Today's D Brief: US to donate 500 million vaccines; SecDef sharpens China focus; Women’s body armor timeline; And a bit more.

The U.S. will donate 200 million COVID-19 vaccine shots to countries in need this year, and another 300 million in 2022, the White House announced as President Joe Biden began his first day abroad as POTUS. The vaccines will begin shipping out in August, and will head to 92 low- and lower middle-income countries and the African Union.

“This is the largest-ever purchase and donation of vaccines by a single country and a commitment by the American people to help protect people around the world from COVID-19,” the White House said in a statement. 

Bigger picture: “Global vaccine diplomacy is expected to be a top issue at the gathering amid outbreaks in countries such as India and Brazil and as many developing countries struggle to inoculate their populations,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Already “British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called on G-7 leaders to commit to vaccinating the entire world by the end of 2022.”

On Biden’s mind for day one abroad: Friends, allies, and shared values. “America is better positioned to advance our national security and our economic prosperity when we bring together like-minded nations to stand with us,” Biden said Wednesday night in a speech evoking family, 20th-century U.S. military history and brimming with gratitude for the armed forces. He was speaking to a crowd of service members and their families at the UK’s Royal Air Force Mildenhall on Wednesday evening. 

“These nations that have shed blood alongside of us in defense of our shared values. Our unrivaled network of alliances and partnerships that are the key to American advantage in the world and have been. They’ve made the world safer for all of us, and they are how we are going to meet the challenges of today, which are changing rapidly.”

ICYMI: COVID is leading Biden’s agenda ahead of G7 meetings. “There’s no wall high enough to keep us safe from this pandemic,” he said at Mildenhall, then promised, “With the G7, we plan to launch an ambitious effort to support resilience and development around the world by investing in high-quality, high-standard physical, digital, and health infrastructures.”

Biden also seemed to take an implicit swing at Russia when he said the U.S. and its allies “have to make sure that new technologies and norms of conduct in cyberspace are established — including addressing the growing threat of ransomware attacks — that are governed by our democratic values, not by the autocrats who are letting it happen.” (Granted, moments earlier Biden mentioned Moscow directly when he gave this terse overview of his trip, “I’m heading to the G7, then to the NATO Ministerial, and then to meet with Mr. Putin to let him know what I want him to know.”)

What are some foreign policy experts looking for from this trip? “I'm watching for no disasters,” said Elisabeth Braw of the American Enterprise Institute to Defense One. “Because as we know, with [former President Donald] Trump's trips to Europe — two official visits to the UK, and one NATO Summit — and it all ended in acrimony.”

And in Brussels, “We're probably going to get a return to the U.S. president reaffirming the U.S. commitment to [NATO’s collective defense agreement known as] Article 5,” Dr. Alina Polyakova, CEO and President of the Center for European Policy Analysis, told Defense One. “And it’s going to be very diplomatic and quite cordial, which is good. That's a good thing. That's how meetings between allies should take place.”

Indeed, the Article 5 point is one that Biden affirmed Wednesday evening in Mildenhall: “In Brussels, I will make it clear that the United States’ commitment to our NATO Alliance and Article 5 is rock solid,” the president said. “It’s a sacred obligation that we have under Article 5. The U.S. and the UK are both founding members of NATO — the strongest military and political alliance in the history of the world. And that’s not hyperbole.”

  • Stay tuned Friday for much more on NATO, Germany, Turkey, Russia, China, the prospect of an EU army, and the wider future of transatlantic relations. Polyakova and Braw will be joined by Ivo Daalder of the Chicago Council in our latest episode of Defense One Radio. Catch us on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

From Defense One

China Is Our No. 1 Priority. Start Acting Like It, Austin Tells Pentagon // Jacqueline Feldscher: Task force says the military Biden inherited from Trump had a “say-do gap” in the resources directed at China.

NATO May Train Afghan Special Operators in Europe // Patrick Tucker: But experts say training may suffer after Western troops withdraw.

To US Army, Getting Women’s Body Armor Quickly Is an Unfunded Priority // Elizabeth Howe: Lawmakers question why the service left $81 million to “accelerate” gear for women and short men out of its latest budget request.

Marine General Punished For Training, Evaluation Failures Before Deadly Accident // Caitlin M. Kenney: Commandant’s decision may end Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi’s career.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1854, the U.S. Naval Academy held its first formal graduation ceremony.

Biden administration is reportedly mulling a post-pullout airstrike plan for Afghanistan. One day after the acting Air Force secretary defended a 2022 request for $10 billion to fund airstrikes and air support inside Afghanistan, other senior officials told the New York Times it’s not clear the service will actually fly such missions.
Unnamed “senior officials” said no decision has yet been made about when or even whether U.S. tactical aircraft might still operate after the September pullout. They suggested that missions might be launched to save Kabul from falling to Taliban hands, but not for crises in more rural locations. Read on, here.

Money talks: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley are testifying on the Pentagon’s budget this morning on Capitol Hill. They’re joined by Comptroller Michael McCord. Read over Austin’s prepared remarks (PDF) here.
And Deputy SecDef Kathleen Hicks is in Arizona today, dropping by U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “As part of the trip, the Deputy Secretary will meet with National Guardsmen to hear about their experiences and work on the ground,” the Pentagon said in a brief preview. 

Finally today: The U.S. military says it will create an Arctic-security center, which will become the sixth of the Defense Department’s Regional Centers, with the last one established 21 years ago. The idea is to facilitate “bilateral and multilateral research, communication, and training with the goal of building strong, sustainable international networks of security leaders,” the Pentagon announced Wednesday, without much elaboration.
Somewhat ironically, the Alaska center will be named for Sen. Ted Stevens, who fought efforts to slow climate change. And as Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” noted back in 2006, Stevens also attempted, unsuccessfully, to use the defense appropriations bill to expand oil drilling in Alaska.