Big Tech and National Security

00schmidt1-articleLarge

There is little question that the United States faces two powerful peer competitors, China and Russia.

There is also no question that we cannot match these powers soldier for soldier or tank for tank. The only way we are likely to prevail is through technological innovation.

The big tech companies – not the traditional defense industry giants – are the ones who can help us achieve that goal. One person, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, is leading this effort.

A revealing article in the New York Times entitled, “‘I Could Solve Most of Your Problems’: Eric Schmidt’s Pentagon Offensive,” begins this way:

In July 2016, Raymond Thomas, a four-star general and head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, hosted a guest: Eric Schmidt, the chairman of Google.

General Thomas, who served in the 1991 gulf war and deployed many times to Afghanistan, spent the better part of a day showing Mr. Schmidt around Special Operations Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Fla. They scrutinized prototypes for a robotic exoskeleton suit and joined operational briefings, which Mr. Schmidt wanted to learn more about because he had recently begun advising the military on technology.

After the visit, as they rode in a Chevy Suburban toward an airport, the conversation turned to a form of artificial intelligence.

“You absolutely suck at machine learning,” Mr. Schmidt told General Thomas, the officer recalled. “If I got under your tent for a day, I could solve most of your problems.” General Thomas said he was so offended that he wanted to throw Mr. Schmidt out of the car, but refrained.

Four years later, Mr. Schmidt, 65, has channeled his blunt assessment of the military’s tech failings into a personal campaign to revamp America’s defense forces with more engineers, more software and more A.I. In the process, the tech billionaire, who left Google last year, has reinvented himself as the prime liaison between Silicon Valley and the national security community.

Follow the link to read the full article

Great Power Competition

200518_russia

The United States has entered an era of great power competition. China and Russia both present a clear and present danger to the security and prosperity of the United States. This competition plays out in multiple ways.

Much ink has been spilled about this competition, some of it good, some shrill, and much in the middle. That is why I was drawn to – and enjoyed – a recent study by CSIS: U.S. Competition with China and Russia: The Crisis-Driven Need to Change U.S. Strategy. Written by Anthony H. Cordesman, one of the sharpest minds regarding American foreign policy, here is how it begins:

The new National Security Strategy (NSS) issued on December 18, 2017, called for the United States to focus on competition with China and Russia in order to focus on the potential military threat they posed to the United States. This call to look beyond the current U.S. emphasis on counterterrorism was all too valid, but its implementation has since focused far too narrowly on the military dimension and on providing each military service all of the U.S. military forces that are needed to fight “worst-case” wars.

This focus on high levels of direct conflict with China and Russia is a fundamental misreading of the challenges the U.S. actually faces from Chinese and Russian competition as well as a misinterpretation of their strategy and capabilities. It ignores the fact that China and Russia recognize that major wars between them and the United States – and particularly any wars that escalate to the use of nuclear weapons – can end in doing so much damage to both sides that they become the equivalent of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD). They understand that the only winner in such conflicts between the great powers would be the one power that could actually find a way to stand aside from such a major nuclear exchange or from a high level of theater warfare between the other two. To quote a passage from Clausewitz’s War Games, “the only way to win is not to play.”

You can read the full report here

AI – Our National Security Edge

Galdorisi May 19 pdf

Artificial intelligence (AI) may be the most beneficial technological development of the 21st century.  However, it is undoubtedly the most hyped technological development of the past two decades.  This hype has raised expectations for results and, unfortunately, has clouded public understanding of the true nature of AI and its limitations as well as potential.

The highest level U.S. security documents demonstrate a recognition of the power of AI to support U.S. national objectives.

The National Security Strategy notes: “New advances in computing, autonomy, and manufacturing are already transforming the way we fight…From self-driving cars to autonomous weapons, the field of [AI], in particular, is progressing rapidly.”

The National Defense Strategy puts it this way: “The security environment is also affected by rapid technological advancements and the changing character of war…New technologies include artificial intelligence [and] autonomy.”

The U.S. Navy knows it needs AI, but would be well-served if it articulates these needs better so it can harness this critical technology.

I addressed this subject in my U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, The Navy Needs AI, It Just Isn’t Certain Why.”  Want more? You can read the full article here

Weapons of the Future

Untitled

Over the past several months, I have posted blogs regarding the new directions for U.S. National Security embodied in publications such as the National Security Strategy and the National Defense Strategy. Each of these publications notes that the U.S. military must adopt high-technology to ensure the U.S. can deal with increasingly capable peer competitors.

The era of United States technological dominance has ended. Indeed, in many areas, including military technology, this gap has narrowed to parity or near-parity, and potential adversaries have all-but erased what was once the U.S. military’s trump card—superior technology. Nations such as Russia and China, as well as countries to which these nations proliferate weapons, are deploying advanced weapons that demonstrate many of the same technological strengths that have traditionally provided the high-tech basis for U.S. advantage.

One of the most promising emerging military technologies is directed-energy weapons. The U.S. military already uses many directed-energy systems such as laser range finders and targeting systems are deployed on tanks, helicopters, tactical fighters and sniper rifles. These laser systems provide both swifter engagements and greatly enhanced precision by shortening of the sensor-to-shooter cycle.

Now, directed-energy weapons are poised to shorten––often dramatically––the shooter-to-target cycle. Directed-energy weapons provide a means for instantaneous target engagement, with extremely high accuracy and at long ranges.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

MBS

merlin_145669779_8cbe98f2-05b0-4bee-8f1e-4bcf11d6b61a-articleLarge

Most people agree that the center of gravity of conflict in the world has been the area we generally refer to as the Middle East.

Those who follow this area closely typically point to the underlying power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the overarching 800-pound gorilla that makes this region so volatile.

A new figure in this equation is the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, otherwise known as MBS.

Until recently, little was known about this once-obscure minor prince. That is why I was drawn to Ben Hubbard’s revealing article: The Ruthless Prince.

It is worth a read if you really want to understand the prospects for this region.

Want more? You can read the full article here

China and the World

13Douthat1-articleLarge

Earlier this month, I posted a blog entitled “China and the World.” It leveraged an article that took a 10,000-foot view of how China has – and will likely continue to – interact with other nations.

An opinion piece in the New York Times, “A Healthy Fear of China,” used the example of how China pressured the NBA to suggest that we should expect more bad behavior. Here is how it begins:

“I have seen the future, and it works,” the left-wing journalist Lincoln Steffens famously declared, after observing Bolshevik Russia in its infancy. What was intended as a utopian boast soon read as a dystopian prediction — but then eventually, as Stalinist ambition gave way to Brezhnevian decay, it curdled into a sour sort of joke. By the time the Soviet Union dissolved, even the people inclined to defend the “ideals” of Marxism tended to acknowledge that as a system for managing an advanced economy and running an effective government, the one thing Soviet Communism definitely didn’t do was work.

Today, though, there is a palpable fear in the liberal West that Beijing is succeeding where Moscow failed, and that the peculiar blend of Maoist dogmatics, nationalist fervor, one-party meritocracy and surveillance-state capitalism practiced in the People’s Republic of China really is a working alternative to liberal democracy — with cruelty sustained by efficiency, and a resilience that might outstrip our own.

This fear is stoked by a growing realization that the “Chimerica” project, our great integration of markets and supply chains, has had roughly the opposite effect to the one its American architects anticipated. Instead of importing liberal ideas into China and undermining the Politburo’s rule, the Chimerican age has strengthened Beijing’s policy of social control and imported totalitarian influences into the officially free world.

 Want more? You can read the full article here

China and the World

29Buruma-superJumbo

Much ink has been spilled regarding China’s rise and how its government – meaning the Chinese Communist Party – sees the world.

Sadly, some of the reporting has been shrill, biased, inaccurate, or all three. That is why I enjoyed a recent piece, “The Tenacity of Chinese Communism.”

The subtitle, “How the party revived an ancient philosophy to extol order and compel obedience,” tells you where the piece is going. Here is how it begins:

When Chairman Mao Zedong stepped forward in Tiananmen Square on Oct. 1, 1949, and proclaimed — in standard Chinese but in a thick Hunanese accent — the founding of the People’s Republic of China, many patriots rejoiced. A large number of Chinese who were not Communists were still happy that after years of humiliation by foreign powers, a vicious Japanese invasion and a bloody civil war, China was now finally united. For the first time in roughly a century the Chinese had regained their dignity. Mao was widely credited for this.

Many Chinese patriots would one day regret their enthusiasm. Mao not only turned against what he called “class enemies,” or indeed anyone who did not follow him slavishly, but he also unleashed greater violence on the Chinese people than even the Japanese had. The Cultural Revolution, during which it is believed that up to two million people were murdered, was just the last of his great purges.

And yet, Mao’s feat of unifying the country and restoring national pride is still a reason for many people in China to respect his legacy, and for the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) to justify its continued monopoly on power. The fear of violent disorder runs deep and is consistently drummed into Chinese of all ages. Party propagandists insist that China without Communist rule would descend once more into chaos and fall prey to hostile foreign powers.

There are, however, other reasons the C.C.P. is still in power in China, even after Communist rule has collapsed almost everywhere else.

Want more? You can read the full article here

The U.S. and China

merlin_157182747_a586df6c-0fe3-4147-ab4a-6621642e83f7-superJumbo

Most think the relationship between the United States and China will be the most important issue of the 21st Century. Many think it already is. I am one of them

Sadly, when most Americans think about China today, if not the Coronavirus, what they think about is trade. But there is so much more to consider.

That is why I gravitated to a piece by Tom Friedman, “The World-Shaking News That You’re Missing.” Here is how he began:

One of the most negative byproducts of the Trump presidency is that all we talk about now is Donald Trump. Don’t get me wrong: How can we not be fixated on a president who daily undermines the twin pillars of our democracy: truth and trust?

But there are some tectonic changes underway behind the Trump noise machine that demand a serious national discussion, like the future of U.S.-China relations. Yet it’s not happening — because all we talk about is Donald Trump.

Consider this: On Nov. 9, European leaders gathered in Berlin to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was an anniversary worth celebrating. But no one seemed to notice that almost exactly 30 years after the Berlin Wall fell, a new wall — a digital Berlin Wall — had begun to be erected between China and America. And the only thing left to be determined, a Chinese business executive remarked to me, “is how high this wall will be,” and which countries will choose to be on which side.

This new wall, separating a U.S.-led technology and trade zone from a Chinese-led one, will have implications as vast as the wall bisecting Berlin did. Because the peace, prosperity and accelerations in technology and globalization that have so benefited the world over the past 40 years were due, in part, to the interweaving of the U.S. and Chinese economies.

You can read the full piece here

Forever War?

merlin_166699962_3c813bcd-b005-4ce4-a84d-3bd47ae2fd48-superJumbo

It has been over a decade since New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins penned his best-seller, The Forever War.

As anticipated, the book raised important questions as to why the United States was still engaged in Afghanistan. Sadly, we are still there.

That is why I was drawn to a recent article: “Americans Demand a Rethinking of the ‘Forever War.’” Here is how it begins:

Nearly two decades after the fall of the World Trade Center and the attack on the Pentagon, American troops continue to wage war in Iraq, Afghanistan and lesser-known corners of the globe. President Trump almost opened another front last month when he approved the killing of Iran’s most powerful general.

“We took one of the world’s deadliest terrorists off the battlefield for good,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said recently, justifying the drone strike on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

In other words, in the “war on terror,” the Iranian leader was fair game.

Last week, Democrats and some Republicans in the House voted to repeal one of two longstanding war authorizations that have helped justify all manner of American military action abroad. It was a challenge not only to President Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran, but also to the thinking in Washington that has sustained the war-fighting since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

For more than 18 years, the war on terrorism — the “forever war” or “endless war,” as many call it — has been used as the basis for an ever-expanding range of military actions: an invasion of Iraq that, by one count, has left nearly 300,000 dead; airstrikes in Afghanistan that have sometimes unintentionally killed scores at wedding parties as well as Qaeda leaders; and now the Suleimani drone strike. Mr. Trump said the general, who had helped arm anti-American militias in the Iraq war, had been plotting new “imminent and sinister attacks.”

Want more? You can read the full article here

The Middle East

B3-FX118_WEBCOV_750RV_20200116155453

During my thirty-year military career I deployed to the Middle East multiple times. My interest in the region intensified each time, and remains high today.

I always was a bit adrift as to why we were there. And while I would never suggest that Former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is someone with a deep understanding of the region, I vividly recall something she said while she was a vice-presidential candidate. When asked if the United States should be involved in the region, she said, “Let Allah sort it out.”

Now, over a decade later, veteran U.S. diplomat, Martin Indyk, is raising that same question in a thoughtful way. Here is how he begins his piece, “The Middle East Isn’t Worth It Anymore:”

Last week, despite Donald Trump’s repeated pledge to end American involvement in the Middle East’s conflicts, the U.S. was on the brink of another war in the region, this time with Iran. If Iran’s retaliation for the Trump administration’s targeted killing of Tehran’s top commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, had resulted in the deaths of more Americans, Washington was, as Mr. Trump tweeted, “locked and loaded” for all-out confrontation.

Why does the Middle East always seem to suck the U.S. back in? What is it about this troubled region that leaves Washington perpetually caught between the desire to end U.S. military involvement there and the impulse to embark on yet another Middle East war?

As someone who has devoted four decades of his life to the study and practice of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East, I have been struck by America’s inability over the past two administrations to resolve this dilemma. Previously, presidents of both parties shared a broad understanding of U.S. interests in the region, including a consensus that those interests were vital to the country—worth putting American lives and resources on the line to forge peace and, when necessary, wage war.

Today, however, with U.S. troops still in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan and tensions high over Iran, Americans remain war-weary. Yet we seem incapable of mustering a consensus or pursuing a consistent policy in the Middle East. And there’s a good reason for that, one that’s been hard for many in the American foreign-policy establishment, including me, to accept: Few vital interests of the U.S. continue to be at stake in the Middle East. The challenge now, both politically and diplomatically, is to draw the necessary conclusions from that stark fact.

You can read the full article here