Fdd's overnight brief

March 22, 2021

In The News


Iran has made threats against Fort McNair, an Army post in the U.S. capital, and against the Army’s vice chief of staff, two senior U.S. intelligence officials said. – Associated Press

Iran does not trust U.S. promises on lifting sanctions and will only return to its commitments under a 2015 nuclear deal once Washington fully removes the measures, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday. – Reuters

An explosion killed one person and injured three others on Sunday in a southeastern Iranian town that was the centre of bloody unrest last month, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported. – Reuters

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed the Iranian New Year as one of “production, support and removal of barriers” in a live televised speech on Saturday. – Reuters

U.S. prosecutors charged 10 Iranian nationals on Friday over an alleged long-running scheme to dodge U.S. sanctions on Tehran by disguising $300 million in transactions, including the purchase of two oil tankers. – Reuters

Iran will cold test its redesigned Arak nuclear reactor as prelude to fully commissioning it later in the year, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said on Friday. – Reuters

The sons of slain Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh claimed to reveal new details of their father’s November assassination, saying in an interview broadcast by Iranian state media on Saturday that he was traveling in an unarmored car when he came under fire. – Times of Israel 

Rights groups Amnesty International has called for the unconditional release of a British-Iranian man who they said was being held in solitary confinement in Iran, as new details emerged about his case. – Agence France-Presse

Eric Edelman and Jonathan Ruhe write: And though the JCPOA is narrowly an executive agreement, both the Biden and Rouhani administrations must contend with serious domestic political opposition to rejoining it. The White House also will have to consider concerns from its Middle East allies, with whom it has vowed to consult. […]Precluding this unacceptable outcome means recognizing the impossibility of returning to the JCPOA and instead embracing greater pressure that could, as Biden has pledged, help secure a better agreement that actually closes every Iranian pathway to the bomb. – Washington Examiner

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran has vowed revenge for the US killing of IRGC Quds Force head Qasem Soleimani. Iran labeled US Central Command a “terrorist” organization after the US labeled the IRGC “terrorists” in April 2019. Any link to Iran in an attack on a US base would likely lead to a major US response. Iran would likely be reticent to carry out such an attack. It might conceivably use proxies or provide means to others to do such an attack. – Jerusalem Post


Russian jets conducted raids on areas close to heavily populated towns and camps in opposition-held northwestern Syria near the Turkish border, the first such strikes this year, witnesses and rebel sources said on Sunday. – Reuters

Seven civilians were killed and at least 14 medics were injured when artillery shelling from a Syrian army outpost hit a hospital in a rebel-held town in northwestern Syria on Sunday, medics and rescuers said. – Reuters

Robert S. Ford and Mounir Ibrahim write: Maintaining the pipeline of aid into Idlib is not a victory and it does not heal the pain of the past 10 years, nor improve the lives of those civilians stuck inside. Instead, it is the very least we owe fellow human beings. It may give Syrians — those millions trapped inside Idlib — a bit of hope for their future and that of their children in this unfathomable tragedy.  – Middle East Institute


In two surprise midnight decrees, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has withdrawn Turkey from an international treaty on preventing violence against women and removed the head of the central bank, moves likely to please his followers but further estrange him from Western partners. – New York Times

Twitter has announced it will establish a legal entity in Turkey in order to continue operating in the country, which passed a controversial social media law last year. – Associated Press

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Joe Biden’s comments about Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in which he said he thought he was a killer, were “unacceptable” and unfitting of a U.S. president. – Reuters

Turkish police briefly detained pro-Kurdish lawmaker Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu at his party’s headquarters in parliament on Sunday, where he had been staying for four nights to protest the stripping of his MP status over a separate case. – Reuters

Turkey has asked Egyptian opposition television channels operating on its territory to moderate criticism of Egypt’s government, as Ankara seeks to improve strained ties with Cairo, the owner of one of the channels said on Friday. – Reuters

Turkey’s lira plunged 15% to near its all-time low after markets opened following President Tayyip Erdogan’s shock weekend decision to oust a hawkish central bank governor and install a like-minded critic of high interest rates. – Reuters

The European Commission is urging Turkey to return to an international treaty aimed at combatting violence against women after Ankara pulled out of the pact. – Politico

Seth J. Frantzman writes: In the end even with a very pro-Turkish series of envoys at the US state department and in the White House, Turkey was not able to get the US to withdraw from Syria. […]Turkey’s attempt to interfere in US domestic politics, elections and even appointments like McGurk illustrates how close it was to the last US administration. Now it appears the White House has tired of the abusive behavior of Ankara. – Jerusalem Post

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Israel knows Turkey hosts Hamas, and Egypt sees it hosting the Muslim Brotherhood, while the Gulf knows Turkey has used its media to undermine their successes. Under Turkey’s regime, the last thing it wanted was for the Arab states and Israel to work well together, since its goal was to isolate Greece, isolate Israel, isolate each Gulf state and Egypt and force them all to work with Turkey on Ankara’s terms. […]That means there is a game afoot for new state-to-state discussions 10 years after the Syrian civil war. Turkey’s decision to try to somehow reenter into the region is part of that larger discussion. – Jerusalem Post

Michael Rubin writes: Lest Erdoğan, out of ego or ideology, drag Turkey further into an Apartheid world, it is essential European leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron as well as the Biden administration approach Turkey with moral clarity. There is no excuse for the systematic disempowerment of Turkey’s Kurdish minority. To allow Erdoğan to continue down this path will not bring peace. Indeed, the result will be quite the opposite. – The National Interest


Israeli authorities confiscated the VIP border pass of Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki upon his return to the West Bank from a meeting at the International Criminal Court, a Palestinian official said on Sunday. – Reuters

The International Criminal Court has given Israel and the Palestinians one month to ask the tribunal to postpone its war crimes investigation, provided they can prove they are carrying out their own probes. – Agence France-Presse

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi on Sunday criticized the decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel, saying he supports IDF soldiers and their actions, N12 reported.  – Jerusalem Post

Israel must consider assisting Saudi Arabia, which is under constant missile attack, argues Yoel Guzansky in a piece published Sunday in Globes. – Jerusalem Post

Large scale hostilities could break out between Israel and Hezbollah if the Iranian proxy terror group continues its arms buildup along the northern border, Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told the United Nations Security Council in a brief written report. – Jerusalem Post

Environmental organizations and activists have written to the US special presidential envoy for climate change, John Kerry, charging that an agreement between companies in Israel and the United Arab Emirates to use Israel as a land bridge for the transport of crude oil from the Persian Gulf to European markets is “contrary to the new spirit of Israeli-US climate cooperation.” – Times of Israel

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday met the new UN special envoy for the Middle East process in Jerusalem. – Times of Israel

In the article, published on March 17, 2021, Haniya states that Hamas sees the elections as a way to end the Palestinian schism; build a new political system incorporating all the Palestinian factions, both inside Palestine and in the diaspora, and  unite the efforts of the Palestinians and of the entire Arab and Islamic nation to confront  Israel and stop the regional process of normalization with it. – Middle East Media Research Institute 


In Lebanon, fistfights break out in supermarkets on a nearly daily basis. Long lines snake out of the few gas stations that remain open. – CNN

France’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday he had asked his EU counterparts to consider ways to help Lebanon, which is facing its worst economic crisis in decades. – Reuters

Lebanese social media activist Kinda al-Khatib was granted bail and released last Tuesday after receiving a three-year prison sentence for “collaborating” with Israel, her attorney told Arab News. – Jerusalem Post

Andrew Doran writes: The state of war with Israel provides justification for Hezbollah’s illegal weapons. Self-defense, they argue, is needed against “the Zionist entity.” But Israelis are about as keen to renew war in Lebanon as Americans are to expand the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, which are thousands of miles away; for Israel, the threat from Iran’s terrorist proxy is immediately on their border. It is a seemingly intractable problem. Perhaps, as with the Soviet Union, the solution will begin not with weapons but with the voice of a Catholic prelate without any divisions at his command. – The Hill


The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen unleashed dozens of air strikes against what it called Houthi military targets in the country’s north, including the capital Sanaa and the port of Salif on the Red Sea coast. – Reuters

Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group on Friday said it hit a Saudi Aramco facility in Riyadh, in an attack comprising six armed drones. – Reuters

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Iran is chuffed about the latest Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia. The Houthis receive Iranian support and their missiles and drones are based on Iranian technology and advice. […]The strike on the refinery Saturday follows the attack on the Ras Tanura oil export hub two weeks ago. The Houthis have threatened to increase attacks on Aramco. It is clear they are following through with their threats. The US does not appear to have an answer to the increased attacks and Iran is using the Houthis to showcase their capabilities. – Jerusalem Post

Gulf States

Amazon said it is hiring 1,500 people in Saudi Arabia this year, becoming the latest tech giant to beef up inside the kingdom as pandemic-fed demand for online services rises in the Arab world’s largest economy. – Wall Street Journal

Saudi Arabia started naval exercises in the Persian Gulf to improve its ability to foil “terrorist attacks” on oil facilities, underscoring the kingdom’s concern about a rise in drone and missile strikes claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. – Bloomberg

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to create a pre-election buzz around further Middle East normalization moves took another blow when Qatar denied it was pursuing any such plan. – Bloomberg

William D. Hartung writes: If the president doesn’t act, Congress should. There are already bills in the works to cut off all arms to Saudi Arabia; impose financial and travel sanctions on MBS; and suspend U.S. arms transfers to the Kingdom until MBS is held accountable for the Khashoggi killing. All are worthy of support, and all would mark a welcome new direction in U.S.-Saudi relations.  – The Hill


A decade after the fall of Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and the end of his regime’s stranglehold on information, hopes for a free media remain a mirage. – Agence France-Presse

The prime minister of Libya’s new unity government said on Friday he had instructed the attorney general to open an investigation into the discovery of bodies in Benghazi. – Reuters

Editorial: As an interested but not warring party, the United States could help bolster the fragile new order. While the Biden administration does not have much leverage in Moscow, it can push Turkey, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates to stop shipping weapons into the country. […]A senior U.S. official recently told The Post’s Missy Ryan that the Biden administration would be “leaning in” in Libya. That would be a good use of diplomatic resources, with the potential payoff of rescuing at least one country from the wreckage of the Arab Spring. – Washington Post

Middle East & North Africa

Jordan on Sunday made public a defense agreement with the United States that allows free entry of US forces, aircraft, and vehicles onto the kingdom’s territory. – Agence France-Presse

The US Navy said Sunday it will hold a major naval exercise alongside Belgium, France and Japan in the Mideast amid tensions over Iran’s nuclear program in the region. – Times of Israel

Seth J. Frantzman writes: Even after the administration left, some of those who were close to Turkey continued to push this narrative. But even Turkey is now claiming to distance itself from some Muslim Brotherhood extremist activists in a bid to try to patch things up with Arab states in the region. This is the long-term goal of Turkey in finding an accommodation with states in the region and bringing together its alliance with Iran and Russia to legitimize its continued occupation of parts of Syria and bases in Iraq. – Jerusalem Post

Samir Bennis writes: The EU and the United States could avoid this scenario by leading a diplomatic effort aimed at deescalating tension between the two countries. The current escalation between Morocco and Algeria—along with the changing regional dynamics exemplified by the shifts in the AU—requires EU and U.S. attention and underscores the need for both parties to use their political and economic clout to initiate a thaw between Morocco and Algeria, thus averting the scenario of an all-out military confrontation in the Maghreb. – Washington Institute

Haisam Hassanein writes: Just as the Biden administration is prioritizing measured diplomacy with Iran, Washington will benefit from taking its time to formulate its policies toward Egypt. […]Policies such as conditioning annual military aid, rushing towards sanctions, or forceful public statements should only be used as a last resort, deployed after engaging in a dialogue on human rights and evaluating the results with Egypt first. Proceeding in this manner will provide two benefits to the United States: it will allow the administration to take a stand for public U.S. values, but also give a U.S. ally a chance to correct its path and for President Sisi to demonstrate his keenness in developing close relations with the United States. – Washington Institute

Daniel Pipes writes: What explains this extreme political volatility? As brilliantly explained by Philip Salzman, it results from the tribal ethos summed up by the well-known adage, “I against my brother, I and my brothers against my cousins, I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.” This pre-modern mentality encourages abrupt changes. Until tribalism dies out, Middle Eastern politics will continue to be characterized by amorality, fluidity, temporariness, inconsistency, and contradiction. – BESA Center

Korean Peninsula

The rampage in Georgia has reverberated across this nation of 52 million, which in the decades since the Korean War has had a deep and enduring relationship with the U.S. The two are allies and share close cultural ties. – Wall Street Journal

A new video by The New York Times’s Visual Investigations team tracked the Diamond 8 and traced the networks of ships and companies around it, the result of months of work by more than a dozen journalists in the unit and from other desks, including me, a reporter and producer with experience covering China. – New York Times

A North Korean citizen was taken into U.S. custody on Saturday after being extradited from Malaysia to face money laundering charges, making him the first North Korean extradited to the U.S. to face trial. – Associated Press

North Korean diplomats vacated their embassy in Malaysia and were expelled Sunday, after the two nations cut diplomatic relations in a spat over the extradition of a North Korean criminal suspect to the United States. – Associated Press

South Korea’s defense minister signaled the country may strengthen its military cooperation with rival Japan as the two U.S. allies work to boost regional security against threats like the ones posed by North Korea. – Bloomberg

Nicholas Eberstadt writes: There is no good reason for the American government to adopt North Korean boilerplate. “Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” is a formula for inaction against an ever-growing North Korean nuclear threat. The fact that previous presidents have carelessly or cluelessly tied themselves to it is no excuse for repeating this folly. North Korea is now Biden’s problem. Unless he and his team choose to speak clearly and unambiguously about the problem itself, they are unlikely to marshal the international coalition they desire to reduce the North’s nuclear threat decisively. – American Enterprise Institute


But the relationship has also raised concerns that Germany has become overly dependent on China. That could be a particularly thorny problem for President Biden, who has made isolating Beijing on trade and geopolitical issues a major part of his overall China strategy. – New York Times

The Biden administration’s first face-to-face encounter with China ended Friday after a vivid demonstration of how the world’s two largest economic and technological powers are facing a widening gulf of distrust and disagreements on a range of issues that will shape the global landscape for years to come. – New York Times

China’s government is restricting the use of Tesla Inc.’s vehicles by military staff and employees of key state-owned companies, citing concerns that data the cars gather could be a source of national-security leaks, according to people familiar with the effort. – Wall Street Journal

China has sharply increased its imports of oil from Iran and Venezuela in a challenge to two Biden administration foreign-policy priorities, according to U.S. officials, undermining key diplomatic leverage Washington needs to restart long-stalled negotiations. – Wall Street Journal

Beijing and the U.S. have agreed to form a working group on climate change, a top Chinese news agency reported on Sunday. – The Hill

Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk denied claims from the Chinese government that Tesla vehicles could be tied to espionage efforts in the country, arguing such a move would force the electric car manufacturer to “shut down.” – The Hill

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield and a Chinese diplomat clashed on Friday after Greenfield, who is Black, described her own experience with racism during a U.N. General Assembly meeting. – The Hill

President Biden said Friday that he is proud of Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the top U.S. diplomat had confrontational encounter with Chinese officials a day earlier during a meeting in Alaska. – The Hill

China questioned the state of U.S. democracy in the first face-to-face meeting between Chinese officials and the Biden administration, signaling Beijing’s intention of using former President Trump’s attacks on the 2020 election for its own interests.  – The Hill

U.S. President Joe Biden “will be good for the relationship” between China and the United States, even though both sides might have “started a little on frosty side”, former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen told a Beijing forum. – Reuters

The meeting between U.S. and Chinese officials led the former to appear “defensive,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. – Washington Examiner

Mike Pompeo cast doubt on the credibility of the recent WHO-China investigation into the origins of COVID-19 ahead of its expected report release as the former secretary of state defended the declassified intelligence that seemingly points toward the Wuhan Institute of Virology. – Washington Examiner

Henry Kissinger, former U.S. secretary of state, said ties between the U.S. and China require both sides to make “ever more intensive efforts” to work together. – Bloomberg

Capping a tense week in US-China relations, recently confirmed Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks used her first public remarks today to take aim directly at Beijing. – Breaking Defense

Chinese military intelligence recruited an Estonian national working at a NATO research institution focused on maritime and submarine research, The Daily Beast has learned. – The Daily Beast

Editorial: Chinese President Xi Jinping has made clear that retaking Taiwan is a priority, and China’s military is building a force capable of a quick-strike invasion. Mr. Xi will be eager to trade promises about climate change for U.S. acquiescence over Taiwan. This is a dangerous moment as the world’s rogue powers look to test the Biden Administration’s resolve. The Anchorage lecture is a warning to take seriously. – Wall Street Journal

Jennifer Rubin writes: Frankly, the Biden approach both toward China and Russia (which is miffed that President Biden referred to Vladimir Putin as a “killer”) reminds one of President Ronald Reagan’s doctrine of peace through strength. “Strength” is not purely military might. […]Thankfully, we have an administration now willing to use its voice and defend our values. For refusing to defer to tyrants and remaining firm in defense of our national interests, we can say well done, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan. – Washington Post

Eli Lake writes: Fair observers abroad also understand this. Perhaps this is one reason that today, Vietnam has pursued economic and security cooperation with the U.S. despite the war it fought a half century ago. The alternative for Vietnam and other neighbors of China is to align themselves with an authoritarian bully, incapable of reckoning with the many sins of its past and present. – Bloomberg

Nadia Schadlow writes: Key climate goals of the administration, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions for the energy and transportation sectors, may be held hostage by China. […]Since China dominates that industry, the administration will need its strategy to mitigate the leverage. While climate envoy John Kerry hopes to approach climate as a “standalone issue,” the fact is geopolitics will shape the environmental choices of the administration, and it will not be able to separate domestic climate policies from China. – The Hill

Demetri Sevastopulo and Tom Mitchell write: But the Yang-Blinken exchange in Alaska suggests that relations have changed in a more fundamental way. Experts had questioned whether the confrontational style employed by Trump would disappear with his administration or remain because of the geopolitical landscape. – Financial Times

Richard Mcgregor writes: Beijing rails at such co-ordination. A party paper lashed out at the Five Eyes intelligence partnership, calling it an “axis of white supremacy”. But China’s behaviour is pushing friends and allies together, as the US made clear in a diplomatic confrontation in Alaska on Friday. Australia values their support. So too, soon, might the UK. – Financial Times


Biden administration officials will meet with allies this week on teetering plans to end the war in Afghanistan, turning to another top foreign policy challenge after a week that saw confrontations with Washington’s chief geopolitical rivals. – Wall Street Journal

But even as the violence deters some students, many young Hazaras keep returning to classrooms. They have swept aside their fears and dread to pursue dreams of higher education in a country where attending class is an expression of faith amid a climate of terror. – New York Times

The Taliban warned the United States on Friday that there will be a “reaction” from the insurgent group should Washington not follow through on a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan. – The Hill

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has dismissed Interior Minister Masoud Andarabi, the national security council said in a statement on Friday, amid a spate of attacks against the country’s security forces. – Reuters

Eli Lake writes: A better course for Biden, the U.S. and Afghanistan would be to recognize that this deal was never going to work — and that the few thousand U.S. forces remaining in the country are manageable. […]It’s also a small price to pay for preventing the next 9/11. The alternative is to trust the Taliban not to allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven for international terrorism, which is no choice at all. – Bloomberg

South Asia

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other senior officials on Friday as the United States works to expand partnerships to counter an increasingly assertive China. – Washington Post

Yet behind closed doors, the India-Pakistan cease-fire marked a milestone in secret talks brokered by the UAE that began months earlier, according to officials aware of the situation who asked not to be identified. – Bloomberg

Husain Haqqani writes: Outsiders looking for signs of whether there will be a real change in the stance of the Pakistan military, as an institution, should see if there is any diminution in the tendency to look with suspicion upon advocates of fundamental change in the country, especially normalisation of India-Pakistan relations. – The Print


When six of the eight victims of this week’s shootings at Atlanta-area spas were confirmed to be of Asian descent, the news reopened wrenching debates in the United States about anti-Asian violence, bigotry and misogyny. In East Asia itself, the public conversations about the violence played out with far less intensity. – New York Times

Foreign businesses in Myanmar are struggling to operate in an increasingly volatile environment, as the military uses lethal violence against a swelling protest movement opposing last month’s coup and swaths of the country’s workforce go on strike. – Wall Street Journal

While demonstrators continue to brave bullets — at least 220 people have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup, according to a local group that monitors political imprisonments and deaths — the quiet persistence of this mass civil disobedience movement has grown into a potent weapon against the military. – New York Times

Australia’s parliament debated on Monday a motion to condemn “systematic breaches” of human rights by China, saying other legislatures had described as genocide its actions towards Uighurs in the far western region of Xinjiang. – Reuters

The Philippines urged China on Sunday to recall more than 200 Chinese boats it said had been spotted at a reef in the South China Sea, saying the presence of the vessels violated its maritime rights as it claims ownership of the area. – Reuters

Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan will visit Brunei Darussalam on Monday, after which he will go to Malaysia and Indonesia, the foreign affairs ministry said. – Reuters

Australia on Monday designated a right-wing extremist group as a terrorist organisation for the first time, a ruling that gives Canberra the power to imprison members of the neo-Nazi group. – Reuters

Opponents of Myanmar’s coup protested again on Saturday and international pressure grew on the military junta to halt its repression of democracy supporters, with Asian neighbours joining Western countries in condemning lethal force. – Reuters

The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday overwhelmingly approved legislation condemning the military coup in Myanmar, as lawmakers decried increasingly harsh tactics used to suppress demonstrations since the Feb. 1 ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. – Reuters

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japan’s defense minister agreed last week to cooperate on Taiwan, a Japanese news agency reported Sunday. – The Hill

Myanmar’s military junta expects investments from Asian countries to continue despite growing condemnation over its coup last month and the violent suppression of ensuing pro-democracy protests. – Bloomberg

Andrew L. Oros writes: In its first months in office, the Biden administration is showing through its presence and diplomatic attention a focus on regional states where future growth and prosperity will likely flourish — provided that these states can work cooperatively with the United States and each other to sustain the prolonged peace and prosperity the region has long enjoyed. – The Hill

Tom Rogan writes: In a striking win for Vladimir Putin, and a significant defeat for human rights, democracy, and the European Union, talks to end the Republic of Georgia’s political deadlock have failed. […]The United States has significant economic leverage, including on Ivanishvili directly, which could be brought to bear. Secretary of State Antony Blinken should make an immediate visit to Tbilisi. His failure to do so will undermine the aspirations of a pro-western people and further increase Putin’s necrotic influence. – Washington Examiner

Niall Ferguson writes: Yet losing — or not even fighting for — Taiwan would be seen all over Asia as the end of American predominance in the region we now call the “Indo-Pacific.” It would confirm the long-standing hypothesis of China’s return to primacy in Asia after two centuries of eclipse and “humiliation.” […]The fox has had a good run. But the danger of foxy foreign policy is that you care about so many issues you risk losing focus. The hedgehog, by contrast, knows one big thing. That big thing may be that he who rules Taiwan rules the world. – Bloomberg

Matthew P. Goodman writes: A variable geometry approach to multilateralism does not mean abandoning international institutions that the United States created and championed for decades, like the United Nations and WTO; these are important for legitimacy and to put a floor under the global system. Nor should plurilateral groupings be exclusive; they should remain open to new members willing to commit to the group’s objectives and norms. But for a Biden administration trying to recommit the United States to multilateralism and advance U.S.-preferred rules and norms, investing in groups like the G7 and Quad is a sensible way to start. – Center for Strategic and International Studies


Russia’s ambassador to the United States arrived back in his home country on Sunday after being recalled to Moscow for talks with Kremlin leadership after President Biden labeled Russian President Vladimir Putin a “killer.” – The Hill

Britain’s controversial move to raise the cap on its nuclear warhead stockpile was motivated by the need to maintain a “credible” deterrent to counter Russia’s improved ballistic missile defences, the UK defence secretary has said. – Financial Times

Russia’s ambassador to Britain has accused the UK government of breaking its international treaty commitments with a plan to increase the country’s nuclear arsenal and said the political relationship between Moscow and London is “nearly dead”. – Reuters

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov told Russia on Saturday to stop spying in his country, a day after prosecutors said they had charged six people on charges of working as spies for Moscow. – Reuters

President Biden continued to needle his Russian counterpart on Friday, not ruling out Vladimir Putin’s challenge to a debate and promising to slap new sanctions on Moscow. – Washington Examiner

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his top advisers on Friday appeared eager – but not too eager – to reciprocate President Joe Biden’s apparent overture after a week that saw fiery threats from the two leaders. – US News and World Report

Editorial: The new administration is likely to do more than its predecessor to discourage Mr. Putin, whom Mr. Biden on Wednesday said would “pay a price.” But this week’s report doesn’t anticipate that Russia will stop meddling anytime soon. The White House, the rest of the government and the rest of the nation can also protect themselves from whatever attacks do come by building trust, keeping on guard and refusing to play along. – Washington Post

David Satter writes: Russia has responded to Mr. Biden’s remark by threatening an “irreversible degradation of relations.” But the path to better relations leads through the realization by Russia’s leaders that the rest of the world is determined to place limits on their crimes. The president needs to reverse decades of U.S. political practice and act on his acknowledgment of Mr. Putin’s role. If he doesn’t, the Russian ruler’s next crime is only a matter of time. – Wall Street Journal

Otto Lanzavecchia writes: It is hard to see how support for the Sputnik bandwagon and engaging in disputes with Italian and European institutions helps western Europe. It is easy to see how it plays into the Kremlin’s hands by pouring gasoline on the embers of European tensions. The stage is new, but the playbook is as old as the Cheka. Russia’s multi-pronged approach in the field of vaccines is simply the most recent iteration of its endeavor to offer an alternative to the Western liberal-democratic order. So that the Kremlin, and its vaccines, can burnish a tarnished image and reinforce Russia’s soft power. – Center for European Policy Analysis


The European Union is rebuffing British government calls to ship AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines produced in a factory in the Netherlands, an EU official said on Sunday. – Reuters

Pope Francis on Sunday urged people to fight organised crime groups such as the mafia around the world, warning that the criminals were using the COVID-19 pandemic to further enrich themselves. – Reuters

Northern Ireland is in a difficult situation as it deals with the consequences of Brexit, and Britain and the European Union need to reduce tensions and find solutions as equal partners, EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness said on Sunday. – Reuters

Ukraine has imposed sanctions on former President Viktor Yanukovich and ex-Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, freezing their assets and property, banning them from withdrawing capital from the country and stripping them of all state awards. – Reuters

Brussels is suing the UK at the European Court of Justice over tax breaks in Gibraltar, in a sign of the EU’s determination to persist with pursuing disputes dating back to Britain’s membership of the bloc. – Financial Times

The U.K. government plans to bolster its navy and special forces as part of an overhaul of its defense strategy, planning to be “more active” in combating threats globally. – Bloomberg

European Union foreign ministers are expected to sign off on a slate of punitive measures on Monday over human rights abuses, including sanctions directed at China. – Bloomberg

The U.S. government has cleared the sale of five P-8A maritime patrol aircraft to Germany, but Berlin is nowhere near ready to make a decision on the $1.8 billion purchase. – Defense News

The Jewish Community of Thessaloniki “unequivocally condemned” on Thursday the defacing of a recently-unveiled mural that honors the Greek port city’s Jews and their extermination in Nazi death camps. – Algemeiner

A local politician in the east German state of Saxony has expressed alarm that the number of prosecutions for antisemitic crimes in the region remains visibly low, despite a year-on-year rise in the crimes themselves. – Algemeiner

Michael Rühle writes: NATO’s adaptation to a new hybrid conflict landscape has been remarkably swift. Many challenges still remain. However, as Secretary General Stoltenberg put it, we have to be prepared for the unforeseen and thus need a strategy to deal with uncertainty. Broadening NATO’s counter-hybrid toolbox is a vital part of such a strategy. – Center for European Policy Analysis


This fertile borderland between two rivers has long held the key ingredients for a war. For decades, a precarious status quo prevailed here between Sudan, which owns the land according to a century-old treaty, and Ethiopia, which has occupied it while its citizens tilled the fields of sesame, sorghum, sunflower and cotton. – Washington Post

Nearly 200 people have been killed and 40,000 displaced since January following a surge of attacks by the ADF militia in northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN said Friday, as protests over the massacres brought three cities to a standstill. – Agence France-Presse

Ethiopia’s prime minister issued a “final notice” Friday to the fugitive leaders of the country’s embattled Tigray region, saying they should surrender peacefully to avoid “severe punishment” and prevent the “misery of their people.” – Associated Press

Jackson Krase writes: The late Secretary of State George Shultz once noted that diplomacy is akin to gardening in that working towards security and prosperity requires persistence in developing fruitful relationships and extracting the “weeds.” Africa is fertile ground to grow relationships. But rather than re-sow the fields from scratch, the Biden administration might find some of its best success by working through Malawi to tap into southern Africa’s growing and positive experience with military education. – The National Interest

Bobby Ghosh writes: A good start would be to recuse himself from the high council, and give the opposition a bigger say in the appointment of judges, pending more thorough constitutional reforms. His government should also commit to a fair and transparent trial for Sonko. That would reassure his countrymen who are proud of their country’s democratic record, as well as foreigners who have a stake in its preservation. It would allow Senegal to once again set an example for Africa to follow. – Bloomberg

Judd Devermont and Idayat Hassan write: The Republic of the Congo, Chad, and Benin will have deeply problematic elections this year, but boycotting these polls is not abandoning the U.S. commitment to democracy. It is standing up for shared values and a first step to breaking the cycle of bad elections. It is a statement that elections could and should improve in these countries, and a warning to the rest of the region with elections on the horizon—including Ethiopia and Zambia—that stolen elections are undeserving of international observation. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

United States

Evidence the government obtained in the investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol most likely meets the bar necessary to charge some of the suspects with sedition, Michael R. Sherwin, the federal prosecutor who had been leading the Justice Department’s inquiry, said in an interview that aired on Sunday. – New York Times

Sixty days into his administration, President Biden got a taste this week of what the next four years may look like: a new era of bitter superpower competition, marked by perhaps the worst relationship Washington has had with Russia since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with China since it opened diplomatic relations with the United States. – New York Times

A former Army Special Forces soldier was arrested Wednesday and charged with several crimes relating to his reported assaults on Capitol Police officers during the Jan. 6 riot, including allegedly throwing a flagpole at an officer. – The Hill

Two months after taking office, US President Joe Biden is revealing his diplomatic style — and he certainly has not minced words in the first dealings of his term with Washington’s top rivals. – Agence France-Presse

New York City Mayoral Candidate Andrew Yang said in a March 19 statement to the Forward that while he views the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as “nonviolent,” the fact that it doesn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist makes it anti-Semitic. – Jewish Journal

Chris Dolan writes: Biden cannot return to conventional U.S. foreign policy because the world has already changed. Old approaches will not work against pandemics, recessions, and climate change. More important, the American public knows more defense spending, sanctions, and going it alone are useless against transnational threats. Biden must develop a foreign policy for the American middle class and embrace multilateral cooperation with allies and democratic nations to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. – The Hill


With more than 20 foreign diplomats gathered outside the courthouse in Beijing, China proceeded Monday to try a second Canadian citizen, the former diplomat Michael Kovrig, in a politically charged hearing days after Chinese and Biden administration officials clashed in a high-level meeting. – Washington Post

Canadians on Friday reacted with anger and dismay following the trial in China of a Canadian businessman on espionage charges that many dismissed as a sham and a flagrant display of hostage diplomacy. – New York Times

Canadian Prime Minister called for the U.S. and China to discuss two Canadians detained in China as high-ranking officials from Washington and Beijing meet in Alaska Friday. – The Hill


President Biden is coming under increasing pressure from lawmakers and other officials to nominate a White House cyber czar as the government starts formulating its response to two major foreign cyberattacks. – The Hill

The Justice Department brought charges this week against a Swiss individual allegedly responsible for hacking into dozens of companies over the course of several years, most recently allegedly carrying out a breach that exposed massive amounts of surveillance data.  – The Hill

The cyberattack crested just as finance officials from across Latin America were descending on Washington to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Inter-American Development Bank. – Associated Press

The leaders of social media giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google will be grilled next week about the rise of disinformation on their platforms, driven largely by increasing levels of partisanship and mistrust of the media. – Washington Examiner


These are tangible signs of how the coronavirus, and efforts to combat it, have affected the defense industry—usually resilient given its financial and geopolitical importance—as governments have deemed the public-health crisis a national-security issue. – Wall Street Journal

Jockeying over defense funding is heating up amid expectations President Biden will request an essentially flat Pentagon budget for next year. – The Hill

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is opening a review into the Trump administration’s decision to move U.S. Space Command headquarters from Colorado Springs to Alabama. – The Hill

In the future, when U.S. Air Force fighter pilots face off in aerial combat training missions, they could be dogfighting the video game version of Chinese and Russian warplanes at a fraction of the cost of using real jets like the F-22 Raptor. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy sealed the deal on a 10th ship in its latest iteration of the Virginia-class attack submarine, issuing a $2.4 billion adjustment on a contract initially awarded in December 2019. – Defense News

The U.S. Navy is reworking its tenuous plan to revitalize its public shipyards, where the fleet’s nuclear maintenance is done, as it has become clear that the facilities can’t meet the needs of the current fleet, let alone accommodate a growing fleet. – Defense News

The Pentagon’s top research arm and Silicon Valley giant Intel will work together to increase domestic production of secure microchips used widely in defense systems. – C4ISRNET

Despite flat budgets — at best — the Army’s moving out fast on five new types of armored vehicles – from variants of the venerable Bradley and Paladin, to a Bradley replacement and cutting-edge Robotic Combat Vehicles. – Breaking Defense

Seth Cropsey and Harry Halem write: But the incoming Secretary of the Navy, regardless of specific policy choices, should take his case to Congress, rather than restricting himself to an internal bureaucratic competition that he will almost certainly lose. Unlike the post WWII days, Congress today possesses but a handful of senators and representatives who understand the connection between seapower and the nation’s future as a great power. An unexpected and profound international event will not translate into bipartisan Congressional expertise. The next Secretary of the Navy must provide it on his own. – Real Clear Policy

Long War

In the two years since Kurdish forces wrested away the Islamic State’s last Syrian bastion, the jihadist group has proved it does not need a stronghold to pose a potent threat in more countries than ever. – Agence France-Presse

Armed men killed at least 22 civilians in southwestern Niger on Sunday, three sources said, less than a week after unidentified assailants killed 58 villagers in the same region. – Reuters

The United States will give more than $80 million in humanitarian aid to countries in the Sahel region, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said on Friday. – Reuters

Islamic State’s West Africa affiliate claimed responsibility on Sunday for an ambush last week that killed 33 Malian soldiers, according to a statement published by the SITE Intelligence Group. – Reuters

Philippine troops have killed a leader of the Abu Sayyaf kidnap-for-ransom group and rescued four Indonesian hostages held since last year, the military said on Sunday. – Reuters

Al Shabab has grown its territorial presence and increased violence in Somalia over the last five months thanks to policy decisions by the Trump and Biden administrations that have hindered training of Somali forces and added layers of bureaucracy to drone strikes, say Africa security experts. – Washington Examiner