Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Long March to Guam

Efforts to reduce the American footprint on Okinawa, where a disproportionate number of American forces in Japanese territory are based, continue at a seemingly glacial pace.

Okinawa was taken at high cost from Japan in 1945 by American forces (with a corps of Army troops and a corps of Marines losing a lot of troops in addition to the Navy suffering high losses from kamikaze attacks). Marines (and others) who have long called Okinawa home will spread out over the Pacific region:

In an attempt to appease locals, subsequent agreements promised to send an Okinawa-based KC-130 squadron to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni on the Japanese mainland and move about 4,100 Marines to Guam. An additional 2,700 Okinawa-based Marines are to be sent to Hawaii, 800 to the U.S. mainland and 1,300 on a rotational basis to Australia. U.S. bases on Okinawa are also be consolidated.

The move should take place by 2026.

This will reduce tension on Okinawa, where a number of people resent the high presence of American forces (one wonders if that will change based on Chinese behavior in the future) and pull a lot of American capabilities out of easy range of Chinese mainland-based weapons.

The Communist Party Stamp of Approval

China is possibly telegraphing a further relaxation of their now-two child policy (since 2015) with a new stamp for the Year of the Pig:

An op-ed in a state-run newspaper titled "Giving birth is a family matter and a national issue too" is the latest to encourage couples to have more children, and call for official action to enable young people to start families.

The full-page column was published in the overseas edition of the People's Daily, mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. It warned that "the impact of low birth rates on the economy and society has begun to show."

The piece has attracted millions of comments online, and comes as the government revealed a new official postage stamp, which seems to hint that it may drop the remaining restrictions on the number of children people can have.

The stamp shows two happy pig parents with 3 happy piglets.

The 2015 change hasn't had the effect China's rulers hoped it would have, and a shortage of workers as the still-poor China faces an aging population without the means to support it.

Interesting enough, the relaxation hasn't had much of a birth impact, but it has led to companies being more reluctant to hire women lest they get pregnant more than once.

I've written that China has population problems that could well mean that if China doesn't surpass America by 2050 it might never do that, and even if it does America could regain the lead by 2100.

Big Overture, Little Show

Europe's defense effort is less than meets the eye:

Europeans spend a much higher proportion of their defense dollars on payroll, leaving little money for training, new equipment, and maintenance. It also meant an older, on average, bunch of troops. Going to war is a young man's game, but Europeans have instead turned their armed forces into another job creation program. There are some exceptions, like Britain and France, demanding that the troops remain fit and maintaining high training standards. Most European nations maintain a few elite infantry units, but these don't add up to much in terms of numbers. Only Britain and France have large "rapid reaction" forces that can be sent overseas on short notice but even these are threatened by continued budget cuts. The United States has the largest such force, and many European nations tried to expand theirs but decades of politicians spending more than they should have is catching up with most European nations. The unexpected Russian menace has changed that mentality momentarily but that is temporary. Old customs die hard.

Europe has dribs and drabs of military capabilities that could only be significant in conventional warfare if gathered together in larger, effective units.

Otherwise European defense efforts generate power within their own national borders, practically speaking. And even spending 2% of their GDP on defense, while helpful and surely the foundation of anything else, won't solve Europe's defense deficiency.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Good NATO Cop, Bad NATO Cop

I don't know if this is presidential brilliance or staff brilliance, but who cares?

Senior American national security officials, seeking to prevent President Trump from upending a formal policy agreement at last month’s NATO meeting, pushed the military alliance’s ambassadors to complete it before the forum even began. ...

The rushed machinations to get the policy done, as demanded by John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, have not been previously reported. Described by European diplomats and American officials, the efforts are a sign of the lengths to which the president’s top advisers will go to protect a key and longstanding international alliance from Mr. Trump’s unpredictable antipathy.

And while the authors try hard to diminish the formal policy agreement by saying the meeting almost failed, not only didn't it fail it agreed to concrete steps:

Against Russian objections, the military alliance would formally invite Macedonia to join. It would establish an Atlantic Command post, hosted by the United States in Norfolk, Va., to coordinate a swift alliance response in the event of, for instance, a war in Europe between Russia and NATO allies.

And, most important, allies pledged to build up their militaries and provide 30 mechanized battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 combat vessels, all ready to use in 30 days or less, by 2020 — a force to quickly respond to any attack on an alliance member. ...

The NATO countries also worked out a mobility agreement devised to let member states’ forces move quickly through sovereign alliance territory across Europe. It is another piece meant to help NATO countries respond quickly to Russian aggression.

The bottom line?

Jamie Shea, a NATO deputy assistant secretary general, called the declaration “the most substantive” agreement that the alliance had put out in years.

Well there you go.

So the prospect of Trump--the "bad cop"--walking into the NATO meeting was enough to get European NATO members to agree to proposals to strengthen NATO.

It's a wonderful world when John Bolton is the "good cop" in the routine.

As I said, Trump isn't destroying NATO--he's saving it.

The Sun Is Not Yet Setting

Britain vows to be a good ally in Europe and around the world with significant military capabilities.

This view by Britain's Minister of Defense is good--if the financing holds up:

“The U.K. has always brought something special to the table” from radar and the turbo jet data that it shared with the United States in World War II to today’s sharing of nuclear data in the Dreadnought/Ohio class ballistic missile sub programs.

“The next phase is all about delivery” in Britain’s modernization strategy to meet the new threats coming from nation states, like Russia and China. Noting that in 2010 when London reassessed its defense-spending program, it downplayed that kind of challenge. But the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine, including the seizure of Crimea in 2014, and its use of chemical weapons in Britain in an attempted assassination attempt has prompted a top-to-bottom review of its security needs — including cyber for itself and NATO.

Yeah, I was very unhappy with the 2010 defense policy:

Britain still has tradition and skill in their corner. But let's not fool ourselves that they are meaner after getting leaner. Britain may still think globally, but the size of the force that can deploy globally is close to being irrelevant as anything more than a very minor contribution to an American war effort.

Further, assuming that the cuts have ended is shortsighted, in my opinion. More cuts will come. After all, the author of this piece is already comforting himself by noting that the British are only cutting capabilities that duplicate what we do. If that is the standard, where is the floor? Really, what can't Britain cut if that is the standard? Field tea service?

The British may still think globally, but they are increasingly capable of acting only locally.

I was absolutely wrong that it was safe to downgrade heavy armor and artillery. But that was 2010, in my defense and while I have long worried about the potential of Russia to attack Crimea and eastern Ukraine, I didn't anticipate it then.

And in 2012 I expressed my concerns about how the British army was being gutted.

I would never underestimate Britain. They are good and they have been a good ally since our unfortunate incidents in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

But quantity has a quality all its own, as the expression goes. Let's hope the British don't underestimate that factor when they build their military back up, in an effort to be globally relevant.

Caring is Complicated, I Guess

China is engaged in massive imprisonment and oppression of Moslems inside China's Xinjiang province, but nobody in the Islamic world or the West gets very upset.

Sadly, the Uighurs are on their own since the Palestinians were declared Queen of the Victims Prom long ago.

To be fair, caring is hard when China waves money under your nose.

The Goons of August (2008) Memory Hole Edition

This article (datelined Moscow) about the 2008 Russo-Georgia War of 2008 is just Russian propaganda, as far as I can tell.

Let's begin:

In the summer of 2008, Russia's army intervened militarily in an independent state for the first time since the Soviet Union's disastrous campaign in Afghanistan. ...

Russia launched armed action against Georgia to come to the rescue of South Ossetia, a small pro-Russian separatist region where Tbilisi had begun a military operation.

Russia already controlled South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were breakaway regions of Georgia. Normally, you'd think that Georgia was fully justified in beginning military operations on their own territory to bring separatists to heel.

Russia didn't intervene in an intra-Georgian conflict. Russia, I judge, lured Georgia into striking the separatists and then sucker-punched Georgia:

The ramshackle Russian military, rusting away for two decades now, miraculously put together an invasion of Georgia, flying in paratroopers even from distant bases, within hours of being attacked by Georgia? You seriously believe that version of events?

Russia got their South Ossetian goon allies to shoot at the Georgians and the Gerogians obliged by shooting back--which triggered the overt Russian invasion of Georgia. That is the reality of the situation.

Georgia fell for the provocation and gave Russia the excuse to invade. Although to be fair to Georgia, the Russians may have invaded anyway even if Georgia had held fire initially. Russia just would have needed to lie just a little more in that case to make up the Georgian provocation.

And really?

The Russian army rapidly outnumbered the Georgian forces and threatened to take the country's capital.

That just happened? In a war Georgia "started" Russia managed to rapidly outnumber the Georgians at the edge of Russia's rump empire with forces ready to fight?

The war was clearly a rehearsed act of aggression (quoting RFE/RL):

Less than one month before Russia's armed forces entered Georgia on August 8, they held massive military training exercises in the North Caucasus involving 8,000 servicemen and 700 pieces of military hardware.

At center stage in those maneuvers -- which took place in the second half of July, not far from Georgia's border -- was Russia's 58th Army, the very unit that would later play a key role in the incursion.

Those exercises are just one link in a chain of incidents suggesting that Russia's military action in Georgia was planned months in advance, awaiting only an appropriate pretext to act.

And what am I to make of this?

A peace treaty was finally hammered out by then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy that led to the withdrawal of Russian forces. But Moscow recognised as independent the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where it has stationed a large military presence ever since. ...

Russia opted not to annex the two Georgian separatist regions, but only to recognise their independence, although they found themselves under Moscow's de facto patronage after the war.

So Russia pulled their spearheads out of Georgia which had made a thrust toward the Georgian capital, Tblisi. And Russia recognized as "independent" the two breakaway regions? Which Russia then garrisoned? Because the regions "found themselves under Moscow's de facto patronage?" It almost sounds like it just kind of happened out of nowhere in this war between Russia and Georgia.

Russia (and a couple others) recognize the independence of those two breakaway regions. Russia in fact owns the territory fully and only technically has not annexed them.

And this packs a lot of BS into one paragraph:

Russia demonstrated its military might over the five days and showed its readiness to defend -- by force, if necessary -- its interests in the region it considers its sphere of influence.

The war demonstrated Russia's military might? Good grief, the Russians won but not through the glorious skills of their armed forces.

And who on Earth granted Russia the right to define their "sphere of influence" over independent, recognized countries which are members of the UN--which in theory grants them protection from having territory seized by an aggressor?!

And now we are getting into the heart of greater stupidity and fantasy:

While the Russian army has not openly invaded [the Donbas region of Ukraine], Kiev and Western countries accuse Moscow of giving military and financial assistance to the rebels who set up two separatist republics in the east. Moscow has consistently denied this.

Russia has in fact invaded Ukraine. First in Crimea and then in the Donbas. Russia has armed rebels in the Donbas, but more importantly has sent in men--mercenaries and temporarily detached army troops--to become "the rebels" and has sent in the regular Russian army in battalion-sized units in sometimes substantial numbers, and supported by logistics and artillery support based inside Russia.

But Russia denies it. So who's to say, eh? To Hell with that game, as I've written:

Over-analyzing Russia's deception causes the West to miss the point that "hybrid warfare" is very simple: Russia invades a country; Russia denies it has invaded a country; and the West goes along with Russian denials.

That's it. The West could have reacted very differently by simply refusing to go along with the Russian denials and acting on what we knew was going on--Russia had invaded a free (if corrupt) country.

Instead we act is if we need CSI: Donbas to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Russians are fighting inside Ukraine on the orders of Putin.

And good grief:

Both in Georgia and Ukraine, Moscow's aim was to stop its neighbours shifting towards NATO by any means. This is an unthinkable prospect for Russia, which since the fall of the Soviet Union has increasingly condemned NATO's willingness to expand its borders.

Look, NATO didn't rip the Soviet empire apart--components of the Soviet Union and the entire Warsaw Pact vassals fled Russian control just as freaking fast and permanently as they could when Soviet control faltered! Hell, the Russians wanted out of the USSR as eagerly as the rest of the empire!

And NATO didn't conquer those former vassal states--those states asked NATO to let those states to join NATO for their protection. And NATO set conditions of governance and behavior to let them in the club.

Can you blame those state for wanting to get out of Russia's orbit while they could given that outcome is "unthinkable" but possible only because Russia was too weak to stop them? What would happen when Russia recovered strength and those states found themselves out of NATO protection? Well, what happened to Georgia would happen. Or to Ukraine. Or to Moldova for that matter.

And back to Russia's "right" to order neighbors to behave:

"In South Ossetia, Russia taught the ex-Soviet countries a lesson. It showed them that there was no way they could adopt a different model of development," said analyst Konstantin Kalachev.

The assumption that Russia has the right to teach that "lesson" is amazing! And the lesson is actually that the only protection from having Russia impose its will on you is to get closer to NATO as much as possible--entering NATO if possible.

But the painful journey through this article at last arrives at some truth:

While Moscow intended through the wars with Ukraine and Georgia to gain recognition for its interests and sphere of influence, the wars have chiefly contributed to a deep rift with Western countries, experts said.

Russians--and too many Westerners--will argue that Russia needs buffer states to keep the West from invading them. But instead the two wars Russia waged against Georgia and Ukraine (and Moldova is still pretty much ignored) turned a West that was happy not to think about Russia into one that is rearming to resist Russia.

What a brilliant job, Russia. Bravo. Well done. For God's sake, the Russians even turned American Democrats against them.

Remember, those SOBs are still making threats over who Georgia can align with:

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that any future NATO decision to admit Georgia to its ranks could trigger "a terrible conflict" and he questioned why the alliance was even considering such a move.

As an aside, bravo to Putin for not being able to see his lips move as Medvedev "spoke."

Russia can try to whitewash their aggression in 2008. Don't let them.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Life of the Party

Reading China's Futures (Lynch), I can see the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) worries about losing control of their people that have led to the social credit online system and the efforts to censor information coming from America and the West, with a deeper propaganda effort to make Hollywood censorship unneeded.

The worries by hard liners clearly telegraphs those means of control (page 145):

[The advent of the network society presents the CCP with unprecedented new challenges in governance. ... [If] the CCP fails to rein the network in, the same 'tragedy' that befell the Soviet Union in 1991 could devastate China. ... [The] same thing could happen to the PRC but offers as a solution only three time-worn policy recommendations: prevent U.S. cultural subversion, use the media to cultivate core values among the paople, and strengthen teaching and research on the connection between mass media and politics.

Pressuring Hollywood to make films conform to CCP values and the Confucius Institute's efforts to bend American views of China to be favorable clearly flow from the worries about American "cultural subversion."

And the social credit system seems a response to the CCP worries about how they can rein in their online citizens who could diverge from accepted views outside of direct party propaganda broadcasting.

China's rulers are genuinely afraid of information that springs up inside China or that comes from America that is outside of their usual means of control.

That doesn't mean that we should go along with it--we should not. Especially here where our laws and freedoms must prevail.

UPDATE: Say ... what?!

A major human rights crisis is unfolding in northwestern China, according to the United Nations, which said last week that there were credible reports that the Chinese government is holding one million or more ethnic minorities in secretive detention camps.

Yet even for those who have escaped China, surveillance and intimidation have followed. As part of a massive campaign to monitor and intimidate its ethnic minorities no matter where they are, Chinese authorities are creating a global registry of Uighurs who live outside of China, threatening to detain their relatives if they do not provide personal and identifying information to Chinese police. This campaign is now reaching even Uighurs who live in the United States.

So now China wants to control people who fled to America. To get the few who escape their repression.

Somebody needs to tell the repulsive China fanboy Tom Friedman that evidence of reasonable enlightenment in China's communist rulers is getting harder and harder to find.

War By Other Means

The Russian-Ukraine Subliminal War continues.

The Russians are putting pressure on the people of Ukraine's Mariupol and other coastal communities by moving to deny Ukraine use of the Sea of Azov:

Back ashore, in and around Mariupol, a crucial industrial port city with a population of around 500,000 that sits roughly 800 kilometers southeast of Kyiv, it has been tense since late in the spring of 2014. Russia-backed separatists briefly controlled it then before the Ukrainian military and its volunteer battalions dislodged them. Today, fighting continues to rage just 24 kilometers to the east, in the once-quiet seaside town of Shyrokyne.

I'd mentioned this in passing.

The new Russian bridge connecting Russian-occupied Crimea with Russia limits the size of vessels that can reach the ports; and a 2003 deal has enabled Russia to intercept and harass Ukrainian vessels.

Ukraine has so far not found an effective response at sea to defend themselves; although they are attempting to get economic pressure on Russian Black Sea ports through diplomacy.

Ukraine doesn't want to abolish the 2003 deal. Given that Russia invaded Ukraine, that deal shouldn't be immune to cancellation. Although I don't know if it would do any good given the power imbalance.

The question is whether Russia is attempting a creeping annexation of the Sea of Azov, perhaps with an eye on punishing Mariupol enough to get them to want Russian domination; or whether Russia is "only" pressuring Ukraine to resume supplying water to Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ukraine could use land-based anti-ship missiles as well as weapons to scatter mines on the big bridge and naval mines to return the blockade against Russian Rostov. Just in case.

Opportunity and Safety in Japan?

Could worker-short Japan get workers while reassuring North Korea that peace won't unleash angry, ex-soldiers on their own government?

I've speculated in the past that North Korea, while it can't afford their large army, also can't afford to demobilize their army lest those young men be a threat to the North Korean regime. I even worried that North Korea might start a war they know they'd lose just to get South Korea and America to kill off those problematic young men.

If peace is achieved between North Korea and (technically) the rest of the world, what does North Korea do with their huge army when it will be decades before North Korea can absorb them in the economy? Certainly, some will be of use in building in North Korea to start the long process of catching up with South Korea, but most will lack the skills to be of use. Yet they will exist and be justifiably angry with their government--especially as they see the contrast with the rest of the world that spent the years since World War II becoming more prosperous.

This is interesting, and a possible opportunity:

Japan’s aging population, however, is creating a demand for foreign labor. Japan’s population peaked at 127.8 million in 2004 and has fallen by over 1.5 million since then, and its working-age population has dropped by over ten million since 1997. ... Workers in construction and mining, caretaking, food service, hospitality, and retail are in particularly short supply. ...

In the face of these shortages, the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has shifted toward a greater openness to foreign workers, although the word “immigration” remains taboo.

Guest workers would be fine for Japan, I imagine. Could the guest workers come from North Korea?

If the current diplomacy can somehow bring peace to the Korean peninsula, what does poverty-stricken North Korea do with all the young men in their army that the economy could not possibly absorb in the near term, and who are a potential threat to the North Korean government until they can be put to work?

North Koreans already have the habit of going abroad as virtual slave labor to earn foreign currency for the government. Going to Japan where they earn money for themselves and their families (minus normal taxation) might seem like a glorious opportunity.

After a period as guest workers, they would return to North Korea richer, with useful skills from a modern economy, and past the age of storming government buildings.

Is Japan's problem an opportunity for peace?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

What a Bloody Give-Away

In an article about how Russia has appointed Steven Seagal to help improve relations with America (oh, who cares?), there is this glaring statement about the timeline of bad relations between America and Russia:

Since 2016, relations between U.S. and Russia have chilled, with U.S. intelligence agencies accusing Moscow of interfering with the 2016 election.

Wait. Since 2016? That's when relations between America and Russia soured?

Not 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine?

Not 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia?

Bad relations started in 2016? Over largely ineffective intervention in our election? Intervention our government knew about and ignored because they didn't think it would stop their candidate from winning? Which is something Russia (and the Soviets before them) have long done here (and elsewhere)?


I guess my observation in 2016 was absolutely correct, even if you just count the Russian issues I listed since the issue here is US-Russian relations:

Trump wins election. Blood and Guts President Obama vows that this Russian cyber-aggression will not stand[.]

It is telling that Democrats were just fine with Russia prior to fall 2016, despite increasing Russian hostility, no?

The Beginning of Wisdom in Moscow?

The Philippines wants a couple submarines and Russia is willing to help. Expand this thinking, Russia.


The Philippine Navy (PN) and Russian Navy are discussing the terms of an agreement to expand collaboration on diesel-electric submarines, state-run media in Manila has reported.

The Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported on 6 August that the two navies recently discussed the draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) through which Russia would look to meet the PN’s requirement to procure the subsurface capability.

A PN submarine would complicate China's seaborne aggression against the territory and territorial waters of the Philippines.

Russia, which seems to be an ally of China, might seem like an odd country to arm the Philippines with submarines.

But Russia's cooperation with China has always seemed like a form of appeasement of China to buy time until Russia can recover and hold their vulnerable Far East.

At some point, Russia needs to distract China by arming opponents of China; which is a change from Russia's former strategy of arming China to point them to the sea rather than inland where Russia is vulnerable. China can pose a threat at sea. So maximum diversion was achieved. Now Russia needs to make sure China can't be victorious at sea and free to turn inland.

And while the Philippines is a nice place for Russia to build up resistance to China, Taiwan is the real place to build up. Will Russia help Taiwan get submarines?

Or does Russia believe they can defeat China by 2021? The more distracted China is in 2021 out to sea, the better price Russia might get for China to suspend its claims for another decade or two.

Nothing Has Changed to Make This Work Better

I would love to pressure Pakistan into being a better ally in Afghanistan. But Afghanistan is still landlocked and nothing about the geography has changed to make pressuring Pakistan likely to work.

Once more with feeling:

President Donald Trump's administration has quietly started cutting scores of Pakistani officers from coveted training and educational programs that have been a hallmark of bilateral military relations for more than a decade, U.S. officials say.

The move, which has not been previously reported, is one of the first known impacts from Trump's decision this year to suspend U.S. security assistance to Pakistan to compel it to crack down on Islamic militants.

But there are limits to how much we can punish Pakistan:

Officially allies in fighting terrorism, Pakistan and the United States have a complicated relationship, bound by Washington's dependence on Pakistan to supply its troops in Afghanistan but plagued by accusations Islamabad is playing a double game.

Tensions have grown over U.S. complaints that the Afghan Taliban militants and the Haqqani network that target American troops in Afghanistan are allowed to shelter on Pakistani soil.

These are longstanding problems that we haven't solved.

I've long complained about the problem of supply lines through Pakistan.

If we had a supply line through a friendly Iran, the situation would be radically different. Is that possible?

Until then, Pakistan is our Black Sheep ally. I'm not even confident that a more aggressive strategy that challenges Pakistan's weak point could work before provoking Pakistan to stop being even an imperfect ally.

Things can always be worse, remember. I'm not sure what we can accomplish by punishing Pakistan under the current situation.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Weekend Data Dump

"Eagle Response 2018" naval exercises concluded last week in the Red Sea, with participation by Egypt, America, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. In case you wonder why. And don't forget the bizarre secret mining of the Red Sea by Iran's then-ally Libya in 1984, as an older reason for paying attention to those waters.

Chinese-Turkish military relations could get closer. If Turkey wants to exit NATO and push America away, Turkey can't rely on traditional enemy Russia. China is a logical counterweight on behalf of Turkey.

I'm no trade expert. Or even a trade hobbyist. As a rule I'm for free trade and against tariffs for long-term benefit. But one thing about the effects of tariffs confuses me. I hear that Chinese tariffs on American soy bean farmers will destroy those farmers' sales. But why? Assuming Chinese buyers go elsewhere for their soy beans because of the tariff, what happens to the non-Chinese buyers who lost their farm source to the Chinese? Don't they have to go to the American soy bean farmers who lost their Chinese buyers? Unless the soy bean trade consists of an over-supply of soy beans and so is a game of musical chairs where the last farmer with unsold beans has to destroy their crop (or sell it at a loss) because they have no buyers, how is this so lethal? It's not like this is a price increase that reduces demand, right? Because the Chinese tariff represents pricing American soy beans out of the Chinese market only--so the rest of the world doesn't face those price hikes, right? Mind you, I understand that the disruption of the existing trade patterns costs money overall as the trade flow changes, but is it really devastating to our farmers? I just don't get it.

An interesting post on how the Baltic states plan to resist Russian invaders until NATO can liberate them, including the Estonian plan to defend their capital, Tallinn--where half their population lives--with their mobilization army--to tie down Russian troops in a grinding urban conflict. With bonus material on urban warfare. After Russia invaded Ukraine and the issue of Baltic vulnerability arose, I wondered if Riga, further south in Latvia, could be such a Tobruk-like hold out. I figured offshore islands would provide sources of support to such an enclave.

If I may address something about me, the free speech issue has always been a point of leverage for the left over me. While mostly conservative--especially on foreign policy and fiscal issues--individual liberty and freedom of speech have always been important to me. And conservatives in the past weren't great on that. For as much as I had issues with the ACLU, I admired their commitment to free speech no matter how vile the client was. I may have been unhappy to see actual Nazis defended, but I grudgingly admitted the ACLU was right to defend them. But the left lost that potential path to my allegiance by abandoning free speech as one of their core values, and the right has picked up the battle for free speech. I've long believed that if I'd grown up in the late 1950s or early 1960s, I easily could have been a Democrat based on foreign policy issues. So defense of freedom from external enemies drove me to identify with conservatives; and defense of freedom from domestic tyrants keeps me there. That's not a full explanation of course. But it is significant.

I mentioned that I thought I'd walked by Jordan Peterson when I was in Toronto, but figured it could have been some random middle aged guy. Just found out that Peterson is taller than me, so I did in fact just walk by some random white man.

I have not been shy about my contempt for the bias and lack of subject matter expertise of the press corps. Most couldn't pour accurate news out of a boot if the instructions were written on the heel. They got worse in the Bush 43 administration, horrible in the Obama administration (in the opposite direction), and have turned it to "11" in the Trump administration. All that said, the suckitude of the media is not a death penalty crime. So even if not representative of anybody but himself (and I don't blame Trump's vehement complaints, either), an actual threat should be condemned without reservation--and I do condemn it. And while I don't have much respect for Stelter, he at least had the decency to note that Fox News people, too, have been threatened. Dial it back people. I personally vow that if I ever see Stelter I will give him a withering glare of disapproval.

The European Union regrets US trade sanctions on evil and despotic Iran, and wants to retain links as much as possible; while the EU continues to play hardball with allied and democratic Britain on easing trade barriers prior to Brexit. And you wonder why I view the EU as a pan-European class of bastards?

Captain Jean-Luc Picard will return to the "air waves" (to subscription online CBS All Access). I got to write a document (I can't remember if it was a tribute or a more formal resolution) for a state legislator, honoring the show on it's last episode. I think I was the only one in the office to have watched the series. For me, it did not hold up well in reruns. Always seemed like "the Federation as the EU." Still, Picard was a good character even if I ended up not liking many of the rest.

Rumors started that our base at Thule, Greenland, had been destroyed by a meteor. Please note that TDR accurately reported a strike near the base and so did not contribute to the false rumor.

Italy is reevaluating their new ship design. Given the revived Russian interest in the Mediterranean Sea, maintaining anti-submarine warfare capabilities seems like an obvious concern for Italy.

The situation in Azerbaijan is worrisome. I can't say that Iran is involved but I'm sure Iran would try to exploit unrest there if it breaks out. Russia, too, for that matter. Armenia would be a highly interested neighbor as well.

Taiwan will increase their defense spending a decent amount. But it still isn't nearly enough, all things considered.

Protests continue in both Iran and Iraq.

America reimposed sanctions on Iran--good. The Iran deal was horrible and designed to shield Iran while it gained nuclear missile capabilities.  I honestly don't know how people with a functioning brain stem can believe the Kerry deal didn't suck. And I'll note again the the EU is all upset about losing trade with nutball Iran but is eager to stick it to allied and democratic Britain for daring to want to leave the EU. It is clear that neither Iran under the mullahs nor political Europe under the EU are our friends. Iranians and Europeans can be our friends without the entities to claim to speak for them working against America.

The Philippines faces unlawful Chinese territorial claims, Moslem rebels, and communist rebels.

Sea mines are a simple, effective, and overlooked weapon that has and will hamper American amphibious operations unless the threat is addressed adequately.

So what were the Chinese rulers up to?

Deaths in Indonesian earthquake. While the total thus far isn't in the mind-numbing quantity, the economic effects will harm many.

That seems like collusion with a rising--rather than declining--hostile power. So ... yawn, I guess.

Your one-stop source for all your mayhem and murder needs. And it is made in Russia, so you know you can count on it. And like Avis, they try harder because they're number 2!

While we aren't in any position to reverse Russian aggression against Georgia 10 years ago (and which is ongoing at a subliminal level), it is good that we called upon Russia to pull out of their occupied territory. One day, justice will be achieved.

That pilot's mission debrief had to have been brutal. But seriously, it is lucky no Russian planes were lurking close by.

The US will have a rather large consulate in Iraq's Kurdish region.

Colombia's new president wants to "correct" the peace deal with FARC rebels, on the belief that victims of the rebels deserve more justice than they got. Just be careful.

The failed drone attack on Maduro is all the excuse he needs to gut what little formal opposition there is in Venezuela in the legislature.

Already, there are problems with the launch tubes for the next nuclear ballistic missile subs that America and Britain will build. That's a bad sign for a smooth program that comes in under budget.

The Saudi-led coalition continues to grind away at Houthi defenses at the key port of Hodeida, slowed by sensitivity to ground force casualties. The Houthis need the money they skim from humanitarian aid arriving at the port. But Iranian support is starting to be scaled back under American pressure and popular anger at home for the money spent abroad. Also, Sudan has separated itself from Iran, committing fully to the Saudi effort. Sudanese troops fight in Yemen.

Strategypage mentions revised Russian/Syrian tank tactics in Syria. I dispute the idea that Russia is learning "a lot about modern combat in Syria," if the implication is that Russia is learning a generally applicable lesson in Syria. Russia and Syria are learning a lot about using tanks against light infantry equipped with some anti-tank weapons in Syria. And honestly, some of the tactics seem silly. Sure, I accept that moving tanks are somewhat safer than stationary tanks, but the "carousel" tactics doesn't make sense to me against an enemy with adequate anti-tank weapons. These lessons of "modern combat" will not apply to a fight against another army. We learned different things about the use of armor in Iraq, which didn't prepare us for modern combat in general.

Iran's hand puppets in Iraq vow to undermine American sanctions on Iran. Well, I don't know how effective they'll be, but it does reveal their nature. We must not withdraw from Iraq the way we did in 2011 in order to counter Iranian influence.

This is evil. As I've said before, extremely few Moslems in America are evil.

I find the online Twitter and social media mobs dangerous and little more than online Maoist Red Guards. In China, Chinese analysts see their own microblogs exactly like that: "They present the network, in fact, as a space eerily reminiscent of China during the Cultural Revoluton--although few ever make the analogy explicit, at least not in print" (Lynch, China's Futures, p. 136).

Hamas fired a rare long-range rocket at an Israeli city, which Reuters describes as "a show of force and defiance by Palestinian militants". So not a terrorist attack attempting to deliberately target civilians? A show of "defiance." Given that Israel fights Hamas in Gaza simply to be left alone, what exactly is Hamas "defying?" Israel responded with heavy bombing, hitting 150 targets; and Hamas fired off 180 more rockets and mortar rounds into Israel. At least the Hamas barrage isn't described as a "protest." So there is progress, I suppose.

Is Colombia thinking about removing the Maduro government?  No doubt the growing chaos in Venezuela is harming Colombia. And it could get much worse. And without the FARC insurgency, Colombia's military is free. I have little doubt Colombia's military could handily defeat Maduro's military. But I sincerely doubt if Colombians want to replace a decades-long counter-insurgency against FARC (and others) with a war to defeat Maduro/Chavez loyalists who have been armed to the hilt. If there is to be a war, I always assumed Venezuela would initiate it--against an easier target. Still, Venezuela's socialist rulers have long blamed Colombia for their self-inflicted wounds, so the choice might not be Colombia's to make.

I think less of Erik Prince for working with the Chinese to set up a private military force to help defend their New Silk Road (OBOR) project. As I read it I thought it might have good effects by introducing a non-state military force to China, but it isn't allowed to operate in China, as I found out by the end of the post. I would be remiss if I didn't link to my one and only collection of essays, which addresses privatized military power.

The countries bordering the Caspian Sea have come to an agreement that paves the way for pipelines and energy exploitation within territorial waters established. I wonder if that would make it easier to have a line of supply to Afghanistan across the Caspian Sea territory of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan or Kazakhstan?

Are we about to basically hand Iran a land line of supply across Syria by softening up Abu Kamal?  Remember, air power is not a replacement for troops if the intent is to control territory. If we can stop the line of supply in Iraq, it doesn't matter much. But can we do that? Or do we simply want to encourage Iran to use that supply line in order to simplify targeting by American or perhaps Israeli aircraft?

If other countries who don't mind Palestinian terrorism love Hamas so much, let them make up our aid cuts.

Russia condemned American sanctions which increased over Russia's poisoning attacks in Britain. Trump would rather have better relations with Russia. Unfortunately, Russia continues to act like--and forgive the political science technical term--"assholes." Medvedev, who was surgically removed from Putin's buttocks some years ago, warned this was getting close to economic warfare. He does have a point that at some point sanctions can become little different than kinetic attacks in their effect, which could lead a target of sanctions to simply respond with actual war.

The XM-25 project was canceled. I'm not sure whether the issue is lack of usefulness in the fights American troops have been in, delays in fielding (a couple decades ago this was a combined rifle/grenade launcher, but the grenade launcher was made a stand-alone weapon as the XM-25), or excessive cost. Because I thought South Korea adopted something similar but with a higher caliber round. To me it seemed like the added anti-armor capability of the XM-25 would be very useful against light armored vehicles.

Eventually, the oil will run out there. What happens if there are still too many religious studies majors and not enough engineers and business majors?

I'm just going to note that no Trump tweet has caused this much of a foreign policy headache.

I have nothing but sympathy for the families of these two young Americans who were murdered (as the last of a lot of bad things that happened to them on their "shithole adventure trek"--and it goes without saying that if we can we should hunt down and kill the murdering jihadi scum who did this--but can we all agree the victims were really stupid? They were probably totally against "endless war," and totally believed they were part of the reality-based community, eh? Evil exists. And it found them. But what is most distressing is the apparently large number of people who celebrated the couple's idiocy rather than recognize how stupid it was to trust a dangerous world with their lives.

I missed the news from November 2017 that we approved the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Georgia. Good grief, I was hoping we'd ship infantry anti-tank weapons to Georgia even as the embers of the 2008 war were still glowing.

So why doesn't the media have any curiosity about the "Driving Miss Dianne" Chinese spy on an American senator's payroll for 20 years? I'd say it is odd, but it isn't at all. Tip to Instapundit.

Peace With North Korea

Why I have so little respect for international law:

Legally, a peace treaty is a thorny question. South Korea did not sign the armistice, and the United Nations, represented by U.S. Gen. Mark Clark, signed for the coalition which fought the war. It is unclear if the United States could sign alone; if the UN would need to sign in some way; if other UN coalition members would need to agree; if China, which technically sent “volunteers” to fight, would sign at all. As a result, there has long been talk of notions like a “war-ending statement” or “peace regime,” rather than a peace treaty itself. The legal debate here is tangled.

I had a course in international law in grad school and gained no respect for it at all, if it is considered a replacement for American law and policy.

Get real. If America signs a peace treaty with North Korea--and we should not do it short of actual peace, as an incentive to a nuclear deal--there will be peace.

What's the UN going to do, go to war with North Korea without America?

Is China going to say it is still at war with the United Nations?

Good grief, the legal tangle is easily cut by the bloody reality that if America and South Korea on the one hand, and North Korea on the other sign a peace treaty, there is a peace treaty.

The tangle is in the minds of people who value paper international law more than reality.

Friday, August 10, 2018

When Do We Seize the Initiative?

An American general raises two military issues that I've worried about in our Afghanistan strategy:

We want to make sure we're taking actions to minimize vulnerabilities for the Afghan forces. So minimizing the remote checkpoints and things like that is an important aspect of this. And that may be something we -- we look at.

I think it's also important to make sure that we look at the proper utilization of some of their high-end capabilities, their Afghan special operations forces. These are very highly trained, highly relied upon forces and we have to be mindful that they are not overused and used in -- in places that are not necessarily appropriate for their use, and for which other forces could be -- could be applied. [emphasis added]

I remain worried about the checkpoint issue, and accept that in the short run we have to pull in to reduce their exposure to enemy attack.

But at some point we have to gain the initiative which will protect the checkpoints needed to control territory (and the people who live there) by atomizing the enemy and making them react far more to what our side does rather than have the freedom to mass and attack small units.

Because this is what happens when the enemy has the initiative to mass forces:

Heavily armed Taliban fighters attacked Ghazni city in central Afghanistan early on Friday, burning police checkpoints, shelling houses and business areas and seizing control of parts of the city before being beaten back, officials said.

Sure, the Taliban lost this battle. But they shouldn't even be able to attempt something like this.

And I remain worried about the emphasis on Afghan special forces, which are not and should not be used as a replacement for adequate infantry and paramilitary police.

We are aware of the problems. Do we have solutions?

UPDATE: The enemy took heavy losses in their assault but there are still remnants holding out inside the city. It is good that the enemy took heavy losses and were defeated. But the enemy should be atomized so they can't penetrate checkpoints around the city without drawing reserves and air power to defeat the attackers before they even reach the city.

UPDATE: Fighting continues for a third day. The article says the Taliban attack was "massive."

The enemy should not feel free to mass troops like that.

UPDATE: Fighting continues. And this highlights my worries about Afghan special forces:

“The fact that such an elite unit was overrun and took a high rate of casualties may be an indication that the [Afghan] Commandos and Special Forces may be overworked and are losing their effectiveness," the Long War Journal wrote. "These units run at a high operational pace, and have taken significant casualties as of late.”

Afghan special forces should not be holding defensive positions in a city. That is a waste of their capabilities.

Which leads me to ask why aren't Afghan police and troops good enough to defend Ghazni?

Collusion With Tyranny

China has funded propaganda arms in American higher education. America will work to undermine that support:

Under a massive defense authorization bill expected to be signed by President Trump, authorized funding would be blocked from supporting Chinese-language programs at colleges that host the Chinese government-operated institutes. It also blocks funding for programs at Confucius Institutes outside colleges.

Good. I haven't been happy with their activities:

American universities should no more want to allow these Chinese government institutes on to campus than they would allow ISIL Institutes, Ethnic Russian Putin Institutes, or Aryan Institutes.

Shame on those universities for taking China's money and allowing China to gain the stamp of approval of our higher education apparatus as a cover for information warfare.

Or have I missed the establishment of Lady Liberty Institutes promoting English language and American values in Chinese universities?

Hopefully American higher education will be shamed into rejecting that money over these institutes that stifle criticism of China and promote China's interests.

In What Alternate Universe Does This Make Sense?

Russia's navy (Voyenno-Ğœorskoy Flot—VMF) is not going to successfully challenge America at sea and we should probably hope the Russians try.

Oh get real:

The Russian VMF seems to be emulating the Soviet Red Navy by investing in highly specialized and expensive assets designed specifically for an all-out war with the U.S., while neglecting more universal ships usable against other possible enemies in local wars. The Lider-class currently exists only on paper. But in the meantime, Moscow is expending great effort and money to revive and modernize its four 28,000-ton Kirov-class battlecruisers.

I'm fine with Russia's pointless blue water naval ambitions, as I've noted many times (here, here and here, for example).

One, Russia's fleet revival is a Potemkin Village of grand announcements, partial work on old Soviet legacy capital ships, and faltering work on the nuclear submarine fleet. In reality, only small surface vessels are being built.

Two, a revived Russian fleet gives NATO navies suited to coastal waters near the continent something to do. So increases in Russian power to a certain level doesn't threaten America because it is absorbed by existing European NATO naval power. Maybe even the Germans will restore their naval power from the ranks of the dead.

And three, spending money on a blue water navy that goes beyond coastal protection and a sea-based nuclear deterrent with the forces to protect them in sea bastions near Russia takes away scarce resources from land power and air power that Russia desperately needs to protect their long land border--or which could threaten states on Russia's western border. So sure, build a blue water fleet that can sail to the mid-Atlantic (after attrition in the choke points leaving European waters) where it will be sunk trying to challenge America at sea! Russia can totally afford it!

Russia condemned a new round of U.S. sanctions as illegal on Thursday after news of the measures sent the rouble tumbling to two-year lows and sparked a wider asset sell-off over fears that Moscow was locked in a spiral of never-ending curbs by the West.

Putin should just buy a shiny red sports car if he wants to relive glory days without damaging Russian security. If this sea objective is real rather than naval propaganda to create an image of reviving blue water power without actually wasting money on achieving it, somebody really needs to tell Putin he's effing up royally.

UPDATE: It isn't just the navy that is in sad condition:

Government efforts to project the image of a modern, professional and constantly improving armed forces is proving more difficult to sustain. During the decades of communist rule the state had complete control over the media, a massive internal security forces and, most important, no Internet or smart phones. Those last two items have crippled efforts to persuade Russians and foreigners that Russia was still a major developer and manufacturer of new weapons. The constant stream of press releases detailing new weapons the Russian forces will be equipped with are undermine by the reality, often documented vis smart phone video spread via the Internet. The new weapons often do not work at all and even if they do there is never enough money to produce them in the quantities implied. Russian development and manufacturing efforts are still crippled by shortages of cash and talent.

Russia is a danger not because of how strong they are compared to America or even European NATO states as a whole, but because they have enough military power to achieve an advantage over eastern NATO countries in the short run to take territory; and nukes that we can't assume don't work to then threaten NATO if it tries to retake the territory occupied by Russia.

Thursday, August 09, 2018


China under Xi has a "China Dream" objective that seeks to make China the dominant power, restoring China to its rightful position in their view. The problem is that China's rise has been and continues to be reliant on good relations with America for trade and technology:

Far from a rejuvenated hegemon poised to reshape the global economy, Xi’s China has been exposed as a giant with feet of clay.

The geostrategic implications are difficult to exaggerate. In the 40 years since Deng Xiaoping began to lead China out of the Maoist dark ages, the country has achieved unprecedented economic growth and development. But that progress would have been impossible – or, at least, much slower – were it not for China’s policy of maintaining a cooperative relationship with the US. Xi has upended that policy during his tenure, not least with his increasingly aggressive actions in the South China Sea.

These developments point to a straightforward conclusion: China is headed in the wrong direction. This is not lost on China’s elites, whose frustration is palpable – and rising.

Yet, despite rumors of pushback against his power by retired elderly leaders, Xi is unlikely to be overthrown.

I don't see such resistance to Xi in such a huge country as a sign that Xi doesn't effectively control China's governing apparatus. The mountains are high and the emperor is far--even with virtual closeness using Dystopian State 2.0 technology. So there is bound to be some slippage.

And it has long been my position that there is no need to panic over China's rise given their problems and our strengths. Maybe they pass us by. But maybe not and maybe not for good.

But my biggest worry is that Chinese nationalists proud of how far they've come from their weakness that made China a punching bag for distant Western powers (and Japan), will dangerously overstate how strong China really is:

China is a danger because their chest is swelling over their regained military stature. And while their actual power will help decide the outcome of a war, their beliefs about their power will help decide whether they start a war.

I liken it to new soldiers just out of boot camp. You enter probably out of shape and a pure civilian. You endure and come out part of the mean green fighting machine, with new muscles and the new skills of killing planted in you. You think you are a bad-ass SEAL Team 6-level killing machine in your still-crisp BDUs (or whatever they are called now).

But you are not a killing machine. You aren't even a cog in the killing machine. You are just the first rough stamping of a cog that will eventually be sanded and polished into a part of the killing machine. I remember our drill sergeants telling us that we need to avoid being full of ourselves when we leave basic training and move on to a new base or go back on the block. We are stronger than when we arrived. Do not mistake that for being stronger than other people, they warned. If we do, we'll get our butts kicked.

China has gotten out of world power basic training. Let's hope they don't throw a punch before they realize how much farther that they need to go to be actually powerful.

Even better, maybe China will come to realize how much advantage they have gained from tying in to the America-designed system and will understand they should be a status quo power lest they kill the goose that lays the Golden eggs for China.

Surely, that level of integration and prosperity should be the core interest of China, no?

I've read that Chinese economists are well aware of the economic problems that could derail China's rise; while Chinese foreign policy and military types tend to think China has no economic problems.

Maybe American foreign policy for China should include hosting lots of conferences that bring Chinese economists together with Chinese foreign policy and military leaders.

North Korea Will Sing Like a Canary

Iran is warning North Korea not to deal with America:

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told North Korea's foreign minister that the United States cannot be trusted, Tehran's state media said, as the United States seeks a deal to rein in the North's nuclear and missile programs.

Iran is a warning to North Korea--not to try to swindle America with a bad deal. If it seems too good to be true, as the Iran deal was for Iran, don't even bother signing. Because it will be a short-term win only, and we will walk away.

And I assume any deal with North Korea over their nukes includes revealing research and supply links to Iran regarding nukes and missiles.

So Iran does not want North Korea to come to an agreement with America. Yet North Korea may fear Iran will, despite their hostile talk, cut a deal first to avoid sanctions.

The prisoner's dilemma sucks for them, Iran may find out.


Germany wants Europeans to do the jobs Germans won't do in uniform.

Germany to its credit wants to add troops to its painfully inadequate military (but spending better increase unless they want even more of their military to be useless during war). But recruiting foreigners whose countries are also fielding tiny militaries just robs Peter to pay Paul doesn't it?

The German military, the Bundeswehr, had 21,000 unfilled positions in 2017, and the service is now looking beyond its borders to fill its ranks.

A Defense Ministry report in late 2016 proposed recruiting from other EU countries, and the ministry confirmed in late July that it was seriously considering doing so.

Remember, the already small German army has already incorporated 4 brigades of NATO allies into their poorly manned and sustained army, which seems to me just reduces the effectiveness of the 4 foreign brigades that have been integrated into the German army.

So now Germany wants to poach recruits from other European states that probably spend more than Germany's low percent of GDP on their military?

In 2019 the Germans say they will be ready to command the NATO Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (the name cracks me up for the term inflation, although I fear NATO adds adjectives as a substitute for actual readiness. What's next, the "Absolutely Very High Readiness Joint Task Force"?). Well, as long as no German units are part of it, maybe VHRJTF will be very highly ready.

Oh, and from that first article linked there is this evergreen excuse for a poor military:

The Bundeswehr still struggles with its Nazi history.

First of all, as always, I'm ready with the clue bat:

I keep reading that the Germans hate their militaristic past so much that they don't want to fight.

Let's try applying the clue bat to Germany's collective skull on this issue.

Conquering and setting up death camps under the shield of a powerful military? That's bad. By all means, don't do that.

Having a military capable of fighting death cult enemies or stopping the Russians from moving west? Well, that's a good thing. Try doing that.

Second, do the Germans realize that their Nazi history included enlisting a lot of Europeans into SS formations to fight for Germany?

During World War II, the Waffen-SS recruited significant numbers of non-Germans, both as volunteers and conscripts. In total some 500,000 non-Germans and ethnic Germans from outside Germany, mostly from German-occupied Europe, were recruited between 1940 and 1945.

Why isn't getting foreign units and individual volunteers a sensitive issue for Germans to "struggle" with?

Did two world wars and a Cold War have no effect? Is Germany on our side?

Germany was never a high spender, but they fielded the best mechanized force in NATO in the Cold War (very late, America may have passed them by). What the Hell happened to them?