Weekly Snapshot
12-18 August 2018

1. Agreement on the Caspian Sea
On August 12th, the five countries surrounding the Caspian Sea are set to meet about the status of the contested body of water. Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan have been debating the status of the Sea since the fall of the Soviet Union. Until the 1990’s only the Soviet Union and Iran had claims to the Sea, but with the breakup of the Soviet States, now five countries are in the mix.

The Caspian Sea is extremely important to the region for its natural resources. It is believed to have trillions of dollars of hydrocarbons, around 50 billion barrels of untapped oil and almost 9 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. All of these resources could reshape the dynamics of the region, politically and economically, and have the potential to bring wealth to some of America’s adversaries including Iran and Russia.

The point of the meeting, where all five of the countries presidents are attending, is to decide whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake. This has ramifications in that if the Caspian is ruled a lake, the countries would have to divide up the resources equally, where if it is a sea, the countries will draw lines extending from their shores to reach midway points with their neighbors. That means if a country has more shoreline, they will get more resources.

2. Iranian Ballistic Missile Test
Last week, PAI reported on Iranian naval exercises in the Straits of Hormuz. During the exercise, Iran shot a missile over the Strait of Hormuz from the Bandar-e-Jask base in southeastern Iran.

The anti-ship Fateh-110 Mod 3 ballistic missile flew over the Strait of Hormuz to a test range in the Iranian desert approximately 100 miles away. This is the first time in 2018 that Iran has tested a ballistic missile after testing several throughout 2017. This recent test and naval exercises come amidst the reintroduction of US sanctions on Iran after the ending of the 2015 nuclear deal.

3. Possible Human Rights Abuses in China
Representatives from the United Nations have received reports that one million ethnic Uighurs in China are being held in internment camps. These camps are clouded in secrecy by the Chinese government, but several credible reports have come to the UN’s attention.

It is believed that some 2 million Uighurs and other Muslims in China have been forced into political camps for indoctrination. China has imprisoned these people in the name of state security, saying they face serious threats from Islamic militants and separatists who plot against the government.

This is the same mindset that lead the Chinese government to detain over 100 Uyghur students who were returning to China from studying abroad in places such as Egypt and Turkey. During the detainment, the treatment was so horrific that some of the students ended up dying in custody says Gay McDougall, a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

4. Update On US Space Force
For the first time since the mention of a new branch of the armed forces, the White House has opened up about its plan to create a Space Force. In a speech by Vice President Mike Pence at the Pentagon, it was revealed that the White House is pushing for the creation of the Space Force by the year 2020. They are seeking funding in the congressional budget for that year, allowing for the creation of this new branch.

In the meantime, the Trump administration is continuing to work on laying the groundwork for when funding becomes available including creating a civilian position, Assistant Secretary of Defense of Space, but did not name a nominee for the position. The speech by the Vice President also outlined several other combatant commands including the U.S. Space Command, the Space Operations Force and a joint organization called the Space Development Agency.

The creation of this new branch is ultimately up to congressional approval. As of right now, there are a lot of mixed views on the new Space Force, primarily divided between party lines. However several key Republicans (including the number two Republican in charge of the Senate Armed Services Committee, James Inhofe) are opposed to the idea of creating the Space Force. If Senator John McCain (who is the current chair of the committee) is unable to perform his duties next year and the Republicans remain in power in the Senate, it would be up to Senator Inhofe to manage the bill through Senate.

There is still a long way before the United States has a Space Force, but it is reassuring that this issue is still at the precipice of the government’s attention. Space is a growing issue for national security, and if the United States does not take it seriously, they will soon be outgunned by our adversaries in the final frontier.