U.K. PRESSES U.S. ON IRAN: The leader of America’s closest ally has made a personal appeal to President Trump not to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, negotiated in 2015 by the U.S. and six world powers. A statement from Number 10 Downing Street said British Prime Minister Theresa May told Trump by phone yesterday that the accord was “vitally important for regional security,” and that Great Britain and its European partners remained strongly committed to the pact. “The PM stressed that it was important that the deal was carefully monitored and properly enforced,” said a readout provided by the British Embassy in Washington. “Mrs. May and the President also discussed the need for the UK, U.S. and others to work together to counter destabilizing Iranian activity in the region,” a spokesman was quoted as saying.
About the same time, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was on the phone with his counterpart, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, making the same argument, according the British government. “The UK, France and Germany are clear that while Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region are unacceptable, the regime has upheld its nuclear commitments,” said an embassy statement.
“We have made no bones about our deep concern at Iran’s destabilizing regional activity, including its ballistic missile program, but I remain steadfast in my view that the nuclear deal was an historic achievement that has undoubtedly made the world a safer place,” the statement quoted Johnson as saying. “It was the culmination of 13 years of painstaking diplomacy and has increased security, both in the region and in the UK. It is these security implications that we continue to encourage the U.S. to consider.”
THIRD WAY ON IRAN: Delaware Sen. Chris Coons says Trump should threaten to leave the Iran deal at the end of the year in order to create momentum for improving the agreement. "Call on Congress to join him in a bipartisan way in supporting the tougher measures we should be taking against Iran," said Coons, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "That would demonstrate genuine leadership domestically."
Coons held a conference call with reporters as Trump is expected to notify Congress this week that the Iran nuclear agreement is not in the national security interests of the United States. Such an announcement could lead the Congress to impose economic sanctions on the regime, which Coons argued would lead to “significant damage” to the deal and U.S. credibility. “I think it is unlikely that North Korea and our key partners would negotiate with us if we were to renege on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], and so I see this as a moment of great risk,” Coons said.
Coons says the Trump administration is trying to walk a fine line, and that the nuance of the move may be missed. “While the Trump administration is making a very fine distinction between a decertification that is a report to Congress, rather than leaving the deal, I'm concerned that that distinction will be lost on our allies and adversaries, and that it will be incorrectly reported that he is decertifying the JCPOA or trying to leave the JCPOA.”
ANOTHER SHOW OF FORCE: Two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flew over the Korean Peninsula Tuesday in a show-of-force exercise as tensions with a nuclear-armed North Korea continue to escalate. The bombers were escorted by Japanese F-15s and South Korean F-15Ks, in what marked the first time the three types of aircraft from those three countries have trained together at night, Pacific Air Forces announced.
"Flying and training at night with our allies in a safe, effective manner is an important capability shared between the U.S., Japan and the Republic of Korea and hones the tactical prowess of each nations' aviators," said Air Force Maj. Patrick Applegate, 613th Air Operation Center, according to Pacific Air Forces. "This is a clear demonstration of our ability to conduct seamless operations with all of our allies anytime anywhere."
Also on Tuesday, the Navy announced that the USS Tucson, a Los Angeles-class attack submarine, pulled into U.S. Fleet Activities Chinhae, South Korea, for a port visit on Saturday.
WAR PLANS: Trump was briefed yesterday on the latest plans to deal with North Korea by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford. “The briefing and discussion focused on a range of options to respond to any form of North Korean aggression or, if necessary, to prevent North Korea from threatening the United States and its allies with nuclear weapons,” according to a White House statement.
Meanwhile the Pentagon downplayed the reported theft of secret documents that included an 11-page summary of the OPLAN 5027, the joint U.S.-South Korean contingency plan for war on the Korean Peninsula. “We've seen the media reporting on last year's potential breach of the ROK-U.S. alliance plans related to defending the Korean Peninsula," said Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman. "And although I will not comment on intelligence matters or specific instances related to cyber intrusion, I can assure you that we are confident in the security of our operations plans and with our ability to deal with any threat from North Korea."
South Korean media provided some details of what was in the data breach, including the fact that in the event of all-out war in Korea, plans call for reinforcing the 28,500 U.S. troops currently in Korea with 700,000 more.
At a White House photo op with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Trump disputed the notion that his public skepticism about the value of talking to North Korea in any way undercut the efforts of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to find a diplomatic solution. "No, I didn't undercut anybody. I don't believe in undercutting people," he said to reporters. And Trump also dismissed the criticism from Sen. Bob Corker that Trump’s combative rhetoric was putting the nation on a path to World War III. “We were on the wrong path before. All you have to do is take a look. If you look over the last 25 years through numerous administrations, we were on a path to a very big problem — a problem like this world has never seen,” Trump said. “We're on the right path right now, believe me.”
MORE NUKES. WAY MORE NUKES: Trump told his national security leaders on July 20 that he wanted a ten-fold increase in the nation’s nuclear arsenal, a comment that shocked his team, NBC reports this morning. Trump made the comment after being shown the steady decline of nuclear weapons since the 1960s. During the long and tense meeting, Tillerson and Dunford reportedly explained the legal and practical problems with Trump’s idea. It was after that meeting that Tillerson reportedly referred to Trump as a “moron.” Sources also said the nuclear mega buildup isn’t being planned.
FIRST STRIKE: In their latest essay, retired Lt. Gen. David Barno and Nora Bensahel argue the likelihood of a U.S. nuclear first strike against North Korea is both increasing and extraordinarily dangerous. “Any first strike would inevitably have to utilize nuclear weapons, because conventional weapons run too high a risk of triggering a massive response,” they say iin an article in War on the Rocks. “While a nuclear first strike may be the only way to decisively end the North Korean nuclear program, the human, political, economic, and moral consequences would permanently and disastrously undermine U.S. interests around the world for generations to come — and must be avoided at all costs. The only feasible U.S. policy is deterrence, which has served the United States well against nuclear-armed threats and can be effective against North Korea.”
Good Wednesday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre’s Daily on Defense, compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre), National Security Writer Travis J. Tritten (@travis_tritten) and Senior Editor David Brown (@dave_brown24). Email us here for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list. And be sure to follow us on Twitter @dailyondefense.
HAPPENING TODAY: MATTIS TO CENTCOM, SOCOM, SOUTHCOM: Mattis flies to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, today to meet with senior leaders at U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command. He returns to Washington Friday after making a stop in Miami for meetings and troop talks at U.S. Southern Command. At all three locations, Mattis plans to hold town hall-style meetings with troops, and in all three cases those events are closed to the press.
YOUR REGULAR THURSDAY BRIEFING: Last week’s Pentagon briefing in which chief spokesperson Dana White was paired with Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie will be a regular thing. Spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters yesterday that the plan is for White and McKenzie to brief every Thursday, and for an off-camera media “gaggle” to be held every Monday.
Manning also confirmed that White recently sent an email to commanders worldwide telling them they should feel free to engage with the press to discuss what they do, as long as they avoid disclosing classified or sensitive information. Manning said there was a misperception that the Pentagon didn’t want senior commanders talking to the press. The message was first reported by Defense One.
That perception might have something to do with a memo Mattis sent out Oct. 3 and reported by Military Times that said, “It is a violation of our oath to divulge in any fashion non-public DoD information, classified or unclassified, to anyone with the required security clearance, as well as a specific need to know in performance of their duties.” Manning said that was not intended to have a chilling effect on normal interactions with the news media.
AUSA WRAPS UP: It’s the third and final day of the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting and exposition at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Today’s highlights include Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Ellen Lord and Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict Mark Mitchell who appear on a panel at 2 p.m. Full schedule here.
RAQQA IS FALLING: The Pentagon said yesterday that 80 percent of the Syrian city of Raqqa has been cleared of Islamic State fighters. Once the self-declared capital of the Islamic State “caliphate,” the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa now seems certain. The concern now is protecting civilians and preventing a significant humanitarian crisis as the fall draws nearer, said a statement from Joint Task Force Inherent Resolve. “The Raqqah Civil Council is leading discussions to determine the best way to enable civilians trapped by Daesh [ISIS] to exit the city, where some are being held as human shields by the terrorists,” said the statement. “Those departing Raqqah who are found to have fought for Daesh will be turned over to local authorities to face justice.”
"We have a responsibility to defeat Daesh while preserving civilian life to the greatest extent possible," said Coalition Director of Operations Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga. "Make no mistake: a lot of hard fighting remains and we are committed to the lasting defeat of Daesh."
TRANSGENDER PAPER TRAIL: House Democrats want to know if Trump really spoke with anyone from the Pentagon before abruptly deciding to ban transgender people from the military in July. A letter, signed by 115 House Democrats, asks for all communications between the White House and Pentagon that would back up Trump's statement that he was "doing the military a great favor" with the ban, and made the decision “after consultation with my Generals and military experts.”
"If senior military or Department of Defense personnel asked that the president ban transgender individuals from military service we request access to any letters, e-mails, telephone transcripts, meeting logs and minutes, or other materials that document such requests," the letter stated. "We seek access to these materials in order to determine whether the president, his national security team, and military leaders are actively coordinating policy with one another, or whether the president's transgender ban announcement reflected a breakdown in communication."
McCAIN FIRINGS: The Navy has fired the top two officers assigned to the destroyer USS John S. McCain after the deadly collision two months ago, the U.S. Pacific Fleet announced late Tuesday. Commanding officer Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez and executive officer Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez were relieved by Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer. The destroyer collided with the merchant vessel Alnic MC on Aug. 21, killing 10 sailors. "While the investigation is ongoing, it is evident the collision was preventable, the commanding officer exercised poor judgement, and the executive officer exercised poor leadership of the ship's training program," Pacific Fleet said in a statement. Eight Japan-based Navy leaders have now been fired as the Navy conducts two fleetwide investigations over systemic problems leading to the separate collisions involving the McCain and the USS Fitzgerald.
NO SPACE CADETS: A new report from the Heritage Foundation concludes that creating a “Space Corps” is not the solution to U.S. space problems. “The benefits of a Space Corps (a fifth service within the DOD) would be minimal at best, and would be dwarfed by the personnel and infrastructure costs,” writes John Venable, a senior research fellow for defense policy at Heritage. “Such a reorganization would likely cause a disruption of engagement and coordination within the four services and the combatant commanders while the nation is at war.”
Here are the key takeaways:
- Years of underfunding and continual wartime employment have gutted Air Force readiness levels, leaving space as arguably the healthiest of all Air Force components.
- A Space Corps would exacerbate space governance challenges by adding new organizations to the 25 disparate, unaligned bodies currently leading U.S. space efforts.
- Creating a costly new service with minimal (if any) benefits, while the U.S. has ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria would be highly unwise.
TRUMP TO DMZ? Trump is reportedly considering a visit to the Korean Peninsula's Demilitarized Zone when he tours South Korea next month. White House officials had visited the area in late September to coordinate logistics for a "special activity" when Trump visits, a South Korean military official told Yonhap News Agency on Tuesday.
"They looked around Panmunjom and Observation Post Ouellette," the source said, referring to areas just north of the inter-Korean border. "His aides are making the relevant preparations." Trump is scheduled to visit Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines next month.
MILLEY: ARMY TASKED TO PREPARE FOR NORTH KOREA: A day after Mattis warned soldiers at AUSA that “you have got to be ready” to provide military options against North Korea, the service's top officer told the same conference that the secretary meant exactly what he said. "Secretary Mattis just yesterday very clearly tasked the United States Army to be ready. His words were carefully chosen,” Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said. "So our No. 1 task, bar none, remains readiness. Readiness for what? It's readiness for war."
Milley said "no one wants a war" and the U.S. is still seeking a peaceful diplomatic solution to the crisis over the North's nuclear missile program. "All recognize that a war on the Korean Peninsula would be a tragedy on a huge scale with intense levels of violence in dense urban areas, enormous damage to infrastructure, and economic effects felt worldwide," he said. "Most importantly there would be significant loss of human life, a level of war on a scale that few in the world today have ever seen." Mattis said during his speech Monday that the international community has already condemned North Korea with two United Nations votes imposing new sanctions. "There's one thing the U.S. Army can do, and that is, you have got to be ready to ensure that we have military options that our president can employ, if needed," he said.
WILSON ON CORKER FEUD: Even Trump's Air Force secretary can't escape questions about the president's public feud with Corker. Secretary Heather Wilson was at a Forbes conference about powerful women Tuesday when she was asked what she thought about Corker's claims that Mattis, Tillerson, and Trump's chief of staff John Kelly are saving the country from chaos. "Everyone has their own perspective," she said. "I think my personal view is that America is a pretty rock solid place and we are a resilient place and sometimes Washington seems to get pretty full of itself."
Wilson, a former Republican congresswoman who was confirmed in May, told Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour that Mattis is one of the best leaders she has ever worked for and appeared ready to dodge further comment on the charged issue of Corker and Trump, but continued on after a pause. "Really, most Americans are going on with their daily lives and they don't really much care about the rhetoric that swirls around this city," Wilson said. Meanwhile, she said the Defense Department is largely not affected by the political controversy. "The members of the United States military focus on a mission that we have to do to make sure that we are ready and trained and a lot of the stuff that swirls around doesn't penetrate," Wilson said.
MCMASTER ON ‘TREASONOUS’ LEAKS: In an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said that members of Trump's National Security Council should understand the severity of leaking to the press. “What is very important is that everyone who is involved in these sort of policy discussions understand the sacred trust that is placed in them, and they realize that speaking to the media about government deliberations is treasonous when it involves national security," said McMaster, who is Trump’s national security adviser. Such leaks, an unwelcome fixture in Trump's White House often derided by the president, have become a real challenge in recent years as the NSC has grown, he said. "We have made a conscious effort to reduce the size of the staff and to make sure that form follows function," he said.
McMaster said the NSC had also overstepped its responsibilities as it grew and under Trump's guidance it has ceded day-to-day operations back to the heads of agencies, especially Tillerson, to help come up with policies. Meanwhile, the NSC is more focused on long-term strategic planning, he said. "Many of you watched us do it on the Cuba policy, which was probably the most public one," McMaster said. "But there are signed policies on Iran, for example, which you will hear about more this week."
USA Today: Uncertainty over Iran nuclear agreement could heighten economic tensions with Europe
Navy Times: 'USS Bread and Water': Old and rare punishment loomed over a demoralized crew
New York Times: Ambush In Niger Reveals Long Wait For Help For U.S. Soldiers In Africa
Defense News: The U.S. and NATO’s ability to deter Russia is at risk, commander says
Reuters: Pentagon Says Diplomatic Tension With Turkey Not Affecting Military Operations
Military.com: Army chief: Modernization reform means new tanks, aircraft, weapons
Reuters: U.S. warship sails near islands Beijing claims in South China Sea - U.S. officials
Military Times: Report: Online trolls targeting U.S. troops, veterans
Foreign Policy: Why is Ukraine showing its military wares in the United States?
New York Times: Turkish President Erdogan blames U.S. ambassador for visa row
Defense One: Armed ground robots could enter the Ukrainian conflict next year
Wall Street Journal: Japan's new satellite to help keep self-driving cars -- and North Korea -- in line
CNN: Nuclear test leaves Chinese city shaken
USNI News: Navy releases final MQ-25 Stingray RFP; General Atomics bid revealed
WEDNESDAY | OCT. 11
7 a.m. 801 Mt Vernon Place NW. 2017 Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting and exposition with Deputy Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan; Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy; and Gen. Robert Brown, commander U.S. Army Pacific. ausameetings.org
8 a.m. 12777 Fair Lakes Circle. TRI-Association Small Business Advisory Panel (TRIAD) conference. ndia.org
8:30 a.m. 1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW. A discussion with Rep. Rick Larsen and Rep. Don Bacon on U.S. defense needs and priorities. brookings.edu
9 a.m. 600 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Global business briefing with Michael T. Strianese, chairman and CEO of L3 Technologies. defenseone.com
10 a.m. Rayburn 2172. Confronting the full range of Iranian threats. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. Drones under Trump. stimson.org
2 p.m. Rayburn 2172. U.S. policy toward Lebanon with Michael Ratney, deputy assistant secretary of state. foreignaffairs.house.gov
2 p.m. Rayburn 2154. Subcommittee hearing on security clearance investigation challenges and reforms with Garry Reid, director for defense intelligence. oversight.house.gov
5 p.m. 815 Connecticut Ave. NW. Cyber risk Wednesday: Building a more defensible cyberspace. atlanticcouncil.org
THURSDAY | OCT. 12
8 a.m. 2401 M St. NW. Defense Writers Group breakfast with Maj. Gen. Stephen Farmen, Army Security Assistance Command. centermediasecurity.org
9:30 a.m. Rayburn 2172. Markup hearing on the Iran Ballistic Missiles and International Sanctions Enforcement Act. foreignaffairs.house.gov
10 a.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. A looming national security crisis of young Americans unable to join the military with Major Gen. Jeffrey Snow, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, and Rep. Don Bacon. heritage.org
11 a.m. 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Is This the beginning of the end for the Iran nuclear accord? wilsoncenter.org
12 p.m. 214 Massachusetts Ave. NE. What’s next for the U.S. Iran policy. heritage.org
2 p.m. House Visitor Center 210. Empty threat or serious danger: Assessing North Korea’s risk to the homeland. homeland.house.gov
6:30 p.m. 1301 K St. NW. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius will speak one-on-one with U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison. washingtonpost.com
MONDAY | OCT. 16
11 a.m. 1000 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Terror, propaganda and the birth of the “new man”: Experiences from Cuba, North Korea and the Soviet Union. cato.org
TUESDAY | OCT. 17
11:15 a.m. 1700 Army Navy Dr. NDIA Washington, D.C. chapter defense leaders forum luncheon with Vice Adm. Robert Burke, deputy chief of naval operations for manpower, personnel, training and education. ndia.org
12:15 p.m. 1211 Connecticut Ave. NW. The diplomacy of decolonization and United Nations peacekeeping during the Congo Crisis of 1960-1964. stimson.org
WEDNESDAY | OCT. 18
10 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW. A book talk with Sir Lawrence Freedman about "The Future of War: A History.” csis.org
12 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW. Kevan Harris on Iran from below and findings from the Iran social survey. atlanticcouncil.org
3 p.m. 529 14th St. NW. The KRG independence referendum and regional realities with Arshad Al-Salihi, the Iraqi Turkmen Front leader and a member of the Iraq Parliament; James F. Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq; and Lukman Faily, former Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. press.org