Security Brief

Trump Uses European Deterrence Funds to Build Border Wall

The Pentagon’s decision to divert nearly $546 million has drawn criticism from powerful Democratic lawmakers.

U.S. President Donald Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Otay Mesa, California on Sept. 18, 2019.
U.S. President Donald Trump visits the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Otay Mesa, California on Sept. 18, 2019. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Security Brief. What’s on tap today: U.S. military funding for Europe is redirected toward Trump’s border wall, Germany cracks down on Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and a British aircraft carrier sets sail after testing sailors for coronavirus.

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Robbing Europe to Pay for the Wall?

One of U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s watchwords during the coronavirus pandemic has been to ensure that the Pentagon isn’t “robbing Peter to pay Paul” by taking military reservists out of civilian medical jobs. The gist: The agency doesn’t want to make a problem worse in one place, such as New York hospitals, by shifting money and troops to the Pentagon’s hospital ships.

But this week, Democrats and Republicans in Congress decried Esper for doing just that—taking from Europe to pay for President Donald Trump’s southern border wall. The Pentagon chief directed the Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker to take nearly $546 million from military construction projects to pay for the wall, a possible attempt to get past lawmakers. More than half of the money repurposed for the wall by Esper on Wednesday was intended for NATO allies to deter a potential war with Russia.

Falling by the wayside. Some of those projects designed to bolster European deterrence could now lose out, including a Spanish-flagged navy base in Rota, a logistical distribution center in Germany, and a Norwegian airfield where the United States has extended runways for F-16 fighter jets. Last year, Esper diverted $771 million to the border wall from European projects, including rail infrastructure that could deliver weapons deep into Poland if it came under attack from Moscow.

Lawmakers don’t think the saga is over. House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, a Democrat, dubbed the decision a “theft” of Pentagon money. He said that diverting the money showed that “no matter how many billions President Trump steals for his vanity wall on the southern border, it will never be enough.”

What We’re Watching

Germany cracks down on Hezbollah. The German government has banned all activity of the Lebanese Islamist group Hezbollah, whose political wing was permitted to operate legally in the country. The decision comes amid U.S. pressure on European governments to drop the distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings. Several European countries—and the European Union itself—have banned only the military wing of the movement. After the decision, German officials began raiding mosques and centers with suspected links to the group.

British aircraft carrier sets sail. The HMS Queen Elizabeth, the crown jewel of Britain’s Royal Navy, set sail this week for up to two months of training. But first, the Royal Navy tested the aircraft carrier’s entire crew for the coronavirus—using lessons that the U.S. and French navies had to learn the hard way. “We do not [want to] get into what we saw happening in America and France,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Parliament last week.

The U.S.-Saudi relationship. The Saudi-Russian oil price war has pushed U.S. ties with Riyadh to the breaking point. On a testy call earlier this month, Trump reportedly told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the United States would be forced by Congress to withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia unless it resolved the dispute. As FP’s latest deep dive shows, strains in U.S.-Saudi ties are nothing new. But powerful Republican lawmakers are joining a chorus of Washington voices saying the relationship might be on its last legs.

South Sudan’s arms embargo. South Sudan has been under a U.N. arms embargo since 2018. But a new report from Amnesty International shows that the South Sudanese government and opposition forces are flouting the arms embargo. The Amnesty researchers visited military sites in the country and collected evidence of arms embargo violations, with newly imported arms manufactured in China, Romania, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates-based subsidiary of a Canadian company.

Protests flare in Lebanon. Protesters are out in full force again in Lebanon, where thousands poured into the streets earlier this week to protest the sharp devaluation of the country’s currency, which has worsened a severe economic crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic. The protests turned violent as demonstrators blocked roads, razed banks, and attacked soldiers, injuring 54 military personnel. The turmoil has some experts worried that the country is on the brink of both economic and political collapse.

Movers and Shakers

New U.S. Air Force Number 2. On April 24, Trump announced his intention to nominate Shon Manasco as undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force. Manasco currently serves as the branch’s assistant secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, but he has served as acting undersecretary since Matt Donovan left the post in December.

Navy captain fired. U.S. Navy Capt. Nate Schneider was removed from his post as commanding officer of the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training on Tuesday. His firing was reportedly related to an investigation carried out by the Navy several weeks ago, though details were not made available.

NSC loyalist goes to State. A Trump loyalist at the National Security Council, Alexander Alden, is moving to the State Department to take up a senior role in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. He is the first political appointee to join the bureau since Trump’s impeachment case dragged it into the national spotlight.

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Over the great firewall. China has some of the toughest censorship measures in the world, but Chinese citizens are making their voices through clever workarounds with emoticons and telegraph codes. David Bandurski writes about the trend for the Brookings Institution’s TechStream.

Trump’s man on China. The Washington Post profiles Matthew Pottinger, Trump’s deputy national security advisor and a key behind-the-scenes architect of the president’s hawkish China policy.

Odds and Ends 

Sweden’s solution. One Swedish city thinks it’s found a way to prevent people from flouting social distancing rules in public places. Lund is planning to dump one ton of chicken manure in its central park to prevent people from gathering there. “It will stink and so it may not be so nice to sit and drink beer in the park,” said Gustav Lunblad, a member of the local council’s environment committee.

That’s it for today.

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Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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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