Today’s D Brief: Senate advances Ukraine, Israel aid bill; Global military spending rises; Groundhog day on the Red Sea; And a bit more.

by Braxton Taylor

In a notably bipartisan vote, the Senate passed a $95 billion supplemental aid bill for Ukraine and Israel at about 6:30 a.m. ET Tuesday morning. Seventy senators voted in support of what some have called an emergency defense spending bill; 29 voted against (Republican Cynthia Lummis from Wyoming did not vote.) 

The measure includes $60 billion for Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel, nearly $2.5 billion for CENTCOM’s defense against Houthi attacks around the Red Sea, and about $10 billion for civilians caught in conflict zones (Palestinians, e.g.). Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskyy even took to social media to thank the lawmakers for their support. “For us in Ukraine, continued US assistance helps to save human lives from Russian terror,” he wrote. “It means that life will continue in our cities and will triumph over war.”

But it’s not clear how the bill will fare in the House, where Republican Speaker Mike Johnson said Monday evening, “America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo,” since the issue of border security was omitted in the Senate’s supplemental. 

Worth noting: Republicans demanded strict changes to asylum law, which Democrats eventually consented to—then Republicans withdrew their support for that bill after pressure from former President Donald Trump. The former president admitted on his own social media platform that just about any reforms to U.S. border security policy ahead of the November elections would be, as he put it, a “Death Wish” for the Republican party. 

However, Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs predicted Tuesday, “If [the $95 billion supplemental passed in the Senate] were to get to the [House] floor, it would pass — let’s just be frank about that,” he told Politico.

Welcome to this Tuesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. Share your newsletter tips, reading recommendations, or feedback for the year ahead here. And if you’re not already subscribed, you can do that here. On this day in 1960, France demonstrated for the first time that it possessed nuclear weapons, making it the world’s fourth nuclear power—behind the U.S., the Soviets, and the Brits.

Global defense spending grew by 9%, with more than $2 trillion spent in 2023, according to the latest annual “Military Balance” report from analysts at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. The growth has been driven partly by NATO members boosting defense spending in response to Vladimir Putin’s full-scale Ukraine invasion, which is about to enter its third year on February 24. 

The U.S. accounts for 40% of that $2 trillion total; the rest of NATO covered 17%. China accounted for 10% of the 2023 global defense spending, and Russia notched 5%, which is about a third of its national budget, or about 7.5% of its GDP. (The U.S., by contrast, spends about 3% of its GDP on defense, according to the Pentagon.) 

Also notable: In just the past year, Russia has lost around 1,120 tanks and 2,000 armored personnel and infantry fighting vehicles during its ongoing Ukraine war, said IISS Director-General Bastian Giegerich. (View an IISS chart of documented Russian armor losses, here.) That estimate suggests Russia “has now lost more tanks on the battlefield than it had when it launched its offensive in 2022,” Giegerich said Tuesday. 

Big picture consideration: “In Eastern Europe, Moscow’s imperial ambitions have already resulted in war and undermined all visions for a cooperative security order for the foreseeable future,” analysts write in a different annual report marking this year’s Munich Security Conference, which kicks off this weekend in Germany. “And Europeans can no longer reap the peace dividend, having to spend more on their own defense and in support of Ukraine,” they warn in a report they’ve titled bluntly, “Lose-Lose?” 

The report’s title comes from the apparent growing costs of Putin’s invasion of Eastern Europe, “in which Ukraine risks losing the most, with its very survival as an independent country at stake, while Putin’s war is also taking a massive toll on the Russian population.” 

Relatedly, “Everyone is losing from the escalation of violence in the Middle East,” the authors warn. And in Africa, “a series of coups has also compounded lose-lose dynamic” in places like Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. And the war in Sudan “has provoked an epic humanitarian crisis,” with more than 25 million people reportedly displaced, according to the United Nations. 

Given a host of similarly concerning dynamics, including “a fragmentation of the world economy,” uncertainty with the future of semiconductors and artificial intelligence, and a general election in the U.S., “There is thus a real risk that more and more countries end up in a lose-lose situation, which is no longer about who gains more, but only about who loses less,” according to MSC. Read the full report, here. 

What are your questions and concerns when it comes to U.S. defense planning, European security, and global military spending? We’ll be tackling those questions and more in a future podcast episode, so shoot us an email for your chance to be heard. 

After more than a month of U.S. and allied airstrikes, the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen continue attacking ships in the Red Sea. Two missiles were launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen toward a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged cargo vessel carrying Brazilian corn on Monday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The missiles resulted in “minor damage” but no injuries to the crew of the vessel, the MV Star Iris.

Over the weekend, the U.S. carried out several “self-defense strikes” against four Houthi drone ships, seven anti-ship cruise missiles, and one mobile land attack cruise missile, all of which “were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea,” CENTCOM said Friday and Saturday.  

By the way: The French navy is escorting ships in the Red Sea, Paris said Sunday on social media, with a supporting photograph.  

Spotted in Gibraltar: Britain’s air-defense guided missile destroyer HMS Diamond returning from a Red Sea deployment with Houthi “kill markings” illustrating apparent drones the ship’s crew shot down near the Yemeni coast. The ship was initially spotted and photographed Saturday by local Michael Sanchez, and further identified by Joseph Dempsey of IISS.

Developing: The Netherlands must stop sending F-35 parts to Israel, a Dutch court ordered this week, citing concerns the fighter jets are being used to violate human rights, Reuters reported Monday. The country is part of the consortium of nations that flies the F-35 and also produces some of its parts. 

“It is undeniable that there is a clear risk the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the court said in its ruling against the country’s government. 

For the record: The Dutch government disagrees, and said it plans to take the issue to its Supreme Court. 

U.S. authorities seized a Boeing 747 cargo plane that had been owned by a sanctioned Iranian airline affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force on Monday. The Iranian company, Mahan Air, had sold the plane to a Venezuelan cargo airline, violating U.S. export restrictions. The aircraft had been held in Argentina for months; it’s now in south Florida, the Justice Department announced Monday. 

For more than a decade, Mahan Air has been known to ferry weapons and fighters around the Middle East for Hezbollah and IRGC operations. The start of the Syrian civil war in 2011 brought a flurry of activity from the airline’s flights to and from Damascus. Mahan flights routinely “facilitated the covert travel of IRGC-QF members by bypassing normal security protocols and flight manifests,” Treasury officials announced in 2018. And Mahan personnel have reportedly been known to smuggle gold between Venezuela and Iran, according to the Jerusalem Post. 

“The United States’ forfeiture of the Boeing 747 cargo plane culminates over 18 months of planning, coordination, and execution by the United States government and our Argentine counterparts,” said U.S. Attorney Markenzy Lapointe for the Southern District of Florida. “Foreign adversaries—seeking to illegally use American-made products to further their endeavors—need to know that the United States government will work with the international community to hold them accountable for their illegal conduct,” U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said in a separate statement.

And lastly today: Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin stayed overnight at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Monday. According to his doctors, he had earlier undergone “non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia to address his bladder issue” for which he’d previously been hospitalized in late December and early January. “A prolonged hospital stay is not anticipated,” they said in a statement Monday evening, and added, “We anticipate the Secretary will be able to resume his normal duties [Tuesday].”

ICYMI: Austin formally transferred his authorities to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, around 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, as we noted in Monday’s newsletter. 

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