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: Breedlove to FP: a need to rethink U.S. posture in Europe

Kerry was against Pollard's release before he was for it; Hagel to meet with Malaysian counterpart; Is a U.S. sub already on the hunt for 370?; CMC takes notice of an op-Ed; and a bit more.



By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

Breedlove tells FP that there’s little evidence Russia has pulled back – and suggests the U.S. needs to rethink its military posture in Europe. Lubold’s story: "The top U.S. commander in Europe said in an interview that he sees no sign that Russian forces are backing away from the border with Ukraine and called Moscow’s conquest and annexation of Crimea a ‘paradigm shift’ that requires a fundamental rethinking of where American forces are located and how they are trained.

Gen. Philip Breedlove, who serves as both the supreme allied commander of Europe and the head of the Pentagon’s European Command, said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces were still massed near eastern Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that Putin had ordered a partial withdrawal, but Breedlove offered a strikingly different, and more pessimistic, assessment of conditions on the ground there.

Breedlove to FP: "There are reported moves away from the border, but I must tell you that we do not see that yet…We are looking for it, and we have not seen movements to the rear."

Moscow has long claimed its troops had been stationed along the border for military exercises, but Breedlove said the forces were so well equipped that they could cross the border into eastern Ukraine, begin to deploy inside the country within 12 hours, and have essentially taken it over within several more days.

Beyond the soldiers, Breedlove said Moscow had deployed "the whole package" to the border, including helicopters and attack aircraft, as well as jamming systems and cyber-assets. The United States must see genuine movement away from the border and back to Russian garrisons before it will be convinced Moscow is trying to de-escalate the situation, he added.

Breedlove thinks there are long-term implications for U.S. policy and its military footprint in Europe as a result of the crisis. Before March, Breedlove’s primary concern was holding the line against cuts to U.S. military personnel in Europe, where there are now about 67,000 troops, down from about 100,000 in 1990. Although the Pentagon has announced no public proposals to draw down U.S. forces, European Command has been seen by some as low-hanging budgetary fruit since before February. During the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the perception of European Command’s operational and strategic importance sharply diminished, leaving it vulnerable to bureaucratic indifference.

Breedlove: "The question now is how is the force positioned and provisioned to prepare us for a new paradigm." Read our full story here.

Just noting: Breedlove is a passionate owner of a Harley-Davidson Street Glide. A stickler for motorcycle safety, Breedlove likes to say: "The only way to be an old man on a motorcycle is to ride your motorcycle like an old man." Also, did you know – Breedlove and Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were roomies at Georgia Tech.

Congress passes a bill to hit Russia with more sanctions and offer aid to Ukraine. Reuters’ Patricia Zengerle: "The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday for a package of aid and sanctions in response to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, and sent the measure to the White House for President Barack Obama to sign into law… The legislation backs a $1 billion loan guarantee for the Kiev government, provides $150 million in aid to Ukraine and surrounding countries and requires the U.S. State and Justice Departments to help the Kiev government recover assets amassed by corrupt Ukrainian officials." More here. 

Never surrender:  Russia will never give up Crimea. The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin: "When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea to Ukrainian control in 1954, it was simply for logistical and symbolic reasons, according to his son Sergei. Now, he swears, Russia will never give it back. Sergei Khrushchev has been living in the United States since emigrating from the Soviet Union in 1991 and is a naturalized American citizen, but he speaks as if he is still in the Russian government. He views the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich as an illegal seizure of the Kiev government by force and he insists that 96 percent of Crimeans voted to separate from Ukraine and join the Russian federation. Khrushchev spoke to The Daily Beast ahead of a Tuesday night speech at Bryant University in Rhode Island. Sergei Khrushchev: "Russia will never surrender." More here.

Wanna know how much each of these countries spend on defense per soldier? Stripes put this together, comparing in U.S. dollars, what Russia and Ukraine spend per soldier relative to other countries, citing information from the security affairs consultancy HIS Aerospace & Defense: United States $381,306; United Kingdom $330,810; France $231,934; Russia $83,478; China $77,712; India $35,732; Ukraine $11,937. See that list here.

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John Kerry was against Pollard’s release before he was for it. FP’s Shane Harris and John Hudson: "In January 1999, a bipartisan group of senators sent a strongly worded letter to President Bill Clinton urging him not to commute the prison sentence of Jonathan Pollard, who was then in the 12th year of a life sentence for spying for Israel. Freeing Pollard, the lawmakers said, would ‘imply a condonation of spying against the United States by an ally,’ would overlook the ‘enormity’ of Pollard’s offenses and the damage he had caused to national security, and would undermine the United States’ ability to share secrets with foreign governments. Among the 60 signatories of the letter was John Kerry, then a senator from Massachusetts. Fifteen years later, Kerry is singing a very different tune.

Now, as the secretary of state, Kerry has supported using Pollard’s potential release as a bargaining chip in the Obama administration’s attempts to salvage the flailing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks." More here.

Who is Jonathan Pollard anyway? The Christian Science Monitor’s Explainer Peter Grier explains here.

Clapper admits that the NSA searched Americans’ communications without a warrant. WaPo’s Ellen Nakashima: "Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. acknowledged that the National Security Agency has searched for Americans’ communications without warrants in massive databases that gather e-mails and phone calls of foreign targets. Although recently declassified documents made clear that the NSA had conducted such searches, no senior intelligence official had previously acknowledged the practice. Clapper did so in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden released Tuesday. Clapper did not disclose the number of times the NSA had searched for Americans’ communications without a warrant as part of a program authorized under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act." More here.

A British sub is searching for Flight 370 and an American sub may already be on the move. FP’s Dan Lamothe: "The British Navy just sent a nuclear-powered submarine to the South Indian Ocean to help search for the Malaysian airliner that has been missing in March. The United States has not announced any similar decisions, but analysts caution that the U.S. Navy prides itself on keeping the movement of its submarines silent, and may already be in the hunt. ‘The value of a submarine is in its stealth and its ability to stay hidden,’ said Eric Wertheim, an analyst with the United States Naval Institute in Annapolis, Md. ‘It could very well be doing it. But countries don’t typically announce their submarines’ locations.’" More here.

Hagel is going to meet with his Malaysian counterpart and Flight 370 will be on the agenda. AP’s Lita Baldor: "Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with Malaysia’s defense minister this week, amid ongoing criticism about how well the search for missing Flight 370 has been conducted and coordinated with other nations.

The defense leaders will come together at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations hosted by Hagel in Honolulu. And a key topic will be how all the countries can better work together during disasters like the missing Malaysian Airlines plane and Typhoon Haiyan that ravaged the Philippines late last year. ‘There’s always lessons to be learned,’ Hagel said when asked Tuesday about the search for the plane by reporters traveling with him en route to Hawaii. ‘We’re going to go back, the Malaysians will go back, all the ASEAN nations will go back and walk through this. What could have been done, maybe what should have been done, what needs to be done better. But coordination is a key part of this.’" More here.

Hagel pens an op-Ed on the need for a "shared responsibility" in Asia. Hagel, in Defense One: "In a world where security challenges do not adhere to political boundaries and our economies are linked as never before, no nation can go it alone and hope to prosper. Achieving sustained security and prosperity in the 21st century requires nations to work together and to meet common challenges with uncommon unity and purpose. This kind of unity is increasingly visible in the Asia-Pacific, one of the most critical regions for global security and the global economy. Just recently, the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 brought together more than 25 countries to conduct a complex search operation across the Indian Ocean’s vast expanses…" His BL: "For more than 60 years, the Asia-Pacific region has enjoyed relative peace and stability and become an engine for global progress and prosperity. The beneficiaries of this progress have been the people of the region, and that includes the American people. The region has benefited from American leadership, and it will continue to do so. But sustaining this progress is not the work of any single nation – it is a shared responsibility. And the more nations that embrace this responsibility and spirit of cooperation, the more confident we can be that Asia in the 21st century will be defined by security and prosperity for all its people." More here.

The Taliban’s rule casts a dark shadow over this week’s election in Afghanistan. The New Yorker’s Anand Gopal:  "On April 5th, the scheduled date of Afghanistan’s upcoming Presidential election, there will be around a dozen polling centers in Chak, a narrow valley of mud homes and alfalfa farms that lies some forty miles from Kabul. A few of the centers, which are essentially rooms with a section curtained off for voting, will be in schools; others will be in mosques. At least two will be in tents pitched on mountain slopes, near the grazing ranges of nomadic herders. Freshly painted campaign billboards loom over the road into the valley. Tens of thousands of ballots are ready for delivery, and officials are considering a helicopter drop for some of the valley’s most remote reaches.
"None of this will matter, though, because on Election Day there will not be a single voter or election worker in any of Chak’s polling centers. When I asked a U.S.-backed militia commander in the area, whom I will call Raqib, to explain why, he drew a finger across his throat, and said, ‘Taliban.’
"The country’s first democratic Presidential contest without Hamid Karzai-who is prevented by term limits from seeking reëlection-is supposed to represent a milestone, one of the rare peaceful transitions of power in the nation’s history. But these elections will take place in a barely functioning state: the Taliban insurgency still rages in roughly half the country, where it often wields de facto authority. In these areas, casting a vote amounts to a death wish, because the Taliban view the exercise as traitorous. Election authorities have classified three thousand one hundred and forty of the six thousand eight hundred and forty-five polling stations as unsafe; large swathes of the country, particularly in the south and east, might see almost no turnout." More here.

There were no American deaths in Afghanistan in March. AP: "The Pentagon says there were no U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan in March – the first zero-fatality month there since January 2007. American casualties in Afghanistan have declined as the number of U.S. forces has grown smaller and their role has shifted away from combat. U.S. troops are focused on training and advising Afghan forces." More here.

Afghan leaders calculate that participation in the political process is in their interest. USIP’s Shahmahmood Miakhel for FP: "In a few days, Afghanistan will experience its first democratic transfer of power. Yet despite the historic nature of the 2014 presidential election, scheduled for April 5, voting day was the furthest thing from most Afghans’ minds in late 2013. Though the Afghan parliament had passed several electoral laws in the fall of 2012 and current President Hamid Karzai had given numerous public assurances that he had no intention of delaying the vote or attempting to hold on to power, Afghans were, at worst, disbelieving and, at best, non-committal about the elections.
"Though 11 presidential candidates had been confirmed by December 2013 (there are now eight), the election remained on the backburner for policy makers and media pundits, both of which were focused on the wrangling between Karzai and President Obama over a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) that would pave the way for a continued U.S. military presence in Afghanistan once the NATO combat mission ended in December 2014.
"But by early February, two crucial things had changed. First, it had become so clear that Karzai would not sign the BSA that the issue receded into the background; and second, the presidential campaign had begun. The candidates were suddenly everywhere and the population was energized by televised debates and campaign rallies across the country." More here.

The op-Ed in the WaPo from a female Marine got CMC’s attention. Seapower’s Otto Kreisher: "The U.S. Marine Corps commandant has reacted swiftly to a female Marine officer’s complaint that women are unfairly precluded from trying a second time to pass the prestigious Marine Corps Infantry Officers Course, when men can have a second try. In response to a question from a female Army officer at an Atlantic Council forum April 1, Gen. James F. Amos said he has ordered a change in the rules and lavished praise not only on Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Sage Santangelo, who protested the restriction, but on all his female Marines. And, Amos said, he offered Santangelo a chance to go to Afghanistan while she awaits an opening in flight training. ‘I got an answer back in about 14 nanoseconds. … So we’re cutting orders right now. Sage is going to go to Afghanistan, to join the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Forward over there,’ the commandant said." More here.

Sage Santangelo’s original op-Ed, published in the WaPo on Sunday; her BLUF: "It’s frustrating to me that there are still doubts about whether women are capable of handling combat environments. The women who have been awarded for their valor in combat, and the women who have died in combat for their country, have already answered the question about capability. Now, instead of passively evaluating their performance, we need to figure out how to set women up to excel in infantry roles. My hope is that the Marine Corps will allow every Marine the opportunity to compete. And that when we fail, our failure is seen simply as a challenge to others to succeed." Read the original op-Ed here.

Abu Ghaith trial vindicates Holder. WaPo’s Sari Horwitz: "The trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, took 22 days. A federal jury deliberated for six hours, and after they returned with a guilty verdict last week on terrorism charges, the al-Qaeda propagandist was left facing a life sentence in one of this country’s grim, maximum-security prisons. For U.S. prosecutors, including Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., the case is proof positive of how much more swift and severe the federal courts are when compared to military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the trials of suspected terrorists continue to play out in seemingly endless procedural hearings." Read more here.

The GOP hopes to use Paul Ryan’s budget to boost its defense cred. Defense News’ John Bennett: "House Budget Committee Chairman and possible presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan unveiled a GOP spending plan Tuesday that would inflate President Barack Obama’s proposed Pentagon spending level by over $30 billion. The much-anticipated 2015 ‘Ryan budget‘ almost certainly will be approved by the Republican-controlled House. But the Wisconsin Republican’s spending plan isn’t going anywhere beyond the lower chamber – Senate Budget Committee Chairman Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., says she will not craft a 2015 budget resolution. That’s because December’s bipartisan budget resolution, negotiated by Ryan and Murray, covered 2014 and 2015. It’s also because she and other Senate Democratic leaders loathe cuts to decades-old domestic programs and Obamacare that Ryan proposes." More here.

Dempsey says that the Israelis trust the U.S. to act on Iran. USA Today’s Jim Michaels: "Israel and the United States are now in broad agreement about the threat that Iran poses to the region and how to deal with it, the top U.S. military official said Tuesday. ‘I think they are satisfied that we have the capability to use a military option if the Iranians choose to stray off the diplomatic path,’ Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said of Israeli officials. ‘I think they are satisfied we have the capability. I think they believe we will use it.’ Acknowledging there were differences in the past, Dempsey said Israel and the United States are closer now in their assessment of the threat Iran poses and America’s willingness to act. Dempsey made the remarks after wrapping up a two-day visit to Israel, where he met with military and government officials." Full story 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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