Putin-Trump summit set; Intel chief expects space weapons soon; Iran restarts a nuke facility; Xi gives no ground to Mattis; and just a bit more…

“See you in Helsinki.” The leaders of U.S. and Russia have at last settled on a date — July 16 — and location for their first official meeting, according to a morning statement from the White House, and less than a day after National Security Adviser John Bolton shook hands with Vladimir Putin for the cameras.  

Everything else we know from that announcement: “The two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues.”

Worth noting: The Trump-Putin summit is scheduled just four days after the annual NATO summit this year in Brussels, which is about a two and a half-hour flight away.

From NATO to the European Union now: POTUS took another swing at regional allies at a campaign rally, telling a North Dakota crowd, “We love the countries of the European Union. But the European Union, of course, was set up to take advantage of the United States.”

ICYMI: “European leaders [are] reeling from Trump’s hostile behavior,” European officials told the Washington Post’s Josh Rogin this week.

One illustration, which a White House official said was a joke, involved the president suggesting the U.S. ought to consider Sweden-style NATO participation — partnering “with the alliance on a case-by-case basis.” Joke or not, it would seem to jive with nearly everything Trump has said about alliances and the U.S. being taken advantage of by allies at least since he began campaigning in 2015. Read the rest of Rogin’s piece, here.  

An optimistic take:NATO Will Outlive Trump (and Putin), Don’t Worry,” Defense One’s Kevin Baron writes. “NATO is a military alliance of treaty-bound governments with troops trained to kill, fight, and die to protect one another from foreign attack. NATO is a 70-year-old alliance that has withstood political winds and Cold War nuclear showdowns. It is a pact between democratic nations that their military men and women will stand that post. It outlasted Kennedy and Kruschev, Brezhnev and Reagan. It will outlast Trump and Putin and Merkel.” Read the rest, here.

Two more quick things from Europe:

  • “Germany’s air force is in dire straits and funds are urgently needed to modernise its weaponry and systems,” the country’s Air Force chief said Wednesday evening at a conference in Berlin. By the numbers, according to Reuters: “A February ministry report showed only 39 of 128 Eurofighter jets were available for training and combat use last year on average, and just 26 of 93 older-model Tornado fighter jets.” More, here.
  • And video surfaced this week appearing to show “the extent of the damage on a German frigate following an apparent missile explosion last week during a training event off the coast of Norway” on June 21. U.S. Naval Institute News has some details on the munition — a Standard Missile (SM) 2 Block IIIA — that exploded early, raining “down a shower of sparks and debris onto the frigate.”

Pivoting back to Trump-Putin summit set-up, “one of the few tangible successes of US-Russian cooperation since Trump came into office is on the verge of collapse,” al-Monitor’s Laura Rozen reports.

That success: the Syrian ceasefire deal. Read on, here.

A window into how the Syrian regime goes to war: This image, purportedly from a helicopter over the city of Dara’a. For some context, here’s former SAIS-er Tobias Schneider.

BTW: Russia is “drawing down” in Syria again, Mideast analyst Yury Barmin writes after reading this report from Kommersant. From Yury: “Putin says 1,140 servicemen, 14 jets and 13 helicopters were withdrawn from Syria over the last few days… Putin’s pattern in Syria is too familiar here: Military escalation on the ground is followed by a political move that signals normalization and readiness for negotiations.”

What is Trump’s military thinking and doing amid all these swings in the mood of American power? According to The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt, reporting from Poland: “American commanders say they are tuning out Mr. Trump’s comments — strengthening ties to allied armies, increasing the number of troops and spies devoted to Russia, and embracing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s newest defense strategy that focuses more on potential threats from Russia and China and less on terrorism.” Find that, here.

From Defense One

Pentagon Intelligence Chief: Russia And China Will Have Weapons in Space ‘In the Near Future’ // Patrick Tucker: The Defense Intelligence Agency’s director says the U.S. lead in space is diminishing and tomorrow’s skies will be filled with enemy robot satellites.

NATO Will Outlive Trump (and Putin), Don’t Worry // Kevin Baron: Before Trump heads back to Europe, remember that NATO isn’t the G-7 and military relations are much stronger than the political ones they often endure.

US Special Operations Forces Making Paper That Talks // Patrick Tucker: Future psychological operations will airdrop the sheets to persuade targets to buck up or defect.

DHS Alters Immigrant ‘Risk-Assessment System’ to Recommend Detention Every Time // Nikhil Sonnad, Quartz: The system takes in information about an immigrant—criminal history, work status, likelihood of fleeing—and suggests whether to detain or release them.

As US Tightens Sanctions, Iran Seeks Leverage — and Russia May Win Either Way // Amy Myers Jaffe, Council on Foreign Relations: Iran’s recent relatively mild public statements belie the cards it might play in regional conflicts.

Pentagon Shifts Its Multibillion-Dollar Cloud Programs to a New Leader  // Aaron Boyd, Nextgov: The new CIO will take over responsibility for JEDI, DOES, and other cloud efforts from the chief management officer.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you find this useful, consider forwarding it to a friend or colleague. They can subscribe here for free. OTD1709: Peter the Great’s forces defeated Sweden’s at Poltava, marking the ascendance of Russia as northeastern Europe’s dominant power.

The White House wants South Korea to pay for all that U.S. military protection. But Seoul is not interested, RoK’s Yonhap News agency reported overnight. Context: “The talks are aimed at renewing the existing [U.S.-Republic of Korea Special Measures Agreement], which is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. The two kicked off related negotiations in March.” (More on that then from the State Department, here.)
Notes Yonhap: “Seoul’s share has increased to around 960 billion won ($861 million) in 2018 under the latest five-year accord from 150 billion won in 1991.”
South Korea is overhauling its conscription laws, “a shift for a nation that imprisons more young men for refusing conscription than the rest of the world combined,” The Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Cheng writes after reading this (paywall alert) from his colleague, Eun-Young Jeong, reporting from Seoul.
And now for something completely different: “a serious speaker on North Korea — at the #jejuforum — suggested a Trump Tower in Pyongyang and ‘The Apprentice’ on NK state television,” Pusan National University prof Robert Kelly noted on Twitter today from the Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity in South Korea.  
Adds Kelly: “I’m not joking…Speaker was not laughing or smiling. Audience did not laugh in response.”
For future reference: Trump’s international conflicts-of-interest, tracked here.

Pressed by Mattis on South China Sea, Xi gives no ground. NYT, reporting from Beijing: “Mr. Mattis, who has assailed the Chinese military for its expansion in the South China Sea, made clear the Pentagon’s stance on contested waters, stressing the need for freedom of navigation in the region and China’s adherence to international law, according to defense officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.”
The response, via Chinese state media: “We cannot lose even one inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors,” Xi said. Read on, here.
What’s new with China’s nuclear forces? This year’s edition of a biannual report in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists notes that “the country has continued fielding a new version of an existing nuclear medium-range mobile ballistic missile, a new dual-capable intermediate-range mobile ballistic missile, and an improved road-mobile launcher for an existing intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It has also continued development of a road-mobile ICBM, and might be developing an air-launched dual-capable ballistic missile.”

Iran just restarted a “major” uranium production facility in what’s seen by some as either “a warning shot or a first step in an escalatory spiral.”
Notes Reuters: “The move is symbolic and permissible under the nuclear deal, which allows Iran to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent, far below the 90 percent of weapons-grade uranium, and caps its stock of enriched uranium hexafluoride at 300 kilograms (660 pounds).”
Extra reading: Here’s the Associated Press with an explainer and possible lookahead on what could happen next.

We pivot back to the United States now, where there are toddlers in court, alone. The Texas Tribune reports “immigrant children as young as three years old are being ordered into court for their own deportation proceedings, according to attorneys in Texas, California and Washington, D.C.”
Said one Los Angeles lawyer: “The kids don’t understand the intricacies that are involved with deportation and immigration court. They do understand that they have been separated from their parents, and the primary goal is to get back with people they love.” Story here.

This is week national security data-visuals: “All Visas issued to nationals from countries cited in Trump’s third [and SCOTUS-approved] travel ban.”
It’s actually seven charts in one, but it’s a pretty clear illustration of the drop-off in numbers, especially in the last few months of 2017. Check it out over at WSJ’s Twitter feed, here; or you can read their paywalled story on that, here.

And finally this morning, watch the story of a Syrian refugee who has asked NASA to fly him to Mars. Yes, Mars. And it’s obviously ludicrous, but he’s been stuck in Kuala Lumpur’s airport for more than 100 days because no country will issue him a visa. Vocativ tells the story of Hassan al-Kontar in 69 seconds, here.

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