President Biden is hosting 50 leaders from Africa in Washington this week for a high-profile summit seeking to bolster future relations with the continent and counter Chinese and Russian influence.
We’ll share what’s coming out of the meetings, plus details on the first lawsuit over the Department of Veteran Affair’s abortion policy, more on the space force unit in South Korea the U.S. military has formally launched, and details on the U.S. national who was recently freed from Russian-occupied territory in a prisoner swap.
This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Ellen Mitchell. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here or in the box below.
Biden looks to reassert US influence in Africa
In the first time since 2014, the White House is hosting a summit with African leaders as the Biden administration seeks greater collaboration on trade, investments, elections and climate change.
Timing: The U.S.-Africa Summit comes while some African nations refuse to take a stance against Russia, amid concerns over global food security during the war in Ukraine and as part of Biden’s ongoing efforts to strengthen democracies abroad.
Challenges: Experts believe Biden’s greatest challenge will be proving to African leaders that the U.S. can be a reliable, long-term partner for a fast-growing continent that has significant sway in the global economy and diplomatic community.
“They don’t see us as a long-term partner. They don’t see us as trusted. They see us as kind of unreliable. And this summit is the start of the effort to try to rewrite that narrative,” said Cameron Hudson, a senior associate in the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Hudson noted Biden has not held many White House visits or meetings on the sidelines of the United Nations with African leaders compared to his predecessors. But the continent is home to key minerals for global supply chains, and its growing population means it will also provide an increasing percentage of the global workforce.
Breakaway over Ukraine: African nations make up roughly a quarter of the United Nations General Assembly, and many of those nations either abstained or broke from the U.S. earlier this year on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The African leaders’ reaction to the war in Ukraine played a large role in the decision for the Biden administration to hold the summit, experts said.
Making up: “There’s a part of me that sort of feels that the American policy establishment is shaken by the African reaction to the Ukraine conflict. And this seems to be an overture. This seems to be born out of a realization that things aren’t what they used to be,” said Ebenezer Obadare, the Douglas Dillon senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
“And if the United States is going to have to hold on to its allies in the region, it is going to have to do some smooching.”
Looking ahead: The U.S. is working through a long-term strategy on diplomacy with Africa that has a lot to do with Russia’s focus on the continent, as well as China’s, Obadare added.
The White House this week sought to allay concerns that the summit will be a one-off event or that Biden’s focus on Africa will fall by the wayside once it is over.
Biden during the summit will announce the U.S. is committing $55 billion to Africa over the next three years.
He will also announce his support for the African Union to join the Group of 20 permanently and his support for the U.N. Security Council to include a permanent member from the African continent. Additionally, a commitment on travel to Africa in 2023 is expected.
Also from The Hill:
- Biden on US-Africa trade and investments: US ‘all-in on Africa’s future’
Employee sues VA over abortion policy change
A health care employee within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on Wednesday sued the department over its recently altered abortion policy, alleging it violates state law and her religious beliefs.
Why it matters: The lawsuit is the first legal challenge to the new VA policy, announced Sept. 9, which offers abortion services to veterans and eligible dependents in cases of rape and incest or if the pregnancy endangers the life or health of the patient.
- The VA began providing abortions to pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries in the limited circumstances after the rule was published, but officials have not revealed how many such procedures have been performed.
- The landmark rule has already raised questions about how the VA’s ability to perform abortions will conflict with state laws that ban or severely limit the procedure, enacted in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn Roe v. Wade.
What the Biden administration says: The Department of Justice has said the VA policy is a “lawful exercise” of the department’s authority, and that states can’t penalize the department’s employees who provide abortions in accordance with the rule.
But this hasn’t shielded the VA from facing lawsuits from states that have been more aggressive in curbing abortion, as seen Wednesday.
What the lawsuit alleges: The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas — alleges the plaintiff, Stephanie Carter, a nurse practitioner that has worked with the VA for 23 years, can’t “work in a facility that performs abortion services for reasons other than to save the life of the mother because … unborn babies are created in the image of God and should be protected.”
Carter works at the Olin E. Teague Veterans’ Center in Temple, Texas.
Filed on Carter’s behalf by First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit Christian conservative legal group, the lawsuit claims the VA policy “substantially burdens Ms. Carter’s sincerely held religious beliefs and forces her to choose between her job and her religious convictions.”
US creates space unit in South Korea to watch North
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The U.S. military formally launched a space force unit in South Korea on Wednesday, its first such facility on foreign territory that will likely enable Washington to better monitor its rivals North Korea, China and Russia.
The activation of the U.S. Space Forces Korea at Osan Air Base near Seoul came after North Korea test-fired a barrage of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles designed to strike the U.S. mainland and its allies South Korea and Japan in recent months.
‘An existential threat’: “Just 48 miles north of us exists an existential threat; a threat that we must be prepared to deter, defend against, and – if required – defeat,” Lt. Col. Joshua McCullion, chief of the new space unit, said during the activation ceremony at Osan. He apparently referred to North Korea, whose heavily fortified border with South Korea is just an hour’s drive from Seoul, the South’s capital.
The unit belongs to the U.S. Space Force, which was launched in December 2019 under then-President Donald Trump as the first new U.S. military service in more than 70 years.
Some background: The Space Force was seen soberly as an affirmation of the need to more effectively organize for the defense of U.S. interests in space — especially satellites used for civilian and military navigation, intelligence and communication. A previous Pentagon report said China and Russia had embarked on major efforts to develop technologies that could allow them to disrupt or destroy American and allied satellites in a crisis or conflict.
The U.S. Space Forces Korea is a subordinate of a bigger U.S. Space Force unit established within the Indo-Pacific command in Hawaii last month.
The intended role: “The U.S. military is faster, better connected, more informed, precise and lethal because of space,” Gen. Paul LaCamera, commander of the 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, said during the ceremony. “Specifically, the activation here today of U.S. Space Forces Korea … enhances our ability to defend the homelands and ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia.”
The U.S. military in South Korea said that one of the main mission areas that the space unit in South Korea will focus on is “missile warning operations, which provides in-theater near-real-time detection and warning of ballistic missile launches.” It said the new unit’s tasks also includes coordinating space operations and services such as position navigation and timing, and satellite communications within the region.
The launch of a space unit in South Korea was likely primarily aimed at better surveilling North Korea, followed by China and then Russia, according to Jung Chang Wook, head of the Korea Defense Study Forum think tank in Seoul.
Ukraine: US citizen freed in Russian prisoner swap
U.S. citizen Suedi Murekezi was freed alongside dozens of Ukrainian soldiers from Russian-occupied territory in a prisoner swap, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s top aide.
- Andriy Yermak, who heads the Ukrainian presidential office, said the country secured the release of Murekezi, 64 soldiers and five slain Ukrainians.
- “Another exchange of prisoners,” Yermak wrote on Telegram. “We continue to return ours.”
More on Murekezi: Murekezi’s brother told The Guardian that Murekezi was arrested in June in Kherson, a regional capital of Ukraine that Russia occupied at the time but has since retreated from.
Murekezi, a Rwandan-born U.S. national who had previously served in the Air Force, had moved to Ukraine about four years ago and did not participate in any fighting, his family told the British newspaper.
But Murekezi was imprisoned in Donetsk, an eastern Ukrainian city in territory Russia illegally annexed in the fall, for allegedly participating in pro-Ukrainian protests, according to The Guardian.
Earlier: Murekezi’s release comes days after the Biden administration announced a prisoner swap that freed WNBA star Brittney Griner in exchange for an infamous Russian arms dealer known as “The Merchant of Death.”
ON TAP TOMORROW
- CIA Director William Burns and former Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon will speak at an Intelligence and National Security Alliance discussion on “Today’s global challenges and CIA’s efforts to address them,” at 9 a.m.
- The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will hold a talk on “Rethinking South Korea’s Security,” at 9 a.m.
- The State Department will continue its 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit at 11:15 a.m.
- The Washington Space Business Roundtable will host a discussion on “Satellite acquisition reform,” with Assistant Air Force Secretary for Space Acquisitions and Integration Frank Calvelli, at 11:30 a.m.
- The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will also host a virtual discussion on “Is Russia-Ukraine a Forever War?” at 11:30 a.m.
- Brookings Institution will hold a virtual conversation on “Ukraine’s Economy: Today’s Challenges, Tomorrow’s Needs, and Lessons from Past Reconstruction Efforts,” at 11:30 a.m.
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with Lithuanian Defense Minister Arvydas Anusauskas at the Pentagon at 11:45 a.m.
WHAT WE’RE READING
- Iran ousted from UN women’s rights panel
- China slams US as ‘bullying hegemonist’ over Biden’s trade policies
- Ukraine says Kyiv targeted in Russian drone attack
- Leaders warn social media ‘a ticking time bomb’ for antisemitism
- Ex-national security adviser says Russians were willing to free Paul Whelan under Trump
OP-EDS IN THE HILL
- Developing a mastery of irregular warfare
- Addressing childhood obesity also supports US military readiness