Ian Bremmer on Russia

What has Putin really won? Today’s Russia has an economy smaller than that of Canada. Its entire military budget is less than the extra money President Donald Trump wants Congress to spend on U.S. defense. It has no NATO allies, and it counts countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Serbia among its few reliable friends. China makes occasional deals with Russia but only at a Chinese price.

You can read the rest at Time here.

Trump Makes Over $80 Billion in Major Arms Deals in First Year

A report released today by the Security Assistance Monitor (SAM) program of the Center for International Policy documents over $80 billion in U.S. arms sales notifications to Congress during the Trump Administration’s first year in office. The Trump Administration total of $82.2 billion for 2017 slightly exceeded the Obama Administration’s total of $76.5 billion for 2016, and was more than $20 billion less than the peak year of the Obama Administration’s major arms sales offers in 2010.

 

The rest can be read here.

The Education of Kim Jong-Un

North Korea is what we at the CIA called “the hardest of the hard targets.” A former CIA analyst once said that trying to understand North Korea is like working on a “jigsaw puzzle when you have a mere handful of pieces and your opponent is purposely throwing pieces from other puzzles into the box.” The North Korean regime’s opaqueness, self-imposed isolation, robust counterintelligence practices, and culture of fear and paranoia provided at best fragmentary information.

Here is another bit.

That left Jong-un, whom the elder Kim chose to be the third Kim to lead North Korea because he was the most aggressive of his children. Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong-il’s former sushi chef, who visited Pyongyang at the request of Kim Jong-un, has provided some of the most fascinating firsthand observations about Jong-un and his relationship with his father. Fujimoto claims that Jong-il had chosen his youngest son to succeed him as early as 1992, citing as evidence the scene at Jong-un’s ninth birthday banquet where Jong-il instructed the band to play “Footsteps” and dedicated the song to his son: Tramp, tramp, tramp; The footsteps of our General Kim; Spreading the spirit of February [a reference to Kim Jong-il, who was born in February]; We, the people, march forward to a bright future. Judging from the lyrics, Jong-il was expecting Kim Jong-un to lead North Korea into the future, guided by the spirit and legacy of his father.

It is a Brookings Paper. You can read the rest here.

Balancing in the Pacific

The NYT has a piece titled “How China is Challenging American Dominance in Asia” which discusses the current state of Pacific politics.

You can’t really pull from it so I’ll just provide the link. Highly recommended.

George Will on Afghanistan

Quoting from the much discussed Steve Coll’s book, “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pak­istan,” Will writes,

…when Gen. Stanley McChrystal went to Afghanistan in May 2002, “A senior Army officer in Washington told him, ‘Don’t build [Bondsteels],’ referring to the NATO base in [Kosovo] that Rumsfeld saw as a symbol of peacekeeping mission creep. The officer warned McChrystal against ‘anything here that looks permanent. . . . We are not staying long.’ As McChrystal took the lay of the land, ‘I felt like we were high-school students who had wandered into a Mafia-owned bar.’ ” It has been a learning experience. After blowing up tunnels — some almost as long as a football field — thought to be created by and for terrorists, U.S. officials learned they were actually an ancient irrigation system.

You can read the rest here.

‘President for life’ Xi risks repeat of China’s Mao-era mistake.

The warning is from Cary Huang and here is one bit

However, relying on the strongman model is risky, both for Xi himself and the country. It puts the steering wheel of the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy in the hands of one person, spelling danger when that helmsman gets old or ill – as was seen in Mao’s later days. The model makes it harder for Xi to avoid misjudgments and policy mistakes as few will dare to speak out. Removing term limits will help prevent future challenges to Xi’s authority and legitimacy, but the resurgence of strongman politics could intensify internal power struggles as factions will compete for the powers and resources once shared among all.

You can read the rest here.

The current state of al-Qaeda.

The successive killings in 2011 and 2012 of Osama bin Laden; Anwar al-Awlaki, the movement’s chief propagandist; and Abu Yahya al-Libi, its second-in-command, lent new weight to the optimists’ predictions that al-Qaeda was a spent force. In retrospect, however, it appears that al-Qaeda was among the regional forces that benefited most from the Arab Spring’s tumult. Seven years later, Ayman al-Zawahiri has emerged as a powerful leader, with a strategic vision that he has systematically implemented. Forces loyal to al-Qaeda and its affiliates now number in the tens of thousands, with a capacity to disrupt local and regional stability, as well as launch attacks against their declared enemies in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Russia. Indeed, from northwestern Africa to southeastern Asia, al-Qaeda has knit together a global movement of more than two dozen franchises. In Syria alone, al-Qaeda now has upwards of twenty thousand men under arms, and it has perhaps another four thousand in Yemen and about seven thousand in Somalia.

The author is Bruce Hoffman and you can read the rest here.

Germany to expand global military missions

The German government wants to extend six military missions, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Mali. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen pushed for more Bundeswehr interventions, but not everyone backs the move.

You can read more here.

The seen and the unseen with steel tariffs.

We’ve seen this before. In 2002, President George W. Bush implemented his own steel tariffs. As expected, the taxes jacked up the price of domestic steel and temporarily boosted the industry’s profits. Steel-consuming industries, however, weren’t so lucky. According to an estimatefrom the nonpartisan Trade Partnership Worldwide, a staggering 200,000 people lost their jobs in downstream industries by the following year. That’s more workers than the entire steel industry had at the time.

The author is Veronique de Rugy and the rest can be found in the NYT.

Russia and Status

The WAPO David Ignatius has an interesting piece discussing what motivates Putin and his belligerence.

On a deeper level, Putin’s speech was a plea for attention by a leader who sees himself avenging his nation’s humiliation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Despite Putin’s wounded, chip-on-the-shoulder posture, this struck me as the core of his address, and worth a well-considered response.

 

The crux of Putin’s argument is that Russia was ignored during its years of weakness and is only taken seriously now because it looks threatening. Putin recounted that before he took power, “the military equipment of the Russian army was becoming obsolete, and the armed forces were in a sorry state.” With the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said, “the nation had lost 23.8 percent of its territory, 48.5 percent of its population, 41 percent of its gross domestic product and 44.6 percent of its military capability.

 

“Nobody really wanted to talk to us about the core of the problem [of the nuclear-weapons balance], and nobody wanted to listen to us. So listen now,” he demanded.

You can read the rest here.