Trump knocks defense bill’s anti-Russia provisions; RexT’s olive branch to North Korea; Conflicts to watch in 2018; Another drone strike in Somalia; And a bit more.

The U.S. military is on its way to becoming “perfecto,” President Trump said Tuesday while signing a new $700 billion defense bill. What’s next? A fight over how to pay for it all, Stars and Stripes reports.

Trump’s preview: “The defense bill authorizes major investments in our military’s greatest weapon of all, its warriors,” he said. “Now Congress must finish the job by eliminating the [budget cap requirements] and passing a clean appropriations bill. I think it’s going to happen.”

Dec. 22 deadline: “[D]efense officials won’t be able to move ahead on the new purchases and program starts until lawmakers sort out a fiscal 2018 appropriations measure,” Military Times‘ Leo Shane III reports. “Those conversations are currently underway on Capitol Hill, with a deadline of Dec. 22 for a new budget measure. If a deal isn’t reached by then, either for a short-term fix or a full-year appropriations bill, funding authorities would lapse, causing a partial government shutdown.”

A quick breakdown of what’s inside: A call for 20,000 more troops and the largest pay raise (2.4 percent) in eight years. As well, there’s “$26.2 billion for 14 new ships and $10.1 billion for the purchase of 90 Joint Strike Fighters, which is 20 more than the administration’s request,” Stripes writes. “It directs another $5.9 billion for Virginia-class submarines, $5.6 billion for Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, $4.4 billion for aircraft carriers, $3.1 billion for Army helicopters and $1.9 billion for procuring 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets.”

Complaints about Russia. Three hours after signing the defense bill, Trump said in his signing statement that a variety of provisions written into the package with an eye to countering Moscow’s aggression in eastern Europe “could potentially dictate the position of the United States in external military and foreign affairs and, in certain instances, direct the conduct of international diplomacy.”

Those restrictions include limiting “military cooperation with Russia, prohibit[ing] the United States from recognizing Russia’s legal right to the disputed Crimea peninsula, and requir[ing] the military to ‘develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to counter threats by the Russian Federation’ — including Russia’s use of disinformation, social media and support for political parties,” USA Today reports.

The context here: “Presidents use signing statements to explain their positions or urge Congress fix flaws in what they consider an otherwise worthy bill,” USA Today writes. “But they can also be controversial because presidents use them to raise constitutional objections to a bill, instructing agencies to implement the law consistent with their own understanding of presidential powers.” More here.

From Defense One

In Eastern Ukraine, One Misplaced Artillery Shell Could Cause a ‘Chernobyl-Scale’ Disaster // Patrick Tucker: Chemical plants in and around the combat zone are at risk, say Ukrainian officials and a new UN report

Allies Are Key, Says Trump’s National Security Strategy // Caroline Houck: The document, to be unveiled next week, will be the latest administration policy position that looks beyond “America first.”

The Contractor that Hired Russian Coders for a Pentagon Project Has Struck a Deal with Prosecutors // Joseph Marks: The deal ends a criminal investigation and imposes restrictions and audits on Netcracker Technology.

Improving on the Iran Deal // Ahmed Al-Hamli: Today is the nominal deadline for Congress to decide what it intends to do — and then there’s Europe to woo.

An Afghan Army Aviator Describes Iran’s Threats — and How to Meet Them // Abdul Rahman Rahmani: Beyond its support for the Taliban, Tehran is exploiting refugee flows and cultural ties between the countries.

Global Conflicts to Watch in 2018 // Uri Friedman and Annabelle Timsit: The U.S. is now the most unpredictable actor in the world today.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Email us. And if you don’t subscribe already, consider subscribing. It’s free. On this day 14 years ago, Saddam Hussein was captured on a farm near Tikrit in an operation called “Red Dawn” (no, not that one; or that one).

Tillerson says deterrence won’t work with North Korea; it might just force them to industrialize their weapons production to the point of exporting across the globe, The Wall Street Journal (paywall alert) reported Tuesday.
From Tillerson himself: “Many people have asked the question, ‘Well, why can’t you live with a containment strategy? You lived with it with Russia. You lived with it with China,’” the secretary said. “The difference is that with the past behavior of North Korea, it is clear to us that they would not just use the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent. This would become a commercial activity for them.”

Tillerson’s olive branch to North Korea — without any preconditions. “We’ve said from the diplomatic side: we’re ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk,” he told a crowd at the Atlantic Council on Tuesday. “We are ready to have the first meeting without precondition.”
What would they talk about? “We can talk about the weather if you want,” Tillerson said. “Talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table, if that’s what you are excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face, and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map of what we might be willing to work towards.”
But will the North believe Rex? Hard to say, NPR reports from Seoul — where some say Trump has undercut Tillerson’s credibility in recent months.
The Kremlin, for one, welcomed the change of tone, CNN reports.

And speaking of Russia, military officials from Moscow have arrived in North Korea for talks, NBC News reports this morning. Not much to what’s happening there aside from this: “Victor Kalganov, vice-director of Russia’s National Defense Command Center, was pictured at Pyongyang’s airport alongside three other officials from the country’s defense ministry in an image released by the state-run KCNA news agency.” Read on, here.

While you were sleeping, the U.S. Navy reportedly sent an EP-3 spy plane along the east coast of North Korea, UPI reported Tuesday. It’s very possibly a part of a two-day drill, which began Monday, where the U.S., Japanese and South Korean militaries practiced tracking North Korean missiles.

India says it now has two ballistic missile submarines, The Diplomat reports — adding New Delhi officials actually launched the sub on November 19.
A few of the specs: “The new SSBN can be armed with up to eight K-4 missiles, an intermediate-range nuclear-capable submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is also working on K-5 intermediate (possible intercontinental)-range and K-6 intercontinental range SLBMs for the Arihant-class.  The K-4 has an estimated range of up to 3,500 kilometers, whereas the K-5 and K-6 are expected to have maximum ranges of 5,000 and 6,000 kilometers respectively.”

Tillerson says that controversial embassy move to Jerusalem isn’t likely to happen before 2020, he told a crowd at the State Department Tuesday.

While Russia says it is militarily victorious against ISIS in Syria, the U.S. military isn’t so sure, Reuters reported Tuesday. “There have been no meaningful reductions in combat troops following Russia’s previous announcements planned departures from Syria,” Pentagon spox, Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway, said. An unnamed White House National Security Council spokeswoman told Reuters Russia’s claim is “premature.” And Rex Tillerson is hoping the next Syrian presidential elections will eliminate the Assad regime from power. Good luck on that one. Read the rest, here.

Another U.S. drone strike in Somalia allegedly hit a vehicle carrying explosives from the extremist group al-Shabab, roughly 40 miles southwest of the capital in Mogadishu, U.S. Africa Command announced Tuesday. According to AP, “A senior Somali intelligence official said the airstrike largely destroyed a minibus travelling near the rebel-held village of Mubarak in Lower Shabelle region.” That makes now at least 32 U.S. military strikes inside Somalia in 2017. Little bit more, here.

And finally today: NATO reappoints its chief for two years — which will make former Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s “longest-serving civilian leader since the end of the Cold War,” the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The Pentagon released a statement in support of Stoltenberg this morning, via Chief Spokesperson Dana White: “I congratulate Secretary General Stoltenberg on his reappointment and I can think of no one better suited to continue to lead this critical alliance for an additional two years. He has been a dynamic leader during a period of profound transition for NATO. The United States looks forward to continuing to work with Secretary General Stoltenberg as he strives to strengthen further our NATO alliance.”

ICYMI: Check out President Trump’s latest (consistent) take on NATO and alliance members in eastern Europe, in particular, from his speech Friday in Pensacola, Fla. Let Slate’s Fred Kaplan can walk you through what’s notable out of that, here.

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