Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

FP’s Situation Report: Only measured success on Ukraine political talks

Denny Blair to Sasakawa; Breedlove back to Europe; Why Asia Pacific countries are scared to share; Weapons spending creeps upward; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel 

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel 

From Paris, Kerry and Lavrov agree that a political solution is necessary for Ukraine. The LA Times’ Paul Richter: "The top U.S. and Russian diplomats agreed Sunday to work with Ukrainian officials to ease the crisis triggered by Russia’s decision to annex Crimea, but remained far apart on most other key points after four hours of talks in Paris. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called the meeting constructive and said they wanted to continue talks to resolve how the polarized country should be governed. But while Lavrov demanded that the interim government in Kiev rewrite the constitution to allow provinces to exercise broad autonomy, Kerry insisted that any such decisions could only be made by the authorities who ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich one month ago." Full story here.

Hagel sends top NATO commander back to Europe early to reassure allies.  Reuters’ Phil Stewart: "U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has sent America’s top general in Europe back early from a trip to Washington in what a spokesman on Sunday called a prudent step given Russia’s "lack of transparency" about troop movements across the border with Ukraine. General Philip Breedlove, who is both NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the head of the U.S. military’s European Command, had been due to testify before Congress this week. Instead, he arrived in Europe Saturday evening and will be consulting with allies. "(Hagel) considered Breedlove’s early return the prudent thing to do, given the lack of transparency and intent from Russian leadership about their military movements across the border," Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told Reuters, which was first to report the decision." Read more here.

Ten reasons not to believe Putin won’t invade, on FP, here.

And Reuters’ Top Five Ways the Ukraine crisis will change the world is here.

Welcome to Monday’s edition of Situation Report. If you’d like to sign up to receive Situation Report, send us a note at and we’ll just stick you on. Like what you see? Tell a friend.  And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease, because if you see something, we hope you’ll say something — to Situation Report. And one more thing: please do follow us @glubold.

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Good news: we have help for the first time in 19 months. Nathaniel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, is giving us an assist. He knows all about making the donuts – he puts together a similar product each morning for the Center. Nathaniel is going to keep his day job but has agreed to help us out here on SitRep for awhile. Welcome Nathaniel by following him on the Tweeters at @njsobe4.

Something you didn’t know until now: Denny Blair has a new gig at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and the Foundation gets a big lift. Blair, the former Director of National Intelligence and U.S. Pacific Command commander, has been named as the new chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, giving the sleepy non-profit some horsepower and helping to build it as a new go-to think tank for all issues relating to Japan. Sasakawa is a  private nonprofit based in Tokyo that supports public policy programs and research based on the idea that a strong Japan-U.S. relationship brings regional peace and prosperity. But Blair’s appointment is a sign that the organization is upping its public policy game in Washington. It’s also part of a revived focus on restoring the prominence of the U.S.-Japanese relationship and Tokyo’s new emphasis on national security. A big conference in Washington, with Japanese dignitaries and American officials, is planned for April 30.

What’s Blair been doing? He participated in a big study on cybersecurity that he co-chaired with Jon Huntsman, and another recent energy report from Securing America’s Energy Future, or SAFE, that he co-chaired with former Marine Commandant Mike Hagee along with a number of other projects. More here.

A Fear of sharing: As the search for Flight 370 continues, the countries in the Asia Pacific need to learn how to coordinate and share intel, Vikram Singh and Sam Locklear tell FP. Our story, with an assist from Dan Lamothe: "There are myriad questions surrounding the ongoing search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, but one thing has become crystal clear to U.S. military officials: Asia Pacific countries need to learn how to play together better.
"The search for the jetliner,
now in its 22nd day, would have gone faster and maybe have been more effective had Malaysia, China, India and other countries involved in the search learned better how to share their intelligence and coordinate the information they had, say current and former Pentagon officials.

"While the search for the jetliner shows a high degree of cooperation between countries in the region, there are a number of examples where that coordination fell short. Many of the problems stem from Malaysia’s own handling of the disaster. The government in Kuala Lumpur was slow to react or explain to the public or other countries what it was doing in the hours and days immediately following the plane’s disappearance.
"But a majority of the issues are the result of countries not working well together. Governments were either too slow to share information, or were reluctant to do so, stifling the search and delaying it by days, American defense officials said."

Vikram Singh, who last month left the Pentagon as a deputy assistant secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, to Situation Report: "This is yet another example of the incredible need to share among countries in the Asia Pacific." More here.

Speaking of which: Japan and the U.S. are creating a new defense body for those disputed islands. The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Takashi Imai on Stripes: "Japan and the United States plan to create a permanent consultative body to coordinate the operations of the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military in the face of China’s highhanded actions over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, Japanese and U.S. government sources said. The envisaged body is expected to help Japan and the United States deal quickly with situations in and around the islands that cannot be clearly identified as armed attacks, the sources said. Establishment of the consultative body will be included in revisions to the Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation scheduled for the end of the year." More here.

A deeper look at flight and crew amid no real clues about Flight 370. The WSJ’s Jake Maxwell Watts and Jeffrey Ng: "Authorities are taking a deeper look at the lives of the passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 after hundreds of interviews and background checks yielded no likely suspects in the investigation of the plane’s disappearance. The past week of searching for wreckage in the Indian Ocean turned up only items unrelated to the plane, and without any direct evidence of how the plane disappeared, investigators are redoubling efforts to determine who could have been involved in the ‘deliberate act’ officials believe took the plane off course. "We cannot zero in on any faults by passengers or crew members so we are focusing on getting into value-added information in order to strengthen our investigative findings," Malaysian Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi told reporters Saturday in Kuala Lumpur. He didn’t elaborate." More here.

Naturally: weapons spending creeps upward: a data story with cool charts and graphics. Defense News’ Marcus Weisgerber: "The Pentagon’s five-year projections for procurement spending on its 63 major weapons programs, submitted to Congress this month, has turned more positive than last year’s spending forecast, according to an analysis of the US Defense Department’s 63 top weapons programs compiled by analytical firm VisualDoD. The 2014 outlook for these efforts showed an overall 0.6 percent decline across the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP). The 2015 FYDP projects a slight growth of 2.5 percent. Despite the slightly more rosy forecast, there is one issue that could throw a wrench into Pentagon procurement plans. DoD’s overall five-year spending outlook is $115 billion above federal spending caps, meaning it would need to be heavily modified or cut if sequestration remains in 2016 and beyond. Read that, with a bunch of charts, here.

Also, read the resignation letter of the senior officer at Malmstrom AFB in the wake of the nuke scandal. AP, here.

Drone use is declining in Afghanistan. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "A March 6 airstrike in Afghanistan killed at least five Afghan soldiers and wounded eight more – an egregious accident that prompted the U.S.-led military coalition to launch an ongoing investigation into what occurred. Afghan officials allege the attack was carried out by a drone, long the Obama administration’s weapon of choice, while the U.S. says it involved a manned aircraft. Either way, the strike highlights an important — and surprising — shift:  Both the amount of time drones spend over Afghanistan and the number of total coalition airstrikes are in steep decline, and that trend is likely to accelerate as the U.S. withdraws most of its remaining troops in the months ahead." Read the full story here.

BTW – We told you Friday that the spouses of airmen would be smiling this past weekend as airmen participating in "Moustache March" shed their Tom Selleck-like mustaches for the little morale-building service challenge thrown down by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh in February. We misread the calendar by a day. Indeed, some airmen will have shaved their ‘staches over the weekend – March 30 being reasonably close to the end of the month when they don’t have to look ridiculous anymore. But the wives of airmen will really be smiling today, the last day of March, of course, when, technically speaking, Moustache March is over. Congratulations, ladies, for standing by your (air)man this month.

North Korea Vows to Use ‘New Form’ of Nuclear Test. The NYT’s Choe Sang-Hun: "North Korea threatened on Sunday to carry out a "new form" of nuclear test, a year after its third nuclear test raised military tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula and prompted the United Nations to tighten sanctions against the North. The North’s Foreign Ministry did not clarify what it meant by a "new form" in its statement, carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. But Washington and its allies have long suspected the country of trying to make nuclear devices small and sophisticated enough to be delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles it was also developing. Responding to the North’s announcement, Cho Tai-young, the spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that "North Korea should bear in mind that if it ignores the stern demand from the neighboring countries and the international community and carries out a nuclear test, it will have to pay a price for it."  Full story here.

Ahead of Afghan presidential vote Saturday, candidates focus on the north. The NYT’s Azam Ahmed: "When the presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani took the stage this month before more than 15,000 people in the northern province of Kunduz, his speech about fighting corruption and the need for unity and security was met with polite applause. Then his running mate, the warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek, took the stage. The crowd erupted, with his supporters pressing to the edge of a 10-foot-deep trench dug to keep them from rushing the dais.
"In effect, Mr. Ghani, a multilingual technocrat with a doctorate from Columbia University who is considered a front-runner, was relegated to being the warm-up act for his vice-presidential candidate. Despite being seen as a controversial figure, Mr. Dostum is unrivaled in his appeal to Afghanistan’s Uzbek population, which lives almost entirely in the north. That Mr. Ghani has featured Mr. Dostum so prominently on his ticket is a testament to how important the north is in the presidential vote set for Saturday.
"…The appeal is clear: In 2009, more voters turned out in the north than in any other region. Traveling is safer here than in other parts of the country, making it easier for voters to get to the polls. And for the winning candidate, good relations with northern power brokers will be crucial to forming a government with broad support."  Read more here.

The things they carried: Ahead of this week’s pivotal elections in Afghanistan, a look at what international monitors pack, literally. Jeffrey Stern, on FP: "Established in 2004, [Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan] is an independent NGO that observes elections and works to ensure their transparency. Today, FEFA is gearing up for its most complex mission to date. During the April election, it will deploy 10,000 observers to 399 voting districts to document intimidation, electioneering, and other polling irregularities. If recent history is any indicator, FEFA has its work cut out for it: Afghanistan’s last four national votes were marred by endemic bribery, intimidation, and violence… Faraz invited Foreign Policy to FEFA’s compound in western Kabul in January, where she showed us what she carries on the job and what a typical poll observer never leaves home without." Read the rest here.

Karzai steps up accusations against Pakistan in call with Kerry. AP’s  Kathy Gannon: "In a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Hamid Karzai accused Pakistan of being behind a recent series of attacks and of blocking his government from striking a peace deal with the Taliban, the Afghan president’s office said Sunday. Karzai routinely makes such accusations against Islamabad, but his tone in recent days has been particularly pointed and direct. They come after three attacks in five days in the capital Kabul, the latest coming on Saturday when assailants fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at the country’s electoral commission ahead of next week’s general election. Karzai told Kerry on Saturday the attacks were complex in nature and stage-managed by "foreign intelligence agencies," a reference to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence. He also told Kerry that he did not accept U.S. arguments that it had no influence "over countries that support terrorism," and said the U.S.’s refusal to go after the Pakistani intelligence agency could further hurt its relations with Afghanistan." More here.

Two weeks after criticizing American policy, Israeli defense minister accepts 10 more years of US aid. Defense News’ Barbara Opall-Rome: "Despite misgivings over US President Barack Obama’s Mideast agenda and deep-rooted doubts about his ability to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, the Israeli government is taking the US president at his word that it can expect another decade of military aid. In fact, it’s banking on it. After many months of internal debate and bureaucratic resistance from the Israeli Treasury, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has government approval to take on more than $2 billion in commercial debt for near-term buys of V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft and other Pentagon-approved weaponry.

"Under a US-approved deferred payment plan (DPP), Israel would pay only interest and fees over the course of the current agreement set to expire in September 2018. Principal will be covered by the new Obama-pledged package that would extend annual foreign military financing (FMF) aid through 2028, US and Israeli sources say." More here.

In first live broadcast from Fort Meade NSA headquarters on Friday, Hagel announces an increase in the U.S. cyberwarfare force. The WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima: "The Pentagon is significantly growing the ranks of its cyberwarfare unit in an effort to deter and defend against foreign attacks on crucial U.S. networks, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday.
"In his first major speech on cyber policy, Hagel sought to project strength but also to tame perceptions of the United States as an aggressor in computer warfare, stressing that the government "does not seek to militarize cyberspace." His remarks, delivered at the retirement ceremony of Gen. Keith Alexander, the outgoing director of the National Security Agency and Cyber Command, come in advance of Hagel’s trip to China next week, his first as defense secretary.
"The issues of cyberwarfare and cyber-espionage have been persistent sources of tensions between Washington and Beijing. Hagel said that the fighting force at U.S. Cyber Command will number more than 6,000 people by 2016, making it one of the largest such ­forces in the world. The force will help expand the president’s options for responding to a crisis with "full-spectrum cyber capabilities," Hagel said, a reference to cyber operations that can include destroying, damaging or sabotaging an adversary’s computer systems and that can complement other military operations.
"But, Hagel said, the military’s first purpose is "to prevent and de-escalate conflict." The Pentagon will maintain "an approach of restraint to any cyber operations outside of U.S. government networks." More here.


Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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