Trump talked about leaving NATO; Shutdown, Day 25; Ukraine buys Turkish drones; Troops’ border duties extended; And a bit more.

President Trump discussed pulling the U.S. from the “most successful military alliance in history,” The New York Times' Helene Cooper and Julian Barnes reported Monday.

The short read: NATO allies do not seem to have spent significantly more on their militaries in 2018, all but ignoring President Trump’s demands to devote four percent of their GDP to defense. Now U.S. officials are afraid Trump will hear that and insist on leaving NATO—something he asked about multiple times in 2018, the Times reports.

Why this is a story now: Because of “growing concern about Mr. Trump’s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration’s Russia ties.”

“Even discussing the idea of leaving NATO — let alone actually doing so — would be the gift of the century for Putin,” retired Adm. James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander, told the Times.

"This is the 70th anniversary year of the Washington Treaty, which established NATO,” tweeted Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former US ambassador to NATO from 2009-2013. “And rather than celebrating this success, the President of the United States says he wants to withdraw from this most successful military alliance in history."

BTW: There was supposed to be a 70th anniversary NATO leaders meeting in Washington this April, but that’s not happening anymore since allied officials reportedly believe "Mr. Trump could use a Washington summit meeting to renew his attacks on the alliance."

One more thing: 80% of Americans want NATO, according to the July 2018 poll numbers from Gallup. And those numbers? They're the highest ever measured. 

So what would happen if Trump moves ahead on the NATO exit? It “would most likely invite a response by Congress,” the Times writes. As for alliance rules, a 12-month notification period must come before an exit, “under Article 13 of the Washington Treaty. Such a delay would give Congress time to try blocking any attempt by Mr. Trump to leave.” Much, much more to the story, here.

Here’s another interesting development from the European continent: The former Soviet republic of Belarus wants to boost its diplomatic ties with the U.S., “a move that could worsen Moscow-Washington tensions,” The Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove reported Monday from the Russian capital.

Motivating factors: "Russia renewed a push late last year to unify the two countries under an old agreement signed in 1999 that both have long disregarded," Grove writes. In addition, "Moscow has also angered Minsk by changing its oil-tax code, which could cost Belarus hundreds of millions of dollars a year."

For the record: "The U.S. and Belarus don’t currently host each other’s ambassadors. The U.S. presence in Belarus has been severely curtailed after Minsk protested sanctions the U.S. imposed in 2008 on Belarus state companies over alleged human-rights abuses."

Smart move? "Minsk has previously warmed to the West in order to gain concessions from Russia," Grove warns. "However, Russia’s recent reaction has been stronger than on previous occasions." More here.

From Defense One

Ukraine Is Buying New Combat Drones…From Turkey // Patrick Tucker: The skies over Eastern Ukraine becoming more crowded as Kiev looks to Ankara for weapons.

Shipmates, Information Management Is a Life-or-Death Proposition // Thomas B. Modly: In the U.S. Navy, using and protecting data isn't just for the IT guys anymore. Everyone needs to get on board.

The Pentagon Has More than 250 Cyber Gaps in Its Networks, Watchdog Says // Jack Corrigan, Nextgov: The Defense Department has a lot of work to do to remedy some years-old cyber issues.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. Thanks for reading! On this day in 1908, nuclear physicist Edward Teller was born in Budapest, Hungary. Teller immigrated to the U.S. from Nazi Germany in 1935, and helped persuade Albert Einstein to warn President Roosevelt of a potential Nazi atomic bomb. He was also one of the first scientists recruited to work on the Manhattan Project.  

America’s 2,000-plus troops deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border just got extended to the end of the fiscal year, the Pentagon announced Monday evening.
What’s going on: “DOD is transitioning* its support at the southwestern border from hardening ports of entry to mobile surveillance and detection, as well as concertina wire emplacement between ports of entry. DOD will continue to provide aviation support.”
For the record: "Currently the Pentagon has about 2,300 active-duty troops on the southern border assisting the Department of Homeland Security, down from a height of 5,900," the Post reports separately. "About 1,100 soldiers and Marines are assigned to border support in California, with an additional 600 troops in Texas and 650 in Arizona."
*Worth noting: “the military last month withdrew all troops from South Texas, including at a base camp in the border town of Donna where hundreds of soldiers were based temporarily in November.The military closed the camp shortly before Christmas, about five weeks after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and then Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited soldiers there.”
So what next? Unclear; but Trump still wants that border wall built somehow. More here.
On the other hand, there’s this via the Washington Post: “As Trump pushes for a wall, authorities keep finding drug tunnels under the U.S.-Mexico border”

Shutdown, Day 24: In December, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a budget resolution that would have averted a shutdown. (Trump declined to sign it after conservative media voices said he would look weak if he did.) In recent days, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been refusing to allow similar bills to the floor. So:
The entire Coast Guard is going without pay today.: That’s all 42,000 Guardsmen and -women, including those on duty, the head of Coast Guard Mutual Assistance told NPR.
Airports are getting more congested as unpaid TSA workers fail to show up. NYT: “Airports across the country were starting to buckle Monday under the strain of the partial government shutdown…” The problems appear to be most acute at the Houston, Miami, Atlanta airports. Read on, here.
The VA issued a list of resources for the 125,000 veterans who have been furloughed. Example: “VA has encouraged loan servicers to be flexible in dealing with borrowers who have lost income due to the shutdown.” That went out Monday, just hours after Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie on Monday “accused union officials of politicizing veterans mental health care by saying the ongoing government shutdown could cost some veterans their lives.” From Military Times, here.

In October, the U.S. and China collaborated to spirit nuclear material out of Nigeria — and away from terrorist groups. Amazing story and a great read from Defense News’ Aaron Mehta.

Is the U.S. military about to “massively expand [its] footprint” in Jordan? The Drive thinks so after viewing “specifications and drawings related to the new aircraft aprons, taxiways, and other associated facilities on FedBizOpps, the U.S. government’s main contracting website, on Jan. 11, 2019.”
Location: Muwaffaq Salti Air Base.
The big apparent benefit these days: "providing an alternative to other major operational locations in the region, especially in Turkey, where political disputes could hamper U.S. access in the middle of a crisis." Read on, here.

And finally today: The U.S. seems to be messaging China with an upcoming missile test around Okinawa, Stars and Stripes wrote Monday off a recent report from Japan’s Sankei newspaper (that here).
Systems to be used: “the Army’s High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System — known as HIMARS — and the Army Tactical Missile System — or ATACMS.”
So what’s the message? “The drills are seen as a deterrent against Chinese aircraft carriers and warships, specifically, Sankei said.” Continue reading here.