SitRep: Staredown in South China Sea, Did Russia Hit its Own Chopper?
North Korea Goes Silent; One Retired General Refuses to Play Politics; and Lots More
Rough seas ahead. China’s claims to South China Sea are without legal merit, an international tribunal of judges decided Tuesday, dealing a major blow to Beijing’s insistence that it has special rights to the critical waterway. But do the Chinese care?
FP’s Keith Johnson and Dan De Luce write that the decision by the tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague “represents the first explicit, legal repudiation of China’s claims to the waters of the South China Sea, a territorial land grab that has in recent years soured relations between Beijing and many of its neighbors, especially the Philippines.” China has long refused to recognize the tribunal and has repeatedly said that it will ignore the decision, which is binding and not subject to appeal. And Beijing reacted quickly to the news. China’s defense ministry said its troops would “unswervingly safeguard state sovereignty, security, maritime rights and interests,” according to state broadcaster CCTV. FP has plenty more on the ruling and what might come next here.
The Hill responds. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Dan Sullivan (R-Ak.) released a statement early Tuesday calling on the U.S. military to keep at it in the South China Sea. “In light of the findings of this ruling, we expect that the United States military will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as we have done in the Western Pacific for more than a century. This includes regularly challenging China’s excessive maritime claims and maintaining a persistent presence of surface combatants and rotational aviation assets inside the first-island chain.”
Hello? Hard on the heels of North Korea’s threat of a “physical response” to the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea on Monday, Pyongyang announced another choice move designed to turn up the heat: severing its only diplomatic link with Washington at the United Nations in New York.
FP’s John Hudson reports that the U.N. mission has for years served as a channel for the two countries to communicate, but now, Pyongyang will “totally cut off” communication with the U.S. mission in the U.N., according to the foreign ministry. “The provocative measure,” Hudson writes, “which comes ahead of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises in the region, could increase the chances of a military flare up on the peninsula. Experts also said it would dramatically complicate efforts to negotiate the release of two American citizens detained by North Korea.”
General order. Earlier this year, Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly retired after nearly 46 years of service spanning Vietnam to Iraq, and as FP’s Molly O’Toole tells us, he isn’t about to jump into the political fray any time soon.
O’Toole recently sat down with the retired general, who in contrast to other recent retirees — like Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who is being considered as Donald Trump’s running mate — Kelly decried the “cesspool of domestic politics,” though he said he would be open to possibly serving in either a Republican or Democratic administration. Whomever wins, he added, “will be in desperate need — and I mean desperate need — of military and foreign policy advice, because the world out there is just getting crazier and crazier.”
On a plane. Defense Secretary Ash Carter landed in Kabul, Afghanistan Tuesday to meet with American and NATO commanders there, just days after President Barack Obama decided to keep 8,400 troops there into 2017. Last week in Brussels, Carter met with Afghan officials, including President Ashraf Ghani at an annual NATO summit.
Chopper flap. It looks like Russia may have lied about the recent downing of a helicopter in Syria, which killed two of its pilots. The Washington Post reports that the downed helicopter filmed by the Islamic State this week was an Mi-35M, not an Mi-25 as Russia claimed. The advanced Mi-35M is used only by Russian forces and the claims of about the chopper being an Mi-25 on a training mission appear to be an attempt to conceal the level of Russia’s direct involvement in the fighting in Syria since it’s announced withdrawal of some troops and equipment in March.
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Turn down for what
North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program is keeping busy, according to new satellite imagery. 38 North looked at recent images of the North’s nuclear test site at Punggye-ri and found signs of increased activity at the facility’s north portal. Just what that activity means is hard to say, as it could imply anything ranging from maintenance to prep work for another nuclear test. At a minimum, though, the snaps show that Pyongyang is keeping the site warm just in case.
Things might be looking a little dodgy for the Brits these days, but London is soothing some of the pain by announcing a $2.3 billion deal to buy 50 AH-64E Apache helicopters from Boeing for the army. The Brits’ choppers will roll off the production line in 2020 and enter service two years after that. As part of the deal, the U.S. will kick five percent of subcontracts on the Apache deal to British firms. Separately, the U.K. also announced it will buy nine P-8A maritime patrol aircraft for $3 billion.
The Islamic State
Intelligence officials tell CNN that they’ve netted a haul of intelligence on the Islamic State’s plans for terrorist attacks around the world thanks to captured documents seized by U.S.-backed Syrian fighters. The officials say the jihadist group has been planning to shift to carrying out terrorist attacks against soft targets in the west for some time. “It’s not a sign of weakness or desperation,” one official tells the cable news channel, “They are adapting in a different way.” That picture has been brought into clearer focus by documents and digital media seized in raids carried out by the Syrian Arab Coalition.
No drama Akhundzada
It’s early into the emirship of the new Taliban leader Mawlawi Haibatullah Akhundzada, but so far he’s proving himself something of a mild-mannered peacemaker — at least within the ranks of the militant group. Akhundzada’s predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, responded to the fractious politics of the post-Mullah Omar Taliban by trying to unite the group with an iron hand. Haibatullah, by contrast, appears to have a more sotto voce approach, ceding authority to the Taliban’s shura council and building influence through his religious credentials.
Israel has carried out drone strikes on militants in Egypt’s Sinai province with the permission of the Egyptian government, according to a scoop from Bloomberg. The two countries have experienced a renaissance in relations since the ouster of Islamist former president Mohammed Morsi by current President Gen. Abdel Fattah El Sisi, and the two countries regularly cooperate and share intelligence on the growing terrorist threat in Sinai. An anonymous former Israeli official tells the outlet that the Israeli strikes in Egypt have been “numerous.”
The Assad regime is capturing strategic territory in Damascus and Aleppo, according to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Aaron Lund. A renewed offensive in Aleppo by the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian allies, begun in late June, has cut off the last remaining major rebel supply route to the city. Assad’s forces have also begun to chip away at rebel enclaves surrounding the capital, squeezing and starving the city of Darayya to the west, signing an evacuation agreement with jihadist groups in Yarmouk to the south, and inching further into the Jaish al-Islam stronghold in East Ghouta.
Do androids dream of electric stingrays?
We’ve been waiting what feels like forever for science to finally get around to inventing a stingray rat robot that follows light pulses, and finally, mercifully, that day is upon us. The New York Times reports that Harvard scientists have created a stingray-like robot out of a rat’s heart cells and some clever genetic splicing. The robot responds to blue flashing light, which can be used to lead the creature around like a cat with a laser pointer.
Tweet of the day
Ceasefire, Marines, Pikachu is on the range.
Photo Credit: Xinhua/Zha Chunming via Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary