Today's D Brief: Biden takes world stage; NATO boosts Iraq force; New ICE priorities; Space lasers; And a bit more.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s first big day of international exposure kicks off today with a virtual meeting of G-7 leaders, followed by another virtual appearance at the annual Munich Security Conference, which runs through the noon hour East Coast time. 

What to expect: Biden will announce a $4 billion U.S. investment in COVID-19 vaccine access to poor and developing nations, and he’ll promote the U.S. re-entry into the so-called Iran nuclear deal, White House officials told reporters Thursday. He’s also expected to elaborate somewhat on America’s security considerations when it comes to Russia, China and the war in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports in a preview. 

Quick note on the G-7’s influence: The combined GDP of the seven members — the U.S., U.K., Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Canada — adds up to about $40 trillion, which is just under half of the global economy, according to Reuters

Two more White House messages for today: 

  1. “Autocracies will never outperform democracies;” 
  2. And “restored alliances are the West’s pathway to restored influence,” the New York Times previews. 

About that Iran deal return: European Union officials are already working on a plan to get U.S. and Iranian officials in a room together in a few weeks’ time, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday evening. The State Department signaled that it’s open to the idea on Thursday; Iranian officials, however, have not been quite as publicly eager just yet. Reuters has more on this that’s not behind a paywall. 

By the way: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on Thursday. This is especially notable, Bloomberg reports, because POTUS46 has decided to “recalibrate” the Washington-Riyadh relationship — emphasizing the president’s relationship with Saudi King Salman instead of his son MBS, whom Bloomberg calls “the country’s de facto ruler.” 

What Austin said to MBS, according to the Pentagon’s readout

  • The U.S. is committed “to assisting Saudi Arabia in the defense of its borders” against rocket and drone attacks from the Iran-backed Houthis who control the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a; 
  • The U.S. wants a political settlement to end to the Saudi-led war in Yemen; 
  • And Austin said the U.S. remains committed to fighting extremism and “countering Iran’s destabilizing activities” in the region. 

One more thing: It’s been now 30 days since Biden took office. And that means as of today, the U.S. has officially rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, which was one of Biden’s campaign promises. 

ICYMI, via NPR in January: “The U.S. is the second-largest producer of carbon emissions, behind China, and has contributed more to global climate change over time than any other country.”

Why does climate change matter to U.S. national security? Answer here. Read more from Defense One’s climate coverage and reporting here.

From Defense One

Antitrust Regulators Extend Review of Lockheed’s Proposed Purchase of Aerojet Rocketdyne // Marcus Weisgerber: The announcement comes the day after Raytheon’s CEO said his firm would challenge the deal.

Space Lasers Will Revolutionize Military Communications, If They Work // Patrick Tucker: The Pentagon has ambitious plans to launch hundreds of communications satellites in the years ahead. But getting them to talk to one another isn’t easy.

China’s Military-Civil Fusion Strategy: What to Expect in the Next Five Years // Peter W. Singer and Alex Stone: Even as the term has all but disappeared from official documents, its tenets are being strengthened and extended.

How to Teach Troops about the Constitution // Paula Thornhill: We can’t assume they know enough about what they’re swearing to support and defend.

The U.S. Puts Its Greatest Vulnerability on Display // Kori Schake, The Atlantic: Runaway partisanship endangers the United States more than foreign enemies do.

Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson and 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

NATO announced an eight-fold increase in its Iraq-based training forces on Thursday, raising the total from 500 to about 4,000 — as Reuters previewed on Monday. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg delivered the news on the second day of the alliance’s defense ministerial. What’s more, NATO “training activities will now include more Iraqi security institutions, and areas beyond Baghdad,” Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg was cautious when it comes to Afghanistan’s future, and the role the alliance might play in it as the U.S. continues its push for some sort of peaceful settlement despite ongoing violence from the Taliban. "All sides must seize this historic opportunity for a peaceful settlement," Stoltenberg said. As well, "The Taliban must negotiate in good faith, reduce the high level of violence and live up to their commitment to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups."
The next big date in U.S.-Taliban relations is May 1, which is when the U.S. was supposed to withdraw all its troops from the country, according to the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban signed late last February in Qatar. “At this stage, we have made no final decision on the future of our presence,” Stoltenberg said Thursday. “But, as the May 1 deadline is approaching, NATO Allies will continue to closely consult and coordinate in the coming weeks,” he said. 

Persian Gulf militaries, by the numbers. Here’s a (just-a-bit-blurry) chart showing the military endstrength and major weapons of seven Gulf countries, produced by Defense News from the new edition of IISS’s Military Balance.

Back stateside, the Biden administration just temporarily limited ICE arrests and deportations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are to focus on “national security threats” rather than garden-variety undocumented people, says a 7-page memo that sets enforcement priorities for the next 90 days while long-term policy is worked out. NPR has more, here.
That longer-term policy may be affected by a new immigration bill introduced by Senate Democrats but largely opposed by Republicans, Politico reports.

U.S. life expectancy dropped one year in the first six months of 2020, the CDC reported on Thursday. Largely due to COVID, it was the biggest drop since World War II, the New York Times reported: “Life expectancy is the most basic measure of the health of a population, and the stark decline over such a short period is highly unusual and a signal of deep distress. The drop comes after a troubling series of smaller declines driven largely by a surge in drug overdose deaths. A fragile recovery over the past two years has now been wiped out.” Read on, here.

Congrats to former SecDef Mark Esper, who announced Thursday that he’s joining the Modern War Institute at West Point as Distinguished Chair.  “Looking forward to teaching, mentoring Cadets and Faculty, and working to ensure the success of the U.S. Army, the joint force, and the security of our nation, alongside our allies and partners,” Esper tweeted

And finally, some useful weekend reading: We read two in-depth, data-packed and complimentary commentaries about fighting disinformation published by the New York Times on Wednesday and Thursday. The first of the two relates to POTUS46’s messaging about democracy today, and injects a bit of “techno-pessimism” into the debate; and the second has a few counterintuitive suggestions to improve our critical-thinking and reading skills.
One big goal researchers recommend in that second op-ed: “to instill a reflex [among citizens of the world] that asks if something is worth one’s time and attention and to turn away if not.” 

Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll see you again on Monday!