With Connor O’Brien
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— The European Union is set to release its strategy for a greater naval presence in the Indo-Pacific to confront China.
— Democrats in Congress re-introduce a bill to limit F-35 sales to the UAE and other Middle East nations.
— The Biden administration insists the mission has been accomplished in Afghanistan, but the debate is only beginning on the risk of withdrawal.
HAPPY MONDAY AND WELCOME BACK TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we aren’t very surprised to learn that the CIA also sought unsuccessfully to assassinate Cuba’s future leader Raul Castro, not just his older brother Fidel, in the early days of the Cuban Revolution, as revealed in previously secret documents obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The younger Castro stepped down as president this weekend on the 60th anniversary of the CIA’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow the Communist government. President John F. Kennedy famously vowed after the debacle to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.” But he wasn’t the only president who regretted the agency’s covert action role. Harry Truman appealed in a Washington Post op-ed a month after Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 that the agency should stick to intelligence. “I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA,” he wrote, “that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations.” We’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at [email protected], and follow on Twitter @bryandbender, @morningdefense and @politicopro.
‘WE MUST ENACT PROTECTIONS’: Senior Democrats have reintroduced legislation to constrain the sale of F-35 fighters to Middle East nations outside of Israel as the Biden administration presses forward with a $23 billion weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates originally inked by the Trump administration.
The decision to advance the Trump-era deal, which Biden initially paused, has been criticized by human rights and anti-war groups. Lawmakers have also raised concerns that the F-35’s technology could be compromised and that selling the fighters to Middle Eastern nations will hurt Israel’s military edge in the region.
“[I]f the Administration has decided to proceed with this Trump-era deal, then we must enact protections to ensure the incredibly sensitive technology of these aircraft is not compromised by powers hostile to the United States, including making sure the UAE pulls back from its burgeoning relationship with China and other U.S. competitors,” Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez said in a statement.
The bill would require the president to certify that F-35 sales to the region, including 50 slated for the UAE, won’t affect Israel’s military advantage and that assurances have been made the fighters won’t be used for activities detrimental to Israeli security, among other provisions.
Menendez and Sen. Dianne Feinstein filed similar legislation last year after Trump announced the sale of F-35s.
On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a posture hearing with the heads of U.S. Strategic Command and Space Command at 9:30 a.m.
The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee meets to hear testimony on the Defense Health Program at 9:30 a.m.
And the House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing with the leaders of U.S. Central Command and Africa Command at 11 a.m.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Institute of Peace holds “Afghanistan’s Next Chapter: What Happens as U.S. Troops Leave?” at 10 a.m.
The SASC’s Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee holds a hearing on science and technology at 2:30 p.m.
The HASC’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee hears testimony from the commanders of U.S. Strategic Command and Space Command at 4 p.m.
And the virtual C4ISRNET Conference features Gen. David Thompson, vice chief of space operations, and Vice Adm. Jeff Trussler, deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare.
On Thursday, the HASC Readiness Subcommittee holds a hearing on the F-35 fighter jet at 9:30 a.m.
The SASC hears from the heads of U.S. Central Command and Africa Command at 9:30 a.m.
The HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces and Readiness Subcommittees hold a joint hearing on the F-35 fighter program at 9:30 a.m.
The Army Futures Command and Lieber Institute at West Point hold “The Future Character of War and the Law of Armed Conflict” at 9:50 a.m.
And the American Enterprise Institute hosts a discussion with Rep. Adam Smith on defense budget priorities at 10 a.m.
On Friday, AEI holds a discussion on air and space power with Royal Air Force Chief of the Air Staff Mike Wigston at 2 p.m.
Check out the Pro calendar for a full schedule of events.
NEW TOP STRATEGIST: Biden on Friday nominated Mara Karlin, a longtime defense strategist and veteran of numerous administrations, to be assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, where she would oversee the crafting of the next National Defense Strategy.
Karlin, who worked on the Biden-Harris transition, is the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs. She was director of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and worked for five U.S. secretaries of defense on strategic planning, defense policy and budgeting, future conflicts, and regional security affairs, according to her White House bio.
Here’s Karlin’s most recent public take on “how to do more with less” in the Middle East, published in Foreign Affairs in September. She has also been a vocal proponent of restoring balance in the civil-military relationship, as she laid out in War on the Rocks last year.
Related: Biden taps retired astronaut Pam Melroy to be NASA’s No. 2, via our colleague Jacqueline Feldscher.
‘SIGNIFICANTLY DEGRADED’: Threats to the United States posed by al Qaeda from Afghanistan have been “significantly degraded,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken argued on Sunday in defense of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops, our colleague Connor O’Brien reports.
In an interview airing Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Blinken said the main objectives of disrupting the terrorist group that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks had been achieved and that terrorist threats have shifted in the two decades since the war began.
“Al Qaeda has been significantly degraded. Its capacity to conduct an attack against the United States now from Afghanistan is not there,” Blinken said. “And of course, Osama bin Laden was brought to justice 10 years ago.”
“The terrorism threat has moved to other places,” he added. “And we have other very important items on our agenda, including the relationship with China, including dealing with everything from climate change to Covid. And that’s where we have to focus our energy and resources.”
Related: Britain’s top general is unhappy about US Afghanistan withdrawal plans, via Defense News.
‘A MEANINGFUL EUROPEAN NAVAL PRESENCE’: The European Union today is expected to commit to increasing its naval presence in the Asia-Pacific, as part of broader plans to beef up its collective efforts to confront China, POLITICO Europe’s Stuart Lau and Jacopo Barigazzi report.
“At a Foreign Affairs Council meeting on Monday, EU countries represented by foreign ministers are expected to adopt a document that for the first time sets out a comprehensive European strategy toward the Indo-Pacific region,” they write. “According to a draft, the strategy seeks to address Beijing’s rise and broaches topics ranging from reducing economic dependence on China to expanding Europe’s role in digitalization throughout Southeast Asia. Most contentiously, the plan will also acknowledge ‘the importance of a meaningful European naval presence in the Indo-Pacific.’”
They add: “For most of the EU, with a chronic aversion to military adventurism half a world away, anything more than token naval missions would be a dramatic change of geostrategic direction, particularly since there are now intense fears about China’s military intimidation of Taiwan and the Philippines.”
One EU diplomat described Monday’s draft as a “pivot,” but it remains an open question how much European nations will commit, in both military forces and diplomatic engagement with partners in the region, to make such a goal reality.
“As long as EU capabilities are not addressed, the EU will not be a major stakeholder,” said Antoine Bondaz, an East Asia specialist with the Foundation for Strategic Research, a Paris-based think tank. “At the moment, France is the only country to have a real security strategy in the Indo-Pacific.
“Strategic autonomy in writing speeches is one thing,” he added, “strategic autonomy in doing things and defending our interests is another.”
Q1 EARNINGS: Lockheed Martin will report its first quarter earnings on Tuesday, kicking off two weeks of financial reports from the Pentagon’s largest contractors.
Earnings calls for the remainder of the big five will happen next week. Raytheon Technologies is on April 27, General Dynamics and Boeing are on April 28 and Northrop Grumman reports on April 29.
J. Scott Goldstein, a major general in the Air Force Reserve and most recently vice president of engineering, integration and logistics at SAIC’s Solutions and Technology Group, is joining Anduril as head of advanced projects.
— Trump’s grip on GOP looms as support falters for independent probe of Capitol riot: The Washington Post
— 51 West Point cadets caught cheating must repeat a year: The Associated Press
— NSA official installed as Trump left office resigns after he was sidelined: The Washington Post
— Rockets hit Balad air base, 2 Iraqi security forces wounded: The Associated Press
— Russia to expel 10 U.S. diplomats in response to Biden actions: The Associated Press
— What to do with U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf: Foreign Policy
— Don’t sell arms to the Philippines: Defense News
— The end of the United States’ forever war: The New York Times
— America’s mission in Afghanistan isn’t accomplished: The Washington Post