Turkey’s Article 5 reversal; Russia’s disinfo in Lithuania; NATO spending ideas; Iran-Russia-China plan naval wargames; And a bit more.

In a sudden reversal, Turkey is now ok with NATO’s Baltic defense plan. That’s the word from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said today in London that Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan has dropped his threat of refusing to support an alliance-wide plan to defend the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland from possible invasion by Russia. It was an unusual threat from a NATO ally, and alliance officials made it public last week in remarks to Reuters

What Erdogan wanted in return for supporting Baltic defense: For fellow NATO nations to recognize the Kurdish YPG in Syria — which is a U.S.- and coalition-backed militia fighting ISIS — as a terrorist group, and to do it in some sort of formal document. 

What Turkey got: Unclear just yet. But U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked Tuesday if he would support, as Reuters writes, “branding the YPG as terrorists in order to break the deadlock.” Esper replied, “I wouldn’t support that. We’re going to stick to our positions, and I think NATO will as well.”

U.S. President Donald Trump spoke to Erdogan today in an unannounced meeting that lasted about 30 minutes, according to Erdogan’s office, which released photos before the White House shared any details with the press. According to the Whitie House, the two men “discussed the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments, further strengthening commerce through boosting bilateral trade by $100 billion, regional security challenges, and energy security.” A bit more from Politico, here.

By the way: “We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days,” Trump tweeted this morning. (Politico called it an abrupt cancellation “after tense exchanges with world leaders.” More on those tensions in the bullets below.)

So what’s the alliance’s message to the world on its 70th anniversary? “NATO guarantees the security of our territory and our one billion citizens, our freedom, and the values we share, including democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law,” according to the alliance’s London Declaration, which was released today. 

The rest of the nine-point document reaffirms Article 5, the two-percent defense investment guidelines, references "Russia’s aggressive actions," cyber and hybrid threats, "irregular migration," challenges to the rules-based international order, "the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty," commitment to keeping in place NATO's Open Door policy, 5G security, and "China’s growing influence and international policies."

Here are some of today’s headlines summarizing developments in London: 

  • Long focused on Russia, NATO widens gaze toward China (Reuters)
  • Trump says Huawei is a security risk as NATO seeks secure 5G (Reuters)
  • Trump threatens to punish Germany over military spending (Politico)
  • NATO leaders appear to gossip about Trump in unguarded chat (AP)
  • Trump calls Trudeau ‘two-faced’ after video emerges of world leaders apparently mocking the president (Washington Post)
  • Europe Turns the Tables on Trump, and He Doesn’t Like It (New York Times)
  • Trump reveals that next G-7 summit will be at Camp David (Politico)
  • Split-screen moment for Trump at NATO amid impeachment probe (AP)

From Defense One

Russian Trolls Are Hammering Away at NATO’s Presence in Lithuania // Patrick Tucker: A broad disinformation campaign of fake news and other tricks aims to turn the Baltic nation’s public against the alliance.

NATO Should Count Spending on Secure 5G Towards Its 2% Goals // Lindsay Gorman: Getting 5G right is key to the alliance’s very future.

NATO’s Newest Threat Is Coming From Inside the House / Kevin Baron: Worry less about the gaps between NATO leaders, and more about the gap between those leaders and the national security community.

Three Tweaks to Foster Innovative Defense Products / Jeff Decker: Even the Pentagon can’t lavish billionaire-level cash on every promising tech startup — but it can make several moves that help.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1941, the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Herald published secret U.S. plans to invade Europe and defeat Hitler in 1943.

Pentagon officials say Iran may soon attack U.S. forces in the Middle East. That’s according to CNN’s Barbara Starr, who tweeted around 6 p.m. on Tuesday: “There is fresh intelligence in last month of a potential Iranian threat against US forces and interests in the Middle East according to several US defense and administration officials speaking to CNN.” 
Where this comes from: Alleged “evidence Iran has moved forces and weapons,” though there was “no indication at this time Iran regime has made any decision to attack” U.S. forces. 
The Pentagon’s No. 3 official, John Rood, is saying that today, too, according to Reuters, which notes Rood “did not provide details about what information he was basing that concern on or any timeline.”

Syrians say U.S. raid on Baghdadi also killed civilians. NPR: “A Syrian farmer says his arm was blown off and his two friends were killed by U.S. helicopter fire in the village where American special forces were attacking the compound of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October. His account is supported by analysis of photos of shrapnel and of a damaged van.”
That belies a Pentagon statement that said special forces “protected all of the non-combatants” during the Oct. 26 raid.
The U.S. military will review the incident, a defense official told NPR. Read on, here.

North Korea’s leader hopped on a horse again, so the images are making their way across the interwebs quickly. AP puts them in context, here.

Iran, Russia and China finally announced joint naval exercises, according to Russia’s state-run TASS. The drills are expected to begin Dec. 22 and run through January 20. Writes the Washington Post’s Liz Sly, who flagged the announcement on Twitter: “It's been long promised; now there's a date. A potential challenge to the U.S. & a big boost for Iran.”

Anyone interested in “a real spy story”? Bellingcat’s Eliot Higgins this week flagged a new report from his fellow open-source sleuths all about how “Russia recruited a hitman who murdered a Russian businessman in 2013, gave him a new identity, and then he was arrested in 2019 in Berlin for the  murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili.” 
Khangoshvili “had previously fought alongside anti-Moscow separatists in Chechnya,” Reuters reports today. Khangoshvili “was shot twice in the head in a central Berlin park in August as he was heading to a mosque.”
Russia’s reax: “This is absolutely groundless speculation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said today. 
By the way: Germany just booted two Russian diplomats out of the country on allegations Russia is refusing to cooperate in the Khangoshvili investigation. More from Reuters, here

ICYMI: A former Green Beret is running against a former SEAL in Virginia to unseat a former CIA agent in the House. AP has the story, here.

Former Marine officer, Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty Tuesday “to one count of conspiracy in a case surrounding his alleged misuse of $250,000 in campaign donations for personal expenses such as family vacations and oral surgeries,” ABC News reported after months of denials from the California Republican. 
Hunter said he pleaded guilty for his children. “I think it’d be really tough for them,” he said. “It’s hard enough being the kids of a public figure, and I think it’s time for them to live life outside the spotlight.” Story, here.

Do you want to end America’s “endless wars”? So does George Soros and Charles Koch. Politico’s Brian Bender explains why a new think tank called the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft is opening today in Washington, here

Lastly today in NCAA football, No. 25 Air Force is ranked for the first time since 2010. With Navy at No. 23, there are two service academies ranked at the same time for the first time since Oct. 14, 1985.