The Early Edition: March 26, 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

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the U.S. has reached 69,000. World-wide more than 480,000 people have been infected as of today, and more than 21,500 people have died, according to a tally updated by Johns Hopkins University. Jessie Yeung, Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton and Emma Reynolds report for CNN.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has ordered a stop to all troop movement overseas for 60 days in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the military, the Pentagon announced yesterday. The stop movement order will apply to all U.S. forces, civilian personnel and families, including those scheduled to return stateside and those scheduled to deploy, with some exceptions, Esper said. The new order will not impact “the continued drawdown of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, which is scheduled to be complete within 135 days following the signed agreement.” Barbara Starr reports for CNN.

The Senate unanimously approved an unprecedented $2.2 trillion stimulus package late last night to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The 880-page measure passed despite a last-minute row between Republican and Democratic senators over unemployment benefits. The bill now goes to the House where passage on a voice vote is scheduled for tomorrow. Erica Werner, Mike DeBonis and Paul Kane report for the Washington Post.

The wide-reaching bill includes direct payments to taxpayers, aid to help small businesses pay workers and a $500 billion program for subsidized loans to airlines and other industries. Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes break down the deal’s key provisions at POLITICO.

A New Jersey man was charged with making terroristic threats after allegedly coughing at a Wegmans Food Markets employee and telling her he has the coronavirus, the authorities said on the same day that the Justice Department warned of similar threats to spread the virus. The man, George Falcone, was charged with making a terroristic threat in the third degree and fourth-degree of obstructing administration of law, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced; both charges are considered felonies in New Jersey. Neil Vigdor reports for the New York Times. 

As states across the U.S. compete for crucial medical supplies, governors are trying to discourage residents of other states from entering into theirs, placing restrictions on visitors to save their own populations, attempting to stop the contagious virus from spreading further into their states. Governors are “on particular alert for travelers from New York City,” which has considerably more confirmed cases than any other area in the country. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt report for the New York Times.

House members introduced a resolution Tuesday that would censure China for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking criticism from many lawmakers who argued that it could put Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at risk by continuing the racist association of the virus with Chinese people. The legislation, led by Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) attempts to hold the Chinese government accountable for its “serious mistakes,” including the deliberate perpetuation of misinformation to minimize virus risks and the censorship of doctors and journalists in the early stages of the outbreak. Kimmy Yam reports for NBC News.

The Trump administration is pressing the U.N. Security Council to emphasize the Chinese origins of the coronavirus, four diplomats posted to the United Nations said, triggering an impasse as the global body seeks to patch together a response to the pandemic. Talks among U.N. Security Council nations over a joint declaration or resolution on the coronavirus have delayed over U.S. insistence that it explicitly state that the virus originated in Wuhan, China, as well as exactly when it began there. China’s diplomats are infuriated according to the diplomats, even as they seek to put their own wording into the statement hailing China’s efforts to contain the virus. Josh Lederman reports for NBC News.

A U.S. request to include the phrase “Wuhan virus” in a joint statement with other Group of Seven (G-7) leaders following a meeting of foreign ministers on coronavirus yesterday was turned down, resulting in separate statements and division in the group. Alex Marquardt and Jennifer Hansler report for CNN.

The Group of 20 (G-20) will convene for an emergency virtual meeting today to address the coronavirus pandemic. The group, which is made up of 19 countries which have the biggest economies and the European Union (E.U.), will discuss the development of “a coordinated global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its human and economic implications.” The summit will be chaired by King Salman of Saudi Arabia, which is hosting this year’s conference in November. Tal. Axelrod reports for the Hill.

Over 100 current and former national security professionals, including former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, called on Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act (DPA) and order U.S. businesses to increase production of urgent medical supplies. In a letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Hagel and scores of other former senior military brass and members of the national security community said such an action was necessary, pointing to the severe shortages in masks, respirators, gowns and other supplies. John Bowden reports for the Hill.

France will pull out all troops it has stationed in Iraq until further notice because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Armed Forces Ministry said yesterday. “France has taken the decision to repatriate until further notice its personnel deployed in operation Chammal in Iraq,” the ministry said, adding around 100 hundred soldiers were affected. The army said it would carry on with air operations against ISIS. Reuters reporting.

Russia plans to ground all regular and charter flights to and from the country from tomorrow due to the coronavirus crisis and shut all shops in Moscow except food stores and pharmacies from this weekend, the government and city authorities said. Reuters reporting.

North Korean authorities have “secretly” appealed for international help with coronavirus testing even as officials have publicly insisted there are no confirmed cases of the virus inside the country. Officials in Pyongyang have privately pleaded with their international contacts to help ramp up testing in recent weeks, according to multiple people familiar with the matter and a document seen by the Financial Times. “The government has testing kits for Covid-19 and they know how to use them, but [the number of kits are] not sufficient, hence, [officials are] requesting all organizations … to support them in this regard,” one source said. Edward White and Kang Buseong report for the Financial Times.

As Hubei province emerges from a lockdown, experts and independent reporters are questioning China’s narrative and victory claims, in particular its near-zero count, Emily Rauhala reports for the Washington Post.

The new coronavirus is now advancing in the world’s poorest countries, which have fewer medical supplies and weaker healthcare systems than developed nations, some of which have mishandled the pandemic’s early stages. From Venezuela to Pakistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo — and almost every developing nation between — confirmed cases have begun to surge in recent days, a pointer the contagion is advancing exponentially, disease-control experts say. Saeed Shah and Joe Parkinson report for the Wall Street Journal.

An expert analysis setting out what the U.S. military can do to help the federal, state, and local coronavirus response, as well as the limits on its legal authorities, is provided by Mark Nevitt at Just Security, who compiles 10 key principles to follow as policymakers look to use the military in a way that is “innovative, responsive to the crisis, and consistent with the rule of law.”

An examination of the Pentagon’s “restrained role” in the coronavirus response is provided by Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Helene Cooper and Eric Schmitt at the New York Times.

The coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight not only on the dangers of “news deserts” but also the “poisonous politicization” of much-needed news and information, Viola Gienger comments at Just Security, citing recent polls showing the political divide tainting Americans’ consumption and understanding of information about the crisis.

Why is it falling to Democrats to try to compel Trump to do everything in his power to avert unimaginable numbers of preventable American deaths? Greg Sargent asks in a powerful piece for the Washington Post.

“The Trump administration has cumulatively failed, both in taking seriously the specific, repeated intelligence community warnings about a coronavirus outbreak and in vigorously pursuing the nationwide response initiatives commensurate with the predicted threat,” Micah Zenko argues at Foreign Policy.

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.

YEMEN AND The KINGDOM 

A chief of the Iran-aligned Yemen’s Houthi movement yesterday hailed the Saudi-led coalition declaring its support for a truce and said they are waiting for it to be enforced practically, according to a message sent on Twitter by Mohammed Ali al-Houthi. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen had said earlier that it backs the Yemeni government decision to accept the U.N. Secretary-General’s call for a ceasefire in Yemen to fight the spread of coronavirus. Reuters reporting.

The ever-diverging interests of the Saudi and Emirati elements of the coalition are perpetuating the Yemen conflict, Bethan McKernan writes for The Guardian, commenting, as the fifth anniversary of the coalition intervention in the civil war nears, “the prospect of peace is further away than ever.”

AFGHANISTAN

The Afghan government said yesterday that it would release 100 Taliban detainees on humanitarian grounds at the end of the month, throwing fresh doubt on the fate of a prisoner release agreement with the insurgents, who have asked that 5,000 detainees be freed. Reuters reporting.

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) claimed responsibility for an attack yesterday on a temple used by Sikh and Hindu minorities in Kabul that killed 25 people, saying in a statement it was retribution for India’s treatment of Muslims in its part of Kashmir and threatening more attacks. Reuters reporting.

The mixture of the coronavirus and political instability in Afghanistan puts the country in a dire situation, Stephanie Glinski writes in a dispatch piece for Foreign Policy. 

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS  

The British government must hide key U.S. evidence for the trial of two Islamic State detainees because the Trump administration has not ensured that the men will not be executed, the British Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The detainees were half a cell of four British ISIS who were handling western hostages, some of whom were beheaded in propaganda videos, and whose victims were nicknamed The Beatles because of their accents. The New York Times reporting.

Tehran has denied knowledge of the whereabouts of a former F.B.I. agent who went missing in Iran in March 2007, a spokesperson for the Iranian mission at the United Nations said today. The family of Robert Levinson said in a statement yesterday that they, along with U.S. officials, believe he died in Iranian custody. Reuters reporting.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo renewed and scaled up his attacks on the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) last week. In a piece for Just Security, Randle DeFalco explores how these assaults may actually help legitimize the Court in the eyes of some of its harshest critics.

The White House pushed out a top public affairs official at the Department of Homeland Security (D.H.S) in a move that startled many in the department, according to two former senior DHS officials familiar with the matter. Heather Swift, who was D.H.S.’ deputy assistant secretary of public affairs, was abruptly ousted from her post on Friday after the Presidential Personnel Office had doubts about her loyalty to President Trump, one of the former D.H.S. officials said. POLITICO reporting. 

About the Author(s)

Nat O'Connell

Assistant 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).