The U.S. will suspend its obligations under the INF treaty tomorrow. On Saturday, the United States notify Russia and U.S. allies that it is taking this first step to withdraw from the Intermediate Forces Treaty, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this morning. He said U.S. officials would be open to talks with Russia about the treaty before formally withdrawing in six months.
How we got here: Pompeo called the withdrawal a reaction to the Russian deployment of the treaty-violating 9M729 missile. He’s not wrong. “Since the Obama administration first charged that Russia violated the treaty by testing the banned missile, the Kremlin has proceeded to actually deploying it. Russian actions have made it clear that the initial violation was no mere oversight, but a deliberate move,” Eugene Rumer of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote in Defense One last week.
Indeed, Russia has now deployed a fourth battalion of 9M729s, The Wall Street Journal reports this morning.
But the U.S. is stepping into a Russian trap, Rumer wrote. Moscow might have withdrawn from the treaty. “But that would have triggered widespread international criticism. Instead, the Kremlin left it to the United States to make the first move. The Trump administration obliged, handing Mr. Putin a major public relations victory.”
What new weapons will the Pentagon build? Because the United States has been “scrupulously” adhering to the agreement, it will take some time to figure out what kind of capability it will test and ultimately deploy, a senior administration official told reporters Friday morning. “We’re not going to be in a position to immediately be deploying missiles,” the official said. But the United States is only looking at conventional options at this point, the official said, calling Russian claims to the contrary “just another Russian lie...Nothing the U.S. is currently looking at is nuclear in character.”
What about New START? TBD, according to the official. “We are committed to the implementation of the New START treaty but we have not made any decisions about its extension," the official said, noting that it was fully implemented only last year and remains in force for a further two years.
Congress reax: Eleven Democratic senators have already introduced legislation that would block funding for INF-breaking missiles, a move they say “would pull the United States and Russia back from the brink of a 21st Century nuclear arms race.”
No apparent strategy: Kingston Reif, a policy director at the Arms Control Association, says the administration has no apparent strategy to prevent Russia from building and fielding even more and new intermediate-range missiles. If INF is to survive, it might be up to Europe, he said: “With the treaty on the verge of collapse, it is not too soon, especially for NATO allies in Europe who would be most negatively impacted by new and more intermediate-range missile deployments, to pursue options to mitigate the damage done by the collapse of the treaty and head off a new missile race.”
So far, however, the move has NATO’s backing. “Allies fully support this action,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this morning.
Three things Europe could do to try to save INF, laid out in December by Brookings’ Steven Pifer.
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Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief byBen Watson, Bradley Peniston, and Katie Bo Williams. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1862, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was first published in the Atlantic Monthly as an anonymous poem.
The Pentagon is deploying another 3,500 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, and it’s “deeply troubl[ing]” that Pentagon officials didn’t disclose this when they testified before House lawmakers on Tuesday. Those are the charges in a letter from House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., addressed to the Pentagon’s Acting Secretary, Pat Shanahan, and released Thursday by Smith’s office.
Wrote Smith: “The number one thing that the House Armed Services Committee wants from the Defense Department this Congress is transparency. We did not get full transparency during this week’s hearing about DOD support to the southern border... This was at best an error in judgment, and at worst flat-out dishonesty.”
Perhaps the most damning critique was leveled near the end of the short letter, and included the allegation that maybe the Pentagon could not defend the deployment in a public setting. Smith again: “The Members of the Committee would have been extremely interested in discussing what the 3,500 troops going to the border in response to DHS’s latest request will be doing there. This is a violation of the executive branch’s obligation to be transparent with Congress, which oversees, authorizes, and funds its operations. It also raises questions about whether the Department thinks the policy of sending additional troops to the border is so unjustified that they cannot defend an increase in public.”
One more thing Smith told Shanahan: “[A] phone call is not a substitute for transparency before Congress and public candor.” Read the rest, here.
Speaking of operations down south, the U.S. Army just happened to have published a walk-thru of what a U.S. invasion of Venezuela might look like. (Spoiler alert: It would be catastrophic…for the U.S.) That’s in the latest issue of the Army's Military Review, as spotted by natsec scholar Micah Zenko on Thursday.
Admin note: The article was submitted to an essay contest whose theme was, “Which of the world’s hot spots is the Army least prepared for?” (h/t to U.S. Naval War College’s David Burbach for that clarification.)
Some takeaways from that assessment, which sound like maybe a few lessons from Iraq may have been internalized:
- “Although the United States could easily overpower the smaller Venezuelan combatant forces, the tactics, techniques, and procedures that U.S. combatant units employed in other battlefield scenarios and environments may fall flat in Venezuela and unnecessarily prolong combatant and stabilization operations.”
- “How the United States and its potential coalition partners execute an operation of this nature while dealing with the sensitivity and the resultant chaos will reverberate for years.”
- “Without exceedingly meticulous planning, intervention in Venezuela might quickly develop into an insurgency campaign that could drag on for decades.” Read on, here.
Also in that issue of Military Review: “Five Operational Lessons from the Battle for Mosul,” from two O-4s. Boiled down to bullets:
- It is impossible to isolate a modern city.
- Difficulty increases with depth and duration.
- Attackers lose the initiative once they enter the city.
- Dense urban terrain enhances sustainment.
- Operational reach is proportional to population support. (Read more about all five, here.)
Blackwater founder Erik Prince just inked a deal to do some merc-like work in China’s Xinjiang province, Reuters reported Thursday. (BTW: This updates a May 2018 report from the Washington Post about Prince’s plans to train security personnel in China’s far West, plans which by that point were at least a year old.)
Xinjiang, recall, is where China has rounded up an estimated million Muslims throughout the province and forced them into “re-education” and labor camps whose products have already made their way to American shores. Beijing’s justification there, per Reuters: “China has defended the measures as ‘de-radicalisation’ that has prevented violence by providing vocational training to people susceptible to ‘extremist’ thought.”
Now Prince’s Hong Kong-listed Frontier Services Group has “signed a deal with the Kashgar Caohu industrial park in southern Xinjiang to build a training center, FSG said in a Chinese-language statement on its website,” Reuters wrote Thursday.
Worth noting, as Shea Cotton of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies did on Twitter Thursday: “In 1990, in reaction to Tianamen Square, the US passed a law suspending arms sales and export licenses for ‘crime control and detection instruments and equipment’ along with defense services. I don’t understand how this doesn’t fall under that.”
Soft-power alert: The next potential blockbuster out of China’s burgeoning science fiction film industry might be “The Wandering Earth,” slated for release next week, Financial Times reported Thursday.
The plot: “With the Earth on a collision course with Jupiter, humanity has one last hope of survival — a selfless team of Chinese astronauts.”
What’s really going on: “China’s box office revenue grew 9 per cent last year to $8.9bn, second only to North America’s $11.9bn… The movies capitalise on wider cultural interest in extraterrestrial issues in China, fuelled by Beijing’s investment in a national space programme.” Read on, here.
For the second time in two months, the GOP-led Senate admonished Trump on foreign policy, NPR reported Thursday from Capitol Hill.
The measure in question: The Strengthening America's Security in the Middle East Act of 2019.
What happened: “Led by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate advanced an amendment 68-23 to a broader Mideast policy measure that warned against a ‘precipitous withdrawal’ from the Middle Eastern nation. The measure was attached to a broader Mideast policy bill that the Senate is still debating.”
Said Leader McConnell: “It is incumbent upon the United States to lead, to continue to maintain a global coalition against terror and to stand by our local partners. I believe the threats remain... ISIS and Al Qaeda have yet to be defeated, and American national security interests require continued commitment to our mission there.”
The other recent admonishment: “In December, 56 senators voted to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen,” The New York Times reminds us.
Here’s President Trump’s new story about his falling-out with his former defense secretary: “So I wasn’t happy with [Jim] Mattis... I wasn’t happy with the job that he was doing at all. And I said it’s time. That’s why in the letter he wrote, ‘You have to have your own choice.’ The reason he said that was because I said, ‘You’re just not my choice.’” Find the rest of POTUS’ interview with the New York Times, here.
Trump took the opportunity to say demonstrably false things about border security, the defense budget, the military experience of most defense secretaries, and more. Fact check, here.
Remember that Mattis resigned over Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. This week, The Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold and Michael R. Gordon reported the U.S. has been asking European allies to help it create a buffer zone in northern Syria to protect the Kurds from the Turks and vice versa.
Also in that story, you’ll learn “The head of the Syrian Democratic Forces political arm wanted to make her case to the White House. So she camped out at Trump Hotel in DC, and, voilá, met POTUS who was there for a fundraiser,” Lubold and Gordon’s colleague Michael Bender tweeted in promotion. More behind the paywall, here.
BTW: The Pentagon drafted a report about ISIS that says “ISIS is intent on reconstituting a physical caliphate and that with ungoverned spaces in Syria and no military pressure, the terror group could retake land in a matter of months,” NBC News reported Thursday.
And finally today: A hearty congratulations (and good luck) to the entire team of journalists, editors, stringers and producers throughout the open source sleuth organization that is Bellingcat.
They’re being nominated for a Pulitzer Prize on Thursday for being a “platform” that brings together “critically acclaimed and emerging citizen journalists,” contributing to the emergence of a new type of journalism, Bellingcat’s Christiaan Triebert summarized with some well-earned glee on Twitter.
Who nominated them? Foreign Affairs Committee Chairs of the parliaments of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, the latter’s embassy to the U.S. announced on Twitter Thursday.
The justifications span Bellingcat’s work uncovering Salisbury poisoning suspect Ruslan Boshirov’s true name — Col. Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga, “a highly decorated senior officer from Russian military intelligence who was awarded the state’s highest honour in late 2014,” Latvia’s FAC chairman wrote.
- ICYMI: You can hear Bellingcat’s Aric Toler explain that unmasking in episode 24 of Defense One Radio.
Said his Lithuanian counterpart: “Through their activities and investigative journalism, they actively contribute to the protection of our democratic system from disinformation, fake news, which are being spread seeking to increase fragmentation of societies, hostility and distrust of democracy.”
And from Estonia’s way of thinking: Bellingcat’s “knowledge of using digital technology for open source investigation has already made significant impact on the international relations. I hope that they keep bringing to light the murky doings of darker powers that wish to sow discord and distrust.” Continue reading, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone! And we’ll see you again on Monday.