Today's D Brief: Baby-formula airlift; Chinese-spy charges; Sweden, Finland may get more security aid; Ocean temps hit new high; And a bit more.
Sweden’s prime minister and Finland’s president visited the White House this morning, one day after the two Nordic nations formally applied to become members of the 30-nation, Russia-focused NATO alliance.
The two nations “have the full total and complete backing of the United States,” U.S. President Joe Biden said from the Rose Garden. Legislation will be submitted to Congress as soon as Thursday, Biden added. And that measure is expected to pass both chambers before the summer recess, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said just days ago during a trip to Helsinki.
“New members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation,” Biden said, implicitly addressing the Turkish president’s Wednesday claims that Ankara’s security is being undermined by Nordic support of more than three dozen members of the Kurdish diaspora on Thursday. “NATO’s purpose is to defend,” Biden added. Can he convince Turkey to support NATO expansion? “I’m not going to Turkey,” Biden told reporters Wednesday, referring to negotiations between Ankara, Sweden and Finland this week, “but I think we’re gonna be okay,” Biden said.
The latest: Erdogan insists Turkey will reject the expansion bids, he reportedly said while speaking to students on Thursday. “We will continue our policy in a determined way. We have told allies that we will say no to Finland and Sweden's NATO membership,” he said, according to Reuters. What now? Negotiations continue in Ankara, so it’s still too soon to know for sure what lies ahead.
NATO’s top military officer will speak to reporters in Brussels this morning (East Coast time; livestream here) after an alliance-wide defense meeting at NATO HQs. The alliance has “reset” its posture since the Russian invasion, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday during that meeting. “Ukraine stands, NATO remains strong, and transatlantic unity is solid.” Read more ahead of U.S. Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters’s 12:45 p.m. ET media engagement, here.
Spain’s military chief is dropping by the Pentagon today. Defense Minister Margarita Robles is expected shortly after 1 p.m. ET. Robles, a former Spanish Supreme Court justice, has been chief of the military for almost four years.
By the way: Russia just booted more than two dozen Spanish diplomats in retaliation for similar moves from Spain back in April. Moscow also booted diplos from France and Italy on Wednesday. Al-Jazeera has more on all that.
New: The U.S. Senate just confirmed America’s new ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink. The unanimous vote came late Wednesday, and followed earlier passage in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. NPR has a sort of “get to know the ambassador” report from late April you can read over, here.
And the U.S. just reopened its embassy in Kyiv, State Secretary Antony Blinken announced Wednesday.
One wonk’s battlefield forecast: September is the new “month to watch,” according to Mark Galeotti of the UK’s Royal United Services Institute. That’s when Russia will really start to feel the effects of attrition from Ukraine’s newly-acquired long-range artillery. More to that argument, here.
- “Finland and Sweden to buy firearms, anti-tank weapons together,” via Reuters, reporting Wednesday;
- “China Insists Party Elites Shed Overseas Assets, Eyeing Western Sanctions on Russia,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Thursday from Hong Kong;
- “U.S. Aims to Cripple Russian Oil Industry, Officials Say,” via the New York Times, reporting Thursday;
- And in video: “Don’t Say ‘Peace’: Russia Polices Words to Shape Ukraine War Narrative,” also via the Journal, reporting Thursday.
From Defense One
Pentagon May Give Sweden, Finland More Security Aid // Tara Copp: Russia has issued vague threats over the countries' applications to join the alliance.
A Swedish Compromise Won’t Solve NATO’s Turkey Problem // Kevin Baron: As two Nordic nations bid to join, Erdogan’s hostage-taking should force the alliance to reckon with a member that is increasingly a security risk.
Coast Guard Academy Graduates its First Cyber Majors // Lauren C. Williams: A "handful" of new cyber specialists will go to the service's Cyber Command headquarters for their initial assignment.
Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1921, amid a Russian civil war, the collapse of the Ottoman empire as well as Italy’s economy, and rising unemployment in the states, U.S. lawmakers passed the Emergency Quota Act, which put national quotas on immigration—particularly affecting southern and eastern Europeans. The quotas would be tightened three years later, and made permanent under the National Origins Act. These 20s-era quotas would largely remain in place for more than four decades, until Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965.
Biden will travel to Japan and South Korea over the next few days as global investors anxiously await China’s emergence from another Covid lockdown. It will be Biden’s first trip to the region as POTUS. He plans to visit U.S. and Korean troops in the region, as well as “technology and manufacturing leaders in Korea who are mobilizing billions of dollars in investment here in the United States to create thousands of good-paying American jobs,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters Wednesday in a preview.
He’ll also meet Seoul’s new President, Yoon Seok-youl, and Japan’s new Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. In Tokyo, the two leaders are expected to “compare notes on the G7 agenda as the G7 Summit approaches next month in Germany,” Sullivan said. Both Japan and South Korea have joined G7 nations in sanctioning Russia for its invasion of democratic Ukraine.
Biden will also host a “Quad” meeting with the PMs from Japan, India, and Australia. That’s also slated for Biden’s Japan leg of the trip. “We think this trip is going to put on full display President Biden's Indo-Pacific strategy and that it will show, in living color, that the United States can at once lead the free world in responding to Russia's war in Ukraine,” Sullivan said.
Four alleged Chinese intelligence officers were charged Wednesday, along with a U.S. citizen, for spying on activists critical of China who lived in or around Queens, New York. This operation stretched out over a decade going back to at least 2011.
How it happened: The American, 73-year-old Wang Shujun, “helped start a pro-democracy organization in Queens that opposes the current communist regime in China,” the Justice Department said Wednesday. During this time, Wang “used his position and status within the Chinese diaspora and dissident communities to covertly collect information about prominent activists and human rights leaders,” and sent that information back to officers in China’s Ministry of State Security. Sometimes the information was passed in person during visits to China; but he also used encrypted messaging apps as well as 163 email “diaries” the MSS accessed in mainland China.
“The Chinese government’s aggressive tactics were once confined to its borders. Now, the PRC is targeting people in the United States and around the world,” said Alan Kohler Jr., who works in the FBI’s National Security Branch.
Those targeted included “Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, advocates for Taiwanese independence, and Uyghur and Tibetan activists,” the Justice Department said. When asked about his role in the process, Wang allegedly lied to federal officials, which only yielded still more charges. He has since been arrested and will be arraigned sometime later; the other four officers remain at large.
Related reading: “Chinese ‘Space Pirates’ are hacking Russian aerospace firms,” via BleepingComputer, reporting Wednesday.
Seven South Korean companies conspired to rig more than a dozen U.S. military construction contracts on the peninsula from 2016 to 2019, the Department of Justice announced separately on Wednesday. Now all seven have been ordered to pay an equal amount of the $3.1 million settlement for work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; that comes to about $438,000 each.
The seven firms are Korea Engineering Consultants Corporation; Yul Lim Construction Co. Ltd.; Shin Woo Construction & Industrial Co. Ltd.; Seongbo Const. Ind. Co. Ltd.; Wooseok Construction Co. Ltd.; Yuil Engineering and Construction Co.; and Seokwang Development Co. Ltd.
“This outcome should resonate as a strong warning to those who seek enrichment at the expense of America’s national defense,” said the Justice Department’s Special Agent in Charge Stanley Newell. More here.
President Biden just invoked the Defense Production Act to help address America’s baby formula shortage, the White House announced in a memo Wednesday evening. Invoking the act now mandates that stateside formula suppliers must “direct needed resources to infant formula manufacturers before any other customer who may have ordered that good,” the White House said in a fact sheet explaining the decision.
It also authorizes the use of U.S. military commercial aircraft to transport overseas infant formula here stateside “so it can get to store shelves faster,” the White House said. That means the Defense Department “will use its contracts with commercial air cargo lines, as it did to move materials during the early months of the COVID pandemic, to transport products from manufacturing facilities abroad...bypassing regular air freighting routes” while U.S. manufacturers try to make up for production backlogs. NBC News has a bit more on all that, here.
New: U.S. Transportation Command says it’s chipping in, and “expeditiously coordinating across federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration” to help deliver formula stateside. “USTRANSCOM will leverage its partnership with commercial air carriers to contract and accelerate the importation of infant formula into the United States that meets our government’s health and safety standards,” officials said in a statement Thursday.
And lastly today: Sea levels and ocean temperatures are at their highest-ever recorded levels, according to a new report published Wednesday by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization.
Here are five steps the UN recommends as nations look to pivot away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy sources in the months and years ahead:
- Treat “renewable energy technologies as essential global public goods” and form “a new global coalition on battery storage led by governments”;
- “Secure, scale up and diversify the supply components and raw materials for renewable energy technologies”;
- “Build frameworks and reform fossil fuel bureaucracies”;
- “Shift subsidies away from fossil fuels”;
- And “Private and public investments in renewable energy must triple.” Read more about each of those five, here.