorized as such. Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians, Yemenis, Bahrainis, and others rose up in response to their bitter circumstances to demand a better future. They were mostly crushed. – Foreign Policy 

Oz Katerji writes: The Arab Spring may be over, but the civilian uprisings in the Middle East have barely begun. The Middle East now finds itself in the state of flux that Karl Marx described as permanent revolution, the aspirations of its people permanently churning but never fulfilled There is no way for dictatorships to turn the clock back to 2011, and there is no desire from their populations to accept a status quo that permanently disenfranchises them. The powder is drier than it has ever been; all that is missing now is the next spark. – Foreign Policy 

Francisco Serrano writes: Ten years after Bouazizi’s death and the disorder it unleashed, it is up to Tunisians to decide whether or not it was all worth it. If there is one thing that the country’s transition underscores—especially in this age of renewed authoritarianism—is that political freedom without economic opportunity amounts to little in the long term. – Foreign Policy 

David Rosenberg writes: The Arab world’s problem is that it is relatively easy to oust a dictator but it’s much, much harder to change the fundamental nature of society. The Gulf states are trying to do it by spending and reforming, but the results are at best mixed. Revolutions are supposed to be catalysts for change, but anyone who believes that hasn’t read his history books carefully. Those hoping for a new and improved Arab Spring that delivers democracy and human rights should think again. – Haaretz 

Omar Alshogre writes: If, like in Egypt, the Syrian revolution had ended in less than a month, we would not have learned so much about freedom, democracy, and human rights. Ten years of unrest will make Syrians the most capable people in the Middle East at rebuilding their country in the future. We will not make the same mistakes of other countries that have rid themselves of their dictators but are still trapped in corrupt systems. – Foreign Policy 

Korean Peninsula

South Korea and Indonesia on Friday signed an economic partnership agreement aimed at boosting investment and trade between the two countries, in areas ranging from automobiles to apparel, officials said. – Reuters

North Korea propaganda is getting a face lift with now four channels available across the impoverished country. – The National Interest 

Victor Cha writes: As unpalatable as this strategy may sound, previous ones have not worked. Moreover, the absence of a strategy promises North Korea will perfect its ability to hit the United States with a nuclear missile. Integrating what has worked before with some new elements may be the least worst choice in a land of lousy options. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

Harry J. Kazianis writes: First, we need to have a fully codified missile and nuclear weapons testing ban. Then we need to work on a verified fissile material production ban followed by a capping of North Korean nuclear warheads and missiles. […]But if Joe Biden can finally give up on the siren song of denuclearization and embrace the art of the possible, he might just achieve something historic. – Newsweek


The U.S. and Chinese militaries traded blame after a planned bilateral discussion on aviation and maritime safety fell through, adding fresh tension to a soured relationship between Washington and Beijing. – Wall Street Journal 

Bearing two kilograms (4.4 lbs.) of lunar rock and soil, China’s Chang’e-5 capsule touched down on the frozen steppes of Inner Mongolia early Thursday and vaulted China into the ranks of only three nations that have ventured to the moon and brought back samples. – Washington Post 

As China intensified its clampdown on independent reporting, the authorities detained a journalist who recently worked on books that were critical of Communism and the Chinese Communist Party, the journalist’s friends and family said on Friday. – New York Times

The United States is set to add dozens of Chinese companies, including the country’s top chipmaker SMIC, to a trade blacklist on Friday, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday. – Reuters

China’s foreign ministry on Friday urged the United States to stop its “unjustified” crackdown on Chinese companies, after Reuters reported that Washington plans to add dozens of Chinese companies to a trade blacklist. – Reuters

The United States Treasury Department is seeking to water down an executive order from U.S. President Donald Trump that bars Americans from investing in Chinese companies with suspected ties to Beijing’s military, the Financial Times newspaper reported on Thursday, citing sources. – Reuters

Since the global outbreak of Covid-19, the U.S. and Chinese governments have accused each other of using the pandemic as cover to increase military operations in the Indo-Pacific. The United States, for example, has pointed to China’s deployment of coastguard forces to challenge the oil and gas activities of other claimants in the South China Sea, and its increasing exercises and patrols near Taiwan. – Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative 

The U.S. military slammed China for failing to appear for virtual, senior-level meetings slated for this week, calling this “another example that China does not honor its agreements”, but Beijing said the U.S. version of events distorted the facts. – Reuters

China will impose anti-dumping duties on a rubber product from the United States, South Korea and the European Union starting Dec. 20, the commerce ministry said on Friday. – Reuters

China should consider imposing a digital tax on technology companies that hold copious amounts of user data, a securities watchdog official was quoted as saying by Beijing News, in the latest sign of widening government scrutiny of the sector. – Reuters

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for his incoming administration’s top trade official will likely carry on a tough line against China, according to former Trump trade negotiator Clete Willems. – CNBC

For all the talk of an economic decoupling between China and the U.S. and its allies, foreign companies continue to pour money into the Asian nation. – Bloomberg

In 2003, the Cabinet Office decided to allow the Chinese state-backed Huawei telecommunications network to start supplying BT for the first time. Nobody bothered to put a note on the security implications into the red box of the then business secretary, Patrica Hewitt. – The Guardian

A new U.S. Navy report has pegged China as America’s number one long-term strategic threat and the most pressing challenge to continued U.S. dominance of the seas, particularly in Asia. – Newsweek

China and the EU are rushing to meet a year-end deadline to seal a long-awaited investment agreement, in a sign of the bloc’s push to build strategic ties with Beijing, even as it revives relations with the US. – Financial Times

Tensions in the disputed South China Sea are cyclical — they pick up, then ease, then pick up again. So it’s easy to dismiss them as a perennial of sorts in the broader U.S.-China tussle for global influence. – Bloomberg

Benjamin Zalinger writes: Chinese investments, particularly those made under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), pose a serious danger to countries’ governance and are extending Chinese political influence into the heart of Europe The next European country to play host to infrastructure built or financed by China may well be Georgia, which needs huge investments to achieve its ambitious goal of becoming a major logistics hub. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Jianli Yang and Lianchao Han write: Second, the Biden administration must insist that the WHO act against its pro-China bias and initiate a credible, transparent investigation into the origin of the virus and China’s responsibility for it. These conditions would go a long way to restore the credibility of the WHO. They are even more critical at a time when China has invested considerable resources to cultivate influence in various international organizations. […]The Biden administration must take the lead to mend its course and ensure that the organization does not fall prey to geopolitical agendas and misinformation again. – Newsweek

Michael Beckley and Hal Brands write: Americans may one day look back on China the way they now view the Soviet Union—as a dangerous rival whose evident strengths concealed stagnation and vulnerability. The bad news is that over the next five to ten years, the pace of Sino-American rivalry will be torrid, and the prospect of war frighteningly real, as Beijing becomes tempted to lunge for geopolitical gain. The United States still needs a long-term strategy for protracted competition. But first it needs a near-term strategy for navigating the danger zone. – Foreign Affairs 

Hayes Brown writes: Several major companies and business groups are reportedly trying to water down the provisions of the bill to keep their supply chains steady. It’s disappointing, but not surprising — since when have businesses let a little thing like human suffering get in the way of their profits? I can only hope that the senators of today have a different view on the supremacy of King Cotton and other business interests than their predecessors once held. – MSNBC


The Pentagon’s top officer met with Taliban officials in Qatar this week as part of an unprecedented effort to reinvigorate peace talks that could help end the nearly 20-year-old conflict in Afghanistan. – Wall Street Journal

Like Saima and Gul, Faizullah hopes the peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban will soon result in establishing peace. But the peace talks are fraught with challenges. A recent breakthrough only saw the Taliban and the Afghan government negotiators agree on the ground rules and procedures after three months of haggling. Both sides are now taking a break for consultations. – Radio Free Europe / Free Liberty 

Tajikistan has deployed additional troops along its southern border with Afghanistan after Afghan authorities claimed a group of militants from Tajikistan played a major role in the Taliban’s capture of an Afghan district last month. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Elliot Ackerman writes: Afghanistan in 2009 is not Afghanistan in 2020. Where once we were fighting to win a war, today we are fighting to sustain a tenuous peace. This is a distinction Mr. Biden should make to the entire country. That means, assuming conditions on the ground remain stable, decoupling the phrases “U.S. troops in Afghanistan” from “the U.S. war in Afghanistan.” He should emphasize how our presence in Afghanistan stabilizes the region and assures U.S. interests abroad New York Times

South Asia

Pakistan has returned $1 billion to Saudi Arabia as a second instalment of a $3 billion soft loan, as Islamabad reaches out to Beijing for a commercial loan to help it offset pressure to repay another $1 billion to Riyadh next month, officials said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Ali Wazir, a lawmaker and leader of a civil rights movement campaigning for Pakistan’s ethnic Pashtun minority, has appeared before a judge following his arrest in the northwestern city of Peshawar on anti-state charges. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Thousands of Indian farmers protesting against deregulation of agriculture markets are drawing strength from Sikhs around the world who are urging foreign governments to intercede with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. – Reuters 

Pakistani officials may have met with Israelis officials amid rumors, including diplomatic circles, that Pakistan could be the next country to normalize ties with Israel. – Jerusalem Post


In recent weeks, Hong Kong authorities have conducted sweeping arrests of high-profile activists for alleged breaches of the country’s new National Security Law. In the latest blow to the city’s pro-democracy movement, veteran activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam were sentenced to extended prison time, while media mogul Jimmy Lai was formally charged with “colluding with foreign forces. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison reshuffled his cabinet on Friday, naming a new trade minister and appointing a high-profile critic of China, previously barred from visiting Beijing, as assistant defence minister. – Reuters

The United States has warned Pacific island nations about security threats posed by a Chinese company’s cut-price bid to build an undersea internet cable, two sources told Reuters, part of an international development project in the region. – Reuters

China on Thursday expressed regret over Australia’s appeal to the World Trade Organization (WTO) on China’s barley tariffs, the commerce ministry said, adding that it will proceed according to WTO dispute settlement mechanism. – Reuters

Police in Vietnam have arrested a well-known Facebook user over allegations of abusing democratic freedom and publishing posts against the state, state media reported on Thursday. – Reuters

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday it regretted a U.S. decision to sanction a Vietnamese company relating to the transport of petroleum products from Iran. – Reuters

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga signaled to North Korea and China he will bolster Japan’s military to counter threats they pose to security by allocating an estimated $5 billion for sea-based missile interceptors and new anti-ship missiles. – Bloomberg

A flashpoint in tensions between China and the U.S. under President Trump, Taiwan is seeking to expand on its relationship with the U.S. under the incoming Biden administration as the island faces an increasingly aggressive Beijing. – Washington Times

South Caucasus

On October 12, 2020, Russian magazine Ogoniok published a long report, titled “Jihad For Karabakh. Will It Threaten Russia?” on the involvement of Pakistani fighters in the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Ron Synovitz writes: The return of parts of Nagorno-Karabakh to Azerbaijan’s control, along with all seven occupied districts around the breakaway region, has changed the way many in the country view Aliyev’s leadership. Experts say Aliyev’s historical legacy has been transformed. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Michael Rubin writes: If UNESCO seeks support from the United States, it needs reform. It needs officials who stand against ethnic cleansing, rather than those who applaud it. Until such a time as UNESCO recognizes this, further funding can be detrimental as autocrats and bigots recognize that they can use the body to legitimize and provide cover for their efforts to eradicate culture and wage religious warfare. – Washington Examiner 



Russian President Vladimir Putin accused U.S. intelligence officers of supporting political opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned earlier this year with a military-grade nerve agent, and dismissed allegations that Moscow was behind the attack. – Wall Street Journal  

Russia’s four-year ban from global sports was halved on Thursday by a court in Switzerland, a decision that could signal the end of its yearslong battle with antidoping regulators who had accused the country of running one of the most sophisticated doping schemes in history in pursuit of sporting glory and Olympic medals. – New York Times

Russian President Vladimir Putin tried Thursday to turn the tables on long-standing hacking and political interference allegations against Russia, claiming that the United States was waging similar efforts regarding Moscow’s affairs. – Washington Post 

The United States, responding to Russia blaming Washington for starting a new arms race, on Thursday reiterated a proposal already rejected by Moscow for extending their last strategic arms limitation treaty, appearing to close the door to talks in the final weeks of the Trump administration. – Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he had not yet decided whether or not he would run for president again when his current term in the Kremlin ends in 2024, and that it was too early to talk about it. – Reuters

Russia is developing a helicopter drone to assist anti-aircraft weapon systems in their counter-UAV mission. The project, accelerated shortly after the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan began in mid-2020, will fill a gap in Russia’s military capabilities. – Defense News 

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would ramp up its support for Ukraine’s rebel-controlled eastern Donbass region where conflict broke out in 2014 between pro-Moscow rebels and government forces. – Reuters

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he hoped U.S. President-elect Joe Biden would help resolve some of the difficult issues in relations between Moscow and Washington. – Reuters

At a closed meeting of the Russian government on December 9, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the Minister of Economic Development Maxim Reshetnikov and the Minister of Agriculture Dmitry Patrushev for the price rises in basic food products. Putin demanded immediate action to stop the price rises. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

An arms race between Washington and Moscow “has already begun,” according to Russian President Vladimir Putin. – Washington Examiner

Adam Taylor writes: The revelations from Navalny that then-prime minister Dmitry Medvedev owned undeclared palaces and yachts presaged his resignation. Russian reporters even broke the news about the St. Petersburg “troll factory” interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. One of the reporters who broke that story, Andrey Zakharov, also led the reporting on the Russian president’s suspected ex-lover. – Washington Post 

Jeffrey Mankoff writes: In 2005, Putin famously said that the Soviet collapse represented the greatest geopolitical disaster of the twentieth century; less remarked on was his later observation that anyone wishing to restore it lacked a brain. As Eurasian geopolitics becomes increasingly complicated by the expansion of Chinese power, growing Turkish assertiveness, and questions about the durability of U.S. commitments, Russia’s ability to adapt and thrive should not be underestimated. – Center for Strategic and International Studies 


Britain and European Union negotiators will resume trade talks on Friday with both sides warning that they remained far apart on a number of issues and that it was becoming more likely they would fail to reach an agreement. – Reuters

Britain and the European Union struck a pessimistic tone in trade talks on Thursday, with a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying it was “very likely” there would be no agreement unless the bloc changed its position “substantially”. – Reuters

One of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior ministers said on Thursday that Britain hoped to reach a trade deal with the European Union but that talks might go on until after Christmas. – Reuters

A special envoy from Pope Francis met on Thursday with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, the Vatican said, following tensions between the government and the Church over the exiling of the archbishop of Minsk. – Reuters

Germany’s Foreign Minister accused Russia of putting up smokescreens in connection with questions about the alleged poisoning of Kremlin-critic Alexei Navalny, adding that Moscow had done nothing to help clear up the affair. – Reuters

Hungary has broken EU laws on protecting vulnerable migrants and refugees by denying them a right to apply for asylum and forcibly deporting people to the Serbian border, the Court of Justice of the European Union said on Thursday. – Reuters

The United States is hopeful of sealing a mini-trade deal with the United Kingdom to reduce tariffs, President Donald Trump’s trade chief, Robert Lighthizer, told the BBC. – Reuters

The Trump administration labeled Switzerland and Vietnam currency manipulators on Wednesday, in another parting shot at trading partners that could complicate matters for U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming team. – Reuters

Candace Huntington writes: As Russia continues to wage a hybrid war in the Baltic region, Sweden’s turn to a Total Defense strategy is a step in the right direction. Beyond strengthening its own defense posture, it allows Sweden to be a more effective partner to NATO and its Nordic neighbors and will pave the way for closer cooperation and stronger defense and deterrence in the future. – Center for European Policy Analysis 

Mark Jamison writes: The US must challenge Europe’s targeting of US companies, which damages US consumers, investors, and entrepreneurs. The targeted companies should demonstrate the negative impact the rules will have on Europeans. […]TikTok is now one-fourth the size of Facebook in Europe and growing fast. This demonstrates that Facebook isn’t a monopoly. Given TikTok’s soon-to-be 40 percent market share in Europe and the EU’s preoccupation with market share when examining whether market power exists, TikTok should be brought under European regulation soon. – American Enterprise Institute


More than 300 schoolboys kidnapped by gunmen from their boarding school in northwest Nigeria last week were handed over to security agencies late Thursday, Nigeria’s government said, prompting outpourings of relief and joy across Africa’s most populous nation after fears they would become long-term hostages of jihadist militants. – Wall Street Journal

Sudan’s military Wednesday said a cross-border attack by Ethiopian forces and militias left causalities among Sudanese troops, a development that could strain ties between the two neighbors. The military said in a statement that the attack took place late Tuesday as forces were returning from a sweep of the Abu Tyour area in the al-Qadarif province along the border with Ethiopia. – Associated Press 

Rebellious soldiers used government tanks to attack their former comrades in a military base in the first chaotic days of Ethiopia’s month-long war in the region of Tigray, according to two soldiers caught in what they described as a 10-day siege. – Reuters

Addressing federal troops last weekend in the captured capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray province, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory and asked locals to turn in their fugitive leaders so he could focus on “development.” Not everyone is convinced the bloodshed over. – Bloomberg

Latin America

The rift shows how U.S. authorities underestimated the increasingly important role played by Mexico’s military. What looked like justice to American prosecutors was perceived in Mexico as undermining an ally. The dramatic arrest of Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos in Los Angeles alarmed a wide array of politicians, who worried that American drug agents were reaching deep into Mexican institutions — and perhaps tapping their own phones. – Washington Post 

Trinidad and Tobago said on Thursday it would impose stiffer penalties on those trafficking migrants from neighboring Venezuela, days after a Venezuelan boat headed to the Caribbean twin-island nation sank, killing at least 28 people. – Reuters

Peruvian national police committed “multiple abuses” against mostly peaceful demonstrators in November as they protested “the very questionable removal” of then-President Martin Vizcarra here, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday. – Reuters

Ryan C. Berg and Ivana Stradner write: The competition for the next ICC chief prosecutor is heating up, and the selection will be a crucial litmus test for the viability—or hypocrisy—of the Court. If the Court cares about the protection of human rights and justice, or refuting its well-deserved reputation as a paper tiger, it should choose a candidate that pursues the case against Venezuela. – Newsweek

United States

Sidney Powell, a lawyer who was part of President Trump’s legal team, spread a conspiracy theory last month about election fraud. For days, she claimed that she would “release the Kraken” by showing voluminous evidence that Mr. Trump had won the election by a landslide. – New York Times

A former acting chief of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence office has told Congress that DHS leaders pressed him to overstate illegal border crossings from Mexico and overplay the role of far left groups in violence during anti-government protests last summer, his lawyer said. – Reuters

Six men facing charges of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer were indicted by a grand jury this week, the U.S. attorney’s office for western Michigan said on Thursday. – Reuters

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley feels President-elect Joe Biden should continue a variety of President Trump’s foreign policies, specifically so China doesn’t get a pass from the incoming administration. – Fox News

All fingers are pointing to Russia as the source of the worst-ever hack of U.S. government agencies. But President Donald Trump, long wary of blaming Moscow for cyberattacks, has so far been silent. The lack of any statement seeking to hold Russia responsible casts doubt on the likelihood of a swift response and suggests any retaliation — whether through sanctions, criminal charges or cyber actions — will be left in the hands of President-elect Joe Biden’s incoming administration. – Associated Press

Farah Stockman writes: The world has a historic opportunity to change the direction of international trade rules and carve out more space for countries to experiment with solutions to climate change and income inequality. […]There are hopeful signs that Mr. Biden intends to do just that. One of his veteran economic advisers, Jared Bernstein, has long argued that the rules of global trade should be revamped to meet the needs of ordinary people, not just corporations. – New York Times

Daniel F. Runde writes: Unlike the Cold War, we must recognize early that U.S. development stakeholders will never win a race with our competitors (now China) on the dollars spent or roads constructed. We must work alongside our allies and vibrant private sector to make a case for a compelling alternative vision to our competitors based on our credible shared values. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


The suspected Russian hack that compromised parts of the U.S. government was executed with a scope and sophistication that has surprised even veteran security experts and exposed a potentially critical vulnerability in America’s technology infrastructure, according to investigators. – Wall Street Journal 

Federal officials issued an urgent warning on Thursday that hackers who American intelligence agencies believed were working for the Kremlin used a far wider variety of tools than previously known to penetrate government systems, and said that the cyberoffensive was “a grave risk to the federal government.” – New York Times

More than 30 states added to Google’s mushrooming legal woes on Thursday, accusing the Silicon Valley titan of illegally arranging its search results to push out smaller rivals. – New York Times

Google was targeted Thursday in an antitrust lawsuit joined by 38 states, which alleged that the Alphabet Inc. unit maintained monopoly power over the internet-search market through anticompetitive contracts and conduct. – Wall Street Journal 

President-elect Joe Biden on Thursday vowed to elevate cybersecurity as an “imperative” when he takes office and said he would not “stand idly by” in the face of cyberattacks following a massive breach that impacted the U.S. government. – The Hill 

After facing heavy criticism for not doing enough to stem misinformation ahead of the U.S. presidential election, YouTube announced last week it would remove videos that alleged fraud had changed the outcome of the contest. – Reuters

Microsoft Corp said on Thursday it found malicious software in its systems related to a massive hacking campaign disclosed by U.S. officials this week, adding a top technology target to a growing list of attacked government agencies. – Reuters

The Trump administration is releasing few details on the massive hack that breached cyber defenses at multiple federal government agencies, including the Treasury, Commerce, Homeland Security, and State departments. The penetration, which also affected private cybersecurity companies, went undetected for months, despite a system of cyber tripwires so sophisticated it was named Einstein. – Washington Examiner 

Twitter said Thursday it is increasing its efforts to combat negativity on the platform by testing a feature that will show users prompts indicating mutual interests shared by them and people to whom they respond on the platform. – The Hill 

Two top U.S. Senators on Thursday said they were seeking answers on whether the recent hacking attack against the federal government compromised U.S. taxpayers’ data, which could make millions of Americans more vulnerable to identity theft and other crimes. – Reuters

The U.S. energy secretary on Thursday signed an order prohibiting electric utilities that supply critical defense facilities from importing certain power system items from China, in an effort to protect U.S. security from cyber and other attacks. – Reuters

The agencies that maintain the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile are reportedly preparing to notify Congress that they have evidence showing their systems were breached by foreign hackers in a monthslong cyberespionage campaign that came to light this week. – Washington Examiner

While Congress cut funding for IVAS, one of the most innovative programs in Army history, they would be wise to look at how and where this revolutionary program succeeded in spite of inefficiencies and bureaucracy. – Breaking Defense  

Jonathan Reiber writes: Without continuous, automated testing, DoD and its contractors will remain vulnerable to cyberattacks, their security programs failing silently due to misconfiguration or team performance. With an automated platform, they can improve security postures by focusing people, processes, and security technologies on the threats that matter most. – Defense One 


The United States “needs resilient people and resilient equipment” to meet mounting security and economic challenges posed by Russia and China, according to a panel of Arctic security experts. – USNI News 

The US Intelligence Community (USIC) and President Donald Trump had a conflictive relationship from the moment he took office. Trump frequently criticised the USIC because of its official determination in 2017 that the Kremlin’s disinformation and hacking campaign had helped him win the office, and those hard feelings are very likely to last beyond 20 January 2021, the date of his departure from office. – Jane’s 360 

The following is the U.S. Sea Services’ new maritime strategy, Advantage at Sea: Prevailing with Integrated All-Domain Naval Power that was released by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard on Dec. 17, 2020. – USNI News 

The Air Force is testing its prototype drone-killing microwave, the Tactical High Power Microwave Operational Responder (THOR), “in a real-world setting” in Africa, says Richard Joseph, the Air Force’s chief scientist. Given how Iran and its proxies have used drone swarms, this would seem to be a good place to test without risking escalation, or Iran developing countermeasures. – Breaking Defense 

The Navy says it is prepared to push back against an increasingly bellicose China even during day-to-day operations short of full-scale war. – Washington Times

The U.S. Defense Department will soon start soliciting proposals for a program to provide incentives to boost semiconductor manufacturing capabilities in the United States, according to a posting on a government contracting site. – Reuters

Capella Space has revealed images from its new synthetic aperture radar satellite with 50 cm by 50 cm resolution, making it the highest resolution imagery available on the market using that phenomenology. – C4ISRNET 

The U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard say they need to begin acting more assertively to push back against gray-zone operations China is already conducting today. That means having more forward forces to deter, to document malign behaviors and to support partners as they protect their territory, according to service leaders. – USNI News 

The U-2, one of the most enduring denizens of the U.S. Air Force menagerie, tested one of the newest capabilities on Tuesday: a robotic radar operator. – Defense One 

The defense policy bill sitting on President Trump’s desk would fund new icebreakers the Coast Guard desperately needs, and give Arctic strategy a bigger seat at the decision-making table at the Pentagon. – Breaking Defense 

Amy Mackinnon writes: The work of Bellingcat, an open-source investigative outfit, has been instrumental in exposing years of nefarious Russian activity. But, perhaps more importantly, it has also enabled U.S. officials and lawmakers to discuss Moscow’s skullduggery openly without revealing the sources and methods of the U.S. intelligence agencies. – Foreign Policy 

Robert O. Work writes: The purpose of this new concept is to help guide Joint Force doctrinal and programmatic development by describing a vision for human-machine collaborative battle networks waging high-intensity algorithmic operations against an opposing system of systems. This concept focuses on employing human-machine collaborative battle networks in the 2040 timeframe to guide force development beyond the current future-year defense plan. – Center for a New American Security 

Missile Defense

The United States Air Force Global Strike Command has moved one step closer to arming a number of B-1B Lancer bombers with external weapons, which can provide geographic combatant command with increased capabilities while putting fewer aircraft and aircraft in harm’s way. – The National Interest 

Japan on Friday said it will develop new “stand-off” anti-ship missiles that can target warships at greater distances around its southwestern Okinawa island chain, including near disputed islets in the East China Sea that China also claims. – Reuters 

This year China sent a loud and clear message to the U.S. Navy when the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) conducted several tests of its new “aircraft carrier killer” missiles. However, Beijing may have received a similar, and notably as clear message from Taipei this month after the Taiwanese Navy announced that it has launched the first of its heavily armed “carrier killer” corvettes. – The National Interest

Participants are emerging for the U.S. Army’s mobile 155mm howitzer shoot-off coming up in early 2021 at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona. – Defense News

Earlier this week, Russia’s Defense Ministry released a video of the Avangard hypersonic-boost glide system being deployed in the Orenburg region near Russia’s border with Kazakhstan. […]The clip then showed several close-up shots of Avangard being installed onto a missile silo. “The complex technological operations last several hours,” read a Defense Ministry press statement accompanying the video.- The National Interest

Emran Feroz writes: As a former member of Obama’s administration, President-elect Joe Biden might be keen to carry on the drone program, in a manner not too different from that of his onetime boss. In Afghanistan, for example, Biden might continue outgoing President Donald Trump’s withdrawal plans, but it is hard to imagine that clandestine forces and Predators will stop operating and killing people there. It’s also unrealistic to assume that America’s shadow wars in Africa, which increased heavily under both Obama and Trump, will decrease. – Foreign Policy 

Long War

Four men involved in a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in 2015 that was foiled only by the courageous action of other passengers were convicted of attempting murder, complicity and criminal terrorist association, and sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven years to life. – New York Times

The fugitive widow of an Islamic State gunman and a man described as his logistician were convicted Wednesday of terrorism charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison in the trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 Paris attacks against the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket. – Associated Press

An Iranian dissident who was tortured by the regime has been found guilty of trying to firebomb a diplomatic vehicle at the country’s embassy in London. – Sky News (UK) 

Australian detectives suspect the deaths of an elderly couple in their Brisbane home is a “terrorism incident” perpetrated by a knife-wielding man who was shot dead by police, officials said on Friday. – Washington Times

Trump Administration

A bipartisan pair of senior senators asked the Internal Revenue Service to immediately provide them with a briefing about the SolarWinds hack that has ripped through several federal agencies, citing concerns that personal taxpayer information may have been stolen in the breach. – Wall Street Journal 

The military spending bill that President Trump is threatening to veto contains provisions that would help protect against the kind of broad Russian hacking discovered in recent days, according to experts and lawmakers. – New York Times

When Vice President Pence took the stage here Thursday for a lunchtime rally with Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, he said that President Trump was still fighting to win reelection, even though the electoral college formalized Joe Biden’s victory Monday. – Washington Post 

Dutch hacker Victor Gevers claims to have logged in to President Trump’s Twitter account six years ago by guessing the password: “yourefired.” – Washington Post 

The Senate’s No. 2 Democrat said Russia’s apparent hack into multiple government agencies is a “virtual invasion” that demands the U.S. show Russia and other adversaries there is “a price to pay” for breaching American systems. – C4ISRNET 

As the U.S. government grapples with what some are calling the worst cyber breach in years, lawmakers are pressing President Trump to sign sweeping new cybersecurity provisions contained in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. Two lawmakers who worked on the provisions said that the recently disclosed hack shows how vulnerable the U.S. continues to be to adversaries like Russia. – Defense One