Today's Headlines and Commentary

Rachel Bercovitz
Thursday, April 27, 2017, 2:13 PM

The United States will pursue a strategy of enhanced regional diplomacy and economic sanctions to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program, according to a Joint Statement released yesterday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

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The United States will pursue a strategy of enhanced regional diplomacy and economic sanctions to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program, according to a Joint Statement released yesterday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Reuters reports that Tillerson will chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council on North Korea this Friday in New York, where he is expected to discuss the implementation of more robust sanctions.

The release of the Joint Statement followed a White House briefing of Senators led by Tillerson, Mattis, and Coats and headlined briefly by President Trump. According to lawmakers, the briefing delivered no new intelligence regarding the U.S.’s strategy toward North Korea. President Trump’s unusual decision to conduct the briefing in the White House rather than on Capitol Hill, which maintains secure facilities that can accommodate disclosure of classified information, puzzled lawmakers and led many to suggest that the decision was primarily one of optics as President Trump approaches his one-hundredth day in office on Saturday.

The Washington Post assesses that North Korea may launch an assault against South Korea or U.S. installations through its Special Operations Force (SOF) that is believed capable of deploying chemical or biological weapons—and not through its ballistic missiles or artillery. A 2015 U.S. Defense Department report to Congress on the North Korean military estimated that the North’s SOF comprised at a minimum 180,000 commandos, equivalent to the current number of U.S. active duty Marines. According to the Report, the SOF is subdivided into specialized units including reconnaissance, airborne and seaborne insertion, and commandos that each emphasize “speed of movement and surprise attack.”

The THAAD missile defense system deployed by the United States to South Korea is nearly operational, the New York Times reports. China has objected to the antimissile system, fearing that it could be deployed against Chinese forces as well. South Korea’s Defense Ministry stated that THAAD will allow Seoul to “cope with North Korea’s provocatons.”

Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the top U.S. military commander in the Pacific, accepted full responsibility for the confusion concerning the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson, the Times writes.

Military maneuvers and rhetoric notwithstanding, the Times clarifies that the risk of an imminent military showdown between the U.S. and North Korea remains very low. The United States has likely carried out the recent spate of diplomatic and military moves to dissuade Kim Jong Un from conducting further nuclear or ballistic missile tests, and not to prepare for a preemptive strike.

Documents released by House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings show that the inspector general for the Department of Defense has opened an investigation into whether former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn violated federal law in failing to request permission for accepting payments from the Russian and Turkish governments. The Wall Street Journal tells us that the inspector general’s office confirmed the existence of the investigation. The documents released by Cummings also include a letter from the Defense Intelligence Agency, which Flynn previously directed, informing the Committee that the Department has no records of Flynn’s seeking permission for payments.

President Trump has delegated authority over the Force Management Level (FML) system, which sets troop levels in Iraq and Syria, to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, BuzzFeed News reports. President Obama’s use of the FML system to set and adjust troop levels drew criticism from military commanders who maintained that the system inhibited swift deployment of troops and accurate reporting of the number of troops deployed. In a memo sent yesterday to the Pentagon, Mattis called for a review of FML’s system of force accounting and releases to the public.

Two U.S. servicemembers were killed during an operation targeting ISIS forces in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province, the Times writes. The United States previously deployed the so-called “mother of all bombs” against the Islamic State in the province two weeks ago.

Both Syrian government and rebel forces are blaming Israel for a series of explosions at warehouses near the Damascus airport this morning. Israeli intelligence minister Yisrael Katz appeared to acknowledge Israel’s involvement in a statement that the attack was “completely conforms to Israel’s policy” of preventing Hezbollah from obtaining “advanced weapons,” as Israeli media reported that the warehouses contained weapons set to be shipped to Hezbollah. The Times has more.

U.S. military officials condemned Turkey’s use of airstrikes against U.S. partner forces in Iraq and Syria that led to the deaths of an estimated 20 Kurdish fighters in Syria and five peshmerga fighters in Iraq, the Washington Post reports. U.S. military officials were alerted less than one hour in advance of the strikes and were not informed of the strikes’ precise targets, hampering the ability of officials to reposition U.S. troops or to alert partner Kurdish groups. Turkey defended its conduct in a statement issued by its embassy in Washington, affirming that Russia and the U.S. were “duly informed through both military and diplomatic channels.”

The strikes followed President Trump’s April 18 congratulatory call to President Erdogan on the results of the referendum vote augmenting the powers of the Turkish presidency. Some officials had hoped the call might impel Turkey’s accommodation of U.S. military efforts to bolster the capabilities of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.’s principal Syrian ally in the fight against ISIS. The referendum has faced scrutiny over widespread allegations of voter fraud and most recently, concerns regarding the independence and credibility of judges at the helm of the Turkish electoral commission known as the YSK. President Erdogan appointed the majority of YSK members last September following a purge of the judiciary in the wake of July’s attempted coup.

Turkey detained more than 1,000 members of the Turkish police force on suspicion of their allegiance to the Gulen movement led by Pennsylvania-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of orchestrating the foiled coup in July 2016. More than 9,000 police personnel were additionally suspended from their posts.

Yesterday’s early morning raids in Barcelona and its environs led to the arrest of nine men suspected of having been involved in the March 2016 terrorist attacks at a Brussels subway station and airport that resulted in 32 dead and 300 wounded. The arrests followed an eight-month investigation that entailed coordination with Belgian police. Eight of the nine detainees are Moroccan, while one is Spanish.

During telephone calls yesterday evening, President Trump assured Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the U.S. would not soon withdraw from, but rather seek to negotiate the terms of NAFTA, the Times shares. The calls came just hours after administration officials announced that President Trump would soon issue an executive order to set in motion the U.S.’s withdrawal from the trade agreement.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Jordan Brunner noted the April 25 per curiam opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirming the ruling of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in Paracha v. Trump.

Quinta Jurecic posted the statement of Military Commissions Chief Prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins, released on April 23 in connection with this week’s military commissions hearings in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi.

Russell Spivak delivered a case summary of County of Santa Clara v. Trump through which Judge William H. Orrick III of the North District of California issued a decision granting plaintiff’s motions for a preliminary injunction to enjoin enforcement of section 9(a) of Executive Order 13768, which concerned the eligibility of sanctuary jurisdictions to receive federal grants.

Noha Aboueldahab urged reflection on realistic measures to be pursued by the international community to hold accountable perpetrators of atrocities committed in Syria since 2011.

Stewart Baker posted the latest episode of the Steptoe Cyberlaw Podcast, guest hosted by Alan Cohn and Maury Shenk.

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Rachel Bercovitz holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School. She previously served as an editor for the quarterly Journal of Democracy. She holds a B.A. in History from Columbia College.

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