Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rishabh Bhandari, Caitlin Gilligan
Wednesday, July 13, 2016, 3:15 PM

China continues to reject yesterday’s ruling by an international tribunal against Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea, vowing to maintain its sovereignty over the region. Commentary within China was blistering: state media referred to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague a “puppet,” while Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin declared that the judges could not have fully understood the issue, as none of them were Asian. Reuters has more.

The tribunal not only held that China’s claims in the South China Sea had no legal basis, but that China had violated the Philippines’ maritime rights in creating artificial islands that disrupted fishing and oil exploration. Vice Foreign Minister Liu blamed the Philippines for creating trouble and insisted on China’s right to establish an air defense zone in the region "if our security is being threatened.” But, he went on, the offer of cooperation between Chinese and Filipino governments was still open.

President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan also rejected the tribunal’s ruling, saying that the decision has “gravely harmed” Taiwan’s territorial rights. On Wednesday, a Taiwanese warship patrolled the contested area. China largely backs Taiwan’s claims in the South China Sea, which are based on the same nine-dash line as the Chinese claims and which Beijing considers to bolster the unity of Taiwan and mainland China. The New York Times has more here.

Beijing faces a fraught decision in the wake of the ruling, the Wall Street Journal writes. Though President Xi Jinping has vowed not to comply with a decision he sees as illegitimate, a failure to comply with international law will increase risks for fresh lawsuits and cast Beijing as an international outlaw in the long run. And moreover, sustained Chinese pressure on other South China Sea claimants could ultimately push those countries to align more closely with United States.

If you’re wondering how the Chinese state media feels about the ruling, well, they really want you to know that they just don’t care. The Washington Post shares a video released by the state media in China depicting exactly how much they don’t care. The video was coupled with little to no information about what the ruling of the tribunal was, only that “The Hague’s ‘law-abusing tribunal’ had issued an ‘ill-founded award,’ according to an unnamed source,” while many foreign media coverage, including BBC, was blocked from Chinese viewers.

Meanwhile, six GOP Senators (Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton, Joni Ernst, John McCain, Marco Rubio and Dan Sullivan) care a lot. The senators introduced a resolution yesterday, calling for the Chinese government to comply with the tribunal’s ruling and cease “all reclamation and militarization activities in the South China Sea.” The proposed resolution would also “reaffirm mutual defense treaties between the United States and the Philippines and the United States and Japan,” and urge both the Secretaries of State and Defense to promote “freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”

House Democrats are also responding to the ruling, urging the Senate to finally ratify the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). While the United States considers the treaty to be customary international law, it has never formally ratified it. Supporters of the treaty claim that without ratification, “the United States has no leverage to make China comply with the court ruling.” The Hill has more.

In the Washington Post, Paul Gewirtz of Yale Law School argues that the “practical limits of law” will prevent the tribunal’s ruling from providing any resolution to the conflict over the South China Sea. Gewirtz suggests the path forward for the United States should include strong support for the tribunal’s judgment and criticizing China’s reactionary statements, while also guarding against escalation and promoting quiet diplomatic discussions.

At least eight people were killed and dozens more injured when several jets bombed a Syrian refugee camp yesterday. The jets are believed to have been Russian. Most casualties in the bombing were families of members of the Eastern Lions, a rebel group known to be fighting Islamic State.

After reading that news, you surely won’t be surprised to learn that the Obama administration has started to seriously consider cooperation with Russia in the fight against ISIS. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss an information-sharing proposal regarding specific targets to strike in Syria. But defense officials are hesitant to trust the Russians, who could potentially exploit the agreement to prop up the Assad regime and attack Syrian rebel forces. The Daily Beast has more here.

Rebel-held Aleppo may soon fall to the Assad regime, with the last supply route into the city now under control of the regime and its Russian and Iranian allies. The loss of Aleppo would be a devastating blow to the Syrian opposition. As the city appears poised to fall, Syrians have been shocked the international community’s silence, the Daily Beast writes.

While supply routes have been cut off, Reuters reports that rebel leaders in Aleppo have stockpiled enough basic supplies to survive months of siege. Nevertheless, the situation is dire, with food prices tripling or quintupling in recent days.

In an apparent reversal of its policy toward Syria, Turkey is now hoping to reestablish good relations with the Assad regime--which it had previously pushed to overthrow. According to the BBC, Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim said that the promised change in relations is dependant on a change in Assad, who he accused of “creating the conditions that gave rise to the jihadist group, Islamic State.”

Iraqi security forces are closing in on capturing the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, recapturing key territory surrounding the city. Backed by U.S. airpower, Iraqi officials including Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al Abadi have pledged to recapture the city by the end of the calendar year. Reuters has more.

Joby Warrick and Souad Mekhennet write in the Washington Post that the Islamic State is preparing its followers for a new chapter in the organization’s history: the fall of the caliphate. As anti-Islamic State forces are reversing the so-called group’s territorial gains and liberating key cities such as Fallujah, the terrorist organization is calling attention to bloody terrorist attacks in Istanbul and Baghdad among others in hopes of maintaining its appeal for would-be operatives.

According to U.S. and European counterterror officials, Najim Laachroui, who assembled the suicide bomb vests for the Paris attacks and plotted the Brussels bombings, used encrypted apps to communicate directly with handlers in Syria. This is the first detailed and specific connection between the use of encryption and the plotters’ ability to avoid intelligence surveillance. ProPublica reports that Laachroui asked militants in Syria to test chemical mixtures for the bombs, and sought advice from a handler in Syria after the Brussels attacks were nearly thwarted.

Vocativ examines a sophisticated, 11-minute long ISIS propaganda video, featuring a “brooding young man” who becomes an ISIS fighter after despairing over U.S. airstrikes. The video, which “has the look and feel of a Lifetime movie,” appears to be ISIS’s first entry into the world of scripted storytelling.

On Wednesday, an Islamic State suicide bomber killed seven people and injured eleven more at a checkpoint north of Baghdad. The attack marks the second attack by the terrorist organization in the district in consecutive days. The country is still reeling from an attack on July 3 when a car bomb killed at least 292 people in a crowded part of Baghdad.

Charlie Savage reports for the New York Times that the Obama administration has filed a 45-page legal brief urging DC District Court to throw out a lawsuit claiming that the U.S.’s military campaign against the Islamic State is unconstitutional. In the brief, according to Savage, the White House has laid out its most extensive public explanation of its war power theory. The motion can be found here. Bruce Ackerman, one of Smith’s lawyers, posted a response on Lawfare.

On the first anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal, Bradley Klapper reflects on the landmark accord deal for the Associated Press, highlighting the deal’s effects on internal political dynamics across the Middle East within the United States.

On Monday, five military vessels from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps approached two U.S. Navy warships, including one that was carrying General Joe Votel, the head of U.S. Central Command. Iranian officials defended this incident as standard practice. General Alireza Tangsiri, the lieutenant commander of the IRGC Navy, said the IRGC is tasked with monitoring foreign vessels including those operated by “the enemies of the Islamic Revolution and the Great Satan, the U.S.” The Wall Street Journal has more.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use their influence to help prevent any escalations of the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Putin expressed his concerns about the shaky truce deal between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists. The three world leaders also discussed the state of NATO-Russian relations and the status of European Union sanctions on Russia.

As of today, Conservative MP and former Home Secretary Theresa May has become Britain’s next prime minister. After former Prime Minister David Cameron tendered his resignation to the Queen, May will assumed the reins of power at a time of national flux. She will need to oversee Britain’s exit from the European Union while minimizing its short-term economic consequences. President Barack Obama will likely be May’s first call as she seeks to preserve Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States. The BBC has more. The Telegraph also provides an ongoing update on May’s reshuffle of cabinet ministers--including former Mayor of London Boris Johnson's appointment as the new Foreign Secretary.

At the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg reports on military commission proceedings at Guantanamo, where Iraqi prisoner Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi returned to court for the first time since May. Al-Hadi has been accused of conspiring with al Qaeda to carry out attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the course of the day, the defense and prosecution tangled over Al-Hadi’s right to multiple civilian lawyers and--in a twist--whether or not the Constitution applies to the commissions.

Rosenberg also writes that the Guantanamo parole board has cleared for release “forever prisoners” Shawqi Awad Balzuhair and Abdul Latif Nasir. While the parole board recommended that Nasir be returned to his native Morocco, Balzuhair will likely have to be resettled outside his conflict-ridden home country of Yemen. Balzuhair and Nasir included, 29 of Guantanamo’s remaining 76 prisoners have now been approved for release.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Cody Poplin invited eligible students to apply for a fall internship with Lawfare.

Ben Wittes and Zoe Bedell flagged a lawsuit on behalf of recent victims of Hamas attacks in Israel against Facebook that is worth serious consideration.

Robert Williams scrutinized the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s tribunal verdict between the Philippines and China.

Julian Ku offered a shorter set of “hot takes” on the verdict.

Bruce Ackerman responded to the government’s brief in a lawsuit by Nathan Smith, a U.S. Army captain, alleging that the ongoing war against the Islamic State is illegal.

Quinta Jurecic posted a statement by Military Commissions Deputy Chief Prosecutor Robert C. Moscati as the next series of pre-trial sessions is slated to begin for Abd al Hadi al Iraqi.

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