Europe is focused on Russia. U.S. Defense Secretary Esper? Less so. “China was not on the formal agenda when [U.S. Defense Secretary Mark] Esper met with allies at NATO headquarters Wednesday and Thursday, but he made a point of publicly expressing American concerns,” the Associated Press’s Robert Burns reported Thursday from Brussels.
SecDef Esper bounced from Brussels yesterday and over to Munich today to conclude about a half week of talks with European allies. Esper’s apparent focus on China over Russia falls in line with very recent remarks from the president’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, earlier this week in Washington; as well as the message from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
As for European allies at NATO this week, “competition with Russia was high on the agenda, including talks aimed at fashioning a NATO response to Moscow’s deployment of nuclear-capable cruise missiles within reach of many allied countries,” Burns writes.
Worth noting: NATO is currently carrying out an exercise called Defender Europe 20, which is " the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe in 25 years." And for what it’s worth, “in the 2021 budget presented to Congress this week, the Pentagon proposed cutting spending on its European Deterrence Initiative, meant to demonstrate U.S. resolve, to $4.5 billion from this year’s $6 billion.” More here.
One more thing about U.S. efforts in Europe: “The Pentagon’s new ground-based missile defense system being built in Poland is now running as much as four years behind schedule,” Bloomberg reported Wednesday.
Esper defended President Trump’s $3.8 billion border wall reprogramming plans inside the latest White House budget proposal, CNN reports from Munich. "I'd say this much: border security is national security and national security is our mission. I think many NATO allies understand that as well. The action we took is legal under the law. I think that should be no surprise and I'll just leave it at that for now," Esper said in Germany.
ICYMI on Thursday, House Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas criticized those plans to divert $3.8B from military to border wall. The Dallas News has the story of their rep, here. Or you can read Thornberry’s statement, here.
From Defense One
Trump Targets Major Weapons Projects To Fund Wall // Marcus Weisgerber and Katie Bo Williams: The funds will be drawn mainly from procurement for major programs like the F-35 fighter jet. $1.3 billion will come from the National Guard alone.
Judge Puts Pentagon's Giant JEDI Cloud Contract On Hold // Patrick Tucker: The up-to-$10 billion cloud contract is enjoined until “further notice from the court” while Amazon pursues a lawsuit.
The US Should Accept Russia’s Proposed Moratorium on Post-INF Missiles / RAND’s Luke Griffith: The temporary measure has no near-term downside — and may jumpstart important arms-control talks.Global Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Budget highlights; $23B for Intel; Export deals get OK, and more…
Trump's Former Chief of Staff, John Kelly, Finally Lets Loose // Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic: The retired Marine general explained, in the clearest terms yet, his misgivings about Trump’s behavior regarding North Korea, immigration, and Ukraine.
Executive Order on GPS and Precision Timing Is All Carrot, No Stick // Mariam Baksh, Nextgov: A leading PNT advocacy and educational organization says that’s not going to be enough.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1849, James Polk became the first U.S. President to have his photograph taken while in office, which was an experience he wasn’t terribly happy about, as he recounted in his journal 171 years ago today.
“The largest humanitarian crisis of the country's nine-year civil war.” That’s how the New York Times describes what’s happening today in northwestern Syria. Over 140,000 Syrians have been displaced in the last three days alone by violence in the country’s northwest, bringing the total of those uprooted in a Syrian government offensive against the last opposition stronghold to over 800,000. AP has a bit more, here.
Turkey-backed rebels shot down a second regime helicopter in a week. Turkish and Syrian officials said a surface-to-air missile hit the aircraft west of Aleppo in Syria’s northwestern Idlib region, “where violence and displacement has spiked in recent weeks,” Reuters reports. “Turkey’s military has sent additional arms and troops to Idlib, on its southern border, to confront a push by Russia-backed Syrian government forces to retake the country’s last major rebel stronghold after nearly nine years of war.”
Why Syria’s M5 is Assad’s highway to victory. AP: “The Damascus-Aleppo highway, or the M5, is known to Syrians simply as the ‘International Road.’ Cutting through Syria’s major cities, the motorway is key to who controls the country.” Government forces recently recaptured the last rebel-held portion, giving them total control for the first time since 2012. Read on, here.
U.S. warship seizes missiles from boat off Yemen. The crew of the U.S. Navy’s guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) “seized an illicit shipment of advanced weapons and weapon components… aboard a stateless dhow” on Feb. 9, the Navy’s Fifth Fleet announced Thursday.
Missiles: “The weapons seized include 150 ‘Dehlavieh’ anti-tank guided missiles, which are Iranian-manufactured copies of Russian Kornet ATGMs,” the Navy said in a Thursday statement. “Other weapons components seized aboard the dhow were of Iranian design and manufacture and included three Iranian surface-to-air missiles.” Reuters has a bit more about previous similar seizures, here.
Photos, via DVIDS, here.
Learn more: “The UN Exposes Houthi Reliance on Iranian Weapons” is a recent report from the Washington Institute.
Dive deeper on all this weapons analysis with ISIS’ Joseph Dempsey, who threaded his thoughts on a lot of the photographed weaponry over on Twitter, here.
Ruskies in Chiefs country. Russian propaganda is broadcasting on three Kansas City-area radio stations during prime drive time. “Peter Schartel, the owner of Alpine Broadcasting Corporation of Liberty, Mo., the company airing Sputnik in Kansas City, said that he started the broadcasts on Jan. 1 both because he liked what he heard during a trial run last fall and because he was getting paid,” the New York Times reports.
There’s a gold rush under way in northern Mali, and extremists know it, AP reports from the city of Kidal. The short read: “A coalition of armed Tuareg rebels known as the CMA controls the Kidal region and its leaders oversee the gold-panning activities. Some CMA members are believed to have close ties to the local al-Qaida affiliate known as JNIM. It is considered the most active of the extremist groups in the West African nation where deadly attacks against the military and communities have soared.” More here.
By the way: The U.S. military just formally downgraded its fight against extremists in West Africa from a project of “degrading” groups to merely “containing” them. AP has that story, here.
To that end, SecDef Esper said Thursday, “I'm not looking to put more troops in [West Africa]. The French are,” he said to reporters in Brussels. “They are asking for the European partners to provide more help. I've encouraged the European partners to provide more as well.”From the region: “Nigeria’s military burned down villages and forcibly displaced hundreds of people in its fight against Islamist insurgents in the country’s northeast,” Reuters reports today off an investigation by the human rights group Amnesty International.
One more from the region: SecState Pompeo travels to Africa for stops throughout the weekend in Senegal, Angola and Ethiopia. AP reminds us that “Pompeo last year said the Sahel should be the next focus of the global coalition against IS outside the group’s core region.” Read on, here.
Remember that U.S.-Philippines defense pact Manila said it wanted to end this week? The U.S. military’s chief of Indo-Pacific Command “hopes” the deal can still be saved, AP reported Thursday from Australia.
In case you missed it, “The Philippines notified the United States on Tuesday it would end the agreement, in the most serious threat under President Rodrigo Duterte to their 69-year bilateral treaty alliance,” AP writes.
Back stateside, “President Donald Trump, when asked about the Philippines’ decision, said ‘I never minded that very much, to be honest. We helped the Philippines very much.’”
Said Indo-PACOM's Adm. Philip S. Davidson on Thursday: “It’s a 180-day notice, so we have some time for diplomatic efforts to be pursued here. I hope we can get to a successful outcome… if you look back, if you go back three years ago, when ISIS was overrunning the Philippines, we came in and literally single-handedly were able to save them from vicious attacks on their islands.” More here.
This week in fact checks: Trump’s State of the Union address story about a veteran’s comeback… was not quite true, AP reported Thursday. Long story short: alleged “Opportunity Zone” tax breaks played no role in the rise of Tony Rankins, who "got a standing ovation at the State of the Union after President Donald Trump described how he turned his life around thanks to a construction job at a company using the administration’s 'Opportunity Zone' tax breaks targeting poor neighborhoods."
Rankins, however, did tell AP (emphasis added) "he always considered the job that launched him on his new life two years ago to be in an Opportunity Zone and was honored to be invited by the White House to the State of the Union, with a prime seat in the balcony next to Ivanka Trump."
Don’t miss “The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President,” published late last week by McKay Coppins of The Atlantic.
Related politics reading: If elected, Michael Bloomberg could be America’s second consecutive president with authoritarian tendencies. In the case of Bloomberg, “He never hid his callous indifference to civil liberties; too many people just didn't care,” Alex Pareene wrote this week in the New Republic.
And one more ICYMI: “The Sanders Doctrine,” from Uri Friedman, also of The Atlantic, and published this week.
Q. What do you want from national security-related political coverage in 2020? Let us know by sending us an email.
And final reminder this week (for CAC holders only, tho): Feb. 24 is the deadline to submit your suggestions for Space Force ranks and whatnot. (Background here.) Send your ideas here.
For the rest of us? Toss in your submissions on Defense One’s Twitter feed, here, which has to date more than 150 replies.
And have a great Presidents’ Day weekend! We’ll see you on Tuesday.