Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Putin’s Invasion Has Turbocharged NATO Defense Spending

The alliance’s leaders push for more muscular deterrence after summit in Madrid.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter.
A silhouette of a person on a tank.
A silhouette of a person on a tank.
A U.S. Marine prepares an M1 Abrams tank during a NATO-led military exercise near the town of Oppdal, Norway, on Nov. 1, 2018. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! We’re here to catch you up on some of the most important news in national security this week.

First off, did anyone accidentally leave a rocket on the moon by chance? If so, let NASA know. A mysterious rocket crashed on the moon, and no one has fessed up to owning it yet.

Okay, back to the news of the day. Here’s what’s on tap: The top takeaways from a major summit of NATO leaders in Spain this week, why North Korea keeps giving the United States and South Korea the silent treatment, and more U.S. drone strikes in Syria.

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! We’re here to catch you up on some of the most important news in national security this week.

First off, did anyone accidentally leave a rocket on the moon by chance? If so, let NASA know. A mysterious rocket crashed on the moon, and no one has fessed up to owning it yet.

Okay, back to the news of the day. Here’s what’s on tap: The top takeaways from a major summit of NATO leaders in Spain this week, why North Korea keeps giving the United States and South Korea the silent treatment, and more U.S. drone strikes in Syria.

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


‘Thanks, Putin’: Defense Spending Spikes Across NATO

NATO leaders emerged from their summit in Madrid this week touting a more muscular alliance ready to face down Russia and start tackling the long-term challenges from China. And it’s starting to look like they finally have plans in place to put their money where their mouths are.

For decades, the United States has pushed, cajoled, chided, and lectured allies on boosting defense spending, to little avail. Then Russia illegally annexed Crimea and backed separatist movements in Ukraine in 2014, which moved the dial. Then U.S. President Donald Trump came into office in 2017, which moved the dial more.

But Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine this year has completely changed the calculus, and suddenly countries across the alliance are pledging big hikes in defense spending at levels that Americans couldn’t dream of just a few years ago.

Call it the “thanks, Putin” effect.

In 2014, just three out of NATO’s 28 members at the time met the alliance’s guideline of spending at least 2 percent of GDP on defense: the United States, United Kingdom, and Greece.

Today, nine NATO members meet that guideline, and a total of 19 have clear-cut plans to meet that by 2024. That number will go up after Finland and Sweden enter the alliance as new members—another new development for which the alliance can thank Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Finland is slated to spend 2.2 percent of GDP on defense next year, and Sweden has plans to reach the 2 percent threshold by 2028.)

The U.K., meanwhile, has pledged to beef up its defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced at the summit, and the United States is on track to approve a record high defense budget of over $800 million. Other NATO allies are pledging to hit 2.5 percent or even 3 percent coming out of the meetings in Madrid.

In total, since 2014, European and Canadian defense spending has increased by an extra $350 billion, according to the latest data from NATO, and that number is on track to steadily increase.

“Two percent is increasingly seen as a floor, not as a ceiling,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the summit.

Changes in defense spending and military force posture can’t be made overnight, but the stats coming out of NATO’s Madrid summit show the alliance views Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a transformational moment that will alter its defense posture for decades to come.

The numbers don’t tell the full story, and some experts still bristle at NATO’s 2 percent benchmark as over-simplistic and misguided.

But even on the policy side of things, NATO appears to be swaying more toward the United States’ view of geopolitical competitors like Russia and China.

At the summit, NATO members agreed to a new “strategic concept” to guide the alliance’s priorities in the coming years, and that document had much sharper language on Russia than its outdated predecessor from 2010. It also mentioned China for the first time ever, characterizing it as a broad strategic challenge.


Let’s Get Personnel

U.S. Sen. Chris Coons has hired Elizabeth O’Bagy as a senior foreign-policy advisor, while another top advisor to Coons, Thomas Mancinelli, has joined the Pentagon as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, several current and former officials confirmed to SitRep.

Luke Coffey, former director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, has joined the Hudson Institute as a senior fellow, focusing on national security and trans-Atlantic relations.

Another familiar name is also joining the Hudson Institute: William Barr, Trump’s former attorney general, is joining the Hudson Institute as a distinguished fellow.

The United States Studies Center at the University of Sydney has added Peter J. Dean as its new director of foreign policy and defense.


On the Button 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Snake Island bites back. Russian troops evacuated Snake Island in the Black Sea on Thursday, Russia’s defense ministry confirmed, leaving burning vehicles and structures behind that were picked up on satellite imagery. Ukrainian troops on a counteroffensive appeared to be closing in on the island, making the position less defensible.

The evacuation comes a little more than five months after Ukrainian Border Guards defending the island from the Russian warship Moskva told the invading sailors to “go f–k yourself.” The Moskva was later sunk by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles.

Straight to voicemail. North Korea may be testing missiles at a historic clip—and U.S. officials believe that a nuclear weapons test could come any day now—but Kim Jong Un and his loyalists in Pyongyang have effectively ceased all communications with the Biden administration and the new government in South Korea, officials told Robbie as he traveled to Seoul last week.

“We’re doing everything we can, but North Korea has to respond,” said one South Korean official, who declined to speak on the record. “Twenty years later, nothing has really changed except their arsenal has become bigger and stronger.”

Living “like prisoners.” A former Afghan official stuck at an American military base in Kosovo housing Afghan refugees since the Taliban broke into Kabul last year said that people in the camp have felt as though they are being treated “like prisoners.”

Muhammad Arif Sarwari, who worked with the CIA during the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and later served as a top Afghan intelligence official, told CBS News that people trapped at Kosovo’s Camp Bondsteel “have absolutely no freedom to leave the area,” adding that those trapped there “can’t speak to most of the visitors.”

Easy rider. The Pentagon’s top military command in the Middle East authorized a drone strike that killed a top al Qaeda-linked militant in Syria on Monday.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement that Abu Hamzah al-Yemeni of the Hurras al-Din terrorist group was riding on a motorcycle in Syria’s Idlib province when he was killed in an American strike. The Pentagon believes that there were no civilian casualties stemming from the strike.


Snapshot 

A helicopter is seen in the sky in front of a backdrop of mountains and trees.
A helicopter is seen in the sky in front of a backdrop of mountains and trees.

A CH-53 helicopter of the German Bundeswehr ferries participants in the G-7 summit to and from Schloss Elmau in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on June 26.Ronny Hartmann/AFP via Getty Images


What We’re Reading

Risky business. Private investigators seeking to give their clients the edge in lawsuits are turning to an unusual place for help: underground hackers from India.

That’s according to a Reuters special investigation, which found that 35 legal cases over the past nine years have seen Indian hackers try to digitally pilfer documents to sway juries, including using password-stealing phishing emails targeting at least 75 U.S. and European companies, three dozen advocacy groups, and many business executives.


Put on Your Radar

Thursday, June 30: Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the incoming president of the Philippines, is being inaugurated in Manila.

Thursday, July 7: G-20 foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Indonesia.


Quote of the Week

“I don’t know how they wanted to get undressed, above or below the waist. … But I think it would be a disgusting sight in any case.”

—Russian President Vladimir Putin on what the G-7 leaders would look like disrobed, after the G-7 leaders joked about going shirtless to look as tough as Putin. 


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Use the force. Ukrainians trying to knock down unwanted Russian monuments are getting creative. In the port city of Odesa, a statue of Russian revolutionary leader and the first chief of the Soviet Union Vladimir Lenin has been replaced by none other than the Sith lord himself, Darth Vader.

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

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

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