Small Wars Journal

05/06/2021 News & Commentary – National Security

Thu, 05/06/2021 - 9:58am

News & commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and published by Daniel Riggs.

1. DOD Optimizes Organizational Role of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict

2. Opinion | The Afghanistan War Will End as It Began: In Blood

3. Globalization’s Coming Golden Age

4. House Appropriators Fear Army Cuts, Continuing Resolution

5. Joint Chiefs chairman urges greater racial diversity in the military

6. Perspective | Authoritarian countries will try to use coronavirus vaccines as an internal cudgel

7. Opinion | The Pentagon must prepare for a much bigger theater of war

8. The Pentagon wants to take a harder line on domestic extremism. How far can it go?

9. Austin rolls back Trump-era policy on special ops

10. China Is a Paper Dragon

11. Bill To Combat Sexual Assault In Military Finally Has Votes To Pass, Senators Say

12. ‘That’s Why I Wear the Uniform:’ Milley Calls Racial, Religious Equality His ‘North Star’

13. "You Don't Belong Here" (Vietnam War - Women Reporting from the Frontlines)

14. Opinion | Russia’s plot to control the Internet is no longer a secret

15. How Tough Conditions and Contested Communication Are Forcing the US Military To Reinvent AI

16. ODNI quiet on '36-star' info war memo

17. IntelBrief: United to Fight Terrorism? Reviewing the UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy

18. Crash In Iraq Helps Unmask Secretive Ultra-Quiet Special Operations Drone Program


1. DOD Optimizes Organizational Role of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict

The SECDEF Memo can be accessed here

I am not sure the headline is accurate.  Is this really optimizing the organizational role of ASD SO/LIC?  (Note now called the SOLIC organization).

ASD SO/LIC reverts to control by USD(P).  However for the SOF enterprise and for the ADCON chain of command for SOF the ASD SO/LIC will directly report to the SECDEF.  (POTUS, SECDEF,ASD SO/LIC, CDR USSOCOM).

And this is a key point that is positive: "ASD SO/LIC will continue to have full access to the same fora that the Service Secretaries have."  This appears to be a recognition that SOF needs to be treated as a service level entity and an attempt to meet congressional intent.

But how is ASD SO/LIC organizationally optimized?  It is still too small and stretched too thin among a variety of responsibilities, many of which are not SOF related such as Counternarcotics and Global Threats (CNGT), Stability and Humanitarian Affairs (SHA), and the Office of Detainee Policy (ODP).  Over the years ASD SO/LIC has become the dumping ground for everything the rest of the Pentagon did not want to do - recall when Mike Lumpkin was ASD SO/LIC and they gave him responsibility for developing the Ebola response?  ASD SO/LIC was like the old cereal commercial - "Give it to Mikey - he will eat anything."

Perhaps we should look at reorganizing ASD SO/LIC, which was intended for SOF oversight, and providing the staff to fully perform its civilian oversight and ADCON responsibilities (and meet congressional intent).  

It seems that Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby has provided some additional important information that gets at my concern.  The new charter will be important.

Excerpt from the press conference:Also today, Secretary Austin, I think you may have seen, Secretary Austin directed that the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict. The Assistant Secretary for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict retained – the office retains its direct reporting chain to the Secretary for its administrative chain of command role over U.S. Special Operations Command.

The Assistant Secretary remains a principle staff assistant and will continue to have full access to the same floor that service secretaries have. The Secretary also directed that the SOLIC organization, as we call it, now we joined the office of the undersecretary of defense for policy organization. This will ensure that special operation's policy is fully integrated into all the other aspects of the department policy making process.

We'll soon be publishing a revised charter which will further codify SOLIC's – the ASD for SOLIC's role and responsibilities. These efforts are significant steps forward toward strengthen civilian oversight of U.S. Special Operations Command and the provision of integrated policy advise for the Secretary and for the department.”


2. Opinion | The Afghanistan War Will End as It Began: In Blood

The New York Times · by Elliot Ackerman · May 5, 2021

Note this excerpt: "Unlike the withdrawal from Iraq, in which U.S. troops could drive through the desert into Kuwait as they did in 2011, and unlike the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, in which they could drive across a then-shared border, U.S. troops are currently marooned in Afghanistan, reliant on three principal U.S.-controlled airstrips (Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandahar), making their journey home all the more perilous."


3. Globalization’s Coming Golden Age

Foreign Affairs · by Harold James · May 5, 2021

A sober critique and warning: “Governments and businesses also need to continuously innovate. As it did in the 1840s, isolationism today would mean cutting off opportunities to learn from different experiments. No single country, or its particular culture of science and innovation, was responsible for the development of an effective COVID-19 vaccine—one of the miracles of 2020. Success was the product of intense international collaboration. This story of innovation also applies to government competence. No state can succeed alone. Even if one particular decision is by chance spectacularly successful—say, Germany’s impressive testing record or the United Kingdom’s fast vaccine rollout—it is usually difficult to repeat that success in other policy areas. Policymakers may stride confidently past their first victory, only to slip on a banana peel.

The United States, in particular, may find this a hard pill to swallow. Americans have long been attached to the idea of their country’s superiority, akin to the belief held by the British in the mid-nineteenth century. COVID-19, like the 1840s famines and the 1970s oil shocks, presents both a crisis and a learning opportunity. The United States has coasted on the idea that the world needs the English language and the U.S. dollar. Neither of those assumptions can hold forever. Just as automatic translation technology is increasing linguistic accessibility, a different currency could become a new international standard. The dollar is not an adequate insurance policy or a viable basis for Washington to reject the need for change.

The challenge of the new upswing in the cycle of globalization will be to find ways to learn and adapt—increasing the effectiveness of government and business—without compromising fundamental values. As in the 1840s and the 1970s, financial and monetary innovation, or the tonic of inflation, will drive transformational change. Memories of crisis will push countries and governments to adapt in 2021 and beyond, just as they have before.


4. House Appropriators Fear Army Cuts, Continuing Resolution · by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr. and Paul McLeary · May 5, 2021

Excerpts: “The Senate Armed Services Committee has already said it’s not taking up the budget until July, and the House Armed Services Committee is uncertain when they will begin their markup. So the prospect of a Continuing Resolution is very real.

“When a budget request has been submitted on time, the delay in enacting the appropriations has only been about one month,” said Todd Harrison, director of Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, on a recent call with reporters. In years when the budget request was submitted more than a week late, however, “we’ve seen the average CR go closer to almost four months on average.”

Overall, Harrison said, “the later this budget request is submitted, the harder it’s going to be for them to get this through anywhere close to the start of the fiscal year.”

House Appropriators Fear Army Cuts, Continuing Resolution

“It looks like the Army’s going to take the lion’s share of the cuts,” possibly losing a tank brigade, warned Texas Republican John Carter.


5. Joint Chiefs chairman urges greater racial diversity in the military · by Robert Burns, Lolita Baldor · May 5, 2021

Not to take away from the important message of General Milley in this article, but note the 6 "traditional" combat jobs. (SF not "traditional" or not a path for promotion to senior ranks.  In terms of "traditional" Aviation was established as a branch in 1983 and SF in 1987 but I guess those four years are the difference in "traditional." 

Excerpts: “Army officers in combat jobs — infantry, armor, field artillery, air defense, aviation and engineer — are more likely to gain the experience that can get them promoted to more senior ranks. Evans said the Army is sending more diverse young officers from those particular fields to historically Black and Hispanic colleges to interact with cadets.

“It might inform their choices about selecting one of the, what we call the traditional six combat arms branches, as a career path,” he said.


6. Perspective | Authoritarian countries will try to use coronavirus vaccines as an internal cudgel

The Washington Post · by David Adesnik · May 5, 2021

Excerpts: “For the moment and probably for the rest of the year, the demand for vaccines in low-income nations will far outstrip the inventory available to Covax. Triage is unavoidable. One way to help address the problems of unfair distribution within countries would be to change the allocation process so that the readiness of recipient nations to distribute vaccines in a just and equitable manner should influence the allocation process, which currently employs an algorithm that prioritizes equality among countries, not equity within them.

This shift would actually be consistent with the principles Covax has adopted: The initiative commissioned a panel of experts to develop a values framework for allocating vaccines, as well as a road map for equitable delivery of limited supplies. There is also detailed guidance for the development of national vaccination plans. The values framework warns there should be “no tolerance for personal, financial, or political conflicts of interest or corruption.” Yet without independent monitoring, such aspirations are sterile.

The WHO and Covax leadership should broaden their view of vaccine equity to encompass responsibility for what happens after a partner state receives its doses. In all likelihood, this change will require the Biden administration and the other main Covax donors, especially Germany, the European Commission and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to make clear their support depends on efforts to forestall abuse. It is not just a matter of principle, but one of self-interest. As Tedros observed, one cannot put out only part of a fire.


7. Opinion | The Pentagon must prepare for a much bigger theater of war

The Washington Post · by Lloyd J. Austin III · May 5, 2021

Excerpts: “Any adversary thinking about pressing for advantage in one domain must know that we can respond not just in that arena but in many others as well. The power to deter rests on our ability to respond to aggression in the time and manner of our choosing.

This won’t be easy. The nature of warfare is changing; it spans an unprecedented theater that stretches from the heavens to cyberspace and far into the oceans’ depths. That demands new thinking and new action inside the Defense Department. We must redouble our efforts to work together — with allies and partners, across commands, across services and across our fiefdoms and stovepipes.

It is always easier to stamp out a small ember than to put out a raging fire. We must think harder and more creatively about preventing the future fight. And if we can’t prevent it, we need to be ready to win it, and to win it decisively.”

I am reminded of the parable of the physician in Thomas Cleary's translation of Sun Tzu's The Art of War. 


8. The Pentagon wants to take a harder line on domestic extremism. How far can it go?

The Washington Post · by Missy Ryan · May 5, 2021

The Pentagon needs to be very careful on how it goes down this path.  It must get this right or risk confirming extremist narratives and radicalizing those who feel targeted without cause.


9. Austin rolls back Trump-era policy on special ops


I do not think it was a total roll-back. In the SECDEF's defense it seems like he is trying to meet congressional intent - though I think at the very minimum level.


10. China Is a Paper Dragon

The Atlantic · by David Frum · May 3, 2021

Remember that Sun Tzu said: "Do not assume your enemy will not attack.  Make yourself invincible."

But this is an interesting read.


11. Bill To Combat Sexual Assault In Military Finally Has Votes To Pass, Senators Say

NPR · by Claudia Grisales · May 6, 2021

This could be the most significant change in military order and discipline in recent history.

Excerpts: “Advocate groups have repeatedly said that there has been no improvement despite decades of promises from leadership and commanders, saying the commander-controlled system has failed to deliver accountability.

The military has reported climbing figures in reports of sexual assaults. In 2019, the Pentagon reported that about 20,500 service members had experienced some form of such an assault. That was 37% higher than two years earlier.

This, as the rate of prosecution and conviction for related cases has been cut in half to about 7% since Gillibrand first introduced her legislation, she says. Gillibrand also said that the current structure, while allowing such crimes to be pervasive, also hurts military readiness.

The issue drew renewed attention in 2019, when former Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally said during a related hearing she was raped by a superior officer. However, the retired Air Force colonel, who lost her Senate seat to Democrat Mark Kelly this past year, was opposed to Gillibrand's proposal. Kelly has since signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill.

"A lot of people have begun to change their minds," Gillibrand said.


12. ‘That’s Why I Wear the Uniform:’ Milley Calls Racial, Religious Equality His ‘North Star’ · by Tara Copp 

Powerful words from the Chairman.  Will they resonate with the force?


13. "You Don't Belong Here" (Vietnam War - Women Reporting from the Frontlines)

WNYC· May 4, 2021
This is a story very much worth listening to.  I think I will add Elizabeth Becker's book to my "too read pile."


14. Opinion | Russia’s plot to control the Internet is no longer a secret

The Washington Post · by David Ignatius · May 4, 2021

We must protect the internet from despots like Putin (and Xi, etc).  We should not forget who created it:Internet technical governance today is managed by ICANN, which stands for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This gathering of engineers and other experts was founded in 1998 to supervise domain names for the Defense Department’s ARPANET system, and it operated under a contract with the Commerce Department until 2016, when it went fully private.

The American roots of the Internet seem to both upset Putin and fuel conspiratorial talk. The Russian leader said during a 2014 interview translated by RT that the Internet “first appeared as a special CIA project . . . and the special services are still at the center of things.” Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president, complained in a February interview: “The Internet emerged at a certain time, and undoubtedly the key rights to control are in the United States.”

Russia is ready to rumble over the rules that will shape the future of Internet communications. Fortunately, the Biden administration seems determined to fight back hard to maintain fair and open rules.”


15. How Tough Conditions and Contested Communication Are Forcing the US Military To Reinvent AI · by Patrick Tucker

Fascinating read:

“Tim Chung, a program manager at DARPA working to create highly autonomous subterranean robotics through the so-called SubT challenge, described the difficulty of finding “actionable situational intelligence,” and making sure both the human and the robot know the definition of what that is, since it’s hard to predict what the robot might encounter in, say, a network of underground tunnels or a collapsed building.

“It’s not just good enough to know [that] there’s a left turn, a drop, a corridor. What you really want are refined coordinates to where that survivor is located,” Chung said “‘Actionable’ is something that must be defined both by the robot as well as also the human supervisor in the loop, and so these robots must balance how much perception they carry with how reliant they are on communications.” Chung spoke as part of a recorded Defense One session on the future of battlefield AI that will air on Thursday.)

But it’s not just bandwidth that’s constrained in these environments. Human attention is also a scarce commodity. That’s why SOCOM is working with operators to better understand when they have more thought to give to incoming machine communication, Sanders said.

“If I am training a partner nation, the amount of information I can hold without becoming overwhelmed might be different than deployed in a covert location for three days and I know that there are bad guys right around the corner that are going to shoot me. That tradeoff of cognitive human machine burden is very fungible. It changes depending on the situation and the person,” she said. “We are gathering real life information from our warfighters and developing great advocacy with them…It’s an ongoing experimentation.”


16. ODNI quiet on '36-star' info war memo · by Bill Gertz


17. IntelBrief: United to Fight Terrorism? Reviewing the UN’s Global Counterterrorism Strategy · by Joseph Trevithick · May 4, 2021

Conclusion: "Finally, this is an unusual year with multiple UN negotiations converging due to the pandemic. Such timing allows states a rare opportunity to reassess the UN’s institutional and operational response to international terrorism, nearly twenty years following the attacks of September 11, 2001, ten years after the death of Osama bin Laden, and the same year as the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. During the review of the GCTS in the General Assembly, states will also have to determine whether the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism receives increased UN budgetary assistance, or remains dependent upon voluntary extra-budgetary donations. States are likely to be increasingly conservative about expanding the UN’s budget in the current climate. However, the status quo process means that the program of work is not necessarily determined by counterterrorism assessments and needs, but rather by donor preferences and politics. Following this, the Security Council will have to determine the mandates of two important expert bodies – the al-Qaeda/ISIS Sanctions Monitoring Team and the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED). These are also critical opportunities to think about the political, operational, and substantive directions for these bodies, and consider a closer integration of efforts with the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, and its Terrorism Prevention Branch, in Vienna. However, given the evolution of terrorist threats, overstretched budgets and resources in states’ capitals, and the return of great power competition, states will need to determine if the UN is fit for purpose for the terrorism landscape; this will necessarily include ensuring that is resourced to facilitate its effectiveness and responsiveness in this current operating environment."




"The meaning of politics is freedom.” Hannah Arendt


"There is no political freedom for citizens who think and do not judge!

I vote for civil rights today for freedom."

- Jihyun Park-박지현, Escapee from north Korea, Conservative Political Candidate in the UK


"Then what a beautiful human being? Isn't it the presence of human excellence? Young friend, if you wish to be beautiful,then work diligently at human excellence. And what is that? Observe those whom you praise without prejudice. The just or the unjust? The just. The even-tempered or the undisciplined? the even-tempered. The self-controlled or the uncontrolled? The self-controlled. in making yourself that kind of person, you will become beautiful – but to the extent you ignore these qualities, you'll be ugly, even if you use every trick in the book to appear beautiful."

- Epictetus





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