Today's D Brief: De-escalating Ukraine; SecAF Kendall, Day 3 of Outlook 2022; Biden launches democracy summit; And a bit more.

The United States is not sending more troops to Ukraine anytime soon, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with Defense One’s Kevin Baron. (Catch that in reruns on YouTube, here.)

Should Russia re-invade Ukraine, the United States won’t unilaterally send in troops, President Joe Biden himself told reporters Wednesday just outside the White House. Instead, both POTUS and Sullivan explained, the U.S. would respond with “severe economic consequences” in the form of heavy sanctions. The U.S. is also prepared to send more military gear to Kyiv; and, Sullivan said, the U.S. would boost troop and equipment levels nearby, “in countries like Poland, the Baltics, [and] Romania.”

What U.S. troops are already in Ukraine? That’d be the Florida National Guard 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, which recently took over for the Washington National Guard’s 81st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, Defense One’s Tara Copp reports. (Those numbers are somewhere between 44 and more than 100, according to Foreign Policy and Task & Purpose.) What’s more, “The U.S. recently delivered two decommissioned Coast Guard patrol boats to Ukraine’s navy. And Ukraine’s defense intelligence chief has said its ground forces have been firing U.S.-provided Javelin anti-tank missiles at Russian or Russian-backed forces.” Read more here.

Biden is expected to call up Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy today, and it could be a suspenseful chat, the Associated Press reports in a preview. That’s because in his Tuesday phone call with Russia’s autocratic President Vladimir Putin, “Biden offered U.S. participation in negotiation efforts alongside Europeans, not just to settle the conflict in eastern Ukraine but to address Putin’s larger strategic objections to NATO expanding membership and building military capacity ever closer to Russia’s borders.” 

That could include convincing Zelenskyy to accept a growing degree of autonomy for Russia-allied territory in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. AP has more, here.

Related reading: 

President Biden’s summit for democracy began today, with the president himself delivering the opening remarks for the two-day virtual event. The leaders from more than 100 nations are expected to attend (er, log on), with a few notable exceptions—like Turkey, Russia, and China, e.g. 

The 30,000-foot view: “The data we’re seeing is largely pointing in the wrong direction,” Biden told leaders Thursday in his 13-minute opener. He also promised to invest in America’s own democracy, “to prove that American democracy can still do big things and take on challenges that matter most.” He cited recent progress on COVID vaccinations and a gradually improving global economy. Catch Biden’s full remarks over at C-Span, here.

From Defense One

Biden Rules Out Sending Troops to Ukraine, at Least for Now  // Tara Copp: NSA Sullivan says U.S. will limit its support for Kiev to weapons, pressure in the face of Moscow’s buildup.

How China Is Challenging US Central Command, Digitally // Patrick Tucker: The Pentagon may have “CENTCOM fatigue,” but Beijing is pushing into the Middle East, warns the command’s communications chief.

New National Defense Strategy to Be Released Early 2022 // Caitlin M. Kenney: The document will follow the release of the new National Security Strategy.

Inflation, Congress Delays, Could Lead to Defense Budget Plus-Ups, Analysts Say // Marcus Weisgerber: Ten months into the Biden administration, predictions of flat budgets are evaporating.

With Defense Bill Set to Change Military Justice, One Senator Pushes for More // Jennifer Hlad: Gillibrand plans to call for an up-or-down vote on several proposals tossed from the 2022 NDAA.

Judge Suspends White House's Vaccine Mandate for Contractors // Courtney Bublé: Following last week's preliminary injunction for three states, the temporary move throws Biden's entire executive order into question.

Calls Grow Urgent for Improving Guam’s Missile Defenses // Caitlin M. Kenney: “The threat to Guam will only increase over the next five years,” says INDOPACOM’s No 2

Should Killing a Satellite Provoke War on Earth? // Jacqueline Feldscher: A Space Force official says the service is considering how to respond to attacks in orbit.

DODIIS Conference Wire: USAF's Information Warfare // Defense One Staff : On Day 2 of the conference, a look at how the Air Force's new IW operating concepts.

Welcome to this Thursday 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 1917, the Brits captured Jerusalem from the Ottomans.

SecDef Austin welcomes his Israeli counterpart to the Pentagon this afternoon at 1 p.m. ET. There are no current plans for Austin to speak publicly alongside Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
Plan C for catastrophe? According to Reuters, the two leaders will “discuss possible military exercises that would prepare for a worst-case scenario to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities should diplomacy fail.” Said a U.S. official: “We're in this pickle because Iran's nuclear program is advancing to a point beyond which it has any conventional rationale.” More, here.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall joins Defense One’s Marcus Weisgerber this afternoon for the final day of our Outlook 2022 virtual event series. That’s slated for 1:15 p.m. ET, and follows an earlier discussion about the future of European security, featuring AEI’s Elisabeth Braw, Constanze Stelzenmüller of Brookings, and the Atlantic Council’s Benjamin Haddad.
Women in defense: House Armed Services Committee members Rep. Mikie Sherrill, D-NJ, and Rep. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., will speak with Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher at about 1:45 p.m. ET.
And D.C. National Guard Commander Air Force Maj. Gen. Sherrie McCandless sits down a bit later with Defense One’s senior Pentagon correspondent Tara Copp. That one’s scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET. Review the full agenda right here.
One more thing: Pentagon policy expert Dr. Mara Karlin will explain a bit about President Biden’s upcoming National Defense Strategy in an event this afternoon with the Center for a New American Security. That hour-long event begins at 2 p.m. ET, and is moderated by Becca Wasser of CNAS. Details here.

America’s new National Defense Strategy should be coming in early 2022, Colin Kahl, defense undersecretary for policy, said Wednesday at Defense One’s Outlook 2022 virtual event.
“We have a number of strategic reviews underway all at the same time,” Kahl said.We have the National Defense Strategy, and then nested under that will be the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review. And of course, the NDS itself is nested under the National Security Strategy. So, I think we should expect that the National Security Strategy will come out first, shortly followed by the NDS. I would hope that we would see that early in the new year.”
In case you’re wondering: The Pentagon finalized its Global Posture Review on Nov. 29, Defense One’s Caitlin Kenney reports. And that happened ahead of the new National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy because the White House wanted it sooner, Kahl said. That posture review will inform the upcoming NDS, which will then inform future posture decisions, according to Kahl. Read more here; or watch the interview in full on YouTube, here.

The U.S. just cut Cambodia off from arms sales because of its “deepening Chinese military influence,” according to a notice in the Federal Registry posted Thursday. China’s “military presence and construction of facilities at Ream Naval Base in Cambodia” were particularly concerning. But that’s not the only justification; “growing corruption and human rights abuses” by government officials are also listed in Thursday’s notice.
For the record, the U.S. has similar restrictions in place for Myanmar, China, Russia, and Venezuela, AP reports. (AP also reminds us China “was the chief backer of the murderous regime of Pol Pot in the 1970s and has long maintained strong relations with Hun Sen, who has ruled for more than 30 years and grown increasingly repressive.”)

And lastly today: Learn “How the [National] Guard’s Mexico border mission fell apart,” according to Davis Winkie, a human resources officer in the Army National Guard and staff reporter at Army Times.
Involved: Task Force Phoenix, “a combination of 34 distinct Guard units stitched together with virtually no prior relationships,” Winkie writes. “Most returned home in October, when a new Guard task force took over.”
What’s going on: Those soldiers seem to have experienced significant disciplinary issues, at times greater than those you might imagine in an overt warzone like Afghanistan, e.g., where illicit items can be harder to come by. If that “away from home” dynamic is applied inside the U.S. for several months at a stretch, and those troops are led by a battalion headquarters that’s allegedly only half-staffed, you can expect—as one source described it to Winkie—“a ‘perfect storm’ for massive discipline issues.” For what it’s worth, Army Times’ reporting echoes what Defense One has heard from several disillusioned troops and officers who have deployed to the border, a mission perhaps best illustrated—as Winkie noted—in this photo, captured by Fox News this past March, of a Guardsman sleeping while on duty.
Among some of his findings:

  • A “task force based in McAllen, Texas, had three soldiers die during [their] border deployment;” two of which involved alcohol consumed in excess; the other death was COVID-related; “For comparison, only three Army Guard troops died on overseas deployments in 2021,” he writes.
  • One soldier was caught trying “to pick up a kilogram of cocaine to transport to a McAllen hotel that housed fellow soldiers.”
  • While deployed to the border, “At least 16 soldiers...were arrested or confined for charges including drugs, sexual assault, and manslaughter.”

Bigger picture: The matter has not yet risen to the level of a Congressional investigation, and the Guard’s mission at the border remains extended through Sept. 30, 2022. Meanwhile, “The 4,000 National Guard men and women assigned to this mission during FY21 made a positive difference to the security of this nation,” a National Guard spokesperson told Army Times, and added, “We are proud of them.”
Said one unnamed officer to Winkie: “It’s much easier to fund 3,500 troops to go do fuck-all in the desert than it is to pass [immigration reform].” Read the rest, here.