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U.S. Reservists to Boost NATO
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U.S. Reservists to Boost NATO

Plus: Biden administration blocks Wuhan lab from further funding.

Happy Monday! The hammerhead worm—a 22-inch invasive species that we hear looks like a strand of whole wheat spaghetti if spaghetti could wrap around your ankles, secrete a neurotoxin, and split into multiple wormlets—has arrived in the Washington, D.C., area.

Anyone have a couch we can crash on? Our only requirement is that it be far, far away from here.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Former President Donald Trump’s trial for allegedly mishandling classified documents will be held in May 2024, U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon ordered on Friday. That’s later than the December trial date special counsel Jack Smith requested, but Cannon declined to postpone the trial until after the 2024 elections, as Trump’s legal team requested.
  • The United States and 12 allies this weekend began a military exercise involving a record-setting 30,000 troops in Australia—part of broader efforts to prepare for and deter a Chinese attack on Taiwan. The two-week biennial drills coincided with a Chinese show of force as Beijing sent dozens of warplanes toward Taiwan Saturday morning. Taiwan is also set to hold its annual military drills—focused on preventing and responding to Chinese escalations—next week.
  • A month after the Supreme Court ruled against an Alabama congressional district map that included only one majority-black voting district, Republican lawmakers in the state have approved a new congressional map. It increases the concentration of black voters from 30 percent to 40 percent of voters in one district, but still includes just one majority-black district—and has reduced the black majority in that district from 55 to 51 percent. A federal court will evaluate the proposed map next month.
  • The White House announced Friday that seven technology companies—including Google, Meta, Microsoft, and ChatGPT parent company OpenAI—have agreed to voluntary safeguards on artificial intelligence. Under the agreement, the companies will commit to security testing of AI systems before rolling them out, develop tools like watermarks to denote AI-generated content, and share risk management information with academics and governments.
  • Iran has reportedly detained a fourth American citizen, adding pressure to the Biden administration’s attempts to negotiate the release of three other U.S. citizens—possibly in exchange for unfreezing billions of dollars of Iranian assets. The Pentagon also announced Thursday that it was upping the U.S. Navy and Marines’ presence in the Middle East in response to two failed attempts by Iran to seize oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman earlier this month.
  • A landslide triggered by torrential rains in India last week killed at least 27 people in Irshalwadi, a village about 50 miles from Mumbai. Rescuers—working without heavy equipment, which couldn’t reach the sludge-surrounded village—ended a four-day search this weekend with at least 78 people still missing. More than 100 people have died in northern India in the last few weeks amid record monsoon rains.
  • Israel’s Parliament is expected to vote today on a judicial reform law despite ongoing demonstrations against it—and the Biden administration’s call to postpone the vote, fearing the security implications if thousands of Israeli reservists fulfill their promise to skip duty if the measure passes. Some 20,000 protesters arrived in Jerusalem Saturday, many after marching five days from Tel Aviv. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an emergency procedure this weekend to implant a pacemaker, but promised to attend the parliamentary session today. If passed, the law would limit the Israeli high court’s use of the “reasonableness” test to strike down laws it deems not in the public good. 
  • South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea fired several cruise missiles into the Yellow Sea—west of the Korean Peninsula—shortly after the departure of a U.S. nuclear submarine sent as a show of strength against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats. North Korea has also so far ignored U.S. officials’ efforts to make contact after a U.S. soldier crossed into North Korea last Tuesday.
  • Spain’s center-right Popular Party came in first in yesterday’s parliamentary election, but no party won the working majority needed to form a government. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is expected to remain in office, with his center-left Socialist party winning 122 seats behind PP’s 136. The election will likely lead to lengthy negotiations to form a governing coalition, with the potential for either the Socialists or the opposition to do so—PP could form a coalition with the far-right Vox party, forecast to win 33 seats. 

Shipping out?

U.S. troops take part in a military training session in Nowa Deba, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
U.S. troops take part in a military training session in Nowa Deba, Poland. (Photo by Artur Widak/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

We hope 3,000 U.S. military reservists have pet sitters on standby—they could be getting a drop-everything phone call soon, after President Joe Biden authorized additional mobilizations to Eastern Europe earlier this month. 

In addition to the potential troop call-up, the administration adjusted the legal designation of the military’s operations bolstering eastern NATO allies. Administration officials say the steps will increase operational flexibility, but they also reveal how U.S. support to Ukraine and NATO allies has stretched the military’s pre-existing capabilities in the region. 

In an executive order following the annual meeting of NATO leaders in mid-July, Biden authorized the Department of Defense to mobilize no more than 3,000 “select reserve forces” to Europe, specifically NATO’s eastern flank–countries including Poland, Romania, and the Baltics. 

Three thousand is a small fraction of the U.S.’s roughly 800,000 reserve troops—distinct from the military’s more than 1.3 million active-duty personnel—and the Pentagon says the new call-ups won’t be used to boost overall troop numbers on the ground in Europe. Instead, the reservists will be relief pitching, filling in for active duty service members rotating out of their six-to-nine-month deployments in Eastern Europe. “These are not additional forces,” said Lt. Gen. Douglas Sims, the director of operations for the Joint Staff. “These are forces that will augment what we already have there.” Active duty service members in Europe surged from about 80,000 to 100,000 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The executive order also specified 450 of those reserve troops could be from the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) force—service members who, unlike reservists, are not paid or required to drill or participate in regular training with a unit, but who are still on the hook to serve if needed. The last time a president exercised his authority to call up IRR troops was for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, so this step caught military analysts’ attention. “The fact that it came out as an executive order on a Thursday night after the work day I think raised a little bit of alarm for something that doesn’t necessarily look like what we saw in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Katherine Kuzminski, senior fellow and director of the military, veterans, and society program at the Center for a New American Security, tells TMD.

Why send reservists, instead of more active-duty troops? According to Mark Cancian, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who formerly worked on force structure at the Pentagon, the move to call up reservists could suggest the more significant deployment in Europe is putting stress on the active duty military personnel at a time when recruitment and retention across all branches are at an all-time low. Reservists can supplement taxed active duty resources. “It’s not that there’s a new threat that [the Pentagon has] noticed,” Cancian tells TMD. “It’s that the war is going on and may go on for quite a while. So all those forces that we sent, we rotate them, and that’s what’s driving them to look at reservists.”

Opponents of the administration insisted the new call-up is escalatory, taking the U.S. closer to war with Russia. Biden’s Democratic primary opponent, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., tweeted, “I want people to understand what this troop mobilization is about. It’s about preparing for a ground war with Russia.” (Emphasis his.) Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also condemned the move, declaring, “I want to see Putin defeated, but UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should U.S. servicemen [and] women be sent to fight in Ukraine.” (Again, emphasis his.) Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, meanwhile, tweeted, “President Biden is arguably walking the U.S. up to the line of war and daring Russia to shoot first.”

DOD’s European Command will decide exactly when and where the reservists go, and the Pentagon so far isn’t sharing details. “No units have been activated yet in accordance with this authority, so we won’t speculate on future activations until they are officially announced,” a Pentagon spokesperson told TMD.

But there’s no indication the deployment will involve sending troops into Ukraine. Instead, the reservists will be aiding Operation Atlantic Resolve—the Pentagon’s designation for military support to eastern NATO members, including training exercises in eastern Europe with local militaries. The operation began in 2014 under then-President Barack Obama, after Russia annexed Crimea, and expanded following Russia’s full invasion last year. “We’re deterring the Russians and reassuring our allies, particularly the Poles and the Baltic states, who are very nervous and really like having U.S. forces there,” Cancian tells TMD

The Biden administration has also adjusted Operation Atlantic Resolve’s official designation—from a “combatant command operation” to a “contingency operation.” According to the governing statute, the change in classification suggests the armed forces “may become involved in military actions, operations, or hostilities against an enemy of the United States or against an opposing military force.” The statute’s phrasing sounds dramatic, but Pentagon officials maintain the change is about logistics and accounting. “Designating Operation Atlantic Resolve as a contingency operation enhances the ability of the Department to track spending–including [troop] activations–directly associated with this operation,” a DOD spokesperson tells TMD. The change also makes additional equipment and resources available and entitles reservists serving the operation, and their families, to the same expanded benefits as active-duty troops—which would help reservists who may be called up in this batch or in potential future waves. 

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby specified these forces won’t be bringing more firepower to Eastern Europe. Instead, he said, the reserve troops will provide the logistical support needed to turn the U.S.’s temporary troop surge after Russia’s invasion into a long-haul U.S. presence in the region. “These are people that are specialists in things like administrative functions, logistics, supply, maybe medical, dental, those kinds of things,” Kirby told Fox News following the announcement. “The kind of enabling functions that you need to support and sustain a large troop presence for a long time.”

For now, that new wave of reservists is still waiting to know if they’re going to need to find a place for ol’ Fido to stay. “Having asked for the authority, I would expect [the Pentagon] to use it pretty soon,” Cancian tells TMD

Moving on from Wuhan

The United States stopped funding the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) more than three years ago as the lab became the center of the debates about the origins of COVID-19. WIV was still officially eligible for future funding, but if any WIV scientists were holding out hope the U.S. would shrug and turn the research spigot back on, their hopes were dashed last week—the Department of Health and Human Services has moved to ban WIV from receiving U.S. cash altogether for at least a few more  years.

“There is risk that WIV not only previously violated, but is currently violating, and will continue to violate, protocols of the [National Institutes of Health] on biosafety,” HHS said in a memo, citing security and biosafety risks. “The immediate suspension of WIV is necessary to mitigate any potential public health risk.”

HHS suspended the lab from eligibility for funds as of July 17 and recommended a more permanent debarment. That step would prevent the WIV from receiving funding or support from any U.S. agency—and while a typical debarment period can last up to three years, WIV’s will reportedly last 10 years. WIV will have 30 days to respond to the decision.

WIV received $1.4 million from the NIH and the U.S. Agency for International Development between 2014 and 2020. Some of it was funneled through EcoHealth Alliance—a U.S.-based public health research organization that directed NIH funds to WIV through a subgrant begun in 2014 for research on “the risk of bat coronavirus emergence.” The debate is still raging over whether EcoHealth funds went to gain-of-function research—which imbues viruses with new, often more virulent, qualities—and whether this could be responsible for unleashing COVID-19 on the world. 

But regardless of whether the lab is responsible for COVID, intelligence analysts have found evidence suggesting it shouldn’t be trusted with high-stakes research. Last month, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a brief report that did little to answer questions from members of Congress about the origins of COVID—but did highlight lax safety standards at WIV. “Some WIV researchers probably did not use adequate biosafety precautions at least some of the time prior to the pandemic in handling SARS-like coronaviruses, increasing the risk of accidental exposure to viruses,” the report notes. 

The intelligence community remains split over whether the pandemic began through natural transmission or a lab leak and does “not know of a specific biosafety incident at the WIV that spurred the pandemic.” But WIV officials haven’t rushed to clean up their reputation—they’ve rebuffed U.S. requests for information about whether or not experiments violated funding restrictions or broke safety and security protocols.

U.S. agencies also failed to work effectively with WIV. Earlier this year, an HHS inspector general’s office audit found that both NIH and EcoHealth Alliance failed to adequately oversee grants to WIV. “Although NIH and EcoHealth had established monitoring procedures, we found deficiencies in complying with those procedures limited NIH and EcoHealth’s ability to effectively monitor federal grant awards and sub-awards to understand the nature of the research conducted, identify potential problem areas, and take corrective action,” the audit concluded, recommending the NIH consider moving to debar the WIV.

That problem may not be unique to WIV—oversight of research sub-grants is likely to be an extra challenge in uncooperative countries, where the U.S. has little leverage to enforce standards. “For foreign sub-recipients, the effectiveness of the prime recipient’s monitoring may depend on the level of cooperation between the recipient and the sub-recipient,” the inspector general’s office explained. EcoHealth failed to keep close enough tabs on the money it sent to WIV—but it also couldn’t collect information WIV refused to share.

Republican lawmakers agree WIV shouldn’t be trusted with more funding—in fact, several wonder why HHS didn’t cut it off fully ages ago, and expand the step to EcoHealth. “It is outrageous that it took them so long,” House Energy and Commerce Republican Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Bret Guthrie, and Morgan Griffith said in a statement. “HHS must now consider a similar debarment for EcoHealth Alliance.” 

Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican of Iowa who has pushed for cutting government funding to EcoHealth, told TMD, “The truth is, China’s state-run Wuhan Institute of Virology should never have received U.S. support for its dangerous experiments on bat coronaviruses.”

Critics of gain-of-function research agree. “This step is both late—three years late—and insufficient,” Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, tells TMD. “The Biden Administration did not move forward toward banning gain-of-function research and strengthening U.S.-government oversight of biosafety, biosecurity, and bio risk management.” Ebright argues the administration should also quit funding EcoHealth, which so far seems unlikely to happen. The Department of Defense is a major EcoHealth Alliance funder, providing the organization with $46 million since 2008, and the NIH reinstated a modified grant to EcoHealth in May with new accounting rules and limits on research.

Not everyone is cheering HHS’s decision to cut WIV off—some scientists argue that with better oversight, the lab could still be a useful partner in preparing for and preventing future pandemics. “It is important for transparency and accountability that WIV cooperates with NIH and the international community in allowing access to its records on coronavirus research as well as allowing WHO scientists to investigate the lab,” Lawrence Gostin—a global health law professor at Georgetown Law and a World Health Organization (WHO) official—tells TMD. But, he adds, “WIV could be a valuable entity in future coronavirus and bat research, which is badly needed to prevent a new pandemic.”

Then again, the U.S. can’t work effectively with WIV if it won’t cooperate. “HHS may have had no other choice,” but to cut WIV off, Gostin tells TMD. “I think it is reasonable to request any entity, foreign or domestic, to be fully transparent in return for U.S. government funding.”

Worth Your Time

  • With nearly 400,000 children in foster care, Marina Nitze writes for Reason, state and federal rules add unnecessary barriers for would-be foster parents to get licensed and care for the kids. Even relatives tapped to care for children face a licensing process that takes an average of 160 days if they want support services. “In Maryland, it is against the law for foster children to sleep in bunk beds,” Nitze writes. “Applicants in every state are also subject to a ‘home study’ that includes invasive questions about their sex lives and relationships with their parents. A glance at the forms that states require would-be foster parents to complete might make you think they are trying to discourage applications. The District of Columbia demands a notarized signature in blue ink, while New York requires a list of every address where you have lived in the last 28 years.”
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum may have made his billion-dollar net worth in Silicon Valley, but he’s hoping his small-state credentials will propel his underdog campaign for the GOP presidential nomination next year. “In North Dakota, we treat the taxpayers like they’re customers,” Burgum told Kyle Peterson for the Wall Street Journal’s weekend interview. “There’s so much we can do to reduce the size and scope of the two million federal employees, just by having a business mindset.” Peterson writes that big-state voters shouldn’t write off Burgum just yet: “As an origin for a political leader, is it more unconventional than Bill Clinton’s Hope, Ark., or Jimmy Carter’s Plains, Ga.?” he asks of Burgum’s Roughrider Country origins, noting how Bernie Sanders milked his Vermont upbringing and Joe Biden didn’t shy away from his Delaware roots in 2020.

Presented Without Comment

Gothamist: A communal stew in Bushwick’s been brewing for 6 weeks and has gone viral

Also Presented Without Comment

Quartz: Sam Bankman-Fried wanted to buy the nation of Nauru to wait out the world’s end

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics team digs deep into Vivek Ramaswamy’s campaign strategy, Harvest breaks down (🔒) gridlock on defense policy in both chambers of Congress, and Nick ponders the possibility of a Trump/Kennedy ticket.
  • On the site this weekend: Wilson Shirley—a former speechwriter and U.S. Senate staffer—looks back on “Saving Private Ryan” on the 25th anniversary of its release, and Ursinus College professor Jonathan Marks reviews Patrick Deneen’s new book.
  • On the site today: Audrey Baker explains a new Senate bill that makes it harder for the U.S. to leave NATO.

Let Us Know

What do you think of continued U.S. funding for gain-of-function research—an unnecessary risk or important for preventing the next pandemic?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Jacob Wendler is an intern for The Dispatch.