Today’s D Brief: Climate-change pledge; Ukraine to call up reservists; 2-star court-martial; New nominees; And a bit more.

President Joe Biden today pledged the U.S. will cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, at least compared to 2005 emissions. The New York Times calls it “one of the more aggressive near-term targets among wealthy industrialized nations,” but adds that “the cuts are arguably not quite as large as what the European Union and Britain have already promised.” Compare Biden’s new pledge to that of other countries’, here.

Also: Biden’s two-day virtual climate summit begins today. Attendees from some 40 nations include Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jingping, UK’s Boris Johnson, and leaders from Brazil, India, South Korea, Japan.

Some concerning climate data that may have flown under your radar: “In areas like the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California, lake levels today are lower than occurred during the Dust Bowl,” according to notes from the White House’s Third National Climate Task Force Meeting, which met Wednesday. 

Why this matters: “[S]evere drought conditions can set the stage for worsening wildfire seasons, which in 2020 alone caused $16.6 billion in damages,” the White House says. 

  • Read more about the scope of the 2020 wildfire season from Yale University, here
  • Learn about the forecasted 2021 wildfire season via the Washington Post, here.

You may remember the National Guard saved 214 people last September in California when wildfires raged about 45 miles northeast of Fresno County. The Guard flew a Chinook to the scene and rescued campers in at least three separate trips, according to the Washington Post.

32 Air Force bases and four Army posts are vulnerable to wildfires, according to a 2019 report (PDF) on the current and anticipated effects of climate change published by the Defense Department. 

“Specific to military readiness,” the Pentagon said in that report, “droughts can have broad implications for base infrastructure, impair testing activities, and along with increased temperature, can increase the number of black flag day prohibitions for testing and training.” 

What's more, “A wildfire in November 2017 burned 380 acres on Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California," according to that DOD report. Also, “The Canyon Wildfire at Vandenberg in September 2016 burned over 10,000 acres and came very close to two Space Launch Complexes,” ultimately delaying one launch while “Several facilities on the south part of the base were operating on generators due to the loss of electrical power lines.” Review more of the U.S. military’s challenges when it comes to climate change over at our explainer podcast from 2019, here

Do you have concerns when it comes to the U.S. military and climate change? We’d love to hear them


From Defense One

How Cyber Ops Increase the Risk of Accidental Nuclear War // George Perkovich and Ariel Levite: Five factors exacerbate a U.S.-Chinese security dilemma.

$264B for ICBMs That Would Be Destroyed in the Ground? No, Thanks // Tom Z. Collina and William J. Perry: Creating a spiffy new “nuclear sponge” makes neither fiscal nor strategic sense.Why the US Military Is Leading the Charge on 5G // John Breeden II, Nextgov: It’s not unlike the way that the armed forces invested in radar technology during World War II.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1954, America’s second “Red Scare” era began coming to an end with live TV coverage of Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s hearing accusing the Army of communism. The famous line, “Have you no sense of decency?” came from those hearings, which would air until June 22, when McCarthy’s approval ratings had plummeted among the U.S. public. By December, the Senate had censured McCarthy. He died almost three years later. 


As Russia masses troops on its border, Ukraine’s president was just given a green light to “call-up of reservists for military service,” the Associated Press reported Wednesday from Kyiv. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed the new law Wednesday, nearly a month after it was approved in parliament.
Ukraine expects as many as 120,000 Russian troops to be nearby by next week, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb said Tuesday. On the same day, Zelenskyy said, “Ukraine would never start a war, but would always stand until the end.”
FWIW: Ukraine and the U.S. officials have reportedly prevented at least 350 recent Russian cyberattacks as Moscow continues to foment the stagnating war it started seven years ago. “That tally for less than three months represents a dramatic change,” according to Paul Shinkman of U.S. News and World Report, who notes that “Ukraine's Interfax news reported this month that local intelligence services interrupted 600 attacks during all of last year.”
One reason this matters: “The U.S. intelligence assistance represents one of the first indications that the Biden administration is quietly playing an active role in helping its partner Ukraine defend against Russia's provocations,” Shinkman writes. Read on, here

A two-star Air Force general is facing court martial over “three specifications of sexual assault,” the service announced Wednesday from Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. The case involves an off-duty incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, back in August 2018 involving Maj. Gen. William Cooley. The general “allegedly made unwanted sexual advances by kissing and touching a female [civilian] victim,” the Air Force says. Cooley had been in charge of the Air Force Research Laboratory, a position he held until Jan. 15 of last year. He was then moved into a role as a special assistant to his General Court-Martial Convening Authority, Gen. Arnold. W. Bunch, Jr.
One interesting requirement that could make this case logistically more challenging than others (emphasis added): “Jurors, or court members, must either be officers of higher rank, or equivalent grade but with an earlier date of rank to the accused,” the Air Force says. A bit more, here.

Several key questions about the U.S. military’s role in Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war went unanswered Wednesday at a Congressional hearing to get answers about that very war from America’s top negotiator for that conflict, Special Envoy Tim Lenderking of the State Department.
Among them: Is the U.S. still supporting Saudi Arabia’s military activities in Yemen? Is the U.S. still helping repair and equip the Saudi air force for its air war against the Houthis? (h/t WaPo’s John Hudson for flagging the lacking transparency.)

Key Pentagon nominee Colin Kahl inched closer to a new job with VP Harris’s tiebreaker vote. Kahl was tapped to be Biden’s undersecretary of defense for policy; but past tweets have drawn the firm opposition of GOP lawmakers.
Said one top Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, in a statement Wednesday: “The national security problems we face are wicked and complex; we wrestle with them constantly on this committee. What I cannot support are nominees who reduce complex national security conversations to partisan soundbites,” Inhofe said, with apparently no memory of the past four years of Trumpian delegates.
Next for Kahl: CNN reports VP Harris will “likely have to cast two more tie-breaking votes on Kahl's nomination before he is confirmed” to the gig. Continue reading over at CNN, here.
Another defense policy vet was just nominated to a Pentagon post: Ely Ratner, who was Biden’s deputy national security advisor from 2015 to 2017. He’s now been selected to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, the White House announced Wednesday.
Ratner is a well-known wonk when it comes to Pacific security issues, having worked as a China expert at the Council on Foreign Relations as well as at CNAS. And he’s already been helping Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, according to a statement the Pentagon released Wednesday. “Ely has already proven an invaluable member of our team as Director of the China Task Force,” Austin said, “and his deep knowledge of the Indo-Pacific region will prove invaluable as we begin to shape our operational concepts and strategy for dealing with threats and challenges in that part of the world. 
“There is simply no better person for the job,” Austin continued, adding, “I urge the Senate to confirm Ely as soon as possible so he can take up this important work for our nation.”

Lastly today: About 1/3 of U.S. troops have received a COVID vaccine, according to the Pentagon. That’s a lower proportion than the U.S. adult population, of whom half have received at least one dose of a vaccine, per CDC.
Until this week, DoD wasn’t offering the vaccine to service members considered to be young and healthy, acting Defense Secretary for Health Affairs Terry Adirim told reporters at the Pentagon on Wednesday. But since Monday, all troops can make an appointment to get the shot.
Vaccination rates by service, so far:

  • Navy, 53 percent;
  • Air Force, 35 percent;
  • Marine Corps, 35 percent;
  • Army, 25 percent. The Hill has a bit more, here.
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