Security Brief

Coronavirus Fears Halt U.S. Military Exercises

The United States and South Korea have postponed annual drills amid the virus outbreak.

Disinfection professionals spray anti-septic solution against the coronavirus on Feb. 27 in Seoul.
Disinfection professionals spray anti-septic solution against the coronavirus on Feb. 27 in Seoul. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: The United States and South Korea have postponed plans for a joint military exercise over coronavirus fears, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies before Congress on Middle East policy, and the British government unveils plans for new nukes.

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Coronavirus Upends U.S. Military Plans in Asia

The United States and South Korea have postponed annual joint military exercises until further notice amid the coronavirus outbreak. The announcement comes after the U.S. military reported one its 28,500 service members stationed in South Korea tested positive for the virus the virus. The South Korean military has tracked nearly two dozen cases of the virus among its ranks.

The news presents one of the starkest examples yet of the effects of the virus on U.S. national security as it spreads across Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. South Korea has recorded over 1,500 coronavirus cases in recent days, leading the State Department to issue a warning to U.S. citizens to reconsider traveling to the country. Overall, the Center for Disease Control has tracked over 80,000 cases and 2,700 deaths globally.

U.S. bases in Europe brace for impact. The head of U.S. European Command, Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, told a congressional panel this week that he is preparing for the possibility of thousands of U.S. troops in Europe put on lockdown or facing restrictions on movement as the virus spreads across Italy and more cases are expected in Germany, Military.com reports.

Knocking on America’s door. In a news conference on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump sought to allay growing fears as global financial markets took a significant hit, saying his administration was on top of the response and insisting the threat to Americans was “very low.” Stock markets continued to decline on Thursday.

As Trump spoke, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed a virus case in Northern California in a person who hadn’t traveled outside the United States, an indicator the disease is spreading locally. “Ultimately, we expect we will see coronavirus spread in this country,” Nancy Messonnier, a senior CDC official, said on Tuesday. “It’s not so much a question of if, but a question of when.”


What We’re Watching 

Pompeo testifies before Congress. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Friday. The hearing could be fiery, as Democrats prepare to grill the top diplomat on the Trump administration’s Middle East policy. It presents the first opportunity for lawmakers to press Pompeo on the Trump administration’s justification for assassinating Iranian military commander Qassem Suleimani in a strike last month. The administration insists it did so to head off an “imminent” attack on U.S. interests, but some Democratic lawmakers briefed on the intelligence remain skeptical.

New British nukes. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced in a written statement to Parliament that the United Kingdom was in the process of developing a new nuclear warhead for its Trident submarine fleet. Wallace’s announcement confirmed earlier reports from U.S. defense officials. David Cullen, the director at the U.K.-based Nuclear Information Service, said that the new warhead is “virtually identical” to a warhead currently used by the United States. U.S. officials welcomed the news as a sign that cooperation between the United States and United Kingdom on nuclear weapons development will continue after Brexit.

Locust swarms wreak havoc in East Africa. Swarms of locusts are descending on East Africa in numbers not seen in decades, a crisis that could exacerbate regional conflicts and undercut food security for one of the world’s most impoverished places. Foreign Policy spoke to Mark Green, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who warned that if the swarms aren’t eradicated, it could plunge 3 million people into food insecurity. “You really have to go back to decades ago in the U.S., to Dust Bowl days, to understand just how devastating this can be. So it really is a crisis,” he said.


Movers and Shakers

State’s new acting envoy for international organizations. A longtime political appointee at the State Department, Pam Pryor, became the new acting envoy for international organizations this month. Pryor, a former aide to Sarah Palin, is transitioning from her role as a senior advisor on democracy human rights issues. She replaces Kevin Moley, who stepped down after Foreign Policy wrote a series of reports on allegations of mismanagement that led to congressional and State watchdog investigations.

Intel community shake-up. New U.S. intelligence chief Ric Grenell wasted no time shaking up the Office of National Intelligence. Shortly after his appointment, Grenell hired another Trump loyalist, Kash Patel, to serve as one of his senior advisors. Patel is a former senior National Security Council official and earned a reputation as a Trump stalwart after playing a key role in helping congressional Republicans discredit the Russia probe.

New face at the Pentagon. The White House nominated William Jordan Gillis, a U.S. Army official, to fill the post of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Sustainment at the Department of Defense replacing Robert McMahon, who left the position in November 2019 with a wave of senior staff who left at the end of last year.

And another. Gregory Kausner, the former deputy director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, has officially replaced Tina Kaidanow as head of the Pentagon’s International Cooperation Office. Kaidanow was also part of the wave of senior defense officials to leave the Pentagon late last year.

Moves in academia. Mike Horowitz, a prominent academic on national security issues, has been named director of the University of Pennsylvania’s global affairs institute, Perry World House. Horowitz is a consultant on the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence and previously worked at the Pentagon.


The Week Ahead

Afghan peace deal deadline. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced earlier this week that if the reduction of violence in Afghanistan holds, a peace deal is expected to be signed with the Taliban on Saturday, Feb. 29. The peace deal is almost identical to a draft version tabled last September. Then, Washington promised to withdraw thousands of troops in exchange for assurances that the Taliban will not harbor terrorist groups hostile to the West.


Odds and Ends

Newsworthy? A former top French intelligence official, Alain Juillet of the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE), has a new role at RT, Russia’s state-backed propaganda outlet, according to French media. Juillet will offer twice-monthly segments on geopolitical issues. The move is bound to have some Western intelligence officials shaking their heads.

Divine intervention. Pope Francis has asked Catholics across the world to quit bashing each other on social media, urging them to give up trolling for Lent, the season that leads to Easter. “Today, people insult each other as if they were saying ‘Good Day,’” he said.


That’s it for today. For more from FP, subscribe here or sign up for our other newsletters. Send your tips, comments, questions, or typos to securitybrief@foreignpolicy.com.

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

Dan Haverty is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @dan_haverty

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