The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Biden’s Defense Budget

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Jack and Robbie here. In honor of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto’s trip to Turkey, where he is hoping to get Ankara’s blessing to join NATO from its toughest ally, enjoy this “Hard Rock Hallelujah” by Lordi, a Finnish hard rock band dressed like undead Lord of the Rings characters, who took home the Eurovision Song Contest’s top prize in 2006. (If you want all of the 2023 Eurovision songs on one playlist, they’re here). 

Alright, here’s what’s on tap for the day: U.S. President Joe Biden unveils a massive new defense budget proposal as threats from China and Russia loom, Poland becomes the first NATO ally to send fighter jets to Ukraine, and TikTok has a target on its back in Washington. 

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It All Comes Back to the Budget 

The U.S. Defense Department is getting closer to being a trillionaire, if President Joe Biden has his way. On Monday, the agency detailed its $842 billion defense budget proposal, the largest peacetime request in history. But the request, which would see the Biden administration spur the long-dormant U.S. defense industrial base into action, is already running headlong into congressional opposition. 

SitRep also has a few questions about whether key provisions of the request will actually end up being authorized by Congress and then appropriated by the most powerful lawmakers that hold the Pentagon’s purse strings. Here are our four burning questions about the Pentagon’s brand spanking new budget. 

We need guns. Lots of guns. For the first time, the Pentagon has new legal authorities to develop multiyear munitions production contracts with U.S. defense contractors, and the Defense Department is asking for a hefty $30.6 billion to buy new munitions in the next year alone. That includes restocking weapons that the United States and NATO members have sent to help Ukrainian troops fend off Russia’s full-scale invasion for the past year but also nearly $250 million for 103 naval strike missiles, $1.62 billion for 125 SM-6 weapons, and $1 billion for 118 long-range anti-ship missiles, which might be used in a Taiwan contingency. (If you don’t get the reference at the top, we’ve got you covered). 

The Pentagon has also put together a new office, dubbed the Joint Production Accelerator Cell, charged with coordinating some of the stepped-up production. 

Walking and chewing gum. The Biden administration is increasingly convinced that it can handle the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan even as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drags on. On Tuesday, William LaPlante, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, said there is not a trade-off as the administration doubles down on weapons to Ukraine. The Pentagon has working groups dedicated to both conflicts, LaPlante added. 

But there’s still a gap between what top U.S. military commanders in the Indo-Pacific want and what they’re getting in the budget. U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has asked for $15.3 billion this year, with hopes of protecting Guam, buying new standoff weapons and anti-ship missiles, and pouring nearly $2 billion in concrete in the region. They’re set to get $9.1 billion in Biden’s budget. Expect budgetary knife fights to ensue. 

In the Navy. The U.S. Navy is asking for $255 billion next year, an $11 billion jolt, as Politico first reported, but it is likely to face the ire of Congress over plans to retire 11 ships in fiscal year 2024. The other thing the Navy hasn’t given lawmakers: a new 30-year shipbuilding plan, a requirement the service has punted on for the second year in a row. 

“No matter the favored phrase of the day—‘divest to invest,’ ‘strategic pause,’ ‘capability over capacity,’—the president’s defense budget is, in practice, sinking our future fleet,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has signaled support for a $75 billion defense spending cut in an effort to freeze spending at 2022 levels. McCarthy has also been less bullish on Ukraine than Senate Republicans, rebuffing the possibility of a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Where’s my car? In February, the Biden administration announced it had inked a deal for four new military sites to house U.S. troops in the Philippines, a major coup for the Pentagon after years of former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte flirting with booting American forces from the country. Ultimately, he didn’t, and newly elected President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of the 1980s-era dictator, has shown himself to be much more aligned with U.S. interests. 

But if you’re looking for money to fund the bases in the budget, like a lot of Washington wonks are already doing, you’re going to find yourself disappointed. The Biden administration’s request for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative—the Pentagon fund it uses to beef up the presence of U.S. troops in the Indo-Pacific—includes money to upgrade basing areas in Australia and the Northern Mariana Islands as well as facilities for U.S. special operations forces in Japan, but nothing for the Philippines. Keep your eyes peeled; this mystery isn’t solved yet. 

Eric Garcetti has been confirmed as U.S. ambassador to India after a two-year fight in a tight 52-42 vote, after allegations that he failed to address workplace misconduct and sexual harassment as Los Angeles’s mayor dogged his confirmation process. 

Nicholas Berliner is now the senior director for Russia on the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), replacing Eric Green, who is retiring, as Robbie and Jack wrote today. 

James Miller is set to depart his role as the U.S. coordinator for AUKUS at the National Security Council, which is expected to be folded into Kurt Campbell’s portfolio at the NSC, Jack and Robbie first reported on Friday. 

At the State Department, Janice deGarmo, who served as the department’s first acting chief data officer, is leaving her post to join the Krach Institute for Tech Diplomacy at Purdue University.

In think tank land, former BBC journalist Suzanne Kianpour is now an adjunct senior fellow in the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security. 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Flying high. Poland announced it will send around a dozen MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine, becoming the first NATO country to supply Ukraine with warplanes. Slovakia is expected to follow suit, one European official familiar with the matter told SitRep. This caps off a heated debate that’s been roiling for months in NATO on whether or when to supply Ukraine with fighter jets. Some NATO allies worried that sending fighter jets could be seen as too provocative with Russia and heighten the risk of NATO being dragged into the conflict. Other allies, particularly those in Eastern Europe, have argued that Western powers should provide all the military support, fighters included, that Ukraine needs to beat Russia, and dragging their feet on it will only prolong the war. 

Left behind. Former local staff who worked at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Russia have faced targeting and harassment from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for years and aren’t getting enough support from the State Department, as our colleague Amy Mackinnon and Robbie reported this week. This is part of a common trend—look at Yemen, Ukraine, and Afghanistan—that former diplomats want the State Department to change. Working for a U.S. embassy abroad as a foreign national can yield many benefits, but it also puts a target on those workers’ backs. “In almost every country, foreign service national staff are pressured by their country’s version of the FSB to tell them what’s going on in an embassy,” said Harry Thomas, a former senior career diplomat.

Target TikTok. Washington loves to hate on China these days, and the next big target in the great-power competition game is the popular social media app TikTok. TikTok, owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has poured a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (aka: money and lobbyists) into convincing the U.S. government it’s not a massive national security risk despite how it trawls data from its billions of users worldwide. That hasn’t paid off, and it’s now in the hottest of hot seats, as our colleague Rishi Iyengar reports this week. The U.S. government has now threatened to ban the app in the United States if TikTok’s Chinese owners don’t sell their stakes in the company.

A detainee arrives at mega-prison Terrorism Confinement Center in Tecoluca, El Salvador, on March 15. Since Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced a state of exception in March 2022, more than 62,000 suspected gang members have been arrested.

A detainee arrives at mega-prison Terrorism Confinement Center in Tecoluca, El Salvador, on March 15. Since Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced a state of exception in March 2022, more than 62,000 suspected gang members have been arrested.

A detainee arrives at mega-prison Terrorism Confinement Center in Tecoluca, El Salvador, on March 15. Since Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced a state of exception in March 2022, more than 62,000 suspected gang members have been arrested. Handout/Presidencia El Salvador via Getty Images

A detainee arrives at mega-prison Terrorism Confinement Center in Tecoluca, El Salvador, on March 15. Since Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele announced a state of exception in March 2022, more than 62,000 suspected gang members have been arrested. 

Wednesday, March 22: The United Nations Human Rights Council convenes to discuss Belarus, Venezuela, and North Korea.

Thursday, March 23: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Yeah, my wife is like, ‘The only thing we have is our name and you’re ruining it.’ … She’s like, ‘You’re an idiot. I think this is the stupidest thing that’s ever happened.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes dear, I know that.’”

—Christopher Miller, Trump’s last defense secretary, recalling how his wife reacted to the news that Trump was tapping him to lead the Pentagon in a new interview with the Intercept.

FP’s Most Read This Week

• Staring Down the Black Hole of Russia’s Future by Anastasia Edel

• Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War by David V. Gioe

• Don’t Trust Russia’s Numbers by Agathe Demarais

A new presidential contender. Joseph Maldonado-Passage—aka Joe Exotic, aka the Tiger King, aka the central character in that wild Netflix documentary everyone was talking about during those first weird months of the pandemic—declared this week that he will be running for president in 2024. “Yes, I know I am in Federal Prison and you might think this is a joke but it’s not. It is my Constitutional right to do this even from here,” he wrote on his new campaign website.

Can FIFA please just not. News on the world soccer body from CNN: “Gianni Infantino says his 2016 FIFA presidential win was inspired by visit to Rwanda’s genocide memorial as he is elected for second term.” Infantino was previously known for declaring that he was gay, disabled, African, Arab, and a migrant worker in a show of solidarity with disenfranchised communities ahead of the FIFA World Cup. (Infantino is, however, none of those things.)

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