The economy or the people? Or Is the cure worse than the virus?
President Trump said Tuesday during a Fox News virtual town hall that he wants the country’s economy re-opened by Easter amid questions over how long people should stay home and businesses should remain closed to slow the spread of coronavirus. Speaking from the Rose Garden alongside others on his coronavirus taskforce, Trump said he “would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” The holiday this year lands on April 12.
The President also reiterated his argument that he doesn’t want “to turn the country off” and to see a continued economic downfall from the pandemic. “We lose thousands and thousands of people a year to the flu. We don’t turn the country off,” Trump said during the interview. He added: “We lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We don’t call up the automobile companies and say stop making cars. We have to get back to work.”
The President’s optimism of course is countered by all of the panic and anti-trump rhetoric of the media. Have you heard the media report the praise for the actions of the president from unlikely leaders like the governors of California and New York? Some of the closures are clearly the result of the panic created by the media. The rest is truly to ease of contagion of the virus.
The president’s prediction that the U.S. economy would be up-and-running by Easter, however, is tempered by comments earlier in the day by top officials at the Pentagon who predicted the COVID-19 outbreak could last anywhere from 10 weeks to three months.
Trump’s thoughts about getting people back to work sets up a potential conflict with medical professionals, including many within his government, who have called for more social restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, not fewer.
For weeks now, millions of Americans have been practicing “social distancing” in an effort to “flatten the curve” of increasing Chinese Coronavirus infections. Governors in California and New York have issued “stay at home orders” and closed “non-essential” businesses in an effort to stem the growth of the illness. Other states have made similar or more limited declarations or are considering them. Most states have ended the school year and are trying some form of remote education. This would be more practical if every school child had a computer and every home had the internet. (This will be the subject of a whole new article as I learn from the experience of our grandchildren.
While more than 40,000 Americans currently are infected with Chinese Coronavirus, hundreds of millions of others are suffering from the outbreak’s related effects. The U.S. economy is in shambles. The stock market has seen catastrophic losses. Out of an abundance of caution, millions of workers have been sent home. Thousands have been laid off. Restaurants and businesses have been shuttered, and many — especially small ones — may not re-open.
The negative financial impact of the shutdown/quarantine strategy gets worse every day. But are these widespread, but hopefully short-term, economic losses necessary? Will they avert a long-term economic crisis that could potentially kill hundreds of thousands?
As we come full circle from the Rose Garden’s hope of today about opening the country by Easter to the risk of opening the government prematurely maybe there is a compromise solution.
Some places like Wyoming and many of the other mid-western states have few cases of the virus. Many locales in even New York have few cases. Such an analysis of the country suggests that there are large pockets of minimal contamination. Also we know that the vulnerable population groups are the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions. Younger Americans my get the virus but the effects are minimal. This suggests another way to dice who can go back to work—non-threatened folks.
It is only smart to continue to limit large gatherings but many other social interactions can be resumed in selected locales.
To me the biggest threat while living is Kansas is flying on commercial aircraft. The airlines should use some of their stimulus money to devise methods of purifying the air inside their planes while they are in flight.
Of course travel is one of the biggest threats to the selective isolation that I have suggested (age and locale) as the virus can be brought from one of the isolated pockets to a relatively clear zone.
As the country and its leadership struggle with the dilemma pointed out here it would be terribly helpful if the media could stop the hate Trump rhetoric and substitute a support for America theme—why not try telling folks what is good? Or be truly complete in its reporting—“New York City is out of certain needed items because the administration forgot to order them and the government has not been able to fill all of its needs yet.” “Areas critically impacted are in New York, where they did not cancel Lunar New year celebrations.” Complete and accurate reporting and positive stories about women in Kansas making facemasks for a local hospital would also be nice to hear.
I ask my readers to consider the closure of the society and the risks from that versus the closure of the economy and the much longer and possibly worse impact from that. What is worse—some deaths from the virus or a depression?
Restructuring the Marine Corps
In the last several months the United States Marine Corps (USMC) has introduced a new vision for the structure of the Corps for 2030. This Marine Corps 10-year restructuring is to align itself with the National Defense Strategy, but in doing so, in my mind, it risks ignoring the last 70 years of its history.
The commandant of the Corps is seeking to transition the Corps away from its two-decade-long focus on counter-insurgency and towards the international competition that the national strategy poses as the greatest threats in the future. However, the commandant and other Marine Corps leaders are announcing that as part of this transition, they would eliminate/greatly reduce capabilities for sustained ground combat.
For example, as it gears up to fight China in this anticipated period of great power competition, the USMC will trim the size of its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter squadrons and cut all of its tank battalions in the next 10 years. It is also greatly reducing its artillery depending on increased lethality and accuracy of the remaining tubes. These changes, part of the 2030 force design effort, come as a result of the Corps’ wargaming and analysis effort meant to inform what it needs to fight a near-peer threat in 2030. According to the outline, the Marine Corps will cut the “the Primary Aircraft Authorized” for both the F-35B and F-35C squadrons down to 10 aircraft from 16. Also in the next 10 years, the Marine Corps is planning for “complete divestments of Law Enforcement Battalions, Tank Battalions and associated Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), and all Bridging Companies.” It will also greatly reduce its logistical support capability. Finally, it is seeking to move into the longer range missile field, as we reported, rather than rely on the Army which is also moving in that direction.
There are two risks in this force structure revision.
- The national command authorities will use the tools that they have available when a conflict arises. The Marine Corps they employ will not be dependent upon the Marine Corps’ capabilities or design at that time. The lack of diversity and flexibility in the capabilities to be applies could waste lives .This is not a new phenomenon. Look at the US Army that was deployed to Vietnam in the mid- 1960s. It was designed to fight the Soviets on the plains of the Fulda Gap.
- Why would the Corps want to be in a position where it cannot go to war without Army support for tanks, heavy firepower, logistics, and mobility? In short the changes undermine the Marine Corps’ expeditionary nature. The Army provides niche capabilities like psychological operations units and theater-wide logistics to all U.S. forces, not just the Marine Corps — the point is valid: The Marine Corps has been able to deploy and fight a wide variety of adversaries using its organic capabilities.
The Marine Corps should also avoid completely eliminating capabilities. Although the new guidance implies such eliminations, this creates gaps that might need filling in. Instead of creating these large gaps in capability the Corps should maintain in the Marine Corps Reserve an extensive toolkit as a hedge against an uncertain future. Traditionally, the Marine Corps reserves have been structured nearly identically to the active-duty force with a division, air wing, logistics group, and command headquarters. It is the only service that does this. The other services use the reserves to provide capabilities that are few or nonexistent in the active-duty force.
Thus, the Marine Corps could put capabilities into the reserves that don’t fit well with a western Pacific great-power strategy, but that would be needed for other kinds of campaigns. Using tanks as an example, the Marine Corps could reduce the number on active duty armored units to one company per division but keep an enhanced force of several battalion in the reserves. Personnel managers will whine that they cannot sustain the skill base with such a small active-duty community. The other services have figured out how to do this The Marine Corps can also.
New Howitzer Range
The Army’s improved Paladin 155 mm howitzer recently impressed officials at Yuma Proving Grounds. The tests sent an improved projectile to an altitude of 50,000 feet and a distance of over 40 miles. The goal is a range in excess of 60 miles.
Each armored or mechanized brigade includes a battalion of 18 such howitzers. However brigades are currently hard pressed to acquire targets independently out to 60 miles away. This suggests that other changes need to follow in intelligence acquisition and overall doctrine of how divisions and brigades will fight the battle.
I would ask my readers for their ideas/suggestions on changes on doctrinal and equipment that the new artillery capability will necessitate. Let’s hear from you.
Learning from the corona virus
While the media spasms[i] over the corona virus as a way to get rid of President Trump, we should be examining critical lessons that we should learn with respect to military preparedness.
The corona virus (Covid-19) outbreak is causing some disruptions in military productions and activities. Right now these are precautionary. The bigger issue that these disruptions highlight is the issue of single source procurement. Will external sources being interrupted result in more producers returning to the US? Are self-imposed risks acceptable?
Some of the disruptions in military activities include:
- Lockheed Martin has held up production of F-35s in Italy and Japan. They have told employees to stay home for the next week. However, Lt Gen Fick (Program Manager) said that he does not anticipate any other disruption to the supply chain and that the Joint Program Office (JPO) is not taking any deliberate steps to actively curtail any ripple effects due to the corona virus that may further go through the F-35 supply chain.
- The Indian Navy (IN) has postponed the 10-day long ‘Milan 2020’ multilateral exercise it was expected to host in the Bay of Bengal for 31 navies. The IN said in a statement on 3 March that this year’s iteration of the biennial exercise, which was scheduled to begin on 18 March, has been deferred after taking “the safety of all participants and travel restrictions imposed by the spread of Covid-19”
- The Pentagon will decide soon how to prepare for the upcoming military moving season with the outbreak based on whether the new COVID-19 virus is still active in late spring through early fall, a military doctor said Wednesday. Presently travel to and from Korea is halted.
- Military families in Italy are facing a third week of school and day care closures. They are also facing a two week quarantine when/if they return to the US.
- The Army is screening new recruits before they enter basic training. Any found positive for COVID-19 will be quarantined.
It is certain that these are only the tip of the iceberg. What is most important is what are we learning from the ongoing disruptions? Are we examining supply chains to see where we have potential bottlenecks? Are corporations and government entities willing to pay the price for some redundancy or are they going to take a risk? Risk might be acceptable in some categories or cases but not others. Examples where risk may not be acceptable include pharmaceuticals, long lead time parts and components for essential military equipment, critical personnel skills.
The obvious other casualty of this virus scare is globalism. When critical things have been allowed or even encouraged to be externally produced and then become unavailable due to disruptions in production and thus the supply chain in addition to looking for alternate production providers we might just question the whole philosophy that caused the problem—globalism.
A peacetime example that could occur next week to military units because of personnel replacement disruptions. As an armored brigade commander I had over 100 tanks to maintain. In my direct support maintenance unit there was only an authorization for 2 turret mechanics with a critical skill. If one of those authorizations was not filled and the other individual was on special duty my turret problems went unresolved until I could find a work around. So an efficiency in personnel created a maintenance bottleneck and reduced readiness of several tanks. Was this an acceptable risk? Not to me but surely to the bean counters in the Pentagon. Surely they considered the risk. But what if the bottleneck is not anticipated or there is not a work around. This example applies as much to the supply chain as it does to personnel. Is there a workaround whether it be alternate suppliers or backup capabilities? Redundancy is not necessarily bad.
These are the questions that we should be answering. We should thank the Covid-19 for forcing the consideration of the risks created by what were thought to be the efficiencies of single source and function operations and globalism.
[i] “Unfortunately, we have been able to assess that accounts tied to Russia, the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation, has been engaged in the midst of this world health crisis,” Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, testified before the Senate on Thursday.
She went on: “We saw the entire ecosystem of Russian disinformation at play. Russian state proxy websites, official state media, as well as swarms of online, false personas pushing out false narratives.”
Extension of the New START Treaty?
A senior US State Department official told a seminar in London on 11 February that there remains time for Russia and the United States to work through processes for extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) that is due to expire in February 2021. There are several extension possibilities in the treaty.
Rumors are that John Bolton wanted to try and lure China into a tri-lateral nuclear control agreement. There are no rumors to date on what the president or his new National Security Adviser might be thinking. I know from personal experience that time is actually short to decide to try for a treaty extension and then negotiate it. Let alone add in the Chinese. There has not been any evidence of the agencies—State, Defense, Energy, or Intelligence—manning up for such an effort.
The New START Treaty is the only strategic nuclear arms control agreement still existing between the United States and the Russian Federation. It was negotiated by the Obama administration and approved by the Senate. It limits both sides to no more than 1,550 strategic offensively deployed nuclear weapons on no more than 700 deployed launchers. Further, it provides the United States with access to and information about Russia’s nuclear arsenal and vice versa. Both signatories are reportedly fully complying with the agreement, as verified by the U.S. intelligence community. The new nuclear capable missiles deployed by the Russians into Eastern Europe are not covered by the treaty.
The agreement entered into force in 2011 and will expire on February 5, 2021. However the agreement can be extended by executive agreement for up to five years, a step that would not require further Congressional approval. Both the Joint Chiefs and the U.S. intelligence community allegedly support such an extension. Russia, for its part, has repeatedly and unconditionally offered to extend the agreement.
The Trump administration has been in office more than three years and has yet to determine whether it is interested in extending the New START Treaty. It is easy to see the administration holding such a negotiation as a carrot for after the election. This might attract more moderates and some Democrats to support Trump. Conversely new allegations of the Russians meddling in the election and supporting Trump could dissuade the administration from offering such a negotiation lest it appear soft on the Russians.
It is in this context that one should consider any reports of interest by the US in negotiating a new broader multilateral strategic arms control agreement either independently or with both Russia and China. Some American military and security officials are reported to be eager to expand strategic conversations with Russia to protect American interests, and also right to want new and expanded strategic conversations with China, whose actions and capabilities pose growing military and security challenges to American interests in East Asia. Those that are eager feel that discussions are urgently needed to prevent conflicts and diffuse unnecessary tensions in volatile areas and develop new rules for our growing competition with these states.
Before going any further one must determine who the people are that are reported to be eager for such negotiations. To carry the day in the Trump administration they must be completely without any swamp smell.
What are the arguments for such an extension of the existing agreement and then its expansion into a tri-lateral agreement? It is well known that Russia is developing new strategic nuclear systems, some of which would be covered under the New START if it remains intact. Allowing the agreement to expire or trying to expand it in an unrealistic way and in an unrealistic time frame means Russia would be free after 2021 to develop as many of these new systems as it chooses without any constraint or rights of American access. Of course the US would have the same rights, but in a deficit cutting world there might be strong voices to avoid another nuclear arms race.
There is also nothing that prevents the Trump administration from extending the current agreement and at the same time beginning negotiations on new ones with Russia, China, or both.
As we go forward we will keep an eye on this area as there is the potential for much to happen..