Early Edition: March 30, 2021

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A curated guide to the latest major national security news and developments:

CORONAVIRUS 

World leaders are calling for an international treaty for pandemic preparedness. More than 20 heads of government and global agencies — including Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, and Angela Merkel — signed a  joint article that outlined the need for “a renewed collective commitment” and said that COVID served as “a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe.” The piece is being published in newspapers across the globe. Lucy Campbell reports for The Guardian

The full op-ed, titled “COVID-19 shows why united action is needed for more robust international health architecture,” can be read here

In the United States, there is cause for both great optimism, thanks to a quickly moving vaccination campaign, but also heightened concern as new variants threaten a fourth surge in cases. On Monday, President Joe Biden announced that 90 percent of adults in the United States will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccines by April 19 and will have vaccination sites within five miles of their home. Berkeley Lovelace Jr., Noah Higgins-Dunn, and Rich Mendez report for CNBC

New coronavirus cases in the United States rise by 12 percent, with the most recent seven-day average topping 63,000 for the first time in nearly a month, Erin Cunningham reports for the Washington Post

The CDC director said Monday that the rise in U.S. cases gave her a sense of “impending doom.” Visibly shaken, Rochelle Walensky urged Americans to continue following public health measures. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are and so much reason for hope, but right now, I’m scared,” she said. Susannah Luthi reports for POLITICO

The president echoed her warning and implored states to stop loosening restrictions on public gatherings and for people to stop engaging in “reckless behavior.” “We’re in a life-and-death race with a virus that is spreading quickly,” Biden said. Chris Megerian reports for the Los Angeles Times

New data shows that the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are very effective at preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic infections under real-world conditions, according to CDC researchers. “Consistent with clinical trial data, a two-dose regimen prevented 90 percent of infections by two weeks after the second shot. One dose prevented 80 percent of infections by two weeks after vaccination,” Gina Kolata reports for the New York Times

A rejection of mainstream science and medicine has become a key feature of the political right in the United States and it is spreading globally and with deadly consequences, writes Peter J. Hotez for Scientific American

A map and analysis of the vaccine rollout across the U.S. is available at the New York Times.

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.

A state-by-state guide to lockdown measures and reopenings is provided by the New York Times.

Latest updates on the pandemic at The Guardian.

MYANMAR

The United States has suspended all diplomatic trade engagement with Myanmar after more than 100 people, including children, were killed over the weekend in a crackdown against pro-democracy protesters. Betsy Klein reports for CNN.

One advocacy group says Myanmar’s security forces have killed at least 510 civilians in nearly two months as they try to stop protests against the Feb. 1 coup, Reuters reports. 

Thailand is bracing for an influx of thousands of refugees after the Myanmar military launched airstrikes in the border region of Karen state. Sky News reports

Thailand’s prime minister is denying that his country forced people fleeing Myanmar to return. “There is no influx of refugees yet. We asked those who crossed to Thailand if they have any problem in their area. When they say no problem, we just asked them to return to their land first. We asked, we did not use any force,” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters Tuesday. Tassanee Vejpongsa reports for the AP

CHINA

China is sharply reducing the number of directly elected seats in Hong Kong’s legislature in its continued effort to tighten control over the city. “The legislature will be expanded to 90 seats, and only 20 will be elected by the public. Currently, half of the 70-seat legislature — 35 seats — is directly elected.” Zen Soo and Ken Moritsugu report for the AP

The changes, which were approved Tuesday, also give local national-security officials “an effective veto over election candidates, allowing authorities to bar opposition figures from elected office.” Chun Han Wong reports for the Wall Street Journal

U.S. CAPITOL ATTACK 

Joseph Biggs, a leader of the Proud Boys charged in an alleged conspiracy to attack the Capitol on Jan. 6, claims he has a longstanding relationship with the FBI. He says the Bureau “sought him out for information about ‘antifa networks’ in Florida and other parts of the United States,” Kyle Cheney reports for POLITICO

Many of the people who participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will get little or no jail time. “A POLITICO analysis of the Capitol riot-related cases shows that almost a quarter of the more than 230 defendants formally and publicly charged so far face only misdemeanors. Dozens of those arrested are awaiting formal charges, even as new cases are being unsealed nearly every day,” Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney for POLITICO

RACIAL JUSTICE

Biden’s first slate of 11 judicial nominees aims to quickly boost diversity in the federal courts, with three Black women being nominated for appeals court vacancies and the first Muslim American to serve on a District Court. Biden is nominating U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to succeed Merrick Garland on the influential appeals court in Washington, D.C. Jackson is “often mentioned as someone who could become the first Black woman on the Supreme Court,” Ann E. Marimow and Matt Viser report for the Washington Post

Senators and members of Congress disproportionately nominate White students to the United States’ competitive military academies and are thereby contributing to today’s disproportionately White (and male) military leadership, according to a new report. Liam Brennan and Edgar Chen for Just Security

IRAN

The Biden administration could put forward a new plan to jump-start nuclear talks with Iran as early as this week. “The proposal asks Iran to halt some of its nuclear activities, such as work on advanced centrifuges and the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, in exchange for some relief from U.S. economic sanctions,” Nahal Toosi reports for POLITICO

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The giant ship blocking the Suez Canal was freed on Monday after causing billions of dollars worth of damage to global trade. Sudarsan Raghavan, Heba Farouk Mahfouz, and Antonia Noori Farzan report for the Washington Post

A Michigan judge ruled Monday that the three men accused of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer would not face terrorism charges. The judge said the men would “stand trial on three remaining charges, gang membership and providing material support for terrorism, both punishable by up to 20 years in prison, as well as felony firearm, punishable by up to two years in prison,” James David Dickson reports for The Detroit News.

Thousands remain stranded after an ISIS-affiliated group attacked the Mozambique town of Palma last Wednesday. “Dozens have been killed in what witnesses describe as a coordinated attack, just 10 kilometres (six miles) from a multi-billion dollar gas project led by France’s Total.” AFP reports

The Taliban is confident it has the upper hand in Afghanistan. “And that belief, grounded in military and political reality, is shaping Afghanistan’s volatile present. On the eve of talks in Turkey next month over the country’s future, it is the elephant in the room: the half-acknowledged truth that the Taliban have the upper hand and are thus showing little outward interest in compromise, or of going along with the dominant American idea, power-sharing.” Adam Nossiter for the New York Times

Suspected Russian hackers gained access to the email accounts of top officials at the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration as part of what’s known as the  SolarWinds intrusion. “The intelligence value of the hacking of then-acting Secretary Chad Wolf and his staff is not publicly known, but the symbolism is stark,” Alan Suderman reports for the AP.  

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).