INF lapses tomorrow; Iran’s top diplomat, sanctioned; Houthis attack Aden; The Arctic is on fire; And a bit more.
We’re less than 24 hours from INF collapse day, and the Wall Street Journal is reporting from Brussels on the very limited ways in which NATO nations are trying to respond to “a Russian missile system that can target Western European cities—without getting caught in an arms race.”
At stake: Much more than just the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which the U.S. says Russia broke with the development of a new cruise missile, compelling the Trump administration to withdraw from the treaty in February. That announcement triggered a six-month window before the withdrawal went into full effect — and that window closes tonight.
Europe’s options right now include “strengthening missile defenses, increasing training of military forces and involving warplanes and ships that can carry nuclear-capable missiles in exercises,” writes WSJ’s European security correspondent James Marson.
Countermeasures already discussed include alliance plans for Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania “to be able to deploy 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels within 30 days or less” by the end of the calendar year.
The U.S. “plans to develop intermediate-range, land-based missiles once the treaty expires, but hasn’t yet discussed deployment in Europe with allies,” Marson writes.
A last-minute plea to save INF: Trump and Putin could do it with a phone call, and they should, argues Pierce Corden, a former U.S. arms-control negotiator, at Defense One.
From Defense One
The INF Treaty Lapses Tomorrow. Trump & Putin Should Save It // Pierce Corden: Stability will ebb and danger rise if the U.S. and Russia allow the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to lapse on Aug. 2
One Theme Unites 2020 Dems: Rein in President’s War Powers // Katie Bo Williams, Defense One: Many voted to repeal the old AUMFs; Buttigieg proposes a 3-year sunset.
Five Questions About Nukes To Ask at the Next Debate // Matt Korda: Three minutes’ discussion among two candidates is a pitiful amount of time to devote to a truly existential threat.
Facial Recognition Is Hard to Make Useful, Police Find // Andrea Noble, Route Fifty: The Orlando Police Department ended a pilot program, saying they ran out of time and money to make it work.
How Long Can Trump Keep Ignoring Kim’s Missile Tests? // Uri Friedman, The Atlantic: It’s becoming harder for the president to overlook the fact that the man with whom he claims to have fantastic chemistry is literally going ballistic.
Three Ways Cities and States Can Ward Off Ransomware Attacks // Andrea Noble, Route Fifty: A federal cybersecurity agency and state government associations issued guidance for city, county and state governments.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not a D Brief subscriber, sign up here. On this day in 1991, the U.S. and the Soviet Union signed the START I treaty limiting strategic nuclear weapons. See the New York Times front page story covering the historic treaty, here.
The U.S. sanctioned Iran’s foreign minister on Wednesday, a decision Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called “childish” as the impasse between the two nations continues to grow (Reuters).
The U.S.’s gripe: Foreign Minister Javad “Zarif went to the U.S. and used that as a platform to criticize our policies in the media,” a nameless U.S. official familiar with Iran policy told the Wall Street Journal. “We are sending the message that Zarif is not separate from the regime. He is not someone we can negotiate with.”
“They are resorting to childish actions,” Rouhani replied in a speech today. "The way to negotiate with a government is [to] negotiate with its foreign ministry. We don’t have any other way!”
Worth noting, as the Journal points out, “The timing of the sanctions—which had been signaled by the White House in June—also appeared aimed to deflect attention from a decision to renew special sanctions waivers allowing three Iranian civilian nuclear projects that depend on international cooperation to continue without penalty.”
Reminder of some of the things Iran has done to irk the U.S.: It “has launched a test missile, seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz and shot down a U.S. military drone in recent months,” the Journal writes. “The U.S. also has accused Iran of attacking commercial ships in the region, which Tehran has denied.”
By the way: Germany declined the U.S. offer to join President Trump’s anti-Iran coalition — concerned over the rising risk of military escalation if Berlin and possibly others follow, Der Spiegel reported Wednesday.
Said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas today during a trip to Poland: "The German government will not take part in the sea mission presented and planned by the United States," a decision he said was in "close coordination with our French partners."
In case you’re curious: So far, America’s anti-Iran coalition to protect shipping in the Hormuz Strait involves the tepid and indirect support of Britain and France. Indeed, the UK has had better luck than Washington in getting folks to sign on to its own Hormuz convoy coalition, as CSIS’s Jon Alterman wrote in Defense One three days ago. The U.S. military’s mission — Operation Sentinel — has fallen off the radar almost as quickly as it first appeared in a late Friday announcement on July 19.
Washington’s response to Berlin: “America has sacrificed a lot to help Germany remain a part of the West,” Ambassador Richard Grenell told the Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper. Read a tiny bit more from both German papers, condensed in one report from Politico this morning, here.
Houthi rebels in southern Yemen say they fired a medium-range ballistic missile at a military parade in the port city of Aden, killing at least 32 people, Reuters reports this morning. (The Associated Press puts the toll at at least 40.) AP called the attacks the deadliest in Aden since November 2017.
Attacked: A military camp belonging to “the Yemeni Security Belt forces backed by the United Arab Emirates.”
In addition, at least one car bomb reportedly detonated at a police station in Aden today that killed another 10 people. No one has claimed responsibility for that one yet, though Reuters writes “Past car attacks in Yemen have been carried out by Islamist militant group al Qaeda, one of Yemen’s many destabilizing forces.”
Aden officials told AP the police station attack involved “a car, a bus and three motorcycles laden with explosives… during a morning police roll-call.” That attack reportedly involved four suicide bombers that killed 11 people and wounded 29 others.
The bigger picture for Yemen’s conflict: In short, the Emiratis are withdrawing and the Houthis are escalating. Or, as Reuters summarizes, “Last month the UAE said it was scaling down its military presence in areas including Aden and the western coast, but that this would not leave a vacuum as it had trained 90,000 Yemeni forces from among southern separatists and coastal plains fighters.” The AP writes that “The UAE pullout came against the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf amid a crisis between Washington and Tehran following the U.S. pullout last year from the nuclear deal with Iran.” Meanwhile, according to Reuters, “The Houthis have stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities and the coalition has responded with air strikes on Houthi military sites, mostly around Sanaa.”
The Houthis also claim to have “launched a long-range ballistic missile on a military site in Dammam in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province on Thursday,” but the Saudis have not yet confirmed that purported attack. Read on, here.
North Korea wants us to keep talking about its missiles, so state-run Korean Central News Agency says its tests Wednesday involved “a new multiple rocket launcher system that could potentially enhance its ability to strike targets in South Korea and U.S. military bases there,” AP reports today from Seoul.
This new system will play a “main role” in Kim Jong-Un’s military and will create a quote “inescapable distress to the forces becoming a fat target of the weapon,” according to KCNA.
Seoul is bracing for a busy month of more launches, AP writes, since South Korea’s “spy agency believes the North would want to demonstrate its displeasure over the planned U.S.-South Korea military exercises and the South’s acquisition of advanced weapons such as F-35 fighter jets while also speeding up its own weapons development before it gets deeper in nuclear negotiations with the United States.”
August could also be a busy month for South Korean military intelligence officers now that they believe the North has a submarine with three launch tubes for missiles. “If confirmed, it would be North Korea’s first operational submarine with missile launch tubes,” AP writes. Read on, here.
In still more missile news this week, “Taiwan fire[d] 117 missiles during China military exercises in [the] Taiwan Strait” on Monday and Tuesday, Taiwan News reported Wednesday. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense Deputy Chief of Staff Li Chao-ming, "the number of missiles used this year exceeded that of last year's drill, but he declined to list the specific weapons deployed in the exercise. He said that Tuesday's 41 missiles included ground-to-air, ship-to-ship, and air-to-air missions."
China’s drills in the nearby Taiwan Strait began Sunday and are scheduled to end tomorrow. Read on, here.
A Russian oligarch is coming to the aid of the Bluegrass State. The state of Kentucky is racing to stand up an ambitious aluminum plant, but it doesn’t seem to be able to do so without the help of a recently sanctioned Russian oligarch, the Courier-Journal reported Wednesday. “The plant, which at 2.5 million square feet — roughly the size of 14 super Walmart stores —would be one of the largest buildings in the world, is supposed to be fully operational in 2021. There's not a lot of time left.”
"Enter Rusal,” the Courier-Journal writes, which is “a Russian aluminum company that until just three months ago was barred from doing business in the United States in part because of its ties to [Oleg] Deripaska… The deal is that Rusal will own 40% of the mill [in the eastern city of Ashland, just across the West Virginia border] and will supply it with its reserves of aluminum from a smelter under construction in Siberia. Braidy will roll it flat so it can be used to make car parts here in the United States. Deripaska is supposed to have been sidelined. But who really believes that? He's a Russian oligarch. He does what he wants.”
Why flag this story? The maneuverings could help account for why Kentucky Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul supported lifting U.S. sanctions on Deripaska in January “despite large numbers of Republicans and Democrats who objected to allowing Rusal and its parent company En+ Group into the United States. The House voted to keep the sanctions 362-53, but the Senate fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster. McConnell, along with Sen. Rand Paul, voted against the resolution.” Read on, here.
Climate crisis latest developments: The Arctic is on fire. The EU’s atmosphere-monitoring service tracked more than 100 wildfires in the High North from June to mid-July. That’s far more than normal.
How did that happen? It appears that the peaty soil of Siberia, Canada, and other Arctic regions — generally either frozen or watery — has finally been dried out by increasingly warm weather, including the hottest June ever recorded, and become an easy-burning, carbon-rich fuel.
Why does this matter? Collectively, the fires have released more carbon dioxide than wildfires in the nine previous Junes put together — as much as Sweden releases in an average year.
In case you missed it, “The [U.S.] military is kicking out foreign recruits it needs — for having foreign ties,” the Washington Post’s Alex Horton reported Tuesday.
How it worked: The Pentagon set up program to attract foreign-born recruits — Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest, or MAVNI. Then it rejected many of those recruits after a long screening process when it discovered they have foreign relatives. Story here.
For your ears only (and maybe Amazon’s, too): Washington Post tech columnist Geoffrey Fowler spoke with WHYY’s Terri Gross for Fresh Air this week after Fowler “listened to four years' worth of audio that Amazon had captured and stored from his Alexa smart speaker.” Catch that occasionally unsettling 36-minute conversation here.
Children are still being separated from their families at the border. “Federal immigration authorities have separated more than 900 children from their parents in the past year, some based on claims of abuse or gang ties, according to government data cited by the ACLU,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
The ACLU has much more data, charts, and quotes here.
FWIW: Trump tweeted on Wednesday night at 9:46 p.m. that he had long since “ended” the child-separation policy. That doesn’t appear to be true.
Trump orders medals to SEAL prosecutors rescinded. Navy officials confirmed on Wednesday that they would comply with the president’s order, which he complained about on Twitter on Tuesday: “The Prosecutors who lost the case against SEAL Eddie Gallagher (who I released from solitary confinement so he could fight his case properly), were ridiculously given a Navy Achievement Medal.”
The president may have broken the law. WashEx’s Jamie McIntyre: “Military law strictly prohibits commanders — and Trump is the commander in chief — from saying or doing anything that affects the outcome of a court martial or disparaging the outcome of a trial. The principle, known as Unlawful Command Influence or UCI, is spelled out in Title 10 U.S. Code § 837. Art. 37.”
Tweeted former Marine officer C.J. Chivers in response to Trump’s decision: “cool. how about a review of how bronze stars were doled out like career candy in afg/iraq to majors & first sergeants while young enlisted troops who fought, suffered & acted w sustained courage in powerless positions were lucky for recognition at all.”
A fairly legendary liar was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy’s oversight board, Defense One's resident Navy expert, Brad Peniston, flags today. The man in question, Sean Spicer, began his half-year as White House spokesman with lies about Trump’s inauguration, and followed that with numerous others, was tapped by the president on Wednesday for a three-year term on the Board of Visitors of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Why flag Spicer’s sordid history as WH press secretary? Under the Academy’s honor code, midshipmen can be ejected for telling a lie.
And finally today: we note the passing of a WWII pilot who flew more than 20 aircraft types, including the vaunted P-51 Mustang. “Mom said the P-38 was an old woman’s plane. She said anybody could fly that,” said a daughter of Dorothy Eleanor Olsen. “She said that the P-51, you had to stay on top of that.”
Olsen joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots — the WASPs — in 1942, having earned her civilian wings a few years earlier. She flew some 60 missions out of Long Beach Army Air Base, California, moving aircraft around the country as part of the 6th Ferrying Group. (Learn more about her zest for life and flying in her obituary in the Tacoma News Tribune.)
Olsen passed away on July 23, aged 103. The former WASP was laid to rest in Tacoma, Washington, and honored on Wednesday with a flyby of WWII warbirds.