Today's D Brief: Milley on inequality; Space Guardsmen?; What Kabul wants; Defense CEO pay; And a bit more.

CJCS Milley: Dedication to equality is “why I wear the uniform.” That’s the message today from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley who spoke to 21 graduating ROTC cadets at Howard University Wednesday morning. 

As he commissioned some of the military’s newest officers, Milley noted the deep institutional change underway at the Pentagon to address inequality in its ranks, and told the cadets they are a key part of that change, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports. 

“It is your generation that can and will bring the joint force to be truly inclusive of all peoples” by swearing an oath to an idea that unifies the country, Milley said. “What matters is that in this country, in these United States, under these colors of red, white and blue, each and every one of us is born free and equal...And that must always be our North Star, and our goal to form a more perfect union. That is why I wear the uniform. That is why you are wearing the uniform. That is why you are taking an oath, and that is why you will fight.”

From Defense One

Proposed Space National Guard Gathers Momentum // Jacqueline Feldscher: A space-focused branch of the Guard would aim to give the Space Force “a surge-to-war capability” in times of conflict.

Innovation, Software Highlighted as Priorities by Pentagon's No. 2 Civilian // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: Kathleen Hicks also suggested DOD still needs the cloud capabilities JEDI is supposed to provide.

America Can Beat China in Space with Safe Nuclear Propulsion // Gregory Pejic: A reactor that heats up and expels non-radioactive gas promises unprecedented mobility in orbit.

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief from Tara Copp, Ben Watson and Bradley Peniston. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1987, the so-called “Iran-Contra” hearings began airing on TV for U.S. audiences. 

What Kabul wants from the Taliban. When it comes to Afghanistan’s future, President Ashraf Ghani says the Taliban “must articulate their desired end state with clarity and detail.” In the wider scheme of things — the future of an entire country — it’s a simple ask. But the Taliban have so far refused to say all that much, at least publicly.
For example, the group demands “an Islamic system.” But, President Ghani writes in Foreign Affairs this week, “that already exists in Afghanistan.” And at any rate, “The constitution makes clear that, except for the Islamic character of the state and the fundamental rights of citizens, all else is subject to amendment, and there are mechanisms in place to enact those changes.”
Ghani’s goals include:

  • Locating “a credible and neutral mediator” for talks with the Taliban; Ghani said the United Nations is the “best-placed organization for this role”;
  • Arriving at “a comprehensive restore credibility and faith in the peacemaking process”;
  • A “transitional administration” should be formed, Ghani writes; that “would have a short tenure, and it would end as soon as presidential, parliamentary, and local elections determined the country’s new leadership.”

Afghanistan’s president also wants clarity on “whether and how the Taliban would end their relationship with Pakistan” (a point he returns to at the end of his essay), and how the Taliban plan to counter al-Qaeda and ISIS inside Afghanistan’s borders. There’s also the messy business of “integrating members of the Taliban in all levels of government, the military, and society,” as well as finding ways to help “those who have lost loved ones, property, and livelihoods during the past two decades of war.”
Should the Taliban choose to keep fighting even after all of this, Ghani warns, “Over the last two years, more than 90 percent of Afghan military operations have been conducted entirely by Afghan security forces.” Taking such a path, the president forecasts, will lead to “a major confrontation over the spring and summer months” before both parties are back once again to where they are today. If the past is prologue, Ghani writes, “the Taliban will continue to show no earnest interest in making a political deal and will instead opt for continued military aggression. If that is what happens, the Afghan government and the security forces are ready.” Continue reading at Foreign Affairs, here.

U.S. State Secretary Antony Blinken pivots from London to Kyiv today, after putting a bow on his three-day trip to the UK for a G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting — the first face-to-face meeting of G7 officials in two years. Myanmar, Syria, Libya, climate change and human rights dominated the agenda, according to the BBC.
Blinken also discussed Afghanistan, China and Iran with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Read on at the BBC, here.
About the Ukraine stop: Blinken is bringing along Victoria Nuland, a “Russia hawk” and veteran of POTUS44’s State Department, the Associated Press reminds us in a preview of the Kyiv leg of Blinken’s travels this week. Nuland is now “undersecretary of state for political affairs, where she’ll enjoy considerable influence in policy decisions about Europe and elsewhere,” AP writes. Read on, here.

Back stateside, a National Guard soldier became the fourth service member to face charges from the Jan. 6 failed insurrection, the Washington Post’s Alex Horton reported Tuesday. “A Virginia National Guard soldier who was also a civilian police officer and two Army Reserve soldiers have also been charged.”
Bigger picture: “At least 41 military veterans have been federally charged in the riot, and “About 400 people overall have been charged by federal prosecutors,” Horton writes. Read on here.

The U.S. Air Force chose to abort an ICBM test from California’s coast today, the service’s Global Strike Command announced in a statement. “The cause of the ground abort is currently under investigation,” and a new date for today’s test will be announced later.
Worth noting: “Interesting timing for this as Congress debates whether to fund [the Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent], the Minuteman III replacement,” Defense One’sMarcus Weisgerbersays.
ICYMI, here are two recent commentaries on the need for a new ICBM:

  • We Don’t Have Enough Information to Evaluate Arguments for a New ICBM by Ankit Panda: “The Biden administration should follow precedent and commission an independent look at the case for the Ground Based Strategic Defense program.”
  • No ICBMs? Big Problems by Matthew Costlow: “We must dispel the unfounded fears of false alarms, place the cost in context, and seriously consider the unpleasant consequences of eliminating ICBMs from the U.S. nuclear force.”

One more thing: STRATCOM’s Adm. Charles Richard will keynote an event today hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Project on Nuclear Issues Capstone Conference. Details here.

Top U.S. Army officials are testifying today before House appropriators on the service’s 2022 budget request. That gets started at noon ET. Catch the livestream here.
What is the best response to a ransomware case? Four cybersecurity professionals will speak with lawmakers with the House Homeland Security Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, & Innovation Subcommittee. That’s slated for 2:30 p.m. ET. More here.
Can international rules be enforced in space? That’s under consideration at 3 p.m. ET before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Armed Services' Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. Pentagon, State Department and Space Force officials are testifying there this afternoon. Details here.

And finally today: The CEOs for America’s top five defense contractors were compensated more than a billion dollars from 2017 to 2020, according to a new analysis (PDF) by the Center for International Policy think tank in Washington, D.C. Those companies are Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing and Northrop Grumman.
Why this matters: “The top five firms receive a substantial portion of their revenues from taxpayer dollars, in the form of Pentagon contracts, meaning that a portion of the salaries they pay their executives are subsidized by taxpayers,” CIP’s Bill Hartung writes. He continues, “While modest relative to the size of the Pentagon budget as a whole, executive compensation at the top contractors would go a long way if invested in other activities,” which could include investments “in green energy, infrastructure, health care, or education.” Read more from CIP’s four-page analysis, here.