Strategic Intelligence Summary for 15 March 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 Strategic Intelligence subscribers.


In this Strategic Intelligence Summary: (5,787 words)

  • Russia, China engaged in ‘low-level’ warfare with U.S.: Intel chiefs
  • Trump pledges to counteract any Russia election meddling attempts in 2018 midterms
  • Assassinations rise as Iranian Kurds clash with Tehran 
  • U.S. Navy cancels ‘green’ destroyers program 
  • Cold War MAD doctrine good for another decade but only if U.S. modernizes nuclear arsenal 
  • Iran’s Russian-built anti-aircraft missiles now operational inside country 
  • B-21 bomber having issues with engine design but overall on track 
  • NATO-Russia: Russia-UK rift poses biggest challenge to NATO in decades
  • Middle East: U.S. deepening its involvement in aiding Israel’s defense 
  • North Korea: Is Pyongyang’s offer of denuclearization talks just a distraction? 
  • South China Sea: Chinese military undergoing major organizational shifts to deter or defeat ‘third-party intervention’ 
  • More than a dozen killed in Mexican drug cartel violence in once-popular beach resort town

In Focus: As the Trump administration refocuses the U.S. military on building a stronger, more survivable force better tailored for great power war, conditions continue to develop that may require such a force. Iran and Israel are still watching each other warily, but stepped-up U.S. involvement in Israel’s direct defense may serve as a deterrent. Meanwhile, there is no consensus regarding North Korea’s proposed face-to-face summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, except that no one seems to trust it. The Chinese are sharpening their focus on achieving their regional objectives with regard to Taiwan, for certain, and a new flare-up between London and Moscow over the use of chemical weapons on English soil puts NATO and Russia on a shorter path to conflict.

Welcome to this week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary and as always, thank you for subscribing We welcome your feedback. — 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 is the current security situation along the U.S.-Mexico border and south of the border?


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

Russia, China engaged in ‘low-level’ warfare with U.S.: Intel chiefs

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lt. Gen. Robert P. Ashley warned lawmakers recently that they believe Russia and China are already conducting what they described as undeclared low-level conflict with the United States. Ashley told a Senate committee that the nature and character of war has changed with technology, facilitating global reach with cyber-weapons and information warfare. “So the line of which you declare hostilities is extremely blurred, and if you were to ask Russia and China, ‘Do you think you’re at some form of conflict with the U.S.?’ I think behind closed doors their answer would be yes,” Ashley said in response to a question about what he believed would constitute an act of war. “It’s hard to make that determination to definitively say what constitutes an act of war when you’re in the gray zone in a lot of the areas that you operate,” he added. Noted Coats: “I think it’s been very clear over the past few years that China is willing to take pretty extraordinary means in terms of expanding its influence, not only over the region in the South China Sea, but throughout the globe.” In a 35-page opening statement, Ashley provided details of a growing list of military and information threats to the United States posed by China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, and terrorist groups; China dominated the threat, however, he said. [source] Analysis: Cyber-warfare is one thing; the U.S. is no slouch when it comes to cyber capabilities. But countering information warfare is more difficult because speech in America is protected by the First Amendment; the Internet is not censored in the U.S. (unless you count some recent acts regarding certain political speech being censored by private-sector social media companies); and Americans are essentially free to access any information source they choose. As such, our enemies can use information warfare — propaganda — to influence American public opinion while U.S. intelligence cannot similarly influence public opinion in China especially, but even in Russia. More: Lt. Gen. Ashley noted further “that artificial intelligence combined with the weaponization of Big Data—mass amounts of data that can be used for strategic purposes—is an emerging threat as well as a U.S. tool,” the source cited above reported.

Trump pledges to counteract any Russia election meddling attempts in 2018 midterms

President Trump has pledged to “strongly” counteract any efforts by Moscow to interfere in the upcoming 2018 elections. “Whatever they do, we’ll counteract it very strongly,” said Trump, according to multiple American media reports. That pledge runs afoul of many in the U.S. intelligence community who claim that the Trump administration thus far has not adequately responded to the threat. Nevertheless, Trump said his administration is conducting a broad, deep study on the issue and will have recommendations soon about protecting the midterm elections and beyond. “Certainly there was meddling and probably there was meddling from other countries and maybe other individuals,” he said at a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at the White House. Outgoing NSA Director Adm. Mike Rogers, along with DNI Dan Coats, have said that U.S. responses to Russian cyber-meddling and propaganda efforts have not been strong enough. [source] Analysis: Stung by the belief among a sizable portion of the American public that he ‘colluded’ with Russia to ‘steal’ his election — despite the fact that Russian efforts to interfere with U.S. democratic processes is nothing new — it is in Trump’s best interests to at least appear to do all he can to ensure that no one is able to interfere with U.S. democratic processes. But the problem is, no matter what steps he takes, there will continue to be a sizable plurality of Americans who will continue to believe American media reports claiming collusion existed and continues to exist. Those claims, which appear to be largely politically motivated, are essentially accomplishing Moscow’s aims — sowing doubts about, and confidence in, our electoral processes. 

Assassinations rise as Iranian Kurds clash with Tehran

The Iranian government is continuing to have problems silencing armed opponents in Iraqi Kurdistan, where authorities recently offered the regime pledges they would prevent Iranian Kurdish militant from creating new headaches for Tehran. As such, the regime is being blamed for a rise in assassinations and assassination attempts, which Tehran is denying, but clearly Kurdish groups are being primarily targeted, either by Iran directly or by hired operatives. “This is not their first assassination, and it won’t be their last,” said Sarah Rahmani, a veteran peshmerga forces commander with the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, following an assassination attempt that spared him but killed his son. “We as the KDPI have no enemy except the Islamic Republic. Therefore, any attack such as this on our party is from the Islamic Republic,” Mustafa Hijri, secretary-general of the KDPI, told local media. [source] Analysis: Any force that gives Iran trouble is a gift to Israel, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other nations in the region concerned about Iran’s rising influence throughout the region. Kurdish leaders have said that if the assassinations and other Iranian actions continue their militant forces will step up action against Iranian forces and factions. One thing to note: The Urban Peshmerga of the KDPI has operatives inside Iran and would use them to disrupt the regime internally. 


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

U.S. Navy cancels ‘green’ destroyers program

Citing new funding priorities, the U.S. Navy has canceled an Obama-era program to install electric hybrid engines on dozens of destroyers. The service requested $6.3 million for FY2018 to complete installation on the USS Truxtun but has not requested any funding for the project in FY2019 and the out-years. Thus far, the Navy has spent around $52 million to date. In all, the program cost was estimated at $356.25 million. “Based on the Department’s priorities, President’s Budget 2019 removes funding from Hybrid Electric Drive program in FY 2019,” said Lt. Lauren Chatmas in a statement. “There are no further procurements or installations planned beyond DDG-103 in the Future Years Defense Program.” The Truxtun will be used as a test bed to analyze the viability of the technology over the long run, Chatmas noted further. According to an American military media report: “The program developed with L-3 was designed to switch power to the drive shaft, which turns the ship’s propellers, from the main LM2500 gas turbine motors to the ship’s electrical generators at speeds below 13 knots. At those speeds the ship could perform night steaming, ballistic missile defense or anti-submarine operations, but not keep up with the speedy carriers.” [source] Analysis: On the surface this may seem like one of those programs driven more by political considerations than practical considerations, and it may well have been. Critics said that generator power required to both move the vessel and operate its powerful radars was insufficient. A more immediate problem for Navy destroyers, as we have seen in other analyses, is making them more survivable; collisions with civilian tankers recently have shown that our fleet destroyers, while sophisticated, are not capable of absorbing much damage without killing crew and/or becoming unfit for duty.

Cold War MAD doctrine good for another decade but only if the U.S. modernizes nuclear arsenal

Gen. John Hyten, chief of U.S. Strategic Command, told the House Armed Services Committee in recent days that the Cold War doctrine of “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) will remain effective for at least the next decade, but that does not negate the need for the United States to upgrade and modernize its nuclear arsenal. In that vein, Hyten said he backed the Trump administration’s objectives of pursuing low-yield nuclear cruise missiles and submarine-launched missiles. MAD is the theory that no nuclear-armed country can actually win a war involving a nuclear exchange, so neither side will launch their weapons first out of fear of destructive reprisal. “I don’t think we have to worry about that [changing] for at least a decade. I think the capabilities that we have, that we will operate for the next decade, will allow us to maintain the basis of nuclear deterrence,” he told the HASC. His comments came on the heels of an announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow had built a stable of new nuclear weapons, including development of a new submarine drone capable of delivering nuclear payloads undetected to U.S. port cities and a new hypersonic missile that can evade U.S. defenses. Hyten testified that the biggest threat to the U.S. was a miscalculation by either Russia or China, which is also working to develop a strategic nuclear challenge to the U.S. “We can’t allow them to think that they can employ a nuclear weapon, either on the battlefield or strategically, and the United States will not be able to respond,” he said. [source] Analysis: Hypersonic weapons are considered game-changers because they are reportedly able to defeat any U.S. missile defense system (according to claims). But despite that Hyten touched on the one ‘X factor’ — nuclear-armed U.S. submarines, which he said neither Russia nor China could detect. “There is nothing that they can do outside of a massive attack against our country that we would not have the ability to respond to,” he said. “And oh, by the way, our submarines, [Russia and China] do not know where they are and they have the ability to decimate their country if we go down that path.”

Iran’s Russian-built anti-aircraft missiles now operational inside country

Iran has deployed Russian-built anti-aircraft systems inside the country, giving the country an advanced long-range air defense capability. Iran tested and deployed the system last year, a worrying development for the U.S. and Israel because it gives Iran a “generational improvement in capabilities,” according to the Defense Intelligence Agency. Russia delivered the SA-20c SAM system in 2016, giving Iran “the flexibility of a highly mobile, long-range, strategic surface-to-air missile,” according to Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the DIA, in written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee. President Trump has vowed to counter Iran’s growing power and influence throughout the region, but the fielding of the SA-20 shows that Iran “continues to improve its conventional capabilities to deter adversaries, defend its homeland, and control avenues of approach –including the Strait of Hormuz — in the event of a military conflict,” said Ashley. “We expect Iran’s modernization priorities to remain its ballistic missile, naval, and air defense forces, with new emphasis on the need for more robust combat air capabilities.” [source] Analysis: Some experts have described the SA-20 system a “quantum leap” in capabilities. The system has a 100-mile radius and is an excellent A2/AD weapon. One mitigating factor: Israel’s stealthy F-35s. But beyond that, Iran now has a formidable weapon with which to oppose U.S. and Israeli aircraft.

B-21 bomber having issues with engine design but overall on track

A series of engine design “hiccups” is plaguing development of the U.S. Air Force’s B-21 Raider bomber program, but the chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee said that overall he is pleased with prime contractor Northrup Grumman’s progress on the project. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., is mostly pleased with the progress on the aircraft, in particular with how the defense contractor has managed to integrate all subcontractors together in order to find solutions to some of the earliest design problems. Still, there have been some challenges. “This is an extraordinary, complex aircraft,” said Wittman, who is overseeing the B-21 program. “The issue is not that you have these uncertainties. The issue is how you address them.” The Air Force plans to buy at least 100 B-21 Raiders at a price of about $550 million, in 2010 dollars, per bomber. The biggest challenge is with the Pratt & Whitney engines. “This is a very, very different design as far as airflow, and there have been some design challenges there. Pratt and Whitney says one thing; if the exhaust, the ducting contractor says another thing and says, ‘There’s only so much air we can move through there,’ and Pratt & Whitney says, ‘No, we need a certain amount of air to go through the front of the engine,’ then the question is: How do you do that?” [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:

Russia-UK rift poses the biggest challenge to NATO in decades

Tensions are ramping up between Russia and the United Kingdom following reports that the Russian government attempted to poison Sergei Skripal, an alleged Russian double agent who was working for Britain’s MI6, and his daughter, Yulia, 33. Reports say both were exposed to an “unknown substance” in Salisbury, England, on March 5.

The British government believes that the two were poisoned by a nerve agent. They remain in a hospital in critical condition; as many as 21 people may also be receiving treatment following the attack.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has directly blamed the Russian government for attempting to assassinate the Skripals, and as such has responded by expelling 23 Russian diplomats she has described as spies. Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed that his country would respond; in particular, the Kremlin said that its “response measures will not be long in coming.”

Earlier, May demanded that Russia account for how a nerve agent produced in that country could have been deployed against targets in Salisbury; Putin shrugged off her demands as Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters: “One should not threaten a nuclear power.” [source]

Outlook: Britain would not make such an inflammatory accusation if its intelligence services were not certain of it. And needless to say, everything else points to Moscow being responsible: Skripal was convicted by Russian prosecutors of being a double agent in the early 2000s; the substance used against him came from Russia; and this has all the markings of a state-sponsored hit.

What’s more, Putin obviously calculated that all Britain would do if it was discovered that the Kremlin was involved was to posture and take some limited diplomatic actions, which is all that has happened thus far.

But U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley posed a serious “what if” that could change the entire paradigm here: She warned that Russia could stage similar attacks in New York City or elsewhere if allowed to get away with the Salisbury attack. “If we don’t take immediate concrete measures to address this now, Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used,” Haley told the United Nations Security Council. “They could be used here in New York, or in cities of any country that sits on this Council. This is a defining moment.

“Time and time again, member-states say they oppose the use of chemical weapons under any circumstance,” Haley said, noting that it is believed that the nerve agent used was “military grade,” meaning Russia may still have a stockpile of the banned weapons. “Now one member stands accused of using chemical weapons on the sovereign soil of another member. The credibility of this council will not survive if we fail to hold Russia accountable.”

Russia, of course, has denied its involvement. But in 2010, [Putin] said, ‘Traitors will kick the bucket, believe me. Those other folks betrayed their friends, their brothers-in-arms. Whatever they got in exchange for it, those 30 pieces of silver they were given, they will choke on it.” So that’s a pretty good indicator of guilt.

What happens next is of great importance. Haley is attempting to shame the UN into acting, which it won’t do (and even if most members wanted to, Russia has a permanent seat at the Security Council and, thus, a veto).

So that means Britain will have to act. But Britain isn’t going to war with Russia, so that will leave London with few real options — meaning Putin will get away with it and in the process become further emboldened to act with impunity wherever he deems it in Russia’s best interests.

Eventually, however, under these conditions, someone will miscalculate, and when they do, they will leave the other side with little choice but to respond with great force. We don’t think this episode will be that trigger, but it draws NATO and Russia closer to conflict overall.

Middle East: 

U.S. deepening its involvement in aiding Israel’s defense

The Trump administration is deepening America’s involvement in the direct defense of its most reliable ally in the Middle East — Israel — as threats to the Jewish state mount from Iran, Syria, and Iranian proxies Hamas and Hezbollah.

This is most evident in recent actions that both countries have taken since President Trump took office. Last fall the U.S. established the first permanent base inside Israel, located within the Israel Defense Forces Air Defense School in southern Israel, near Beersheba. Operating under Israeli military control, the base serves to supplement the Jewish state’s air defenses. Israeli Air Force Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich said the base is largely to serve as “a joint Israeli and American effort to sustain and enhance our defensive capabilities,” and will not bring operational changes such as training or exercises. It should be noted that U.S. forces have operated “an independent facility for nearly a decade in the same general area of Israel’s Negev desert” that houses the U.S. AN/TPY-2, which is an X-band radar integrated with Israeli search-and-track radars serving as an early-warning system to detect ballistic missile attacks from Iran. [source]

In recent days, U.S. and Israeli forces began Juniper Cobra 2018 exercises, which includes, among other elements, a simulated massive ballistic missile attack (the exercises end today). “This is a substantial increase from the 2016 exercise, in which some 3,200 soldiers took part,” said an Israeli media report. The air defense drills integrate American missile defense systems (namely Patriot) with Israeli systems — the short-range Iron Dome, medium-range David’s Sling, and long-range Arrow anti-missile systems.

Missile defense is going to be one of the most important elements of any future war involving Israel and a trio of enemies — Iran, Syria, and Iran’s proxy army, Hezbollah, the latter alone estimated to be equipped with some “150,000 missiles, which it could rain down on Israel at a rate of over 1,000 missiles a day in a future war.” Meanwhile, “in Gaza, both the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad groups are believed to each have their own arsenals containing upwards of 10,000 rockets and mortars, though of an inferior quality, owing to the blockade of the coastal enclave enforced by both Israel and Egypt.” [source]

Moreover, U.S. and Israeli forces are preparing and practicing for massive reinforcements of American troops from Europe if they are needed. “It depends on the scenario at some point, but we will have fighting forces moving within 72 hours,” U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, 3rd Air Force commander, told reporters at Hazor Airbase. “We can phase in our forces as required, but almost immediately, we can start moving forces.”

Outlook: Israel has promised a massive retaliation if it is attacked. In particular, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has warned, “If a conflict does break out in the north, ‘boots on the ground’ remains an option. We won’t allow scenes like in 2006, where we saw citizens of Beirut on the beach while Israelis in Tel Aviv sat in shelters… If people in Tel Aviv will be in bomb shelters, all of Beirut will be in bomb shelters.”

And there is every reason to believe that war will come; it’s just a matter of when.

But by increasing the numbers of American forces in Israel, the Trump administration is putting U.S. forces in direct lines of fire from enemy missiles and, to a lesser extent aircraft. Why would the president do that, knowing that the region is set to explode?

It could be that the White House is attempting to send a message to Iran and its enemies throughout the Middle East — including their Russian patrons — that an attack on the Jewish state literally will also be an attack on American forces. That ought to have a deterrent effect, but will it?

Iranian leaders are beginning to experience widening unrest at home. The economy is stagnant, opportunities are limited, and there is building resentment against the theocratic regime in some of their strongest pockets of support that Tehran is spending lavishly on the military while neglecting the peoples’ basic needs.

So we have a convergence of events that may trigger a war regardless of whether U.S. forces are co-located inside Israel: Iran has spent a decade arming its proxies; and it now maintains a military presence inside a country directly on Israel’s border (Syria), a strategic objective. There is no widespread love for the Jewish state inside Iran, and war has often been used by despotic leaders to unite the country and distract from internal problems. Plus, Iran and Syria may have received assurances from Moscow they Russia has their back.

Lt. Col. Tal Kaduri, head of cooperation for the Israel Air Defense Force, said the main purpose of Juniper Cobra 2018 “is to see how both forces can answer the evolving threats that Iran is posing.” [source]

Force integration is complete. The force structure is in place. The dress rehearsal is in the books. The next move is up to Iran.

North Korea:

Is Pyongyang’s offer of denuclearization talks just a distraction?

In what many foreign policy analysts and diplomats are hailing as a breakthrough-in-the-making, President Trump has said he is willing to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and hold direct talks aimed at denuclearization of the peninsula.

According to various open source reports, the meeting appears to have been brokered by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has called the prospective meeting — which could take place by May — a “historical milestone” that will put the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “really on track.”

Talking to reporters in Djibouti last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the decision to meet with Kim was made by Trump himself, but that it came from a sharp change in attitude by Kim.

The North Korean leader had undertaken a charm offensive of sorts prior to the South Korean-based Winter Olympics which began and ended last month. Kim and Moon had agreed to send a joint Korean team to the games; Kim sent his sister, Kim Yo-jong, as a sort of ‘ambassador’ for his country to the games as well, where she met with various South Korean officials including President moon. One Chinese media report even suggested she could be the one leader Kim sends to the U.S. to negotiate terms of her brother’s meeting with Trump. [source]

But however it is set up, if the talks actually happen, they will be truly historic, as no leaders from either country have ever held direct, in-person talks since before the Korean War (1950-53).  [source]

Outlook: Many people have expressed optimism that this meeting could represent the beginning of the end of a nuclear-armed North Korea, a warming of relations between the two Koreas, and even the signing of a formal peace treaty between all parties and a normalization of relations with Pyongyang. Even Trump tweeted out, “Great progress is being made!”

But those expectations may prove to be excessive.

There is much reason to be skeptical than optimistic. First of all, many believe Kim may simply be falling back on a well-worn North Korean tactic of ramping up tensions only to dial them back in the nick of time to extract concessions from the U.S., South Korea, and other parties seeking to avoid a new war on the peninsula. There are plenty of indications to suggest that ramped up sanctions are cutting deeply into the North Korean economy, including reports of North Korean tankers and cargo ships making exchanges of oil and goods with foreign-flagged vessels including some from Russia and China in international waters.

Also, North Korean media has reported that soldiers and officials are raiding farms to feed the country’s “starving army.” [source]

Others believe that Kim is merely trying to distract Trump and South Korea as his nuclear weapons program nears completion. One of them is former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who told a recent cable news program, “I would say that the reason the North is now trying to look reasonable is that they’re so close to succeeding in getting deliverable nuclear weapons that they want to get across the finish line by distracting us. They’ve done it countless times before. It’s always worked for them.” [source]

Also, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whom Trump just nominated to replace fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has said recently, “We do believe that Kim Jong-un, given these toolsets, would use them for things besides simply regime protections — that is, to put pressure on what is his ultimate goal, which is reunification of the peninsula under his authority. This is the threat to the whole world.” [see the 25 January 2018 Strategic Intelligence Summary]

The Moon administration released a statement that “the North showed willingness on denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula. If military threats to North Korea decrease and regime safety is guaranteed, the North showed that it has no reason to retain nukes.” But obtaining a nuclear capability has always been Kim’s objective in order to guarantee his own safety and survival.

So, what to believe? It’s hard to know given that, according to the chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, North Korea is the U.S. intelligence community’s “hardest intelligence collection target.” [source]

To be sure, there are some differences this time around.

For one, as Bolton noted, Trump “finally succeeded” in convincing the North Korean leadership that he’s willing to use military force to protect the United States and deny North Korea a nuclear capability.

“And I think one thing the North now believes is that [Trump is] not afraid to carry through on that option,” Bolton said. “He doesn’t want to do it — let’s be clear. But unlike some of his predecessors, he’s not afraid to do it to protect American citizens. And that should have an effect on North Korea and China.”

Bolton’s statement coincides with earlier ones made by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has said on multiple occasions 1) that there is a “military option” for North Korea; and 2) that Trump has assured him he would resort to that option if it became necessary to take out the Kim regime along with its nuclear capability.

So Kim may have concluded that his American counterpart — who is not a stereotypical politician and who has developed a reputation for keeping his campaign promises — may very well be his biggest threat to regime survival. That said, as we reported in the 22 February 2018 Strategic Intelligence Summary, North Korean defector Ri Jong-ho, a former ruling party official, has said Kim is looking to buy time to finish his nuclear weapons program, which is why he backed a joint Korean team at the Winter Olympics, a faux olive branch.

“Kim Jong-un is afraid that the U.S. will launch a preventative strike, and he is trying to buy time to complete his nuclear and missile programs,” said Ri, who worked for about 30 years in Office 39 of the ruling Worker’s Party, which was responsible for raising money for Kim.

Ri noted further that Kim “is struggling under the strongest-yet sanctions and military and diplomatic pressure, so he is trying to improve the situation by putting on a false front.” And he pushed back against claims that the sanctions were not having any measurable effect on the Kim regime, which are the toughest in 25 years. As such, Kim is attempting to “create a hole” in the sanctions regime.

So, the bottom line is this: Given what we know, Kim still isn’t likely to just surrender his nuclear weapons program and rely on others to ‘guarantee’ his survival and the survival of his regime, meaning the denuclearization talks are likely just more smoke and mirrors.

South China Sea:

Chinese military undergoing major organizational shifts to deter or defeat ‘third-party intervention’

During recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, DIA chief Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley was asked about China’s ongoing military modernization and expansion into the South China Sea and beyond.

Ashley said that Beijing was continuing to implement widespread organizational changes to the People’s Liberation Army, Air Force, Navy and Rocket Forces. In particular, Beijing is building a force capable of fighting short-duration, high-intensity regional wars at farther distances from the Chinese mainland (think Taiwan, in particular, but also anywhere along its “string of pearls”).

In addition, he testified, the Chinese military was strengthening its joint operational command and control system while building a new Strategic Support Force that consolidates cyber, electronic warfare, and space capabilities under a single command.

Specifically, Beijing wants a force capable of deterring or defeating a “third party” from intervening during a large-scale theater operation to, say, retake Taiwan by force. Capabilities will involve air, ground, sea- and space-based capabilities, as well as control of the cyber, electronic, and informational warfare spaces. China seeks a capability to strike forces at long distances — a distinct A2/AD strategy — that may seek to deploy in the Western Pacific. Ashley said that China is rapidly expanding capabilities farther into the Pacific. He said these include “two new air-launched ballistic missiles, one of which may include a nuclear payload,” but he did not go into details.

That said, Beijing is known to be building a supersonic/hypersonic land-attack missile that has a long range with midcourse guidance that targets high-value assets like tankers or airborne early warning aircraft. He also said China possesses a robust anti-satellite capability, as well as improved nuclear deterrent capabilities, with a focus on survivability (as in an air, sea, and land-based nuclear triad). Nuclear deterrent capabilities include “multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, maneuvering warheads, decoys, chaff, jamming, thermal shielding and hypersonic glide vehicles, in an attempt to counter ballistic missile defense systems,” he said. [source]

Outlook: The window to dislodge China from its South China Sea holdings, ill-gotten or otherwise, is quickly closing. But then again, it wasn’t as though the U.S. and its Asian allies were all that interested in doing so anyway. What the U.S. has always insisted on was freedom of navigation, and while the Chinese bellow somewhat when a U.S. Navy ship conducts a FONOP near a Chinese island, Beijing is not ready to directly challenge America in the region — yet.

But what’s becoming clear is that China is slowly and steadily building the capability to nullify U.S. strategic advantages in the Asia-Pacific with the goal of reaching long-held objectives such as unification with Taiwan, first and foremost, and perhaps retaking islands currently managed by Japan that Beijing claims.

At some point during Trump’s first term, Beijing will have built the capability it seeks. While the Pentagon is obvious aware of China’s strategy and is working to leap-frog Beijing’s emerging A2/AD capability, it isn’t at all clear that U.S. systems currently in development will be ready in time. That means China will have a small window of opportunity to achieve its long-desired regional objectives. And President-for-life Xi will act if he believes China has the advantage because he knows once he takes Taiwan and the Japanese-held islands, there will be no good options for the U.S. short of all-out war to retake them — a war that would likely involve nuclear weapons.


PIR4: What is the current security situation along the U.S.-Mexico border and south of the border?

More than a dozen killed in Mexican drug cartel violence in once-popular beach resort town

Teams of gunmen reportedly carried out multiple executions recently in the town of Acapulco, Guerrero, Mexico, which used to be a popular beach resort destination but which has been consumed by drug cartel violence. The shootings come as the vacation season is set to begin and Mexico is likely to see in influx of thousands of international tourists for Holy Week and Spring Break holidays. State police reported that they clashed twice with groups of cartel gunmen, setting off a series of firefights. In all, 15 people were reported killed by the cartels, and more than a half-dozen vehicles were set ablaze during the violence. The first killing took place outside a well-known resort destination, the Krystal Hotel, but a short time later two more bodies of male victims were discovered along Miguel Alemen Avenue, the main roadway leading to the city’s port. The men had been tied up and tortured to death. Others were shot and left for dead with cartel messages. The violence is part of an overall increase in murders throughout the country, many in popular resort destinations like Cancun and Playa del Carmen. [source] Analysis: One of Mexico’s principle sources of revenue is tourism, so that alone should spur the government to step up its ‘war’ with the cartels. But the ‘war’ isn’t working; there has been more death and violence since the government deployed the military in the mid-2000s and tasked it with rooting out and destroying the cartels than results. There aren’t any good options left; the cartels are too rich, too powerful, and too pervasive throughout the country’s institutions to be effectively dealt with, which means Mexico will remain a massive narco-state for the foreseeable future.

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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