Situation Report: NATO Reacts to Trump; Russia Says U.S. in Bed With ISIS; and much more.
By Paul McLeary and FP Staff BRUSSELS — The fallout continues from President-elect Trump’s bombshell comments over the weekend that the NATO alliance is “obsolete,” and complaints that European members don’t pay as much as the United States to fund the seven decade-old alliance. Asked by SitRep to define why NATO matters, French army spokesman ...
By Paul McLeary and FP Staff
By Paul McLeary and FP Staff
BRUSSELS — The fallout continues from President-elect Trump’s bombshell comments over the weekend that the NATO alliance is “obsolete,” and complaints that European members don’t pay as much as the United States to fund the seven decade-old alliance.
Asked by SitRep to define why NATO matters, French army spokesman Col. Patrik Steiger said “NATO has capabilities that Europe doesn’t have,” when it comes to meeting conventional threats, collecting and sharing intelligence, and confronting terrorism. A big part of France’s contribution on that front comes in the form of the 4,000 soldiers Paris currently has deployed across western Africa. The French troops there have been fighting extremists and training local forces, often working with the U.S. Africa Command, Steiger said.
Speaking from his office in Paris, Steiger noted that over the past two years, France has increased the size of its army from 66,000 to 77,000 soldiers, and has about 150 troops deployed alongside U.S. forces outside of Mosul, where four French Caesar mobile howitzers regularly lob shells into the city.
A slight change. This edition of SitRep is being filed from Brussels, Belgium, where Paul McLeary is traveling with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is attending a series of meetings with NATO allies.
Meet and greet. On Tuesday morning, Dunford met with military commanders from across the NATO alliance, where they’re spending the day discussing the situation in Ukraine, Georgia’s desire to join the alliance, the relationship with Russia, NATO’s 6,000 troops in Afghanistan — there are 6,900 U.S. forces on the ground — and the threat of terrorist groups.
But the Trump comments have echoed across the continent, causing dismay across Europe. In the same joint interview, the President-elect said that Chancellor Angela Merkel had made a “catastrophic mistake” by allowing in large numbers of migrants fleeing the war in Syria.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Monday that there was some “amazement” among alliance members over Trump’s remarks, telling reporters that “obviously the comments from President-elect Trump, that he views NATO as obsolete, were viewed with anxiety.”
As for the German chancellor, Merkel had a curt response to Trump’s inflammatory words: “I think we Europeans have control of our destiny.”
— Paul McLeary
Sneaky. During a press conference on Tuesday in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov again charged the United States with forming an alliance with the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Syria.”There are a lot of examples showing that the Americans and their allies sneakily wanted to use al-Nusra and the IS to weaken and finally overthrow the Assad regime,” Lavrov said. “That is why, they were quite reserved in implementing their stated goal of fighting against terrorism.” We should note, Lavrov didn’t bother to provide any evidence, or suggest there was any to provide.
Lavrov also said he expects to talk about nuclear weapons with the Trump administration after PEOTUS said over the weekend he might be willing to make a deal on reducing nuclear stockpiles.
What About Randy? Following the scoop by Foreign Policy’s John Hudson that private equity financier Philip Bilden has emerged as the frontrunner to become the next secretary of the Navy, allies of Randy Forbes are making a last-minute pitch for the former Virginia congressman to win the appointment. Bilden’s emergence stunned backers of Forbes who was viewed by many as the architect of the president-elect’s campaign pledge to invest more in the U.S. Navy and deter Chinese aggression in the South China Sea. “While Bilden, who has a strong background in Asia finance, could very well prove to be a world-class Navy secretary, Forbes is no doubt in a class of his own,” writes Harry Kazianis, a longtime acquaintance of Forbes and director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest.
Welcome to SitRep. Send any tips, thoughts or national security events to email@example.com or via Twitter: @paulmcleary or @arawnsley.
‘Wet foot, dry foot’ ends
Foreign Policy’s Molly O’Toole has learned that the infamously anti-immigrant Trump is quietly supportive of Obama’s surprise move on Thursday night to end the long-standing ‘wet foot, dry foot’ policy for Cubans, leaving thousands stranded in Central America and on the U.S-Mexico border. More here.
There’s no let up in Trump’s feud with the U.S. intelligence community. After Trump suggested on Twitter that CIA Director John Brennan was behind the leak of a lurid dossier alleging Russian intelligence had compromised the president-elect, Brennan is pushing back. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Brennan says he didn’t leak that the intelligence community had briefed both Obama and Trump on the document, which had been circulating among reporters for months. Brennan didn’t offer an opinion on the validity of the allegations in the dossier, reportedly assembled by a former British MI6 officer, but he did say that it was the FBI’s decision to brief Trump on its contents.
In an earlier interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Brennan said he took “great umbrage” at Trump’s allegations against the spy agencies and said the president-elect did not appear to grasp of the gravity of Russia’s actions and the risks of lifting sanctions that were imposed on Moscow over its seizure of Crimea from Ukraine.
“Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions it has taken in the past number of years is a road that he, I think, needs to be very, very careful about moving down,” Brennan said.
Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Friday that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if Moscow demonstrated it could be helpful on other fronts, including fighting terrorist threats.
Plagiarism and Its Consequences
The incoming Trump administration is behind schedule when it comes naming key jobs below the cabinet level, and now it’s got another position to fill. Monica Crowley, a conservative pundit who Trump picked as senior director of strategic communications at the National Security Council, said Monday she would would not be taking the position after all. Crowley bowed out after detailed allegations emerged that she had plagiarized from various columnists, studies and news reports in her recently published book, ““What the (Bleep) Just Happened?”, and in her 2000 Ph.D. at Columbia University. In her statement, Crowley made no mention of the plagiarism charges, which were first reported by CNN and Politico. The book’s publisher, HarperCollins, said last week it would no longer be selling the book until the author cleared up allegations that she had lifted numerous passages without proper attribution.
The U.S. Marine Corps has touched down in Norway and Russia is not happy. Reuters reports that the first 300 Marines en route to Vaernes military base in the Scandinavian country have arrived as part of a temporary, six month stay. The Defense Department hasn’t officially linked the deployment to broader efforts to reassure European and NATO allies in the face of an increasingly strident Russia but the connection is hard to escape. Russia, for its part, questioned the troop placement, asking in an interview with the wire service “what purposes is Norway so…willing to increase its military potential” in what it claims is the absence of a threat from Russian forces.
At least some Syrian rebel groups are game for peace talks in Kazakhstan set up by Russia and Turkey. The AP reports that the High Negotiations Committee, which has represented rebel groups, will provide support to a delegation headed to the Russian and Turkish-backed talks. A spokesman from the Fastaqim Union rebel group says that the primary goal of the talks will be extending the shaky ceasefire announced by Russia in late December. At issue are what rebels say are constant violations of the ceasefire by Assad regime forces.
Trigger fingers in Tehran got a little itchy over the weekend as an anti-aircraft artillery crew opened fire on a small drone in the capital. According to the AP, the drone was flying over restricted airspace. Despite the heavy fire, the small quadcopter apparently escaped unscathed, leaving the culprits and their motives unknown. Iran recently claimed to have produced an anti-drone gun that jams small unmanned aircraft, a product that looked similar to the Battelle DroneDefender rifle used by American troops in Iraq.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) put out an opening salvo in the defense budget wars to come under the Trump administration. Under the Budget Control Act (BCA) passed during the Obama administration, federal agencies’ budgets — including the defense budget — have been subject to spending caps. But Defense News reports that McCain released a white paper arguing for the repeal of the BCA in its entirety, rather tha having Congress continue voting periodic increases above caps set out in the legislation. McCain’s post-BCA defense spending proposals would cost $430 billion over five years above existing spending plans, cutting purchases of the Littoral Combat ship, increasing end-strength in the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, and adding new ships, bombers, and planes to the Pentagon’s tab.
Russian hackers meddled in the 2016 election, according to the intelligence community. so how can Washington stop Russia from doing it again? Over at Wired, the New America Foundation’s Peter W. Singer argues for a mix of offensive and defensive measures to deter future Russian cyber mischief. On the offense side, Singer writes that the U.S. could apply further sanctions to Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as his inner oligarchic circle, using similarly veiled hacking campaigns to out the Russian ruling class’s illicit financial holdings and the infrastructure for its hackers. On the defensive side, he calls for a renewed push to harden the U.S. government’s networks by implementing best practices from the private sector.
The death toll from the war in Yemen has reached a grim milestone — at least 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs office.
The conservative estimate is based on figures from health clinics that have kept track of the victims. Another roughly 40,000 people have been wounded in the war, which has seen a Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels for 21 months.
The conflict — and the plight of civilians in harm’s way — has often been overshadowed by the civil war in Syria and the campaign against Islamic State. The United States provides the Saudis with aerial refueling and other support despite sharp criticism from human rights groups, which accuse the Saudi coalition of conducting reckless bombing raids that have struck hospitals and other civilian targets. The latest death toll was released as a UN envoy, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, paid a visit to the Yemeni port city of Aden to try to revive peace talks.
And then there were 45. On Monday sources confirmed to Foreign Policy that they’d transferred 10 detainees from the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo to Oman, which has taken more detainees than any other country, by far. The move is the latest in a down-to-the-wire push to release those detainees that have already been cleared for transfer before Trump is sworn in on Friday. Nine more remain in this group, so expect more in the coming days in defiance of the president-elect’s Twitter edicts on the transfers.
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