Strategic Intelligence Summary For 25 October 2018

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


In this Strategic Intelligence Summary…

  • Could cyber attacks turn nuclear?
  • Trump confuses Chinese officials
  • Asians overwhelmingly prefer U.S. to China
  • Navy recognizes electronic battlespace
  • U.S. dumping INF due to Russian violations
  • NORAD conducts military exercise
  • Russia builds nuke plant in Uzbekistan
  • USAF upgrades Estonia air base
  • Navy sends carrier to the Arctic
  • Poland wants rocket launchers
  • Pence promises U.S. backing to Central America for secured borders
  • Russia voices alarm at U.S. using nukes in military planning
  • Putin builds up Kaliningrad
  • Arab states fear Khashoggi murder could trigger regional instability
  • 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?

 

Could cyber attacks turn nuclear?

The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), released in February of this year, clarified the “extreme circumstances” under which the U.S. would reserve the right to use nuclear weapons. “Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” the Trump administration said in the NPR. “Significant non-nuclear strategic attacks include, but are not limited to, attacks on the U.S., allied, or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allies’ nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” Although the language does not specifically identify cyber attacks, an attack of significant severity would seem likely to be a trigger for a nuclear response. [source]

Chinese official admits that Trump confuses them

China’s Ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said it is unclear to him who in the Trump administration is driving policy, the hardliners or the moderates. Tiankai claims that other diplomats in Washington, D.C. share this sentiment. Tiankai denied charges of Chinese intellectual property theft during his recent Fox News interview. The ambassador also denied Chinese fault in a recent near collision of a U.S. naval destroyer with a Chinese ship in the South China Sea. Tiankai said that a meeting would probably take place between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina next month. [source]

 

Asians overwhelmingly prefer U.S. to China

A recent Pew Research Centre study indicates that 73 percent of Asian respondents—represented by polls taken in Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia—prefer the U.S. to China as a global leader. Only 12 percent of those polled preferred China. The strongest support for China came from Indonesia, though at only 22 percent. In Japan, the U.S. and China favorability was 81 and 8 per cent, respectively. “If you look at the data about the preference for US leadership in Asia today, it is huge in preference for the United States despite the fact that China is the dominant economic partner for every country in East Asia,” said former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who is now president of the Asia Society Policy Institute. [source] (Analyst Comment: To be fair, the countries polled are U.S. allies or security partners, but it still underscores the importance that the U.S. does indeed have Asian allies willing to oppose Chinese dominance in Asia.)

U.S. dumping INF due to Russian violations

On Tuesday, following two days of talks in Moscow, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said the U.S. has determined that Russia has been in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty since 2013, a claim that the Russians deny. President Trump has threatened to withdraw from the treaty. Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Putin, described giving up the INF as a “dangerous position” and was pessimistic regarding the prospects of a new deal to replace the INF. Some politicians in the U.S. and Europe fear that withdrawal from the treaty could spur a new arms race, and U.S. allies are split on the decision, with Britain in support and Germany in opposition.  The European Union came out against the withdrawal, saying, the “world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary, would bring even more instability.” [source]

Russia builds nuke plant in Uzbekistan

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Uzbekistan’s President Shavkat Mirziyoyev ordered the start of preliminary work on the former Soviet republic’s first nuclear power plant.  The plant is to be built by Russia, and Putin said his government is prepared to expand military ties with Uzbekistan, possibly including the joint production of weapons in that country. [source]

VP Pence promises U.S. backing to Central America for secured borders

Speaking at a meeting with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, Vice President Mike Pence indicated that the U.S. would be willing to help with economic development and investment if Central American countries did more to deal with mass migration, corruption, and gang violence. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez expressed concern over the separation of migrant children from their parents at the Mexican border. He also complained that U.S. funding was declining at a time Central American countries were being asked to do more on border security. [source]

 

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

Navy recognizes electronic battlespace

A new U.S. Navy policy, which went into effect on 05 October and was announced on 22 October, recognizes the electromagnetic spectrum as a warfighting domain “on par with sea, land, air, space and cyber.” The Navy Chief Information Officer is tasked with a number of oversight functions including providing an executive governance structure for the Navy’s primary advisory group that will be used for electromagnetic strategy, policy and doctrine development. [source] (Analyst Comment: This policy is almost entirely in response to Russian and Chinese use of electronic warfare, as the Navy continues to shift policy towards great power competition and conflict. The Army’s also been focused on increasing its electromagnetic warfare capabilities.)

 

NORAD conducts military exercise

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), U.S. Northern Command, and the Canadian Joint Operations Command will conduct Vigilant Shield 19 from October 24-28 from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. This will be the 13th iteration of the homeland defense exercise, which will deploy more than 5,500 personnel to test the ability of the commands to defend the homeland during an attack. “The homeland is no longer a sanctuary and conducting exercises like Vigilant Shield is just one example of the many active measures taken every day by NORAD and USNORTHCOM as we continue enhancing our ability to defend our nations,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, NORAD and USNORTHCOM Commander, said in a statement. [source]

 

USAF upgrades Estonia air base

U.S. Air Forces in Europe are upgrading Amari Air Base in Estonia. The project, intended to serve as a deterrent to potential Russian aggression, included the construction of a new aircraft maintenance hangar, a hazardous cargo pad, a squadron operations facility, and a dormitory capable of housing 220 personnel. This construction and other investments in allied bases in Eastern Europe is part of the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI). The EDI was first called the European Reassurance Initiative, which was launched in 2014 following the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. According to one U.S. Air Force official, the improvements “provide strategic access” into the Baltics. “You look right across the border and there’s a big regional adversary right there.” Lacking fighter jets of their own, Baltic nations Estonia and Lativa are dependent on their NATO allies for airspace defense. [source]

 

Navy sends carrier to the Arctic

When the Harry S. Truman entered the Norwegian Sea on Friday, it was the first time since September of 1991 that U.S. Navy carrier aviation had entered the Arctic Circle. The deployment is a prelude to NATO’s major military exercise Trident Juncture, which will take place in and around Norway in late October and early November. According to Dr. Daniel Goure, a former defense official and senior vice president of the Lexington Institute think tank, the deployment is about more than a show of force. Goure says that it is also important for a new generation of Navy personnel to become acquainted with what could become a maritime battlefield. “I’d wager that the carrier strike group command has never participated in this kind of exercise in that area, and if he has it hasn’t been since he was an ensign,” Goure said. He also predicted that these deployments would likely become the norm. [source]

 

Poland wants rocket launchers

Poland has officially requested from the U.S. one Lockheed Martin M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. Poland will be the second eastern European country, after Romania, to buy the HIMARS. Capable of reaching targets up to 186 miles away, HIMARS uses Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System munitions and Army Tactical Missile System guided ammunition. Poland also plans to buy missiles and a training/logistics package to go with the rocket launchers. [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)

NATO-Russia

Significant Developments:

Russia voices alarm at U.S. using nukes in military planning

Andrei Belousov, deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control, expressed concerns on Monday that the U.S. is increasing the role of nuclear weapons in its nuclear planning, while denying U.S. allegations that his country has violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  Belousov also voiced concerns about the U.S. developing a global ballistic missile defense. President Trump announced on Saturday that the U.S. is withdrawing from the INF, claiming that Russia has violated the treaty, which prohibits both countries from possessing, producing or test-flying ground-launched nuclear cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 300 to 3400 miles. During discussion of a number of arms control issues in Moscow on Monday, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and his Russian counterpart, Security Council chairman Nikolai Patrushev, discussed the a possible five-year extension of another arms control agreement between Russia and the U.S.—the New START Treaty. This treaty, which limits the number of strategic long-range nuclear warheads and deployed launchers, is scheduled to expire in 2021. [source]

 

Putin builds up Kaliningrad

The Kaliningrad Oblast, one of the federal entities in the Russian Federation, is positioned on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland, and is of significant strategic importance to Russia. Kaliningrad is described as a “sort of forward operating base behind NATO’s front lines” and is Russia’s only year-round ice-free port on the Baltic. Much of the Soviet heavy weaponry from Eastern European nations during the days of the Warsaw Pact were repositioned there after the Soviet Union collapsed. Recent unclassified reporting describes new military construction activity, which includes increasing overall storage capability at the major depot for tactical nuclear weapons, 40 new weapons bunkers at the Primorsk naval base, and major aviation and weapons-storage improvements at Chkalovsk air base. [source]

 

Indo-Pacific

Significant Developments:

Hodges: U.S. at war with China within 15 years

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who was previously the top Army commander in Europe, recently predicted that the United States could be at war with China within 15 years. “I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable, but it is a very strong likelihood — that we will be at war with China.” [source] (Analyst Comment: LTG Hodges took a pretty hard line on Russia as head of USAEUR, too. Hodges is saying what a great many generals are thinking, or saying behind closed doors. If we’re to believe the Thucydides Trap, then there’s a roughly 70 percent chance that the U.S., a status quo power, will go to war with China, a revisionist power. Fundamentally, what we’re seeing with China’s theft of intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices is a rise to global superpower status through peaceful, economic means. Trump’s course of action via trade tariffs and restructuring global trade out of China’s uneven favor attempts to prevent the U.S. being outmaneuvered economically and saving sole superpower status without going to war.

 

 

Middle East 

Significant Developments:

Arab states fear Khashoggi murder could trigger regional instability

Regional officials and experts believe that Arabs are concerned that the potential deterioration of ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as a result of the alleged state-sanctioned murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey could endanger their own stability and security. Although not all Trump administration policies are to the liking of the Arab world, including its support of Israel, President Trump’s crackdown on regional rival Iran is generally preferred to what was seen as a soft stance toward Iran by the Obama administration. Saudi Arabia has been the administration’s key Arab ally in confronting Iran. Some fear that Iran will see resulting tensions between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia as an opportunity. “This heinous murder further revealed the nature of the Saudis, their kingdom and that young man who is seeking fame and murdering innocent people,” Iranian judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani said in a reference to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to Agence France-Presse in Tehran. [source] (Analyst Comment: U.S. policy in the Middle East matters, especially when U.S. dollars are a part of restructuring winners and losers. The Trump administration views Iranian activities as being the most destabilizing and destructive in the Middle East, and reversed course from the Obama administration. The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is a major misstep by Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince and a key player in President Trump’s strategy to stabilize the Middle East. Arab states are rightly worried about who, if anyone, replaces the crown prince as successor to King Salman. Arab states are also worried about how that transition unfolds, as unrest in Saudi Arabia could lead to regional instability. If the crown prince ends up being replaced as King Salman’s successor, then ‘Arab NATO’ could also be at risk. The Arab NATO concept puts forth that a coalition of U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, and others would be responsible for solving the region’s problems. President Trump and national security advisor John Bolton, who’s spoken about a ‘Global NATO’ before, are riding on the hope that Mohammad bin Salman remains in power.)

 

North Korea

Significant Developments:

North and South Korean leaders agreed this week to begin de-militarizing their border, starting with the removal of 22 guard posts next month. Additionally, South Korea had previously agreed to cancel joint military drills with the United States, like Vigilant Ace 2018 which was scheduled for December. The South Korean military won’t be canceling all military drills, but these two developments are intended to show goodwill between the two Koreas as both sides are seemingly hopeful that peaceful progress will continue.

 

 

// END REPORT

– S.C.

 

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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