Strategic Intelligence Summary for 12 July 2018

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: (6,274 words)

  • U.S. Army rebuilding armored brigade combat teams 
  • U.S. Army electronic warfare prototypes fielded in CONUS 
  • Russian military developing new EW counter-UAV unit 
  • Air Force has quick fix for U.S. Navy’s Indo-Pacific surveillance troubles 
  • Russia further encroaching on Ukraine 
  • European leaders fear Trump wants to remove U.S. forces from the continent 
  • Russia building up military sites near Poland ahead of Trump-Putin meeting 
  • Top Iranian general says Syria-based forces ready to destroy Israel 
  • Is China responsible for North Korea’s negative response to Pompeo’s visit?
  • And more…

ADMIN NOTE: All reporting and analysis is the product of Jon Dougherty, unless otherwise marked “S.C.” for Samuel Culper.

In Focus: NATO just wrapped up a summit that got off to an uneasy start as President Trump chided German Chancellor Angela Merkel over her country’s decision to partner on a multi-billion dollar natural gas pipeline project with Russia to the detriment of the alliance. The project, called Nordic Stream 2, involves the construction of a direct pipeline from Russia to Germany that will not pass through any other NATO countries. This comes as the German army continues to suffer chronic shortages of basic equipment, as further demonstrated below in PIR 3’s “NATO/Russia” segment this week. 

Trump also insisted, again, that all NATO members spend their required percentage of GDP on their militaries, which many have failed to do for many years, according to various reports. 

Merkel appeared to be the most animated by the president’s critiques. As for the pipeline project, she responded by reminding Trump that Germany is a sovereign country pursuing its own self- interests, as independent countries do. While that’s true, here’s the problem: President Trump is pursuing the United States’ best interests as well when he cajoles NATO countries to spend more on military readiness and depend less on the United States. President Trump also knows that Germany, in particular, has been derelict in this respect, as we have continually documented in previous Strategic Intelligence Summaries. That is likely frustrating Trump because Germany is Europe’s richest country and one of the wealthiest NATO members behind the United States; yet while Berlin has money for a pipeline project that Trump feels gives Vladimir Putin a controlling interest in Germany’s future, it refuses to address the country’s declining military readiness.

But the issue may be more than one of simple fairness to Trump. It could be that he is attempting to get NATO allies to spend more on their own readiness because he understands it is wholly inadequate at present and he knows it would be challenging for America to come to Europe’s rapid defense should war break out with Russia. 

Before Vladimir Putin launches any attack he will ensure he has ground, air, and naval forces in place to stall or prohibit U.S. reinforcements from reaching the European continent. So if NATO forces are inadequate, then they won’t be able to do much more than blunt Putin’s attack — and likely not long enough for U.S. troops to reinforce them. (S.C.: We’ve previously documented attempts by countries like Estonia and Latvia to develop internal defense and guerrilla-style warfare initiatives. These countries know they can’t stop a Russian offensive, so their next best option is to disrupt and harass the invasion once it’s there. Last summer, I reported that U.S. Special Forces were then-deployed to several NATO countries to train militaries and auxiliaries in irregular warfare for this exact purpose.)

There are other considerations when it comes to NATO members’ reluctance to spend more on their militaries. It could be they aren’t convinced that Putin would risk a wider war in pursuit of Moscow’s regional territorial ambitions. It could also be they don’t want to be viewed as provoking aggression that would lead to another global war that could see the destruction of the European continent for the third time in 100 years. 

The problem with passivity is that it often allows an aggressor to believe the risk of attacking is worth the reward. And since Russia retains a potent nuclear capability, it could be that Putin will calculate that by its reluctance to arm up, a majority of NATO’s members have concluded they don’t want another conflict that would leave the European continent in ashes.

Other parts of the world are also becoming tense again, trending towards conflict rather than away from it, especially the Middle East (again; as always) and the South China Sea. So welcome to this week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary. Thank you for being a loyal subscriber. — JD


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? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)

PIR4: What activities are foreign intelligence services directing against the United States our allies?


 

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

Russian veterans urge Putin to legalize private military firms

Russian military veterans have sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin demanding that he legalize private military companies (mercenaries) and that he also acknowledge officially Russian mercenaries are fighting in Syria on behalf of Moscow. The demand, via letter, was also sent to the Russian Supreme Court. The statement had been signed by a group of veterans, including retired Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, the former head of the Defense Ministry’s Directorate General for International Military Cooperation (1996-2001); Vladimir Petrov, the head of the Honor and Homeland international public organization; and Evgeny Shabaev, the committee chairman of the Russian Officer Congress. The letter also noted that over three years, mercenaries fighting in Syria on behalf of the Kremlin do not have any access to government social, rehabilitation and economic support because they don’t have legal status. The demand comes months after reports indicating U.S.-led forces killed as many as 300 mostly Russian mercenaries ‘employed’ by the Wagner Group after they attacked an outpost in Syria where American troops were serving. [source] Analyst comment: Officially, the Russian military has never acknowledged the existence of private mercenary organizations and that’s by design; it gives Putin plausible deniability, and he’s likely to keep it that way. Legalizing private military companies has already been rejected by all of the key agencies within the Russian government including the defense, finance, and foreign ministries. That said, it is possible that the Putin government will find some way to take care of those being used as proxies in pursuit of Russian objectives in Syria and beyond.

Radioactive material stolen from a vehicle in Mexico

Mexican officials say they are searching for radioactive material that was stolen from a vehicle in a southwestern borough of the capital. A joint statement from the government in Mexico City and federal agencies says that a container holding Iridium-192, a radioactive isotope used in construction and manufacturing, was taken. Officials say the material can be dangerous if not handled properly. Long-term contact risks permanent injury and possibly death. There have been many such thefts in Mexico in recent years. [source]


 

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

U.S. Army rebuilding armored brigade combat teams

As the Army rapidly loses competitive advantages in high-end combat operations, it is losing its ability to achieve tactical superiority and overmatch in systems, intelligence, combined arms tactics and command-and-control. Each of those war-fighting domains and skill sets is being nearly matched by peer competitors, largely Russia and China, both of whom have developed capabilities and tactics to specifically counter areas of U.S. superiority. For Russia especially, recent operations in Syria and elsewhere have demonstrated that Moscow’s ground forces have surpassed U.S. Army capabilities in electronic warfare, long-range fires, tactical air defense and anti-tank systems. Of 10 major capabilities that today define war-fighting superiority, by 2030 if our capability trajectory remains the same Russian forces will have surpassed U.S. Army capabilities in six areas and will have parity in three more, leaving us dominant in only one. Over two decades the Army attempted to remake its Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ACBT) within the Future Combat Systems and Ground Combat Vehicle programs but was unsuccessful. At the same time, much of the Army’s existing armored fighting vehicles were getting older and falling behind technologically. But the Trump administration, along with assistance from Congress, is rebuilding ACBTs in Europe where they are needed to face down an increasingly capable Russian army. In 2016, the Army began “heel-to-toe” rotations for armored units in Europe as a part of the European Reassurance Initiative (which has now been renamed the European Deterrence Initiative). Meanwhile, a current infantry brigade will be converted into an ABCT and vehicles and equipment for a pair of ACBTs will be sent to Europe and pre-positioned. M1A1 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles will be upgraded in the coming budget year as well, making them far more survivable and lethal. Some upgrade programs may even be accelerated. Stryker vehicles are also likely to be integrated into the ACBT concept. [source] (S.C.: The heel-to-toe rotations make NATO nations feel better about the U.S. commitment to Europe, but even those units are not without their own readiness issues. I’ve heard reports that the U.S. tank units have a lack of ammunition capable of taking down Russian armored vehicles and that other units, like the combat aviation brigade, at one point were — and perhaps currently — undermanned and lacking resources, as well. This is not to paint a bleak picture of U.S. forces in Europe, but there aren’t enough units within striking distance to stop a Russian invasion of the Baltics, should Putin decide that as a course of action. And Russian standoff weapons, like their artillery and rocket batteries, currently out-range what the U.S. and NATO militaries are fielding. As for new armored brigades, this will be the second, by my count, infantry brigade that the Army is turning into an armored brigade. That’s significant because war with Russia is expected to be heavily conventional and feature a type of high intensity fighting we’ve not seen since World War II. A war with Russia is not a foregone conclusion, but Putin is determined to stop NATO expansion because he views it as a matter of Russian national security and survival.)

U.S. Army electronic warfare prototypes fielded in CONUS

As noted above, one of the capabilities where Russia has an edge on American forces is in the electronic warfare domain, but that advantage is set to vanish as the U.S. Army develops and fields new systems. New EW prototypes were fielded with units stationed in the continental U.S. The new prototypes were delivered to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division ‘Devil’ Brigade, at Fort Riley, Kan., in March. The unit’s Electronic Warfare Officers (EWOs) trained with them in the field in May and June at the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. The Pentagon sent the prototypes to select Europe-based Army units first through the efforts of the Army’s Rapid Capabilities Office. Army leaders understand that U.S. forces must become more proficient with tactical EW on the battlefield because peer and near-peer competitors will field such capabilities in any future conflict (and Russia already has, to the detriment of U.S. forces operating near Russian troops in Syria). (S.C.: Additionally, U.S. troops on training missions in Ukraine have also reported EW interference, likely from nearby Russian EW units testing their equipment against the Americans.) The prototypes consist of an integrated package of EW capabilities including mounted, dismounted, and command-and-control systems for electronic sensing and jamming. [source] Analyst comment: While better than nothing, it should be noted that these systems are just prototypes and the Army’s EW programs of record are still under development and testing. Russia, alternately, has developed and is now fielding a very strong EW capability. Syria has become the Russian military’s ultimate testing ground for EW, and they have been keenly successful at using the capability to interfere with U.S. and coalition-led operations. In particular, reporting has noted that the Russians have been successful in jamming American drones. The jamming, according to this report, increased significantly following Syrian government chemical attacks, which should lead us to conclude that Moscow is complicit in those attacks by shielding them from ‘prying’ American eyes.

Russian military developing new EW counter-UAV unit

In recent months the Russian military has stepped up its counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (counter-UAV) development, and now the Ministry of Defense has announced the formation of a new unit whose specific mission is counter-UAV. Comprised of 50 personnel, the unit specializes in air defense through the use of electronics systems and will deploy the Borisoglebsk 2 as a base system, which is a multi-functional electronic warfare (EW) system mounted on an MT-LB armored vehicle. The system is designed to disrupt GPS-fed enemy systems by controlling four types of single-point interference units. The main task of the anti-drone unit is the identification and neutralization of UAVs of various types by referring their position to air defense units. The system was developed using experience the Russian military obtained in Syria. Field tests will begin this year and the system is expected to be ready for deployment in 2019. [source]

U.S. Army developing simulated rocket launchers to improve training

In order to improve pilot training and air defense artillery, the Army is turning to virtual systems. The service awarded a $500,000 contract recently with an Orlando, Fla.-based firm to develop a prototype physical device troops can carry during training that will simulate a shoulder-fired missile. The devices will provide “real-time orientation and positioning status to support simulated engagements during live exercises at the Army Combat Training Centers,” according to the company, and will essentially turn this form of combat training into a video game. “The device will interface through a network, providing its location and orientation on the training battlefield. When the soldier engages the aircraft with it, it will transmit that information to the database, which will also be tracking the aircraft flying in the air,” said Tim Greeff, the chief executive officer of Arlington, Va.-based National Security Technology Accelerator. Officials believe the machine will assist pilots and associated personnel with better reaction and response to incoming shoulder-fired missile threats. [source] Analyst comment: This effort appears to be part of a larger trend within the U.S. armed forces to shift away from low-intensity combat with a lightly-equipped, low-technology enemy to a high-end near-peer great state competitor. Army training and equipment are steadily being refocused back on great-power war as Russia and China threats continue to rise, along with those of lesser regional powers. 

Air Force has quick fix for U.S. Navy’s Indo-Pacific surveillance troubles

The U.S. Navy is having difficulty conducting surveillance in the Indo-Pacific region, whether it’s attempting to watch distant warships or troops operating under thick jungle canopies. A quick fix could come from the Air Force: A multi-spectral infrared sensor designated MS177A that is included on the U-2 spy plane and the Global Hawk surveillance drone. If adapted to Navy planes and drones it would help eliminate capability gaps that have been identified by the Fifth and Seventh Fleets. First, the Navy will need funding to test the capability under circumstances that mimic operational conditions in the western Pacific and Indian oceans. [source] Analyst comment: The Navy’s biggest concerns in the aforementioned regions are intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); it does not have sufficient situational awareness to compensate for a dearth of warships and other warfighting assets in one of the world’s most heavily-trafficked regions.

Russia further encroaching on Ukraine

In a bid to choke off Ukrainian ports, Russia has deployed naval assets in the Sea of Azov and is actively stopping, boarding, and inspecting ships bound for the besieged country, effectively — and illegally — ‘occupying’ the region. The action appears to be a new asymmetric ‘tool’ in Moscow’s political warfare box, and it has been some time in developing. Earlier this spring Russia began moving warships from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Azov, which provided it with additional offensive capabilities. The Ukrainians, meanwhile, don’t have near the naval assets to deal with the encroachment. [source]


PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four? (North Korea, China, Russia, Iran/Israel/Middle East)

NATO-Russia:

Significant Developments:

European leaders fear Trump wants to remove U.S. forces from the continent: The president’s ongoing criticism of NATO countries over their reluctance to spend the agreed-upon amount of 2 percent of GDP on their militaries, coupled with a current Pentagon review of forces on the continent, has European leaders worried Trump may eventually withdraw at least some American troops. “They are scared to death,” said former Obama Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. “They are worried about a very unpredictable president of the United States. They are increasingly worried he is going to do things not based on what’s in the best interest…but based solely on his vision of ‘America first.’” [source] (Analysis below.)

Russia building up military sites near Poland ahead of Trump-Putin meeting: New satellite photos indicate Russia has built new structures and made improvements to bunkers in the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad ahead of the NATO summit. Taken between March and June, satellite photos show that Russia made improvements to a munitions storage site as Moscow also worked to bolster other westernmost military facilities. The Kaliningrad enclave is situated between Poland and Lithuania. The bunker facility is located in Baltiysk, which is near the border with Poland. Analysts said such facilities are often used to store artillery rounds. Photos also show a railway line; Russia built a similar line in the Georgian province of Abkhazia before invading in 2008. A separate report in June from the Federation of American Scientists noted that satellite photos showed Russian upgrades to nuclear-weapons bunkers in Kaliningrad. [source]

German army used broomsticks during military exercise: German soldiers assigned to a unit expected to be at “very high” readiness as a part of NATO’s rapid response force was reduced to using painted broomsticks as guns during a recent exercise due to chronic equipment shortages. The incident took place during exercises for NATO’s rapid response force which is supposed to be ready to deploy anywhere it is needed at very short notice. The exercise occurred last September in Norway as soldiers from the Panzergrenadierbataillon 371 lacked one-third of their MG3 machine guns, over 40 percent of their P8 handguns, and had on hand only 25 percent of their required night-vision devices. Soldiers reportedly painted broomsticks black in order to simulate guns on the vehicles. [source]

Analysis:

“Without commenting on specific intelligence matters, Russia continues to demonstrate aggressive behavior in Europe,” said Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon recently. “Russia, after the Cold War, retained large numbers of non-strategic nuclear weapons — forces that it is modernizing and increasing as described in the Nuclear Posture Review released in February. Even more troubling has been Russia’s adoption of military strategies and capabilities that rely on nuclear escalation for their success.”

NATO allies have seen this activity as well and this is why they’re nervous and anxious about Trump, who has said in the past he would consider moving at least some U.S. forces off the continent if the alliance continued to shirk its 2-percent GDP obligation and overall military readiness. Trump would very likely face pushback from Congress if he attempts to withdraw American forces from the continent in any significant number. Also, the U.S. is obligated under the treaty to defend any NATO nation that is attacked. 

But the U.S. is not under any treaty obligation to defend the whole of Europe; not all European nations are NATO members. Plus, there is no NATO requirement for a U.S. troop presence on the continent; the U.S. has always maintained a presence there, however, for strategic reasons; a war with Russia would involve the Russian navy’s use of submarines to interdict U.S. transports and other warships steaming to the continent in an emergency.

All that aside, the nervousness of NATO allies not only reinforces the belief among European-based partners that Russia is their credible threat to peace and stability, it shows how unprepared continent-based alliance members are in terms of being able to counter a Russian assault. NATO retains some capability on the European continent, having recently deployed five combat brigades consisting of troops from various member nations along the alliance’s eastern flank. 

But if member nations were supremely confident in their collective ability to fend off such an attack, they wouldn’t be “scared to death” about Trump possibly pulling American forces out of their countries. And they wouldn’t be asking the U.S. to deploy more forces to the continent, like member state Poland has done and non-member Norway as well (both have received or are in the process of receiving additional forces). And all of this unease comes as the Trump administration wages a trade war of sorts with European partners, which is only adding to the tensions.

There are fears that more disunity or even the appearance of more disunity might convince Putin the time is right to test NATO’s resolve and that of the United States. That likely won’t happen ahead of the Trump-Putin summit just days from now. But obviously, the Russians are improving their military facilities and shoring up their offensive and defensive capabilities. And historically, such activities have resulted in Russian aggression — in Georgia in 2008 and in the Crimea in 2014. 

The risk that Russia will move on its next territorial designs — in the Baltics or in the Nordic states — is greater now than at any time in recent years because NATO’s European members are now wholly prepared and the U.S. may seem ambivalent to Putin. Plus, Moscow still has a sizable force advantage: About 78,000 troops face off against some 32,000 NATO forces, with Putin having a 6-to-1 advantage in main battle tanks. 

How Putin views the NATO summit and how he gauges Trump’s level of commitment to Europe when the two meet could be the difference in how he plans his next move. 

Middle East: 

Significant Developments:

Cyber terrorists with ISIS attempting to target Israeli infrastructure: A report from an Israeli think tank says that hackers and cyber warriors linked to the Islamic State are attempting to target the Jewish state’s critical infrastructure, though they are not thought to have accomplished a break-in yet. The report discussed “the possibility of terrorist organizations acquiring offensive capabilities on the Internet, hiring hackers for this purpose, or receiving assistance from terror-sponsoring countries” as a serious future danger. [source]

Top Iranian general says Syria-based forces ready to destroy Israel: The deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said in a speech this week that his forces inside Syria stand ready to destroy Israel and are “awaiting orders.” In addition, Gen. Hossein Salami said that Iranian proxy Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, has 100,00 missiles aimed at the Jewish state. “Orders are awaited, so that… the eradication of the evil regime [Israel] will land and the life of this regime will be ended for good. The life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now.” [source]

Analysis:

Along Israel’s historically quiet frontier with Syria, renewed tensions with Iran and Iran-backed forces are making the first regional power conflict since Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon more possible. There have been several confrontations over the past week that are escalating tensions and provoking Israeli responses, including downing a drone that infiltrated Israel’s airspace. Israel has reinforced the region with additional armor and heavy guns, as the Syrian army prepares to retain the Daraa province, where the Bashar al-Assad regime’s heavy-handed response to anti-government graffiti on a school wall in 2011 sparked the civil war that has destroyed most of the country.

Both Israel and the United States want Iran out of Syria, as well as its proxy forces. That will likely be a topic of discussion during Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow earlier this week and President Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland next week. Russia, as Iran’s ally in Syria, likely holds the key. Some believe Putin may allow Israeli to continue bombing Iranian convoys that are suspected of transporting advanced weapons and materiel to Hezbollah while permitting Iran to maintain an arms supply route to its proxy. 

Other considerations include pressing Trump to lift Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia — which would be politically risky for him at home — in exchange for Putin’s assistance in expelling Iranian forces from Syria, as well as keeping the U.S. military base in Tanf, near the Syrian/Jordan/Iraq junction, until Iran completely withdraws from Syria. 

The latter just doesn’t seem likely, however. Iran is deeply invested in Syria, and despite unrest at home, Iranian leaders appear committed to maintaining the gains they’ve made in Syria. Iranians are deeply embedded in Syria’s security forces, and should they “stay in large numbers, the potential for greater conflict between Israel and Iran in Syria will remain high,” said Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria. 

Some believe that Iran is playing the long game in Syria, allowing Assad’s forces to retake Daraa so as not to provoke an Israeli response and then use the newly-retaken region to launch attacks on Israeli territory. But as a means of carving out a buffer zone, Israel has been secretly supplying Syrian opposition fighters with aid, medical treatment in Israel, and cash payments for weapons and fighters’ salaries. In addition, Israel is providing humanitarian aid to the thousands of Syrians camped in tents along the frontier. 

All in all, the region remains volatile — more so in the past few weeks than it had been earlier this summer. Israel’s objective remains the same: To deny Iran a sizable presence and geography necessary to threaten the Jewish state, regardless of what Russia ultimately decides. 

North Korea:

Significant Developments:

Is China responsible for North Korea’s negative response to Pompeo’s visit? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled to Asia last week, stopping first in Pyongyang to continue denuclearization talks. While Pompeo described the discussions as “productive,” the North Korean government called them “regrettable” and accused the Trump administration of making “gangster-like” demands. Leader Kim Jong-un was not part of the talks. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he believes that China is responsible for the North Korean’s negative report on the talks because Beijing is currently involved in a deepening trade war with the U.S. “I see China’s hands all over this. We’re in a fight with China,” he said. [source]  Trump agrees. [source] 

Pompeo brushed off North Korea’s rhetoric: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dismissed North Korea’s accusation of a “gangster-like mindset” in denuclearization talks late last week, saying the two nations had productive conversations that will continue in the days ahead. He told American media “if those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster,” while adding that the UN Security Council has been clear on what North Korea needs to achieve. “We had detailed, substantive conversations about the next steps toward a fully verified and complete denuclearization,” he said. [source]

North Korean officials no-show at meeting to discuss U.S. troop remains: During his talks with President Trump, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un pledged to work towards returning the remains of U.S. service personnel killed during the 1950-53 Korean War. But on Thursday a planned meeting between North Korean and U.S. officials to discuss the return of the remains did not go off after Pyongyang snubbed American officials. The two sides had been expected to meet at the Korean Peninsula’s demilitarized zone. South Korean officials said North Korean military officials now seek to meet with their U.S. counterparts on 15 July. It isn’t clear why the delay occurred. [source]

Analysis:

Developments this week do not make it more or less clear that North Korean leader Kim intends to live up to the spirit of its agreement with President Trump, though Pyongyang’s criticism of Pompeo after his meetings with officials from the North (Kim was not among them) has led some to suspect that cracks may already be starting to appear. 

President Trump, Sen. Graham, and others blamed China for prompting Pyongyang to respond negatively, as the Trump administration implemented previously announced trade tariffs and Beijing responded in kind. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is among those who believe that the criticism was just a Beijing-inspired ploy — part of a strategy — and that denuclearization talks remain on the “right track.” “No one can be optimistic about the results, but my cautious outlook is that the negotiations would be able to succeed if the North carries out a complete dedenuclearization and the international community gathers efforts to provide security guarantees to the North,” said Moon, who was in Singapore for meetings with that government.

Moon says that the criticism was aimed also at conveying the North’s frustration about what Kim may view as a lack of action on the part of the U.S. in response to steps the North has taken — blowing up its nuclear test site; ending nuclear testing; ending testing of ballistic missiles, etc. 

But the U.S. has made some concessions as well. For instance, under Trump’s instruction, annual war games between U.S. and South Korean forces that regularly irritated the North were cancelled earlier this year. And Trump has not ordered any new overflights of strategic bombers or adding naval assets to the region in an attempt to deescalate tension.

Kim wants a lot in return for his denuclearization — lifting of sanctions and removal of all U.S. forces from the Korean peninsula, among others — but one key sticking point that will endure is his likely refusal to allow verifiable inspections of all of his nuclear sites. In fact, a number of U.S. experts don’t even believe that he’ll reveal all of his nuclear weapons infrastructure to U.S. and South Korean officials.  

Plus, it should be noted that China also wants U.S. forces off the peninsula.

Other experts have claimed that Pompeo’s lack of progress and inability to meet directly with Kim indicates that the North really isn’t interested in moving forward, let alone with full denuclearization. “By now it’s abundantly clear that this approach is a dead end,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow and director of the Defense Posture Project at the Federation of American Scientists and a North Korea expert. “The White House has essentially tried to shoot for the moon and total disarmament, and it’s clear that North Korea is not only not willing to do that, but sees very little reason to take steps in that direction.”

Pompeo pushed back against that assessment, noting that North Korea is a “decades-old problem” and that it will take time to convince Kim that having nuclear weapons is more of a threat to him than anything else. He said “the nuclear weapons they possess today frankly present a threat to them and not security. We have to get the entire country to understand that they have that strategically wrong. Chairman Kim told President Trump he understood that. I was there. I saw it.”

Naysayers aside, it is still far too early to declare Trump’s diplomatic effort with North Korea dead and buried. Pompeo’s claim that talks and negotiations were always expected to take a great deal of time — that nothing would happen overnight, essentially — is correct. 

South China Sea:

Significant Developments:

Two U.S. destroyers sail into Taiwan Strait: In a move that raised additional tensions with China, the U.S. sent a pair of Navy warships into the Taiwan Strait earlier this week. The destroyers USS Mustin and USS Benfold sailed into the waterway separating Taiwan and China on Saturday morning. “The military is monitoring the situation in neighbouring areas, and has the confidence and abilities to maintain regional stability and defend national security,” Taiwan’s defense ministry announced in a statement. The Navy downplayed the transit, saying American warships regularly transit between the South China Sea and the East China Sea via the Taiwan Strait. 

Tit-for-tat trade tariffs exchanged by the U.S., China may soon end: As he promised, President Trump imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese imports a week ago, and Beijing promptly responded in kind. This week the president strongly intimated he was considering a 10-percent tariff on an additional $200 billion worth of goods, a move that China would also likely counter. But Larry Lindsey, former economic advisor for President George W. Bush, said he doesn’t see the ‘trade war’ lasting long, and that a “cease-fire” may even be in the offing soon. “There’s likely to be at least a cease-fire coming pretty soon. We’re not going to ever remove every issue with China. But I do think we may see people back off pretty soon.” [source]

Chinese army units preparing for electronic warfare: Thousands of new graduates of new combat units of the People’s Liberation Army have begun a week-long exercise involving electronic warfare. The exercises test reconnaissance, electronic communication, cybersecurity, air strikes and other battle skills, are aimed at increasing ground troops’ understanding of modern warfare, and fostering new strategic ground force commanders after a sweeping PLA overhaul.. More than 50 combat units involving some 2,100 officers are training at five bases. [source]

Analysis:

Outside of the small U.S. flotilla through the Taiwan Strait earlier this week, the primary focus between the U.S. and China has been the escalating trade dispute, not recurring differences over the latter’s continued militarization of the South China Sea.

But the fact that the trade dispute is taking place at all is significant in that it proves both sides are willing to engage each other in ‘soft’ warfare over self-interests. 

There’s no question that Beijing’s current trade imbalance is significant. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the deficit was more than 150 billion in May alone. Which country wouldn’t want to maintain that? The problem for Chinese President Xi Jinping is that Trump is serious about getting the imbalance significantly reduced if not eliminated altogether. He campaigned on correcting U.S. trade imbalances during his 2016 campaign and has remained focused on the effort.

Meanwhile, China’s Belt-and-Road initiative continues apace, and we reported recently that nations are falling into debt with Beijing as they finance mutually beneficial infrastructure projects like enlarged port facilities. But being in debt to China means Beijing retains a certain element of control over a host government. Could it be this is how Xi’s going to sidestep any present or future trade disputes with the U.S. — by striking economic deals and financial agreements with other nations as the Belt-and-Road initiative spreads, making China less dependent on the U.S. market? 

If that’s the case then less dependency on U.S. markets mean Washington will have decreased economic leverage to wield in any future disputes involving the South China Sea. 

That one former presidential economic adviser believes that the current tit-for-tat tariff spat will likely end soon is good news, as it portends an agreement that both Trump and Xi find amenable. But that’s this time. 

As the Belt-and-Road initiative expands, down the road Beijing will be in a better position to weather any financial or trade disputes with the U.S. Plus, there is the matter of U.S. debt owned by Beijing, which is substantial. Of the $6.29 trillion of U.S. debt owned by foreign nations, China owned about $1.19 trillion as of March. What if China calls in its markers?

Long-term, China seeks to replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s reserve currency with the yuan. China also seeks to displace the U.S. as the dominant world power. In the short-term, China seeks to dominate its neighborhood and that, according to Beijing, includes one of the world’s most prosperous trade routes — the South China Sea. Whatever China decides to do moving forward will be in pursuance of those objectives and it will use current initiatives, soft power, and — at times acquiescence — to achieve them.


 

PIR4: What are the activities regarding intelligence services involving the United States our allies?

Details on an Air Force drone have been found for sale on the dark web

Air Force documents of an unmanned aerial vehicle — the MQ-9 Reaper — along with tank platoon tactics and various manuals including one about how to defeat roadside bombs and one pertaining to M1AI Abrams tanks have been discovered on the dark web for sale at the bargain price of $200. The documents were discovered by research firm Recorded Future, based in Massachusetts. The documents are some of the most delicate of military details and are highly revealing in terms of tactics. The research firm’s report raises new questions about the military’s ability to protect its most valuable secrets as the documents were hacked via known vulnerabilities. The firm found the documents while it was monitoring criminal activities on the dark web. After further investigation, Recorded Future learned that the hacker gained access to the information “through a previously disclosed FTP vulnerability in Netgear routers,” referring to a method of sharing files over the internet. [source]

U.S. suspect found guilty of espionage involving defense contractor

Jared Dylan Sparks, 35, of Ardmore, Oklahoma, an electrical engineer, who worked at LBI Inc., a defense contractor that has designed and built unmanned underwater vehicles for the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research and deployable ice buoys that gather weather data, attempted to convert trade secrets involving a new naval prototype. During his employment with LBI, Sparks collaborated with Charles River Analytics (CRA), a Massachusetts-based software company that developed software to be integrated into LBI’s unmanned underwater vehicles. Around 2011, as CRA sought to expand its hardware business, the firm came to an agreement with the Office of Naval Research to complete testing on several unmanned vehicles designed by LBI. During that initial phase, Sparks sought employment with CRA and was eventually hired. Before he left LBI, however, Sparks uploaded thousands of LBI files to his personal account with Dropbox. Those files included LBI’s accounting and engineering files as well as photographs related to designs and renderings used to fabricate and manufacture LBI’s unmanned underwater vehicles and buoys. A jury found him guilty of six counts of trade secrets, six counts of upload of trade secrets, and one count of transmission of trade secrets. [source]

Jon E. Dougherty is a political, foreign policy and national security analyst and reporter with nearly 30 years of experience in both fields. A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, he holds BA in Political Science from Ashford University and an MA in National Security Studies/Intelligence Analysis from American Military University.

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