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11 Mar 21. Joint statement from the UK, with France, Germany, Italy and the US, to welcome the ratification of Libya’s interim Government of National Unity. The governments of France, Germany, Italy, UK and the United States of America welcome the vote by the House of Representatives to endorse the interim Government of National Unity. France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States of America welcome the vote of confidence by the overwhelming majority of the members of the House of Representatives meeting in Sirte 8-10 March to endorse the cabinet chosen by Prime Minister-designate Abdulhamid Dabaiba for an interim Government of National Unity.
We applaud the Libyan people for their determination to restore unity to their country. We commend all Libyan actors for constructively participating in and facilitating this vote by a body representing the voices of the Libyan people.
This outcome is a fundamental step on the path towards the unification of Libyan institutions and a comprehensive political solution to a crisis that has tested Libya and its people. Through the Berlin Process, we will continue to support the Libyan people and the UN efforts jointly with our partners.
We appreciate the statement issued by Prime Minister Sarraj welcoming the vote of the House of Representatives and expressing readiness to hand over power, and now call upon all current Libyan authorities and actors to show the same responsibility and ensure a smooth and constructive handover of all competences and duties to the interim Government of National Unity. The new interim executive authority will have the primary tasks of organizing free and fair Presidential and Parliamentary elections on 24 December 2021, followed by a transfer of authority to Libya’s democratically chosen leaders; fully implementing the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement; commencing a process of national reconciliation; and addressing the basic needs of the Libyan population.
France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States of America welcome the withdrawal of foreign forces and mercenaries from the area around Ghardabya airport, in order to allow members of the House of Representatives to safely participate in the parliamentary session in Sirte, and praise the work of the Joint Military Commission 5+5 to make this possible. It is important that such a development represent an irreversible step towards the full implementation of the 23 October 2020 ceasefire agreement, including the withdrawal of all foreign fighters and mercenaries from all of Libya.
We express gratitude to the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the Special Envoy of the UN Secretary General for Libya, Jan Kubiš, for their tireless efforts to stabilize Libya and ensure stability and prosperity to its people. (Source: https://www.gov.uk/)
10 Mar 21. ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red’ On Chinese Dominance Over Semiconductors, Shipbuilding.
“We dealt with this in the 5G debate and to me it wasn’t just a matter of Huawei and ZTE technology allowing [China] to spy on people around the world,” Rep. Mike Gallagher said. “It was them being able to use that dominant market position in 5G in order to either shut down networks or coerce other countries into doing their bidding.”
A new bipartisan House Armed Services task force is pushing to get language into the coming 2022 defense budget to shore up support for domestic supply chains, as Washington grows increasingly concerned by Chinese dominance over several areas critical to national security.
In the wake of the COVID pandemic, where clear vulnerabilities were found in supply chains for protective and medical equipment, Defense Critical Supply Chain Task Force co-chair Rep. Elissa Slotkin told reporters today that “we’re seizing on the interest from a lot of corners around the country.”
The task force, co-chaired by Rep. Mike Gallagher, is looking across commercial tech and defense-related supply chains for similar gaps.
Slotkin said they want to make sure their final report and legislation actually makes a difference in how money is spent on the domestic manufacturing base, but also ensuring appropriators in Congress move money around where possible. The task force will also take a longer view, both lawmakers said, and will look for ways to tie their final language in with larger movements within the 2022 defense budget.
“I think this is going to be part of a much bigger conversation and debate about what to do about the top line of the budget, and how to spend our money, how to make trade-offs, and how to make sure that legacy systems that maybe need to be off ramped,” are identified. “I’m certainly not going to shy away from making recommendations” and push for them to be funded, she said.
Slotkin and Gallagher said they’re interested in making sure some existing “Buy America” provisions are enacted, but also want to make sure that close, trusted allies can be more fully integrated into trusted US supply chains.
“The trick is really just finding that right balance between what capabilities we absolutely must be able to make in the USA, what we can buy from our close allies, and what we can afford to source from broader networks of partners,” Gallagher said.
He did express real concern over the high-tech and semiconductor manufacturing hubs that are concentrated in China, South Korea, and Taiwan, however.
“All around us, particularly after the pandemic, the warning signs are flashing red,” Gallagher said. “All it takes is a look at the Defense Department’s industrial capabilities report from earlier this year to see how Chinese manufacturing capacity is dangerously outpacing ours.” He pointed to shipbuilding, where a third of all the vessels constructed in the world were made in China.
He also expressed concern over China’s dominance over the commercial drone market and semiconductor production, and projections that show in the near future, 90% of the world’s semiconductor manufacturing will likely take place in China, South Korea, and Taiwan, creating a regional chokepoint that could be shut down by China in the case of conflict.
“We dealt with this in the 5G debate, and to me, it wasn’t just a matter of Huawei and ZTE technology allowing [China] to spy on people around the world,” Gallagher added. “It was them being able to use that dominant market position in 5G in order to either shut down networks or coerce other countries into doing their bidding.”
The task force’s quick timeline to plug into the 2022 budget is part of a wider effort in Washington to understand supply chain vulnerabilities.
Last month, President Biden signed an executive order to review supply chains across a number of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, high-capacity batteries, and rare earth elements. The order also directed the secretary of defense to send a report to the White House on potential vulnerabilities in the defense industrial base. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
10 Mar 21. U.S. state, defense secretaries to travel to Japan and South Korea next week. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Japan and South Korea next week, the State Department and Pentagon said on Wednesday, in the first overseas and in-person trip by top cabinet members of the Biden administration.
Blinken and Austin will hold “2 plus 2” dialogues with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts on March 15-18, the State Department said in a statement. Austin’s trip will start earlier on March 13, and will also include Hawaii and India, the Pentagon said.
The choice of Asia as the destination for Blinken and Austin’s first visit reflects Biden administration’s priority to reinforce alliances in Indo-Pacific in the face of growing concerns about an increasingly assertive China.
Days before the trip, President Joe Biden is expected to hold an online meeting on March 12 with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the first leader-level meeting of the “Quad,” a four-country group seen as part of efforts to balance Beijing.
Biden’s administration has committed to reviewing elements of U.S. policies toward China in consultation with allies, as the world’s two largest economies navigate frosty relations that sank to their lowest depths in decades during the Trump administration.
Blinken and Austin’s trip to Asia escalated speculation if there could be a meeting with Chinese officials. On Tuesday, The South China Morning Post cited a source as saying that the two countries were in discussions about a meeting in Alaska between Blinken and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi.
A senior Biden administration official said on Tuesday that the United States was in talks with China about a possible “near-term” senior-level meeting between the two countries, after the White House said it had no “finalized” details to announce.
Biden spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping last month and so did Blinken with his Chinese counterpart, but there has been no in-person contact between Washington and Beijing since Biden took office on Jan. 20. (Source: Reuters)
10 Mar 21. South Korea agrees to biggest increase in its share of cost for U.S. troops in years. South Korea has agreed to a 13.9% increase in its contribution to the cost of hosting some 28,500 U.S. troops for 2021, the biggest annual rise in nearly two decades after U.S. calls for greater funding.
The increase under the multi-year pact takes South Korea’s contribution for 2021 to 1.18trn won ($1.03bn) and settles a long-running dispute that had strained ties between Seoul and Washington during Donald Trump’s presidency.
Even as he warmed to North Korea’s leader, Trump had accused ally South Korea of “free-riding” on U.S. military might and demanded that it pay as much as $5bn a year. Trump had rejected a similar first-year increase offered by Seoul during failed talks under his administration.
“The agreement resolved the longest-ever vacuum that had lasted about a year and three months,” South Korea’s chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, told a televised briefing.
“It provided a chance to reaffirm the importance of the alliance and the need for stable stationing of U.S. Forces Korea.”
A U.S. State Department official portrayed the agreement as in line with new President Joe Biden’s calls “to reinvigorate our alliances”.
“In that spirit, one of friendship and seriousness about the challenges that we face ahead, we found a fair and equitable cost-sharing arrangement,” the official said, describing late night sessions in Washington to finalise the accord. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.
American troops are deployed to South Korea in what is seen as a deterrent to Pyongyang that also sends a message to China about U.S. influence and capability in Asia.
South Korea began paying towards the costs of U.S. deployments – things like local labour and military construction – in the early 1990s after rebuilding its war-devastated economy.
The new, six-year Special Measures Agreement with the United States came after drawn-out negotiations and will boost South Korea’s annual contribution to the bill for 2022 to 2025 in line with its annual defence budget increase, which was 5.4% this year, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The pact replaces an arrangement that expired at the end of 2019, under which South Korea paid about $920m a year. Both sides agreed to freeze South Korea’s contribution for 2020, the ministry said.
In the last big increase in its contribution, South Korea in 2003 paid 17% more than the previous year, according to data from a defence ministry white paper.
On the decision to link cost-sharing to the defence budget, the ministry said the increase in the defence budget was a “reasonable, verifiable indicator” that reflected financial and security capabilities.
But Shin Beom-chul, a security expert at the Research Institute for Economy and Society in Seoul, said aligning the two issues was a “mistake” for South Korea, one of the world’s largest defence spenders, and it could bring budget pressure.
With negotiations making little headway after the last pact expired, about half of some 9,000 South Koreans working for the U.S. military were placed on unpaid leave, prompting the two sides to scramble for a stopgap deal to bring them back to work.
Jeong said the accord stipulated that in future, workers can get their existing salaries in the absence of a new deal.
The workers’ union welcomed the agreement, saying it would help ensure stable work conditions. Without it, thousands more workers would have been forced to take unpaid leave next month, the union said. (Source: Reuters)
10 Mar 21. Secretary of Defense’s Trip to Asia to Focus on Strengthening Partnerships With Japan, Korea, India. The Defense Department announced today the first international trip by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, who will visit three nations in the Indo-Pacific region to discuss the strengthening of existing partnerships and alliances there.
The secretary will depart on Saturday to visit the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquarters in Hawaii, followed by visits with officials in Japan, South Korea, and India, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a briefing today.
“This trip is about working to revitalize our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region, in particular with Japan and South Korea,” Kirby said. “We want to reenergize our commitment to those treaty alliances. And that’s really the message going forward; we know we need strong allies and partners and friends in that part of the world.”
In both Japan and Korea, the secretary of defense will be accompanied by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken during meetings with government officials.
Kirby also said that today is the tenth anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, which caused major devastation there including the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. In the aftermath of that disaster, the U.S. stood up “Operation Tomodachi,” to offer assistance to Japanese allies.
That operation, Kirby said, which ran from March 12 to May 4, 2011, involved some 24,000 U.S. service members.
“Together with our Japanese partners, we remember those who lost their lives and suffered greatly from the natural disaster,” Kirby said. “And we also thank all those who supported the relief efforts.”
The U.S. maintains positive relations with both South Korea and Japan, but in recent years, those two nations have experienced some diplomatic challenges that could weaken security cooperation in the region. In 2011, for instance, South Korea announced plans to not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA — an intelligence-sharing agreement between the two countries. While South Korea later reconsidered that decision, tensions still exist between Japan and South Korea.
“Recognizing that there are tensions between those two countries, we still encourage them to work together, and we look forward to exploring trilateral ways where we can all work together to address security challenges in the region,” Kirby said.
This morning, Austin also visited with the Defense Department team that has been working on the federal COVID-19 response for vaccines and therapeutics for nearly a year now, Kirby said.
“Under [Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna] and his leadership, [the team] has supported the mission to accelerate the development, manufacturing and distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics for the American people,” Kirby said. “And they did it in record time.”
As part of the visit, Austin saw the vaccine operation center and received an operational update on vaccine manufacturing distribution efforts.
Kirby said the team’s efforts led to development of three COVID-19 vaccines, and that, to date, 130 million doses of vaccine have been delivered across the country, and more than 93 million vaccinations have occurred. (Source: US DoD)
09 Mar 21. Erosion of U.S. Strength in Indo-Pacific Is Dangerous to All, Commander Says. The greatest danger facing the United States in the Indo-Pacific region is the erosion of conventional deterrence capabilities, Navy Adm. Philip Davidson told the Senate Armed Service Committee this morning. Davidson leads U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and his primary worry is the People’s Republic of China.
Since the 1990s, successive U.S. administrations have emphasized the importance of the Indo-Pacific region. Davidson called it “the most consequential region for America’s future,” and more and more defense resources are pouring into the United States military’s priority theater.
“The region itself contains four of the five priority security challenges identified by the Department of Defense: China, Russia, North Korea and violent extremist organizations,” Davidson said. “The Indo-Pacific region also experiences frequent, natural and manmade disasters, the negative impacts of climate change, rapid population growth, drug and human trafficking and of course, disease and pandemics.”
The region accounts for 60 percent of the world’s current gross domestic product, and contributes more than two-thirds to the present global economic growth. “In 10 years, the region will host two-thirds of the world’s population and two-thirds of the global economy,” Davidson said.
The United States promotes the current free and open Indo-Pacific region that has allowed all nations — including China — to prosper. Moving forward, the United States remains committed to free, fair and reciprocal trade. The United States wants all nations to have access to global markets. The American position also fosters good governance, human rights and civil liberties.
“In stark contrast to our free and open vision, the Communist Party of China promotes a closed and an authoritarian system through internal oppression and external aggression,” the admiral said. “China’s pernicious approach to the region includes a whole-of-party effort to coerce, corrupt and collapse governments, businesses, organizations and the people of the Indo-Pacific,” he said.
On the security side, China is investing heavily in building the Peoples’ Liberation Army and has learned from the United States the efficacy of joint warfare. “The military balance in the Indo-Pacific is becoming more unfavorable for the United States and our allies,” Davidson said. “With this imbalance, we are accumulating risk that may embolden China to unilaterally change the status quo before our forces may be able to deliver an effective response. The greatest danger the United States and our allies face in the region is the erosion of conventional deterrence vis-à-vis the People’s Republic of China.”
If this imbalance continues Chinese leaders could be “emboldened to continue to take action to supplant the established rules-based international order and values represented in our vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific,” he said. “Our deterrence posture in the Indo-Pacific must demonstrate the capability, the capacity and the will to convince Beijing unequivocally, the costs of achieving their objectives by the use of military force are simply too high. Indeed, we must be doing everything possible to deter conflict: Our number one job is to keep the peace. But we absolutely must be prepared to fight and win should competition turn to conflict.”
Davidson highlighted the Pacific Defense Initiative saying this will provide the foundation for establishing a forward-deployed, defense-in-depth posture that defends the U.S. homeland and American interests abroad, while it deters aggression and provides flexible response options should deterrence fail.
Building allies and partners in the region is tremendously important. He specifically highlighted the potential power of what many are calling the Quad: India, Japan, Australia and the United States. “That’s a diamond of democracies,” he said.
The Quad could be much more than simply a defense or security arrangement, the admiral said. The Quad nations could address “the global economy, critical technologies like telecommunications and 5G, and collaboration on the international order,” Davidson said. “I have great hope that our ministerial-level meetings with the Quad … will build into something much bigger for the sake of the globe.” (Source: US DoD)
09 Mar 21. U.S. admiral calls for ground-based offensive weaponry in western Pacific. The United States military needs more long-range weaponry in the western Pacific, including ground-based arms, the top U.S. admiral for the Asia-Pacific said on Tuesday, underscoring U.S. concerns about China’s growing military strength, particularly among its missile forces.
President Joe Biden’s administration has said the United States intends to compete with China’s growing influence and military strength in the Asia-Pacific. The Pentagon is carrying out a review of its strategy in the region.
“A wider base of long-range precision fires, which are enabled by all our terrestrial forces – not just sea and air but by land forces as well – is critically important to stabilize what is becoming a more unstable environment in the western Pacific,” Admiral Phil Davidson, commander for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
Davidson cited enthusiasm by the Army and Marine Corps “to embrace some of the capabilities that the Navy and Air Force have already developed.”
A budget document provided to Congress last month by the Indo-Pacific Command said the United States needed increased ground-based weapons along the first island chain, which would cost $408m in fiscal year 2022 alone and $2.9bn from fiscal years 2023 to 2027.
The first island chain is the string of islands that run from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan, the Philippines and on to Borneo, enclosing China’s coastal seas.
While the United States has been able to use long-range weapons on ships and aircraft, there were limits placed on it because of an arms control treaty.
But the United States pulled out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia in 2019.
While the Pentagon has said it was in favor of placing such missiles in the region, allies in Asia have so far appeared to be opposed to the idea of hosting them.
Davidson said, however, that missile defense was not enough to deter a potential adversary.
“Missile defense is the hardest thing to do. And if I’m the manager of a baseball team, if I can have the best defenses in the world but if I can’t score some runs, I can’t win the game,” Davidson said. (Source: Reuters)
09 Mar 21. Lebanese commander warns of funding crisis. General Joseph Aoun, the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), has taken the unprecedented step of publicly urging Lebanese politicians to tackle the grave economic and financial crisis gripping the country, warning that failure to do so could lead to a collapse.
“Everyone is suffering because of the political and economic situation,” he told a gathering of senior officers on 8 March in a speech released on the LAF website. “People are getting hungry and the LAF is part of the people. Soldiers are getting hungry and suffering as well. To you political leaders: where are you and what are you doing?”
Serving LAF officers rarely comment publicly on politics, so Gen Aoun’s comments underlined the gravity of the situation facing the military.
Concerns have been raised for over a year that the LAF could begin to disintegrate as the Lebanese lira has plummeted against the US dollar, decimating the purchasing power of officers and soldiers. A sergeant who used to receive the equivalent of USD860 per month before the crisis, for example, now has a salary worth a mere USD129.
The LAF is Lebanon’s only state institution that is widely respected and has the best chance of maintaining stability as conditions worsen. However, reports have surfaced recently of soldiers going absent without leave, presumably to find alternative means of income.
Gen Aoun denied soldiers have deserted, adding that the military has adopted austerity measures to cope with the financial crunch and reductions in the annual defence budget made worse by the collapsing lira. (Source: Jane’s)
08 Mar 21. USAF B-52H bombers conduct multinational patrol across Middle East. The US Central Command (USCENTCOM) has said that two B-52H bombers conducted a multinational patrol mission across the Middle East. The US Central Command (USCENTCOM) has said that two B-52H bombers conducted a multinational patrol mission across the Middle East.
According to USCENTCOM, the mission is aimed at deterring aggression and reassuring partners and allies of the US Army’s commitment to the region’s security.
During the flight, multiple partner nations and the US Air Force (USAF) fighter jets accompanied the bombers at various points, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
US Central Command said in a statement: “The US Air Force routinely moves aircraft and personnel into, out of, and around the US Central Command area of responsibility to meet mission requirements, and to train with regional partners, underscoring the importance of strategic partnerships.
“Temporary long-range bomber deployments into the region dates back to 2015.”
The latest mission marks this year’s fourth bomber deployment into the Middle East. It is also the second under President Joe Biden administration.
In January, two B-52 bombers flew a 36-hour, non-stop mission from the 5th Bomb Wing’s home at Minot Air Force Base to the Arabian Gulf and back.
The B-52H is the USAF’s long-range, large-payload multirole bomber and serves as the nation’s principal strategic nuclear and conventional weapons platform.(Source: airforce-technology.com)
07 Mar 21. U.S. and South Korea’s security arrangement, cost of troops. The 70-year security alliance between the United States and South Korea is under fresh focus as the allies reached an agreement on Sunday under which Seoul will pay higher costs for hosting American troops as deterrence against North Korea. The following is details of their security arrangement, military cost-sharing talks and the U.S. troop presence in South Korea.
DECADES OF ALLIANCE
At the end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, the United States and South Korea signed a treaty of mutual defence, where the two countries agreed to collective self-defence should either be threatened in the Pacific region. The deal provided the basis for the stationing of U.S. forces in South Korea.
In 1966, the two countries signed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which laid down the rules governing and protecting U.S. personnel stationed in South Korea.
The agreement’s Article V says the United States will bear all costs for U.S. troops’ maintenance, except those to be borne by South Korea, which included furnishing and compensating for “all facilities and areas and rights of way”.
SHARING THE COST
To determine South Korea’s contribution to the cost of U.S. troops as described in SOFA, the two countries have signed Special Measures Agreements, or SMAs, 10 times since 1991, usually to cover multiple years.
Under the last agreement, reached in February 2019 for one year, South Korea agreed to increase its contribution to just under 1.04trn won ($921.5m), an 8.2% hike from the previous deal.
The allies reached a new, six-year deal at talks on Sunday, where Seoul agreed to a “meaningful increase” in its share, ending two years of standoff.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump had demanded $5bn, a five-fold jump, rejecting South Korea’s offer to pay about 13% more.
South Korean sources had raised hopes that President Joe Biden’s administration would agree to a deal close to their proposal.
U.S. FORCES IN KOREA
There are about 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea, the United States’ third-largest military presence outside its country after Japan and Germany, according to data from the U.S. Defense Manpower Data Center.
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) operates about 90 combat planes, 40 attack helicopters, 50 tanks and some 60 Patriot missile launchers, according to South Korea’s Defence White Paper issued in December.
USFK data showed it had about 19,500 Army soldiers, 7,800 airmen and women, 350 Navy sailors and 120 Marines stationed in South Korea.
Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, is the largest U.S. overseas military base, housing the USFK headquarters and thousands of troops, civilian workers and their family members. Other major bases include Army Garrison Yongsan in central Seoul, Camp Walker in the southeastern city of Daegu, and two air bases in Osan and Gunsan, south of Seoul.
COST OF ALLIANCE
Out of Seoul’s 1bn-won contribution in 2019, 48% was used to pay salaries to some 9,000 South Koreans hired by U.S. troops, 36% to cover construction costs such as building facilities within U.S. bases, and the rest for military assistance expenses including services and materials, according to South Korea’s Defence White Paper.
More than 90% of the costs South Korea shouldered in 2019 went directly back into its economy, a State Department official said.
Seoul had been pursuing a multi-year accord as the allies renew it every three five or years, with drawn-out negotiations often creating a vacuum.
After the 2019 pact expired with no new deal, about 4,000 South Korean workers of the USFK were placed on unpaid leave, prompting the two countries to scramble for a stopgap agreement to allow them to return to work. ($1 = 1,128.5500 won) (Source: Reuters)
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