Civil Defense is Dead! Long Live Civil Defense!

North Korea has developed and begun deploying nuclear armed ICBMs capable of hitting Alaska, Hawaii and parts of the western United States. Tensions are rising and Kim Jong Un and Trump are now sparing over a threat to the U.S territory of Guam issued by the regime to fire a salvo of IRBMs at the waters surrounding the American island.

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The INF Is On It’s Deathbed

Since Donald Trump took office nuclear hawks have been on a quest to redevelop America’s nuclear arsenal and dismantle non-proliferation efforts. Senators like Tom Cotton have called for scrapping roughly 30 years of nuclear treaties dating back to the Reagan administration in response the Russia’s violation, with possibly the most important treaty on the chopping block being the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

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The GMD Finally Intercepts an ICBM (kinda)

On May 30th the Ground Based Mid-Course Missile Defense system (GMD) successfully intercepted it’s first ICBM. Authorized in 1999 by the Missile Defense Act and offically deployed over a decade ago, the GMD has been plagued with problems. The test on May 30th was the first time the system was successfully tested against the threat it was designed to defeat.

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Decoding Trump

If America is going to function for the next four to eight years there are some things we will need to understand  and accept a few things about how trump communicates his intentions and policies. The answer is fleeting and complicated, but it must be understood.

Right now there is so much spin on all sides of the political spectrum that any attempt at objective analysis of The President’s real goals and agenda has fallen by the wayside. As much as possible, It is my view that one should  attempt to view the world with an objective lens for the purpose of analysis, regardless of how you feel emotionally or politically. Bringing a clear view of the Trump administrations goals into focus is therefore extremely important to me. I cannot understand anything before I understand the basic reality.

To start; the focus must always be on Trump’s actions. From what I have observed throughout the campaign, Trump’s words are nearly meaningless. He uses them to signal his intent but rarely to describe actual policies.

Don’t try to understand his political hypocrisy either. Trump attacks people because it’s politically expedient, not because he has anything against them personally or ideologically. This is why he can call Romney and Obama traitors one month have dinner with them the next. It also explains why gave Hillary Clinton a standing ovation right after his inauguration despite having called for her to be jailed throughout his campaign.

Do not expect honesty or consistency from Trump. He is the political equivalent of a shady used car salesman. He will say anything to get the deal done (and sell you that dumb $200 pinstripe add-on with it).Trump’s campaign statements therefore need to be understood as signals to his supporters, not actual policy proposals or hard promises. This is the genesis of phrase “take him seriously, not literally.”

Be wary of absurd or blatantly unconstitutional statements. Sending federal troops to Chicago or utilizing powers that are clearly in the purview of congress are recent examples. Remember that Trump only controls a single branch of government and still has to content with the internal politics of his administration within that branch.

The fact that Trump has continued to use this dishonest and hyperbolic campaign rhetoric into his presidency means we must treat him differently than past presidents. Trump and his spokespeople many times operate outside the realm of reality in order to defend trump much in the way propaganda machines operate in countries like Russia.

As the President’s administration has decided to act like a tin pot dictatorship, we must observe it like one in order to understand it.

To understand Trump then, we must observe him like a black hole. In that sense we must look for what goes on around him rather than looking to him. Watch the people he appoints to cabinet positions along with the orders and legislation he signs. Watch his actions in critical situations and how he speaks to both American and world leaders. These are occasions where sales tactics and distractions are less effective and Trump will need to be more honest.*

Also check for leaks from within his administration. Trump will never admit fault in public or break his strongman persona, but privately, he is by all accounts much more open. Those who work with him are also much more reliable sources of information then the man himself. I most cases, they are also much more willing to divulge information, as seen in the constant stream of leaks that have come out since January 20th.

Most importantly, Do not become distracted by the propaganda his inner circle spews or the drama that constantly follows him. The media is not currently capable of dealing with Trump. A tweet at three A.M could easily dominate the news cycle over an important piece of legislation or a meeting with a foreign leader.

Following his inauguration his lies about crowd sizes and voter fraud have dominated the news cycle for five days and counting. During the same time period Trump has pulled out of TPP, instituted a federal hiring freeze (that includes the VA), approved two oil pipelines and shifted back and forth about whether he will move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

These petty lies have also distracted America from the incompetence of his administration in filling vital foreign and domestic policy posts along with Trump’s failure to divest from his business interests, numerous ethics violations and nepotism.

For these reasons we should be wary of fact checking Trump. We should not spend time attempting to counter every argument or statement he makes or attempting to read into the implications of each false statement. Many of lies are things Trump doesn’t believe or says only to protect his ego. Other times he will switch back and forth between positions to cover himself politically. Deep investigations will only serve to eat up time that should be used on more substantive issues.

For these reasons the President’s words should be one of the last places one should look to understand the man. Attempting to follow up and disprove each lie or boast has and will lead us to stray further from an objective understanding of Donald Trump’s goals and the reality of his administration.

While questing to make sure the truth wins in the small battles over crowd size we will lose or even miss the big battles over corruption, government transparency, free speech, international conflict, the economy and trade.

 

*Always remember to follow up anything Trump says with a look at what he does. We have been down this road before.

Turkey (Finally) Invades Syria.

Turkey has launched a military intervention to clear ISIS from the border region around the city of Jarablus in northern Syria. Dubbed “Operation Euphrates Shield” 30005000 FSA fighters have entered Syria along with a 25 tanks, multiple IFVs, and Turkish special forces troops.

The ground incursion follows hours of bombardment by Turkish artillery and fighter jets which are still striking ISIS positions in area. Warplanes from the U.S-led coalition have also been carrying out airstrikes and the U.S has committed to support the operation from the air as it continues.

 

Syria turkey
A map from Liveuamap showing the intial assault. Note the heavy concentration of strikes. Most of these occurred within a few hours and represent multiple weapons being deployed.

Turkey’s interests in Syria are varied. Aside from the removal of Assad, one of Turkey’s main goals in Syria is to prevent the formation of a self-governing Kurdish entity on the border in Syria. While the U.S has backed the YPG/SDF against ISIS, Turkey still views them as an offshoot of the PKK, a Kurdish political party and insurgent group that they have been fighting for decades.

In the previous months the SDF has been quickly taking ground against ISIS in northern Syria with the help of U.S air power. Fresh from their victory against ISIS at Manbij the prospect that they could link their eastern territories with the enclave around Afrin is increasing by the day.

The Turkish assault against ISIS in Jarablus then, is widely seen as a ploy to prevent the SDF from taking the city first and denying the Kurds the ability to unify the Kurdish regions of Syria and create an independent state on Turkey’s southern border.

August Syria
A map of the current territorial distribution in Syria as of August 2016. Credit: @Arabthomness

So far Turkey has committed to securing a 70 km line between Marea (north of Aleppo) and Jarablus. Assaults on SDF positions can’t be ruled out though. Already,  clashes have broken out between the Turkish backed FSA with Turkish tanks firing on SDF fighters. The name of the operation also seems to hint at Turkey’s intention to push the Kurds across the Euphrates.

Erdogen has promised to target the YPG* and has threatened them with direct action if they refuse to withdraw to the western side of the Euphrates. The threat seems to have works as the YPG announced that they will pull back** from the western side of the Euphrates but the remaining SDF elements have stated that they will remain. Whether this will be enough to satisfy the Turks is unknown, but it’s clear the YPG do not want to fight the Turkish army directly or lose U.S support.

The question now is, how far will this intervention go? With the SDF marching toward the city of Al-Bab, the prospect of unifying the Kurdish territories still exists, even without direct YPG involvement.

From a military standpoint Al-Bab is a major junction in the area that links Manbij with Aleppo via the M4 and 212 highways. It also links the two Kurdish territorial blocks through a series of minor roads. If Al-Bab is captured by the YPG it will allow the flow of men and material through the Kurdish territories from Afrin to the Iraqi border.

If Turkey intends to stop the spread of the SDF’s territory then capturing Al-Bab will be necessary. There is also the possibility that today’s clashes along the front with the SDF foreshadow a larger offensive against them. If so, the line the Turks are drawing may be as deep as it is wide and could stretch to Manbij. 

*The YPG is a component faction of the SDF

**UPDATE: Now getting reports from the YPG spokesman that they will not pull out.

Don’t Involve Congress in Nuclear Decision Making

As concerns over a Trump presidency grow, more and more people have become concerned about the power of the executive. One of the most talked about concerns has been Trump’s control over America’s vast nuclear arsenal which many fear an unstable Trump could use disproportionately or in a fit of rage.

In response, Representative Ted Lieu has proposed legislation that would require the President and the Secretary of Defense to consult with congressional leaders before launching a nuclear strike. Currently, launching a nuclear attack requires only two people; the President and the concurrence of the Secretary of Defense. While two people are involved the Secretary is an appointee of the president and therefore somewhat beholden to him (or her).

As the General Hayden noted this system is designed for decisiveness, not debate. The reason for this is simple; in many scenarios there is simply no time for such debate. With only 30 minutes between the launch of an ICBM to detonation, this idea is unworkable under most circumstances.

“Launch under attack ” is one such case. In this scenario, enemy forces will have already fired off dozens of missiles armed with hundreds of warheads. Because of detection, confirmation and the process of going though the command, control and communications infrastructure,  the president will have a maximum of just two minutes to decide whether to launch the missiles before the enemy warheads hit American missile solos and destroy them.

Lieu’s proposal would involve having to having to consult with at least one more person during the decision making. Having to locate and consult the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader and receive their concent could easily eat up those two minutes, making a timely response impossible.

Even if launch under attack were to be taken out of the equation, there are other problems with this proposal. Having to consult congressional leaders on nuclear use would mean limited flexibility in other situations that could embolden American adversaries like Russia and China.

In a limited use scenario time may also be critical. The addition friction created in the decision making process could seriously damage the credibility of our deterrent. What would happen if the President and Secretary of Defense have a different strategy than the House Majority Leader and that disagreement stalls action? How long would it take to reconcile those opinions?

If Putin, for example, knew that it might take several hours, or even a day to respond to a limited nuclear strike, it would give him more reason to conduct one. This would be especially true in an escalate to deescalate situation where Putin could conduct a limited strike, then, while leaders debate a response, Russia could use the extra time to sue for peace, solidifying gains before a response could be implemented.

As the Daily Beast noted, there are other ways to derail a delusional president than get Congress involved. A nuclear attack certainly meets the definition of an imminent threat that is firmly within the realm of an executive’s power to react to without asking for the consent of congress.

This should not be taken as a blanket condemnation of Lieu’s idea. If American and Russian weapons were not on hair trigger alert and more time was available to plan a response from the moment of re-alert, then a congressional approval process would have more merit. In a “first use” case as well, where time is less restricted and an unstable president is most likely to abuse power, giving congressional leaders a veto might be beneficial to global security.

That said, in most cases centralized decision making is necessary in wartime and especially in a nuclear crisis. Military command is a process that cannot be democratized; and the more critical the situation, the less room there is for debate. In that sense, launch under attack may be considered a logical extreme that demands the utmost speed an decisiveness.

Apache Gunships May Soon Be In Afghanistan.

The war against the Taliban is set to escalate once again. Roughly 800 aviation troops from the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade will deploy to Afghanistan by the end of the summer. The Brigade is equipped with logistical aircraft like the Chinook and the Black Hawk, along with gunships like the Apache. While the Army was characteristically tight lipped about whether the Apaches would be deployed for combat missions, all signs point to a renewed assault.
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The Kremlin Candidate

During a New York Times interview. presidential nominee (ugh) Donald Trump suggested that he would consider holding back military aid to the Baltic states in the event of a Russian invasion. Stating that he would only help “if they fulfill their obligations to us”. The remark  drew in intense criticism from all sides, including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, John Kerry, Mitch McConnell, John Kasich and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Trump doubled down this remarks during his acceptance speech at the GOP convention, implying that all allies, not just the Baltics, would be subject to the same reservations.
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