The Evening CSIS May 29 2015
May 29, 2015
Welcome to The Evening CSIS—my daily guide to key insights CSIS brings to the events of the day plus HIGHLY RECOMMENDED content from around the world. To subscribe, please click here and if you want to view this in your browser, click here.
US surveillance detected two large artillery vehicles on one of the artificial islands that China is creating in the South China Sea, US officials said today, heightening concerns that Beijing could use the land reclamation projects for military purposes, as the AP’s Lolita Baldor and Matthew Pennington report.
And, as Reuters’ Rujun Shen and David Alexander report today from Singapore, Singapore’s prime minister called on countries to break the “vicious cycle” of the South China Sea row, as the US and China exchanged increasingly angry barbs over reclaimed islands in the disputed waterway.
Further, US Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) has proposed the US provide up to $425 million over five years to countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam to help train and equip the armed forces of Southeast Asian countries faced with Chinese territorial challenges, Reuters David Brunnstrom reports.
Dive Deeper: As delegates assemble for the 14th annual Asia Security Summit, better known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, regional tensions are running high over China’s island building in the South China Sea. As the weekend summit gets under way, here are the issues to watch, according to CSIS’s Mike Green and Mira Rapp-Hooper in a commentary published today: “The South China Sea at Shangri-La 2015: A Primer.”
China has opted not to send its defense minister to the 2015 Shangri-La Dialogue, as in past years. Instead, Beijing’s representative will be Admiral Sun Jianguo. Who is he and what should we expect from his attendance? CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) explains in a new analysis.
And, if you are interested in what happened at last year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has prepared “Highlights from Shangri-la Dialogue 2014.”
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has all the latest satellite images and analysis of island building and land reclamation in the South China Sea. Explore these images and analysis by visiting the AMTI micro website.
The theft of critical information of more than 100,000 taxpayers from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) database was the work of hackers in Russia, and the hackers used data stolen from the IRS to file fraudulent tax returns and received $50 million before they were caught, CNET’s Don Reisinger reports today.
Dive Deeper: CSIS’s James Lewis writes in a new CNN Opinion piece published today that the “IRS data theft is not surprising.”
Putin's Week of Muscle Flexing
As Ben Brumfield of CNN reports, “When Vladimir Putin makes a move, the world sits up and takes notice. And this week, he’s been particularly busy, making decisions on internal and international matters that have ramifications far beyond Russia’s borders.”
Dive Deeper: CSIS’s Jeffrey Mankoff writes in a new commentary published today that signals coming out of Moscow in recent weeks have been mixed.
In that Number
960,000 square meters of land reclaimed by China on Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. These construction efforts appear to have begun in early 2015 and CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) has released never-before-published images of China’s land reclamation efforts on Mischief Reef.
Source: CSIS’s AMTI.
Asked: What does the removal of Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list mean?
Answered: Carl Meacham, director of the CSIS Americas Program: Cuba’s removal from the list has been in the works for some time already. Since Presidents Obama and Castro announced the start of the normalization process last December, the terrorist list designation has been a sticking point for the Cubans. And six weeks ago, just after the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, President Obama announced that his administration was moving to remove Cuba from the list.
Today, that process came to a close following the needed 45-day congressional review period. In other words, what was already underway has now been formalized.
There are several important things to note now that Cuba’s off the list.
First, that 45-day review period allowed folks in Congress to challenge the White House’s decision. Typically, we think of the normalization process with Cuba as deeply controversial on both sides of the aisle—something that will inevitably spark vitriolic debate and inspire strong resistance among some lawmakers. But the decision wasn’t challenged. And ultimately, this bodes well for whatever steps are next in the normalization process.
Second, Cuba has insisted that its place on the list was among its chief complaints—and among the biggest obstacles standing in the way of better relations with the United States. Though the announcement is six weeks old, it’s now official—and this strengthens Obama’s hand and credibility regarding advancing US objectives in future rounds of talks.
Third, the terrorist list designation is key to another issue in the bilateral relationship: the Helms-Burton Act. Written into the bill is a provision that prohibits the act’s repeal as long as Cuba remains on the terrorist sponsoring list. With the designation removed, yet another barrier on the way to the repeal of Helms-Burton is lifted.
Fourth, in practical terms, we’re likely to see real progress on embassies next. The past months of diplomatic dialogues all appear to be building to opening embassies in Washington and Havana for the first time in over half a century. With the terrorist list designation removed, the two countries may finally be ready to pull the trigger.
There’s still a lot to be done to achieve truly normal bilateral relations. Progress is being made—the terrorist list is a key example, and the administration is making an effort to chip away at aspects of the embargo, too. Even with critics eager to warn against making concessions to an undemocratic Cuban regime, there is undeniably forward progress in the bilateral relationship.
Still, we’re reaching a tricky moment. Realistically, we’re unlikely to see the embargo lifted in the next two years. And though the administration is in the process of implementing its new regulations, that’s a bureaucratic process—and not one that takes place in the public view. So at this point, the real issue is one of momentum. Will the two sides keep up the pace, or will the appetite for reform die down?
One to Watch
Gordon Lubold (@glubold) is the Pentagon reporter for the Wall Street Journal. The veteran DoD gumshoe journalist is traveling with Defense Secretary Carter this weekend in Singapore, which makes him one to watch.
A US Marine Corps pilot straps Defense Secretary Ash Carter into his seat on an MV-22 Osprey before surveying the Strait of Malacca off the coast of Singapore, May 29, 2015. DoD photo by Glenn Fawcett.
If you read The Evening CSIS regularly, you know that I am a big fan of Federal News Radio. The station’s host of In Depth, Francis Rose (@FRoseDC), just told me that FNR is debuting a new website soon and that you can take a test drive now.
CSIS Next Week
On Tuesday at 10:00 a.m., CSIS will host Fed governor Lael Brainard for a major public address: “US Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy.” RSVP here.
This Town Monday
The Wilson Center will host a half-day conference on “Blurring Borders: National, Subnational, and Regional Orders in East Asia” with a focus on US policy toward the region. Click here for more.
CSIS on Demand
Forbes just named her the third “Most Power Woman in the World”—find out why Melinda Gates is such a draw by watching her speak at the latest CSIS Smart Women, Smart Power event.
This week’s CSIS Podcast takes a look at the US operation against FIFA and what it means for US power and the future of international financial crime. Juan Zarate, CSIS senior adviser and renowned expert on white collar crime, goes behind the week’s dramatic headlines.
I Like It Like That
A growing number of artists are using data from self-tracking apps in their pieces, showing that creative work is as much a product of its technology as of its time, according to a recent article in the Atlantic by Jacoba Urist: “From Paint to Pixels.”
This falls under the category of shameless plug—but it’s a big smile. My friend Doug Ellin ( @mrdougellin) is the creator, writer, and director of the hit HBO TV series Entourage. The Entourage movie hits the big screen next week, June 3 to be exact, and you won’t want to miss it. Entourage was originally conceived as a story about Mark Wahlberg and his friends from home who came to LA with him when he became famous.
But ultimately, Entourage is a show about the evolution of male friendships, and I’ve heard Doug Ellin say that the seminal Barry Levinson movie Diner inspired him.
Levinson’s Diner was an autobiographical tale about Barry Levinson and the friends he grew up with in northwest Baltimore. Those guys are the fathers of friends that Doug and I share, like our mutual best friend Jeff Jacobson and his sweetheart legend of a dad, Eddie Jacobson. The term I use for the end section of The Evening CSIS, “Smiles,” is actually based on a line from Levinson’s Diner, whose characters were in constant pursuit of a “Smile.”
So watch this superb smile, “Johnnie Walker & Entourage Present: ‘Don’t Be an Idiot,’ featuring Johnny Drama.” Smile, go see Entourage next week and have a safe weekend.
A little something extra
The May issue of FYSA: For Your Situational Awareness, the CSIS International Security Program newsletter, hit the web today. This issue features articles on the Department of Defense’s overhead costs, U.S. security assistance and regional engagement, the review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the Department of Homeland Security. It also includes links to select recent events, publications, media quotes, and multimedia produced by our scholars and staff. It’s an important read.
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