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Possible Missile Attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – CRS Insights

August 6, 2014 Comments off

Possible Missile Attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), a Boeing 777 bound from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in eastern Ukraine.

MH17’s position was shown on live aircraft tracking websites using the airliner’s automated dependent surveillance broadcast (ADS-B) signal. Its final reported position was near the Russia-Ukraine border at an altitude of 33,000 feet.

Initial reports from the crash scene indicated that the resulting debris field covered a large area. This is characteristic when an aircraft breaks up at high altitude (as opposed to diving into the ground or incidents on landing or takeoff, where the debris field is tightly confined around the point of impact). Inflight breakup can occur for a number of reasons, including metal fatigue (as in the case of two DeHavilland Comet jetliners in the 1950s); onboard explosions, whether caused by bombs or accidental combustion (such as TWA flight 800 in 1996); or external events like a missile attack (as was the case with Korean Air Lines 007 in 1983 and Iran Air 655 in 1988).

Because spontaneous inflight breakup of an airliner is a rare event, the crash’s proximity to an active conflict zone where military aircraft had recently been shot down led to speculation that MH17’s breakup may have been the result of a surface-to-air missile. This was reinforced when, almost immediately, pictures appeared in social media purporting to show Russian-built Buk anti-aircraft missile launchers near the crash site.

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CRS — Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (updated)

August 6, 2014 Comments off

Afghanistan: Politics, Elections, and Government Performance (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

The capacity, transparency, legitimacy, and cohesiveness of Afghan governance are crucial to Afghan stability as U.S.-led NATO forces exit Afghanistan by 2016. The size and capability of the Afghan governing structure has increased significantly since the Taliban regime fell in late 2001, but the government remains weak and rife with corruption. Hamid Karzai has served as president since late 2001; he is constitutionally term-limited and will leave office after the conclusion of presidential and provincial elections. The first round of took place on April 5, 2014, and the results required a June 14 runoff between Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani.

The runoff increased ethnic tensions between Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest group represented by Ghani, and the second largest group the Tajiks, with whom Abdullah is identified. Amid accusations by Abdullah of a fraud-inspired large increase in turnout between the two rounds, preliminary results released July 7 showed Ghani ahead 56% to 44%. With Abdullah’s supporters urging him to declare himself the winner and form a government, Secretary of State Kerry visited Afghanistan to broker a July 12 resolution of the dispute. Under the agreement, all 23,000 ballot boxes would be recounted under international supervision, and the winner of the election would agree to appoint the loser as a “chief executive” of government, pending a more permanent constitutional alteration to a prime ministerial system. The recount has proceeded more slowly than expected due to distrust between the two camps and there are differing expectations for the post-election power-sharing agreement. The vote count might not be completed and a new president sworn in until well into September 2014.

CRS — U.S. – China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress (updated)

August 6, 2014 Comments off

U.S. – China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

This CRS report, updated as warranted, discusses policy issues regarding military-to-military (mil-to-mil) contacts with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and provides a record of major contacts and crises since 1993.

U.S. – Russia Economic Relations – CRS Insights

August 6, 2014 Comments off

U.S. – Russia Economic Relations – CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

U.S. sanctions on Russian individuals and entities have been a key part of the U.S. policy response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean region of Ukraine and Russia’s alleged ongoing efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine (see CRS Insight IN10048, U.S. Sanctions on Russia in Response to Events in Ukraine, coordinated by Dianne E. Rennack). Following the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine on July 17 that killed 298 passengers and crew, some policymakers and experts have called for additional sanctions on Russia. Secretary of State John Kerry has stated there is an “enormous amount of evidence” that Russia was involved in supplying the separatists in Ukraine with the weapons used to shoot down the plane and training the separatists on how to use the weapons.

In the policy debates over U.S. sanctions on Russia, two key questions, among many others, include:
+ How much economic leverage does the United States have over Russia?
+ How would U.S. sanctions on Russia impact U.S. economic interests?

Examining the U.S.-Russia economic relationship can provide insight into these questions.

Russia Sanctions: Options – CRS Insights

August 6, 2014 Comments off

Russia Sanctions: Options – CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Centers)

On March 16, 2014, President Barack Obama declared that the “actions and policies of the Government of the Russian Federation with respect to Ukraine—including the recent deployment of Russian Federation military forces in the Crimea region of Ukraine—undermine democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine; threaten its peace, security, stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity; and contribute to the misappropriation of its assets, and thereby constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” The President ordered the Treasury Department to block access to assets under U.S. jurisdiction of, and prohibit transactions with, seven Russians considered to be President Putin’s close advisors. Treasury, in consultation with the State Department, has continued to add to this list of specially designated nationals; today 64 Russian individuals and entities are identified under the sanctions regime triggered by events in Ukraine.

On March 20, 2014, the President expanded the sanctions’ reach, authorizing the Secretary of the Treasury to identify individuals and entities in Russia’s “financial services, energy, metals and mining, engineering, and defense and related materials” sectors.

On July 16, 2014, the United States initiated unilateral restrictions targeting powerful interests in Russia’s financial, energy, and military technology sectors—including Gazprombank, Vnesheconombank (VEB), Novatek, and Rosneft. Treasury also blocked assets of four senior Russian government officials in an effort to “tighten the noose,” as one policy observer put it.

Congress supported the President’s initial steps by enacting the Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-95; April 3, 2014). The act requires the President to block assets and deny visas to those destabilizing Ukraine (§8), and encourages him to take similar actions against those responsible for “acts of significant corruption” in Russia (§9).

The 2014 European Parliament Elections: Outcomes and Implications – CRS Insights

August 6, 2014 Comments off

The 2014 European Parliament Elections: Outcomes and Implications – CRS Insights (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

Between May 22-25, 2014, the 28 member states of the European Union (EU) held elections for the next European Parliament (EP), a key institution that represents the citizens of the EU countries. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) serve five-year terms. The new EP, which began work on July 1, 2014, has 751 MEPs from 186 national parties (for background, see CRS Report RS21998, The European Parliament).

The recent EP elections are notable for several reasons. They were the first since the entrance into force of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty in December 2009, which increased the power of the EP. The Treaty also explicitly links the EP elections to the selection of the next President of the European Commission (the EU’s executive). Although the leaders of the member states still decide on the next Commission President, the treaty now requires that they take into account the results of the EP elections. Thus, for the first time, five of the EP’s main political groups nominated candidates for Commission President.

Additionally, Europe’s recent economic and financial crisis has contributed to the rise of anti-EU or “euroskeptic” parties in several EU countries. Many of these parties—which are predominantly nationalistic, populist, and on the far right, although a few are on the far left—made gains in the EP elections, with potential implications for the functioning of the EU and for certain issues in U.S.-EU relations.

Lions go global: Deepening Africa’s ties to the United States

August 5, 2014 Comments off

Lions go global: Deepening Africa’s ties to the United States
Source: McKinsey & Company
The White House has invited some 50 African heads of state to Washington, DC, this week, presenting a historic opportunity to deepen US ties to the continent. But it would be a mistake to assume that the benefits of the US–Africa Leaders Summit will flow primarily to Africa. There is huge economic potential for the United States, too.

Africa is transforming from a continent in need of assistance to a continent of opportunity. Its economic growth is today second only to the East Asia region, which includes China,1 and Africa was home to 8 of the world’s 15 fastest-growing economies between 2000 and 2013. Indeed, the continent’s GDP of more than $2 trillion in 2013 is now larger than India’s.

Investors around the world have taken notice. Private-capital flows to Africa totaled $545 billion from 2003 to 2012, surpassing remittances and official aid. Yet the United States lags well behind Europe, BRIC, and the Middle East in terms of the amount of foreign-direct investment (FDI) it sends to Africa. Moreover, the US share of African trade stands at only 13 percent, just half the share of Western Europe or Asia.

This may be a missed opportunity. Africa offers a higher rate of return on FDI than most emerging economies—in sharp contrast to returns that foreign investors earned 20 years ago (Exhibit 2). But to date, economic engagement between the United States and Africa has been limited relative to its potential, and much smaller than Europe’s and Asia’s economic engagement with Africa.

CRS — U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit: Frequently Asked Questions and Background

August 4, 2014 Comments off

U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit: Frequently Asked Questions and Background (PDF)
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

This report provides information about the early August 2014 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, and policy issues likely to be addressed by participants in the summit and other events being held in conjunction with it. In providing background on key U.S.-Africa policy issues, the report addresses:
• Africa’s development and economic challenges;
• U.S.-Africa trade, investment, and economic cooperation;
• U.S. aid to Africa;
• Governance, democracy, and human rights issues; and
• Peace and security issues, including selected U.S. responses.

EU — Customs action to tackle goods infringing Intellectual Property Rights – Frequently Asked Questions

August 1, 2014 Comments off

Customs action to tackle goods infringing Intellectual Property Rights – Frequently Asked Questions
Source: European Commission

As the EU’s 2020 Strategy underlines, the protection of IPRs is key to the EU economy. By giving people the incentive to be creative and innovative, IPRs foster economic growth, creating and protecting millions of jobs.

Right-holders can ask for customs action to protect their rights at the border. When they have a suspicion of an infringement, customs can detain the goods or suspend their release and inform the right-holder accordingly. The right-holder is given the opportunity to initiate court proceedings to determine the infringement, while the goods remain under customs control.

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War
Source: Brookings Institution

From Syria and Iraq to Libya and Yemen, the Middle East is once again rife with conflict. Much of the fighting is along sectarian lines, but can it really be explained simply as a “Sunni versus Shia” battle? What explains this upsurge in violence across the region? And what role can or should the United States play?

In a new Analysis Paper, F. Gregory Gause, III frames Middle East politics in terms of a new, regional cold war in which Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for power and influence. Rather than stemming from sectarian rivalry, this new Middle East cold war results from the weakening of Arab states and the creation of domestic political vacuums into which local actors invite external support.

OECD releases full version of global standard for automatic exchange of information

July 24, 2014 Comments off

OECD releases full version of global standard for automatic exchange of information
Source: OECD

Taking an important step towards greater transparency and putting an end to banking secrecy in tax matters, the OECD today released the full version of a new global standard for the exchange of information between jurisdictions.

The Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information in Tax Matters calls on governments to obtain detailed account information from their financial institutions and exchange that information automatically with other jurisdictions on an annual basis. The Standard, developed at the OECD under a mandate from the G20, endorsed by G20 Finance Ministers in February 2014, and approved by the OECD Council.

The Standard provides for annual automatic exchange between governments of financial account information, including balances, interest, dividends, and sales proceeds from financial assets, reported to governments by financial institutions and covering accounts held by individuals and entities, including trusts and foundations. The new consolidated version includes commentary and guidance for implementation by governments and financial institutions, detailed model agreements, as well as standards for harmonised technical and information technology solutions, notably a standard format and requirements for secure transmission of data.

Enterprising States 2014: Re-Creating Equality and Opportunity

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Enterprising States 2014: Re-Creating Equality and Opportunity
Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has released its annual Enterprising States study, offering an in-depth look at the free enterprise policies being implemented to promote economic growth at the state and local levels.

Now in its fifth edition, the Enterprising States study measures state performance overall and across five policy areas important for job growth and economic prosperity. Those five areas include:

  • Talent Pipeline
  • Exports and International Trade
  • Technology and Entrepreneurship
  • Business Climate
  • Infrastructure

The 2014 report relates these policies and practices to the need for collaboration between education, workforce development, and economic development to positively combat the nation’s growing skills gap.

Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: Chinese and Outside Perspectives

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: Chinese and Outside Perspectives
Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies

The goal behind this report is not to present the authors’ view of the balance, but rather to provide the basis for an unclassified dialogue on the military developments in China, including the size and structure of the country’s current and planned military forces. It draws on official US, Chinese, and other Asian official reporting, as well as the work of other scholars and the data bases developed by the IISS and Jane’s in an effort to compare different views of Chinese strategy and military developments, and is meant to provide US, Chinese, and other analysts with a better basis for understanding Western estimates of the changes in Chinese force strength and force quality.

The United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) face a critical need to improve their understanding of how each is developing its military power and how to avoid forms of military competition that could lead to rising tension or conflict between the two states. This report focuses on China’s military developments and modernization and how they are perceived in the UIS, the West, and Asia. It utilizes the unclassified data available in the West on the trends in Chinese military forces. It relies heavily on the data in the US Department of Defense (DoD) Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, particularly the 2013 and 2014 editions.

It relies heavily on the annual military balances compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), though a range of sources are included. It should be noted that this report focuses on Chinese forces, and therefore presents only one side of the US and Chinese balance and the security situation in Asia. It also draws upon a Burke Chair report entitled The Evolving Military Balance in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, looking at the bilateral US-Chinese balance in more detail.

Accordingly, it focuses on the actual changes taking place in Chinese forces, and it provides a detailed analysis detailed analysis of the trends in Chinese military forces since 1985, examining how the often-conflicting trends in outside sources interact with reporting on Chinese military spending and strategy. It also shows that important changes are taking place in US strategy and that these changes must be considered when evaluating Chinese actions.

Defense offsets: From ‘contractual burden’ to competitive weapon

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Defense offsets: From ‘contractual burden’ to competitive weapon
Source: McKinsey & Company

Western defense companies now need to look outside their core markets for growth. In the aftermath of the global economic crisis and over a decade of engagement in southwest Asia, many Western countries have scaled back their defense budgets, favoring instead more targeted spending and austerity plans. In Europe, ministries of defense are downsizing their military operations and procurement programs, and in the United States, the effects of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration will restrict defense spending through 2021 absent congressional action. By contrast, many countries representing addressable markets in Asia, the Middle East, and South America are investing in defense-modernization programs and over the past few years have increased their defense spending at compound annual growth rates of between 5 and 10 percent.

New From the GAO

July 21, 2014 Comments off

New GAO Reports
Source: Government Accountability Office

1. Consumer Finance: Credit Cards Designed for Medical Services Not Covered by Insurance. GAO-14-570, June 19.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-570
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664256.pdf
Podcast – http://www.gao.gov/multimedia/podcasts/664738

2. State Department: Implementation of Grants Policies Needs Better Oversight. GAO-14-635, July 21.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-635
Highlights – http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/664905.pdf

3. African Growth and Opportunity Act: Observations on Competitiveness and Diversification of U.S. Imports from Beneficiary Countries. GAO-14-722R, July 21.
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-722R

CRS — U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians

July 18, 2014 Comments off

U.S. Foreign Aid to the Palestinians
Source: Congressional Research Service (via U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center)

Since the establishment of limited Palestinian self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the mid-1990s, the U.S. government has committed approximately $5 billion in bilateral assistance to the Palestinians, who are among the world’s largest per capita recipients of international foreign aid. Successive Administrations have requested aid for the Palestinians in apparent support of at least three major U.S. policy priorities of interest to Congress:

• Preventing terrorism against Israel from Hamas and other militant organizations.
• Fostering stability, prosperity, and self-governance in the West Bank that inclines Palestinians toward peaceful coexistence with Israel and a “two-state solution.”
• Meeting humanitarian needs.

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown

July 18, 2014 Comments off

Iran’s Influence in Afghanistan: Implications for the U.S. Drawdown
Source: RAND Corporation

This study explores Iranian influence in Afghanistan and the implications for the United States after the departure of most American forces from Afghanistan. Iran has substantial economic, political, cultural, and religious leverage in Afghanistan. Kabul faces an obdurate insurgency that is likely to exploit the U.S. and international drawdown. The Afghan government will also face many economic difficulties in future years, and Afghanistan is highly dependent on international economic aid. Additionally, the biggest problem facing Afghanistan may be political corruption. Iranian influence in Afghanistan following the drawdown of international forces need not necessarily be a cause of concern for the United States though. Although Tehran will use its cultural, political, and economic sway in an attempt to shape a post-2016 Afghanistan, Iran and the United States share core interests there: to prevent the country from again becoming dominated by the Taliban and a safe haven for al Qaeda.

This study examines Iran’s historic interests in Afghanistan and its current policies in that country, and explores the potential implications for U.S. policy. The research is based on field interviews in Afghanistan, the use of primary sources in Dari and Persian, and scholarly research in English.

Brazil’s Economic Identity

July 17, 2014 Comments off

Brazil’s Economic Identity
Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies

As the sixth BRICS summit comes to a close on July 16, this paper brings clarity to Brazil’s role in the global economy—its identity, its self-perception, and what can be expected of it. Though Brazil is no longer an “optional market” for the world’s major players, Brazil’s economic identity is ill-understood—and leans heavily on the country’s development agenda. For Brazil, this agenda informs its global strategy, demanding cautious involvement in global markets and new strategic partnerships in technology and manufacturing.

Global Cybercrime: The Interplay of Politics and Law

July 17, 2014 Comments off

Global Cybercrime: The Interplay of Politics and Law
Source: Centre for International Governance Innovation

Examining global cybercrime as solely a legal issue misses an important facet of the problem. Understanding the applicable legal rules, both domestically and internationally, is important. However, major state actors are using concerted efforts to engage in nefarious cyber activities with the intention of advancing their economic and geostrategic interests. This paper explores the recent unsealing of a 31-count indictment against five Chinese government officials and a significant cyber breach, perpetrated by Chinese actors against Western oil, energy and petrochemical companies. The paper concludes by noting that increased cooperation among governments is necessary, but unlikely to occur as long as the discourse surrounding cybercrime remains so heavily politicized and securitized. If governments coalesced around the notion of trying to prevent the long-term degradation of trust in the online economy, they may profitably advance the dialogue away from mutual suspicion and toward mutual cooperation.

Global Opposition to U.S. Surveillance and Drones, but Limited Harm to America’s Image

July 16, 2014 Comments off

Global Opposition to U.S. Surveillance and Drones, but Limited Harm to America’s Image
Source: Pew Research Global Attitudes Project

Revelations about the scope of American electronic surveillance efforts have generated headlines around the world over the past year. And a new Pew Research Center survey finds widespread global opposition to U.S. eavesdropping and a decline in the view that the U.S. respects the personal freedoms of its people. But in most countries there is little evidence this opposition has severely harmed America’s overall image.

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