For Syria, a deal with teeth? The U.S. is “prepared to the explore the possibility” of “joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on the ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance,” SecState Rex Tillerson said Wednesday at Joint Base Andrews, before departing for Europe. Tillerson will soon join POTUS Trump, who flew to Poland this morning ahead of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the upcoming G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on Friday. (Afterward, Tillerson will travel to Ukraine and Turkey, the Washington Post reports.)
Tillerson: “At this point it’s very difficult to say what Russia’s intentions are in this relationship. And I think that’s the most important part of this meeting, is to have a good exchange between President Trump and President Putin over what they both see as the nature of this relationship between our two countries.”
Tillerson also called Russia “a guarantor of the Assad regime and an early entrant into the Syrian conflict,” this latter claim being a bit puzzling, considering Russia formally joined the Syrian civil war in September 2015—four and a half years after the uprising began.
As well, he pointed out, “Russia also has an obligation to prevent any further use of chemical weapons of any kind by the Assad regime.” Read his statement in full, here.
Assessing Russia’s interests in Syria. The New York Times follows up a recent story from Russian news Fontanka about a deal struck in December between Damascus and a new Russian energy firm, Evro Polis. The deal would ship “a 25 percent share of oil and natural gas produced on territory it captures from the Islamic State” to Evro Polis—which happens to be “cooperating with a shadowy Russian private security group called Wagner, which American sanctions suggest has also provided contract soldiers to the war in Ukraine.” Story, here.
For what it’s worth: Russia recently fired some more cruise missiles allegedly on ISIS positions inside Syria. Video from the Russian MoD, here.
Also in Syria: A Turkish-directed, Free Syrian Army-aligned “Kurdish Salvation Movement” has emerged, Middle East scholar Charles Lister noted Wednesday. The group was actually created four months ago, Lister said. “The durable expansion of [Kurdish] PYD/YPG influence in northern Syria has already spawned several anti-YPG groups—this is just the latest.”
Before we leave the region, take time to bookmark and read this interview with Turkish President Recep Erdogan—who talks about dictators, freedom and assimilation, among many other topics—by Germany’s Zeit. He also talks about Turkey’s relationship with Qatar. He also says interviewing a terrorist makes the interviewer a terrorist. All fairly standard fare from Erdogan; but you can check it out for yourself, here.
From Defense One
The Israeli Military is Buying Copter Drones With Machine Guns // Patrick Tucker: A breakthrough in drone design gives a glimpse into the future of urban warfare.
North Korea Just Called Trump’s Bluff. Here’s What the US Can Do // Joe Cirincione: Now that Kim Jong-Un has an ICBM, it’s time for ‘the least of the bad options.’
At Trump-Putin Meeting, Start with New START // Kingston Reif and Maggie Tennis: If the treaty is allowed to disappear, so will the Pentagon’s best tools for divining facts about the Russian nuclear arsenal.
How Poland Sets Trump Up for Success With Putin // Jacqueline Ramos: Trump’s Poland visit could give the American president a strong message – and momentum – for his Putin meeting later this week.
What Did North Korea’s Missile Test Really Change? // Mark Bowden: When potential death tolls are unthinkably high, it’s like multiplying infinity.
Welcome to Thursday’s edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. #OTD1947: The AK-47 assault rifle goes into production. Have something you want to share? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (And if you’re reading this on our website, consider subscribing. It’s free.)
On the Korean peninsula, “Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea said Wednesday. That’s in a longer piece from the NYTs on Washington’s pursuit of how to deal with North Korea now that it appears to have an ICBM to go with its proven nuclear capability.
In Tokyo, meanwhile, they’re consider buying the U.S.-made THAAD anti-missile system, the Times reported Wednesday. “Another option, known as Aegis Ashore, is similar to what Japan already deploys aboard naval destroyers.” More here.
At the UN on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley promised to “introduce a new Security Council resolution within days to tighten and expand economic and diplomatic sanctions in response to North Korea’s ICBM launch,” The Wall Street Journal reports. But hold your horses, because “Russia and China formed a united front against the U.S. and its allies, saying they would strongly oppose new sanctions or military action, and offering a joint plan that called for dialogue and a parallel halt in military operations and exercises by all parties, including the U.S., in the Korean Peninsula… Ms. Haley fired back, indicating the U.S. would be willing to put the resolution to a vote even in the absence of a consensus, an unusual move in a diplomatic body that usually takes care to coordinate texts of resolutions behind closed doors to appear united.”
Notes the Journal: “Both Russia and China have veto power, as permanent members of the Security Council, and hold considerable sway over North Korea.” More here.
Pyongyang’s reax: We’re not backing down. North Korea “would neither put its nukes and ballistic rockets on the table of negotiations in any case nor flinch even an inch from the road of bolstering the nuclear force chosen by itself unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated,” state media said Wednesday. More from the Associated Press, here.
ICYMI: North Korea’s new missile “has a theoretical range of about 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles), if the missile was shot at a more standard trajectory than Tuesday’s test,” a U.S. defense official told CNN on Wednesday. “At that range, a North Korean missile could potentially strike Alaska.”
Reminder: “North Korea has positioned as many as 8,000 artillery cannons and rocket launchers on its side of the Demilitarized Zone, analysts say, an arsenal capable of raining up to 300,000 rounds on the South in the first hour of a counterattack,” the Times reported separately Wednesday.
And the numbers: “According to a study by the Nautilus Institute, 60,000 fatalities are projected “in the first full day of a surprise artillery attack on military targets around Seoul, the majority in the first three hours. Casualty estimates for an attack on the civilian population are much higher, with some studies projecting more than 300,000 dead in the opening days. The Seoul metropolitan government says there are nearly 3,300 bomb shelters in the city, enough to accommodate all 10 million of its residents.”
In quietly alarming European nuclear news, Britain or France can legally base nuclear warheads on German soil, according to a recent review commissioned by the German Parliament, NYT’s Max Fisher reported Wednesday. “The German assessment comes after months of discussion in Berlin over whether Europe can still rely on American security assurances, which President Trump has called into question. Some have called for considering, as a replacement, a pan-European nuclear umbrella of existing French and British warheads… While the review is only an endorsement of the plan’s legality — not a determination to take action — it is the first indication that such an idea has escalated from informal discussion to official policy-making channels.” Story, here.
Counter-cyber ops go kinetic in Ukraine. Kiev’s national police shared video Wednesday of a recent raid on a software company’s offices in a search related to the Petya ransomware cyber attacks that began in Ukraine and spread globally in late June. There are a couple silly details to note in the video, and you can read over some of those, here.
The Trump administration’s attempt to gather the nation’s voter data has national-security implications, says former DHS head Michael Chertoff in a WaPo oped. Namely, it may put all that information — hotly sought by foreign hackers — in one targetable database. How will it be secured? And is the risk worth the ostensible purpose of searching for widespread voter fraud for which there is otherwise no evidence? Read on, here.
Lastly today: an azimuth check on patriotism in the U.S.—so that we may avoid a particularly toxic kind of disillusionment today. It comes to us via former U.S. Marine Corps public affairs officer—and National Book Award-winner—Phil Klay, who read this feisty July 3 op-ed in the NYTs from Duke philosophy professor, Alex Rosenberg. A taste of that: “American exceptionalism is at best an innocent mistake that uninformed patriotism makes difficult to surrender.”
Replies Klay—excerpted in full from his Twitter thread: “This article reminds me that pure cynicism about our country is as naive, and as dangerous, as pure idealism. One could look at history and see nothing but brutal power struggles, every seemingly principled word ever uttered mere hypocrisy. This is standard fare for those who think they’re the first people to ever see with moral clarity. The other way is to look at history and see horribly flawed humans periodically lit by sparks of grace, moral purpose and heroism, and to see one’s role in that history as trying to fan those sparks into a flame. For myself, I have to pick the latter course.
“I have to have faith in the project, so that I can fight for it. My patriotism stems from a belief in the ideals of this nation, always present despite our perpetual betrayal of those values. This is the America Frederick Douglass drew encouragement from: ‘the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions.’ I follow Ralph Ellison in considering America as an ‘abstract, futuristic nation,’ one not realized in a set of borders or an ethnically demarcated people defined by their roots in blood and soil, but in its commitment to a set of ‘sacred words’ which we are forever eating, regurgitating, and eating again.
“To me, to be American is to fight for the realization of these abstract principles in our reality. The notion that our history provides us no moral foundation from which we can build seems like a progressive stance, alert to the evils of America, but it’s really an enervating bit of puffery mainly useful to those who’d turn their backs on even the pretense of morality in politics. The president famously defended Vladimir Putin’s brutality by arguing ‘You think our country’s so innocent?’ National security advisor H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, recently wrote an op-ed claiming, ‘the world is not a “global community” but an arena [to] engage and compete for advantage.’ Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently argued that American values should have diminished influence in our foreign policy. ‘Our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated – those are our values,’ he said. ‘Those are not our policies.’
“If there’s nothing redeemable about the U.S., nothing we can salvage from our history, what’s left but pure transactionalism?
“If we ignore the tremendous power of the ideals this country has spent the past few centuries advancing, betraying, and arguing over, we ignore the best tools we have to fight for a more just country.” You can follow Phil Klay on Twitter, here.