Judge okays border-fund shift; ‘Low-yield’ nuke debate heats up; Iran rejects US talks; Remembering Tiananmen; And a bit more.

Federal judge in D.C. says Trump can use military funds to build his “emergency” border wall. District Judge Trevor N. McFadden decided Monday to deny a House of Representatives request “to temporarily stop spending on the wall, saying the House lacked legal standing to sue the president for allegedly overstepping his power” by diverting military funds to pay for the wall, the Washington Post reported.

How we got here: “The House sued April 5 in Washington to block Trump’s plan to transfer $6.7 billion for a ‘big beautiful’ wall he had promised during his campaign. Congress declined to fund it and after a 35-day partial government shutdown appropriated $1.375 million for border barriers.”

Said the judge, according to the Post: “the Constitution provides the House other levers to use against the executive, including specifically denying funds, passing other legislation, conducting hearings and investigations, or overriding a president’s veto.”

What Monday’s decision means: “McFadden’s order effectively kills the House suit, which sought to block the administration from tapping not only $1 billion already transferred from military pay and pension accounts, but also money from an emergency military construction fund that the administration said it intends to transfer but has not yet moved.”

According to the White House, “added financing for the wall will include $3.6 billion diverted from Pentagon construction projects, $2.5 billion transferred from other defense programs into a military program to install fencing to counter drugs at the border, and $600 million collected in enforcement and forfeiture actions by customs and treasury agencies.”

From here? House Democrats told the Post they are considering whether or not to appeal the ruling, but no decision has been made just yet. Read the ruling for yourself (PDF) here.

In other news from the border: “An Army private from California was found dead [on Saturday] as he served as part of the Defense Department’s mission along the U.S.-Mexico border,” Stars and Stripes reported Monday from Austin, Texas.

The soldier’s unit: The 7th Infantry Division’s 1st “Tomahawk” Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

Location of death: near Nogales, Ariz., about 65 miles south of Tucson. “The military, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI are investigating circumstances surrounding the death, though foul play is not suspected… The FBI is investigating because the death occurred on federal land.” A bit more, here.


From Defense One

New, More Usable Nukes for Trump? No. // Rep. Ted Lieu and Sen. Ed Markey: Congress should use the new defense authorization bill to bar the deployment of new, dangerous, and redundant nuclear weapons.

Nuclear Experts Beg Congress to Push Back on Trump Administration’s ‘Dangerous Impulses’ // Bradley Peniston: A letter asks House and Senate Armed Services leaders to defund small nukes and support an extension for New START.

The Disturbing Logic of Trump’s Lovefest With Kim Jong Un // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: “The cheapest concession you can make in a negotiation is to give the other fellow a little respect.”

A Middle East Peace Plan Built on Un-American Principles // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: Jared Kushner wants to use prosperity as a shiny object to distract Palestinians while their political aspirations are swept away.

The U.S.-U.K. Alliance Has Seen Better Days // Yasmeen Serhan, The Atlantic: As President Trump arrives in Britain, the two partners are divided on how to deal with Iran, Huawei, and even Brexit.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! Subscribe here. On this day 50 years ago, Johnny Cash released his live album, “At San Quentin.


What “deterring” Iran looks like from a flattop. CBS News cameras visited the USS Abraham Lincoln recently in the Arabian Sea, where crews fly “80 to 100 surveillance and training runs a day.”
The crew was not terribly interested in elaboration — e.g., “Rear Adm. John F.G. Wade declined to discuss specifics.” — but here’s one line from Capt. William Reed, commander of Carrier Air Wing 7: “The message is we are here, we are ready. We came here fully prepared, fully trained, ready to go.” Catch the 125-second video report here.

Iran rejects SecState Pompeo’s offer of U.S. talks with no preconditions. Pompeo extended the offer while visiting Switzerland on Sunday, the Wall Street Journal writes. “We’re ready to sit down with them,” he said. “But the American effort to fundamentally reverse the malign activity of this Islamic republic, this revolutionary force, is going to continue.”
Iran’s reax, according to state news quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi: “To the Islamic Republic of Iran, a word-play…is not a criterion for action; rather, the criterion is a change in Washington’s general approach and actual behavior towards the Iranian nation.”
Reminder of the 12 requirements Pompeo laid out 13 months ago was steps Tehran must take for a new deal of some kind with the U.S., and so that Iran will (once every step is taken) “behave like a normal country” —

  1. Iran must provide a complete account of its previous nuclear-weapons research.
  2. Iran must stop uranium enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing.
  3. Iran must provide the International Atomic Energy Agency “unqualified access” to all sites in the country.
  4. Iran must stop providing missiles to militant groups and halt the development of nuclear-capable missiles.
  5. Iran must release all U.S. and allied detainees.
  6. Iran must stop supporting militant groups, including Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
  7. Iran must respect Iraqi sovereignty and permit the demobilization of the Shiite militias it has backed there.
  8. Iran must stop sending arms to the Houthis and work for a peaceful settlement in Yemen.
  9. Iran must withdraw all forces under its command from Syria.
  10. Iran must end support for the Taliban and stop harboring al Qaeda militants.
  11. Iran must end support by its paramilitary Quds Force for militant groups.
  12. Iran must end its threats to destroy Israel and stop threatening international ships. It must end cyberattacks and stop proxies from firing missiles into Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In case you were wondering: “The U.S. hasn’t dropped those demands,” the Journal writes, “and has increased pressure from economic sanctions as well as pursuing its military buildup in the region.” A bit more, here.

Get to better know the UAE’s Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, what the New York Times calls “the most powerful Arab ruler.” The NYT’s tease: “He may be the richest man in the world and his influence operation in Washington is legendary. Under the Trump administration, his influence in Washington appears greater than ever.”

House braces for debate over ‘low-yield’ nukes. The strategic forces subcommittee on Tuesday released a markup of the 2020 authorization bill that would bar funding for a new ‘low-yield’ sub-launched cruise missile.
Read: an oped at Defense One by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, laying out the arguments against the new missile, and for several other steps intended to reduce the risk of nuclear conflict, here.

The USS John S. McCain made an appearance in London on Monday when President Trump dropped by the UK for a state visit with the Queen.
Helping boost McCain’s profile across the pond: the protest group “Led by Donkeys,” which Axios writes is “known for its wave of guerrilla billboard protests against Brexit-supporting politicians.” The group projected an image of the ship crew’s hat onto London’s Madame Tussaud’s Monday evening. Find the image at Axios, here.

No money, mo’ problems for Caracas now that Russia has withdrawn “key military personnel” from Venezuela, “an embarrassment for President Nicolás Maduro as Moscow weighs the leader’s political and economic resilience against growing U.S. pressure,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday. According to a person close to Russia’s defense ministry, “Russian state defense contractor Rostec… has cut its staff in Venezuela to just a few dozen from about 1,000.”
For the record: The Kremlin and Rostec both deny any changes have taken place. More from that angle, via Reuters this morning, here.
Why withdraw the personnel? “Due to a lack of new contracts and the acceptance that Mr. Maduro’s regime no longer has the cash to continue to pay for other Rostec services associated with past contracts,” according to the Journal. On top of this alleged new development, “The defense contractor, run by Mr. Putin’s longtime friend Sergei Chemezov, has been hit by financial difficulties as U.S. sanctions have derailed several big contracts.”
Various systems Caracas has purchased from Moscow include “assault rifles, multiuse aircraft, helicopters from the Mi-17, Mi-35 and Mi-26 models, T-72 tanks, as well as various anti-aerial defense systems.”
Rostec’s official reax to the news: We have no idea what you’re talking about. Or more literally, “The composition of the representative office has not changed for many years. Technical specialists periodically come to the country to carry out repairs and maintenance of previously supplied machines,” according to a statement from the company.
Why Rostec might be mum: The Journal writes it’s “been facing its own financial problems since the U.S. in 2017 began sanctioning third-party countries for dealing with Russia’s arms industry. Since then, a number of countries have delayed their purchases of Russian arms.”
In a somewhat rare move, U.S. Southern Command chimed in via Twitter on Monday, excerpting from the Journal in its own tweet, reading, “Russia has been among Maduro’s biggest int’l supporters, but the winding down of state defense contractor Rostec’s presence shows the limits of Russia’s reach in #Venezuela at a time when Moscow is facing economic difficulties at home.” Read on, here.

For the fifth time in just a few days, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un visited “an important defense factory,” Jeffrey Lewis tweeted Monday in a bit of explainer thread.
The latest visit: the Phyongnam General Machine Plant, aka “the site of its November 2017 ICBM launch,” Lewis writes. Another name for the place: “the March 16 Factory,” located in Pyongsong at coordinates 39.2818, 125.8676
Bigger picture consideration: “A visit like this gets my attention. Kim’s November 4, 2017 visit was important in hindsight because, while KCNA showed him looking at trucks, there was probably more to the visit. Kim returned on November 29 to watch the launch of a Hwasong-15 ICBM… Two of the [recently-visited] factories — the February 8 and March 16 plants — are locations where North Korea tested ICBMs in 2017. I think we should take the f’ing hint.” More in Lewis’s thread, here.

In case you missed this headline from Military Times late last week: DoD bought phony military gear made in China, including counter-night vision clothing that didn’t actually work
The quick read: “The U.S. military, government agencies and other purchasers bought more than $20 million worth of Chinese-made counterfeit goods designed to look like domestically produced gear from a company that defrauded the government and helped to orchestrate the counterfeiting process between January 2013 and October 2018,” according to a Justice Department release from May 21.
The offending company: California Surplus, Inc., operated by a man named Ramin Kohanbash out of Brooklyn, N.Y.
One of the products boasted on its counterfeit tag that it was “permanently flame resistant.” Military Times reports “The counterfeit hoods were not actually flame resistant.” More here.

And finally today: Remembering Tiananmen. Defense One’s Brad Peniston writes: Thirty years ago on this day, the Chinese government reacted to several weeks of building protests by unleashing the Army against unarmed demonstrators in Tiananmen Square. Hundreds — perhaps thousands — of protestors, students, and even onlookers were killed. The New York Times’ Nick Kristof was there; he offers this account of a terrifying day and night.
Down the memory hole. The government subsequently drew a curtain of secrecy around the massacre; a generation grew up hearing whispers of “Six Four,” as in 6/4/89. Internet searches for “Tiananmen” are blocked in China; search attempts can be logged for police investigation.
Rare acknowledgement. The country’s defense minister responded to a question about it over the weekend in Singapore: “How can we say that China did not handle the Tiananmen incident well?” said Gen. Wei Fenghe at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue. “That incident was a political turbulence and the central government took measures to stop the turbulence, which is a correct policy.”
Pompeo’s pronouncement: “We call on China to release all those held for seeking to exercise these rights and freedoms, halt the use of arbitrary detention, and reverse counterproductive policies that conflate terrorism with religious and political expression,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Monday.
For your ears only: Our 45-minute podcast on the vision of the Chinese Communist Party today and how it’s working to shape both the future and 15th-century Chinese history. Listen or read a transcript, here.
Forget Tiananmen, and pay attention to China’s missiles. That’s the message from China’s military on social media after “footage circulated [Sunday] on China’s Weibo microblogging service of an object traveling up into the sky, leaving a white trail behind it, over the Bohai Sea, partly closed at the time for military drills,” according to Reuters this morning.  “In a short post on its official Weibo account late on Monday, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force showed a picture of what looked like a road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile launcher against a night sky.”
“Do you believe in this world there are UFOs?” the PLARF captioned the photo, without elaboration.
What may have been in that photo: “Defense publication Janes said on its website that the weekend pictures could have been China’s next generation submarine-launched ballistic missile, the JL-3,” which is a missile “expected to have a longer range than its predecessor and will significantly strengthen China’s nuclear deterrent.” A tiny bit more from Reuters, here.

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