Trump on arms control; Russia’s startling AI stance; DoD’s power vacuum; Biden runs for POTUS; And a bit more.
President Trump now says a new arms race with Russia and China would be too expensive, the Washington Post reported Thursday. So the president has declared his intention to reach new arms control agreements with those two countries to regulate Moscow’s growing nuclear weapon arsenal and limit Beijing’s diversifying military capabilities — like carrier-killing missiles featured in this yuuuuge interactive published Thursday by Reuters.
Bigger picture: “A trilateral nuclear arms-control agreement among the United States, Russia and China would be a watershed diplomatic achievement; separate treaties alone would be significant,” the Post writes. “But normally such pacts require years of negotiation and diplomatic outreach, a challenge for an administration that has withdrawn from arms-control treaties but has not brokered any new ones.”
The effort is going to be one heck of an uphill battle since “China has long resisted involvement in arms-control pacts, in part because its suite of nuclear weapons is not as vast as the U.S. or Russian arsenals. Russia has also resisted any limits on its smaller nuclear weapons that fall outside current agreements.”
About-face: Trump was vowing as recently as October to pursue arms races, not stop them. “Until people come to their senses, we will build it up,” he told reporters. “It’s a threat to whoever you want. And it includes China, and it includes Russia, and it includes anybody else that wants to play that game.” (Here’s the video.)
And about this effort, you just can’t win with some folks. “This is something Trump should have initiated 2 years ago instead of spending all of that time tearing up international treaties, undermining US credibility, and doubling down on nuclear modernization,” tweeted Colin Kahl, national security advisor to Joe Biden — who just joined the 2020 fray.
Another thing about China: “Over a dozen countries—ranging from friends to overt rivals—sent naval vessels to the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao on April 23rd...in honour of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Liberation Army Navy," The Economist reported Thursday.
The gist: “After millennia as an agrarian civilisation that saw the sea as a source of threats, China is becoming a maritime power,” author David Rennie tweeted in a tease. “That could help shape this century.” Register to read the rest, here.
And earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal published its own interactive about how “a fleet of American-built satellites is serving the Chinese government in ways that challenge the U.S.”
The quick read there: “Nine of these satellites have been part of efforts to connect Chinese soldiers on contested outposts in the South China Sea, strengthen police forces against social unrest and make sure state messaging penetrates far and wide… A tenth satellite, under construction by Boeing Co., would enhance China’s competitor to the U.S. Global Positioning System. Besides civilian uses, the navigation system could help China in a potential conflict, such as in guiding missiles to their targets.”
From Defense One
Biden Enters Campaign Talking Charlottesville, But Saying Much More // Kevin Baron: The former vice president declares “a battle for the soul of this nation,” with global leadership easter eggs hidden within.
Did Russia Just Concede a Need to Regulate Military AI? // Samuel Bendett: After years of Kremlin efforts to derail international guidelines on militarized artificial intelligence, a national-security leader appeared to signal a new course.
Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: CEOs tout secret contracts; Icebreaker, attack helos ordered; Earnings breakdown; and more…
A Warlord Rises in Libya, and Trump Is Praising Him // Kathy Gilsinan, The Atlantic: It's Khalifa Haftar, the Libyan general who is leading his forces against the government the U.S. still officially backs.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief by Ben Watson. Thanks for reading! And if you’re not subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1937 at about 4:30 p.m. local time, German Luftwaffe planes spent three hours bombing the Spanish town and countryside of Guernica, killing or wounding one-third of the town's 5,000 residents and triggering fires that burned for three days. “Guernica had served as the testing ground for a new Nazi military tactic — blanket-bombing a civilian population to demoralize the enemy,” PBS writes of that day. “It was wanton, man-made holocaust.” The indiscriminate bombing of cities would become a staple of combat in World War II.
Super-secret science group at the Pentagon could live to be super-secret for another few months, Defense News reported Thursday. The quick read: “On Thursday, the [National Nuclear Security Administration] quietly put a notice of a sole-source contract up on the FedBizOps website, to ‘award a short-term sole source contract to MITRE Corporation to provide management and logistics support to the Jason program and its members.”
Just now catching up to these folks? “The Jasons group comprises about 60 members,” NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel reported Thursday in his own look at the group. “By day, they're normal academics, working at colleges and universities and in private industry. But each summer, they come together to study tough problems for the military, intelligence agencies and other parts of the government.”
The group has been under the gun since last month, as Defense One’s Patrick Tucker reported April 11. “For decades, JASON studies helped DOD and other agencies get outside perspectives on scientific and technical topics, Tucker wrote. “But now Pentagon officials are killing JASON in all but name” by slashing its funding.
One possible reason the group was gonna lose money on May 1: "They were offering the opposite of cheerleading," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "And DOD decided that maybe they didn't want to pay for that any longer."
Until that contract Defense News reported on is finalized, “it is unclear how the Mitre Corp., which manages the Jasons, would fund the group in the interim.” Listen to the rest of Brumfiel’s three-minute piece, here.
How the 21st-century Chinese navy is like the Welsh longbow in 1415. This take comes from Christian Brose, former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee, writing in Foreign Affairs, and flagged Thursday by New York Times columnist Bret Stephens.
The gist: “A military made up of small numbers of large, expensive, heavily manned, and hard-to-replace systems will not survive on future battlefields, where swarms of intelligent machines will deliver violence at a greater volume and higher velocity than ever before,” Brose writes.
Writes Stephens: “The logic here is the same as the one that decided the Battle of Agincourt, where the humble and effective English longbow made short work of the expensive and vulnerable French cavalry.”
Review how and why that Welsh longbow was so effective in this classic 1979 BBC series, “Connections.”
Stephens continues, “Today’s version of that cavalry consists of aircraft carriers priced at $13 billion apiece and fighter jets that go for $90 million (and cost $30,000 an hour to fly).”
So what’s the solution, or adaptation? Drones, apparently. “To radically increase the numbers of military platforms, lower their costs, and — within ethical limits — enhance their autonomy,” Stephens writes, summarizing Brose. The problem with that seem to lie in what late Sen. John McCain called the “military-industrial-congressional complex.” Read on to learn more at the Times here, or at Brose’s FA article, which you may have to register to read in full, here.
Is there a “power vacuum” at the Pentagon? Politico’s Wesley Morgan says so, and reports that it’s most acute in the Office of the Secretary of Defense — where “where [Acting SecDef Pat] Shanahan is one of eight… unconfirmed officials out of 24” in the building.
“Power vacuum” how? An allegedly slow decision-making process, a department purportedly “handicapped... in policy disputes" and authorities that have shifted to the White House because of those posts unconfirmed by the Senate.
The Pentagon’s reax: We’re all fine here. Read on for the rhetoric versus reality, and rhetoric versus more rhetoric, here.
Russia says it has a facial recognition software that is 99% accurate. Now it’s trying to offer it to militaries around the world in a possible effort to compete with China, former Jarhead and current PhD student Rob Lee tweeted Thursday after reading this report from Russian state-run TASS.
The companies involved: Rosoboronexport and Rostec’s NtechLab. They will soon be offering the “FindFace” system to militaries around the world. “FindFace was used during last summer's World Cup in Russia,” Lee notes.
“A Coast Guard lieutenant accused of being a domestic terrorist is entitled to be released from custody before his trial on firearms and drug charges,” AP reported Thursday from a magistrate court in Greenbelt, Md.
Involved: 50-year-old Christopher Hasson, who "was arrested Feb. 15 and is awaiting trial on firearms and drug charges. Prosecutors have said he created a hit list of prominent Democrats, two Supreme Court justices, network TV journalists and social media company executives." But so far, Hasson "hasn't been charged with any terrorism-related offenses."
Where the situation stands: “The magistrate gave Hasson's defense attorney, Liz Oyer, a few days to arrange conditions of release that would be acceptable to the court. Prosecutors have vowed to appeal if Day does order his release.” More here.
Today, North’s Kim said Trump “took a unilateral attitude in bad faith at the recent second DPRK-U.S. summit talks,” according to state-run KCNA. As a result, “The situation on the Korean peninsula and the region is now at a standstill and has reached a critical point where it may return to its original state,” he said according to Reuters reporting from Seoul this morning.
And finally this week: German automaker “Daimler says it has no idea how Kim Jong Un got his limos” that traveled with him to the two Trump summits and this week’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, AP reports from Tokyo.
Witnessed in Kim’s limo inventory: a Mercedes Maybach S600 Pullman Guard and a Mercedes Maybach S62.
Said a Daimler spox: “We have absolutely no idea how those vehicles were delivered to North Korea...Sales of vehicles by third parties, especially of used vehicles, are beyond our control and responsibility.”
Even so, AP writes, “Kim’s ability to procure the limousines anyway is a good example of how porous the international sanctions tend to be.” A bit more, here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!