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The U.S. Army Can Only Get So Small

The Buzz

Last week, General Mark Milley assumed command as the thirty-ninth chief of staff of the United States Army. It was an occasion replete with ceremony—rows of distinguished guests,  a B-52 and a C-17 flyover, a display by the Old Guard, and a traditional “pass and review” by both the outgoing General Odierno and the incoming General Milley — reminders of the peaceful transition of authority that characterizes the U.S. military. Amid the excitement, however, it was also the first chance to note the new Chief of Staff’s priorities and outlook as he approaches the heavy responsibility before him. Among my takeaways from his speech:

Families are the Army’s Backbone:

Milley understands that military service demands sacrifices of all members of so many military families. He honored the leadership of General Odierno’s wife, Linda, and noted the burden borne by his own wife, Hollyanne, throughout his thirty-five years of service including his multiple deployments to war-zones (she has just completed her thirtieth move driving the Haul to DC). Both of Milley’s own parents served in World War II: his father as a Marine in the Pacific, his mother as a military nurse tending to the war’s wounded.

Warfare is a Human Endeavor: He speaks bluntly, echoing many of the themes in the recently released Army Operating Concept:

There are many who think wars can be won only from great distances, and from space, and from the air and the sea; unfortunately, those views are very, very wrong.  War is an act of politics where one side tries to impose its political will on the other, and politics is all about people, and people live on the ground. We may wish it were otherwise, but it is not. Wars are ultimately decided on the ground where people live.

The Army Can Only Get So Small;

Reflecting the steady downsizing for the Army, Milley plants a flag in the ground from the get-go: “We must have forces that have both capacity and capability, both size and skill. They must be manned. They have to be equipped and they better be trained. And they will be well led.”

The U.S. Military Does Not Pick Its Battles:

“As America, we have no luxury of a single opponent.  We have to be able to fight guerrillas and terrorists all the way up through nation state militaries.” His is a reminder, in other words, that Army readiness must remain full spectrum readiness.

Fighting Is the Army’s Main Task:

Finally, Milley concludes, “Ground combat is—and will remain—the United States Army’s number one priority.” In an age of increasingly complex contingencies, some of which do not require the Army to fight at all, this is a useful priority. Milley is bright and cerebral, “Princeton’s first four-star general.” But at the end of the day, he’s still a warrior.

You can watch the full ceremony here (Milley’s speech begins around 92:00).

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog defense in depth here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 


Revealed: Why the Soviet Union's Entry into the Pacific War Matters

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The Second World War was an unparalleled calamity for the Soviet Union. As many as 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians died as a result of the conflict that started with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ended with the Japanese surrender in August 1945.

Consumed by this existential struggle along its western border, the Soviet Union was a comparatively minor factor in the Pacific War until the very end. Yet Moscow’s timely intervention in the war against Japan allowed it to expand its influence along the Pacific Rim.

With the breakdown of Allied unity soon heralding the onset of the Cold War, Soviet gains in Asia also left a legacy of division and confrontation, some of which endure into the present.

By the 1930s, Stalin’s Soviet Union and Imperial Japan both viewed themselves as rising powers with ambitions to extend their territorial holdings. In addition to a strategic rivalry dating back to the 19th century, they now nursed an ideological enmity born of the Bolshevik Revolution and the ultraconservative military’s growing hold on Japanese politics. In 1935, Japan signed the Anticomintern Pact with Hitler’s Germany, laying the foundation for the creation of the Axis (Fascist Italy would join the following year).

The two militaries engaged in a series of skirmishes along the frontier between Soviet Siberia and Japanese-occupied Manchuria (Manchukuo) during the late 1930s. The largest, at Khalkin Gol in the summer of 1939, left more than 17,000 dead. Yet worried by growing tensions in Europe and Southeast Asia, both Moscow and Tokyo recognized that their respective ambitions in Manchuria were not worth the mounting costs and soon turned their attention to other theaters.

Just two days after the German Wehrmacht launched Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, Moscow and Tokyo signed a non-aggression pact. Freed from the danger of a two-front war, the Soviet Union was able to focus all its resources on resisting the German onslaught. The Red Army consequently played virtually no role in the Pacific war that was soon raging, at least until the very end.

While recognizing that Moscow had no resources to spare as long as its troops were tied down in Europe, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt nonetheless sought to enlist Soviet assistance in the war against Japan once Germany had been defeated. Soviet leader Josef Stalin agreed, aiming to expand Soviet borders in Asia. Stalin began building up Soviet forces in the Far East once the tide of the war in Europe had turned following the Battle of Stalingrad.

At the February 1945 Yalta Conference, Stalin agreed that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan three months after Germany’s surrender. The Yalta declaration gave Moscow back southern Sakhalin, which Japan had seized during the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, as well as the Kurile Island chain to which Russia had renounced its claim in 1875. Mongolia was also to be recognized as an independent state (it was already a Soviet client), and Soviet interests in the naval base at the Chinese port of Port Arthur (Dalian) and the Manchurian railway that it had controlled before 1905 were to be respected.

Moscow subsequently declared war on Tokyo on August 8, 1945, two days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and one day before the second bomb fell on Nagasaki (though Western historiography has long emphasized the role of the nuclear attacks in compelling Japan’s surrender, newly available Japanese documents emphasize the importance of the Soviet declaration of war in forcing Tokyo’s hand).

A massive invasion of Manchuria began the day after the Soviet declaration of war. Soviet forces also conducted amphibious landings along Japan’s colonial periphery: Japan’s Northern Territories, on Sakhalin Island, and in the northern part of the Korean Peninsula. The Soviet invasion of Manchuria created a haven for Chinese communist forces, who had been fighting both the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, aiding the communists’ eventual triumph in 1948.

Washington and Moscow had agreed in advance to set up a joint trusteeship in Korea with an eye towards establishing Korea, under Japanese colonial rule since 1910, as an independent state. As in Europe, the U.S. and Soviet Union each received an occupation zone, on either side of the 38th parallel. Unable to reach an agreement on a government for both zones, the U.S. and Soviet trustees presided over the establishment of competing Korean governments for the north (Pyongyang) and south (Seoul). The stage was set for the Korean War, which broke out in January 1950 when North Korean forces poured across the 38th parallel, by then an international border.

The Soviet landings in Sakhalin faced significant Japanese resistance, but gradually succeeded in consolidating control over the entire island. Until 1945, Sakhalin was usually divided between a Russian zone in the north and a Japanese zone in the south. Russia and Japan had struggled over this large, sparsely populated island for more than a century, with the 1855 Treaty of Shimoda specifying that Russians could live in the north of the island and Japanese in the south. Japan relinquished its claims in 1875, but then seized the island during the Russo-Japanese War before returning the northern half to Moscow’s control in 1925. With the Treaty of San Francisco, which formally ended the war in the Pacific, Japan ceded all claims to Sakhalin, leaving the island under Soviet control even though Moscow had declined to sign the treaty.

The Soviet refusal to sign was more problematic with regard to a group of small islands northeast of Hokkaido and southwest of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula: Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan, and Habomai. These islands had also been subject of a Russo-Japanese quarrel dating back to the 19th century. Moscow regarded these islands as the southernmost part of the Kurile chain, which Japan had renounced at San Francisco. The treaty neither specified, however, which islands belonged to the Kurile chain, nor recognized Soviet control over them. Japan, backed up by the U.S. argued that the four islands do not belong to the Kuriles, and that the USSR was illegally occupying them.

The dispute over these islands has prevented an agreement formally ending hostilities between Japan and Russia (as the USSR’s legal successor) up to the present. The issue is highly sensitive to nationalist factions in both Moscow and Tokyo, despite periodic efforts by diplomats on both sides to reach an agreement.

With both Russia and Japan increasingly wary of Chinese power in the Asia-Pacific, four sparsely populated outposts at the edge of the Sea of Okhotsk remain in many ways the biggest impediment to a rapprochement between Moscow and Tokyo that could reshape Asian geopolitics.

Meanwhile, the division of Korea has already sparked one major war, along with and untold suffering inside totalitarian North Korea. With 30,000 American troops still stationed in South Korea across the DMZ from an increasingly paranoid, nuclear armed North Korea, the Korean Peninsula remains one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints.

Stalin’s intervention in the war against Japan came late in the day, but in many ways it continues shaping the Asian security environment six decades later.

This piece first appeared in AMTI’s website here

Image: Creative Commons 2.5. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

China Tests Its Most Dangerous Nuclear Weapon of All Time

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China conducted a flight test of its new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) this month.

This week, Bill Gertz reported that earlier this month, China conducted the fourth flight test of its DF-41 road-mobile ICBM.

“The DF-41, with a range of between 6,835 miles and 7,456 miles, is viewed by the Pentagon as Beijing’s most potent nuclear missile and one of several new long-range missiles in development or being deployed,” Gertz reports.

He goes on to note that this is the fourth time in the past three years that China has tested the DF-41, indicating that the missile is nearing deployment. Notably, according to Gertz, in the latest test China shot two independently targetable warheads from the DF-41, further confirming that the DF-41 will hold multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV).

As I’ve noted before, China’s acquisition of a MIRVed capability is one of the most dangerous nuclear weapons developments that no one is talking about.

MIRVed missiles carry payloads of several nuclear warheads each capable of being directed at a different set of targets. They are considered extremely destabilizing to the strategic balance primarily because they place a premium on striking first and create a “use em or lose em” nuclear mentality.

Along with being less vulnerable to anti-ballistic missile systems, this is true for two primary reasons. First, and most obviously, a single MIRVed missile can be used to eliminate numerous enemy nuclear sites simultaneously. Thus, theoretically at least, only a small portion of an adversary’s missile force would be necessary to completely eliminate one’s strategic deterrent. Secondly, MIRVed missiles enable countries to use cross-targeting techniques of employing two or more missiles against a single target, which increases the kill probability.

In other words, MIRVs are extremely destabilizing because they make adversary’s nuclear arsenals vulnerable to being wiped out in a surprise first strike. In the case of China, Beijing’s acquisition of a MIRVed capability is likely to force India to greatly increase the size of its nuclear arsenal, as well as force it to disperse its nuclear weapons across a greater sway of land to prevent China from being able to conduct a successful decapitation strike. Such a development in Delhi would upset the Indo-Pakistani nuclear balance, likely prompting Islamabad to take corresponding actions of its own.

China’s acquisition of a MIRVed capability is also likely to upset the strategic balance with Russia. As Moscow’s conventional military capabilities have eroded since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has leaned more heavily on nuclear weapons for its national defense. It therefore seeks to maintain a clear nuclear advantage over potential adversaries like China. Beijing’s acquisition of MIRVed missiles threatens to erode this advantage.

As Gertz’s notes, the U.S. intelligence community believes that the DF-41 will ultimately be able to carry up to 10 nuclear warheads. Such a development would likely force China to increase the size of its nuclear arsenal. To date, China and India (as well as the world’s other nuclear powers) have maintained relatively small nuclear arsenals compared with Russia and the United States.

The introduction of MIRVed technologies into the Asian nuclear balance may render this no longer true. For this reason— along with its long-range and solid fuel—the DF-41 is the most dangerous nuclear weapon in China’s arsenal.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Get Ready, Middle East: Syria Is Slowly Dying

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The Syrian conflict, now in its fourth, unrelenting year, is an unmitigated disaster. By any measure – strategic, humanitarian, political, social or environmental – the conflict has ravaged the Middle East.

The humanitarian toll is overwhelming. Over a quarter of a million are dead and half of the country's population is displaced. While there are coalition air strikes against ISIS-held territory, there is no cogent military strategy. Though there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity recently, no political agreement is on the horizon either. 

No one could have predicted that what started as peaceful protests against Assad's authoritarian regime could spiral so thoroughly out of control and lead to the establishment of ISIS and the fracturing of the Syrian state. The world continues to lament the state of Syria but has been unable to muster any solutions.

In time, there will likely be no more Syria.

The worst-case scenario is that Syria's slow, violent burn continues unabated for years to come, accelerating related regional crises. The best-case scenario is a more orderly disintegration of the state, a crumbling that has already begun. This has far-reaching consequences for the entire region, yet the focus continues to be on the rise of ISIS to the exclusion of other deep-seated issues driving the conflict.

The Syrian conflict is so confounding and disruptive because it's not just a product of levers and forces internal to Syria. It's also not just a problem of how to deal with ISIS. Rather, Syria has become the lightening rod for all of the ills of the region. It has become the place of convergence for regional and international rivalries, religious apocalyptic visions, the lack of human security, demographic challenges, the inevitable social and political effects of decades of authoritarianism and the lack of broad-based legitimacy of political elites, social and religious movements.

A multitude of proxy conflicts and parochial interests is being played out in Syria, and it is unlikely that all of them can be encapsulated in a lasting political settlement.

Iran and Hezbollah, while allies of Assad, have their own priorities in Syria – like securing the Lebanese border and other Shia-dominated areas. They have been less interested in helping the regime retake Sunni strongholds, effectively forcing Assad to cede territory. Turkey has condemned the Assad regime but has for years done little to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Syria. It has contradictory interests in ousting Assad while maintaining the territorial integrity of Syria so that Syrian Kurds along its border do not get any smart ideas about breaking off to form an independent Kurdistan. Iraq, itself a fractured state, has competing interests in Syria depending on which sectarian faction its power players belong to. Various Gulf states have come out against Assad while cavalierly supporting extreme rebel factions. 

Though it's always dangerous to discuss absolutes, especially in the world of international relations, there is no feasible political or military solution ahead for Syria. Even with the recent spasm of diplomatic activity by Russia, the US and the Gulf states, there is no real shift in positions, and any agreement would be unlikely to include ground held by ISIS, leaving a large swath of territory unaccounted for.  

The latest UN Security Council statement, urging the formation of a transitional government, still makes no mention of the key issue: what should be done about the Assad regime. Until there is an international consensus on whether Assad's ouster is a precondition for a deal, an internationally brokered solution will not happen.

Likewise, there is no cogent military option despite the fact that most actors on the ground still believe there is more to be gained by fighting rather than negotiating. The so called 'moderate Syrian rebels' are non-existent. That is a wishful label attached to a group of fractured and not so moderate fighters. The recent US campaign of drone strikes has so far failed to perceptibly roll back territory held by ISIS. Nor has the half-hearted US-led military campaign prevented the Assad regime from carrying out its own devastating strikes in rebel-held territory that purposefully targets civilians. The attack this week on Douma, a suburb of Damascus, by Syrian Government forces was one of the deadliest of the four-year war.

No one actor has mustered enough force to regain control of Syria and the current US led military 'strategy' has not decisively shifted the course of the conflict. So Syria will continue down a slow path towards fragmentation, likely dragging Iraq along with it. ISIS is consolidating territory to the east along and across the Iraqi border. In the north, Kurdish rebels are pushing their luck, seeing how far they can further their claims of autonomy while creating facts on the ground, supported by their Iraqi counterparts. The Assad regime, meanwhile, is concentrating its strength in the capital and along the coast.

It's this overall fracturing, more so than the panic over ISIS, which is the real threat to regional stability.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

This GOP Presidential Hopeful Says America Needs 15 Aircraft Carriers

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Republican presidential hopeful and Ohio Governor John Kasich says the United States should build five more aircraft carriers.

Speaking at a forum on national security in South Carolina on Monday, Governor Kasich argued that the United States should try to have around 15 aircraft carriers.

“We have about 10 carriers now, my goal would be to get closer to 15. And you’ve got to have the ability to project power when you get there,” Kasich said, the Columbus Dispatch and Politico reported.

Speaking to reporters after the forum, Kasich clarified his remarks by saying that the project to build five additional aircraft carriers would have to be done “over time. It’s not going to be done in a day. It has to all be done calmly and over time.”

The crux of the issue for Kasich, as is so often the case when it comes to the defense spending and the Navy in particular, is cost. The latest U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, cost between $6 billion and $10 billion to build, according to the Columbus Dispatch (other estimates put the cost of the lead ship at upwards of $12 billion). Adding an additional five aircraft carriers to the ones America already intends to build would be an enormous burden on federal spending.

This is problematic for a candidate like Kasich, who is running in no small part on his ability to balance the federal budget. Repeatedly on the campaign trail Kasich has touted his experience as the chairman of the House Budget Committee, noting that he held this position the last time the U.S. government managed to successfully balance the budget. In an op-ed on CNN on Monday, Kasich sent so far as to declare “I support a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced federal budget.”

Still, Kasich’s fiscal prudence does not appear to extend to the U.S. Navy, which the Ohio governor is a strong proponent of expanding. At the South Carolina forum on Monday, Kasich said that the U.S. Navy should be expanded to “at the minimum we ought to try and build up to 300 [ships],” up from just 272 ships today. In the aforementioned CNN op-ed, Kasich linked to a 2014 report calling for the U.S. Navy to be expanded to 346 ships.

In the same op-ed Kasich made a valiant defense of expanding the U.S. Navy, calling it his second priority after balancing the federal budget.

“Our second priority must be renewing our Navy. Other services have legitimate needs too, but reinvigorating the Navy's ability to project power globally is critical to defending and advancing American interests, including ensuring the free flow of global commerce,” the governor wrote.

In a veiled threat to China and Iran, he added: “Those who mistakenly think they can deny access to a corner of the world—particularly in the Western Pacific and Persian Gulf—need another visit from a carrier battle group to remind them that the global commons are, in fact, just that: the world's shared real estate.”

As Politico points out, Kasich has not always been so hawkish on weapons procurement. During his days in Congress, for instance, he opposed purchasing additional B-2 stealth bombers and said there were major savings to be had by overhauling the Defense Department. And, although he supported invading Iraq in 2002, he clarified this week that he now believes that was a mistake. He has suggested in recent months that the United States might need to put boots on the ground to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The United States currently plans to build 10 Ford-class carriers through 2058 at a pace of one per five-year interval.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Todd P. Cichonowicz

TopicsSecurity RegionsAmericas

Implausible Deniability: Pakistan and Mullah Omar’s Death

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So it turns out that Mullah Muhammad Omar, undisputed leader of the Afghan Taliban, died in the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi over two years ago, in early 2013. Rumors of his demise have been common currency among observers of Afghanistan and within the U.S. government, but one after the other, they seemed to have been false. Apparently not.

Denials, accompanied by new policy pronouncements, allegedly from Mullah Omar, were released by the Taliban’s “Quetta Shura” from its “headquarters” in Pakistan. But Mullah Omar’s declarations were never oral. They were all written and attributed by various spokesmen to Mullah Omar, who has almost never met with journalists, never appeared live on radio or television, and for whom only a few very old photographs exist.

The first oddity is how such a reclusive and relatively uneducated man was accorded such religious and organizational veneration as the Taliban’s mullah primus inter pares.  Second, how did such a recluse who abjured contemporary mechanisms of communication (telephones of all kinds and recordings let alone radio or television) hold such undisputed authority for nearly 15 years over a very quarrelsome insurgency which, now in his absence, may well fall into irreconcilable internal disputes? Third, how did the Taliban hold his death so closely for so long? The answer to the third question lies in the sheer fact of the second: since he never communicated directly with his followers, almost any directive attributed to him was as authoritative as the next. But since there are contending factions and policy differences within the Taliban, why did none of the factions “call out” any of these declarations?

All of these questions will be fodder for discussion and analysis. Perhaps most disturbing, however, is once again, the relation between the government of Pakistan and the government of the United States. The poisonous atmosphere between the two is likely to receive another dose of venom. Already there were accusations by the United States about Osama bin Laden: that Pakistan, if not exactly a formal ally then at least a recipient of millions of dollars of military and non-military assistance from the United States, knew that Osama bin Laden was living in Abbottabad, Pakistan a few hundred meters from the Pakistan Military Academy (Pakistan’s Sandhurst). And that he could not have been living there without the knowledge, and probably complicity, of the government of Pakistan, or at least of the Army and the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) directorate. In other words, Pakistan had actively harbored one of the most sought after individual nemeses of the United States, a man with a $10 million bounty on his head.

Now, it turns out that Mullah Mohammed Omar died in a major Pakistani hospital two years ago. Moreover, the announcement was made, two years later, not by the government of Pakistan but by the government of Afghanistan. Apparently when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta shared some preliminary intelligence to that effect with then-President Asif Ali Zardari, he denied any knowledge of it. Even in the unlikely possibility that Zardari did not know, surely the ISI did, because the ISI has had continuous contact with the Taliban (in its prior forms) since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Indeed, when the United States was semi-covertly supporting the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan, the ISI was its insurgents’ patron and “case worker.” Yet, even now, the announcement was made, over two years later, not by the government of Pakistan but by the government of Afghanistan.


So there are two possibilities. Either the ISI and the Pakistanis did share their intelligence with the United States, which chose not to act on it. Or the United States was, again, blinded by an erstwhile partner.

The former is not impossible but is extremely unlikely. It might have been in the interest of the United States to pretend that the Taliban was cohesive and well-led so that peace negotiations could be conducted with the adversary which, in turn, could deliver on a final agreement. Incongruously, the government of Afghanistan, especially former president Hamid Karzai, constantly accused the United States of undermining negotiations presumably to keep the war going and the coalition troops in Afghanistan, all the while complaining about President Obama’s plans for reductions in force. But Karzai has clearly bordered on psychotic delusions from time to time, maybe even regularly, and was clearly paranoid. The United States has been trying, at least under President Obama, to leave Afghanistan and reduce its commitments there. At times, certainly the United States did not favor negotiations with the Taliban. In particular, during the George W. Bush administration, U.S. military and civilian leaders did not want to negotiate with the Taliban except from a position of strength and without any pre-conditions about a withdrawal. But, even under that policy, no U.S. leaders would have proposed to support internal Taliban coherence. If anything the United States would gladly have exposed Taliban divisions, sought to exacerbate them, and tried to take advantage of them.

Perhaps the Obama administration, which has wanted to negotiate with the Taliban, would have preferred to reinforce the solidarity of the Taliban in order to gain a credible negotiating partner and agreement. If so, it will now have much to answer for if the story about Panetta’s meeting with Gilani (and many similar ones) was a ruse, and that Mullah Omar’s death has been well-known to the U.S. government and corroborated for some 30 months.

By far the simplest, most parsimonious, most probable explanation for this bewildering intelligence gap is that the Pakistanis knew and simply dissembled. At the very least, they knew and failed to inform or acknowledge, and at worst they denied when asked. (If the military knew and failed to inform its nominally civilian superiors, that would be even more troubling, but not unprecedented.) Why U.S. intelligence wasn’t able to pierce that prevarication is another matter, one which will no doubt be the subject of Congressional and certainly press inquiry. But if the simple answer is the right one, it would amount to just the newest example of Pakistani deception and render serious partnership even more improbable and, without a fundamental change, probably unwise. Serious partnership, based on mutual trust, may not be possible, but the stakes in Pakistan are too high simply to ignore it out of pique: a nuclear state which has already disseminated nuclear plans and weapons; a state at last grappling with its internal terrorists and violent extremists; and a state tottering on the edge of environmental, social, economic, and political implosions. Some kind of verifiable relationship, based on transactions more than trust will need to remain the modus operandi between the two countries.

Gerald F. (“Jerry”) Hyman has been Senior Advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the President of its Hills Program on Governance since 2007. From 2002 to 2007, he was the director of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s global Office of Democracy and Governance a senior management position. Between 1990 and 2002, he held a number of posts at USAID dealing with democracy and governance, including (from 2001 to 2002) a USAID Senior Management Group position as director of the Office of Democracy, Governance and Social Transitions in the Bureau for Europe and Eurasia. Dr. Hyman developed the programming strategy paradigm for USAID democracy and governance assistance.

Image: Wikimedia/ISAF Media

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Watch: Every Nuclear Bomb Detonation Ever

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Nuclear weapons tests have been taking place for decades. And now you can view virtually every test that has occurred thanks to a fascinating new video posted to Vimeo.

The video is essentially a visualization of nuclear detonations from 1945 to the present. Atmospheric tests are in red. Underground tests are in yellow. Underwater tests are in blue.

While many consider nuclear weapons out of vogue, a relic of the Cold War, in many respects, they are making a comeback in strategic circles.

Consider the following from a recent TNI column noting America’s new B61-12 weapon:

“Yet the most dangerous nuclear bomb in America’s arsenal may be the new B61-12.

Much has been written about the B61-12, most of which has focused on its enormous cost. And for good reason—it is the most expensive nuclear bomb project ever.

In terms of sheer destructive capability, the B61-12 is nowhere near America’s most dangerous nuclear weapon. Indeed, the bomb has a maximum yield of just 50-kilotons, the equivalent of 50,000 tons of TNT. By contrast, the B83 nuclear bomb has a maximum yield of 1.2 megatons (1,200 kilotons).

What makes the B61-12 bomb the most dangerous nuclear weapon in America’s arsenal is its usability. This usability derives from a combination of its accuracy and low-yield.

In terms of the former, the B61-12 is America’s first nuclear-guided bomb, As Hans Kristensen of FAS notes, “We do not have a nuclear-guided bomb in our arsenal today…. It [the B61-12] is a new weapon.”

Indeed, according to Kristensen, existing U.S. nuclear bombs have circular error probabilities (CEP) of between 110-170 meters. The B61-12’s CEP is just 30 meters.”

Could we see additional future tests make an appearance in the video below (hat tip to the Lowy Interpreter)? 


August 1945: A Snapshot of U.S. Maritime Strategy in the Pacific

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When Japan surrendered 70 years ago this month, the United States stood supreme in the Pacific.  Only the Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy had surface combatants that could roam freely from the Indian Ocean to the East China Sea and these remained a fraction of the massive “Big Blue Fleet” the U.S. Navy had deployed.  With the exception of Taiwan, parts of the Dutch East Indies, the Japanese archipelago and a smattering of isolated South Pacific atolls, the entire offshore island chain in the Western Pacific was under the control of the United States and its allies.

Continental Asia was another matter.  U.S. and Commonwealth forces had advanced across Burma, but Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean peninsula were under the control of Soviet forces.  The U.S. government would rush battle-hardened veterans from Okinawa to occupy the southern part of the Korean peninsula and leave the vast expanse from Mandalay to Hanoi under Lord Louis Mountbatten’s South East Asia Command (SEAC– which American officers derided as the “Save England’s Asian Colonies” command).  In the next two decades this weak purchase on the mainland would cost over 100,000 American lives in Korea and Vietnam as policymakers debated how far to invest in the security of Continental Asia.

With respect to maritime Asia, however, there was little debate.  As Chief of Naval Operations Ernest King told the press on July 24, 1943:

“…after this war, whether we are criticized for imperialism or not, we have got to take and run the Mandated Islands, and perhaps even the Solomons. We have got to dominate the Pacific.”

King spoke for the entire naval establishment and the majority of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s senior advisors.  After fighting a bloody island hopping campaign across the Central and Southwest Pacific, there was broad consensus that America’s post-war defense line had to lie on the offshore island chains and not Hawaii or the West Coast.  As early as 1943, Navy Secretary Frank Knox ordered a review of which air and naval bases the United States would need in the Western Pacific after the war.  The U.S. Army Air Force, which had used offshore islands to such devastating effect against Japan, also came to appreciate that opponents with strong air forces did not necessarily need a large navy to threaten U.S. interests in the Pacific if they had access to air bases on the islands. Roosevelt’s closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, had confided to General Joe Stilwell that after the war the United States must have strong bases in Formosa, the Philippines, “and anywhere we damn please.”  The President’s liaison to the Chiefs of staff, Admiral William Leahy, told the President that it was critical for the United States to hold all the islands taken in the Pacific as permanent bases and not to turn them over to the UN. And in July 1945 Knox’s successor, James Forrestal, explained in testimony before a joint session of the Senate and House Committees on Naval Affairs in July 1945, the United States had to seek naval superiority in pivotal areas, including “the waters contiguous to Japan and to the Philippines.

Roosevelt was an avid student of Alfred Thayer Mahan and a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and understood the inherent importance of the offshore island chain to the security of the Pacific and the United States itself.  But FDR was also an anti-imperialist and a fervent believer in a new collective security order centered on the “Four Policemen” of Britain, China, Russia and the United States.  He mused throughout the war that the offshore island chain could host bombers to keep an eye on Japan and maintain stability after the fighting stopped.  The offshore islands were critical, he concurred, but within the context of collective security.  To the dismay of key advisors, Roosevelt turned the Kuriles over to Stalin at Yalta and agreed to put the former German colonies in the South Pacific under UN Trusteeship as a way to prod the French and British to do the same with their former colonies.  JCS planners, who had studied taking the Kuriles to bomb Japan, warned that the islands were “the obvious springboard of the most possible route of attack on us” by Soviet forces after the war, but they could not sway President Harry S. Truman from fulfilling Roosevelt’s plans in the final allied summit at Potsdam on July 18, 1945.

Over the next five years, the Navy lost political momentum in the rush to demobilize after the war.  By 1950 the Big Blue Fleet was reduced to a small fraction of its former strength, with only one carrier, two destroyer divisions, three submarines, and a pair of auxiliary ships. Secretary of State Dean Acheson famously excluded Korea from the American defense line in his January 1950 National Press Club speech.  That June, the North attacked the South.  Truman’s first reaction on hearing the news, was to ask about the threat to Japan and the offshore island chain.  The vision of offshore island control advanced by King, Knox, Forrestal, Hopkins and Leahy now became the centerpiece of U.S. strategy in the Pacific.  And though rarely stated as such, remains the centerpiece today.

This piece first appeared in AMTI’s website here

Image: Creative Commons. 

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Exposed: How Warfare Is Changing in the 21st Century

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Warfare is changing, and not just in the most obvious and visible ways. Yes, there are new technologies, newly assertive foes, and new ideologies. But to fully understand how it’s evolving, you must examine the broader context in which we are fighting.

There are tectonic shifts underway, gradual yet persistent, that we rarely think about as being a part of war. Yet they directly affect what our armed forces face on the battlefield, now and into the future. Here are two underappreciated dimensions of change.

First, mobilization. There’s been a transformation in the means and ends of mobilization—i.e., how we tap into the popular passion that is the engine of war. This point isn’t new: I first wrote about it ten years ago, calling it ‘cybermobilization.’

To see the contrast, it helps to look at the late 18th century, when Carl von Clausewitz was writing On War. Shortly before the French Revolution, the printing press was deregulated. As a result, there was a vast increase in popular access to information, facilitating the mass uprising that drove conscription, fed the armies of Napoleon, and helped him to win. Armies ballooned by four or five times. Watching his side lose, young Clausewitz was keenly aware of the role of primordial violence, part of war’s paradoxical trinity whose effects were unfolding before him.

A similar dynamic has been underway for years now. There’s been a dramatic shift in access to information, including an increase in public access, a sharp reduction in cost, a growth in frequency of messages, and an exploitation of images on the Internet. As a result, tapping into today’s popular passions has become easier: many types of actors, state and non-state, can build a mobilizing argument that manipulates diaspora communities and shapes an identity.

When I first wrote about it, I was unsure whether the positive or negative aspects of access to information would prevail. Unfortunately for the West, the consequences have been disheartening. The initial spread of democratic ideals, spurring democratic uprisings such as the Color Revolutions and the ‘Arab Spring,’ has been replaced by a manipulation of messages by non-state actors and states that suppress free speech.

While I have faith in the long-term power of democracy, the pattern in the short-term has been political polarization and the growth of a powerful ‘grey’ world of criminal networks, gangs, terrorist groups, human traffickers, warlords, insurgents, sectarian killers, and state-supported thugs and proxies.

That’s bad news for those who value stability and predictability. Actors of all types can reach broad populations, to form new identities, mobilize them to join a cause, indoctrinate or inspire them to carry out violent attacks at home. Authoritarian states accustomed to manipulating audiences are now also benefiting.  What we call ‘hybrid warfare’ is but a symptom of this process.

The second key dimension of change is in innovation. In the 20th century, military technological innovation was all about states, armies, and complex systems. The private sector typically drew from major systems first developed for the military. Now the process is reversed. Disruptive changes come from innovations not even within the scope of the military—yet keenly affecting what armies do, including whether or not they win.

While Secretary of Defense Ash Carter expresses concern that America is losing its technological edge, I disagree. We’re not losing it: we gave it away years ago.

The diffusion of critical technologies driving this change occurred by deliberate U.S. government policy in the 1990s. Publicly financed basic and applied research from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s drove the technology boom of the 1990s. With federal government support, ARPANET became the Internet. Tax dollars developed the Global Positioning System. The Google Search engine emerged from a National Science Foundation grant.

Apple now earns some $40 billion a year, but few realize that all of the major components of the iPhone derive from U.S. government programs, including the microchips, the touchscreens, and Siri—the voice activated system. There are many more examples.

The U.S. federal bureaucracy was a net exporter of key information technology throughout the 1990s. Now it’s a net importer of technology.

The process has shifted from consolidating power in the hands of a few, to sharing it—or to be more precise, selling it—to the masses. Today the most important advances in 3D printing, robotics, information technology, artificial intelligence, and many other emerging technologies come from the private sector, to be harvested by U.S. and allied militaries (or not). And it’s not just the U.S. private sector that’s charging ahead: building on the foundation that we shared decades ago, sometimes the most important developers of new technologies are in China, India or Europe.

Taken together these two dimensions of change (mobilization and innovation) mean that the causes of war are more unpredictable, and lethal arms are more accessible to a wider range of enemies. They are affecting who fights, why they fight, where they fight and with what means.

So what can be done about it?

First, we must confront the process of mobilization, including attacking the message and avoiding the tendency to help the enemy mobilize. When we trumpet the latest ISIS claim of ‘credit’ for attacks they had nothing to do with, for example, we are lionizing them and helping them draw recruits.

Second, rather than leave innovation mainly to the private sector, U.S. and allied governments must invest more in the kinds of basic research and development that spawned all of this creativity years ago.  There is no reason we cannot recapture the momentum we had then. But first we have to stop deluding ourselves that the current situation is sustainable.

Third, we must use our own existing technological innovations more effectively, to help us more than they help them. Why are ISIS and Putin’s Russia giving us lessons in how to use them? Only by breaking out of simplistic 20th century arguments pitting free speech against security will we be able to develop a clear-eyed understanding of the broader historical threat and a willingness to work together to meet it.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

Image: U.S. Air Force Flickr. 


This is How China Could Dominate the South China Sea Without a War

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Hegemon is a wickedly interactive multi-player/multi-round geostrategic game devised by the Potomac Foundation. Each player represents a country, fielding certain economic and military resources and possessing (secret) objectives.

Ranged across a gods-eye planetary gameboard, Hegemon is the 'softwar' wild-child born of hardcore videogamers and grizzled defense planners. Don't be fooled by its simplistic initial game conditions; things get tricky, fast. Just as in real life, events build upon themselves like fractals. Players bluff and second-guess others' intentions, alliances are formed and broken and decisions need to be made in a fog of uncertainty.

This northern summer's Hegemon simulations centered on the South China Sea. Every game unfolded differently, but the world has a certain ineluctable logic of strategy imposed by objectives, facts on the ground and political will: great powers gonna do great-powering. China looms ever-larger on the South China Sea gameboard tiles; it has the initiative. Because some players secretly fear war and others do not, Hegemon becomes a test of wits where every player suffers from information asymmetry, never sure how their counterparts will react.

Prediction is hard, to paraphrase Niels Bohr, especially of the intentions of other people.

Ten key takeaways from Hegemon:

1: Wargames' needn't involve war. In Potomac's experience, just half of the South China Sea simulations erupt into violence within 20 years (four turns of five years each). Diplomacy and deal-making are crucial. Personalities matter. With a bunch of navy and air force captains at the keyboard, things often turn kinetic. With political science professors, expect different outcomes.

2: If China plays a long game with diplomatic initiative, it can win without fighting. Regional nations respect, depend on and fear China, and they are inclined to bandwagon with it. China towers over them in actual power so it can afford to be magnanimous. Over many years consistent Chinese reassurance could work. In that case the U.S. would end up a 'present but irrelevant' Asian outsider.

3: But China may not have such patience, and not every neighbor will join the Sinosphere. In a classic security dilemma, one country's deterrence is another's threat. Even as some players bandwagon, others will balance. Under most scenarios Japan sticks with the U.S. alliance. One striking message of the game is how easily Asia could drift toward a bipolar equilibrium. Just about every simulation ends up with some sort of red-versus-blue alignment.


4: One game outcome that is unlikely is a third bloc of independent or 'green' countries. ASEAN is easily divided. Indonesia is a complex and unpredictable actor, something with which Australia, Malaysia and Singapore must all contend. Trust and transparency are rare. Cheating works only once. And don't go for 'the fallacy of the last turn.' The Potomac team never lets you relax.


5: Vietnam is hard to read. It cares about its coastline and will defy China's unilateral domination of the South China Sea. But it also must share a land border with Beijing, and Hanoi might bargain away some of its objectives for a reduced Chinese presence in adjacent military regions.


6: So might Moscow, and that's where things start getting really interesting. Although it is not a South China Sea state, Russia's alignment affects the power balance in the region. It is a major weapons supplier too. Ultimately the moves in Hegemon express themselves in configurations of bases, ships, missiles, etc. There's no sure thing, but a preponderance of modernized local forces is needed to win each battle sequence. Russian hardware helps.


7: A new Pacific war would look an awful lot like...the last Pacific war? In nearly all simulations the front becomes the first island chain. Taiwan is 'the cork in the bottle', but only for as long as it resists reunification. The Philippines is prime real estate. Although a small economy, it's a vast archipelagic space of 100 million people, thousands of islands, and airports and harbors galore.


8: Therefore, if the U.S. is to exert influence in the South China Sea, it will need strategic depth across the Philippines. It must re-learn the lessons of island chain warfare. Runway repair sappers will be busy. The U.S. may also need to replicate China's own A2/AD tactics. China will have toys on its South China Sea tiles, but these also make targets. As the game unfolds, there's an unmistakable feeling that bases and battle groups become tripwires that the U.S. and China are daring each other to ping.


9: Hegemon feels rushed and urgent. That's an artificial but necessary limitation of the game. At times it's more crisis management than grand strategy. But quick moves do happen in real life. A year ago China didn't have major Spratly Island bases. In 1962 JFK had days (or hours) to deal with the Cuba nuclear crisis.

10: Don't overlook the nuclear possibility. Tactical nuclear weapons are militarily useful if they succeed as an escalation-stopper. That's a scary bet to make in a chaotic high-stakes confrontation. The threshold for small nukes is alarmingly low (about 20 tonnes of TNT equivalent, which looks like this). But would anyone really use them? That's the whole point of Hegemon's devilish dilemma: you'll never know.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Creative Commons 4.0. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia