Top of the Agenda: Hagel Warns of Sequestration Effects on Military
In a speech at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that if budget cuts were not lifted, the United States would be forced to significantly reduce (Politico) its global security objectives. Under the largest cuts the Pentagon is considering, the military could either maintain its size but not upgrade weaponry, or it could shrink its force (NYT) and allocate capital for the next generation of weapons. A political stalemate over a comprehensive deal for taxes and spending has required the Defense Department to plan for budget cuts of up to $500 billion through 2023.
"Moreover, there are unsettling implications to the argument that even though the wars are ending, America needs to break with historical precedent and keep its defense budget high. That's an acceptance of the idea that we're now in a permanent state of semi-war, with all that that entails. In the long run, I think that's a dangerous mindset. Bringing down the defense budget is one of the few ways to decisively reject that reimagining of America's posture toward the rest of the world," writes Ezra Klein for The Washington Post.
"The greatest consequence of such radical changes would be to diminish America's overseas presence. A drawdown in forward air, naval, and land deployments -- the inevitable product of annual budget cuts amounting to at least $60 billion -- would unnerve allies, encourage adversaries, and dissuade historically nonaligned emerging powers such as India from moving closer, both politically and militarily, to the United States," writes Dov Zakheim for Foreign Policy.
"The truth is that no amount of planning or reports will turn the sequester into anything other than the devastating cut in defense and domestic investments that it was meant to be. What's needed is action to avoid the sequester by passing balanced deficit reduction that the president can sign into law, not searching for ways to cushion the blow on defense — and nondefense — programs," writes Jeffrey Zients for Politico.
China Shuts Down News Websites
More than one hundred independent news websites have been shut down in China (SCMP) since May in what the government calls a move against extortionists. Critics have marked it a campaign against citizen journalists.
This CFR Backgrounder delves into the workings of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, including its limits on press.
AUSTRALIA: Australia sent the first group of asylum-seekers to the Manus Island processing facility in Papua New Guinea as part of its new offshore resettlement policy (BBC) established by a deal signed by the two countries on July 19. The agreement faces a legal case from Papua New Guinea's opposition.
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
U.S. and Pakistan Resume Talks
U.S. secretary of state John Kerry met with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and announced Thursday that the two countries will resume high-level negotiations (Dawn) over security issues. The talks were launched in 2010 but stalled a year later after U.S. air strikes killed twenty-four Pakistani soldiers.
BANGLADESH: Bangladesh's High Court banned Jamaat-e-Islami (al-Jazeera), the country's main Islamist party, from competing in January's general election, declaring the group illegal.
UK Explores Talks With Iran
British foreign secretary William Hague indicated that the UK was open to improved relations (Telegraph) with Iran on a "step-by-step" basis after meeting with Tehran counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi. The Foreign Office said Britain and Iran could explore improved ties in the face of concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
This CFR interview discusses the nuclear issue under new president Hassan Rowhani.
SYRIA: UN inspectors were given permission (LAT) to visit three sites in Syria where chemical weapons are alleged to have been used during the country's two-and-a-half-year civil war.
Zimbabwe Counts Votes
Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai called Wednesday's presidential election a "huge farce," alleging vote-rigging (BBC) by rival President Robert Mugabe, who is claiming victory. The largest observer group said that up to one million people were prevented from voting.
CFR's John Campbell gives his take on the Zimbabwe elections in this latest blog post.
Russia Gives Snowden Temporary Asylum
Russian authorities have granted temporary asylum to Edward Snowden (WaPo), the National Security Agency leaker sought by U.S. officials who seek to prosecute him for espionage. Snowden's lawyer says he left a transit zone of a Moscow airport for an unspecified location.
GREECE: The International Monetary Fund warned the eurozone that it may have to write off a chunk of Greece's debt (Guardian) after finding an $11 billion gap in the country's finances.
Uruguay on Path to Legalize Marijuana
Uruguay's lower house approved a sweeping bill to legalize marijuana (NYT) on Wednesday in what could be a major overhaul of drug policy in Latin America. The legislation now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers say they have a comfortable majority to approve it.