Security Brief

The Pentagon’s Top Asia Policy Expert Resigns

Randy Schriver’s departure creates another vacancy in the department’s senior leadership.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver speaks to reporters the Pentagon in Washington on May 3.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Randall G. Schriver speaks to reporters the Pentagon in Washington on May 3. Department of Defense / Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief Plus. What’s on tap today: The Pentagon’s Asia policy chief is leaving, 70 soldiers are killed in Niger, and the United States imposes more sanctions on Iran.

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China Hawk Leaves Department of Defense

Randy Schriver, the assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, has resigned his post, three sources confirmed to Foreign Policy, creating yet another vacancy in an increasingly empty Department of Defense despite new Pentagon chief Mark Esper’s push to fill top jobs.

Schriver carved out a reputation as a China hawk, helping oversee the Pentagon’s strategic shift from wars in the Middle East to confronting Beijing. He was one of the first senior U.S. officials to publicly criticize China for its mass internment of ethnic Uighurs and describe the internment facilities as “concentration camps.”

Growing friction. Schriver’s decision to leave after two years in the job was largely due to personal reasons, including his young family. But it comes amid friction with the Pentagon’s policy shop, led by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood, according to multiple sources. Schriver was frustrated by not being able to push policy initiatives through the department and the White House, said one former defense official.

Schriver also spearheaded a campaign to strengthen relationships with Taiwan, but his efforts were often at odds with President Donald Trump’s trade relations with China, the former defense official said. Schriver has been described as one of Taiwan’s strongest supporters in the Trump administration.

The news comes hours before Trump on Thursday teased that Washington and Beijing were close to an agreement on a potential trade deal that would ease tariffs in exchange for agricultural purchases, financial services, and some intellectual properties issues.

More empty offices. Schriver’s departure leaves the Pentagon with another hole in its civilian leadership. As of Sept. 5, the number of vacant Senate-confirmed positions was 14. Although the secretaries of the Army and Air Force have been confirmed, the vacancies are piling up. Navy Secretary Richard Spencer was recently fired. Meanwhile, key posts at the policy shop, including the top official for international security affairs, are still held by acting officials.

What We’re Watching 

Bipartisan defense bill passed. As impeachment rocked one side of Capitol Hill, there was a rare surge of bipartisanship in another. On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a defense policy bill authorizing $738 billion for the Pentagon’s budget, including the creation of a new Space Force, operating under the Air Force. The bill also includes $300 million in funding for military assistance to Ukraine, an issue at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Trump.

The bill passed with wide bipartisan support, 377 to 48. Some progressive Democrats were angry the bill was stripped of measures to halt U.S. military support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen and to punish Saudi officials involved in the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

More than 70 soldiers killed in Niger. More than 70 Nigerian soldiers were killed in an ambush in the western Niger on Wednesday, the deadliest attack in the country’s recent history. Islamist militants are believed to be responsible. The Sahel region has experienced a surge in violence in recent years, fueled by militants in Mali and an influx of weapons from Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.

An ambush in Niger left four U.S. soldiers dead in 2017, and an attack carried out by the Boko Haram terrorist group in 2015 killed over 70 soldiers and civilians. The latest attack comes days before French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to host regional leaders at a summit to discuss the future of the French military presence in the Sahel.

New strikes in Afghanistan. U.S. and Afghan forces launched a series of airstrikes on Taliban targets in Afghanistan after a suicide bomber attacked a medical facility under construction near Bagram Air Base. The suicide bombing killed at least two Afghan civilians and wounded nearly 70 others, according to the Afghan Ministry of the Interior. The attacks come as U.S. negotiators are trying to work with the Taliban to reopen peace negotiations and hammer out a lasting settlement. On Saturday, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held official talks with the Taliban, the first since U.S. President Donald Trump declared a peace deal dead in September.

U.S. hits Iran with new sanctions. The Trump administration on Wednesday hit Iran with a new round of sanctions targeting transportation firms, an effort to ramp up its “maximum pressure campaign” over Tehran’s nuclear program. The sanctions will target Iran’s state shipping line and a China-based company accused of delivering missile parts to Iran, among other companies. Although the sanctions are part of the United States’ broader effort against Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. officials also hope the move will pressure Tehran to participate in prisoner swaps after a U.S. graduate student was released from Iranian prison over the weekend.

Foreign Policy Recommends

FBI surveillance. An inspector general report examining the FBI’s Russia investigation recently became public, providing insight into the flawed techniques the FBI uses to conduct surveillance in the United States, the New York Times reports. The report reveals a surveillance system shrouded in secrecy, with little oversight to prevent abuse. Targets are not informed that their privacy has been breached and some have been convicted based on information acquired from these searches.

Odds and Ends

Bureaucratic blunder. The fragile, largely pro-American government in Somalia pushed through difficult reforms to get access to international debt relief expected to boost U.S. efforts to stabilize the country, long a hotbed of terrorism and conflict. But those efforts may be derailed because of a bureaucratic fumble in Washington, leaving some U.S. officials fuming and the U.S. ambassador to Somalia considering resignation, FP’s Robbie Gramer and Keith Johnson report.

Debt relief would have the knock-on effect of helping Somalia strengthen its own military and security. The U.S. military has about 500 troops in Somalia and regularly carries out airstrikes against the al-Shabaab terrorist group.

That’s it for today.

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Dan Haverty contributed to this report.

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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