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US Pacific Maritime Strategy

In a recent Wall Street Journal article (“America’s naval strategy is at sea”) Seth Cospey, the author, argues that the US does not have a maritime strategy to conduct a naval war against the rapidly growing Chinese fleet.

There are two parts of his argument:

  1. The number of US naval combatants is much smaller that during the Reagan years and that numerous commitments has reduced readiness in terms of training and maintenance status.  This part of his argument is true and shameful.  What goes unsaid but is implied is that there is not a surge strategy to deal with a conflict situation.
  2. There is neither a set of strategic naval objectives nor a how to fight a naval battle in the Pacific doctrine.  To this I would say he is only a little bit correct.

Any conflict in the Pacific is not going to be only a naval effort.  The doctrine of multi-domain warfare makes it clear that most engagements in any conflict will be fought using resources from several services and several type—air, cyber, long range missiles, ground forces, etc.  

In my recent set of articles about the defense of Taiwan I introduced  the concept of long range engagements of Chinese naval forces by ground based missiles on small islands manned by soldiers or Marines.  In a simulation of such a concept we manned an island with a small multi-domain force—air defense, very small ground defense, drone and satellite feeds, long and short-range artillery and missiles.  The mission was to defend the island against a much superior attacking Chinese naval force.

The attacking force’s location was determined by satellite reconnaissance and the engagements in depth began by air launched missiles that were remotely guided.  As the naval force got closer it was engaged by land based missiles and long range artillery.  And finally, when the much depleted force tried an assault it was engaged by shorter rangr artillery and other defensive force systems.  The naval assault failed.

Now consider that there is a checkerboard of such manned small island redoubts throughout the Pacific and that they are mutually reinforcing, when possible, whose mission is to deny the Chinese Navy freedom of movement and to attrit it.  Then the naval forces would be the mobile counter attack force once the Chinese naval force had been discovered and engaged so as to remove the threat from one set of checkerboard squares and go on to the next.  A checkerboard island defense and a mobile attack force—a lethal combination.  I contend that eventually the US military will get there (They are over half way there now.)

What needs to be added is the mobilization and rapid deployment of the island manning and other forces needed.  This will be the expensive part and maybe the limiting part.  Reconnaissance and selection of the islands to be occupied at the beginning of a conflict is relatively inexpensive and could be done tomorrow.  Creating the multi-domain task forces, at least on paper, from existing resources would not be too difficult.  (The Marines are working on art of this right now.) Maybe, besides resource acquisition, the hardest part will be developing the mental agility to fight multi-domain battles.

Finally, strategic goals should reinforce the US belief in the freedom of seas and not threaten the existence of the existing Chinese government.  To do that would be to seek a world war that could escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.

Need readers to respond.

The future of Afghanistan

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan, first announced by President Trump, then delayed by President Biden is now an on-again activity.  President Biden, one must guess, wanted to make a big deal out of the withdrawal of the last 2500 US troops from Afghanistan by rescheduling it to September 11th.  What is more important is that in his announcement he provided a harbinger of what comes next.

In announcing the withdrawal, the president said that India, Pakistan, Russia, China, and Turkey have a significant stake in the stable future of Afghanistan and these regional stakeholders should do more to bring peace to this war-torn country.  This was tantamount to asking these countries, all of which have interests in Afghanistan to compete in bringing a peace that they can accept.  His administration also endorsed a Turkish sponsored peace conference, which may be held in September.

Probably the most consequential regional competition for influence in Afghanistan will be the contest between India and Pakistan. India seeks to cultivate Afghanistan as a reliable bulwark against Islamic militants, including Pakistani-backed groups, while Pakistan seeks to counter what it regards as an Indo-Afghan nexus to encircle and weaken it. To put this competition in perspective one must consider that:

  • India and Pakistan pursue mutually exclusive objectives in Afghanistan and leverage sharply different tools to achieve their respective goals. Pakistan utilizes militant groups, including the Afghan Taliban, as strategic proxies, while India places considerable weight on its economic influence among Afghans.
  • India and Pakistan view each other through an adversarial lens.
  • Pakistan is the regional actor with the most influence in Afghanistan owing to its patronage of a resilient Taliban insurgency, though the Pakistan-Taliban relationship is replete with tension. India believes supporting the existing Afghan system best serves its interests. However, India is unlikely to deploy, the military power necessary to generate conditions favorable to its interests.
  • Pakistan may decide to punish India in Afghanistan as an indirect reaction to India’s decision to mainstream the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Russia’s interests in Afghanistan center on ensuring its security and preventing the destabilization of the Afghan-Central Asian border area. Three of the Central Asian countries adjacent to Afghanistan — Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan — are Russian allies within the framework of the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union.

An additional Russian policy goal is to keep Afghanistan as a neutral state that cannot be used as a launching pad by other powers, especially the United States, against Russia. Afghanistan’s geographic location — already considered by China, India, Iran, and Pakistan as a site for several transport and energy projects in the region — attracts Russia as it seeks to play a major role in Eurasia. Although Russia’s current economic participation in Afghanistan is weak, it does try to ensure its economic interests there.

China recently expressed concern over the US’s decision to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by September, saying Washington should accommodate legitimate security concerns of the regional countries to prevent “terrorist forces” from taking advantage of the chaos in the war-torn country. The Chinese also slammed Washington for linking the withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan to focus more on the threats posed by China, saying the fight against terrorism is in the common interest of all parties.

A foreign ministry spokesman said:

“The current security situation in Afghanistan is still complex and grim and the problem of terrorism is far from being solved. Foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan should withdraw in a responsible and orderly manner to ensure a smooth transition in Afghanistan and to avoid terrorist forces from taking advantage of chaos. The US is the biggest external factor affecting the issue of Afghanistan. It must take full responsibility for preserving the outcomes of Afghanistan’s peaceful construction and reconstruction and accommodate legitimate security concerns of the countries in the region,”

In short. the Chinese are concerned that Islamic terrorists will export their terrorism to China.  What actions China will take to prevent this is to be seen.  But the Chinese are not known for a reluctance to act.  Just how is the question.

Turkey has staked claims for the mantle of leadership of the Turkic world stretching from the Black Sea to the steppes of Central Asia and Xinjiang. Simply put, the Turkish role in Afghanistan and Central Asia will challenge its relationship with Russia, which is already under strain in Libya, Syria, Caucasus and potentially in the Black Sea and the Balkans.

Equally, the US hopes to keep Iran off balance regionally by encouraging Turkish revanchism. The Turkish-Iranian rivalry is already palpable in Iraq where Washington hopes to establish NATO as a provider of security. Serious rifts between Turkey and Iran appear also over Nagorno-Karabakh. Thus, Afghanistan’s future probably figured prominently in the discussions during Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif’s recent 6-day regional tour of Central Asian capitals.

Overall, these geopolitical realignments are taking place as the US intensifies its conflicted relations with China and Russia. But, for Turkey, the intervention in Syria has proved profitable. The Turkish-controlled territories of northern Syria consists of a more than 8,000-square-kilometre area already. The Turks probably have no intentions to vacate its occupation and may even seek to expand it area of control.  The US has supported Turkey in this area.  Of course, it is in Syria where the allegiances are directly in conflict.  The US and Turkey are supporting the Syrian separatists while Iran and Russia are supporting the Assad regime.  Having these players in opposition in Syria may carry over to their positions in Afghanistan.

But attempts at a diplomatic resolution continue.  The United Nations, Turkey and Qatar announced recently that a high-level conference between Afghanistan’s warring sides will take place in Istanbul later this month. The meeting is aimed at accelerating peace negotiations and achieving a political settlement to decades of conflict. Their joint statement said the conference will take place between April 24 and May 4. The three co-conveners said they are “committed to supporting a sovereign, independent and unified Afghanistan.”

The surprise announcement came a day after a Taliban spokesman said the insurgent group would not attend a peace conference that had been tentatively planned to take place in Turkey later next week, putting US efforts for a peace plan in jeopardy.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, responding to questions about the Taliban announcement, said: “My understanding is that there are still internal deliberations going on within the Taliban. An invitation was extended to them,” he said. “We very much hope to see them participate.”

In the agreement with the Taliban, the Trump administration committed to removing the last of its troops from Afghanistan by May 1, but the Afghan government blames the Taliban for rising violence and for not abiding by its provisions.

President Biden’s announcement Wednesday that the withdrawal will be delayed by more than four months has upset the schedule for this conference. The Taliban has balked at reports that American troops would remain after May 1 and has warned of “consequences” if Washington reneged on the deal and the withdrawal timeline. One of the consequences may be reprisals against the remaining US troops.  This would put the Biden administration in a quandary—To respond with punitive military action or pretend the attacks never occurred.  This response would be closely watched by all of the contestants in the Afghanistan competition as being telling on how the US will act in both the above-mentioned negotiations and ALSO in the bigger national conflicts that the administration has confronting it.

Most likely the Taliban will defer on participation in any peace conference until after the US withdrawal is completed.

In spite of the Biden administration spin all is not peace and quiet in Afghanistan.  There are numerous claimants for a say in the future of this landlocked mountainous country.  How will it turn out?

Do you remember?

A little less than a year ago the press and the Democrats were hammering the Trump administration about Russians paying bounties for the lives of US service personnel killed in Afghanistan. Do you remember that story. The administration denied the story . Because it refused to take action against the Russians based upon false news the media repeatedly hammered them for being soft on the Russians.

Now this week the truth comes out of the intelligence community that the story was false. Probably made up by the intelligence community members in the swamp and then sold to the drooling media.

Will the Biden administration apologize to President Trump? That is unlikely! We now know that CNN has acknowledged making up news to try and force Trump out of office. There will be more false news exposed as time goes on, Just remember what you though of such news. Were you bamboozled?

The US role in the deterrence of an attack on Taiwan and if necessary, its defense—Part III

The US over the years has continually pledged its support for Taiwan.  During some episodes of higher tension between the Chinese and the Taiwanese the US has made military demonstrations such as the recent transit of the Taiwan straits by the USS  John McCain.

Policymakers have long argued over whether to jettison the idea of “strategic ambiguity” that has underscored decades of America’s Asia policy, and outright declare that the United States would militarily defend Taiwan in the event of an attack. The Biden administration is making all of the right noises, but force deployments will prove US intent.

Since early September, as noted earlier, China has been carrying out the most provocative and sustained show of force in the Taiwan Strait in nearly a quarter century. Chinese military patrols, some involving more than 30 combat aircraft and a half-dozen naval ships, have roamed the strait roughly every other day. Many of them have breached the median line between Taiwan and China, a boundary that—until last year—both sides had respected for decades.

It is these rising tensions that should justify hardening and improving of the only two US bases within 500 miles of Taiwan—which is also the maximum unrefueled combat radius of US fighter aircraft—and both are easy targets for China’s land-based missiles. If China disables those bases, US air forces would have to operate from vulnerable aircraft carriers and from Guam, located 1,800 miles from Taiwan. The extra distance and midair refueling would cut the number of air sorties in half, giving China an opportunity to dominate the skies over Taiwan and inflict heavy losses on allied forces that try to fight their way into the combat theater.  This thus argues for use of the longer-range missiles that the Army is developing and the USMC is seeking.

Interestingly the Marines are analyzing creating small task forces of Infantry to secure small islands, rocket/missile systems to attack enemy shipping and air defense systems to protect the small task force.  The Army is looking to develop similar multi-domain capabilities.  I have even participated in simulations of such capabilities.  The Army is probably ahead of the Marines in system development and fielding but there are plenty of islands to assist in the isolation of the Taiwan area of operations.  Maybe some commonality of doctrine and systems would speed the capabilities being ready for use?

The reliance on American air is most likely a reaction that air is the only asset that the US can bring to the fight.  Before making the force decision there needs to be a decision on the role to be played and what the theater of operations includes.  If operations are to be contained to just the Taiwan straits and the land masses adjacent to them the critical roles for the US would probably be intelligence collection and dissemination, isolating the area of operations and assisting in the deep battle.  In short, the US would seek to isolate the area of operations to prevent Chinese reinforcement from ports and bases further north or west of the area.  This would require naval forces and air.

While containing the combat area the US might also contribute to the deep attack against Chinese bases.  Such missile and air attacks would necessitate extensive cyber operations to limit Chinese air defense in critical areas.

If the US sought to expand the area of operations it could launch attacks from Japan and South Korea and possibly even Vietnam.  Such missile, cyber, naval and air threats would force the Chinese to fight on several fronts and could limit the assets available to enter the Taiwan straits fights.  Even the threat of such attacks could heighten deterrence.

An air-land battle like strategy coupled with area of operations containment would allow the Taiwanese to defeat Chinese forces on the beaches while preventing/reducing Chinese reinforcement and follow-on attacks.  The burning question at this point would be whether the Chinese would escalate by attacking allied forces outside of the area of operations.  Would the Chinese accept a limited defeat?  Would the Chinese obliterate Taiwan? They could do this easily, but what would they then gain?  A wasteland?

When one gets to the end of this long tale of the issues involved in the conflict in the Straits of Taiwan he has a deeper understanding of the military and diplomatic issues involved and a deeper conviction that deterrence must work.  For deterrence to work the Chinese must be convinced of US resolve and US and Taiwanese capabilities to increase the costs to China.  Does the current administration have the required resolve?  That is probably what the Chinese are trying to determine.

Adding to deterrence and being able to win—Part II of Deterrence in the Taiwan strait

To ensure its existence, Taiwan’s military, with US help, must deter war with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and, if deterrence fails, win the war. Taiwan’s war planners envision that China would seek to achieve the annexation of Taiwan through conquest and occupation of the island. Hence for Taiwan winning the war means foiling the PLA’s mission of successfully invading and exerting physical control over Taiwan. Taiwan must think about fighting the PLA with a flexible mind.  A typical war of attrition with the PLA is a losing proposition. Facing a stronger adversary, embracing an effective asymmetric defense posture and incorporating tactical asymmetric capabilities could compensate for Taiwan’s disadvantages on paper and prevent the PLA from getting boots on the ground.

Taiwan’s military must retain the ability to defend itself and strike back after the PLA conducts its missile, air-strike and cyber campaigns. Principles of force preservation including mobility, camouflage, concealment, deception, electronic jamming, operational redundancy, rapid repair and blast mitigation must be adhered to. Robust force preservation must sustain Taiwan’s capabilities beyond the first phase of a full-scale PLA attack.

Making deterrence effective, as pointed out in part 1 of this series, is based upon raising the price of a Chinese attack.  This requires a strategy very much like Air-Land Battle, but with some twists.  In Air-Land Battle we sought to isolate the first echelon from follow on echelons.  The same must be true in Taiwan.  The Taiwan military capability to survive the first attacks and defeat an invasion on the beaches must also have a deep attack component—the ability to attack second echelons in the water and in staging areas on mainland China.  It is this demonstrated ability to conduct deep strikes that must be survivable in the Chinese initial onslaught and then able to attack critical deep targets while the defense of the beaches is going on.  These deep strikes might also include missile launch sites and airfields.  True isolation of the beach battle allows the Taiwanese forces to not have to fight severely outnumbered in the most important battle—the battle on their own territory.

Realizing that Taiwan has said that it will never strike first, however it is in the same situation that Israel has found itself in and must consider pre-emption under certain circumstances.  Disrupting a Chinese effort to stage for its initial assault could be better than having to defeat it on Taiwanese beaches.  The acquisition of such a capability might be difficult as the acquisition could in fact cause the Chinese to attack sooner rather than later.  It is this deep strike capability that is critical for a successful defense that could constitute a pre-emptive capability.  Isn’t deterrence a cruel and difficult game?

Deterrence in the Taiwan strait

Policymakers have long argued to jettison the idea of “strategic ambiguity” that has underscored decades of America’s Asia policy, and outright declare that the United States would militarily defend Taiwan in the event of an attack.   

The rhetoric over the possibility of armed conflict between China and Taiwan has escalated recently.  In a statement released on Friday, China declared that the Taiwanese military “won’t stand a chance” if China chose to annex the island by force. These threats come as the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), committed a wave of incursions into Taiwan’s air and naval territory. A military analyst who chose to remain anonymous told the Chinese state-run media outlet, Global Times, that “The island’s military won’t stand a chance.”

This series of three articles will examine the issues in this strategic ambiguity and how Taiwan could actually succeed against a Chinese attack.

The China – Taiwan struggle dates back to the late 1940s.  When Nixon and Kissinger “opened up” China in the early 1970s the US withdrew recognition of Taiwan as representing all of China.  China has sought to return Taiwan to its control while the island has sought to maintain its independence.  The US has sworn that it would defend Taiwan’s independence.  Militarily that might not be feasible. 

The Global Times further reported that: “The PLA exercises are not only warnings, but also show real capabilities and pragmatically practicing reunifying the island, if it comes to that.” The PLA has been particularly bold in recent weeks as they sent an aircraft carrier – the Liaoning – accompanied by a fleet of five other vessels towards the Pacific through the tactical waterway connecting Taiwan with Japan. Chinese aircraft also breached Taiwan’s southwestern air defense identification zone which saw eight fighter jets and two other aircraft enter the sovereign nation’s territory.

The Biden administration’s relations with China have not progressed as it had anticipated.  Many members of the administration had economic and social ties to China and had been optimistic that the new administration could have better ties with China than the Trump administration.   China may have been hoping for a relationship more like that it enjoyed during Biden’s last stint in government, under President Barack Obama, whose rhetoric about being tough with China and a supposed “pivot to Asia” did not have much effect on the two countries’ economic ties, nor according to critics, do much to restrain Chinese territorial ambitions.  However, Secretary of State Blinken has said that relations with China are critical and must be based upon a less belligerent China.  China for its part probably sees the Biden administration as soft and more interested in socialism than containing Chinese expansionism.

Against this backdrop the US has been slowly increasing its support for Taiwan’s autonomy with a recent official visit to the country by an ambassador, which China met with threats and warnings.  This was reinforced last Wednesday when the USS John McCain transited international waters in the Taiwan Strait as part of a “freedom of navigation operation” to contest China’s claims in the South China Sea over which it has claimed 90 percent as part of its territory.  This exercise is just one part of a larger freedom of the seas effort throughout the region.  Currently an amphibious assault group and a carrier battle group are conducting exercises in the waters off of the Philippines in response to over 200 Chinese ships (claimed to be fishing vessels, but accompanied be hydrofoil coast guard patrol boats) are denying access to the area where these “fishing boats” are.  Is this an attempt to draw US resources away from Taiwan?

A spokesman for the Pentagon said: “We don’t conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to respond to some specific event or the specific action of another country. We conduct Freedom of Navigation Operations around the world to send a message about how strongly we believe in international law and in the freedom that all nations have to sail, operate and fly in accordance with that international law.  “Freedom of the seas doesn’t just exist for fish and icebergs and that’s the purpose of conducting these operations, to reinforce that notion.”

The US military is warning that China is probably accelerating its timetable for capturing control of Taiwan.  A military move against Taiwan, however, would be a test of US support for the island that Beijing views as a breakaway province. For the Biden administration, it could present the choice of abandoning a friendly, democratic entity or risking what could become an all-out war over a cause that is not on the radar of most Americans.

“We have indications that the risks are actually going up,” Admiral Davidson, the most senior Pacific Commander, told a Senate panel last month, referring to a Chinese military move on Taiwan. “The threat is manifest during this decade — in fact, in the next six years,” Davidson said.  Days later, Davidson’s expected successor, Admiral Aquilino, declined to back up the six-year timeframe but told senators at his confirmation hearing: “My opinion is, this problem is much closer to us than most think.”

Rep. Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is skeptical of the any military’s fixation on dominance. “Given the way the world works now, having one country be dominant is just hopelessly unrealistic,” he said.  He said the US military can maintain sufficient strength, in partnership with allies, to send the message: “China, don’t invade Taiwan because the price you’re going to pay for that isn’t worth it.”

This is the essence of the defense issue!  In the grand scheme of things Taiwan may not be militarily defensible, if China is willing to pay the price. Conquering Taiwan could in fact be a pyric victory.  If the PLA was to take significant losses and if the Chinese economy could be adversely affected by world economic boycotts, then the gaining of an obliterated Taiwan might not have been worth the price.  If the war extended to the Chinese mainland this could also raise the price to the Chinese extensively.  Do not be surprised if such threats are not forthcoming soon—probably not form the US but from Taiwan.  The above is the essence of the game of deterrence.

Biden administration officials have spoken less pointedly than the congressman, but the message is the same as they stress the intention of the administration to deepen ties with Taiwan.  Also playing upon the deterrence theme Taiwanese Foreign Minister Wu said the military threat against his country is increasing, and while he said it was not yet “particularly alarming,” the Chinese military in the last couple of years has been conducting what he called “real combat-type” exercises closer to the island.  “We are willing to defend ourselves, that’s without any question,” Wu told reporters. “We will fight a war if we need to fight a war, and if we need to defend ourselves to the very last day, then we will defend ourselves to the very last day. “

The price issue cuts two ways.  Are the US and their Asian allies willing to pay the price in military losses not to mention the loss of face if/when Taiwan has fallen to Chinese occupation?

For the time being one would expect the saber rattling to continue.  The Biden administration will continue to try and look tough to the public while quietly trying to return to the Obama era in terms of US-Chinese relations.  This will be a difficult mission to accomplish.

The Rule of Law and Foreign Policy

Presidents have traditionally been given significant leeway in the conduct of foreign policy.  However, the Congress periodically has made sounds about reigning in a President.  Currently, there is bipartisan discussion about revising some war powers.  However, just recently the State Department may have gone too far.

As noted in our most recent posting (negotiating with the Iranians) the Biden administration has announced $250 million in spending on the Palestinian Authority, despite a 2018 law that prevents US taxpayer money from supporting the Palestinian Authority while it pays stipends and pensions to terrorists and their families.  This action, since the original posting has gotten increased scrutiny.

In 2018, President Trump signed the Taylor Force Act into law, which prevents the US from providing economic support and other funding to the Palestinian Authority while it continues to pay the families of deceased terrorists, or to pay terrorists in Israeli prisons — a policy referred to by its critics as “pay-for-slay.” The Palestinian leadership refused to end the payments and thus lost U.S. funding. The Trump administration also stopped funding UN agencies which provided aid to the Palestinians because those funds supported terror.

In making the announcement Secretary of State Blinken claimed that “All assistance will be provided consistent with U.S. law,” but did not explain how the funding would comply with the Taylor Force Act. He also did not provide any evidence of reforms within the Palestinian Authority nor did he mention any Palestinian effort to discourage terror or to stop incitement against Israel or Jews.

In a letter that Senator Cruz and a large number of his Senatorial colleagues sent Secretary Blinken they note that the Biden administration’s funding for the Palestinian Authority violates the Taylor Force Act because it is being used for public services, freeing money in the Palestinian Authority (PA) budget to continue supporting terrorists.  The letter says in part:

On March 18, the State Department transmitted an unpublicized report to Congress pursuant to its obligations under the TFA [Taylor Force Act], which confirmed that the PA has in recent years funneled hundreds of millions of dollars toward terrorists and their families, and that in 2019 alone the PA expressed its intention to spend approximately $342.6 million on such rewards.

On March 19, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report finding that for the fiscal years 2015-2019, when USAID was distributing Palestinian assistance, USAID “did not consistently ensure” that those grants would not be passed along to terrorist groups and terrorists. The GAO recommended that, should funding resume, USAID should “(1) verify prime awardees have procedures to ensure compliance with requirements before making subawards and (2) conduct post-award compliance reviews in time to make corrections before the awards end.” It also noted that “USAID agreed with the recommendations.”

The notification describes new assistance that would go towards, inter alia, “municipal roads,” “internal roads, sidewalks, safe and designated bus parking lots, and driving routes,” “reservoirs, pump stations, water distribution and transmission networks,” “basic commodities,” “emergency preparedness,” “community initiatives,” “safe spaces to engage in community initiatives,” and “building the resilience of the Palestinians to climate change and strengthening their adaptation to climate change.”

These activities are the governance responsibility of the PA, and Congress prohibited American assistance to such activities against the backdrop of the PA using its available resources for pay-for-slay programs. In fact, Congress explicitly and narrowly enumerated in TFA what Palestinian governance programs should nevertheless still receive assistance: wastewater projects, childhood vaccination programs, and payments to East Jerusalem hospitals. The programs described in the March 26 USAID notification do not fit into those exceptions and so likely violate the TFA.

The $250 million award is worrisome for two reasons:

  1. As noted in the article it takes the pressure off of Iran for supporting the Palestinian authority and of course as noted in the letter it takes the pressure off of the Palestinian authority, but
  2. It shows that the Biden administration has a blatant disregard for the rule of law.

This act is one of the more blatant attempts to ignore the rule of law.  It is only a matter of time until either the United States ceases to be a country where the rule of law matters or the Biden administration will get it comeuppance.

Negotiating with Iran

The Biden administration has been in a hurry to dismantle or reverse everything that President Trump did.  This is creating several crises—both actual and perceived.  The latest such effort is starting indirect talks with the Iranians with the stated hopes of returning to the Obama administration brokered controversial nuclear accords of 2015. The accord reduced sanctions against Iran in exchange for the country reducing its stockpile of enriched uranium needed to fuel nuclear weapons.  However it left a 10 year path to the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran.

A renewed accord could be one of several events leading to increased instability in the middle-east.  The administration is already sweetening the Iranian pot by providing its Palestinian authority proxy an estimated $250 million in aid.  Aid that the Iranians, due to the Trump sanctions impact, is hard pressed to provide.   Why are we giving the Palestinians money when they will then have no intention of rapprochement with Israel?  Hamas and Hezbolah are Iranian proxies and are fueled by economic and military support by both Iran and the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, the Israelis probably just attacked an Iranian supply ship off the coast of Yemen causing it great damage.  This could make negotiations more difficult and of course that is the Israeli purpose.

The Israelis are adamantly against the Obama nuclear deal as it gave the Iranians a pathway to nuclear weapons.  The reaction was the Saudis leaning towards their own nuclear capability and a series of reproachments between the Israelis and several Arab states.  With reproachments with Qatar and Saudi Arabia it gets much easier for the Israelis to attack Iran.  This may be why the Biden administration is making noises of trying to walk back US support for these agreements.  Doing so would greatly upset the situation in the middle-east, but maybe that is what the administration wants, for some reason.

Going back to the indirect talks between Iran and the US the two sides are separately calling their first day of indirect nuclear talks “constructive” — despite Tehran refusing to allow the US to attend unless it lifted sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

The State Department said: “It is a potentially useful step as we seek to determine what it is that the Iranians are prepared to do to return to compliance with the stringent limitations under the 2015 deal, and as a result what we might need to do to return to compliance ourselves.”

These comments came shortly after those of Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, who also called the meetings “constructive” and on “the right track.”

Making the reversal of the Trump administration isolation of Iran could have a severe impact on the region.  The Trump policy sought to reverse tension in the region and to force the Palestinians to negotiate a two-state solution to the issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis.  The Obama policy and therefore most likely the Biden administration policy will seek to return to the isolation of Israel approach.  The resultant turmoil and the Iranians becoming emboldened and having increased resources from the ending of sanctions would most likely cause the Israelis to conduct pre-emptive strikes on Iran.

The huge question at that point would be:  What will be the posture of the Arab states in the region?  They might just side with Israel.  How could the US then not but remain neutral?  It couldn’t side with Israel, having created the problem in the first place and siding with Iran would be politically impossible.

As one looks down the slippery slope that the return to the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement could cause he must wonder why the Biden administration is even considering it?  But the administration is so set on erasing all things Trump they may not be able to see the slope.  It is also terribly important to restore the Obama legacy.

The growing nuclear debate in Europe

The renewed tensions between the US and Russia have recently increased.  This has prompted a renewed focus on both Russia and the US’s nuclear posture. Related is the doctrine for the use of such weapons. Renewed discussion of Russia’s nuclear war fighting doctrine has called the Russian doctrine an “escalate to de-escalate” approach. We must consider what this mean in concrete policy terms, and whether it is an accurate description of Russia’s nuclear doctrine? 

Given increased concern in NATO about Russian nuclear deployment and its ongoing deployments along the Ukrainian border we must consider US nuclear modernization’s status.  It is the US nuclear guarantee that has safeguarded Europe since the end of World War II. 

This is not the first time that NATO has sounded the alarm about Russian versus US nuclear weapons in Europe.  During the Carter administration the same concerns were raised.  This resulted in the intermediate ballistic missile modernization decision.  NATO deployed ground launch cruise missiles and modernized US Pershing missiles to a Pershing II configuration which could reach Moscow from Germany.  It took political fortitude to stand up to both the Russian threat and the political unrest that it caused in Western Europe.  Eventually (during the Reagan administration) the two sides agreed to the intermediate nuclear forces (INF) arms control treaty.  This treaty reduced the size of the nuclear threat in Europe.  The resultant complacency in NATO Europe lasted until the last several years.  It is disappearing quickly now and NATO is again calling for increased US nuclear capability to provide for deterrence through presence.

The doctrine “escalate to de-escalate” first surfaced in the summer of 2015. The core idea behind “escalate to de-escalate” is, simply, that Russia is now willing to engage in a limited nuclear war in order to win—that is, end—a conventional conflict.  The concept was brought forward when Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. James Winnefeld, invoked “escalate to de-escalate” during a testimony to the House Committee on Armed Services: “Russian military doctrine includes what some have called an ‘escalate to deescalate’ strategy—a strategy that purportedly seeks to deescalate a conventional conflict through coercive threats, including limited nuclear use.” 

The went on to say: “We think that this label is dangerously misleading. Anyone who thinks they can control escalation through the use of nuclear weapons is literally playing with fire. Escalation is escalation, and nuclear use would be the ultimate escalation.”

This is the essence of the concept and probably it’s fallacy.  The concept is based upon a Russian reading of determination and resolve in NATO Europe.  The Russians must believe that NATO would rather quit than become deeply involved in a nuclear conflagration.

The concept of using low-yield nuclear weapons to change the status of a conventional conflict is not new, neither to Russia nor the US. A 2019 Defense Department guidance on Nuclear Operations discussed the possibility of limited nuclear war: “Employment of nuclear weapons can radically alter or accelerate the course of a campaign. A nuclear weapon could be brought into the campaign as a result of perceived failure in a conventional campaign, potential loss of control or regime, or to escalate the conflict to sue for peace on more favorable terms.”

During the cold war those of us serving on the East-west German border were trained to operate is such an environment.

Russia, in a 2020 defense document, stated that it will only consider the nuclear option under two circumstances: 1) as a retaliatory measure against the use of nuclear weapons or other WMDs, or 2) when “the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”

The debate is ongoing whether “escalate to de-escalate” is a reasonable doctrine, but the existence of that debate influences the increasing concern in NATO.  It also will have an influence in the nuclear weapon modernization debate that is gaining steam in the congress.

The US’s budget cycle is just getting started, but already Democrats and Republicans are in a fight over whether to curb or continue the current trajectory of spending on nuclear weapons modernization.  Democrats have offered bills and urged the president to cut nuclear weapons programs, while Republicans are publicly pressing to continue programs that mostly began during the Obama administration.  The budget fight will certainly look at many newly started weapons modernization efforts:

  • Submarine launched low yield nuclear war heads
  • The new ICBM missile (Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD))
  • The Army’s long-range missile and artillery systems

The defense budget will most likely not increase under the Biden regime and therefore nuclear weapons may be on the table with both force size and other modernization efforts that were begun during the Trump administration.  (The Army is already expressing concern about rumors of force cuts.)

The Biden administration is going to be under pressure from NATO to modernize its theater nuclear forces and to deploy them to Europe (late 1970s déjà vu).  If the Russians do in fact take aggressive action against either the Baltic states or the Ukraine the whole issue of nuclear weapons and Russian doctrine may in fact become a reality not a strategic discussion.

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The defense

Defending the Baltic States

A RAND study 5-6 years ago is getting fresh attention as the Biden administration’s focus on Asia and the Pacific blurs consciousness about the European threat,

Russia’s continuing aggression against Ukraine and build up along the Polish border has disrupted nearly a generation of relative peace and stability between Moscow and its Western neighbors and raised concerns about its larger intentions. From the perspective of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the threat to the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — former Soviet republics, now member states that border Russian territory — may be the most problematic of these according to the RAND Study. In a series of war games conducted between the summer 2014 and spring 2015, RAND examined the shape and probable outcome of a near-term Russian invasion of the Baltic states. “The games’ findings are unambiguous: As presently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members.”

The study suggests that it will not require huge effort to avoid such a failure. Further gaming indicates that a force of about seven US brigades, including three heavy armored brigades — adequately supported by airpower, land-based fires, and other enablers on the ground and ready to fight at the onset of hostilities — could suffice to prevent the rapid overrun of the Baltic states.

Since this finding actual efforts as pre-positioning equipment for brigades to fall in on, creation of a standing Army Corps Headquarters in Europe and the Trump administration’s restationing of forces out of Germany and into other parts of Europe have helped.  Also, we have reported on the 9 month rotation to Eastern Europe that the Dagger Brigade conducted.

What is new is the return to an old war fighting doctrine to engage a Russian full-scale attack—Air-land battle.  Air-land battle was a concept developed by General Don Starry during the mid 70s as a way to deal with the expected attack by Soviet hordes in Central Europe,  The Fulda gap was the focus of US forces in Europe. 

During a tour in the Pentagon and then on the southern flank for the Fulda gap I came to understand Air-land battle fairly well. In the Pentagon the focus was on the Mutual Balanced Force Reductions (MBFR) and the rapid reinforcement of Europe.  In the Fulda gap the focus was on “buying enough time” for reinforcements to deploy.  This required the destruction of the first wave of Soviet attacks and get reset to deal with the delayed and reduced second wave of attacking forces. The second wave of follow-on forces were to be delayed and reduced by air and missile attacks against critical transportation and supply nodes in the rear of the attacking forces.  As this doctrine matured it included attacks by ground forces against the Soviet rear echelons by highly mobile armored forces making a penetration and attacking deep into the Soviet rear as a way to upset their time tables and destroy key supporting forces.

If readers remember I wrote about the evolving doctrine of ‘multi-domain” operations (MDO) as the emerging doctrine for the US military.  In essence it is a more sophisticated expansion of Air-land Battle as it does not focus exclusively on the deep battler against follow-on echelons.

The question must be asked whether air-land battle is appropriate for deterring and fighting a war in Eastern Europe?  The biggest concern or fear is that such a conflict with deep strikes against Russian territory could escalate quickly to a nuclear exchange and a tactical nuclear conflict, (Though it would not be a “tactical” nuclear conflict to those in the middle of the battlefield.)

The Russians for the last several years have been modernizing their tactical nuclear forces.  NATO is just beginning to talk about such efforts.  Are we about to repeat the 1980s. but on a battlefield that has moved east-ward?  We will watch this in coming weeks and months to try and answer this question.

As a follow-on article to this one we will look at the current doctrine of the limited use of nuclear weapons in the fight against the Russians,