Today's D Brief: America, back?; ICBMs, mapped; Island-hopping F-35s; Border troops; And a bit more.
“America is back,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced back when then-President-elect Biden nominated her as America’s next ambassador to the United Nations. The 35-year Foreign Service veteran was confirmed for that UN ambassador job Tuesday on a 78-20 vote in the Senate. And her selection is just in time, the New York Times reports, since “the United States is about to assume the presidency of the 15-member Security Council, the organization’s most powerful body, [beginning March 1], under a rotating system. In that role, she will run the council’s meetings and announce its decisions.”
What lies ahead: Politico reports “Thomas-Greenfield will confront twin crises — climate change and Covid-19 — and a string of conflicts ranging from a 20-year war in Afghanistan to a 10-year civil war in Syria, from a humanitarian crisis in Yemen to the politically fraught Iran nuclear deal.”
Counterpoint: “America Is Not ‘Back.’ And Americans Should Not Want It to Be,” Columbia University historian Stephen Wertheim writes in a New York Times commentary. One big pillar on which his argument rests: “America’s version of ‘liberal internationalism’ — code for global military dominance exercised on behalf of liberal values — remains the primary source of decades of foreign policy disaster. Unless Mr. Biden challenges the very premise, he will repeat the same mistakes, now in a more competitive world.”
Next steps? “In May, [Biden] can become the president who ends America’s war in Afghanistan, honoring the United States’ agreement to withdraw,” Wertheim writes. “From there, he should wind down the war on terror, build peace with North Korea rather than naïvely trying to denuclearize it and tell the Pentagon that ‘great power competition’ will not be the organizing principle of relations with China and Russia. Only then can he make good on his commitment to orchestrate cooperation against the world’s foremost threats, such as pandemic disease and climate change, and invest in the American people where they live and work.” More here.
Speaking of great power competition, Army War College prof C. Anthony Pfaff argues that it’s a dangerously simple frame that fails to take account of the many ways countries actually interact. Read that, here.
One forecast: “A reckoning is near.” USA Today’s World Affairs Correspondent Kim Hjelmgaard warns a reduction in the U.S. military’s global footprint is long overdue. “America has a vast overseas military empire,” he writes. “Does it still need it?” Read, here.
ICYMI: The U.S. conducted counterterrorism operations in 85 countries over the past two years, according to data compiled by researcher Stephanie Savell for the Costs of War project at Brown University’s Watson Institute. The total includes eight countries where troops engaged in combat, seven struck by drones or other air strikes, 41 in which U.S. servicemembers participated in counterterror exercises, and 79 to which the U.S. provided some assistance or training for counterterror operations. More via USA Today, here.
From Defense One
Troubled KC-46 Refueling Tankers Cleared for Limited Ops, Air Force Says // Marcus Weisgerber: The decision will free up older tankers needed overseas. But the KC-46 still can gas up only some warplanes and needs more testing and new technology.
Island-Hopping F-35s Test Pacific Air Forces’ Agility Concept // Patrick Tucker: A pair of jets flew two missions from different airfields on the same day in a bid to complicate Chinese targeting.
Coalition Plans To Expand Giant ISIS Prison In Syria // Katie Bo Williams: The UK-funded effort signals no answer in sight to the thousands of foreign and Syrian detainees.
CIA Nominee Vows To Probe Mysterious Microwave Attacks // Katie Bo Williams: Longtime diplomat Bill Burns sailed through his confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Should the Pentagon Reform Its Bid-Protest Rules? // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: Microsoft's president told senators yes, but bid protests hit a 10-year low last year.
‘Great Power Competition’ Is a Dangerously Simple Frame // C. Anthony Pfaff: To correctly set force posture, the Pentagon needs to look more deeply at the world’s actors, their preferences, and relationships.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson 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 in 1939, the British began building air-raid shelters to protect citizens against the Nazi German Luftwaffe. More than three and a half million of these Anderson shelters were assembled between late February and September 1939, when the Second World War began.
Saudi Crown Prince MBS is under the spotlight today as U.S. officials are expected to release a public version of an intelligence report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “The officials said the report, for which the CIA was the main contributor, assessed that the crown prince approved and likely ordered the murder of Khashoggi, whose Washington Post column had criticized the crown prince’s policies,” Reuters reports in a preview.
DHS wants U.S. troops on the Mexican border for at least three more years, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday in a 90-page review (PDF) on “Southwest Border Security” that was completed early this month.
About those already on the border, “The ongoing mission is approved through Sept. 30, which is the end of fiscal year 2021, with about 3,600 troops now serving in support of Border Patrol,” Stars and Stripes reports.
Related: More than 700 migrant children “were in Border Patrol custody as of Sunday,” Axios reported Wednesday. More here.
State Secretary Anthony Blinken will meet virtually with his Mexican counterpart on Friday. Their focus: “the root causes of Central American immigration, opportunities for economic growth and job creation with a new regional trade deal, and the ongoing effects of the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Reuters.
Ever wonder where United States ICBM silos and launch control centers are located? Now you can find the answers in one place thanks to the nuke-focused work of researchers at the Federation of American Scientists.
Why gather this information? The Defense Department is planning on replacing 400 of those ICBMs spread across Colorado, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Wyoming. It’s also planning “upgrades to the launch facilities, launch control centers, and other supporting infrastructure” to help keep ICBMs around until 2075. The entire effort is expected to cost “approximately $100 billion (in Then Year dollars) in acquisition fees and $264 billion (in Then Year dollars) throughout its life-cycle,” according to FAS.
A word on planning projects out to dates like 2075: “Imagine a 1921 chart projecting 1950,” New America’s Peter Singer tweeted in early February after eyeing a chart from this century aiming to do basically the same thing Peter mentioned. The very concept of a nuclear chain reaction, he writes, “didn’t come until 1938, let alone actually doing it.”
One more thing (a few, actually): Head over to the U.S. Army’s “Mad Scientist” podcast to review some of the dominant tech trends that futurists are eyeing for the U.S. and its military over the next 10 to 20 years. A few highlights include:
- A reminder that the “United States is now energy independent, which could incentivize a shift away from intervention in the Middle East”;
- “Geothermal energy [is expected to] have the biggest impact on economic development”;
- “High resolution earth sensing technology could soon enable a ‘live Google Earth,’ in which viewers could watch scenarios unfold in real time (e.g., Uyghur camps), impacting social movements.” Read (or listen) to the rest here.
Recent satellite imagery reveals Vietnam is upgrading its Spratly Islands outpost defenses, adding coastal defense, anti-air, and deterrence capabilities, the Center for Strategic and International Studies reported last Friday.
And finally today: This robot uprising sucks. Thousands of automated Roomba vacuum cleaners have been acting “drunk” after the latest software update from parent company iRobot, The Verge reported Wednesday. “One user described their robot cleaner as acting “drunk” after the update: spinning itself around and bumping into furniture, cleaning in strange patterns, getting stuck in an empty area, and not being able to make it home to the dock.”
See for yourself. Here’s one example of the disk-shaped bot fumbling uselessly around a fireplace.