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: The sanctions are coming, the sanctions are coming

Military muscle flexing in Asia; Hagel's approval rating low; Crash in Afg probably an accident; Assad to seek a third term; In China, the Big Ban Theory; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

By Gordon Lubold with Nathaniel Sobel

U.S. beefs up military options for China as Obama reassures allies in Asia.  The WSJ’s Adam Entous and Julian E. Barnes on Page One this morning: "The U.S. military has prepared options for a muscular response to any future Chinese provocations in the South and East China seas, ranging from displays of B-2 bomber flights near China to aircraft-carrier exercises near its coastal waters, officials said.
"The menu of options, described by officials briefed on the action plan, reflects concerns that U.S. allies in Asia have questions about the Obama administration’s commitments to its security obligations, particularly after Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula.
"The security question has closely followed President Barack Obama in recent days during his four-country Asian trip.
Washington’s closest allies in Asia have told American counterparts that Crimea is seen as a possible litmus test of what Washington will do if China attempted a similar power grab in the South China and East China seas, according to current and former U.S. officials.
"‘They’re concerned. But it’s not only about Crimea. It’s a crescendo that’s been building,’ a senior U.S. defense official said, citing skepticism in Asia that Washington is prepared to back up its word and carry through on its renewed strategic focus on Asia.
"Just before Mr. Obama landed in the Philippines on Monday, U.S. and Philippine officials finalized an agreement allowing for the return of U.S. forces, more than two decades after Philippine opposition forced Washington to abandon its military network there.
"Similarly, Mr. Obama in a visit to Japan stood side-by-side Thursday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and called the U.S. treaty commitments to Japan’s security ‘absolute.’" More here.

The rebalancing to Asia is real and the president isn’t there right now to salvage a phantom policy. CNAS’ Ely Ratner: "Former Vice President Al Gore told a crowd at the University of Hawaii on April 15 that using fake science to mislead the public on climate change is ‘immoral, unethical, and despicable.’ Currently on a weeklong trip to Asia, President Barack Obama can probably sympathize, as he faces a cadre of skeptics committed to the idea that one of his leading foreign policy priorities — the pivot to Asia — is somehow an illusion. After a decade of war in the Middle East and South Asia, Obama and his national security team launched a comprehensive set of initiatives in the fall of 2011 to afford greater attention and resources to Asia. The official moniker has since evolved into the ‘rebalancing’ to Asia, but its contents haven’t changed much. And its achievements are considerable." More here.

An American seeks asylum in North Korea. Reuters’ Victoria Cavaliere: "A 24-year-old American man detained in North Korea had arranged a private tour of the country through a U.S. travel company and gave no indication he might try to seek asylum upon arriving in Pyongyang, the company’s director said Sunday. Matthew Todd Miller was taken into custody by North Korean officials after entering the country on April 10, ripping up his tourist visa and demanding asylum, according to North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency. Miller’s travel to North Korea was arranged by New Jersey-based Uri Tours, which specializes in guided trips through the isolated Communist country, and he gave no indication he might be seeking asylum." More 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. Follow us: @glubold and @njsobe4.

A new Defense News poll shows low approval ratings for Hagel. Defense News’ Zachary Fryer-Biggs: "More leaders in government, industry and academia disapprove of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s job performance – 44.9 percent – than approve – 36.2 percent, according to a new Defense News Thought-Leader Poll. While Hagel received strong support from self-identified Democrats with 82.6 percent approving, a combination of Republican disapproval at 62.4 percent and those working in industry disapproving at 50.9 percent pushed Hagel into negative territory. Those in the military gave Hagel positive marks at 44/36 percent approval/disapproval, and Defense Department civilians were evenly split at 38.2 percent." More here.

Who’s where when? Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno is recognizing four civilians for their support of the Army at a special Army "Twilight Tattoo" presentation with the Outstanding Civilian Service Award, the third highest public service honor the Army can bestow, to Mike Duke of Wal-Mart, Roger Goodell of the National Football League, Cheryl Jensen of the Vail Veterans Program and Barbara Van Dahlen of the Give an Hour Program. Tonight at 6pm at Whipple Field at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Va.

Hey, send us your who’s where whens. Your boss doing something tomorrow? Send us the deets and we’ll highlight them. Not hard, and maybe he or she will give you an award someday.

The sanctions are coming, the sanctions are coming. The NYT’s Mark Landler and Peter Baker: "President Obama, declaring that Russia was continuing to bully and threaten Ukraine, said here on Monday that the United States would impose additional sanctions on Russian individuals and entities, as well as freezing some exports of military technology. The announcement, during a visit by Mr. Obama to the Philippines, was widely expected. Last week, the president said that the sanctions were "teed up" and were being delayed only by technical issues and the need to coordinate with the European Union. The fact that the announcement was made on the last stop of Mr. Obama’s weeklong Asian trip underscored the sense of urgency about fears that Russia was destabilizing eastern Ukraine." More here.

Should the U.S. go harder on sanctions than European allies? The question the NYT’s Peter Baker and C.J. Chivers attempt to answer: "As President Obama and his national security team struggle to increase pressure on Russia over its intervention in Ukraine, they have become entangled in a tense debate over how much emphasis to put on unity with European allies more reluctant to take stronger economic actions against Moscow. So far, Mr. Obama has opted to stick close to the Europeans to maintain an undivided front, even at the expense of more punishing sanctions and quicker responses to Kremlin provocations. But some inside and outside the administration argue that the United States should act unilaterally if necessary, on the assumption that the Europeans will ultimately follow.

"…The sanctions to b
e announced as early as
Monday would single out more people close to President Vladimir V. Putin as well as certain companies. Among them are likely to be Igor Sechin, president of the state-owned Rosneft oil company, and Aleksei Miller, head of the state-owned energy giant Gazprom, American officials said.

"The measures will also block certain high-technology exports to the Russian defense industry, officials added, without elaborating. But while some of Mr. Obama’s advisers want him to impose sanctions against whole sectors of the Russian economy, the president has decided against it for now, cognizant of the resistance of European nations that have far more at stake economically, officials said." More here.

A memo from a Putin aide to Putin: Hey boss, a little help here? For FP,  Jim Stavridis takes on the Ukrainian crisis, from the perspective of a bemused advisor in the Kremlin.  Stavridis goes through the consequences of the Crimean adventure in Europe and the West, Central Asia, China, India, the Artic, Africa and Latin America, and asks: "Having burned our bridges to the West with Europe (well done, of course, and the prizes of Crimea, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia are clearly worth it), where shall we focus ourselves as we create the New Russia of the 21st century?" Read the full memo here.

This morning at Brookings, the release of a new report on nukes from the Arms Control Association and Brookings provided to Situation Report early: U.S.-Russian-German Commission Calls for Deeper Nuclear Cuts, Practical Steps for Enhancing Euro-Atlantic and International Security. ACA: "The commission’s report finds that ‘even after implementation of the New START treaty, the United States and the Russian Federation will possess nuclear arsenals that far exceed reasonable deterrence requirements, with hundreds of nuclear arms assigned to targets in each other’s territory and available for prompt launch.’ The report, calls on the two sides to ‘initiate talks on a New START follow-on agreement mandating significant and stabilizing nuclear cuts’ to no more than 1,000 deployed strategic warheads and 500 deployed strategic delivery vehicles for each side. The United States currently deploys 1,585 strategic warheads and 788 strategic delivery systems; Russia deploys 1,512 strategic warheads on 498 strategic delivery systems." Full report here. Deets for the event at Brookings this morning at 10am, here.

Also this morning, the future of Marine aviation with Brig. Gen. Matthew Glavy at CSIS. Deets here.

Priorities shift within the defense industry as firms report mixed earnings amid a shrinking Pentagon budget. Amrita Jayakumar in the WaPo: "Washington defense firms Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman last week released their first earnings reports of the year. The results were largely mixed. All three posted higher profits, but sales plummeted in the combat and information systems segments as the government’s defense budget continued to shrink. Company executives had warned that 2014 would bring budget challenges and political wrangling." The roundup of what to expect this year and "how contractors are adjusting their priorities," here.

The GAO report slams the Pentagon for wasting millions on ammunition. USA Today’s Tom Vanden Brook: "The Pentagon plans to destroy more than $1 billion worth of ammunition although some of those bullets and missiles could still be used by troops, according to the Pentagon and congressional sources. It’s impossible to know what portion of the arsenal slated for destruction – valued at $1.2 billion by the Pentagon – remains viable because the Defense Department’s inventory systems can’t share data effectively, according to a Government Accountability Office report obtained by USA Today. The result: potential waste of unknown value." More here.

The Iranians are going to blow it up after all. The AP’s story: "An Iranian newspaper is reporting that the country’s military plans to target a mock-up American aircraft carrier during upcoming war games. The Sunday report by independent Haft-e Sobh daily quotes Adm. Ali Fadavi, navy chief of the powerful Revolutionary Guards as saying Iranian forces should ‘target the carrier in the trainings, after it is completed.’ Adm. Fadavi said: ‘We should learn about weaknesses and strengths of our enemy.’ This is the first reaction by Iranian officials to a March report that said Iran is building a simple replica of the USS Nimitz in a shipyard in the southern port of Bandar Abbas. Iranian officials did not comment then but state TV said it would be used in a movie." More here.

Turns out, paintball can be therapeutic for vets. Mary Ann Ford for the Bloomington Pantagraph: While Chris Aguayo was serving in the U.S. Army, he witnessed his best friend burn to death in a Humvee. ‘It took its toll on me,’ he said. ‘I had survivor’s guilt. I went into a huge depression.’ In an effort to cope, he requested a change in military bases. It was there that one of his buddies suggested he start playing paintball. ‘It was my first taste of playing paintball with a group,’ he said. It happened only months before he was deployed to Afghanistan – his second tour of duty. He previously went to Iraq. ‘It was a big help for me,’ he said. ‘It jump-started my idea to put together my own team. I wanted to take that and give back to other active members and vets.’ Now Aguayo, 29, a freshman at Illinois State University, has organized a military-structured Task Force Legion that has paintball teams across 10 states, including the Charlie Company in Illinois." More here.

Sunday’s Page One: Afghan presidential vote signals a turn. The NYT’s Rod Nordland and Azam Ahmed in Kabul: "Abdullah Abdullah, a longtime opponent of President Hamid Karzai and an ardent supporter of the United States, emerged Saturday as the clear front-runner in Afghanistan’s presidential election.
"In preliminary results released Saturday, Mr. Abdullah had won 45 percent of the vote, not enough to avoid a runoff with Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist and Karzai adviser, who had won 32 percent. But Afghan government officials say Mr. Abdullah is on the verge of forging alliances with at least two of the runners-up to gain their support, and possibly the presidency, in the next round.
"Either of the top two candidates would represent a significant break with the years of deteriorating relations the United States has had with Afghanistan under Mr. Karzai, and a shift toward greater bilateral cooperation. Each c
andidate has said, for instance, that he would sign a security agreement allowing American forces to remain in the country past 2014, which Mr. Karzai negotiated but refused to sign.
"But the United States and its NATO allies were likely to see the apparent advantage for Mr. Abdullah, with his long record of advocating closer relations with the United States and a more militant stance against the Taliban, as encouraging, although they have been careful not to express support for any candidate in the race.
"…Mr. Karzai, who is stepping down after 12 years in power, has been studiously neutral throughout the campaign and has maintained silence on the issue since the April 5 election. Officials in the presidential palace have said he is deeply worried about Mr. Abdullah’s apparent success." More here.

The UK’s William Hague says deaths in Lynx aircraft in southern Afghanistan were likely a tragic accident. Peter Walker and Catherine James for the Guardian in Kabul: "The British government has rejected claims that the Taliban shot down a helicopter which crashed in southern Afghanistan, killing five British military personnel, saying the deaths appeared to have been a tragic accident. The local Afghan governor said no insurgents were near the site at the time. Those killed were named on Sunday night as Captain Thomas Clarke, Warrant Officer Spencer Faulkner, Corporal James Walters, all of the Army Air Corps (AAC). They lost their lives with Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of the Royal Air Force and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps. The crash of the Lynx aircraft in Kandahar province on Saturday was the third greatest single loss of life among British troops since the conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001." More here.

In Iraq, a fledgling Army that is outmatched on the battlefield. The WSJ’s Matt Bradley and Ali Nabhan on Page One: "Even as an al Qaeda-linked militant group celebrated a major victory in Western Iraq last month, militants from the same jihadist group launched another operation clear across the country. In coordinated predawn attacks, gunmen blew up two bridges in a village outside the eastern town of Qara Tepe. They detonated a fuel tanker at a police base close to nearby Injana, shot 12 soldiers and incinerated their bodies. By afternoon, militants had attacked four other police and army checkpoints. Instead of bolstering their ranks, some police and military checkpoints simply packed up and left. Lacking protection, hundreds of villagers fled their homes for larger towns…

"More than two years after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, as the country prepares for its first post-occupation parliamentary elections on Wednesday, its demoralized, underequipped military is losing the fight against Islamist militants, who are better armed, better trained, and better motivated, according to Iraqi and American generals, politicians and analysts.

Says Aziz Latif, a farmer who fled an Iraqi village after it was attacked March 21: "The security forces are weak, and they are putting the responsibility for their weakness on us… They are not professional." Read the rest of the Journal story here.

Assad seeks re-election for a third term in Syria. Reuters this hour: "Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared on Monday he will run for re-election in a vote on June 3 which is widely expected to secure him a third term in office despite a three-year civil war stemming from protests against his rule. Parliament Speaker Mohammad al-Laham made the announcement during a televised session of Syria’s parliament." More here.

Syrian rebels who received the first U.S. missiles of the war see the shipment as ‘an important first step.’ The WaPo’s Liz Sly from Syria on Page One: "Under the leadership of a young, battle-hardened rebel commander, the men entrusted with the first American missiles to be delivered to the Syrian war are engaged in an ambitious effort to forge a new, professional army.
"Abdullah Awda, 28, says he and his recently formed Harakat Hazm – or Movement of Steadfastness – were chosen to receive the weapons because of their moderate views and, just as important, their discipline. At the group’s base, sprawled across rocky, forested wilderness in the northern province of Idlib, soldiers wear uniforms, get medical checkups and sleep in bunk beds under matching blankets.
"The scene is a far cry from the increasingly pervasive view of a chaotic, ragtag rebel movement that has fallen under the sway of Islamist extremists. Such concerns have long deterred the Obama administration from arming the Syrian opposition.
"But the arrival at the base last month of U.S.-made TOW antitank missiles, the first advanced American weaponry to be dispatched to Syria since the conflict began, has reignited long-abandoned hopes among the rebels that the Obama administration is preparing to soften its resistance to the provision of significant military aid and, perhaps, help move the battlefield equation back in their favor." More here.

The Chinese ban a bunch of American TV. Time’s Chengcheng Jiang, in Beijing: "You could call it the Big Ban Theory. Chinese fans of American TV series are up in arms after discovering that some of their favorite shows have been yanked from the country’s most popular streaming websites without explanation. On Saturday, The Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, NCIS and The Practice all disappeared from sites like Sohu TV, iQiyi and Youku." More here.

Gordon Lubold is a senior writer at FP and author of Situation Report  with help by Nathaniel Sobel, director of research at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. Follow him @glubold and him @njsobe4.

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