SitRep: Russia Threatens NATO facilities; Chinese Navy Worries Pentagon; Trump’s National Security Advisor Scrubs Website
Syria Debate; Trump’s Cyber Plan; And Lots More
No answers. As we wait for the Trump team to make critical nominations for Defense Secretary and Secretary of State — and there’s no sense of when the nominations will come, or who they will be — there are plenty of issues already waiting for them.
Trump speaks. In a two-minute video statement issued late Monday, the president-elect outlined some of his administration’s top priorities once they move to Washington in January. National security issues received only one line, when Trump — with no sense of irony about the role that cyber attacks played in the presidential election — said that he would “ask the Department of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff to develop a comprehensive plan to protect America’s vital infrastructure from cyberattacks and all other form of attacks.”
Syria. One of the endless stream of candidates being considered for a cabinet position, Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, met with Trump Monday, where the two spoke about their one area of agreement: working with Russia in Syria and ending American efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
After their meeting, Gabbard said the two “discussed my bill to end our country’s illegal war to overthrow the Syrian government, and the need to focus our precious resources on rebuilding our own country, and on defeating al Qaeda, ISIS,” and other terror groups. But, as FP’s Paul McLeary writes, that’s not a view widely shared on Capitol Hill. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) issued their own statement on Monday rejecting any agreement with Putin and Assad, since “they do not want to broker peace. They want to win a war. And American inaction is helping them to do it.”
Russia. Moscow confirmed on Monday it will deploy advanced S-400 surface-to-air missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems to its exclave Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, adding to the considerable arsenal Moscow keeps there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin explained his thinking, and issued a direct threat to NATO facilities in Eastern Europe. “Why are we reacting to NATO expansion so emotionally? We are concerned by NATO’s decision making,” he said, referring to the U.S.-funded missile shield being built in Eastern Europe. “What should we do? We have, therefore, to take countermeasures, which means to target with our missile systems the facilities that in our opinion start posing a threat to us.”
Relations with Moscow. Trump has repeatedly said he would like to improve relations with Putin, something the two confirmed in a telephone call last week. RAND Corp.’s Colin Clarke and William Courtney have an interesting piece outlining what the new administration needs to know about Russian unease with their own economic position, and fitful domestic politics, here.
China. Beijing has been beefing up its claims to the South China Sea by sending hundreds of commercial fishing vessels out to sea — boats that are organized by the government and act as a picket line of sorts for the Chinese navy.
U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Scott Swift recently told Defense News’ Chris Cavas and small group of reporters not to take the so-called Chinese maritime militia lightly, as they’re not “a rag-tag group of fishermen. They’re well organized.” The militia “have a clear command and control. It’s transparent to me,” he said. Lots more on the boats from FP’s Dan De Luce and Paul McLeary can be found here.
Allies. The U.K’s Royal Navy has seen better days, and “is struggling to stay afloat, and its parliament isn’t too happy about it,” FP’s Robbie Gramer tells us. “On Monday, Parliament’s Defense Select Committee issued a report excoriating the Royal Navy’s “woefully low” warship numbers and mismanaged modernization program. With one of Europe’s most powerful navies in dire straits, NATO could face troubled waters in the future as Russia bolsters its own naval forces.”
The corner office. Since he was tapped as the incoming White House national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn “has emerged as an exemplar of the sea-change and controversies that may be approaching U.S. foreign policy,” FP’s Elias Groll, Paul McLeary and Robbie Gramer write.
So far, “Flynn has feted Russian propaganda efforts alongside President Vladimir Putin; offered initial support for the attempted July coup against Turkey’s president — before changing his position after being hired as a lobbyist for an Ankara-linked outfit — and has described the United States and the West as participants in an apocalyptic clash with Islam.”
Last week, Flynn promised to sever all ties to his own consulting and lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, but the Trump transition team did not respond to a request from FP to describe how far along Flynn is in that process. The firm’s Web site has been taken down and scrubbed of all content, however. The URL for the site —flynnintelgroup.com — now displays only a generic military-style logo.
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No one’s quite sure whether president-elect Donald Trump will follow through on Putin-friendly campaign rhetoric once he takes office. Some congressional Republicans aren’t waiting to find out and are trying to issue a prebuttal to any attempt to reset relations with Moscow. Defense News reports that Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) wants to put together an aid package for wary Russian neighbors. On the Democratic side, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) is also pledging to introduce new legislation to sanction Russia for its alleged role in hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign.
French officials say they just busted a terror cell planning to carry out an attack in either Paris or Marseille, according to the AP. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says that the seven men arrested in France on Monday had been part of a cell planning attacks in France which included an aborted attempt to attack the Euro 2016 European soccer tournament. The seven men arrested today allegedly represented the operational side of a cell police disrupted in the summer by arrested the alleged money men. The cell reportedly received instructions from plotters based in Syria.
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov promised the Duma that the economic downturn facing the country won’t put the squeeze on arms purchases. Tass reports that Siluanov promised that Moscow will spend the same amount on weapons from 2017-2019 in order to maintain Russia’s modernization goals. The comes as Russian defense spending’s share of GDP shrinks from an projected 4.7 percent this year to 2.8 percent in 2019.
The Long War Journal reports on new statement from the Taliban claiming to have taken over another district. On the Taliban’s website, the group claimed it took Ghorak district, including a government building and military base. The claims haven’t been independently confirmed and the group has claimed to have taken Ghorak before. Nonetheless, fighting between the Taliban and government forces in Kandahar province has been intense with the Journal estimating at least three districts held by the group.
The investigation into the shooting death of three American Special Forces soldiers working for the CIA in Jordan has identified a culprit. The Washington Post reports that a Jordanian guard, now in coma after being wounded in a shootout during the incident, opened fire on the three men. Investigators are certain that the man intended to kill the Americans but his motive remains a mystery as officials scour the perpetrator’s history for evidence of terrorist connections or mental illness.
The Islamic State
We’ve known for a while that the Islamic State has used chemical weapons, but a new analysis shows the extent of the jihadist group’s use of the toxic munitions. The New York Times reports that a new analysis by IHS Conflict Matter estimates that the Islamic State has used chemical weapons on at least 52 different occasions. 19 of those attacks were concentrated around Mosul, where some now fear the group will use the weapons against American and Iraqi forces. Jihadist fighters deliver the weapons primarily through small artillery by filling shells with different kinds of toxic chemicals.
Medal of Honor recipient Florent Groberg and Army Secretary Eric Fanning made a surprise appearance to welcome 164 Americans at a citizenship ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia. Military.com reports that the two made brief remarks to the assembled citizens to-be. Floberg, himself an immigrant from France, spoke of how seeing loss of fellow soldiers reminded him of the sacrifice and strength that many have given to the country. Fanning, alluding to president-elect Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric during the campaign, hailed America’s openness as an “important national achievement,” despite the fact that these are “anxious times” to be an immigrant.
Photo Credit: YURI KOCHETKOV/AFP/Getty Images
Paul McLeary is Foreign Policy’s senior reporter covering the U.S. Defense Department and national security issues. @paulmcleary