Small Wars Journal

05/17/2021 News & Commentary – National Security

Mon, 05/17/2021 - 10:01am

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

1. Poll: Biden Gets High Marks for Foreign Policy

2. Toward a New Naval Statecraft (INDOPACIFIC)

3. DOD Lifts Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated Personnel

4. MQ-9 Reaper: The only option for SOCOM’s ‘armed overwatch’ role

5. Off the rails: Trump’s failed 11th-hour military withdrawal campaign

6. America’s return to ‘Clash of Civilizations’

7. Will the cyber mission force soon receive more personnel?

8. Taiwan at the Nexus of Technology and Geopolitics

9. Population-Centric Cybersecurity: Lessons from Counterinsurgency

10. Urgent: Replacing the Inherited US National Defence ‘Strategy’

11. America’s Maoist Maritime Strategy To Beat China in a War

12. ‘No More Fruit’ In Army’s Budget Tree: McConville

13. SOFWERX Exploring New Arctic Tech for Commandos

14.  The Pentagon Inches Toward Letting AI Control Weapons

15. FDD | What We’re Learning About China’s Use of Social Media for Propaganda

16. China’s Land Grab in Bhutan Is the New Face of War

17. JBLM unit’s new night-vision equipment generating buzz online for otherworldly images

18. Dirty Little Wars – America's Long History of Fighting Asymmetrical Conflicts

19. Why the suspicion on China's Wuhan lab virus is growing. Read these new analyses

20. 'Quad should morph into economic NATO to counter China coercion'

21. How Much Do Navy SEALs and Other Special Ops Make?

22. ‘The Indispensables’ Review: Washington’s Marbleheaders


1. Poll: Biden Gets High Marks for Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy · May 14, 2021

While this sounds good note the disparity between IR scholars and the public.  This makes those scholars and the academy suspect and appear biased in the minds of many in the public.  We should keep in mind that one of the talking points of the administration is a foreign policy for the people - "a middle class foreign policy."

Excerpts:After nearly four months in office, U.S. President Joe Biden already enjoys strong public approval ratings for his handling of foreign policy. So far, international relations (IR) experts agree: In fact, the president’s approval remains higher among scholars than among the larger U.S. public.


Taken together, these results suggest that IR experts are optimistic that Biden can be a consequential foreign-policy president if he is able to build on his early initiatives. In his first 100 days, he has focused on issues in which he has unilateral authority, but he has begun work on a number of foreign-policy initiatives that may need cooperation from Congress. The larger partisan divides among the public remind us that polarization will likely constrain Biden’s ability to deliver on these efforts and build to a durable foreign-policy legacy.

Poll: Biden Gets High Marks for Foreign Policy

A survey of academics shows early and overwhelming support for the U.S. president, but he will be tested by China, Russia, and national security issues.


2. Toward a New Naval Statecraft (INDOPACIFIC) · by Brent D. Sadler

Conclusion: “All said, the dangers in maritime Asia are no longer a distant concern; they are here today, and very real. Both the outgoing and current Indo-Pacific commanders, Admirals Davidson and Aquilino, recently testified as much, commenting on the likelihood of China triggering a conflict in the next six years.

To deter the growing Chinese armada arrayed against us requires more than matching numbers in arsenals and fleets. We must grow our fleet while also rethinking naval operations in a wider diplomatic and economic context. We need a new naval statecraft: one that leverages and enables naval presence while demonstrating the economic benefits for a free and open Indo-Pacific.


3.  DOD Lifts Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated Personnel · by Elizabeth Howe


4. MQ-9 Reaper: The only option for SOCOM’s ‘armed overwatch’ role · by Dr. Michael Vickers · May 15, 2021

Excerpts:The MQ-9 Reaper — a name that strikes fear into the hearts of America’s enemies because it is always there, always watching, and always ready — has been the armed overwatch platform of choice in every challenge it has faced: Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria, Libya, and other areas of armed conflict. Commanders using MQ-9s in Libya reported that 70 percent of Reaper strikes were “danger-close” CAS missions requiring precise targeting and limited collateral damage for shots as close as 25 meters to friendly forces.

The MQ-9 is tailor-made for SOCOM’s Armed Overwatch role. With nearly 7 million hours in operation, most of them in combat supporting U.S. and allied forces around the world, the aircraft proved themselves long ago. Their utility and reliability grows with each new upgrade and modification, ensuring they’ll continue to be lethal and relevant for many years more.

The MQ-9 is a well-established, existing line of aircraft. That means no need for a costly, complex new program aimed at developing a separate, less capable Armed Overwatch aircraft that must rely on aerial refueling and a bit of luck to guarantee success.


5. Off the rails: Trump’s failed 11th-hour military withdrawal campaign

Axios · by Jonathan Swan,Zachary Basu

An incredible story.  I wonder if this is accurate.


6. America’s return to ‘Clash of Civilizations’ · by Ryan Ashley and Alex Barker · May 15, 2021

I remember being in CGSC in 1994-1995 and the two articles I think all students had to read were Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" and Kaplan's "Coming Anarchy."  We debated the theses of both articles often in various classes.

Excerpts: “Professional Military Education (PME) must play a role in developing more nuanced, diverse perspectives on China among senior staff. We are receptive to arguments that PME must do more than teach military history, and believe that officers should be exposed to the culture and politics of our adversaries on forums other than cable news. Our experiences show us that while teaching culture, avoiding generalized statements by using imperfect but rigorous models like Geert Hofstede’s Six Dimensions of Culture improves both dialogue and student outcomes.

Whether in the 1980s towards Japan or today towards China, culturally essentialist commentary has the dual distinction of being both stereotypical and unhelpful. Those who study China should seek out holistic perspectives on China, including those on Chinese culture. However, the resurgence of Orientalism masquerading as informed analysis has dangerous repercussions. It is no accident that a rise in racism directed at Asian Americans over the past year has come at the same time as anti-Asian rhetoric in American politics. Racist violence towards Americans is tragic, morally repugnant, and a stain on America’s reputation at a critical geopolitical moment. For reasons of morality, accuracy, and effectiveness, commentators must do better than reheat old racist stereotypes when analyzing China.


7. Will the cyber mission force soon receive more personnel? · by Mark Pomerleau · May 14, 2021

Will more personnel improve our cyber capabilities?  Interesting comments about the Space Force and Cyber.

Excerpts: “The creation of the Space Force and Space Command adds more ground for Cyber Command to cover. The way the cyber force is staffed within the DoD is that each of the services are responsible for providing a set number of teams — offensive, defensive and intelligence/support teams — to the joint cyber mission force.

In turn, these teams are led by a Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber, which are headed by each of the service cyber component commanders, who them plan, synchronize and conduct operations for the combatant commands to which they’re assigned. The 16th Air Force and its Joint Force Headquarters-Cyber component takes responsibility for Space Command, which is in the process of creating its own Joint Cyber Center to create a tighter linkage with Cyber Command.

While all the services provide an allotted number of forces to Cyber Command through the cyber mission force, officials to date have said there are no plans for Space Force to provide cyber mission force contributions. Instead, officials have noted that they need specialized, serviced-retained cyber personnel to defend their critical assets, such as ground stations, from cyberattacks.

Adversaries are now using cyberspace in ways that weren’t necessarily imagined when the force was initially conceived. Namely, they’ve discovered they can conduct operations below the threshold of war to undermine U.S. national security and not draw a significant response.

“We have to have that balance of not only, what we are going to support our fellow combatant commands if conflict was to break out, but also if our adversaries are operating below the level of armed conflict every single day, what type of force do we need to be able to ensure that we can counteract that,” Nakasone said.


8. Taiwan at the Nexus of Technology and Geopolitics · by Ian Bremmer · May 14, 2021

Excerpts:China has certainly been willing to incur widespread diplomatic opprobrium in the defense of its declared national interests; witness its mass internment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and its suppression of pro-democracy activism in Hong Kong. An attack on Taiwan would risk vastly more, including massive military damage and punishing economic sanctions – not to mention significant technological setbacks, as a U.S.-China armed conflict would imperil TSMC’s operations.

The tightening nexus of geopolitics and geotechnology will constrain Taiwan’s freedom of maneuver and make U.S.-China competition increasingly fraught. But Taipei’s core challenge is not a near-term crisis. Its central imperative instead lies in resisting a conclusion that China would prefer to impress upon it without a fight: namely, that its de facto reabsorption into Beijing is merely a matter of time.


9. Population-Centric Cybersecurity: Lessons from Counterinsurgency · by Emma Schroeder · May 17, 2021

The title has antibodies and will cause many to not read this.  It harkens to a time when insurgency was everything and the misguided belief among some that COIN was the answer to every security problem.

But set that aside and read this thought provoking essay.

Conclusion: “However, the United States can succeed in the cyber domain. To do so, it should accept the operational dynamics of the domain and engage to compete more effectively with adversaries. Emphasis should be placed on finding ways to encourage cooperation and codify relationships between the private and public sectors. Research and development efforts should focus on continuous innovation and rapid deployment of tactical countermeasures to shift the cyber landscape in favor of the defense, denying adversaries the ability to operate on their own terms. Organizations should rethink how they prioritize protecting their assets by first identifying and securing the assets of highest value to the adversary and then focusing resources on defending assets of internal value to the organization. And when a breach does, inevitably, occur, organizations should be quick to detect, remediate, and adapt systems to prevent similar security failures in the future. Failure is inevitable and obvious when it happens, but success in the cyber domain is incremental and less visible. To succeed, the United States should embrace failure as a growth concept and fully accept that defenses are not ubiquitous. Failing enables organizations to adapt their mitigation efforts to better manage risk by focusing on vulnerable points of strategic value to the adversary. Developing a cyber strategy that is more informed by the theoretical tenets of counterinsurgency is a step toward an operationally sound and adaptive approach to cybersecurity.


10. Urgent: Replacing the Inherited US National Defence ‘Strategy’ · May 13, 2021

Quite a critique of the 2018 NDS.  

A very thought provoking essay, especially the discussion of the character and nature of war and "perpetual" great power competition as zero sum.  Note the author's positive treatment of alliances in the NDS.

A serious question: Have any NSS or NDS in the past three to four decades ever really by a strategy in the truest sense - e.g. with assumptions, ends, ways, and means, prioritization of resources, and risk assessment.  Almost all have been more like aspirational "vision" documents.


11. America’s Maoist Maritime Strategy To Beat China in a War · by James Holmes · May 15, 2021

A very interesting essay from Professor Holmes.

Excerpts: “There is a wrinkle here, though. What happens when you pit Maoists against Maoists—when, in other words, both combatants join the fray assuming they’re outmatched? This is a real possibility, and one Mao Zedong says little if anything about. Considering its statement of fealty in China’s Military Strategy, the PLA will probably remain true to its Maoist active-defense strategy. The allies will do the same if they heed the counsel compiled here. A cumulative-on-cumulative struggle would probably place a premium on guile, deception, and maneuver as each force sought to arrange local actions in which it held the tactical advantage. A mêlée of some sort would convulse the China seas and Western Pacific.

That might seem to imply that the competitors will pursue symmetrical campaigns against each other, but that need not be the case. There are many varieties of cumulative operations. Plus, maritime warfare is a three-dimensional, intensely joint, multidomain endeavor nowadays. Dueling Maoists might concentrate their cumulative efforts in areas where they hold an competitive advantage, in hopes their efforts will yield outsized impact on the foe. At a guess the allies would put the accent on undersea and irregular combat along the first island chain, where plugging up straits and blocking east-west movement between Chinese home waters and the high seas would assume top priority. The PLA might well reply mainly in the aerospace domain, using shore-based missiles and aircraft to pummel allied surface forces and ground troops.

In short, a Maoist-on-Maoist war might be a asymmetric affair involving asymmetrical methods, platforms, and weaponry. One imagines wargamers in military and civilian think tanks would profit from probing the likely dynamics of such a conflict.


12.‘No More Fruit’ In Army’s Budget Tree: McConville · by Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

Excerpts: “Those top two categories – about 65 programs, 11 percent of the Army total — get half the equipping budget, Pasquarette said. The enduring and legacy programs – over 500 of them – have to split the other 50 percent.

“Those are sometimes called the ‘unloved,’” he said. (In the 2022 budget, he said, the split is more like 47% vs. 53%, but it shifts to exactly 50:50 over time). “[They’re] in a very precarious position…. We’ve taken schwacks at them three years in a row in some instances, and they are not sexy, they’re not a hypersonic missile that flies thousands of kilometers.”


13. SOFWERX Exploring New Arctic Tech for Commandos · by Jon Harper · May 17, 2021

The right equipment is critical in cold weather environments.


14. The Pentagon Inches Toward Letting AI Control Weapons

Wired · by Will Knight

This will certainly cause controversy.


15. FDD | What We’re Learning About China’s Use of Social Media for Propaganda · by Thomas Joscelyn · May 14, 2021

Excerpts:The CCP’s diplomatic assault on Twitter is relatively new. Most of the diplomats’ accounts were registered in the past two years. This development is part of the CCP’s aggressive “wolf warrior” diplomacy, which seeks to harass and intimidate Beijing’s opponents. The CCP is likely experimenting with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms to see what it can accomplish without serious repercussions. For example, the Oxford Internet Institute produced a separate case study on China’s experimentation with accounts targeting the UK.

And a separate study published by ProPublica last year documented how the CCP has created an army of fake accounts, some of which were hacked and hijacked from real users, to spread propaganda online. The messaging dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, protests in Hong Kong and other topics Beijing finds to be politically sensitive.

We are still in the early stages of understanding how disinformation and propaganda are spread in the era of social media. So, this is one of those topics that will require careful, ongoing analysis. We know this: The CCP is analyzing and experimenting with social media in the West, looking for ways to influence opinions.


16. China’s Land Grab in Bhutan Is the New Face of War

Bloomberg · by Hal Brands · May 16, 2021

Excerpts: “And make no mistake: Russia and China do not like being hemmed in by American alliances and military power. That’s why they’ve been developing capabilities that might give them a good shot at defeating the U.S. military in the Baltic region, the Black Sea or the Taiwan Strait.

What keeps the world relatively orderly is not the absence of malign intentions but fear of the consequences that aggressive action will bring. The increase of gray-zone expansion by China and Russia indicates that this fear is slowly ebbing.

Land grabs in Ukraine, the South China Sea or even the Himalayas are troubling in their own right. They are more worrying still for what they reveal about an international order that is fraying at the edges.


17. JBLM unit’s new night-vision equipment generating buzz online for otherworldly images

News Tribune · Abbie Shull

A fascinating video at the link.


18.  Dirty Little Wars – America's Long History of Fighting Asymmetrical Conflicts · May 17, 2021

I think we need to be reminded of this from time to time.


19.  Why the suspicion on China's Wuhan lab virus is growing. Read these new analyses · May 17, 2021

I previously forwarded the Bulletin with the referenced article.


20. 'Quad should morph into economic NATO to counter China coercion'  · May 16, 2021

Everyone wants a "NATO."  But such a security organization is highly unlikely in Asia. I agree the focus needs to be on the economic instrument of power among the like minded nations and protecting the rules-based international order.


21. How Much Do Navy SEALs and Other Special Ops Make? · by Nicole Spector

Somehow I do not think these guys do it for the money.


22. ‘The Indispensables’ Review: Washington’s Marbleheaders

WSJ · by Mark G. Spencer

A new book from my fellow OSS Society board member.  He is a prolific author who writes some great American history.


23. Op-Ed: 'Grand strategy' has a bad rep. To fix it, get beyond hard power and traditional statecraft

Los Angeles Times  · Christopher McKnight Nichols and David Greenberg · May 16, 2021

And competitive statecraft.




“As authority increases, however, so does self-consciousness. With more people watching, practice becomes performance. Reputations now matter, narrowing the freedom to be flexible. Leaders who’ve reached the top…can become prisoners of their own preeminence: they lock themselves into roles from which they can’t escape.” 

- John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy


“Understand: your mind is weaker than your emotions. But you become aware of this weakness only in moments of adversity--precisely the time when you need strength. What best equips you to cope with tthe heat of battle is neither more knowledge nor more intellect. What makes your mind stronger, and more able to control your emotions, is internal discipline and toughness.No one can teach you this skill; you cannot learn it by reading about it. Like any discipline, it can come only through practice, experience, even a little suffering. The first step in building up presence of mind is to see the need for ii -- to want it badly enough to be willing to work for it.”

- Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War


For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.

-Sir Basil H. Liddel-Hart (Strategy, 1954)

Categories: News