With help from Lara Seligman
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Programming Note: We’re off Monday for Juneteenth, but we’ll be back in your inboxes on Tuesday.
President JOE BIDEN and his team have faced an extraordinary number of foreign policy and national security emergencies, from white supremacist terror within U.S. borders to the fall of Afghanistan to a land war in Europe. Amid the crush of crises, some topics tend to fade off the radar if not repeatedly raised by journalists, analysts and readers like yourself.
So today, we’re compiling a few questions to help prevent some critical topics from falling down the memory hole:
Where are the strategies? The National Security Strategy still hasn’t been released, and neither has an unclassified version of the National Defense Strategy.
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has understandably affected the timing (and re-writing) of these documents, especially the National Security Strategy, as have staffing changes at the National Security Council. But the administration’s intelligence on VLADIMIR PUTIN’s belligerence and the impending invasion goes back to at least last fall, and the classified version of the National Defense Strategy was sent to Congress in March. Defense officials have been saying for months that the NDS will be released in weeks.
How long does it take to rewrite these strategies? We ask out of genuine curiosity, not snark.
In theory, such papers should be sound enough to withstand a certain level of change on the geopolitical scene, but the more time that passes, the more the odds are of another major episode forcing another delay. (An administration official told us the goal is to release the documents sometime this summer and pointed out that past administrations have also seen their strategy releases be delayed.)
Is the U.S. going to declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism? This is a move many Ukrainians would like to see, especially given the reports of atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine. The Biden administration, however, has held off — offering refrains along the lines that it’s “taking a close look at the law.”
In some ways, placing Russia on this list would be symbolic considering the already heavy sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Moscow. At the same time, the administration may view the designation as holding another card it can still play against the Kremlin (a questionable assumption).
While we’re at it, is the administration going to keep Cuba on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list? Havana’s addition to that register — a last-minute move by the Trump administration — was controversial and has fed suspicions that the list has become a politicized tool.
What will happen to the Americans held prisoner in Iran if the nuclear deal dies? The Biden administration’s efforts to revive the Iran nuclear agreement appear to have hit a stalemate. This is deeply troubling for the handful of Americans being held prisoner in Iran, especially amid hopes that a restored nuclear deal could be coupled with their freedom.
When the nuclear deal was first implemented under the BARACK OBAMA administration, several Americans held in Iran were released. U.S. officials insisted at the time that the two episodes were not linked.
The Biden administration still insists today that the fate of the prisoners should not be linked to the nuclear deal. Still, the administration also has said it would be difficult to re-enter the nuclear agreement if the prisoners aren’t released. With the deal on life support, the U.S. has seemingly lost some leverage.
Asked about this argument, a senior State Department official responded: “It should not require a deal for the Iranians to do the right thing and cease this despicable practice.”
What is the U.S. doing to help seek justice in the death of Palestinian-American journalist SHIREEN ABU AKLEH? Abu Akleh, a veteran correspondent for Al Jazeera, was shot dead on May 11. Various investigations have found that the evidence points to Israeli soldiers as the perpetrators. Israel insists a proper probe is necessary, but neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians trust each other enough to cooperate on an inquiry.
U.S. officials have called for such cooperation, and they say they’re pushing both sides to figure out what happened. It’s just not clear how far verbal requests will go with either the Palestinians or the Israelis.
The reality is that when it comes to cases like this, U.S. attention fades over time. Other topics become more important, and priorities like the death of an American citizen fall lower on the list until they fall off. Biden is due to visit Israel next month. Will he raise Abu Akleh’s death?
Will Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN make a formal determination related to atrocities committed in Ethiopia? The war in Ethiopia, which pitted central government forces against fighters from the Tigray region, has calmed considerably since last year. Diplomatic efforts have helped pave the way for a potential negotiated settlement.
Last year, as the conflict raged, Blinken indicated that the U.S. had seen evidence of acts of ethnic cleansing. Yet he never formally issued any declaration of such a finding or any other type of atrocity, such as war crimes or genocide.
Asked if such claims were still under consideration, the senior State Department official said only that U.S. diplomats are always on the watch for such crimes, and that “any solution to the crisis must involve accountability for those responsible for atrocities.”
Will Biden visit Ukraine? OK, in fairness, this is not a fading topic, but we couldn’t help but bring it up. British Prime Minister BORIS JOHNSONjust visited Kyiv (again). And earlier this week, the leaders of France, Italy, Germany and Romania also met there with Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY.
For any number of reasons — not least of which is the tremendous security risk— the White House has indicated that the president is not currently planning to visit Ukraine. But he is scheduled to attend the G-7 summit in Germany later this month. He’s also facing low poll numbers and other political challenges at home. Might a quick side trip to Ukraine be a possibility — and a potential image booster for the beleaguered commander in chief?
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — BLINKEN NAMES HIS OUTSIDE ADVISERS: The State Department is set to announce later today the lineup of the secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board, the eclectic panel of experts established in 2011 by then-Secretary HILLARY CLINTON to counsel senior State officials on a broad range of issues.
Blinken’s board will be co-chaired by two top Obama administration officials: TOM DONILON, the former national security adviser, and CECILIA MUÑOZ, the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Other members of the new board will include DAVID AUTOR, SAMEER BHALOTRA, HAL BRANDS, TINO CUÉLLAR, MITCH DANIELS, JANINE DAVIDSON, CATHY FEINGOLD, MARGARET HAMBURG, JON HUNTSMAN, AYANA ELIZABETH JOHNSON, KRISTIE KENNEY, GILMAN LOUIE, KATHERINE MAHER, JAMES MANYIKA, MEGHAN O’SULLIVAN, ANNISE PARKER and VINCENT STEWART.
Of that group, Huntsman — the former Republican governor of Utah who has served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore, China and Russia — is the only member to have sat on a previous iteration of the board, a senior State Department official noted.
According to the State Department website, the board’s deliberations “focus on assessing global threats and opportunities; identifying trends that implicate core national security interests; providing recommendations with respect to tools and capacities of the civilian foreign affairs agencies; defining priorities and strategic frameworks for U.S. foreign policy; and performing any other research and analysis of topics raised by the Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretaries, and the Director of Policy Planning.”
More specifically, the senior State Department official told NatSec Daily that the newly constituted board under Blinken will home in on issues such as “cybersecurity and emerging technologies, climate and energy, international economics and trade, global health, and strategic competition with China.”
Blinken “wanted a board that could help the department make sure that U.S. foreign policy delivers even more tangible benefits for the American people — particularly in areas that will increasingly affect their lives and livelihoods in the decade ahead,” the official said.
The board will hold “in-person meetings a few times a year” that will be attended by Blinken himself, the official added, and some of those sessions may be conducted in classified settings. In addition, members of the board may also “meet in smaller groups in between board meetings to prepare for presentations” to State officials.
UKRAINE’S PITCH TO WASHINGTON: Top Ukrainian officials were on Capitol Hill this week to make their argument to lawmakers for additional aid for their existential fight against Russia. POLITICO caught up with them in our Rosslyn office today, and the message was unanimous: More money, more weapons.
OLEKSANDRA “SASHA” USTINOVA, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, said investing in Ukraine now will save the West money and lives in the long term. “Our honest answer is, it’s cheaper to arm Ukraine now than to later have your boots on the ground in Poland,” she said.
Ustinova made the case that if the West lets Putin walk all over Ukraine now, then it’s only a matter of time before Moscow invades other countries in Eastern Europe, starting a domino effect that will inevitably entangle the U.S. “They will invoke Article Five, which we don’t have,” she said.
Ustinova also stressed that Moscow’s blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports could have significant ramifications for the global food market that the West will later have to pay for. “It’s cheaper to arm Ukraine now so we kick them out of the ports and we can export the grain,” she said, noting that the latest supplemental includes money allocated to feed people in Africa.
“It’s cheaper now to [free] our ports and help us on that side and basically feed 400 million people which are dependent on our agricultural products,” she said.
EUROPEAN COMMISSION BACKS EU CANDIDATE STATUS FOR UKRAINE: The European Commission today formally recommended European Union candidate status for Ukraine as well as Moldova, report POLITICO Europe’s DAVID HERSZENHORN and ANDREW GRAY. Furthermore, the Commission did not recommend imposing any conditions that need to be met by the two countries before the granting of the formal designation.
The Commission’s recommendation comes after French President EMMANUEL MACRON, German Chancellor OLAF SCHOLZ and Italian Prime Minister MARIO DRAGHI all endorsed candidate status for Ukraine and Moldova on a joint visit to Kyiv on Thursday. The final decision, however, lies with the 27 leaders on the European Council, who are due to take up the question at a summit next week.
Commission President URSULA VON DER LEYEN said the College of Commissioners hadn’t laid out any hurdles for Ukraine and Moldova prior to the Council summit. But she described an arduous path with many conditions to be met after the granting of candidate status — including benchmarks to be achieved in order for accession negotiations to begin.
Zelenskyy commended the Commission’s recommendation, tweeting that it’s “the 1st step on the EU membership path that’ll certainly bring our Victory closer.” He also expressed gratitude to von der Leyen and “each EC member for a historic decision,” adding that he expects a “positive result” from the Council.
IT’S FRIDAY. WELCOME TO THE WEEKEND: Thanks for tuning in to NatSec Daily. This space is reserved for the top U.S. and foreign officials, the lawmakers, the lobbyists, the experts and the people like you who care about how the natsec sausage gets made. Aim your tips and comments at [email protected] and [email protected], and follow us on Twitter at @alexbward and @QuintForgey.
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U.S. CAN’T LOCATE AMERICANS MISSING IN UKRAINE: Biden said today that he had “been briefed” on the three Americans who are reportedly missing after traveling to Ukraine to fight Russian forces, but added that U.S. officials “don’t know where they are.”
“I want to reiterate: Americans should not be going to Ukraine now,” Biden told reporters before boarding Marine One. “I’ll say it again: Americans should not be going to Ukraine now. They should not be going to Ukraine.”
Russian media outlets today broadcast images of what they claimed were two captured U.S. citizens, per Reuters. The Izvestia newspaper showed a video clip of what it said was a brief interview with Andy Huynh, 27, of Hartselle, Alabama. RT posted an image of a man it identified as Alexander Drueke, 39, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
State Department spokesperson NED PRICEtold reporters Thursday that a possible third missing American had been identified, but “[u]unfortunately, we don’t know the full details of that case.”
RUSSIA SQUEEZES GAS SHIPMENTS: Just days after Macron and Draghi visited Kyiv, Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom has cut gas deliveries to France and Italy, per POLITICO Europe’s JOSHUA POSANER.
France’s gas network operator GRTgaz said today that it hasn’t received any Russian gas via Germany since Wednesday, while Italy’s state energy company Eni said it would only receive half its requested shipments today — the third day of a shortfall in deliveries.
Gazprom blamed the lower flows on maintenance work on pipeline compressor stations and Canada’s reluctance to send crucial equipment because of sanctions levied against Russia. Berlin and Rome rejected Moscow’s explanation, with Draghi saying: “We and Germany and others believe that these are lies.”
HACKERS DELAY PUTIN AT ‘RUSSIAN DAVOS’: During the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum today, hackers stalled the start of Putin’s speech by a little over 100 minutes, while Internet connectivity and speeds suffered at the glamorous event, per Reuters.
Kremlin spokesperson DMITRY PESKOV “said a denial of service attack, which works by flooding servers with bogus traffic, had struck the forum’s accreditation and admission systems. He did not apportion blame but the situation in Ukraine loomed large.”
In addition to the digital debacle, Reuters reported, “the Western investors and investment bankers who had turned up in previous years were conspicuously absent” from the forum, as international sanctions continue to punish Russia’s economy.
NAVY AND AIR FORCE NOT READY FOR TAKE OFF: A report published this week by the Government Accountability Office found that both the U.S. Navy and Air Force have been struggling to keep some planes ready to fly in recent years, and that the problem is only getting worse, writes Breaking Defense’s JUSTIN KATZ.
“Mission capable rates — a metric used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet — and other related maintenance metrics trends have worsened since fiscal year 2015 for eight selected aircraft,” the report states. “While the Air Force and Navy have initiatives to address unit-level maintenance challenges, neither service has mitigated persistent fixed-wing aircraft sustainment risks.”
The GAO studied the mission-capable rates for eight different warplane fleets: the Air Force’s B-1B, C-5M, F-22 and KC-135, and the Navy’s C-130T, KC-130T, F/A-18E/F and P-8A. As Katz explains, the watchdog agency “characterizes ‘mission capable’ as the percentage of time an aircraft spends when it is able to ‘fly and perform at least one mission.’”
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY — LAWMAKERS TELL STATE TO ATTEND NUKE CONFERENCE: The four co-chairs of the congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group are sending a letter to Blinken today, urging him to dispatch a senior State Department official to Austria for the 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons on Monday.
The lawmakers — Sens. ED MARKEY (D-Mass.) and JEFF MERKLEY (D-Ore.) and Reps. JOHN GARAMENDI (D-Calif.) and DON BEYER (D-Va.) — argue in the letter that the invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling demand American involvement in the symposium.
“By attending the Conference and participating in it,” the lawmakers write, “we can build support from countries critical of nuclear weapons states for the slow pace of nuclear disarmament, but whose support we need, including to help achieve a successful Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty Review Conference outcome this August.”
The lawmakers add that the U.S. “has a — sadly — unique perspective on the human consequences of the production, testing and use of nuclear weapons. We would bring a needed … voice and invaluable insight to the Conference, and would show our commitment to playing a leadership role in ensuring that nuclear weapons are never used in warfare again.”
SENATE DEMS SEEK TO BOOST BIDEN’S BUDGET: The Senate Armed Services Committee’s debate this week over whether to add tens of billions of dollars to Biden’s military budget was a lopsided one — with nearly all Democrats on the panel backing an effort to supercharge Pentagon spending, reports our own CONNOR O’BRIEN (for Pros!).
The committee endorsed a $45 billion spending boost in a 25-1 vote during closed-door deliberations over its annual defense policy bill, according to three people familiar with the deliberations. Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-Mass.) was the lone senator opposed to increasing the bill’s price tag.
The move mirrored last year’s committee rebuke of Biden’s budget in the National Defense Authorization Act, when senators also voted 25-1 to tack $25 billion onto the administration’s defense proposal. The increase also puts pressure on the House Armed Services Committee — which so far has stuck to Biden’s budget — to follow suit.
BRITISH DEFENSE CHIEF BASHES RUSSIAN WAR EFFORT: Adm. Sir TONY RADAKIN, the head of the U.K.’s armed forces, criticized Russia’s military strategies Friday and declared in an interview that Moscow has already “strategically lost” the war in Ukraine, becoming a “more diminished power,” per the Guardian.
“This is a dreadful mistake by Russia. Russia will never take control of Ukraine,” Radakin said. He acknowledged that although Moscow may achieve “tactical successes” in the coming weeks, Putin “has used about 25 percent of his army’s power to gain a tiny amount of territory and 50,000 people either dead or injured. Russia is failing.”
Radakin’s remarks come after the British Ministry of Defence concluded earlier this month that, “[m]easured against Russia’s original plan, none of the strategic objectives have been achieved. In order for Russia to achieve any form of success will require continued huge investment of manpower and equipment, and is likely to take considerable further time.”
— DESIRÉE CORMIER SMITH has been appointed as the State Department’s first special representative for racial equity and justice. She previously served as senior adviser in the department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs.
— BAILEY CHILDERS and PAIGE ENNIS are joining the German Marshall Fund of the United States as director of government relations and chief of strategic engagement, respectively. Childers currently serves as director of federal government affairs at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Ennis currently serves as a senior adviser at the Atlantic Council.
— MICHAEL SCHAFFER, POLITICO Magazine: “Brookings Thought It Was Done With Bad Press About Qatari Money. Then the FBI Got Involved.”
— DAWIT ENDESHAW and KATHARINE HOURELD, Reuters: “In Ethiopia’s Civil War, Thousands of Jailed Tigrayans Endured Squalor and Disease”
— DREW HINSHAW and JOE PARKINSON, The Wall Street Journal: “Russians Hunt for Spies at Ukrainian Nuclear Power Plant”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8 a.m.: “Press Briefing: Previewing the G7 and NATO Summits — with MAX BERGMANN, MATTHEW P. GOODMAN, KATHLEEN MCINNIS and CAITLIN WELSH”
— Third Way, 11 a.m.: “Will China’s Authoritarianism Dominate the Digital World Order? — with RUTH BERRY, JAYSON BROWDER, MIEKE EOYANG, MICHÈLE FLOURNOY, RICHARD FONTAINE, CAROLE HOUSE and MAC THORNBERRY”
— The Hudson Institute, 12 p.m.: “Fielding a Resilient Aerial Refueling Force — with MARK GUNZINGER, TODD HARRISON, JOHN ‘JV’ VENABLE and TIMOTHY A. WALTON”
— The Hudson Institute, 12 p.m.: “Thinking the Unthinkable Part II: What if Putin Wins in Ukraine? — with DAVID ASHER, BRYAN CLARK, REBECCAH L. HEINRICHS, PETER ROUGH and KENNETH R. WEINSTEIN”
— The McCain Institute, 12 p.m.: “Authors and Insights: Dr. MARK ESPER and Dr. EVELYN FARKAS”
— The National Press Club, 12 p.m.: “Conversations With Correspondents: POLITICO’s CHRISTOPHER MILLER and Ukrainian Journalist TANYA KOZYREVA on Reporting From Ukraine’s Frontline — with JEN JUDSON”
— The Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, 12 p.m.: “Al Qaeda: Evergreen Threat or Yesterday’s Fight? — with TRICIA BACON, DANIEL BYMAN, ASFANDYAR MIR and ADAM WEINSTEIN”
— The SETA Foundation at Washington, D.C., 12:30 p.m.: “The Prospects of NATO Enlargement: Turkey’s Stance on Finland and Sweden’s Membership — with LUKE COFFEY, BURHANETTIN DURAN and KADIR USTUN”
— The Institute of World Politics, 1 p.m.: “America on Europe’s Eastern Frontier — with GÁBOR CSIZMAZIA”
— The Institute of World Politics, 3 p.m.: “The Russia-Ukraine War and Global Energy Security — with KELLY OGLE and SARA VAKHSHOURI”
— House Intelligence Committee, 5:15 p.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis Budget”
Have a natsec-centric event coming up? Transitioning to a new defense-adjacent or foreign policy-focused gig? Shoot us an email at [email protected] or [email protected] to be featured in the next edition of the newsletter.
And thanks to our editor, Ben Pauker, who — unlike Biden’s natsec team — leaves no questions unanswered.