Strategic Intelligence Summary for 25 April 2019 – Forward Observer Shop

Strategic Intelligence Summary for 25 April 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.


ADMIN NOTE: You’ll notice that this week, we’ve changed the PIRs to reflect better topics for situational awareness. Additionally, I’ve added the Central America/Mexico brief to the National Intelligence Bulletin.


In this Strategic Intelligence Summary…

  • USN deploys two carrier strike groups to the Mediterranean
  • USCG becomes increasingly active in national defense issues
  • USAF and Army hammer out new air-ground warfare strategy
  • U.S., India conducted joint sub-hunting exercise
  • U.S., Japan reach new agreement on cyber attacks
  • CIA accuses Huawei of being funded by Chinese state security
  • Russian ambassador to Venezuela rejects US Monroe Doctrine
  • Iraq hosts conference, brings together Saudi Arabia and Iran
  • Flashpoint SITREPs (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea, Venezuela)


Priority Intelligence Requirements:

PIR1: What are the latest significant developments, mobilizations, and deployments of U.S. or adversary units?

PIR2: How are traditional allies, security partners, and other countries responding to potential conflict?

PIR3: How are ‘great powers’ pursuing DIME effects / military-operations-other-than-war in their attempts to subvert, disrupt, and otherwise diminish U.S. power?

PIR4: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea, Venezuela)


PIR1: What are the latest significant developments, mobilizations, and deployments of U.S. or adversary units?

USN deploys two carrier strike groups to the Mediterranean

In what the US ambassador to Russia, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., termed “200,000 tons of international diplomacy,” the USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) and its attendant strike group met the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) in the Mediterranean on 23APR19. It’s the first time the US will have deployed two carrier strike groups in the area in three years. Given the rising tensions in the Black Sea, the deployment is aimed at getting the attention of Russia. “Diplomatic communication and dialogue coupled with the strong defense these ships provide demonstrate to Russia that if it truly seeks better relation with the United States, it must cease destabilizing activities around the world,” Huntsman said. (source) (Analyst Comment: The strike groups do provide, obviously, a strong defense. But they also can provide and enormous amount of offensive firepower. Between the two groups there are 130 aircraft serviced by close to 9000 sailors and Marines. It remains to be seen if having two carrier strike groups in the Med would be a viable strategy in case of conflict. They are, after all, large targets. Russia may not be quite as impressed as the US would like her to be. On 23APR19, Russia launched the K-139 Belgorod submarine (the world’s longest), which is set to become that country’s first operational launch platform for the Poseidon nuclear powered and nuclear armed long-range torpedo.)

USCG becomes increasingly active in national defense issues

The U.S. Coast Guard has adopted a new operational strategy for the Arctic: Projecting American sovereignty as Russia and China expand their presence in the region. The are multiple facets to the new strategy: Upgrading ships and aircraft will be prioritized, and the service will bolster unmanned systems as well to ensure the U.S. is “projecting sovereignty” into territorial and international Arctic regions. [SOURCE] (Analyst comment: Russia has a large and growing icebreaker fleet, while China — which has declared itself a “near-Arctic state” — is also building them. The U.S., meanwhile, has one operational icebreaker and new ones are years away. That said, the Coast Guard would not take the lead in a conflict in the Arctic in any event. But reasserting American sovereignty in the region puts Moscow and Beijing on notice that Washington will not simply cede the Arctic to either of them.)
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard says that it is important to work with Russia and China to prevent a conflict in the region. This will become especially important as sea ice recedes and more of the Arctic is open to the exploitation of natural resources like oil/gas, fishing, mineral extraction, and other commercial and strategic interests. This, while the USCG attempts to maintain a presence and American leadership in the region. [SOURCE] (Analyst comment: Without a doubt, the U.S. Coast Guard is playing catch-up in the Arctic. For years, Congress and successive administrations have ignored or neglected the service, especially its Arctic seagoing capabilities, while Russia has poured resources into its capabilities and China seeks to enter the fray as well. It won’t be easy keeping the region conflict-free once enough ice melts to expose vast tracts of sea for commercial use.)
USAF and Army hammer out new air-ground strategy
The U.S. Air Force and Army are devising new combined air-ground strategies to meet future warfare challenges as near-peer adversaries develop and field more sophisticated weapons that include kinetic and electronic systems. Called “Multi-Domain Operations,” the new strategy takes into account the fact that, out of necessity, land formations are becoming more dispersed, as are supply lines, as well as more susceptible to long-range missile and artillery fires (to include attacks from drones). One major adaptation is the use of information in real-time as a means of countering enemy systems through the widespread employment of sensors that feed data to information hubs (clouds) and command centers. [SOURCE]


PIR2: How are traditional allies, security partners, and other countries responding to potential conflict?

U.S., India conducted joint sub-hunting exercise

The U.S. and India are joining forces to hunt for Chinese submarines in the Indo-Pacific region, as part of a major agreement aimed at keeping better track of Beijing’s growing naval activities. American and Indian P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol planes and the USS Spruance destroyer took part in anti-submarine warfare, information-sharing, and mission coordination. [SOURCE] (Analyst comment: The U.S. is attempting to leverage its increasingly closer relationship with India as a counter to Chinese encroachment into the region. The Indians have traditionally been wary of becoming too close to anyone, including the U.S., but China’s rising power threatens India’s national security so this relationship is likely to grow deeper. Interestingly, these exercises took place near the strategically important U.S. base at Diego Garcia, which would be used to launch strikes or counterstrikes against mainland China.)

U.S., Japan reach new agreement on cyber attacks

U.S. and Japanese officials have announced that any cyber attack on Japan could be considered an “armed attack” necessitating an appropriate response under the existing U.S.-Japan Security Treaty. Under Article 5 of the treaty, the U.S. pledges to assist Japan in defending the mainland and its territories if attacked. [SOURCE] Analyst comment: Cyber has changed the nature of warfare. This announcement was meant as a warning to China and, to an extent North Korea, both of whom have sophisticated offensive cyber-espionage and cyberwarfare capabilities. It gives Beijing and Pyongyang something else to consider if they endeavor to hack or disrupt Japanese infrastructure systems.

CIA accuses Huawei of being funded by Chinese state security

Earlier this year the Central Intelligence Agency shared its claims with the other members of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing group: Britain, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. The report accuses Huawei of receiving funding from China’s National Security Commission, the People’s Liberation Army, and an unnamed third branch of the Chinese state intelligence network. Huawei dismissed the allegations, but they come amid concerns that the telecom giant’s 5G network equipment could be used for espionage. Reuters reported earlier this week that the US will push its allies at a meeting in Prague next month to adopt shared security and policy measures that will make it more difficult for Huawei to dominate 5G telecommunications networks. (source) (Analyst Comment: The problem is that Huawei is ready to go now. Its already installed the first 5G antennas in Berlin and will partner with local companies in India to launch massive antenna technology that will expand the existing network by five to six times the current speed. Governments want 5G and they want it now. Germany has signaled to the US that it will not heed its admonishments and will go ahead with Huawei as its main supplier for 5G. The head of Britain’s GCHQ, citing 5G as one of the most impactful technologies of any era, also emphasized that GCHQ had been “crystal clear” with Huawei that Britain would not compromise on the security improvements it expected from the company. Meanwhile, Vodafone CEO Nick Read said at the Mobile World Congress that refusing to include Huawei in 5G rollouts would be “hugely disruptive” and would damage competition in Europe’s supply chains.)

PIR3: How are ‘great powers’ pursuing soft power in their attempts to subvert, disrupt, and otherwise diminish U.S. power?


Russian ambassador to Venezuela rejects US Monroe Doctrine

Last week, National Security Adviser John Bolton said the 1823 Monroe Doctrine is “alive and well.” The Russian ambassador to Venezuela, Vladmir Zaemskiy recently rejected that assertion, saying, “It’s hard to believe that the US administration has invented a time machine that not only allows them to turn back the clock but also the direction of the universe.”  Zaemskiy went on to say that the US’s “obsession in imposing their will, in this case on Venezuela’s internal affairs reminds me of the declarations of the leaders of al-Qaida.” (source) (Analyst Comment: It’s difficult to see what the US can do about Russia operating in Venezuela. Venezuela’s President Maduro is increasingly leaning on support from Putin, and he’s getting it. What will happen if China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Syria form their own coalition and work together to consolidate internal power, as well as project power internationally, albeit at a level just short of open warfare? China has managed to drive a wedge between Italy and the G7/NATO coalition with its Belt and Road Initiative. Russia is effectively driving a stake through the heart of the Monroe Doctrine, something that would have been unthinkable twenty years ago. Syria, Iran, and Russia have managed to keep the once tottering regime of Assad in power and now are camped on the edge of Israel’s Golan Heights. Meanwhile relations between NATO and the US have never been worse. The very foundation of NATO is Article 5, which provides for the collective defense of member nations. In 2017 US President Trump did not explicitly endorse the mutual aid clause, rattling allies and calling into question the US’s commitment to the treaty. That begs the question of just what will the US fight for? Taiwan? Japan? Poland? North Korea continues to drive the wedge deeper between the US and South Korea and this month Kim Jong Un will travel to Moscow and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Last week we reported on Russia tightening its grip on the Arctic and growing its footprint on the African continent. The bottom line is that Western style democracies are being confronted on every continent by a coalition of autocrats, even if they aren’t coordinating their efforts. UPDATE: North Korea has been invited, along with 36 other nations, to attend a summit in China for the Belt and Road Initiative. (source) With neither side budging on denuclearization, what will Washington offer North Korea to keep it from diving deeper into the Chinese sphere of influence?

Iraq hosts conference, brings together Saudi Arabia and Iran

Iraq hosted a conference in Baghdad bringing together the countries of its six neighbors: Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, and Kuwait. The meeting is part of a broader effort by Iraqi leaders to fashion the country’s image as a “friend among neighbors.” Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mohamed al-Halbousi gave a speech, wherein he said, “Today, Iraq is building a promising strategic partnership with all neighboring countries without any reservations or favoring any party.” Iraq remains an ‘ally’ of the US in the Middle East, but Iraqi leaders have made it clear they will not be constrained by US policy objectives to isolate Iran and Syria. (source) (Analyst Comment: What’s noteworthy here is the inclusion of Syria. Iraq is working towards the goal of bringing Syria back into the Arab League. Syria is in control of the Assad dynasty, which professes the Alawite brand of Shi’a Islam. Iran, being a predominately Shi’a country is a close ally of Syria. Iraq was a predominantly Shi’a country. The Sunni ruling class of Saddam Hussein didn’t comprise more than 35% of the population, but has recently elected Mr. al-Halbousi, a Sunni Muslim, Speaker of its parliament. It begs the question: has the Middle East, perhaps after seeing the cataclysmic bloodshed and violence denoted by the rise and fall of ISIS decided to dampen some of their religious differences and focus on regional issues? On the 6th of this month Speaker al-Halbousi traveled to Tehran and stated that Iraq would “support Iran against sanctions.” (source) Assad has survived his home-grown revolution and is going to stay in power. Saudi Arabia is getting absolutely nowhere with its de-humanizing war in Yemen and is only receiving support from the US because President Trump vetoed a bi-partisan resolution that would have cut off US support. (source) Iran, Syria, and Russia are camped at the base of the Golan Heights. Iran has cemented its own relationship with Iraq through its efforts to eradicate ISIS in Iraq. Who could have imagined ten years ago that primarily Shi’a Popular Mobilization Forces from Iraq (basically militias supplied by Moqtada al Sadr) would partner with GEN Qasem Soleimani and the IRGC Quds force to drive ISIS out of northern Iraq?  So it would seem that there is new level of cooperation that could be possible in the region. One country noticeably absent: Israel.


PIR4: What is the current situation report and risk of war in each of the four flashpoints? (NATO-Russia, Indo-Pacific, Middle East, North Korea)


Russia will lease Syria’s Tartus port for 49 years

In 2017, Russia ratified an agreement with Damascus on Russia’s access to the naval base in Tartus. Now the two countries have signed an agreement and the port will be used by Russian businesses for 49 years. The move comes after Iran leased the port of Latakia from Syria in October of 2018.  (source) (Analyst Comment: This move cements Russia’s hold on a warm-water port on the Mediterranean Sea. Russia also has interests in extending gas pipelines in the region and resuming a railway project linking Iran, Iraq, and Syria. A railway from Tehran to Damascus would give the three countries unparalleled capacity to transport goods, people, and, probably more importantly, weapons from the Hormuz Strait to the Mediterranean virtually unmolested by international inspection or notice. Anytime an airliner takes off or lands, it can be tracked, with obvious exceptions for the military or intelligence assets. But the only thing that would be able to detect what was loaded on a train would be human intelligence, and the West is woefully deficient in that area.)



Xi Jinping continues to build his army

Chinese President Xi Jinping has conducted the biggest overhaul of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) since Mao led it to victory in the nation’s civil war and founded the republic in 1949. He has effectually made himself commander-in-chief, broken up the vast Maoist-era military bureaucracy, and separated operational leadership of naval, missile, air, ground, and cyber forces from administration and training. He has purged more than 100 generals accused of corruption or disloyalty, and catapulted officers that he’s served with in the past over the heads of many senior officers. He has established theater military commands, much like the US military’s Combat Commands, which in just two decades spawned the world’s biggest navy and built a force of conventional missiles that rival or outperform those in the US armory. (source) (Analyst Comment: The US, in short, is no longer guaranteed to prevail in a conflict with China. This long, but very informative read highlights just how far Xi has transformed the Chinese military. This is a good place to mention that the term PLA refers to not just the Chinese Army, but also includes all branches of the Chinese military. While China building islands in the South China Sea and menacing Taiwan has received a lot of news, this article points out the qualitative improvements that Xi has made to China’s armed forces, whether those improvements be in quantity, material, or leadership. The Chinese military was not known for its sophistication thirty years ago. As the article rightly points out, it was known for a sclerotic, bloated hierarchy, and rather shoddy weaponry. Xi Jinping has changed all that. The PLA is a serious player, that much is now obvious. What remains to be seen is how Xi will use this hard power. If he intends to couple it with the soft power projected by the Belt and Road Initiative, it looks to be a very effective stick to go with the carrots he’s holding out. One quote in the article does catch the eye, however. In a 2014 speech he gave to foreign leaders on regional security he said, “In the final analysis, it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia, solve the problems of Asia and uphold the security of Asia.” The last time we heard this sort of “Asia for the Asiatics” rhetoric was when Japan was establishing the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. (source) On the surface, it looks like Xi may be succeeding where the Japanese failed.)


Middle East:

Iran threatens to close the Strait of Hormuz (again)

An Iranian naval commander threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if the Trump administration ends waivers for Iranian oil, a decision that would effectively choke off most Iranian oil exports. “If we are banned from using [the Strait], we will close it,” Tangsiri, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s naval forces. [SOURCE] (Analyst comment: Whether Iran has the military power or not to actually close the Strait may not be as worrisome as whom the waiver decision and the closure threat affect — U.S. allies and potential enemies (China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey). As such, the U.S. would be joined by a host of countries in reopening the Strait but the potential for a wider conflict is far greater should Iran decide to do this.)


North Korea:

Kim Jong-Un met with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week in Vladivostok, Russia to discuss issues on the Korean Peninsula, as we all as commerce. Both were reportedly over 30 minutes late to the same meeting. Putin continued his desire to trade sanctions relief for incremental nuclear disarmament, saying, “If we take one step forward and two backward, then we would fail to achieve the desired result. But it will eventually be possible to achieve this goal, if we move forward gradually and if we respect each other’s interests.”



Maduro’s power remains intact

Power outages are continuing throughout the country, and as such continue to spark protests by citizens. Zulia state residents protested over the past week after they were left without power for 40 hours. Blackouts are still occurring frequently, according to Venezuelan media. [SOURCE]
Meanwhile, the national economy continues to slide and even the traditional “May Day” mandatory increases in worker salaries are not seen as doing much to improve things. What appears to be one factor is that any increase in the Venezuelan money supply is artificial given that exports of the country’s prime income source, oil, “are in free fall” (the government is Venezuela’s biggest employer). Currently, the head of a five-person household requires 40 times what the family receives in government ‘salary’ just to meet bare-minimum subsistence as mandated by the country’s constitution. In fact, because of the negative consequences of mandatory salary increases, which results in new rounds of inflation, most Venezuelans fear them. “…[I]n the management of Maduro, the private sector has become the enemy, the economy in a scenario of ideological battle that has pulverized the living conditions of the Venezuelan people,” said Froilán Barrios, of the National Coordination of the Autonomous Front in Defense of the Salary and the Union. [SOURCE]


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