- By Paul McLearyPaul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. He joined the Washington office in 2015 after working for Defense News, where he was also on the Pentagon beat, and covered stories relating to Pentagon spending and the defense industry. While there, and in a previous incarnation as a New York-based reporter, Paul embedded with U.S. Army and Marine Corps units in Iraq and Afghanistan to cover ground combat operations, where he got inside a secretive drone program being run out of Bagram air base. He has also traveled with the U.S. Navy, covered NATO meetings in Europe with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and stalked major international arms shows in Paris and London., Adam RawnsleyAdam Rawnsley is a Philadelphia-based reporter covering technology and national security. He co-authors FP’s Situation Report newsletter and has written for The Daily Beast, Wired, and War Is Boring.
Outreach. A group of delegates from European countries held a closed-door meeting with Trump advisor James Carafano earlier this week to make a concerted appeal “to persuade President-elect Donald Trump to not abandon the Iran nuclear deal or NATO’s tough stance toward Russia, warning of dire consequences that could raise the risk of war and weaken the transatlantic alliance,” FP’s Colum Lynch and Dan De Luce write in an exclusive get.
The Europeans also asked about the new administration’s approach to the Iran nuclear deal, according to an official with knowledge of details of the exchange and who summarized it for FP. But the “foreign delegates emerged from the meeting with no idea of Trump’s plans for Iran, the official said.”
Congress gearing up. While many European allies are working to get to know the President-elect, some powerful Republican committee chairs in Congress are signaling they’re wary of the promises Trump made on the campaign trail, FP’s Molly O’Toole reports. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have already issued warnings to the incoming White House about efforts to potentially go easy on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Graham told reporters this week that “on all things Russia” Congress is going to be “hard-ass.” Graham added that Trump is “president of the U.S. and the leading diplomat for our country,” but “Congress has a role in all of this.” Senator Rand Paul — a key vote on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — has already vowed to fight against the nomination of either Rudy Giuliani or John Bolton for Secretary of State.
Teams, assemble! In a conference call with reporters Wednesday evening, Trump spokesman Jason Miller said the team at Trump Tower will announce who is on the “landing teams” tasked with handling the transition of power at the Pentagon, State Department, Justice Department, and the National Security Council. The groups of officials will work inside those departments to handle the day-to-day details of how to run the government, and staff up hundreds of critical positions.
More names. Sen Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — a name sometimes mentioned as a pick for Defense Secretary — visited Trump Tower on Tuesday, and according to the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) is now being “mentioned as a possible CIA director after the leading candidate, former chairman Mike Rogers of Michigan, was among those purged early this week, is a transition adviser but is ‘not interested in a post,’ a congressional aide said. Former congressman Pete Hoekstra, also a Michigan Republican and a former committee chairman, said in an interview that he’d told the transition ‘if they have a role for me, I’d be more than happy to discuss it with them.’
Hearings. Nunes will chair a hearing Thursday featuring James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence; Robert Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense; and Marcel Lettre, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, who will answer questions about how the intel community supports the Pentagon. Could be an interesting event, as signals are sent to the incoming administration from both the Hill, and the outgoing intelligence and defense teams.
China: economy risky, military looking outward. While the new administration begins the work of assuming power, a new Congressionally-mandated report from the U.S.-China Commission landed on the Hill’s doorstep this week. And the conclusions are sobering.
The committee writes that while “China’s rapidly rising debt levels heighten risks to the stability of the country’s financial markets,” Beijing is “likely to continue to seek opportunities to secure military facilities abroad, such as the one it has begun constructing in Djibouti, to facilitate a range of operations.”
Chinese officials are also keeping a close eye on how the Trump administration handles the previously announced deployment of an American anti-missile system to South Korea, Reuters notes. Beijing has railed against the system, whose radar is capable of peering into Chinese territory. They’re also watching with great interest Trump’s meeting on Thursday with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan for clues on how the President-elect might view the region and America’s role in it.
Beijing takes losses. While China has been positioning its military to operate farther and farther abroad, that often comes with tragic, and for China, unfamiliar risks. The Wall Street Journal reports on the impact of China’s casualties from operations abroad — two peacekeepers in South Sudan and a military engineer in Mali — and the toll it’s taking on a country whose last war was long ago in 1979. The image of Cpl. Li Lei, a young father killed as a peacekeeper in South Sudan’s civil war, has shocked social media users and TV viewers alike. State-run media is responding by portraying the losses as the part of the responsibility of China’s emerging status as a world leader.
Good morning and as always, if you have any thoughts, announcements, tips, or national security-related events to share, please pass them along to SitRep HQ. Best way is to send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley
President-elect Donald Trump’s skepticism towards NATO and U.S. security guarantees appears to be pushing some German officials to look away from America and towards others for security. Reuters reports that Roderich Kiesewetter, a conservative German lawmaker on the Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, says Germany should consider finding a nuclear deterrent that doesn’t involved the United States. Kiesewetter’s plan would involve European countries ponying up cash to pay for an extended nuclear shield provided by France and Britain.
First the good news: America’s armored vehicles are popular exports around the world. The bad news is that they’re also popular with its adversaries, who keep managing to acquire them illicitly. In the latest example, the Washington Post reports that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah showed off American M113 armored personnel carriers during a recent parade in Qusair, Syria. No one quite knows where the M113s came from. The Lebanese Armed Forces, which receive large amounts of U.S. military aid, has denied the vehicles came from them. Others suggest Hezbollah may have captured them from al Qaeda’s erstwhile Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al Nusra.
Terrorism deaths were down last year worldwide but some individual countries are still suffering record casualties. The Guardian reports on the new numbers from the Institute of Economics and Peace’s Global Terrorism Index. The decline of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and its affiliate Boko Haram in Nigeria prompted a 10 percent dip in deaths from terrorism. But countries like Afghanistan saw 2015 as the most violent year yet, with a 29 percent increase in deaths from terrorist attacks and a 34 percent uptick in deaths from combat.
A nondescript building at 33 Thomas Street in New York City has been acting as an NSA surveillance hub, according to a scoop from the Intercept. Documents in the archive leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the facility, owned by AT&T, is where the spy agency taps into a large gateway switch to eavesdrop on phone calls and telephone traffic. The NSA has reportedly leveraged the facility to spy on communications traffic from international organizations like the United Nations as well as that of government officials from countries like Japan, Germany, and France.
India’s indigenously-designed and built drone, the Rustom-II, made its first test flight on Wednesday. Engineers took the aircraft to the Chitradurga test range where it tried out a series of basic aerial maneuvers. The Rustom-II is designed to be a medium altitude long endurance drone capable of carrying out both surveillance and attack missions. India has previously bought drones from Israel and recently sought to purchase armed American Predator drones.
The conflicts of the Middle East have surfaced strange vintage weapons and insurgent groups and government forces from Syria to Libya pick through the weapons trade. In the latest example of Antiques Roadshow: Conflicts Edition, a Soviet T-34 tank, originally produced and used during World War II, was spotted on social media being used against Houthi forces in Yemen.
Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images