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Council on Foreign Relations Daily News Brief
March 27, 2013

Top of the Agenda

Top of the Agenda: North Korea Cuts Military Hotline Amid More War Threats

North Korea said Wednesday it will cut a military hotline with South Korea, warning that war could break out at "any moment." Analysts say the move, which severs a hotline that guarantees safety (Yonhap) of South Korean personnel, could affect the operation of the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North's border town of Kaesong. The threat marks the latest in a series from North Korea in the wake of new UN sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test in February. After disconnecting the inter-Korean Red Cross hotline earlier this month, Pyongyang announced Tuesday that it had ordered artillery and rocket units into "combat posture" (BBC) targeting U.S. bases in Hawaii, Guam, and the mainland.


"The phone lines they turned off today are used to control the border traffic and avoid flares that might involve the military. The last time the North cut this particular hotline, in 2009, 80 South Korean workers were left stranded above the border for a more than a day. The Kaesong factories are the last serious form of cooperation between the two countries," writes Dashiell Bennett for the Atlantic Wire.

"Stability has held for 60 years because the U.S. security alliances with South Korea and Japan make it clear to the North Korean leadership that if they attacked South Korea or Japan, they would lose both the war and their country. And, for half a century, neither side believed that the benefits of starting a major war outweighed the costs. The worry is that the new North Korean leader might not hold to the same logic, given his youth and inexperience," write David Kang and Victor Cha for Foreign Policy.

"When it comes to actions welcomed by the United States and its allies, taking Pyongyang at its word is nearly impossible. Twenty years of nuclear diplomacy is littered with broken pledges, dashed deals and a small but growing North Korean nuclear arsenal," writes Paul Eckert for Reuters.



Chinese Sends Navy Ships to South China Sea

China dispatched a fully equipped flotilla armed with landing ships (SCMP) to the James Shoal, near Malaysia and Brunei, in a show of force that sparked regional worries. The ships skirted the outer limits of China's 9-Dash Line, by which it lays claim to most of the South China Sea.

This CFR Backgrounder lays out the ongoing South China Sea conflict and maps the territories involved.



Myanmar Military to Remain in Politics

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the country's Armed Forces Day parade for the first time, signaling an improvement in ties (BBC) with the military since her release from house arrest. The army chief also announced that the military would maintain a role in national politics.

AFGHANISTAN: At least twenty-three Taliban militants (Khaama) were killed in eastern Logar province of Afghanistan after joint military operations by Afghan and coalition security forces.



Egypt Announces Elections in October

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi said his country may hold parliamentary elections (Reuters) in October, dragging out the country's rocky political transition for at least six months. The original plan included a four-stage election that would start in late April with a parliament in place by July.

CFR's Steven Cook discusses whether Egypt can survive its latest crisis in this interview.

TURKEY: Israel will pay tens of millions of dollars (Haaretz) to compensate for the killing of nine Turkish activists aboard the 2010 flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.



UN Recommends Mali Peacekeeping Force

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon suggested that as many as 11,200 peacekeepers should be deployed in Mali (Bloomberg), relieving France of its fight against Islamic insurgents in the north of the country. Paris seeks to draw down 4,000 troops following its January intervention.

SOUTH AFRICA: Chinese President Xi Jinping pushed trade ties with Africa (TIME) on his inaugural trip, which has taken him to Russia, Tanzania, and South Africa before a final stop in the Democratic Republic of Congo.



Italy Fails to Agree On Government

Italy's center-left Democrats, led by Pier Luigi Bersani, failed to persuade (FT) their center-right rivals to support a minority administration, drawing out the country's arduous attempt at a new government after last month's inconclusive elections.

CYPRUS: Yiannis Kypri, chief executive of the Bank of Cyprus, was ousted (BBC) by the central bank on the orders of the country's bailout lenders. Bank of Cyprus is to be merged with parts of the failed number two lender, Laiki Bank.

Willem H. Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup, talks with CFR about break-up risk, sovereign debt restructuring, and other eurozone topics in this new video.



U.S. Supreme Court Hears Gay Marriage Case

The U.S. Supreme Court began its second day of arguments in the Proposition 8 case (WaPo), which will decide whether gays have a constitutional right to marriage. Justices questioned whether the case, which arose from a California ban on same-sex marriages, was premature.

LATIN AMERICA: Pope Francis is scheduled to make his first official visit (MercoPress) to Argentina next December, and may also visit neighboring Uruguay and Chile.



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