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Defense & national Security — Tanks coming after all

The Biden administration has changed its mind on tanks for Ukraine.

We’ve got the details on the U.S. reversing course on the M1 Abrams battle tanks and we’ll discuss how the U.S. faced mounting pressure to ship the heavy combat vehicles over.

We’ll also talk about classified documents found at former Vice President Mike Pence’s home and the Doomsday clock inching ever closer to midnight.

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This is Defense & National Security, your guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Brad Dress. Subscribe here.

Biden officials set to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine

The Biden administration has apparently heeded the growing calls to donate at least a few of the M1 Abrams to Ukraine, which could open up a path for Germany to send over its Leopard tanks. 

While there has been no official word yet, The Associated Press and other outlets confirmed there is an emerging deal and an announcement could come Wednesday.

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a former Marine, told The Hill this was a good first step — but a deal could have been made sooner.

“We always seem to do the right thing at the end of the day, but I don’t understand why it takes so long to do it,” Moulton said. “I think this is pretty straightforward.”

Taking a step back: Last week, the U.S. decided against sending the Abrams tanks to Ukraine and a meeting of defense chiefs ended without an agreement on the Leopards.

At the time, the Defense Department said the Abrams, which require jet fuel, are too complicated to maintain on the battlefield. 

But the issue was thorny because Germany wanted the U.S. to send the Abrams before they sent the Leopards, since Russia could see the tank shipments as an escalation in the war.

Why Germany’s Leopards matter: The Leopards are less complicated to maintain than the Abrams and are more accessible for Kyiv in Europe than the Abrams.

The Leopards would help Ukraine regain territory and fend off an expected Russian offensive in the spring.

When a deal failed to materialize on Germany’s Leopards last week, Poland and several European allies put big pressure on Berlin to allow them to send their own Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

Germany is also slated to approve the transfer of Poland’s Leopard tanks to Ukraine on Wednesday to coincide with the U.S. announcement, according to the AP.

Growing pressure: Before the announcement, U.S. lawmakers were pretty upset about the Abrams tanks.

Lawmakers wanted just a few of the tanks sent to Ukraine in order to “unlock” the Leopards for Kyiv.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) pushed the Biden administration to send the Abrams over. He expressed approval when the news leaked of Germany preparing to approve Poland’s request.

“The fact that the tanks are going to flow from Germany, and hopefully from America, to me is something to celebrate,” Graham said. “It’s an acknowledgement that the goal is now to be with Ukraine until every last Russian soldier is evicted from Ukrainian soil.”

Read the full story here.

Classified documents found at Pence’s home

Washington reeled after classified documents were found at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence, a potential 2024 presidential candidate.

The discovery follows classified documents found at the properties of former President Trump and President Biden, both of whom are under investigation in the matter.

Questions: Pence’s legal team notified the National Archives last Wednesday after they found a small number of classified documents.

Pence’s lawyer said his client was unaware of the documents and they were “inadvertently boxed and transported” to his home.

The team turned over the documents to the FBI and was unable to identify exactly how many there were. 

Greg Jacob, the attorney representing Pence, said he was confident a majority of the documents are copies of records already turned over to the Archives.

‘An innocent man’:  Although Pence has grown into a critic of his former boss, Trump defended his former vice president after the revelations Tuesday.

Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social that Pence is an “innocent man.”

“He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life,” Trump said. “Leave him alone!!!”

Context: Trump is under investigation from a Department of Justice special counsel for the more than 300 documents found at his Florida estate.

While both Biden and Pence notified the National Archives of the classified documents, Trump was uncooperative with federal officials seeking the return of the documents.

This culminated in an August FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago property.

Read more here.  

Doomsday clock just 90 seconds from midnight

The Doomsday Clock has reached its closest point to midnight ever, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned.

The clock measures the gravest risks to human extinction, and it’s now 90 seconds to midnight — 10 seconds closer than it was in January 2022, before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Elevated risk: Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, said that “without swift and focused action, truly catastrophic events are more likely.”

“The possibilities that the conflict could spin out of anyone’s control remains high,” Bronson warned.

Dangerous heights: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently warned the world has entered a time of nuclear danger not seen since the Cold War.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his allies have repeatedly warned Moscow could use nuclear weapons amid various setbacks in Ukraine.

Of other concerns are biological threats, with some countries, like Russia, North Korea and China, maintaining biological weapons programs.

Suzet McKinney, principal and director of life sciences at Sterling Bay and a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said the international community needs to improve its ability to prevent disease outbreaks.

“Events like COVID-19 can no longer be considered rare, once in a century occurrences,” she said.

Read that story here.

Russia postpones key nuclear talks again

Amid growing fears of nuclear conflict, Russia has refused to reschedule an important meeting with U.S. nuclear negotiators that was canceled in November.

Bruce Turner, the U.S. permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament, said Russia failed to reschedule the meeting within the timeframe as outlined in the New START Treaty.

Postponement: The talks that were scheduled for November were called the Bilateral Consultative Commission.

The discussions would center on laying the groundwork for the U.S. and Russia to resume on-site inspections of each other’s nuclear weapons arsenals, which were suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. in November said that Russia unilaterally “postponed” the commission meeting, which came amid soaring tensions over the war in Ukraine and nuclear saber rattling from Moscow.

Ready to negotiate: Turner said the U.S. is still “ready to negotiate” on a new arms control treaty ahead of START’s 2026 expiration.

“I urge the Russian Federation to fully implement its New START Treaty obligations,” Turner said.

Read more here.

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW

  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts an event at 4 p.m. ET to discuss security in the Arctic following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A livestream is available for the event here.
  • CSIS is also holding another 4 p.m. event with former Trump-era Defense Secretary Mark Esper to discuss his latest book, “A Sacred Oath: Memoirs of a Secretary of Defense During Extraordinary Times.” A livestream is available here.
  • The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace will discuss the impact of western sanctions on Russia in a live event at 10 a.m. ET.
  • George Washington University will discuss U.S. nuclear operations and systems on campus in Washington, D.C., at 12:30 p.m. A livestream will also be available upon registration.

WHAT WE’RE READING

OP-EDS IN THE HILL

That’s it for today! Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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