Trump’s Polish Message to NATO
New security agreement rewards Poland’s commitment to defense spending.
What’s on tap today: Trump announces a new defense agreement with Poland, oil tankers attacked again in the Gulf of Oman, and new details about the serious problems still plaguing the F-35 fighter jet.
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U.S. Troops Head to Poland
Special relationship. President Donald Trump rolled out the red carpet for his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda in Washington yesterday, welcoming Duda and his wife to the Oval Office and announcing a new defense agreement between the two countries moments after an F-35 fighter jet roared over the White House in a rare military display (Poland is buying the plane).
NATO, take note. While it’s no “Fort Trump,” Trump’s announcement that he will station an additional 1,000 troops in Poland on a rotational basis, along with a host of other investments, is a clear signal to Russia that the United States is keeping a watchful eye on NATO’s eastern flank. But it’s also a message to the alliance, particularly member states like Germany who do not meet their commitment of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, a sore spot for Trump. Poland is one of just eight NATO member countries that does meet that threshold.
“Trump is trying to basically reward the Poles, punish the Germans, and the Russians are in some ways almost incidental,” said Jeffrey Mankoff of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Tankers Attacked Again
Gulf of Oman redux. Two oil tankers sailing in the Gulf of Oman were damaged in suspected attacks on the vessels, news outlets reported early Thursday, forcing their crews to abandon ship. The attack is the second time in the last month oil tankers have been damaged in the same waterway, a vital choke point for much of the world’s oil supply.
Tensions escalate. The last such incident played a major role in escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, whom Washington blamed for the earlier attack. Details on this most recent incident are murky, but it’s likely to spark fears of new attacks and set off a new round of sabre rattling.
Oil price jumps. Oil spiked after the news of the attacks hit the airwaves, rising as much as 4% in early trading to nearly $62 a barrel.
Inter-Korean Summit in the Works
Momentum picks up for talks. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he was eager to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un before President Donald Trump visits the South around the time of the G-20 summit later this month.
Moon’s call for another inter-Korean summit came on the heels of Trump revealing this week that he had received another letter from Kim, which he described as “beautiful” but apparently did not contain any concrete suggestions for solving the diplomatic impasse between Washington and Pyongyang, according to CNN.
Talking past each other. The United States and South Korea can’t quite get on the same page when it comes to North Korean nuclear negotiations. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said he was “in no rush” to strike a deal in Pyongyang. Meanwhile, South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials continued this week to push for a gradual denuclearization process, which has been disavowed by Washington.
New missile details. North Korea is trying to defeat U.S. missile defenses “such as Patriot, Aegis BMD, and THAAD, all of which are or will be deployed in the region,” according to a new Congressional Research Service report released last week and flagged Monday by Reuters Korea correspondent Josh Smith. Meanwhile, a fresh study by Japanese researchers estimates that North Korea has between 20 and 30 nuclear warheads.
Kim’s CIA connection. Kim Jong Nam, the half brother of North Korea’s leader who was assassinated in a Kuala Lumpur airport, was a CIA source, the Wall Street Journal reports. Bizarrely, Trump said he wouldn’t let the CIA recruit Kim’s family members for intelligence purposes.
What We’re Watching
Power politics. Amid a growing rivalry between China and the United States, Australia is focusing diplomatic and military attention on its backyard, working to improve relations with its Pacific neighbors and bolstering its military, the New York Times reports.
Mega merger. The proposed merger between defense giants Raytheon and United Technologies, which would combine two of the Pentagon’s largest suppliers, should be a wake up call to the defense industry in the race to develop more connected aircraft, Brooke Sutherland writes for Bloomberg.
But amid questions over whether the proposed merger would violate antitrust rules, the Pentagon actually has limited influence in reviewing the proposed deal and will submit its views on the issue to other federal authorities. The merger is far from a done deal, with Wall Street reacting skeptically to the proposal and even President Donald Trump “a little concerned” about whether the combination would undermine competition.
Rethink. The analyst Enea Gjoza has a provocative argument that the United States needs to rethink its military sales to Taiwan and focus on providing the island nation with weapons that would allow it to strike back against Chinese naval and air assets.
The ‘defeated’ caliphate. The Islamic State has made major territorial gains in Afghanistan’s northeast and American intelligence officials believe the militant group may turn the country into its next base for global operations, the Associated Press reports.
‘Serious, unreported problems.’ Airspeed limitations to avoid damage. Cockpit pressure spikes that cause “excruciating” ear and sinus pain. Issues with the helmet-mounted display and night vision camera that make it more difficult to land on an aircraft carrier. The team at Defense News is out with a massive package on the remaining problems still plaguing the F-35 fighter jet as it wraps up development.
Bad behavior. A pioneering female fighter pilot was removed from her position overseeing highly classified U.S. Air Force projects amid reports of a toxic work environment in the office she led, Air Force Times reports.
Trump reconsidering? President Donald Trump may be having second thoughts about nominating Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan to lead the Pentagon permanently, NBC reports.
Around K Street
Shake up. Google is shaking up its massive Washington lobbying operation, anticipating increased scrutiny of the company and a possible antitrust investigation, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Call me maybe? Big tech’s influence in Washington is on the wane, so much so that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg can’t get House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call him back.
Tech & Cyber
Blowback. Operatives for the Emirati cybersecurity firm DarkMatter discussed hacking journalists working on behalf of the Intercept in retaliation for stories about the company that discussed its links with UAE and U.S. intelligence, according a new Intercept report.
Influence ops for sale. Researchers at the Alphabet subsidiary Jigsaw, while probing Russian online criminal markets, bought a social media disinformation campaign, a demonstration of how online information operations can now be bought and sold, Wired reports.
Deepfakes. A manipulated video using so-called “deepfake” technology that shows Facebook’s Zuckerberg delivering a sinister speech about controlling billions of people’s user data was uploaded to Facebook to test the company’s laissez-faire policies on manipulated videos, Vice reports.
Huawei feeling the pain. In what appears to be the first concrete consequence of Trump’s restrictions on Huawei, the Chinese technology giant said it is suspending plans to roll out a new laptop because the company lacks access to American components, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Trade war reaches Silicon Valley. The Wall Street Journal breaks down how an escalating trade war and political tensions between are chilling once-vibrant ties between China and Silicon Valley.
Your face, and your finances. China’s largest insurer is using facial-recognition technology to evaluate the credit-worthiness of customers applying for loans, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Movers and Shakers
Point man on Sudan. The State Department on Wednesday announced a new envoy to manage the crisis in Sudan, where hopes of a transition to democracy are giving way to a spiraling political crisis and violence. Foreign Policy first reported the news of Donald Booth’s appointment on Monday.
Another vacancy at DOD. Owen West, the Pentagon’s top civilian for special operations and low-intensity conflict, is stepping down later this month “to be closer to his family,” Reuters reports. West’s departure leaves yet another vacancy in the building for Shanahan to fill.
Election security. With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell preventing Congress from advancing measures to improve election security, the New Yorker examines the sorry state of affairs at the Election Assistance Commission, a small, obscure agency established in the wake of the 2000 election.
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Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll