Thirteen Russians and three Russian entities have been indicted by a grand jury for interfering in the US presidential elections in 2016, US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office said on February 16.

The thirty-seven-page indictment alleges that Russians’ operations “included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump...and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” Trump’s Democratic opponent, according to the Guardian.

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US support for a Kurdish militia in Syria has become a point of contention in the US-Turkey relationship.

Who are the Kurds and why is US support so contentious?

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The annual Munich Security Conference (MSC) which kicks off today may be a veritable who’s who in global security, but the conference is far more than just hobnobbing among the nearly five hundred senior security and defense officials in attendance. Frequently the MSC has been a bellwether for things to come in the global security landscape. Speakers have also used the forum to make headlines that have echoed far beyond Munich. It was here in 2007 that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin publicly rejected the western-led international order and pushed back, hard, on NATO’s continued enlargement and US-led interventions in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The 2018 Munich Security Conference opened on February 16 against a backdrop of a global order under increasing stress, both Russia and China challenging the international rules of the road, the possibility of another Korean War, continued turbulence in the Middle East, and uncertainty about the future of the US global role. There are also whispers about the return of great power war, something unthinkable just a few years ago. The title of this year’s Munich Security Conference report, released ahead of the event, perhaps put it best: To the Brink – and Back?

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The order is holding for now, but the trends are worrisome

The state of the global order one year into Donald Trump’s presidency will be at the top of the agenda when global security experts meet in Munich from February 16-18.

The  outlook was bleak even before the 2016 US election. The rules-based, democratic order, led by the United States and its allies for the past seven decades, seemed daunted by hard challenges. The great power autocracies—China and Russia—were pushing back against its core principles, and US allies were losing confidence in America’s willingness to lead.  With his populist, anti-globalist campaign, Trump’s election magnified these concerns. While the democratic order appears to be holding—for now—the trend lines suggest a  difficult road ahead. 

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February 16 marks the start of the annual Munich Security Conference (MSC)—the “Davos of international security”—in Germany. A Rolodex of top defense and foreign affairs leaders from Europe, the United States, the Middle East, and elsewhere will convene to take on a wide array of pressing global security issues.

While the issues on the 2018 agenda are varied, a few prominent themes stand out: the rise of great-power competition between the United States, China, and Russia; the looming geopolitical and societal impacts of new technologies and emerging threats; and the future of the liberal international order.

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The 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment, released on February 13, includes climate change among the identified threats to global stability. While many have pointed to the gap between this assessment and the rhetoric of US President Donald J. Trump—and the noticeable absence of climate change from his administration’s 2017 National Security Strategy—the worldwide threat assessment underscores a continuity in the identification of climate change as a security challenge across broad swaths of the US government. However, the mention of climate change as a threat is less criticism directed at the White House than reiteration of a consistent theme found in past Worldwide Threat Assessments.   

Climate change has been included in the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s assessments, which began in 2006, for many years. Climate change was first included in the 2009 Worldwide Threat Assessment, and the language in the 2018 assessment about the impact on food, energy, and water resources, echoes similar themes.

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An unusual protest erupted in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi on February 15, 2011. Enraged by the arrest of a human rights activist, protestors clashed with police and supporters of Libya’s longtime ruler, Moammar Gadhafi, who responded with brute force. Two days later, activists called for a “day of rage.”

The protests spread like wildfire across Libya, whose neighborhood was already being buffeted by the so-called Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings. Longtime leaders, including Gadhafi, were ousted in the Arab Spring revolutions. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost and millions were displaced from their homes.

Seven years later, Libya is mired in chaos.

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On February 15, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned following months of sustained protests and pressure from the country’s aggrieved and marginalized ethnic groups. The country’s ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), now faces a crisis of leadership as it determines Ethiopia’s next prime minister. This author predicted the imminent ouster of Hailemariam and offered speculation as to the next person to hold that post—including the momentous challenges any new prime minister will face. Above all, Ethiopia’s new leader faces an increasingly emboldened population who demands real political reforms—which will require a painful, and potentially fraught, distribution of economic resources and power away from the TPLF ruling elite. 

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The US military continues to support a Kurdish militia in Syria that Turkey considers a terrorist organization, and Ankara has had enough.

Now, as the Turkish military threatens to advance on Manbij, a town in northeastern Syria held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces that includes the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG), Ankara is “going to try to force a showdown to gain concessions from the United States,” said Aaron Stein, a resident fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

However, he added, “I just don’t see a willingness from the United States to give the types of concessions that Turkey wants.”

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Reporting out of Moscow suggests that some number of armed Russians—up to 200—were killed by the US-led, anti-ISIS coalition after crossing the Euphrates River deconfliction line in eastern Syria on February 7.  If the reports are true, this was by far the bloodiest incident for Russian personnel since Moscow’s military intervention in Syria at the end of September 2015.

The degree to which the Kremlin knew in advance of the ill-advised fording of the Euphrates is not clear.  American military sources say that communications between them and Russian counterparts in Syria never broke down, and that the Russian air force never intervened on behalf of the invaders.

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