The Early Edition: April 15, 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

Covid-19 has infected more than 1.98 million people and killed at least 126,000 worldwide, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The United States has over 600,000 reported coronavirus cases, three times more than any other country. Henrik Pettersson, Byron Manley and Sergio Hernandez report for CNN.

America’s fatality rate increased by 17 percent, to more than 26,000, yesterday after New York City revised its coronavirus death toll upward by more than 3,700. Officials said they were now including people who had never tested positive for the virus but were presumed to have died because of it in an attempt to account for those who died at home without getting tested, or who died in nursing homes or at hospitals, but did not have a confirmed positive test result. J. David Goodman and William K. Rashbaum report for the New York Times.

President Trump announced yesterday the U.S. is freezing payments to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump said funding would be on hold for 60 to 90 days pending a review of the W.H.O.’s warnings about the coronavirus and China. He accused the global body, which declared a public health emergency on January 30, of “severely mismanaging and covering up” the threat. Anne Gearan reports for the Washington Post.

The W.H.O. failed in its “basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump told a White House news conference in announcing the funding cuts. “With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible … The reality is that the W.H.O. failed to adequately obtain, vet and share information in a timely and transparent fashion,” the president added. Dartunorro Clark reports for NBC News.

The move drew a rebuke from the head of the United Nations, who said it was “not the time to reduce resources for the W.H.O. or to question errors. “Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis,” Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement, adding: “Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.” The U.N. News Centre reporting.

French President Emmanuel Macron said today Trump and the leaders of Britain and China, two other United Nations’ Security Council permanent members, have agreed to support a U.N. call for a global ceasefire so the world “can overcome the coronavirus,” a rare signal of global unity in the current crisis. Macron said he believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin “will certainly agree too,” adding he would talk to him in the “next few hours.” AXIOS reporting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (F.E.M.A.) have drawn up plans to reopen portions of the country starting May 1. The strategies for restarting public life after quarantine, compiled in a document titled “A Framework for Re-Opening America,” are part of a larger White House plan and would depend on conditions in each state. The plans involve opening schools and childcare facilities first, to allow the workforce to return to work. The agencies, however, acknowledge that the phased approach “will entail a significant risk of resurgence of the virus.” Lena H. Sun, Josh Dawsey and William Wan report for the Washington Post.

The federal government is purchasing more than $2.5 billion in ventilators for coronavirus patients under new contracts recently signed with manufacturers including General Electric Co. and Medtronic PLC. Tens of thousands of the machines are expected to be delivered in coming weeks, the Department of Health and Human Services said, though Covid-19 cases may have peaked by the time the ventilators arrive. Peter Loftus reports for the Wall Street Journal.

Trump yesterday recited a list of dozens of well-known business leaders who he said would be advising him in deciding when and how to reopen the nation’s economy, even as governors stressed they will make those decisions themselves. Among those Trump said he intends to speak with were: Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase; Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple; Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook; and Mark Cuban, the billionaire entrepreneur and outspoken Trump critic. The announcement came after days of puzzlement about the composition of what the President has described as his “Opening the Country” council. It was not clear if all those named had been asked in advance if they would act in advisory roles to the White House; at least one person on Trump’s list said that no request had been made to join the list and that there had been no prior notice of an announcement. Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman report for the New York Times.

Congressional Republicans are arranging their own probe into the coronavirus outbreak — examining how the W.H.O. and the Chinese government responded to the pandemic from the outset. The Senate Homeland Security Committee, led by Chair Ron Johnson R-Wis., will carry out a “wide-ranging” oversight investigation into the roots of the virus and the W.H.O.’s response, according to a committee source familiar with the matter. Julie Tsirkin, Kasie Hunt and Haley Talbot report for NBC News.

The Pentagon will extend the halt on service member travel and movement domestically and overseas past the current order’s May 11 expiration date, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said yesterday. The original 60-day stop movement order – which applies to all U.S. troops, their families and civilian workers — was implemented last month to try to halt the spread of the coronavirus among troops. Esper did not say how long he will extend the order. Ellen Mitchell reports for the Hill.

A second sailor from the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt suffering from the coronavirus has been taken to an intensive care unit, the Navy said yesterday in a news release. The Navy confirmed that the sailor was admitted to the I.C.U. at the U.S. Naval Hospital Guam “for increased observation due to shortness of breath.” Three other Roosevelt crew members are also at the hospital, but not in the I.C.U., it added. The announcement comes just one day after another sailor, who was taken to the I.C.U. over the weekend, died due to complications related to Covid-19. Rebecca Kheel reports for the Hill.

The Pentagon’s top general yesterday said that U.S. intelligence has investigated the likelihood that the coronavirus outbreak could have started in a Chinese laboratory, but that the majority of evidence so far pointed towards “natural” origins. “There’s a lot of rumor and speculation in a wide variety of media, the blog sites, etc.,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley said in response to questions about whether he had any proof that the virus might have accidentally escaped a Chinese laboratory. “It should be no surprise to you that we’ve taken a keen interest in that, and we’ve had a lot of intelligence take a hard look at that.” Milley’s remarks came the same day as a Washington Post report that U.S. diplomats warned of safety concerns at a research facility in the city of Wuhan two years ago. Julian Borger reports for The Guardian.

CORONAVIRUS: OPINION AND ANALYSIS

Key takeaways from yesterday’s White House coronavirus briefing are provided in an analysis by Amber Philips at the Washington Post.

President Trump’s assertion that he wields total authority over when states will lift restrictions has been “rejected across ideological lines,” writes Charlie Savage for the New York Times. 

Trump’s administration has released a list of key actions the President has taken to save lives, but “overstates some of his actions – and leaves out the inactions,” writes Tucker Doherty for POLITICO. 

Trump’s false claims of authority are not only lacking basis in the Constitution but inhibit effective federal solutions and undermine decision-making in states, argues Neal K. Katyal for the New York Times. 

China is making a move to become a world leader in health and has the support of the World Health Organization, Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup writes in an analysis for 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.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Egyptian security forces exchanged gunfire yesterday with a ‘terrorist group’ in the al-Amiriyah district in Cairo, with an Egyptian police officer among those killed. Al Jazeera reporting. 

The Iranian naval forces yesterday temporarily seized a Hong Kong-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf’s main oil export route, redirecting the vessel into Iranian waters. The Strait of Hormuz, where the ship was captured, has over a third of the world’s seaborne oil transit through it, and has seen numerous tankers seized by the Iranian navy in recent months. The United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations (U.K.M.T.O.) reported that the vessel “was boarded by armed men” and warns that those navigating the area must “exercise caution.” Benoit Faucon and Summer Said report for The Wall Street Journal. 

Saudi Arabia has received over £15 billion worth of arms and services in the last five years from the U.K.’s leading arms manufacturer B.A.E. Systems, the company’s most recent annual report reveals. These figures exacerbate existing criticisms that the U.K. has helped support, even if only indirectly, Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaigns in Yemen. Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (C.A.A.T.) argues that: “The war has only been possible because of arms companies and complicit governments willing to support it … These figures expose the cozy relationship between the Saudi regime and B.A.E.. But they also imply that the value of UK arms sales is far greater than government figures show.” Dan Sabbagh reports for The Guardian.

For the Afghan peace process between the U.S., the Afghan government and the Taliban to succeed and political order to be achieved there needs to be “decentralization of power and an equitable distribution of resources among people,” Ahmed Massoud argues for the New York Times, commenting, “the centralized unitary-presidential system has fanned the flames of internal conflict.” 

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).