Today’s D Brief: New US forces to Europe; Turkey lifts NATO objection; ‘Our 1937 moment’; China targets rare-earths firm; And a bit more.
The United States military will soon open a new “permanent” command post in Poland. That’s one of several new measures President Joe Biden is taking ahead of this year’s annual NATO summit, which begins today in Spain.
The White House is also sending a new rotational Brigade Combat Team of about 3,000 troops and 2,000 enablers to Europe in order to better coordinate training and exercises from Romania, Biden said Wednesday. But that’s not all, according to the White House:
- More armored, aviation, air defense, and special operations forces are also on the way.
- Two more U.S. destroyers will be stationed in Spain’s port city of Rota, on top of the four already there.
- Two squadrons of F-35 aircraft will be stationed in the U.K.
- And an unspecified number of “additional air defense and other enablers” are headed to Germany and Italy.
About the Polish contingent: The country already hosts some 4,000 U.S. troops on a rotational basis. This new deal with Warsaw, which was first made public during the Trump administration (see Reuters here, e.g.), would bring a permanent headquarters for America’s Fifth Army, which could raise the total U.S. force in Poland to about 5,500 troops. Read more from the White House, here.
The Germans and Dutch are sending six more howitzers to Ukraine, the two nations’ defense chiefs announced Tuesday. They’ll be Panzerhaubitze 2000s, which look like tanks and which the Germans call “one of the most modern artillery pieces in the world.”
Update: Turkish officials removed their block on Sweden and Finland joining NATO after the three nations’ top representatives worked out an agreement in Brussels on Tuesday. “Finland and Sweden are strong democracies with highly capable militaries; their membership will strengthen NATO’s collective security and benefit the entire Transatlantic Alliance,” U.S. President Biden said in a statement Tuesday, when he traveled from Germany to Spain for meetings with allies. “As we begin this historic NATO Summit in Madrid, our Alliance is stronger, more united and more resolute than ever,” he said.
Now what? NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg didn’t say when he expected the two nations to formally join the alliance, but he said Tuesday that the time from application to invitation has been the “quickest-ever process so far.” Our colleague Jacqueline Feldscher has a bit more, here.
Is the U.S. about to sell F-16s to Turkey? Assistant Defense Secretary for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander seemed to confirm as much in a call with reporters on Wednesday. “The U.S. Department of Defense fully supports Turkey’s modernization plans for its F-16 fleet. These plans are in the works,” she said according to a White House transcript. “And, you know, they need to be worked through our contracting processes. But the United States supports Turkey’s modernization of its fighter fleet because that is a contribution to NATO security and therefore American security.” (Recall that Turkey’s plans to buy F-35s were scuttled after it bought Russian anti-aircraft missiles.)
President Biden is set to speak to his Turkish counterpart in the late afternoon Wednesday, before NATO delegates attend a “Transatlantic Dinner” hosted by Spanish President Pedro Sánchez.
Just hours before the Nordic breakthrough at NATO, a top Russian official threatened to move nuclear weapons closer to Finland and Sweden, according to what Dmitry Medvedev told a government news website on Tuesday. “The Baltic region’s nonnuclear status will become a thing of the past, the group of land and naval forces in the northern sector will be seriously increased. No one is happy with this, not the citizens of these two NATO candidate countries,” Medvedev said. “It’s not the best prospect for them to have our Iskanders, hypersonic missiles, warships with nuclear weapons on their doorstep.” The Wall Street Journal and Reuters have a bit more.
Big picture: Britain’s army chief called Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine “our 1937 moment,” referencing the months before Hitler’s Nazis invaded Poland, triggering the Second World War, in a speech delivered Tuesday in London. “We are not at war,” Gen. Patrick Sanders said, “but we must act rapidly so that we aren’t drawn into one through a failure to contain territorial expansion.”
“The scale of the war in Ukraine is unprecedented,” he said, and listed “103 Battalion Tactical Groups [that Russia has] committed. Up to 33,000 Russians dead, wounded, missing or captured. A casualty rate of up to 200 per day amongst the Ukrainian defenders. 77,000 square kilometers of territory seized, [which is] 43% of the total landmass of the Baltic states. Ammunition expenditure rates that would exhaust the combined stockpiles of several NATO countries in a matter of days. The deliberate targeting of civilians with 4,700 civilian dead. 8 million refugees. For us, the visceral nature of a European land war is not just some manifestation of distant storm clouds on the horizon; we can see it now.”
Sanders’s boss, Ben Wallace, echoed that warning, declaring Tuesday in his own speech, “I am serious when I say that there is a very real danger that Russia will lash out against wider Europe.” And that’s why Secretary of State for Defense Wallace wants Britain to increase its defense spending from a current estimate of about 2.2% of GDP to reportedly 2.5% in six years, according to the BBC.
“Putin’s declared intent recently to restore the lands of ‘historic Russia’ makes any respite temporary and the threat will become even more acute,” Sanders said Tuesday. He said his army will spend the next several years focused on meeting the materiel and tactical challenges posed by Russia’s invading forces on European soil. “You can’t cyber your way across a river,” the army chief said. “No single platform, capability, or tactic will unlock the problem” of deterring Putin. The 125 days of the invasion, he said, “reminded us all that war fundamentally remains a clash of wills.”
What lies ahead “will be hard work—a generational effort,” said Sanders. “This is the moment to defend the democratic values that define us. This is the moment to help our brave Ukrainian allies in their gallant struggle; this is the moment we stand with our friends and partners to maintain peace throughout the rest of Europe. And I expect all ranks to get ready, train hard and engage.” Read more, here.
New: Indonesia’s president is headed to Ukraine, Joko Widodo announced Tuesday on Twitter. The Wall Street Journal’s Yaroslav Trofimov contextualized its possible significance when he described it as an “Extraordinary show of support from the world’s fourth biggest nation.”
Pessimistic forecast for the White House: “Historically Americans don’t rally around the president when geopolitical shocks send oil prices up; quite the opposite,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing the 1970s energy crisis that resulted from U.S. support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War. On the bright side, Biden has begun “pushing to export more liquefied natural gas to Europe and patching up relations with Saudi Arabia. But he has yet to declare that a new cold war calls for a different energy strategy than the one on which he campaigned.” (Axios has more from six days ago about “Why Biden can’t bring gas prices down,” here.)
- “U.S. accuses five firms in China of supporting Russia’s military,” via Reuters, reporting Tuesday from a pending Commerce Department decision set to be published Thursday;
- “Oil Tanker Is Stopped by U.S. in Transit From Russian Port to New Orleans,” via the Wall Street Journal, reporting Tuesday;
- “In New Poll, 89% of Ukrainians Reject Ceding Land to Reach Peace With Russia,” via the Journal again, reporting Wednesday from a new WSJ/NORC poll you can dive into in greater detail (PDF) here;
- “Putin aims to shore up his influence on a tour of Central Asia,” via the New York Times, reporting on a recent trip to Turkmenistan;
- And “Iran applies to join China and Russia in BRICS club,” via Reuters, reporting Tuesday from Dubai.
From Defense One
Turkey Lifts Objection To Finland, Sweden Joining NATO // Jacqueline Feldscher: Leaders from the three nations signed an agreement in Madrid to cooperate more on counterterrorism.
New Google Division Will Take Aim at Pentagon Battle-Network Contracts // Patrick Tucker: Google Public Sector will also target other federal and state work.
Limited Abortions Will Continue On DOD Bases Despite Roe v. Wade Reversal // Jacqueline Feldscher: “There will be no interruption to this care,” the Pentagon said in a memo.
Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here. On this day in 1971, Soviet cosmonauts Georgy Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov and Viktor Patsayev became the first and so far only humans to die in space when their Soyuz 11 spacecraft depressurized as a valve burst just before re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, quickly asphyxiating all three onboard.
Pro-China hackers have set their sights on private-sector mining companies—including one linked to the Defense Department that’s breaking new ground in Texas, according to cybersecurity analysts at Mandiant. “Pretending to be Texans concerned about the environmental impacts of a plant, the campaign targeted three rare earth mining companies,” Mandiant’s John Hulquist announced Tuesday with an accompanying report.
Why this campaign matters: “It targeted an industry of strategic significance to the [People’s Republic of China]”—that is, rare earths—“including specifically three commercial entities challenging the PRC’s global market dominance in that industry,” Mandiant writes in its new report.
The campaign also involved “more nuanced tactics than what we typically see from pro-PRC information operations,” Mandiant says. That included the cyber threat actors “posing as residents in Texas to feign concern over environmental and health issues,” and using those fake accounts to relay and share “criticism of Biden’s invocation of the Defense Production Act by real individuals, including U.S. politicians of both parties, to amplify campaign narratives.” And that would suggest these tactics will be seen again, possibly quite soon, depending on the goals of PRC leaders.
The targeted firms included Lynas Rare Earths Ltd., from Australia (with the operation in Texas); Appia Rare Earths & Uranium Corp from Canada; and the American company USA Rare Earth. More here.
A former Green Beret’s boat was found after it washed up on the Azores islands, which are about 2,700 miles from where it was last seen near the coast of North Carolina. The Associated Press has more on what’s known about Joseph Matthew Johnson, a 24-year Army veteran who has deployed to Afghanistan and South America, here.
Colombia is often cited as a “success story” of U.S. special operators training abroad. (See this 2013 report from Brookings, e.g.) But a truth commission appointed by the Colombian government just published a scathing report this week that looks closely at Colombia’s civil war, which ran from 1958 to 2016. And that new report “delivered a sharp rebuke of United States policy in Colombia, saying that mounting a war against drug trafficking had disastrous social and environmental effects, turning poor farmers into enemies of the state and poisoning once fertile landscapes,” according to the New York Times, which obtained a copy of declassified portions of the report.
Related reading: “Biden aides seek to unlock Afghan reserves without enriching Taliban,” via the Washington Post, reporting Tuesday.
That former U.S. airman and Boogaloo extremist just pleaded guilty to murdering a police officer on June 6, 2020, after he attacked a federal building in California during the height of George Floyd protests. His name is Steven Carrillo, and on Monday he pleaded guilty to nine different charges, which could put him in prison without the possibility of parole, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Story here.
And lastly today: Tom Cruise’s new “Top Gun” movie is officially the second most-profitable movie of the pandemic era—and has now brought in more than $1 billion from theater viewers, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday off last weekend’s numbers. The film’s studio, Paramount Global, hasn’t hit that billion mark since 2014’s Transformers movie; and that has studio executives excited about the additional funds that could come from streaming services soon. Read more, here.