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Daily Memo: Mercenaries, Executive Powers, NATO Takeaways

All the news worth knowing today.

GPF Staff |July 12, 2018

What’s the trouble with mercenaries? After returning home from Syria, private Russian fighters have called on President Vladimir Putin to normalize their legal status and afford them veteran benefits. Moscow has always had a hard time recognizing mercenary groups because they are, technically, illegal in Russia. And yet the military routinely uses them – most recently in Syria and Crimea – because they add another layer to the state security blanket. Putin is under pressure from his citizens for failing to solve a range of economic problems. He won’t want a group of private soldiers to pressure him too.

The ongoing trade wars began for a variety of reasons, but they couldn’t have happened without the executive authority afforded to the U.S. president to impose tariffs. Now, the U.S. Congress is preparing legislation to curb that authority. The proposed bill would require congressional approval for certain tariffs, particularly those levied in the name of national security. (For the wonks: It targets Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the mechanism President Donald Trump used to place tariffs on steel and aluminum and potentially automobiles.) Needless to say, the legislation, if it passes, would restrict what Trump is legally allowed to do as the trade war unfolds. We’ll recuse ourselves from the debate over the rights and wrongs of executive authority and (selfishly) note that this is in keeping with our 2018 forecast, which said the U.S. will struggle to define its international interests and to implement strategies to pursue them.

The NATO summit is coming to an end. Ignore the drama that surrounded the summit and you’re left with two takeaways. The first is the alliance affirmed its continued support for Turkey, which will help the government in Ankara defend its airspace and secure its border with Syria. And it did this despite the fact that Russia, the country NATO was created to combat, is cozying up to Turkey in no small part by supplying S-400 missile defense systems. Unsurprisingly, some NATO members have bristled at this. The second takeaway is that Northern Europe has agreed to host a northern headquarters called Multinational Division North. Among the hosts are Estonia, Latvia and Denmark, which populate a NATO frontier that sees a little less action than those in Turkey but is nonetheless preparing itself for future conflict.

New peace talks have started in Myanmar, attended by the government, the military and rebel factions fighting in the northern reaches of the country. There are reports that China is helping to facilitate the talks, and there’s reason to believe them. China has long used its relationship with rebel groups to manipulate its ties with the government. (Myanmar is an overlooked strategic asset of China.) This is not the first round of peace talks, nor will it be the last. But how it affects the other rebellions in Myanmar will, in turn, affect China’s influence in Myanmar, thereby drawing in the interest of other powers seeking to contain Chinese expansion.

Honorable Mentions

  • Last week, military officials from Belarus and the U.K. met in Minsk to address questions of arms control – a notable event, considering how tight Belarus is with Russia.
  • Tribes near Basra, Iraq, demonstrated against foreign and local oil companies operating in the area.