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Strategic force moves in Europe
Secretary of Defense Esper recently announced new changes to the US basing posture in Europe that would result in more than 10,000 troops returning to the United States from bases in Germany, followed by a relocation of military personnel to Poland, Romania and Mons, Belgium. While most of the media attention has focused on the redeployment of forces from Germany back to the United States, a new strategic decision was made by the US that will result in an increased military presence in NATO’s new front yard: the Black Sea and Poland.
The globalists and Trump haters have been railing against the withdrawal and repositioning of US forces from Germany. These repositionings should be looked at in a strategic context, not the concerns of the Germans and their lobbyists.
Strategic realities have changed since the Cold War ended and NATO expanded to the east. Germany is no longer the frontline between NATO and the Russian bear. Germany is also no longer a staging area for deployment to the Middle-east. For the first Gulf War the US deployed an entire armor corps from Germany. It was reinforced by troops for the US. Today there is no need for such deployments as the Trump administration does not anticipate fighting another Gulf War.
Why should US troops be deployed for German security? What is the threat? Why can’t the Germans defend themselves? The Germans obviously felt that they could save on defense marks (dollars) by having US troops providing for their security. Following World War II troops were deployed in Germany to prevent another world war—the re-emergence of Nazism. This threat no longer exists. Since my time in the Pentagon in the 1970s US presidents have been trying to get NATO and Germany, specifically, to pay more for its own security.
President Trump claims that NATO has increased its defense spending by over $100 billion. This is part of his stated goal to stop being the world’s policeman. Conversely, the US does seek to maintain a deterrent posture vis-à-vis Russia (and in Asia against China). This deterrent posture requires different stationing schemes. So where are the troops from Germany being restationed?
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Polish Minister of National Defence Mariusz Błaszczak signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between their two countries in Warsaw on 15 August. President Trump and his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, agreed to the overview of the provisions of the agreement in 2019. In addition, the US presence in Poland will be increased from 4,500 to 5,500 troops and infrastructure will be built to accommodate up to 20,000 US soldiers. Poland will cover some of the costs, such as those for infrastructure and logistics that are estimated at $136 million a year.
Esper announced that a US Stryker brigade would be sent to the Black Sea in what will be the first significant US military ground forces deployment to the region. The Black Sea has been the epicenter of Russia’s revisionist ambitions since its 2008 war with Georgia and its 2014 invasion and occupation of Ukraine’s Crimea and invasion of Donbass. To highlight the changes in US defense posture in the Black Sea, Esper described the move in the following strategic terms: “Look at what we’re moving. What we’re doing is … we’re moving forces out of central Europe — Germany, where they had been since the Cold War, and we’re now moving — we’re following, in many ways, the boundary east, where our newest allies are. So into the Black Sea region … That’s why it’s a strategic laydown that enhances deterrence, strengthens the allies, reassures them.”
These forward deployments enhance deterrence and realign forces to reflect the realities that is the new European of today. For globalists this is disturbing, for true strategists it is a final reflection of new realities. The US is putting the US first.
The changing strategic Middle-East situation
The recent announcement of normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel is now being followed with discussions between Oman and Israel. These changes suggest a new coalition between all of the Middle-Eastern states that see a threat in Iran. When one considers the oft repeated relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia the future coalition will only grow. (Many reports that the Saudis offered Israel refueling and recovery airfields for any attack on Iran.)
What is driving this significant change in strategic relations? There are several factors:
- The US is no longer dependent on oil from the region
- US reduction of deployed forces in the region
- The Iranian nuclear growth towards nuclear weapons continues after a temporary setback because of numerous explosions throughout its nuclear weapon and delivery development system.
- The Israeli agreement to suspend plans for annexing parts of the West Bank—this was important as it was meant to appease the Arab support for a Palestinian state. (Political cover)
What should we look forward to as this situation develops?
- Iranian severe reactions to include terrorist attacks by Hezbollah and other Iranian funded organizations against Israel and probably UAE forces in Yemen.
- Increased pressure by Iran against Iraq—the meeting between the President and the Iraqi Prime Minister tomorrow should provide some indicator as to the direction Iraq will follow
- Some additional form of military coordination between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Israel to secure the Straits of Hormuz and the flow of oil to Europe and Asia.
- More GCC states joining the loose coalition that the Oman, UAE and Israel cooperation will create.
- Increased pressure on Qatar to sever its support of more radical Arab causes.
- Continued US naval and air presence in the area.
This historic breakthrough by acceptance of Israel as a recognized player in Middle-Eastern strategic affairs can only have stabilizing influences on the entire region over the long term. These may be preceded by the Iranian caused unrest noted above.
We will watch the future events for tells on what is to come next.
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..
Attack kills Quds Force leader
As was to be expected after the US attack on General Qassem Soleimani the media speculation, comparisons with the Clinton impeachment and scare mongering has dominated the “news” media.
First we should establish the known facts:
- A US strike[i] killed General Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in Baghdad
- The Quds have been responsible for the death of hundreds of US personnel in Iraq.
- The attack unfolded early on Friday local time in a precision strike on two cars that were carrying Soleimani
- Soleimani had just arrived in Baghdad on a flight from Syria and was leaving the airport when he was hit
- The attack also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, leader of Iranian militias in Iraq which led the attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad.
- Both the US Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State have stated unequivocally that the Iranians, using their proxies such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the militias in Iraq were plotting attacks against US personnel and interests in the region.[ii]
- The attack has therefore been categorized as a deterrent or preemptive attack.[iii]
The media hype has focused on the unrest that this attack is going to create. The speculation includes:
- Terrorist activities in the middle-east against US military and other targets
- Attacks by “sleeper” cells in the US
- Efforts by Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz
- Attacks against Israel by Iranian proxies
- Cyber-attacks anywhere in the world
The media has even gone so far in at least one case to refer to the attack as an assassination. Of course this is an attempt to create another article of impeachment as assassination is against a US avowed practice as outlined in an Executive Order signed by Ronald Reagan. This attempt is far fetched, but shows how desperate some “pundits” are. The General was a military combatant on a battlefield and had just been responsible for an attack on a US embassy. End of the assassination impeachment idea!
Each of the above attacks by Iran is possible. One can be sure that US, Israeli and Saudi forces are watching for any and all such attacks. One can also expect that any indicator of the possibility of a given type of attack could cause another pre-preemptive effort.
What if this attack, when coupled with the effect of the embargoes against Iran, is the tipping point that causes Iran to truly seek accommodation by pledging to withdraw its support of proxy forces throughout the region and agreement to adhere to a realistic regime of inspections and limits on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of the embargo. Most will find this unlikely. It does clearly define the US goal vis-à-vis Iran.
A possible scenario is that Iran does seek revenge by one of the above types of attacks and it is soundly stopped or pre-empted. How many such rebuffs can Iran tolerate before internal domestic pressures cause political change?
Finally. Might this attack convince the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that he is also at risk and be another cause of an Iranian reversal of policy? Only time will tell, but all of the gloom and doom punditry is most likely just irresponsible punditry.
A follow up attack today killed another Quds Force leader.
As this gets posted the media is full of reportedly inflamed rhetoric from Iran and its proxies. Reportedly Iran has at least 35 targets on its target list, which could include US bases, ships, etc. and Saudi and Israeli targets. We will follow such engagements, preemptions and reactions and report again in coming days.[iv]
[i] 1. The speculation also abounds on the nature of the attack. In one article the attack is described as an airstrike, a drone attack and a helicopter attack. For sure it was one of these. Each could launch precision munitions that could track and engage the two vehicle convoy. The exact platform from which the munitions were launched may never be released.
2 ‘General Soleimani was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region,’ the Pentagon statement said.
3.. Obviously, there was an ongoing surveillance of Soleimani using multiple means. The New York Times reported that Friday’s attack drew upon a combination of highly classified information from informants, electronic intercepts, reconnaissance aircraft and other surveillance techniques. This shows how important the General’s activities were.
4. John Bolton is even reported as hoping that this will be the beginning of efforts to cause regime change in Iran. We will see.
The announcement that the US would re-position some of its 1000 troops in Syria to avoid their being engaged by Turkish soldiers if they invade has created another firestorm in the media.
Now that the Turks have started their attack there are numerous reports flying around:
- Civilian targets are being attacked
- The Kurds have requested that the US impose and enforce a “no fly zone.”
- The Senate is considering severe sanctions against Turkey
The media and even some Republicans fear is that Kurdish fighters may be attacked by Turkish armed forces moving into north-eastern Syria. In essence the media and other pundits are saying that the lives of US soldiers should remain at risk in order to protect the Kurds.
Hidden in all of this punditry are several hard facts:
- The Kurds, with US support are holding 11,000 ISIS prisoners. An attack on the Kurds would possibly result in their freedom.
- There are only about 50 Special Forces that are being tactically relocated.
- The US has always wanted the US presence in Syria to be a short term operation
- Now that the Turks have invaded their stated goal is to create a free zone in Syria so that many of the refugees that are in Turkey can be relocated to this safe zone
- There is no indication that the Russians in Syria will get caught up in engaging the Turks—if that should happen it could trip the NATO obligations of other states to come to the assistance of an attacked ally. There are even reports that the Russians were trying to negotiate some form of cease fire.
What I seem to have missed in the reporting is why the Turks chose to attack into Syria now. Probably missed because there are so many possible explanations:
- Expansion of Turkey’s geographic area of control
- Resettlement of Syrian refugees
- Further destabilizing Assad of Syria
- Weakening/destroying the Kurds
None of these explain the current timing. Could the real reason be because Erdogan is in trouble politically? The above objectives could all be valid but the domestic political situation is responsible for the present timing.
If the Turks don’t attack the Kurds and their US Special Forces advisors there will be no problem. The US will have reduced its footprint in Syria and be on the way out, leaving the resolution of the conflict to regional actors with the Kurds secure in an enclave away from the Turkish border.
So when you cut everything away the media frenzy is about US credibility in supporting allies in the future. This assumes that the Kurds are being deserted by their Special Forces advisor / assistants and especially that their logistical support and air support will be shut off. It is difficult to see that happening if for no other reason than the 11,000 ISIS prisoners that they hold.
In a perfect world the Kurds and Turks could coexist and the Syrian refugees could be relocated from Turkey into this safe zone. Such a coexistence would be a very fragile one.
Strategically, there is still something missing from the above discussion. We will watch the situation and update it as appropriate in the future.
We’ll see what happens.
Update: The Korea -US summit–the process continues
For the last 2 weeks the North Koreans and the US have been playing many “cards” in their efforts to have the upper hand in Singapore. Let’s review the high points.
- The North Koreans walk out of a meeting with the ‘south Koreans and issue a searing critique of National Security advisor Bolton. The critique was against him personally, but more importantly the North Koreans were rebelling at the Libyan example—Kaddafi denuclearized and then 15 years or so he was overthrown by rebels armed and provided air support by NATO and then subsequently murdered. Not a good image to send the North Koreans.
- The North Koreans also slowed discussions about the summit.
- President Trump talked less positively about the probability of the summit and mentions the military option.
- The president send us a letter to Kim Jun Un that was very conciliatory and positive but cancelled the summit.
- However the President continues with a scheduled meeting with President Moon of South Korea. The two president talked about trade but one can be sure that they were seeking to show solidarity and soften the rhetoric.
- Today President Moon and Kim Jun meet in for 2 hours in Panmunjom and talked about the relations between the two Koreas. Some pundits of course argue that they can have a summit and don’t need President Trump probably because they don’t understand the “process”
- Sarah Sanders announced that the US advance team departs for Singapore tomorrow to prepare for the summit.
- Positive remarks are heard around Washington to include from the President
- There may be several more back and forths but unless the North Koreans play a strong antagonistic card one can expect a reversal of the cancellation this coming week.
The search for an advantage will continue by both sides but it looks like there will be a summit.
Update 2 on the Korean negotiations
Just as I think that I have the process and its linkages figured out the North Koreans throw a curve ball! The cancellation of yesterday’s talks as a protest against US – South Korean previously planned military exercises may tell us some things about the process continuation.
The North’s official news agency said Pyongyang had called off high-level talks with Seoul. Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs the news agency said the fate of the unprecedented U.S.-North Korea summit, as well as bilateral relations, “would be clear” if the United States spoke of a “Libya-style” denuclearization for the North.
“If the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-U.S. summit”.
There are several possible messages here:
- There may be a power struggle between the hardliners and those in favor of denuclearization within the hierarchy of North Korea
- We may be witnessing the traditional North Korean drive a hard bargain approach, which is not incompatible with the first observation
- This may be a test of President Trump—how tough will he hang? Will he be willing to walk away?
Interestingly the dialogue with Secretary Pompeo by phone has continued. This is most likely just another negotiating gambit. However, the power struggle argument must be given serious consideration. The North Korean military is first in the “chow line” when it comes to the government distributing what little bit of resources that it has. If the military believes that this favored position will be threatened by denuclearization and the end of the “almost hostilities with the South and the US” then it may be trying to force a more belligerent and stronger position. It wants its share of whatever good comes form the summit.
Only time will tell.
Update: The Korean negotiation process
Yesterday we published an analysis of the process leading to the meeting of President Trump and Kim Jung Un in Singapore on 12 June. This is an update on that analysis.
The north and south are meeting today in Panmunjon to further refine the issues of economic cooperation between the two Koreas.
This is a further part of the process. The process has two levels:
1. The north south issues
2. The denuclearization issues which is the US focus
Obviously the two levels of processes are interconnected and it will be impossible to work one process to a successful outcome without the other. The economic vitalization of North Korea is dependent upon the relaxation of sanctions and economic embargoes which is in turn dependent a denuclearization agreement.
Given these dependencies one can imagine a direct linkage between steps in the two. In other words, as certain steps are taken in denuclearization certain sanctions and embargoes will be relaxed. These connected steps will be detailed and require significant negotiation. /this suggests that the best one can hope for coming out of Singapore in 28 days is a broad agreement that sets the negotiation of the detailed linkages noted above. The agreement will have both sides make good faith actions immediately to establish a maintainable momentum.
As the details emerge in the coming days this framework should become more evident. Stay tuned.
Immediately after the President’s announcement that the US will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal the liberal fake analyst pundits announced that the decision would undermine the negotiations with the North Koreans. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
In my recently published blog (the workup to the Korean Summit) I wrote: “The Trump Administration will most likely add into the Korean position its stand on Iran. The Iranian agreement does not provide the example that the Trump Administration wants the North Koreans to think is in the realm of the possible. It is sure to highlight the loopholes in the Iranian deal no matter how it decides to go forward.”
In other words the withdrawal will highlight to the North Koreans that they cannot get away with some fluffy document that has numerous loopholes and a lack of comprehensive verification of whatever is agreed to.
As the “we hate Trump pundits” look for something wrong with the withdrawal the North Koreans will have received several meaningful messages. The most important is that they must agree to a comprehensive denuclearization or they too can be isolated like Iran.
What are your thoughts?
Attack on Syria–Many Dimensions
As the Saturday morning quarterbacks seek to portray the coalition missile strikes in ways that support their own agendas it seems necessary to attempt to provide a multi-dimensional view on the strikes. These dimensions include:
· The military implications of the strike
· The diplomatic messages
· The domestic political reaction
In response to the Syrian attack on its own people using chlorine gas a coalition of British, French and American naval and air forces launched missile attacks against 3 chemical production and storage facilities. The objective of the attack was two fold:
1. Seriously degrade/reduce Syria’s chemical weapons capability
2. Deter Syria from future chemical weapon usage
Reports indicate that the missiles hit and severely damaged their targets. The ability and methodology used for the attacks indicate the ability to synchronize target engagement between multiple platforms and national assets. The US attacks came from naval forces in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean ocean. Air assets launched missiles while over Saudi Arabia and the Mediterranean. While launching the missiles each element of the attacking force took air defense, naval and cyber efforts to protect the force. Reportedly all missiles hit their targets while the Syrian missile defense efforts were an abysmal failure. The Syrians reportedly launched over 40 air defense missiles and none of them successfully engaged a target. (The Russian disinformation campaign reported that there were 103 missiles and 71 shot down.)
Militarily the mission was accomplished. However, some pundits are seeking to use this description of the reaction was to be expected as no matter what President Trump and our allies do there will be detractors who are looking for opportunities to speak against the President.
The diplomatic messages of this strike go far beyond the Syrian government. The clear pronouncement that the intent was not to target Syrian President Assad tells Kim Jung Un of North Korea that the US can accomplish its military objectives without necessarily threatening the regime leadership. (This is not to say that decapitation isn’t an option.) With the upcoming denuclearization discussions between President Trump and Kim Jun Un it is clear that Kim not necessarily feel personally threatened.
The preparations for the North Korea / United ‘States historic meeting are ongoing using multiple different avenues for the preparation of the meeting. Reportedly CIA Director/Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo is leading the back channel preparatory talks. The summit will follow a meeting between Pompeo and his North Korean counterpart.
Israel is touting the strikes as a message for Hezbollah and Hamas.
Russia is certainly evaluating President Trump’s resolve to not condone chemical weapon usage. The same is true for Iran as the May Iran nuclear agreement review approaches. John Bolton’s appointment as the National Security Advisor also tends to show an increased hardline by the administration on the major issues facing the United States. Certainly potential adversaries are viewing this whole set of events as a new entity.
The continuing fight against ISIS may have had an unintentional consequence. The net winner of ISIS’s destruction is clearly President Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. The anti- Assad forces were not capable of filling the vacuum created by the damage to ISIS. The continuing conflict in the region is extremely complex given all of the players. This has been a subject of previous articles and one that we will return to in the future.
True to form the hard left politicians like Nancy Pelosi are condemning the attacks as uncivilized. This condemnation is to be expected. The other side of the aisle has been supportive the attacks. However, there seems to be a universal return to the discussion of the war fighting powers of the President. This is a continual power struggle between the executive and the legislature. This debate is probably more posturing than reality but may continue for several weeks and then return to its traditionally dormant status.
The attack against Syria may be the opening gambit in several future conflicts–Russia‘s desire to increase its posture in the Middle-East, Iran’s goal of forming a Caliphate across the region and its conflict with the Gulf Cooperative Council, and Israel’s continual struggle for survival. These are all issues we will be watching closely.