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… (5,355 words)
- U.S., Western officials looking at risk of Iranian terror plots
- Taiwan pledges to boost national security
- Chinese warships more aggressive in SCS
- Beijing defends warship confrontation
- China’s moon mission could threaten U.S. satellites
- Troops fear a new war is coming soon
- Five eyes alliance builds coalition against China
- MEUs expanding rifle squad size
- Marines: COIN is here to stay
- Army nearing strategy on indirect fire protection
- Patriot and THAAD to talk
- U.S. sealift can’t count on Navy escorts
- Five questions with U.S. Army Europe
- Marine Corps exercise in Iceland
- USAF activates spec ops warfare training unit
- China’s anti-submarine warfare
- U.S. updating missile defense based on Russian, Chinese doctrine
- Russia mocks China for stealing fighter jet plans
- MDB pilot headed to Europe
- Russia conducts nuclear forces exercise
- The Gotland defense dilemma
- New front in Russia’s information war
- U.S. lacks China strategy
- Army Pacific mission turns from disaster relief to warfighting
- Mattis courting Vietnam to counter China
- Australia says U.S. alliance vital in Indo-Pacific
- 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?
U.S., Western officials looking at risk of Iranian terror plots
In July, German police arrested Assadollah Assadi, a high-ranking Iranian diplomat in Iran’s embassy in Vienna since 2014, at an autobahn gas station. Assadi is also suspected of being the station chief of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence. (Analyst Comment: The MOIS is the U.S. equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency.
) He and two others are suspected of planning a terror attack in Paris. European intelligence services had tracked Assadi in late June as he met with a married couple of Iranian decent living in Belgium. The couple told police after their arrest that Assadi had given them a pound of explosives and a detonator to carry out a bombing attack of a large Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK) rally to be held in Paris, which was also to be attended by Rudy Guiliani, President Trump’s personal attorney and a MEK defender. (Analyst Comment: The MEK is a socialist militant group seeking to overthrow the current Iranian regime.
] (Analyst Comment: According to Trump officials, Iran continues to be the major destabilizing factor in the Middle East, and the largest state sponsor of terror worldwide. Hezbollah, the preeminent Iranian-backed terror group, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, often referred to as the IRGC-QF, have cells worldwide, including throughout Europe and North, Central, and South America. The MEK have long been a target of the Iranian regime, and since Iran is embroiled in civil strife, the regime seems to be more willing to strike at the root of MEK leaders and supporters abroad to disrupt action inside the country.
Five Eyes alliance builds coalition against China
The Five Eyes intelligence alliance, which includes Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States, are increasing their intelligence sharing activities with countries such as Germany and Japan in order to counter Chinese influence operations and investments. “Consultations with our allies, with like-minded partners, on how to respond to China’s assertive international strategy have been frequent and are gathering momentum,” a U.S. official told Reuters. “What might have started as ad hoc discussions are now leading to more detailed consultations on best practices and further opportunities for cooperation.” China denies charges that it is seeking to influence foreign governments and that its investments are for political ends. “The sudden shock from authoritarian regimes is prompting closer coordination and a real expansion of intelligence sharing,” said one unnamed source. [source
] (Analyst Comment: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis traveled to South America last month to meet with officials in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Colombia to specifically discuss better trade and security cooperation, and to remind those countries that Chinese investment often comes with strings attached. The lure of ‘free’ money for infrastructure projects and business investments under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative is appealing to leaders who want to accelerate the development of their countries’ economies, but it comes at a cost. You can find additional analysis on that topic in the 16 August 2018 Strategic Intelligence Summary here. As for the Five Eyes, we often refer to these countries as the ‘Anglosphere,’ and they’re at the heart of the Western-led world order that China is trying to disrupt and revise. Along with increased intelligence sharing on China, we’re also seeing the development of ‘Global NATO,’ the expansion of a global alliance outside of the Atlantic region. China’s global ambitions are now well-recognized, and top U.S. officials are coordinating an end to China’s disruption of the established order. I’ve written a lot of words about how the shift from a U.S.-dominated unipolar world to a bi- or multi-polar world would affect not just global commerce and the balance of power, but how it would also have significant effects on the U.S. standard of living. The Trump tariffs and the realignment of U.S. strategy to contain China — despite Mattis’ recent statement that the Trump administration doesn’t seek to “contain” China — are a part of disrupting the rise of Chinese global dominance.
Russia mocks China for stealing fighter jet plans
“Years ago the Chinese decided to save some money and, instead of buying several Su-33s from Russia” they decided to steal one and try to reproduce it. That prototype was reverse engineered to produce the Chinese J-15 fighter jet, which has been plagued with problems resulting in a number of crashes. The Chinese media has ridiculed the J-15, while the Russian press has mocked the Chinese for stealing the technology and failing to create an effective fighter. [source
Taiwan pledges to boost national security
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen pledged on Wednesday to boost her country’s national security by increasing its defense budget every year in order to counter China’s efforts to intimidate the country. “At this time, China’s intimidation and diplomatic pressure not only hurts relations between both sides, but seriously challenges the peaceful stability in the Taiwan Strait,” Tsai said in a National Day speech in Taipei. Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, characterized Taiwan’s independence ambitions as “doomed to fail”. [source
] (Analyst Comment: In late 2016, President-Elect Trump took a phone call from the Taiwanese president, a ‘breach of protocol’ indicating that the Trump administration was willing to back Taiwan against the Chinese. Since then, President Trump has eased off his initial candor but that hasn’t stopped Taiwan from preparing for war with the Chinese. Along with building defense in depth, the Taiwanese military over the summer held war games aimed at repelling a Chinese invasion of the island. While China works to cut off Taiwan from the world — by using trade and investment issues as bargaining chips to encourage countries to end diplomatic relations with Taiwan — the United States remains committed diplomatically and possibly militarily. The re-election of President Tsai in 2020 would indicate the island remains supportive of establishing legitimate independence from China, a red line for Chinese President Xi.
China’s moon mission could threaten U.S. satellites
China’s May launch of the Chang’e 4 lunar relay satellite has some U.S. officials concerned that the satellite, which is settled into “parking orbit” over the far side of the moon, could be used to facilitate attacks on U.S. intelligence and communications satellites. According to Jeff Gossel, the senior intelligence engineer in the Space and Missile Analysis Group at the Air Force’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, the Chinese satellite’s position could allow attack spacecraft to bypass the moon and then approach U.S. satellites from a direction where potential threats are not being monitored. Although Gossel described the threat as remote, he said it was his job to be “paranoid” and consider threat scenarios that may be considered highly unlikely. [source
] (Analyst Comment: The threat may be “remote” now, but if the U.S. and China continue their buildup in space, we do run an increased risk of conflict, either up there or down here. Considering the scope and risk of war in the South China Sea, space weapons would almost certainly play a role in conflict, especially if the Chinese felt they would lose a naval war with the United States. The Chinese weaponization of space has many U.S. intelligence and defense officials concerned about capabilities that could be brought to bear in a war with the U.S.
U.S. lacks China ‘grand strategy’
A panel of Pacific-region military and political experts at the U.S. Naval Institute’s New China Challenge conference in Annapolis, Maryland on Wednesday said the U.S. lacks a coherent strategy for dealing with China. According to Graham Allison, the Douglas Dillon Professor of Government at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, the most likely cause of friction between the U.S. and China is Taiwan. While Taiwan’s culture and economy align with the west, Chinese President Xi Jinping has said that Taiwan will be fully integrated into the Chinese regime by 2049. “This is an important theme and why it’s important to have a grand strategy,” said retired Adm. Scott Swift, a former commander of U.S. Pacific Command. “We do not have a grand strategy. We have bits and pieces.” The panel also questioned the willingness of allies in the region and the American people to go to war over Taiwan. [source
Australia says U.S. alliance vital in Indo-Pacific
Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, in her first major policy speech since she took over the ministry in August, said on Monday that Australia’s alliance with the U.S. has never been so vital as it is during this period of escalating challenges in the Indo-Pacific region. “We have no doubt that the U.S. will remain an enduring presence in our region,” Payne said. “Other powers will rise, rivalries may intensify, but the United States will be here.” Although Australia is committed to engagement with its most important trade partner, China, she said the region would be safer and more prosperous if differences were settled by mutual agreements rather than the exercise of power, apparently referring to Chinese activities and claims in the South China Sea. [source
Troops fear a new war is coming soon
In a voluntary online survey of active duty U.S. service members conducted between September 20 and October 2, which included 19 questions on service members’ opinions related to the current political climate, policy and national security in the United States, about 46 percent of troops said they thought the U.S. would be drawn into a new war in the next year. This is an abrupt increase from a similar poll conducted in September 2017 when only about 5 percent said the same thing. Russia and China were cited most often in the survey as countries of concern, with 71 and 69 percent of respondents identifying these countries as significant threats, respectively. Concerns about North Korea showed a significant decrease from 72 percent of troops a year ago to 46 percent in the most recent poll. Cyber-terrorism was identified by nearly 89 percent of respondents as a significant threat to U.S. security, and many troops worry that the U.S. is not fully prepared for cyber warfare. Domestic terrorist groups and U.S.-based Islamic extremists were also seen as a greater threat to U.S. security than foreign terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. [source
] (Analyst Comment: The military’s sole priority is to prepare for war, so the expectation of having to soon fight one is a good sign that soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are serious about being ready to fight. Additionally, the U.S. military is experiencing a rapid readiness overhaul which includes improvements in both modernization and training, and which are based on current Russian and Chinese orders of battle. Increased readiness and major changes in doctrine and deployment schedules — such as Army unit rotations to Europe and the Pacific, the activation of the Navy’s 2nd Fleet operating in the Atlantic, and the Marine Corps’ shift away from fighting in deserts to fighting in jungles and the tundra — may also explain the large jump in expectations of war. The military is undoubtedly preparing to fight, which is their job, but given the current climate, a great power war is certainly plausible within the next decade.
PIR2: What are the latest military and security developments exhibited by the U.S. and their peer and near-peer adversaries?
MEUs expanding rifle squad size
In another year or so, the Marine Corps plans to increase the size of forward deployed rifle squads in Amphibious Ready Group Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs) from 13 to 15, according to Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller. This reverses a decision from Neller earlier in the year to reduce the rifle squad to 12 Marines. Neller told reporters that these decisions are a moving target due to uncertainty regarding Marine Corps end strength numbers, which have varied from 172,500 Marines around 9/11 and 202,000 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Corps currently has funding for 186,000 Marines. The two new squad positions will be for a systems operator and an assistant squad leader, positions intended to help with information overload from new technology like drones and tablets added to squads to boost battlefield situational awareness. [source
Marines: COIN is here to stay
While the Marine Corps and Department of Defense once again begin to focus on near-peer adversaries, that “doesn’t mean we are going to forget or forgo the requirements to be able to do counterinsurgency or stability ops,” according to Gen. Robert B. Neller, the commandant of the Marine Corps. Neller says the Corps plans to double its Marine Corps Security Cooperation Group (MSCG), which was stood up in 2012 to aid in stability operations and help train future Marine Corps foreign advisors. Neller says he also plans to rename the MSCG to the Marine Advisor Group. [source]
Army nearing strategy on indirect fire protection
Congress has tasked the Army with providing a strategy for the Indirect Fire Protection Capability (IFPC) by October 31 in its fiscal 2019 appropriations bill, which passed last month. The IFPC is expected to defend against rockets, artillery, mortars, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and cruise missiles. The Army is delaying the engineering and manufacturing development phase of the IFPC Increment 2 program due to requirements to reprioritize and refocus on UAS and cruise missile threats ahead of developing a counter-RAM threats capability. According to Brig. Gen. Randall McIntire, the service’s Air-and-Missile Defense modernization lead, the Army is within a couple of weeks of making a decision on what strategy to pursue to solve a short-term gap in cruise missile capability while also formulating a long-term plan. The Army is considering systems already under development in the U.S., as well as foreign systems like the Israeli Iron Dome to meet its short-term interim capability requirement. [source
] (Analyst Comment: Here’s the fundamental problem: the battlefield of tomorrow is growing increasingly complex and lethal. Between drones, both as sensors and attack platforms, and standoff weapons like artillery, soldiers on the battlefield are at an increased risk of being detected and targeted. We refer to this in the traditional targeting cycle called Find, Fix, and Finish. In a future war, Russian drones could find a convoy or a rifle platoon on the battlefield, fix their position, and call for immediate fire, either from an armed drone or long-range rockets and artillery. Army leaders recognize that in a great power war, soldiers and Marines are going to have much higher casualty rates as a result of near-peer technologies and capabilities, especially in the way of indirect fires: mortars, rockets, and artillery. As of right now, Russian artillery outranges what the U.S. Army fields, which poses a serious problem for fixed positions. Since at least 2016, military leaders have publicly warned that the next war is going to have much higher casualty rates as a result of these capabilities.
Patriot and THAAD to talk
The Army has decided to accelerate its plans to get the Patriot medium-range air-and-missile defense system and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to communicate. While there were already plans in the works to get this done in four to five years, the goal is now to complete the integration within two years. Driving this accelerated integration are forces in South Korea, where both of these systems are currently being used. The integration will provide a more effective, layered approach to AMD and “will give us a lot more time to calculate a fire solution, and it allows us to cue the Patriot and look in the right direction a whole lot sooner than it would be able to,” according to Brig. Gen. Randall McIntire, who leads the Air-and-Missile Defense Cross-Functional Team. [source
] (Analyst Comment: This is positive news in missile defense. Last year, defense planners went ahead with the deployment of the THAAD to South Korea, which rankled the Chinese. The THAAD’s x-band radar system has a range that extends into mainland China, and the Chinese accused the U.S. of engaging in an arms build-up in the region. For their part, the U.S. said the missile defense system was to protect its interests against the threat of North Korean missiles. Now that Patriot and THAAD missile systems are ‘taking’, air and missile defense officers will have earlier warning of potential threats, which allows them more time to make a decision.
U.S. sealift can’t count on Navy escorts
In the event of a major conflict with Russia or China, the U.S. Navy is going to be too busy with combat operations to escort the sealift effort needed to transport Marine Corps and Army gear to the theater of operations. “The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will probably not have enough ships to escort us. It’s: ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’” says Mark Buzby, who leads the Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration. This will require a major training effort to prepare merchant marines to think and act like Navy personnel during operations. One example is educating these mariners to understand that they may be located and targeted because of electronic signatures they, their ships, and their cargo may be emitting. “Turn your navigation lights off, turn your [Automatic Identification System] off, turn your radars off, tell your crews not to use their cell phones — all those [Emissions Condition] things that we in the Navy are familiar with that are completely foreign to a merchant mariner and are seen as an imposition,” Buzby said. [source
] (Analyst Comment: In the event of war with Russia or China, the U.S. military is going to have massive problems with troop and equipment transport. A handful of Russian submarines in the mid-Atlantic would wreak havoc on those transports, especially since the Navy . Similarly, with the prospect that in 10-20 years, China will have more submarines than the U.S. Navy has ships, this puts the Pacific in a similarly precarious position. And since U.S. submarines are increasingly entering the end of their service life, in another decade the U.S. is slated to have fewer submarines than it does today — which is to say, not enough. The Army has focused on a pre-positioned stock program in Europe, which could reduce initial transportation requirements from the U.S., but either way, we’re back to a World War II-era threat of having troop transports targeted en route.
U.S. Army Europe commander on operations
The Army Times submitted five questions to Lt. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, who took command of U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) in January. A USAREUR spokesman and the Chief of Operations, Planning and Exercises provided answers. The first question concerned the anticipated troops levels in USAREUR. Although the question was not answered directly, there are currently 8,000 rotational soldiers in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, and such training partnerships will continue.
The second question concerned the status of the deployment of the CROWS-J systems to the 2nd Armored Cavalry in Europe as part of the ongoing Stryker up-gunning program. The Javelin anti-tank missile system was fielded to the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment in September and 80 CROWS-J systems will be distributed across the 2nd CR by the end of this calendar year.
The third question asked for updates on major NATO exercises in Europe this year. The answer included the fact that 52 exercises involving 45 countries, about 29,000 U.S. personnel, and more than 68,000 participants from allies and partners were conducted in the past year. A number of exercises were mentioned, including Trident Juncture 2018, which is described as the largest high visibility NATO exercise since 2015 and begins this month.
The fourth question inquired about any new equipment and formations headed to Europe in the next year. The answer was that an increase of about 1,500 soldiers will be in Germany by 2020, including a new field artillery brigade headquarters, two multiple launch rocket system battalions, a short-range air defense battalion and additional supporting units.
The final question asked about challenges for USAREUR in the next one to three years. USAREUR must maintain critical capabilities and enhance interoperability in order to accomplish its number one priority of readiness. These goals will be accomplished by conducting approximately 50 exercises and training events each year in the theater. [source
USAF activates spec ops warfare training unit
The Air Force’s Special Warfare Training Wing was activated Wednesday at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, according to an Air Force statement. The unit is composed of about 135 airmen and has assumed command of the Special Warfare Training Group (SWTG). The wing’s primary mission is to free SWTG instructor cadre from higher-level administrative tasks so they can focus on training. The Air Force has seven special forces career fields: pararescue, combat rescue officer, combat control, special tactics officer, special operations weather team, tactical air control party, and non-rated air liaison officer. [source
China’s anti-submarine warfare
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is working to develop its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities. This includes rotary-wing aircraft, fixed-wing aircraft, and other ASW assets such as hydrophones and “surveillance towed array sensor systems”. The PLAN’s fixed-wing ASW assets provide for longer-range operations, endurance, speed, payload, and more operator console space. The Chinese also have a fixed undersea hydrophone system with an ASW mission that little is known about. The PLAN’s ASW strategy will likely be split between “regional” and “blue water” missions. The fact that the PLAN is developing its ASW strategies and systems indicate the Chinese believe that they are in a position to contest air superiority and sea control, which are necessary elements to implement an effective ASW program. [source
U.S. updating missile defense based on Russian, Chinese doctrine
The U.S. Army is updating its air-and-missile defense (AMD) strategy to align with the National Defense Strategy (NDS) released earlier this year. The update to the AMD strategy is expected to include system modernization and the ability to overmatch near-peer adversaries like Russia and China. According to the head of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, Lt. Gen. James Dickinson, much has changed since then, including the NDS, the establishment of the Army Futures Command—tasked to more effectively and rapidly modernize the force—and the formulation and refinement of multidomain operations as a concept. “We’ve got some wonderful systems that we have, and have developed over many years, that are very capable and very lethal,” Dickinson said. “We need to make sure that we build those capabilities so that they are integrated together and that they are tiered. And what I mean by tiered is that you have more than one capability that can defeat a certain threat or certain threats.” [source]
MDB pilot headed to Europe
Last year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley directed the Army to develop plans to build up Multi-Domain Task Forces (MDTFs) designed to counter an adversary’s anti-access/area denial capability. The first iteration of the MDTF was tested earlier this year at the Rim of the Pacific exercise, where the fires brigade—in this case the 17th Field Artillery Brigade—worked in Hawaii under a U.S. naval commander and with the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force to help sink a decommissioned ship with its High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. The second phase of the MDTF will experiment with these capabilities in Europe in the form of a new specialized unit with the 41st Field Artillery Brigade as its foundation. This is expected to occur in this coming fiscal year. [source
PIR3: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)
Russia conducts nuclear forces exercise
The Russian Defense Ministry said it has conducted a test of its strategic nuclear forces, all of which were successful. The maneuvers included ballistic missile launches from nuclear submarines in the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhotsk, the firing of cruise missiles from long-range bombers, and testing of the chain of command from its main control room down to military units. [source]
Marine Corps exercise in Iceland
The Marine Corps is planning a rehearsal amphibious landing on Iceland before it carries out its amphibious landing in Norway for the NATO-led training exercise Trident Juncture. Nearly 2,000 Marines and sailors are on board the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima and are underway to the high north in preparation for the amphibious assault. When Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller was asked on October 10 if the rehearsal was intended to send a message to the Russians that the Corps and NATO can and will defend Iceland, he said he would not speculate on other’s perceptions of the landings and Exercise Trident Juncture. The defense of Iceland is viewed as being of major strategic importance because of the ability to control the Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom, or GUIK gap, a potential gateway for Russian naval and submarine forces in the Atlantic Ocean. The U.S. is currently working on plans to overhaul some of its Cold War infrastructure at its airbase in Keflavik, Iceland. New hangers are being built for Navy P-8 Poseidon sub-hunters at a cost of almost $14 million. [source
New front in Russia’s information war
The arrest last December of Norwegian Frode Berg in Moscow by Russia’s FSB security service has highlighted an information war between Russia and the West in the Arctic Circle. Berg was arrested on suspicion of involvement in an ongoing espionage operation to get information about Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet in the far north. Although these charges were initially denied, this spring Berg admitted through his attorney that he had been working as a courier for Norwegian military intelligence. Berg claimed to have been misled as to the operation’s scope and purpose, and that his handlers had therefore misused him. This has created distrust of the Oslo government by some in the north. Although there have been efforts on both the Norwegian and Russian sides to create deeper relations at the local level in northern Norway, Russian amplification of Berg’s comments back to Norway may indicate a deliberate effort by the Russians to stir distrust of the Norwegian government by those in the north. All of this takes place against the backdrop of increased NATO troop strengths and military exercises in and around Norway and the Arctic Circle. [source]
Chinese warships more aggressive in SCS
A recent close encounter between a U.S. guided-missile destroyer, a U.K. amphibious ship, and Chinese naval ships in the South China Sea indicate that the Chinese may be changing their posture toward foreign navies in the region. In this incident, a People’s Liberation Army Navy destroyer passed within 100 yards of the American ship as it was leaving international waters claimed by China. This action is seen not only as dangerous, but also as an indicator of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to demonstrate Beijing’s sovereignty in the South China Sea as a part of a diplomatic, economic, and military challenge to U.S. activities in the region. While U.S. freedom of navigation operations continue in the South China Sea, some observers see a decline in U.S. engagement in Southeast Asia with the withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership and President Trump’s announcement that he would not be attending the ASEAN conference. These seemingly contradictory actions are leaving many leaders in ASEAN looking for a sense of direction from the United States to their concerns and issues. [source
Beijing defends warship confrontation
In response to U.S. complaints that a Chinese destroyer came too close to a U.S. Navy ship late last month in the South China Sea, forcing the U.S. guided missile destroyer to take evasive action, Chinese ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai said on Fox News, “It’s not Chinese warships that are going to the coast of California, or to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s so close to the Chinese islands and it’s so close to the Chinese coast. So who is on the offensive? Who is on the defensive? This is very clear.” This incident took place about 620 miles south of China’s southernmost province of Hainan in the Spratley Islands where Vietnam, the Philippines, and Taiwan also have territorial claims. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis made his second visit this year to Vientam, signaling the U.S.’s vigorous efforts to counter Chinese military assertiveness by building up relations with smaller countries in the region. [source
Mattis courting Vietnam to counter China
On Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis began a rare second visit in the past year to Vietnam, this time visiting Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, Vietnam’s most populous city and its economic center. The visit is seen as further evidence of efforts by the U.S. to improve relations with countries in the region to counter China’s growing military power. This Chinese expansionism is seen in the country’s transformation of contested islets in the South China Sea into strategic military outposts. Vietnam, like other countries in the region, is weary of Chinese ambitions and favors freedom from coercion and keeping sea lanes open for international trade. “Vietnam, leaving aside Singapore, is the country the most skeptical of China’s Southeast Asia policy and makes the most natural partner for the U.S.,” said Josh Kurlantzick, a senior fellow and Asia specialist at the Council on Foreign Relation. [source
On 04 November, another round of U.S. sanctions will go into effect on Iran, a country already beset by a crashing currency and civil unrest. This week, Secretary Pompeo was in Turkey where he met with the Turkish president in an attempt to, among other things, encourage the Turks to purchase less Iranian oil. We can continue to expect a hardline approach on Iran, especially as long as national security advisor John Bolton has the president’s ear. The end goal appears to be a regime change, although the U.S. doesn’t appear too willing to play a major role. Meanwhile, President Trump is trying to beat back pressure on his commitment to Saudi Arabia as his preferred security partner in the Middle East. The tide may be turning against Saudi Arabia in Washington — even generally pro-Saudi Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) came out against Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. “This guy is a wrecking ball. He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it — I feel used and abused.” Sen. Graham added that the crown prince “can never be a world leader on the world stage,” which cuts to the heart of the president’s Middle East security strategy. For his part, Mohammad bin Salman had committed to Trump officials that Saudi Arabia was changing and that he would usher in a more moderate tone that differed from what we sometimes call “Saudi Barbaria”. After years of indiscriminate killings and unnecessary collateral damage at the hands of the Saudi military in the Yemeni civil war, the alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi may be the feather that breaks the camel’s back. Sen. Graham said in an interview that he would “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia,” which would really put Trump’s strategic security choice in peril.
By far the biggest news out of the Korean Peninsula this week is that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has invited Pope Francis to attend a meeting. The invitation was relayed by the South Korean president, and Pope Francis said he’s open to a visit. Meanwhile, the North Korean state has thousands of Christians and Catholics enslaved in labor camps. The invitation overshadowed a state-owned newspaper criticizing U.S. sanctions. “If the U.S. intends to be stubborn in its sanctions, which means to continue to pursue hostile policy, is the Singapore Joint Statement which promised to end the extreme hostile relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and to open up new future of any worth?” the media outlet asked. The North Koreans are adamant that U.S. sanctions be lifted, while U.S. negotiators continue to push for substantive steps be taken towards denuclearization.
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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.