Today's D Brief: NATO plans; Space Force wish list; Army’s cuts; Cargo rockets? And a bit more.

NATO’s chief is in D.C. today ahead of Biden’s Europe swing. And among the first things on NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s agenda today is a visit to the Pentagon at 11 a.m. ET. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will welcome Stoltenberg for a series of discussions behind closed doors. 

Context: President Joe Biden is one week away from his first overseas trip as POTUS, with an itinerary that sends him first to the UK for a three-day visit with G7 leaders in Cornwall before pivoting to Brussels for a meeting with leaders of the 30-member alliance. And after all that, he’ll fly to Switzerland for a scheduled meeting with Russia’s president, the first time the two leaders will meet in person as leaders of their two countries. 

“[R]einforcing transatlantic security in the face of challenges from Russia and China” are a few of the leading issues that will animate this afternoon’s meeting between Biden and Stoltenberg, according to the White House’s public schedule for the day.

G7 messaging preview: “Vaccinate the entire world by the end of next year.” That’s British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s reportedly ambitious goal for next week’s meeting between leaders of the Group of Seven, according to Politico.

Why this matters: “Though over 40 percent of the population in wealthy countries such as the U.K. and U.S. is fully immunized, less than 6 percent of the global population has reached that mark,” Politico’s Matthew Karnitschnig writes. “The disparity is fueling concerns the pandemic will continue to rage in many parts of the world, particularly in poorer nations.” 

Back stateside, the American South could see COVID cases rise this summer since “In 15 states — including Arkansas, the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana — about half of adults or fewer have received a [COVID vaccine] dose,” the New York Times reports. And “In two states, Alabama and Mississippi, it would take about a year to get one dose to 70 percent of the population at the current pace of distribution.”

Harris heads south. Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting Guatemala and Mexico today in her first foreign trip as VP. She’s expected to announce “new measures to fight smuggling and trafficking” as she pushes the two nations’ leaders to cooperate more on “border security and economic investment,” according to the Associated Press, which is traveling with Harris.

Worth noting: “Harris has yet to engage substantively with the leaders of Honduras and El Salvador, who are both embroiled in corruption scandals.” And of course, “Conservatives will be watching Harris closely for any missteps, hoping to drag her into further controversy on an issue that they see as a political winner.” Read more at AP, here.

From Defense One

Space Force Seeks $831.7M for Unfunded Priorities // Tara Copp: Projects left out of 2022 budget would boost Cheyenne Mountain security, space-based cryptology.

Can Rockets Deliver Supplies to War Zones? Space Force, Air Force Aim to Find Out // Tara Copp: A research lab will see whether reusable boosters can deliver up to a C-17s’ worth of cargo to terrestrial destinations.

Where the US Army’s Cut List and Wish List Overlap // Caitlin M. Kenney: Some programs slated for trimming in the 2022 budget proposal also appear on the service’s list of unfunded priorities.

Unity Will Be ‘Key Message’ in Biden’s First International Trip // Jacqueline Feldscher: Aides say COVID, China, and climate change will be discussed, but a top message is reaffirming America’s close partnership with allies.

Defense Business Brief // Marcus Weisgerber: Defense Business Brief: Lockheed aims to build more F-35s; Defense giants fall from Fortune 50, Supersonic jetliners, and more...

The Army Brief // Caitlin M. Kenney: Army Secretary's letter, Afghan evacuation plans, UAV strike, and more...

DoD Outlines Tenets of Responsible Artificial Intelligence // Mila Jasper, Nextgov: A memo from the deputy defense secretary also orders the JAIC director to build a strategy around those tenets.

Welcome to this Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1917, allied forces near the contemporary Belgian city of Mesen detonated a series of tunnels beneath German soldiers that had been dug by British, Canadian and Australian troops several months prior. An estimated 10,000 Germans were killed in the nearly two dozen explosions that began at 3:10 a.m. local and were over in 20 seconds. Said one British officer the night before the operation: “Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography.” 

Vaccine diplomacy on China’s doorstep. A trio of senators flew in a U.S. Air Force C-17 cargo plane as they visited Taiwan on Sunday and announced plans for the U.S. to send 750,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taipei.
Making the trip: Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.; Christopher Coons, D-Dela.; and Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
“We are here as friends, because we know that Taiwan is experiencing a challenging time right now, which was why it was especially important for the three of us to be here in a bipartisan way,” Duckworth said after the plane landed Sunday morning.
For the record, Taiwan “has only vaccinated 3% of its population and on Saturday recorded its highest daily Covid death toll of 37 fatalities,” CNN reports.
Reax from Beijing: China’s foreign ministry expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” with the visit, and warned the U.S. to “be prudent when dealing with the Taiwan question and avoid sending any erroneous signals to separatist forces,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday. Agence France-Presse has a tiny bit more, here.
By the way: The Senate is about to pass a huge counter-China tech and industrial policy bill, and possibly as early as Tuesday, the New York Times reports.

CIA scrambles to find bases near Afghanistan for intel missions and drone strikes. “United States officials are in last-minute efforts to secure bases close to Afghanistan for future operations,” the New York Times wrote Sunday. “But the complexity of the continuing conflict has led to thorny diplomatic negotiations as the military pushes to have all forces out by early to mid-July, well before President Biden’s deadline of Sept. 11, according to American officials and regional experts.” Pakistan, which has offered support for the Taliban, is among the countries where U.S. officials are trying to wrangle permission to operate. Read on, here.

Ukraine’s president to Biden: call me. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a Zoom interview on Friday offered to meet his U.S. counterpart “at any moment and at any spot on the planet.” Zelensky said he was given no heads-up about the Biden administration’s decision to stop blocking the creation of Nord Stream 2, a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, that “would allow Russia to circumvent and isolate Kyiv,” Axios reported Sunday.

A Marine Raider begins a three-week trial today in Norfolk over the killing of U.S. Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Mali four years ago.
Involved: Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, who faces charges of “conspiracy, assault, obstruction of justice, involuntary manslaughter, hazing, false official statements and felony murder,” Marine Corps Times reports.

And lastly: The world’s richest man will launch into space next month, making Jeff Bezos “one of the first passengers carried by Blue Origin, the Inc. founder’s space-travel company,” the Wall Street Journal reports after the billionaire shared the news Monday on his Instagram page.
The launch is slated to happen 15 days after Bezos steps down as CEO of Amazon — and on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the New York Times reports. Along with four others, Bezos said he’ll bring his brother, Mark, with him up to the edge of space.
What goes up: “The craft is designed to rise briefly above the Karman Line—an imaginary boundary about 62 miles above sea level that is considered the beginning of space—before returning to the ground beneath a parachute 10 minutes after launch,” the Journal reports. Read a bit more at SpaceNews, here, or at AFP, here.