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NatSec Daily has traveled the world only to come back and find that America’s policy toward Taiwan has hardened, scrambling partisan alliances and putting the U.S. and China on a potential collision course.
Speaker of the House NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.) still weighs whether to visit the democratic island. Biden administration officials say it’s a bad idea since it could spike tensions with Beijing. But Republicans (and some Democrats) egg her on, insisting China can’t dictate where American politicians go.
It’s still unclear if Pelosi will show up in Taipei any time soon. But even the discussion of a visit highlights the “dangerous moment” that we’re in, said BONNIE GLASER, the German Marshall Fund’s Asia Program director. “We’re approaching a crisis.”
The main reason, she and other experts noted, is that Chinese leader XI JINPING needs to convey strength ahead of the 20th Communist Party Congress later this year. Any perceived weakening of the “One China” policy or clarification of “strategic ambiguity” toward America’s defense of Taiwan could hurt him and empower those who want to rein in his influence. “It’s a sensitive time for Xi,” Glaser said.
Should Pelosi decide to fly to Taiwan, the expert consensus is she should do so after the important meeting of party chiefs. If the speaker goes before that, there’s a chance Xi does something rash — perhaps a large “training mission” of warplanes and warships pushing deep into Taiwanese aerial and maritime domains.
“If the US insists on taking its own course, the Chinese military will never sit idly by, and it will definitely take strong actions to thwart any external force’s interference,” Senior Col. TAN KEFEI, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Defense, said Tuesday.
Top Defense Department officials are already worried about the People’s Liberation Army’s aggression. During an event today hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Affairs ELY RATNER said there’s been a “sharp increase in PLA ships and aircraft” implicating U.S. and allied forces operating in Indo-Pacific waters, adding: China is “testing the limits” of America’s resolve.
It’s important to remember that the Pelosi-centered kerfuffle comes after lawmakers said the U.S. should end “strategic ambiguity,” former Defense Secretary MARK ESPER asserted the “One China” policy “outlived its usefulness,” the State Department removed a pro-forma sentence about not supporting Taiwan’s independence, and President JOE BIDEN thrice implied his administration would send troops to fend off an invasion of the island by China.
National security adviser JAKE SULLIVAN insisted in front of an Aspen Security Forum crowd last week that the policy toward Taiwan “has not changed.” He added that the U.S. will provide the island with the weapons it needs to defend itself from China, not necessarily the weapons it’s grown accustomed to receiving in years passed.
Still, the only thing China is clear on is that the Biden administration’s Taiwan policy isn’t fully clear. That puts a lot of kindling underneath the Washington-Beijing relationship. Pelosi’s visit, depending on when or if it happens, could be the match.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– HOUSE GOP ASKS SECRETARIES FOR AFGHANISTAN DOCS: Ten House Republicans sent letters to Secretary of State ANTONY BLINKEN and Defense Secretary LLOYD AUSTIN last week demanding classified documents pertaining to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The letters, exclusively obtained by NatSec Daily, were both led by Rep. MICHAEL TURNER (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
In December, Turner and asked the State Department to work with the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to “access any and all classified annexes and implementing documents not previously made publicly available associated with the February 29, 2020 agreement between the Taliban and the United States government,” and demanded that the Pentagon work with SIGAR “to declassify DoD material contained in SIGAR’s classified supplements to its Quarterly Reports and make this information publicly available.”
Per the letter, “It is our understanding that this has yet to be done. We are seeking clarity as to why that is the case.” The lawmakers now demand that Blinken and Austin either provide the date they will abide by the request or an explanation as to why they won’t declassify certain documents.
A Defense Department spokesperson said “as with all congressional correspondence, we will respond directly to the authors of the letter.” SIGAR declined to comment. The State Department didn’t respond before publication.
WAGNER STICKING AROUND IN AFRICA: Russia has pulled some of its Wagner Group mercenaries out of Libya to help in its grinding campaign in Ukraine, but the redeployments haven’t had much of an effect on the group — or the Kremlin’s — designs on the continent, the top U.S. general overseeing operations in Africa said Tuesday.
While the Wagner fighters failed to overthrow the Libyan government in fierce fighting in 2019, they’re still there, and are growing their footprint in several countries. “I don’t think they’re out for the good of any African nation or people,” outgoing Africa Command leader Gen. STEPHEN TOWNSEND told reporters, including our own PAUL McLEARY, today via phone. “The only thing I see Wagner doing is propping up dictators and exploiting natural resources.”
Wagner has long tentacles within the Russian government with links to the Kremlin, the defense ministry and various intelligence agencies. The mercenary group keeps thousands of fighters in Libya, Mali and the Central African Republic “doing President Putin’s bidding,” Townsend said. While some of the mercenaries have redeployed to Ukraine, Townsend, who is retiring this month after a 40-year Army career, said the Russian footprint hasn’t changed much on the continent overall.
“They’ve had a number of operatives in Libya, probably on the order of 2,000 or so in the past. And we know they have about 1,000 recently deployed to Mali,” while the numbers of Wagner mercenaries in the Central African Republic are “substantial,” the general said.
The group appears to be “leaning into Mali,” and has deployed new helicopters and air defense capabilities there in recent months, he added. That cementing of the Russian presence has been focused on propping up the transitional government as it struggles with a burgeoning jihadi insurgency, and that dependence creates opportunities for Moscow in its bid to influence local politics and policies across the continent.
GOP: BIDEN MUST DO MORE FOR UKRAINE: Congressional Republicans attacked the Biden administration for not doing enough to support Ukraine in its war against Russia, our own LAWRENCE UKENYE wrote in.
“This administration is helping [Zelenskyy] play for a tie,” Rep. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-Fla.) said Monday at the America First Agenda Summit. “Actually, they’re helping them lose slowly.”
Waltz hammered the White House for weapons delays and his calls were amplified by Senate Republicans on the panel who slammed NATO members for not stepping up enough to help Ukraine and increase their defense spending.
“There is no leadership emanating from the White House on this issue,” said Sen. JONI ERNST (R-Iowa).
While Ernst supported Finland and Sweden joining NATO and its potential to strengthen the alliance, other lawmakers on the panel said they fear the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine may embolden China to continue encroaching on Taiwan.
Sen. BILL HAGERTY (R-Tenn.) slammed China for its inability to adhere to international norms, specifically its buildup in the South China Sea after Xi met with former President BARACK OBAMA in 2015 about concerns about militarizing the islands.
“Their aggression is unimaginable to us,” Hagerty said. “They don’t play by the same set of rules at all.”
Looks like the moment of comity between the parties at the start of the war has officially come to an end. Ukraine is now another partisan weapon with which to bludgeon the other party.
HAPPY INTELLIGENCE PROFESSIONALS DAY!: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence AVRIL HAINESreleased a video of her alongside individuals from each branch of the intelligence community in honor of Intelligence Professionals Day.
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ABU AKLEH FAMILY MEETS BLINKEN: The secretary of State held a closed-door meeting with the family of deceased Palestinian American journalist SHIREEN ABU AKLEH this afternoon, reports our own JOSEPH GEDEON. The family is asking Blinken and the State Department to launch a new “thorough, credible, independent and transparent investigation into Shireen’s murder,” according to a statement obtained exclusively by POLITICO.
The family had been invited to D.C. after being snubbed during Biden’s recent trip to Jerusalem. Members of the Abu Akleh family will also be meeting several members of Congress, including Sens. CORY BOOKER (D-N.J.), BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) and JEFF MERKLEY (D-Ore.) who all serve on the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as Sen. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.). A spokesperson with the State Department referred POLITICO to previous department statements on the investigation.
State Department spokesperson NED PRICE told reporters at his briefing today: “We are having private conversations with our partners, in this case, our Palestinian partners and our Israeli partners in this instance, to promote what we think is important and it is a word that as you rightly point out, I have used several times already, even in the past minute because it is a priority for us. It is a priority for us that we see appropriate accountability.”
RUSSIA TO LEAVE ISS: Russia is withdrawing from the International Space Station after 2024, Russian state-run media TASS reported.
YURI BORISOV, who heads Roscosmos, discussed the issue today with Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN. “Vladimir Vladimirovich, you know that we are working within the framework of international cooperation at the International Space Station,” Borisov said, according to a translated report from TASS in The Verge. “Of course, we will fulfill all our obligations to our partners, but the decision [on] leaving this station after 2024 [has] been made.”
DMITRY ROGOZIN, who held the Roscosmos leadership role before Borisov, hinted that Russia would withdraw from the ISS following the West’s response to the invasion of Ukraine. As of this writing, NASA has yet to receive any official word from Moscow that the partnership is coming to an end.
NO MORE ‘NERDSPEAK’: The head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency — one of the nerdiest-named government departments — wants to abolish “nerdspeak.”
“Every engagement that I have, I am incredibly deliberate about the messaging and the communications behind that,” CISA chief JEN EASTERLY told The Washington Post’s TIM STARKS. “People who are technical and in cyber, I think, are not as deliberate as they should be about being good storytellers.”
Anyone who has ever dealt with the government or read the acronym soup that is any Pentagon document knows how horribly officials wordsmith (“strategic, whole-of-government approach” anyone?). That jargon doesn’t help narrow the communications gap between the government and the governed, and it’s especially dangerous when cyber officials have important information to convey about how consumers can protect themselves from threats in cyberspace.
“This has been a major focus area for me, and it was very much informed by looking in from the outside once I left government and went to the private sector and not thinking that this was done terribly well,” Easterly said.
How to do it? Per Starks: “Maybe that means using a song by ’70s rock band Boston to sell consumers on a key security technology. Like with CISA’s ‘More Than a Password’ campaign to convince people to adopt multi-factor authentication, which involves verifying a sign-on with a second device such as a code sent via text message. But the phrase ‘multi-factor authentication’ makes ‘eyes glaze over,’ Easterly said.”
‘NOT THE TIME’: Our friends at Morning Defense (for Pros!) report that three dozen lawmakers have fired off a letter to Pentagon acquisition chief WILLIAM LaPLANTE airing their opposition to the Air Force’s proposed plan to replace the F-35 engine.
The 36 lawmakers raised alarms about the costs, effectiveness and potential impacts to the industrial base of pursuing an alternative to the current F135 engine, arguing in the July 22 letter that “now is not the time to initiate a complete engine replacement program.”
“Modernization of an existing fighter jet engine is a normal occurrence as capabilities and requirements change and does not warrant the risk and cost of a complete engine replacement,” they wrote.
The missive was spearheaded by Rep. JOHN LARSON (D-Conn.), a Joint Strike Fighter Caucus co-chair, whose state is home to F135 manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.
Our own LEE HUDSON and CONNOR O’BRIENreported in June that Larson’s draft letter was opposed by a GE lobbyist as it circulated on Capitol Hill, who urged lawmaker offices not to sign on to the effort at the time. GE backs a competition for a new F-35 engine.
WHAT UKRAINIANS TOLD THE CODEL: There’s a disparity between what Democratic and Republican members of the House CODEL heard Ukrainian President VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY say to them this past weekend.
On Fox News Monday night, Rep. Waltz told BRET BAIER that “Zelenskyy feels like he is losing slowly. The Biden administration is basically helping him play for a tie.”
Loyal NatSec Daily readers may recall our interview with HASC Chair Rep. ADAM SMITH (D-Wash.) on Monday, in which he said Ukraine asked for urgent assistance so Kyiv’s forces can retake territory lost to Russia over the next three to six weeks. One thing we left on the cutting-room floor was that Smith heard immense optimism about the war from Zelenskyy and Ukrainian officials.
He told us Kyiv’s main message was “we’re determined and we’re going to win this thing. We’re not going to let Russia take our country.”
It’s possible Waltz and Smith recalled differing parts of their trip. It’s also possible the Democrats painted a rosy picture and the Republican offered a dire assessment. Whatever the reason, it’s clear the CODEL isn’t on the same page.
POSTPONED UKRAINE BRIEFING: All Senators were set to receive a Ukraine briefing from senior members of the Biden administration Wednesday, but now the session has been “indefinitely postponed,” per one person familiar, with no reason given for the delay. The speakers initially scheduled to appear:
- MORGAN MUIR, Office of the Director of National Intelligence deputy director for mission integration
- WENDY SHERMAN, State Department deputy secretary
- COLIN KAHL, Defense of Defense undersecretary for policy
- Lt. Gen. DOUGLAS SIMS, Joint Staff director of operations
- ISOBEL COLEMAN, U.S. Agency for International Development deputy administrator
- LIZ ROSENBERG, Treasury Department assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes
- ALAN ESTEVEZ, Commerce Department undersecretary for industry and security
- ANDREW LIGHT, Department of Energy assistant secretary for international affairs
Bonus: Our own eagle-eyed ANDREW DESIDERIO spotted Sullivan, the national security adviser, headed into the Senate SCIF today hours before a cyber-related meeting.
FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY –– NEW REPORT QUESTIONS AID TO LEBANESE FORCES: The roughly $2.5 billion in security assistance the United States has provided to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) since 2006 have failed to make it a counterweight to Hezbollah, requiring a rethink in how the U.S. supports the country’s military, DAVID KILCULLEN argues in a new Foundation for the Defense of Democracies report seen first by NatSec Daily.
Kilcullen writes: “The argument for strengthening the LAF rests in part on the assumption that the LAF is in competition with Hezbollah for prestige and influence. In fact, the two are conjoined at the highest levels because Hezbollah’s influence over Lebanon’s civilian authorities is so extensive … It is clear that aid for the LAF has not enabled it to serve as an institutional counterweight to Hezbollah. The time has come to redesign aid programs to keep pace with Lebanon’s rapidly evolving political and economic landscape.”
Killcullen, who during the Iraq War served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. DAVID PETRAEUS, finds that American taxpayer money made the LAF a better counterterrorism force. But the problem is “the LAF fought all its major engagements since 2007 against Sunni militant groups that were opponents of Hezbollah” and has blocked global efforts to weaken the terrorist group.
In response, he mainly recommends that the U.S. keep its assistance in money and weapons out of Hezbollah’s hands and that the “counterweight theory” must be abandoned.
— FIRST IN NATSEC DAILY: STEVEN M. KELLY is now senior director for cybersecurity and emerging technology at the National Security Council. He most recently was supervisory special agent and chief of cyber policy at the FBI.
—BISHOP GARRISON has been named vice president of government affairs and public policy at Paravision. He most recently served as chief of staff of the Selective Service System in the Biden administration and previously served as senior adviser to the secretary of Defense for human capital and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
— ROBERT O’BRIEN is joining the Pepperdine School of Public Policy as a distinguished senior fellow. He previously served as national security adviser in the Trump administration.
— DAVID FRUM, The Atlantic: “Putin’s Big Chill in Europe”
— RAZ SEGAL and AMOS GOLDBERG, The Nation: “Distorting the Holocaust to Boost the International Arms Trade”
— CHAD O’CARROLL, NK PRO: “Talk Is Growing About Seoul Going Nuclear. But Experts Warn of Costs Involved.”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 9 a.m.: “The Future of Arms Control, Strategic Stability and the Global Order — with JOHN HAMRE, SETH JONES and STEPHEN LOVEGROVE”
— The National Defense Industrial Association, 9 a.m.: “CBRN Defense Conference and Exhibition — with ROBERT CARTER, MATTHEW CLARK, COLLIN GREEN, A.C. ROPER, DEBORAH ROSENBLUM and more”
— The Atlantic Council, 9:30 a.m.: “Supporting Climate Resilience and a Just Energy Transition in Africa — with AYAAN ADAM, TYLER BECKELMAN, ANTHONY SIMPASA, ANDREW STEER, KEVIN CHIKA URAMA and more”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 9:30 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: U.S. National Security and Economic Statecraft: Ensuring U.S. Global Leadership for the Twenty-First Century — with ANDY BAUKOL, ENOH EBONG and JOSE FERNANDEZ”
— House Intelligence Committee, 10 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Combating the Threats to U.S. National Security from the Proliferation of Foreign Commercial Spyware”
— House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Enhancing Personnel Resources to Support a Stronger, More Resilient Coast Guard”
— House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 10 a.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Protecting Our Veterans: Patient Safety and Electronic Health Record Modernization Program — with TERRY ADIRIM, ROBERT FISCHER, LYNELLE JOHNSON, SCOTT KELTER, EDWARD YACKEL and more”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 11:30 a.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with JONATHAN HENICK, JOEY HOOD, DANIEL ROSENBLUM, PUNEET TALWAR and LESSLIE VIGUERIE”
— The Atlantic Council, 12 p.m.: “Future Foreign Policy: A New Nuclear Era? — with NAOKO AOKI, KELLY GRIECO, CHRISTOPHER PREBLE, DARYL PRESS, ADAM TAYLOR and TONG ZHAO”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 12 p.m.: “The AI-Surveillance Symbiosis in China: A Big Data China Event — with SCOTT KENNEDY, ILARIA MAZZOCCO, PAUL MOZUR, PAUL TRIOLO, EMILY WEINSTEIN, DAVID YANG and NOAM YUCHTMAN”
— The East-West Center in Washington, 12 p.m.: “An Indo-Pacific Power? Australia’s Security Policy Under a New Government — with CHARLES EDEL, SATU LIMAYE and BEC STRATING”
— The Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1 p.m.: “Strengthening the Guyana–U.S. Relationship — with MOHAMED IRFAAN ALI, JOHN HAMRE, JOHN HESS and DANIEL RUNDE”
— Federal Computer Week and Tanium, 1 p.m.: “Securing the Endpoint: Adhering to Zero Trust Standards — with AMY HAMILTON, MATTHEW MARSDEN and CHRIS RIOTTA”
— Washington Post Live, 1:30 p.m.: “JASON KANDER on Politics and PTSD — with JONATHAN CAPEHART”
— House Homeland Security Committee, 2 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Assessing CBP’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology — with REBECCA GAMBLER, NICOL TURNER LEE and JERAMIE SCOTT”
— Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, 2:15 p.m.: “Full Committee Hearing: Nominations — with JAIME AREIZAGA-SOTO and ANJALI CHATURVEDI”
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 2:30 p.m.: “Subcommittee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2023 Budget Request for Africa — with MARY CATHERINE PHEE and DIANA PUTNAM”
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, John Yearwod, who also wants us to end our “nerdspeak.”