Sunday, January 20, 2019

Weekend Data Dump

The eastern House of Representatives government in Libya is gaining ground through Hiftar's Libyan National Army that now controls the east and most of the south. The rival government in the northwest, the Government of National Accord--which includes some jihadis--wants LNA help to pacify the urban areas where jihadi militias still roam. There is hope to restore order from the chaos that descended on Libya after the 2011 civil war and Western drive-by that led to the killing of Khadaffi. I'm so old that I remember when people said if we had pulled out of Iraq after overthrowing Saddam that locals without our troubling presence would have peacefully workrd out their differences on their own.

Take a breath people, if the "all options are on the table" threat is to be believable, the president needs to ask the Pentagon for military options. Heck, perhaps the Iranians heard of the request and acted accordingly. Seriously, put this in the "Well, Duh" files.

Could Belarus follow the Ukrainian example and establish a national Orthodox Church to bolster the country's independence from Russia which is a looming threat to that independence?

Yes, killing jihadis must be done until the ideology that fuels jihadi recruitment is defeated. We can't unilaterally "end" the war on terror just because we grow tired of its duration. As I've long said, the war on terror is really an Islamic civil war over who defines Islam--jihadis or the far more numerous normal people who would rather live in peace without killing those who deviate from the definition--and our military actions are necessary both to prevent our people from being collateral damage in that civil war and to help the normal Moslems win the civil war.

Given Russian land-based aircraft I don't believe Russia ever really lost their dominant position in the Black Sea to Turkey. But sure, Russia has more naval power in the Black Sea now (on top of their control of Crimea to project air and naval power). Ultimately it doesn't matter much. In case of war the Black Sea fleet gets no farther than the entry to the Bosporus (and any Russian ships in the Mediterranean Sea have a short but exciting life), the Russians can't invade Romania or Bulgaria from the sea, and NATO has no intention of launching Crimean War II in the face of Russian dominance. Have a ball.

This former Brexit minister is very optimistic about Britain's prospects after leaving the EU. I lean toward him easily in contrast to the Project Fear scare tactics. But my problem with rejecting an imperfect deal in favor of a no-deal Brexit is not based on a comparison between a "bad" Leave deal and a deal-less Brexit. If that was the choice I'd easily support the latter. But my worry is that the choice is between a bad Leave deal and remaining in the EU. As long as Britain leaves the EU, even a bad deal can be amended over time to make it better. But if Brexit purists join with Remainers to derail the deal on the table, won't this just result in the Remainers nullifying the referendum result? And if that happens there will never be another vote and Britain will remain stuck in the proto-imperial state for the full ride.

Iraq remains unable to form a full government 9 months after their election. Optimist that I am I will note that nobody has pulled out the guns to settle the question that continues to be debated in government halls.  I'm thinking that Italy should send advisors on state operations in such a governmental environment given Italy's Cold War history with short and numerous governments even in the midst of communist terrorists and a huge communist party with leaders loyal to the Soviet Union. There could be lessons on Iraq's situation of persistent jihadi terrorists and a huge Shia party loyal to Iran. Seriously. I'm not joking. But I am worried that Iraqis question our commitment to Iraqi stability. We won the Iraq war and then, after the mistake of leaving Iraq in 2011, won Iraq War 2.0 after the rise of ISIL. Are we destined for Iraq War 3.0 after Iraq falls apart under Iranian pressure this time?

I guess dissent isn't the highest form of patriotism in Macron's France. He just doesn't grok nuance.  Tip to Instapundit. The clashes continue. Mind you, I'm not happy an ally is wracked by protests despite not liking Macron. But the protesters aren't exactly polite Tea Party members. Much like the Iran-Iraq War, we should hope both sides lose and that we get a better France and a better ally out of it.

Victory is mine! I finally found the matching pair of dark blue/black mismatched socks I discovered. The difference is only visible to me in direct sunlight and it took a while to sort out.

Well, like any underground resistance movement, it is best if the cells lack contact to prevent the authorities from rolling up the entire movement with one break that gets the snowball rolling.

Just a reminder that we have video evidence of collusion between an American president and Putin that traded good pre-election Russian behavior for concessions on nuclear weapons after the election. How will that be punished? And let's not forget the driving-impaired Ted Kennedy's effort to collude with Andropov of the USSR. More here. The sudden fervor of the anti-Russian Democrats is hard to take seriously.

The Russians won't discuss returning control of islands that the USSR took from Japan at the end of World War II.

I was truly perplexed that people seemed genuinely worried that the Trump-Kim Twitter-insult contest would lead to nuclear war. No wonder I wasn't worried, I actually called for such a thing back in 2005, as I randomly discovered!

The journalism guild wants to put 1,000 journalists in local news rooms? What, those local outlets don't already have journalists? The guild is going to teach them? Because that is how it comes off. Rather than being a way for those thousand to learn about local news and the pulse of the country, I get the feeling that the guild wants the thousand envoys to flyover country to be more like commissars placed in army units to keep them loyal. Tip to Instapundit.

How is it possible that Gillette would loudly proclaim that it hates its core consumers? What's next? "This Bud's for you wife beaters and drunk drivers?" To Hell with those "virtue" signaling people. Truly they are annoying.

Strategypage looks at Afghanistan where America will withdraw 3,700 troops rather than 7,000 from our 14,000-strong contingent. So we'll still have more than we did before Trump was elected. And that means our allies won't head for the exits, too, Also, the situation isn't the catastrophe that so many who call for rapid "ending" of the war call it. And do we really want Pakistan and Iran to dominate Afghanistan if we abandon our long effort to keep the place from being a jihadi sanctuary? You know, the kind of sanctuary that could pull off 9/11? Yes, our home defenses are harder now than then. But I don't underestimate the ability of committed killers to breach our defenses.

Trump wanted to pull out of NATO? Isn't the real story that he didn't? Apparently he was persuaded to stay (and pressure our European allies to spend more on defense, which strengthens NATO). I was never worried that Trump wold pull us out of NATO given its value despite the pre-Trump calls by a lot of people to do exactly that. Recall that Obama pledged to close Guantanamo Bay jihadi detention center. He never did, although he did release a lot of "cured" jihadis. Oh, and Trump says the United States is "100%" with NATO. With the understanding that other NATO states actually spend enough to defend themselves as real allies rather than satraps should.

The Marine reaction force in Italy and Spain is designed to rescue American diplomatic facilities under attack as the Benghazi facility was destroyed on September 11, 2012. Of course, it is restricted to the northern edge of Africa. It could use some mobility on The AFRICOM Queen to extend its reach, no?

When people call for another Brexit referendum--despite both side agreeing before that vote that the result would be honored--what they really mean is that they want the voting to continue until they get the result they want (remaining in the EU), at which point the issue is settled and there will be no more voting on Brexit.

A British and an American warship conducted joint drills in the South China Sea, which by definition is a freedom of navigation operation that defies Chinese claims of control which innocent passage sailing does not.

Another reminder of the Trojan Horses that China's Confucius Institutes on American colleges (over 100 now and over 500 worldwide, it seems) that promote China's policies. I've noted these Confuse Us Institutes before.

China is putting a lot of pressure on Canada over the Huawei Affair centered in Canada right now. This author believes China is deliberately trying to pry America's allies away from us. Which makes sense. Our allies add significant power to our own military strength. Some time ago I warned that we had to have the military power and demonstrate strong support in the face of Chinese pressure to keep our allies on the line to oppose China. Although in the case of Canada, America has every reason from our general policy on China to back Canada to the hilt, really. So it doesn't seem terribly clever of China. And Canada says Chinese pressure won't work. We'll see.

The F-35, now unleashed from artificial limits, can outmaneuver the very maneuverable F-16 (tip to Instapundit). Which is interesting given that the F-35 was designed to kill enemy fighters without needing to dogfight. I wasn't worried about the 2015 news that showed the F-16 more maneuverable.

If CNN had any interest in doing this type of story in the period 2009-2016, I'm sure the number of officers and others would have been in the hundreds if not thousands.

Germany called on Russia to save the INF treaty by destroying their missile that violates the treaty. Good luck with that.

The Navy's 2nd Fleet headquarters will be up and running next year, with allied and American reservists integrated. The fleet disbanded after the Cold War now has a role in making sure reinforcements and supplies can reach Europe in the face of Russian opposition. Because the Russians are batsh*t crazy paranoid again--and have nukes.

The Army wants drones that create their own network in the air. Which would help create the air defense drones I think our infantry needs, which I wrote about in Army magazine late last year.

The Army would like fully autonomous supply convoys. That would be nice given that I think the interim (between fully manned and autonomous) leader-follower concept makes supply convoys more easily stopped if the "leader" vehicle is stopped. Also, is this a case of preparing to re-fight the last logistics effort? Is the Iraq War of fighting convoys through insurgents really going to be the model for the next war's logistics effort? Of course, just on saving manpower that could be useful. But will manpower be saved or simply moved out of the trucks?

More on the jihadi attack on a Kenyan hotel. More dead jihadis, please. It isn't the main tool to eliminate the urge to become a jihadi, but it is the best tool to kill the jihadis out there. Related: rushing to the sound of the guns.

The Colombian Marxist terrorist group ELN--Which did not agree to peace like the far larger group did in 2016--killed at least 21 in a bomb attack outside a police academy. Is this a signal for a revival of the insurgency and terror war that has dwindled? Or is Venezuela's thug ruler Maduro behind the attack?

Dissent is not the highest form of patriotism in France, where a "yellow vest" protesters was shot by police in the back of the head. It was a "non-lethal" weapon. The protester--a fireman--is in an induced coma in a hospital.

Last week I mentioned that Zumwalt technology would show up in other surface ships despite the Zumwalt class being truncated to three ships. The Seawolf submarine was also truncated at three and its technology showed up in the Virginia class we are building in large numbers.

That was a nice gesture to Coast Guard members affected by the partial shutdown. And good advertising to their customer base.

I don't mind if the Army's artillery can attack ships as long as this doesn't interfere with their objective of rebuilding its ability to face other armies with ample high quality artillery. It makes more sense for the Marines to achieve this capability. Actually, the Marines are closer to the Army situation. Why wouldn't the Navy equip their NECC land component with artillery capable of hitting ships? Create the Navy Expeditionary Coastal Artillery Command (NECAC), eh?

The UCMJ has been updated. Remember that military justice is designed primarily not for individual justice but to support the military in enforcing discipline as a warfighting organization.

Russia will allow--after sufficient time has passed to work out the details--German and French observers to watch the Kerch Strait which Russia is blockading to squeeze Ukraine, which Russia invaded. Russia could have simply ended their blockade--let's not get carried away with hoping for a withdrawal from Russian-occupied Ukraine--but no, more discussions and an assumption that the strait must be observed to determine what is happening. Russia has been fine with lots of OSCE observers in the Donbas and will be fine with these observers.

Russia says our missile defense plans will fuel an arms race in space. Well, even if true, given how well the USSR dealt with an arms race with America I think it is safe to say rump Russia won't be in the race.

The world never works up any outrage about this longstanding human rights violation with a UN seat.

Russia invaded Ukraine and now occupies Crimea and parts of the eastern Donbas. Yet Germany advises both Russia and Ukraine that they both need to deescalate the conflict.

The Flying Tigers volunteer air group is not an example of how to use contractors in a war we are in. The Flying Tigers were a private effort to support China at war with Japan prior to Pearl Harbor. Once we were attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941 we made the Flying Tigers part of the Army Air Corps. We are already at war in Afghanistan post 9/11 so the situation is a post-war entry phase. Find a better excuse for a bad idea of turning over the war we are in to contractors. I'm all in on using them to support us--it is a longstanding practice being revived in the modern era.

What fresh UN-sponsored  Hell is this? Just say no to the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

We lost 4 people to an ISIL suicide bombing attack in Manbij, Syria where they have been a buffer between the Syrian Kurds and the Turks. Remember that we have crippled the Syrian branch of ISIL only in the east. In the northwest they still have strength in the northwest outside of our reach where the last rebels and terrorists hold territory.

The Army history of the Iraq War volumes one and two.

Russia has moved nuclear-capable missiles to the Ukrainian border. Well, not "near" as a normal person might say. They are 270 miles away. Still, you must admit that this news highlights the fact that rather than any American action, Russia's invasion of Ukraine after Ukraine voluntarily gave up all its nukes is all the reason North Korea or Iran might need to want nuclear weapons.

Excuse me for being suspicious, but I hope China's commitment to buy a trillion dollars of US goods over the next 6 years doesn't consist of transport aircraft and key strategic materials and dual-use machinery.

We love Big Communist Han Brother!  Of course, social media tries to do the same thing here within their scope of action.

Dads. Tip to Instapundit. I always thought opposable thumbs and mindless adherence to tradition is what separated us.

The French say America is aware of the need to protect the Kurds who spearheaded the fight against ISIL in eastern Syria.

Qatar and the US remain committed to the American Al Udeid Air Base, where 11,000 American and coalition troops are based. Saudi Arabia's war on the admittedly too-friendly-to-Iran Qatar won't really work as long as Qatar has such support.

Zimbabwe's government promises to be even more ruthless to crush resistance to the horrible regime.

A German arms manufacturer is suing the German government to end the arms embargo on Saudi Arabia. I wonder if the government is actually happy to be forced to resume sales. Assuming the suit has merit under German law.

I don't mean to be picky, because I like the Netflix series Punisher, but episode 1 of season 2 says Frank is traveling "through" Michigan. How blurry does the interior of the country have to be to writers on the coasts to not realize that as a peninsula (well, two) nobody goes "through" Michigan to anywhere else for all but the most rare of destinations?

At the Pointy End of the Pacific Pivot

Last week in the data dump I noted the Navy leadership problem:

The Navy has a leadership problem, especially in the top tier 7th Fleet in the western Pacific. While these problems predate the Obama administration, his "pivot" to the Pacific was supposed to prioritize the military in PACOM (now INDOPACOM). What happened? And has Trump made a difference in 2018 after the very visibly bad 2017?

We hope our training and experience will compensate for China's growing numerical strength at sea. But good Lord in Heaven, if 7th Fleet had a ship with the problems Fitzgerald had, we are in deep doo doo.

The secretary of the Navy told the Navy that they have the money now, so they'd best have a sense of urgency in fixing the problem. It looks like the minimal manning concept is being dumped to ease the work load and allow for rest and actual combat training at sea, for example.

Let's hope it is just a coincidence that when our 7th Fleet is in some turmoil at the same time that the Chinese are making more noises about attacking Taiwan lately and not worrying about our Navy as a decisive obstacle to such an attack.

Or do the Chinese think that they have a window of opportunity before we can correct these problems.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Cold Start, Hot Reaction

India's Cold Start thinking envisions the ability to quickly mount attacks into Pakistan to take territorial bargaining chips before pressure to end a war compels India to accept whatever attack Pakistan inflicted on India to start a crisis.

This "doctrine" is part of a growing potential nuclear problem:

Gen. Bipin Rawat, chief of the Indian army, announced last Thursday that the military is launching war games next month to test "structures geared towards sudden and swift offensives into enemy territory by ‘integrated battle groups,' or IBGs, reported Ajai Shukla, an Indian journalist and former army colonel. These new structures will be "validated" in military exercises on the ground in May.

Rawat's comments are sure to raise eyebrows in Pakistan, because the proposed IBGs are central to India's offensive military doctrine known as "Cold Start," an attack plan that involves a quick, limited penetration into Pakistan, rather than a more ambitious invasion and occupation. The operation would be implemented in a crisis, likely in response to a large-scale terrorist attack that India believes is tied to Pakistan.

If you've been reading The Dignified Rant, Cold Start is nothing new to you, since I first wrote about the doctrine and the danger of nuclear escalation back in 2006.

Further, it isn't just weaker Pakistan that might start a nuclear war. Either India or Pakistan could be the side that initiates nuclear weapons use given that India looks at China as their main enemy these days and might not want to look weak if Pakistan gains the edge in a conventional war.

And the IBGs have been discussed for quite some time.

In some sense, Cold Start made sense. With both sided having nukes, you need to deny an enemy short-term gains that can be locked into place with a ceasefire (or lock in your own gains).

India seems to be refining it to mean a short, limited war but given the ambiguity of determining intent when India's army gets the capability to execute a "bolt from the blue" conventional invasion without time-consuming and visible mobilization, how will Pakistan react? How will Pakistan know that a broad offensive is shallow rather than having lots of forces in reserve to punch through at one or two points when Pakistan is full engaged across their entire border?

Further, it is dangerous that the Indian military doctrine essentially aims to achieve something before their own government can rein them in before achieving a military objective.

And really, by spreading out forces India will just deny their own military the chance to achieve something decisive. Concentration is a thing of the past, apparently, in defiance of countless centuries' of military experience. I understand that the Indian military wants options other than to fight on a narrow front that Pakistan chooses, like in the 1999 Kargil War. But it would be nice if India sees the IBG as a means of providing an alternative rather than initiating a broad-front invasion--even if it is intended to achieve shallow penetrations of the border.

On the nuclear issue, America should really be sharing our experience with Cold War nuclear deterrence to make sure each side understands our experience and don't tread the same dangerous ground to rediscover the wheel. Although there is danger there if Pakistan decides they are the side most likely to follow the USSR's path which finally ended the Cold War with the elimination of one side.

Does It All Come Down to How Hard the Taiwanese Will Resist China?

China hopes to convince the world that few Taiwanese resist China's call for unification on China's terms--and so weaken Taiwanese will to resist.

In the new year China has threatened to use force against Taiwan. That's an interesting angle:

[Despite] declaring that “Chinese will not fight Chinese,” [Chinese ruler Xi] refused to renounce the use of force to prevent Taiwan from seeking formal independence. China must, in his words, “reserve the option to take any necessary measure,” though he claims that the threat is aimed at “external forces and at an extremely small number of ‘Taiwan independence’ separatists.”

If the Chinese invade, the Chinese want the Taiwanese to believe that China will accept the fiction that few Taiwanese want to resist China. Ideally, from China's point of view, this encourages Taiwanese to not resist and blame those "extremely small number" of separatists denying most people their heart's desire of joining China.

This fits well with my earlier view on Chinese propaganda during an invasion that would try to isolate the Taiwanese troops from the world and make them feel all alone:

Broadcasts will urge the Taiwanese military to stand aside. Some might. The Chinese will announce that unlawful combatants, which will include all the Taiwanese military, will not be treated as POWs but as criminals. The Chinese will claim the world considers this an internal matter and give wide play to any real statements to that effect. If any US Senator urges caution in reacting, that too will be played to the Taiwanese. The Chinese want the 23 million Taiwanese to feel alone and facing the power of 1.3 billion Chinese charging hard at them. Of course, ethnic solidarity will be emphasized and the pride of a powerful China able to end the long humiliation at the hands of the West will be used to convince Taiwanese soldiers to defect or go home.

If the Taiwanese feel alone and doomed, they will grasp at the offered way out by pretending that those who fight the Chinese invaders are a small minority egged on by "external forces."

Would such a propaganda campaign work? I don't know. But war isn't won or lost by comparing weapon systems. Real people win or lose wars.

UPDATE: Related thoughts.

UPDATE: And of course, Taiwan should try to avoid the test of how hard their troops will fight an invasion by becoming the capital of democracy that will test the will of China's troops to fight a Chinese protest movement for freedom.

Friday, January 18, 2019

When You Weigh the Costs, Weigh All the Costs

I read an article by an author who says that America can live with a nuclear-armed North Korea because it is the least bad option. Maybe.

Is this why America will try to deter North Korea?

Forcibly disarming Pyongyang could and probably would involve sacrificing thousands of American and Korean lives. Here’s a crude yardstick. The Korean War, a conventional conflict to preserve an independent South Korea, cost the United States some 37,000 military lives. Many more service folk suffered wounds. Thirty-seven thousand. That’s more than fivefold the combined American military death toll from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars since 9/11. And that leaves aside countless more Korean military and civilian lives expended fighting to the current standstill along the inter-Korean border.

It’s hard to see how war could be waged more cheaply than it was in 1950-1953 when the principal combatants, not to mention North Korea’s ally China and neighbor Russia, all boast nuclear weapons to accompany formidable conventional forces.

Perhaps America will have to deter North Korea. But the price comparison isn't necessarily accurate.

Is the author saying that China (or Russia!) will intervene to save North Korea and start a fight with South Korea, Japan, and America--and perhaps the UN technically because the war authorized by the UN in 1950 is merely suspended and not ended?

Because that Chinese intervention is why the Korean War cost so much in American lives. Because when it was just North Korea on the battlefield, it took 3 months to halt the North Korean offensive at the Pusan Perimeter, launch a combined land and amphibious attack (the latter at Inchon), and cross the 38th parallel to invade North Korea.

It was only the intervention by China after North Korea's military was crushed that led to the high cost with a lengthy and larger military campaign.

Today, South Korea has an effective military that is superior to the North Korean military even if it is far smaller, unlike 1950 when South Korea had a police force rather than a military to fight off the Russian-armed and Chinese-supported North Korean army; and when America's army was fat and lazy after letting our guard down after World War II.

So the price of a new conventional war is likely to be lower as long as we don't cross certain red lines--as we did in 1950 to provoke a Chinese intervention.

If it goes nuclear, the price goes up. But there is a chance that allied attacks combined with layered but thin missile defenses could stop North Korea from using nukes. So China or Russia would have to escalate to nukes in defense of North Korea to raise the cost with that means. Is that likely?

We may not want to take the risk  of doing something other than accepting a North Korean nuclear arsenal but the cost issue isn't as simple as the author suggests.

Indeed, the author doesn't consider the very real risks of a policy of deterrence as I laid out here:

Option 1: Accepting a nuclear North Korea.

This could either be with negotiated limits on their nukes or without. Sometimes doing nothing works out. The plan would be to deter North Korea as we have with the Soviets and the Russians.

The safety net would be missile defenses (American, Japanese, and South Korea) that would at least guard against an accidental launch and potentially stop an attack if not reduce the lethality.

Could it work?

Sure. If by working you mean that North Korea continues as a nutball state that kills and oppresses its people. And if you mean giving North Korea a shield behind which they can commit even more against South Korea, secure that any response by South Korea or America could be met with nuclear escalation. But sure, maybe North Korea never uses nukes. Maybe in time the North Koreans tire of the expense of nukes and decide to get rid of them as no longer useful. Ukraine did (and possibly regretted it after Russia invaded and annexed portions of their territory). Khazakstan did. South Africa did. Maybe North Korea will, too. And maybe one day decades in the future the North Koreans reform into a less horrible regime.

Heck, basically doing nothing might work if some black swan event comes along to spare us from the problem.  Maybe Kim Jong-Un slips and falls in the bath tub and dies. Maybe some revolutionary technology is developed that makes nuclear warheads obsolete. Maybe an earthquake destroys Pyongyang. Maybe Kim literally gets religion and recants his evil path. Maybe an asteroid slams North Korea. One can't rule out the world will get lucky.

What could go wrong?

North Korea might want nukes to use them on South Korea and Japan, holding out some to deter American nuclear counter-attacks, believing the resulting chaos and American retreat will deliver South Korea to North Korean control.

North Korea could decide to use nukes out of fear that America is about to use nuclear weapons against them. It doesn't matter if we are planning such an attack if North Korea believes we are. After all, they say we've been plotting to invade them for over 50 years now.

Just how good will North Korea's early warning system be? If they have any? Just what would trigger a North Korean launch, anyway? Who in that North Korean launch chain will be the one to say "I'm not sure if nukes are heading our way. Let's wait."?

North Korea might accidentally launch a weapon.

South Korea and Japan may go nuclear, unsure if America will risk Seattle for Tokyo or Seoul.

Vietnam and Taiwan may follow as long as someone else went first to deter China.

China will increase their own nuclear forces in response to a regional nuclear proliferation.

The cost of maintaining vigilance around North Korea for decades will be considerable.

North Korea might invade South Korea under the theory that their nuclear weapons are a safety net in case of failure which will deter America from leading a counter-attack north of the DMZ.

North Korea could sell nuclear technology or actual weapons to dangerous states like Iran under mullah nutballs. (Which means that destroying the Iranian nutball regime to take a dangerous customer off the board increases the chance that this option could work.)

Consider too that over several decades of deterrence there is some small chance that over time there will be a significant chance that North Korea will launch a nuke by accident or by mistake. And if proliferation takes place there will be more places that error or accident could happen.

And of course, on the last part, we probably won't get lucky in a dramatic fashion. That fact is why it would be lucky if something happened.

Excuse me for the lengthy quote. But this shows that accepting North Korea as a nuclear power isn't obviously a better option than striking North Korea. And I say this as someone who once thought deterring North Korea was our best option. But that was before North Korea became a partner with Iran to go nuclear and before I thought through the logic of deterrence on the Korean peninsula rather than simply assuming it would work as well as it did--in retrospect--between America and the USSR.

[In a pre-publication UPDATE this author argues that it is wrong to assume deterrence would work with North Korea just because it worked with the Soviet Union.]

And note that my options did not include convincing North Korea to voluntarily give up their nukes. Although I did include squeezing North Korea economically to coerce them. Our policy is kind of like that but with a carrot of real prosperity following real de-nuclearization.

Let's hope Trump's gambit works. Because no option is obviously better than any other option.

Easing into War?

Is Israel getting ready to hammer Iran's Hezbollah pawn?

Israel's new military chief took office Tuesday, pledging to lead a "lethal, efficient and innovative army" into the future as it faces grave challenges along its borders.

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi's inauguration comes shortly after the military's announcement that it has successfully completed its operation to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels dug by the militant group Hezbollah, stretching from Lebanon into Israel, and as it appears to be dropping its ambiguity over hundreds of strikes it had carried out against Iranian forces in Syria in recent years.

A new Israeli army recovered from its disastrous performance in the 2006 campaign against Hezbollah could punch deep into Lebanon while Hezbollah is still deeply engaged in Syria.

Which this hints at (from the initial article):

Israel has long called for a crackdown on the Iran-backed Hezbollah — a heavily armed militia that functions as a mini-army and is believed to possess an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets that can reach nearly all of Israel. In recent years, Hezbollah has been bogged down in fighting in Syria on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government. But with that war winding down, Israeli security officials fear Hezbollah is refocusing its attention on Israel.

Remember, Iron Dome cannot protect Israel for very long.

Locking down the border with Lebanon is necessary for that--which the end of the tunnel mission establishes--and the strike admission helps establish that Israel is already at war with Iran, making a ground campaign against Hezbollah a logical next step rather than something new.

But I've been trying to connect the dots on this presumed mission since not too many years after I concluded Israel screwed the pooch in 2006.

UPDATE: And Lebanon is signaling that it is basically on Hezbollah's side:

Lebanon’s Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil called on Friday for reinstating Syria into the Arab League.

I had hoped a war against Hezbollah would allow Lebanon to reassert control over areas Hezbollah now physically controls.

But by taking the Assad-Iran-Hezbollah line, Lebanon gives Israel no reason to avoid hitting Lebanese targets if it should go into Lebanon in force to hammer Hezbollah before it can refocus on Israel when it is allowed to disengage from the costly fight to prop up Assad.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Iran Deal Was Iran's Shield to Build Nuclear Weapons

As I've long said, the Iran nuclear deal was always worthless because the IAEA was only allowed to inspect locations Iran agreed to let the IAEA inspect (and in ways the Iranians approved). So yeah:

The Israelis captured copious secret Iranian documents that demonstrate the Islamic Republic long worked on underground nuclear facilities at Parchin. Now a detailed analysis of the Iranian scheme has come out, and it warrants close attention. The analysis shows that the Iranians’ secret nuclear program was successfully hidden from Western intelligence services (including our own) and from the IAEA, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, which is supposed to monitor Iranian operations.

Parchin, of course, was off limits to IAEA inspectors. And as time went on, the Iran deal's shield to protect Iran's nuclear drive (there's a history of that) would be more important as off-limits facilities are developed.

And the ability of Iran to keep their key nuclear facilities out of reach of the deal's scope is only one way that Iran could hide nuclear work. If Iran has subcontracted important work to fellow Axis of Evil member North Korea, that is another path that escapes the scrutiny of the deal.

And in my more worried moments, I think it could be worse.

Do we still call what we endured under the Obama administration "smart diplomacy?"

And can our renewed focus on actually stopping Iran instead of pretending to stop Iran work before Iran has nuclear missiles?

Don't Interfere With Russia's Slow-Motion Suicide

I think Russia is fragile but I don't think we want our fingerprints on a further break up of a nuclear-armed power.

This author believes Russia can be stopped from their aggression in the west with an effort to break it up:

Although Moscow has failed to modernize its economy to be globally competitive, the Kremlin excels in one domain — disinformation — through which it portrays the country as a rising power on a level with the U.S.

In reality, Russia is a declining state that disguises its internal infirmities with external offensives. Russia’s economy is stagnating. According to World Bank statistics for 2017, Russia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita ranks 62nd in the world.

Even the defense budget is shrinking and barely reaches a tenth of the U.S. Through a combination of low fossil fuel prices, infrastructural decay, pervasive corruption and Western financial sanctions, state revenues are declining, living standards are falling, social conflicts are intensifying and regional disquiet is mounting.

Although economic performance alone is insufficient to measure susceptibility to collapse, rising social, ethnic and regional pressures indicate that Russia is heading toward fragmentation.

I'm on board the idea that Russia could fragment some more. And indeed, I do think that Putin is effing up royally, which might have a sad end for Russia.

Even if we helped Russia avoid that fate as hard as we could, Russian paranoia might still lead them to conclude we had something to do with their end.

I'd rather contain nuclear-armed Russia with minimal effort and hope their circular firing squad mentality defeats them one more time without dragging America into a murder-suicide pact that simply makes China smile.

UPDATE: The Senate voted to block Trump relaxation of sanction on three Russian companies. It is a small thing and I'm not sure what to make of it.

Was Trump justified in giving the Russians hope that relations can be restored? Did the Senate screw up a minor opening that would be nice to start, to avoid focusing too much on a dying but dangerous Russia instead of rising--for now--China? And, if Russia is not done fragmenting, it would be nice if the paranoid nuclear-armed Russians didn't have reason to think we have something to do with their continued fall.

Or is Senate rejection useful to Trump who can say to Putin, "Hey, I tried! Give me something more!"  Sometimes Congress can by design or chance serve as "bad cop" to a president's "good cop."

UPDATE: In a timely post, Strategypage reviews the clusterf*ck of Russia's economy and foreign adventures, including the Donbas region where Russia has to replace worn out local rebels with their own troops despite not being able to afford the cash or casualties. The war has become the bleeding ulcer I wanted it to be from the beginning. Strategypage notes that it is amazing that the Russians think there is a Western plot to wreck Russia when the Russians do such a good job of that themselves.

Seriously, Donbas is hardly the poster boy for some magical "hybrid warfare" that has attracted way too much study in the West.

How long before some Russians wonder if Putin is Trump's pawn to destroy Russia?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Mission Accomplished

Misguided efforts at ceasefires in Yemen just buy time for the Houthi rebels and their Iranian patrons to continue the war that prompts calls for ceasefires.

For the sake of the Yemen people who are suffering as the war drags on and Houthis divert humanitarian aid through the port of Hodeidah, we need to let Saudi Arabia's pro-government coalition win the war without imposing futile ceasefires:

The December 18th ceasefire around the Red Sea port of Hodeida has failed and the Shia rebels have resumed most of their combat operations including attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia using Iranian ballistic missiles and UAVs carrying explosives. The December 18th deal was supposed to make it possible for food and other aid to be unloaded from ships and sent off on trucks to an increasingly desperate and hungry population in northern and central Yemen. The ceasefire halted a government offensive that was about to capture the port facilities and the Shia rebels indicated that would (one way or another) probably lead to major damage to the port facilities.

The ceasefire terms called for the rebels to withdraw their forces from the port area by January 1st and from all of Hodeida a week later. This was to be monitored by 40 UN personnel. This process could not get started until the shooting stopped and that never happened. That is how previous ceasefire agreements have unraveled and this one was no different.

The Houthis weren't sincere and "all" they did was buy a month of time to recover. What a shock. No wonder the Saudis are only slowly winning the war.

As I wrote as a ceasefire was about to begin in November 2018:

The ceasefire will not noticeably work and humanitarian aid delivered will be siphoned off by the Houthi for their war needs and blocked for the people who need it after a brief respite.

And the Houthi will regroup and reorganize during the ceasefire to be better prepared to fight the war when the ceasefire is ended.

So the war will last longer and more people will suffer and die. But other than that a ceasefire is great.

Winning the war more rapidly would be the best humanitarian effort:

It is false compassion to say that very tight rules of engagement and very tight application of those rules that reduce casualties from our firing to a 2 or 3 per day is better than rules that result in 100 per day if the looser rules end the war much faster.

If we wage a two-day battle that defeats the enemy and ends the battle but kills 200 civilians, is that really worse than a 100-day battle--longer because the enemy isn't being hit as hard as it could be--that kills 2.5 civilians per day (so 250 total dead)?

And how many more civilians die from other causes in that extra 98 days of fighting from enemy executions, accidents, disease, lack of medicine for treatable conditions, hunger, thirst, suicide, or the perils of becoming a refugee (like dying in a sinking boat trying to reach Europe)?

Seriously, was it compassionate to have refused to get involved in the Syrian civil war 5 years and 450,000 dead ago out of fear of "further militarizing" the conflict as our secretary of state put it? Was that truly the compassionate decision?

You may feel better by thinking your ceasefire efforts are the compassionate course of action. But other people pay the price for your warm fuzzy feeling.

The Real Question is When China Will Invade Taiwan

Will China go to war over Taiwan? Yes. When is the question, with the important sub-question of whether China can get ashore in force before America can effectively intervene.

As the most core of China's proliferating core interests, of course China will go to war to take Taiwan. I'm not sure why the question is asked:

China’s rulers have long regarded the island as a rogue province, with regaining control a point of honor for the ruling Communist Party and military alike. In a major speech on Wednesday, Xi warned the “problem” could not be held over for another generation. While he talked primarily of “peaceful unification,” he said Beijing reserves the right to use force if necessary. The speech brought a sharp rebuke from Taiwan, where residents remain strongly opposed to rejoining China, even under a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” deal.

Nothing in Xi’s speech suggested China sees conflict as imminent. However, Xi’s comments about support for peaceful “reunification” included a warning that “we do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures” to prevent Taiwan’s independence. Ultimately, if Beijing truly wishes to reassert control over the island, military force may be its only option. That would be a risky step for a government that has not fought a war against a foreign state since a brief and unsuccessful conflict with Vietnam in 1979. It would also put Beijing on a collision course with Washington, which does not support Taiwan’s independence but has what the U.S. State Department describes as “a robust unofficial relationship” with Taipei.

I guess the Peking "charm offensive" is truly officially over.

Oh, and that initial article notes this:

Much of China’s military buildup has been based around ships, aircraft, and arms systems that appear suited for the type of conflict needed to take Taiwan.

Thanks Russia!

I was wrong about the timing of a Chinese invasion, but I think the outline of an invasion is clear.

And while the invasion would be risky, China's rapid and dramatic increase in military power may give the Chinese military a lot more confidence than is justified, leading them to conclude they can win such a war.

UPDATE: My post is timely given the new Defense Intelligence Agency China Military Power report:

Beijing’s longstanding interest to eventually compel Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland and deter any attempt by Taiwan to declare independence has served as the primary driver for China’s military modernization. Beijing’s anticipation that foreign forces would intervene in a Taiwan scenario led the PLA to develop a range of systems to deter and deny foreign regional force projection. The implementation of Hu’s New Historic Missions in 2004 led to the incremental expansion of the military’s modernization priorities to develop a PLA capable of operating in new domains and at increasing distances from the mainland. During this modernization process, PLA ground, air, naval, and missile forces have become increasingly able to project power during peacetime and in the event of regional conflicts.

That is not a new conclusion as I've noted many times on this blog. But China is increasing its capabilities every week as part of that longstanding driver of military spending.

UPDATE: A Chinese official seems confident that China could defeat our Navy in a war for Taiwan:

A senior Chinese military official warned the US Navy Tuesday against any "interference" in support of Taiwan's independence, saying that Beijing would defend its claim to the island "at any cost".

General Li Zuocheng, a member of the Central Military Commission, made the remarks during a meeting in Beijing with Admiral John Richardson, the chief of US naval operations.

Well, perhaps the Chinese finally got a translation of the Fitzgerald incident report.

Even if we have corrected the deficiencies--or started to--in the Navy, if the Chinese believe that incident reflects our entire Navy, China will more easily make a decision for invading Taiwan even if they believe America will intervene.

UPDATE: Of course, the world seems to be happy that America is taking the lead on battling Chinese industrial and general espionage.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Putin's IRA Retirement Plan?

Is Putin planning to recover Belarus in order to avoid term limits on his presidency by being able to rule a "new" political entity? Is an Imperial Russian Anschluss the only way he can avoid a violent end by retiring in mafia-fied Russia?

Well that's interesting, in a "excuse me while I go change my underwear" sort of way:

President Vladimir Putin has more than five years left in office, but he must already contemplate his next move. The transition among Russia’s leaders is seldom smooth, so Putin is looking at ways to ensure his continued influence by forging a closer union with neighboring Belarus. ...

The Russian constitution allows a president to serve only two consecutive terms. In 2008, rather than change the law and be ridiculed as the equal of Central Asian dictators, Putin ceded the presidency to a close ally, Dmitry Medvedev. ... Simply going into retirement in 2024 is an even scarier option: Putin could never be certain of any personal security guarantees his successor might provide.

That makes the Belarus deal especially attractive.

In America, retirement advisors might put your hopes in an Individual Retirement Account. In cut-throat Russia, the IRA is way different.

I had assumed Putin would simply declare whatever office he holds to be the supreme office of the land.

But this move would restore a crucial part of the empire and extend Putin's rule, perhaps indefinitely.

Given the new National Guard Putin set up as his personal army, I wouldn't give Belarus much chance of maintaining any fiction of autonomy in that Anschluss. So it seems self evidently a bad deal for Belarus. I was always amazed that the relatively Russified Belarus broke away after 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Would Belarus give up that hard-won independence to join a rickety empire just as it embarks on a Viking funeral ride?

If Putin does take over Belarus it would really deepen that feeling of an inter-war vibe (even if Putin plays the sidekick role) I've periodically gotten.

And since Belarus is perhaps the most important territory in Europe today, Russia in control of Belarus will rather cement a new Cold War with NATO. Which I'd rather not do given that Russia and America should worry about China the most.

In the long run any territory Russia gains in the west at the price of making peaceful coexistence with NATO far more difficult will be more than offset by losses in the east. Right now, as I mentioned in this Military Review article about United States Army options in the Asia-Pacific region, an American army might be the only ground force capable of helping Russia hold their Far East if China gets as eager to reclaim former imperial land there as Russia is in the west.

Has Putin decided on death or glory with that poor country taken along for the ride? But hey, if Putin can retire in safety, what's a lot more danger for Russia than Putin has already engineered?

Have a super sparkly day. #WhyRussiaCan'tHaveNiceThings

Auxiliary Cruisers for the Navy?

Huh, this proposal for the Navy seems so familiar:

Additional hulls are needed to compete with near-peer adversaries, and converting merchant ships into VLS missile-cell carriers could provide an economical complement—although not a complete alternative—to new construction.

Options include International Maritime Organization–compliant double-hull tankers and container ships. Given their size, either type probably could accommodate tactical ballistic missiles in addition to ship-launched cruise missiles. Container ship conversion into a “missile merchant” would be easier and probably less costly if VLS modules were housed in special ConEx Boxes or stacked in container cells. ...

By leveraging existing combat systems and “kill webs,” missile merchants would act as on-demand remote magazines—not unlike the arsenal ship concept (more on that below). Advances in high-performance computing, software virtualization, and composite materials enable proven, existing systems such as cruise missiles to fit into International Organization for Standardization–compliant ConEx shipping containers. This modular form-factor allows for rapid and low-cost outfitting of container ships and plug-and-play compatibility with existing Navy and Joint combat systems.

One, I'm fully on board the need for Navy hulls.

And on the specific "missile merchants" proposal, back in 2007, Proceedings declined to publish my proposal for modularized auxiliary cruisers--which I put on my blog here--after sitting on the submission for close to a year. I included the container ship and shipping container angle plus the "kill web" concept (but with older terminology).

Eventually I retooled the idea for the Army as a power projection platform--while noting it had obvious potential for the Navy--which Military Review published in 2016.

But hey, it's a good idea. Even if I didn't make a footnote.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Where Killing Tanks is Not Fun and Easy

These authors author wants the Marine Corps to fix its deficient tank-killing power. The Army should help.

Marine infantry lacks anti-tank power and that is a problem given the major adversaries it may have to fight:

Adversary armor and mechanized units are not niche capabilities that we can expect to avoid on the battlefield. Russia has thousands of tanks in its inventory and uses them as the core of their ground forces. They do not field dismounted infantry; even their airborne units are fully mechanized, and they may still be intending to incorporate main battle tanks into airborne formations. China fields over 6,000 main battle tanks of various types and also puts a premium on armored and mechanized maneuver units.

Indeed. I've mentioned the Russian addition of heavy tanks to even their airborne formations. Remember, Russian airborne forces aren't fully airborne like our parachute brigades. The Russian units are really the elite part of the Russian army with the most readiness to act as a rapid reaction force.

Note too that in the Persian Gulf War the Army loaned the Marines an entire armored brigade.

Today, even the Army is deficient in anti-tank weapons and I worry that the light tank is seen as the answer for the Army's numerous infantry brigades.

I think the Army should break out the Abrams tanks in storage, refurbish them in our only tank plant, and establish separate tank battalions or heavy task forces combined tank and mechanized infantry companies plus supporting weapons and capabilities to plug into our infantry units to give them a fighting chance against heavy armor, as I advocated in a 2018 Army article.

Some could be active duty units, but this would be a good capability to put in the Army National Guard.

This could help out the Marines who have just two tank battalions in their active force for three divisions.

Building on the Gulf War experience, the Army could bulk up Marine units with some of those Army battalion-sized units when the Marines are on the same battlefield as the Army. That would really supplement Marine efforts to give their infantry anti-tank weapons to survive and win on a heavy-armor dominated battlefield.

Given the current emphasis on multi-domain operations where ground force artillery and air defenses are expected to help the Navy, you'd think that intra-domain help in the land domain would be a no-brainer.

Taiwan Should Become the Capital of Democracy Promotion

China made a new year's threat to Taiwan's de facto independence, which has enabled Taiwanese democracy and freedom. Taiwan should take action to mobilize democratic entities to defend Taiwan's democracy.

China is clear that Taiwan must bend to its will:

[China's ruler Xi Jinping] said the armed forces needed to be able to respond quickly to emergencies, needed to upgrade their joint operations capabilities and nurture new types of combat forces.

Xi's comments followed his remarks on Wednesday that China still reserved the right to use force to achieve "reunification" with Taiwan and prevent the island's independence.

I don't blame Taiwan for being worried:

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on Saturday for international support to defend the self-ruled island's democracy and way of life in the face of renewed threats from China.

Tsai's comments came days after Chinese President Xi Jinping said nobody could change the fact that Taiwan was part of China, and that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should seek "reunification".

"We hope that the international community takes it seriously and can voice support and help us," Tsai told reporters in Taipei, referring to threats by China to use force to bring Taiwan under its control.

One, Taiwan needs to spend a lot more to defend what is precious to them. Even if Taiwan can never spend enough to defeat China, Taiwan can increase the cost of invading. And on a practical level, America and Japan can wonder why they should intervene to help Taiwan if Taiwan isn't willing to carry a burden to defend their independence and democracy.

Two, Taiwan needs to respond to China's aggressive talk to fix the imbalance in trade during China's "charm offensive" phase that encouraged Taiwan to do business in China. Taiwan needs to shift trade away from China to India and other states that don't want to crush Taiwan's freedom and liberty.

But soft power is needed, too. Long ago I concluded that  League of Democracies as an alternative to the autocrat-riddent United Nations is not the solution to our problems in that body.

But why couldn't Taiwan host a League of Democracies on Taiwan to discuss the mechanics of democracy promotion and democracy practice?

It could be composed of nations, provinces/states, and cities that want to discuss these issues.

As a body discussing the concept of democracy in both state and sub-state actors, it would not run afoul of Chinese red lines about independence. China has offered one state with two systems to Hong Kong--although it really doesn't--and to Taiwan to ease resistance to Peking absorbing Taiwan. How could China oppose democracy as a concept apart from independence when it formally agrees?

Yet it would be a powerful symbol of resistance to Chinese efforts to deny Taiwan democracy.

Taiwan would invite specific qualifying countries, states or provinces, and cities--including Hong Kong--to join the body. Taiwan could invite non-governmental bodies that address democracy and rule of law, including the Carter Center. Perhaps those NGOs could help define a rule of law democracy for membership qualification. Neither China, Iran, nor Chicago, for example, would qualify if the definitions are real.

How would the Chinese people react over time to such a body in their backyard discussing how to create and improve democracy--something China does not have and which Xi Jinping will never grant the people voluntarily?