A weekly recap of the national security, defense and cybersecurity news from foreign policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer. Delivered Thursday. Available to FP subscribers only.
May 6, 2021, 2:30 p.m.
Welcome to Foreign policySecurity letter. Happy Thursday! Before we start, take a look at this This amazing video of the Royal Marines' futuristic new jetpack in action.
The highlights of this week: Biden's rearview mirror fills up with foreign policy crises, the Pentagon discovered a free falling Chinese missileand another fight breaks out for that Republican Party soul.
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Biden's foreign policy blind spots
Every president comes into office with big plans for a foreign policy agenda. And then reality meets and crises appear to appear out of nowhere. George W. Bush stood up for a less interventionist foreign policy – and then September 11th happened. Few could have predicted that Donald Trump's final year in office would be hit by a pandemic.
So what are the major impending breakdowns Joe Biden might face and the ones that might be in his blind spot? Over the past few weeks we've asked national security officials, experts, and other Washington insiders what brewing problems keep them busy at night. Here is the overview:
A possible collapse in Ethiopia. Several US officials we have spoken of drew a comparison between Ethiopia and Yugoslavia in 1992, just before it collapsed and sparked a series of wars and gruesome ethnic cleansing campaigns. An imperfect analogy, but one that underscores how concerned some in Washington are about the stability of the most populous state in East Africa, especially after the conflict in Tigray and the tensions between the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country.
Biden's new special envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, told us that a collapse of Ethiopia could make Syria look like a breeze – Yugoslavia's pre-war population was around 23 million, roughly the same as it was before the civil war in Syria. In comparison, Ethiopia has 110 million inhabitants.
Some members of the Biden government are watching the country closely, but for the rest of the national security world being consumed by the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the linchpin of the great powers' competition with China, this is a blind spot that could flare up at any time.
Lebanon is falling apart. Lebanon, like its southern neighbor, is in serious trouble, facing a severe money crisis and electricity shortage that could leave the country in the dark Later that month. And the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime is making it harder for the Lebanese government, the US State Department uncovered in an outcome last year by driving exchange rates higher and helping Iran-backed Hezbollah exert pressure.
However, the international community ran out of patience following the port explosion in August last year that killed more than 200 people and raised concerns about Lebanon's corruption and political fragility. Any instability in Lebanon could quickly trigger ripples in an already unstable region and endanger the security of Israel and the security of the nearly 2 million refugees who have sought protection in Lebanon.
A deepening crisis in the Sahel region. The United States, France and regional governments have cracked down on terrorist groups in the Sahel of West Africa for years, with mixed results at best as terrorist groups gain a foothold and increase the scale and scope of their attacks.
Western powers relied on the support of long-time Chadian ruler Idriss Déby, as Chad had the most effective army in the region at fighting terrorist groups. But Déby died last month and while his son took over, Déby's death left a potential Performance vacuum and the risk of deepening political instability, which could quickly turn.
Freeze Venezuela. The Trump administration imposed devastating sanctions on the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela and recognized Juan Guaidó as the country's rightful president.
Although Trump's sanctions are still under scrutiny (like many things in the new administration), Biden appears unwilling to loosen the screws despite being a White House official told Reuters that Maduro sent "signals" to the US after allowing the World Food Program into the country and releasing six former CITGO employees.
Another collapse in Libya. Since the fall of longtime Libyan ruler Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, Libya has been ravaged by constant violence and turned into a proxy war for rival powers in the Middle East and Europe, including Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Russia. Libya's first unity government was sworn in in March and was the first glimmer of hope to bring the broken country together in a decade.
But the new government is still weak and fragile, and if it collapses the country could be back in first place. Violence in Libya has exacerbated the refugee crisis in Europe, breeding extremist groups and exporting instability to other parts of Africa, including the Sahel.
Who is next to join Team Biden?
Quit Yellen. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's top foreign affairs MPs finally stand in a row Bloomberg first reported last week. Heidi Crebo-Rediker will be the agency's top diplomat while Brian Nelson will lead the Treasury Department's busy sanctions wing. Elizabeth Rosenberg is to be Deputy Secretary for Terrorist Financing. All of these roles must be confirmed by the Senate.
Monday, May 10th: The Copenhagen international democracy summit begins with the Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya talk to the forum.
Tuesday, May 11th: The grand opening of a new session of the UK Parliament begins with a speech by Queen Elizabeth.
Wednesday, May 12th: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the Secretary General of the United States Antonio Guterres will meet in Moscow to discuss the conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Libya.
Vaccine diplomacy. The Biden administration did signals It will help waive intellectual property rules for COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. trade leader said Thursday. But the move that major US pharmaceutical companies are protesting may not help countries suffering from the coronavirus like India, which the US has already supported with vaccine-making materials, in the short term.
Free falling. The US Department of Defense is persecution a runaway Chinese space rocket that will return to Earth this weekend. But it's not an average take-off – officials aren't entirely sure where the debris will land, as the speed at which the projectile is moving, combined with the rotation of the earth, can trigger calculations. And the Pentagon says it has no plans to shoot it down.
Family matter. Things get nastier in the House Republican caucus as pro-Trump members prepare a resolution to oust Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-tier GOP member, from her place in the party leadership.
Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, criticized former President Donald Trump for his role in sparking deadly riots in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Cheney's fall would shake off a Hawk foreign policy voice within the Republican caucus: she has expressed her support for Israel's annexation of parts of the West Bank and has been a sharp critic of the Iranian regime.
Trump-backed MP Elise Stefanik from New York once as moderate campaigns Before he becomes a staunch defender of Trump during his first impeachment, he will likely take the job. (Critics have noted Cheney scores far higher to conservative voting metrics.)
"You're on your knees for Trump and she stands up for herself. And that's an embarrassing thing when you're the guy on your knees."
– Former MP Barbara Comstock, a Republican from Virginia, talks to the hill Newspaper about the fight against Liz Cheney of the Republican leadership in the house
Stiff upper lip. Australian officials are embroiled in a war of words with Chinese officials angry at Beijing's growing economic and political coercion. Keith Johnson of Jack and FP report Australia is increasingly becoming a test case to hold its own against China as Beijing continued to attempt to punish Canberra with tariffs and military build-ups to test its capabilities.
"It's not just about Australia," said Heino Klinck, who was US Secretary of Defense for East Asia until January. "It's just that the Chinese have decided if they can put the Aussies back in a box that will send a message to everyone else."
We feel the same way. "Even Zoom CEO Says He Has Zoom Fatigue" above Report wire.