South Korea ends an intel-sharing pact with Japan. South Korea’s National Security Council announced that Seoul was withdrawing from a key 2016 intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan. The South Korean NSC official said that the agreement no longer served the country’s national interest and a formal notice will be delivered to Japan by Saturday. Japan and the U.S. had hoped to preserve the agreement, which was set to renew automatically this weekend. As we’ve previously noted, the pact has been embattled from the start by historical distrust and strategic divergence between Seoul and Tokyo in South Korea. Prior to the agreement’s signing, the U.S. had been trying fruitlessly for years to get its two most important allies in the Western Pacific to tolerate each other enough to develop a more robust trilateral partnership. An intelligence-sharing pact was almost reached in 2012, for example, but fell apart amid domestic political opposition in South Korea. The agreement began to fray as soon as it was signed three years ago. Within a year, for example, Japan was accusing South Korea of limiting intel-sharing to North Korean issues, while withholding intel on Chinese maritime activities. Then, in late December, a South Korean warship locked its fire-control radar on a Japanese maritime surveillance plane. Japan’s move to restrict exports of materials critical to South Korea’s electronics industry in July was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. The collapse of the pact reflects two key trends in the region. The first is slightly diminished U.S. interest or ability to keep Japan and South Korea on the same page. The second, more important trend is strategic divergence between South Korea and Japan that no amount of U.S. diplomatic maneuvering could mask.
Mexico to talk with self-defense groups. Mexican Interior Secretary Olga Sanchez Cordero said that the government was taking steps to begin peace talks with armed groups – specifically self-defense groups, rather than organized crime – in Guerrero, Tamaulipas and Michoacan states. In recent months, government security forces have clashed with such self-defense groups. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador added that the government will not hold talks with criminal groups and it will not support self-defense groups; he said it is the state that should be guaranteeing public security. Lopez Obrador has previously declined to rule out amnesty as part of his plans to improve national security – which remains a herculean task.
Russia to host military drills. Russia announced the details for its Center-2019 military drills, which are scheduled for Sept. 16-21. The list of foreign participants is notable: China, India, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will all send troops to the exercises. This makes for a curious set of bedfellows considering historical animosity between India and China and India and Pakistan, and tensions between China and its Kyrgyz and Kazakh neighbors over Chinese business and China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs. But it’s also a sign that Moscow still holds a large degree of influence over this part of the world. The drills, among Russia’s largest, will involve 128,000 people, more than 20,000 items of military equipment and 600 aircraft over multiple locations, including the Arctic region. The exercises will focus on counterterrorism drills, air defense operations, reconnaissance and simulated combat. This is the fourth iteration of the Center drills, which began in 2008.
Russia’s tricolor flies in Donetsk. Today is Russia’s National Flag Day, and while it’s not the most widely celebrated public holiday, this year’s observances included some events that could affect prospects for peace in eastern Ukraine. The self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics joined in the celebrations; news reports said that the Russian tricolor was replacing the Donetsk flag on some government buildings. Russia’s flag flying in Donetsk makes the contested region look like a part of Russia, which is certainly not lost on either Moscow or Kyiv. At the time of this writing, neither Russia nor Ukraine had addressed the incident.
- The U.S. Congressional Budget Office reported that the budget deficit will reach $960 billion this year, and warned that the U.S. debt is on an “unsustainable course.”
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel told British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that she still believes there is a way to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
- The Chinese and Egyptian navies completed joint military drills in the Mediterranean that focused on counterterrorism and anti-piracy operations.
- Venezuela’s state-run oil company reduced its debt to Russia’s Rosneft to $1.1 billion, down from $2.3 billion at the end of 2018.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to Finland to discuss Russia’s Aug. 8 nuclear accident and reassure Helsinki of the safety measures being taken, and to discuss information exchange and early warning systems.
- U.S. President Donald Trump said India, Pakistan, Russia, Iran and Turkey will need to step up their efforts to fight terrorism in the future because the U.S. will not remain in Afghanistan indefinitely.
- Elections in Somalia’s Jubbaland region have borne two presidents. After Ahmed Mohamed Islam was reelected, the opposition held parallel elections and voted Abdirashid Mohamed Hiddig into office.