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[*] posted on 28-6-2017 at 03:30 PM
US Overseas alliances and allied states

‘Indispensable’ Palau Deal At Risk; Will China Get Access?

By Colin Clark

on June 27, 2017 at 6:22 PM

“Palau is indispensable to our national security and funding the compact is key to our strategic presence in the region.” That’s what the Defense Department’s 2018 budget request says — but the House Armed Services Committee disagrees, defunding a $123.9 million payment that gains us access to the islands.

Why is Palau indispensable? Look at the map. That will help. It commands approaches to the Philippines and to Indonesia, as well as Papua New Guinea. And, of course, they flank the Marshall Islands, as well as a wide range of Pacific islands flanking our ally Australia. Also, one source notes that the importance of Palau airfields have taken on “increased importance for PACOM/PACAF given Duterte and his rhetoric in the Philippines.” It provides “a more guaranteed form of access to airfields in the second island chain,” this source says.

And you can read what the head of Pacific Command, Adm. Harry Harris, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 27:

I strongly urge Congress to pass legislation to approve and implement the 2010 Palau Compact Review Agreement at the earliest opportunity. The passage of this legislation will have a significant impact on our defense relationship with Palau, and will provide a measurable advantage in our strategic posture in the Western Pacific.

The problem is that the House Armed Services Committee doesn’t seem to think Palau is important enough to warrant taking money from the Defense Department budget and sending it to the Interior Department, which is what the budget request would do. So, they’ve peeled the money out of their version of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, according to two sources familiar with the issue.

The US is responsible for the defense of the Pacific islands. We were granted access to the island chain for 50 years under a Compact of Free Association. As part of that agreement, we owe Palau $123.9 million over the next seven years ($17.7 million a year). In return for that, we get exclusive access to the islands.

If the US were to fail to pay for the compact, you can be sure China would make a nice offer. And, if the Chinese were smart, they would run a nice story in Global Times or Xhinhua about the US abandoning one of the tiny island states of the Pacific, which they already assiduously court. All you have to do is look at what has happened in Fiji over the last few years.

In its legislative proposal justifying the request to Congress, the Trump administration says: “This agreement gives the U.S. military critical access and influence in an increasingly contested region where China has constructed artificial islands, installations, and structures and militarized the South China Sea.”

We don’t know a great deal about what the US does in Palau. “In fact, for us it’s a necessity because it assures access to Palau, which is prime geography to operate from. Can’t say more here, but you get the point,” one source tells us.

If much of what the US does in Palau is so sensitive that it’s classified that, in itself, would seem to argue strongly that a relative pittance of $123.9 million over seven years might supersede the technical concern of the HASC about transferring money from the DoD budget to another department.

My bet is that the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by one Sen. John McCain, will make a very persuasive argument in the NDAA conference that Palau receive the money America committed to pay it, period.
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[*] posted on 26-9-2017 at 12:08 PM

Five dangers of giving the Commerce Department oversight of firearms exports [Commentary]

By: Colby Goodman and Rachel Stohl   2 hours ago

U.S. Army Alpha Company, 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, scout snipers fire M110 sniper rifles on October 14, 2015, in Djibouti. (Senior Airman Peter Thompson/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Buy American” agenda is taking a potentially deadly turn, with the administration expected to issue new regulations that would make it easier for U.S. firearms and related ammunition to reach terrorists, criminal organizations and corrupt and abusive foreign security forces.

The Trump administration’s proposed regulations would likely transfer responsibility for reviewing licenses to export certain types of weapons — including assault-style rifles and pistols and armor-piercing sniper rifles — from the State Department to the Commerce Department.

Although not as eye catching as an F-35, these small arms are often called “the real weapons of mass destruction.” Responsible for up to 1,000 deaths a day, these weapons also threaten U.S. service members around the world. The proposal has raised significant concerns, including from U.S. law enforcement agencies that have fiercely opposed the transfer of these items because of the increased risk that they may land in the hands of unintended end users.

There are five key dangers of shifting oversight of firearms exports to the Commerce Department.

First, there is an increased risk of exports to unauthorized end users and conflict zones. Under the Commerce Department system, companies can generally use several broad license exemptions to export military equipment without U.S. government approval. When the U.S. government shifts oversight of firearms exports to companies, it loses the ability to identify key warning signs, including risky middlemen, unusual routes and mismatched weapons systems, of a possible diversion of U.S. guns to terrorists, criminals or conflict zones.

Without U.S. oversight, the government also couldn’t stop the sale of firearms to foreign security force units accused of serious human rights violations or corruption.

Second, a shift to the Commerce Department could compromise the United States’ ability to investigate and prosecute arms smugglers. The Trump administration’s proposal would likely eliminate the current requirement that individuals receive government approval before attempting to broker a deal to non-NATO countries for firearms controlled by the Commerce Department. The proposal might also remove the requirement that companies first register with the U.S. government before engaging in arms exports, which U.S. law enforcement has used to build investigations against illegal arms traffickers.

Furthermore, the proposal could create greater legal ambiguity about restrictions on firearms exports and, thus, impede U.S. law enforcement’s efforts to prosecute cases of illegal arms trafficking. Indeed, if an arms exporter can show that a reasonable person would be confused by U.S. regulations, the illegal exporter could escape prosecution.

Third, the proposal risks losing key legal restrictions on dangerous arms transfers. Commerce Department regulations, unlike the State Department’s, are not tied to all federal laws that regulate security assistance, including the commercial export of defense articles to foreign governments that support terrorism, violate internationally recognized human rights norms or interfere with humanitarian operations as well as country-specific controls imposed on nations of concern, such as China.

A shift to the Commerce Department would likely complicate, if not end, State Department reviews of a recipient’s human rights violations, as Commerce is not required to get the approval of the State Department when making arms transfer decisions.

Such a shift would thereby dilute the State Department’s ability to prevent high-risk transfers.

Fourth, the Trump proposal risks eroding global norms on firearms exports. Over the past two decades, through bilateral and multilateral agreements, the United States has successfully encouraged governments around the world to adopt better laws and policies to stop irresponsible and illegal arms transfers.

Many of these agreements note the need to review export licenses on a case-by-case basis, highlight the importance of brokering registration and licensing and contain other key controls. If the United States decides to reduce or remove some of these controls, many other countries may choose to do so as well, particularly if it allows them to better compete with the United States.

Finally, a shift would likely result in less transparency in arms sales. The proposal could eliminate both Congress’s and the public’s view of U.S. firearms sales authorizations and deliveries around the world because the Commerce Department’s annual reports cover only about 20 countries. Furthermore, there are no public end-use reports on arms exports authorized by the Commerce Department such as those for exports authorized by the State Department. The reports are useful to identify key trafficking patterns that can help avoid risky arms transfers.

Although the Commerce Department maintains a regulatory process for exports, its oversight is notoriously less robust than the State Department’s. Indeed, Congress has limited the executive branch’s authority to transfer military equipment to the Commerce Department to only those articles that do not have “substantial military utility.”

While firearms might not appear to hold the destructive power of many other conventional weapons systems, their potential impact can be devastating. As such, they deserve greater, not less, scrutiny when making export decisions.

Rachel Stohl is director of the Conventional Defense Program at the Stimson Center. Colby Goodman is director of the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy.
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[*] posted on 21-10-2017 at 02:07 PM

DSCA head considering changes to early-procurement fund for allies

By: Aaron Mehta   12 hours ago

The Pentagon may look to change how it helps buy precision guided munitions for allies. The 432nd Maintenance Squadron munitions flight reviews safety precautions before building six GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs March 1, 2016, at Creech Air Force Base. (Christian Clausen/Air Force)

WASHINGTON ― The new head of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency is studying a little known but vital source of funding for foreign weapon sales, with the hopes of finding ways to speed the process forward.

Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper discussed his view of the Special Defense Acquisition Fund (SDAF) during comments at the annual AUSA conference Oct. 10.

“I think we need to have a better understanding on how to more effectively use the fund, and I’m looking very carefully at how we can have a discussion on how the fund might be more effectively applied than it currently is now,” Hooper said.

The fund is set up to allow the State Department to look ahead at what a partner nation may need to buy in the coming year and pre-order it. For example, officials could look at the rate a partner is using up ammunition or know that an ally is going to need spare parts for its rotorcraft in three years, and spend funding to put those products under production.

This can dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to deliver that gear to the partner nation, something that all those involved in the FMS process ― partners, the Pentagon, State and industry ― acknowledge is vital to America’s interests abroad.

Originally a Reagan-era program, the fund was shut down in 1995 as part of the Cold War drawdown. The fund relaunched in 2011 with a $100 million authorization cap, a amount that remained unchanged until late 2015, when it was expanded to up to $900 million, although the fund currently has only about $350 million appropriated for it.

Asked by Defense News to clarify his SDAF comment, Hooper said, “Right now I’m not looking at any changes, I’m just looking,” noting he had only been in his job for around 60 days.

“I’m looking at SDAF very closely with an eye towards the same thing I’m looking at everything else with, with an eye towards how can we best execute it, how can it be made better, and maybe suggestions or recommendations I can make on how we can take a look at it more closely and make it more efficient and effective,” he added.

One potential change could revolve around supplying munitions for allies. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017 contained a provision requiring the SDAF to spend no less than $500 million from the SDAF on the procurement of precision guided munitions each year.

However, an administration official speaking on background said they are seeking legislative relief from that provision, which, given there is only $350 million in the account currently, would eat the entire SDAF on PGMs.

Hooper declined to put a timetable on when he might come to a decision or to comment on whether the goal was to have a decision made for the fiscal year 2019 budget.
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[*] posted on 1-1-2018 at 08:44 PM

Joe Hockey discussed Alexander Downer's Russia revelations with FBI

The Age

David Wroe

1 hour ago

The ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey personally steered Australia's dealings with the FBI on explosive revelations of Russian hacking during last year's presidential campaign in a sign of how politically sensitive the Australian government regarded the bombshell discovery, Fairfax Media understands.

It is also understood there is now annoyance and frustration in Canberra that the High Commissioner to Britain Alexander Downer has been outed through leaks by US officials as the source of information that played a role in sparking an FBI probe into the Trump campaign's dealings with Moscow.

© AP Australian High Commissioner to Britain, Alexander Downer.

Fairfax Media has confirmed independently that the conversation first reported by The New York Times took place.

In May 2016, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told Mr Downer over drinks at an upscale London wine bar that the Russians had a dirt file on rival candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked Democratic Party emails.

Mr Downer conveyed the conversation to Canberra via an official cable, though apparently not immediately – perhaps because he did not take the 28-year-old adviser's claims altogether seriously until the hacked emails were released by Wikileaks in late July.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is planning a trip to the United States in February, Fairfax Media understands. Mr Turnbull said on Monday he was "not at all" worried that Australia's role in sparking the investigation that has become a consuming headache for Mr Trump would damage his relationship with the President. Beyond that he refused to comment.

Mr Hockey is believed to have been involved in discussions with the FBI, indicating the Australian government was keenly alive to its political sensitivity, given it raised the possibility that one side of a presidential campaign was colluding with a foreign power against the other side.

Former officials and experts have said Australia dealt with the fraught situation correctly and had little choice but to share information of this nature with its closest ally. Serving and former officials also said Canberra had every right to be annoyed that Mr Downer's involvement had been made public.

Andrew Shearer, a senior national security and foreign affairs adviser to former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, said Mr Downer and the Australian government appeared to have handled the matter "entirely appropriately".

"Given the febrile political environment in Washington DC, particularly when it comes to anything relating to Russian election interference and the [Robert] Mueller investigation, it's regrettable but not terribly surprising that details of Downer's encounter with Papadopoulos have become public," said Mr Shearer, now with the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Another CSIS expert, Michael Green, who was previously a senior White House national security official under George W. Bush, said Mr Downer's dramatic appearance at the centre of the case "gives this story of Trump campaign collusion with Russia a new level of credibility that will be problematic for the White House".

"Trump has attacked sources like this in the past, and it would not be surprising if he did so this time, though I think the US-Australia alliance and intel relationship can easily weather this," he said.

Mr Trump has furiously rejected suggestions of collusion between his campaign and the Russians to undermine his opponent. Along the way, he has launched unprecedented attacks on the FBI itself, while he and his supporters have dismissed the genesis of the probe as being a dossier compiled by a British former spy paid by Mr Trump's political rivals.
The Downer story is significant because it suggests the original probe was instead sparked by a tip-off from a trusted ally.

The Russia probe is now being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, a widely admired former FBI director. It is regarded as very unlikely the leak to The New York Times came from Mr Mueller or anyone connected to him.

It remains uncertain precisely the degree to which Australia's reporting of the Downer-Papadopoulos conversation sparked the original investigation, given US authorities were getting information also from other friendly governments and from within the US.

Mr Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now co-operating as a witness.

Some Trump advisers and Republicans have dismissed him as an insignificant player in the campaign, though there are numerous reported instances of his having played a significant role.

TheNew York Times reported there was no evidence that he told anyone else in the Trump campaign about the Russian hacking.
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[*] posted on 5-1-2018 at 07:03 PM

American Ideals Beat the USSR. Why Aren’t We Using Them Against Russia?

By Jeffrey Mankoff
Fellow with the Truman National Security Project

January 4, 2018

Without an ideological rival to hold a mirror to its faults, the US is turning away from the ideas and institutions that led to victory.

It has become something of a cliché to refer to the ongoing crisis in U.S.-Russian relations as a new Cold War. And indeed, the combination of mistrust, sabre-rattling, and zero-sum thinking that now prevails in Washington and Moscow does have has a grim familiarity.

Yet history, as Mark Twain is reputed to have said, does not repeat itself, it only rhymes. The most notable difference between the current standoff with Russia and the 20th-century Cold War is the absence of ideological confrontation between two systems each claiming to offer the true path to freedom, peace, and justice and backed by their supporters with a religious fervor.

While the absence of ideological polarization means this Cold War might be more amenable to a diplomatic resolution, it also means that, without an ideological rival to hold a mirror to its faults and hypocrisies, some of the uglier strands in American history have made a comeback. It also means that the bipartisan consensus that sustained U.S. foreign policy throughout the latter 20th century is in danger of fracturing, leaving the U.S. unable or unwilling to push back against Russia’s aggressive efforts to upend the liberal international order and construct a sphere of influence around its borders.

Notwithstanding McCarthyism and other periods of anti-Communist hysteria at home, the ideological confrontation with Moscow helped drive progressive social and economic change in the United States. Whether because they feared a Communist revolution at home or in an effort to defeat Soviet influence abroad, for much of the 20th century, both Democratic and Republican administrations sought to tackle inequality and racism, to increase funding for education and science, and to promote media literacy in part because of they recognized that doing so was an important contribution to the geopolitical and ideological struggle with Moscow.

Even before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, fear of Communist revolution encouraged American leaders to take seriously the dangers of rampant inequality.

As early as 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was calling for a national system of social insurance (something like today’s Social Security system) to ensure that the United States’ future was “one of healthy evolution and not one of revolution.” While he had long supported greater government intervention to redistribute the gains of capitalism, Franklin Roosevelt only signed the Social Security Act in 1935 after a huge surge in working-class activism, some of it violent, in which socialists and the Soviet-backed Communist Party played a leading role.

In part thanks to the success of FDR’s New Deal, both inequality and working-class radicalism waned after the 1930s. With the outbreak of a global Cold War in the wake of World War II, the United States came to worry less about revolution at home and more about preventing the spread of Soviet-style Communism abroad, particularly in post-colonial Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Much of this global Cold War turned on the respective ability of the U.S. and Soviet models to inspire imitation in the “Third World.”

As part of this struggle, Moscow was eager to highlight the failures and injustices of the American system.

One of its most powerful critiques focused on racial injustice in the United States. Even in the 1920s and 1930s, the USSR saw African-Americans grievance as a possible driver of revolution in the U.S. and provided a platform for African-American activists to denounce the legacy of slavery, violence, and segregation at home. Figures like the activist-poet-singer Paul Robeson and the poet Langston Hughes gravitated to the USSR, which they lauded as an antidote to the discrimination they experienced at home.

After 1945, the Soviet Union consistently criticized segregation and other manifestations of racial injustice in the U.S. as part of its effort to weaken U.S. influence abroad (notwithstanding its own grim record on minority rights). Soviet media outlets targeting Asia, Africa, and Latin America highlighted racial strife in the U.S. to argue, in the words of a senior official in the Kennedy Administration’s State Department, that Jim Crow was “indicative of [U.S.] policy toward peoples of color throughout the world,” and that Washington would never reliably support the struggle for de-colonization.

The passage of civil rights legislation in the U.S. starting in the 1960s was justified to skeptics in part an attempt to weaken the impact of Soviet propaganda. As the historian Mary Dudziak has argued, a crucial driver of Cold War-era progress on civil rights was the need to make the case abroad that U.S.-style democracy was compatible with racial justice. Federal support for challenging segregation in court and for advancing civil rights legislation was justified in terms of success in the ideological struggle with the Soviet Union.

The ideological dimension also made the Cold War itself easier to prosecute, and ultimately win. Because the USSR was credibly portrayed as the negation of the United States’ ideals (acting as what David Fogelsong called the United States’ “dark double”), besting the Soviet Union came to provide a raison d’être for United States foreign policy from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. Whatever else they disagreed on, Democrats and Republicans were united in their belief that Moscow posed an existential threat not just to the U.S. homeland, but to the very ideals on which the United States was founded. That shared perception formed the basis of a longstanding bipartisan foreign policy consensus that emphasized U.S. support for liberal values, multilateralism, and resisting the spread of Communism.

Today, that consensus is in tatters, as a war for the soul of both parties rages between internationalist and isolationist wings. With the original Cold War a distant memory, Washington’s commitment to the institutions of the liberal order it created is in question in a way it has not been since the Second World War.

Russia, among other revisionist powers, benefits from this uncertainty. It supports opponents of the U.S.-led international order from both the Left and Right in the hopes of weakening the trans-Atlantic bond, securing its own sphere of influence, and peeling off sympathetic Europeans from the liberal West. Moscow still very much views the United States as its most dangerous strategic rival, and views its own security interests largely in zero-sum terms.

The original Cold War ended when the Soviet Union stopped believing in the ideals it claimed espouse. By the late 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev gave up the ghost on worldwide Communist revolution and, in 1991, on Communism at home.

Unfortunately, too many Americans came to regard the end of the Cold War and the discrediting of old-fashioned Leftist ideas like collective ownership of the means of production as a vindication of untrammeled capitalism. Meanwhile, tackling racial injustice at home ceased to be seen as a matter of national security, and in the process lost both its urgency and its bipartisan support. (Compare the records of Richard Nixon and Dwight Eisenhower on racial equality to those of Donald Trump.)

Though today’s Russia positions itself as a strategic rival of the U.S., it no longer offers an ideological alternative that inspires revolutionary enthusiasm. While the U.S. fears Russia’s missiles and its hackers, it has stopped fearing Russian ideas.

The absence of Cold War-style ideological competition wedded to strategic rivalry has made it easier for U.S. politicians to support for policies that reinforce rather than ameliorate inequalities of all types in the United States and to denigrate the role of the federal government as an instrument for tackling racial and socioeconomic disparities. It has also shattered the consensus that checking Moscow’s efforts to undermine the liberal order is a cause worth fighting for.

It is hard to imagine passage of the Republican Party’s grotesque tax bill, which the Congressional Budget Office and independent analysts predict will dramatically worsen inequality, or the federal government’s tepid response to racial strife in Charlottesville and elsewhere, efforts to weaken the Justice Department’s civil rights division, or reduced support for academic research taking place during the Cold War, when systemic competition with the Soviet Union provided a powerful argument for overcoming entrenched racial and economic interests to make the United States attempt to live up to its founding ideals.

In the original Cold War, it was these American ideals—which America claimed were universal—that triumphed, rather than American arms. Because we lack the ideological framing of the original Cold War, a real danger of the opposite outcome now exists. Now it is the U.S.(and many of its allies) who seem to have jettisoned much of their belief in the ideals and institutions that facilitated their Cold War triumph. Military spending may increase, but without a shared commitment to a worldview that speaks to the better angels of America’s nature, and inspires Americans and Europeans to “bear any burden,” in John F. Kennedy’s famous phrasing, to ensure the triumph of liberty, it is too easy to imagine the U.S. giving up the ghost of fighting for the order it constructed.

The Cold War contained history’s most dangerous moments for the survival of human civilization. If it had any redeeming features, they lay in the understanding that America’s ideals mattered, and ought to be upheld both at home and abroad.

This new Cold War repeats much of the danger of its predecessor, but without the commitment to making a better country and a better world that once inspired the United States to take the hard choices that made victory possible.
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[*] posted on 16-5-2018 at 09:53 AM

Lawmakers seek $7.5 billion to counter China’s rise

By: Joe Gould   3 hours ago

Chinese troops march during a Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad on March 23, 2017. The U.S. Congress wants to increase funding to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific. (AAMIR QURESHI/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. should forge stronger military ties with Taiwan and add $7.5 billion in national defense spending in the Pacific region in order to counter Chinese influence in the region, according to a legislative proposal from four U.S. senators.

The bipartisan Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, or ARIA, would authorize $1.5 billion annually for five years to deter and defend against China. A mix of State Department and Defense Department funds would bolster the U.S. military presence and readiness in the region, improving defense infrastructure and critical munitions stockpiles.

The bill would also support regular arms sales to Taiwan, and fund the enforcement of freedom-of-navigation and overflight rights — moves to defy Beijing’s calls to keep out of the contested South China Sea.

CNBC reported this month that China had installed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missile systems on three of its outposts in the South China Sea.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Cory Gardner, chairs the Subcommittee on East Asia, the Pacific, and International Cybersecurity. he said the idea had originally come from Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain, R-Ariz., and that he would work with appropriators to see it funded.

“This is not a new concept, and this is as close as we’ve come to an Asia-Pacific security initiative,” Gardner told reporters Tuesday.

The other sponsors are the subpanel’s ranking member, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass.; Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Todd Young, R-Ind. The name of the bill recalls the European Reassurance Initiative, a pot of money to bolster European capabilities against Russia—since renamed the European Deterrence Initiative.

On Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver and Deputy East Asian and Pacific Affairs Alex Wong, appeared before Gardner’s subpanel, where they endorsed the legislation’s goals.

“With the help of Congress and the funding provided, we’re trying to build a force that’s appropriate to the longer-term challenges with China’s military modernization program, and trying to work with allies and partners to make sure they are adequately equipped and prepared for those long-term challenges,” Schriver said.

The U.S. is already boosting allies’ maritime domain awareness and maritime capabilities. The bill would augment foreign military financing and international military education and training programs, both with the idea to help partners “to resist coercion and to deter and defend against security threats.”

The bill explicitly excludes Myanmar, whose military has been accused of human rights violations, and Philippine counternarcotics activities, which have been linked to extrajudicial killings

In written testimony, Schriver emphasized the fiscal 2019 budget proposal’s investment in joint, integrated fires to “reach inside an adversary’s anti-access and area-denial envelope with advanced, long-range munitions.”

The Pentagon’s implementation of the National Defense Strategy calls for dispersal equipment and “survivable, sustainable logistics” to help in a potential conflict with China.

Schriver said the competition with China was not only a military rivalry with the U.S. The U.S. is seeking to partner with all nations that respect national sovereignty, fair and reciprocal trade and the rule of law.

“It’s a competition of ideas and values and interests. I think many more countries, including the most significant and influential counties in Asia outside of China support these concepts,” Schriver said.
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[*] posted on 16-5-2018 at 02:17 PM

Generals Worry US May Lose In Start Of Next War: Is Multi-Domain The Answer?

"There is a good chance… we’d lose the opening stages of this war," said one speaker. "Parts of the Pacific, parts of Europe are probably going to be overrun before we can gather ourselves."

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on May 14, 2018 at 7:43 PM

Defense of the Baltic States and Poland against a notional Russian missile barrage. (CSBA graphic)

QUANTICO: Russia or China could “overrun” US allies at the outbreak of war, senior military leaders fear, and our plan to stop them is very much a work in progress. Iraq and Syria have given sneak previews of how the US can combine, say, hackers, satellites, special operators, and airstrikes in a single offensive, but we’re not yet ready to launch such a multi-domain operation against a major power.

“There is a good chance… we’d lose the opening stages of this war,” said one participant in a high-level all-service conference on multi-domain operations held here last month. (I was allowed to attend on the condition I not identify anyone). “Parts of the Pacific, parts of Europe are probably going to be overrun before we can gather ourselves.”

Graphic courtesy Sen. Dan Sullivan

“If deterrence fails, we’re not going to be able to prevent loss of terrain and populations,” the speaker continued. “Just look at the Baltic States,” where every potential target is just a few hours’ drive from the Russian border and the NATO presence — one multinational battalion each in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland — is often dismissed as a “tripwire.” With US allies this exposed, the speaker said, “we’d give ground, and we’d have to consolidate and gather our resources to make a counter push.”

But when we try to counterattack, today’s adversaries won’t allow the US four or five months to mobilize, deploy, and prepare the way Saddam Hussein did twice (in 1990-91 and 2002-3), added another participant: “We’re predictable. They’ve built a system to take advantage of that predictability.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — a former joint commander himself — has pledged to make the US “strategically predictable for our allies” (i.e. dependable) but “operationally unpredictable for any adversary.” Part of being unpredictable is developing ways of fighting, and the concept with the most momentum in the last few years is multi-domain operations. The different US services have long worked with each other in limited ways, most notably when Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircraft support Army and Marine ground forces. But the multi-domain concept wants to jointness to a much higher level: seamless integration of land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace over vast warzones, with each service both assisting and being assisted by the others.

Islamic State (Daesh) fighters

Multi-Domain in the Middle East

The war against the Islamic State provided some small-scale, “episodic” examples of multi-domain operations, one participant recounted. In one case, intelligence had identified a number of the enemy’s primary command posts, but not their backup sites. So rather than just bomb the high value targets and try to figure out where the survivors went, the coalition forces used (unspecified) space and cyber capabilities to shut down communications at the primary sites. That forced the enemy leadership to move to their backup locations and turn them on, allowing the allies to target those. The physical strike followed, destroying the backup sites first and the primaries second.

“That’s an example of a multi-domain operation. The first shots were digits, ones and zeroes,” the participant said. “Pretty cool.”

The catch? The whole operation took four or five days, he said, but “it took us three weeks, probably, to organize that operation.”

Why so long? To start, the US didn’t have all the military capabilities and legal authorities required, forcing it to rely heavily on allies. Further, even within the US forces, information didn’t flow freely.

In a single command post, the speaker said, commanders had to make sense of four separate pictures of the battlefield:

- data on the current positions of friendly ground units via Blue Force Tracker;
- data on friendly air units, which didn’t show up on Blue Force Tracker;
- intelligence data, which didn’t feed into either the ground or air systems above;
- “a crowd-sourced social media map” that compiled tweets and other social media posts to report where bombings and battles had occurred. This open-source intelligence was at least as accurate as official intelligence sources and considerably faster.

This kludged-together system, taking weeks to bring capabilities together across multiple domains, works okay against the Islamic State, with its ragged ground force, modest cadre of hackers, and complete lack of air, sea, and space assets. But it would be lethally slow against a major power with its own long-range sensors, precision missiles, and big guns.

“We had absolute supremacy in all domains, right, and it still took us weeks to get that together because we didn’t have all the tools or resources or the authorities to be able to do it ourselves,” the speaker said. “(That) won’t work against a near-peer adversary.”

“We’ve got to be able to do in hours what …. took us weeks,” the speaker continued. Instead of such coordination being the exception, laboriously put together for a specific operation, it needs to become the default, part of the day-to-day operations of the armed forces: “Today we episodically synchronize. And in the future we’re going to have to continuously integrate.”

The Army’s battlefield framework for Multi-Domain Battle.

Command, Control, & Chaos

To achieve this integration, “we’re going to have to think very differently about command and control,” said another participant. Instead of relationships between commands staying the same for months or years, for example, who has the lead might suddenly switch to exploit some fleeting opportunity, then switch back again: “One minute you might you might be the supported commander, the next you might be the supporting commander.”

“In the Army…..we love to draw lines on maps,” the speaker continued: This brigade will advance here, this division will hold there. But that won’t work against adversaries with long-range weapons that reach across our tidily bounded boxes. A battalion, for example, might not be able to advance until someone neutralizes an enemy battery firing from hundreds of miles away — but that battery might not reveal its location by firing or redeploying until US ground units threaten it. Who’s in charge of solving that problem? We need a “functional approach,” the speaker said, integrating capabilities like precision firepower or ground maneuver across the entire war zone.

The Air Force already adopts a functional approach that plans for strike, refueling, reconnaissance, and other missions across the entire theater, rather than carving up territory among subordinate commands as in the Army. But the Air Force has its own obstacles moving to Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2) operations.

Combined Air & Space Operations Center (CAOC)

In particular, theater Combined Air Operations Centers (CAOCs) are set up to handle requests for air support coming from the Army’s top echelons, not from lots of widely dispersed, fast-moving brigades as envisioned for future war. “That creates a giant liaison problem,” said one briefer.

The head of Air Combatant Command, Gen. Mike Holmes, has argued the Air Force may need to decentralize its command structure for future wars. One participant today suggested the solution may instead be to create a kind of Uber for airpower:

Ground commanders could input their request for a particular type of support — airstrike, electronic warfare, reconnaissance, etc. — and a centralized system automatically matches them with the nearest available asset

The Navy is likewise looking at how to command and control its forces in a larger war. For decades, carrier and amphibious strike groups have operated as independent units, supervised by theater commanders: PACOM in the Pacific, CENTCOM in the Mideast, and so on. Now, the Navy is looking at strengthening an intermediate level of control, the fleet, with potentially multiple strike groups under a single fleet commander and multiple fleets in a theater. Naval operations will “now be synchronized at a much higher level,” one participant explained.

As much as we strengthen command and control, however, we have to expect the enemy to disrupt our plans. When military officers talk about “synchronizing” operations, “(it) implies that we have the ability to precisely synchronize our activities: maneuver, fires, sustainment, command, protection,” warned one speaker. “I think a future near-peer competition is going to preclude that. We’re going to have to accept a lot less precise synchronization.

“It’s going to be rougher,” the speaker continued. “It’s going to look more like an advance in World War II than the advance on Baghdad in (2003) or the attack in Desert Storm.”

That puts a premium on initiative and improvisation. Those are two things, fortunately, that Americans tend to be good at.
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[*] posted on 3-7-2018 at 03:22 PM

US ambassador to Estonia resigns over Trump comments

By: Jari Tanner, The Associated Press   12 hours ago

In this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 file photo, U.S. Ambassador to Estonia James D. Melville Jr. addresses dignitaries in front of an U.S. Army tank, at a hand-over ceremony of the upgraded NATO military base in Tapa, Estonia. The U.S. ambassador to Estonia says he has resigned over frustrations with President Donald Trump's comments about the European Union and the treatment of Washington’s European allies (Vitnija Saldava/AP)

HELSINKI — The U.S. ambassador to Estonia has resigned over frustrations with President Donald Trump’s comments about the European Union and his treatment of Washington’s European allies.

In a private Facebook message posted Friday, James D. Melville wrote: “For the President to say EU was ‘set up to take advantage of the United States, to attack our piggy bank,’ or that ‘NATO is as bad as NAFTA’ is not only factually wrong, but proves to me that it’s time to go.”

Melville was referring to Trump’s recent comments at news conferences and on social media.

Melville stressed that a U.S. foreign service officer’s “DNA is programmed to support policy and we’re schooled right from the start, that if there ever comes a point where one can no longer do so, particularly if one is in a position of leadership, the honorable course is to resign.”

Melville is a senior U.S. career diplomat who has served as the American ambassador in the Baltic nation and NATO member of Estonia since 2015. He has served at U.S. Embassies in Berlin, London and Moscow, among other postings.

“Having served under six presidents and 11 secretaries of state, I never really thought it would reach that point for me,” he wrote, referring to a career with the State Department that started in the mid-1980s.

The U.S. Embassy in Tallinn confirmed to The Associated Press on Saturday that Melville “announced his intent to retire from the Foreign Service effective July 29 after 33 years of public service.” It did not elaborate.

Foreign Policy magazine said Melville is one of the many senior U.S. diplomats who have resigned because of Trump’s policies.
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[*] posted on 14-9-2018 at 11:22 AM

Corruption in counterterrorism aid programs fuels extremist groups, says new report

By: Daniel Cebul   7 hours ago

American forces are partnering with African Union Mission to Somalia and Somali national security forces in counterterrorism operations. (Mohamad Abdiwahab/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — A report released this month by the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor finds that U.S. counterterrorism aid intended to bolster U.S. and its allies' efforts to combat violent extremists has also had the unintended consequence of fueling corruption and funding terrorist group activities and recruitment.

Colby Goodman and Christinia Arabia, the authors of the report, say although the U.S. has included mechanisms designed to stymie the diversion of U.S. weapons and other kinds of security aid, “there are still important gaps in U.S. government efforts to assess, monitor, and evaluate U.S. counterterrorism aid, particularly related to corruption risks.”

“Corruption involves far more than a waste of money,” Goodman notes. “It also poses a grave danger to U.S. and global security by reducing the effectiveness of U.S. counterterror programs. In some instances, widespread corruption in military aid programs actually strengthens terrorist organizations by fueling anti-government sentiment, undermining the morale of front-line military personnel, and diverting U.S.-supplied equipment to groups like ISIS, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

The report finds two-thirds of the recipients of U.S. counterterrorism aid pose “serious” corruption risks. Routine practices such as nepotism in the recruitment and promotion system, bribery, extortion, the use of “ghost soldiers” to divert money from fictitious military “no shows” to high-ranking officials, and flawed purchasing practices all pose the most serious corruption risks.

Despite these risks, the United States continues to propose high levels of counterterrorism aid. The report says that from fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2019, the U.S. proposed an estimated $24 billion in U.S. counterterrorism aid to 36 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South and East Asia.

Of those 36 countries, 24 have engaged in at least three of the five key defense corruption practices that have fostered counterterrorism challenges in the past. The key corruption indicators here are cited as nepotism; ghost soldiers; theft or delay of soldiers' pay; bribery; and illicit economic activities on the part of a nation’s armed forces.

These corruption practices increase the risk of human rights violations and coups as governments and militaries fragment, and disillusioned military personnel and youth are drawn toward extremist groups, according to the report.

The report says that in “Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso, it appears that terrorist groups benefit from popular grievances against corruption to help encourage new recruitments or support from others for their cause.”

For example, in Bangladesh, the report suggests, terrorist groups are seeking to recruit Bangladeshi soldiers that feel marginalized by recent purges in their ranks. The report notes similar instances of terrorist groups using corruption in their recruitment messaging taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria and Somalia.

To curb corruption, the authors recommend the U.S. strengthen risk assessments and provide in-depth risk reports on high-risk countries, specifically Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia and Uganda. The focus of these assessments should be to “map the structure of corrupt networks in the countries, including main revenue streams, external enablers and facilitators, and connections with the military,” as well as possible organized crime, according to the report.

The authors suggest these assessments be incorporated in the Defense Department’s ongoing effort to publish a new directive aimed at improving the ability to assess, monitor and evaluate U.S. security aid to foreign countries.

Building in conditions for the use of U.S. counterterrorism aid may also help. Goodman and Arabia say it would be important to identify triggers that could spark a revision or termination of certain types of counterterrorism aid for this effort to be successful.
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[*] posted on 15-9-2018 at 12:56 PM

America is Losing Power and Influence and Must Adapt, Warns UN Secretary General

By Uri Friedman
The Atlantic

September 13, 2018

Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

The "attraction of American today less clear" says António Guterres, in an exclusive interview.

For the past two years, the secretary-general of the United Nations, António Guterres, has watched as President Donald Trump upends American foreign policy, engaging in trade wars while simultaneously disengaging from international agreements and alliances. And now Guterres has reached a verdict: The United States, once the guarantor of global stability, is losing its ability to influence world events.

“I think that the soft power of the United States … is being reduced at the present moment,” Guterres told me in an interview. This, he suggested, is dangerous because there “is no way to solve most of the problems in the world without” America.

We were sitting in his New York office, beside an array of windows overlooking Four Freedoms Park—an homage to Franklin Roosevelt’s vision of what the United States and its allies were fighting to preserve and promote during World War II. It was Roosevelt who spearheaded the effort to construct the United Nations from the ruins of that war more than seven decades ago. “The United States is today involved in a number of conflicts of different natures—in relation to trade, in relation to other situations—and indeed that means that the … attraction of American society that was a dominant factor in international relations just a few decades ago is today less clear,” Guterres said.

This is happening at the same time as the world itself is “in pieces,” moving since the end of the Cold War from an American-led order to an order led by multiple powers that has yet to be defined, he told me. “It’s inevitable that mono-state leadership of the international order will be more and more put into question,” said Guterres, who had just returned from a marker of this transitional period: a summit in Beijing on China’s deepening ties with Africa. “Both the United States and the rest of the world need to be able to adapt to this new situation,” he said.

Guterres did not directly criticize Donald Trump or even mention the U.S. president by name, even when pressed for his views on America’s disruptive foreign policy. The secretary-general has managed to maintain a workmanlike relationship with the U.S. government on issues like internal United Nations reform despite the Trump administration’s exit from the Paris climate agreement and the UN’s cultural and human-rights organizations; its withdrawal of funding for the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees; and its broader hostility to international institutions on the grounds of putting America first.

(Ahead of meeting the secretary-general, I’d watched U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley declare during a speech in Washington, D.C., that the Trump administration would be “defunding those things that are not helpful to us,” including the office of the UN high commissioner for human rights. The departing human-rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, an unsparing critic of xenophobic, populist nationalism, had recently accused Trump of aimlessly driving humanity in a bus “careening down a mountain road with steep cliffs on either side.”)

Under normal circumstances, Guterres—the former prime minister of Portugal, a nato ally and fellow democracy—would be a natural partner for the United States at the United Nations.

But these are not normal circumstances. Guterres is serving as secretary-general “at the very moment when the United States, despite its long-running ambivalence about the United Nations at least since the 1970s, is no longer really willing to be the anchor for the international system,” said Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations.

So Guterres has a “simple” strategy to keep Washington engaged: “It is to affirm the things we believe in, not in confrontation against, but as such,” he told me. “I’m not a multilateralist against anybody. I’m a multilateralist because I believe in a multilateral order … I consider climate change as the biggest threat [to the world]. That has nothing to do with who is or is not the head of a country or another … [With] climate change, if you do not act decisively in the next few years, you might have irreversibly dramatic impacts on the planet. And we are losing the race. Climate change is running faster than we are.”

Nevertheless, Guterres’s blunt assessment of American clout contradicts Trump’s core narrative: that he is making America great again and earning respect once more overseas—by, for example, launching one trade war with China and threatening several more, or pulling the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Asked whether he is worried about a severe disruption like the United States withdrawing entirely from the United Nations, the secretary-general gave an answer that was noteworthy less for what he said than for what he didn’t say: that such a scenario was unthinkable.

“I will do everything possible to avoid it,” he responded.

The secretary-general is facing another upheaval that extends far beyond America. And it’s one to which his own biography makes him acutely sensitive: Guterres was in his 20s, and a leader in the fledgling Socialist Party, when Portugal overthrew its dictatorship in the Carnation Revolution of 1974; he was an active participant in the struggle to consolidate democracy that followed, organizing demonstrations in Lisbon against communist factions intent on rolling back the revolution. “This,” he said, “is probably the central fact in my life.”

A central fact in the world right now, according to Guterres, is that not only are the democratic advances he and others secured in the late 20th century in jeopardy, but so too is something even more profound: the very values of the Enlightenment. We’re witnessing a “reemergence of irrationality,” said the secretary-general, who before assuming the office in 2017 served as the UN high commissioner for refugees during the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War, and is now seeking to broker a “global compact” for managing migration flows. (The Trump administration has withdrawn from the negotiations.) “The Enlightenment is the primacy of reason, it is tolerance, and now we see the emergence of xenophobic instincts, of ethnic and religious fundamentalisms. Obviously all these put into question the cohesion of societies, and the cohesion of societies is a fundamental tool for democracy.”

Guterres said it’s “an exaggeration” to describe American democracy as “flawed,” like one recent study of democracy around the world did, while notably not highlighting as evidence the nation’s political leaders: “The U.S. has, independently of what happens in the political establishment, a fantastically vibrant civil society, a fantastically vibrant press.”

There is, however, a backlash under way against two recent waves of democratization, he added. First came the end of authoritarian rule in several southern European and Latin American countries in the 1970s and ’80s. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union and the democratic transitions of Russia and many of its satellites in the 1990s, when Guterres was prime minister of Portugal: “The human-rights agenda was gaining ground, and democracy was becoming the dominant form of political organization in the world.”

Yet Francis Fukuyama was wrong to proclaim the post–Cold War period the “end of history,” noted Guterres, who is the first former head of government to serve as UN secretary-general. “History was frozen by the Cold War,” but then, sometime after the turn of the 21st century, “it came back.” The inequities of globalization diminished public confidence in national political establishments, which “undermined the moral authority of democracies in the world” and also reduced trust in international organizations and cooperation. Repressed nationalism resurfaced, as the “national sovereignty” agenda overtook those of democracy and human rights. Politics in many countries grew more polarized and ideological, with parties focusing on whipping up their bases rather than fighting for centrist voters like they used to. Hollowed-out, authoritarian-inflected forms of democracy gained traction.

Liberal democracy, it turned out, is “not inevitable,” Guterres said. It must be nurtured.

Guterres is in the perhaps impossible position of leading something called the United Nations at a time when, in his own view, the world is fracturing. And as he tells it, it’s not just dysfunctional democracies and xenophobic nationalism that made it this way. The culprits also include shifting power dynamics and resurgent great-power conflict in a world organized neither by the bipolar competition of the Cold War nor by the singular leadership that the United States exercised after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “We live in a … chaotic world,” he said, in which “impunity and unpredictability” have become “the name of the game.”

In the case of the Syrian war, for instance, “you have the involvement of the superpowers. You have several regional actors, be it Turkey, be it Iran, be it Saudi Arabia, Qatar. You have terrorist groups. And then you have all kinds of Syrian movements,” observed Guterres, who days earlier had appealed to the Syrian government and its Russian patron to not perpetrate an expected bloodbath in the last rebel-held stronghold of Idlib. “It’s very difficult to put the puzzle together, and it makes peace much more difficult to achieve. First it makes prevention more complex, because we have more actors and the risks of conflict increase. And then it makes conflict resolution even more difficult, because of all the contradictory interests of these … actors.”

It was enough to make him seem nostalgic for the comparative order of the Cold War. During the Cold War, “there were conflicts, and there were many wars by proxy. But when things would get really dangerous, usually the two superpowers would calm things down,” Guterres continued. He recalled how, in the post–Cold War period, “there was a capacity [of] the United States … to have a very strong influence in solving problems”—such as when the Clinton administration mobilized the UN Security Council to dispatch a peacekeeping force to the former Portuguese colony of East Timor after a vote for independence from Indonesia sparked violence. “The moment the president of the United States decided that an intervention was necessary, everything happened,” he marveled. “Now”—Guterres paused, shaking his hands in frustration—“this kind of thing no longer exists.”

“The fact that the world [is moving to] a multipolar situation”—with several preeminent powers organizing the international system—“is probably good,” he added. “But it would be an illusion to think that multipolarity is a solution of peace and security problems. We can never forget that Europe before the First World War was multipolar, but in the absence of multilateral governance mechanisms” the continent plunged into war.

Kevin Rudd, the former Australian prime minister and onetime aspirant for Guterres’s job, once told me that we tend to take modern international institutions like the United Nations for granted. But order in international relations, he said, has historically been the exception, not the rule. Three previous efforts in Europe to construct interstate order after devastating conflict—the Westphalian peace in 1648 after the Eighty Years’ and Thirty Years’ wars, the Concert of Europe in 1815 after the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, and the League of Nations in 1920 after World War I—all decayed over decades and ultimately devolved into Hobbesian disorder.

Rudd had observed that “the jury is still out on the fourth,” which might never have come into existence had two catastrophic world wars not compelled the world to embark on the most ambitious order-building project in human history. I asked Guterres if he agreed that the jury is still out, as the person presiding over the most prominent component of the fourth order.

“Yes, of course,” Guterres told me. “The future is unpredictable.” Yet he also pointed out that the League of Nations, which failed to do anything about the depredations of Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and imperial Japan, didn’t have some of the powerful instruments that the United Nations has, such as the Security Council. (The League was also missing the United States, which didn’t join because of isolationist opposition in the Senate even though the American president, Woodrow Wilson, had come up with the idea for the organization.)

Still, Guterres acknowledged that “the Security Council doesn’t correspond anymore” to today’s international power dynamics, and that there is currently a “serious confrontational environment” among the Council’s permanent, veto-wielding members: the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, and France. Those powers have struggled—and in many cases failed—to take meaningful collective action on almost all the pressing issues of the day: the suspected genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, Russia’s seizure of Crimea, the disaster in Syria. (Security Council sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear and missile tests, orchestrated by the Trump administration, are an exception.)
“With a Security Council [as] divided as this one, it’s difficult to adopt sanctions or to adopt tough measures against whatever regime in the world, even if [those sanctions and tough measures] are fully justified,” Guterres admitted.

“The systems for states to act collectively at higher levels in pursuit of solutions are decomposing,” al-Hussein wrote last month, just before he stepped down as UN human-rights chief—a sentiment Guterres did not dispute when I read that line to him. Al-Hussein went on: “If we do not change course quickly, we will inevitably encounter an incident where that first domino is tipped—triggering a sequence of unstoppable events that will mark the end of our time on this tiny planet.”

One of the lessons Rudd draws from history is that an international system only endures when the states central to creating it remain invested in its future. Nowadays, however, the states present at the creation of the current order are locked in confrontation. Guterres has expressed alarm about the “rebirth of the Cold War” between Russia and the United States, this time without the safeguards that were previously in place to tamp down tensions and avert nuclear war. During a recent visit to Washington, D.C., a Chinese scholar and former government official told me the U.S. government appeared to be shifting “away from 40 years of engagement with China” and that the burning question is whether American leaders are “looking for a fight or a deal.” If the former, the scholar cautioned, there would be “no capitulation” from China. “If the storm’s coming, we better make sure [our] ship’s solid,” the scholar said. The French president has spoken of the challenge of keeping Trump’s America in the “community of nations.”

“If you end up with weak global institutions, together with rising great-power rivalry, then that points us strategically in the direction of a more fragile global order than we’ve had before,” Rudd had told me shortly before I met the secretary-general.

As we wrapped up our interview, Guterres took me to his dining room and pointed to framed pictures on the wall of the temple-tomb of the ancient king Antiochus I, a spectacular expanse of cracked, disembodied heads of statues and assorted rubble rising from the earth. “It’s here,” he said, “to show how the world is in pieces.”

Uri Friedman is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Global Channel. He was previously the deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy and a staff writer for The Atlantic Wire.
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[*] posted on 7-10-2018 at 07:38 PM

U.S. Could Help Pacific Allies Build Capabilities, Navy Undersecretary Says

(Source: US Department of Defense; issued Oct 04, 2018)

WASHINGTON --- The United States can help Pacific island nations with security needs, Navy Undersecretary Thomas B. Modly told the Defense Writers Group here today.

Modly just finished a trip through the island nations of Oceania. The trip involved stops in Kiribati and its capital on the island of Tarawa. He also visited Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia and the U.S. island of Guam.

The area is vast, he said, and there was hardly an island that was not a battlefield during World War II. The undersecretary said he was sobered by the scale of sacrifice and the scale of distance.

“The vastness of the region is matched by the vastness of the issues and the challenges we have in trying to keep it secure,” he said.

Modly met with civilian and military officials in each nation, as well as U.S. representatives. “The overarching theme I got from the government officials I met with there were the paramount value of freedom of navigation and the protection of their economic zones,” he said.

The land area in Oceania is small, but the economic zones are huge, and they are 80 percent water, he said. “They are very far flung,” he added.

The officials are also very clear about their desires to maintain a strong relationship with the United States, Modly said. The United States developed relations with the nations – many of them colonial possessions at the time – during World War II. Those continued through the Cold War to today.

But things have changed, he told the defense writers, and the United States is no longer the only major power operating in the area now.

Expanded Chinese Influence

China is exerting influence into Oceania, he noted. “There is no question China is becoming much more assertive in the region,” he said. “They are looking for a variety of different ways to expand their influence. The Chinese government is making investments tied to loans, as well as grants.”

These projects are largely around infrastructure – extension of runways and construction of buildings and a conference center. “It is apparent they are there and plan to stay there for the long term,” he said.

The United States, Australia and New Zealand have a strong partnership in the region, and the moves in the area are complementary. “From my perspective,” Modly said, “it is critical to reinforce these partnerships and look for opportunities to help these nations.”

One opportunity, he said, is to invest in developing capabilities to use, patrol and police their vast watery economic zones. The countries do not have navies, and their coast guards are limited as well. Modly suggested that the United States could work with these nations to develop fusion centers that channel all sorts of information where it is needed and when it is needed. This information could be as simple as weather reports and fishing information or could be warnings about incursions by illegal fishing ships.

The nations don’t have large populations. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets could give them an unmanned way to search their territory and only have patrol boats go out when they are needed, the Navy undersecretary said.

“It’s a pretty modest investment, and the technology is so good right now that it would be helpful,” he told the writers.

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