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Overnight Defense: Top commander calls second Kim summit 'positive sign' | Pentagon unveils AI strategy | GOP chair floats Venezuela intervention to block Russia
Happy Tuesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I'm Ellen Mitchell, and here's your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: The commander of U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula said Tuesday he sees a second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a "positive sign," though he says there's been "little to no verifiable change" in Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities.
"The reduction in tension on the peninsula, it's palpable," U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. Robert Abrams said, noting it has been 440 days since North Korea's last missile or nuclear test. "My personal opinion is the announcement of a second summit of President Trump and the supreme leader, Kim, is a positive sign of continued dialogue. Because it certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017."
Still a threat: He acknowledged, however, that North Korea remains a military threat that the U.S. must be ready for.
"I remain clear-eyed about the fact that despite a reduction in tensions along the [demilitarized zone] and a cessation of strategic provocations coupled with public statements of intent to denuclearize, little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea's military capabilities," Abrams said during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The background: Trump and Kim are scheduled to meet in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 27 and 28.
It will be their second summit, after their historic meeting in Singapore last year, which was the first time a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader met face-to-face.
At the Singapore summit, Trump and Kim signed a joint statement where North Korea pledged to "work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." At the time, the statement was widely criticized for failing to include any specifics on how to achieve denuclearization, such as a timeline or steps to verify disarmament.
Trump's decision to suspend major joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which he announced in a press conference after the summit, was also slammed for blindsiding the Pentagon and allies, and acquiescing to the North Korean description of the drills as provocative war games.
Exercises continue: On Tuesday, Abrams said he has been given the authority to continue planning the annual large-scale spring military exercise with South Korean forces.
"I have been given authority to continue planning for those type exercises, typically characterized as large-scale exercises," he said. "And I have continued planning for execution of one in the spring. I've worked very closely with [South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff] and the [South Korea Joint Chiefs] chairman himself in that new construct and have forwarded that up to the Department of Defense and received full support to continue with our planning."
Abrams also stressed that U.S. and South Korean forces have been conducting exercises, though at a smaller scale so as not to disrupt the diplomatic efforts.
PENTAGON UNVEILS AI STRATEGY AIMED AT COMPETING WITH RUSSIA, CHINA: The Pentagon on Tuesday unveiled a new artificial intelligence strategy aimed at keeping pace and competing with Russian and Chinese technological advancements.
"Other nations, particularly China and Russia, are making significant investments in AI for military purposes," according to the strategy, titled "Harnessing AI to Advance Our Security and Prosperity.
"These investments threaten to erode our technological and operational advantages and destabilize the free and open international order. The United States, together with its allies and partners, must adopt AI to maintain its strategic position, prevail on future battlefields, and safeguard this order."
What the strategy does: The strategy outlines how the Department of Defense (DoD) will develop and use AI - machines performing tasks usually done by humans -- "in ways that advance security, peace, and stability in the long run."
The Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) will lead and coordinate AI pilot projects within DoD, including for operations, training, sustainment, force protection, recruitment, healthcare and defense against cyberattacks.
But no price tag: The document and an adjoining Pentagon statement did not include a dollar amount associated with the strategy.
JAIC Director Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, told reporters Tuesday that the AI budget for the Pentagon for the current fiscal year is $90 million. He said there will be a request for more AI dollars in the administration's upcoming fiscal year 2020 budget request.
Ahead of the strategy's release, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters that more money for AI is not his top priority, explaining that "there are other things that need to be done first."
"We know that China is ahead of us, but I'd like to look at other areas where China and where Russia are ahead of us. And it would be in artillery, for example," Inhofe told the Defense Writers Group on Tuesday morning.
Commercial help needed: Shanahan said that the new Pentagon strategy will use commercial industry to more quickly harness AI for the military.
"We know that the department has to build a lot more expertise over the next decade of people that have the ... skills that we are looking for. Absent that sort of foundational level of expertise, commercial solutions are available for most of the problems that we've discovered in the past and we know we'll discover in the future," Shanahan said.
GOP CHAIR TALKS VENEZUELA INTERVENTION: The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Tuesday morning that the U.S. military may have to intervene in Venezuela if Russia places weapons there.
"I think that it could happen," Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told the Defense Writers Group. "You've got a guy down there that is killing everybody. You could have him put together a base that Russia would have on our hemisphere. And if those things happen, it may be to the point where we'll have to intervene with troops and respond."
When asked by The Hill after the breakfast roundtable what type of military action he thinks is appropriate, Inhofe said, "Whatever is necessary should they bring in some armaments on our hemisphere that would be, in the smart peoples' opinion, something that would be a threat to the United States of America."
"Then we have to take whatever action necessary to stop them from doing that," he added.
Russia to help Venezuela? A senior Russian diplomat said Monday that Venezuela has not asked the Russian military for assistance.
The Trump administration has been dialing up the pressure on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, whose reelection has been viewed by much of the international community as illegitimate.
As part of that pressure, the Trump administration last month recognized the leader of the country's National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.
U.S. still weighing its options: President Trump has repeatedly floated the possibility of using U.S. forces to push out Maduro. Earlier this month, he said U.S. military intervention in the country is an "option."
Speculation over possible U.S. military involvement was raised late last month after national security adviser John Bolton was photographed at a White House press briefing holding a yellow notepad with the words "5,000 troops to Colombia" written on it.
Bolton would not comment on the note but has said military intervention in Venezuela is not imminent, even as "all options are on the table."
Last week, the commander of U.S. Southern Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the U.S. military is ready to protect Americans and U.S. diplomats in Venezuela "if necessary."
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hear from defense officials and experts on the "Current Condition of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative" at 2 p.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50.
-- The Hill: Trump to meet with nuclear reps with eye on sharing technology internationally: report
-- The Hill: China 'greatest long-term strategic threat,' to US, top Pacific commander warns
-- The Hill: US-led coalition says it struck Syrian mosque used by ISIS
-- The Hill: Study: North Korea produced nuclear fuel during denuclearization talks with US
-- The Hill: Key GOP senator pitches Trump: Funding deal a 'downpayment' on wall