Germany, Again, Calls on U.S. to Answer Spying Accusations

The revelations come after previous WikiLeaks revelations suggesting extensive American spying on European allies.


The South China Sea is now a ‘core interest’ of Beijing — and that’s a problem for its neighbors

China navy PLAChina’s aggressive posture toward the South China Sea has been stirring tensions in the region, and a new national security law suggests that Beijing is just getting started.

The new law calls for security to be maintained in all fields, including culture, education, and cyberspace.

Moreover, as reported by The New York Times, the law’s passage indicates that there has also been a meaningful shift in how Chinese leaders view their country’s “core interests.”

In years past,  China’s core interests were believed to mean specific and limited territorial matters, such as those regarding Taiwan and Tibet, that the communist country determined to be internal matters.

The new law is reportedly an indication that the “core interests” have been stretched.

“In 2010, Chinese and foreign officials and scholars began debating whether the South China Sea was now a core interest,” The Times’ Beijing bureau chief Edward Wong writes.

Under the new definition … the term does encompass the South China Sea and any other sovereignty issues of importance to China (think Arunachal Pradesh in India, and the islands in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu).”

If the shipping channels and islands of the South China Sea are now counted as “core interests” by China, then it is likely to continue to push for greater control over the sea and the $5 trillion in shipping that passes through it each year.

south china seas

US officials, for their part, have repudiated China’s posture toward the region.

“As China seeks to make sovereign land out of sandcastles and redraw maritime boundaries, it is eroding regional trust and undermining investor confidence,” said US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late May.

In recent months, Chinese ships have clashed with vessels from Vietnam, with both governments naming the other as aggressor in several incidents. 

Spratly Islands

The Philippines has also reported confrontations with Chinese ships in disputed waters. China has accused the Philippines of escalating the situation.

“Certain countries are roping in countries from outside the region to get involved in the South China Sea issue … deliberately exaggerating the tense atmosphere …” Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Yang Yujun said in late June.

At the center of those disputed waters, land reclamation projects on the Spratly Islands, started by China last year, have begun to reach completion, producing 1,500 acres of land in just in 2015. 

“[China’s] behavior threatens to set a new precedent whereby larger countries are free to intimidate smaller ones, and that provokes tensions, instability and can even lead to conflict,” Blinken said.

China’s new security law will only amplify those concerns.

SEE ALSO: China is turning the tables on Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea dispute

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NOW WATCH: 11 facts that show how different China is from the rest of the world


Just How Strong Will China’s Military Be in 2025?

Robert Farley

Security, Asia

The big question Asia—and the world—needs an answer to.

The People’s Liberation Army and its constituent branches have undergone extraordinary change over the last fifteen years.  Doctrine, equipment, training, and strategic orientation have all evolved to the point that the PLA, the PLAN, and the PLAAF have become nearly unrecognizable from the vantage of the 1990s, when they used antiquated equipment, concentrated on making money rather than preparing to fight, and still looked for threats from the north rather than from the east.

The PLA has taken great steps forward over the past decade, just as it took great steps forward in the previous decade. What might it look like ten years from today?  What trends do we expect to continue?

Increased Operational Experience:

One area in which China remains dramatically behind the United States is in operational experience.  For good or (mostly) ill, the United States has embroiled itself in a series of “wars on terror” which have given its armed forces tremendous experience in the day-to-day execution of military force.  These wars have not, to be fair, allowed the military services of the United States to engage in high intensity combat against a peer competitor, but they have nevertheless illuminated key concepts, provided the opportunity for training under fire, and forced the various elements of the U.S. military machine to figure out how to work together. This is experiential, tacit knowledge, and it sets functional military organizations apart from ones that look good but have never been tested under fire.

The PLA lacks such hands on experience, and it’s not clear that China is planning to start an endless, pointless series of wars in order to acquire it. However, there’s little question that China has stepped up its efforts at building experiential knowledge through improving its realistic training procedures (China’s version of Red Flag) and by conducting more overseas deployments of air, land, and naval forces.

Increased Focus on Jointness:

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After Cuba: The Only 3 Countries That Have No Relations With the U.S.

On Wednesday, the United States and Cuba announced that they would reopen embassies in each other’s capitals, thus restoring diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961. The agreement doesn’t mean that Washington-Havana ties will go back to where they were before Fidel Castro’s revolution: Congress still maintains an economic embargo on the island, a policy that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. But the re-establishment of embassies, scheduled to occur on July 20, is nonetheless a major breakthrough in the long-acrimonious relationship between the two countries.

According to The New York Times, the overture to Cuba leaves just three countries with which the United States has no diplomatic relations. Two of these are easy enough to guess: Iran and North Korea. Washington severed ties with Tehran in 1980, months after Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy there and took 52 Americans hostage. U.S. ties with North Korea, meanwhile, have been fraught throughout the latter country’s existence, and have only grown worse since Kim Jong Un assumed control of the country in 2011.

But the third country is one with which the United States has no real dispute or grievance—or really much history of any kind. It’s the South Asian kingdom of Bhutan.

Bhutan is a landlocked nation around the size of Switzerland that’s situated in the Himalayan mountains between India and China. Since joining the United Nations in 1971, the country has maintained a Swiss-like aversion to foreign entanglements of any kind. The kingdom has no relations with any of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and only two states—Bangladesh and neighboring India—have embassies in Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu. Bhutan is so isolated that until 2007, it didn’t even conduct its own foreign policy—India took care of it for them.

In spite of its retreat from the rest of the world, Bhutan is not free of contentious relations. The kingdom has a long-running border dispute with China, which claims roughly 10 percent of Bhutanese territory as its own, and the Chinese government is eager to include Thimphu in its sphere of influence. So far, however, Bhutan has kept its distance: The country recently declined to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Beijing-led rival to the World Bank. Bhutan’s resistance to China has led some analysts to speculate that the United States should seize the opportunity to formalize relations with the kingdom, a newly consolidated democracy.

But Bhutan’s leaders just don’t see any reason to get closer to the United States. In 2011, Jigmi Yoser Thinley, Bhutan’s then-Prime Minister, told the Bhutanese News Agency that “there was a time when diplomatic relations signified one’s position vis-à-vis conflicting powers, choosing sides. It’s no longer the case.”

The United States also appears to be satisfied with the status quo. In January, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Tshering Tobgay, Bhutan’s prime minister, at a regional summit in Ahmedabad, India, the first-ever meeting between America’s top diplomat and a Bhutanese leader. The talks were apparently warm and productive, but “establishing diplomatic relationship was not a subject of the conversation,” said Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal.

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The case for a European super-state

Greece right now is facing two terrible choices, which Greek voters must choose between in a national referendum on Sunday. Choice one is accept European lenders’ latest terms for keeping the bail-out going, which would require Greece to maintain many of the austerity policies that have created a humanitarian crisis there, and beg European leaders to honor those terms. Choice two is reject the terms, likely forcing their country to default on its debts and possibly ending with Greece leaving the Euro.

Either choice is bad for Greece and its citizens, and bad for the Eurozone.

There’s a third choice. It’s not going to happen. The Greek people don’t want it to happen, and the northern Europeans lending Greece money really don’t want it to happen. But it would be much better for Greece and the world than a Greek exit would be.

This third choice is simple: make the European Union more like the United States.

What European statehood would mean

International Charlemagne Prize Of Aachen 2015

Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who’d really need to step his game up if Europe got statehood.

There’s a tension in the way that the European Union is set up. It has a lot of the responsibilities of a state, such as managing migration and trade policy, and some of the institutions of one. But it doesn’t have the power of one, and that tension is part of how the Greece debt crisis got so bad.

The vast majority of spending in Europe is done by individual countries rather than by the EU as an institution. There’s a common EU policy on sales taxes, but those taxes are still collected by member states. There’s a joint European defense policy and a European peacekeeping force, but no European military.

The EU also has a ways to go before becoming a true democracy. The European Parliament is weak, and the union’s more powerful institutions are dominated by appointed bureaucrats, not elected officials. The Greek crisis is a case in point. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tripras does negotiate with the President of the European Commission (who was more-or-less appointed to the gig because his party won the European Parliament elections) but the real action is in talks with the Eurogroup of national finance ministers, the European Central Bank, and behind them the heads of government of France and Germany.

The system as it currently exists makes the EU’s role obscure to the public, undermines its claim to democratic legitimacy, and spurs widespread distrust. In Greece specifically, it means that “Europe” as a whole is represented not by the democratically chosen representatives of the European people, but by appointed cabinet members and bureaucrats. Greece chose their representative in negotiations. Europeans did not — and naturally feel estranged from the process.

A lot of these problems would be mitigated if the EU reformed its institutions so that it was more like a big centralized government. A sufficiently powerful European Parliament could, with the mandate of the voters that elected it, adopt a Europe-wide tax policy, create Europe-wide social welfare programs, and unify its member governments’ militaries into one pan-European force. This would clarify the EU’s role, and give it real democratic legitimacy.

The end result could look something like the United States. Some things would still be province of national governments: France would handle its own schools, Romania would have its own police. But the big stuff — regulation, the social safety net, the military — would be controlled by the federal European government.

This obviously isn’t a new idea. Les Misérables author Victor Hugo was proposing a European state as early 1849, declaring, “A day will come when you France, you Russia, you Italy, you England, you Germany, you all, nations of the continent, without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality, will be merged closely within a superior unit and you will form the European brotherhood, just as Normandy, Brittany, Burgundy, Lorraine, Alsace, all our provinces are merged together in France.” More recently, Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has called for a “United States of Europe,” and political theorist Glyn Morgan has made an extended argument for a superstate as a necessary geopolitical rival to the US.

But the economic wreckage the euro has wrought in Greece makes unification more pressing than ever before.

The economic case for a European superstate

Greek Demonstrators Turn Out In Support Of The New Government

Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

In a united Europe, Greece wouldn’t have to beg Germany for money. It would just get it, as a matter of course.

A United States of Europe would go a long way to addressing the problems of today’s EU. The United States is, like the eurozone, a currency union. But when the US has a recession, it doesn’t have individual states falling into crises so terrible those states consider leaving the United States (not for a while, at least). The burden is shared more equally. Right now, unemployment in Greece is about 25 percent and in Germany it’s 6.4 percent. That couldn’t happen in the US. You just don’t see 25 percent unemployment in South Carolina at the same time you see 6.4 percent unemployment in California.

In an interview with my colleague Tim Lee, economist Joe Gagnon identified three big factors for why the US doesn’t have the same sorts of problems the EU does — and they all come back to the fact that the US is much more unified:

  1. The United States has a unified banking system and banking regulation; among other things, banks in a given state aren’t allowed to hold too much debt in that state. That reduces the risk of local bank failures.
  2. The United States has a federal fiscal policy; you get Social Security from the feds, not from South Carolina. That lets the whole country share in the national wealth, and redistributes funds from rich areas to poor areas to mitigate their suffering, especially in downturns.
  3. The United States has a unified labor market; while you can move and work wherever you want within Europe, the language and cultural barriers to doing so can be significant.

A European super-state can’t un-build the tower of Babel, but it would address the first two differences. It would create a common banking system and establish redistribution at the national level. Imagine if such a system had been in place when the 2008-2009 recession hit. Greece still would have suffered more than Germany — but its banks would not face the same risk of failure, and it’d be getting billions upon billions in welfare payments from the federal European government. They’d still have a recession — all of Europe did, after all — but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as bad.

A European super-state would have all the economic benefits of the EU now: completely free migration, the convenience of a shared currency, no trade barriers, etc. But it would greatly mitigate the economic costs that the Greek crisis has exposed.

The geopolitical case for a European superstate

The Battlefields Of Verdun

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Crosses at the site of World War I’s Battle of Verdun. A European state could help avoid another catastrophic continental war.

The European project has always been about much more than economic integration. Even since the European Coal and Steel Community, the idea was to grow closer economically so as to grow closer politically and culturally. After World War II and the generations of European wars that had preceded it, ensuring that war on that scale could never happen ever again was an absolute imperative.

European integration was a way to do that. It appears to be working. But the economic crises that have plagued the EU in the last few years are inherent to this current model of partial unification. In order to fulfill the European project of replacing the old, war-torn Europe with a new, peaceful, stable Europe, it has to complete the process of unification.

That means a political union as well as an economic one. And that’s why, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it in 2011, during an earlier round of EU debt crises, “It is now the task of our generation to complete the economic and currency union in Europe and create, step by step, a political union.”

The European Union has already done a fine job of preventing war. As George Washington University political scientist Henry Farrell writes, there’s good reason to think the EU layed a key role in securing peace in Europe in the 1990s. A study by Thomas Diez, Stephan Stetter and Mathias Albert concluded that the EU played a role in arbitrating border disputes in a nonviolent manner. Papers by Farrell and Gregory Flynn, by Andrew Moravcsik, and and by Jeffrey Checkel have argued that the union’s membership requirements helped push former Soviet satellites and possessions toward democracy (and thus toward peace).

The EU has also effected a less concrete but still important change of norms. “Before 1945, European states viewed one another as security threats: when France and the UK disagreed about some issue, both sides thought of war as a live option for resolving the issue,” my colleague Zack Beauchamp writes. “Now, that’s simply not the case. Europe is what scholars Barry Buzan and Ole Waever call a ‘security community,’ a place where countries ‘stop treating each other as security problems and start behaving as friends.'”

But this union, as effective as it’s been, is only so stable. Greece after all, could very well leave the union outright, and it’s at least theoretically possible that other members could as well, which is a big part of why European institutions are going to such lengths to punish Greece. This is not a sign of an organization that has a lot of long-term staying power.

The absence of a unified political system is a big part of this instability; political union is a way to keep Europe’s economies together in a way that truly benefits all. How a nation decides to gather and spend its money is, after all, one of the chief functions of its political leadership.

“Join, or Die”

"Join or Die" by Benjamin franklin

It’s not unheard of for a young political union to be disharmonious, and for that disharmony to be worsened by its decentralized political institutions. In 1950, just a year into the European experiment, the Norwegian foreign minister wrote an essay in Foreign Affairs comparing Europe at the moment to the early American colonies, which were in some ways even more disparate and divided than the European nations. The foreign minister didn’t quote Benjamin Franklin’s 1754 “Join, or Die” political cartoon, but he might as well have. The colonies unified to fight the British, and then over the next century continued to build an ever-closer union because it was more effective, and because a weak union created too many problems.

American unification was a process more than an event. Economic integration was followed by political integration (which also took a long time to complete; states have been slowly ceding power since the revolutionary war) and the resulting United States has left all of the constituent states better off than they’d be as independent entities of their own. Rhode Islanders ceded some of their power to the more dominant states, and Carolinians feared (correctly, it turns out) that they would have anti-slavery laws imposed on them from the outside. But in the end, both were better off together than alone.

Europe has been undergoing a similar process of slow unification for half a century, and has been frequently better off for it. But, like the early United States, the process is incomplete, and therein lies a number of the continent’s problems. That is a case for pushing further toward unification, not away from it.

In 1949, when French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman first formally proposed the European Coal and Steel Union, the first step in the European project, he called his plan “a great experiment, the fulfillment of the same recurrent dream that for ten centuries has revisited the peoples of Europe: creating between them an organization putting an end to war and guaranteeing an eternal peace.”

That experiment is still in process. But its successes so far show it is worth pushing closer to Schuman’s dream.

Max Fisher contributed to this article.


Aegis Ambivalence: Navy, Hill Grapple Over Missile Defense Mission

Navy cruiser Lake Erie launches SM-3 IB missile 575519537757ad8b1368733557

WASHINGTON: Sometimes success is its own punishment. Shooting down ballistic missiles is one of the Navy’s most high-tech, high-profile capabilities — and it’s one of the most popular with Congress as well. But as demand for missile defense increases at what the Chief of Naval Operations has called an “unsustainable” pace, it’s an ever-greater burden

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How to Stop States from ‘Weaponizing’ Nuclear Programs

Mark Hibbs

Global Governance,

he NPT doesn’t expressly ban states from doing the math and science and engineering needed to ‘weaponize’ nuclear material into an explosive device.” This needs to change.

Long before a final Iran nuclear agreement was on the horizon, plans have been afoot to generalize the hoped-for results of diplomacy far beyond the borders of the Islamic Republic. If these ideas bear fruit, after an Iran deal happens, most of the world’s nations will commit not to do things that are critical for building nuclear arms.

Of the 185 non-nuclear weapons state parties to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), nearly all countries with significant nuclear infrastructure have concluded safeguards agreements permitting the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to verify that they are not producing or diverting plutonium and uranium for weapons. But the NPT doesn’t expressly ban states from doing the math and science and engineering needed to “weaponize” nuclear material into an explosive device.

The IAEA’s Iran dossier suggests that for many years, scientists guided by Iran’s military worked on nuclear weapons development. Because a diplomatic settlement of the crisis must reduce Iran’s nuclear threat to be credible, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) negotiating with Iran want Iran to divulge what it knows about weapons-making, giving the IAEA and the powers a better baseline to monitor Iran’s NPT peaceful-use commitment.  

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Here’s a huge reason the Assad regime still exists


The US Department of State confirmed last year that Iran sending oil directly to Syria after the country’s production was bullwhacked by the civil war.

And now, we’ve got some numbers.

“New Bloomberg analysis of tanker movement suggests Iran has sent about 10 million barrels of crude to Syria so far this year — or about 60,000 barrels per day,” report Bloomberg’s Matthew Philips and Julian Lee.

“With oil prices averaging $59 a barrel over the past six months, that’s about $600 million in aid since January.”

By sending oil over to the Assad regime, “Iran is basically fueling the entire country,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington told Bloomberg.

The oil influx adds to the up to $20 billion per year in cash, weapons, and manpower that Tehran has been sending to Syria since the uprising against Assad’s regime began more than four years ago.

And nowadays, much of Syria’s oil and gas producing regions are now controlled by the Islamic State.

Most recently, ISIS blew up a pipeline that was “used to carry gas into the suburbs of Damascus and Homs to generate electricity and provide heating in individual homes,” and took Palmyra, which deprives the Assad regime “of 45% of its gas and electricity sources,“according to estimates.

All of that’s bad news for Syria because it desperately needs the reserves to keep the lights on. Ergo, enter Iranian oil (although the Assad regime has been known to buy oil from Islamic State as well).

syriaCordesman also told Bloomberg that, considering Syria’s war-ravaged economy, it’s unlikely that Syria is paying for this oil. 

And that suggests another interesting point: “By simply giving oil to Syria rather than charging for it, Iran is able to skirt US and European Union sanctions designed to limit Iran’s crude exports,” according to Bloomberg.

Check out the full report on Bloomberg > 

SEE ALSO: Russia just one-upped the Saudis in China

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NOW WATCH: Russia reveals new high-tech weapon vehicles in a rehearsal for the country’s biggest military parade


Turkey Likely To Soften Foreign Policy

Turkey’s inconclusive June 7 parliamentary elections have not only deprived the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002, but have also forced the Islamist party to review its foreign policy and security calculus, officials and analysts agree.


The Ultimate ‘What If’: A World Where America Never Invaded Iraq

Robert Farley


What would America’s strategic options look like today? What would the world look like? 

Every player of the popular video game Civilization knows to hit the save button before engaging in the risky, stupid invasion of foreign country. In the case of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it became apparent after the first few months that the war was not working out as its framers had envisioned.  The failure to find weapons of mass destruction was only the icing, so to speak, on the disaster of failed reconciliation, state collapse, and executive incompetence.

What if we had “saved game” before we invaded Iraq? What would America’s strategic options look like today?

The Middle East

In 2003, we spoke of the policy of “dual containment” as a problem that needed a solution.  How could the United States manage a pair of hostile countries right next to one another? Today, the wiser among us recognize that “dual containment” was, in large part, a solution to its own problem.  The animosity of the Hussein regime and the Islamic Republic of Iran meant that neither could achieve overarching influence in the Gulf.

In the wake of the Iraq War, “dual containment” has become “basket case management,” as Iraq has ceased to exist as a relevant strategic actor, and Iranian influence has grown in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.  While the U.S. no longer has to worry about Hussein, it has been forced to devote its military and political attention not only to the maintenance of the shaky Baghdad government, but also to the resistance of Iranian power in the region.

(Recommended: 5 ISIS Weapons of War America Should Fear)

The impact of the Iraq War on the Arab Spring is more difficult to sort out.  The framers of the war hoped that the establishment of a democratic Iraq would spur anti-authoritarian reactions around the region, although they also hoped that U.S. clients (including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states) would be spared. Something along these lines did indeed happen in 2011, but only well after most in the region had concluded that the invasion of Iraq was a disastrous failure.

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