The World Today for July 07, 2016

July 7, 2016


Tensions, New and Old

Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) are meeting in Warsaw Friday for a two-day summit that’s illustrating the challenges facing – as well as the need for – the alliance 25 years after the end of the Cold War.

Increased tensions with Moscow, concerns about the security implications of Brexit and mixed progress in the global war on terror are on the agenda.

NATO was established to stop the Soviet Union from invading Western Europe. That’s still its main function.

The organization is set to announce troop deployments to the Baltic States and Poland to reassure its commitment to these easternmost NATO members and bolster their policy of deterrence against Russian aggressions.

Other measures to strengthen NATO's presence in the east include welcoming Montenegro as a future member and increasing cooperation with Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Alliance leaders will also discuss the completion of an anti-ballistic-missile defense system – a major concern for the Kremlin, analysts said.

In May, the system's first base became operational in Romania, while a second is under construction in Poland.

The bases are intended to prevent nuclear attacks – including from rogue states like Iran – and pose no direct threat to Russia, according to the US and NATO.

Not so, the Kremlin maintains.

“The bases are there for a first strike, intended to kill Putin,” Moscow military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told Bloomberg.

Still, Russia isn’t the alliance’s only priority.

Another prominent issue will be the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

NATO members are expected to announce the extension of their non-combat training and assistance mission to the government in Kabul – to the tune of roughly $5 billion a year through 2020, according to Reuters.

This commitment comes in the face of major gains by the Taliban in Afghanistan since NATO combat operations to quash the jihadists ended there in 2014.

While they’re discussing what NATO might do around the world, leaders will likely also discuss the future of the organization itself.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has called NATO “obsolete” and “too expensive” because some members don’t pay their fair share. That rhetoric has led observers to wonder how NATO would proceed under a Trump presidency.

Trump isn't the only one throwing the organization's direction into question. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called NATO's recent maneuvers in Eastern Europe “saber-rattling and war cries” against Russia, casting doubt on NATO's unified front against Russia.

Steinmeier's views have found resonance in Germany: A poll last week found that nearly two-thirds of Germans agree with the minister.

Meanwhile, with Britain leaving the EU as a result of the Brexit referendum, the basic security and intelligence relationships the organization was built on will eventually have to be renegotiated to accommodate the UK's new role outside Europe.

But those discussions might wait until a future summit. There is plenty else to occupy leaders in Warsaw for now.


A Ramadan Time-Out

The Syrian army announced Wednesday that it would observe a nationwide 72-hour ceasefire to coincide with the three-day Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

“A 'regime of silence' is applied across all territory of the Syrian Arab Republic for 72 hours from 1 a.m. on July 6 to midnight July 8,” the army said in a statement on the ceasefire.

The Syrian military did not specify whether the ceasefire applied to military action against militant jihadist groups like Islamic State or al-Nusra Front.

It was also unclear whether Syrian rebel forces opposing President Bashar al-Assad would abide by the truce.

Still, US Secretary of State John Kerry said he hopes the ceasefire is “a harbinger” of more ambitious agreements to come for the Syrian conflict.

Getting Personal

The US imposed sanctions for the first time on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un Wednesday over his regime's human rights abuses.

US officials said the decision is part of an “escalating campaign” to undermine North Korea's finances in retaliation for the country's nuclear-weapon and ballistic-missile tests.

Ten other senior North Korean officials were also blacklisted by the Obama administration for their alleged role in helping Kim operate a nationwide system of prison camps, torture chambers and propaganda organs.

The sanctions freeze any assets Kim and the other officials hold in dollars, including property, and preclude any Americans from doing business deals with them.

Officials said that direct sanctions on Kim Jong-Un could have political repercussions on the regime.

“(We) have some evidence that more and more people in North Korea, including within the ruling regime, are conscious that the political situation on the Korean Peninsula may change at some point in their lifetimes,” said one official.

A Damning Verdict

The Chilcot report, the sweeping inquiry into the UK's role in the Iraq War, was released Wednesday, offering a scathing critique of British leadership and then-Prime Minister Tony Blair for mismanaging the conflict.

The report, seven years in the making, said that Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and that military action was not a last resort, in contrast to claims by the US and the UK based on an intelligence case the report called “not justified.”

Sir John Chilcot, who chaired the Iraq Waar inquiry, criticized Blair in the report for sending ill-prepared troops into battle and for the government's “wholly inadequate” plans for the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.

Blair responded to critics Wednesday, saying that for all the planning and preparation failures, the war was still worth the effort to rid the world of Saddam Hussein.

“I did it because I thought it was right,” Blair said.


Of Locusts and Bombs

Locusts are associated with plagues.

Now the US Navy is attempting to use the little flying insects to save lives.

The Navy has given $750,000 to Washington University Biomedical Engineer Baranidharan Raman to convert locusts into bomb-sniffing cyborgs, the Washington Post reported.

Locusts can smell better and detect chemicals better than artificial sensors, said Raman.

But two problems arise when using them to sniff out bombs.

First, locusts can’t tell people whether they are smelling bombs or other dangerous chemicals. So Raman performs surgery on the bugs, implanting circuitry to read their antennae’s findings as well as a backpack that contains little lights. If the locusts smell bombs, the lights glow red. If not, they’re green.

Second, locusts don’t necessarily fly toward bombs. So Raman also designed a “biocompatible silk” that converts lights to heat. Researchers or military officials can then shine lasers at the locusts as they fly, pushing them to fly in one direction or the other with little bursts of heat.

Raman has plenty of work to do. Currently, he can decode some of the locusts’ smelling sensors, but not all. The Navy, however, appears to have faith in him and his half-robot locusts.

Thu, 07/07/2016 – 06:17

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