Daily on Defense: Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric, King Abdullah at the White House, Senate heading toward Ukraine aid approval, Austin relapse, Gallagher not running again

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THE POTSHOT HEARD ACROSS THE ATLANTIC: Former President Donald Trump attacked one of his favorite targets at a campaign rally in South Carolina Saturday, igniting a ferocious backlash from the Biden administration and America's allies in Europe.

Trump told his version of a story he uses to show how tough he is on NATO allies that don't, in his opinion, pull their own weight. "One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us? I said, you didn't pay, you're delinquent? He said yes. Let's say that happened. No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want."

The anecdote appears to refer to an exchange he had not with the president of "a big country" but with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in 2020. But what's alarmed U.S. allies that fear a second Trump presidency is Trump's cavalier disregard for NATO's bedrock Article 5 commitment that an attack on one member nation is an attack on all.

"If my opponent, Donald Trump, is able to regain power, he is making it clear as day that he will abandon our NATO allies if Russia attacks and allow Russia to 'do whatever the hell they want' with them," President Joe Biden said in a statement. "America's leadership on the world stage and support for our allies is critical to keeping the American people safe here at home."

"Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged," deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who avoided any criticism of Trump when he was in office and usually steers clear of domestic politics of member nations, issued a rare written rebuke. "Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the US, and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk," Stoltenberg said in a statement. "Any attack on NATO will be met with a united and forceful response," he emphasized.


NATO 'NOT A PROTECTION RACKET': Trump's comments continue his misleading description of how NATO is funded and the nature of the commitment of member nations to provide capability to the alliance. Allies don't pay "dues" to NATO, and they are not "delinquent" or in arrears on their "bills."

"This is crazy. And 8 years later, Trump shows that he STILL doesn't understand how NATO works!" former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul posted on X. "It's not a protection racket. They don't pay us to protect them. Geez."

What is true is that all members of the alliance pledged in 2014 to increase defense spending on their own military to 2% of their GDP by this year, and the latest figures from 2022 show only seven of the now 31 NATO countries are meeting the goal. Spending by some nations, notably Germany, has increased dramatically since Russia's invasion of Ukraine two years ago, but figures for 2023 have not yet been compiled by NATO.

"People need to take Donald Trump seriously when he says he wants to get out of NATO. It's a very real threat that will have dramatically negative implications not just for the US but for all nations," former Trump national security adviser John Bolton posted on X after an appearance on MSNBC.

"I joined the administration because I believed that Trump, like every other president before him, would be impressed by the gravity of the responsibility he had in national security," Bolton said. "I thought that pressure would have an effect. It had no effect whatsoever. And I learned it within days of taking the job."

AN ATTEMPT AT GUARDRAILS: Fear that Trump, emboldened by a second term in which he doesn't need to worry about reflection, would begin to undermine and withdraw from NATO, Congress included language in this year's National Defense Authorization Act with Trump in mind. 

"This is why I worked for years to pass a law blocking any President from leaving NATO," Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) posted on X with a link to Trump's remarks. "Trump wants to be president of … what country?"

The provision, co-sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was signed into law by Biden in December and would require the "advice and consent of the Senate or an Act of Congress before suspending, terminating, or withdrawing U.S. membership in NATO."

"I think it's likely that if he returns to the White House, he will completely cut off support for Ukraine, and that will begin the slow collapse of the alliance behind Ukraine and lead to their increased vulnerability against Russia," former Trump Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CNN Saturday.

"Further, I think at some point fairly soon he would threaten that if our NATO allies don't live up to their financial commitments that he would begin withdrawing troops out of their countries as he ordered me to do with Germany in the summer of 2020," Esper said. "That will undermine the alliance itself and really signal weakness and vulnerability to Vladimir Putin."

"It won't just be in Europe," he added. "I think he has concerns, deep reservations, about our alliances and our relationship with other allies like Japan and Korea."


Good Monday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Stacey Dec. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre


NOTE TO READERS: Daily on Defense will not publish Monday, Feb. 19, as we observe the federal Presidents Day holiday. We'll be back in your inbox and online Tuesday, Feb. 20. 

HAPPENING TODAY: President Joe Biden is hosting Jordan's King Abdullah II at the White House this afternoon as the Biden administration is pressing Israel for another pause in Israel's campaign against Hamas in order to get more humanitarian assistance into Gaza and secure the release of more hostages.

In a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, Biden called for "urgent and specific steps" to increase the flow of aid "to innocent Palestinian civilians," according to a White House readout of the call. "And he reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there."

On Thursday, Biden called Israel's response in Gaza "over the top," but on Fox News Sunday Netanyahu said he didn't know what Biden was talking about. "I'd say that Israel has responded in a way that is responsible but also determined. We have to maintain coolness of judgment. The right efforts to secure civilian exit but, at the same time, iron determination to wipe Hamas, the Hamas terrorist organization, off the face of this Earth, and that's something we will do."

Amid indications that a hostage deal may be close, Biden and Abdullah are scheduled to hold a joint White House news conference at 4 p.m.


ALSO TODAY: ANOTHER SENATE VOTE ON UKRAINE: The Senate is slowly overcoming roadblocks thrown up by Republican opponents of aid to Ukraine, advancing a $95.3 billion supplemental funding measure that also includes money for Israel and Taiwan.

In a rare Sunday session, the Senate voted 67-27 to substitute its language for language in a bill passed by the House (since all spending measures must originate in the House). The rules also require an intervening day after yesterday's cloture vote, setting up another vote for late today. 

"Advancing this bill today was precisely the right thing to do," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said after the vote, in which 18 Republicans joined Democrats. "Our friends abroad are watching closely how we vote in the upcoming days. Ukrainian fighters are watching. And you can be sure Vladimir Putin is watching the Senate, too."

In an appearance Friday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Biden held up two crossed fingers when Scholz expressed the hope that the House would also pass the Senate measure so Biden can sign it.

"The failure of the United States Congress, if it occurs, not to support Ukraine is close to criminal neglect," Biden said. "It is outrageous."

The Senate reconvenes at 12 p.m. "We will keep working on this bill until the job is done," Schumer said. 


AUSTIN RELAPSES: Word came last night that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had to return to Walter Reed Army Medical Center following more complications from his Dec. 22 surgery for prostate cancer. This time the trip was not by ambulance but courtesy of his security detail after Austin suffered symptoms suggesting what was called "an emergent bladder issue."

"Secretary Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office of the Secretary of Defense to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks," Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. "The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and Congress have been notified."

"After a series of tests and evaluations, the secretary was admitted into the critical care unit … for supportive care and close monitoring," Austin's doctors said in a later statement. "The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent."

"At this time, it is not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized," the doctors said.

Austin had a busy travel schedule this week. He was scheduled to leave for Brussels, Belgium, tomorrow to lead a Wednesday meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group of more than 50 donor nations and then attend the Thursday meeting of allied defense ministers at NATO Headquarters.

"The Deputy Secretary of Defense has assumed the functions and duties" of the secretary, said Ryder, but it hasn't been announced whether Hicks will be traveling to NATO Headquarters to fill in for the ailing Austin.


SWEDEN'S LONG WAIT: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg likes to remind people that despite the fact that Turkey and Hungary have delayed Sweden's bid to become the 32nd member of the NATO alliance, the addition of Sweden and Finland over just two years "is one of the fastest accession processes in NATO's history." Nevertheless, now that only Hungary remains the only holdout left to ratify Sweden's membership, the U.S. and NATO are growing impatient.

 "It's past time for Sweden to get in and to directly address the representative from Hungary to say, indeed, they are the last and it's, you know, a matter of credibility and obligation that they take the necessary steps to complete the parliamentary process," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at NATO Headquarters last week. "I'm not going to stand here today and make particular threats or speculations about steps we would take down the road. But of course, our patience on this can't be unlimited either."

"I expect that Sweden will be a full member in the near future," Stoltenberg said, adding he had discussed the timeline with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. "He made it very clear that he strongly supports Swedish membership. … It is also clear that the Hungarian parliament is not in session now, but they will reconvene at the end of February, and the message was that soon after that they will make a decision on ratification of Sweden."


A SIGN OF THE TIMES: It's becoming a familiar scenario. A Republican lawmaker bucks Trump or his backers in Congress, faces a backlash of opprobrium from fellow GOP members, and decides not to run again.

That's not the explanation given by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), whose vote killed the effort by House Republicans to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, but the result is the same. A highly respected congressman, who created and leads the bipartisan Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, will be leaving having accomplished, he says, "more than I could have ever imagined." 

Gallagher cited his belief in term limits as his chief reason for stepping down. "The Framers intended citizens to serve in Congress for a season and then return to their private lives. Electoral politics was never supposed to be a career and, trust me, Congress is no place to grow old. And so, with a heavy heart, I have decided not to run for re-election." 



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9 a.m. 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW — Center for Strategic and International Studies conference: "Strengthening U.S.-ROK-Japan Trilateral Cooperation." https://www.csis.org/events/strengthening-us-rok-japan-trilateral-cooperation

11 a.m. — Wilson Center Wahba Institute for Strategic Competition virtual discussion: "Is the Belt and Road Initiative Reshaping the Global Order?" with Simon Curtis, associate professor in international relations at the University of Surrey, and Ian Klaus, founding director of Carnegie California  https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/belt-and-road-initiative

12 p.m. — Hudson Institute virtual discussion: "Changing Russia's Calculus and Laying the Groundwork for Ukrainian Victory," with Kusti Salm, permanent secretary at the Estonian Ministry of Defense, and Peter Rough, director of the Hudson Center on Europe and Eurasia https://www.hudson.org/events/changing-russias-calculus

12:30 p.m. — Foundation for Defense of Democracies virtual discussion: "Eastern Mediterranean at a Crossroads: The Future of Regional Integration and Alliances," with Deputy Greek Foreign Affairs Minister Alexandra Papadopoulou; Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Geoffrey Pyatt; Lena Argiri, Washington correspondent for Greek Public TV ERT; Jonathan Schanzer, FDD senior vice president for research; and Sinan Ciddi, FDD nonresident senior fellow https://www.fdd.org/events/2024/02/12/eastern-mediterranean-at-a-crossroads

12:30 p.m. — Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies virtual book discussion on The Pentagon, Climate Change, and War: Charting the Rise and Fall of U.S. Military Emissions, with author Neta Crawford, chairwoman in international relations at Balliol College https://sais.jhu.edu/campus-events

2 p.m. 1030 15th St. NW — Atlantic Council discussion: "Countering China and Russia in Latin America and the Caribbean," with Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Daniel Erikson https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/countering-china-and-russia

2:30 p.m. — Brookings Institution virtual discussion: "Is the U.S.-China Relationship America's Most Consequential Bilateral Relationship?" with former acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Susan Thornton, senior fellow at Yale Law School's China Center; Elizabeth Economy, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution; Graham Allison, professor of government at Harvard University; Josh Cartin, adjunct professor at Georgetown University; and Evan Osnos, nonresident senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution's China Center https://www.brookings.edu/events/is-the-us-china-relationship

5:40 p.m. Aurora, Colorado — Air and Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium Feb. 12-14: "Preparing for Great Power Conflict," with Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO); Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall; Air Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin; and Kristyn Jones, performing the duties of undersecretary of the Air Force https://www.afa.org/afa-warfare-symposium/


10 a.m. Aurora, Colorado — Air and Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium through Feb. 14: "Preparing for Great Power Conflict," with Air Force Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman; Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, Kristyn Jones, performing the duties of undersecretary of the Air Force; Andrew Hunter, assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology, and logistics; Frank Calvelli, assistant Air Force secretary for space acquisition and integration; Maj. Gen. Scott Cain, commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory; and Brig. Gen. Derek O'Malley, deputy director of operations at North American Aerospace Defense https://www.afa.org/afa-warfare-symposium/

11 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies Impossible State Live Podcast, virtual discussion: "Is North Korea Really Ready for War?" with Sung-han Kim, professor at Korea University, and Victor Cha, CSIS Korea chairman https://www.csis.org/events/impossible-state-live-podcast

12 p.m. — Association of the U.S. Army "Noon Report" webinar with retired Gen. Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army chief of staff https://www.ausa.org/events/noon-report/gen-milley

1:30 p.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion: "The War in Ukraine Two Years On," with Dara Massicot, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace senior fellow; Michael Kimmage, CSIS nonresident senior associate; Maria Snegovaya, CSIS senior fellow; and Max Bergmann, director of the CSIS Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program https://www.csis.org/events/war-ukraine-two-years

7 p.m. — Atlantic Council virtual seminar: "The Risks of Simultaneous Conflicts in the Indo-Pacific," with Markus Garlauskas, director of the Atlantic Council's Indo-Pacific Security Initiative; Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Indo-Pacific Security Initiative; Sungmin Cho, nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Indo-Pacific Security Initiative; and Lauren Gilbert, deputy director of the Atlantic Council's Indo-Pacific Security Initiative https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/event/the-risks-of-simultaneous-conflicts


5 a.m. Brussels, Belgium — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg previews Thursday's NATO defense ministerial at NATO Headquarters https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news

7:30 a.m.  Brussels, Belgium — Opening remarks by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group https://www.defense.gov/News/Live-Events/

8:30 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies virtual discussion of a new report, "Building International Support for Taiwan," with Ryan Hass, Brookings Institution chairman in China studies; Manoj Kewalramani, Takshashila Institution fellow in China studies; Janka Oertel, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations's Asia Program; Jude Blanchette, CSIS chairman in China studies; and Lily McElwee, CSIS chairwoman in China studies https://www.csis.org/events/building-international-support-taiwan-report-launch

9:30 a.m. Aurora, Colorado — Air and Space Forces Association Warfare Symposium: "Preparing for Great Power Conflict," with Jade Baranski, CEO and co-founder of Mobilize; Brian Morrison, vice president and general manager of space, cyber, and intelligence systems at General Dynamics Mission Systems; Latisha Rourke, vice president of cyber intelligence and general manager at Lockheed Martin: and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall https://www.afa.org/afa-warfare-symposium/

10 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies call-in press briefing: "Assessing the War in Ukraine," with Seth Jones, senior vice president, director, CSIS International Security Program; Eliot Cohen, Arleigh A. Burke chairman in Strategy, CSIS; Max Bergmann, director, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and Stuart Center, CSIS; Maria Snegovaya, senior fellow, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program, CSIS; ​​​​Romina Bandura, senior fellow, Project on Prosperity and Development, Project on U.S. Leadership in Development, CSIS. RSVP: Samuel Cestari [email protected]

11 a.m. Brussels, Belgium —  Joint press conference by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. at conclusion of Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting https://www.defense.gov/News/Live-Events/

12 p.m. 1333 H St. NW — Center for American Progress Action Fund in-person and virtual discussion: "Select Committee Democrats: A Smart and Confident U.S.-China Policy," with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL); Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI); and Alan Yu, senior vice president at the National Security and International Policy at the CAP Action Fund https://www.americanprogressaction.org/events


3 a.m. Brussels, Belgium — NATO defense ministers meet at NATO Headquarters, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg scheduled to give a press conference https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news

10 a.m. Brussels, Belgium — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin press conference at the conclusion of the meeting of NATO defense ministers  https://www.defense.gov/News/Live-Events

10 a.m. 2218 Rayburn — House Armed Services Committee hearing: "Outpacing China: Expediting the Fielding of Innovation," with testimony from William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment; Heidi Shyu, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering; and Doug Beck, director, Defense Innovation Unit https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings/outpacing-china

12 p.m. 1744 R St. NW — German Marshall Fund of the U.S. in-person and virtual discussion: "The Global Dimension of Ukraine's Cyber Defense," with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Cyberspace and Digital Policy Nathaniel Fick; Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Jen Easterly; Margaret Brennan, CBS foreign affairs correspondent and moderator of Face the Nation; and Christopher Schroeder, vice chairman of the GMFUS Board of Trustees https://www.gmfus.org/event/global-dimension-ukraines-cyber-defense

1 p.m. 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace discussion: "Should Ukraine Have Kept Nuclear Weapons? Deconstructing the Decision to Disarm," with Mariana Budjeryn, senior research associate at Harvard University's Project on Managing the Atom and author of Inheriting the Bomb: The Collapse of the USSR and the Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine https://carnegieendowment.org/2024/02/15/should-ukraine-have-kept-nuclear-weapons

2:30 p.m. — U.S. Institute of Peace and State Department virtual discussion: "The Indo-Pacific Strategy in Action: Commemorating the Second Anniversary," with Mira Rapp-Hooper, special assistant to the president and senior director for East Asia and Oceana at the National Security Council; Donald Lu, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affair; Daniel Kritenbrink, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs; Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific Security affairs Ely Ratner; Lise Grande, USIP president and CEO; and Vikram Singh, USIP senior adviser for South Asia https://www.usip.org/events/indo-pacific-strategy

7 p.m. — New America and Arizona State University Future Security Initiative virtual discussion: "Swift Justice: A Taliban Courtroom in Session," with Victor Blue, New America fellow, photojournalist, and writer focusing on the legacy of armed conflict  https://www.newamerica.org/future-security/events


4 a.m. Munich, Germany — Munich Security Conference runs from Feb. 16 to Feb. 18 at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich https://securityconference.org/en/msc-2024

7:45 a.m. 11493 Sunset Hills Rd., Reston, Virginia — Government Executive Media Group Washington Technology discussion: "Inside the New National Defense Industrial Strategy," with Danielle Miller, acting deputy assistant defense secretary for industrial base resilience, and Nick Wakeman, editor in chief of Washington Technology https://events.washingtontechnology.com/defense-industrial-strategy/

10 a.m. 2301 Constitution Ave. NW — U.S. Institute of Peace Institute of Current World Affairs, and American Purpose discussion: "Life After Putin: Potential Scenarios for a Post-Authoritarian Russia," with Sergei Guriev, professor of economics at Sciences Po Paris University; Mikhail Zygar, founding editor in chief of Dozhd; Miriam Lanskoy, senior director for Russia and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy; and Jorgan Andrews, former deputy assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs and USIP fellow https://www.usip.org/events/life-after-putin

10 a.m. — Carnegie Endowment for International Peace virtual discussion: "U.S. Policy and the Israel-Hamas War," with State Department Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield https://carnegieendowment.org/2024/02/16/u.s.-policy-and-israel-hamas-war

12 p.m. 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW — Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies discussion: on "U.S.-Korea Relations," with Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA)  https://sais.jhu.edu/campus-events

"One of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, well, sir, if we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us? I said, you didn't pay, you're delinquent? He said, yes. Let's say that happened. No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want."
Former President Donald Trump, speaking at a campaign rally in Conway, South Carolina, Saturday.
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