Week of November 02, 2022

Assessing America’s Military Strength

 

When Biden administration released its National Security Strategy, it was noted by some critics that the paper was heavy in political boilerplate and light in actual numbers.

This week, we have the numbers that allow us to judge the National Security Strategy.  They were released this week by the Washington think tank, the Heritage Foundation.

Unlike the administration assessment, they see critical weaknesses in the US military and their ability to defend US interests.

The Heritage Report stated, “The US military is at a growing risk of not being able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.  It is rated as weak relative to the force needed to defend national interests on a global stage against actual challenges in the world as it is rather than as we wish it were.

Some of the weaknesses were troubling.  The US Air Force, who “wrote the book” on air superiority, now it is ranked as “very weak.”  The Navy, which was so powerful that all the oceans and seas were once deemed “American lakes,” was ranked as “weak.”

Only the United States Marine Corps was ranked as strong.

Much of the problem is due according to military hawks, to cuts in the military’s budget, which prevented modernization and sustainability on the battlefield.

The rankings were based on objective goals – the ability for the US to fight in two major regional conflicts (MRC), the capacity to win against a large conventional power, the ability to carry out sustained operations, and the operational environment.

The report looked primarily at three theaters: the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.

The Middle East was a mixed report.  Although there are potential threats with growing tension between Greece and Turkey, US and Turkish tensions in Syria, and the new friendship with the US and Cyprus, the Middle East isn’t the major threat it once was thanks to the Abraham Accords one analyst is concluding.

However, given these problems, over the last three decades, the US and its allies have built an impressive infrastructure that can be quickly used to forward deploy a large force and work with regional allies.

In a slap at Biden’s Saudi policy, the Heritage document said American relationships are pragmatic and “based on shared security and economic concerns.  If these issues remain relevant to both sides, the US is likely to have an open door to operate in the Middle East.”

Europe was described as “stable, mature, and friendly to US military operational requirements.  Despite the Russian threat, Europe’s operating environment was rated favorable thanks to the NATO infrastructure.

Asia was rated as favorable thanks to relationships with Japan, South Korea, and Australia.  The biggest problem was political stability.  The Heritage Foundation warned of the “tyranny of distance and the need to move forces as necessary to respond to challenges from China and North Korea.”

In a differing opinion, the Heritage Foundation didn’t mention “domestic terrorism” as the National Security Strategy did.  It focused on ISIS and al-Qaeda instead.

The top three threats to the US were China, Russia, and Iran.  China and Russia had the greatest capability when it came to a threat to the US.

The US Army had a mixed report.  The Heritage Foundation concluded that the Army needed 50 brigade combat teams to fight in 2 MRCs.  That meant that the Army only had 62% of the force needed.  However, it noted that it had a high level of readiness with 25 of the 31 Brigade combat teams at the highest state of readiness.

One weakness was shifting the training from small operations in the Middle East to major combat operations like those seen in Ukraine.  The paper maintains that the Army’s experience in tactical operations in the Middle East is a weakness.  However, history indicates any combat experience is worthwhile as the biggest problem in battle is operating under pressure and acting as a team in a combat situation.  A combat seasoned force is better than one that merely has training experience.

There is also a question of the use of brigade combat teams in a large European conflict.  The BCT was developed for small unconventional fighting in Third World countries and training for a large conventional war should focus on brigade and larger exercises.

The Navy is graded “very weak” as it needs more ships to meet its commitments.  It also has a “weak” rating as the shortage of ships means more deployments and an inability to reach readiness levels.  The Navy needs 400 warships to meet its operational commitments, but it only has 298 ships currently.

Since ship building is expensive and takes time, Congress must change course in funding within the next few years or face a serious problem before 2030.

In addition to building more ships, the Navy must project its influence in areas that were left to their own designs after the Cold War.  For instance, the American Sixth Fleet once had two aircraft carriers stationed in the Mediterranean – one in the Western Mediterranean and one in the Eastern Mediterranean.  Today, there are usually none.

Given the disagreement on who owns natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean, Russian aggression, and the continued conflict between Turkey, Greece, and Greece’s surrogate Cyprus, the US must build a new carrier task force for this growing hot spot.

The Air Force has been degraded to “very weak.”  Mechanics and pilots are in short supply as recruitment for the Air Force is the worse of the branches of the military.

The Air Force is falling behind in pilot training and retention.  They are short 650 pilots and they barely manage to fly once a week.  They are also flying aircraft older than the pilots who fly them.

At current levels, the Air Force could probably win one major regional conflict, although they may have problems with the Chinese or Russians (at least the Russians before the Ukraine war).

The problem is that the attrition in planes and pilots would make winning the second major regional conflict more problematic.

If there is one bright spot in this analysis, it is the United States Marine Corps – considered the elite of the five branches of the military.

The Marines have 30 battalions as they are designed as a light infantry for amphibious assaults and small engagements, in various parts of the world.  Unfortunately, they can handle only one major regional conflict at a time.  They do not have the size or reserves to sustain operations.

Much of the Marine’s amphibious capability will depend on new amphibious ships provided by the Navy.

Space Force has been graded as “weak,” but that reflects its short history and the time to build its capability

Although not a branch of the military, the Heritage Foundation grades nuclear capabilities as “strong” but tending towards “marginal.”  The nuclear delivery systems and nuclear weapon designs are old, and the nuclear weapons haven’t been tested for years.  Since nuclear weapons degrade due to nuclear decay of the nuclear materials, their reliability is based on computer modeling.

Given the fact that the US is facing both Russia and China, the nuclear arsenal must be modernized.  This assessment doesn’t include threats like Iran and North Korea.

This Heritage analysis doesn’t even mention some other concerns.  Due to the Ukraine war, the amount of munitions in America’s arsenal is reaching dangerous levels.  While small arms and artillery ammunition can be quickly manufactured, smart weapons require time, and frequently requires redesigning as “smart circuitry” is no longer in production.

Recruitment is also a critical issue.  Although the Marines met 2022 recruitment levels, the other 3 branches fell behind.  Although a foot soldier can be trained in a year, technical servicemen, who maintain high tech weapons can take years to become competent.  Pilots take years of training and millions of dollars to qualify as a combat pilot.

The solution to many of these weaknesses is additional defense spending and the time to bring new weapons systems online.

Finally, Congress and the administration must realize how ever shifting politics has ruined the US military.  As the report concluded, “This is the logical consequence of years of sustained use, underfunding, poorly defined priorities, wildly shifting security policies, exceedingly poor discipline in program execution and a profound lack of seriousness across the national security establishment even as threats to US interests have surged.”

Week of September 20, 2022

Is the United States Militarily Overextended?

 

As the world watched American helicopters evacuate American officials from the US embassy, in Baghdad last month, there was a serious question being raised; was America sliding into another Middle Eastern war?

For military types, the next question was, where would the US forces come from?  The American emergency reaction force, the 82nd Airborne, has been used to bolster forces in NATO, especially Eastern Europe.  US Special Forces are also engaged in Syria, Africa, Europe, and many other places where their presence is secret.

Then, there is China and the South China Sea, which has tied up America’s aircraft carriers and amphibious forces.

Normally, the US can rely on its allies, but NATO countries have also bolstered their forces in Eastern Europe.  And they are also facing their own problems like a cutoff of natural gas by Russia and even the serious problems with the NATO flagship, Britain’s HMS Prince of Wales, which was originally headed to the US for exercises with the F-35 fighter squadrons.

During the Vietnam War, one question asked in the Pentagon was if the US could fight two wars at one time – one in Vietnam and one in Europe?

Now the US faces three potential wars – one in Europe, one in the South China Sea and Taiwan, and one in the Middle East.

Except for Special Forces conflicts, the US isn’t in a fighting war.  However, the use of ammunition in Ukraine and the deployment demands on US forces are degrading the US military every day.  For instance, the US Army had to ground its entire fleet of 400 Chinook helicopters due to engine problems.  The Chinook is the Army’s largest heavy lift helicopter.

While there are no official US forces in Ukraine and the US isn’t at war with Russia, demand for ammunition for the Ukraine is as great as if the US were at war itself.  Pentagon officials told the Wall Street Journal that stockpiles of ammunition are running dangerously low – especially artillery ammunition supplies, which are described as “uncomfortably low.”

“The US has during the past six months supplied Ukraine with 16 rocket launchers, thousands of guns, much of that including ammunition has come directly from US inventory, depleting stockpiles intended for unexpected threats, a defense official said.”

An example of ammunition and weapons shortages was seen in the Ionian Sea three weeks ago, where the aircraft carrier USS Truman had to transfer some weapons and ammunition over the USS Bush, which was taking the Truman’s place in the Mediterranean.

As a result, the US has decided to send conventional 105mm howitzer rounds instead of the 155mm “smart” artillery rounds.  The Ukrainian Army had been firing about 3,000 rounds of 155mm rounds (not necessarily the smart rounds) a day and the US and NATO have donated hundreds of thousands of 155mm rounds to Ukraine.

The US military has requested $500 million to upgrade its ammunition factories.  However, this and contracts awarded to private companies for additional ammunition will take time to reach the front.

Another concern is the “wear and tear” on equipment, even in non-war situations.  Additional military exercises and longer deployments overseas wear out equipment and keep soldiers from maintaining it properly.  Two years ago, a Marine amphibious vehicle sunk in San Diego, killing its crewmen.  The investigation discovered maintenance had been rushed to get it ready for an overseas deployment.

The same is true with naval ships.  Aircraft Carriers are frequently extended on station overseas due to political needs.  But, for every day deployed overseas, the carrier will require one day for modifications, repairs, and installation of new equipment.  Then, a similar amount time will be needed retraining the air squadrons for overseas deployment.  That means that for every two years, an American aircraft carrier will spend about 8 months deployed, 8 months in repair, maintenance, and equipment upgrading, and 8 months in training for its next deployment.

The same is true for the amphibious task forces that can deploy F-35 aircraft.

The result is too few aircraft carriers and too many places that they need to be.

As of the end of August, there are three aircraft carriers deployed.  The USS Truman and USS Bush are in the 6th Fleet area of operations.  Despite the Chinese threat, only one aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan is in the Western Pacific at Yokosuka, Japan.  The USS Truman is in the Atlantic heading back to Norfolk, Virginia and will not be able to deploy for over a year.

The USS Bush is expected to remain at sea for 8 months.  It is the major warship in Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), which includes Italian, Turkish, German Spanish, and French warships.

Two amphibious ready groups are in the South China Sea region (centered on the USS America and USS Tripoli).  Each ship carries about 20 F-35 fighters.

Should more fighting occur in the Middle East or China, or the war in Ukraine, the US Navy will be unable to deploy a nuclear carrier at all three areas of operations.

Another critical shortage is in manpower.  Every branch of the military is suffering from manpower shortages.  In fact, this is the worst time for military recruiters since the Vietnam War in 1973.  Only 9% of eligible American youth had any interest in joining and only one in four youth can meet the tough physical requirements.

Ironically, the United States Marine Corps (USMC), which has the roughest training is meeting its recruitment goals, which means that tough training doesn’t deter recruits.

 

Options

So, what options are there for the US if a war breaks out?

Conflict in the Middle East is considered the least problem.  There are enough quick reaction forces in the region to protect and evacuate Americans.  There are also airfields in the area that can base American aircraft.

Of course, a conflict with Iran, is a different situation and would require also shifting US naval forces – probably from the Mediterranean.  However, transiting the Suez Canal would be risky for an aircraft carrier during a conflict.

Short of a war with Iran, the probable course for the US is to transfer an amphibious ready group from the Western Pacific.

The largest threat to world peace is the Ukraine.  Fortunately for the US, it has NATO allies and its bases.  It also seems that Russia isn’t as much of a threat as it was believed.  Russia is suffering from some of the same problems as the US, depleted stockpiles, and manpower shortages.

For decades, the US and NATO have practiced moving US forces to Europe with success.  There is, however, a shortage of combat forces on the ground now, although that is rapidly improving.  Deployment of an Amphibious Ready Group would help provide additional carrier aircraft and a Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The downside for the US is that Marine Expeditionary Units are not designed for fighting in a conventional land war in Europe as they are moving away from heavy equipment like tanks.

The final threat is China.  As with the war in the Pacific in WWII, it will primarily be a maritime conflict.  Australian, Japanese, and American forces will try to deny Taiwan to the Chinese, while disrupting Chinese use of their artificial islands in the South China Sea.  America and its allies will try to keep Chinese submarines bottled up so they can’t threaten US carriers.

So, the question is if the US military is overextended?  The answer is yes.

Fortunately, the areas of operations match US capabilities.  The conflict in Europe is a conventional war and the US and its allies are well suited for a conflict here, especially against a weakened Russia.

The Middle East is a low intensity conflict that is suited to the American Special Forces in the region.

The Western Pacific is an area of operations that is suited to a naval force that can project power – like the US Navy and Marines.  China has yet to show that it can stand toe to toe with the US Navy.

So, the US is militarily overextended.  However, its force mix is such that it fits the current situation…..barely.

Week of August 23, 2022

Will the Inflation Reduction Act Reduce Inflation?

 

It is ironic that 51 years ago last week, American President Nixon announced that he would “temporarily” stop redeeming US dollars for gold.  What Nixon had temporarily instituted has in many ways come true when the US passed the Inflation Reduction Act, an Orwellian name for legislation that will likely increase inflation.

Nixon’s move did more than stop the use of gold in monetary transactions, it also eliminated the age-old monetary theory that government spending should generally equal government revenues and that governments should back their currency with gold or silver.

The discipline that curbed politicians was eliminated.

Today, gold and silver are archaic metals, except in countries like Zimbabwe, which is issuing gold coins for circulation because its own paper currency is worthless.

But gold isn’t so archaic that central banks have sold their gold reserves.  Central banks hold vaults of gold, and many banks are even buying more.  And, the US, which has the largest reserve of gold, keeps it in a vault at Fort Knox, surrounded by the Second Armored Division.

The Inflation Reduction Act reflects Modern Monetary Thought, and although it has never been proven in the real world, it has become popular with central bankers and politicians who want an easy, painless way to budget government spending.

In short, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) holds that government revenues are unimportant.  It holds that countries that make their own money like the US, UK, Japan, and Canada needn’t worry about spending, taxing, or borrowing because they can pay their debts, since they can print as much money as they need.  Government budgets should not be constrained by fears of a rising national debt.

MMT also holds that conventional monetary thinking is merely a holdover of the gold standard.  It also allows for politicians to pass expensive, popular programs like healthcare, free college education, and other programs for favorite voter groups and corporations because government debt shouldn’t lead to monetary collapse.

The Inflation Reduction Act mirrors these MMT beliefs.  $430 billion goes to new green energy programs although current evidence shows that these programs will not pay for themselves over time.

The current US national debt is over $30.7 trillion dollars and that doesn’t include obligations like Social Security.

Much of that growth in debt came under administrations that preferred politically popular MMT over conventional, but politically painful monetary thought.  Obama added $8.3 trillion to the deficit – a 70% increase.  Trump increased the debt by $7.8 trillion.  Biden has added $2.26 trillion in his first year, which will outpace Trump and Obama if he continues this pace for the rest of his administration.

Any economist will tell you that inflation is demand divided by supply.  And demand is a function of money supply.  The $430 billion in new programs will only increase the demand for goods by $430 billion.

Unfortunately, it appears that supply will not grow enough to tamper down inflation.  From 1992 to 2021, the average growth of the US economy was 2.4%.  However, the Congressional Budget Office projects that the average growth of the US economy from 2022 to 2052 will only be 1.7% per year.

Clearly the supply of goods provided by the economy will not keep pace with the additional demand caused by the increased demand caused by government spending and MMT.

The Penn Wharton Budget Model, which is associated with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business school, showed that the new law would not invigorate the economy or curb inflation.

“We project no impact on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by 2031,” the study noted.  “The Act would very slightly increase inflation until 2024.”

The study also noted that benefits also reduced the incentive to work, which would result in a small decline in hours worked, which would reduce the supply of goods produced.

There, however, was one aspect of the law that did fit conventional monetary thought – increasing the number of tax collectors to conduct audits for those making less than $200,000.

Traditionally, audits were focused on companies and richer individuals to maximize the amount recovered because those making less weren’t profitable enough to audit in the eyes of the IRS.

The law allows for an increase of 87,000 new IRS agents.  To give a better idea of how large that number is, there are three US Armored Brigade Combat Teams in Europe, with about 4,700 soldiers in each brigade.

Those who monitor the erosion of rights for American citizens are especially concerned as the IRS has become a tool to silence government opponents.

The Obama Department of Justice refused to seek criminal charges against her although she did apologize for improper targeting of some organizations.

Another concern was an online ad for IRS applicants that said they must be willing to “Carry a firearm and be willing to use deadly force if necessary.”

The ad was quickly edited as word spread about the ad and its requirements.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said, “When people realize that most of the IRS agents will not be going after billionaires and big companies – but will instead be auditing waitresses, Uber drivers, self-employed people, and small businesses – I expect the opposition will grow even more intense.”

Clearly, the Inflation Reduction Act has created a lot of controversy, both in economic and civil rights areas.  However, since it has been passed by Congress and signed into law by Biden, we will have to wait to see the results.

Week of August 15, 2022

FBI Raids Trump Home

 

(This is an ongoing event and there may be some new events that haven’t been covered in this analysis)

America is undeniably divided.  And the FBI raid on former President Trump’s home in Florida only put an axe to the divided society.  Many consider the FBI raid on Trump’s home at Mar-A-Lago akin to the actions of third world dictatorships that regularly use police or soldiers to attack political opponents.  This is the first time this has occurred in the US.

While the nature of many public comments was expected based on the political beliefs of the person, there were reactions by some Democrats who were worried about this unprecedented raid.  Former Democratic presidential candidate in 2020 Tulsi Gabbard said, “This is something that every American should be concerned about.”

Another 2020 democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang called it political and said, “I’m no-Trump fan…This raid strengthens the case for millions of Americans who will see this as unjust persecution.”

Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who frequently had disagreements with Trump, demanded the Department of Justice explain its raid.

“It must be more than a search for inconsequential archives, or it will be viewed as a political tactic and undermine any future credible investigation,” Cuomo stated.

Although Attorney General Garland stated in his speech on Thursday, that the Department of Justice under him applied the law equally, he didn’t take questions after his prepared statement.  He merely admitted that he had signed the request for the warrant.  He also defended Department of Justice and FBI members as patriots who worked hard under difficult circumstances.

There are many questions that he didn’t answer.  There are questions of a conflict of interest as Trump campaigned in 2016 on withdrawing Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, leaving Garland’s actions on the raid seem political revenge.  There are questions on the federal magistrate’s political activities.  Nor did he answer why his department hasn’t prosecuted or raided Obama’s home over missing documents.  This doesn’t address other Obama Administration officials like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Lynch, EPA officials or the IRS, who have not turned in files.

Although there are many rumors, the facts are scarce.  On Monday, the FBI sent in 30 agents to recover documents from Mar-A-Lago.  The search warrant was signed by a federal magistrate and concerned the failure to turn over presidential documents under the Presidential Records Act.

The Presidential Records Act (44 U.S.C. Chapter 22) has no enforcement mechanism and carries no penalties.  That, in and of itself, makes the use of an FBI raid questionable.  Many see this as what is called in legal circles as a “fishing expedition,” where prosecutors use a flimsy search warrant to give police a chance to find something that might be construed as illegal.  This is unconstitutional and is considered as illegal “search and seizure.”  There has been some speculation that the raid was to find something that could tie Trump into the January 6, 2021, invasion of the Capitol.

Others have hoped that the presidential documents can be used to prevent Trump from running for president in 2024 under U.S.C. 2071, which states that anyone guilty of hiding removing, or mutilating official documents can be kept from holding office.  However, the courts have clearly held that the only qualifications for president are in the Constitution and no other restrictions can be made unless it is added to the Constitution in an amendment.

However, this is more about presidential documents.  There is a growing perception amongst Americans that there are differing levels of law depending on who you are.  While Obama, Clinton and others are let off the hook, average citizens must meet stricter standards.  If you are perceived as an “enemy” the legal system goes even farther to destroy you.

This has been noticed by most Americans and the credibility of agencies like the FBI have suffered, even though they have ignored the problem.  In fact, the FBI seemed surprised by the largely negative response to the raid.

A look at the polls shows that the FBI is plunging in its approval.  A Gallup poll showed that most of the American people have a negative opinion of the FBI.  Only 44% had a positive opinion of the FBI in 2021 – down 13 percentage points from 2019.  It ranks at the bottom with other federal agencies like the IRS, CDC, and Homeland Security.

An example of the bias in the FBI was seen last week in Senate hearings with FBI Director Wray.  FBI whistle blowers had given senators documents showing that the FBI considered showing some patriotic flags like the Betsey Ross Flag (the first American flag) as potential signs of a domestic terrorist.  Ironically Senator Cruz (R, TX) showed that the Betsy Ross Flag was flown as part of the Biden and Obama inaugurations.

Quoting parts of the US Constitution or the Declaration of Independence were also considered suspicious.

While the FBI has had problems in the past few years, Trump has improved in the polls.  If the election were held today, Trump would soundly beat Biden.

This may be the real reason for the raid.

In the days since the raid, Trump has raised record amounts of money.  A Trafalgar Group poll done after the raid showed that the raid energized both Republicans and independents to vote in the 2022 mid-term election.

Ironically, the raid on Trump’s home may guarantee the nomination and election for Trump.  The growing lack of faith in government and the scandals that have plagued the FBI worry Americans, not just Trump supporters.  They are worried by the growing corruption in government and want someone who can do something about it.  It seems Trump is the one – especially since the government is so opposed to him.

 

The Future

Will this raid on Trump have any negative impact on Trump or the GOP?  Probably not.  Trump has survived two impeachments, attacks based on the January 6, 2021, invasion of the US Capitol, Russian collusion charges, and falsified evidence by FBI agents.  If anything, the GOP is coalescing around Trump.

Although Trump hasn’t announced he is running, his comments since the raid indicate that he is determined to run again.

This leaves the Democrats in a dilemma.  Biden is clearly senile and unable to effectively handle a campaign.  In addition, polls show Biden losing to Trump in a rematch.

VP Kamala Harris has even less support than Biden.  Secretary of Transportation Buttgieg, who ran for president in 2020, is a possible presidential choice, but he has done poorly in Washington.  The rest of the Cabinet doesn’t offer any obvious presidential candidates.

Gavin Newsome, Governor of California has made moves that indicate he may run.  But the multitude of problems in California may destroy his chances.

In desperation, the Democrats are even mentioning Hillary Clinton.

Some Democrats have argued that letting Trump have his one term, while grooming a winning Democratic presidential candidate for 2028 may be the best choice.

The only other hope is to create another Trump scandal, one that can make Trump lose.

In that case, the Republicans may very well pick Florida Governor DeSantis, who would rally the Republican base.

There is also the threat of civil unrest.  An apparent Trump supporter tried to attack an FBI office in Cincinnati.  There is also talk of civil war on the internet.

But not all the talk is being made by the political fringe.  Victor David Hanson, a classist and military historian who writes occasionally for the New York Times outlined the FBI corruption in recent years.  He noted, “The FBI’s highest officials now routinely mislead Congress.  They have erased or altered court and subpoenaed evidence.  They illegally leak confidential material to the media.  And, they have lied under oath to federal investigators.”

“The FBI is dissolving before our eyes into a rogue security service akin to those in Eastern Europe during the Cold War.”

Hanson concluded by saying that the FBI has “become dangerous to Americans and an extensional threat to democracy.”

Week of August 08, 2022

Chinese Threats Towards Taiwan
Sound and Fury for the time being

 

As US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi landed in Taiwan, China was engaged in several military exercises that took place around Taiwan.

27 Chinese aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defense zone on Wednesday.  Chinese naval and air forces conducted live fire exercises in six zones around Taiwan, clearly threatening a possible blockade.  Conventional Chinese missiles are expected to overfly Taiwan for the first time and Chinese forces entered within 12 miles of Taiwan’s shore.

Is this the beginning of a conflict between China, Taiwan, and the United States?  Or is this merely a show of strength?

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who visited Taiwan as Speaker in 1997 says China’s threats are a bluff.

Speaking of his visit in 1997, he said, “They [the Chinese] backed down…Their current bluff is just that.”

Discounting the unsubstantial war talk, the evidence is with Gingrich, while China then was” far weaker economically and militarily”.

First, investors, who usually make sound financial decisions, have moved back into the market as it became obvious that China hadn’t planned anything serious like an invasion or actual attack on Taiwan’s military forces.

Second, although military exercises seem threatening, all militaries conduct exercises all year.  This is the best way to conduct training and test weapons systems.  Live fire is a regular part of these types of exercises so the military leaders are sure that their soldiers know how to use the weapons systems and are sure that they will work in a conflict.

The fact that China held 6 exercises around Taiwan in no way guarantees that the Chinese Navy can carry out a long-term blockade in a war.

Blockades rarely occur because they require a major naval presence that can stay at sea for long periods of time.  They require large warships that can stay on station for months at a time.  They require logistics ships that can carry out underway replenishment.  And they require 24 hour a day air superiority to defend lightly armed logistics ships.

An excellent example of the difficulty of carrying out a blockade is the German blockade of England in WWII.  Despite better submarine technology, Allied air and naval superiority in the Atlantic prevented the German U Boats from cutting Britain off from its Commonwealth allies and colonies.  German attempts to conduct surface warfare with battleships like the Bismarck also failed.

Although the Chinese navy has a larger number of ships, they are lighter, have fewer weapons, and are too small to maintain station in rough seas or far from the Chinese mainland.  This includes the Chinese aircraft carriers.

Not only does the US have the nuclear supercarriers that outclass any other navy’s air wing, but it also has several allies with carriers that match or surpass China’s aircraft carriers.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth class carriers are larger and better than all but the American nuclear supercarriers.  It is the largest Royal Navy ship built and it displaces 66,000 tons.  That makes it larger than the French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle at 42,500 tons, and the domestically built Chinese carriers of 50,000 tons displacement.

Just as important, these ships will interface with US carriers and Britain has pledged to support Taiwan in a war.

Japan and Australia also have aircraft capable ships.

Consequently, there is a serious question if China can maintain a naval blockade of Taiwan.

China’s air force is also questionable.  China’s aircraft are based on old Russian designs.  The Chinese Shenyang J-11, which is the backbone of the Chinese air force and the aircraft regularly used to violate Taiwan’s airspace, is based on the Sukhoi Su-27.  It is a high maintenance aircraft that has a shortage of spare parts.  Its primary role was to defend the USSR from long range American bombers like the B-1 Lancer and the B-52 Stratofortress.

Given the Su-27’s performance in Ukraine, there is a serious question if the J-11 can outperform Taiwan’s air force.

Taiwan’s air force is hampered by older American and French aircraft.  However, they have been able to purchase the American air defense Patriot PAC 3 missile system.

China’s Type 99 tank is also developed from the old Soviet T-72 tank.

The fact is that the Chinese military is stronger than Taiwan’s.  However, it is not a certainty that China can defeat Taiwan easily in a major conflict.  True, China could take some of the smaller islands controlled by Taiwan, but at a serious economic risk as most Western nations would impose sanctions.

China has threatened economic sanctions against Taiwan by blocking shipments of food like fish or sand for its semiconductor industry.  However, as China is in the middle of an economic downturn, the question is who would suffer more – Taiwan or China.

 

American Politics

Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan posed several problems back in the United States.  Clearly, this was Pelosi’s idea, not Biden’s.

The fact is that with elections coming up in a few months and Republicans expected to win control of the House of Representatives, Pelosi’s reign as Speaker is likely to end.

By going to Taiwan, Pelosi can cap off her speakership with a major diplomatic win.  She is also supported by most Republicans, some of which joined Pelosi in her trip to Taiwan.  This gives her bipartisan cover.

Biden opposed the trip on the advice of his military advisors, who were afraid of a confrontation with China.  They countered this with the movement of the nuclear carrier USS Ronald Reagan to the area and American fighter aircraft to Japan.  Two amphibious assault groups, including the F-35 fighter aircraft capable USS Tripoli and USS America, are also in the vicinity, The USS Reagan is southeast of Taiwan, the USS Tripoli is northeast of Taiwan, and the USS America is northeast of Taiwan, and close to Japan.

The problem with following the military’s advice was that backing down would show weakness to the Chinese and probably encourage them to take more aggressive moves in the future.

The future is more problematic.  How far do the US and its allies support Taiwan?  Korea appears to be remaining neutral as South Korea’s president refused to meet with Pelosi this week.

Several nations like Germany, Britain, Australia, and Japan have made it clear that they view Chinese aggression with concern and will support Taiwan.

If China continues to increase pressure on Taiwan, the US can start selling modern fighter aircraft to the island nation.  Currently Taiwan suffers from an aging air force of older F-16 fighters and French Mirage 2000s.  F-35 or F-18 fighters would be of great help, although it takes time and considerable training to make the pilots proficient in air combat in these new aircraft.

The US has sent Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Taiwan – the same that have recently devastated several Russian ships in the Black Sea.  More of these missiles would make it harder for the Chinese to invade Taiwanese territory or logistically support Chinese forces after a landing.

A more advanced air defense system would benefit Taiwan as well as US naval forces sailing the waters around Taiwan.  Although China claims to have fielded a hypersonic missile, there are probably few in the Chinese arsenal and it is uncertain if they are effective in a combat situation.

Meanwhile, the Chinese air defense system is questionable.  The Chinese HQ-9 is derived from the Russian S-300, which is showing limited success in Ukraine that the Russians are using it for a crude surface to surface missile.  The Chinese HQ-22 has a shorter range than the S-300 and is cheaper.

 

The Future

Of course, China can counter with economic sanctions or even a threat to closely ally itself with Russia.  However, Russia is currently tied down in Ukraine and can offer little to the Chinese in terms of weapon systems or spare parts.

In the end, it appears that much of China’s talk is merely a pressure buildup.  China will undoubtedly continue military exercises, especially air incursions that are designed to wear out Taiwan’s air force.  They will also try to show that they can blockade Taiwan if they choose.

However, as we have seen, China’s threat is more pressure than actual intervention.

The US appears to be calling China’s bluff and making it clear that US forces can intervene should China take an aggressive step.

A Chinese media outlet reported that RT criticized Pelosi for Taiwan trip and encouraged China with a saying “revenge is a dish best served cold,” which is similar to a Chinese saying, “it’s never too late for a gentleman to take his revenge.”

It seems China will be able to use the Pelosi trip as a catalyst to strengthen its position and display  readiness to use force if necessary to control Taiwan, but still prefer

to create the conditions to gain such control by peaceful means over time.

We must remember that the Chinese Communist Party has always made clear that reunification of Taiwan and mainland China is its “historical task” and, since coming to power in 2012, Xi has steadily underscored his commitment with active military maneuvers around Taiwan.

Week of July 28, 2022

America’s Electrical Infrastructure
on the Verge of Collapse

 

 Europe isn’t the only region worried about a mass failure of its electrical power network.  America is also in the throes of an electrical power crisis.  In Texas, high temperatures have forced conservation measures, including cutbacks at some factories in the state. The electrical grid, however, has not failed as it did two winters ago – although it has been pushed to its limits.

However, there is a greater threat to the nation’s power system, along with the threat to the water supply of millions of citizens.  It is the 86-year-old Hoover Dam system, which borders Nevada and Arizona.  A long-term drought has caused its reservoir, Lake Mead, to drop to historically low levels, which threatens the electrical power of the American Southwest as well as water for millions of people in the West.  It also provides critical irrigation water for many farmers in the desert Southwest.

Despite the critical nature of this dam, little of the infrastructure money allocated in the past few years has gone to the dam or its reservoirs.

The Hoover Dam is responsible for the unprecedented population growth in the Southwest in the last eight decades.  Over 50% of the electricity supplied by the dam goes to Southern California municipalities.  Los Angeles, itself, uses nearly as much electricity as Arizona.  Los Angeles and Southern California take over 50%.

The dam system is so critical that after 9-11, the US government diverted US Route 93 to prevent possible terrorist attacks on the dam.

The US Army also stationed troops at Hoover Dam during WWII.

The current threat is more long term – drought.  The Southwest has been in a historical long-term drought.  Although some have blamed manmade climate change, archeologists have recorded many long-term droughts in the past – droughts so severe that it changed population movements in the region and led to the disappearance of the Anasazi civilization around 1300 AD.

“We are in the 23rd year of drought here in the Colorado River Basin and Lake Mead (the largest reservoir in America, which stores the water for the dam) has dropped down to 28 percent,” says Patti Aaron of the US Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam.

The lake is currently 1,200 feet above sea level, but if it drops down to 1,050 feet, it will be unable to produce electricity.

The lake is currently dropping about a foot a week.

If Lake Mead drops too much, the government can release water from other dams upstream of the Hoover Dam to keep the generators running.  However, that only delays the problem.

The short-term answer is to cut back on water demand, especially in populated areas like Southern California, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.  Reducing water for farming in the region would only exacerbate the food shortage currently driving up prices.

But America’s electrical infrastructure has more problems than the Hoover Dam.

The Midwest is at risk in addition to the Southwest and Texas.  The North American Electric Reliability Corporation warns of a high risk of its energy reserves falling short of its energy needs this summer.  Energy generation capacity has dropped 2.3%, while demand has gone up by 1.7%.

The Western US is currently at an elevated level of risk.

None of this has been helped by the Biden Administration’s attempt to regulate the fossil fuel industry out of business, the reduced supply of fossil fuel from Russia, and America’s attempt to supply its allies with a backup supply of gas for this winter.

Some power companies in America and abroad are reactivating coal powered power stations.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2000, there were fewer than two dozen major power failures.  In 2020, it increased to over 180.  Yet, the recent infrastructure bill only allocated $27 billion to the electrical grid, although experts say over two trillion dollars is needed – an amount of money that would have to be paid by consumers who are already facing crippling inflation.

Part of the problem is the administration’s demand for reducing fossil fuel as a source of electricity.  Renewable sources like wind and solar are unreliable, especially during extreme weather like cold weather.

That means electrical demand is expected to grow as more consumers buy electrical vehicles and move away from heating their houses with natural gas.

 

Will America Muddle Through?

America is facing several problems that could push the nation’s power industry into a crisis.  If there isn’t enough snowfall in the Rockies this winter, the Colorado River may not provide enough water to keep Lake Mead at a level to produce energy.

The same problem can occur if the Midwest experiences high temperatures that drive up electrical demand – as well as damaging crops.

The East is not immune, and a bad hurricane season can ruin the aging infrastructure of the East Coast.

One problem in the US is that the Biden Administration is tone deaf to the signs – which is why Biden’s poll numbers are at levels lower than Lake Mead.  While European nations are moving back to fossil fuel to survive the upcoming winter, the Biden Administration seems fixed on forcing US consumers to spend more on energy – both for their homes and vehicles.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said high energy prices wouldn’t impact consumers with electric vehicles, although studies show that the cost of powering an electric vehicle is four times the cost of air conditioning one’s house.

Even Transportation Secretary Buttigieg has noted that the current power grid can’t handle the increased demand for powering electric vehicles.

There has been discussion that Biden can move America dramatically towards a “clean energy” infrastructure by declaring a national emergency.  However, given the recent Supreme Court Ruling (West Virginia vs. EPA), there is little likelihood that such a national emergency will be declared constitutional.

And, given the response of the Saudis to the idea of a massive increase in petroleum production last week during the Biden Salman meeting, it appears that the Middle East will not save him.

This leaves the Biden Administration with a difficult balancing act.  They can roll back their energy policies like many European nations and not risk the anger of American voters.  Or they can use executive regulation, face higher inflation in the energy sector, risk the loss of the Senate and House in November, and a possible failure of the electrical infrastructure.

Given Biden’s past behavior, he is heading towards a major midterm election loss.  If a crisis breaks the US electrical infrastructure, civil unrest may be on the horizon.

Week of July 21, 2022

The Crisis of American Diplomacy

 

There were once two truisms of an American president travelling overseas on a diplomatic mission.  The first was that politics stops at the border to show a united front to the outside world.  The second was that the President would get a boost at the polls as he showed himself to be presidential.

Neither are true today.  American presidents are regularly criticized by political opponents while overseas.

The second truism, which is true for Biden, is that physical problems and diminished mental capability are highlighted, which gives the president a reduced impact both at home and overseas.

Even members of his own party admit that Biden is suffering from senility.  Obama and Trump’s White House doctor, Ronny Jackson, said on Twitter, “Everyone knows he’s [Biden] unfit for the job.  His mind is too far gone.”

When Jackson first questioned Biden’s cognitive ability, Obama sent an email that chastised him for bringing Biden’s mental Ability to the public.

Biden’s condition has progressed so far that the White House staff is unable to hide the gaffs anymore.  When the staff decided that using fist bumps instead of handshakes (supposedly because of the risk of spreading Covid) would prevent Biden from being photographed shaking hands with Prince Mohammed Salman, Biden forgot and proceeded to do handshakes with other people in Israel and Saudi Arabia.

There were other instances of Biden looking confused and physically uncoordinated during the trip.

These gaffes only confirmed for foreign leaders that Biden is suffering serious cognitive problems and is only a front man for others who are making decisions, and is unlikely to finish his term.

A president who can’t make decisions and is unlikely to finish his term has little chance of convincing other national leaders to accept American foreign policy.  The fact that former White House Doctor Jackson has called for Biden’s resignation only emphasizes the problem.

The second problem with Biden foreign policy is that he is following a political agenda rather than a pro-American agenda.

There is no better example than the Khashoggi assassination.  Although frowned on in diplomatic circles, assassination is used.  In fact, Israel practices assassination when it comes to Iranian scientists – very likely with American help and approval.  There is no fuss when Israel helps assassinate an Iranian.

However, years after Khashoggi was killed by the Saudis, it is still an issue for Biden.  He called Saudi Arabia a “ pariah” state during the presidential election and he refused to shake the Prince’s hand.

Why?  Although he wasn’t a member of the Washington Post staff, Khashoggi occasionally wrote articles for them.  And, as the Washington Post has considerable power in the White House, they apparently can dictate foreign policy.  In fact, after the fist bump, the Washington Post attacked Biden by calling the action “Shameful.”  The Washington Post said in a statement that it, “projected a level of intimacy and comfort that delivers to MBS the unwarranted redemption he has been desperately seeking.”

Biden later said that the Crown Prince said he wasn’t responsible for the murder.

While Americans are unconcerned about an assassination by the Saudis, and more concerned about skyrocketing oil prices and getting Saudi Arabia to pump more oil, the Washington Post is dictating American foreign policy that is contrary to the wishes of American voters.

The whole of American-Saudi relations seems to rotate around US domestic policy rather than US interests.  The Biden Administration has focused on regulating the American oil industry to force Americans to buy electric cars.  It has also been hostile to foreign oil producers.

However, now that domesticated oil prices have skyrocketed – pushing inflation through the roof, Biden is now forced to come to a country that he called a “pariah” and ask for more oil production from a prince that he was unwilling to shake hands with.

It didn’t help that the US House of Representatives passed two amendments to the Defense bill that limits arms sales to Saudi Arabia even as Biden was flying to Riyadh.

Even a student in international relations would see the problems with that policy.

A bipartisan foreign policy also has advantages.  When the US and Soviet Union signed the SALT treaties, the presidents sought bipartisan help to get these controversial treaties approved.

That is no longer the case.

Obama signed the Paris environmental agreement, knowing full well that it had no chance for ratification in the US Senate.  He did the same with the UN Small Arms Treaty.

Since neither treaty was ratified, Obama merely tried to change US law through administrative regulation.  These regulations were eliminated when Trump was elected.

Biden has continued the same practice and is now observing the Paris Accords even though they have never been submitted to the US Senate for ratification.

Foreign leaders who meet Biden and receive a promise, must realize that without bipartisan agreement in the US Senate any promise made to a foreign leader will last only if Biden is president.  Even a Kamala Harris presidency would be unable to keep a promise as her ascendency to the presidency would automatically mean she is no longer President of the Senate and empowered to cast the deciding vote in a tie.  This would give the Republicans de facto control of the Senate until the Democrats regain the majority.

Given the current polls, it appears that the Democrats will then have to wait until 2024 – or longer.

Biden’s political and foreign policy agenda is seriously crippled.  And it’s not just with allies like Saudi Arabia.  Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi are aware of Biden’s weaknesses.  Although Biden has come out in support of Ukraine and Taiwan, his declining cognitive ability means he is more likely to hesitate in a crisis or even be overruled by one of his advisors.

A sign of this concern is that consulting firms are being regularly asked about the war risks between China and Taiwan.  The FBI director said of the Ukraine war, “There were a lot of Western companies that had their fingers still in the door when it slammed shut.”  “If China does invade Taiwan, we could see the same thing happen, at a much larger scale.”

Biden’s mental condition is also a factor for Israel’s new leadership.  Biden has promised to go to war with Iran to prevent the country from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  Can they really rely on such a promise?  What would the American voters and US Congress think?

Although the American media will try to highlight the positives of the trip, the foreign leaders Biden will meet will get a different impression.

As a result, an American president with cognitive problems and falling popularity back home is trying to regain his power as president and world leader.

The situation was best described by the former Saudi intelligence chief.  Speaking on CNBC, Prince Turki Al-Faisal called Biden a “much diminished president.”

The prince continued, “As an example, on energy issues, he came with a policy to stop completely fossil fuel usage not only in the United States, but worldwide, and now he is finding himself having to rely on fossil fuels as a means of meeting the energy shortage that has come about not only because of the Ukraine war, but also because of US policy that itself shut down pipelines and stopped issuing…discovery of oil on US soil.”

This isn’t the quality of foreign policy usually expected of the US.

Week of May 30, 2022

The Changing Vision of Gun Ownership in America
Gun controls a losing issue in America

 

Gun violence in Buffalo, New York, and the killing of 19 children and two teachers this week in Uvalde, Texas has raised the issue of gun control once again, and more Americans advocating universal gun background checks.

But the political chemistry has changed.  Senate Majority leader Senator Schumer promised a vote on gun registration on Wednesday, only to step back as it became evident that too many of his Democratic senators were from pro-gun states and could very well lose in November.

This is a far cry from 31 years ago.  Retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger called the idea that the Second Amendment of the US Constitution granted a personal right to bear arms “one of the greatest pieces of fraud.”  A couple of years later, the US Congress passed a law that restricted so-called Assault Rifles.

The issue has changed dramatically.  The Assault gun ban is no longer in effect and the Supreme Court has ruled that the Right to Bear Arms is a personal right granted by the US Constitution in the 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller.  The case McDonald v. Chicago expanded that right in terms of what the states could or couldn’t do.

Meanwhile, half the states have passed laws that say any adult who can own a firearm can carry a weapon when he is out in public.  This is called Constitutional Carry and it doesn’t require any permit from the government.

Some other states require a permit to carry a firearm, but mandate that the police issue a permit to any law-abiding citizen that requests one.

Now there is another case that will be ruled upon in the next few weeks – New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen that court observers think will push the right to own and carry a weapon even further, by easing licensing requirements.

So, what do the American people think?  Polling is suspect as many pro and anti-gun organizations craft polls that will show that Americans support their ideas.  However, a Rasmussen Poll released this week, before the Texas shooting, but after the Buffalo shooting showed that 50% of Americans don’t think stricter gun control would help stop mass shootings.

There is a better judge of Americans’ ideas about firearms.  That is the FBI instant background check that shows the number and demographics of buyers of firearms from licensed firearms dealers.  What it shows is that Americans are becoming more firearms “friendly” and less prone to believe in gun control.

No wonder the United States has more firearms than people.  Organizations estimate America has about 400 million firearms in private hands.

However, these changes have taken decades.  In the 1980s and 1990s, there was an increasing look by scholars at the Second Amendment and how it was viewed by the writers of the Constitution.  The evidence that they viewed the right as a personal one has grown so much that even gun control supporters admit the pro-gun views of the Founding Fathers.  Now they argue that the Second Amendment doesn’t fit in the modern age and its urban setting.

The view that the writers of the Constitution saw firearms ownership as a personal right was at the center of the Heller ruling in 2008.

But it is more than the Supreme Court that now holds this opinion.  The American people have taken gun ownership to heart in the last generation.

2008 opened many American’s eyes that the economic systems that are taken for granted were fragile and could disappear.  If emergency services and systems break down, then the only person who can defend one’s family is oneself.  Self-protection always outweighs issues like gun control.

Next was the Covid virus and pandemic.  Government mandates, passports, lockdowns, etc., reinforced the need to protect one’s family, especially since there was a breakdown in essential services.  There was also the concern of government tyranny in the heavy-handed way the epidemic was handled.

Many saw the potential need to escape from Covid infested urban areas and recognized that a firearm was not only a protector, but a potential food provider when the supply chain broke down.  Others, who had fled gun control states like New York ended up in gun friendly states like Florida and discovered that guns were much easier to buy and, consequently, became pro-gun. The BLM protests and the violence occurred in some places convinced many big city residents that a firearm was the only thing that stood between one’s home and rioters.

As a result, the profile of the typical American gun owner is changing.  This is seen in the data from the FBI’s firearms background checks.

In 2020, the FBI reported that about 40 million guns were purchased by American citizens.

In 2020, nearly 40% of gun purchases were from new firearms owners.  That was 8.4 million Americans.  Nearly 30% of the firearms sold in 2021 were to new gun owners.  That is 5.4 million Americans.

In 2020, there was a 58% increase in Blacks buying firearms over the previous year.

Of the new firearms owners in 2021, one third were women.  Of the new female firearms owners in 2020, 23% came back in 2021 to buy another firearm.

42.2% of all gun owners are women.  This is a dramatic increase as previous information showed that only 10% to 20% of women were gun owners.

The idea that only whites own guns is going away.  37% of Black and 26% of Hispanic households own firearms.  The biggest firearms sales in terms of percentages were from black men and women (58.2% increase in 2020).

Gun ownership is becoming popular across races and genders.

As gun ownership has increased in the US, old ideas of gun control are now challenged.

Advocates of gun ownership are claiming that universal gun registration is impractical.  Not only is the idea of successfully managing 400 million firearms in a bureaucracy unthinkable, the idea of registering something that is considered a personal constitutional right is probably unconstitutional.

Red flag laws are also unlikely to pass constitutional muster although they are being considered due to the recent shootings.  In America, a person is innocent until proven guilty.  This means that to take someone’s right to bear arms away, there needs to be some legal proceeding where the gun owner can defend himself.  Letting police, relations or other professionals arbitrarily decide who can own a gun strikes at American legal principles.

Others suggest that any sale of a firearm should require a background check.  At this time, that is impossible given the laws surrounding the FBI instant check.  The current system is frequently overloaded and forcing the same system to handle 400 million firearms would be unmanageable.

Others say anyone on the airline terrorist threat list should be unable to buy a firearm.  However, putting someone on that list is easy and doesn’t require any proof of guilt.  There have been cases of well-known politicians like Senator Ted Kennedy being put on the list accidentally.

Pro-Gun advocates argue that allowing teachers to carry firearms in school would stop many school shootings.

There is very little area for agreement.  That is why Biden is using regulations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and firearms (BATF) to restrict firearms.  However, since many of these regulations violate federal law, it is likely that these regulations will inevitably be declared unconstitutional.

How much Congress will do is questionable?  Senate Minority Leader Senator McConnell has asked Texas Senator Cornyn to meet to find a bipartisan bill that could pass the Senate.  However, the legislation will be narrowly focused.  Senator McConnell stated that he wanted, “legislation that directly addresses the circumstances of the school shooting in Texas and does not advance the Democratic agenda.”

That will limit the scope of any legislation since the Democrats are talking about drastic gun control legislation.

Despite the outcries of politicians and world leaders calling for gun control in the US, Americans will continue to cling to their guns.  Not only that, given the changing demographics of gun owners and the movement by states to loosen restrictions on carrying a firearm, gun ownership will probably blossom soon.

In fact, the call for gun restrictions this week will likely boost gun sales this month.  As has been seen in the past, the best way to boost gun sales is for the government to threaten to take American’s guns.

Will anything change with the latest killings?  As far as dramatic gun control goes, no.  Americans are a different breed and firearms ownership is the ultimate sign of sovereignty.

Americans will not give that up.

Week of May 27, 2022

Turkey Balks at NATO Membership
for Finland and Sweden

 

One outgrowth of the Ukraine War is the desire of Finland and Sweden, formerly neutral nations, to join NATO.  The desire to join the Western alliance has been met with near universal approval.  The US has said it will move legislatively to rush the memberships through Congress.  Biden said on Thursday that NATO expansion was needed “now more than ever.”

Not universal approval.  Turkey has made it clear that it has problems with NATO membership for Finland and Sweden.  Turkey’s President Erdogan has said Turkey will, “say no to Finland and NATO membership.”

Is that a hard no?  Probably not.  Several Turkish officials have left the door open, and NATO Secretary Stoltenberg has indicated that it isn’t unusual for member nations to have differences of opinion.  Erdogan’s chief foreign policy advisor spoke to several NATO leaders this week and noted that concrete steps must be taken to address Turkey’s national security concerns.

That indicates that Turkey will probably sign on to their NATO membership after there is some sort of agreement on Sweden’s support for Kurdish rebels fighting Turkey and the lifting of the weapons embargo on Turkey by Sweden.

This is not that unusual when a nation wants to join NATO.  Greece opposed North Macedonia’s membership for years because of a dispute on the country’s name (Macedonia is the name of a Greek region).

Setting aside talk of Kurdish rebels and arms embargos, there are serious geopolitical reasons why Swedish and Finnish membership in NATO is a benefit to Turkey.

Despite some warm talks between Erdogan and Putin, the nations of Russia and Turkey have been bordering on open hostility for centuries.  In the last 350 years, the two nations have fought 13 times – the latest in WWI, when Russia was one of the Allied powers and Turkey was Part of the Central powers.

Some of the reasons for fighting are Russia’s desire for a warm water port, influence over the Caucasus region, control of the Balkans, and influence in central Asia.

Although times have changed, many of the reasons remain.  Russia doesn’t like Turkey’s control of the only entrance to the Black Sea.  There is Turkey’s concern about Putin’s attempt to bring the Caucasus nations back into the Russian sphere of influence.  And there is the issue of who will have the biggest influence in Syria.

NATO membership for Sweden and Finland will force Russia to refocus its geopolitical eyes further to the north.  Just as the war with Ukraine has forced Russia to redeploy some of its troops from Syria, the expanded NATO will force Russia to redeploy forces to the long Russian-Finnish border.

Contrary to Erdogan’s speeches, anything that focuses Russia’s eyes to the north is a geopolitical benefit to Turkey.

 

The Issues

The two critical issues for Turkey are arms embargos and the Swedish support for the Kurds.  Turkey and most NATO nations have been in opposing camps concerning the Kurds fighting in Syria.  Turkey is most concerned about the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, which has fought Turkey since the 1980s and is considered a terrorist organization by most NATO nations.

Russia, however, hasn’t identified the PKK as a terrorist organization.

However, Sweden hasn’t been as opposed to the Kurds and Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde has met with leaders of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party.  How, Turkey argues, can NATO nations protect each other if one of those nations (Sweden) provides some support for turkey’s enemy?

Turkey notes that while it has waited decades to join the European Union, Finland and Sweden are being “fast tracked” in joining NATO.

The issue of Kurdish support may cause a split on how fast Sweden and Finland will become NATO members.  Turkey has suggested that both memberships be reviewed separately since Finland has supported membership for Turkey to the European Union.

The Finnish President, who met on Thursday with President Biden and said Finland condemns terrorism in all forms and noted that Finland is already talking with Turkey on the issues troubling Turkey.

Turkey is also aggrieved due to arms embargo imposed on Ankara.  In the mid-2010s, American made Patriot missiles were sent to the Turkish-Syrian border.  When they were withdrawn in 2015, Turkey asked to buy its own air defense system – a request that was denied.

Turkey then turned to Russia to buy its S-400 air defense system.  This caused the US to remove Turkey from the F-35 fighter program, even though Turkey has spent money to acquire the 120 fighters it had planned on receiving.  The American reason was that they were concerned that Russia might acquire some of the secrets of the F-35 from Turkey, which would make the air defense system better able to defeat American aircraft in a future conflict.

The F-35 wasn’t the only weapons system that was denied to Turkey.  Turkey wants to upgrade its F-16s too, but the request has been shelved.  Other NATO nations have refused to sell Turkey weapons, especially since Erdogan has suppressed domestic dissent.  In fact, several Turkish officers assigned to NATO defected rather than go back to Turkey.

Although Turkey has remained in NATO, it hasn’t been on the best of relations with its fellow members.  However, the applications of Sweden and Finland to join have given Turkey a second chance to reinvigorate its NATO ties.

Obviously continued opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership and refusal to negotiate with NATO will only hurt Turkey.  Turkey could avoid the NATO weapons bans by buying from the Russians, but the war in Ukraine clearly demonstrates that some Russian weapons systems aren’t in the same class as those fielded by NATO.  In addition, replacing its NATO weapon systems with Russian ones would cost billions of dollars and years.

In addition, continued opposition to Sweden and Finland will only increase Turkey’s isolation within NATO.

So, it makes sense to use this opportunity to get the weapons it needs, while becoming a “member in good standing” in the western alliance.

The most sensitive issue will be the F-35s.  The US is opposed to selling the advanced jet fighter to a nation that uses Russian air defense systems.  If Turkey allows the increase in NATO membership, the US could offer the F-35 fighters and the Patriot air defense system in return for scrapping the Russian S-400.

The US might also benefit by learning more about the S-400 and its weaknesses.  And Turkey could share some secrets on how they have become very effective in drone technology, which has benefited the Ukrainians in the war.

No doubt, Sweden, which has an advanced defense industry, would be more than willing to sell arms to Turkey once they become a NATO partner.  The Saab Group produces a wide spectrum of weapons like the Carl Gustaf anti-tank missile, which has proved itself in Ukraine, as well as the NLAW light anti-armor weapon.  They also produce guided mortar rounds and several air defense systems.

With the eyes of NATO on Ukraine, a new degree of respect for Turkey, new weapons systems provided by NATO, and Russia moving some of its soldiers out of Syria, this is Turkey’s chance to regain some status as the regional power.

If Turkey decides not to support NATO membership for Sweden and Finland, Turkey will remain a pariah amongst NATO nations.  They can also be sure that the advanced arms that they want will not be forthcoming.  That leaves them with the same Russian arms, whose wrecks are littering Ukraine.

Meanwhile, several nations, including the US and UK have indicated that they will militarily support Sweden and Finland during the time the two countries are in the process of joining NATO, in other words, Turkey standing in the way of Swedish and Finnish membership will not benefit them and will only worsen relations with NATO.

Turkey will make carefully crafted diplomatic noises about Sweden and Finland.  However, in the end, they will use this unique advantage to improve its standing in NATO.

Week of May 18, 2022

Sweden and Finland consider NATO Membership

 

Peace sure isn’t the favored foreign policy this year.  Ireland is considering its policy of neutrality after Russia held naval maneuvers off Ireland’s coast a few months ago.  It’s only military cooperation currently is to allow US troop aircraft to land in Ireland to refuel.

Switzerland, the benchmark of neutrality for centuries is sanctioning Russia, Even Sweden, which last fought a war in the Napoleonic era wants to join NATO along with its neighbor Finland.

This is a far cry from a few years ago, when analysts argued that NATO should dissolve as it had no use in the 21st century and statesmen regarded President Trump with distain as he asked NATO nations to increase their defense spending as he warned about Russia’s ambitions.

Now NATO nations are voluntarily increasing defense spending and two traditional neutral nations, Finland, and Sweden, want to join NATO.  Formally neutral Finland has seen public support for joining NATO going from 53% when the war in Ukraine started to 76% today.

The Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto stated, “But the Russian invasion of Ukraine changed the mindset of many Finnish people.”

Finland’s parliament is expected to approve plans to join NATO next week.  It will take from 4 to 12 months to complete the process.

Sweden could follow in weeks, although there is some opposition to the move in Sweden’s parliament.  Sweden’s Social Democrats are currently split on the issue and discussing the issue behind closed doors.  However, Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde said, “Finland is Sweden’s closest security and defense partner, and we need to take Finland’s assessments into account.

Both Sweden and Finland are close to NATO.  Both nations have held maneuvers with NATO troops and Finland has sent troops to Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the move to merge two nations that have worked with NATO in the past means more than additional maneuvers with NATO and meeting goals on defense spending.  There are both political and military issues that impact Europe as a whole.

Political

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, NATO has evolved dramatically.  The decades of a lukewarm Cold War of the 60s, 70s, and the 80s are gone.  The war is now taking on the heat of the NATO-Soviet confrontations of the 1950s.

In the early days, West Germany was the shield of NATO.  It would be the battlefield of WWIII and the West German Army was one of the best in NATO.  Today, the German Army is smaller than many other NATO nations, it has spent less on defense than what it has promised, and Germany is addicted to Russian natural gas.

When Ukraine asked for munitions, Germany said that it didn’t have any to spare.  It even refused to send obsolete armored vehicles at first.  It took political pressure from other NATO nations to convince Germany to change course.

While Germany has abrogated its leading role in NATO, a former Warsaw Pact nation is stepping up.  Poland, which has centuries of enmity with Russia has taken on a leading role with NATO.  For year, it has spent more than required on defense and has asked the US to station combat units inside its borders.

Today, Poland is at the center of the rearming of Ukraine.  It is more than a transfer station and has helped quietly move former Warsaw pact equipment out of Eastern NATO nations and into Ukraine.

If this conflict heats up to WWIII, it will be Polish tanks (including the American M-1 Abrams tank) that will be fighting on the frontline.

Another nation that has evolved is a reinvigorated Britain.  In the Cold War days of NATO, Britain was an empire shedding colonies and pulling its forces from “East of Suez.”  Although it was a nuclear power and a center of technology, it was seen by many as a “toothless tiger.”

Today, Britain has taken a more active, leading role in NATO and the rest of the world.  Her new aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales is the command ship of NATO’s Maritime Readiness Force.  She spent March and April off the coast of Norway as a part of Operation Cold Response.  Her sister ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth showed the flag in the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, and China seas, visited military important allies, and showed her support for Taiwan.  She is clearly renewing her role as a world power and serious naval force.

Great Britain has also taken the lead in sending arms (including high tech anti-air and anti-tank weapons) to Ukraine.  It also signed agreements with Finland and Sweden to come to their assistance militarily if Russia should decide to attack them.  This provides a bridging agreement until both countries are fully integrated with NATO.

On the other side, Russia has suffered politically.  Five months ago, Russia was seen as a major military power with vast supplies of natural gas.  Today, Russia’s military is facing difficulties in Ukraine and Europe is considering how to stop using Russian natural gas.

One possible hang up to the expansion of NATO is Turkey.  Turkish president Erdogan has voiced opposition to Swedish and Finnish membership because they allow Kurdish groups to live there.

However, this is probably a negotiating point rather than a solid opposition.  First, NATO expansion would weaken Russia, a traditional opponent of Turkey for centuries.  Second, agreeing to expansion would help Turkey improve its standing in NATO, which has suffered with somewhat chilly relations with NATO allies since Erdogan has been Turkish president.  Third, Turkey has been supporting Ukraine by supplying drones to fight Russia.  Fourth, the expansion of NATO would force Russia to redeploy its military forces to the north and away from Turkey.  Finally, any military redeployment necessitated by a larger NATO would probably mean reducing Russia’s military presence in Syria, which would benefit Turkey’s ambitions.

It’s possible that some negotiations will address the problem.  Sweden especially is regretting its liberal immigration policies, which have led to more crime.  The Scandinavian nations are likely to tighten immigration by militant Kurds, as a prerequisite to join NATO.

The US can and might add inducements for Turkey to allow Finnish and Swedish membership by allowing Turkey to rejoin the F-35 fighter program.

Military

Putin’s decision to launch a military operation into Ukraine has been considered by western analysts as one of Russia’s failures, alongside the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, when Czar Nicholas II ordered the Russian Baltic fleet to the China Sea to defeat the Japanese – only to lose 35 of its 45 ships.

The disastrous war with Japan weakened the Russian monarchy and led to the Russian Revolution – something westerners like Putin to remember.

Putin’s war on Ukraine has changed the military balance in Europe.  Europe (and the US) viewed Russia as a massive conventional army with high tech weapons.  This was one reason why NATO nations didn’t want to send troop into Ukraine.

What NATO are claiming now is that Russia was a “Paper Bear.”  Russia’s massive, armored units suffered from poor maintenance, poorly trained soldiers, and poor logistics.  High tech equipment didn’t operate with the reliability demanded on the modern battlefield.  The modern Russian ships that Putin hoped to challenge US command of the seas proved to be lacking in damage control.

Militarily, NATO is improving with the addition of Sweden and Finland.  Sweden has a vast, modern defense industry that can produce world class tanks, tactical missiles, and fighter aircraft.  Since the end of the Cold War, Finland has bought modern NATO weapons like Germany’s Leopard I main battle tank and the American F-18 fighter.  Finland is also buying the American F-35, which is scheduled for the first deliveries in a couple of years.

Finland’s joining NATO doubles the NATO-Russian border since Finland’s border with Russia is 1,300 km.  This forces Russia to stretch it forces from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Ocean if war comes.

NATO naval operations also benefit.  It makes it harder for the Russians to control the Baltic Sea since the entire coastline, except for Russia’s small part, belongs to NATO nations.  NATO ships can move up the coast to support Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.  Since modern NATO warships have large anti-air footprints (as well as cruise missile range), they can provide support if Russia decides to attack the Baltic nations.

In a war, the fact that both Norway and Finland are close to the Russian naval facilities at Murmansk will make it harder for it to deploy its naval forces or defend its base.

With Russian naval forces in the east at Vladivostok hemmed in by the Japanese islands and the Black Sea Fleet (or what remains of it) hemmed in by Turkey’s control of the Dardanelles, Russia finds itself unable to move its fleet into the open seas to challenge NATO’s naval supremacy.

Sweden and Finland provide NATO with a defense in depth that it didn’t have in earlier decades.  The traditional Russian attack across Central Europe with massive, armored columns would now face an air and naval threat along the northern flank.

It’s obvious that Putin’s strategy to invade Ukraine, cause divisions amongst NATO nations, and precipitate a breakup of NATO didn’t work.  As in the post WWII era, it seems that Russian threats have merely unified NATO, not divided it for now.