In this occasional series, we will bring you up to speed on the biggest national security stories of the week.
On Wednesday, President Trump announced on TwitterÂ an abrupt and surprising policy change: He would reverse the Obama administrationâs decision to lift the ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military. They would not be allowed in the military âin any capacityâ because of the supposed costs associated with providing them medical services and the âdisruptionâ he said they would cause.
Trumpâs decision seemed to surprise both the Pentagon and Congress, and several Republican lawmakers publicly disagreed with the move, saying anyone who meets military standards should be allowed to serve. The following day, the nationâs highest-ranking military officerÂ sent a memoÂ to military leaders saying that the policy remains unchanged until Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reviews Trumpâs âdirectionâ and guidelines are set on how to implement it.
Hereâs what you need to know:
Is it true that transgender troops pose a âdisruptionâ to the military?
The apparent reversal of Pentagon policy, issued while Mattis was away from Washington on personal travel, brings back a long-running debate within the Defense Department. The question is whether anyone who meets requirements can serve, or if there are too many difficulties involved in integrating transgender people in the military.
Trump cited two of the most common arguments used by some service members and veterans â cost and disruption to unit cohesion and readiness â but the âdisruptionâ case in particular is weakened by the relatively seamless way that gay and lesbian troops were integrated after the end of the âdonât ask, donât tellâ policy in 2011.
Defense Department officials have said that hundreds of transgender service members have come out to their units in the year since President Barack Obamaâs administration repealed the ban on them serving â and no significant problems have been reported. Several thousand more are believed to be serving, according to a study commissioned by the Pentagon.
A policy reversal actually creates a new kind of disruption: Depending on the specifics of what Trump wants, the Pentagon might face an exodus of hundreds of more service members, some of whom identified themselves last year after being told it was safe to do so. Along with that might come lawsuits that drag out for months, if not years.
How much does it cost the military?
Incoming White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trumpâs decision on Wednesday, saying that allowing transgender people to serve in the military is âexpensive and disruptive.â
But one of the authors of a RAND Institute report on transgender service points out thatÂ medical costs for transgender troops are about âone-tenth of 1 percent of medical costsâ at the Defense Department.
âYou have only a few thousand out of 1.3 million [active members],âÂ said Radha Iyengar. âOf those, only a fractionÂ are seeking extreme or invasive treatments. Iâm talking betweenÂ 10 to 130 service members seeking medical treatments that might affect their ability to deploy.â
Does allowing transgender troops to serve disrupt unit cohesion?
Experts say no.Â Iyengar, the author of the RAND study, said: âWeâve had commanders report that having a more improvedÂ attitude toward inclusiveness and diversity was beneficial to their unit overall. And that really speaks to the benefits, but there was really no effect, in any of the cases, of operational effectiveness. TheyÂ saw these positives, but weÂ really didnât see any of the negatives.â
Note: A version of this brief appeared in Todayâs WorldView,Â aÂ daily newsletter that explores where the world meets Washington. Sign up here.