Fdd's overnight brief

November 19, 2020

In The News


Days after President Trump asked for options to take military action against Iran’s major nuclear site, the government in Tehran has sent conflicting signals, taking a major step to speed up its production of nuclear fuel while also offering President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. a way to defuse a confrontation. – New York Times 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said that the unwinding of the U.S. sanctions regime against Iran would be “a dangerous choice,” obliquely expressing concerns that the incoming Biden administration would ease the four-year economic pressure campaign. – Wall Street Journal 

The United States on Wednesday imposed broad sanctions targeting Iran, blacklisting a foundation controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and taking aim at what Washington called Iran’s human rights abuses a year after a deadly crackdown on anti-government demonstrators. – Reuters 

The U.N. nuclear watchdog and the United States pressured Iran on Wednesday to finally explain the origin of uranium particles found almost two years ago at an old but undeclared site that Israel has called a “secret atomic warehouse”. – Reuters 

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday met said during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bahrain’s foreign minister that regional normalization deals leave Iran “ever more isolated”. – Ynet 

Iranian officials are continuing to crow over President Donald Trump’s election defeat, with Foreign Minister Javad Zarif suggesting the president is to blame for one of the “most unsuccessful” foreign policy offerings in American political history. – Newsweek 

Iran said Wednesday that it would “automatically” return to its nuclear commitments if U.S. President-elect Joe Biden lifts sanctions imposed over the past two years by President Donald Trump. But even as it dangled the offer, Tehran kept the pressure on the U.S. and other countries by forging ahead with its nuclear program in violation of the 2015 international nuclear pact that Mr. Trump abandoned. – CBS News 

The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency confirmed on Wednesday reports that Iran has begun operating centrifuges installed at an underground site, but said they had been moved from another facility so the country’s overall uranium-enriching capabilities have not increased. – Associated Press

Foreign policy experts and those close to President-elect Joe Biden believe he will move the U.S. closer to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, but that it will be no easy task. – Fox News

Editorial: Any Biden agreement redux must come only with tougher conditions: Foremost should be Iran’s pledge to allow international inspectors unrestricted access to suspected nuclear sites. Next should be a time extension of the original pact provisions, all of which expire by 2030. Finally, Team Biden should redline any compensation for “past mistakes.” Preventing an Iran Bomb was and is the right thing to do. – Washington Times

David Albright, Sarah Burkhard, and Frank Pabian write: While the issue of access is hopefully resolved, the underlying issue of the incompleteness of Iran’s nuclear declaration about Marivan and a host of other sites and activities, all previously dedicated to a covert, and illegal, nuclear weapons program, is far from settled. Moreover, the IAEA has barely scratched the surface of providing assurance that activities conducted at these sites are not continuing elsewhere. – Institute for Science and International Security


The Israel Defense Forces on Wednesday night released images of some of its predawn airstrikes against Iranian and Syrian military sites in southern Syria, which came in response to an attempted attack on Israeli troops that was thwarted the day before. – Times of Israel 

The pace is dizzying at the largest isolation hospital in Syria’s northwestern city of Idlib. There are no bombs falling outside and the wounded don’t crowd bloodstained corridors amid a shaky cease-fire in the country’s decade old civil war. Still, the intensive care unit staff is overwhelmed with beds full of elderly patients gasping for air. – Associated Press 

Amos Harel writes: Israel sees the Iranian actions in the Syrian Golan Heights — which reached new heights with the deployment of two cells to lay explosive devices on the Israeli side of the border — as crossing a red line, and served as the background for the decision to respond with relatively broad air strikes early Wednesday morning. – Haaretz 

Haian Dukhan writes: When the Syrian regime captured the governorate of Daraa in 2018, many observers believed that the armed conflict in southern Syria had come to an end. […]While tribalism has kept Daraawis connected and given them greater flexibility to maintain their resistance, these same characteristics also provide the Assad regime with the key to dividing the tribes against themselves and could potentially lead to the quashing of resistance and Daraa’s return to the regime’s fold. – Middle East Institute


In a bold move to refurbish their sullied image in Washington, the Palestinians are laying the groundwork for an overhaul to one of their most cherished but controversial practices, officials say: compensating those who serve time in Israeli prisons, including for violent attacks. – New York Times 

After four years of a sympathetic Trump administration, Israeli settlers are sobering up to a new reality and digging in for a fight ahead of a new U.S. president expected to revive traditional criticisms of their enterprise. – Washington Post 

The Israeli government is currently in the process of developing a strategy to influence the incoming Biden administration’s Iran policy, Axios reported on Wednesday. – Algemeiner 

The UN General Assembly’s Second Committee pushed back at the concept of de-facto Israeli annexation on Wednesday night, approving a draft resolution by 156-6 member states that called on nations to ensure that they do not treat the West Bank settlements and east Jerusalem as a part of sovereign Israel. – Jerusalem Post 

Jewish building over the pre-1967 line, such as in Givat Hamatos in east Jerusalem – as well as continued IDF demolitions of Palestinian structures – are leading to a one-state reality, Germany’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Günter Sautter told the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. – Jerusalem Post 

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel has updated its boycott criteria, now calling for boycotts against anyone involved in normalized ties with Israel. – Jerusalem Post 

A group of Republican senators sent a letter to US President Donald Trump urging him to alter US policy that differentiates between products manufactured on either side of the Green Line and instead allow West Bank settlement goods to be branded as having been “made in Israel.” – Times of Israel

The Palestinians are sending ambassadors back to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain after recalling them in protest at the Gulf countries’ U.S.-brokered deals establishing ties with Israel, a Palestinian official said on Wednesday. – Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would visit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Thursday, marking the Trump administration’s break with previous U.S. policy on the strategic plateau. – Reuters

Pompeo’s upcoming visit to the Israeli-run Psagot winery in the West Bank on Thursday would be another dramatic break by the Trump administration with the international community just as the president’s tenure is about to end. – Agence France-Presse

Tom Rogan writes: Trump has not given Israel that assurance of support and, considering his reaffirmed interest in ending Middle East wars, whatever the costs, he is highly unlikely to do so.

Expect continued Israeli covert action and military strikes against Iranian positions in Syria and Lebanon. But don’t look for strikes on Iran’s nuclear program before Jan. 20, 2021. – Washington Examiner 


The geolocation data helps provide greater certainty about incidents accounting for the deaths of more than 900 victims Airwars has been able to identify by name. A searchable database of these confirmed events could help Iraqi and Syrian families ascertain how their relatives may have perished. – Washington Post 

Iraq’s Arar border crossing has been closed since 1990. That’s thirty years, an extraordinarily long time. This week the Arar border crossing opened. It is part of a gradual process of Saudi Arabia and Iraq seeking to rebuild ties in the last four years. – Jerusalem Post 

Iran has sought to shore up air, land and sea defense cooperation with neighboring Iraq, seeking a series of security deals as its rival, the United States, pulls out more troops in an effort to draw down its protracted war effort in the Middle East. – Newsweek

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is keeping up Tehran’s drumbeat of anti-American criticism as the regime waits to see what President-Elect Joe Biden will do once he takes office in January, accusing the country of acting as “a terrorist.”. Meanwhile, Iranian-backed militias in Iraq—the primary battlefield for the U.S.-Iranian conflict—appear to have resumed rocket attacks against the American embassy in Baghdad after a month hiatus, killing one child and injuring five others. – Newsweek 

Arabian Peninsula

American staffers for the United Nations and some workers at nongovernmental organizations have been relocated out of northern Yemen in anticipation of the Trump administration’s possible terrorist designation for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that is likely to complicate aid deliveries and further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country. – Foreign Policy 

This weekend’s summit of leaders from the Group of 20 stands out more for what it is not than for what it is. Held online this year because of the coronavirus, the gathering of leaders of the world’s preeminent rich and developing nations will not be an opportunity for kings, presidents and prime ministers to conduct the intimate diplomacy of closed-door meetings or pose for memorable photo-ops. – Associated Press 

Saudi Arabia is pursuing a new campaign to denounce the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist political movement feared by most Gulf monarchies, as Riyadh prepares to deal with what is likely to be a less friendly U.S. administration under Joe Biden. – Reuters 

Following the recent murders in response to insults against the Prophet Muhammad in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, Dr. Ahmad Al-Rudaiman, a lecturer on Islam in the University of Hail in Saudi Arabia, wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Watan that Muslims must not retaliate against those who mock the Prophet. – Middle East Media Research Institute  

Gulf States

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Bahraini counterpart landed in Israel on Wednesday to mark a new, U.S.-brokered normalization deal just hours after Israeli forces carried out retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria. – New York Times 

Three US Senators announced on Wednesday that they would introduce four resolutions aiming to halt arms sales to the United Arab Emirates. The Trump administration formally notified Congress earlier this month of its intention to sell over $23 billion worth of F-35 joint strike fighter jets and other advanced systems. – Jerusalem Post

Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani of Bahrain told me in an exclusive interview that he expects the Biden administration to consult Bahrain and other Gulf countries before moving toward a new nuclear deal with Iran. – Axios

Seth J. Frantzman writes: The UAE’s decision to host Jordan’s king and the king of Bahrain as the Bahraini foreign minister was in Israel shows strategic foresight. The UAE has been talking up regional stability, with its Washington Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba speaking to Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, as well as alongside Israel’s ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, at The Economic Club. – Jerusalem Post 

Middle East & North Africa

France’s Total SE is in talks to increase energy investment in Libya, where oil output has surged in the past two months amid a truce in the OPEC member’s civil war. – Bloomberg 

A prominent Egyptian rights group said security agents arrested a senior member of its staff on Wednesday, three days after its administrative manager was detained under charges including joining a terrorist group. – Reuters

Haisam Hassanein writes: For its part, Biden’s administration would benefit from sticking to modest goals when dealing with Egypt, such as securing the release of all American prisoners and jumpstarting the economic reforms needed to avert a societal catastrophe for the country’s 100 million citizens. […]To be sure, Egypt is unlikely to be an early priority for Biden. Yet once his administration does turn its attention to Cairo, having concrete, achievable goals will serve it much better than insisting on big-picture changes that are doomed to fall short in the near term. – Washington Institute

Antoine Got writes: Trump’s seemingly durable personal rapport and populist affinities with Erdogan has made this unlikely, but a new U.S. administration under Joe Biden will likely allow for a more proactive approach in rebuilding the strained relationships between the members of the alliance under renewed U.S. global leadership, and a tougher stance on Turkey. – War on the Rocks 

Laura Pitel writes: Erdogan, who has survived countless crises over his 18 years in power, has put on a brave face in the aftermath of this month’s debacle. The episode is a reminder of the ruthless pragmatism of a man for whom holding on to power still seems more important than anything. But that pragmatism was only necessary because of the gamble he took in appointing Albayrak in the first place — one of several decisions in recent years, most notably the calamitous Istanbul rerun, that demonstrate that the savvy political operator is far from infallible. – Financial Times

Korean Peninsula

U.S. and South Korean business groups on Wednesday called for the United States to eliminate President Donald Trump’s national security tariffs on steel, aluminum and other products, while promoting a global rules-based trading system and cooperating on 5G mobile and other technologies. – Reuters 

The Navy, in conjunction with the Missile Defense Agency, a federal body that develops and deploys missile defense systems for protecting the United States, just conducted a missile defense test of crucial importance: taking down an intercontinental ballistic missile. – The National Interest 

Stephen Silver writes: Speaking of North Korea’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, another recent report said that hackers from Russia and North Korea are seeking to hack into the systems of vaccine makers and other entities producing drugs related to coronavirus, in several countries, including Canada, France, India, South Korea and the United States. The author of the report, an expert with Microsoft, said some of the breaches have been successful, although it’s not clear how much damage has been done. – The National Interest 

Jason Bartlett writes: The United States can only gain from joint coordination with allied nations to protect shared global interests and international security. Shielding against pending cyberattacks is crucial but preventing the training and dispatch of cyber agents is equally important in limiting the breadth of North Korea’s cyber-enabled financial crime. North Korea is much more than just China’s “little brother,” and U.S. leadership must respond swiftly to this cyber threat. – Center for a New American Security


A new report suggests Beijing has been successful in shifting some government borrowing to the corporate sector, as it has enlisted companies to help limit economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. – Wall Street Journal

Superlow interest rates in Europe helped China to sell its first negative-yielding debt, as it raised about $4.7 billion in a three-part deal in euros. – Wall Street Journal

Republican lawmakers are pressing for a more multilateral approach to confronting China with expanded help from Europe, a strategy that dovetails with the view of the incoming Biden administration. – Wall Street Journal

The Five Eyes intelligence sharing group said on Wednesday China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong appeared to be part of a campaign to silence critics and called on Beijing to reverse course. – Reuters 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday accusations by Canada are groundless, when asked about Canada naming China and Russia among main cyber-crime threats.

China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday spurned suggestions that his country might decouple or separate itself from the U.S. and other trading partners amid tension with Washington and Europe over technology and security. – Associated Press

Workers in Chinese car factories were mobilized by the People’s Liberation Army on Saturday as the country stepped up its wartime preparedness with joint military and civilian drills. – Newsweek 

A Shanghai-based journalist who reported on the Chinese communist regime’s attempt to censor early reports of the emergent coronavirus faces up to five years of imprisonment, according to a new report on the prosecution’s aims. – Washington Examiner 

Chinese “military harassment” of Taiwan is stoking suspicions that Beijing will attempt to seize control of the territory before the U.S. military finishes reorienting to stymy such attacks. – Washington Examiner 

A vocal advocate of Chinese government reform living in the U.S. said that several banks have frozen his accounts back home, in another sign that Beijing is stepping up pressure on overseas dissidents. – Bloomberg

President Xi Jinping hailed China as the pivot point for global free trade Thursday, vowing to keep its “super-sized” economy open for business and warning against protectionism as the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic. – Agence France-Presse 

This month the Chinese Communist Party released a draft law that would empower the Chinese Coast Guard to use actual “military force” against foreign vessels, and that could potentially be applied in disputes in the South China Sea. Under this new law China will allow its coast guard personnel to use weapons when foreign vessels are involved in illegal activities in waters under Beijing’s jurisdiction. – The National Interest 

Katrina Mulligan, Jordan Link and Laura Edwards write: Without coordinated action on these critical fronts, Beijing will continue to challenge global norms while seeking to alter the rules that govern the international system. Together, the United States and the European Union can overcome this challenge. Now more than ever, there is a clear path towards a reinvigorated transatlantic partnership: The road to a successful policy towards China runs through Europe. – War on the Rocks 

Peter Navarro writes: Time and time again, President Trump has stood up courageously to the malicious manipulation of America’s economy and financial systems by China. He has emphasized two simple rules: Buy American, Hire American. This new executive order only adds to the list of dozens of other bold actions taken over the past four years by President Trump to protect Americans and secure our homeland. – The Hill

Tim Culpan writes: U.S. officials have made no secret of their strategy: “Future U.S. presidents will find it politically suicidal to reverse President Trump’s historic actions,” John Ullyot, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said this week. Shifting the goalposts will make it harder for Joe Biden to move them back, assuming the president-elect even wants to. […]For China’s technology companies, two months of a lame-duck Trump administration could turn out to be as damaging as the first 46. The best they can hope for is to stay under the radar and not be noticed at all.  – Bloomberg

Michael O’Hanlon, Ivan Safranchuk, Igor Denisov, Vakhtang Charaia, Mariam Lashkhi , Jean-Marc Blanchard, Michal Meidan and Altay Atlı write: Through its Belt and Road Initiative, China seeks to play a larger role in the Black Sea region. China has been wooing littoral states in hopes of securing new markets for its goods and investing in infrastructure projects. But some worry that there is more to Chinese actions in the region than meets the eye. The worry is that China will increase its political and diplomatic clout in a region that is considered vital for Russian interests and create tension between Moscow and Washington. – Middle East Institute


As news emerged that the Trump administration will cut in half the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Marine Corps veteran Kyle Bibby eyed the plan and the outgoing commander in chief with suspicion. – Washington Post 

Australian special forces soldiers, mainly from the elite Special Air Service (SAS) regiment, executed 39 prisoners, farmers and other civilians during the Afghanistan war, the chief of the Australian defense forces, Gen. Angus Campbell, said Thursday. – Washington Post 

Experts were divided and uncertain in response to a report suggesting President Donald Trump was on the verge of ordering the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, in what would be the latest step toward fulfilling his campaign promise of ending the United States’ involvement in long-running conflicts abroad. – Newsweek 

A premature troop withdrawal from Afghanistan may complicate peace talks between the government in Kabul and the Taliban, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday, commenting on U.S. plans to pull out 2,000 troops from the country. – Reuters

An accelerated U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, announced by Washington this week, has rattled both allies and adversaries. There are fears of worsening violence and regional chaos, which some say could embolden the local Islamic State affiliate to regroup and perhaps even try to build another “caliphate.” – Associated Press 

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization‘s mission in Afghanistan will continue its efforts despite U.S. plans to withdraw troops from the country, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday. – Washington Times

The Taliban on Wednesday welcomed the Pentagon’s announcement it would soon pull about 2,000 US troops from Afghanistan as a “good step” that will help end the country’s long-running conflict. – Agence France-Presse 

Amid reports that ousted Defense Secretary Mark Esper raised concerns about U.S. troop cuts in Afghanistan in a classified memo to the White House, a Democratic-led oversight panel has asked the Trump administration to turn over all internal documents relevant to the pullout decision. – Defense News

Afghan policy experts are quietly urging the Biden transition team to consider asking President Donald Trump’s Afghan peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, to remain on the job as a transitional negotiator after President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20. – Foreign Policy 

Eli Lake writes: Today, Afghanistan’s military has several hundred thousand troops, and has conducted many joint operations with the U.S. against the Taliban. Corruption remains, but the elected government in Kabul has survived. Obama’s surge, in this respect, made it possible for the U.S. to have the much smaller footprint in Afghanistan today. That lesson has been lost on Trump. Let’s hope Biden comes to understand it. – Bloomberg

John M. Donnelly writes: House and Senate negotiators must decide in the coming days whether to send President Donald Trump a final defense authorization bill that would aim to bar him from slashing U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan. But the strongest NDAA language yet written along these lines may not survive conference, and it’s probably not potent enough in any event to stay Trump’s hand — as if he would obey it anyway. As a result, Congress will have once again deferred to presidential authority on a matter of national security. – Roll Call 

Anthony H. Cordesman writes: There is no Pulitzer Prize for the worst media reporting of the year, but then again, there is no prize for the least transparent reporting by a government or a prize for the most serious analytic failure by a think tank. If such prizes were to exist, however, all three prizes should be awarded to virtually every source in each category that has attempted to cover the Afghan peace process. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

South Asia

Myanmar’s national elections this month, the second since a half-century of direct military rule ended, proved that civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her party remain singularly beloved there. The challengers, a military-linked political party and numerous ethnic-based groups, were largely obliterated, leaving Suu Kyi’s party with more than 80 percent of available parliamentary seats. – Washington Post 

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said on Wednesday he had delivered on a key election promise to rebuild the island nation’s intelligence network in the year since assuming office. – Reuters

The Quad, or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, member nations of Australia, Japan, India and the United States on Tuesday launched a new, four-day phase of the “Malabar” naval war games in the northern Arabian Sea, marking an informal strategic alliance to counter rising Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean. – Defense News


Dozens of Hong Kong students turned their graduation ceremony on Thursday into a march to commemorate pro-democracy protests last year that included violent clashes with police across city campuses. – Reuters

Hong Kong’s High Court ruled on Thursday that the city government had failed to provide an independent mechanism to handle police complaints, breaching the Asian financial hub’s Bill of Rights on torture and cruel treatment. – Reuters

Australia’s prime minister on Thursday pushed back over a list of more than a dozen grievances raised by China regarding his country’s human rights diplomacy, independent media and investment policies, saying “we will always be Australia”. – Reuters

A senior U.S. Navy commander in Asia on Thursday welcomed an agreement by Japan and Australia to tighten military cooperation that will bolster the United States in a region where China’s influence is growing. – Reuters

President Donald Trump plans to represent the United States at a virtual Asia-Pacific summit this week in which his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping also plans to participate, a U.S. official told Reuters. – Reuters

U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien is traveling to Vietnam and the Philippines this week as the Trump administration continues its efforts to counter China and deepen ties with the Southeast Asian nations, according to two U.S. officials. – Bloomberg

Asia-Pacific leaders called on Thursday for open and multilateral trade to support a global economy battered by the novel coronavirus, and some hoped for more engagement with the United States under a Joe Biden administration. – Reuters 

Michael Mazza writes: In the years ahead, the Biden administration should strive to place Taiwan on the agenda for all of its Indo-Pacific and European 2+2 meetings, working towards public affirmations similar to that following AUSMIN 2020. […]These consultations will ensure that the United States and its friends will be better prepared to act quickly in the event of a crisis. Just as importantly, such talks, of which Beijing will inevitably become aware, will contribute to deterring China from resorting to force in the Taiwan Strait. – Global Taiwan Institute

Anthony B. Kim writes: The United States cannot make the decision for Asia whether or not to uphold and defend the rules-based order. Nevertheless, America can make the decision an easier one by demonstrating continuing leadership in the region and by remaining actively involved as a partner through economic and commercial arrangements. The Indo-Pacific Transparency Initiative is a positive example of how Washington can act to increase the coherence and effectiveness of its engagement with the region. – The Daily Signal

Taro Hayashi writes: As repeatedly pointed out by the two countries, the Japan-US Alliance is stronger, broader, and more essential today than ever. […]Independent of the specific leadership of each nation, the two countries will continue to make the Alliance stronger, working hand-in-hand with like-minded partners around the world, and taking every measure to maintain the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region and the international community. – Hudson Institute

South Caucasus

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called for U.S. action on behalf of Armenia in ongoing clashes along its border with Azerbaijan. – The Hill

On November 17, 2020, Armenian expert Yeghia Tashjian published an article, titled “Russia And The Future Status of Shushi,” in the Armenian media outlet Armenian Weekly. In his article, Tashjian asserted that, despite Turkish and Azerbaijani media celebration of the Russia-brokered armistice in Artsakh, also known as Nagorno-Karabakh, as a victory, the reality seems to be quite different. – Middle East Media Research Institute

Iulia-Sabina Joja and Ryan Olson write: The relationship between the U.S. and Georgia has stayed strong throughout Republican and Democrat administrations. As Pompeo prepares for his visit to Tbilisi, he should be pleased with his own administration’s efforts to reinforce America’s alliance with Georgia and other Black Sea nations. […]Pompeo should take this opportunity to consolidate President’s Trump’s legacy by reinforcing America’s commitment to Georgian security and laying the foundations for further economic integration. – Middle East Institute


A former Army officer spied on the United States for more than a decade, providing Russians with sensitive information, prosecutors said. His treachery could land him in prison for life. – New York Times 

A Russian lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party has proposed two pieces of legislation that would further restrict citizens’ rights to assembly. – Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty 

Tom Rogan writes: Predictably, Putin has taken the latter option. According to the FSB, there is no evidence that Novichok was used. This is a laughable falsity, but it does indicate the true gall of the Russian security state. Unless deterred by counter-threat or retaliatory action, it recognizes no boundary spare that which Putin sets (or that Putin lets Ramzan Kadyrov do instead). – Washington Examiner 

Anders Aslund writes: Russia has become a kleptocracy under President Vladimir Putin. As a consequence, Russia’s foreign policy has become more aggressive. Putin has outsourced much of foreign policy to Russian business, allowing the Kremlin to benefit from their entrepreneurial ingenuity, save money and keep a cloak of plausible deniability. […]The West’s best defense against Russian subversion is to demand full transparency, revealing all dark money. – The Hill

Mathieu Boulègue writes: Benefiting from many well-identified drivers of influence and control over Belarus, Russia now seems poised to keep a weakened Lukashenka in place, at least until he no longer serves his new purpose of allowing the Kremlin to (re)position Russian networks and prepare for an eventual managed transition of power. […]Belarus also represents a testing ground for Putin and the Kremlin elite ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, if not a potentially dangerous harbinger of things to come. – Center for European Policy Analysis


In remarks to the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) on Wednesday, European Parliament President David Sassoli urged unity in the fight against religious discrimination. – Algemeiner 

A Polish judge critical of the ruling nationalists’ judiciary reforms had his immunity from prosecution removed on Wednesday by a disciplinary chamber the EU says is not independent, underlining a rift over the rule of law that has left the country at odds with the bloc. – Reuters

Polish authorities said on Wednesday a former secret service agent and a Chinese citizen who worked for a telecommunications company have been charged with spying for China. – Reuters

British counter-terrorism police said on Wednesday they had arrested a man over the 1974 pub bombings in the city of Birmingham which killed 21 people, the deadliest attack on the British mainland in 30 years of Northern Irish violence. – Reuters

The former leader of Britain’s Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, will not be restored as a Labour Member of Parliament (MP) after he undermined efforts to tackle anti-Semitism, the current Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Wednesday. – Reuters

Boris Johnson will announce an extra 16.5 billion pounds ($22 billion) in defense spending over the next four years, as he tries to boost U.K. influence and counter growing threats from cyber and space warfare. – Bloomberg

Ireland is the EU member with the most to lose from Brexit, yet it also has the ear of powerful American allies who could make life difficult for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he seeks to strengthen transatlantic economic ties. – Bloomberg

The U.K. and Canada are on the brink of signing a new trade agreement to replace the existing deal Britain has through European Union membership. – Bloomberg

European Union leaders could push ahead with a post-Covid recovery fund without Poland and Hungary as a last resort if they refuse to drop their veto, a French official said. – Bloomberg

Andreas Kluth writes: In a sense, language is similar to race. Scientifically, both concepts mean nothing concrete and evolve over time. And yet both have explosive political potential. The tragedy is that all too often they divide people for no good reason. So in the spirit of European integration and harmony — that’s the point of the EU after all — here’s a modest proposal to Sofia and Skopje: Please drop the quarreling and keep talking. After all, you understand each other. – Bloomberg

Katia Glod writes: Belarus is undergoing a deep political crisis. It faces a prolonged period of uncertainty. Lukashenka’s regime has the potential to maintain control in the short run. However, in the long run it will be unable to suppress the wide-ranging social transformations that have taken hold. […]The West must come out strongly in support of Belarusian society. By doing so, it would not only stay faithful to its own values and principles but also help the people of Belarus build the kind of future that would benefit it — a future that would help strengthen peace and prosperity in Europe. – Center for European Policy Analysis

Corina Rebegea writes: Finally, both the EU and the United States need to work better together in promoting democratic standards in aspirant members of NATO and the EU, as well as in other regions further afield. […]A healthy liberal world order hinges on a transatlantic consensus on democratic rules of the road. If Western allies can’t get their act together, Russia and China will have license to shape the world in their authoritarian image. – Center for European Policy Analysis


A new framework to resolve debt crises in developing countries, meant to ensure that Chinese and private creditors share the burden of providing relief, faces a key test after Zambia became the first African nation to default during the coronavirus pandemic. – Wall Street Journal

From makeshift shelters in refugee camps here, just across the border from Ethiopia, refugees recounted what they saw while fleeing an escalating conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. – Washington Post 

Ethiopia said on Wednesday peacekeepers from its Tigray region serving in Somalia had been disarmed over a security issue, raising concerns over the forces’ ability to fight al Qaeda-linked militants. – Reuters

Malawi police arrested pastor and businessman Shepard Bushiri on Wednesday after he skipped bail in South Africa and fled to his home country, law enforcement agents said. – Reuters

Officials from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray state delivered a grim assessment of the devastation wrought by two weeks of fighting with the federal government. – Bloomberg

Ethiopia has issued arrest warrants for 76 army officers accused of being linked to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Forces loyal to that party are fighting the government in the restive Tigray region. – BBC 

Both sides in Ethiopia’s raging internal conflict claimed military successes on Wednesday, creating a muddied picture of fighting even as the government promised it would soon be over. – Agence France-Presse 

Bobby Ghosh writes: With other regions closely following the outcome of the confrontation, the prime minister will be loath to show leniency. Reports suggest his government has sacked or suspended scores of Tigrayans from positions in the bureaucracy and military. This purging will likely deepen the northerners’ determination to fight on, and force the Nobel laureate even further into ignobleness. – Bloomberg

Judd Devermont writes: A failure to reimagine official visits by African leaders will mark a missed opportunity to boost stagnant trade and investment, reinvigorate cultural ties with the United States, and compete with U.S. adversaries who are more apt to shower African counterparts with high-level attention. […]While the pandemic paused diplomatic travel, the United States has an opportunity to reimagine its planning of official visits and return to a remarkable legacy of escorting African leaders across the country once travel restrictions lift. – Center for Strategic and International Studies

The Americas

After years of bending to the demands of the Trump administration, including dispatching agents to block the flow of migrants, Mexico’s president had a request of his own. He wanted Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, a former Mexican defense minister charged by the United States with drug trafficking, returned to Mexico. – Washington Post 

Mexico’s former defense minister arrived back in the country Wednesday night after a U.S. judge dismissed drug-trafficking and corruption charges against him at the request of U.S. prosecutors, who said the unusual move was motivated by foreign-policy concerns and driven by Attorney General William Barr. – Wall Street Journal

Washington has its first ambassador for Venezuela in a decade despite the U.S. having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed Wednesday by a U.S. Senate voice vote. – Associated Press

Mexico’s government warned the U.S. it didn’t want foreign agents on its soil after its former defense minister was arrested in Los Angeles without the country’s knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter. – Bloomberg

Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lambasted the Trump administration Wednesday over its decision to release a former Mexican defense secretary accused of drug trafficking. – The Hill

Canada on Wednesday identified state-sponsored programs in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as major cyber crime threats for the first time, and said it feared foreign actors could try to disrupt power supplies. – Reuters

Canada’s opposition on Wednesday called on Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to get tougher on China, including by officially banning Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s 5G technology from being used in the country. – Reuters

The former Mexican defense chief accused by federal prosecutors of helping a cartel move thousands of kilograms of drugs into the U.S. will fly back to his home country unscathed by the U.S. justice system, a judge ruled Wednesday, accepting a stunning request by Attorney General William Barr to reverse course in a prosecution that had heightened tension between the two countries and infuriated some investigators who worked on the case. – The Daily Beast 

Ryan Berg and Allison Schwartz write: Forging better relationships with Latin America is perhaps the lowest-hanging fruit in US foreign policy for the next administration. A foreign policy with little appetite for engaging with Latin America has left certain parts of the Western Hemisphere dangerously open to Chinese influence. There are significant openings in the region to accrue soft power—a successful vaccine distribution campaign representing a particularly impactful opportunity. – The Hill

United States

A federal judge sentenced an Ottawa man to more than four years in prison Tuesday after he was found guilty of threatening an FBI task force officer and others in Chicago’s first jury trial after the start of the coronavirus pandemic. – Chicago Sun-Times 

A Senate investigation into Hunter Biden and his business dealings in China and other countries released new findings that a pair of leading GOP senators said bolsters allegations of problems involving President-elect Joe Biden’s son. – Washington Examiner 

Outgoing US President Donald Trump has made no plans to host a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies after canceling a June gathering because of the COVID-19 pandemic, three diplomatic sources said on Wednesday. – Reuters 

Arizona’s top election official Katie Hobbs said on Wednesday she faced escalating threats of violence over the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential election, and blamed President Donald Trump for spreading misinformation to undermine trust in the results. – Reuters

Claudia Rosett writes: Under the protracted WHO withdrawal process, America is still a member, with a seat on the WHO executive board, through mid-2021. As chief donor to the WHO since its inception, the U.S., if it returns, would resume contributing roughly $450 million a year, plus substantial expertise and technical support. If the WHO has any integrity left, inviting Taiwan’s participation and waving off Mr. Tedros to a comfortable retirement would be a healthy price to pay for America’s return. – Wall Street Journal


Democrats and some Republicans are up in arms over President Trump’s decision to fire Christopher Krebs, the nation’s top cybersecurity official, arguing it leaves a major hole in leadership and that it was completely without cause. – The Hill

The Senate this week unanimously passed bipartisan legislation designed to boost the cybersecurity of internet-connected devices. – The Hill

A top CISA official sent a note late Tuesday reassuring employees that President Donald Trump’s firing of CISA Director Chris Krebs would not dissuade the agency from its mission of protecting U.S. computer networks, including helping to defend election systems. – Politico 

President Trump‘s decision to fire top cybersecurity official Chris Krebs likely will not damage the nation’s cyberdefense as much as cybervillains might hope, according to leading cybersecurity experts. – Washington Times

The fired head of the U.S. government’s cybersecurity agency emphasized on Wednesday that he had never claimed there was zero fraud in the 2020 election. – Washington Examiner 

Rob Knake writes: As Congress looks to rebuild the economy following the pandemic, federal funding to modernize and secure state IT infrastructure should be a top priority. Given that state coffers have been nearly emptied by the pandemic, federal support is essential. As part of the next round of financial stimulus, Congress must include significant funds to reinvigorate state IT spending to modernize and secure these vital systems. – The Hill


The House on Wednesday voted to formally enter into negotiations with the Senate over a massive defense policy bill that would require Confederate names to be stripped from military bases and other Pentagon property. – The Hill

The compromise of defense secrets remains a growing problem and the war on terror has limited the Pentagon’s ability to conduct effective counterintelligence, according to a report by the Defense Science Board. – Washington Times

Miller, a former Green Beret and counterterrorism professional, has been unexpectedly vaulted from midlevel National Security Council desk officer to Pentagon chief in under a year. Now, Miller is looking to use his position to make quick policy changes that incoming President Joe Biden is unlikely to overturn before the clock runs out on the Trump administration in late January. – Politico 

The Navy has “full confidence we can ramp up” to building three attack submarines per year if the Navy buildup proposed by former Defense Secretary Mark Esper were to be enacted, despite ongoing delays in Block IV Virginia-class construction, the program executive officer for submarines said today. – USNI News

The U.S. Army’s tactical network acquisition office released a solicitation Nov. 16 for an $850 million contract for its new encryption device to protect the joint network. – C4ISRNET

Initially anticipated in August 2020, the U.S. Space Force now expects to award a contract for management of its relatively new prototyping organization — the Space Enterprise Consortium — by the end of the year, according to the head of the Space and Missile Systems Center. – C4ISRNET

But even as military leaders express hope that AI can give their forces the edge on the battlefield, there’s growing recognition that these algorithms can potentially introduce unintended biases into military systems. – C4ISRNET

Despite increasing coronavirus cases in the U.S., the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer on Wednesday sounded a note of confidence that defense companies would remain open throughout the winter and keep weapons production on track. – Defense News

Jeff Phillips writes: Yet there is risk here: Some of the current solutions being explored to enable distributed work environments — most notably mobile-based MFA — are plagued by security, cost and user experience concerns when utilized in a remote working environment. […]As the DoD continues to try to find the right answer when it comes to secure and efficient MFA technology, it should give a second look to some of the PKI devices out there that it has already approved for use on its systems. These technologies are proven to be secure and can be scaled rapidly to meet demand. – C4ISRNET

Missile Defense

The Navy in recent weeks has demonstrated an ability to resupply its ballistic missile submarines at sea using a range of manned and unmanned aircraft, testing their ability to keep the boomers on their stealthy nuclear deterrent patrols without coming to a port. – USNI News

The Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) program, which is carried out by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) and the Navy, gives Navy Aegis cruisers and destroyers a capability for conducting BMD operations. BMD-capable Aegis ships operate in European waters to defend Europe from potential ballistic missile attacks from countries such as Iran, and in in the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf to provide regional defense against potential ballistic missile attacks from countries such as North Korea and Iran. – USNI News

Dr. Michaela Dodge writes: Calls for the United States to stop nuclear weapons modernization as a solution to prevent an arms race tend to assume that if the United States stops its nuclear weapons modernization, others will stop their programs because they will not be compelled to respond to U.S. steps. History shows that there is very little empirical evidence for this proposition. In fact, quite the contrary. – War on the Rocks 

Long War

The American-trained Somali commando force Danab is usually deployed to counter the Qaeda-linked group Al Shabab: liberating areas it controls, ending its attacks on government offices and beachside restaurants, and targeting senior Shabab operatives. – New York Times 

While France has indeed suffered from jihadi terror, some have noted that countries as varied as the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Spain, Belgium, Tunisia, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and many others have as well. France contributed the largest number of foreign fighters from Western Europe to ISIS, but statistically greater percentage contributions were from Belgium and Austria. – Middle East Media Research Institute 

Katherine Bauer and Matthew Levitt write: Trends toward increased jurisdictional distinction and funding in place in terrorist financing matter, but while specific tactics and procedures may have to be adjusted to deal with developments like self-funded lone-offender terrorists or protostate terrorists groups controlling territory, the underlying principles that have guided counter-terror finance strategies to date remain effective even in the face of these new challenges. – Washington Institute