No exit from the Brexit drama. British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal crashed and burned in the House of Commons, as expected. May will now face a no-confidence vote in which she is widely expected to prevail. (The results should be known in the early afternoon in North America.) In other words, nothing much has changed, except perhaps that May intends next to engage directly with senior lawmakers in the Labour Party – but not the party’s leader – to reach a consensus on a way forward. Her efforts, if fruitful, could lead only to a closer future relationship with the EU, a so-called softer Brexit. The likeliest outcome at this point appears to be delaying Brexit day by extending Article 50, since that’s the only option that would allow all sides to keep avoiding the difficult decisions necessary to reach a deal.
The Pentagon wants you to take Chinese threats seriously. The U.S. Defense Department released a pair of reports Tuesday outlining all the tools – from Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative to its industrial policies and pursuit of Western technology to its buildup in hard power – China is using to chip away at U.S. global dominance. And according to one of the reports, a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment, the effort is starting to pay off. Chinese hypersonic missile technology, for example, is already surpassing that of the U.S. To make sure the DIA report got ample attention, the Pentagon trotted out an unnamed official to stress to reporters that burgeoning confidence in China’s military power may drive Chinese leaders to try to retake Taiwan, among other potential threats. It’s worth taking these sorts of reports with a grain or two of salt. Washington tends to address emerging threats belatedly, and the Pentagon has an interest in talking them up a bit to ensure it gets the budget it needs to maintain its edge over the Chinese military and invest in cutting-edge systems. Regardless, the bottom line is that even if China is a long way from being able to go toe to toe with the U.S., the Pentagon thinks it’s getting good at a lot of things, and quickly. And Beijing is using all aspects of Chinese soft and hard power to make up ground. Welcome to the not-quite-Cold War.
Another emerging power in Asia. As the U.S.-China competition intensifies, expect India to play an increasingly important role in U.S. defense plans. On Wednesday, India’s ambassador to the U.S. said the country would purchase some $5 billion in U.S. oil and natural gas annually, plus at least $8 billion worth of U.S. defense equipment. New Delhi is under pressure to bring down its trade surplus with the U.S. and is reportedly concerned that, if and when the White House settles its trade dispute with China, it will turn its attention to India. The South Asian giant, after all, is poised to take up the mantle as a top low-cost exporter. The easiest way for India to contain the bilateral trade deficit with the U.S. – which was $27 billion in 2017 – and keep deficit hawks in Washington at bay is to buy stuff it needs from a pre-eminent naval power with which it wants to deepen cooperation anyway. But the U.S. doesn’t export everything India needs in the energy or defense sphere, and New Delhi has long been wary of tight alliances. Last week, in fact, India confirmed that it would receive S-400 air defense systems from Russia (the same system the U.S. is pressuring Turkey to give up), and it’s also enhancing cooperation with Iran on multiple fronts.
- U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday shortly after Venezuela’s National Assembly, which the White House is calling the “only legitimate democratic body in the country,” formally labeled President Nicolas Maduro a “usurper” following last year’s disputed elections.
- Somali jihadist group al-Shabab attacked a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, killing at least 14 people, including several foreigners.
- At least four U.S. troops died and another three were injured in a blast in the Syrian city of Manbij.
- Aggregate global debt reached $244 trillion, or 318 percent of global gross domestic product, in the third quarter of last year, according to an analysis by the Institute of International Finance.
- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s top adviser, Kim Yong Chol, in Washington on Thursday or Friday.
- U.S. and British forces conducted their first joint naval drills in the South China Sea since China began building militarized islands in the disputed waters.
- The TurkStream natural gas pipeline project is set to become fully operational by the end of 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said.