February 19, 2021

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National Security

Saudi Arabia

The Biden Administration stated it will recalibrate its relationship focusing on respect for human rights, rule of law, and working to ensure the advance of U.S. values. President Biden decided not to engage directly with Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman and reserves direct communication with the King. Yesterday, Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Austin, spoke with the Crown Prince and underscored Saudi Arabia’s role as a “pillar of the regional security.” Comment: The recalibration sets a new standard for the relationship and is consistent with rescinding the Houthi Foreign Terrorist Organization designation, naming a special State Department envoy to Yemen, and a cessation of providing Saudi Arabia with military aid, used in operations against the Houthis. Additional Administration pressure will probably occur once the DNI publicly releases its report on the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. (Sources: DOD News, White House Press Briefing, SECSTATE)

China The Biden Administration stated China is asserting its influence in ways that often undermine the established international order. SECDEF Austin has established a DOD-China Task Force to ensure its actions are synchronized, prioritized, and coordinated. Secretary of State (SECSTATE) Blinken recently reaffirmed the U.S.-Philippines Alliance, stressing the importance of the Mutual Defense Treaty. SECSTATE provided similar assurances to Japan. On 4 February, the USS John McCain transited the Taiwan Strait. On 9 February, the U.S. deployed two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea conducting “lawful use of the sea” operations. Comment: The Biden Administration appears to be moving quickly to counter China’s South China Sea territorial ambitions. These actions also serve notice of U.S. dissatisfaction for China’s perceived economic abuses, acts of oppression in Hong Kong, mistreatment of Chinese ethnic and religious minorities, and a reaffirming of its commitments to Taiwan. (Sources: DOD, US Indo-Pacific Command, SECSTATE)

Environment

Southwest U.S. River Basins

A recent USGS Journal article assesses that decreases in streamflow in key areas for interstate and international water sharing agreements show potential declines up to 62%, putting agreement compliance at risk. Some models indicate southwest river subbasin-specific streamflow losses of between 50% and 100% by the 2080s. These losses are greatest in high elevation subbasins, which are sensitive to temperature, evapotranspiration, precipitation, and albedo changes. These subbasins have historically been key water supply sources, and have an outsized effect on the entire downstream watershed. Comment: This article addresses subbasins located in the Texas Gulf, Rio Grande, Great Basin, Sierra Nevada, southeastern Pacific Northwest, and the upper and lower Colorado.(Source:Journal of Hydrology Volume 11, 1 May 2021, Changing climate drives future streamflow declines and challenges in meeting water demand across the southwestern United States. Authors: Olivia Miller, Annie Putman, Jay Alder, Matthew Miller, Daniel Jones, Daniel Wise) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2589915521000018?via%3Dihub

Mars Exploration

China’s Tianwen-1 and the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Hope are currently orbiting Mars and will soon launch their rovers to the surface. NASA’s Perseverance rover touched down yesterday. NASA and the UAE will conduct various scientific experiments to determine if water and life existed on Mars. China will independently conduct similar research with the Tianwen-1. NASA plans to collect on Mars’ climate, soil, geology, and geography. In 2022, NASA, in cooperation with Europe and Russia, will conduct a second mission to analyze organic molecules and identify chemical compositions in rock and soil. NASA plans to send astronauts to Mars, by way of self-sustaining outposts and these missions will assist with this plan. Comment: Research and analysis of the Mars samples will “possibly answer origin and evolution of life questions.” (Source: NASA) 

The Coronavirus Pandemic

COVID-19

On 19 February, the President stated, “we must simultaneously work … to prevent, detect, and respond to future biological threats, because they will keep coming.” On 11 February, the CDC published its Consideration in Operating Schools during COVID-19, recommending schools “consider ventilation systems upgrades or improvements and other steps to increase the delivery of clean air and dilute potential contaminants in the school.” A 2020 GAO Report estimates 36,000 to as many as 45,000 public schools will require either upgrade or replacement of their heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. It is uncertain how many of these schools will be unable to meet SARS-Cov-2 HVAC mitigation recommendations. The Congressional Budget Office states the 2021 Federal Budget Reconciliation Act will allocate funds to assist school districts with their HVAC improvements. Whether expected funds will meet this shortfall, remain unclear. Comment: Similar HVAC deficiencies exist in courthouses, government administrative buildings, community health departments, and other public buildings across the country. These facilities will likely also require supplemental funds to upgrade HVAC systems to better respond to future pandemics. (Sources: The White House, CDC, CBO, GAO, DOE)

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