Today's D Brief: China's new demand; Deadly strikes lash Yemen; Lawmakers want to 'overhaul' US CT policy; And a bit more.
U.S. President Joe Biden met virtually this morning with Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, who was born in Hiroshima in 1957 and assumed the prime minister post in early October. Kishida served as Japan’s foreign minister from 2012 to 2017. He was also responsible for coordinating President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima in 2015, when Obama became the first sitting POTUS to visit the city.
With Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mind, the two nations on Thursday released a joint statement declaring “the 76-year record of non-use of nuclear weapons must be maintained” and “the 40-year long decline in global nuclear arsenals must be sustained and not reversed.”
They also called out North Korea, and—ignoring Pyongyang’s recent actions and words to the contrary—called for “the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, as well as related programs and facilities.” More to all that, here.
Leading this morning’s agenda for Biden and Kishida: “the ongoing situation in Russia and Ukraine,” according to White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who rang his counterpart Thursday. “Our respective approaches to North Korea, China, and economic issues in the Indo-Pacific” were also expected to be a key part of Friday’s virtual summit, the White House said in a readout.
Also attending today’s VTC, according to White House pooler Mineko Tokito Abe of Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun: Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman; Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel; Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell; Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink; and National Security Council East Asia Director Christopher Johnstone. Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher has more on the larger issues around today’s virtual summit, here.
From Defense One
Japan PM Kishida’s Top Concerns for Biden: Covid, Climate, & China // Jacqueline Feldscher: New and old issues—including over U.S. troops—are on the agenda this week in their first virtual meeting as world leaders.
Will Space Force Protect Orbiting Gas Stations and Bases on the Moon? // Tara Copp: As U.S. companies venture farther from Earth, whether the newest service will protect them remains under discussion.
Biden’s Gray-Zone Gaffe Highlights a Real Dilemma // Elisabeth Braw: It’s high time for NATO and its member governments to define what kinds of aggression short of war require a unified response.
Blinken Delivers Closing Argument In Rebuke of Russia // Jacqueline Feldscher: America’s top diplomat refuted Russia’s claims that it is acting in self-defense on the Ukrainian border.
The Naval Brief: // Caitlin M. Kenney: Testing ship tech; Religious exemptions approved; Russian agents in Ukraine; and more...
Slouching Towards Armageddon // James Kitfield: As Cold War-type dangers return, we should restore the things that once pulled the world back from the brink.
Welcome to this Friday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson, with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1954, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, USS Nautilus, was launched at Groton, Connecticut.
The Chinese military is demanding the U.S. stop “provocative” Navy actions in the South China Sea, after a U.S. guided-missile destroyer “steamed past two disputed island chains” there this week, Stars and Stripes reported Thursday.
China’s Southern Theatre Command: “We solemnly demand that the U.S. side immediately stop such provocative actions, otherwise it will bear the serious consequences of unforeseen events.”
China also said it had warned the USS Benfold away from the Paracel Islands, though a U.S. Navy spokesperson disputed that claim, adding that the American ship acted in accordance with international law. Read on, here.
And from the region: “U.S. seeks way to speed delivery of new fighter jets to Taiwan,” which are currently not expected to arrive until 2026, Reuters reported in an exclusive on Thursday.
At least 60 people are believed to have been killed from a wave of new airstrikes in Yemen, according to the humanitarian organization Save the Children.
The port city of Hodeidah was one target, including a telecommunications hub that provided internet service to locations outside the city. “Another airstrike hit a temporary holding cell in the city of Sada today, reportedly killing over 60 people and injuring more than 100, most of them migrants,” the organization said in a statement Friday.
Context: The Saudi- and UAE-led coalition has renewed air raids on alleged Houthi after the group conducted what Reuters calls “an unprecedented assault” on the UAE on Monday using ballistic missiles and armed drones that also targeted Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Read over a damage assessment from that attack, via the Associated Press, here.
Panning out: There’s been “a 60% increase in civilian casualties in the last three months of 2021, with 2022 already poised to have wider consequences for civilians,” according to STC. Already, “Yemen’s hospitals, schools, water infrastructure, and roads are in disarray after nearly seven years of conflict, further disrupting the lives of children and their families.” More here.
The U.S. military nearly killed an estimated half a million Syrians in 2017, according to the New York Times reporting Thursday on a new understanding of old U.S. airstrikes during the war on ISIS.
What happened: On March 26, 2017, American special operators called in airstrikes on Syria’s biggest dam, Tabqa—or the Euphrates Dam, which is about 18 stories high in north-central Syria, on the eastern edge of Lake Assad. “At least one BLU-109 bunker-buster bomb” was used in the attack, the Times reported Thursday. “And they had done it despite a military report warning not to bomb the dam, because the damage could cause a flood that might kill tens of thousands of civilians.”
Why this matters: The Americans, whose unit was known as Task Force 9, “routinely circumvented the rigorous airstrike approval process and hit Islamic State targets in Syria in a way that repeatedly put civilians at risk.” What’s more, “sworn enemies in the yearslong conflict—the Islamic State, the Syrian government, Syrian Defense Forces and the United States—called a rare emergency cease-fire so civilian engineers could race to avert a disaster.”
Said one former director of the dam: “The number of casualties [had the dam collapsed and flooded the region] would have exceeded the number of Syrians who have died throughout the war.” And that number was believed to be around 400,000 back in 2015. Continue reading at the Times, here.
Lastly: Nearly 50 U.S. lawmakers are asking the White House to “overhaul U.S. counterterrorism policy” and targeting criteria to better protect civilians, “only using lethal force when it is lawful and as a last resort.” That request was submitted in a letter Thursday (PDF)
Why now? “Following the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, your administration has an opportunity to end this pattern and develop a rights-based counterterrorism strategy that emphasizes the rule of law, with sufficient controls and limitations on the use of targeted strikes,” the lawmakers say in their letter. But perhaps more to the point, “U.S. drone strikes have led to unintended and deadly consequences,” they write, and cite research from the monitoring group Airwars, which suggests “as many as 48,000 civilians across seven countries have reportedly been killed by U.S. strikes over the past two decades.”
“There’s no doubt Biden takes this issue more seriously than Trump,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said to the New York Times. “But we can and must do better. The U.S. should use force only lawfully and as a last resort, and when civilians die, there has to be accountability. That accountability simply has not been happening.”
“Without systematic reforms centered on human rights and international law, the status quo will continue to undermine counterterrorism objectives, produce significant human and strategic costs, and erode the rule of law and the United States’ image abroad,” the letter reads. More here.
Have a safe weekend, everyone. And we’ll catch you again on Monday!