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Qatar crisis creates a headache for the United States

Nearly two months in, the diplomatic crisis between the Arab Gulf states is growing ever more complicated. The July 16 Washington Post report that cites unnamed US intelligence officials as claiming that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) precipitated the diplomatic row with Qatar by hacking Qatari state-run news outlets and attributing false statements to the tiny emirate’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, is, if true, troubling for several reasons.
Lingering uncertainty regarding US support for NATO and burden-sharing among allies has raised questions as to the future of the NATO nuclear-sharing arrangement. While US President Donald J. Trump’s reaffirmation of the US commitment to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defense clause, may have temporarily placated allies, intense feelings of insecurity among the European allies remain. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, taking an unusually strong stance, gave voice to these sentiments: “The time in which [Europe] can rely fully on others—they are somewhat over.” With these remarks, Merkel offered her answer to a question that has been asked repeatedly since Trump was elected president of the United States: Can Europe count on its ally across the Atlantic to come to its defense when needed?
In the wake of the recent WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks, cyber warfare has once again made mainstream news headlines. With cyberattacks becoming increasingly common, it becomes important to understand the options the United States has in dealing with these kinds of attacks.

Petya, though in many ways similar to WannaCry and other ransomware attacks, appears to have been a thinly veiled act of sabotage directed at a specific nation: Ukraine. Organizations and individuals in other countries, some in the United States, were caught in the Petya crossfire. Although few US organizations were damaged by Petya, these attacks will likely continue, and the United States could be the next direct target. The United States has already suffered the consequences of directed cyber interference—in the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election, a Russian cyberattack hit systems in thirty-nine US states.

Although the United States certainly could respond in kind to cyberattacks, it is important to ask: should it, and if so, how? The United States must weigh any cyber actions against the possible responses by the opposing party, as well as avoid setting dangerous precedents in a largely undefined theater of conflict.
On Monday July 17th, the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft initiative, part of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, held a moderated discussion where panelists Laura Galante, senior fellow with the Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative and former director of Global Intelligence at FireEye; Alexander Klimburg, senior fellow with the Council’s Cyber Statecraft Initiative and program director at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies; Jane Holl Lute, Atlantic Council board director and CEO of SICPA; and  moderator Tal Kopan, political reporter at CNN, discussed the chilling consequences of cyberspace as a new field of conflict.

A familiar threat in a new environment

As the black flags of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) fall in Iraq and Syria, new ones have been raised in the Philippines. That ISIS is losing its battle for territory in its home countries, Iraq and Syria, is indisputable. ISIS leaders have admitted that the “caliphate” will soon fall. However, the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria is unlikely to be the end of the group as an active terrorist organization. Rather, as ISIS loses power in its traditional territories, it seems to be spreading its extremist ideology through other terrorist groups around the world, including those in the Philippines.

In May, an Islamist group affiliated with ISIS seized control of the Philippine city of Marawi. In this way, ISIS is embracing a “franchise model” similar to that employed by al Qaeda (AQ) following the US response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This franchise model allows the original faction of ISIS to maintain ownership of a disparate grouping of extremist divisions around the world, thereby ensuring its survival.

At its inception in 2013, ISIS broke off from its former affiliation as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and became a geographically contiguous entity. Today, ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, has fully operational branches in eighteen countries, and aspiring branches in six more, including the Philippines. 
British Prime Minister Theresa May called for a re-evaluation of the United Kingdom’s counterterrorism strategy in the wake of recent terrorist attacks in Manchester and London.  This must be a top priority.

The UK’s current counterterrorism strategy—CONTEST—is organized around four “work streams” also known as the four Ps: Pursue (to stop terrorist attacks), Prevent (to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorist activities), Protect (to strengthen protection against a terrorist attack), and Prepare (to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack).

Of these, Prevent has been the most controversial in part because of the government’s unwillingness to release information on its evaluation of this program and pushback from Muslim communities.
Russia’s large-scale military exercise to be conducted in September can provide critical insight for NATO allies seeking to improve their readiness posture against an increasingly revanchist Russia, according to an Estonian defense official.

“Russians train exactly as they intend to fight, thus Zapad will give up ample information on their military and political thinking as it is right now,” Kristjan Prikk, undersecretary for defense policy at Estonia’s Ministry of Defense, said at the Atlantic Council on July 11. According to Prikk, “we don’t consider this year’s Zapad exercise in itself to be a direct threat to us [NATO] or a cover for an attack, but we have to keep in mind that the Russians have the nasty habit of hiding their actual military endeavors behind exercises.”

“We have to be calm, vigilant, flexible,” in the months leading up to and following Zapad 2017, said Prikk.

In September, Russia will conduct a joint military exercise with Belarus—Zapad. Based on initial indications and past Zapads, the exercise, which will take place in Belarus, will assess the readiness of Russia’s military across many forces—land, sea, and air—and test a range of capabilities—not only conventional, but also cyber and nuclear, within a particular set of scenarios. This will be the first Zapad exercise since 2013. Zapad, which is also the Russian word for “west,” will take place against the backdrop of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, ongoing war in Ukraine, military intervention in Syria, and meddling in the US and French presidential elections.
North Korea’s successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that has the ability to strike Alaska could embolden Pyongyang to be more aggressive in the future, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“With this nuclear ICBM ‘shield,’ the DPRK [North Korea] likely will be much more aggressive in every other area of its foreign and military policies. We are entering a new and very dangerous era,” said Barry Pavel, a senior vice president, Arnold Kanter Chair, and director of the Atlantic Council's Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

On July 4, six months after Trump had tweeted that a North Korean test of an ICBM capable of reaching the United States “won’t happen,” North Korea said it had tested such a missile that could hit Alaska.
Even before entering the Élysée Palace, Emmanuel Macron had largely earned his credentials as firm on Russia.

Macron was the target of a Russia-sponsored smear campaign, which included personal attacks, during the presidential election earlier this year. That moment in the campaign is described by people working with Macron as a turning point. Where Macron may have held mostly pragmatic views about Russia before, those views hardened, according to these people.
In an age of increasing connectivity and data-collection technologies, policymakers must grapple with the central tension between the public’s desire for privacy and the need for security.

“We’re going to have to make this fundamental trade between how much do we value national security and protection, versus how much do we want to behave in a free society,” said Robert Schukai, global head of design and digital identity solutions at Thomson Reuters. “Technology can solve a lot of problems,” said Schukai, “but if we can’t figure out the rules of the road… it’s an asymmetric battle.”

Leslie Ireland, who served as assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis at the US Department of the Treasury in the Obama administration, said “there needs to a broader conversation in our country about what needs to be done for protection and what that cost can be to your privacy.”

“I wonder if there’s going to have to be such a [large-scale] privacy breach for individual people to say it’s worth it,” she added.


    

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