Pompeo applauds State cuts; Russia negs new New START; China takes drone-export lead; Arms-export fund proposed; And a bit more.
Pompeo applauds proposed 23% cut to State budget. “I’ll testify on Capitol Hill in a week or two on our budget and I’m very confident that the State Department will have the resources it needs,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told McClatchy journalists. The people who work at the State department “understand what’s going on,” Pompeo said. “What they needed wasn’t more money. What they needed was a leader who was prepared to empower them, was prepared to let them go out and do their job.”
The 2020 budget request would reduce funding from State Department and international programs from $55.8 billion to a proposed $42.8 billion. Read on, here.
Retired combatant commanders slam cuts. A joint statement from 14 former admirals and generals who once ran all of the military’s regional commands declares that calls on Congress to “continue to protect resources for America’s International Affairs Budget. Doing so is critical to keeping our nation safe and prosperous in a world of global threats and great power competition.” Signers include Stavridis, Zinni, Clark, McCaffrey, Fargo, Fallon, and more.
New New START is a nonstarter, Russian ambassador says. Russia is uninterested in broadening the New START treaty to cover new weapons, the country’s ambassador to the United States said Monday. That’s a blow to the last remaining major arms control agreement between the two original nuclear powers.
STRATCOM: “I want, ideally, all nuclear weapons to be part of New START, not just the ones that are in the Treaty now,” Gen. John Hyten, the head of U.S. Strategic Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March. D1’s Patrick Tucker has more, here.
From Defense One
White House Proposes Loan Fund to Help Allies Buy US Arms // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: It’s the second try for an idea shelved in 2017 when lawmakers disapproved.
Here’s What We Know About the Pentagon’s 2020 Budget Request // Marcus Weisgerber: Money to extend border barriers and lavish use of the war fund are already drawing bipartisan fire.
Does USS Truman’s Early Retirement Herald a New War on Carriers? // Thomas Callender: Whatever the promise of emerging technologies, combatant commanders still want more floating mobile airfields.
India’s and Pakistan’s Lies Thwarted a War—For Now // C. Christine Fair, The Atlantic: Lying about facts to de-escalate tension in Kashmir is a playbook they’ve both used before.
‘Chaos Serves Putin’s Interest’: A Veteran Diplomat Takes Stock // James Fallows, The Atlantic: A 3-decade Foreign Service officer weighs in on Russia, Trump, and America’s place on the world stage.
Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief by Bradley Peniston and Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 2003, the U.S. Air Force first tested its Massive Ordnance Air Blast (or MOAB) — America's largest conventional bomb weighing in at 21,000 pounds — at a site in Florida’s Eglin Air Force Base. Find footage of the test, here. The bomb wouldn’t see combat for another 14 years, when President Trump authorized its use (video) on alleged ISIS fighters in eastern Afghanistan in April 2017. Here’s the BBC on “how badly [the MOAB] really hurt IS in Afghanistan.”
The Taliban have reportedly killed 20 Afghan troops and captured another 20 in the western province of Badghis, Reuters reports from Kabul.
Location: the Bala Murghab district of Badghis, which borders Turkmenistan. "A large number of Taliban insurgents launched attacks on several army posts... beginning on Saturday night," a defense ministry spox told Reuters. “The fighting is still on” today, he said, "adding that the Taliban had overrun four posts and government reinforcement backed by air support had been sent to prevent the whole area from falling to the insurgents." Read on, here.
The offensive against ISIS in Baghouz, Syria, is “nearly over,” spokesman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Kino Gabriel, said in an interview with al-Hadath TV.
Said Gabriel: "The operation is over, or as good as over, but requires a little more time to be completed practically on the ground.” A bit more on the slow, careful assault via Reuters, here.
China’s detention camps for Muslims in Xinjiang province may “gradually disappear” if “one day [Chinese] society no longer needs it,” Agence France-Presse reports this morning from the sidelines of China's annual parliamentary meeting.
The official’s name: Shohrat Zakir, chairman of Xinjiang's government. AFP reports this information came in an 18-minute long reply to a single question from a reporter.
Reuters’ headline: China says Xinjiang has 'boarding schools', not 'concentration camps'
Said Zakir: "Our education and training centres have been set up according to our needs. The students that come in to learn, it's a dynamic number that changes... As a whole, the number of people in the education centres should be less and less, and if one day society no longer needs it, these education centres can gradually disappear."
He also hinted at what conditions he thinks set the stage for China “no longer need[ing]” these camps: "When [students] are able to distinguish between right and wrong and able to resist the infiltration of extreme thoughts... they have a strong desire to get rid of poverty and get rich, actively pursuing a better life."
Bigger picture: “While it previously denied the existence of the camps, Beijing has moved towards acknowledging their existence -- but insists they are for ‘vocational education’ and are vital in the fight against separatist sentiments and religious extremism” as part of a PR blitz since October. Read on, here.
Or review the harrowing known-knowns about Xinjiang in our October podcast episode with Cornell Professor Magnus Fiskesjö, here.
China “is now the world’s leading exporter of armed drones,” the South China Morning Post reported Monday off new data from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (PDF).
Where that line comes from: “In 2014–18 China became the largest exporter in the niche market of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), with states in the Middle East among the main recipients,” according to SIPRI.
Also notable from that SIPRI report: China’s arms sales are slowing. “Whereas Chinese arms exports rose by 195 per cent between 2004–2008 and 2009–13, they increased by only 2.7 per cent between 2009–13 and 2014–18.”
Other interesting data points:
- “Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest arms importer in 2014–18, with an increase of 192 per cent compared with 2009–13.”
- “Venezuelan arms imports fell by 83 per cent between 2009–13 and 2014–18.”
- “China delivered major arms to 53 countries in 2014–18, compared with 41 in 2009–13 and 32 in 2004–2008. Pakistan was the main recipient (37 per cent) in 2014–18, as it has been for all five-year periods since 1991.”
- Despite recent gains, China still trails behind Germany, France, Russia and the U.S. in total annual arms exports. Read on, here.
The U.S., British and Japanese navies are practicing hunting submarines in the Western Pacific, the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet announced today.
Involved: U.S. Navy P-8A maritime patrol aircraft as well as a "RN Type 23 frigate, HMS Montrose (F236), Murasame-class destroyer JS Murasame (DD-101), P-1 JMSDF maritime patrol aircraft, and a JMSDF submarine."
For what it’s worth: “As the U.S. Navy’s largest numbered fleet, 7th Fleet operates roughly 50-70 ships and submarines and 140 aircraft with approximately 20,000 Sailors.”
Reminder: What’s the big challenge moving forward for the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea? Submarines, Prof. Andrew Wilson of the U.S. Naval War College told us in episode 37 of Defense One Radio. Listen to that episode or read the transcript, here.
The U.S. is withdrawing all of its remaining diplomats from Venezuela, the State Department announced Monday evening without giving a timeline. “This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy,” the State Department said in its short statement.
ICYMI: The Trump admin appears to have misportrayed what happened with those burned aid trucks in Venezuela on February 23, Bellingcat reported this week — alongside The New York Times in a separate analysis of open source footage from the scene.
Misportrayed how? Here’s the Times with a quick summary: “The narrative seemed to fit Venezuela’s authoritarian rule: Security forces, on the order of President Nicolás Maduro, had torched a convoy of humanitarian aid as millions in his country were suffering from illness and hunger... But there is a problem: The opposition itself, not Mr. Maduro’s men, appears to have set the cargo alight accidentally.”
And here’s Bellingcat essentially arriving at the same conclusion: “While the open source information currently available does not allow for a definitive determination of who or what started the fire, it does point to the possibility that the blaze was caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown at the NBP that missed its target and instead landed on or near the truck that caught fire.” Worth the click for Bellingcat’s additional coverage from three other locations across Venezuela, here.
Finally today: CNN’s Donie O'Sullivan went digging through old TV Guide mags and found “A lesson in Russian disinformation” right on the cover of the June 1982 issue.
The cover story’s headline: "Why American TV Is So Vulnerable to Foreign Disinformation"
Here’s how it works, the 1982 audience was told: "They plant a story — totally fictitious — in a leftist paper in, say, Bombay. Then it gets picked up by a Communist journal in Rio. Then in Rome. Then Tass, the Soviet news agency, lifts it from the Rome paper and runs it as a 'sources say' news item. And soon the non-Communist press starts to pick up on it, using terms such as, 'it is alleged that…’ And thus an absolute lie gets into general circulation."
Writes O’Sullivan: “The modern spread of disinformation follows a similar pattern, except rather than having to wait as a story takes weeks or months to jump from a newspaper in Bombay to mainstream outlets, online trolls, or intelligence agents — Russian or not — can spread information around the world in hours online.” Read on, here.