Strategic Intelligence for 10 January 2019

Strategic Intelligence

Strategic Intelligence contains intelligence reporting on the state of global security and instability, geostrategic issues affecting the United States, pre-war indicators, and assessments on the current risk of war. This report is available each week for Intelligence subscribers.


 

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary (2,410 words):

  • Maduro begins second term in Venezuela
  • Mexico threatened with fuel shortage after pipelines close
  • UK to establish naval base in Asia
  • Iran confirms holding US Naval veteran in prison
  • Iranian officials blacklisted due to role in assassinations in Europe
  • Kim Jong-Un returns from meeting in China ahead of meeting with Trump
  • Norway claims war in Europe now a possibility
  • “Five Eyes” intelligence treaty nations strengthen relationship with Japan
  • Russia deploys combat laser system
  • Russia confirms readiness for consultation with US on INF treaty
  • Russia demonstrates new tactics in Ukraine as operations continue into their fifth year
  • And more…

 

Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)


 

PIR1: What are the new indicators of disruptive events that could cause global or regional instability?

Maduro begins second term in Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro begins his second six-year term this week. Despite a glowing ceremony, Maduro still oversees a country suffering from hyperinflation, food shortages, corruption, state-backed violence, and an exodus of refugees — all symptoms of its socialist economy. (Analyst Comment: In meetings last year, then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis urged Colombian and Brazilian defense officials to take the lead on their troubled neighbor. That seemingly remains U.S. policy on Venezuela.)

Mexico threatened with fuel shortage after pipelines close

After the Mexican government closed several key pipelines this week, fuel shortages are spreading across the country. State-owned oil company Pemex is trying to end rampant theft by criminals, who are often able to siphon off oil from pipelines, by using tanker trucks to transport oil. In a statement, Mexico’s new president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said, “We ask all citizens that you help us, that you support us in not letting criminals win. It would be easy to open the pipelines, and say, everything is back to normal, but it would mean accepting and tolerating fuel theft. We’re not going to do that.” [source]

Iran confirms holding US Naval veteran in prison

Iran has confirmed that it is holding U.S. Navy veteran Michael White. White visited Iran to see his girlfriend, according to his mother, and has been held since July 2018, though no information regarding charges or crimes has been communicated.  [source] (Analyst Comment: By confirming this information so far after the fact, Iran is using confirmation of their prisoner to hold him up as a political hostage. This comes as some voices in Europe are still calling for a return to the Iran nuclear deal. It also comes on the heels of the U.S. defeat in calling for a new wave of sanctions against the state, which, as statements by the Ayatollah have shown, has emboldened them. It comes, too, as they negotiate new economic and trade relationships with India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.)

UK to Establish a Naval Base in Asian Sea

The United Kingdom announced its intention to establish a new naval facility in the Asia. The facility could be based out of Brunei or Singapore. In response, a Chinese professor for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences called the move “a muscle-flexing gesture targeting China and shows closer engagement of external powers in the South China Sea disputes.”  [source] (Analyst Comment: Despite a few diplomatic overtures, China has continued to advance into the South China sea with an attitude of aggression and ambition. The UK is the latest Western state seeking to contain the Chinese advance, and will be the first European state to commit significantly. The development of a permanent naval base suggests an expansion of interest for the UK, whose external ambitions have been limited over the past decade.)

Iranian officials blacklisted due to role in assassinations in Europe

Assassination plots in France, Denmark, and the Netherlands have lead to two Iranian officials being blacklisted from travel in the EU, and have led some EU nations to call for additional sanctions against Iran. Iran’s Directorate for Internal Security has also become subject to EU sanctions and had its assets in Europe frozen.  (Analyst Comment: Iran has been caught red-handed violating both their word and the law. While many in Europe seemed quick to forget the wealth of intelligence materials provided by Israel last year, perhaps an Iranian violation closer to home will communicate the country’s disdain for the U.S.-led Western world.)


 

PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?

Russia deploys combat laser system

Despite a year of diminished military spending, Russia has multiple new weapons systems either ready to deploy, or in the late stages of testing. Among these is Russia’s new combat laser system. While of limited effective use as a direct kinetic weapon, it is thought to have greater utility as an intercept weapon.

Russia confirms readiness to consultation with US on INF treaty

On 09JAN19, Russia again reaffirmed its readiness and interest in consultation with the U.S. regarding the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov was quoted as saying, “We are deeply concerned about the situation around the Treaty. There are many chances that the United States will withdraw from the INF Treaty in the near future… Like earlier, we are ready for dialogue, if the U.S. is ready for this.” The Deputy Foreign Minister went on to stress that any conversation must take place on an “equal basis” and one “held on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” [source] [Analyst Comment: Russia is becoming uneasy with the lack of U.S. response to their initial overtures to discuss the treaty. Among the consequences if the treaty is broken, Russia would be forced to reconsider many of its strategic emplacements that have existed for years in response to NATO facilities. However, Russia’s nuclear-armed cruise missiles would significantly change the tactical and strategic framework of any conflict, as the majority of U.S. missile defense systems focus on ballistic missile threats. Additionally, if the U.S. refused to communicate with Russia short of full inspections, Russia may be forced to offer ever greater concessions in order to bring them to negotiations, a move which would undermine Russia’s recent efforts to re-establish itself as a super power, in reality or in international perception.]

For historical details, see below:

Reporting from 20DEC18:
On Friday, 14DEC18, RIA news agency reported that Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Russia is ready to discuss mutual inspections with the United States in order to save the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Foreign Ministry official Vladimir Yermakhov was quoted: “If the United States really wants to come to some kind of agreement with us, then we need to sit down at the negotiating table in an inter-agency format and agree on everything in detail. We are ready for this.” He went on to state that Russia categorically ruled out inspections being carried out unilaterally. [source] (Analyst Comment: Only last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave Russia 60 days to come into compliance with the INF Treaty. At issue is the Russian SSC-8/9M729 cruise missile; its range is the sticking point. The INF Treaty bans nuclear and conventional missiles — to include cruise missiles — and their launchers with a range of 500-5500 kilometers. NATO and the US suspect the 9M729 of having a range of at least 700 km. Russia has so far refused inspections that would verify the weapon’s range. The US Navy’s latest successful intercept with the SM-3 BII missile that is used in the Aegis ballistic missile defense system (BMD) could be the pressure Russia is feeling to keep the treaty intact. The INF Treaty did not include naval missiles. The Aegis BMD has up until recently been a ship-bound system. But the Obama administration put Aegis Ashore, the same BMD system that is used on US Navy cruisers, on land in Poland and the Trump administration wants to do the same in Romania. The SM-3 BII can be used in the Aegis Ashore and purportedly has a range between 900km and 2500 km, clearly placing it outside of compliance of the INF Treaty. Russia has made its extreme displeasure with the installations well-known. Coming back to the negotiating table might be Russia’s way of trying to stop the deployment of the missiles by claiming that they’re not INF Treaty compliant.)


 

PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)

NATO-Russia

Significant Developments:

Norway claims war in Europe now a possibility

A statement by Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen explained that war with Russia “is no longer outside the realm of possibility” and that he believed Russia must take the “lion’s share” of blame. The Defense Minister went on to accuse Russia of intentionally seeking to “degrade and undermine Western Unity and international cooperation” and pointed to the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine as evidence of an ambitious and “confrontational” Russia. While the Defense Minister’s focus on Russia was made clear, he additionally made a point of identifying China as a potential threat as it attempts to “[challenge] the U.S. position of leadership globally.” [source] (Analyst Comment: This public statement by a leading member of the Norwegian government shows a marked shift in attitude from nearly any member state of the European Union. Norway’s willingness to make this statement from a militarily weak position indicates two things: first, that their belief that a conflict could occur in the near future is strong; and second, it demonstrates a willingness for cooperation, specifically with and from the United States. The EU has no supernational military force, and even the individual member nations each have limited military forces, a fact that must be beginning to weigh heavily on those nations that stand closer to the Russian border. Norway represents an important asset for NATO, and would be of logistical importance in any conflict with Russia given its access to the Atlantic Sea and its proximity to Russia. It should also be pointed out that Norway is one country participating in the U.S. pre-positioned stock program, which aims to quickly re-supply NATO forces in Europe during a war with Russia.)

Russia deploys new tactics in conflict with Ukraine

Ukraine Defense Ministry reported that Russian soldiers within the Donbas region have been issued falsified passports for “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republic.” It is believed these passports were issued by the Russian occupation administration and are being used as a new tactic to increase mobility of forces between Russia and Ukraine.

 

Indo-Pacific

Significant Developments:

China completes trials of S-400

According to Russian media, China successfully tested its Russian S-400 Triumf missile defense system.  [source] [Analyst Comment: Chinese purchase of the S-400 demonstrates a desire to upgrade its air defense capabilities, especially in response to the 2017 U.S. deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) and X-band radar systems to South Korea. The S-400 is a highly advanced missile defense system capable of shooting down both ballistic and cruise missiles. Chinese deployment of the S-400 represents a major upgrade to its air defense.]

“Five Eyes” intelligence treaty nations strengthen relationship with Japan

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with the British Prime Minister on 01JAN2019 to discuss “[China’s expansion of] its military might and information-gathering operations in the Asia-Pacific region”, and is expected to meet with other Five Eyes member state leaders in the near future. (AC: Five Eyes refers to the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, and New Zealand.) Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” strategy for countering China is expected to be agreed upon by Five Eyes members. In addition, Japan was “ invited to participate in the U.S. Air Force Space Command’s Schriever Wargame for the first time.” [source] [Analyst Comment: The growth in the relationship between the Five Eyes pact and Japan comes on the heels of Japanese claims (in mid to late 2018) that Japan could stand militarily against a Chinese advance, with the aid of the U.S. and Australia. It is no coincidence that this comes, too, after the first year of significantly increased Japanese defense spending since World War II. Japan faces a true existential threat from an ambitious China. While not seeking a position as a super power, by taking the reigns and proposing the leading strategy in countering Chinese ambition in the South China Sea, Japan is seeking to establish itself to a greater degree in the international community, a fact bolstered through its deepening relationship with Five Eyes. As we’ve written before, Japan is an anchor in John Bolton’s “Global NATO” project.]

 

Middle East

Significant Developments:

Egypt working with Israel to defeat Islamic State

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi confirmed this week that Egyptian forces were working with the Israeli Defense Force in the fight against the Islamic State on the Sinai Peninsula. Sisi described it as a “wide range of cooperation”.

Pompeo calls for regional unity against Iran

During a visit meant to bolster U.S. policy adoption, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a speech in Cairo that the Trump administration represented “the real new beginning” of cooperation between U.S. and Middle East powers. Pompeo blamed the policies of the Obama administration for the rise of the Islamic State, among other maladies affecting the region. Pompeo also doubled down on the U.S. commitment to withdraw forces from Syria, leaving regional security in the hands of the Middle East Strategic Alliane (MESA) leadership. (Analyst Comment: The MESA is the proposed Middle East version of NATO, or “Arab NATO” as its been called, and could include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman.)

 

North Korea

Significant Developments:

Kim Jong-Un returns from meeting in China ahead of meeting with Trump

Not long after South Korea’s president reported that another Trump-Kim summit was imminent, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un confirmed the report, saying that he would work for a ‘welcomed’ result in negotiations with the U.S. Meanwhile, he returned from a quiet meeting in Bejing. While in China, Kim held talks “in a cordial, friendly atmosphere” regarding what Chinese President Xi “sees [as] a ‘rare, historic opportunity’ for a Korean peninsula settlement.” During Kim’s visit, Chinese President Xi called on President Trump to “meet [Kim] halfway”, in regards to negotiations in the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit”. [source] (Analyst Comment: There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the nature and purpose of the Kim-Xi meeting, especially timed as it was directly in advance of the U.S.-North Korea summit. Last year, Kim met with Xi in Beijing just two weeks after agreeing to meet with Trump, and before the first Trump summit. This seems to be another Chinese checkup on North Korean intent in regards to negotiations on the Korean Peninsula. As North Korea’s benefactor, China has its own political objectives regarding the potential denuclearization deal.)

// END REPORT

Samuel Culper is a former military intelligence NCO and contract Intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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