30 July 2018

Daily Memo: Turkish Military Matters, US Energy Supplies

Is the U.S. preparing to bomb Iran? Australia, of all places, seems to think so. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation cited government officials as saying the U.S. was preparing to strike Iranian nuclear facilities as early as next month. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed the reports, while the defense minister said Australia was unaware of any U.S. action. That said, the report is strange. Top U.S. officials wrapped up meetings with their Australian counterparts this past Tuesday without mentioning Iran. And it’s unclear why the Turnbull government would leak this story. From a purely strategic perspective, a U.S. strike on Iran makes little sense. It can’t destroy Iran’s nuclear program with tactical strikes, and tactical strikes are the only thing it’s in a position to conduct. An attack would only galvanize the Iranian people, who are otherwise upset with a government reeling from the dissolution of the nuclear deal. Strategic or not, though, some officials in the Trump administration such as National Security Adviser John Bolton have advocated military action in Iran for years. The bottom line is that it is unlikely that the U.S. is preparing to attack. If that changes, we’ll let you know.

The U.S. may not follow through with its threats to sanction Turkey after all, thanks to the release of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson. (He is now under house arrest, but Washington continues to call for his full release.) Brunson is just a bargaining chip in a much larger game, one involving the sale of F-35 fighter aircraft to Turkey. The transaction is tied to the National Defense Authorization Act, one current version of which says that the purchase of Russia-made S-400 missile defense systems would violate sanctions against Russia and so would warrant sanctions of its own. Another version, though, calls for the removal of Turkey from the F-35 program. In it, there is a list of six reasons to kick Turkey out of the program, four of which involve Brunson and two of which involve Turkey’s relationship with Russia and how it endangers NATO. There is an even greater concern for the U.S., though. Turkey’s undersecretariat for defense industries wants to connect F-35 systems with the Turkish air force info network, HvBS. If the S-400s are also connected to the HvBS, it’s possible that the data collected by the aircrafts’ sensors may end up being transmitted to Russia.

Turkey is meanwhile moving forward with plans to professionalize its military. Military service is mandatory, but the new measures will require only three months of service from citizens, with soldiers being eligible to opt out for the remaining six months of the program by paying a fee. There will also be renewed emphasis on efficiency. The move will not give President Recep Tayyip Erdogan more influence in military matters, but it reflects the long-term vision for Turkey as a regional power on the rise. A more proficient and professional military force will be necessary for Turkey to meet its security needs in the region and support its expansionist ambitions in the future.

Protesters in Iraq introduced new demands as they carried out their “March of a Million” on Friday. The new demands include building a dam in Iraqi territorial waters, reopening closed factories, adopting a new process for passing constitutional amendments, and excluding partisans from high-level positions in the Cabinet. Meanwhile, the U.S. said it will support investigations into the deaths of Iraqi protesters. Outside powers such as the U.S. and Iran stand to benefit from the protests, depending on how they shake out. It’s well known that Iran has proxy groups operating in Iraq, and it isn’t unthinkable that other outside powers would want to use these protests to their advantage. Foreign involvement, then, is as important right now as the protests themselves.

Despite the fanfare surrounding the trade war truce between the U.S. and Europe, it’s the Caribbean, Central America and South America that will benefit most from U.S. LNG exports. Put simply, European demand for the product is low. The U.S. Department of Energy, however, has simplified the process of shipping LNG to countries in the Western Hemisphere. For now, the shipments would be small, but they mark the first step in a much broader strategy in the region. After all, increasing the supply of U.S. LNG would alter energy calculations throughout the region. (For example, Chile, which depends heavily on LNG imports, would end up paying much less for a more abundant product.) It would also enable the U.S. to fill the void left by Venezuela’s now-defunct PetroCaribe program.

Honorable Mentions
The International Monetary Fund identified Germany as the country whose trade imbalance and current account surplus poses the greatest threat to global stability.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said it is “important and necessary” for Russian armed forces to remain in Syria for the long term.
The U.S. Commerce Department will present the results of its investigation into automobile imports sometime in August. The results will heavily influence whether the government adds tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts.
Military chiefs from the African Union expressed concern over the growing foreign military presence on the continent, particularly in the Horn of Africa.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reappointed Gen. Ri Yong Gil as the country’s chief of staff, a position he had previously occupied but was dismissed from in 2016.

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