Week of March 16, 2021

The Mirage of Artificial Intelligence

 

Long before computers, man was dreaming of intelligent machines that could fight a war.  In fact, H. G. Wells’ book, “The War of the Worlds” envisioned such machines, produced by Martians, conquering humans.

Military men still dream of war machines driven by artificial intelligence (AI).  However, the dream remains just that – a dream.  Even as computer technology improves, scientists discover that the concept of intelligence is more complicated than imagined and that merging such technology with a lethal machine is a recipe for disaster.

In fact, the idea of what artificial intelligence is has evolved over the decades.  The first step was defining a set of rules for computers like, if it is raining, bring an umbrella.  In a wartime setting, that could mean if someone is wearing an enemy uniform, shoot him.

This type of AI technology is common in tax programs.

The second step was replicating higher order human thinking skills like problem solving.  This would be like a drone detecting a person and then using its problem-solving skills to determine if it is an enemy – like the person does not have a uniform, but is in enemy occupied territory, is a young male and is pointing a weapon at you.  However, does the response change if it is a young female pointing the weapon?

The third wave will attempt to merge these technologies.  However, much remains to be solved.  True artificial intelligence requires merging machine learning, symbolic reasoning, statistical learning, search and planning, data, cloud infrastructure, and algorithms.  Even with high order computing, scientists find the problems immense.

There is also the question; can a machine replicate the human calculation for waging war – either in something as simple as a drone or as complex as a computer in a headquarters?

Probably not.

Here are some of the problems:

How do we develop the right algorithms and thinking processes for military AI?

The reality is that who we are determines how we think and solve a problem.  And that can determine the eventual answer and the likelihood that the answer is right.

One algorithm problem that faced the Navy decades ago was to develop an algorithm that could compute the cost of warships before they were built.  One algorithm branch took the engineering direction and postulated that the cost of the warship was determined by the cost of all the components – propulsion, radar, electronics, etc.  The problem was that most Navy ships include new technology that has not been fully matured during the planning phase, i.e., how do you determine the cost of a new technology propulsion system that only exists on the drawing board?

Another algorithm took an economics path.  Rather than determine the cost of each component in the warship, it used the principles of supply and demand – determining cost by how much more efficient the new warship was than the current design.

The economics algorithm was an unpopular answer for the engineers at the Naval Systems Command.  They did not understand the thinking behind that solution and opted for the engineering route, even though the economics algorithm produced more accurate data.

The author of the algorithms has an overwhelming impact on the AI.  In military AI, how the machine thinks will depend on who designs it.  Is the AI developer a software engineer without military experience, a military man with desert fighting experience against militants, a military man with experience in conventional war, a counterinsurgency specialist, or an anti-war activist?

AI also has problems adjusting to the differing behaviors of its opponent.  An example can be found in DARPA’s attempt to develop driverless vehicles.  Engineers quickly discovered that how drivers react in different parts of the United States impacted how the computer would react.

In the Great Plains like the State of Minnesota, drivers are much more courteous and let other drivers merge easily on busy roads.  However, in New York City, where drivers are more aggressive, they do not allow other drivers to merge in heavy traffic.

The result was that a Minnesota programmed automated driving vehicle would be unable to operate in New York City, where a degree of aggressiveness is required.

The same problem occurs in AI military technology.  A Russian officer trained in conventional warfare and modern military equipment will react differently than another commander in another country who has poorly trained soldiers and obsolete equipment.

All warfare also requires flexibility.  However, can AI rapidly recognize a potential problem that has not occurred yet and rapidly come up with another plan?  This is something that makes great generals stand out from their contemporaries.

One example was General Patton’s decision to rotate his army 90 degrees to drive into the German flank at the Battle of the Bulge despite the logistical problems it presented.  AI might very well have opted for the conventional solution, which the other Allied generals recommended, but took longer.  The result of Patton’s initiative was a quick relief of the town of Bastogne by Patton’s subordinate, General Abrams (for whom the American tank, the M-1 Abrams Tank is named for).

However, a daring AI program can be equally disastrous.  In Operation Market Garden in 1944, British General Montgomery tried to use a Patton like strategy to outflank the German defenses.  The result was a costly operation that failed in its goal to cross the Rhine and outflank the Siegfried Line.

This brings up another problem with military AI – some types of AI might be better than others in certain situations.

General Erwin Rommel was a master of desert warfare, who ran rings around the British, in North Africa, even though he had a smaller army.  Yet, his strategy to defeat the Allies at the invasion of Normandy was criticized by many senior German generals (including Field Marshal von Rundstedt) and was to prove inadequate in the end.

AI, like many generals, also tend to focus on tangibles rather than intangibles.  Undoubtedly in May 1940 AI would have looked at British and French tank quality and numbers and forecast that they would have easily defeated the Germans.  It would have discounted General Manstein’s plan to strike through the dense Ardennes Forest with obsolete tanks.

Would an American AI overestimate US weapons capability and underestimate the enemies?

Would “expertise” overrule that brilliance that military geniuses have?   The operational commander of the two critical naval battles on WWII in the Pacific was Admiral Fletcher, a surface fleet admiral who had no real experience in fighting an aircraft carrier battle.  However, Fletcher won both battles and the US Navy was able to claim naval supremacy in the Pacific.

Would AI programmers pick Fletcher’s problem-solving processes over Admiral Halsey, who had experience in aircraft carrier operations and would have commanded the task forces if he had not been ill? Probably not.

Since differing AI algorithms can come up with differing solutions, how would this problem be resolved?  How would a General Patton AI interface with an AI that focuses on military logistics?  Would one of the AIs be “senior” or would the system try to come up with a compromise – a sort of General Eisenhower AI.

Although the military speaks confidently about AI, they have come no closer to a practical solution than they did 40 years ago.

“We’re in the very early days of a very long history of continued very rapid development in the AI field,” said William Scherlis, director of the Information Innovation Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  He was speaking at a virtual panel discussion at the Defense One Genius Machines 2021 summit.

Artificial Intelligence remains a mirage – just on the horizon, but out of reach.  Whether the AI is linked to a smart weapon, or a strategic computer that is found at the general’s side, the problems remain too great for anyone to rely upon them.  The fate of nations and innocent victims rely too much upon them.

The Art of War is just that – an art.  Very few men have mastered it – Napoleon Bonaparte, The Duke of Wellington, George Patton, Erwin Rommel, Gustavus Adolphus, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had the brilliance to win battles and wars.  The idea that a lesser man can develop a military artificial intelligence to mimic them remains difficult to believe.

Week of March 03, 2021

The World of Drones

 

The increased use of drone warfare globally is raising the issue of the proliferation of drones.  Several countries have agreed to set out international standards for the use of military drones.  However, some of the major producers of drones refuse to sign on.

Although the focus is on large drones like the armed Reaper and Global Hawk drones that can carry missiles, there are many others made by many companies around the world.  In fact, over 90 countries use drones in their military – usually for tactical reconnaissance.  However, over a dozen possess and have employed armed military drones that can take out a target.

One drone technology that has been ignored in the reporting on drones is the micro drone.  One example is the 1” x 4” Black Hornet that is used by British soldiers to look over walls and around corners in Afghanistan.  They are made by the Norwegian company Prox, can fly for up to 25 minutes on one charge of its battery, and transmit images up to a mile away.

One weakness of the micro drone is that it is extremely sensitive to wind.  Obviously, its size also limits the payload.  Larger drone can operate in higher winds and can carry more batteries and sensing devices.

Small tactical drones like the French FULMAR can fly for 12 hours and travel up to 90 kilometers.  They are launched by a soldier throwing them into the air much like a toy glider.

Small tactical drones are generally used for intelligence, target acquisition, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  The preferred US small tactical drone is the Raven.

The “Work Horses” of the drone fleet is the medium sized reconnaissance drone.  These are the high endurance drones that can operate either at high or medium altitude.

An example of this class of drone is the Heron, made by Israeli Aerospace Industries.  It has a wingspan of over 16 meters and can fly for up to 52 hours at an altitude of 35,000 feet – the same altitude as commercial jetliners.

The Israeli Heron has been purchased by Germany, the US, Canada, India, Turkey, Australia, and Morocco. Some unconfirmed reports suggest Gulf states acquisitions.

Another drone that has many hours of duty in nations like Afghanistan and Kosovo, is the German LUNA.  It only has a range of 100 kilometers.  Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan have it in their arsenal.

The drones that are best known are the large combat and surveillance drones.  These can be operated by operators thousands of miles away and use difficult to intercept satellite communications.  Their payload can include air-to-surface missiles and laser guided bombs.  They can travel over a thousand miles and have flight times over 14 hours.  Two examples are the American Predator and Reaper.

These drones also have non-military applications like communications interception.  They can scan mobile phone calls and locate targeted individuals or groups.

Several NATO nations like Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands own the American made Reaper.

China has a Reaper rival that looks similar.  It is the CH-4 and it has been purchased by Egypt and Iraq.

As impressive as these large drones are, they are expensive.  The Global Hawk costs $131 million apiece.  That does not include the infrastructure costs that include building a facility that can launch, recover, and maintain such a large complex machine.  It also includes a complex command control facility that can control the drone via satellite – a satellite that (obviously) belongs to the country operating the drone.

 

Countries with Armed Drones

The drones that elicit the most concern are the drones capable of being armed.  Only about three dozen countries have drones that are capable of being armed.

The biggest is the United States, which carried out its first drone strikes in 2001 in Afghanistan.  They currently have several armed drones and are a major exporter of drones.

Israel does not publicly acknowledge that it has armed drones, but there are several reports that they have been used.  They have been employing them since 2004, but first produced them in the 1990s.

The United Kingdom purchased the Reaper drone from the US in 2007 and armed them in 2008.  They have armed their drone (now called the Protector) with domestically produced Brimstone 2 missiles.  The UK has also worked with Israel to create the Watchkeeper tactical drone.

Iran has been producing drones since2010.  Their current armed drone is the Shahed 129. Recently, as last week Iran unveiled its new Kaman-22 drone, which seems modeled on the U.S. -made MQ-1 Preditor, with other features from the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper.

The UAE has drones from several nations, including the US and China.  They purchased the Predator drone from the US in 2013.  They also have a domestically produced drone that was first flown in 2013.

China has several armed drones.  In 2013, they tested a stealth armed drone called the Sharp Sword.  They have several armed drones including the CH-3, Wing Loong 1, Wing Loong 2, and the CH-4.

 

Best Combat Drones

It is difficult to name the best combat drones because different countries have differing operational needs.  In addition, some drones are still secret, and many have not been in combat yet.  The ones in this article have had operational experience under combat conditions and are recognized by experts as the top five drones.

Russia’s S-70 Okhnik.  This drone was produced by the aircraft design firm Sukhoi in 2018.  It looks much like America’s B-2 bomber and is made of stealth materials to make it invisible to radar.

The Okhnik can carry low altitude anti-ship missiles like the subsonic X-35.  It can carry 4 supersonic missiles like the X-74M2 or 8 bombs.

Turkish Bayratar TB2. This is a tactical medium altitude drone with a long flight duration.  Some of the design copied the Israeli Heron drones purchased from Israel.  It can fly for over 24 hours.

Although designed for surveillance, the Bayratar can carry two anti-tank missiles and laser guided ammunition.  It supposedly can drop a bomb within a 3-meter square target.

American MQ-9 Reaper (Predator).  This design has been in operation since 2003.  It can carry up to 14 Hellfire missiles in one configuration.  It can carry two laser  guided Paveway missiles.

It can remain airborne for up to 14 hours.

This drone has considerable operational time in the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It has reduced the need for F-16 manned aircraft.

Israeli Heron.  This surveillance drone can remain airborne for up to 45 hours and can operate for most of its mission without an operator.  It was used in the Gaza Strip in 2008 – 2009.

The French have modified the Heron to create the Eagle drone.

American GASS Avenger (Predator C).  This drone was produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GASS).  It can carry up to 1,000 kg of weapons or electronics.  It was designed to operate off aircraft carriers.

It has improved stealth protection and presents a smaller heat signature.  It is designed for communications with satellites but is opaque to lower frequencies that are used by missiles and aircraft.  It has many stealth technologies copied from the F-22 and F-35 aircraft.

 

Defending from Drone Attacks

A constant of military technology is that for every advancement made, a countermeasure is soon developed.  It is the same for drones.

Anti-Drone tactics are not new.  On December 4, 2011, a RQ-170 Sentinel crashed into the Iranian countryside.  Iran claimed its electronic warfare unit brought the plane down. The Pentagon said the aircraft was flying over western Afghanistan and crashed near or in Iran.

However, the drone was found 140 miles inside Iran’s borders.  Although the US dismissed the idea of Iran’s military having the technology to down one the most sophisticated drones in the world, it appears the Iranians Sflight. Dailytech.com later reported.

According to them, by using its knowledge of the GPS frequency, Iran initiated its ‘electronic ambush’ by jamming the drone’s communications frequencies, forcing it into autopilot.  According to a GPS expert, ‘By putting noise (jamming) on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.’

“The team then use a technique known as ‘spoofing’ — sending a false signal for the purposes of obfuscation or other gain.  In this case the signal in questions was the GPS feed, which the drone commonly acquires from several satellites.  By spoofing the GPS feed, Iranian officials were able to convince it that it was in Afghanistan, close to its home base.  At that point, the drone’s autopilot automatically kicked in and triggered the landing.  But rather than landing at a U.S. military base, the drone was captured at an Iranian military landing zone.

Obviously the Iranians had acquired the complex ability to give the drone the proper forged distance and find an appropriate altitude landing strip to make sure the drone landed as it did in Afghanistan.

Drones are not only vulnerable to spoofing, but their communications can also be jammed, which would probably end its mission by forcing the drone to return to its home base.  Already, some vulnerable parts of the US like the White House and Capitol are guarded from drone attacks by sophisticated electronic countermeasures.

Lasers are also seen as a potential protection against drones.  Some systems are already in operation that can damage sensitive drone systems; however, more powerful laser weapons are in the works.

The US Army appears to be developing a laser weapon that is “a million times stronger” than anything ever used before.  The new weapon will deliver a short burst for a quadrillionth of a second that vaporizes a drone or other projectile.  It is called the Ultrashort Pulsed Laser (UPSL) and can also destroy electronics by acting as an electromagnetic pulse weapon (EMP).

High energy lasers with energy levels of over 100 kilowatts are expected to be used with the 6th generation fighter.

A prototype model of the UPSL could be ready next year.  This was a major project under the Trump Administration, but there is no clear signal from the Biden Administration about its future.

Obliviously, as past military history shows, drones are the weapon of today, but may be the obsolete weapon of tomorrow.

Week of February 23, 2021

The Future of the Republican Party

 

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

This famous quote by American humorist Samuel Clemens could apply equally to the Republican Party.  While reports circulated about the death of the GOP as Trump left Washington and talked about running for president again, the party of Lincoln still had a lot of life in it.

The fact was that the Republican Party did well in November, except for the Senate (which experts predicted would go Democratic instead of being tied) and the presidency.

Republicans seriously narrowed the Democratic margin in the House.  According to the Associated Press on January 22nd, Democrats control only 222 seats, just four seats above the 218 seats needed to have a majority.  That means if midterm elections follow history and the party in power loses seats, the House of Representatives will be Republican in two years.

According to the Cook Political Report, at the state level, Republicans did well, which gives them control of the redistricting and gives them a better chance to win more House seats in 2022.  This was despite the hundreds of millions spent by Democrats to gain a bigger foothold in the states.

While Delaware, Washington, and North Carolina elected Democrat governors; Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia went Republican. Montana switched from Democrat to Republican with the result that Republicans control 27 of 50 governorships.  The Montana win also gives Republicans total control of Montana, since Republicans already control the state legislature.

The New Hampshire State Senate and State Legislature flipped to Republican after going Democratic in 2018.  With its new Republican governor Sununu, it means New Hampshire is now in GOP hands,

It appears currently, of the 99 state legislative bodies in the US (Nebraska has only one legislative body), that the Republican Party controls 62 legislative bodies, while the Democrats now control 37 (a loss of two by the Democrats).  Republicans also gained in seats held in several states.  In heavily Democratic Maine, the GOP gained six seats in the state legislature.

In Iowa, Republicans expanded their majority control of their legislature.  Republicans in Pennsylvania gained seats in both the legislature and state senate.  North Carolina saw the GOP retain control of both state senate and legislature.

In Texas, Democrats gained only one senate seat.  Both legislative chambers remain Republican, as well as the Texas governorship.

This is hardly the record of a party in decline.  However, it does show a change that may predict future Republican and Democratic gains and losses.

For decades, the criticism of the Republican Party was that they were too focused on the presidency.  While Republicans did well in winning the White House in the post ww2 period, they had no control over the Supreme Court, Senate, most states, and House, which remained Democratic for decades.

This has changed.  The Republicans control most of state governors and legislatures but are at a disadvantage at the federal level.  The reality today is that the Republicans control the states, while the Democrats control the federal government in Washington.

This dichotomy explains much.  While Trump is disliked by many (including some Republicans) in Washington DC, he remains popular with many Republicans outside of Washington.

Some in the Republican Party discovered this in the past few weeks.  Liz Cheney, the Republican Representative from Wyoming voted to impeach Trump for the events on January 6th, only to be censured by Republicans in Wyoming.  Ironically, this censure was of the third ranking Republican in the House and a woman who was a rising star in the Republican Party.

At this time, 107 Republican congressmen (many of the Republicans in the House) have indicated that they support removing her from the leadership role for her impeachment vote.

Cheney is not the only one to face censure back home.  Senate Minority Leader Senator McConnell has also been censured by Republicans back in Kentucky for his comments about Trump and impeachment.

Since Trump remains popular with many Republicans, any senator supporting Trump’s conviction could be risking their Senate career.  Given that and the serious constitutional issues surrounding the impeachment and conviction of a former president, it is unlikely that the Senate will vote to convict or that the courts will uphold the conviction as constitutional.  In fact, with legislation like the stimulus bill awaiting an impeachment trial in the Senate, voters (who are not in favor of impeachment and want Congress to address real problems) will punish senators for taking time for this endeavor.

The reality is that Trump is unlikely to run for president again.  He is currently 74 and will be 78 when the next presidential election is held – the same age as Biden when he took the oath of office.  Since there were many criticisms of Biden over his age and mental capacity, a 2024 Trump presidential campaign would run into the same problems.  In fact, Democrats will likely remind voters of Trump’s comments on Biden’s age and mental health.

Trump is more likely to play to his strengths – money and organizing.  He has already indicated that he wants to campaign for clean elections and provide support for Republicans who back his agenda.  He is also expected to raise money for Republican candidates by speaking at local events.

With Trump’s loss, there are many who are looking towards the 2024 presidential election.  However, those who criticized Trump over the last four years like Romney are unlikely to find it an easy road.  Voters will remember those candidates who opposed their president.

However, there are some potential candidates who are already making a name for themselves.  In Senate confirmation hearings, two Republican Senators have made it clear that they will take a leading role in opposing the Democrats and their agenda.  They are Senator Cruz (Texas) and Senator Paul (Kentucky).  Although they did have differences with Trump over the past four years, they were generally supportive of his agenda.

Senator Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016 and was the last major candidate to drop out after it became clear that Trump would win the nomination.  He is eloquent and a strong conservative who has the backing of many grassroots Republican organizations.

Senator Rand Paul is an outspoken senator with libertarian leanings.  His father is former Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2012.  Although he disagreed with Trump on the deployment of US troops in the Middle East, like Trump, he favors small government.

While the 2024 presidential election will impact events, it is the 2022 election and the future of the “nullification” movement that will have the biggest impact in the near term.

As mentioned earlier, some candidates are already setting up their congressional campaigns.  Thanks to her vote for Trump’s impeachment, Liz Cheney is already being challenged in the Republican primary.  She will not be the only one to face competition from pro-Trump candidates.

The Nullification movement will also pick up as Biden reinstates many Obama era regulations.
Nullification is a principle that was frequently employed by southern states in the pre-Civil War era but died out after the war.  It says that each state can decide which federal rules to obey.

The principle gained life again in the 1990s when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not impose rules on the state if they didn’t provide the necessary funding.  The ruling declared unconstitutional a law that forced states to impose additional rules on gun purchases.

Ironically, this principle was expanded by the Obama administration to stop states from enforcing federal laws on immigration.  The principle was also used extensively by Democratic states like California during the Trump Administration to ignore laws that would send undocumented immigrants back to their homes in other countries.

As the Biden Administration is expected to push legislation and regulation on gun rights, abortion, the environment, immigration, voting procedures, and economic regulation, we can expect states to refuse to enforce federal legislation.  Since the federal government does not have that many law enforcement officers and relies on local police to enforce federal laws, this is essentially the same as nullification.

The states have already started pushing back.  Texas is already suing the federal government to prevent them from ignoring immigration laws in Texas.  And, in a public defiance of Biden, governors of both Texas and Florida withdrew their National Guard units from the District of Columbia when it was discovered that they were expected to sleep in substandard accommodations like the marble floor of the halls of Congress and parking lots.

So, can the federal government impose its dictates on the states?  The federal government does not have enough law enforcement officers to do the job.  Nor can it use the National Guard since it is controlled by the governors.  The military is prohibited from law enforcement unless there is an insurrection and declaring an insurrection against Republican states is one way to guarantee an insurrection and the resulting civil war.  It will strengthen the position of legislatures that are considering secession.
In the end, although it appears that the GOP is in a weakened condition, it is much stronger than many of its opponents think.  While it is weakened in Washington, its strength lies in the states, where the concept of just ignoring Washington and its orders is gaining momentum.

While, the Democrats may control Washington and the federal government, they are projecting weakness.  Surrounding the Capitol and the inauguration with barbed wire and three divisions of military while swearing in a new president who is saddled with serious questions about his mental health projects weakness, not power.

This projection of weakness will continue as 7,000 troops are expected to be stationed until March (may be more) in the District of Columbia – a ratio of DC population to troops of 100 to 1, which according to International Institute of Strategic Studies is a higher civilian to military ratio than in China’s Central Theater Command, which protects Beijing.

In the end, Biden may choose to force his unpopular regulations and laws on the states only to find that the governors of Republican states like Florida and Texas have more power than he does.
Although it is too early to make a final judgment or prediction on the future status of the republican party and the emerging leadership after Trump, he may be still holding more influence until the 2022 mid-term election.

Week of February 12, 2021

US Military Moves Against Russia and China

 

The last few weeks have been busy ones for the US military as they have redeployed several units to meet what US leadership perceived to be potential threats by Russia and China.  American bombers have deployed to Norway for the first time.  Two US nuclear super carriers are holding maneuvers in the South China Sea, the National Guard is reconfiguring to better meet Russian and Chinese military challenges, and several American allies are also carrying out operations aimed against Chinese aggressive move.

The US Air Force is deploying B-1 bombers and aircrews to a base in Norway for the first time in a demonstration of the importance of its Arctic strategy.  The 200 airmen are supporting a B-1 bomber squadron that is temporarily moving to Orland Air Base in western Norway.  Norway operates a fleet of F-35 fighters at the same base.

The focus on the Arctic is designed to counter Russian and Chinese designs in the Arctic.  Up till now, most strategic bomber operations in the Arctic have been launched from Britain or the continental United States (which require long flights and in-air refueling).

The deployment of bombers to Norway is a new development.  The Norwegian government does not allow the deployment of nuclear capable bombers to its air bases.  However, the B-1 bomber, which was nuclear capable until the mid-1990s is now designed totally for conventional missions.  It is designed for low level, high speed missions that can fly under radar.

Although this operation is taking place during the Biden Administration, these NATO deployments take a long time to plan and receive the necessary Norwegian approval – especially since this is a first-time deployment of American bombers.  That means the planning took place under the Trump Administration.

It is not just the Air Force that is interested in the Arctic.  The Navy released its Arctic strategy in early January, while Trump was still president.

“In the face of increasing aggressive activity in the high north, from both Russia and China, which claims to be a near Arctic nation, we in the United States must maintain a favorable balance of power in the region for ourselves and our allies,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said.

The Arctic Sea has traditionally been a patrol area for American nuclear ballistic submarines since it offers little response time for the Russians.

The 25-page document noted, “Without sustained American naval presence and partnerships in the Arctic region, peace and prosperity will be increasingly challenged by Russia and China.”

This interest in the far north is not new.  In the 1980s, under President Reagan, the US Navy started developing a strategy to close the northern naval approaches to Soviet forces.  The strategy saw US Navy closing the major Soviet naval port of Murmansk, which is the base of its Northern Fleet and many ballistic missile submarines.

Since the Arctic is the shortest route for bombers of either Russia or America, there is a growing concern over the state of infrastructure, especially as the frequency of Russian aircraft penetration of Canadian and American air space has increased.  Russia is also the only nation with offensive capabilities stationed within the Arctic Circle.

The Arctic is also the best place to control and maintain communications with polar orbit satellites like America’s spy satellite constellation.

The National Guard is also preparing for a possible conflict with Russia or China.  The Army National Guard will place most of its brigades under the command of its eight-division headquarters, which were previously just commands, with about 300 men, but without any brigades attached to them.  This will increase the number of complete Army divisions to 18.  This gives the Army National Guard a better ability to fight a large conventional war.

American divisions usually have about 20,000 men.

In the past two decades, the focus has been on smaller brigade combat teams, which are ideal for counter terrorism operations or for deploying and assisting other nations.  By combining them into divisions, it allows for combined training and better cohesiveness in combat.

Last summer Lt. General Daniel Hokanson, who is Director of the Army National Guard, said, “There is a potential for large-scale combat operations…[and] it could be division level fights.”

 

China

This week, the Department of Defense announced that the two aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt carried out joint operations in the South China Sea.  As we have noted in the past, operations in hostile waters are best carried out with two carriers.  Two carriers make it difficult to neutralize the task force, allow one to launch aircraft, while the other recovers aircraft, and provides a secondary base for emergency landings.

The Nimitz is heading back to its base in Sand Diego for refitting and training.  Contrary to reports, this was a planned movement and not ordered by Biden to reduce tensions with Iran (who is currently carrying out exercises with Russia and China).

The Chinese called the operations a blow to “regional peace and security.

The two carrier operations allowed aircrews from both ships to improve combined operations as well as command and control capabilities.  It is only the ninth time that two aircraft carriers have operated together in the region since 2001.

It is not just the US Navy that is carrying out joint operations in the area.  The region is seeing wargames with the US, Australia, and Japan.  The joint exercises named Cope North 2021, will run until February 19th.

The exercise is designed to prevent a major hostile nation (China (and) or Russia) from carrying out a surprise attack on US airpower with missiles.  F-35 fighters from Alaska and Guan are involved.  A total of 95 aircraft from Australia, the US, and Japan are involved in the operation.

The Australians are taking these operations seriously as Chinese/Australian relations are at low ebb as the two nations are engaged in a major trade war.

Other nations are also planning exercises in the region.  The Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will drill with several maritime forces this spring.  The US, UK, and Japan are part of a trilateral naval agreement.  This is the first time that Royal Navy fixed wing jet aircraft have deployed in a decade.

The exercise will include US Marine F-35s stationed onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in addition to the Royal Air Force F-35s.  The Japanese will contribute two helicopter destroyers that will also deploy Japanese F-35s.  The Japanese have also requested that American Marine F-35s also deploy onboard the destroyers.

Other Japanese, American, and British escort and air defense ships will also be part of CSG 21.

One nation, whose support for of these exercises is necessarily discrete, is Taiwan.  Recent American naval exercises have been held in the sea between Taiwan and the Philippines.  Some of this area is part of the Taiwan air defense zone, which has been tracking the increasingly frequent Chinese military aircraft penetrations of Taiwanese airspace.

By operating to the east of the Taiwan air defense zone, the US Navy (and other nations) has an extra layer of radar and air defense.  If Chinese aircraft move against the US fleet, Taiwan is well placed to detect the aircraft and warn the American warships.  The Taiwanese air force can also scramble fighters to intercept the Chinese aircraft if necessary.  In that case, the Taiwanese fighters can confirm the type of aircraft approaching and the type of weapons that they are carrying (anti-ship or anti-air missiles).

This is what happened a few weeks ago when Chinese bombers and fighters conducted a simulated missile attack on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Although much has been said about Biden’s new military strategy, little has changed.  US Navy warships are still transiting the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait as they did under Trump (but rarely under Obama).

In Europe, Biden has allowed US Air Force bombers to temporarily deploy in Norway – something Obama never did.

At the same time, Biden is maintaining a tough stance against Iran.

It has often been noted that national foreign policy transcends the desires of politicians.  The fact that Biden is continuing to follow Trump military policy is an excellent example of that.

Week of February 08, 2021

Department of Defense undergoes a
“Stand down” to rid itself of “Extremism”

On February 4th, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he ordered a military wide stand down over the next 60 days to deal with extremism in the military ranks after it was learned that active and former military personnel participated in events on January 6th that led to the storming of the Capitol.

During Austin’s confirmation hearing, he vowed to get rid of “racists and extremists.”

“Today I met with senior leaders to discuss extremism in the military.  As a first step I am ordering a stand down to occur over the next 60 days so each service, each command and each unit can have a deeper conversation about this issue.”

These “stand downs” are not uncommon.  Ever since the end of the Civil rights movement in the 1960s, the military has occasionally held seminars on race relations.

The meeting by Austin with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders was an initial discussion on the issue of extremism and White supremacy within the military.  “No matter what it is, it is…not an insignificant problem,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.

Kirby also noted that the FBI had opened 68 investigations into troops or veterans for domestic extremism in 2020 (only one quarter of those was associated with White nationalism).  Given that there are 18 million veterans and 1.3 million in military active service, the number is still significant if we consider the unknow number of likely sympathizers.  However, after Trump presidency and today’s Democratic Progressive movement and charged Culture political climate, many are trying to highlight as a national issue the white supremacy.  Many find it reasonable to equate supporting Trump with extremism.

Although there are regulations in the military against extremism, the question is what is extremism? The definition is vague and much depends on one’s political outlook.  Retired Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz gave his opinion to Fortune Magazine, “One of my bigger concerns is that there has long been a strong Trump following in the military.”  He said rooting out “Trump loyalists may entail pursuing thousands of service members and Department of Defense employees.

For example, a Special Forces briefing on January 22nd at the Fort Bragg Special Warfare Center and School on the extremist threat left many Special Forces personnel shaken.  They were informed that mere possession of certain “right wing” imagery could lead to being “detained” by Homeland Security.

One soldier, who wished to remain unnamed said, “People who are willing to stand up for the country are now being told we are extremists and that we are terrorists and that if we share these ideals with anyone or if we publicly speak on these ideals, that not only will I be chaptered out of the Army, but that I could possibly be detained and put under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Lawyer and First Amendment expert Harmeet Dhillon said, “We’re definitely seeing a crackdown on our constitutional rights as we speak – there’s no question about that…It’s a very scary time.”

Of course, civilians who support Trump are also finding themselves facing more scrutiny too.

Major American media has attacked Trump supporters as extremists and White supremacist – amongst other things.  MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson accused Republicans of being “Terrorist sympathizers.”

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted, “There are millions of Americans, almost all white, almost all Republicans, who somehow need to be deprogrammed.”

However, some Democrats see the charges as going too far.  The longest serving woman in Congress, Representative Marcy Kaptur (D, Ohio), says she feels increasingly alienated in the Democratic Party.

Former Democratic Congresswoman, former Army Officer, and former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has also said it has gone too far. She has condemned former CIA director Brennan and Democratic Congressman Schiff’s statements against Trump supporters.

Brennan has called Trump supporters “fascists,” “bigots,” and “racists.”

Schiff is introducing a domestic terrorism law that could be used against Trump supporters, although some republicans are pointing to Antifa and BLM as extremists and radicals.  Such a law would leave the decision to prosecute up to political prosecutors, who could use the law to punish political opponents.

Not all threats would be punished.  In May of last year, the Senate Majority leader Senator Charles Schumer threatened SCOTUS by saying, “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price…you won’t know what hit you.”  These comments were a threat of violence by many and earned a rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts.

So, extremist and threatening language comes from more than extremists or white supremacists in the military or general population.  It is common on both sides of the aisle in Washington.

Which brings us back to the key question; is the US military generally racist?

A study by the Council on Foreign Relations says no.  In a study conducted months before the 2020 election it showed the military as more open than society.  Obviously, it is more male dominated since it is organized for combat operations.  However, the percentages of women and races are surprising.

The report summary says, “The US military has taken significant steps over the past decade to build a more diverse and inclusive force that attracts the country’s top talent.

Although the flag ranks (general and admiral) are still predominantly white, the percentage of black flag officers closely matches the general American population.  One reason for the fewer Hispanics in the flag ranks is that the Hispanic part of the population has grown dramatically in the past few decades – there has not been the time it takes for many eligible Hispanics to reach flag rank.

The good news is that the officer corps has similar levels of racial diversity as the general population.  This guarantees that the number of Hispanic flag officers will grow in the future.

Interestingly, in all the services, women in the military are more likely to be a minority.  Among Black Army recruits, the portion of Black women is higher than it is in the civilian labor force, which indicates that opportunities are better in the military for Black women, but this may be the result of seeing joining the military as an economic opportunity that not available in the civilian work force.

The Whitest branch of service is the Coast Guard.

There is a preference for the branch of service amongst minorities.  Blacks prefer the Army.  Hispanics (both men and women) prefer the Marine Corps.  There are higher percentages of Blacks in the Navy and Air Force than in the general civilian work force.

Women have also found opportunity in the military.  When the draft ended in 1973, only 2% of the enlisted ranks were women and 8% of the officer corps.  Today that is 16% and 19% respectively.

Nearly a quarter of Coast Guard officers are women.  Of the traditional military services, the Air Force has the highest number of women officers at 21%.  The lowest is the Marine Corps with only 8% – a reflection of the Marine Corps’ tradition that every officer is also a foot soldier and must be equally qualified for a combat role.

One difference is in the jobs the different races want to hold.  While Blacks prefer office jobs, where they can acquire skills useful in the civilian world, many whites and Hispanics prefer combat roles – probably a reflection of their desire to “prove themselves.”

So, is the military racist or filled with White supremacists?  May be.  A minority person, who can meet the tough standards to join the US military has a better chance for promotion than in many segments of the civilian work force.  If that weren’t true, minority reenlistment rates would fall, and the percentage of minorities would be less than they are.

What SecDef Austin proposes will not help the military become more effective or even less racist.  Those holding “improper” views will learn just to keep their opinions to themselves – just as many have over their military careers.

History shows that there are two reasons why factions seek to limit speech.  One is that it is an effective method to quash dissent.  The second is that they cannot defend their own actions or beliefs.

Week of January 25, 2021

The Future of the Republican Party

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

This famous quote by American humorist Samuel Clemens could apply equally to the Republican Party.  While reports circulated about the death of the GOP as Trump left Washington and talked about running for president again, the party of Lincoln still had a lot of life in it.

The fact was that the Republican Party did well in November, except for the Senate (which experts predicted would go Democratic instead of being tied) and the presidency.

Republicans seriously narrowed the Democratic margin in the House.  According to the Associated Press on January 22nd, Democrats control only 222 seats, just four seats above the 218 seats needed to have a majority.  That means if midterm elections follow history and the party in power loses seats, the House of Representatives will be Republican in two years.

According to the Cook Political Report, at the state level, Republicans did well, which gives them control of the redistricting and gives them a better chance to win more House seats in 2022.  This was despite the hundreds of millions spent by Democrats to gain a bigger foothold in the states.

While Delaware, Washington, and North Carolina elected Democrat governors; Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia went Republican. Montana switched from Democrat to Republican with the result that Republicans control 27 of 50 governorships.  The Montana win also gives Republicans total control of Montana, since Republicans already control the state legislature.

The New Hampshire State Senate and State Legislature flipped to Republican after going Democratic in 2018.  With its new Republican governor Sununu, it means New Hampshire is now in GOP hands,

It appears currently, of the 99 state legislative bodies in the US (Nebraska has only one legislative body), that the Republican Party controls 62 legislative bodies, while the Democrats now control 37 (a loss of two by the Democrats).  Republicans also gained in seats held in several states.  In heavily Democratic Maine, the GOP gained six seats in the state legislature.

In Iowa, Republicans expanded their majority control of their legislature.  Republicans in Pennsylvania gained seats in both the legislature and state senate.  North Carolina saw the GOP retain control of both state senate and legislature.

In Texas, Democrats gained only one senate seat.  Both legislative chambers remain Republican, as well as the Texas governorship.

This is hardly the record of a party in decline.  However, it does show a change that may predict future Republican and Democratic gains and losses.

For decades, the criticism of the Republican Party was that they were too focused on the presidency.  While Republicans did well in winning the White House in the post ww2 period, they had no control over the Supreme Court, Senate, most states, and House, which remained Democratic for decades.

This has changed.  The Republicans control the majority of state governors and legislatures but are at a disadvantage at the federal level.  The reality today is that the Republicans control the states, while the Democrats control the federal government in Washington.

This dichotomy explains much.  While Trump is disliked by many (including some Republicans) in Washington DC, he remains popular with many Republicans outside of Washington.

Some in the Republican Party discovered this in the past few weeks.  Liz Cheney, the Republican Representative from Wyoming voted to impeach Trump for the events on January 6th, only to be censured by Republicans in Wyoming.  Ironically, this censure was of the third ranking Republican in the House and a woman who was a rising star in the Republican Party.

At this time, 107 Republican congressmen (many of the Republicans in the House) have indicated that they support removing her from the leadership role for her impeachment vote.

Cheney is not the only one to face censure back home.  Senate Minority Leader Senator McConnell has also been censured by Republicans back in Kentucky for his comments about Trump and impeachment.

Since Trump remains popular with many Republicans, any senator supporting Trump’s conviction could be risking their Senate career.  Given that and the serious constitutional issues surrounding the impeachment and conviction of a former president, it is unlikely that the Senate will vote to convict or that the courts will uphold the conviction as constitutional.  In fact, with legislation like the stimulus bill awaiting an impeachment trial in the Senate, voters (who aren’t in favor of impeachment and want Congress to address real problems) will punish senators for taking time for this endeavor.

The reality is that Trump is unlikely to run for president again.  He is currently 74 and will be 78 when the next presidential election is held – the same age as Biden when he took the oath of office.  Since there were many criticisms of Biden over his age and mental capacity, a 2024 Trump presidential campaign would run into the same problems.  In fact, Democrats will likely remind voters of Trump’s comments on Biden’s age and mental health.

Trump is more likely to play to his strengths – money and organizing.  He has already indicated that he wants to campaign for clean elections and provide support for Republicans who back his agenda.  He is also expected to raise money for Republican candidates by speaking at local events.

With Trump’s loss, there are many who are looking towards the 2024 presidential election.  However, those who criticized Trump over the last four years like Romney are unlikely to find it an easy road.  Voters will remember those candidates who opposed their president.

However, there are some potential candidates who are already making a name for themselves.  In Senate confirmation hearings, two Republican Senators have made it clear that they will take a leading role in opposing the Democrats and their agenda.  They are Senator Cruz (Texas) and Senator Paul (Kentucky).  Although they did have differences with Trump over the past four years, they were generally supportive of his agenda.

Senator Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016 and was the last major candidate to drop out after it became clear that Trump would win the nomination.  He is eloquent and a strong conservative who has the backing of many grassroots Republican organizations.

Senator Rand Paul is an outspoken senator with libertarian leanings.  His father is former Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2012.  Although he disagreed with Trump on the deployment of US troops in the Middle East, like Trump, he favors small government.

While the 2024 presidential election will impact events, it is the 2022 election and the future of the “nullification” movement that will have the biggest impact in the near term.

As mentioned earlier, some candidates are already setting up their congressional campaigns.  Thanks to her vote for Trump’s impeachment, Liz Cheney is already being challenged in the Republican primary.  She will not be the only one to face competition from pro-Trump candidates.

The Nullification movement will also pick up as Biden reinstates many Obama era regulations.

Nullification is a principle that was frequently employed by southern states in the pre-Civil War era but died out after the war.  It says that each state can decide which federal rules to obey.

The principle gained life again in the 1990s when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not impose rules on the state if they didn’t provide the necessary funding.  The ruling declared unconstitutional a law that forced states to impose additional rules on gun purchases.

Ironically, this principle was expanded by the Obama administration to stop states from enforcing federal laws on immigration.  The principle was also used extensively by Democratic states like California during the Trump Administration to ignore laws that would send undocumented immigrants back to their homes in other countries.

As the Biden Administration is expected to push legislation and regulation on gun rights, abortion, the environment, immigration, voting procedures, and economic regulation, we can expect states to refuse to enforce federal legislation.  Since the federal government does not have that many law enforcement officers and relies on local police to enforce federal laws, this is essentially the same as nullification.

The states have already started pushing back.  Texas is already suing the federal government to prevent them from ignoring immigration laws in Texas.  And, in a public defiance of Biden, governors of both Texas and Florida withdrew their National Guard units from the District of Columbia when it was discovered that they were expected to sleep in substandard accommodations like the marble floor of the halls of Congress and parking lots.

So, can the federal government impose its dictates on the states?  The federal government does not have enough law enforcement officers to do the job.  Nor can it use the National Guard since it is controlled by the governors.  The military is prohibited from law enforcement unless there is an insurrection and declaring an insurrection against Republican states is one way to guarantee an insurrection and the resulting civil war.  It will strengthen the position of legislatures that are considering secession.

In the end, although it appears that the GOP is in a weakened condition, it is much stronger than many of its opponents think.  While it is weakened in Washington, its strength lies in the states, where the concept of just ignoring Washington and its orders is gaining momentum.

While, the Democrats may control Washington and the federal government, they are projecting weakness.  Surrounding the Capitol and the inauguration with barbed wire and three divisions of military while swearing in a new president who is saddled with serious questions about his mental health projects weakness, not power.

This projection of weakness will continue as 7,000 troops are expected to be stationed until March (may be more) in the District of Columbia – a ratio of DC population to troops of 100 to 1, which according to International Institute of Strategic Studies is a higher civilian to military ratio than in China’s Central Theater Command, which protects Beijing.

In the end, Biden may choose to force his unpopular regulations and laws on the states only to find that the governors of Republican states like Florida and Texas have more power than he does.

Although it is too early to make a final judgment or prediction on the future status of the republican party and the emerging leadership after Trump, he may still be holding more influence until the 2022 mid-term election.

Week of January 19, 2021

Biden’s Foreign Policy and his Team

It was easy to forget during all the drama surrounding the election that Biden had selected his foreign policy team in November.  And, like the election, the people selected engendered criticism.  The left wing of the Democratic Party complained that the foreign policy team was not diverse and had too few women and minorities.  More moderate Democrats, foreign policy experts and Republicans complained there were too many Obama people who were responsible for foreign policy failures of the Obama Administration.

These criticisms, however, reflect differing opinions on what direction the Biden Administration should take on foreign policy.  The campaign stump speech that merely criticized the Trump policy will not be enough.  Biden must make choices – some exceedingly difficult ones.

Many want a return to Obama policies.  They want bilateral cooperation with China on   number of issues like the environment, health, and economic issues.  They want to reinstitute the Iran nuclear deal and want a more active role in the Middle East.  They also want to induce change in totalitarian governments to bring about more democracy.

The second group sees a changed world view.  They see China as a threat and want a more aggressive approach to Beijing.  They see the Trump initiatives in the Middle East to lessen US involvement in the region and to pressure Iran on its nuclear program.  They also want negotiations on several international issues like taxes, cybersecurity, industrial policy, and technology.

One important factor is Biden and his previous experience on foreign policy issues as Vice President and senator.  As Obama’s Vice President, Biden frequently disagreed with Obama’s policies and approach.  He wanted a more aggressive support for the Ukraine, while Obama wanted to restrict the US support to non-lethal equipment.  He also wanted a more aggressive approach to China.

Although Biden has made it clear that he is more willing to work with allies than Trump, he may find some his policies will not please some allies as much a Trump’s policies.  The Australians and Japanese are worried about Biden’s potential to create closer relations with China despite China’s aggressive crackdown in Hong Kong and military pressures regarding Taiwan, the South China Sea, Nepal, and India.

Europe is also worried about its status.  Will Biden focus so much on China that he will leave European issues on the sideline?  How will the US/British “special relationship” fare since Biden opposed Brexit?

Biden has also indicated that he will not forget traditional NATO allies by overturning the Trump decision to move US military forces from Germany to Poland.

Foreign policy also intersects with politics and this offers Biden a chance to “reach across the aisle” and create a more bipartisan attitude in Washington.

If there is one area of concern in both the Biden and Republican camps, it is China.  The China of 2021 is far different from China of 2009, when Obama came in.  Today’s China has managed to irritate nearly every country from India to Japan by aggressively imposing its own territorial boundaries, despite international law.

While Obama promised to pivot towards Asia, he never did, and China policy was left to drift.  This is no longer possible.

Biden can create good will with a majority of Senate and House Republicans by showing seriousness in dealing with China.  It will also help improve relations with many nations in East Asia.

Countering China will also help relations with Great Britain, which is upset with China’s abrogation of the treaty that gave Hong Kong back to China.  The British Navy is also working with the US Navy in defending the rights of navigation in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

An aggressive China policy will also fit into current EU’s policy of cutting back on cooperation with China.

The aggressive China policy, however, will have a cost within his own party and administration.  Those who believe in bringing back the Obama policies will argue that cooperation is the key to limiting China’s aggressive moves and preventing a Cold War with China. Others will argue that domestic spending on a “Green” economy will help the US to become more competitive with China – a policy that will be favored by many in the Democratic Party.

Given that Xi Jinping’s China has become more aggressive and assertive in the last few years, Biden will have to retain some of Trump’s policies of confrontation.  How much confrontation Biden will show will depend much on who he is listening to in his administration?  A serious pull back, may indicate that the people who have Biden’s ear are those who advocate a return to the Obama policies.

One region that has changed dramatically in the last four years is the Middle East.  ISIS is no longer the threat it was.  The number of American military forces in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq has dropped dramatically.  There is also a “normalization” agreement between Israel and several Arab nations.

Here Biden is boxed in.  It would be politically risky to return forces into the region.  Nor does he want a return of the ISIS threat.  And he would not want anything to cause the Arab states deal with Israel to fall apart.  Chances are that his Secretary of Defense Austin will help by advising him on the transitioning Middle East – a subject he lectured on at the Brookings Institution several years ago.

The only areas of freedom for Biden will be Turkey and Iran.  In the case of Turkey, Biden would likely work in concert with the EU to isolate that nation and make its expansionist policies harder to carry out through economic sanctions.  This may include increased military support for Greece.

Iran poses a larger problem.  It has also become more assertive with its capture of a Korean tanker.

While Biden may want a return to the Iranian nuclear deal, the time has passed for an easy way for that.  Iran has enriched more uranium and will be loath to give it up.  The Iranians will also expect a dramatic reduction in economic sanctions – something that will be criticized by Republicans.

When it comes to Iranian sanctions, Biden will have to work with Europe.  However, dealing with Europe is no longer as simple as working with the EU.

Today, the EU is the “Sick man of Europe.”  Southern EU nations do not like the EU’s fiscal policy.  Eastern EU nations do not like the EU’s social and political policies.  The English, who did not like the EU – period – have left it.  And the rest of the EU nations do not like how the Germans have managed to dominate the EU.  Consequently, Biden cannot return to Obama policies, even though he opposed Britain’s Brexit.  Instead, he and his team will need to formulate a new European policy that recognizes the fractures in the EU.

Another European problem is Russia, which will be tough since the Democrats complained Trump was too friendly with Russia and Putin.  If Biden gets too close with Russia, he can be accused of the same policy the Democrats loved to accuse Trump of.  Biden also has a National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, who is opposed to working with Russia.

However, Russia must be addressed.  Working with Russia allows Russia to act as a counter to China in East Asian diplomacy.

Working with Russia also allows the US to push for trilateral negotiations on nuclear arms with China and Russia – something the old SALT deals did not address.  China’s growth as a nuclear power makes it mandatory to include them as an equal partner with Russia and the US in limiting the threat of nuclear weapons.

Finally, there is the NATO alliance.  Although Trump was accused of ignoring the alliance, Trump was focused on ensuring that NATO nations met their financial obligations.  Trump also recognized that Eastern NATO nations were more concerned about a newly aggressive Russia.  Consequently, Trump was focused more on moving US forces closer to Russia, even though that policy upset the Germans, who traditionally had most US forces dedicated to NATO.

Biden has pledged to return these forces to Germany.  However, we can expect the National Security Advisor to probably oppose that move.

Again, NATO policy cannot be a return to Obama policy.  A more aggressive Russia must be countered.  In addition, NATO nations are tired of being used in the Middle East as a subsidiary of the American Army, as they were during the Obama years.  Biden must move to craft a new NATO mission – one that moves away from nation building and moves towards stopping Russian expanded influence.

In the end, the Biden policy will be a mix.  Much of it will reflect his past positions on foreign policy in the Senate.  It will include some Obama policies as well as Trump positions.  The world has changed since Biden was Vice President and to ignore those changes would be foolish.  In the end, it will be more pragmatic than Obama’s and less nationalistic than Trump’s.

Biden’s Foreign Policy Team

Although there are many people who will have an input in foreign policy decisions, we will limit discussion to the three most important people, the Secretary of State, the National Security Advisor, and the Secretary of Defense.

Secretary of State.  Tony Blinken is slated to head the State Department.  He has been a member of the foreign policy community for nearly 30 years.

Both Biden and Blinken are happy that the Democrats control the Senate because the GOP could have asked many troubling questions about Libya during confirmation hearings.

Blinken took an aggressive, military approach to the Middle East, specifically Syria and Libya.  He also supported the arming of Syrian rebels, which, in turn usually fell into the hands of ISIS.  He also advised Biden to vote for the invasion of Iraq when Biden was a senator.

Blinken is also a supporter of Israel and helped Senator Biden fund the replacement of Israeli air defense missile used by Iron Dome system.

National Security Advisor.  Another hawk is Jake Sullivan, who was a Hillary Clinton confidant and Vice President Biden’s National Security Advisor.  He advocated arming Syrian rebels and the Ukrainians.  He is also an opponent to working with Russia and could be a barrier to better relations with Russia.

He has been an advocate of “Smart Power” which is a blend of hard power (military) and soft power (diplomatic).  He can be pragmatic but may tend towards military solutions.  He worked with Iran in ending economic sanctions.

In Clinton’s memoir, “Hard Choices,” Hillary described him as, “not the most experienced diplomat as the State Department I could have chosen.”

However, Sullivan may have more problems in the Biden Administration.  Biden was opposed to sending more troops to Afghanistan.  He also was worried about the radical Islamic elements in the Syrian rebel alliance.  Both moves were advanced by Sullivan.

Secretary of Defense.  Retired General Lloyd Austin is Biden’s choice for Secretary of Defense.  He was commanding officer of United States Forces – Iraq Operation New Dawn.  He has experience in the Middle East, served with the 82nd Airborne (America’s fast reaction force), and the 10th Division light infantry.  He managed the troop drawdown in Iraq and oversaw the military plan to counter ISIS; an operation that drew criticism of his direction of military operations in Syria.

Austin is a low visibility leader.  As a result, he is not expected to be as public a leader as some of his predecessors.

One area of concern has been as a member of the Raytheon Board of Directors, one of the world’s largest military contractors.  Many Raytheon products are bought by the Defense Department and there may be questions of bias in awarding military contracts.

However, Austin is an expert in military affairs.  He will be an asset in advising Biden on nation building (and its problems) and the uses and limitations of America’s fast reaction force.

Week of January 11, 2021

The U.S. Capitol Hill Riots
What will be the Fallout?

For 11 years we have been warning about the brittle nature of America and the potential for a civil war that leads to a breakup of the United States.  The demonstration that led to the storming of the US Capitol on Wednesday proved that.  It also tells us that we must see the event as one of many that have occurred in the recent past.

The events started with peaceful rallies near the White House, one of which was attended by President Trump.  When they were over, the crowd migrated towards the Capitol, where events went out of control.  Police started tear gassing some of the unruly demonstrators, which led to a break in police lines that allowed demonstrators to climb the Capitol steps and eventually open a door that allowed protestors to storm the Capitol.

Congress, which was in the process of validating the Electoral College vote for president evacuated the building and federal agents sealed the Senate and House chambers and took cover, with their submachine guns at the ready.  Soon after, a federal agent shot and killed a Trump supporter – an Air Force Veteran of 14 years.

The shooting seemed to cause a return to sanity.  Protestors started to drift out of the Capitol and law enforcement managed to clear the building without any further major violence.

The short-term impact was obvious.  Republicans who had planned to challenge the votes in several states lost their desire for debate and Biden was officially named the president elect.  Many Republicans who had denounced the violence of BLM and Antifa protests were forced to also condemn the “Trump inspired” riots.

President Trump seemed to have lost his political drive.  He told the protestors to go home, quietly recognized Biden as president elect, and promised a smooth transition.  He then left the White House for the presidential retreat at Camp David in the Maryland mountains.

Democrats saw this as a last chance to corner Trump.  Some called for his impeachment, even though the impeachment process takes months, when Trump has less than two weeks left in office.  Others, including the Speaker of the House, called on Vice President Pence to use the 25thAmendment to remove Trump – a process that also takes longer than Trump’s remaining time in office.

But all of this was political theater that will do nothing to address the problems that have led to major outbreaks of violence in 2020 by BLM and Antifa, the protest in Ferguson in 2014, and an increase in murders in the US.  Nor will it address the concerns that led to the Washington invasion of the Capitol Hill of Wednesday or previous events like the Bundy Ranch standoff.

As President John Kennedy once said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

Violent revolution is looking more inevitable in the US.

The mid-term and long-term impact will be much greater.

Those who think that the storming of the US Capitol was an unusual event that won’t be repeated are wrong.

The same thing occurs at the state level.  In May 2011, thousands of left-wing protestors rushed the Wisconsin State Capitol and forced their way in.  They were protesting a bill that limited collective bargaining rights for public workers.

There were also dozens of demonstrations held at state capitols on Wednesday, although they seemed generally more peaceful.

Clearly, the fractures in American society – both on the left and right – have not been healed and appear to be growing worse.

This raises questions about what the government and others will do to repair the damage.  President Elect Biden’s speech to the nation on Thursday called the protestors “insurrectionists” and “domestic terrorists.”

Biden is not the only one.  Many are calling for prosecuting Trump supporters.  David Atkins, the regional director for California’s Democratic National Committee (DNC) said Trump supporters should be interned in “re-education camps.”  He referred to them as, “conspiracy theory fueled belligerent death cult against reality and basic decency.”

An airline workers union wanted to prevent them from flying home.

Some Democrats like Congresswoman Cori Bush are demanding the expulsion of Republican members of Congress for sedition and domestic terrorism.

ABC News political director Rick Klein called for “Cleansing the movement he commands.”

Historically, demonizing a large part of the population has never been a successful tactic to prevent or stop a civil war.

While many of Republicans in America still think President Trump is responsible for the storming of the Capitol, there is a fight within the GOP that is ready to break out.  Anti-Trump forces in the party are allying with moderate Republican politicians who will seek the 2024 presidential nomination.  They will seek to retake control of the party in the next few months.

So, where does this leave Trump?  Despite his popularity with a large segment of the voters, his chances of returning to the presidential race are small.  Having served one term already, if he runs and wins, he will automatically become a “lame duck” president.  Parties prefer a candidate that can run for reelection, help candidates down-ticket and complete long-term programs instead of a “4 years and out” president.

The future of Congress is still in doubt.  The Senate must vote on whether to retain the filibuster rule.  The rule prevents quick legislative action and could hamper Democratic action on health care the environment, gun control, and increasing the size of the Supreme Court to negate the conservative majority on the current court.  However, with the GOP holding 50 seats in the Senate, they only need one Democrat to side with them, and it appears that Democratic Senator Joe Manchin from West Virginia has indicated that he prefers to retain the filibuster.

The 50-50 Senate tie, with the tie breaking vote going to the future Vice President Harris makes it easier for the Biden to nominate Cabinet members and judges without as much interference from the Senate Republicans.

The long-term damage could be considerable.  Although BLM and Antifa were shown some leniency during the summer protests, the same people who argued for leniency are now calling for tough treatment for the pro-Trump protestors.  The news site Vox praised the riots last summer as “scary but can lead to serious social reforms.”

Thursday Vox said every Capitol protester “should be arrested”

Digital free speech is also threatened.  In the 24 hours after the Capitol siege, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube has all acted against conservative sites, including President Trump.

The biggest threat is the move towards totalitarianism.  Some Democrats have argued for calling the Covid pandemic a national emergency and then bypassing Congress and legislative action to institute controversial laws.

Then there are Trump supporters and conservatives that Biden has called “insurrectionists” and “domestic terrorists.” Calling for a national emergency because of the threat of insurrection could allow Biden and others to move quickly on gun control, naming conservative groups as terrorist organizations, detention without Habeas Corpus, etc.

These are tactics that have never stopped a revolution in the past.  But they have been responsible for many “Dirty Wars.”

Meantime, the issues that caused the protest on Wednesday remain – Double standards, growing government interference in American lives, Washington’s powerful but invisible bureaucracy, illegal immigration, and election reform remain unsolved.

Which brings up Kennedy’s quote again “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.”

The momentum created by the Washington protest of January 6th, 2021 does not slow down, even of Trump disappears from the scene.  As protests across the country showed, this is a national issue.  The movement has a martyr, Ashli Babbitt, a 14-year Air Force veteran who was killed.   It also appears that many militia units are being activated across the nation.

Ironically, the one clear justification for civil unrest and insurrection can be found in America’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence.  It stated, “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.”

These words were written by Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States nearly 250 years ago.  And the vast majority of those protesting on Wednesday were aware of those words and what they meant.  They were not insurrectionists in their own mind, but, in the words of Jefferson, were merely fulfilling their duty.

Week of December 21, 2020

Assessing the Seriousness of the Latest Cyberattacks

In addition to the rising Covid-19 case numbers in US and most of the world during this holiday season, the US and others have suffered a rash of cyberattacks.  The Washington Post indicates that the ones targeting the US were initiated by a Russian group.  But many of the hacker’s targets are involved in national security, so the public will never know the true impact or the allegiance of the hackers.  However, some think that this may have been initiated by Iran in retaliation for attacks on its nuclear infrastructure.

It appears that some of the targets for the attacks included the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Treasury Department, Commerce Department, National Nuclear Security Administration, Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories, the Office of Secure Transportation, and the Richland field office of the Department of Energy.  It appears that over 18,000 customers were affected.  The attacks took place in the spring of 2020, when the nation was paying more attention to the Corona virus.

A press release from the FBI, Director of National Security, and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency was released on December 16th.  It suggested that government agencies disconnect or power down SolarWinds Orion products.  Aside from that, it was vague about the threat or what agencies have been penetrated.

According to the New York Times, the attack was a “Supply Chain Attack” where the attack is against a commercial product that will inevitably be downloaded to government computer systems.  The Times said the style of the attack was like that used by the Russian intelligence agency known as SVR.

The attackers gained access to SolarWinds software before updates were made available to customers.  The customers then downloaded a corrupted version of the software, which contained a backdoor for the hackers to gain access to the customers’ computers.

Although the government has been closed mouthed on the level of damage, some are indicating that this may be the worst cyberattack in US history.  John Hopkins cyberattack expert Thomas Rid said the number of documents obtained by the attacker is “several Washington Monument piles of documents.”

The US is not the only country to recently experience cyberattacks.  The Times of Israel reported that over 40 Israeli companies were hacked.  The attacks were against the logistical infrastructure, not defense agencies.  One attack earlier this year was against Israel’s water infrastructure.

Reports say Iran is the likely culprit

 

Accessing the Potential Damage

Although the US government has been reticent to give any idea of the impact of this attack, Senator Angus King (I Maine) said “the attack unfortunately represents a broad and successful espionage-based assault on both the confidential information of the US government…ongoing investigations reveal an attack that is remarkable for its scope, sophistication, and impact.”

However, a possible idea of the impact can be understood if we look at one of the targets to see what sort of intelligence that the hackers might want and what they were possibly able to obtain.

One of the targets was the small, highly secret National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).  Officially, their job is to maintain and enhance, “the safety security, and effectiveness of the US nuclear weapons stockpile.”  It was created in 1999 after the loss of nuclear secrets to China during the Clinton Administration.

Although the agency likes to point to its mission to reduce the threat of nuclear warfare and to respond to radiological emergencies in the US and abroad, the key mission is to manage the American nuclear weapons stockpile and ensure that the weapons are operational.  They are also responsible for the naval nuclear reactors found in American submarines and aircraft carriers.

NNSA has also undergone some internal upheaval as its head. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, was forced out last month in a bureaucratic turf war with Secretary of Energy Dan Brouilette.  There have also been bureaucratic turf wars over how much control the Department of Defense or Department of Energy should have over the NNSA.  Until this year, the agency was quasi-independent.  Now the Department of Energy has more control over the agency – something the galled the NNSA.

As small as the NNSA is (It only has about 2,000 employees), it has a major impact on US nuclear weapons custody, testing, and design.

The following is a list of its responsibilities and how a cyber-attack could compromise its mission.

Ensuring weapons in the nuclear stockpile are operational.  Nuclear weapons are more like a loaf of bread in that they do decay over time.  Critical elements like tritium and plutonium decay and, in the case of plutonium, can even change physical characteristics, which impact the effectiveness of the weapon.  The NNSA must decide when the nuclear weapons decay enough to warrant maintenance to remain reliable.

Since the US no longer carries out nuclear tests, the government must use sophisticated computer software to determine if stored nuclear weapons are still effective.

A hacker could possible learn how the US government simulates the testing of nuclear devices.  This would give an insight into the construction of US nuclear weapons and how to carry out the computer simulation.  This would allow hackers, who are working for a country developing nuclear weapons, to develop computer simulations to verify bomb designs without actual testing.

Help design new nuclear weapons.  The NNSA has software that can help design nuclear weapons and help calculate their potential yield.  This software would give an idea of American nuclear capabilities as well as helping a nation that is designing nuclear weapons.

Develop nuclear reactors for the US Navy.  Aside from the computer software that NNSA uses to design and develop naval reactors, the hackers could also learn the power and performance of the reactors, which could give other nations a good idea of the performance of US submarines and aircraft carriers.

Movement of nuclear materials.  Any information on the movement of nuclear materials could be used to hijack the shipment.  Personal information on the armed guards could be used to target them for subversion.

Waste disposal.  NNSA is responsible for disposing low level radiological materials.  These materials would be of use for a hostile group that wants to build a radiological weapon (dirty bomb) to contaminate a large area.

Remote sensing.  NNSA leads in remote sensing for potential nuclear threats.  Nations that gain insight into how the US detects nuclear activities could better hide their activities.

Subcritical testing.  Nuclear testing where no critical mass is formed or where no self-sustaining nuclear reaction occurs is allowed under international agreement.  These tests take place underground in Nevada in the U1a tunnel complex 900 feet below the surface.

These tests are also critical for the development of Fourth Generation Nuclear Weapons.

The results of these subcritical tests would be of immense value to nations involved in nuclear weapons development – especially fourth generation weapons.

Custom fabrication.  The NNSA has a machine shop in Nevada that produces highly classified assemblies for nuclear devices.  Hackers could gain considerable information on America’s nuclear testing program and the development of new nuclear weapons from such information.

National Ignition Facility.  This facility is concerned with using a high-powered laser to simulate the compression of the primary in a nuclear device by high explosives.  This allows a way of studying what happens in a nuclear device in the first few milliseconds of a nuclear explosion.

The studies at this facility are important for nuclear weapon maintenance.  Hackers could use the information to maintain a nuclear weapons stockpile that can be expected to reliably work.

Although the US government has insisted that they do not know what the potential threat to US security has occurred from the hack, it is clear that the threat is much greater than they are willing to admit.

The NNSA itself has information that would be of immense value to any nation, especially those who currently have or are developing nuclear weapons.  Not all that information would necessarily be top secret.  Even mundane information, in the hands of nuclear physicists would provide considerable intelligence to another country.

The NNSA is only one of several national security agencies that were penetrated by these hackers.  If the type of information that was available from the NNSA is an example of what the hackers retrieved, the US has a major security problem.

The impact of this massive hacking will not be known for years to come.

Week of December 16, 2020

Supreme Court Dodges Election Court Case

This week the United States dodged a court case that promised to change the election results and even lead to possible civil unrest or an outright civil war.  Even then, a member of the Texas legislature is proposing a bill that will allow a referendum that could lead to Texas seceding from the US.

The case submitted to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) was brought by Texas and charged that four states; Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Georgia had diluted its vote by changing its election procedures without the approval of its legislatures.  Texas asked the court to throw out the election results from those four states and force the legislatures (all controlled by Republicans) to choose their electors independent of the election results in those states.  If that had happened, Trump would have likely won the election.

At first, the court challenge had been underestimated by court watchers.  The Attorney General of Texas claimed that “failing to follow statutory requirements for signature validation and other processes for ballot security, the entire body of such ballots is now constitutionally suspect and may not be legitimately used to determine allocation of Defendant states’ presidential electors.”

It was a bombshell case.  In addition to accusing the four defendant states of not following the laws set up by their legislatures, which is a violation of the US Constitution, it asked the Supreme Court to not allow the electors votes from those states not to be counted by the US Congress in January.  Either the state legislatures must name a new slate of electors, which would likely vote for Trump, or not to send new electors to Washington, which would mean that Congress would have the final say – giving Trump the win anyway.

Unlike most legal cases that must work their way up to the Supreme Court, this went directly to SCOTUS.  The Constitution states that if there is a conflict between states, the case must be decided by the Supreme Court.  The rational was that since the US Constitution is a contract between the 50 states, any issue involving states cannot be decided by a lower court.

However, the state that brings the suit must prove that it was harmed.  That means in this case, Texas must prove that the actions of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia directly harmed the voters of Texas.

In this case, Texas ruled that its citizens’ votes were diluted by the improperly counted votes of the other states – a weak rational since Texas voters had their own election for electors.

The Supreme Court added it to the docket on Tuesday and informed the four defendant states that they must respond to the charges by 3:00 PM on Thursday.

At first, the case garnered little attention.  However, as lawyers (especially attorney generals from the various states) read the Texas complaint, interest picked up quickly.

Although the case dealt with the 2020 election, there were some philosophical issues about interpreting the Constitution in the case.

When it comes to Constitutional law in the US, there are two schools of thought.  The first are the “Originalists,” who believe that the US Constitution must be read and interpreted as the writers of the Constitution did in the 1790s.  This was the traditional way it was interpreted until the 1950s, when the Warren Court established several landmark cases using a more liberal way of interpreting the Constitution.

The Warren Court followed the principle that the US Constitution was a “living document” that needed to be interpreted considering modern times.  It should not be read in light of what the writers of the Constitution meant, but how it should be interpreted in light of modern times and needs.

One example of the difference in interpreting the Constitution is how both sides interpret the Second Amendment that gives US citizens the right to keep and bear arms.  The originalists read the Second Amendment and its statement that the right to keep and bear arms should not be infringed and insist that that means laws limiting gun rights are unconstitutional.

The lawyers who prefer the “living constitution” interpretation insist that given the fact that the US has a standing army (precluding the need for a militia) and is experiencing high levels of violence in its cities, the Second Amendment must be interpreted differently, meaning gun control laws are constitutional.

In many ways, the case brought up by Texas was questioning how the Constitution would interpret Article I where the state legislatures are the final authority in establishing election procedure.  The Texas case noted that election officials and courts frequently changed election procedures without going through the legislature.

Texas noted, “Our country stands at an important crossroads.  Either the Constitution matters and must be followed, even when some officials consider it inconvenient or out of date or it is simply a piece of parchment on display at the National Archives.  We ask the Court to choose the former.”

The case not only attracted attention, but it also caused may groups to become involved.  Over 40 states filed “Friend of the Court” briefs – in some cases, not reflecting how they voted, but how they want the case to interpret the Constitution.  Republican Arizona, which voted for Biden came in on the side of Texas, while Ohio, who voted for Trump, sided with the defendants.  Montana submitted two responses – one from its Republican Attorney General and one from its Democratic governor.

In addition to a filing by President Trump, other groups included over 120 Republican congressmen, Members of the Pennsylvania legislature (backing the Texas petition), the Christian Family Coalition, and two American territories that cannot even vote for president.

Both sides, it seemed, were preparing for history making oral arguments on the future of the US.

However, it didn’t’ come to that.  On Friday evening, the Court ruled with little comment that Texas had not proved that it had been harmed by the actions of the four states.  Associate Justice Alito (one of the conservative justices) wrote that Texas had a lack of standing to bring the suit.  He wrote Texas “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another State conducts its election.”  As a result, “All pending motions are dismissed as moot.”

Thus, ends the case and probably the best chance Trump had for changing the election results (although there are many other cases working their way through the court system, that could possibly end up at the SCOTUS).

However, this does not end the issue.  The issues raised by Texas were not decided.  The decision only reflected the standing of Texas to bring them.  The issues could end up coming before the Supreme Court in the future, when the passion of the election will not have an impact.

However, the passions behind the 2020 election remain and will not soon be cooled.  Pro-Trump voters demonstrated in Washington DC a day after the SCOTUS ruling.

At the same time, the New York Times, speaking to the political divide, tried to explain it by speaking of an “Expert Class” of “journalism and academia” that lives in the cities, versus the “people left behind who “have no contact with the expert class.”

Calling Trump supporters stupid is not a way to patch up the differences.

Meanwhile, the control of the US Senate remains in question as two elections in Georgia will decide control of that chamber.

Clearly, the US is deeply divided politically.  This week, the highly popular radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh noted that the US may be headed for a breakup as states may secede.  Democratic Congressman Pascrell of New Jersey asked House speaker Pelosi to refuse to seat the Republican congressmen who supported the Texas court filing for supporting “insurrection or rebellion.”

Of course, when it comes to talk of seceding, Texas always takes a lead as a poll showed that most Texans either favor secession or are undecided.

Texas GOP chairman and former Black US Congressman Allen West said on Friday that the rejection of the court case by SCOTUS was a major problem.  He tweeted, “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution.”

He reiterated his opinion on secession on Saturday.

Texas lawmaker Kyle Biedermann will be filing a bill to allow for a referendum on Texas becoming its own country or remaining in the US.  He notes the Texas State Constitution says, “The faith of the people of Texas stands pledged to the preservation of a republican form of government…they have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish the government in such a manner as they may think expedient.”

Ironically, many who are condemning any talk of secession now were contemplating it a few months ago if Trump was reelected.

Even without court cases or secession of states, the US has several hurdles it must clear to go back to a normal condition.

BLM and Antifa are still protesting in the Pacific Northwest.

There is also the growing controversy of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, taking bribes and being investigated by the FBI.  It would be hard for Biden to govern if his son is being prosecuted by his own Department of Justice.

Republicans will be watching this investigation for any sign of wrongdoing.

And it is not hard to imagine this controversy leading to the resignation of Biden and Harris becoming the president.

It seems that the SCOTUS decision is not the end of the political controversies of 2021, but the beginning.