The Early Edition: March 25, 2020

Curated summary of up-to-the-minute national security developments at home and abroad.

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.  

CORONAVIRUS

There were more than 428,000 global cases of the novel coronavirus as of today, of which 109,000 patients have recovered, according to a tally updated by Johns Hopkins University. There have been 19,000 deaths world-wide. Miriam Berger, Teo Armus, Rick Noack and Jennifer Hassan report for the Washington Post.

President Trump said yesterday that a national lockdown had never been under consideration and that he hopes to have the U.S. economy reopened by Easter, despite an increase in deaths across the country and much of the rest of the world choosing to ramp up restrictions designed to contain the virus’ spread. The president’s timeline is at direct odds with the recommendations of leading health experts, who have warned that relaxing social distancing measures and resuming business as usual could worsen conditions by accelerating the spread of the coronavirus. Kevin Liptak, Maegan Vazquez, Nick Valencia and Jim Acosta report for CNN.

The White House and Senate leaders reached an agreement after midnight on a massive $2 trillion coronavirus spending bill aimed at alleviating the economic impact of the outbreak. The deal, which was announced around 1 a.m., followed five days of tense, mammoth talks between lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate would pass the legislation later today, with the Senate scheduled to reconvene at midday. The full text of the legislation was expected to be published later this morning. Andrew Desiderio, Melanie Zanona and Sarah Ferris report for POLITICO.

Trump administration officials yesterday said that anyone who has passed through or left New York should self-quarantine for 14 days. New York City is now considered the epicenter of the national outbreak, with infections doubling every three days, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said, adding that the state’s 53,000 beds fell seriously short of the estimated 140,000 beds needed. Ambassador Deborah Birx, of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said that about 60 percent of all new cases in the country were coming from New York. Jennifer Calfas, Wenxin Fan and Rebecca Ballhaus report fir the Wall Street Journal.

The Justice Department’s number two senior official said that those who intentionally spread coronavirus could be charged with terrorist threats. In a memo to senior Justice Department leaders, law enforcement agency chiefs and U.S. Attorneys across the country, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said prosecutors and investigators could encounter cases of “purposeful exposure and infection of others with COVID-19.” “Because Coronavirus appears to meet the statutory definition of a ‘biological agent’ … such acts potentially could implicate the Nation’s terrorism-related statutes,” Rosen wrote. “Threats or attempts to use COVID-19 as a weapon against Americans will not be tolerated.” Josh Gerstein reports for POLITICO.

The U.S. has reached out to South Korea for help in getting medical supplies to fight the coronavirus pandemic in a sharp contrast to Trump’s assertion that the domestic response is enough to combat the crisis. Seoul’s Blue House issued a statement describing a call yesterday between Trump and President Moon Jae-in, during which Trump allegedly asked his South Korean counterpart to send medical equipment to the United States and indicated he would help Korean companies obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A.). A White House readout of the same call made no mention of Trump’s appeal. Anthony Kuhn reports for NPR.

The federal Bureau of Prisons yesterday said it has put in place a 14-day mandatory quarantine for all new inmates coming into any of its facilities, a challenging order for the nation’s crowded prisons as they try to contain the coronavirus. Sadie Gurman reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Three U.S. sailors aboard an aircraft carrier currently in the Pacific tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Navy said yesterday, adding that this is a first for a deployed warship. The disclosure came as the U.S. military extended its coronavirus response effort, pushing ahead with proposals for medical ships, field hospitals and National Guard activations across the country. Nancy A. Youssef and Doug Cameron report for the Wall Street Journal.

India’s prime minister ordered all 1.3 billion of its citizens to stay inside their homes for three weeks starting today — the largest and most severe action undertaken anywhere to curb the spread of the coronavirus. “There will be a total ban of coming out of your homes,” the prime minister, Narendra Modi, announced on television yesterday night, giving Indians less than four hours’ notice before the order came into force at 12:01 a.m. local time. Jeffrey Gettleman and Kai Schultz uproot for the New York Times.

The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are to be postponed until 2021 after talks between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach led to confirmation of a decision made unavoidable by the coronavirus pandemic. The Olympics are the biggest event to date abandoned because of the virus. Peter Landers and Rachel Bachman report for the Wall Street Journal.

Chinese authorities today began lifting the last of the restrictions in Hubei province, the center of China’s virus outbreak. AP reporting.

Iran rejected “foreign” help on the ground to tackle the coronavirus pandemic after an offer from a France-based medical charity, as the country’s death toll from the contagion approached 2,000. “Due to Iran’s national mobilization against the virus and the full use of the medical capacity of the armed forces, it is not necessary for now for hospital beds to be set up by foreign forces, and their presence is ruled out,” Alireza Vahabzadeh, adviser to Iran’s health minister, said yesterday. Doctors Without Borders (M.S.F.) said Sunday it aimed to send a nine-member team and equipment to construct a 50-bed hospital, rousing opposition from ultra-conservative circles in the Islamic Republic who alleged M.S.F. staff would act as “spies.” Al Jazeera reporting.

The United Nations special envoy for Syria has urged an immediate nationwide ceasefire across the war-torn country to enable an “all-out-effort” to fight the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement, Geir Pedersen also petitioned on humanitarian grounds for “large-scale releases of detainees and abductees” in Syria and access for medical staff to detention facilities to help ensure that adequate medical care is given to inmates. Al Jazeera reporting.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres called on leaders of the world’s 20 major industrialized nations yesterday to adopt a “wartime” plan including a stimulus package “in the trillions of dollars” for businesses, workers and households in developing countries trying to combat the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to the Group of 20 leaders, Guterres said that they make up for 85 percent of the world’s gross domestic product and have “a direct interest and critical role to play in helping developing countries cope with the crisis.” AP reporting.

The U.N. Security Council, which has not convened for nearly two weeks due to the coronavirus outbreak, is deeply divided over a draft declaration on the crisis and holding “virtual” meetings to vote on resolutions, diplomatic sources said. The proposal, drafted late last week by Estonia, draws attention to “growing concern about the unprecedented extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in the world, which may constitute a threat to international peace and security.” It also urges “full transparency” over the outbreak – language viewed by some to allude to U.S. criticism of government secrecy in China, where the virus first emerged. AFP reporting.

States should act now and use the Security Council to solve collective action and other problems with coronavirus, Rob Berschinski, who worked for the U.S. team on the successful Council resolution for Ebola, argues for Just Security, explaining that a Security Council resolution would create a coordinating mechanism, tasked with “coordinating global goods production, growing and coordinating supply chains, facilitating sharing of vaccine-related and other medical research, and routing supplies to where they are most needed.”

“Exactly a month after Trump tweeted that the U.S. had the coronavirus outbreak “very much under control,” the World Health Organization delivered a stark and jarring reality check: America faces being the centre of a pandemic that has paralyzed much of the world.” Oliver Milman explains why a lack of a preparation, deep-rooted dysfunction in the U.S. healthcare system and a heedless president have all bungled the U.S. response at The Guardian.

“National leaders must realize that … every possible resource is needed,” Sébastien Roblin writes for NBC News, questioning why Trump is “vacillating over invoking the Defense Production Act,” a law that allows the president to mandate companies to produce supplies deemed necessary for national security and grants federal authority to manage the distribution of strategic resources.

A letter from seven leaders of large academic health systems in some of the United State’s Covid-19 “hot spots” calling for American leadership “to resist pressure to lift tough social restrictions intended to subdue this outbreak and save thousands of lives,” is provided by the New York Times.

Details of Tehran’s “botched” response are only now beginning to come to light, Maysam Behravesh argues at Foreign Policy, commenting, there are growing indications that the Iranian government learned early on about the outbreak — but, from a mix of cynicism and religious ideology, decided not to take action.

A map and analysis of all confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

U.S. and worldwide maps tracking the spread of the pandemic are available at the Washington Post.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian and NBC News.

AFGHANISTAN

Unidentified gunmen and suicide bombers attacked a temple used by Sikh and Hindu minorities in the Afghan capital of Kabul today, trapping up to 200 worshippers inside and killing 25 people, the government said. The Taliban issued a statement saying it was not responsible for the attack. Reuters reporting.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said yesterday that he will ask the Trump administration to reconsider its vow to immediately slash $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan because of a political impasse in Kabul that threatens to undermine a future peace deal with Taliban insurgents. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the deep cut after he failed to bridge a divide between the county’s feuding political leaders during a trip to Kabul on Monday meant to inject new momentum into the U.S.’s plan to end the long conflict. Ehsanullah Amiri and Dion Nissenbaum report for the Wall Street Journal.

In an address to the nation, Ghani also said that his government had contingency plans and that aid cuts would not affect central functions. In addition, the president said “the door is still open” to talks with Abdullah Abdullah, the rival who has claimed he was cheated out of the presidency in September elections and intends to form a parallel government. Pamela Constable reports for the Washington Post.

Despite Ghani’s reassuring speech, Afghans now worry the U.S. decision “could push the country, almost entirely dependent on foreign aid, past the tipping point … [and] lead to the unraveling of an already challenged government and the disintegration of a weary and overstretched security force,” Mujib Mashal writes in an analysis for the Washington Post.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

Clashes between rival Libyan forces for control of Tripoli intensified today as militias allied with the U.N.-backed government based in the country’s capital launched an attack on a military base held by their rivals, officials said. The renewed battling comes despite increased international pressure on both sides to end the violence over fears about the spread of the new coronavirus. Libya announced its first case of the virus yesterday. AP reporting.

Turkish prosecutors have filed an indictment against 20 suspects over the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, including the former deputy head of Saudi Arabia’s general intelligence and a former royal aide. The Istanbul prosecutor’s office said it charged 18 Saudi nationals with carrying out the killing of Khashoggi and two others with instigating murder. Reuters reporting.

An examination of Turkey’s rationale for its “self-defense and humanitarian” intervention in Idlib is provided by Anan Alsheikh Haidar at Just Security.

The bipartisan leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday strongly advised the European Union (E.U.) to punish a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin over what they describe as ongoing efforts to meddle in U.S. elections. In a letter to Stavros Lambrinidis, the E.U.’s ambassador to the U.S., Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and almost a dozen other committee members pushed for the E.U. to issue sanctions against Yevgeniy Prigozhin. The Hill reporting.

A congressionally mandated commission is calling for women to be included in the draft, a move that comes five years after the Pentagon opened all combat jobs to women. POLITICO reporting. 

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About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Associate News Editor at Just Security and Legal Fellow at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow her on Twitter (@oconnellnat).