Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Rachel Bercovitz
Thursday, July 20, 2017, 1:18 PM

U.S. satellite intelligence indicates that North Korea is testing elements and control facilities for a possible successor ICBM or intermediate range missile launch within two weeks, CNN reports. The anticipated test would be the first since the North’s launch of an ICBM on July 4. According to U.S. officials, the North also continues to test components of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, though that program remains in its infancy and is hampered by the North’s degraded fleet of an estimated 70 submarines that are believed to be incapable of firing missiles. In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 18, General Paul Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reported on an effort to equip the U.S. with a missile defense system capable of withstanding “low volume” missiles that might be deployed across U.S. territory, recognizing the North’s ambition to develop a missile capable of reaching the U.S. with a nuclear payload.

In an interview yesterday with the New York Times, President Trump criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for not informing Trump that he would recuse himself from the Justice Department investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government in the 2016 election. The President noted that had he known that Sessions would recuse, he “would have picked somebody else.” He seemed to blame Sessions for the appointment of Special Counsel Bob Mueller, whom the President alleged had conflicts of interest. Trump further alleged that former FBI Director James Comey sought to use a dossier of intelligence alleging salacious details about Trump to leverage the president to let him stay on as director.

The President’s interview with the Times comes as members close to the Trump campaign are being called to testify about allegations concerning the campaign’s ties with the Russian government. White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed session on Monday, July 24, while the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to call Donald Trump, Jr. and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to testify in an open session next Wednesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron has nominated General François Lecointre to serve as Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces, the Times notes. Lecointre’s appointment follows the abrupt resignation on Wednesday of incumbent General Pierre de Villiers over concerns about Macron’s proposed $979 million cut to the 2017 defense budget of $32 billion. De Villiers had taken the unusual step of publicly voicing concerns about the implications of the cut for France’s military preparedness in the first test of leadership for the new French president. Analysts suggest that Macron triumphed in this leadership battle, citing his rebuke of de Villiers in an annual speech before the armed forces on July 13 and his swift appointment of de Villier’s successor, but note that other contests will follow. The French leader seeks to bring the French budget in line (for the first time in a decade) with the EU requirement to keep deficits below 3 percent of GDP. Analysts have criticized the endeavor as ill considered, given the growing set of demands on the French military in the fight against terrorism and Macron’s intention to raise defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2025, in line with NATO requirements.

On Wednesday, President Trump presided over a rare meeting with his full national security team to develop a U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reports. Trump previously approved Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s request to deploy nearly four thousand additional troops to the region, but Mattis delayed taking action pending consensus on a broader U.S. strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan. Senior officials at the Pentagon, State Department, and White House have clashed over differing approaches to stabilizing the region and undercutting the Taliban’s territorial advances.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will carry out an inquiry into the technical challenges facing the military during a “listening visit” with military installations later this summer, Real Clear Defense reports. The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board, established in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter and chaired by Google executive Eric Schmidt, is guiding Mattis’s inquiry. The board has urged the Pentagon to invest in artificial intelligence and autonomous systems, which it believes would fundamentally enhance its capabilities, and to tackle the military’s longstanding use of inflexible and outdated software that is resistant to even routine upgrades.

President Trump has nominated Mark Esper, vice president of government relations at Raytheon, to serve as Secretary of the Army. Esper is Trump’s third pick for the position; he follows businessman Vincent Viola and State Senator Mark Green (R-TN), both of whom subsequently withdrew their nominations over concerns about their confirmation. Esper’s nomination hearings will be scheduled no sooner than September.

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Peter Margulies flagged Hawaii’s response to the federal government’s motion for a temporary stay of Hawaii District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s injunction concerning President Trump’s Refugee Executive Order (EO). The response, filed Tuesday, July 18, is available here.

Peter also explained Wednesday’s Supreme Court’s order regarding Trump’s EO that let stand Judge Watson’s injunction precluding application of the EO to foreign nationals with U.S. relatives, but authorized its application to refugees who had received assurances from refugee agencies of resettlement in the U.S.

Paul Rosenzweig posted a reply to Scarlet Kim and Mailyn Fidler’s July 11 critique of the proposed U.S.-U.K. agreement for cross-border data requests, arguing in favor of the bilateral agreement.

Ben Wittes highlighted the latest episode of Rational Security, entitled the “Wray of Sunshine” edition.

Matthew Kahn posted FBI director nominee Christopher Wray’s written responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questions for the record. Wray submitted his responses on Monday, July 17; the full document is available here.

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