Posts Tagged ‘East China Sea’

Beijing denies intercepting US ‘sniffer plane’ over Yellow Sea

May 20, 2017

China says its aircraft were acting ‘in accordance with the law’ when they approached the American WC-135 plane

A US WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft can detect signs of nuclear activity.
A US WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft can detect signs of nuclear activity. Photograph: HANDOUT/Reuters

China has denied US allegations that two of its fighter jets intercepted an American “radiation-sniffing” plane earlier this week, saying that its aircraft were acting “in accordance with the law”.

The U.S. Air Force's WC-135 Constant Phoenix sniffer plane in a file photo. (Yonhap)

The U.S. Air Force’s WC-135 Constant Phoenix sniffer plane in a file photo. (Yonhap)

“Related remarks from the US side are inconsistent with fact,” the Chinese defence ministry said in a statement posted to its website late on Friday.

“On 17 May, a US reconnaissance aircraft was carrying out an operation in airspace over the Chinese Yellow Sea (the northern part of the East China sea), and Chinese aircraft acted to identify and investigate in accordance with the law,” the statement said, calling the action “professional” and “safe”.

President Donald Trump thought he made a new friend at Mar-a-Lago

The US air force said in an earlier statement on Friday that its plane, a WC-135 Constant Phoenix, was conducting a “routine mission” in international airspace when it was intercepted by two Chinese Sukhoi SU-30 fighter aircrafts.

The WC-135 is a so-called “sniffer plane” designed to scan the atmosphere for signs of nuclear activity.

“The WC-135 was operating in accordance with international law. While we are still investigating the incident, initial reports from the US aircrew characterised the intercept as unprofessional,” the US air force said.

Mid-air interceptions occur routinely in international airspace, but the US militarywill often call out foreign pilots if it judges the manoeuvres to be risky or unprofessional.

Meanwhile, China urged the US to halt such reconnaissance exercises in order to prevent future incidents.

“The American military’s frequent reconnaissance operations are the root cause of security issues between the Chinese and US navy and air forces,” the Chinese defence ministry’s statement said.

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An SU-30 fighter jet

An SU-30 fighter jet CREDIT: EPA

Chinese fighter jets intercept US military plane over East China Sea in ‘unprofessional and unsafe manner’

May 19, 2017

US says the intercept was ‘unprofessional’ and has raised the issue with China. Japan meanwhile protests a Chinese drone flight in disputed waters

Friday, May 19, 2017, 12:41pm

Two Chinese SU-30 fighter jets carried out what the US military described on Thursday as an “unprofessional” intercept of a US radiation detection aircraft while it was flying in international airspace over the East China Sea.

“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said air force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge.

An SU-30 fighter jet

An SU-30 fighter jet CREDIT: EPA

Hodge said the US characterisation of the incident was based on initial reports from the aircrew aboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft.”

“Distances always have a bearing on how we characterise interactions,” Hodge said, adding a US military investigation into the intercept was underway.

She said the WC-135 was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with international law.

The incident follows a similar one in February when a US Navy P-3 spy plane and a Chinese military aircraft came close to each other over the South China Sea. The US saw that event as unsafe but also inadvertent.

Separately, Japan’s defence minister, Tomomi Inada, criticised what she said was a drone flight from a Chinese government vessel that had entered Japanese waters around disputed islands in the East China Sea, describing it as “a violation of sovereignty.”

“A drone flight from a Chinese government ship that entered our territorial waters is totally unacceptable, as we think it will lead to the escalation of the situation. The case is a serious violation of our national sovereignty,” Inada said at a news conference.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said at a separate press conference that the drone flight was “a new type of action by China.”

“We have sternly protested that it is utterly unacceptable,” he said.

The incident took place after the Japan Coast Guard confirmed four China Coast Guard vessels had entered waters around the uninhabited islands, as well as the existence of a drone flying above one of the vessels on Thursday morning.

Japan and China have long been at loggerheads over the tiny, uninhabited islands, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.

It was the first such flight near the islands witnessed by Japanese officials, although Thursday’s incident takes to 13 the number of intrusions this year by Chinese coastguard ships in the contested waters, Japan’s coastguard said.

 The disputed islands in the East China Sea, controlled by Japan which calls them the Senkaku islands, and claimed by China which calls them the Diaoyu islands. Photo: Reuters

Japanese government sources said an F-15 fighter jet was scrambled in response to the deployment of a drone. Japanese coast guard ordered the Chinese vessels to leave the waters and they did so nearly two hours later. The drone later disappeared from sight, Japanese coast guard said.

The Chinese embassy responded to the Japanese protest by reiterating “China’s own stance” on the islands, the official added.

In a brief statement on its website, China’s State Oceanic Administration confirmed that four coast guard vessels had been patrolling by the islands, but made no mention of any drone.

China routinely rejects Japanese criticism of such patrols, saying its ships have every right to operate in what China calls its territorial waters.

Additional reporting by Kyodo

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2094908/chinese-jets-intercept-us-military-plane-over-east

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Two Chinese fighter jets conducted an “unprofessional” intercept of a US Air Force plane, US officials said, with one flying upside down directly above the aircraft in a manoeuvre similar to the one performed in the Hollywood movie Top Gun.

The two Chinese Su-30 jets came within 150 feet of the US radiation detection plane during the confrontation over the Yellow Sea, CNN and other US media outlets reported. The Yellow Sea is between China’s east coast and the Korean Peninsula.

“The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels,” said Air Force spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Lori Hodge.

Lieutenant Colonel Hodge said the US characterisation of the incident was based on initial reports from the US aircrew aboard the WC-135 Constant Phoenix aircraft “due to the manoeuvres by the Chinese pilot, as well as the speeds and proximity of both aircraft.”

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“Distances always have a bearing on how we characterise interactions,” she said, adding a US military investigation into the intercept was underway.
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She said the WC-135, a four-engine jet which monitors for elements that a nuclear test would emit into the air, was carrying out a routine mission at the time and was operating in accordance with international law.

The US Air Force operates two WC-135 jets from Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska that regularly fly to north-east Asia, CNN reported.

Donald Trump’s administration has been ratcheting up pressure on nuclear-armed North Korea to give up its military ambitions.

The rogue nation has carried out five nuclear tests, including two last year.

The incident between the US aircraft and two Chinese planes on Wednesday is the second this year.

A Chinese surveillance plane and a US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft experienced what US officials called an “unsafe” close encounter over the South China Sea in February.

Last year, Beijing rejected accusations from the US that its fighter jets carried out another unsafe manoeuvre over the sea.

Washington also raised concerns over China’s military in 2014 when it claimed a Chinese plane made a “dangerous” pass near a US aircraft – performing a barrel roll, apparently to display its weapons.

In 2001 a Chinese jet collided with a US Navy surveillance aircraft off Hainan Island, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the Navy plane to make an emergency landing on the island.

Washington severed military relations with China after that episode. Officials in Beijing regularly call on the US to cut down the amount of patrols it carries out near China.

TT/ 19 MAY 2017 • 3:38AM

U.S. Pacific commander visits Japanese East China Sea listening post

May 18, 2017

Reuters

Wed May 17, 2017 | 4:41pm EDT

 

Recent Developments Surrounding the South China Sea

May 15, 2017

BEIJING — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.

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GUAM HOSTS JOINT EXERCISES BETWEEN FORCES OF JAPAN, FRANCE, BRITAIN, US

U.S. marines joined with forces from Japan, France and Britain for live-firing exercises on the American territory of Guam that are intended to show support for the free passage of vessels in international waters amid concerns China may restrict access to the South China Sea.

The drills are being held around Guam and Tinian islands about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) south of Tokyo and east of Manila, Philippines.

The exercises feature two French ships currently on a four-month deployment to the Indian and Pacific oceans. Some 50 Japanese soldiers and 160 Japanese sailors were due to participate, along with U.K. helicopters and 70 U.K. troops deployed with one of the French ships.

The drills had been halted temporarily Friday after a French landing craft ran aground. U.S. officials said they stopped the drills so they could assess the situation. They moved ahead as scheduled on Saturday.

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SHIPS FROM THAILAND, SINGAPORE, JOIN US NAVY IN SOUTH CHINA SEA DRILLS

Ships from the navies of Thailand and Singapore completed a three-day exercise with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea last week aimed at boosting their ability to work together on a broad range of maritime tasks.

The exercises, termed Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) have been held since 1995 with Thailand and Singapore as original participants.

“Our Sailors certainly are learning extensively from this tremendous experience,” Cmdr. Doug Meagher, who commands the littoral combat ship USS Coronado, was quoted as saying by the website navy.mil.

Singapore and Thailand sent frigates to take part in the drills, which also included the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Sterett.

Along with operating together at sea, the exercises included boarding, search and seizure, joint flight operations and communications drills.

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PHILIPPINES BEGINS MOVING TROOPS AND SUPPLIES TO REINFORCE ISLAND HOLDING

The Philippines has started transporting troops and supplies to a disputed island in the South China Sea in preparation for construction work that includes reinforcing and lengthening an airstrip and building a dock.

Pag-asa has been home to Filipino soldiers and fishermen for decades, but is also claimed by Beijing.

Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, head of the Philippine military’s Western Command, said last week that troops and initial supplies had arrived on the island. About 1.6 billion pesos ($32 million) has been earmarked for the construction that will also include a fishing port, solar power generators, a water desalination plant, the refurbishment of housing for soldiers and the construction of facilities for marine research and tourists.

China’s construction of seven islands nearby in the Spratly archipelago has dwarfed similar activities by rival claimants, including the Philippines, whose frosty relations with Beijing have improved significantly under President Rodrigo Duterte.

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JAPAN, INDIA AFFIRM PLANS TO STRENGTHEN MILITARY COOPERATION

Japan and India affirmed plans last week to strengthen their military cooperation amid rising tensions in the South China Sea and elsewhere in Asia.

Indian Defense Minister Arun Jaitley told his Japanese counterpart, Tomomi Inada, in Tokyo that his country hopes to pursue a strategic partnership with Japan for regional peace and stability.

Jaitley welcomed a planned trilateral naval exercise among the U.S., India and Japan in July as a way of strengthening cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.

Japan and India have been stepping up defense cooperation amid China’s increased assertiveness in the South China Sea and moves to establish a more permanent presence in the Indian Ocean. China regards Japan as a historical rival for dominance in northeast Asia and is embroiled in longstanding border disputes with India, with which it fought a brief but bloody frontier war in 1962.

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Worldwide U.S. Threat Assessment of the U.S. National Intelligence Community, May 11, 2017, By Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, to the Senate Intelligence Committee

May 11, 2017

STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD WORLDWIDE THREAT ASSESSMENT of the US INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY May 11, 2017

By Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats

INTRODUCTION Chairman Burr, Vice Chairman Warner, Members of the Committee, thank you for the invitation to offer the United States Intelligence Community’s 2017 assessment of threats to US national security. My statement reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community’s extraordinary men and women, whom I am privileged and honored to lead. We in the Intelligence Community are committed every day to provide the nuanced, multidisciplinary intelligence that policymakers, warfighters, and domestic law enforcement personnel need to protect American lives and America’s interests anywhere in the world. The order of the topics presented in this statement does not necessarily indicate the relative importance or magnitude of the threat in the view of the Intelligence Community. Information available as of April 24, 2017 was used in the preparation of this assessment.

The entire document is online at:

https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/Newsroom/Testimonies/SSCI%20Unclassified%20SFR%20-%20Final.pdf

CYBER THREAT

Our adversaries are becoming more adept at using cyberspace to threaten our interests and advance their own, and despite improving cyber defenses, nearly all information, communication networks, and systems will be at risk for years.

Cyber threats are already challenging public trust and confidence in global institutions, governance, and norms, while imposing costs on the US and global economies. Cyber threats also pose an increasing risk to public health, safety, and prosperity as cyber technologies are integrated with critical infrastructure in key sectors. These threats are amplified by our ongoing delegation of decisionmaking, sensing, and authentication roles to potentially vulnerable automated systems.

This delegation increases the likely physical, economic, and psychological consequences of cyber attack and exploitation events when they do occur. Many countries view cyber capabilities as a viable tool for projecting their influence and will continue developing cyber capabilities.

Some adversaries also remain undeterred from conducting reconnaissance, espionage, influence, and even attacks in cyberspace.

Cyber Threat Actors

Russia.

Russia is a full-scope cyber actor that will remain a major threat to US Government, military, diplomatic, commercial, and critical infrastructure. Moscow has a highly advanced offensive cyber program, and in recent years, the Kremlin has assumed a more aggressive cyber posture. This aggressiveness was evident in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 US election, and we assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the 2016 US election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets. Outside the United States, Russian actors have conducted damaging and disruptive cyber attacks, including on critical infrastructure networks. In some cases, Russian intelligence actors have masqueraded as third parties, hiding behind false online personas designed to cause the victim to misattribute the source of the attack.

Russia has also leveraged cyberspace to seek to influence public opinion across Europe and Eurasia. We assess that Russian cyber operations will continue to target the United States and its allies to gather intelligence, support Russian decisionmaking, conduct influence operations to support Russian military and political objectives, and prepare the cyber environment for future contingencies.

China.

We assess that Beijing will continue actively targeting the US Government, its allies, and US companies for cyber espionage. Private-sector security experts continue to identify ongoing cyber activity from China, although at volumes significantly lower than before the bilateral Chinese-US cyber commitments of September 2015. Beijing has also selectively used offensive cyber operations against foreign targets that it probably believes threaten Chinese domestic stability or regime legitimacy.

Iran.

Tehran continues to leverage cyber espionage, propaganda, and attacks to support its security priorities, influence events and foreign perceptions, and counter threats—including against US allies in the region. Iran has also used its cyber capabilities directly against the United States. For example, in 2 2013, an Iranian hacker conducted an intrusion into the industrial control system of a US dam, and in 2014, Iranian actors conducted a data deletion attack against the network of a US-based casino.

North Korea.

Pyongyang has previously conducted cyber-attacks against US commercial entities— specifically, Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014—and remains capable of launching disruptive or destructive cyber attacks to support its political objectives. Pyongyang also poses a cyber threat to US allies. South Korean officials have suggested that North Korea was probably responsible for the compromise and disclosure of data in 2014 from a South Korean nuclear plant.

Terrorists.

Terrorists—to include the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS)—will also continue to use the Internet to organize, recruit, spread propaganda, raise funds, collect intelligence, inspire action by followers, and coordinate operations. Hizballah and HAMAS will continue to build on their cyber accomplishments inside and outside the Middle East. ISIS will continue to seek opportunities to target and release sensitive information about US citizens, similar to their operations in 2015 disclosing information about US military personnel, in an effort to inspire attacks.

Criminals.

Criminals are also developing and using sophisticated cyber tools for a variety of purposes including theft, extortion, and facilitation of other criminal activities. “Ransomware,” malware that employs deception and encryption to block users from accessing their own data, has become a particularly popular tool of extortion. In 2016, criminals employing ransomware turned their focus to the medical sector, disrupting patient care and undermining public confidence in some medical institutions.

Physical Consequences

Our adversaries are likely to seek capabilities to hold at risk US critical infrastructure as well as the broader ecosystem of connected consumer and industrial devices known as the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Security researchers continue to discover vulnerabilities in consumer products including automobiles and medical devices. If adversaries gain the ability to create significant physical effects in the United States via cyber means, they will have gained new avenues for coercion and deterrence. For example, a cyber attack on a Ukrainian power network in 2015 caused power outages for several hours.

Economic and Security Consequences

Adversaries will continue to use cyber operations to undermine US military and commercial advantage by hacking into US defense industry and commercial enterprises in pursuit of scientific, technical, and business information. Examples include theft of data on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-22 Raptor fighter jet, and the MV-22 Osprey.

In addition, adversaries often target personal accounts of government officials and their private-sector counterparts. This espionage reduces cost and accelerates the development of foreign weapon systems, enables foreign reverse-engineering and countermeasures development, and undermines US military, technological, and commercial advantage. Psychological Consequences The impact of cyber threats extends beyond the physical and commercial realms.

Online threats—from both states and non-state actors—distort the perceptions and decisionmaking processes of the target, whether they are countries or individuals, in ways that are both obvious and insidious. Information from 3 cyber espionage can be leaked indiscriminately or selectively to shape perceptions.

Furthermore, even a technically secure Internet can serve as a platform for the delivery of manipulative content crafted by foes seeking to gain influence or foment distrust.

Global Security, Diplomacy, and Norms

We assess that as foreign countries seek to balance security, economic growth, and interoperability objectives, many will implement new laws and technical changes to monitor and control access to information within and across their borders. Some states will continue to seek to control user access through means such as restrictions on encryption and steps to reduce anonymity online. However, these states will probably not significantly erode the overall global connectivity of the Internet. Furthermore, some state information control efforts will almost certainly be challenged by a broad coalition of states and non-state cyber stakeholders, including innovative technologists, industry leaders, privacy advocates, “hackers,” and others with an interest in opposing censorship or government control of cyberspace.

Although recognition is widespread that existing international law applies to states’ conduct in cyberspace, how that law applies to states’ use of information and communication technologies (ICT) remains a subject of significant international discussion. In addition, although efforts are ongoing to gain adherence to certain voluntary, non-binding norms of responsible state behavior in cyberspace, they have not gained universal acceptance, and efforts to promote them are increasingly polarized. Despite the existence and widespread ratification of the Budapest Convention—the treaty on cybercrime of the Council of Europe—some states have called for the drafting of new international treaties to regulate cybercrime and other cyber-related issues. Moreover, although some countries might be willing to explore limits on cyber operations against certain targets, few would likely support a ban on offensive capabilities.

EMERGING AND DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGIES S

Strategic Outlook

Continued rapid technological progress remains central to economic prosperity and social well-being, but it is also introducing potential new threats. Artificial intelligence (AI) is advancing computational capabilities that benefit the economy, yet those advances also enable new military capabilities for our adversaries. Genome editing has the potential to cure diseases and modify human performance, which presents new ethical and security issues. The Internet of Things (IoT) is connecting billions of new devices to the Internet, but it also broadens the attack potential of cyber actors against networks and information. Semiconductors remain core to the economy and the military, yet new national security risks might arise from next-generation chips because of technology plateaus and investments by other states.

Artificial Intelligence

A surge of commercial and government research is improving AI capabilities while raising national security issues. Semi-autonomous cars, the victory of an AI-based system over the world champion in the game Go, and devices with AI-enabled personal assistants have drawn global attention to the field. 4 Corporations around the globe are investing in a range of AI applications including marketing, crime detection, health, and autonomous vehicles. Although the United States leads AI research globally, foreign state research in AI is growing. Foreign governments cite AI in their science and technology strategies or have planned specific efforts to enhance their AI capabilities.

The implications of our adversaries’ abilities to use AI are potentially profound and broad. They include an increased vulnerability to cyber attack, difficulty in ascertaining attribution, facilitation of advances in foreign weapon and intelligence systems, the risk of accidents and related liability issues, and unemployment.

Genome Editing

The development of genome-editing technologies is accelerating the rate at which we can develop new approaches to address medical, health, industrial, environmental, and agricultural challenges and revolutionize biological research. However, the fast pace of development and broad range of applications are likely to challenge governments and scientific communities alike to develop regulatory and ethical frameworks or norms to govern the responsible application of the technology.

Internet of Things

The widespread incorporation of “smart” devices into everyday objects is changing how people and machines interact with each other and the world around them, often improving efficiency, convenience, and quality of life. Their deployment has also introduced vulnerabilities into both the infrastructure that they support and on which they rely, as well as the processes they guide. Cyber actors have already used IoT devices for distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and we assess they will continue. In the future, state and non-state actors will likely use IoT devices to support intelligence operations or domestic security or to access or attack targeted computer networks.

Next-Generation Semiconductors

Continual advancement of semiconductor technologies during the past 50 years in accordance with Moore’s Law—which posits that the overall processing power of computers will double every two years— has been a key driver of the information technology revolution that underpins many US economic and security advantages. Industry experts, however, are concerned that Moore’s Law might no longer apply by the mid-2020s as the fundamental limits of physics to further miniaturize transistors are reached, potentially eroding US national security advantages.

Meanwhile, China is increasing its efforts to improve its domestic technological and production capabilities through mergers and acquisitions to reduce its dependence on foreign semiconductor technology, according to Western experts and business analysts.

TERRORISM

The worldwide threat from terrorism will remain geographically diverse and multifaceted—a continuing challenge for the United States, our allies, and partners who seek to counter it. Sunni violent extremists will remain the primary terrorist threat. These extremists will continue to embroil conflict zones in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia.

Some will also seek to attempt attacks outside their operating areas.

Iran continues to be the foremost state sponsor of terrorism and, with its primary terrorism partner, Lebanese Hizballah, will pose a continuing threat to US interests and partners worldwide. The Syrian, Iraqi, and Yemeni conflicts will continue to aggravate the rising Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict, threatening regional stability.

Terrorist Threat to the United States

US-based homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) will remain the most frequent and unpredictable Sunni violent extremist threat to the US homeland. They will be spurred on by terrorist groups’ public calls to carry out attacks in the West. The threat of HVE attacks will persist, and some attacks will probably occur with little or no warning. In 2016, 16 HVEs were arrested, and three died in attacks against civilian soft targets. Those detained were arrested for a variety of reasons, including attempting travel overseas for jihad and plotting attacks in the United States. In addition to the HVE threat, a small number of foreignbased Sunni violent extremist groups will also pose a threat to the US homeland and continue publishing multilingual propaganda that calls for attacks against US and Western interests in the US homeland and abroad.

Dynamic Overseas Threat Environment

The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) continues to pose an active terrorist threat to the United States and its allies because of its ideological appeal, media presence, control of territory in Iraq and Syria, its branches and networks in other countries, and its proven ability to direct and inspire attacks against a wide range of targets around the world. However, territorial losses in Iraq and Syria and persistent counterterrorism operations against parts of its global network are degrading its strength and ability to exploit instability and societal discontent.

ISIS is unlikely to announce that it is ending its selfdeclared caliphate even if it loses overt control of its de facto capitals in Mosul, Iraq and Ar Raqqah, Syria and the majority of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq and Syria. Outside Iraq and Syria, ISIS is seeking to foster interconnectedness among its global branches and networks, align their efforts to ISIS’s strategy, and withstand counter-ISIS efforts. We assess that ISIS maintains the intent and capability to direct, enable, assist, and inspire transnational attacks. The number of foreign fighters traveling to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria will probably continue to decline as potential recruits face increasing difficulties attempting to travel there.

The number of ISIS foreign fighters leaving Iraq and Syria might increase. Increasing departures would very likely prompt additional would-be fighters to look for new battlefields or return to their home countries to conduct or support external operations. During the past 16 years, US and global counterterrorism (CT) partners have significantly reduced alQa‘ida’s ability to carry out large-scale, mass casualty attacks, particularly against the US homeland.

However, al-Qa’ida and its affiliates remain a significant CT threat overseas as they remain focused on exploiting local and regional conflicts. In 2016, al-Nusrah Front and al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) faced CT pressure in Syria and Yemen, respectively, but have preserved the resources, manpower, safe haven, local influence, and operational capabilities to continue to pose a threat. In Somalia, al-Shabaab sustained a high pace of attacks in Somalia and continued to threaten the northeast and coastal areas of Kenya. Its operations elsewhere in East Africa have diminished after the deaths of many external plotters since 2015, but al-Shabaab retains the resources, manpower, influence, and operational capabilities to pose a real threat to the region, especially Kenya.

In North and West Africa, al-Qa’ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) escalated its attacks on Westerners in 2016 with two high-profile attacks in Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. It merged with allies in 2017 to form a new group intended to promote unity among Mali-based jihadists, extend the jihad beyond the Sahara and Sahel region, increase military action, and speed up recruitment of fighters. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, remaining members of al-Qa‘ida and its regional affiliate, al-Qa‘ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), continued to suffer personnel losses and disruptions to safe havens in 2016 due to CT operations. However, both groups maintain the intent to conduct attacks against the United States and the West.

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND PROLIFERATION

State efforts to modernize, develop, or acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD), their delivery systems, or their underlying technologies constitute a major threat to the security of the United States, its deployed troops, and allies. Both state and non-state actors have already demonstrated the use of chemical weapons in the Levant.

Biological and chemical materials and technologies—almost always dual use—move easily in the globalized economy, as do personnel with the scientific expertise to design and use them for legitimate and illegitimate purposes. Information about the latest discoveries in the life sciences also diffuses rapidly around the globe, widening the accessibility of knowledge and tools for beneficial purposes and for potentially nefarious applications.

Russia Pressing Forward With Cruise Missile That Violates the INF Treaty

Russia has developed a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) that the United States has declared is in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Despite Russia’s ongoing development of other Treaty-compliant missiles with intermediate ranges, Moscow probably believes that the new GLCM provides sufficient military advantages that make it worth risking the political repercussions of violating the INF Treaty. In 2013, a senior Russian administration official stated publicly that the world had changed since the INF Treaty was signed in 1987. Other Russian officials have made statements in the past complaining that the Treaty prohibits Russia, but not some of its neighbors, from developing and possessing ground-launched missiles with ranges between 500 to 5,500 kilometers.

China Modernizing its Nuclear Forces

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has established a Rocket Force—replacing the longstanding Second Artillery Corps—and continues to modernize its nuclear missile force by adding more survivable road-mobile systems and enhancing its silo-based systems. This new generation of missiles is intended to ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent by providing a second-strike capability. In addition, the PLA Navy continues to develop the JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and might produce additional JIN-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The JINclass submarines—armed with JL-2 SLBMs—will give the PLA Navy its first long-range, sea-based nuclear capability. 7

Iran and JCPOA

Tehran’s public statements suggest that it wants to preserve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—because it views the JCPOA as a means to remove sanctions while preserving some nuclear capabilities. It expects the P5+1 members to adhere to their obligations, although Iran clearly recognizes the new US Administration is concerned with the deal. Iran’s implementation of the JCPOA has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about a year. The JCPOA has also enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities, mainly through improved access by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its investigative authorities under the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.

Iran is pursuing capabilities to meet its nuclear energy and technology goals and to give it the capability to build missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, if it chooses to do so. Its pursuit of these goals will influence its level of adherence to the JCPOA. We do not know whether Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons. We judge that Tehran would choose ballistic missiles as its preferred method of delivering nuclear weapons, if it builds them. Iran’s ballistic missiles are inherently capable of delivering WMD, and Tehran already has the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East.

Tehran’s desire to deter the United States might drive it to field an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Progress on Iran’s space program could shorten a pathway to an ICBM because space launch vehicles use similar technologies.

North Korea Continues To Expand WMD-Applicable Capabilities

North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs will continue to pose a serious threat to US interests and to the security environment in East Asia in 2017.

North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries, including Iran and Syria, and its assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor, destroyed in 2007, illustrate its willingness to proliferate dangerous technologies. North Korea has also expanded the size and sophistication of its ballistic missile forces—from closerange ballistic missiles (CRBMs) to ICBMs—and continues to conduct test launches.

In 2016, North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of ballistic missile tests. Pyongyang is committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States; it has publicly displayed its road-mobile ICBMs on multiple occasions. We assess that North Korea has taken steps toward fielding an ICBM but has not flight-tested it.

We have long assessed that Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy.

Chemical Weapons in Iraq and Syria

We assess the Syrian regime used the nerve agent sarin in an attack against the opposition in Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017 in what is probably the largest chemical weapons attack since August 2013. We continue to assess that Syria has not declared all the elements of its chemical weapons program to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and has the capability to conduct further attacks.

Despite the creation of a specialized team and years of work by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to address gaps and inconsistencies in Syria’s declaration, numerous issues remain unresolved. The OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) attributed three chlorine attacks in 2014 and 2015 to the Syrian regime.

We assess that non-state actors in the region are also using chemicals as a means of warfare. The OPCW-UN JIM concluded that ISIS used sulfur mustard in an attack in 2015. ISIS has allegedly used chemicals in attacks in Iraq and Syria, suggesting that attacks might be widespread.

SPACE AND COUNTERSPACE

Space Global Trends.

Continued global space industry expansion will further extend space-enabled capabilities and space situational awareness to nation-state, non-state, and commercial space actors in the coming years, enabled by increased availability of technology, private-sector investment, falling launch service costs, and growing international partnerships for shared production and operation. Government and commercial organizations will increasingly have access to space-derived information services such as imagery, weather, Internet, communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) for intelligence, military, scientific, or business purposes.

For instance, China aims to become a world leader in PNT as it completes its dual-use global satellite navigation system by 2020. Military and Intelligence. Russia aims to improve intelligence collection, missile warning, and military communications systems to better support situational awareness and tactical weapons targeting. Russian plans to expand its imagery constellation and double or possibly triple the number of satellites by 2025.

China intends to continue increasing its space-based military and intelligence capabilities to improve global situational awareness and support complex military operations. Many countries in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South America are purchasing dual-use imaging satellites to support strategic military activities, some as joint development projects.

Counterspace Space Warfare.

We assess that Russia and China perceive a need to offset any US military advantage derived from military, civil, or commercial space systems and are increasingly considering attacks against satellite systems as part of their future warfare doctrine. Both will continue to pursue a full range of antisatellite (ASAT) weapons as a means to reduce US military effectiveness. In late 2015, China established a new service—the PLA Strategic Support Force—probably to improve oversight and command of Beijing’s growing military interests in space and cyberspace. Russia and China remain committed to developing capabilities to challenge perceived adversaries in space, especially the United States, while publicly and diplomatically promoting nonweaponization of space and “no first placement” of weapons in space. Such commitment continues despite ongoing US and allied diplomatic efforts to dissuade expansion of threats to the peaceful use of space, including international engagements through the UN.

Counterspace Weapons.

The global threat of electronic warfare (EW) attacks against space systems will expand in the coming years in both number and types of weapons. Development will very likely focus on jamming capabilities against dedicated military satellite communications (SATCOM), Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging satellites, and enhanced capabilities against Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the US Global Positioning System (GPS). Blending of EW and cyber-attack capabilities will likely expand in pursuit of sophisticated means to deny and degrade information networks.

Chinese researchers have discussed methods to enhance robust jamming capabilities with new systems to jam commonly used frequencies. Russia intends to modernize its EW forces and field a new generation of EW weapons by 2020. Iran and North Korea are also enhancing their abilities to disrupt military communications and navigation. Some new Russian and Chinese ASAT weapons, including destructive systems, will probably complete development in the next several years.

Russian military strategists likely view counterspace weapons as an integral part of broader aerospace defense rearmament and are very likely pursuing a diverse suite of capabilities to affect satellites in all orbital regimes. Russian lawmakers have promoted military pursuit of ASAT missiles to strike low-Earth orbiting satellites, and Russia is testing such a weapon for eventual deployment. A Russian official also acknowledged development of an aircraft-launched missile capable of destroying satellites in low-Earth orbit.

Ten years after China intercepted one of its own satellites in low-Earth orbit, its ground-launched ASAT missiles might be nearing operational service within the PLA. Both countries are advancing directed energy weapons technologies for the purpose of fielding ASAT systems that could blind or damage sensitive space-based optical sensors. Russia is developing an airborne laser weapon for use against US satellites. Russia and China continue to conduct sophisticated on-orbit satellite activities, such as rendezvous and proximity operations, at least some of which are likely intended to test dual-use technologies with inherent counterspace functionality. For instance, space robotic technology research for satellite servicing and debris-removal might be used to damage satellites. Such missions will pose a particular challenge in the future, complicating the US ability to characterize the space environment, decipher intent of space activity, and provide advance threat warning.

COUNTERINTELLIGENCE

The United States will face a complex global foreign intelligence threat environment in 2017.

We assess that the leading state intelligence threats to US interests will continue to be Russia and China, based on their services’ capabilities, intent, and broad operational scope. Other states in South Asia, the Near East, East Asia, and Latin America will pose local and regional intelligence threats to US interests. For example, Iranian and Cuban intelligence and security services continue to view the United States as a primary threat.

Penetrating the US national decisionmaking apparatus and the Intelligence Community will remain primary objectives for numerous foreign intelligence entities. Additionally, the targeting of national security information and proprietary information from US companies and research institutions involved with defense, energy, finance, dual-use technology, and other areas will remain a persistent threat to US interests.

10 Non-state entities, including international terrorists and transnational organized crime groups, are likely to continue to employ and improve their intelligence capabilities including by human, technical, and cyber means. As with state intelligence services, these non-state entities recruit sources and perform physical and technical surveillance to facilitate their illicit activities and avoid detection and capture.

Trusted insiders who disclose sensitive or classified US Government information without authorization will remain a significant threat in 2017 and beyond. The sophistication and availability of information technology that increases the scope and impact of unauthorized disclosures exacerbate this threat.

TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME

Rising US Drug Threat

The illicit drug threat the United States is intensifying, as indicated by soaring US drug deaths, foreign drug production, and drug seizures.  Deaths from synthetic opioids—including fentanyl and its analogues—increased 73 percent in 2015 compared to 2014, and mortality from all other illicit drugs increased 36 percent for the same period, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Preliminary data for 2016 from some states suggest that deaths have continued to increase.

Seizures of cocaine and methamphetamine increased along the US southwest border in 2016 over 2015. Rising foreign drug production, the staying power of Mexican trafficking networks, and strong demand are driving the US drug threat.

In Mexico, the dominant source of US heroin, potential heroin production doubled from 2014 to 2016, according to the US Government estimates.

Production of cocaine reached the highest levels on record for Colombia in 2016 and for Peru and Bolivia in 2015—the last years for which estimates are available—driven in part by a decline in coca eradication efforts.

Synthetic drugs from Asia—including synthetic opioids, cannabinoids, and cathinones—pose a strong and probably growing threat and have the potential to displace some traditional drugs produced from plants. Such drugs are often traded via the Internet or—in the case of cannabinoids and cathinones— sold over the counter in products marked “not intended for human consumption.” Counterfeit and substandard pharmaceutical trafficking is also on the rise, with the Internet being the primary means by which transnational criminal organizations target US citizens.

Approximately 18-20 new illegal online pharmacy domain names are registered every day, according to estimates of the Food and Drug Administration, adding to the tens of thousands of existing illegal online pharmacies in operation.

Crime Enables Other Nefarious Actors

Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) will pose a continuing threat to the United States and its allies through close relationships with foreign states and non-state actors. Some states use TOC networks as proxies to engage in activities from which the states wish to distance themselves. TOC networks also have the ability to capture territory in states or portions of states and control it with violence and corruption of public officials.

They often receive sanctuary as a result of providing social services, incorporating corruptive methods, and creating dependencies. TOC networks facilitate terrorism by providing money and services, such as selling weapons. They also engage in cyber-based theft and extortion and offer their capabilities to other cyber actors.

Hong Kong police arrested six individuals with suspected Chinese organized crime links in connection with death threats to a lawmaker elected in September 2016 who advocated for greater autonomy from China.

In 2015, MS-13 gang members in San Pedro Sula, Honduras provided meals to children and the elderly, shielded residents from rival criminals, meted out justice for unauthorized crimes, and halted criminals from unofficially taxing residents and small businesses. Such support to local communities undermines government legitimacy and engenders public support for the criminal groups.

Global Human Trafficking Risks Rising

The number of individuals at risk of human trafficking will almost certainly rise in 2017 because internal conflict, societal violence, and environmental crises are increasing the populations of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDP).

Risks of human trafficking vulnerability intensify during crisis situations when individuals often lose their support networks and sources of livelihood. In addition to crisis-induced displacement, entrenched structural factors—including political instability, government corruption, weak rule of law, soft economies, low levels of democracy, and discrimination toward women, children, and minorities—will very likely continue to increase potential victims’ vulnerability to human trafficking worldwide.

Wildlife Trafficking and Illegal Fishing

Wildlife trafficking and poaching are widespread in many countries, especially those grappling with corruption, weak judiciaries, and scarce state resources. Some wildlife traffickers also move other contraband, such as drugs and weapons, at times relying on the same corrupt protectors. Awareness of wildlife crime and its impact is growing among source and demand countries, and regional leaders in Africa increasingly acknowledge the links among poaching, wildlife trafficking, instability, corruption, crime, and challenges to the rule of law. Global fisheries face an existential threat in the decades ahead from surging worldwide demand, declining ocean health, and continued illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

IUU fishing also harms legitimate fishing activities and livelihoods, jeopardizes food and economic security, benefits transnational crime, distorts markets, contributes to human trafficking, and undermines ongoing efforts to implement sustainable fisheries policies. It can also heighten tensions within and between countries and encourage piracy and frequently involves forced labor, a form of human trafficking.

ECONOMICS AND NATURAL RESOURCES

Global growth is likely to remain subdued in 2017 amid growing headwinds in China’s economy and tepid growth in advanced economies. Worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) growth was virtually unchanged in 2016 from the previous year at 3.1 percent and is forecast to grow 3.5 percent in 2017, according the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Improving growth in commodity-dependent economies is likely to boost global economic activity beyond 2017. Adverse shocks, however, such as a greater slowdown in China than the IMF projects or capital outflows from emerging markets stemming from rising US interest rates, would put the modest global economic recovery at risk.

Macroeconomic Stability

The outlook for emerging markets and developing countries is improving, primarily because of stabilizing commodity prices and increased capital inflows. The IMF forecasts that growth in emerging economies will accelerate to 4.5 percent in 2017 as recoveries start to take hold in several countries. However, rising non-performing loans in China could reinforce the deceleration in Chinese economic growth, weighing on global economic and financial conditions and dampening global demand, particularly for commodities.

Moreover, the prospect of higher interest rates in the United States and a strengthening dollar might lead to sustained capital outflows again from emerging markets. Continued solid performance by the United States and increasingly stable conditions in many European states will probably help to support growth in developed economies.

Many European countries and Japan, however, continue to rely on low interest rates and accommodative monetary policies to counter weak demand. Policy uncertainty also poses risks to the global economy. Energy and Commodities Subdued growth, particularly in the industrialized economies, had a negative impact on commodity prices in recent years, which have been particularly harmful for emerging market economies, with the exception of net commodity importers, such as China and India.

A collapsing economy in Venezuela—the result of the oil-price decline and years of flawed economic policy and profligate government spending—will leave Caracas struggling to avoid default in 2017. Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf oil exporters, who generally have more substantial financial reserves, have nonetheless seen a sharp increase in budget deficits that have forced politically unpopular fiscal reforms such as cuts to subsidies, government spending, and government jobs.

In Africa, declining oil revenues, past mismanagement, and inadequate policy responses to oil price shock have contributed to Angolan and Nigerian fiscal problems, currency strains, and deteriorating foreign exchange reserves. The World Bank forecasts that prices for most commodities, however, will increase slightly in 2017 as markets continue to rebalance, albeit at lower levels than earlier in the decade. Sluggish growth of global demand for oil and low prices continue to discourage plans to develop new resources and expand existing projects—particularly in high-cost areas such as the Arctic, Brazilian presalt region, or West Africa’s deepwater. Projects already under development will probably be completed during the next five years, but longer-term prospects have been slashed, potentially setting the stage for shortfalls and higher prices when demand recovers.

The Arctic

Arctic countries face an array of challenges and opportunities as diminishing sea ice increases commercial shipping prospects and possible competition over undersea resources in coming decades. In August 2016, the first large-capacity cruise ship traversed the Northwest Passage, and more such trips are planned. In September 2016, NASA measured the Arctic sea ice minimum extent at roughly 900,000 square miles less than the 1981-2010 average. Relatively low economic stakes in the past and fairly well established exclusive economic zones (EEZs) among the Arctic states have facilitated cooperation in pursuit of shared interests in the region, even as polar ice has receded and Arctic-capable technology has improved. However, as the Arctic becomes more open to shipping and commercial exploitation, we assess that risk of competition over access to sea routes and resources, including fish, will include countries traditionally active in the Arctic as well as other countries that do not border on the region but increasingly look to advance their economic interests there.

HUMAN SECURITY

Environmental Risks and Climate Change

The trend toward a warming climate is forecast to continue in 2017. The UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is warning that 2017 is likely to be among the hottest years on record—although slightly less warm than 2016 as the strong El Nino conditions that influenced that year have abated. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) reported that 2016 was the hottest year since modern measurements began in 1880.

This warming is projected to fuel more intense and frequent extreme weather events that will be distributed unequally in time and geography. Countries with large populations in coastal areas are particularly vulnerable to tropical weather events and storm surges, especially in Asia and Africa.

Global air pollution is worsening as more countries experience rapid industrialization, urbanization, forest burning, and agricultural waste incineration, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). An estimated 92 percent of the world’s population live in areas where WHO air quality standards are not met, according to 2014 information compiled by the WHO. People in low-income cities are most affected, with the most polluted cities located in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa.

Public dissatisfaction with air quality might drive protests against authorities, such as those seen in recent years in China, India, and Iran. Heightened tensions over shared water resources are likely in some regions.

The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the construction of the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile is likely to intensify because Ethiopia plans to begin filling the reservoir in 2017. Global biodiversity will likely continue to decline due to habitat loss, overexploitation, pollution, and invasive species, according to a study by a nongovernmental conservation organization, disrupting ecosystems that support life, including humans.

Since 1970, vertebrate populations have declined an estimated 60 percent, according to the same study, whereas populations in freshwater systems declined 14 more than 80 percent. The rate of species loss worldwide is estimated at 100 to 1,000 times higher than the natural background extinction rate, according to peer-reviewed scientific literature. We assess national security implications of climate change but do not adjudicate the science of climate change.

In assessing these implications, we rely on US government-coordinated scientific reports, peerreviewed literature, and reports produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the leading international body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change.

Health

The Zika virus is likely to continue to affect the Western Hemisphere through 2017. Although it is causing minor or no illness for most infected people, it is producing severe birth defects in about 10 percent of babies born to mothers who were infected while pregnant and is likely causing neurological symptoms for a small number of infected adults. A separate strain of the virus will likely continue to affect Southeast Asia, where scientists believe it has circulated since the 1960s. However, scientists do not know whether the virus will cause a spike in birth defects there.

Previous outbreaks in Asia and Africa might provide at least partial immunity and hinder the virus’s spread in those regions. The continued rise of antimicrobial resistance—the ability of pathogens, including viruses, fungi, and bacteria, to resist drug treatment—is likely to outpace development of new antimicrobial drugs. This resistance will result in increasingly difficult or impossible-to-cure infections of previously curable diseases.

Drug-resistant forms of malaria and tuberculosis are on the rise, threatening progress in controlling these diseases. Meanwhile, some strains of gonorrhea are showing resistance to nearly all classes of antibiotics, leaving only treatments of last resort, greatly increasing the risk of incurable strains. HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis continue to kill millions of people annually and hinder development in many resource-constrained countries despite significant progress to alleviate the global burden of infectious diseases.

Stagnating or declining funding for global health initiatives and lack of domestic resources threaten the continued progress against health threats despite the availability of more costeffective treatments. Rapidly expanding populations, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, put additional stress on scarce resources. Malnutrition, weak healthcare systems, conflict, migration, poor governance, and urbanization will worsen the emergence, spread, and severity of disease outbreaks.

The emergence of a severe global public health emergency is possible in any given year and can have negative impacts on the security and stability of a nation or region. A novel or reemerging microbe that is easily transmissible between humans and is highly pathogenic remains a major threat because such an organism has the potential to spread rapidly and kill millions. Threats such as avian influenza and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) have pandemic potential.

The World Bank has estimated that a severe global influenza pandemic could cost the equivalent of 4.8 percent of global GDP, or more than $3 trillion, during the course of an outbreak. Atrocities and Instability Risk of large-scale, violent or regime-threatening instability and atrocities will remain elevated in 2017.

Poor governance, weak national political institutions, economic inequality, and the rise of violent non-state actors all undermine states’ abilities to project authority.

Weak state capacity can heighten the risk for atrocities, including arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture. Groups that promote civil society and democratization are likely to continue to face restrictions in 2017. Freedom House reported the eleventh consecutive year of decline in “global freedom” in 2017. Middle East and North Africa had ratings as one of the worst regions in the world in 2015.

Global Displacement

In 2015, the number of people forcibly displaced reached the highest levels ever recorded by the UN. In many cases, US partners and allies were either the source of refugees and other migrants—such as Afghanistan and South Sudan—or hosted them—such as Ethiopia, Europe, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Turkey, and Uganda. These countries and others will look to the United States, the UN, and other international donors to help meet unprecedented assistance demands in 2017.

Ongoing conflicts will continue to displace people, keeping displacement at record highs because few people can safely return home and family members seek to join those who left. Europe and other host countries will face accommodation and integration challenges in 2017, and refugees and economic migrants will probably continue to seek to transit to Europe.

Primary drivers of global displacement include: conflicts, such as those in Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria; weak border controls, such as in Libya, which broadened a route from Africa to Europe; relatively easy and affordable access to routes and information; endemic violence, such as in parts of Burundi, Central America, Nigeria, and Pakistan; and persecution, such as in Burma and Eritrea.  The UN estimated that 65.3 million persons had been forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2015, including approximately 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million IDPs, and 3.2 million asylum seekers. Refugees displaced for five or more years are more likely to remain in their host communities than to return home, according to academic research.

In 2016, thousands of Syrian, Somali, Sudanese, and Afghan refugees who had fled their countries in preceding years were returned to their countries of origin, which are still undergoing intense conflict. These returnees are now internally displaced in areas still in conflict. The scale of human displacement in 2017 will continue to strain the response capacity of the international community and drive record requests for humanitarian funding. Host and transit countries will struggle to develop effective policies and manage domestic concerns of terrorists exploiting migrant flows, particularly after attacks in 2016 by foreigners in Belgium, France, Germany, and Turkey.

REGIONAL THREATS EAST ASIA

China

China will continue to pursue an active foreign policy—especially within the Asia Pacific region— highlighted by a firm stance on competing territorial claims in the East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS), relations with Taiwan, and its pursuit of economic engagement across East Asia.

Regional tension will persist as China completes construction at its expanded outposts in the SCS despite an overwhelmingly strong ruling against it by a UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) arbitral tribunal in July 2016. China will also pursue efforts aimed at fulfilling its ambitious “One Belt, One Road” initiative to expand China’s economic role and outreach across Asia through infrastructure projects.

China will seek to build on its hosting of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou in September 2016, its “One-Belt, One-Road” initiative, and progress on launching the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank to increase its global presence on international economic issues. China will increasingly be a factor in global responses to emerging problems, as illustrated by China’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations, its expanding counterterrorism cooperation, and infrastructure construction in Africa and Pakistan as part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Domestically, Chinese leaders will move cautiously on their ambitious reform agenda, maintain their anticorruption campaign, and try to manage China’s slowing economy. China’s economic growth continues to be driven by unsustainable debt accumulation, but Beijing has made limited progress on reforms needed to boost economic efficiencies. Debates among Chinese leaders over policy and personnel choices will intensify before the leadership transition at the 19th Party Congress in fall 2017 when Chinese President Xi Jinping will begin his second term as the head of the Chinese Communist Party.

North Korea

North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction program, public threats, defiance of the international community, confrontational military posturing, cyber activities, and potential for internal instability pose a complex and increasingly grave national security threat to the United States and its interests. North Korea’s unprecedented level of testing and displays of strategic weapons in 2016 indicate that Kim is intent on proving he has the capability to strike the US mainland with nuclear weapons.

In 2016, the regime conducted two nuclear tests—including one that was claimed to be of a standardized warhead design—and an unprecedented number of missile launches, including a space launch that put a satellite into orbit.

These ballistic missile tests probably shortened North Korea’s pathway toward a reliable ICBM, which largely uses the same technology. Kim was also photographed beside a nuclear warhead design and missile airframes to show that North Korea has warheads small enough to fit on a missile, examining a reentry-vehicle nosecone after a simulated reentry, and overseeing launches from a submarine and from mobile launchers in the field, purportedly simulating nuclear use in warfighting scenarios.

North Korea is poised to conduct its first ICBM flight test in 2017 based on public comments that preparations to do so are almost complete and would serve as a milestone toward a more reliable threat to the US mainland. Pyongyang’s enshrinement of the possession of nuclear weapons in its constitution, while repeatedly stating that nuclear weapons are the basis for its survival, suggests that Kim does not intend to negotiate them away at any price.

North Korea has long posed a credible and evolving military threat to South Korea and, to a lesser extent, Japan. North Korea possesses a substantial number of proven mobile ballistic missiles, capable of striking a variety of targets in both countries, as demonstrated in successful launches in 2016. Kim has further expanded the regime’s conventional strike options in recent years, with more realistic training, artillery upgrades, and new close-range ballistic missiles that enable precision fire at ranges that can reach more US and allied targets in South Korea.

After five years in power, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continues to defy international sanctions for his country’s behavior and reinforce his authority through purges, executions, and leadership shuffles, restricting fundamental freedoms, and enforcing controls on information. He notably unveiled new ruling structures in conjunction with the first Korean Workers Party Congress in a generation, held in May 2016.

Southeast Asia

Democracy in many Southeast Asian countries will remain fragile in 2017. Elites—rather than the populace—retain a significant level of control and often shape governance reforms to benefit their individual interests rather than to promote democratic values.

Corruption and cronyism continue to be rampant in the region, and the threat of ISIS and domestic terrorist groups might provide some governments with a new rationale to address not only the terrorist threat but also to curb political opposition movements, as some regional leaders did in the post-9/11 environment.

In the Philippines, aggressive campaigns against corruption, crime, and drugs will probably continue despite charges by Filipino critics and international organizations that it is fostering a permissive environment for extrajudicial killings.

Philippine efforts to diversify Manila’s foreign relations away from the United States have increased uncertainty about the future of Philippine-US security ties.

Thailand is undergoing its most significant transition in 70 years following the death of the king.

In Burma, the government led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) seeks to continue the country’s democratic transition process, but the military, which has retained significant political and economic power and exclusive control over the security forces, sometimes undermines the civilian government’s objectives. In addition, the NLD will be challenged by its lack of governing experience and provisions of the 2008 Constitution that do not align with democratic norms. Burma’s Government will continued to be challenged in dealing with the status of the Muslim minority Rohingya in western Burma.

Cohesion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on economic and security issues will continue to be challenged by differing development levels among ASEAN members, their varying economic dependencies on China, and their views of the threat of Beijing’s regional ambitions and assertiveness in the SCS. Southeast Asian SCS claimants will continue to seek various ways to strengthen cooperation in the region and, in some cases, with the United States on maritime security issues.

RUSSIA AND EURASIA

Russia

In 2017, Russia is likely to be more assertive in global affairs, more unpredictable in its approach to the United States, and more authoritarian in its approach to domestic politics. Emboldened by Moscow’s ability to affect battlefield dynamics in Syria and by the emergence of populist and more pro-Russian governments in Europe, President Vladimir Putin is likely to take proactive actions that advance Russia’s great power status. Putin will seek to prevent any challenges to his rule in the runup to presidential elections scheduled for 2018.

Putin remains popular at home, but low turnout in the Duma elections in 2016 and sustained economic hardship will probably enhance Putin’s concerns about his ability to maintain control. Putin is likely to continue to rely on repression, state control over media outlets, and harsh tactics to control the political elite and stifle public dissent.

Russia is likely to emerge from its two-year recession in 2017, but the prospects for a strong recovery are slim. Russia is likely to achieve 1.3 percent GDP growth in 2017 and 1.7 percent in 2018, according to commercial forecasts. Putin has long sought to avoid structural reforms that would weaken his control of the country and is unlikely to implement substantial reforms before the presidential elections. We assess that Russia will continue to look to leverage its military support to the Asad regime to drive a political settlement process in Syria on its terms.

Moscow has demonstrated that it can sustain a modest force at a high-operations tempo in a permissive, expeditionary setting while minimizing Russian casualties and economic costs. Moscow is also likely to use Russia’s military intervention in Syria, in conjunction with efforts to capitalize on fears of a growing ISIS and extremist threat, to expand its role in the Middle East. We assess that Moscow’s strategic objectives in Ukraine—maintaining long-term influence over Kyiv and frustrating Ukraine’s attempts to integrate into Western institutions—will remain unchanged in 2017.

Putin is likely to maintain pressure on Kyiv through multiple channels, including through Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine, where Russia arms so-called “separatists. Moscow also seeks to undermine Ukraine’s fragile economic system and divided political situation to create opportunities to rebuild and consolidate Russian influence in Ukrainian decisionmaking.

Moscow will also seek to exploit Europe’s fissures and growing populist sentiment in an effort to thwart EU sanctions renewal, justify or at least obfuscate Russian actions in Ukraine and Syria, and weaken the attraction of Western integration for countries on Russia’s periphery. In particular, Russia is likely to sustain or increase its propaganda campaigns. Russia is likely to continue to financially and politically support populist and extremist parties to sow discord within European states and reduce popular support for the European Union.

The Kremlin is also likely to continue to see defense modernization as a top national priority even as the cumulative effect on the economy of low oil prices, sanctions, and systemic problems serves as a drag on key military goals. Moscow is pursuing a wide range of nuclear, conventional, and asymmetric 19 capabilities designed to achieve qualitative parity with the United States. These capabilities will give Moscow more options to counter US forces and weapons systems.

Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova

Russia’s military intervention in eastern Ukraine continues more than two years after the “Minsk II” agreement concluded in February 2015. Russia continues to exert military and diplomatic pressure to coerce Ukraine into implementing Moscow’s interpretation of the political provisions of the agreement— among them, constitutional amendments that would effectively give Moscow a veto over Kyiv’s strategic decisions.

Domestic

Ukrainian opposition to making political concessions to Russia—especially while fighting continues in eastern Ukraine—will limit Kyiv’s willingness and ability to compromise, complicating prospects for implementing the Minsk agreement.

Russia largely controls the level of violence, which it uses to exert pressure on Kyiv and the negotiating process, and fluctuating levels of violence will probably continue along the front line. The struggle of Ukraine to reform its corrupt institutions will determine whether it can remain on a European path or fall victim again to elite infighting and Russian influence.

Rising popular discontent in Belarus will probably complicate the government’s efforts to maintain its improved relations with the United States and the EU, which are aimed at bolstering its flagging economy and preserving some diplomatic maneuvering room with Russia. Minsk will continue close security cooperation with Moscow but will probably continue to oppose the establishment of Russian military bases in Belarus.

Moldova will probably also seek to balance its relations with Russia and the West rather than pursue a major shift in either direction. The Moldovan Government will almost certainly seek to move forward on implementing Moldova’s EU Association Agreement despite the election of a more pro-Russian president.

Settlement talks over the breakaway region of Transnistria will continue, but any progress is likely to be limited to smaller issues. The Caucasus and Central Asia In Georgia, the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition’s decisive electoral victory in 2016 is likely to facilitate GD’s efforts to target the former ruling United National Movement and expand political control. GD will continue to pursue greater Euro-Atlantic integration by attempting to cement ties with NATO and the EU.

Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh flared in April 2016, and both sides’ unwillingness to compromise and mounting domestic pressures suggest that the potential for large-scale hostilities will remain in 2017.

In Azerbaijan, ongoing economic difficulties are likely to challenge the regime and increase its tendency to repress dissent to maintain power while it continues to try to balance relations with Russia, Iran, and the West.

Central Asian states will continue to balance their relations among Russia, China, and the West to pursue economic and security assistance and protect their regimes’ hold on power.

They remain concerned about the threat of extremism to their stability, particularly in light of a reduced Coalition presence in Afghanistan.

Russia and China share these concerns and are likely to use the threat of instability in Afghanistan to try to increase their involvement in Central Asian security affairs. Economic 20 challenges stemming from official mismanagement, low commodity prices, declining trade and remittances associated with weakening economies of Russia and China, ethnic tensions, and political repression are likely to present the most significant threats to stability in these countries.

EUROPE

Key Partners

The severity of multiple crises facing Europe—irregular migration, security threats, slow economic growth, and protracted debt issues—will challenge European policy cohesion and common action. Additionally, the form and substance of the UK’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union will distract European policymakers.

Migration

The EU-Turkey Statement addressing migration issues concluded in March 2016 and that tightened border controls in the Balkans will continue to limit migration to Europe. Preserving the EU-Turkey agreement, completing trade deals and making investments offered to five African countries, and ensuring the success of a repatriation deal with Afghanistan will likely remain a focus for Europe. Security Terrorists have taken advantage of the influx of migrants and a potential rise in returning foreign fighters from the conflicts in Iraq and Syria might compound the problem.

Europe will remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks, and elements of both ISIS and al-Qa’ida are likely to continue to direct and enable plots against targets in Europe Some European states see Russia as less of a threat to Europe than others do, even as the Baltic states and Poland begin to host multinational battalions as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence.

Economic/Financial Issues

The European Commission projects that euro-zone growth will be about 1.6 percent in 2017. Its projections are based on weak investment growth, uncertainty stemming from Brexit, potential disruptions to trade, and political and practical limits to expanding monetary and fiscal efforts to support growth.

Turkey

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s narrow win in the mid-April popular referendum on expanding his powers and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP’s) post-coup crackdowns are increasing societal and political tension in Turkey.

Turkey’s relations with the United States are strained because Ankara calculates that the United States has empowered Turkey’s primary security threat—the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—by partnering 21 with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Turkey alleges is aligned with the PKK.

European admonition of Turkey’s conduct during the referendum—including limitations European countries placed on Turkish campaigning on their soil—is further straining Turkish ties to the EU.

Two major Turkish complaints are Washington’s unwillingness to meet Turkish demands to extradite US-person Fethullah Gulen—accused by the Turkish Government of orchestrating the failed coup in July 2016—and US support to the YPG in Syria.

In November 2016, the Turkish president indicated that he would be willing to consider joining the Russian-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an alternative to the EU.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

Syria

We assess that the Syrian regime, backed by Russia and Iran, will maintain its momentum on the battlefield but that the regime and the opposition are not likely to agree on a political settlement in 2017. Damascus has committed to participate in peace talks but is unlikely to offer more than cosmetic concessions to the opposition.

The opposition, although on the defensive, is able to counterattack, which will probably prevent the regime from asserting territorial control over western and southern Syria, and remains committed to President Bashar al-Asad’s departure. The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) has lost about 45 percent of the territory it held in Syria in August 2014, but it still controls much of the eastern section of the country, including the city of Ar Raqqah. ISIS will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists attacks in the region and internationally. Asad’s foreign supporters—Russia, Iran, and Lebanese Hizballah—want to keep an allied regime in power and maintain their influence in Syria.

Moscow’s deployment of combat assets to Syria in late 2015 helped change the momentum of the conflict; Russia has provided combat aircraft, warships, artillery, arms, and ammunition. Iran provides military advice, fighters, weaponry, fuel, and Shia militants.

Lebanese Hizballah provides fighters and helps control the Lebanon-Syria border. Most opposition backers maintain their support, in part by linking Asad’s regime to Iran’s malign influence in the region, but their lack of unity will hamper their effectiveness.

Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) control much of northern Syria and have worked closely with coalition forces to seize terrain from ISIS. The YPG’s goal to unite its “cantons” across northern Syria is opposed by most Syrian Arabs and by Turkey, which views these Kurdish aspirations as a threat to its security.

To weaken ISIS and check the Kurds, Ankara has used Syrian opposition groups, backed by Turkish artillery, aircraft, and armored vehicles, to establish a border security zone in Syria. The continuation of the Syrian conflict will worsen already-disastrous conditions for Syrians and regional states and maintain migration pressure on Europe.

As of late March 2017, more than 4.9 million Syrians 22 have left the country from a pre-conflict population of approximately 23 million, and an additional 6.3 million were internally displaced. ISIS’s presence in Syria and ability to stage cross-border attacks will continue to jeopardize Iraq’s stability.

Iraq

The Iraqi Government’s primary focus through 2017 will be recapturing and stabilizing Mosul, the largest urban ISIS stronghold in Iraq, and other ISIS-held territory.

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish Peshmerga with coalition support and forces of the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilization Committee (PMC) are all involved in the Mosul campaign. Faced with the eventual loss of Mosul, ISIS is preparing to regroup and continue an insurgency and terrorist campaign.

As the Mosul campaign progresses, Baghdad faces potential tensions between the Kurds and the Iranian-backed PMC members over disputed territory while also managing the Turkish presence in northern Iraq. Baghdad has rebuked Ankara for its presence at Bashiqa and warned of potential conflict if Turkey intervenes any farther in northern Iraq.

Tensions might persist well after major counter-ISIS combat operations cease as external actors continue to pursue their political and strategic goals in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister is trying to fend off political challenges and cope with an economy weakened by the fight with ISIS and depressed oil prices. A loose “reform” coalition in the Council of Representatives (COR) exploited political divisions in fall 2016 to remove the defense and finance ministers.

Political factionalism has prevented the passage of needed political reform, heightened distrust among sectarian groups, and undermined governance.  Iraq will probably need international financial support throughout 2017, but Iraq’s finances could stabilize if oil prices continue to slowly rise and Baghdad makes progress on its reform program. In 2016, Iraq’s revenue from crude oil sales averaged $3.3 billion per month, less than half the monthly revenue in 2014, despite a rise in the number of barrels of oil exported.

Oil sales account for about 90 percent of government revenues and make up almost 50 percent of Iraq’s GDP. The United States and Iraq concluded a sovereign loan agreement in late January 2017 that could help Baghdad access international funds that it sorely needs to reconstruct areas liberated from ISIS. Iraq will face serious challenges to its stability, political viability, and territorial integrity after control of Mosul is wrested from ISIS.

More than 200,000 individuals have been displaced from Mosul due to the fighting. However, about a third have since returned to their homes, and as many as 1 million civilians might be eventually displaced, adding to the 3 million displaced persons in Iraq as of February 2016.

Reconstruction of infrastructure and tens of thousands of civilian structures destroyed by fighting in Sunni areas once occupied by ISIS will cost billions of dollars and take years.

Ethnosectarian reconciliation will also be an enduring challenge. Iraqi Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds increasingly view themselves as having diverging futures. ISIS will seek to exploit any Sunni discontent with Baghdad and try to regain Iraqi territory, whereas the Kurds will probably continue efforts to establish an independent state.

Iran

The Islamic Republic of Iran remains an enduring threat to US national interests because of Iranian support to anti-US terrorist groups and militants, the Asad regime, Huthi rebels in Yemen, and because of Iran’s development of advanced military capabilities.

Despite Supreme Leader Khamenei’s conditional support for the JCPOA nuclear deal implemented in January 2016, he is highly distrustful of US intentions. Iran’s leaders remain focused on thwarting US and Israeli influence and countering what they perceive as a Saudi-led effort to fuel Sunni extremism and terrorism against Iran and Shia communities throughout the region. Iran is immersed in ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Iranian officials believe that engaging adversaries away from Iran’s borders will help prevent instability from spilling into Iran and reduce ISIS’s threat to Iran and its regional partners. Iran’s involvement in these conflicts, including sending hundreds of its own forces plus arming, financing, and training thousands of Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani Shia fighters to support the Asad regime, has aggravated sectarianism and increased tensions with other regional states.

Tehran’s provision of aid to the Huthis, including unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), explosive boat technology, and missile support, risks expanding and intensifying the conflict in Yemen and the broader Iranian-Saudi dispute. We assess that Iran’s leaders intend to leverage their ties to local actors in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen to build long-term Iranian influence in the region. Iran will also utilize its relationship with Moscow to try to expand Iranian influence and counter US pressure.

Hardliners, who believe that the West is attempting to infiltrate Iran to undermine the regime, have driven the increase of arrests of citizens since 2014 who are dual nationals.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) will likely continue to scrutinize, arrest, and detain individuals with ties to the West, particularly dual US-Iranian and UK-Iranian citizens.

This practice will weaken prospects of attracting foreign investment into Iran’s economy. Iran continues to develop a range of new military capabilities to monitor and target US and allied military assets in the region, including armed UAVs, ballistic missiles, advanced naval mines, unmanned explosive boats, submarines and advanced torpedoes, and anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles. Iran has the largest ballistic missile force in the Middle East and can strike targets up to 2,000 kilometers from Iran’s borders.

Russia’s delivery of the SA-20c surface-to-air missile system in 2016 provides Iran with its most advanced long-range air defense system. IRGC Navy forces operating aggressively in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz pose a risk to the US Navy. Most IRGC interactions with US ships are professional, although US Navy operators consider approximately 10 percent to be unsafe, abnormal, or unprofessional. We assess that limited aggressive interactions will continue and are probably intended to project an image of strength and possibly to gauge US responses.

Yemen

Fighting in Yemen will almost certainly persist in 2017 despite international attempts to forge cease-fires between Huthi-aligned forces, trained by Iran, and the Yemeni Government, backed by a Saudi-led coalition.

Neither the alliance between the Huthis and former Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih nor the government of Yemeni President Abd Rabuh Mansur Hadi has been able to achieve decisive results through military force, despite their prominent international backers. Efforts at peace talks are nascent, and both sides remain wary of the other’s intentions. As of late 2016, the fighting had displaced more than 2 million people and left 82 percent of Yemen’s population in need of humanitarian aid.

Temporary cease-fires have allowed for some increased access for humanitarian organizations, but relief operations are hindered by lack of security, bureaucratic constraints, and funding shortages. More than half the population is experiencing crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity.

AQAP and ISIS’s branch in Yemen have exploited the conflict and the collapse of government authority to gain new recruits and allies and expand their influence. Both groups threaten Western interests in Yemen and have conducted attacks on Huthi, Yemeni Government, and Saudi-led coalition targets.

SOUTH ASIA

Afghanistan

The overall situation in Afghanistan will very likely continue to deteriorate, even if international support is sustained. Endemic state weaknesses, the government’s political fragility, deficiencies of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), Taliban persistence, and regional interference will remain key impediments to improvement. Kabul’s political dysfunction and ineffectiveness will almost certainly be the greatest vulnerability to stability in 2017. ANSF performance will probably worsen due to a combination of Taliban operations, ANSF combat casualties, desertions, poor logistics support, and weak leadership.

The ANSF will almost certainly remain heavily dependent on foreign military and financial support to sustain themselves and preclude their collapse. Although the Taliban was unsuccessful in seizing a provincial capital in 2016, it effectively navigated its second leadership transition in two years following the death of its former chief, Mansur, and is likely to make gains in 2017. The fighting will also continue to threaten US personnel, allies, and partners, particularly in Kabul and urban population centers.

ISIS’s Khorasan branch (ISIS-K)—which constitutes ISIS’s most significant presence in South Asia—will probably remain a low-level developing threat to Afghan stability as well as to US and Western interests in the region in 2017.

Pakistan

Pakistani-based terrorist groups will present a sustained threat to US interests in the region and continue to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan. The threat to the United States and the West from Pakistani-based terrorist groups will be persistent but diffuse.

Plotting against the US homeland will be conducted on a more opportunistic basis or driven by individual members within these groups. 25 Pakistan will probably be able to manage its internal security. Anti-Pakistan groups will probably focus more on soft targets. The groups we judge will pose the greatest threat to Pakistan’s internal security include Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan, Jamaat ul-Ahrar, al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent, ISIS-K, Laskhare Jhangvi, and Lashkar-e Jhangvi al-Alami.

The emerging China Pakistan Economic Corridor will probably offer militants and terrorists additional targets.

Pakistan’s pursuit of tactical nuclear weapons potentially lowers the threshold for their use. Early deployment during a crisis of smaller, more mobile nuclear weapons would increase the amount of time that systems would be outside the relative security of a storage site, increasing the risk that a coordinated attack by non-state actors might succeed in capturing a complete nuclear weapon.

India-Pakistan

Relations between India and Pakistan remain tense following two major terrorist attacks in 2016 by militants crossing into India from Pakistan.

They might deteriorate further in 2017, especially in the event of another high-profile terrorist attack in India that New Delhi attributes to originating in or receiving assistance from Pakistan. Islamabad’s failure to curb support to anti-India militants and New Delhi’s growing intolerance of this policy, coupled with a perceived lack of progress in Pakistan’s investigations into the January 2016 Pathankot cross-border attack, set the stage for a deterioration of bilateral relations in 2016.

Increasing numbers of firefights along the Line of Control, including the use of artillery and mortars, might exacerbate the risk of unintended escalation between these nuclear-armed neighbors. Easing of heightened Indo-Pakistani tension, including negotiations to renew official dialogue, will probably hinge in 2017 on a sharp and sustained reduction of cross-border attacks by terrorist groups based in Pakistan and progress in the Pathankot investigation.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

South Sudan

Clashes between Juba and the armed opposition will continue, heightening ethnic tensions and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and famine amid a declining economy. Both sides’ use of ethnic militias, hate speech, and the government’s crackdown against ethnic minorities raise the risk of additional mass atrocities. The government will probably continue to restrict political freedoms and civil liberties and obstruct humanitarian assistance.

Sudan Khartoum probably hopes to continue constructive engagement with the United States following Washington’s decision in January 2017 to suspend some sanctions on Sudan. The regime will probably largely adhere to a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas—required to receive sanctions relief—but skirmishing between the Sudanese military and rebel forces is likely to result in low levels of violence and population displacement.

The regime’s military gains since March 2016 and divisions among armed opponents will almost certainly inhibit the insurgents’ ability to make significant political or military gains. 26 Public dissatisfaction over a weakened economy and austerity measures, however, will test the government’s ability to maintain order.

Nigeria

The Nigerian Government will confront a wide range of challenges in 2017, many of which are deeply rooted and have no “quick fix.”

Despite Nigeria’s progress in 2016 reclaiming territory from ISIS in West Africa (ISIS-WA) and Boko Haram, both terrorist groups will remain a threat to military and civilians in northeastern Nigeria, as well as in neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Moreover, Nigeria, with Africa’s largest economy, is suffering a recession brought on by low oil prices and militant attacks on its oil infrastructure.

This recession is handicapping Abuja’s efforts to combat the terrorists and respond to a growing humanitarian crisis in the northeast. Sahel Governments in Africa’s Sahel region—particularly Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—will remain at risk of internal conflict and terrorist attacks in 2017.

The region’s shared geography, ethnic and religious connections, and a pervasive lack of border security have facilitated a rise in extremist groups, traffickers, and antigovernment militias since the collapse of Libya in 2011 and the northern Mali uprising in 2012.

Al-Qa‘ida in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Murabitun, Ansar al-Din, and other violent extremist groups will continue attacking Western and local interests in the region.

Somalia

The Somali Government will continue to rely on international assistance, including in the areas of civilian protection, service provision, dispute resolution, security, and humanitarian relief. Progress in these areas is critical to maintain support from troop-contributing countries of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which plans to begin withdrawing from Somalia in 2018.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia has faced widespread public protests and ethnic tensions and will struggle to address the underlying grievances while preserving the power of the ruling party. The risk of instability is high. Addis Ababa declared a state of emergency in October 2016 and continues mass arrests, targeting opposition leaders.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

A deal between the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Congolese opposition and civil society over President Joseph Kabila’s term extension has bought the regime time. Kabila named an opposition member as prime minister in April, but elections are unlikely to be held by the end of 2017 as called for under the agreement. Meanwhile, armed conflict in the east perpetrated by militia groups will exacerbate serious humanitarian challenges. 27

WESTERN HEMISPHERE

Mexico

The Mexican Government will focus on domestic priorities to help position the country for the presidential election in 2018 while also seeking to limit fallout from potential shifts in the bilateral relationship with the United States. Mexico will be challenged to make gains against corruption and rising crime and will continue to rely on the military to stymie criminal violence. Its $1.1 trillion economy has benefitted from strong economic fundamentals and robust exports, but changes in trade relationships might weaken the export sector and slow economic growth.

Mexican migration to the United States, which has decreased in recent years, might increase if economic opportunity at home declines. Apprehensions of undocumented Mexicans fell from about 268,000 in FY 2013 to 193,000 in FY 2016, according to DHS statistics.

Central America

Insecurity, lack of economic opportunities, desire for family reunification, and views of US immigration policy are likely to remain the principal drivers of migration from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to the United States. Human smuggling networks will continue to help migrants navigate travel routes and security at the US and Mexican border. Homicide rates in these countries remain high despite a decline in 2016, and gang-related violence is still prompting Central Americans to flee. DHS apprehensions along the southwest border of migrants from the Northern Triangle reached nearly 200,000 in FY 2016 but have declined sharply since February 2017.

Colombia

The Colombian Government’s ability to implement its historic peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in 2017 will be key to the country’s prospects for fully harnessing economic and investment opportunities. The peace deal ended the country’s 52-year civil war with the FARC and demobilized the Western Hemisphere’s largest and longest-running insurgency. Colombia was already politically stable and markedly less violent than 20 years ago. Even so, some immediate post-conflict challenges will include stemming rising drug production and addressing social and economic inequality in rural areas.

Cuba

As Cuba heads into the final year of preparations for its planned historic leadership transition in early 2018, the government’s focus will be on preserving the regime’s hold on power and dealing with the falling economic growth rate.

Cuba blames its slowing economy on lower global commodity prices, the US embargo, and the economic crisis in Venezuela, a top trade partner and important source of political support and petroleum at generous financing terms.

Havana, however, has stalled implementation of its own reform program, including changes to investment laws needed to address longstanding investor concerns and plans to unify its dual currency and exchange rate system. 28 Some Cuban migration to the United States via land routes through Central America and Mexico— especially by Cubans already in transit—is likely to continue despite a significant decrease following the end of the US “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy in January 2017.

That policy allowed most undocumented Cubans who reached US soil—as opposed to being intercepted at sea—to remain in the United States and then apply for lawful permanent residency status after one year under the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. In FY 2016, some 42,000 Cuban migrants arrived at the US southwest border and maritime flows exceeded 7,300 migrants because of poor economic prospects in Cuba and apprehension about potential US policy shifts.

Venezuela

Venezuela’s regime and the political opposition will remain at odds in 2017 as Venezuela’s domestic political and economic tensions intensify. The regime is struggling to contain spiraling inflation and finance imports, creating shortages of foodstuffs and medicines in the oil-rich country.

The unpopular government charges that the opposition is waging an economic war and trying to stage a political coup and will probably ratchet up repression to maintain power. Shortages of food, medicine, and basic supplies will probably continue to stoke tensions through 2017

Commentary: ASEAN has an instrumental role in US-China power play

May 8, 2017

08 May 2017 09:09AM (Updated: 08 May 2017 10:28AM)

ASEAN has countered the negative effects of major power competition thus far say two experts.

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with ASEAN foreign ministers in Washington, DC, on May 4. (Photo: AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

SINGAPORE: Over a lunch meeting in Washington on May 4, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and ASEAN foreign ministers discussed a range of issues including economics and trade, North Korea as well as the South China Sea dispute. Significantly, Tillerson stressed the importance of Southeast Asia as a strategic partner to the US and reaffirmed US engagement with the region.

Tillerson’s statements are the latest in a recent series of signs that the Trump administration has not forgotten about ASEAN and Southeast Asia. Earlier, Tillerson had accepted the invitation to attend a series of ASEAN-led meetings in the Philippines in August and US Vice President Mike Pence had said that President Donald Trump would attend the ASEAN-US and East Asia summits in the Philippines, as well as the APEC meeting in Vietnam in November.

While these are initial encouraging signs to ASEAN countries who have been concerned over Trump’s “America First” policy, it is also important to note that US presence at ASEAN-led meetings might not necessarily mean a concurrence of their respective interests.

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The White House said in April that President Donald Trump ‘enjoyed the conversation’ with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte and looked forward to attending the key US-ASEAN and East Asia summits in the Philippines in November. (Photo: AFP)

Moreover, it also raises the broader question of the kind of regional order that the US envisions should be in place in East Asia, and how the US vision fits with the objectives of other regional stakeholders.

CONTESTED VISIONS OF ORDER IN EAST ASIA BETWEEN THE US AND CHINA

For the past several decades, peace and stability in East Asia have been built on a regional order characterised in large part by US economic and military primacy. This order is defined by free trade and US security alliances, resembling a hub-and-spokes structure, as well as a complex web of overlapping multilateral arrangements.

While some of Trump’s statements and policies since coming to power might suggest a re-evaluation of US commitment to some of its longstanding principles, administration officials have sought to reassure allies and partners that the US would continue to be committed to East Asian security and stability.

Nevertheless, the US is likely to find it more difficult to sustain the US-led global and regional order and its interests will be challenged more regularly in East Asia and beyond. Even though the US remains the strongest power in the world in political, economic and military terms, there is a relative weakening of its structural power and position in the global and regional order.

Particularly within the East Asian context, China’s incremental rise has arguably reduced the power gap between the two countries.

As China’s relative power and influence increase, it has implemented initiatives that seem like the elements of an alternative regional order centred on Chinese leadership. This does not mean that China is abandoning the existing regional order characterised by the strong presence of the US in economic, political and military terms. In fact, Beijing continues to support the useful elements of the current order, such as free trade and globalisation.

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The first train on the Silk Road from Britain leaves for China in April. (Photo: AFP)

However, China is certainly creating a preferred regional order that would serve its interests best. This has come in the form of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the One Belt, One Road initiative. While the complementarities between the respective visions put forward by the US and China are clear, there are also competing elements.

Given that the greatest impact of Sino-US competition will probably be felt in East Asia by virtue of geography, it is important that ASEAN – as the central regional institution – is prepared to respond to this major power competition for regional leadership. ASEAN’s response will play a big part in determining peace and stability in the region.

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ASEAN HAS A ROLE TO PLAY IN SHPAING REGIONAL ORDER

Certainly, ASEAN has been dealing with the impact of Sino-US competition in the region since the early 2000s, when China stepped up engagement of Southeast Asia. Thus far, ASEAN has countered the negative effects of major power competition in the regional order in three main ways.

First, despite fractures among its member states arising from the South China Sea disputes, ASEAN has progressed significantly in other areas of cooperation, such as the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, facilitating dialogue among member states and countries outside of ASEAN, and even coming to a consensus with China on completing a draft framework for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

These initiatives and mechanisms have contributed towards maintaining ASEAN unity and centrality in the East Asian multilateral order.

Second, ASEAN’s promotion of an open and inclusive regional order has given a stake in East Asian security not only to the major powers but also to the so-called middle powers, such as Australia, Japan, South Korea and India. The recognition by other regional countries of ASEAN’s importance and centrality in the regional architecture is important for an organisation that is made up of 10 small- and medium-sized states.

Moreover, having other regional countries involved in the maintenance of regional stability could help to temper any negative impact arising from Sino-US rivalry.

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ASEAN foreign ministers had issued a statement on Apr 28 expressing “grave concern” over the situation in North Korea. “ASEAN is mindful that instability in the Korean Peninsula seriously impacts the region and beyond,” the statement indicated. (Photo: AFP)

Last but not least, ASEAN has always advocated a complex web of bilateral and multilateral arrangements at the sub-regional, regional and global levels, and across the political-security, economic and socio-cultural sectors. This has resulted in numerous channels of communication between the US and China, as well as among other regional countries.

These channels not only offer opportunities for dialogue and strengthening mutual interdependence, but also provide crucial mechanisms for tackling issues of common concern.

Clearly, ASEAN has played an instrumental role over the last few decades in maintaining a stable regional order in East Asia. With contending visions of regional order promoted by China and the US today, ASEAN occupies a critical position in the regional strategic landscape. Over the long term, major power rivalry for regional influence might force a re-reading of ASEAN’s core norms and principles.

An urgent task for ASEAN would thus be to consolidate its regional leadership role and decide on how the institution and its member states could best respond to the competing visions of regional orders offered by the US and China.

The longer ASEAN takes to plan its place in the evolving regional order, the less relevant or useful it might become in regional affairs.

Bhubhindar Singh is associate professor and coordinator of the Regional Security Architecture Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Sarah Teo is an associate research fellow with the same programme.  

Source: CNA/sl

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North Korea: “Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike.”

April 23, 2017

North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, as two Japanese navy ships joined a U.S. carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific.

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A soldier salutes from atop an armoured vehicle as it drives past the stand with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a military parade marking the 105th birth anniversary of country’s founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/Files

SEOUL:North Korea said on Sunday it was ready to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier to demonstrate its military might, as two Japanese navy ships joined a U.S. carrier group for exercises in the western Pacific.

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to waters off the Korean peninsula in response to rising tension over the North’s nuclear and missile tests, and its threats to attack the United States and its Asian allies.

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USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group

The United States has not specified where the carrier strike group is as it approaches the area. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday it would arrive “within days” but gave no other details.

North Korea remained defiant.

“Our revolutionary forces are combat-ready to sink a U.S. nuclear powered aircraft carrier with a single strike,” the Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, said in a commentary.

The paper likened the aircraft carrier to a “gross animal” and said a strike on it would be “an actual example to show our military’s force”.

The commentary was carried on page three of the newspaper, after a two-page feature about leader Kim Jong Un inspecting a pig farm.

North Korea will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday.

It has in the past marked important anniversaries with tests of its weapons.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, two of them last year, and is working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the United States.

It has also carried out a series of ballistic missile tests in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is perhaps the most serious security challenge confronting Trump.

He has vowed to prevent the North from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.

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Chinese DF-21 Ballistic Missiles long thought to have been modified to attack aircraft carriers

WORRY IN JAPAN

North Korea says its nuclear programme is for self-defence and has warned the United States of a nuclear attack in response to any aggression. It has also threatened to lay waste to South Korea and Japan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Friday North Korea’s recent statements were provocative but had proven to be hollow in the past and should not be trusted.

“We’ve all come to hear their words repeatedly, their word has not proven honest,” Mattis told a news conference in Tel Aviv, before the latest threat to the aircraft carrier.

Japan’s show of naval force reflects growing concern that North Korea could strike it with nuclear or chemical warheads.

Some Japanese ruling party lawmakers are urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to acquire strike weapons that could hit North Korean missile forces before any imminent attack.

Japan’s navy, which is mostly a destroyer fleet, is the second largest in Asia after China’s.

The two Japanese warships, the Samidare and Ashigara, left western Japan on Friday to join the Carl Vinson and will “practice a variety of tactics” with the U.S. strike group, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force said in a statement.

The Japanese force did not specify where the exercises were taking place but by Sunday the destroyers could have reached an area 2,500 km (1,500 miles) south of Japan, which would be waters east of the Philippines.

From there, it could take three days to reach waters off the Korean peninsula. Japan’s ships would accompany the Carl Vinson north at least into the East China Sea, a source with knowledge of the plan said.

U.S. and South Korean officials have been saying for weeks that the North could soon stage another nuclear test, something the United States, China and others have warned against.

South Korea has put is forces on heightened alert.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally which nevertheless opposes Pyongyang’s weapons programmes and belligerence, has appealed for calm. The United States has called on China to do more to help defuse the tension.

Last Thursday, Trump praised Chinese efforts to rein in “the menace of North Korea”, after North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike”.

(Additional reporting by Tim Kelly in TOKYO; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: Reuters
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Japanese warships join USS Carl Vinson group as U.S. warships reportedly in the western Pacific — U.S. renewed calls for China to use its “unique” influence with Pyongyang

April 23, 2017

AFP

© US NAVY/AFP | Washington has sought to clarify the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson (pictured) after US President Donald Trump suggested it was steaming towards North Korea when in fact it was sent towards Australia

TOKYO (AFP) – The US supercarrier Carl Vinson will start joint exercises with Japan’s navy on Sunday, Tokyo’s defence ministry said, as the warship passes through the western Pacific after days of contention over its whereabouts.The strike group is in the region as tensions spike over North Korea’s rogue arms programme and concerns that Pyongyang is planning a sixth nuclear test as it pursues its goal of a weapon capable of reaching the US mainland.

The Carl Vinson drills are expected to last several days and involve two Japanese warships, Japan’s defence ministry said.

It is the third time the Japanese navy has held exercises with Carl Vinson after two such drills in March.

Washington has sought to clarify the aircraft carrier’s whereabouts in recent days after President Donald Trump suggested it was steaming towards North Korea when in fact it was sent towards Australia.

US Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday said it would soon arrive in the Sea of Japan, days after vowing an “overwhelming and effective” response to any North Korean attack.

He has also renewed calls for China to use its “unique” position to bring Pyongyang to heel.

US officials have repeatedly warned that “all options are on the table” including military strikes to curb the North’s nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang has ramped up its rhetoric in recent weeks, threatening to hit back against any provocation.

It has also renewed threats against regional US allies, including Japan and South Korea, which both host large American military contingents.

“Seeing the threats we are facing now, it is no surprise that Japan and the United States conduct joint exercises,” a senior lawmaker of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party told Japan’s NHK public broadcaster, adding the exercises would send a “strong message”.

Washington is sending a senior envoy on the nuclear stand-off with North Korea to Tokyo this week for talks with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

Related:

Japanese Ships Join U.S. Carrier for Drills as It Nears Korean Waters

April 23, 2017

TOKYO — Two Japanese destroyers on Sunday began an exercise with the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group in the Western Pacific as it approaches waters around the Korean peninsula, Japan’s navy said.

The two Japanese warships, the Samidare and Ashigara, left western Japan on Friday to join the Carl Vinson in a show of solidarity as the United States confronts North Korea over its ballistic missile program and nuclear tests.

The destroyers will “practice a variety of tactics” with the U.S. strike group, the Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (MSDF) said in a statement.

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USS Carl Vinson (foreground),as it transits the East China Sea with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Murasame-class destroyer JS Samidare, on March 9, 2017. PHOTO by AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to the waters off the Korean peninsula in response to rising tension over North Korea.

Japan’s military ordered the warships to accompany the Carl Vinson north at least into the East China Sea, a source with knowledge of the plan said. He asked not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media.

The MSDF did not say how long the Japanese destroyers would stay with the U.S. carrier.

North Korea will mark the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its Korean People’s Army on Tuesday. It has in the past marked important anniversaries with tests of its weapons.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear weapons tests, two of them last year, and has carried out a stream of ballistic missile tests, in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Trump has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile and has said all options are on the table, including a military strike.

North Korea has warned the United States of a nuclear attack in response to any sign of aggression. It has also threatened to attack U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.

Japan’s show of naval force reflects growing concern that North Korea could strike Japan with nuclear or chemical warheads.

Some ruling party lawmakers are urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to acquire strike weapons that could hit North Korean missile forces before any imminent attack.

Japan’s navy, which is mostly a destroyer fleet, is the second largest in Asia after China’s.

(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel)

China, Russia send ships after U.S. aircraft carrier near Korea

April 17, 2017

7:23 pm, April 16, 2017

The Yomiuri Shimbun

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A man watches a TV showing file footage of a North Korea’s ballistic missile at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul on Sunday. AP photo

10:25 am, April 16, 2017

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China and Russia have dispatched intelligence-gathering vessels from their navies to chase the USS Carl Vinson nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which is heading toward waters near the Korean Peninsula, multiple sources of the Japanese government revealed to The Yomiuri Shimbun.

It appears that both countries aim to probe the movements of the United States, which is showing a stance of not excluding military action against North Korea. The Self-Defense Forces are strengthening warning and surveillance activities in the waters and airspace around the area, according to the sources.

The aircraft carrier strike group, composed of the Carl Vinson at its core with guided-missile destroyers and other vessels, is understood to be around the East China Sea and heading north toward waters near the Korean Peninsula.

China and Russia, which prioritize stability in the Korean Peninsula, showed concern over the tough U.S. stance, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying the issue should be resolved peacefully through political and diplomatic efforts.

The dispatch of the intelligence-gathering vessels appears to be partly aimed at sending a warning signal to the United States.

Following the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founding father, on April 15, North Korea will celebrate the 85th anniversary of the foundation of its military on April 25. It maintains the stance that it intends to conduct its first nuclear test since September last year, which would be its sixth test, and test-launch intercontinental ballistic missiles.

By conducting joint exercises with the Maritime Self-Defense Force and through other means, the U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is poised to increase military pressure on North Korea and urge Pyongyang to engage in restraint.