Today's D Brief: B-52s near Iran; Biden, Putin talk; Smarter small drone; Lone wolves; And a bit more.
U.S. B-52s just flew near Iran for the sixth time since late November, and for the first time since President Joe Biden took office one week ago, Defense One’s Katie Bo Williams reports from Qatar.
The two B-52s left from the 2nd Bomb Wing's home at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, flew across Jordan and Saudi Arabia, then dipped into the Persian Gulf itself near Qatar before returning home. They were joined at various points by Jordanian and Saudi fighter jets, as well as U.S. fighters from the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz.
The timing of the mission wasn’t linked to any particular incident or threat, a U.S. defense official told Williams; but it “was determined based on the value of deterrence after inauguration.” These kinds of missions are pre-planned weeks in advance, Williams reports; but this one “comes amid a series of back-to-back explosions in Riyadh, at least one of which appears to have been an intercepted attack on the Saudi palace.”
Big picture: So far, military officials believe they have deterred Iran and its proxies from launching any serious attacks on U.S. forces or its interests in the region, Williams writes. “Our assessment right now is Iran is probably not going to do anything to provoke the United States right now,” the official said. “They seem to be biding their time, waiting to see what the new administration’s policy is toward them.”
Now what? The military has more of these bomber missions planned later in the spring, a military official said, although none will take place in the “next several weeks.” Continue reading here.
From Defense One
Biden Calls Putin ‘To Make Clear’ Where US Stands // Kevin Baron: In a marked change, the president read off a list of grievances — and discussed the potential for additional nuclear arms controls.
2021 Is the Year the Small Drone Arms Race Heats Up // Patrick Tucker: The cat-and-mouse of drone defense and offense is entering a new phase.
Raytheon Expects Biden to Block $500M Bomb Sale to Saudi Arabia // Marcus Weisgerber: Yet industry executives believe foreign arms sales will remain a priority of the new administration.
How Biden Can Reduce the Danger of Nuclear War // George Perkovich: The world needs more sanity and justice. Here are four steps to help avoid destroying the world.
Regulate Social-Media Companies // Elsa B. Kania and Divya Ramjee: They have proven unwilling to change algorithms and data-collection policies that stoke extremism and undermine national security.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and Katie Bo Williams, with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day 76 years ago, Nazi Germany’s Auschwitz death camp was liberated by Soviet troops. “The Nazis and their allies murdered around 6 million Jews, as well as others, in German-occupied Europe,” Reuters remembers today. “More than a million people, most of them Jews, were killed at Auschwitz in southern Poland...the vast majority were gassed to death.” Read more about this Holocaust Remembrance Day, here.
Biden-Putin call. On his sixth day in office, President Biden called Russia’s Vladimir Putin and read a long list of policy grievances with Moscow, from Ukraine’s sovereignty to American election security — and “to make clear” that the United States will act to defend itself and its allies against “malign actions by Russia,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday.
Why this matters: “The call marked a sea change from four years of Donald Trump’s personal acquiescence to and defense of Putin,” Defense One’s Kevin Baron writes. “How Biden’s relationship and policies toward Putin will actually differ from Trump’s is among the most hotly anticipated questions in U.S. foreign policy.”
Most notably, “The two presidents agreed to have their teams work urgently to complete a five-year extension of the New START nuclear weapons treaty that expires next month,” the BBC reports.
According to the White House, “Biden reaffirmed the United States’ firm support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. He also raised other matters of concern, including the SolarWinds hack, reports of Russia placing bounties on United States soldiers in Afghanistan, interference in the 2020 United States election, and the poisoning of Aleksey Navalny,” it said.
FWIW: Here’s the White House’s readout of the call; and here’s the Kremlin’s. The key difference between the two? Russia did not mention its protests at home or the name of opposition leader Navalny. Indeed, the BBC writes, “A Kremlin statement did not refer to any points of friction, saying the call was ‘businesslike and frank’.”
Extra reading: See the note Biden sent Putin officially pertaining to an extension of the New START treaty, here.
Related: The White House released a split-screen video of part of Biden’s Wednesday conversation with NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg.
Colombia’s defense minister died from COVID-19 early Tuesday, President Ivan Duque said shortly afterward. Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo was 69 when he passed away while in intensive care at a military hospital in Bogota, just 14 months after taking the job. He first fell ill on Jan. 11 during a visit to the northern seaport city of Barranquilla.
By the way: “Vaccination still hasn’t begun in Colombia, which has a population of about 50 million people and is the largest country in Latin America so far without the life-saving shots,” NBC News reports.
Back stateside, Americans should be able to use Google Maps to find COVID-19 vaccination locations soon, CNN reported Tuesday. “The feature is rolling out in the coming weeks, beginning in four states: Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.”
Review “U.S. Arms Sales to the United Arab Emirates and the U.S.-UAE Military Alliance” via a new report (PDF) from the Center for International Policy’s Arms and Security Program. It follows on the heels of former President Trump’s November announcement that the U.S. will sell over $23 billion worth of weapons — F-35s and armed drones, e.g. — to the UAE. The Emirates, you may recall, have recently played significant (and not terribly successful) roles in Yemen and Libya, and its special operations have partnered with the U.S. for many years, including with one of your D Brief-ers in eastern Afghanistan exactly 10 years ago.
The view from CIP’s Bill Hartung: President Biden “can and should reverse the deal… as part of a review of the entire U.S.-UAE alliance in light of the urgent need to revise U.S. strategic objectives in the Middle East as a whole.” Dive in, here.
U.S. Army relaxes rules for ponytails, nail color. The changes, which take effect next month, follow former Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s July 2020 order to review military hairstyle and grooming policies. According to AP, “The review was part of a broader order to expand diversity within the military and reduce prejudice, in the wake of widespread protests about racial inequality last summer.”
Learn why the “lone wolf” approach has worked so well for American white supremacists over the past several decades in this #LongRead from the New York Times, published Tuesday. The reporting follows the story of influential white supremacist Louis Beam and, at least in part, the way he used the internet very early to spread his message of hate and division.
Cutting to the quick, Laura Smith writes for the Times, “For the past 40 years, there have been dueling narratives about white supremacists in the U.S.: dangerous or farcical. They are alternately seen as a hillbilly fringe with outsize ambitions for political revolution, and a savvy movement demanding constant vigilance. While the media, nonprofits and law enforcement have juggled these two ideas, white-power organizers have been busy connecting, recruiting and working at the digital grindstone — speaking to and expanding their base for decades.” Read on, here.
And finally: Join us online this afternoon at 1 p.m. ET for a look at how artificial intelligence, machine learning, 3D printing and financial uncertainty could alter the race to dominate space in the years ahead. Defense One Tech Editor Patrick Tucker moderates a panel discussion with officials from NASA, the Space Force, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and more. Details and registration here.