Is a tweet legally binding directive, asks former US Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning

[Editor's note: On July 27, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that military policy regarding who may serve will not change until US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis issues new guidelines. "In the meantime, we will continue to treat all of our personnel with respect," said Dunford in a letter to the military service chiefs.]

US President Donald J. Trump’s decision to ban transgender troops from the US military via tweet raises “a question of legality,” and widespread concerns regarding the implementation of this sweeping order, according to former US Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning.  

“The question is,” said Fanning, “is a tweet from the president a legally binding directive?” Ultimately, “It remains to be seen what this really means and how they plan on implementing it,” he said. “When the president tweets major policy pronouncements, we don’t know.”

On July 26, Trump tweeted a ban on transgender people serving in the US military “in any capacity.”

“That’s a part of the tweet that’s much more sweeping than anybody expected in a worst-case scenario,” said Fanning. “Transgender [individuals] serving in uniform now are all nervous,” he added.

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On July 14, an unofficial draft of the much-anticipated US Department of Energy (DOE) grid study, formally referred to as the Study Examining Electricity Markets and Reliability, was leaked, notably absent any recommendations.

The report was requested in an April 14 memo by US Energy Secretary Rick Perry. A number of senators and representatives, based upon the language of Perry’s memo, publicly denounced Perry’s request for a report, putting him on notice that the final document will be scrutinized carefully. Other groups, mostly renewable energy supports, protested the request for the report as well. However, the leaked DOE staff draft report, sans recommendations, has met with some approval from the same quarters.

In light of the backlash against the original memorandum requesting the grid report, the topics submitted by Perry indeed deserve a close examination, particularly given the absence to date of the release of a final DOE report.

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Diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the chaos that has prevailed in Libya since 2011 have legitimized Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan general whose forces have been accused of torture and executing prisoners, according to the Atlantic Council’s Karim Mezran.

Haftar met Fayez-al-Serraj, the prime minister in Libya’s United Nations-backed government, in Paris on July 25. The fact that this meeting occurred in the first place was a recognition of the reality that Serraj’s government—the Government of National Accord (GNA)—has been unable to unite the country and that Haftar has an indispensable role in any solution to the crisis, said Mezran, a resident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“Haftar is the big victor,” he added.

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Iran challenges US policy, this time in the maritime domain

It seems hard for the United States to catch a break in the Persian Gulf these days. As its Arab partners continue to bicker among themselves, Iran remains a source of tension from across the water. A week after US President Donald J. Trump reluctantly notified Congress of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal and imposed new non-nuclear sanctions, a US Navy ship fired warning shots at a patrol boat operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)-Navy in the Persian Gulf.

The July 25 encounter is yet another reminder that the IRGC-Navy will continue to create dangerous, potentially escalatory situations with US craft in the Gulf. Understanding the nature of Iran’s military forces and the threat they pose highlights both the need for continuing diplomatic engagement and the limits of dialogue with Iranian officials.

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The significant increase in cross-border cyberattacks has been a wake-up call for the global community on the societal and political consequences of an insecure cyberspace. In order to prevent and prepare for future transnational cybersecurity challenges, governments must adopt a “multistakeholder model,” along with international collaboration and open discussions, according to a cybersecurity expert.

While governments have differing views on the role that they must play in the cyber realm, rethinking the role of the public sector in addressing cybersecurity risks is essential for effectively overcoming the challenges these risks pose, said Alexander Klimburg, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative and author of the new book The Darkening Web: The War for Cyberspace.

Klimburg participated in a conversation at the Atlantic Council on July 17 along with Laura Galante, founder of Galante Strategies, and Jane Holl Lute, a former deputy secretary in the US Department of Homeland Security who currently serves as chief executive officer of SICPA North America. Tai Kopan, a reporter with CNN, moderated the discussion.

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Warsaw must focus on repairing ties with the European Union, said Atlantic Council’s Fran Burwell

Polish President Andrzej Duda’s decision to veto controversial judicial reforms gives Poland—the scene of creeping authoritarianism—an opportunity to mend its relationship with the European Union (EU). It also represents a significant split between the president and Jarosław Kaczyński, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and a man to whom Duda owes much of his political career.

On July 24, Duda vetoed two of three controversial judicial reforms approved by parliament. These include replacing supreme court judges with government nominees.

“[Duda’s decision] gives Poland the opportunity to walk back from the brink with the European Union,” said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Future Europe Initiative.

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The Russia sanctions bill passed overwhelmingly by the US House of Representatives on July 25 is a “strong” piece of legislation that makes it clear that the United States must work jointly with its European allies to impose those sanctions, according to Daniel Fried, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

“[The House bill] locks in the sanctions against Russia because of Ukraine; locks them in because of congressional concerns that the Trump administration is going to unilaterally lift them,” said Fried, who served as the State Department’s coordinator for sanctions policy in the Obama administration.

Fried spoke in a Facebook Live discussion with Ellen Scholl, an associate director in the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center, on July 24. The following day, the House approved the sanctions legislation, which targets Russia, Iran, and North Korea, by a 419-3 vote.

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Targeted US sanctions, including against Venezuela’s oil sector, would be a welcome move against a regime that has plunged this South American nation into an economic and humanitarian crisis, Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States (OAS), said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on July 21.

US sanctions on Venezuelan officials “have been very positive, and we think that future sanctions would be very positive,” said Almagro.

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Nicosia, Cyprus and Chania, Crete

Over the past decade, major offshore natural gas finds in Egyptian, Israeli, and Cypriot waters have fueled an ongoing debate over how to get that gas to market. Fixed midstream assets and pipes will be key to getting the gas out of the region, and various export routes present their own challenges. Recent political developments in Cyprus and subsequent Turkish military deployments in the region following the collapse of the country’s unification talks are narrowing options.

Competing export routes to move offshore natural gas north via Cyprus to Turkey, south to Egypt, and inland to Israel, have been considered. More expensive options such as capital-intensive floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facilities and longer subsea pipelines offer their own prospects. In April 2017, European and Israeli ministers expressed their support for the Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) Gas Pipeline via Crete to bring gas directly to the European continent while bypassing Turkey and avoiding liquefaction. The arguments for each of these options are to some extent political, and the reach of those politics extends to Russia, the Levant, North Africa, and beyond.

Business cases are rooted firmly in project economics, and lofty political ambition is certainly insufficient to start breaking ground. Even in the boardroom though, economic risk evaluations over the project life cycle impact the final analysis, and political uncertainty can sour the case for otherwise viable projects.    

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Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s conviction on corruption charges is not a political statement, but an enforcement of the law demonstrative of Brazil’s commitment to combat corruption at the highest levels of society, Brazilian Prosecutor-General Rodrigo Janot said at the Atlantic Council on July 19.

“What we do is to apply criminal law… and look for the criminals despite the fact that they have political mandates,” said Janot in a keynote address. An investigation such as Operation Car Wash, a sprawling anti-corruption probe that has garnered a great deal of international attention for its scope and efficacy, is “not a political action, but applying the law, enforcing the law,” he insisted.

“The law that exists is to be applied to everyone regardless of their religion, their race, or their status,” said Janot.

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