The Existential Threat

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Few national security issues have dominated the headlines as much as the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The reason why is compelling: Ballistic missiles armed with WMD represent the primary existential threat to the United States as well as other nations.

This is what the New York Times Helene Cooper and David Sanger had to say in a recent article about the American response to the threat of ballistic missiles armed with WMD:

A re-engineered American interceptor rocket collided with a mock intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday afternoon in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said, in the first successful test of whether it could shoot down a warhead from North Korea racing toward the continental United States at speeds approaching true battle conditions.

At a time when tensions with North Korea are running high, a successful test was vital for the Defense Department’s beleaguered missile defense program. It enabled the Pentagon to argue that it is making strides in protecting the United States from a North Korean nuclear warhead.

Not long ago, in an article in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, we addressed the U.S. Navy’s contribution to the nation’s missile defense capability. This is part of what we said:

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) is one of the most important missions for the United States’ military – and it is one that is growing in importance – with rouge nations such as North Korea and Iran possessing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD is based on the Aegis weapon system and has been on patrol in guided-missile cruisers and destroyers since 2004. Aegis BMD has grown in importance based on its proven performance as well as its long-term potential.

For years, the U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD was secondary to many other systems. Today, the U.S. Navy is “in the van” as we describe in our article in the US Naval Institute Proceedings.

Want more? Read the full New York Times article by Helene Cooper and David Sanger here.

And here is our article talking about ballistic missile defense in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

 

The Battle of Midway

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Seventy-five years ago this month, the course of World War II changed forever. The Battle of Midway represented the turning point of the war.

Volumes have been written about this epic battle, so it is difficult to write a pithy summary. This anniversary spurred an avalanche of articles and new books.

One article stood out for me, that by historian Victor Davis Hanson. Here is how he began his short piece:

Seventy-five years ago (June 4-7, 1942), the astonishing American victory at the Battle of Midway changed the course of the Pacific War.

Just six months after the catastrophic Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. crushed the Imperial Japanese Navy off Midway Island (about 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu), sinking four of its aircraft carriers.

“Midway” referred to the small atoll roughly halfway between North America and Asia. But to Americans, “Midway” became a barometer of military progress. Just half a year after being surprised at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy had already destroyed almost half of Japan’s existing carrier strength (after achieving a standoff at the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier).

The odds at the June 1942 battle favored the Japanese. The imperial fleet had four carriers to the Americans’ three, backed up by scores of battleships, cruisers and light carriers as part of the largest armada that had ever steamed from Japan.

No military had ever won more territory in six months than had Japan. Its Pacific Empire ranged from the Indian Ocean to the coast of the Aleutian Islands, and from the Russian-Manchurian border to Wake Island in the Pacific.

Yet the Japanese Navy was roundly defeated by an outnumbered and inexperienced American fleet at Midway. Why and how?

You can read the entire article here.

Forging Coalitions

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The decline in the size of the United States Navy (now under 280 ships – a dramatic decrease of the Reagan-era U.S. Navy of almost 600 ships has given the United States more impetus to partner with other navies to secure the global commons. But while the intent is there, many wonder just how this can occur.

In my article in the May 2017 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, “Can We Make the Global Network of Navies Work?” I address this issue head on, and suggest that the United States would be well served to, as the article’s subtitle suggests: Start at the “High End” with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense.” Here is part of what I shared:

“More than a decade has passed since then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Mullen unveiled the concept of a 1,000-ship navy at the International Seapower Symposium in Newport, Rhode Island. In introducing his idea, Admiral Mullen stated, “As we combine our advantages, I envision a 1,000-ship navy—a fleet-in-being, if you will—made up of the best capabilities of all freedom-loving navies of the world.” 2 Later renamed the Global Maritime Partnership, the concept caught on as other nations also came to realize that no single state had the assets to ensure security on the seas or even to respond adequately to lesser threats, from piracy, to criminal activities at sea, to natural disasters.”

“While globalization has had extensive beneficial effects, one of its most serious downsides has been the worldwide proliferation of ballistic missile technology, and the concomitant spread of the means to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD). More than 30 countries deploy ballistic missiles today, compared with only nine just a few decades ago. Potential enemies possess both ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and today’s rogue leaders view WMD as weapons of choice, not of last resort.”

“There is no more propitious time for the U.S. Navy to lead the way in stitching together a robust Aegis BMD global enterprise to protect our nation, our forces forward, and our allies and partners from the threat of ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. With U.S. Navy leadership, this opportunity to shape a “high-end” partnership under the auspices of a global network of navies may well be the sine qua non of international defense cooperation to address the challenges brought on by globalization.”

Want more? Read the full article here.

The Islamic State Threat

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Earlier this spring, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” The Islamic State (ISIL) is the “condition.”

There are longstanding challenges that the Islamic State pose to the West, among them:

  • Dedicated to establishing a caliphate across the Middle East and North Africa
  • Unlike other terrorist groups, takes and holds territory
  • Intent on conducting attacks in the West as well as Middle East and North Africa
  • Demonstrated ability to reappear after territory is taken

But It’s fair to ask, since the “4+1 construct” was posited a year-and-a-half ago, have things gotten better or worse vis-à-vis our ability to contain the Islamic State? I fell it’s worse, because:

  • Coalition fissures hamper coordinated military action against ISIL
  • Demonstrated willingness to hold civilian population hostage
  • Losing territory in Iraq and Syria has not ended violent extremism
  • More troops are being requested for both Iraq and Afghanistan
  • ISIL continues to hold on to portions of Mosul, Iraq
  • Difficulty marshaling coalition support to oust ISIL from Raqqa, Iraq
  • Mastered the use of social media for propaganda and recruiting

When we came up with the high-concept for our third Tom Clancy Op-Center novel (Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Scorched Earth), some thought ISIL would be long-gone by the time the book was published in mid-2016. That hasn’t been the case. Here is part of what we said in our Author’s Introduction:

Few would argue against the statement that ISIS (or ISIL—the preferred term used by U.S. national security officials—the “L” standing for Levant,) presents a profound threat to the West. As President Obama said in a widely-watched speech in September 2014, “Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

Almost two years later, U.S. national security officials remain perplexed as to how to deal with ISIS. No one is talking today, in 2017, about defeating ISIS, only containing them. What is happening in the greater Mideast in areas where ISIS roams freely will not resolve itself in the next several years. For Western nations, and especially for the United States, today’s headlines are looming as tomorrow’s nightmare.

ISIS will remain a threat to the West—and especially to the United States—years into the future because America has not come to grips with how to deal with this threat. As Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger describe in their best-selling book, ISIS: The State of Terror, and as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan describe in their best-seller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, the very nature of ISIS makes attempts to deal with it by employing the conventional instruments of national power all-but futile. Here is how Michiko Kakutani framed the challenge ISIS presents in his Books of the Times review of these two books:

The Islamic State and its atrocities—beheadings, mass executions, the enslavement of women and children, and the destruction of cultural antiquities—are in the headlines every day now. The terror group not only continues to roll through the Middle East, expanding from Iraq and Syria into Libya and Yemen, but has also gained dangerous new affiliates in Egypt and Nigeria and continues to recruit foreign fighters through its sophisticated use of social media. Given the ascendance of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), it’s startling to recall that in January 2014, President Obama referred to it as a “J.V. team,” suggesting that it did not pose anywhere near the sort of threat that Al Qaeda did.

Life imitates art, and these are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

 

Big Enough?

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The recent news has been dominated by military crises around the globe: North Korea, Syria, Russia, ISIS and others.

The present administration has proposed a military budget $54B higher than last year. That raises the question. How big a military does America need?

A short piece in a recent New York Times entitled, “Is the Military Big Enough,” offers some keen insights and a pictorial view of the size of our military. It begins:

President Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending, which he said would be “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” Past administrations have increased military spending, but typically to fulfill a specific mission. Jimmy Carter expanded operations in the Persian Gulf. Ronald Reagan pursued an arms race with the Soviet Union, and George W. Bush waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States has higher military spending than any other country partly because its foreign policy goals are more ambitious: defending its borders, upholding international order and promoting American interests abroad.

“Our current strategy is based around us being a superpower in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific,” said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We’ve sized our military to be able to fight more than one conflict at a time in those regions.”

You can read this important article and enjoy the great pictures here.

The Iranian Threat

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Earlier this year, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” Iran is one of those contingencies.

Iran is an enormous threat to the West in general and the Europe and the United States in particular. As Michael Oren suggested in his article in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend, “Iran is a Bigger Threat Than Syria and North Korea Combined,” leading off his essay by saying:

“The U.S. has signed agreements with three rogue regimes strictly limiting their unconventional military capacities. Two of those regimes—Syria and North Korea—brazenly violated the agreements, provoking game-changing responses from President Trump. But the third agreement—with Iran—is so inherently flawed that Tehran doesn’t even have to break it. Honoring it will be enough to endanger millions of lives.”

First, there are longstanding issues between the West, and especially the United States and Iran. Among the most prominent:

  • Long-standing enmity toward the United States going back to 1953
  • Vying with Saudi Arabia for dominant power in the  region
  • Ability to block the Strait of Hormuz
  • Ability to threaten U.S. naval forces
  • Robust ballistic missile program

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, Iran is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • It is unknown how well nuclear sanctions will work, if at all
  • Marked increase in ballistic missile tests (flouted U.N. resolution)
  • Open and increased support for the Assad regime in Syria
  • Continued support for terrorist groups (Hezbollah)
  • Active harassing of U.S. Navy vessels in the Arabian Gulf
  • U.S. recently declared IRG a terrorist group

These are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

The Forever War

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Many of you will recognize the title of this post The Forever War as the same title of Dexter Filkens’ best-selling book. That book became an instant classic of war reporting, and was hailed as the definitive account of America’s conflict with Islamic fundamentalism and its human costs.

Through the eyes of Filkins, a foreign correspondent for the New York Times, we witnessed the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, the aftermath of the attack on New York on September 11th, and the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Filkens’ book was published eight years ago – and that war still drags on. Today, Brian Caster, a former explosive ordnance disposal officer who fought in The Forever War takes Filkins’ thoughts to the next level in his piece, “Still Fighting, Dying, in the Forever War.” He point out how different this war is from all our other wars. Here is part of what he shares.

“The longest conflict in American history — from Afghanistan to Iraq, to high-value target missions throughout Africa and the Middle East — has resulted in the nation’s first sustained use of the all-volunteer military, wounding and killing more and more service members who resemble Scotty: parents, spouses, career men and women. When compared with casualties of the Vietnam War, the average age of our dead in this conflict, and the proportion who are married, have both risen 20 percent. And that trend is accelerating as the burden of the fight shifts more and more to older, highly trained counterterrorism forces. As The Times reported recently, of the 18 service members lost in combat since 2016, 12 were Special Operations troops like Scotty [Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton].”

“Our country has created a self-selected and battle-hardened cohort of frequent fliers, one that is almost entirely separate from mainstream civilian culture, because service in the Forever War, as many of us call it, isn’t so much about going as returning. According to data provided by the Center for a New American Security, of the 2.7 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, half have done multiple tours. More telling, 223,000 have gone at least four times, and 51,000 have done six or more deployments.”

You can read this important article here.

The North Korean Threat

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Several weeks ago, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” North Korea is one of those contingencies.

As Adam Johnson noted in the Reader’s Guide for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Orphan Master’s Son, “It is illegal for a citizen of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to interact with a foreigner.” In a nutshell, this helps understand why North Korea is the most isolated nation in the world and why that nation’s decision-making is often completely unfathomable. THAT is what makes North Korea so dangerous.

Juxtapose this against the widely-heralded United States “Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific Region,” and you have the compelling ingredients for conflict—you don’t have to manufacture them. What North Korea does will continue to bedevil the United States—and the West for that matter—for the foreseeable future. The Hermit Kingdom remains the world’s most mysterious place. As a Center for Naval Analyses Study noted, “The Kim-Jong-un regime has not completely revealed itself to the outside world.” Not to put too fine a point on it, North Korea would likely qualify as one of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s, “Unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

First, there are longstanding issues between the West, and especially the United States and North Korea. Among the most prominent:

  • Long-term enmity toward the United States (Korean War)
  • Favorable geographic position vis-à-vis South Korea
  • Leadership intentions have always been opaque
  • Economy can’t provide for population’s basic needs
  • Most closed society on the planet

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, North Korea is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • A young leader still consolidating power
  • Developing enhanced ballistic missile capability
  • Sustaining an active WMD program – and exporting WMD
  • Increasing rhetoric against the West and especially the U.S.
  • Numerous new ballistic missile tests
  • Engine tests for proposed ICBM that can reach the United States

These are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.

Can Communism Rise Again?

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Ask any American what happened one-hundred years ago, and it’s unlikely that they’d mention Russia’s February 1917 Revolution — the prequel to the November coup of Lenin’s Bolsheviks, an event that forever altered the history of the 20th Century and one that still casts a long shadow on today’s geopolitics.

Most think the ideas that spurred that February 2017 uprising are dead and with it what we generally call “Communism.” Or is it? Here is part of what David Priestland shares in his piece, “What’s Left of Communism?”

“China and Russia both deploy symbols of their Communist heritage to strengthen an anti-liberal nationalism; in the West, confidence in free-market capitalism has not recovered from the financial crash of 2008, and new forces of the far right and activist left vie for popularity. In America, the unexpected strength of the independent socialist Bernie Sanders in last year’s Democratic race, and in Spain, the electoral gains of the new Podemos party, led by a former Communist, are signs of some grass-roots resurgence on the left. In 2015 Britain, Marx and Engels’s 1848 classic, “The Communist Manifesto,” was a best seller. Is a Communism remodeled for the 21st century struggling to be born?”

You can read this intriguing article here

The Russia Threat

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Several weeks ago, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct.” This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” Russia is one of those contingencies.

If there is one nation, and one leader, who makes it a practice to “poke” at the United States, it’s Russia’s Vladimir Putin. There has been an avalanche of media reporting on the fraught relationship between Russia and the West, including this front-page piece in Sunday’s New York Times entitled, “Putin and Merkel: A Rivalry of History, Distrust and Power.” You can read this compelling piece here

First, there are longstanding issues between the West, and especially the United States and Russia. Among the most prominent:

  • Long-standing enmity against the West
  • Views the United States as the architect of containment
  • A deep, visceral desire to change the global order (zero-sum)
  • Demonstrated willingness to attack neighbors with kinetic or cyber-attacks: Georgia, Estonia, Crimea, Ukraine
  • Murders of political opponents and dissidents (Litvinenko)

But in addition to these long-standing issues, since the fall of 2015, Russia is behaving in ways that worry the United States. Among the biggest issues:

  • Overt support for Assad’s regime in Syria
  • Hacking of U.S. election returns
  • Recent stepped-up military incursions in Ukraine
  • Stepped up military exercises around NATO’s periphery (Baltics)

Worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.