Strategic Intelligence Summary for 19 April 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: (5,459 words)

  • Ukraine detains two Russian ships; Moscow threatens blockage of Ukrainian shipping 
  • 35,000 NATO troops to deploy to Norway for biggest exercise since Cold War 
  • Lingering political, ethno-religious conflicts in Balkans simmer as tensions begin to rise again
  • U.S. Army soldiers put new tanks through paces at Ft. Stewart 
  • Russians jamming U.S. drones in Syria 
  • Iran touts new missile system designed to shoot down UAVs, low-flying aircraft 
  • Russian drone makers to study Arctic infrastructures 
  • Russia was spying on former double agent Skripal for years
  • And More…

In Focus: The most significant developments this week involve the Koreas. The first item is that the Trump administration stated publicly this week that it has been holding “high-level” discussions with North Korea, including a trip to the hermit nation by CIA Director Mike Pompeo (nominated to be the next secretary of state). Pompeo reportedly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un personally, the highest-level talks since then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright 2000 meeting with Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s late father. While it’s not clear what was discussed, the meeting is part of a larger effort to lay the groundwork for what will be a truly historic meeting between President Trump and Kim that will reportedly come in May or early June — but after Kim meets with South Korean’s President Moon Jae-in. Trump also acknowledged the meeting in a tweet, saying, in part, that “denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” The talks reportedly occurred over Easter weekend.

Meanwhile, North and South Korean officials are set to discuss an official end to the 1950-53 war. That’s on the agenda when Moon and Kim meet next week in the DMZ. Thorny issues include, of course, denuclearization, but that would have to come in exchange for the removal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula. Also, any peace deal would have to have final approval from the Trump administration because the U.S. signed the armistice in 1953 on behalf of South Korea to end hostilities. 

So, are we on the precipice of a major downgrade in a current threat region? Is Trump going to be the American president who brings peace to the Korean peninsula? Lots of people in many countries are hoping so, but it’s far too early to be optimistic (as you’ll see below in PIR 3/North Korea). 

Elsewhere, the world remains tense and edgy. We’ve been watching Russia since the U.S.-led attack against Syria, in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad. Frankly, I’m not convinced that Assad is guilty. There are too many things that don’t add up, and while I would love to believe Trump was given good intelligence before making his decision to attack, a former British ambassador to Syria said earlier this week he’s hearing there was no chemical attack at all, but that it was elaborately staged by Syrian rebels to make it look as though one had occurred (you can read his comments here). Other reports from a BBC journalist and a former British intelligence official on the ground in Syria claim that the chemical attack was staged and that dead children were similarly staged for Western media consumption — all designed to inflame Western sensibilities and provoke a response. But when you consider what Trump and our British and French allies actually hit — an alleged chemical facility and not Syria military assets like we did a year ago when we targeted a Syrian airbase — you can begin to draw the conclusion that perhaps we may have been duped into responding. 

There’s much more this week. Welcome to this week’s Strategic Intelligence Summary and 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?

Ukraine detains two Russian ships; Moscow threatens blockage of Ukrainian shipping

Earlier this month Ukraine seized a pair of Russian vessels for violating territorial waters, prompting Moscow to openly suggest its navy may limit or even block Ukrainian shipping, both civilian and military, through the Kerch Straits, an area near the Black Sea. The move would effectively transform the Sea of Above into Russian waters, something that the Kremlin has hinted at in the past as a means, supposedly, of defending Putin’s Crimea bridge from attack. If Russia were to conduct such an action it would effectively cut Ukraine off from much of the world while solidifying Russian control over Crimea and the Donbas, giving Moscow more leverage over Kiev. “As a result, what may appear to be of only marginal interest, is part of the Kremlin’s plan to weaken or even destroy Ukraine. It thus merits both the closest attention and a firm Western response, given what appears to be a carefully crafted campaign by Moscow to present what it is doing not as a power grab but rather as a reflection of its concern to ensure safety and security on the sea.” [Source: Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 15, Issue 56)

35,000 NATO troops to deploy to Norway for biggest exercise since Cold War

In a further indication that NATO is preparing for conflict with Russia, as many as 35,000 troops from the alliance will deploy across Norway in the fall to conduct the largest military exercise since the Cold War. Norwegian media reported that troops are expected to come from 30 countries in all. “This will be a very big exercise that will affect many,” said Frank Sølvsberg, spokesperson for the exercise, called “Trident Juncture.” The exercise is scheduled for October 25 through November 7. “Norway is a small country, just like Sweden, and dependent on other states in the event of a major war. This means that one must practice receiving large numbers of troops from other countries. In Norway, there is also a huge amount of ammunition and equipment for the American Navy Corps,” said Mike Winnerstig, a security analyst at the Total Defense Research Institute. Initial figures indicate that some 130 aircraft and 60 warships will participate in the exercise.   Analyst comment: The commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Adm. James G. Foggo III, made it clear who the exercise is meant to deter: “It’s an amazing training opportunity for all involved parties. I think it also sends a clear message to others who will threaten the alliance.” Translation: Moscow.

Lingering political, ethno-religious conflicts in Balkans simmer as tensions begin to rise again

The Balkan states continue to be a cauldron of competing political, ethnic, and religious nations whose problems were never entirely solved following the NATO intervention ended the war in Bosnia and former Yugoslavia 20 years ago. Plagued by weak democratic institutions, stagnant economies, and poor governance, countries including Kosovo, Croatia, Albania, Slovenia, and Montenegro all remain vulnerable to interference and meddling from outside terrorist organizations and nation states. Already Russia has an outsized influence there, fomenting anti-EU and anti-NATO sentiment (Croatia, Albania, Slovenia, and Montenegro are NATO members). That is due in large part to neglect from the West. Turkey is also investing heavily in Bosnia, where there is a heavy Muslim population, while the Saudis and other Gulf neighbors are also supporting religious organizations that are at odds with Western values. China is also poised to become a major investor in the region as part of its “One Belt, One Road” initiative — and likely not without strings attached. There are some commonalities — most people in the region lean towards the West and NATO — but without reconnecting with the region, other interests are certain to move in, and with it, destabilization. [source]


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

U.S. Army soldiers put new tanks through paces at Ft. Stewart

New M1A1-SA Abrams tanks were tested by soldiers from the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division. Since the 2ABCT was converted from a light armor to a heavy armored combat team last fall, units have been fielding the new tanks and training with them. The 2nd ACBT seeks to become the most lethal in the entire Army, so crews have been training hard and mastering the skill of closing with the enemy using standard shoot, move, and communicate tactics, with an emphasis on precision fires. Gunnery skills is a large part of this training, and that task is made easier and much more lethal with one of the most capable tank platforms in the world, which is battle-tested. [source]

Pentagon, Intelligence Community to establish new AI joint office

In order to quickly mitigate Chinese advances in artificial intelligence, the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community are moving to establish a new joint office for AI development. The Defense Department will submit a report to Congress over the summer providing an outline for the plan to create the new office, which will guide military and intelligence work on developing and acquiring AI tools, which has become a high priority for the national security segment of the U.S. government as Beijing puts more resources into AI development and is making big leaps in the field. The proposed office, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC), would combine the military’s efforts with those of the Intelligence Community to greatly speed efforts to move forward with AI development. One problem: Getting Silicon Valley to go along. Many are balking at helping the Pentagon develop technologies that will no doubt be used for weapons or surveillance. “That’s a problem the Chinese simply don’t have, as research institutes and universities are compelled to work with the authoritarian government when asked.” [source] SC: On a related note, thousands of employees at Google last week signed a petition to end the company’s cooperation with a defense drone program.

Russians jamming U.S. drones in Syria

Russian forces have deployed sophisticated electronic warfare equipment in Syria that they’re using to jam smaller U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles. The jamming is reportedly having a negative impact on U.S. military operations in the region. Jamming is primarily focused on the GPS signals smaller UAVs use in order to navigate. That has led to operators not knowing where their drones are and, in extreme cases, could lead to crashes. Defense Department officials thus far have not said whether U.S. troops have lost any UAVs to jamming-related crashes, but at least one official has said the jamming is blunting American troops’ ability to operate in the area. So far, the Russians are not attempting — or have been unable to affect — larger drones like the MQ-1 Predator or MQ-9 Reaper. Those UAVs are encrypted and have some built-in defenses against EW. [source] Analyst comment: Syria is being used as a great-power testbed for new technologies and existing gear. The Russians are obviously testing their EW platforms, but during last week’s U.S.-led strike against Syrian chemical weapons facilities, the Pentagon tested new long-range standoff missiles fired from B-1B’s well outside the conflict zone that had never been used in combat before.

Pentagon paper from 2017 helps explain Trump administration’s push to limit Chinese access to U.S. tech

In recent weeks the Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese tech goods, which was puzzling to a number of White House observers, but on closer examination, the reason appears to lie with a Pentagon white paper from 2017 warning about Beijing’s ongoing plans to obtain made-in-USA technology. The so-called DIUx Paper, which was named for the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental outreach group, outlines how technological progress is part of China’s long-term strategic plans. The paper’s authors concluded that keeping pace with Beijing will require Washington to develop a comprehensive response that includes investments in science and technology, but also other methods and tactics such as new legislation that allows the  Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, to restrict Chinese investment into U.S. tech companies, particularly startups. The legislation has been proposed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and now has Trump administration support so it is likely to pass. The paper argues that China “is executing a multi-decade plan to transfer technology to increase the size and value-add of its economy…and decrease U.S. relevance globally.” While the plan includes some illegal acquisition via hacks and industrial espionage, it also calls for legal forced-joint ventures, acquisitions, and early-stage investment in tech startups. Key areas of interest for the Chinese include artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented and virtual reality, the latter a key aspect of future military training. [source] SC: I’ve met with the head of DIUx here in Austin. He’s an Air Force Major filling the billet of a General, and he’s here to network with tech companies and oversee a competition, of sorts. The Defense Department (DOD) will identify a technology problem it’s having, and then post that problem in an online portal where tech companies and developers can read, understand, and then work on developing a solution. These companies ‘pitch’ their solutions and then the DOD will fund development. If the company meets the DOD’s benchmarks, then they’ll receive continued funding until the problem is solved. It’s an innovative solution to the DOD’s lack of innovation, and it clearly shows that defense planners are serious about not getting left behind by the centrally planned and controlled marriage of Chinese tech firms and defense efforts.

Iran touts new missile system designed to shoot down UAVs, low-flying aircraft

Iran is continuing to flout international restrictions on missile development. Tehran unveiled a new missile system dubbed the “Kamin-2” during a large parade celebrating National Army Day in what many are taking as a direct slap at President Trump, who is considering backing out of the so-called “nuclear deal” anyway. The system is said to be an upgrade over an earlier version, the Mersad missile system, and Iranian media are touting it as one of the most advanced systems in the world (nothing new there). The country is expected to deploy the new system to war zones throughout the Middle East where it has forces — including, almost certainly, Syria. In addition to the new missile system, Iran displayed helicopters armed with rockets and machine guns it says will be deployed “for combat in proxy and guerrilla warfares.” [source] Analyst comment: Iran regularly touts its ‘new’ weapons as among the world’s most advanced, but until we see this system in action, we’re taking the claims with a grain of salt. Still, with the region’s largest stockpile of ballistic missiles, Iran remains a formidable foe and a serious threat to Israel. 

Russian drone makers to study Arctic infrastructures

Reflecting on Moscow’s continued interest in dominating Arctic regions like China seeks to dominate (and militarize) the South China Sea, Russian drone makers are researching the Arctic’s infrastructures and climate as they work to develop platforms suitable for the area. “We have big plans for using the equipment in the Arctic; this territory is developed actively now,” he said. “We have long-term planning programs, including the infrastructures’ monitoring; we also have tasks to monitor oil and gas pipelines in that region, to monitor the ice situation there,” said Head of Projects at the Moscow regional branch of the Unmanned Systems Group of Companies Alexander Zaletsky. [source] Analyst comment: In addition to ordinary surveillance of pipelines, the UAVs would also likely be used to monitor the activities of other countries in the region. Moscow is coming for the Arctic; there is too much economic potential there.


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:

Little-noticed by Western media, Russia held a larger-than-normal air exercise in late March called “Ladoga 2018” involving more than 100 aircraft. Included were the 4++-generation Su-35 fighter, paired with the Su-34 light bomber, which is nuclear-capable. For four days, aircraft from across the Western Military District to the Besovets Air Base, near the Finnish border, flew what can be best described as practice bombing runs against NATO. But these air exercises are only part of what appears to be a much larger “readiness” effort by Russia to prepare for war against the West. There was also a ground force component to these exercises, which are typically air force-only. On 12 March, a group of Belarusian Special Forces arrived in-country and linked up a week later with Russia’s elite 31st Air Assault Brigade, one of the formations deployed to Crimea in 2014. That exercise began with the rapid insertion of forces into a designated conflict zone, where by day two the joint forces had taken control of the region and began advancing toward objectives. Eventually, that exercise turned into an operation against terrorist forces with an emphasis on defending refugees and displaced persons. These drills coincided with a live-fire missile defense exercise by the Baltic Fleet involving 1,000 sailors and 10 warships, a readiness exercise involving all three Ground Forces armies in the WMD, and a 2,000-man reservist training exercise in Belarus. At the end of all of those seemingly unrelated exercises, Ladoga 2018 began. 

Upgrades to the Russian military are ongoing. The Russian navy has already taken delivery of a new nuclear submarine, three new warships, two helicopters and nearly 50 Kalibr cruise missiles in the first quarter of 2018. Later this spring or early summer, the navy will receive delivery of a new amphibious assault ship, the Ivan Gren, which can carry 13 main battle tanks, 36 armored personnel carriers, or up to 300 marines. In addition, the ship can carry a reinforced marine company with organic military equipment and land it all with pontoons.

Russia is also expanding its military cooperation in its backyard. In recent weeks Moscow and Beijing have gotten closer, but Russia is also planning to sign a contract in June with neighboring India to build “Project 11356” frigates. The contract is for four warships on the “two-plus-two” formula. That means the first two will be built at a Russian shipyard while the last two will be built in India. Negotiations are ongoing. Russia has already invited India to jointly design and build a new non-nuclear submarine. 

A Russian senator is hinting that Moscow has the ability — and should thus take it — to create a more sophisticated air defense system in Syria, to protect Syrian government military installations, a development that would make it a far more difficult environment for Israeli and U.S. warplanes to operate in. “The creation of the multi-layered and highly efficient air defense system in Syria capable of protecting military and civil facilities from air attacks is possible with Russia’s assistance already now,” said of the Federation Council’s Defense and Security Committee Viktor Bondarev, former head of Russia’s Aerospace Force. “The presence of highly efficient defensive weapons in the arsenal of any sovereign country will sober the hot heads of not only NATO’s military and generals.” 

Middle East: 

Again this week, the Middle East is the most-watched of our Priority Intelligence Requirement 3 regions. 

By now you’ve heard that the U.S., France, and Britain launched limited strikes on suspected Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure. Russian diplomats immediately threatened a response, and in fact, last Saturday said that a “pre-designed scenario” had been put in place. The response never occurred; in fact, if one media report is accurate, Russian President Putin may be ready to ‘dial back’ tensions with the U.S. following the strikes, which were very limited, by the way, and didn’t target any of Syria’s military capability. 

Still, there is plenty of volatility in this part of the world.

Sometime during or after the strike, it is believed that the Israelis struck a Syria airbase near Homs. While the Israeli military did not formally confirm the strike (it never does), officials did say that the Tiyas, or T-4, airbase was being utilized by Iranian troops. Israeli has regularly stated it would not tolerate Iranian forces operating close to, or in the proximity of, Israeli borders. As for casualties, one human rights group said at least 14 had been killed, including fighters of various nationalities — a reference to Iran-backed Shiite militia members, most of whom come from Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran who fight alongside the Syrian army. The Israelis don’t expect the Iranians to take the attack lying down. Israeli military and intelligence officials, in fact, believe that the Revolutionary Guards Corps is planning a retaliatory attack against the Jewish state. Specifically, the Israelis believe the attack will come in the form of precision-guided ballistic missiles or armed drones launched from Syrian bases by the Guards Corps directly, not by proxies as was done in the recent past. They believe the attack will be led by Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassam Soleimani. Recent satellite photos of Iranian bases inside Syria show increased activity and level of involvement with the Assad regime under the guise of the IRGC’s air force commander, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. Israeli intelligence says that Iran is using commercial air flights to ferry in soldiers and weapons in order to bolster Iranian troop presence and capability. 

If Iran would attack Israel — from Syria or anywhere else — surely the Iranians would anticipate a massive response.

CIA Director and secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo confirmed to the Senate Armed Services Committee in open testimony that the U.S. and its allies in Syria did indeed kill “a couple hundred” Russians. “A handful of weeks ago, the Russians met their match. A couple hundred Russians were killed,” he said, in reference to previous reporting that hundreds of Russian mercenaries controlled by the Kremlin as proxy troops (for plausible deniability) had been killed by U.S. forces and their allies after they were attacked. Pompeo was making the revelation as a means of explaining how tough President Trump has been on Russia, despite domestic political reporting that he and Moscow were colluding during the 2016 election cycle.

In the backdrop of all that is taking place in Syria are efforts by the U.S. and European allies to shore up the Iran “nuclear deal,” which Tehran isn’t likely to agree to. For his part Defense Secretary James Mattis said last week he believes Iran remains in compliance, but he — like Trump — says there are problems with the deal. Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee that the deal may not survive. “I think it needs to be fixed,” he said. Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford has recently called the deal “insufficient,” indicating that he, too, is now on the same page as the commander-in-chief, who has regularly criticized it as one of the worst deals ever. Mattis said the U.S. and European allies were looking at three areas to improve, but would not tell the HASC what they are. “If those three areas can be addressed, then perhaps it can be saved. If we can fix most of it, will that be sufficient? I don’t know that right now,” he said. Also, Dunford said he believes Iran is in compliance and that he has recommendations he will make to the president, but told the HASC that he could not, at this time, share those. Trump’s nominee to be the new secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, told the committed that Trump could be persuaded to remain in the agreement “if we’re close” to improving its flaws. Trump has a May deadline to re-certify to Congress that Iran is in compliance, as required by the deal. 

North Korea:

The U.S. and South Korea kicked off their annual drills but agreed to limit them to one month instead of two, to appease North Korea. But that wasn’t the only appeasement; the drills are being conducted without any U.S. “strategic assets.” Specifically, absent from this year’s Foal Eagle/Key Resolve drills are B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers, aircraft carriers, and nuclear-powered subs, all of which Pyongyang considers especially threatening (and for good reason). It might seem silly to Americans to think that military drills could be seen as preparing for a first strike, but if you’re a nervous dictator whose military doesn’t stand a chance against such weapons, you would look at such a build-up much differently. There will be some of the United States’ newest high-tech there — F-35Bs, in particular, aboard the USS Wasp, which will be accompanied by its customary expeditionary force. The reduction in hardware and the shortened training time is being seen as the Trump administration (as well as the South Korean government) giving North Korean leader Kim Jong-un some leeway ahead of scheduled historic negotiations that many hope will lead to the North’s denuclearization. But some are criticizing the effort, saying that Kim will view it as weakness and an opening to push for even more concessions ahead of talks. 

In testimony with the House Armed Services Committee, JCOS Gen. Dunford said if denuclearization talks failed, North Korea could soon begin building missiles at a pace the U.S. could not defend against. “I think I can say with confidence that we can defend against the capability that North Korea has today, the specific capabilities, and the numbers of missiles that they can field that can reach the United States,” Dunford told the panel. “We could never create a defense against a growing serial production missile capability by the North Koreans. So the North Koreans would be able to hold us at risk, were they to go into serial production with the numbers of missiles that would exceed our ability to defend.”

Another reason North Korea may balk at surrendering its nuclear program is that its navy and merchant fleets are helping Pyongyang immensely in bypassing otherwise crippling economic sanctions. They are conducting illicit trade on the high seas while lashing out from the coastlines of the northern Korean peninsula. The North’s navy isn’t a major threat, but its merchant fleet, camouflaged as fishing vessels, has enabled Kim to maintain a steady stream of cash into his country through the bypassing of sanctions; that, along with North Korean front companies registered in China but are connected to Pyongyang. These vessels also carry cheap conventional arms and other military hardware North Korea sells to rogue nations like Iran, Cuba, Myanmar, and the terrorist group Hezbollah.

Secretary of State nominee and current CIA Director Pompeo is not optimistic. He also told the HASC when asked point blank if the North would give up its nuclear weapons, “The historic analysis there is not optimistic. It is almost a talisman that there is not enough [pressure], there is not enough capacity for Kim Jong Un to make the decision to give up his nuclear weapons arsenal.” He noted that he has studied past failed negotiations and discussed them with some people who took part in them. “In each case, America and the world really [ended] their sanctions too quickly. That is, we didn’t have the verifiable irreversible deal that we hoped that we had. And in each case, the North Koreans walked away from that deal. It is the intention of the president and the administration to not do that this time.”

South China Sea:

As conflict becomes less likely on the Korean peninsula, China is continuing its push for dominance in the South China Sea region. At the same time, the Trump administration is aggressively reinforcing international law and rite of passage in the vast body of water.

In a move that will surely anger Beijing and inflame U.S.-China tensions, even as both countries still engage in tit-for-tat tariffs, the U.S. Navy may soon be conducting drills in or near the South China Sea. This also comes as China prepares to deploy its first domestically-built aircraft carrier, which, admittedly, is still a couple of years away, though sea trials are scheduled to begin soon. More to the point, the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group which was anchored off Singapore last week could soon be ordered into the SCS. Called “maritime training drills” by Chinese media, they would nonetheless “greatly provoke” Beijing. Making matters even more tense, the U.S. may bring in more regional navies for the drills. U.S. operations with regional allies will do three things: Send a strong message to China that it can’t intimidate the Trump administration; it will demonstrate to America’s still-nervous allies that the U.S. has no intention of abandoning them; and it will further strengthen Beijing’s conclusion that in order to beat back American hegemony it will have to continue its military and naval modernization.

As the U.S. carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt transited the South China Sea this week, one of the ship’s pilots reported that he had encountered Chinese jamming technology interfering with his plane’s equipment. “The mere fact that some of your equipment is not working is already an indication that someone is trying to jam you,” the EA-18G Growler pilot said, adding, “we have an answer to that.” You may recall that the EA-18G is an electronic warfare aircraft that is a variant of the F/A-18 Super Hornet. We noted in a previous Strategic Intelligence Summary recently that China has deployed new electronic jamming equipment on one of its Spratly Island outposts; those are said to be capable of interfering with military communications systems.

The Chinese naval drill earlier this month is now officially the country’s largest, at least in modern times. But it also underscores a couple of points: 1) China isn’t going to relinquish or otherwise back away from its claims to the entire SCS; and 2) The outsized claim and the willingness to defend it is becoming a sign of pride in China. Beijing has said for years that it has ancient, historical claims to these waters, and while the Obama administration appeared oblivious to China’s revisionism, the Trump administration’s strategy has been to confront China’s claims by beefing up the U.S. naval presence in the Western Pacific and conduct more freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs). But to underscore China’s commitment to its claims, President Xi Jinping himself oversaw the recent 40-plus warship drills that included, for good measure, the country’s first aircraft carrier — a training vessel, to be sure, but a platform the Chinese navy is using to learn the ropes of such operations. The thing to keep in mind here is that China plans to enforce its claims at some point — which, by the way, includes absorbing Taiwan, peacefully or otherwise. 

To that end, in a show of force no doubt, the Chinese navy held a limited, live-fire drill in the Taiwan Strait this week. The drills were within Chinese territory, but the message was clear, as it always is: Beijing is lurking. Several non-Chinese media outlets correctly called the drills a show of force and a warning to both Taiwan and the U.S., while also highlighting rising tensions between Washington and Taipei on one side and Beijing on the other. One Chinese regime mouthpiece said the drills were “a check” against Taiwanese independence moves. Another echoed previous Chinese warnings against any Taiwanese attempt at independence. 

Some analysts see China as already “winning” the SCS dispute. As an example, one analysis pointed to a recent visit to Vietnam by the USS Carl Vinson, the first American carrier make a port call to the Asian nation since the Vietnam War. Barely three weeks later, however, Hanoi bowed to Beijing’s pressure and canceled a major oil drilling project in “disputed” SCS waters. The message: Yes, Asian nations in the region have powerful allies, but short of war, what are those allies doing to check Chinese aggression? And will they be there to defend the smaller Asian nations in the event a conflict with China breaks out? “It was yet another sign of the region’s rapidly shifting dynamics,” the analysis said. “For the last decade, the United States and its Asian allies have been significantly bolstering their military activities in the region with the explicit aim of pushing back against China. But Beijing’s strength and dominance, along with its diplomatic, economic and military reach, continues to grow dramatically.”

We must always remember that China is a revisionist power. China seeks to reassert its regional dominance (from centuries ago) as it pursues global dominance. War is much more likely when revisionist powers attempt to change the current global order.


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

Russia was spying on former agent Skripal for years

The Kremlin had been spying on Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, and his daughter for at least five years prior to Moscow’s ‘alleged’ assassination attempt against both of them last month. According to a letter to NATO , Mark Sidwell, the national securit advisor to British Prime Minister Teresa May, said that Yulia’s email accounts had been targeted in 2013 by cyber actors from Russia’s GRU military intelligence service. He said in the letter, which was published by the British government, that it was “highly likely that the Russian intelligence services view at least some of its defectors as legitimate targets for assassination.” The nerve agent attack left both of them critically ill for weeks. The Russians have denied any involvement. [source]

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

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