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The Real Cost of America's "Made in China" Addiction

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The National Interest Crouching Tiger Series: Buy Made In China, Weaken National Security? from Peter Navarro on Vimeo.

At the next two presidential debates – the Republicans square off in Nevada and the Democrats duel in New Hampshire – this question should be put to every candidate by the CNN and ABC moderators:

Will you buy any Made in China gifts for the holiday season? If not, why not?

In fact, this is as much a national security question as it is an economic one. Here’s why.

This Black Friday weekend, American consumers will add billions of dollars to the US trade deficit as they binge on Made in China holiday gifts.  The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will then use some of the profits from this China trade to continue building what will soon become, if not the most technologically advanced military in the world, then certainly the most heavily equipped. 

In a perfect world, we would realize buying illegally subsidized Made in China products not only costs the American economy the jobs, factories, shipyards, and tax revenues its needs to build a strong military. We would also be mindful that our Made in China addiction helps the PLA build the weapons it increasingly aims against us and American soil. 

Just why are our political leaders so utterly failing to connect these Made in China economic and military dots?  The answer may be found in two competing ideologies, each of which works at cross-purposes to crafting sound China policies.

Consider, for example, Liberal Democrats like Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. They tend to be hawks on unfair trade practices and take a tough line on Chinese mercantilism.  However, these LibDems also strongly favor the butter of social welfare programs over more guns to defend America from the likes of Xi Jinping’s China and Putin’s Russia.  Here, the very real power of Bernie Sanders has been to move a nervous, poll-watching Hillary Clinton farther to the Left on these issues.

As for Conservative Republicans, they are equally hamstrung on China but for the exact opposite reason. These ConReps tend to be hawks on defense and take a tough line on Chinese aggression. However, they are also free traders who take a soft line on unfair Chinese trade practices like currency manipulation and illegal export subsidies.  This soft on trade policy conservative posture has thereby allowed a mercantilist China to have its way with our manufacturing base.  

Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are the poster child twins of this counter-productive conservatism. While each has been hawkishly quick to rattle the China sword in the face of Beijing’s South China Sea aggression, each has a long history of opposing any Donald Trump-like crackdown on unfair Chinese trade practices like currency manipulation.

In the Crouching Tiger book and film series, I try to square these ideological circles on the Left and Right by illustrating the critical connections between a strong manufacturing base, a vibrant economy, a solid tax base, and ultimately a military powerful and ready enough to defend U.S. interests against the rise of authoritarian and revanchist nations like China and Russia.  One of the most important insights in this Crouching Tiger effort comes from former White House advisor Stefan Halper.

In a landmark Pentagon study, Halper documents China’s growing reliance on its non-kinetic “Three Warfares,” what he calls “a dynamic three-dimensional warfighting process that constitutes war by other means.”  To Halper, the Three Warfares are particularly important to Beijing’s revanchism in an era in which it is increasingly difficult to use kinetic military force to advance territorial goals. Indeed, as Russia’s adventurism in the Ukraine has demonstrated, unlawful kinetic force is likely to draw immediate condemnation and economic sanctions.

Viewed through Halper’s lens of the Three Warfares, China’s mercantilist attacks on America’s economy and manufacturing base are every bit as deadly as any Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile crashing into an American aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Strait or any covey of hypersonic glide vehicles smashing into the runways of Okinawa’s Kadena Air Force Base. Indeed, the closure of over 50,000 American factories at the hands of China’s unfair trade practices has done has much to strike a blow at America’s ability to produce the weapons systems it needs to defend itself as the wholesale slashing of military spending because of budget sequestration – and both phenomena are inextricably intertwined.

Ultimately, the problem America faces in coming to terms with a Rising China is a political one.  Here, Michael Pillsbury describes in blunt Madisonian “mischief of factions” terms the difficulty of building a coalition to meet what Bill Gertz accurately described over a decade ago as The China Threat.  Warns Pillsbury:

The eight or ten critical interest groups in America and their representatives in Congress will not cooperate. In fact, they hate each other and would rather oppose each other on broad philosophical grounds. Tax cuts are good, or tax cuts are bad.  Corporations are bad, or the labor unions are bad. They'd rather have this kind of bickering among themselves than focus on China as a challenge.

Perhaps a leader will emerge from this year’s bumper crop of presidential candidates who will lead us out of this bickering darkness and focus on the highly inter-related economic and military dangers of a Rising China. As for who that candidate will be, it certainly won’t be one buying any Made in China gifts for the holiday season.

Peter Navarro is a business professor at the University of California-Irvine and author of Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (Prometheus Books). 

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

As Air-Sea Battle Becomes JAM-GC...Don't Forget Central and Eastern Europe

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While we don’t have all the details just yet, the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC), the successor to the hotly debated Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept, will not be an ‘all-Asia’ affair. The growing challenge to U.S. and allied forces known as Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) is spreading—thanks to Russia and Iran with Syria and even North Korea presenting A2/AD predicaments. As the Pentagon has alluded to, this new concept will be suitable for wherever A2/AD problems present themselves. This will include the Asia-Pacific, the Baltic and Black Seas, Eastern Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.  The Pentagon should not discount the value of such a reworked geographically and domain neutral ASB, especially to nations in Central and Eastern Europe who fear NATO forces might face serious problems in the event of a crisis with Russia—utilizing advanced A2/AD tactics and weapons platforms.

Air-Sea Battle: Born With An Emphasis on China:

Starting in the early to mid 2000s, Pentagon planners began to look beyond the carnage of Iraq and COIN focused operations to the threats of the future. Strategic planners saw trouble ahead if conflict were ever to develop with China in areas around the Taiwan Strait as well as in the East and South China Seas. Beijing was developing an array of various missile platforms—both ballistic and cruise—which placed U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups in harms way. Combined with growing capabilities in the areas of advanced submarines, naval mines, cyber warfare and air defense platforms, China was quickly developing a capability to deter, delay or deny any large outside power the capability to contest Beijing’s wishes in its adjoining near seas—and now all the way to the so-called first-island chain and possibly beyond. Dubbed Anti-Access/Area-Denial or A2/AD (called counter-intervention operations by China) U.S. and allied forces would be forced to make a critical choice in a crisis: enter into areas along China’s coasts and pay a punishing price in men and material or effectively secede control of any areas in Asia where Chinese A2/AD forces operate.

Realizing the danger presented by A2/AD, the Pentagon worked to create an operational concept that would allow U.S. and allied forces to retain their advantages on the battlefield and defeat any A2/AD challenge. While the rollout out was certainly clumsy—from a think-tank crafted document sketching out what ASB could look like in a war with China (and attacking the Chinese mainland) to the Pentagon embracing the name Air-Sea Battle (note: the dash is the difference between the think-tank inspired ASB and Pentagon ASB) and clearly gyrating around which nation or nations are the greatest threat—ASB was certainly on its way to largely dominating Pentagon thinking for years to come.

As ASB Becomes JAM-GC, The Domain and Geographic Scope of the Concept Must Change:

By the fall of last year, anyone who was watching the debate over ASB noticed that signs were pointing to changes in the concept. A2/AD challenges were proliferating around the world and becoming more advanced by the day. The Pentagon couldn’t embrace an ASB concept that was slowly becoming dated but also needed to tackle A2/AD challenges on land and in other theaters besides Asia—thanks at least in part to Russia’s slow but steady embrace of various types of A2/AD platforms and strategies.

While we know of the name change to JAM-GC, we know little specific details to date. However, the concept should provide both credible (deterrence) and effective (real fighting) U.S. capabilities in a variety of situations beyond the air and sea domains and not just in Asia. Such capabilities constitute the backbone of the current system of alliances and security architecture underpinned by the United States as a leading global power.

The new concept, which by all indications from open-source materials is in the final process of preparation, will likely include enhanced allied participation as well as an emphasis on ensuring control of the battlefield across all domains of possible conflict (land, air, sea, cyber and space).  

Four Recommendations from U.S. Allies in Central and Eastern Europe:

From a Central and Eastern European perspective, especially when one considers looking at potential A2/AD challenges from Russia, four possible recommendations for the new concept should be considered. These include:

- The strengthening of power projection capabilities—especially in the cyber realm where costs can be managed efficiently—while working to defend against A2/AD weapons platforms across as many domains as possible.

-Promote the creation of independent command, communication and control systems that will be less open to A2/AD attacks—with cyber defenses being of critical importance.

-The bolstering of fighting capabilities and defensive measures that would challenge Russia’s potential incursion or coercive actions along and across contested or potentially contested conflict zones—and across all domains of possible conflict.   

- U.S./NATO allies should be encouraged to develop their own A2/AD capabilities—what is good for Russia and China can be used against them. Special attention should be focused towards driving up the cost of Russian intervention in any and all contested domains that U.S. and/or NATO forces would have a possible chance of intervening in.

Towards a JAM-GC that Works for All—Especially Central and Eastern Europe:

The above points are of tremendous importance for all regional allies, but in particular for the landlocked countries of Eastern and Central Europe that have not yet fully been brought up to speed on the finer points of JAM-GC/ASB or adjusted their operational approaches to the A2/AD challenges of the future.  

For Eastern European allies, and most importantly Poland, such important partners must play a role in shaping the concept as it is molded to address A2/AD challenges coming from Russia. This new concept should use allies expertise to procure and field capabilities in line or concurrent with the way the U.S. wants to project power toward the remote edges of its traditionally perceived strategic power projection range - e.g. the Baltic States or Poland. In the wake of such participation some additional considerations could be added to Poland’s own operational concepts, military planning, basing and future procurement as envisaged by the current ambitious military modernization program.

While conflict with Russia seems remote, allied forces need to be ready for the challenges of the future—challenges that clearly will have an A2/AD focus. JAM-GC in its final form and as it evolves must take Central and Eastern European concerns into account. While early indications point to a multi-domain operational concept that is geographically neutral, Central and Eastern European nations must have their important perspectives considered—now and in the future.

Jacek Bartosiak is a Senior Fellow at the Potomac Foundation. Prior to joining the Potomac team in 2015, he served as Council at the National Centre for Strategic Studies (NCSS) in Warsaw, Poland, which he founded in 2013.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

The Islamic State's Worst Nightmare: Russia and France Joining Forces

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Russia is claiming that its forces are cooperating with the French military as it ramps up its operations against the Daesh terrorist entity in Syria.

“In accordance with the orders of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, organization of cooperation with the French Armed Forces is started,” reads a Nov. 20 statement from the Russian ministry of defense.

However, France has not confirmed that the two nations’ militaries are coordinating their efforts against the terrorist group, which launched a deadly terrorist attack on Paris on Nov. 13 that killed over 130 people. But Russian president Vladimir Putin is set to host French president Francois Hollande in Moscow on Thanksgiving Day on Nov. 26. Military coordination between the two powers is not outside the realm of possibility.

“Whatever you think of the Russians, the fact is that they are the only ones able and willing to commit significant assets to the fight,” former French diplomat Simond de Galbert, who is currently a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Politico today. “I think it’s difficult to blame the French for exploring [coordination with Russia], especially since President Obama has implied this week that the Paris attacks aren’t an event that justify altering the U.S. strategy in Syria.”

Meanwhile, Hollande is also set to meet with U.S. president Barack Obama in Washington tomorrow. The two leaders are expected to discuss a response to the Paris attacks. Hollande is likely to ask the United States to cooperate with Moscow.

“I think he’s going to ask, first off, for the United States to work more with Russia,” Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told CQ Roll Call.

But Obama has already stated that he’d only be willing to work with the Russians if they step away from backing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Obama is also likely reiterate Washington’s demands that the European Union maintain its sanctions regime against Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Moreover, Obama is likely to demand that the French avoid hitting certain critical Daesh targets to avoid collateral damage. Indeed, three out of four American sorties flying over Iraq and Syria don’t drop ordinance because of directives from the White House.

Elliott Abrams, a former U.S. deputy national security adviser, told CQ Roll Call “that won’t be received very well by the French.” Obama is likely to “be reminded that the French have closely monitored civilian casualties caused by our drone strikes,” Abrams told the paper. Indeed, leaked U.S. documents show that U.S. drone strikes cause a lot of civilian casualties—indeed as many as ninety percent of those killed during such attacks are civilian bystanders according to a report from The Intercept.

Meanwhile, Russia is aggressively attacking Daesh’s oil facilities in Syria after more than doubling the size of its air contingent in Latakia to sixty-nine aircraft. Russia posted videos of its bombers destroying several such targets in on its defense ministry’s website. “In the course of the last five days, the Russian aircraft have destroyed over 1000 petrol tank vehicles, which had carried out transportation of crude oil to the plants controlled by the ISIS terrorists,” the Russian defense ministry states.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons 2.0 License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

The Shocking Truth: A Trump Presidency Could Be Good for ANZUS

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“Should Donald Trump be elected U.S. President, Australia should tear up the ANZUS alliance,” leads this article by veteran analyst and political reporter, Daniel Flitton.

He doesn’t hold back:

“Malcolm Turnbull or Bill Shorten could be prime minister by this time next year, but this is a simple bipartisan choice. If Trump wins the keys to the White House, there will be no need for a congratulatory phone call. Just get the clock ticking on the 12-month waiting period required to formally withdraw from the treaty.”

This remarkable and uncompromising statement demands that Australia end a successful alliance that has served us well for more than 60 years.

Not for reasons relating to Australia’s strategic circumstances, mind you. Not because the U.S. would be pulling back from the Asia-Pacific, or because Australia’s future in Asia would be deemed to require a more independent stance. No, instead the trigger would be the election of a U.S. President that some (ok, many) Australians would find objectionable.

First, let’s consider at this point in the election cycle the probability that Trump will become the Republican nominee.

When Trump first announced his candidacy, pundits from across the political spectrum boldly stated that this was “silly season” in U.S. politics, and that there was “zero chance” of Trump becoming the Republican nominee, let alone of him winning the presidency.

Despite Trump’s stratospheric poll numbers, such views have continued to dominate.

At first, there were good reasons to believe them. After all, other than Bush, Trump was the only name anyone in the country recognized. It was assumed that as more “serious” candidates entered the fray, Trump would quickly fade.

Even as Trump’s poll numbers proved sticky, many strenuously argued that he would quit the race. After all, campaigns are incredibly expensive, and just how much money would be Trump willing to pour into a losing bid? Well, so far, none. Given his celebrity status and the ratings he pulls for networks, Trump has been saturated in media coverage. As he boasts: “I’ve spent the least money and have the best poll numbers.”

Over the past month or so most pundits have begrudgingly moved from insisting Trump has “no chance” of becoming the nominee, to there being “only a slight chance.” The overwhelming majority, however, still rank multiple candidates well ahead of him. To my mind, this view is now desperate to the point of delusive.

Trump is likely to win the nomination. Here's why:

1. Bush is tanking, but has all of the money:

Raising huge donations early was a deliberate tactic employed by the Bush camp to intimidate potential rivals out of the race. Bush’s campaign is terminal, but with the money already raised he will probably linger on, keeping votes and donors from his infinitely more promising Florida padawan, Marco Rubio.

2. Republican voters have been well trained to hate government:

Every Republican says “government is the problem.” Problem is, they are the government. Ergo, why not vote for an outsider? Enter Trump, Carson, Fiorina.

3. Trump is an entertainer:

Being an entertainer immunizes Trump from scandal. Given the bombastic things he’s already said, if Trump’s popularity hasn’t waned by now then it won’t be scandal that brings it unstuck. On the contrary, every time he says something outrageous, people are reminded that Trump is not a typical politician. There is only one risk to Trump’s long-term popularity, and that's he becomes boring. As it is, being an entertainer is no drawback. We’re frequently reminded that Ronald Reagan was a movie star, after all.

4.Trump is on message:

Pundits generally dismiss Trump’s supporters as mercurial or just plain ignorant; they cannot understand why any sensible, reasoned individual would do anything but dismiss Trump out of hand.

The fact is that inequities in American life are now so bad, and so entrenched, that no U.S. president is going to significantly change this in a maximum eight year term. The American people know this. Trump’s promise to “make America great again” might just be pillow talk, but at least it’s inspiring. Other candidates are tarnished by tepid solutions that just remind voters of their problems.

5. Trump has the energy:

The U.S. election cycle is a marathon. Staying power is a critical trait for any presidential hopeful. Early on, one of the things pundits argued was that Trump wouldn’t be prepared for the scrutiny of a campaign. Instead, Trump has proven himself among the hardest working candidates, doing interviews and speaking at rallies round-the-clock. Indeed, just hours after the latest Republican debate Trump was in New Hampshire speaking to business leaders at a ‘politics & eggs’ breakfast.

6. Trump has the votes where it counts:

Republican candidates have only ever been successful in securing the nomination if they’ve taken either Iowa or New Hampshire in the primaries. In Iowa, Trump has a tough race against Ben Carson. Iowa has a large number of conservative Christian voters among whom Carson is the undisputed favourite. Moreover, Trump hasn’t exactly draped himself in glory among Christian voters by the manner in which he’s been attacking his pious rival, as well as making derogatory comments about Iowans generally.

Still, Trump remains competitive in Iowa, and even if he loses there he retains a near unassailable lead in New Hampshire. These primaries are quickly followed by much larger delegate sweeps in states like Nevada and Texas, where Carson’s vote languishes. Trump will certainly outpace Carson, and a third candidate would have to make electoral history to win the Republican nomination against this tide of early momentum.

So, yes, Trump could become the Republican nominee. And yes, there is also a chance he could also beat Hillary Clinton in the election.

Let’s then assume that in early 2017 Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. What would this mean for Australia?

Here I am going to commit heresy, especially as I am firmly on the progressive side of the political spectrum. While I have strong differences with Trump across a range of policy areas, for Australia and the alliance, I have little concern. Indeed, under either Trump or Clinton, ANZUS is likely to enjoy a very bright future.

I say this because on foreign policy Trump is calm, sensible, realistic, and firmly rooted in strategic logic.

On Syria, Trump is happy to work with Russia, and has long been pragmatic about joining Assad in common cause to defeat ISIS.

On Ukraine, Trump is supportive of NATO allies, but is likely to put significantly more pressure on the Europeans to invest in their own defense to resist Russian aggression.

Even on Cuba, a hot button issue for most Republicans, Trump strongly endorses opening relations.

With regard to the nuclear deal with Iran, Trump is critical of Obama’s apparent desperation to conclude an agreement. But, unlike many Republican rivals who pledge to ‘tear it up’, Trump has acknowledged he’d be bound by the agreement.

Trump also distinguishes himself from his Republican rivals by emphasising the strategic priority of the Asia-Pacific, rather than Europe or the Middle East. This is where the real long-term challenges lie, and it's also where Australia wants the U.S. to be.

Whatever else one might say, the man is no fool. The real Trump is very cunning and understands exactly what he’s doing. To that end, he delivered a lengthy speech in Texas the other day. One excerpt in particular is worth watching. Start at the 28:05 min mark and watch to 35:25 min. Trump predicts that under his presidency America's enemies will one day be saying: “This guy is freaking crazy. We give up. We give up.” This could just as easily be said by Trump’s critics.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore. 


This Is How America and the Soviet Union Almost Started a Nuclear War

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The U.S. government has just released one of the most worrying reports about the risk of nuclear war in the Cold War and the dangers of miscalculating Soviet intentions.

The top-secret document was released in October 2015. It’s a damning report made by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) in February 1990 about the U.S. intelligence community’s poor knowledge and lack of understanding of the USSR during the 1983 nuclear war scare.

Strategist readers will recall that in October 2013 I authored an ASPI Special Report The nuclear war scare of 1983: how serious was it? I had access to 57 U.S. intelligence documents—many of them National Intelligence Estimates on the USSR formerly highly classified—that had been obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) by the National Security Archive. Using those sources I painted a frightening picture of events in 1983 when the world stood on the edge of the nuclear abyss without America even realizing it. But there was one piece of critical evidence missing—the 1990 PFIAB report, which has only recently been released.

There was a series of crises in 1983 concerning the deployment by the U.S. in Europe of Pershing II theatre nuclear weapons with a flight time of 5 to 6 minutes to Moscow; President Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI, or ‘Star Wars’); his calling of the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire’; the Soviet Union’s shooting down of a Korean civilian airliner; and above all a major NATO exercise in November 1983 called ‘Able Archer’, which Moscow saw as a deception operation for the countdown to nuclear war. The Soviet Union’s intelligence organs mounted an unprecedented collection effort in an urgent attempt to detect warning indicators of NATO’s preparations for war. There was also an unprecedented emphasis on civil defense exercises, increased readiness of Soviet ballistic missile submarines and forward deployed nuclear capable aircraft, and massive military exercises responding to a sudden enemy nuclear strike.

In May and August 1984, two top-secret U.S. intelligence post-mortems reviewed recent Soviet military activities and political statements, but—despite the evidence that the CIA had seen from Oleg Gordievsky the KGB chief in London—they declared that “the Soviet leaders do not perceive a genuine danger of imminent conflict or confrontation with the United States.”

The PFIAB Board’s report states that the evidence didn’t support such categorical conclusions. It says that Soviet actions strongly suggested that the USSR’s military leaders may have been seriously concerned that the U.S. would use Able Archer as a cover for launching a real attack and that the evidence strongly indicated that the war scare was real, not least in the minds of some Soviet leaders and particularly the General Secretary of the Communist Party and former KGB chief, Yuri Andropov.

The PFIAB report says that the situation could have been extremely dangerous if during the NATO exercise—perhaps through a series of ill-timed coincidences or because of faulty intelligence—the Soviets had misperceived U.S. actions as preparations for a real nuclear attack. The report is sharply critical of U.S. intelligence estimates for being overconfident and overly sanguine. The US intelligence community, it says, “did not at the time, and for several years afterwards, attach sufficient weight to the possibility that the war scare was real.” The Board repeatedly criticizes U.S. intelligence on Soviet leaders, saying at the time of the 1984 post-mortems that “the U.S. knew very little about Kremlin decision-making” even though senior intelligence analysts wrote confidently about “Soviet leadership intentions.” U.S. intelligence judgements “were overconfident, particularly in the judgements pertaining to Soviet leadership intentions—since little intelligence, human or technical, existed to support them.”

The Board’s report concludes that in 1983 the U.S. may have inadvertently placed its relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger and that for Soviet leaders the war scare was real, and that U.S. intelligence post-mortems didn’t take it seriously enough. As a result, the President was given assessments of Soviet attitudes and actions that understated the risks to the U.S.

And where was the Australian intelligence community’s assessments of the Soviet Union in 1983? The Office of National Assessments (ONA) advice to the Defense Committee’s Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy 1983 (classified Secret AUSTEO) was that the USSR “has achieved superiority in the critical area of ICBMs and intermediate nuclear forces” and “The U.S. sees the USSR as able to destroy virtually all U.S. missiles on the ground using only a portion of Soviet forces, while the U.S. cannot inflict similar damage on Soviet forces even using its entire ICBM force.” It asserted that “U.S. strategic planners must calculate that in a full nuclear exchange the USSR could have the final advantage in terms of survival at some level short of national extinction.” ONA was effectively arguing that it was the Soviet Union that had “strategic superiority,” sufficient for its leadership to be sure of fighting and winning a nuclear war and that the overall balance of power had moved to favour the USSR decisively. Thus, ONA—Australia’s paramount intelligence agency—was parroting the U.S. intelligence community’s group-think about Soviet military superiority when, in fact, the PFIAB Board assesses the Soviets at that time perceived that the correlation of forces had turned against the USSR, that the US was seeking military superiority, and that the chances of the US launching a nuclear first strike were growing.

The implications of all this for the Australian intelligence community is that the PFIAB report of 1990 should become a compulsory training manual for all new intelligence recruits as a case study in how not to do intelligence analysis about your enemy. When analysts attempt to arrive at a single strong conclusion, as in 2003 with assertions about ‘evidence’ of Iraq’s nuclear weapons, they run the risk of being dangerously wrong.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.


The XB-70: America's Mach 3 Super Bomber That Never Was

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The North American XB-70 Valkyrie was the largest and fastest bomber ever built by the United States, but the massive six-engine Mach 3.0-capable jet never entered production. Only one surviving prototype sits in a museum in Dayton, Ohio, even as the Boeing B-52 it was supposed to one day replace continues to soldier on.

The idea behind the XB-70 originated in the 1950s when it was assumed ever-greater speeds and altitudes would enable American bombers to survive against Soviet air defenses unmolested on their way to delivering their doomsday payloads. At the time, the only effective defense against bombers were fighters and antiaircraft artillery. Even then, anti-aircraft guns were only marginally effective and interceptors were increasingly challenged by ever improving bomber performance.

However, with the advent of surface-to-air missiles (SAM), that began to change—the balance started to tip in favor of the defender. While the U.S. Air Force was aware of Soviet advances in SAM technology, the Pentagon didn’t start to understand the scope of the problem until Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 spy plane was shot down while overflying the Soviet Union on May 1, 1960. But development of the XB-70 continued nonetheless.

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With the growing realization that Soviet SAMs posed an increasing threat to American bombers, the Pentagon started to explore low-level penetration as an alternative. Low-level penetration involved flying under the radar horizon using terrain to mask a bomber’s approach, which greatly reduces enemy response times. Moreover, the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles greatly reduced the United States’ reliance on manned bombers. Many leading military strategists of the time believed bombers were too vulnerable to survive the journey into Soviet airspace. As a result, President John F. Kennedy decided to cancel the XB-70 as a frontline  bomber program on March 28, 1961.

Meanwhile, the XB-70 test program continued. The jet made its first flight on Sept 21, 1964, when it flew from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. But the first XB-70 proved to be a disappointment—it had poor directional stability above Mach 2.5 and made only one flight above Mach 3.0. The second jet, which flew on July 17, 1965, added five degrees of dihedral on the wings for better supersonic stability.

Tragedy struck on June 8, 1966, when the second XB-70 prototype was destroyed in a crash after a midair collision with its F-104N chase plane. Two people were killed and one was severely injured during the accident. The loss of the second aircraft—which was much more capable than the first—was a huge set back. Testing, however, continued until Feb. 4, 1969. Ultimately, the first XB-70 logged eighty-three flights totaling 160 hours and sixteen minutes, while the second XB-70 logged forty-six flights totaling ninety-two hours and twenty-two minutes according to NASA.

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The XB-70, while a technological wonder at the time, was the wrong plane for the wrong time. It came at a time when ballistic missiles were thought to be supplanting manned bombers. Moreover, it was being developed at a time when it was increasingly apparent that high speed and high altitude were not sufficient protection against surface-to-air missiles or the next generation of Soviet fighters.

But the nail in the coffin was the jet’s exorbitant price tag and lack of mission flexibility—the B-70 couldn’t be adapted for the low level role. Let’s hope today’s shadowy Long Range Strike Bomber fares better.

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Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.


A War With China Would Be Bloody—And Stupid

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Sidney Rittenberg knows a thing or two about China. During World War II, he learned fluent Mandarin as a U.S. Army linguist, worked in China, left the Army and joined the Chinese Communist Party. He became friends with Mao Zedong and spent 16 years in solitary confinement—as Mao’s prisoner.

We recently spoke to Rittenberg about his experiences in Maoist China, his imprisonment and why he became disillusioned with the party. In his 93 years, he’s seen China and America at their best … and their worst.

Now as tensions between Washington and Beijing grow, Rittenberg worries that American officials are returning to old habits of seeing China as a mysterious and hostile power. The former apparatchik thinks this is a grave mistake.

On July 9, Gen. Joseph Dunford told the Senate Armed Services Committee that China—and Russia, too—present the greatest threat to American security.

“They present the greatest existential threat,” Dunford said. “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

China is rapidly upgrading its military and expanding its navy. The United States is undergoing a “Pacific pivot,” shifting military forces to the region and its strategic waterways. To be sure, Rittenberg blames both Washington and Beijing for the veritable arms race between the two countries.

But in the second part of our extensive interview, Rittenberg warned that a potential conflict with China would be disastrous … and bloody. He doesn’t believe it would be a war America could win. “We’re not very good at learning,” he said.

In any case, he believes the United States and China have far more—and better—reasons to work together than to fight. He argues that this has been the case historically, even when Washington and Beijing didn’t have diplomatic relations at all.

Complicated Ties:

Rittenberg derives his views from his relationships and experiences. He’s a retired academic and ran a consulting business for American firms seeking to do business in China. He also twice translated for Mao during the communist leader’s interactions with the U.S. government during the 1940s.

Back then, Mao made several overtures to the Harry Truman administration, even as his rebels fought the U.S.-backed regime of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. Mao’s reasons were pragmatic—he wanted normal diplomatic relations with the United States so he wouldn’t have to depend on Joseph Stalin.

As Rittenberg sees it, Washington missed a golden opportunity to exploit a growing rift between the Soviet Union and China’s future communist leaders—and perhaps avoid future wars in Korea and Vietnam. Or at least, make those conflicts far less costly.

Besides, the Soviets were stingy. Following the Chinese civil war, the communists requested a $300 million loan from Moscow. Instead, Stalin gave them $4.4 million. Another time, Mao told Rittenberg of an attempt to buy smelting equipment from the Soviet Union. Stalin slapped a condition on the sale—the Chinese had to buy Russian rocks to go with the equipment.

“Mao told Stalin that there were plenty of rocks in China, but Stalin said they came as a set,” Rittenberg recalled with a laugh. “He said China couldn’t have one without the other.”

China’s communist leadership soon locked Rittenberg away at Stalin’s insistence—the Soviet dictator thought he was a Western spy. Mao didn’t release Rittenberg until 1955, after Stalin’s death.

Sino-Soviet relations didn’t improve when Nikita Khrushchev took power, either. The new leader continued Stalin’s propensity to condescend to the Chinese, which offended them. “I remember once seeing Khrushchev come out of that room purple faced, madder than you can hardly imagine,” Rittenberg recalled of a meeting between the Khrushchev and Mao.

During one visit, the Soviet leader told Mao he expected the Chinese to invite Soviet technical advisers to sit in during all committee meetings. When the Chinese leader told him they would instead brief the Russians on whatever decisions they made, Khrushchev protested.

“Khrushchev told [Mao] ‘all our comrades in Eastern Europe do it this way,’” Rittenberg recalled. “Mao told him, ‘I know what happens in Eastern Europe, that’s why we’re not going to do that.’”

By the 1960s, Khrushchev had recalled most Soviet advisers.

Pres. Richard Nixon—who ironically rose to prominence as an ardent anti-communist—finally pushed the United States to recognize that communist governments weren’t in lockstep with each other.

He made China a priority, arguing that “there is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” His 1973 visit led to a historic thaw in relations between the two powers.

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“We’ve taken a strategic position with every president since Nixon, that a strong China is good for America,” Rittenberg said. “Despite what you hear, relations on the ground are actually very good.”

He said that post-Nixon, American leaders have generally welcomed Chinese prosperity as an opportunity for mutual growth and healthy competition. He’s not wrong. Dozens of U.S. government agencies regularly hold high and mid-level talks with their Chinese counterparts—a level of engagement Rittenberg argued America has with few world governments.

In 2007, Gen. Peter Pace—one of Dunford’s predecessors—accepted a Chinese invitation to tour the country. He became the highest ranking American military official to visit China since the 1940s.

It was an important visit. Six years earlier, a Chinese J-8 fighter jet collided with a U.S. EP-3 spy plane, killing the Chinese pilot and forcing the American plane to make an emergency landing on Hainan island. It was a significant international incident that chilled relations.

But in the years since Pace’s visit, the U.S. and Chinese navies have teamed up for disaster relief exercises and port visits. Both navies have sent warships to patrol for Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. During the summer of 2014, a Chinese hospital ship attended the U.S.-led RIMPAC exercise in Hawaii for the first time—although Beijing brought an uninvited spy ship along for the trip.

Later that year, a handful of American, Chinese and Australian troops participated in a survival skills in an Australian jungle for weeks during Exercise Kowari 2014.

“There’s a lot of talk about rethinking our China strategy today,” Rittenberg said. But he said he’s wary of a “containment” strategy in regards to Chinese power. He’s also skeptical of increased U.S. security talks with China’s neighbors such as India and Vietnam. “We seem to be trying to form a sort of anti-China alliance.”

His major point—a war with China would be a tragedy for everyone involved, and that the U.S. military’s technological superiority may prove less decisive in a war with China than many Americans might expect.

“The last war we truly, decisively won was Grenada,” Rittenberg asserted. He argued that the Persian Gulf War’s bloody aftermath and the U.S. military’s continuing entanglements in Iraq calls into question the effectiveness of Operation Desert Storm. “And now you want to fight China?”

Ultimately, Rittenberg thinks that most of the tough talk is just that—talk. As he sees it, Beijing and the Washington have too many shared strategic interests. Both fear political instability and terrorism. Both benefit from a globalized economy. Chinese and American companies have ties that are too deep—and profitable—for either side to want to act on their harsh rhetoric.

But he thinks business may also drive anti-China fears in America. Specifically the arms business. “I think a lot of this is about selling weapons,” he said. “I think we’re trying to have China be a friend and an enemy at the same time.”

He asserts that fear of Chinese power is good for the American defense lobby, keeps military spending high and justifies the acquisition of high priced systems like the hotbut controversial—F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Assertive China:

Rittenberg readily admits that China is far from blameless for the buildup of tensions. The United States has been able to increase security ties and arms sales to China’s neighbors in part because of Beijing’s own increasing arms buildup and willingness to flex its military muscles.

“I think the ‘assertive’ is the word people use today when we talk about China,” Rittenberg said. “And China has been quite assertive.”

In May 2014, China moved an oil rig to an area of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam. The Vietnamese coast guard ordered the rig to leave, and the two sides got into a scuffle—which escalated to a Chinese coast guard ship ramming a Vietnamese vessel. Back in Vietnam, angry protesters attacked Chinese citizens and businesses.

Beijing ultimately agreed to move the rig, but then moved it back in June 2015. Such brazen moves have made several Southeast Asian nations, including Vietnam and the Philippines, understandably wary.

In June 2015, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that Hanoi would purchase new American patrol boats for its coast guard. Vietnam has also strengthened ties with the Philippines—a key U.S. ally in the region.

“We might get back some bases in the Philippines and maybe some naval docking in Vietnam,” Rittenberg said. “But the Southeast Asian countries are never going to be true allies to us or China.”

He added that smaller countries in Asia have been caught between empires for generations, and will ultimately look after themselves first. “They’ll never fully go to one side or the other, they’re just too smart for that.”

Of greater concern to Rittenberg is Japan. Tokyo and Beijing have been locked in a bitter debate over disputed islands near Taiwan called the Senkaku or Diaoyu islands, respectively. Rittenberg believes Beijing’s forceful power displays have had unintended consequences in Japan.

In particular, he believes that Japanese fear of Chinese expansionism has inadvertently lead to a revival of radical ultra-nationalist groups in Japan. These groups romanticize Japan’s militarist leaders of the 1930s and ’40s. Rittenberg is especially critical of current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who he accused of intentionally inflaming nationalist tensions on both sides.

“Abe doesn’t have to go to that shrine,” Rittenberg asserted, referring to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine where Japan’s war dead—including several infamous war criminals—are memorialized. “He does it to fling his nose at China.”

But much like the Sino-American relationship, Chinese and Japanese companies have formed close business partnerships. Conflict over access to Pacific islands and waterways disrupt these ties. “The Chinese need to be much more conciliatory with Japan,” Rittenberg said. “And I think they already know that.”

Rittenberg explained that China—like America—must weigh aspirations with international realities. China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations. It’s also a country that rose from a playground for empires into a veritable superpower in less than a century.

As a result, China’s leaders have a deep sense of history and national pride. The same leaders can get very defensive when they feel outsiders are insulting that sense of pride, and are zealous in demonstrating their power in the 21st century.

“Nationalism sometimes blinds even the most rational leaders,” Rittenberg said, speaking specifically of China and its leadership’s desire to appear strong on the international stage.

He hopes that Chinese Pres. Xi Jinping will dial back on some of Beijing’s tough talk to focus on domestic issues—chiefly corruption. Xi has overseen an unprecedented campaign against corruption in China targeting party leaders and officials—even military leaders—that many Chinese previously thought untouchable.

“They gave people the opportunity to come forward and fess up, but hardly anyone took advantage,” Rittenberg said.

When asked if perhaps many officials simply didn’t believe they could be arrested, the former Maoist replied that that was almost definitely the case. “Some of these guys have been at it so long, they probably thought it would never end.”

China has even asked the United States for help with the anti-corruption campaign—as Chinese authorities believe several corrupt party officials have gone into hiding in America. U.S. and Chinese agencies have already cooperated in at least one bust and are seeking other fugitives.

There’s room for this grow. For instance, the U.S. and China could cooperate on slowing the steady beat of violent crime at sea in the Pacific and Indian oceans—which disrupts commerce and poses danger for everyone passing through.

The former revolutionary said he hopes that an informed populace in both countries—as well as continued business, educational and cultural exchange—can help prevent conflict. “It’s extremely important for both sides to have accurate information about the other.”

This piece first appeared in WarIsBoring back in July of this year here.

Image: Creative Commons. 

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Get Ready, China: This Is Why Australia Needs Nuclear Weapons

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Over the past century, Australia has been America’s most dependable military ally. In every major U.S. conflict, including World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, Australians have fought alongside.

Yet as competition between China and the United States heats up in the Western Pacific, Australia is cautious not to provoke its greatest trading partner. When it comes to a potential U.S.-China conflict, Australia is doing all it can to keep its options open – and with good reason.

Australia is highly vulnerable to long-range missile attack, including those carrying nuclear payloads. Despite Australia being a continental power, almost all its population is concentrated in a half-dozen major cities — easy targets for small numbers of warheads.

In a high-intensity conflict between the United States and China, it is conceivable that China may target Australia with long-range nuclear missiles as a step up the escalation ladder, demonstrating to the United States its capacity, and willingness, to conduct nuclear strikes over intercontinental ranges.

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In this eventuality, extended nuclear deterrence would hardly be credible. Retaliating on Australia’s behalf would demonstrably mean accepting large-scale nuclear attack by China on the continental United States.

For this reason, many Australians believe entering into conflict with the world’s most populous nuclear power, for any reason and under any circumstance, is unthinkable – despite very strong support for the Australia-U.S. alliance overall. The most effective means for Australia to insulate itself from long-range nuclear attack is to develop or acquire its own reliable long-range nuclear deterrent.

Many would consider this a bad idea. If Australia (a non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT) went nuclear, conventional wisdom suggests it very difficult to dissuade Japan, South Korea and others from following suit, critically threatening the nuclear non-proliferation regime as a whole.

This view is fundamentally flawed. In actuality, Australia has a very unique legal status with regard to nuclear weapons.

At present, there are five Nuclear-Weapon States under the NPT (United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and China). Under Article IX.3 of the NPT, a country may accede to the treaty as a Nuclear-Weapon State if that state “manufactured and exploded a nuclear device prior to January 1, 1967”.

Australia qualifies. In the 1950s and ’60s, Australia hosted a series of nuclear tests conducted by the United Kingdom. These nuclear explosions were conducted on Australian sovereign territory with the active participation of Australian scientists and military personnel.

These tests received financial support direct from the Australian government, with at least some explosions likely to have used fissile material that had been sourced locally from within Australia. No other non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT is in this category.

As Rod Lyon of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute sharply has observed from recently declassified documents, Australian negotiators were very much cognizant of this legal basis prior to Australia joining the treaty. In sum, if Australia determined it was a national security imperative to develop an independent nuclear deterrent, it would be legally entitled to do so.

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As this legal status does not apply to America’s other allies in the Asia-Pacific, a changed nuclear status by Australia under the NPT would not automatically undermine the treaty as a whole.

A nuclear-armed Australia is likely to confer a number of strategic advantages upon the United States. It strengthens Australia’s resolve in supporting the United States in a potentially open-ended strategic contest in the Asia-Pacific. It supports extended nuclear deterrence by removing a potentially vulnerable element of the policy, and the nations in Southeast Asia will see Australia as a more capable strategic partner and deepen cooperation.

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There’s more. A nuclear-armed Australia makes drawing the country into a broader collective defense architecture much more feasible. Having a reliable U.S. ally in the Asia-Pacific with an independent nuclear deterrent strengthens nuclear deterrence in the Asia-Pacific overall. And it achieves these objectives without fatally weakening nuclear non-proliferation efforts more broadly.

The United States should publicly recognize Australia’s right to nuclear weapons under the NPT. This does not mean that Australia will immediately seek to acquire such weapons.

Australia has a strong non-proliferation record and a long history of disarmament activism. In the short-term, Australia would use this recognition to leverage its position in present nuclear arms control negotiations, further persuading countries in the region to exercise nuclear restraint.

Regardless of Australia’s future nuclear choices, just acknowledging the legal reality of Australia’s unique status under the NPT supports America’s long-term strategy in the Asia-Pacific. The U.S. government should do so as a matter of priority.

This piece first appeared in WarIsBoring here

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America's Most Dangerous Nuclear Weapon Passes Critical Test

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The Pentagon has completed the third and final developmental flight test for the B61 Mod 12 aircraft-delivered thermonuclear bomb. Unlike previous American nuclear bombs, the new B61-12 is designed for high accuracy using inertial guidance but low yields—which is hoped will give the weapon better overall performance.

“This demonstration of effective end-to-end system performance under representative delivery conditions marks another 2015 achievement in the development of the B61-12 Life Extension Program,” said National Nuclear Security Administration deputy administrator Madelyn Creedon in a statement. “Completing this guided B61-12 flight test provides additional evidence of the nation's continued commitment to our nation’s security and that of our allies and partners.”

All though the U.S. Air Force and the NNSA completed this last flight test on Oct. 20, 2015, at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada, the Defense Department didn’t announce the successful completion of the trials until Nov. 16. During the test, a U.S. Air Force F-15E from Nellis AFB, Nevada—most likely the 53d Test and Evaluation Group—dropped the “B61-12 test asset and it demonstrated successful performance in a realistic guided flight environment.”

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Depending on the exact delivery profile, that might have entailed a shallow dive to accelerate to delivery speed as the jet passes the target and then pulling into the vertical. The jet would have released the bomb just it passed the vertical—tossing the bomb high into the air and back toward the target—while the F-15E escapes blast area. Sources are understandably squeamish talking about the topic—pilot’s refer to the technique as the “idiot’s loop”— but one Strike Eagle pilot said the jet will hit speeds of around Mach 1.6—which is it’s maximum speed with conformal fuel tanks when flying those profiles. The bomb itself can be released at speeds around Mach 2.0.

The NNSA stated that initial indications showed the test was successfully and that telemetry, tracking and video data were all properly collected. “This test provides additional confidence in the weapon system and instrumentation designs prior to authorizing Phase 6.4, Production Engineering, in 2016,” the agency stated.

According to the NNSA, the B61-12 flight test hardware included parts designed by the Sandia National and Los Alamos National Laboratories. Those are components are manufactured by the National Security Enterprise Plants. The B61-12’s tail kit is designed and built by Boeing under a contract with Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center.

The tail-kit is derived from Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition weapon system—which consists of a tail-kit assembly section and bolt-on stakes. While the B61-12 was originally believed to utilize the Global Positioning System to enhance accuracy, the NNSA explicitly states that is not true. “Although the tail-kit assembly guided the test unit, the B61-12 nuclear weapon will have no additional capabilities from the legacy B61 nuclear weapons and is not GPS-guided,” the NNSA stated.

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However, it should be noted that while JDAMs are often described in the media as “satellite-guided bombs”—the weapons actually use inertial guidance with GPS positional corrections. Thus the lack of GPS capability would only slightly reduce the accuracy of the B61-12.  Indeed, during the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. Air Force used JDAMs to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s GPS jammers with negligible impact of the weapons’ accuracy.

While the B61-12 has a maximum yield of only 50KT and is a relatively low powered weapon compared to previous versions of weapon—indeed, it can be dialed back to 0.3KT if need be—the increased accuracy makes it more effective. By some estimates, the inertial guidance kit would increase the weapon's capability to a level similar to the now retired 360KT B61-7 or the 400KT B61-11 while reducing casualties.

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Some have argued that would make it more palatable to use those weapons operationally. “Warplanners and adversaries could see such nuclear weapons as more useable allowing some targets that previously would not have been attacked because of too much collateral damage to be attacked anyway,” wrote Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists. “This could lead to a broadening of the nuclear bomber mission, open new facilities to nuclear targeting, reinvigorate a planning culture that sees nuclear weapons as useable, and potentially lower the nuclear threshold in a conflict.”

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The NNSA also took pains to stress that the B61-12 does not violate any treaties and does not add to existing nuclear capabilities—other than increased accuracy. “This development flight test asset contained representative non-nuclear components but no highly enriched uranium or plutonium, consistent with test treaty obligations,” NNSA states.  “The B61-12 LEP refurbishes both nuclear and non-nuclear components to extend the bomb’s service life while improving its safety, security and reliability. The LEP will reuse or remanufacture existing components to the maximum extent possible. With the incorporation of an Air Force provided tail-kit assembly, the B61-12 will replace the existing B61-3, -4, -7, and -10 bombs.”

Nonetheless, many arms control experts are concerned about the new weapon and the capabilities it brings—particularly since the B61-12 will be integrated onto the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That might also provoke a Russian response.

“If the Russians put out a guided nuclear bomb on a stealthy fighter that could sneak through air defenses, would that add to the perception here that they were lowering the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons?” Kristensen told the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal magazine. “Absolutely.”

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.


Operation Pike: How a Crazy Plan to Bomb Russia Almost Lost World War II

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Nazi Germany was defeated largely – though not solely – by the Soviet Union.

But what if Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had been allies instead of enemies? What if America, Britain, and their allies had faced a massive Red Army backed by the military prowess and technological sophistication of the Luftwaffe, Nazi panzers and U-boats?

That apocalyptic vision of a new Dark Ages almost happened. In the early days of World War II, Britain and France planned to bomb Russian oil fields. The goal was to impede Hitler. The outcome would probably have helped Hitler win the war.

The idea was foolish, but not irrational. By late 1939, Britain and France were convinced that Germany and Russia were already friends. Stalin had tried hard to form an anti-Nazi coalition before the war, only to meet such resistance and hesitation that he became convinced that the capitalists were plotting to embroil Germany and Russia in a mutually exhausting war while the West stayed on the sidelines.

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While London and Paris dithered over whether to ally with the Communists, Berlin had no such hesitation: on August 23, 1939, Germany and Russia signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Russia gained Eastern Poland and the Baltic states, a prospective breathing space to build up its military strength, and the prospect that Germany and the Western powers would exhaust themselves while Russia bided its strength.

Yet the real winner was the Fuhrer. The treaty left the Third Reich free to gobble up Poland and Western Europe without fear of a second front in the East. Just as important, the Soviets agreed to supply vital raw materials – especially oil – to the Third Reich, keeping the German war economy running and breaching the Allied naval blockade that had proved so decisive in World War I.

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In Allied eyes, the Soviet Union had changed from Germany's nemesis into Germany's ally. So why not strike the Soviet Union and kill two birds with one stone? Perhaps there was also the frustration of the sitzkrieg, as Allied armies sat impotently behind the Maginot Line while the Germans overran Poland and Scandinavia. Bombing Russia must have seemed easier than confronting the German army on the battlefield.

Thus was born Operation Pike. Flying from Allied bases in Iran and Syria, as well as neutral but anti-Soviet Turkey, more than a hundred British and French bombers would continuously attack Soviet oil fields in the Caucuses in a night strategic bombing campaign. This was more than idle planning. Unmarked British reconnaissance planes flying from Iraqi airfields actually photographed oil installations at Baku and Batumi in March 1940.

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Allied air planners were confident this would be a mighty blow. We know now that it would have been a joke. British night bombing efforts in 1940-41 was so inaccurate – only a handful bombs landed within miles of their target – that the Germans hardly noticed them. Even in 1944, thousand-bomber Royal Air Force night raids, supported by the most sophisticated radar and navigation technology of the time, drop their loans on entire German cities because they could not destroy pinpoint targets.

As the Germans proved, bomb-damaged facilities could be restored with remarkable speed. A 1944 Lancaster bomber carried 7 tons of bombs; a 1940 Blenheim only half a ton. Only the deepest hubris – which indeed afflicted strategic bombing enthusiasts throughout World War II – could make anyone believe that a hundred primitive early-war bombers could devastate the Soviet oil industry.

Patrick Osborn also points out, in his book "Operation Pike," that Allied intelligence concluded that Russian oil only comprised a small part of Germany's fuel supply (much of which actually came from Romania). "The important thing here is not the accuracy of the British intelligence reports but that British and French leaders alike were willing to overlook them in order to pursue their idea of attacking the USSR in order to bring under the feet of Germany: the principle of killing two birds with one stone' taken to ridiculous links."

In any event, fortune, or rather misfortune, saved the world. In May 1940, German panzers smashed through the Low Countries and into France. Six weeks later, France surrendered. Operation Pike was not to be. Except that, as Hitler's armies appeared on the verge of seizing the Caucasus oil fields in 1941-42, Britain still made plans to bomb the oil facilities should the Soviets fail to demolish them before they were captured. Interestingly, the British seemed willing to do battle with Soviet fighters to accomplish this goal.

Ironically, as Osborn notes, instead of harming Germany, the bombing would have weakened the Soviet regime that was the bulwark of the coalition fighting the Nazis. "Someone would have had to have filled the power vacuum if Stalin's government collapsed; that in all likelihood would have been Hitler."

However, the real what-if would have come in the summer of 1940. If Operation Pike had been launched prior to the surrender of France, then the British government would have faced the prospect of fighting a Nazi-Soviet alliance, with no French ally and the United States still withdrawn behind its walls of isolationism. Some British leaders, such as Lord Halifax, had favored making some kind of peace deal with Hitler. If Britain had also been at war with the Soviet Union, perhaps not even diehard Winston Churchill would have had the stomach to continue fighting what would have seemed like a hopeless war.

Of course, even if Allied bombing had brought Hitler and Stalin together, the romance would have been doomed. Two predators greedily devouring other prey would inevitably have turned on each other. Nonetheless, Operation Pike might have changed the history of the world.

Luckily, the world never had a chance to find out.

Michael Peck, a frequent contributor to TNI, is a defense and historical writer based in Oregon. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, WarIsBoring and many other fine publications. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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