Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: US reportedly considering sending warships to Black Sea to support Ukraine | Intel community warns of fragile future | Austin traveling to Israel, Europe

Happy Thursday 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: The United States reportedly could be sending Navy warships into the Black Sea within the next few weeks as a show of support for Ukraine.

The Navy routinely sails its ships through the Black Sea, which touches nearly all of Ukraine's southern border.

But a defense official told CNN on Thursday that the Pentagon is considering a new deployment to signal to Moscow that Washington is on watch while Russia builds up troops along Ukraine's eastern border.

Asked by The Hill whether the Pentagon was considering the move and if the United States had given notice of intent to enter the Black Sea, a spokesman referred all questions to U.S. Navy Europe.

Next steps: If the U.S. were to move forward with a deployment, it would be required to give Turkey 14 days notice of its intent to enter the Black Sea, under a 1936 treaty which gave Ankara control of the seas' straits.

In the meantime, the Pentagon official who spoke to CNN said the Navy will continue to fly reconnaissance aircraft over the Black Sea in international airspace to keep an eye on Russian ship activity and possible troop movements in Crimea, which Moscow invaded in 2014.

Context: The Biden administration has been on alert ever since Russia upped its saber rattling in Eastern Europe last month, with fighting resuming between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, ending a cease-fire the two groups made last summer.

President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have since reached out to their Ukrainian counterparts.

U.S. European Command, meanwhile, has raised its alert status to its highest level. 

"We call on Russia to make their intentions more clear as to what they're doing with these array of forces along the border and we continue to call for the ceasefires that were called for by the Minsk Agreement," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. 

INTEL REPORT PROVIDES BLEAK LOOK AT FUTURE WORLD ORDER

An intelligence report released Thursday paints a bleak picture of what the world could look like over the next 20 years, warning of a planet that will be ravaged by pandemics and climate change.

The Global Trends report comes from the National Intelligence Council, a wing of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and provides an assessment every four years on the "trends and uncertainties" the United States can expect over the next two decades.

"During the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of its fragility," the report states. "In coming years and decades, the world will face more intense and cascading global challenges ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises."

COVID-19 ripples: The report paints a picture of a world sure to be shaped by the aftermath of a global pandemic that will sharpen existing inequalities in wealth and health care while heightening nationalism and polarization.

"Efforts to contain and manage the virus have reinforced nationalist trends globally as some states turned inward to protect their citizens and sometimes cast blame on marginalized groups," the report stated.

"The response to the pandemic has fueled partisanship and polarization in many countries as groups argue over the best way to respond and seek scapegoats to blame for spreading the virus and for slow responses."

AI challenges: Meanwhile, the report says that the breadth and speed at which artificial intelligence could replace current jobs makes it unclear whether countries will be able to generate enough jobs for the future workforce and whether those workers will have the skills needed to compete for them.

While the overall effect could be net job creation over time, "it may lead initially to an overall decline if jobs disappear faster than new ones are created," Global Trends says.

US vs. China: It's a trend that furthers existing competition between the U.S. and China, which the report paints as the major rivalry of the next 20 years. The report warns of developing nations whose  "economic weight" is likely to increase.

"These economies, led by China, could increasingly demand more influence over the direction of economically focused international organizations, altering standards and norms to reflect their economic interests, some of which may be incompatible with the interest of advanced economies," the report stated.

Climate threat: Climate change will act as another disrupter, both economically and on the world stage.

The report predicts greater climate migration - a trend already seen as rural populations struggling to farm in changing weather conditions increasingly move to urban areas.

"Climate change probably will exacerbate this as sea level rise or extreme heat makes certain locales permanently uninhabitable, although mainly after 2040," the report warns, particularly in coastal areas where flooding and weather will become more extreme.

AUSTIN HEADED TO ISRAEL, EUROPE

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's second trip overseas since he started in his current position will take him to Israel, Germany, NATO headquarters in Belgium and the United Kingdom, the Pentagon announced Thursday.

Austin will leave for the trip Saturday, according to a news release.

The itinerary: In Israel, Austin will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz "to continue close consultations on shared priorities and reaffirm the enduring U.S. commitment to the U.S.-Israel strategic partnership and Israel's Qualitative Military Edge," the Pentagon said.

In Germany, Austin will meet with Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Chancellery Foreign and Security Policy Adviser Jan Hecker. Among other topics, the officials will discuss "continued dialogue on U.S. force posture in Germany and elsewhere," according to the statement.

In Belgium, Austin will meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and in the U.K., he'll meet with Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace.

Timing: The trip to Israel comes as the Biden administration in engaged in indirect talks with Iran for the countries to both return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, which Israel opposes.

Meanwhile, the stops at European allies come as the Biden administration continues a global posture review that could include reversing the Trump administration's plan to slash the number of U.S. troops in Germany.

NATO allies are also clamoring for President Biden's decision on whether he will withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1. 

And, as mentioned at the beginning of this newsletter, Russia has been amassing troops and equipment on the border with Ukraine, which is sure to be a topic of conversation with European allies.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

Robert Work, vice chair of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael Groen, director of Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, will brief the media at 10 a.m. defense.gov/live

ICYMI

- The Hill: US expresses 'grave concern' over harrowing reports of atrocities in Ethiopia

- The Hill: State Department says expectations on Iran negotiations will not 'outpace where we are'

- Associated Press: Inside secret Syria talks aimed at freeing American hostages

- Task and Purpose: Navy disciplines officer for calling enlisted sailors hatchet-wielding perverts

- Associated Press: J&J vaccine problems hamper US military vaccines overseas

- Washington Post: Before becoming a terrorist leader, ISIS chief was a prison informer in Iraq for U.S., records show

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