Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, David Hopen
Tuesday, July 12, 2016, 12:38 PM

In a much-anticipated verdict, an international tribunal ruled on Tuesday that China’s claims to historic and economic rights across most of the South China Sea have no legal basis. The tribunal ruled in favor of almost every claim made by the Philippines during the arbitration. Experts such as Lawfare’s Julian Ku registered surprise that the tribunal “went big” by declaring China’s Nine Dash Line as incompatible with China’s obligations under UNCLOS. China did not participate in the tribunal, claiming it lacked jurisdiction, while top officials from Beijing said China would not comply with the ruling. The Associated Press reports that nautical activities in the region by both China and the Phillipines escalated in the lead-up to the tribunal verdict. Japanese and Filipino coast guard vessels are conducting joint-exercises with Australian and U.S. observers while China summoned its demobilized sailors and officers for training drills.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Chinese public and government have reacted angrily to the verdict. Many in China viewed the tribunal’s judges as lackeys for the United States. The Xinhua News Agency denounced the case as a “farce directed with meticulous care by outside forces.” But other countries in the region—many of whom also hold competing claims to the South China Sea—may be inspired by the verdict to file copycat legal cases.

Three more bombings rocked Iraq today. A suicide car bomb killed 12 and wounded 37 in an outdoor market in a Shiite-dominated northeastern district of Baghdad, while a second car bomb attacked another market twenty miles away, killing 3 and wounding 12. The third bomb, stationed in a commercial area in Dora, killed 2 more and wounded another 9. The bombings are the latest in a series of attacks in Iraq, including a car bomb last week that killed over 300 people. As Iraqi security forces close in on key Islamic State strongholds such as Mosul, Washington announced yesterday that the U.S. will send an additional 560 troops to Iraq in the battle against the Islamic State. The AP has more.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced on Tuesday that General John Nicholson, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, will have greater freedom to strike at Taliban forces under broad new powers approved by President Obama. Whereas the U.S. military initially had to wait for Afghan requests for military support, Carter said Nicholson now has the discretion to make these judgment calls unilaterally. Nicholson reported that the new powers were being used “almost daily” in support of Afghan forces and have accelerated the pace of battle. The announcement comes days after the Obama administration decided to keep 8,400 troops in Afghanistan.

Reuters tells us that Libyan forces partnered with the U.N.-backed government have been carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds in Sirte. The militants are targeting Islamic State operatives and assets in particular. The fall of Sirte would signal a major blow to the Islamic State, which took over the city a year ago in the chaos of civil war and has been defending its stronghold with sniper fire and mortars.

The U.N. announced its fears that intensified fighting in Aleppo has completely cut off access to the Castello road, the sole means of entry for humanitarian aid on which 300,000 people rely. The fighting comes despite last week’s unilateral ceasefire declared by the Syrian military, which had been extended to Thursday.

According to The Washington Post, Russia may have lied in claiming that two Russian pilots responding to an urgent terrorist threat in Syria were struck down by the Islamic State. Though Russia claimed the pilots were initially dispatched on a training mission, new details indicate that the pilots were actually flying an Mi-35M gunship and were on a combat mission, shedding light on the ongoing dispute over the extent to which Russia is intervening in Syria.

Despite a recent ceasefire, fighting flared up again for several hours in South Sudan between soldiers loyal to the president and to the vice president. The fighting, which died down by the afternoon, threatens to unravel an 11-month peace deal and plunge the country back into civil war. The Journal has more.

Malian soldiers in Gao opened fire against anti-government protesters, killing 2 people and wounding several others. The protesters, many of whom were throwing stones and armed with knives, were angry about the introduction of a new interim regional authority in the country’s north following conflict between the Malian government and rebel groups.

The Pentagon announced that two prisoners have been transferred from Guantanamo Bay to Serbia, lowering the number of prisoners remaining in Guantanamo to 76. The transfer is part of the Obama administration's effort to close the prison and comes on the heels of the recent disappearance of a Syrian prisoner who had been relocated to Uruguay.

According to recently released documents, the U.S. army has deployed 1,700 Navy SEALS to carry out 78 distinct “missions sets” in more than 20 nations in Africa. Figuring out the purpose and targets of these mission sets, however, is “complex.” Read the full piece here at The Intercept.

New data-sharing rules between the E.U. and the U.S. will impose stricter obligations on American companies to protect individuals’ personal data, the AP reports. The policy, called Private Shield, includes stronger monitoring and enforcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce and Federal Trade and aims to “enhance legal certainty for thousands of businesses on both sides of the Atlantic while providing an adequate level of protection for citizens’ data.”

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

In response to the Chilcot Inquiry, John Bellinger offered a defense of U.S. and UK lawyers’ decision to rely on U.N. Security Council Resolutions 678 and 687 to authorize the Iraq War.

Also reflecting on the Inquiry, Bob Bauer reflected on the role lawyers should play in contentious policy and legal debates.

Quinta Jurecic flagged upcoming events for the Week That Will Be.

Ingrid Wuerth analyzed the implications of Russia and China’s recent joint declaration on international law.

Jack Goldsmith and Benjamin Wittes reminded us about the next book soiree at the Hoover Institution's Washington Office on July 13th. Ben will interview Steve Budiansky about his new book Code Warriors: NSA's Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union.

Ken Watkin reviewed Charles Lister’s The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.

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