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Analysis

Syria/USA – Narcos: Syria edition—and what the US can do about it (Ian Larson, Atlantic Council)

Major drug busts in Saudi ArabiaLebanonJordan, and elsewhere across the Middle East since April evidence the explosive growth in regional trafficking of the drug captagon, an amphetamine. Little-consumed outside the Middle East, captagon—also known as the “poor man’s cocaine”—has proliferated, owing to an industrial boom centered predominantly in war-torn Syria, where the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad now relies on narcotics as a financial lifeline. While the United States cannot dismantle the Syrian narco-state, the Joe Biden administration can take low-risk, commonsense steps to end the impunity enjoyed by Syria’s drug kingpins and mitigate regional spillover effects.

Throughout the Syrian civil war, the Assad regime has transformed into one of the world’s leading narcotics enterprises. Hashish is among its major drug exports, but the most lucrative is captagon, a mild stimulant pill consumed recreationally throughout the Middle East. According to a report by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR), the street value of Syrian captagon in 2020 was at least $3.5 billion, five times the value of the country’s legitimate exports.

It is widely believed that Syria’s drug revenues are pocketed by Assad regime loyalists who control manufacturing plants, underground laboratories, and export facilities. Also critical to the industry are Iran-backed militia groups, including Lebanese Hezbollah, which smuggle the chemical precursors needed to synthesize the drugs. As the COAR report explains, narcotics are now a pillar of the Syrian war economy and, as other financial resources wither on the vine, the drug trade is likely to grow in importance, sustaining the Assad regime in defiance of the international community’s pressure campaign against Damascus.

Why is Washington silent?

Among the more puzzling aspects of the Syrian drug trade is the lack of any apparent US strategy to confront it. Captagon has long been acknowledged as a regional consequence of the Syrian civil war. In July 2020, Italian port officials intercepted a $1.1 billion shipment of the drug from Syria. Despite the Syrian drug trade’s expansion into Europe, the US and its allies have failed to set a clear agenda. Although it is believed that recent captagon interceptions in Eastern Europe, Turkey, and across the Middle East have been executed with intelligence shared by US drug officials, these interceptions do not represent a discernible strategy.

In the meantime, Syrian narco-entrepreneurs continue to enrich themselves as the drug trade destabilizes the region. At least three people were killed in clashes between Syrian drug smugglers and Jordanian border forces earlier in May. In parallel, Turkey intercepted what was described as the largest-ever shipment of illegal drugs—in this case, hashish—from Syria. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has warned of a burgeoning captagon trade in Iraq. Nowhere has the regional impact been greater than in Lebanon, which shares a mountainous frontier with Syria that is riddled with smuggling routes, creating conditions described by the EU as “strengthening the criminal links between the two countries.”

Lebanon’s entanglement in the regional captagon trade has brought its crumbling economy to a worrying precipice. In late April, the Saudi Interior Ministry banned Lebanese fruit and vegetable imports after authorities in Jeddah uncovered more than 5 million captagon pills hidden inside pomegranates arriving from Lebanon. Officials in Beirut protested the ban, claiming the shipment had originated in neighboring Syria. Their defense quickly fell apart. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon subsequently tweeted that officials in Jeddah alone have seized more than 57 million captagon pills concealed in agricultural produce arriving from Lebanon since the beginning of 2020. The street value of the pills may exceed $1 billion, suggesting that Lebanon’s own narco-trafficking industry is also expanding rapidly.

‘Name and shame’

Only the Assad regime can end the Syrian drug trade, which it views as a critical financial resource given the nation’s battered economy and international isolation. As COAR explains, Assad is likely to exploit this position as leverage in future negotiations with the West. That said, the US can take simple steps now to end the climate of impunity. US officials possess a wealth of actionable information concerning Syrian narco-trafficking. In an interview with the author, researchers knowledgeable of illicit financing and the drug trade stated that a “name and shame” campaign can bring overdue attention to Syria’s captagon industry. Public disclosures can also reduce the pressure on key informants inside the country, who are currently reluctant to come forward with invaluable data out of fear of reprisal. Such information is vital to much-needed research on the drug trade and can support better enforcement outcomes.

Special designations

Sanctions are not a panacea. The US’ overreliance on coercive sanctions in Syria has complicated aid delivery and ultimately harmed the civilian population, as humanitarian carve-outs have consistently proven inadequate. However, sanctions designations for known major drug traffickers carry little such risk. They are also a first step in establishing a clear US agenda to counter the region’s booming narcotics industry. While the Syria Sanctions Program and Caesar Act grant expansive sanctioning authority, the Kingpin Act targeting international drug traffickers is more narrowly tailored and fit-to-purpose.

Support Lebanon

Apart from Syria itself, no country has been more adversely affected by the Syrian civil war and the regional drug trade than Lebanon. Its national army, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), is a linchpin of anti-narcotics operations and a potential guarantor of strategic US interests. The LAF is now in jeopardy, as Lebanon’s unprecedented economic collapse has severely weakened it. Morale is low, soldiers no longer receive meat rations, salaries have lost roughly 90 percent of their value, and the risk of defection is high. To date, the US has provided billions of dollars in aid to the LAF, including support for border enforcement and counter-narcotics capacity. Such support is imperative, as is non-military support to preserve the LAF’s basic functionality, including food rations, fuel, and logistical aid.

The LAF has detractors in the US, but it should be seen as a bulwark against Lebanon’s sectarian fragmentation. In the past, the LAF’s complex relationship with Hezbollah has raised hackles in Washington. However, a pragmatic US policy must recognize that, although the LAF cannot realistically curb Hezbollah’s powerful armed wing, the LAF will struggle to remain a counterbalance against the Iran-backed group without US support. In addition, since Lebanon’s popular uprising ignited in October 2019, the LAF has been accused of using excessive force against demonstrators that have advocated for the ousting of the country’s corrupt sectarian establishment. These charges are serious and worrying. However, the LAF remains broadly popular and it is arguably Lebanon’s only cross-cutting, multi-sectarian state institution. As the crisis in Lebanon has deepened, the army’s leadership has pushed back against orders to forcibly break up popular protests, siding instead with the diverse Lebanese population that the LAF is meant to represent.

Harm reduction and the underlying causes of drug use

Finally, US counter-narcotics initiatives must not export the US’s own failed drug policies. The proliferation of captagon can be seen as a Middle Eastern corollary of the opioid epidemic that has racked the US. Users in wealthy Gulf states consume captagon to partly escape the tedium of dead-end public sector work. In conflict-affected countries like Syria, such drugs are a diversion from the miseries that pervade daily life. A humane US counternarcotics strategy should include mental health and psychosocial support programming, mental health counseling, and addiction treatment, not “tough on crime” law enforcement initiatives that target end-users, particularly given the harsh sentences for drug use that are common in the region. The root causes of drug use are diverse, including rampant joblessness, political repression, and generational ennui. It is essential to ensure that the captagon boom is treated not only as a narco-financing issue, but as a consequence of persistent shortcomings brought on by inept governance, outside intervention, and economic malaise.

Ian Larson is an analyst focusing on Syria, humanitarian affairs, and aid policy at the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the positions of COAR’s donors. 

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Analysis

USA/Europe – US-EU Summit may end aircraft trade row, but it needs to fly higher to succeed (Barbara C. Matthews, Atlantic Council)

US-EU Summit may end aircraft trade row, but it needs to fly higher to succeed

An Airbus A350 jetliner flies over Boeing flags as it lands after a flying display during the 51st Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airport near Paris, on June 15, 2015. Photo by Pascal Rossignol/Reuters.

The first US-EU summit in nearly a decade has raised hopes (and led to plenty of leaks) that some of the world’s most significant trade conflicts may come to an end.

A chance exists that bilateral tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on Europe regarding large civil aircraft, and possibly also steel and aluminum tariffs, will be eliminated. However, eliminating these tariffs is a necessary but not sufficient condition for a successful transatlantic summit. The level of ambition—and deliverables—needs to be higher.

The optimism surrounding the US-EU summit is understandable. The pressure to deliver some concrete policy breakthroughs at the Brussels-based meetings is palpable. But if policymakers merely deliver movement regarding tariffs on selected physical items, they will have missed an opportunity to craft the foundations for a meaningful transatlantic relationship that addresses issues important to the 21st-century economy.

If US and EU leaders seek to provide a more effective 21st-century alternative to China’s state capitalism model for economic growth and prosperity, they must additionally begin to tackle deep transatlantic policy differences raised by the data revolution and the digital economy—from data privacy to technology company competition policy to climate-related financial policy and intellectual-property waivers for COVID-19 vaccines.

A report in the Financial Times on Monday night said that on the eve of the US-EU Summit, “two days of intensive negotiations in Brussels had left the EU and the Biden administration on the cusp of confirming a deal on subsidy rules for Airbus and Boeing.” The dispute between Washington and Brussels over subsidies is one of the longest-running battles in the history of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and a serious irritant to one of the world’s largest trade flows.

Promising moves by the US Trade Representative earlier this year placed both the metals and aircraft tariff policies on a path toward a negotiated solution by year-end. The recent agreement regarding a global corporate minimum tax at the G7 finance ministers meeting also creates hope that a trade war over digital-services taxes in Europe can be avoided, although it remains to be seen whether congressional action can deliver the kind of implementation that will meet European policy priorities.

A trio of parallel tariff talks are underway. They cover a range of siloed issues and trade tensions that have dominated the transatlantic relationship for years. For example, the decades-long litigation at the WTO between Washington and Brussels over aircraft subsidies culminated in a recent WTO decision authorizing the United States to impose tariffs on the EU. A parallel subsequent WTO ruling in favor of the EU effectively set the stage for a negotiated solution.

The stakes are certainly high. How policymakers choose to end this trade dispute will send significant signals to global trading partners about transatlantic policy regarding state subsidies going forward. This is a delicate issue. Many of the trade tensions regarding China stem from Beijing’s state-sponsored support for domestic companies. Recent US legislation adopting an aggressive industrial policy expressly to address geoeconomic competition with China suggests a deep American bipartisan consensus in favor of targeted subsidies. At the same time, the pandemic has sparked a much more permissive policy stance on both sides of the Atlantic regarding subsidies in order to deliver financial and economic stability amid extraordinary economic upheaval. Resolving aircraft-subsidies issues at this moment would thus be rife with irony.

Consider also the Trump administration’s imposition of import tariffs on steel and aluminum on national security/supply-chain diversification grounds. The move raised hackles in Europe, particularly since imports from America’s contiguous neighbors (Mexico and Canada) were largely exempted. Finally, European initiatives to impose (but not implement) taxes on American digital companies triggered retaliatory tariffs (which were temporarily waived) by the US Trade Representative under both the Trump and Biden administrations. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen recently indicated that European officials will eliminate digital taxes at the national level as soon as implementation begins of the recent agreement on a global corporate minimum tax. The key component of the agreement here is not so much the 15 percent minimum tax rate but the ability to attach tax liabilities at the location of consumption rather than the location of revenue recognition.

It is impressive to see that despite these policy tensions, policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic have so far kept the volume on disagreements sufficiently low to avoid loose talk of a renewed trade war. They want to reach agreement and move forward. A deal on Airbus-Boeing would be welcome evidence of this goodwill.

However, finding a way to address aircraft, steel, and aluminum tariff and subsidy issues should not be confused with success in rebuilding a fragile transatlantic working relationship. It is fine to end old arguments; but building a longer-term framework demands more.

Deep differences and policy priorities exist with respect to nearly all issues important to the global economy. European policymakers routinely refer to “technological sovereignty” by which they mean the imperative to rein in the economic and digital role that foreign (mostly Silicon Valley) companies play in their polities. The policy priorities on these issues in Europe are increasingly at odds with American priorities.

Many will rightly celebrate any agreement to end long-running tariff disputes. But if policymakers restrict their ambition, then they will miss an important opportunity to lay the foundation for resolving difficult issues raised by the data revolution and the digital economy. Real leadership that promotes transatlantic market competition and innovation will present a more effective alternative to China’s state capitalism model for economic growth and prosperity as well as a more meaningful foundation for the 21st-century economy.

Barbara C. Matthews is a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council. She served as the first US Treasury attaché to the EU with the Senate-confirmed diplomatic rank of minister-counselor. She is also founder and CEO at BCMstrategy, Inc, which uses patented technology to measure public-policy risks.

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Analysis

USA – Experts React: Assessing the White House 100-Day Supply Chain Review (CSIS)

On June 8, 2021, the Biden administration released the findings of its 100-day review of U.S. supply chain vulnerabilities mandated under President Biden’s Executive Order 14017 issued in late February. In a 250-page report and accompanying fact sheet, the White House laid out the analysis and recommendations of four federal agencies—the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defense, and Health and Human Services—that had been tasked with assessing supply chain vulnerabilities in four critical sectors:

  • Semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging
  • Large capacity batteries
  • Critical minerals and materials
  • Pharmaceuticals and advanced pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs)

The report includes wide-ranging recommendations to strengthen the resilience of supply chains in these areas, including investing in domestic production and innovation capabilities, leveraging the government’s role as a purchaser of critical goods, and working with allies and partners to decrease vulnerabilities in global supply chains. According to the White House, the goal of strengthening U.S. supply chains is to “promote economic security, national security, and good-paying, union jobs here at home.”

Below, CSIS experts discuss the findings of the supply chain review and its implications for U.S. economic policy and national security.

A New Innovation Policy Stressing Resiliency over Efficiency

William Alan Reinsch
Senior Adviser and Scholl Chair in International Business, CSIS

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated a reexamination of U.S. supply chain resiliency that began earlier, driven by China’s dominant position in critical sectors like rare earth minerals and its demonstrated willingness to use trade policy as a means of responding to criticism or furthering its foreign policy goals. Manufacturing in some critical sectors has long been declining in the United States, along with investment in basic research. The challenges posed by China and the pandemic have been a wake-up call, to which the Biden administration has responded with a 250-page report on supply chain resiliency in four key sectors:  semiconductors, batteries, critical minerals, and pharmaceuticals.

The 23 recommendations in the report represent a return to what used to be called industrial policy and might now best be described as innovation policy—a greater role for the government in promoting research in essential areas and, if necessary, promoting either onshore production or the development of secure supply chains based on relationships with trusted partners. The United States has done this before, and it is good at it. If it is done correctly, the result will be more resilient supply chains and a more secure America.

There remain unknowns. While the report acknowledges that it is neither possible nor optimal for the United States to make everything it needs, the Buy America and reshoring policies recommended may ultimately make achieving greater supply chain resilience more difficult and more expensive. The old adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” comes to mind. One of the best ways to promote resiliency is to diversify sources of supply. While the report demonstrates an understanding of that, some of its proposals run counter to it. There has long been a tension between resiliency and efficiency in constructing supply chains, and the report clearly favors resiliency. It remains to be seen whether the administration has drawn the line in the right place.

Building Back Better—While Reconciling Tensions

Matthew P. Goodman
Senior Vice President for Economics, CSIS

The White House report is breathtaking in scope and ambition. It puts meat on the bones of President Biden’s campaign and governing slogan, “Building Back Better.” In addition to offering tangible recommendations to address a number of real vulnerabilities exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting economic disruption, the report in its overall thrust rightly emphasizes domestic economic strength as the foundation of U.S. national security.

However, the report also includes a number of tensions in the proposed approach. Bill Reinsch has highlighted one of these: the trade-off between resiliency and efficiency of supply chains. Another is between the report’s prioritization of investment in domestic innovation and production and its call for working with allies and partners to strengthen global supply chain resilience. The incentive for allies to work with the United States to secure supplies of critical materials or products, or to fight unfair trade practices, could be undermined by a U.S. preference to “buy American.”

The report lays out a number of worthy public policy objectives, including strengthening national security, creating good-paying jobs for Americans, and combating climate change. The Biden administration will need to be careful to ensure that policies aimed at these different objectives don’t work at cross purposes. In particular, it should remain clear in its focus and messaging that a strong, secure economy at home is consistent with openness and mutually beneficial economic engagement with other countries.

Making the United States More Competitive in Chips

James Andrew Lewis
Senior Vice President and Director
Strategic Technologies Program, CSIS

Semiconductors are the ultimate “foundational” technology. The United States led in semiconductors for decades but now faces significant pressure from a hostile China. The United States still leads in global market share, chip design, and semiconductor manufacturing equipment, but it lags in chip fabrication. This lag creates risk.

The semiconductor industry is globally distributed. This global supply chain faces two challenges. The first is a result of the pandemic. Many countries became uncomfortable when they realized that critical supplies were only available from foreign sources. They want to move some critical production back. This includes chips. The United States and the European Union are taking a harder look at reshoring. The European Union’s “Digital Compass” strategy calls for doubling European chip production by 2030. China has always pursued self-reliance and has invested billions (not always wisely) in chip-making.

China is the second challenge. It makes no secret of its intent to displace the United States and uses subsidies, espionage, and foreign acquisitions to achieve this. When globalization was in full bloom, a distributed supply chain that included China made economic sense. It no longer makes sense for national security.

The 100-day supply chain review offers seven recommendations to respond to these challenges and strengthen the United States’ chip industry. These include a call to fully fund the CHIPS for America Act, which has been languishing in Congress. A 2019 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report found that all countries with significant chip industries except the United States used subsidies. A failure to subsidize helps explain why chip fabrication moved offshore. Other recommendations include building the STEM workforce, using export controls to protect technology, and working with allies to harmonize policies on research and development and China. Investment, research, workforce, and partnerships are the core elements for a successful semiconductor strategy.

The hardest task is addressing the chip shortage. The chief cause of the shortage was miscalculation by auto companies. They, like many others, failed to account for pent-up demand and canceled chip orders. In response, chip makers shifted to producing for items suddenly in hot demand, such as streaming, gaming, computing, and phones. Just-in-time supply left car makers with no reserves. The recommendation for better information flows can reduce the risk of future miscalculation and encourage investment in more production capacity.

Chips are the strategic industry of the twenty-first century. The recommendations in this review, particularly if combined with congressional action on funding and bills like the Innovation and Competition Act, will keep the United States strong in this strategic technology.

Batteries: Bolstering Biden’s Climate and Manufacturing Agenda

Jane Nakano
Senior Fellow
Energy Security and Climate Change Program, CSIS

The battery supply chain review led by the Department of Energy (DOE) is the first-ever federal government articulation on the why and how of its leadership in securing the supply chains for the domestic electric vehicle (EV) battery sector. Its call for stimulating demand, electrifying the transportation sector, and expanding EV charging infrastructure echoes some key elements of the American Jobs Plan, while its recommendations reflect key administration themes such as the revitalization of domestic manufacturing base and the just transition. The Biden administration appears ready to unleash the federal authority in purchasing and investing through public financial institutions like the Export-Import Bank of the United States and DOE’s Loan Program Office, while ensuring that taxpayer dollars translate into domestic manufacturing.

Of numerous highlights, several are particularly noteworthy. DOE’s openness to the modernization of mining regulations and the domestic extraction of lithium stood out amid more nuanced discussion of domestic mining. Otherwise, the emphasis on highest standards and stakeholder consultations reflects the continued tension over domestic mining.

Some in-depth discussion on the wage differential between those working in the new battery industry and those working in the gasoline engine industry, as well as workers’ right to unionize, are emblematic of the Biden recipe to simultaneously advance his climate and economic recovery agendas. How wage increase and unionization may affect employer behaviors and decisions is far from clear, however. Also, without effective measures to fend the domestic market off cheaper imports, high labor cost would likely undercut the administration’s effort to revitalize domestic manufacturing; this underscores how the energy transition is opening up a new frontier for trade tensions.

Finally, by repeatedly warning how a piecemeal investment in one supply chain segment could undercut the value of investment in another segment, the report makes a strong case for strategic investment in all segments of the EV battery value chains. The next step should be for the administration to provide clear direction on how to align and sequence investment along the supply chains.

Pharmaceuticals: Is Deep Structural Change Really Feasible?

Stephen Morrison
Senior Vice President and Director
Global Health Policy Center, CSIS

The supply chain report acknowledges the major changes already underway as the U.S. government makes extensive use of its authorities to shape the industry’s response to the pandemic. However, what the federal government does with respect to vaccines is fundamentally separate and different from what it might do with respect to APIs and small molecule drugs. This is what prompts the report to bluntly acknowledge the United States’ acute level of external dependence on pharmaceuticals and APIs, concentrated in China and India. That reality is rooted in the modern global design of the industry, a long-term, massively complicated, and ultimately very expensive reality to change. It is also rooted in basic economics: the big API firms in Asia which specialize in building blocks for global production processes simply drive unit costs down to where no other firms are competitive. Changing the very structure of the industry to place more basic capacity on U.S. soil will be difficult, slow, and expensive. The report contains no estimate of true costs.

The report proposed enhancing transparency, expanding emergency capacity, and investing in domestic production. The emphasis on transparency is a blunt acknowledgement of just how impaired U.S. policymakers have been during this period of pandemic disruption, lacking reliable data and real-time visibility into a global marketplace that is often opaque and confusing. Enhanced emergency capacity is a sound idea. Investing in domestic production is potentially a major change.

The United States will soon see the creation of “a public-private consortium for advanced manufacturing and onshoring of domestic essential medicines production,” charged with selecting “50-100 critical drugs” to be “the focus of an enhanced onshoring effort.” The report proposes modest seed funding: $60 million in Defense Production Act resources “to develop novel platform technologies to increase domestic manufacturing capacity for API.” That level of resources is not likely to accomplish much, in and of itself, but might trigger bigger plans. Investing in companies is to be calculated in the billions of dollars, not millions.

The Biden administration is well advised to make this issue a priority in multilateral diplomacy with the European Union and other partners with similar concerns and deep stakes in the global pharmaceutical market.

A Roadmap for the Private Sector

Pamela Passman
Senior Associate (Non-Resident)
Economics Program, CSIS

The nation’s commercial industrial foundations are central to U.S. economic and national security. In addition to a review and set of recommendations for the four key products, the administration in its supply chain review outlined a series of actions to be taken across the federal government to support supply chain resilience, workforce development, production and innovation, and strong sustainability and labor standards at home and abroad. These measures and their attendant funding, investing, and purchasing streams, data collection, standards setting, and systems building have the potential to “rebuild the U.S. industrial base and innovation engine.”

The private sector is critical in ensuring that these unprecedented investments by the federal government will actually strengthen supply chains and shore up domestic production. Sustained collaboration across the federal government and with businesses, higher education, research centers, start-ups and incubators, and the investment community must be prioritized. This is the long game, not a four-year initiative or Chinese-style “five-year plan.”

The U.S. private sector should heed the calls to action and meet its responsibilities to:

  • Build more robust domestic manufacturing capability and innovation capacity.
  • Diversify international suppliers and reduce geographic concentration risk.
  • Support small, medium-sized, and disadvantaged businesses in gaining access to every stage of the innovation, commercialization, and manufacturing cycles.
  • Engage in industry-led standards setting efforts to ensure “high-road business practices” domestically and globally.
  • Prioritize cyber resilience in internal operations and those of supply chain partners.
  • Invest in quality, sustainability (decarbonization), and long-term productivity.
  • Collaborate with labor and educational institutions to create multiple pathways to quality jobs.
  • Use data and analytics to better monitor and predict risks and vulnerabilities and to embed systems that focus on supply chain resilience.

This is just the Biden administration’s opening salvo on building more secure and resilient supply chains. The next phase, focusing on six critical industrial base sectors, has the potential to go broader and deeper in ensuring U.S. economic security, national security, and technological leadership.

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Analysis

USA – U.S. Leadership in Space: A Conversation With General John Raymond (CFR)

General John Raymond discusses the establishment of the U.S. Space Force, current and potential national security threats in outer space, and areas of cooperation between the United States and both foreign allies and private-sector organizations.

U.S. Leadership in Space: A Conversation With General John Raymond | Council on Foreign Relations (cfr.org)

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Analysis

USA/Russia – Biden seeks ‘predictable, stable’ Russia relations in Putin meet (Joseph Stepansky, Al Jazeera)

United States President Joe Biden will cap off his European tour – his first foreign trip – with a meeting in Geneva on Wednesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The highly anticipated summit, which the US began pursuing in April – days before announcing sanctions on Moscow and expelling diplomats over the Russian hacking of US federal agencies, “targeting dissidents or journalists”, and undermining security in the region – will be Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with Putin as president.

It notably comes before Biden has met Chinese President Xi Jinping, underscoring the continued relevance and perceived threat of Moscow to Washington and its NATO allies even as the Biden administration continues to reorient US foreign policy towards Beijing in what many consider an emerging cold war.

In the days leading up to the meeting, the Biden administration has stressed a “dual policy of pushing back against Russia for its perceived misdemeanours, but at the same time talking about engaging”, said Richard Sakwa, a professor of politics at the University of Kent.

Increasing the urgency for Washington, he said, is the growing stance among some in Moscow that the US “is losing the geopolitical contest at the moment” which threatens to force Russia and China together.

Points of contention sure to top the US agenda will be so-called SolarWinds cyberattacks, the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 and 2020 US Presidential elections, the Russian troop buildup on the border of Ukraine and its continued occupation of Crimea, the militarisation of the Arctic, and the alleged poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

On Wednesday, arriving in the United Kingdom for the first leg of the foreign visit, Biden warned of “robust and meaningful consequences” if Russia engages in “harmful activities”.

He repeated that sentiment at the NATO Summit in Brussels on Monday, adding if Navalny dies, his “death would be another indication that Russia has little or no intention of abiding by basic fundamental human rights, it would be a tragedy, it would do nothing but hurt relations with the rest of the world, and me”.

The language is in line with what observers expect to be a wider messaging and optics mission that aims to strike a stark contrast to former President Donald Trump’s July 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki.

 

Then-US President Donald Trump extends his hand to Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, in 2018 [File: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo]

That meeting ended with a now-infamous joint news conference that saw Trump, in real-time, accept Putin’s denial of Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election – a direct contradiction of the US intelligence community.

Meanwhile, Biden officials have in recent days sought to dispel criticism from some legislators and allies that the meeting is a reward for Putin, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan calling the summit “vital” in working towards “strategic stability so we can make progress on arms control and other nuclear areas”.

Brian Whitmore, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and host of the Power Vertical Podcast on Russian affairs, said in the widest sense, the Biden administration will be trying “to transform the relationship with Russia from what has been an unpredictable adversarial relationship into a predictable adversarial relationship”.

‘Personally assess’ the other leader

The White House and Kremlin have taken pains to lower expectations surrounding the summit, with officials from both countries repeating the mantra of “no breakthroughs, no illusions, no false expectations” said Robert Legvold, a Columbia University professor emeritus of political science.

He added that despite having a history of face-to-face meetings that dates back at least 20 years, the first meeting between Presidents Biden and Putin will largely be a recalibration.

“Each leader thinks they know the other leader well, but they need to update, and that may be as significant as anything else in terms of low expectations,” Legvold said. “That may not be positive. They may come away with the conclusion that ‘no, we’re not going to be able to do a lot of business’.”

Challenges to engagement remain myriad. The two leaders traded barbs when Biden, on being asked by a reporter in March, affirmed that he believes Putin is a “killer”.

In recent days, a Russian court designated opposition leader Navalny’s political movement an extremist network, a decision seen by many as meant to send a message that Moscow will not take cues from Washington on issues it considers domestic affairs.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has said Russia continues to maintain a large military presence along their shared border despite announcing a pullback in April.

Such realities underscore how difficult it will be for the Biden administration to make progress on its goals, particularly when Moscow may not see a more predictable relationship as working to its benefit, the Atlantic Council’s Whitmore said.

“I don’t think Russia wants a stable, predictable relationship,” he said. “I think the unpredictability of the relationship is actually Putin’s asymmetrical advantage.”

Possible cooperation

Still, with both sides uncomfortable with the Cold War-era low in relations, some observers believe there is a motivation to find at least some common ground.

While little is expected in concrete steps, an agreement to redeploy diplomats, including the US and Russian ambassadors, who have been called back to their home countries, is considered one possible outcome.

Other global issues like COVID-19 and climate change – with the US and Russia representing the number two and four top carbon emitters in the world, respectively – are seen as possible areas of cooperation.

Both countries may also be open to beginning conversations on further arms control frameworks, with Washington and Moscow having extended the so-called Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) this year.

University of Kent’s Sakwa said, with some luck, the meeting could follow the pattern of the summit between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sullivan and their Chinese counterparts in Alaska in March, which saw initially harsh words give way to two hours of “very constructive discussions”.

While both parties are entering the meeting with “open eyes”, he added: “I do think that this is good faith engagement.”

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Analysis

USA – 2020 was a record year for US renewables. This is what needs to happen next (Lori Bird, Katrina McLaughlin, WEF)

  • 2020 was a record year for clean energy development in the United States, nearly doubling the capacity installed in 2019.
  • The U.S. installed enough new renewable generating capacity to power 9 million homes.
  • To achieve this, studies suggest the U.S. needs to increase its renewable energy deployment at least 2-3 times from current levels.

Despite the challenging economic conditions created by COVID-19, 2020 was a record year for clean energy development in the United States, with the country nearly doubling the capacity installed in 2019.

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the U.S. installed 35 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable generating capacity in 2020, enough to power 9 million homes. Installation rates of solar (18.7 GW, up 65% from 2019) and wind (16.5 GW, up 178%) skyrocketed. Renewable energy purchases by cities (3.7 GW) and corporate buyers (10.6 GW) increased substantially in 2020, up 23% and 14% respectively from 2019.

Battery storage also grew at a particularly impressive rate, with 1.1 GW of capacity added, up 178% from 2019. One market analyst described this increase in battery storage deployment as “the hockey stick that we’ve long expected,” and estimated that battery storage installation rates will reach 7.5 GW annually by 2025.

At the end of January 2021, the U.S. had a total of 169 GW of installed wind and solar capacity. Overall, non-hydro renewables accounted for 12.5% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2020, and the inclusion of hydropower brings that figure to 20% of electricity generation.

How much more renewable energy do we need this decade?

But while the 35 GW of new renewable capacity added in 2020 was record-setting, it’s still not enough.

President Biden set a goal to reach 100% clean electricity by 2035 and committed to reduce U.S. emissions 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. At the same time, climate science shows that the world must reach net-zero emissions by mid-century or sooner to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Numerous studies suggest we need to increase U.S. renewable energy deployment at least 2-3 times from current levels to meet these decarbonization goals. Studies show that over the next decade, the average annual build-out needed for new renewable capacity in the United States ranges from 50 to 95 GW per year, with most estimates falling between 60 and 70 GW annually — about twice the 35 GW installation rate that set records in 2020. This pace will need to accelerate in the 2040s, with estimated annual deployment levels reaching above 100 GW (more than triple 2020 levels) in many study scenarios. While there are important differences between the studies’ purposes, modeling approaches, and assumptions (including on energy prices and electricity demand growth due to end-use electrification), the findings are consistent.

a chart comparing Renewable Energy Installation Rates
Comparison of Renewable Energy Installation Rates Called for in Studies of Decarbonization Pathways in the Power Sector
Image: WRI
a chart showing Decarbonization Study Estimate
Decarbonization Study Estimates of Renewable Energy Needed Compared to Projected Installations by 2030
Image: WRI

How can Congress and the Biden Administration increase renewable energy capacity?

The science shows that for the next 10 years, every year needs to be a record year for renewable energy. Costs for renewable energy technologies have declined dramatically, but significant policy action will be necessary to transform the domestic electricity system into the low-carbon grid of the future.

National polling found high (greater than 70%) support for the clean energy provisions provided in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. The administration recently released its proposed budget, which details the revenue and spending implications of these measures. Now, it’s up to Congress to turn pieces of this proposal into legislation.

Here are four major policies the U.S. can undertake to pick up the pace toward a successful clean energy transition:

1. Implement a Clean Electricity Standard

A Clean Electricity Standard is one of the most effective ways to ensure the U.S. reaches the level of clean energy installations needed. A Clean Electricity Standard, or CES, requires a certain level of electricity to be generated from carbon-free sources, providing more certainty in planning and obtaining regulatory approval for clean energy investments by utilities and developers.

It is a proven and popular tool for decarbonizing the electricity sector: 30 states already have a Clean Electricity Standard or a Renewable Energy Standard, most of which have existed for more than a decade. Within the last few years, several states have expanded their original Renewable Energy Standards to be 100% Clean Electricity Standards, and some include energy efficiency as well. State policies have been key drivers of renewable energy deployment to date, responsible for almost half of all renewable energy growth in the United States since 2000. By 2030, they are expected to create demand for 90 GW of new renewable energy additions.

These policies also result in substantial benefits. A 2016 national lab study found that, collectively, state Renewable Energy Standards generated $5.2 million in annual public health benefits from air quality improvements. A more recent Resources for the Future report found that of three potential federal policies — tax credits, a carbon price and a Clean Electricity Standard — a Clean Electricity Standard achieves the greatest emissions reductions at the lowest cost.

States that have implemented Renewable Energy Standards have made significant progress in cleaning up their electric grids, but the patchwork of state policies and uneven distribution has left some grids heavily dependent on fossil fuels. A federal Clean Electricity Standard with a clear national target and timetable, broad coverage, and dedicated spending for environmental justice communities would be cost-effective and could help distribute the health and economic benefits of the clean energy transition to all corners of the country. Critically, a federal Clean Electricity Standard can drive action in all regions, while still allowing for more ambitious state action.

Momentum behind a federal Clean Electricity Standard is growing. President Biden called for an Energy Efficiency and Clean Electricity Standard that would move the U.S. towards 100% carbon-free power and more efficient energy use by 2035 in his American Jobs Plan, and in recent statements, administration officials indicated that such a policy could pass through budget reconciliation. Thirteen utilities recently released a letter calling for policies including a Clean Electricity Standard to reduce power sector emissions 80% below 2005 levels by 2030. And a broad coalition of more than 150 environmental groups released a sign-on letter for a Clean Electricity Standard requiring 100% clean energy by 2035. This support in Washington adds to the 61% of likely national voters who indicated in a January 2021 poll that they would support a Clean Electricity Standard to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035.

Congress has introduced four Clean Electricity Standard proposals in its past three sessions. The current legislation on the table is the CLEAN Future Act, which calls for all electricity suppliers to reach 80% clean electricity by 2030 and 100% by 2035. Similar to President Biden’s proposed Clean Electricity Standard, the CLEAN Future Act includes existing nuclear and hydropower as eligible clean facilities.

It also offers partial credits for fossil fuel plants with emissions below a certain carbon-intensity threshold, which would allow some natural gas facilities and facilities equipped with carbon capture and sequestration to qualify. The broader range of eligible technologies is one key difference between state level Renewable Energy Standards and a federal Clean Electricity Standard. More proposals are likely coming as Congress crafts legislative proposals for President Biden’s agenda.

a picture of two workers installing solar panels
Studies show clean energy installation rates will need to be 2-3 times current levels to meet national clean energy targets.
Image: Photo by Oregon Department of Transportation/Flickr

2. Reform and expand tax credits

Tax credits have played an important role in driving renewable energy growth and can spur the broader suite of technologies needed to enable the expansion and integration of renewable energy on the grid, such as storage and transmission. But they’re in need of reform and expansion.

The current tax credit regime is a patchwork of policies covering different technologies and has faced numerous lapses and extensions. This creates uncertainty for clean energy developers and has led to boom-and-bust cycles of deployment as developers race to meet expiring policy deadlines. In addition, short-term extensions of tax credits preclude use by technologies that require longer lead times for development, such as geothermal projects and offshore wind.

The next generation of federal tax credits should be long-term, with sufficient timelines for project developers to plan. They must be predictable, with clear criteria for phasing down incentive levels, and be easily accessible to project developers and consumers. Multi-year extensions of tax credits can enable developers to use them for projects with longer development lead times. This could diversify the types of clean energy projects deployed, including those that can be dispatched as needed to help with grid reliability.

Two particular reforms that deserve attention are increasing direct pay options and expanding stand-alone credits for energy storage and transmission. Direct pay options can increase the accessibility and efficiency of tax credits. Most tax credits — including the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and Investment Tax Credit (ITC) — require the recipient to have sufficient tax liability. This requires project developers to partner with tax equity investors, who put the projects on their tax balance sheets and receive part of the credit. A direct pay option would increase the overall efficiency of tax credits by removing the need for tax equity investors and the portion of the tax credit they collect. Direct payments were implemented in the 2008 economic recovery and included a cash grant option for renewable energy developers and point-of-sale rebates for consumers, but lapsed in 2011.

Credits can also be expanded to include a broader suite of technologies that will be needed to deploy large amounts of wind and solar energy on the grid, including storage and transmission, as well as demand-side flexibility and electrification. The current tax credit for storage is tied to use of renewable energy for charging a storage device, but can be made a stand-alone credit. Tax credits for transmission have not previously been implemented, but a new report estimates that an ITC for transmission could enable an additional 30 GW of renewable energy. Finally, end-user tax credits for energy efficiency can reduce the energy footprint of building stock while helping consumers save on energy bills.

The American Jobs Plan and associated Made in America Tax Plan Report call for a suite of dedicated tax credits. These include a 10-year extension of the PTC and ITC and would make these direct pay; a new tax incentive for long-distance transmission; and expanded tax incentives for battery storage, carbon capture and sequestration, and advanced manufacturing. Five tax credit proposals (including three bipartisan measures) have been introduced in the current Congress – the GREEN Act, the Clean Energy for America Act, the Energy Storage Tax Incentive and Deployment Act, the Electric Power Infrastructure Improvement Act and the Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Tax Credit Amendments Act.

3. Invest in transmission.

Expanding transmission capacity is critical to enable the massive amounts of renewable energy that must come online, and can improve grid reliability and resilience while lowering costs. The National Academies report finds that transmission capacity across the U.S. must increase approximately 40% by 2030 in order to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century. The current lack of available transmission capacity is already blocking new renewable energy from coming online. This is an issue that requires immediate attention, since high-voltage transmission projects typically take 7-10 years to build.

Expert evaluations of transmission capacity by NRELVibrant Clean Energy and others consistently find that a more interconnected grid would increase the resiliency of the electric system while delivering large consumer savings. There are already 22 shovel-ready transmission projects that could enable 60 GW of renewable energy to come online, but these projects have been stalled by inefficiencies in the transmission planning and permitting process.

Adding new high-voltage transmission is a significant undertaking, and likely will require reforms to the existing planning and permitting processes. Determining cost allocation and gaining approvals for siting transmission lines have historically made transmission development challenging, particularly for lines that cross state boundaries. In a report to Congress last year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recognized siting and numerous jurisdiction processes as key barriers to expanding transmission. Calls are growing for FERC to revisit existing tariff- and cost-allocation structures, and to issue a new transmission planning rule.

FERC could introduce reforms including the creation of a national transmission planning authority, which could work with regional planning authorities to facilitate development of transmission lines. In addition, renewable energy zones, which have been used effectively in Texas to develop transmission lines that serve windy areas of the state, could be applied nationally to facilitate transmission projects that serve regions with abundant renewable resources.

Transmission investments and planning reform have received increasing attention in Washington. In the American Jobs Plan, Biden proposed $100 billion in funding for transmission and the creation of a Grid Deployment Authority, while FERC chairman Richard Glick named transmission and grid interconnection queues as priorities to address this year. At the end of April, the Department of Transportation released guidance for clean energy and connectivity projects along federal highway right-of-ways, and the Department of Energy announced up to $8.25 billion in loans to expand transmission.

In addition to the previously mentioned Electric Power Infrastructure Improvement Act, which would create a stand-alone ITC for transmission, current Congressional proposals include provisions within the CLEAN Future Act and the Interregional Transmission Planning Improvement Act of 2021. Both bills direct FERC to issue a new rule on transmission planning. The CLEAN Future Act also authorizes $75 million annually until 2031 for a transmission siting assistance program.

This proposed level of funding matches the level of transmission investments called for in the National Academies report, some of which would be used to ensure states, communities and tribal nations can meaningfully participate in transmission planning and siting. These Congressional proposals are an important first step to building the necessary transmission infrastructure to integrate clean energy onto the grid.

4. Place a price on carbon

Another option would be an economy-wide carbon price that covers all sectors, including the industrial sector and hard-to-abate sources such as cement and steel production. A carbon price would send a signal throughout the economy for low-carbon investments.

A comprehensive carbon price has long been viewed as the most economically efficient policy tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Well-designed carbon pricing can deliver both climate and economic outcomes, driving innovation across the economy while raising revenues that can ease the energy transition for impacted sectors and households. An increasing number of businesses and trade associations are speaking out in support of carbon pricing. Washington state recently passed a carbon cap-and-invest bill, becoming the second state in the nation after California to enact an economy-wide carbon price.

Two carbon pricing bills have been introduced so far in the current Congress: the Energy Innovation and Dividend Act and the America’s Clean Future Fund Act. These bills have garnered significant support in both chambers of Congress and are sponsored by key members of Democratic leadership, including Senate Majority Whip Sen. Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Deutch (D-FL), who is the founding co-chair of the House Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

We expect additional carbon pricing bills to be introduced in the near future. Any federal carbon price bill should also address co-pollutants (such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and nitrogen oxides) and include mechanisms to minimize air quality impacts to environmental justice and disproportionately burdened communities.

Workers install new wind turbine blades
2020 was a record year for U.S. renewable energy deployment, nearly doubling the amount of wind, solar and battery storage capacity added in 2019.
Image: Photo by Dennis Schroeder for NREL/Flickr

Congressional action is critical

None of the four policies discussed here are silver bullets. Complementary policies and sustained investments are key to an effective and equitable energy transition. These include demand side management measures including energy efficiency, demand response and other measures that increase customer-side flexibility.

Clear federal direction and strong policy will have to be a big part of what allows the U.S. to double its clean energy installation rates to approximately 70 GW per year. The new federal administration has laid out its priorities, including a Clean Electricity Standard, tax credits and renewed attention to transmission; now, it’s up to Congress to take up these measures with the urgency the climate crisis requires.

Within these conversations, policymakers should focus on the North Star of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and spreading the health and economic benefits of a cleaner energy system to all communities. Congress must now deliver big and bold federal policies to make sure 2020’s record number of renewables isn’t an outlier, but the beginning of a strong climate action decade.

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USA/South China Sea – US Navy aircraft carrier USS Reagan enters South China Sea (Al Jazeera)

A US aircraft carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan has entered the South China Sea as part of a routine mission, the US Navy said, at a time of rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, which claims most of the disputed waterway.

The carrier is being accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Shiloh and the guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey, the US Navy said on Tuesday.

China frequently objects to US military missions in the South China Sea, saying they do not help promote peace or stability, and the latest mission comes after China condemned the Group of Seven (G7) nations for a statement criticising Beijing over a range of issues.

“While in the South China Sea, the strike group is conducting maritime security operations, which include flight operations with fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, maritime strike exercises, and coordinated tactical training between surface and air units,” the US Navy said.

“Carrier operations in the South China Sea are part of the US Navy’s routine presence in the Indo-Pacific.”

China has ramped up its military presence in the South China Sea in recent years, including building artificial islands and air bases, where it has installed missile systems and other equipment.

The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the US, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing in the resource-rich waters, which are also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia.

In a show of force against the Chinese claims, US warships have passed through the South China Sea with increasing frequency in recent years, invoking freedom of navigation rights.

US military alliances

In a related development, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin has said the country will extend a key military pact with the US, after months of negotiations between the two countries.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened in February last year to axe the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after Washington cancelled the visa of a close ally who led his internationally condemned war on drugs.

Duterte, who has cultivated closer ties with China, later reversed his decision, which analysts said could have further weakened decades of close military cooperation between Manila and Washington, DC.

A Growler  launches from the flight deck of USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76). Ronald Reagan [Courtesy of US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Quinton Lee]

It is the third time Duterte has extended the deal, which provides the legal framework for joint military exercises with the US.

“The president conveyed to us his decision to extend the suspension of the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement by another six months while he studies and both sides further address his concerns regarding particular aspects of the agreement,” Locsin said.

A foreign affairs spokeswoman said the department was waiting for details from Duterte’s office on the specific areas of concern.

Duterte’s decision also comes as China steps up incursions into Philippine waters, angering many Filipinos.

The Philippines and the US held scaled-down joint drills in April after last year’s war games were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Analysis

USA/Europe – After a 17 year war over jet subsidies, US and EU eye a truce (Al Jazeera)

The United States and Europe are speeding efforts to reach a pact to end a 17-year-old dispute over aircraft subsidies but may settle for a prolonged truce in recent tariff wars, people familiar with the matter said.

A deal to either end or pause the world’s largest corporate trade dispute would grant relief to dozens of other industries affected by tit-for-tat tariffs that were suspended in March. They face a renewed trade war within weeks if there is no progress.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed the dispute in her first face-to-face meeting with EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis on Monday before Tuesday’s US-EU summit. She travels to the United Kingdom on Wednesday.

The European Commission, which oversees EU trade policy, and the US are eager to find a solution by July 11 when the current suspension of transatlantic tariffs comes to an end.

The two sides have been targeting a pair of treaties – one between the US and European Union, the original parties, and another between Washington and London following the UK’s exit from the EU – on new ground rules for aerospace.

Barring a detailed accord, they could opt for a standstill agreement pushing back the resumption of tariffs by years, but no final decision has been reached, one of the people said.

Reset relations

US President Joe Biden has promised to reset relations with European partners after four tumultuous years under former President Donald Trump.

Trade experts said a deal to freeze the conflict over jet subsides, some of which have been rescinded or wound down, would give both sides more time to focus on broader agendas such as concerns about China’s state-driven economic model.

The tariffs on $11.5bn of goods were progressively imposed from 2019 after the US and EU both won partial victories at the World Trade Organization (WTO) for claims of unfair aid for planemakers Boeing and Airbus.

The dispute has dragged on since 2004 when the US withdrew from a 1992 aircraft subsidy pact and took the EU to the WTO, claiming Airbus had managed to equal Boeing’s share of the jet market thanks in part to subsidised government loans.

The EU counter-sued over what it termed unfair R&D support and subsidised tax incentives for Boeing.

But hurdles remain regarding the extent to which that could effectively allow Washington to approve or block European projects, they added. The EU has vehemently opposed any US veto.

Even more critical is the benchmark to be used when deciding whether the interest on any future loans is market-compatible.

Under the 1992 subsidy pact, one-third of a project could be financed by direct government support such as loans and cleared indirect R&D support up to 4 percent of a company’s revenue.

One option is to revisit that framework with market rules replacing subsidy quotas and a new cap on indirect R&D support.

None of the parties agreed to comment on the talks.

China ‘on radar’

 

Robert Lighthizer, former US trade representative, had suggested US and EU join forces against China on aircraft subsidies [File: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg]

In December 2020, outgoing US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told Reuters the US and Europe should cooperate in opposing future aerospace subsidies used by China.

 

The US has floated a joint review of aerospace funding in non-market economies like China, two of the people said.

“There’s no question that the rise of China’s aircraft industry is … on everybody’s proverbial radar,” US Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Marjorie Chorlins said on Monday, noting what she described as China’s “heavy subsidisation”.

Like the US, the EU has sparred with Beijing on trade and security this year. But its 27 nations could struggle to agree upon a common front on topics like aerospace.

In April, for example, Hungary blocked an EU statement criticising China’s new Hong Kong security law, sparking a row about the right of member states to veto EU foreign policy.

The Chinese embassy in Washington had no immediate comment.

Brexit complications

Brexit has also complicated negotiations.

The UK and US came close to striking an aerospace agreement in December that could have forced the hand of Brussels in its own talks with Washington.

But it collapsed amid British concerns about jobs and was eventually overtaken by political distractions surrounding unrest in Washington in January, several sources said. A British official said a balanced deal had been out of reach at the time.

The UK’s ability to negotiate trade deals independently of the EU is central to its new “global Britain” stance. But its flexibility on Airbus is cramped by its role as one of four core nations involved in the planemaker, pre-dating its EU accession.

Airbus, which has 14,000 staff in the UK, has made it plain that work could shift abroad if the UK turns its back on aerospace.

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Analysis

USA/Iraq – US House to vote to repeal Iraq war authorisation (Al Jazeera)

The United States House of Representatives will vote later this week to repeal the authorisation of war that Congress gave to former President George W Bush in 2002 enabling the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The motion to repeal the Authorization of Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Iraq, coming for the first time with support from President Joe Biden, is expected to be taken up in the House on Thursday, CNN reported.

The Biden administration said on Monday that the US “has no ongoing military activities that rely solely on the 2002 AUMF as a domestic legal basis” and its repeal “would likely have minimal impact on current military operations”.

But the upcoming vote is seen as a start in a larger debate in the US Congress about revising and re-establishing the US legal basis for the deployment of military forces in Iraq and elsewhere in what congressional critics call the “forever wars”.

“The President is committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework appropriate to ensure that we can continue to protect Americans from terrorist threats,” the White House said in a statement on Monday supporting the House repeal.

However, without a replacement authorisation that addresses modern-day circumstances in Iraq, repeal of the US law faces scepticism from legislators in the Senate, which also must agree for the House resolution to take effect.

“The 2002 AUMF was largely about Saddam Hussein, it is also clearly used to address terrorist threats in and emanating from Iraq,” said Representative Michael McCaul.

“Unless we hear from our military that the 2002 AUMF no longer serves the purpose of protecting Americans, we should not repeal before replacing,” said McCaul, a Republican.

The issue came to the fore most recently with the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani by US forces on Iraqi soil, an act many members of Congress viewed as unjustified and reckless. The Trump administration later cited the 2002 Iraq war authorisation as legal justification for the Soleimani hit.

US and NATO troops invaded Afghanistan after the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks and the former Bush administration then pushed for and obtained authorisation from Congress to invade Iraq in a preemptive war to topple Saddam Hussein and prevent Iraq from obtaining weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration’s pretext for invading Iraq was later shown to be based on false claims and former President Barack Obama agreed to withdraw most US forces from Iraq in 2011.

“There are Iran sponsored terrorist groups active today inside Iraq who threaten our diplomats, our soldiers and our citizens,” McCaul said.

Defense Department lawyers in the prior Trump administration had strongly opposed a stand-alone repeal of the 2002 Iraq AUMF because it would remove the authority for US military action against the militia groups.

Nevertheless, there is broad support among Democrats in Congress repeal of the 2002 authorisation of war in Iraq, as well as an earlier 2001 authorisation Congress passed related to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan.

Biden has put in motion plans to withdraw US and allied foreign troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks.

Across the years, both the 2001 and 2002 AMUFs have been used by successive presidents to justify a range of military actions, including drone attacks in Yemen, that in some cases have little to do with the original conflicts Congress sought to address.

“The idea that they have not been repealed or ended just doesn’t make any sense,” said Representative Jim McGovern, a leading Democrat.

“It’s either that we just haven’t done our due diligence, or we are not keeping a close watch on these things,” McGovern said on Monday.

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Turkey/USA – Turkey’s Erdogan says held ‘fruitful, sincere’ talks with Biden (Al Jazeera)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he held a “fruitful and sincere” meeting with his US counterpart Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels.

“We believe there is no problem that cannot be resolved in Turkey-US relations,” Erdogan added after holding his first meeting with Biden since his election.

At a press conference on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels, Erdogan said the “extensive talks” with Biden covered cooperation on regional issues and he emphasized his long years of friendship with the US leader.

In a brief exchange with reporters, Biden described it as a “very good meeting”. He and Erdogan met privately before being joined by other officials. They spent in total more than an hour together.

The US president later told reporters that the discussion was “positive and productive”. He said the leaders “had detailed discussions about how to proceed on a number of issues”, but did not go into much further detail.

Biden has known Erdogan for years but their relationship has frequently been contentious. During his election campaign, Biden drew ire from Turkish officials after he described Erdogan as an “autocrat”.

In April, Biden infuriated Ankara by declaring that the Ottoman-era mass killing and deportations of Armenians was “genocide” – a term that US presidents have avoided using.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with US President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 14, 2021 [Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout/Reuters]

Erdogan signalled that the two leaders failed to find a way to overcome differences over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 advanced Russian missile defense systems. The US says the technology is a threat to NATO and has removed Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme.“Our thoughts on the S-400 are the same as before, I relayed our same thoughts to Mr. Biden,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan also called for an end to US support to Syrian Kurdish armed groups, which Turkey considers to be “terrorists”.

One area where Erdogan hoped to showcase a central Turkish role in NATO is Afghanistan, where Ankara has offered to guard and operate Kabul airport after US and NATO forces withdraw in coming weeks. NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey would play a key role but no decision was made at the Monday summit.

Meeting with Macron

Before meeting with Biden, the Turkish president also met other world leaders during the summit, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

It was their first meeting since the dispute between the two countries reached its peak in October after Erdogan questioned Macron’s mental health.

 

Macron said he wants all NATO allies to make a clear commitment to the military organisation’s values, principles and rules, his office said.

Both men discussed issues in Libya and Syria, the Elysee said. Macron has notably accused Turkey of flouting its commitments by ramping up its military presence in Libya and bringing in armed fighters from Syria.

Macron also highlighted that France’s secularism respects all religions, including Islam.

The French presidency said a “clarification” was needed in response to Erdogan’s tough criticism of Macron’s attitude towards Islam and Muslims.

In other developments at the summit, NATO members committed to confronting China’s military ambitions for the first time, issuing a communique that said Beijing presents “systemic challenges” for the transatlantic security alliance.

NATO’s communique also said the alliance would adapt to climate-related security challenges, called on Russia to drop its designation of two allies – the United States and the Czech Republic – as “unfriendly countries” and urged Iran to stop all ballistic missile activities.