Today's D Brief: Disruptive Omicron; Supply chains and the WH; Russia's missile test; Esper's gripe; And a bit more.
New virus variant shakes up global economy. A new coronavirus mutation, Omicron, seized the world’s attention and crippled transportation over the weekend, sending markets tumbling just five days after the White House intervened to boost sagging petroleum supplies across the globe. The good news Monday is that many markets are rebounding, “with investors betting that the impact of the Omicron Covid-19 variant will be less profound than initially feared,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
The big unknown: Whether the new variant is resistant to vaccines. And the White House doesn’t expect to have relevant data to answer that question for another two weeks or so, Reuters reports.
Some countries have banned all visitors, and that includes Japan and Israel. Starting Monday, the U.S. is banning travelers from South Africa, where Omicron is believed to have emerged, and seven other African countries—Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. For the record, South Africa’s president doesn’t like the U.S. and the EU’s travel bans, and called them “unjustified.” The BBC has a bit more on that angle.
However, “in some parts of the world, authorities were moving in the opposite direction,” the Associated Press reports. For example, “In Malaysia, officials went ahead with the partial reopening of a bridge connecting it to the city-state of Singapore. And New Zealand announced it will press ahead with plans to reopen...though it is also restricting travel from nine southern African nations.”
President Joe Biden is planning to address the nation about Omicron just before noon ET. His message is expected to largely concern a renewed push for wider vaccinations, AP previews in a separate report. Afterward, he’s expected to turn his attention more directly to the economy in a private roundtable meeting with select CEOs, including companies like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Food Lion, and Kroger.
And that’ll be followed by televised remarks from the president focusing on American “supply chains” and “ensur[ing] that shelves are well-stocked this holiday season,” according to the White House.
From Defense One
Defense Industry Asks White House to Allow COVID Tests to Substitute for Vax Mandate // Marcus Weisgerber: Nation’s largest military shipbuilder says it won’t comply until mandate is written into a contract.
The Pentagon’s New UFO Office Has a Specific Job // Tara Copp: Defense leaders want to make sure they can spot and track “phenomena” trespassing over training ranges.
Expand Five Eyes to Nine? That's Four Too Many // Aki Peritz: The proposed expansion would force the original members to stop spying on the new ones.
The Pandemic Is Ending With a Whimper // Juliette Kayyem, The Atlantic: The decision to move on to the recovery phase needs to be made by politicians, not scientists.
We Know Almost Nothing About the Omicron Variant // Katherine J. Wu, The Atlantic: Here’s everything we do.
Energize NATO’s Response to Russia’s Threats Against Ukraine // Max Boot, Council on Foreign Relations: Signal new efforts to thwart a controversial Russian energy pipeline.
Welcome to this Cyber Monday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1967, America's eighth Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange McNamara, announced his resignation after nearly seven years on the job, and three years into a bombing campaign over Vietnam that several key generals and admirals thought was too restrained to lead to victory, as open hearings on Capitol Hill revealed just three months earlier. The generals and admirals would win that battle, and set the stage for some of the most intensive U.S. bombing campaigns in history (Operation Linebacker II, e.g.); but it would take another seven and a half years for America to lose the wider war.
Russia continues to demand the world’s attention. Today it allegedly tested its new hypersonic cruise missile over its northern White Sea, according to a statement Monday from Moscow’s Defense Ministry.
Involved: Russia’s Admiral Gorshkov frigate and a Zircon cruise missile, which allegedly hit its target 400 km away. Tiny bit more from AP, here.
ICYMI: Ukraine’s president said on Friday that Russia is backing a coup that was planned for sometime this week. France24 can fill you in on the alleged coup details from Kyiv, here. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s comments came the same day NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Russia against another invasion of Ukraine. But just in case you were wondering, AP emphasized in its report from Brussels that “NATO would not be able to provide Ukraine with any substantial military support in time to make a difference against Russian forces, so economic measures like Western sanctions are more likely to be used to inflict a financial cost on Moscow.”
Related reading: “Germany urges Congress not to sanction Putin’s [Nord Stream 2] pipeline,” via Axios, reporting Sunday.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy just sent another ship into the Black Sea. This time it was the USS Arleigh Burke, which arrived on Thanksgiving Day. This most recent visit follows another by the crew of the destroyer USS Porter earlier in November. Stars and Stripes has more on all that, here.
Some workers at large and small U.S. defense firms want to skip mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations and instead consent to periodic testing, Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber reported last week.
Background: The Biden administration initially called for the vaccine mandate to begin Dec. 8. However, contractors’ employees now have until Jan. 4 to get their final shot; they are required to be “fully vaccinated” by Jan. 18.
The request comes as executives say they are trying to balance worker safety and delivering on contracts, Weisgerber writes. The virus is still spreading through defense factories, sickening workers and delaying weapons projects. But the groups representing defense companies say their employees should be treated differently because they build the military’s weapons. Read on, here.
And lastly today: Former SecDef Mark Esper is not happy about the Pentagon’s redactions of parts of his upcoming book—so he’s suing the department he previously led, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal report.
Esper says “significant text” that's “crucial to telling important stories” was cut from his manuscript, and in a statement said the redactions were arbitrary and done without clear explanation. The Biden administration “is infringing on my First Amendment” rights, said Esper, who served as defense secretary under President Trump before being fired by tweet. More details, here.