Strategic Intelligence Summary for 17 January 2019

Strategic Intelligence

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


 

In this Strategic Intelligence Summary:

  • North Korean Envoy travels to DC by way of Beijing
  • Philippines to review mutual aid treaty with U.S.
  • U.S. considers space-based missile sensors to better detect enemy launches
  • China to run joint PLA and South China Sea Fleet military exercises
  • Russian submersible drone nuclear delivery system may soon enter service
  • Kosovo to create a standing army amid international protests
  • Arab countries now hold the highest unemployment rate in the world
  • Iranian airline banned by Germany amid accusations of spying and terrorism
  • U.S. – UK joint naval maneuvers completed in South China Sea
  • China’s South China Sea expansion may force increased naval deployments by Canada
  • Russian increases activity in Black Sea littoral states
  • And more…

 

Priority Intelligence Requirements:

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

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

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


 

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

Envoy from North Korea travels to Washington by way of Beijing ahead of second summit in February

Traveling by way of China, the top North Korean envoy in denuclearization talks flew to Washington D.C. to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The agenda for this meeting was the upcoming second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and President Trump, which was set for February 2019 in Vietnam. (Analyst Comment: Travel by way of China, following on the heels of the trip taken by Kim Jong-Un, suggests a last minute instructional for the envoy prior to meeting with U.S. representatives. The choice of Vietnam as the site for the summit hosts a number of speculative motivations, however the summit and talks continue to move forward.)

Philippines urged to review mutual aid treaty with U.S. in the face of Chinese ambition in South China Sea

The Defense Chief for the Philippines urged a review of its treaty with the U.S. in order to understand exactly when and under what conditions the U.S. would be obligated to come and render aid to the island nation. The Philippines wish to broaden the terms of the mutual defense treaty beyond attacks on metropolitan Philippines is attacked to reflect the growing concerns over China’s expansion.(Analyst Comments: The Philippines are showing they fear a true existential threat by China’s advancement into their sphere of influence, despite bilateral talks with China in the past weeks over conduct in the South China Sea. Despite the diplomatic gains made in those meetings, the Philippines still consider the situation hostile enough to revisit a mutual defense treaty whose roots date back to World War 2.)

Kosovo parliament voted to create a standing army amid international protest

Parliament of the breakaway Kosovo region voted unanimously to transform their security service into an 5,000-personnel military force. This decision came amid statements from Russia, the European Union, and NATO decrying the decision and calling it “ill timed” and a significant threat to regional security. Officials from Serbia, who still claim the Kosovo region and refuse to acknowledge its independents, say they fear for the ethnic Serbian minorities in Kosovo, despite assurances by Kosovo that the army will not be used to target their neighbors. Despite the largely negative international response to the army’s formation, statements of support were given by U.S. representatives. [SOURCE]. (Analyst Comment: The international concern over the army’s formation is understandable, given the region’s violent history that has more than once included ethnic cleansing. NATO peacekeeping forces have maintained a steady peace in the region for over a decade. The Kosovar parliament claimed this army was intended to face external threats alone. Meanwhile, Serbia’s growing concern could create significant friction in the region.)

Arab countries now hold the highest unemployment rate in the world

A statement by the World Bank president indicated that the Arab region now holds the highest unemployment rate in the world. [SOURCE] (Analyst Comment: Despite the economic implications of this mass unemployment, the practical implications are perhaps worse for a region embroiled in conflict for going on decades. Historically, an unemployed populous is a frustrated and bored populous that will search for meaning and a conduit to express their dissatisfaction and frustration. Frequently, these are found in revolutionary or terrorist organizations.)

Iranian airline banned by Germany amid accusations of spying and terrorism

Germany joined a list of countries, including the United States, banning the Iranian airline Mahan’s from operating in their country. This came after accusations that the airline was “being used for military purposes and reasons”, specifically spying and terrorism. [SOURCE] (Analyst Comment: This is the second ban on Iranian assets in so many weeks under accusations of military intent; following the sanctions resulting from assassination accusations. Iran is stretching its resources currently and attempting to set up as many deals with other nations, and position itself the best it can, presumably following Israeli war posturing following last year’s intelligence coup.)


 

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

U.S. considers space-based missile sensors to better detect enemy launches

The U.S. plans to employ a layer of missile detection sensors in near earth orbit to aid in identifying missile launches and direct targeting of missile interception weapons. Due to concerns over the space weaponization treaty, the plan will remain in the planning stage for the immediate future.[SOURCE]

Russian submersible drone nuclear delivery system may soon enter service

It is believed the Russian submersible drone, codenamed Poseidon, may soon enter Russian military service. Russia claims the drone is armed with a 200-megaton nuclear weapon. The drone is intended to be launched from a stealth submarine and then maneuvered remotely into position near an enemy port or naval installation to wait for a detonation order. [SOURCE] In addition, design drawings have been completed and approval given to begin production of a next-generation strategic bomber by Russia. (SOURCE).


 

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

NATO-Russia

Significant Developments:

Russian increases activity in Black Sea littoral states

The NATO Defense Ministers are set to hold a conference in February to discuss the increase in Russian activity and interest in the Balkans and Black Sea littoral. Statements by NATO point at Russian interference in the recent Macedonian referendum, and other possible political manipulations in the regions, as well as Russia’s building naval force in the Black Sea. The Balkan States and Black Sea littoral states are all NATO members, which may cause a reconsideration of the importance of such movements. [SOURCE] (Analyst Comment: Russia’s low intensity conflict with Ukraine must be taken into consideration as well. While it seems clear that Russia actively seeks to extend its influence, Russia also succeeds in broadening NATO’s active area of attention and thus thinning the resources available for any given point of potential conflict. Russia has historically maintained an interest in the Black Sea and Balkans regions, and through annexation of the Crimean peninsula, Russia holds a strong foothold and logistical staging area for any future advancements.

Russia’s buildup and political intrigue in the Black Sea is of immediate interest to NATO. Strategically, however, a buildup of Russian naval assets in the Black Sea opens up considerable engagement options across a wide expanse of NATO territory. It is possible Russia seeks to make buffer states of the Black Sea and Balkan region, a strategy Russia has used effectively in the past. Russia’s internal troubles must also be noted, as they are markedly behind their planned military modernization and have been once again forced to cut their military spending. Despite these cuts, Russia continues to develop new strategic weapon systems. Tension continues to mount over the unresolved INF treaty with the U.S., but it appears unlikely a first move would be made by Russia in the immediate future. Russia seeks to establish itself as an international super power, and while Vladimir Putin has shown a willingness to use force to advance that interest, any strike against NATO or the European Union would undermine the geopolitical capital Russia attempted to build through management of the Syrian conflict, as well as leading to a war Russia may be unable to handle.)

 

Indo-Pacific

Significant Developments:

China to run joint PLA and South China Sea Fleet military exercises

A deep water military exercise involving the Chinese South China Sea fleet, PLA forces, and the PLA Air Force, and Rocket Command are set to take place in the near future. This annual exercise “ conforms to related international laws and conventions and is not aimed at any specific country or target”, per the official statement. (SOURCE).

U.S. – UK joint naval maneuvers completed in South China Sea

The U.S. and UK navies completed a joint exercise place following an anti-submarine exercise with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. The exercise was meant to be “a personnel exchange designed to address common maritime security priorities, enhance interoperability, and develop relationships that will benefit both navies for many years to come.” [SOURCE] (Analyst Comment: While such exercises are routine, the exercises also serve as a statement against growing Chinese ambitions in the region.)

Analyst Comment: Numerous naval exercises took place in the South China Sea over the past weeks, including the nearly unprecedented Japanese inclusion in U.S. and UK naval training operations. Interests opposed to Chinese expansion utilized annual planned training to demonstrate their capabilities in a practical way. Canada has also voiced its intention to step up naval deployments to the region to counter Chinese aggression. China continues to fortify its holdings and to hold a firm grip on the strait of Taiwan despite growing opposition against their interests. New pacific naval installations by the UK, the U.S., and Australia add further to the growing powder keg, however for the time being, international trade by sea has been maintained with limited conflicts between competing naval interests. The South China Sea has become grounds for a new arms race, with Chinese military leaders now under the belief that Chinese troops have been trained to a level commensurate to U.S. military personnel, however, China has currently focused its security concerns inward in preparation for the Communist Party National Congress. Border security with India, North Korea and Myanmar has been stepped up considerably, as well as ongoing counterterrorism operations and coastal security, and regional travel has been restricted.

 

Middle East

Significant Developments:

Analyst Comment: Iran continues to negotiate with its near neighbors in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan over matters of trade and security, while the recent banning of Iranian personnel and the Iranian airline show an increase in their espionage activity in the European Union. Iran appears to have stepped up many of its international dealings, potentially in response to the threat felt from Israel. The Commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force recently issued a statement about the impatience of the Iranian forces to engage and destroy Israel. This statement came after Israeli attacks on Iranian assets still in place in Syria. Despite Israeli posturing following the release of Iranian documents indicating the true nature of their nuclear program in 2018, Israeli interests appear to be focused on their immediate regional security rather than an extended war with Iran.

 

// END REPORT

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

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