Overnight Defense: Trump confirms plans to draw down in Germany | Senate panel backs funding to prep for nuclear test ‘if necessary’ | US military command in Korea bans Confederate flag
Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, 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: President Trump has confirmed he plans to slash the number of U.S. troops in Germany.
A couple weeks after reports first surfaced about the plan, Trump told reporters at the White House on Monday that “we’re putting the number down to 25,000 soldiers.”
“Germany’s delinquent,” Trump added. “They’ve been delinquent for years, and they owe NATO billions of dollars, and they have to pay it. So we’re protecting Germany, and they’re delinquent. That doesn’t make sense.”
Germany is not on track to meet NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. But it is not “delinquent” to NATO as Trump describes because the spending is not a payment to NATO — it is spending on a country’s own defense — and the goal does not have to be met until 2024.
Background: The Wall Street Journal first reported earlier this month that national security adviser Robert O’Brien signed a directive lowering the cap on the number of U.S. troops allowed in Germany to 25,000 from 52,000, as well as drawdown to about 9,500 troops from the 35,000 currently there.
Trump has long pushed NATO members to contribute more to their own defense and has repeatedly taken special aim at Germany and its Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Trump’s plan to slash the U.S. troop presence in Germany has sparked fierce pushback from GOP defense hawks in Congress, which they argue is an integral buttress against Russian aggression.
Last week, 22 Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to Trump saying they were “very concerned” about the plan.
SUPREME COURT RULES LGBT WORKERS PROTECTED: The Supreme Court on Monday ruled 6-3 in a landmark decision that gay and transgender employees are protected by civil rights laws against employer discrimination.
A set of cases that came before the court had asked the justices to decide whether Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination on the basis of “sex,” applies to gay and transgender people.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the opinion for the six-member majority, said that it does.
“Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender,” Gorsuch wrote. “The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision.
Defense connection: Shortly after the Supreme Court’s decision, defense watchers began asking what it means for the Trump administration’s transgender military ban, which is still being litigated in court.
“The Supreme Court today rejected the Trump administration’s plea that American employers be allowed to discriminate against LGBTQ workers. But the landmark ruling does not apply to discrimination against transgender Americans by the military, the nation’s largest employer,” Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, said in a statement Monday.
“Today’s ruling makes the military, so often a successful leader in ending discrimination in American life, an outlier amidst a national consensus that arbitrary discrimination is harmful and wrong,” he added. “With transgender workers protected by federal law in all other sectors, the military’s transgender ban is now even harder to defend.”
The Modern Military Association of America (MMAA), a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against the military transgender ban, expressed hope the ruling means lawsuits againt the Pentagon policy will win.
“While it’s unclear whether Title VII civil rights protections apply to military service, we are hopeful that the high court’s decision is an indication that justice will prevail in our lawsuit challenging the transgender military ban,” MMAA legal and policy director Peter Perkowski, said in a statement. “Make no mistake: the Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination against LGBTQ people is discrimination based on sex. That truth applies regardless of context. At the end of the day, what matters for military service is whether or not you are capable and qualified, not your gender identity.”
SENATE PANEL BACKS NUKE TEST PREP: Details are still trickling out about the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) the Senate Armed Services Committee approved behind closed doors last week.
On Monday, we learned the committee advanced an amendment aimed at reducing the amount of time it would take to carry out a nuclear test.
The amendment, offered by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), would make at least $10 million available to “carry out projects related to reducing the time required to execute a nuclear test if necessary,” according to a copy of the measure obtained by The Hill on Monday.
The amendment was approved in a party-line, 14-13 vote, a congressional aide said.
Context: Cotton’s amendment comes after the Trump administration reportedly raised the prospect of resuming nuclear testing as a negotiating tactic in efforts to secure a trilateral nuclear agreement with Russia and China.
The Washington Post reported last month that the idea of conducting the United States’s first nuclear test in decades was raised at a May 15 meeting of senior officials. One official told the Post the idea for a test is “very much an ongoing conversation,” while another official said a decision was made to avoid resuming testing.
The United States has not conducted an explosive nuclear test since 1992, checking the efficacy and reliability of its weapons with subcritical tests that produce no nuclear yield, computer simulations and other scientific methods.
Opposition: In response to Cotton’s amendment, Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said conducting a nuclear test would be “beyond reckless.”
“A U.S. nuclear test blast would certainly not advance efforts to rein in Chinese and Russian nuclear arsenals or create a better environment for negotiations,” he said in a statement to The Hill. “Instead, it would break the de facto global nuclear test moratorium, likely trigger nuclear testing by other states, and set off a new nuclear arms race in which everyone would come out a loser.”
Kimball also called on Congress to “step in to prevent the United States from becoming a nonproliferation rogue state by enacting a prohibition on the use of taxpayers’ funds to resume nuclear weapons testing in their upcoming votes on the defense authorization and the energy appropriations bills.”
US FORCES KOREA BANS CONFEDERATE FLAG: The Army general in charge of U.S. forces on the Korean peninsula has banned the display of the Confederate battle flag, joining a number of other U.S. military organizations in making the move.
In a memo Monday, U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) commander Gen. Robert Abrams wrote the flag “does not represent the values of U.S. Forces” in Korea.
“While I acknowledge some might view it as a symbol of regional pride, many others in our force see it as a painful reminder of hate, bigotry, treason, and devaluation of humanity,” Abrams wrote.
“Regardless of perspective, one thing is clear: it has the power to inflame feelings of racial division,” he continued. “We cannot have that division among us.”
Because it is his job to ensure good order and discipline, he added, “effective immediately, I direct all commanders to identify and ensure the removal of all display of the Confederate battle flag or its depiction within work places, common-access areas and public areas on USFK installations.”
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
A House Armed Services Committee subpanel will host a hybrid virtual and in-person hearing on racial disparities in the military justice system, including testimony from the military services’ judge advocate generals, at noon. https://bit.ly/2B9a3z1
A House Foreign Affairs Committee subpanel will host a virtual hearing on arms sales to the Gulf with testimony from outside experts at 2 p.m. https://bit.ly/2Y5Wj0Q
— The Hill: Air Force pilot killed when fighter jet crashed in North Sea
— The Hill: Robert Gates joins calls for Army bases named after Confederate leaders to be renamed
— The Hill: Trump at West Point stresses unity amid ‘turbulent’ times
— The Hill: Former US Marine sentenced on spying charges in Russia
— Stars and Stripes: George Floyd mural painted near Kabul’s Green Zone
— Associated Press: US base namesakes include slaveholders, failed generals
— Associated Press: S. Korea’s leader calls on North to stop raising tensions