Security Brief

Pentagon to Roll Out $705 Billion Budget

The proposal is a decrease from last year, indicating the defense department is bracing for an end to the growth it has seen under Trump.

The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Strait of Hormuz as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lifts off from the flight deck on Nov. 19, 2019.
The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Strait of Hormuz as an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lifts off from the flight deck on Nov. 19, 2019. Stephanie Contreras / U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: The Pentagon braces for budget cuts, Iraq and Russia are exploring deeper defense ties, and what to make of Iran’s failed satellite launch

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What to Expect in the DoD’s Budget Proposal

Today the Pentagon is expected to roll out a $705.4 billion budget request for fiscal year 2021, a slight decrease from last year that indicates the department is resigned to an end to the growth it has enjoyed so far under U.S. President Donald Trump. Congress appropriated $712.6 billion for the department in fiscal year 2020, which ends on Oct. 1.

The Department of Defense’s full proposal will be released along with the rest of the White House budget for 2021 later today. But leaked details indicate that the department is bracing for tough tradeoffs in the years to come, including cuts to legacy aircraft and the Navy’s ship procurement. 

Bracing for cuts. The overall budget proposal will reportedly boost funding for nuclear weapons such as the Air Force’s new intercontinental ballistic missiles and provide more money for research on hypersonic weapons and the Space Force. In order to move to new technology, the services will begin retiring legacy platforms: The Air Force, for example, will divest hundreds of old fighters and bombers, as well as Global Hawk drones, Lara Seligman scooped last week. 

Navy slashes ships. One surprise in the Pentagon’s budget request is that the Navy is slashing spending on new ships by about $4 billion. The service is calling for procurement of 44 ships through 2025 instead of the 55 projected last year. The overall decline starts this year, with the Navy asking to buy just eight new vessels, down from 12 in the current budget. Last year, the Navy projected asking for 10 ships this year. 

What about 355? The news comes even as Trump puts pressure on the Navy to reach his goal of a 355-ship fleet sooner than planned. In an interview with Defense News, Defense Secretary Mark Esper attempted to square the circle, stressing that he is “fully committed” to 355 ships. To get there, the Navy will have to fundamentally reshape itself around smaller, less expensive vessels. 

What We’re Watching 

Trump impeachment witnesses sacked.  The ink was barely dry on on Trump’s impeachment acquittal when he moved against those drawn into the trial. On Friday evening, the White House escorted Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a military officer serving on the National Security Council (NSC) who testified in the trial, out of the building. His brother, an ethics lawyer for the NSC, was also removed from his post. Both are expected to transfer back to the Pentagon.

Hours later, Trump sacked his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, another witness in the trial. There is no word yet on whether other witnesses, including State Department officials, will face reprisals or retaliation. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to inspector generals across the government pushing them to dig into whether whistleblowers reporting presidential misconduct have faced retaliation.

Troubling FBI surveillance. An FBI report obtained by Yahoo News reveals that state and local law enforcement agencies are collecting private information of individuals already on the FBI’s terror watch list, despite a federal judge ruling in September that the list violates basic constitutional protections. The size of the watch list has ballooned to over 1.1 million people since it was created in 2003, leading to accusations that some—or most—people on it are not involved in terrorism at all. The FBI report suggests that officials have simply found a workaround to continue collecting data.

Deepening Iraq-Russia ties? Iraq’s defense ministry said the country was exploring deepening its ties with Russia. The meeting comes amid worsening relations between Iraq and United States following the assassination of Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani. Powerful Shiite political parties called for a full withdrawal of U.S. troops in the immediate aftermath of the killing. According to a senior Iraqi military official, Russia was among several states that opened a dialogue with Iraq over strengthening military ties after Suleimani’s assasssination.

Iranian satellite fails to reach orbit. On Sunday, Iran launched a satellite that failed to reach orbit, in addition to unveiling a new short-range missile. U.S. officials have warned in the past that the missile technology used to launch satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads.

Movers and Shakers

From New York to Washington. Karen Pierce, the current U.K. ambassador to the United Nations, was recently appointed U.K. ambassador to the United States. Pierce is considered one of the most experienced British diplomats, and her new appointment makes her the first woman to serve in the role.

Foreign Policy Recommends

The race to evacuate U.S. citizens from Wuhan. For two weeks, a group of U.S. officials in the State Department have been working around the clock on logistics to evacuate U.S. citizens stranded in the region of China hit by the coronavirus. The Washington Post’s Carol Morello wrote an inside account of how it’s happening

NATO popularity contest. Despite growing transatlantic tensions, a majority of citizens in NATO’s member states hold a favorable view of the alliance, according to a new Pew Research Center poll. The range of opinion varies widely by country, with Poland topping the survey at 82 percent in favor of NATO and only 21 percent in favor in Turkey. 

Odds and Ends

Supply and demand. Iran’s relations with the United States and Israel aren’t exactly on the best of terms these days. For one factory in Iran, that means business is booming. The factory produces American and Israeli flags—so demonstrators at pro-government rallies can burn them. “In recent years, the production of the U.S. flags has been tripled,” the factory owner said. “What eventually happens to my products is on its end user.” 

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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