Strategic Intelligence Summary for 16 August 2018 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 16 August 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: (2,451 words)

  • InFocus: Mattis & Monroe: U.S. countering Chinese influence in South America
  • Taxed Navy is losing attack submarines to retirement
  • IARPA chief warns of Chinese tech threats
  • Joyce’s DEFCON talk names top hacking countries
  • President Trump reverses PPD 20 on offensive cyberattacks
  • Army facing 2020 budget cuts to realign warfighting objectives
  • Russia kicks off annual military exercises with Moldovan separatists
  • Turkey’s Erdogan threatens shifting alliances
  • Poland wants permanent U.S. military presence
  • Japan’s Abe may remove pacifist language from constitution
  • China launches three military exercises
  • Turkish financial update
  • U.S., North Korea lay groundwork for next Pompeo trip
  • And more…

ADMIN NOTE: The Strategic Intelligence Summary is going through a rest and refit period this week as I train a new analyst.


In Focus: Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is in South America this week to win friends and influence people in Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia. According to a press release from the Department of Defense, Mattis said that the U.S. “[sees] Latin America as our neighbor. Some people say we don’t pay much attention to it. That is certainly not the case in the military.” (This is the first visit to South America for a Secretary of Defense since 2014.) Mattis started his tour by addressing students at the Brazilian War College, stressing the importance of a security partnership for the region and saying that the U.S. “will earn your trust daily. We want to be your partner; especially if trouble looms.”

What trouble looms? Chinese influence.

Let’s go back to February of this year when then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson refocused efforts at the State Department towards the Monroe Doctrine. Tillerson was here in Austin giving a speech at the University of Texas where he told students that the Monroe Doctrine was “as relevant today as it was the day it was written.” When it was written back in 1823, President James Monroe warned Congress that his administration would not tolerate European powers trying to colonize the Western hemisphere.

The Monroe Doctrine was used as the basis for conflict several times in the decades that followed. Not only did the U.S. support the Mexican president in his overthrow of the French crown in 1865, but also got involved in a series of small wars just after the turn of the 20th century. President Teddy Roosevelt referred to the U.S. as an “international police power” when he deployed U.S. Marines during the Santo Domingo Affair in 1904. U.S. forces would be deployed to Nicaragua in 1911, Haiti in 1915, and to a number of other countries during the period known as the Banana Wars. The last time the Monroe Doctrine was invoked was in 1962 when the Soviet Union began using Cuba as a forward operating base in the Western hemisphere.

Today’s campaign in South America is part of this administration’s efforts to reprise the Monroe Doctrine against China and Russia; both of whom are expanding influence throughout Latin America. Russia continues to arm and build military relations with Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua — the poorest behaving countries in Latin America — and in 2015, China outlined a five-year, $750 billion aid, trade, and direct investment project across the region. In his February speech, Tillerson warned: “Today China is getting a foothold in Latin America. It is using economic statecraft to pull the region into its orbit.” While U.S. investment (and attention) in Latin America declined, Chinese cash poured in.

China’s growing presence in Latin America is not just an outlet for economic investment (although the primary reason is for commercial interests); it’s part of a broader strategy to degrade U.S. influence around the world. While Russia’s military influence campaign is aimed at directly undermining U.S. security in the region, China’s commercial interests in Latin America undermine U.S. influence as a welcomed secondary effect.

In Sunday’s speech in Brazil, Mattis explained, “There’s more than one way to lose sovereignty in this world. It’s not just by bayonets. It can also be by countries that come in bearing gifts and large loans…piling massive debt on countries knowing they know will not be able to repay it.”

I’m particularly struck by some of the wording in statements from senior U.S. defense officials. Mattis used the phrase “if trouble looms“, euphemistically referring to China. In an interview earlier this year, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said, “We want to be that stable, steady, committed team that will be there for one another when the chips are down” [emphasis mine]. Vice President Mike Pence has been to Latin America three times in the past two years. The latest trip focused almost exclusively on concerns over Venezuela, and included meetings with neighboring Brazil and, not far off, Ecuador, where Pence described Venezuela as a “failed state”. Earlier this year, President Trump left open the possibility of a “military option” to solve the situation in Venezuela. According to the Brazilian defense minister, Mattis believes “the solution (in Venezuela) should be led by Brazil”. That makes Brazil a central focus now for military and economic cooperation, with regard to dealing with both Venezuela and Chinese influence in South America. (Brazil shares a 1,770 mile border with Venezuela, which is roughly 180 miles shorter than the U.S.-Mexico border.) Secretary Mattis is also headed to neighboring Colombia, which has been rocked by a Venezuelan refugee crisis of their own.

A couple days after his meetings in Brazil, Secretary Mattis traveled to Argentina where he announced that the U.S. would pursue stronger military cooperation there, as well. During a press conference, Argentina’s defense minister said, “We have come back to the road we should never have left,” in reference to Argentina’s rocky history.

This is welcomed news for U.S. Defense officials because earlier in the year, Argentina’s ambassador to China painted a bleak picture for the U.S. in the region.

“If you see the [trade] numbers nowadays, China is as important as the U.S. and sometimes it is more important than the [United States]. China is the main commercial partner of countries like Brazil, Chile, Peru, Uruguay and Bolivia, and 90 per cent of countries in South America have China as their first trading partner. The Americans might be worried because they used to think that they would be hegemonic in the region.”

After Argentina defaulted on $100 billion in bonds, it was China who offered the Argentine government a way out when no one else would take the chance. But that financial help came with a price: China negotiated in secret with the Argentine government to build a space mission control station there, which the Chinese began operating in March of this year.

Secretary Mattis discussed space issues with the Brazilians and Argentinians, specifically making reference to China’s threat in space. In reference to a successful Chinese test of a weapon capable of destroying U.S. satellites, Mattis told Brazilian military students, “We understand the message China was sending, that they could take out our satellites in space. At the same time, if someone is going to try to engage in space with military means, we will not stand idly by. We don’t intend to militarize space. However, we will defend ourselves in space, if necessary.”

Mattis also said that the President Trump’s plan for a Space Force was reactionary to China’s and Russia’s weaponization of space. The U.S. and Brazil are currently negotiating the use of a Brazilian facility to launch U.S. satellites. Said Mattis: “We choose Brazil not because it lies along the equator, in a happy accident of geography, but because we want to work with Brazilians—people whose values we share.” In a jab directed at China, Mattis added, “Outside actors cannot credibly say the same.”

At the heart of the Monroe Doctrine is keeping Latin democracies in line with the United States and preventing foreign competitors from threatening U.S. interests. As Rex Tillerson explained, that doctrine is as relevant today as it was in 1823. – S.C.

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?

Taxed Navy is losing attack submarines to retirement

The continued retirement of U.S. Navy attack submarines is taxing the U.S. Navy and the approximately 50 attack submarines remaining in service. In addition, the Ohio-Class submarines are due to retire in the next decade, which will require the Navy to begin production of new submarines to meet their strategic objectives and security obligations. [source] – D.K.

IARPA chief warns of Chinese tech threats

Stacey Dixon, newly appointed chief of the Intelligence Advanced Research Project Activity (IARPA) voiced concern over China’s significantly increased technology research budget. Dixon states that such budget increases (reported to be in the billions) attract research professionals that may otherwise contribute significantly to U.S. projects. Dixon was tapped Tuesday by the Director of National Intelligence Dan Coast to lead IARPA. Explaining the critical functions of IARPA (computing, collection, analysis, and anticipatory intelligence), Dixon asserts that faster-than-brain computing is necessary and additional funding for the U.S. program is key. [source] – D.K.

Joyce’s DEFCON talk names top hacking countries

Rob Joyce, the former head of the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations hacking team, gave a talk at the DEFCON hacking conference in Las Vegas, where he mentioned the four most significant state-sponsored hacking threats: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. Joyce says that Russia continues to attempt to penetrate U.S. networks and continues to work towards the disruption of U.S. elections. China, who’s focus has traditionally been stealing U.S. intellectual property, has stepped down their efforts but, facing the trade war, may begin again. Iran, having slowed down its assault on American targets, is now focusing efforts towards Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern targets. Meanwhile, North Korea continues to target foreign financial institutions in order to steal money, which it desperately needs to prop up its economy. [source] – D.K.

President Trump reverses PPD 20 on offensive cyberattacks

On Wednesday, President Trump reversed course on Presidential Policy Directive 20, an Obama-era directive that outlined the steps required before the U.S. could engage in offensive cyber warfare. The classified rules (which were leaked by Edward Snowden) prioritize deconflction between ongoing cyber espionage projects and potential offensive courses of action. For instance, a cyber attack might target a server or facility of an adversary to which other U.S. teams had access, thus denying future valuable intelligence collection. [source]


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

Army facing 2020 budget cuts to realign warfighting objectives

The Army prioritized six critical categories to develop for a future armed conflict with Russia or China:
  • long-range precision fires
  • next generation combat vehicle
  • future vertical lift family of helicopters
  • air-and-missile defense
  • communications networks
  • soldier lethality

Any Science and Technology projects that did not fit into this mold fell under additional scrutiny. Joint service budget efforts for 2020-2024 include hypersonic missiles and space and cyber technologies. In the meantime, the Army is setting up its new Futures Command in Austin, Texas. The command will include 500 personnel and an “incubator hub” that will include large and small companies that the Army is interested in working with to further its technology efforts. [source] – D.K.


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


Significant Developments:

Russia kicks off annual military exercises with Moldovan separatists

Announced via press release this week, elements of the Russian army began a military exercise with separatists in a breakaway region of Moldova. The exercise featured amphibious crossings, similar to the activities required to cross a river and invade Moldova. “Someone thinks that the use of threats can make you someone’s friend. How can you, climbing over the fence and threatening your neighbor, hope that you will become his friend? Paradoxically, this is what our neighbor, Russia, is trying to do, conducting military exercises with the crossing of the Dniester,” said Moldova’s defense minister. Moldova is a member of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council, and not a NATO member. [source]

Turkey’s Erdogan threatens shifting alliances

In an opinion piece published in the New York Times, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan outlined his perspective on the current spat with the United States, and threatened to shift his country’s allegiance away from NATO. “Unless the United States starts respecting Turkey’s sovereignty and proves that it understands the dangers that our nation faces, our partnership could be in jeopardy… Failure to reverse this trend of unilateralism and disrespect will require us to start looking for new friends and allies.” [source]

Poland wants permanent U.S. military presence

At a time when a U.S. military presence is unpopular with many Germans (and perhaps the German government), Poland is ready for their relocation. The Polish president said in a recent speech marking Polish Army Day that the presence of U.S. troops would “scare away every potential attacker.” The Polish government in increasingly fearful of Russian activities directed towards their country, including the prospect of a hybrid military invasion. [source]



Significant Developments:

Japan’s Abe may remove pacifist language from constitution

In what’s been speculated for years, a portion of the country’s constitution may be re-written to include the authorization of a Japanese military. Article 9 bars a standing military, expressly saying that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” The desired change, led by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would require approval from their Parliament and a successful referendum. If passed, would allow Japan to build up its Self-Defense Forces to face regional threats like North Korea and China. No date has been set for a vote, but Abe is pushing his party to submit a plan this year. [source]

China launches three military exercises

In a message to the U.S. and it allies, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) recently launched three military exercises in parts of the Yellow, East, and South China Seas in the past week. A social media outlet for the Southern Theater Command published photos of the exercise and confirmed that PLAN elements took part in live-fire and anti-submarine maneuvers. In a separate exercise, PLAN warships practiced air- and missile-defense tactics. Few details were available about the third exercise, but China’s Maritime Safety Administration confirmed they took place. [source]


Middle East:

Significant Developments:

Turkish financial update

The Turkish Lira is down 33 percent against the Dollar since the beginning of the year, and there’s worry that the weakening currency will cause Turkey to default on foreign loans. Turkish foreign debts include $83.3 billion to Spanish banks, $38.4 billion to the French, $19.2 billion to the UK, $18 billion to the United States, $17 billion to Italian, and $14 billion is owed to Japanese banks. [source] – D.B.


North Korea:

Significant Developments:

U.S., North Korea lay groundwork for Pompeo trip

According to a South Korean media outlet, U.S. and North Korean officials are in talks to lay the groundwork for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s next trip to North Korea, where he’s likely to meet again with Kim Jong-un. [source]


– S.C.

Mike Shelby 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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