1. Defense Budget: Nuclear Arms
President Barack Obama on Wednesday announced his intention to seek deeper cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, provided Russia is willing to negotiate similar reductions.
In an address before several thousand people at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, Obama said a comprehensive review has determined America can ensure its own safety and that of its allies by reducing the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal by up to one-third.
"I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures," he said, and repeated the goal he articulated in 2009 of "pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be."
U.S. officials said the proposed cuts would take the number of strategic warheads for both countries below the limit of 1,550 established by the 2010 New START Treaty, provided Russia is willing to agree to those levels as well. Administration officials said the reductions would still leave the United States with a credible nuclear deterrent as well as strategic stability with Russia and China, while reducing the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy.
"At the same time, we'll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe," the president said, and he added that the United States will host a summit in 2016 "to continue our efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world" while working to build support in the United States for ratification of the long-stalled Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
Obama also touched on a theme he raised during a counterterrorism address he delivered last month, stressing again the need to remain vigilant about the terror threat, while moving beyond "a mindset of perpetual war."
"In America, that means redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo," he said. "It means tightly controlling our use of new technologies like drones. It means balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy," the latter being a reference to recently disclosed data-mining programs run by the National Security Agency that administration officials say have prevented more than 50 terrorist attacks since 9/11.
Related Resolution: No. 55: Protecting the Defense Budget http://archive.legion.org/bitstream/handle/123456789/2316/2012F055.pdf?s... 
2. Hagel: Opening Combat Jobs to Women the Right Thing to Do
Opening more jobs in the military to women -- in particular lifting the combat exclusion -- is the right thing to do, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today as he brushed aside any notion that the armed forces would have to lower standards to do so.
Hagel's comments came during a visit with troops at U.S. Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., in response to a question about whether the policy change could affect mission success. On Tuesday, senior defense and military officials unveiled the services' respective plans for lifting the combat exclusion for women.
"I think everyone understands it's the right thing," he said. "It's not a matter of lowering standards to assist women to get into combat positions." Hagel added that part of the process will be finding "the right balance of implementation."
The plan to remove gender-based standards was announced by former Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta in January. The branches have a deadline of January 2016 to follow through – including ending the ban on women serving in the Navy SEALs and the Army Rangers -- with any exceptions requiring the approval of the defense secretary and the Joint Chiefs chairman.
"Why shouldn't [women] have the same opportunities as men?" Hagel responded to his questioner.
Hagel also said increases in cases of sexual assault in the military are a "scourge and a very, very dark mark on all of the success of this institution." He said "there is no higher priority" he has as defense chief "than to make everybody accountable all the time, up and down the line."
Resolution No. 139: Military Occupational Specialty Standards: http://archive.legion.org/bitstream/handle/123456789/2050/2012N139.pdf?s... 
1. Afghan Government is Key to Transition
Milestone 2013, which happened June 18 and marked Afghan forces' assumption of the lead in security responsibility for their country, is an unprecedented achievement for the Afghan people, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday.
During a speech in Omaha, Neb., at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Hagel said the milestone "keeps us on track to responsibly end the war next year in Afghanistan and allows us to transition to a far more limited, noncombat mission to assist the Afghan government as it takes full responsibility for the country's future."
The secretary noted the United States and other nations will continue to engage in Afghanistan and will work with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India "to advance security in that critically important region in the world."
After his speech, Hagel responded to a question about the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan's future. The group has opened an office in Qatar, he noted, and the United States supports that initiative.
"We've always supported a peaceful resolution to the end of the bloodshed in the war in Afghanistan," Hagel said, noting that acceptable conditions are in place for the United States to accept the possibility of a next set of meetings between Taliban and Afghan government representatives.
Hagel pointed out that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen attended the Milestone 2013 ceremony in the Afghan capital of Kabul, representing the 50 member nations of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. Both NATO and U.S. forces have worked to establish stability in Afghanistan for more than a decade, he noted. "This is really about the people, or it should be -- giving the people of Afghanistan ... rights and freedom to make their own lives," Hagel said.
The secretary noted that as a senator, he was part of the first congressional delegation to travel to Afghanistan after 9/11. "I've dealt with President Karzai right from the beginning," he said. "I've known him since 2001 and have a very good relationship with him. But he represents his government, his people. He needs to do what he thinks is right."
Afghanistan's future depends largely on a political situation based on peace, Hagel said. If a politically negotiated settlement is possible, he asked, "Isn't it smarter, isn't it worth some risk, if the terms are right, to try to facilitate some agreement here that would ... give the poor people of Afghanistan some opportunity to not to have to live in constant war that they've had to live in for decades?"
2. Taliban Floats Prisoner Exchange with U.S.
The Taliban is proposing a prisoner swap with the United States that would free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that the Taliban proposed the prisoner exchange as a conciliatory gesture as direct talks are set to begin between the United States and Taliban.
Bergdahl is the only known American soldier held captive by the Taliban in the Afghan war. He was captured in 2009.
"First has to be the release of detainees," Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail told the AP when asked about Bergdahl. "Yes. It would be an exchange. Then step by step, we want to build bridges of confidence to go forward."
Speaking from the Taliban's new office in Doha, Qatar, Suhail said that Bergdahl "is, as far as I know, in good condition."
There were previously secret discussions between the U.S. and Taliban over exchanging Bergdahl for the Taliban detainees at Guantánamo, with plans to send the detainees to Qatar.
A prisoner exchange would have plenty of critics in Congress, as Republicans have warned against releasing any Taliban prisoners since the talks were announced Tuesday.
Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/defcon-hill/policy-and-strategy/306795-taliban-... 
Army Air Force Sgt. Charles R. Marshall, aircrew member of a B-24H Liberator aircraft was lost on July 21, 1944 in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany. His remains were recovered in 2012 and were accounted for on June 3, 2013.
Director, National Security / Foreign Relations Division