Small Wars Journal

05/29/2020 News & Commentary – National Security

Fri, 05/29/2020 - 10:57am

News & commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and published by Ahyoung Shin.

1. The NSA has a warning: Russia's most infamous hackers are still active

2. Trump's Social-Media Order Is a Gift to Disinformation Bots, Experts Say

3.  Army sends counternarcotics advisory team to Colombia

4.  China Escalates the Pandemic Propaganda War

5. Back to the Shadows: The Future Role of Special Ops

6. Inhofe, Reed back new military fund to confront China

7. America rethinks its strategy in the Wild West of cyberspace

8. We Should Never Lose Hope on Finding MIAs

9. 4 Times Former Green Berets Took on Extracurricular Work

10. Why dissolving the Afghan Local Police program troubles its American architects

11. Special Operations Command acknowledges that it has to change as AI is set to revolutionize war

12. Professional Military Education Needs More Creativity, Not More History

13. From Captain Queeg to Winston Churchill: Lessons in Leading Up

14. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative: Peace Through Strength in the Indo-Pacific

15. To Counter China, the U.S. Needs a More Disciplined Grand Strategy


1. The NSA has a warning: Russia's most infamous hackers are still active

NBC News · by Kevin CollierKevin Collier is a cybersecurity reporter based in New York City. · May 28, 2020

We ignore this threat to our peril. I think this election year we will be in a "360 degree cyber firefight" with attacks from all directions, Russia, China, Iran and perhaps even North Korea (if Kim Jong-un is upset with President Trump). And they will all be using different TTPs and have different objectives. And Mail-in paper ballots are looking pretty good right now.

2. Trump's Social-Media Order Is a Gift to Disinformation Bots, Experts Say · by Patrick Tucker

Bots are a threat. Fake news, disinformation, active measures, and psychological and media warfare are all threats. The government cannot protect us from all these threats and I doubt there will ever be an algorithm that will be able to detect and eliminate these threats. Certainly unenforceable legislation will not. The first line of defense is critical thinking Americans who can discern these threats and not allow themselves to be influenced and manipulated by them.

3.  Army sends counternarcotics advisory team to Colombia · by Christen McCurdy · May 28, 2020

Hmmm... so is 7th SFG tapped out? It can no longer conduct this mission as part of its larger presence in Colombia? I wonder about the relationships that will have to be established. I hope all these advisors are fluent Spanish speakers. What little I know from my limited experience in Latin America is that you have to be able to speak Spanish well. I wonder if the Colombians will ask, "Where are the 7th Group guys we always worth with (and 20th Group as well)?"

Of course I am biased and sensitive to the SFABs assuming Special Forces roles and missions. But maybe in this case I am overreacting. The article says: "The team will focus on logistics, services and intelligence capability directly supporting U.S.-Colombia counternarcotics collaboration and information sharing." Perhaps supporting US-Colombia collaboration means the SFABs will be advising the Colombians on logistics and intelligence in support of the USSF and DEA conducting counternarcotics operations as they have done for years.  Maybe we will use the right forces for the rights missions.

4.  China Escalates the Pandemic Propaganda War · by The Atlantic

I do not think we can underestimate how important psychological warfare is to the PRC.  We should never forget for China (and Russia, Iran, and North Korea) politics is war by other means. They are conducting political warfare and leading with influence (and propaganda) is a component of political warfare. I know there are many pundits who do not want to attach war to this, but this is political warfare and I think Paul Smith described it best in 1990 in his NDU monograph.

5. Back to the Shadows: The Future Role of Special Ops · by Simon Veazey · May 27, 2020

My 2 cents. In addition to the high end CT capabilities that we have raised to a high art form (the ability to capture or kill any high value target at the time and place of our choosing), I think SOF's real value and comparative advantages lie in what I call the two SOF "trinities:" These are the three broad missions of SOF: irregular warfare, unconventional warfare, and support to political warfare (political warfare is not a SOF mission, it is a national strategic mission to which SOF can contribute). The second is the comparative advantage of SOF: governance, influence, and support to indigenous forces and populations. The is what the majority of the special operations forces should be focusing on, especially the Special Forces, Psychological Operations forces, and the Civil Affairs forces which together are the largest operational elements in SOF.

And regarding the correction at the bottom of the page: "This article has been updated to correct the fact that it incorrectly referred to the Air Force special forces as Rangers, which are in fact Army special forces."  I love my Ranger brethren, but they are not Army special forces and I think they would be insulted to be called that. I know the journalistic generic term is special forces and is used to refer to all kinds of forces that do not fall under the definition of conventional forces. But in the US military there is only one Army Special Forces who are also known as the Green Berets. All others (including the Green Berets) belong to the special operations forces. I am sure many will say that is splitting hairs, but it does mean something to SF, the Rangers, the SEALs, and all the other elements of SOF. Each have their own identity within the SOF community.

6. Inhofe, Reed back new military fund to confront China

Defense News · by Joe Gould, Aaron Mehta · May 28, 2020

Recall when we excited the "Asian Pivot" during the previous administration? We provided almost no resources to do and it was really a lip serve exercise. I think in the end it was going to raise the apportioned force level from 50% of US military forces to 55% but as "apportioned" forces that only meant they were earmarked for the Asia-Pacific and not stationed there. When it was the PACOM theater many used to describe the region as an economy of force theater - make sure nothing goes wrong because all the dual apportioned forces need to be in EUCOM or CENTCOM (and the priority has obviously long been on CENTCOM).

We have done a lot in the past couple years to substantively shift focus and priorities to INDOPACOM including the development of a new strategy and plans for a Free and Open INDOPACIFC.

It is good to see Congress step in with new funding.  

However, if we want to make further substantive changes and demonstrate our commitment to the region, I would offer some bold or at least radical ideas. This is from a paper I wrote to contribute to a project led by Patrick Cronin. Link below. The point of this is to more effectively employ our instruments national power in the region DIME-A - diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and Alliances.

One of the ways for the United States to look at its future in Northeast Asia is to revise its military, diplomatic, and economic structures in the region. In recent years, Washington has undertaken a pivot or rebalance to Asia, and under the current administration transformed the US Pacific Command into the US Indo-Pacific Command. The latter highlights the importance of the entire region, which has been codified in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. However, the Asia-Pacific theater is large and complex. Perhaps it is time to reexamine the Unified Command Plan and consider reorganizing the structure and responsibilities in the theater. The United States should examine the feasibility of establishing a Northeast Asia Command as a new and separate combatant command. This is not a new idea, but it has never been sufficiently examined. Given the importance of the entire region and Northeast Asia within it, a separate combatant command with responsibility for Korea, Japan, Mongolia, Taiwan, China, and the Russian Far East would enhance US strategic capabilities. However, one argument against this idea will always come to the fore. Whenever a new set of boundaries is established, it will always create gaps and seams. This is especially true when competition with China is considered. But such a recommendation should not be discounted solely for that reason. The analysis may reveal other opportunities and, even if the proposal is not accepted, may reveal other ways to better support US strategic objectives.

While new ideas tend to focus on how to organize the military, the other instruments of power should also be considered. Perhaps it is time to think about creating a diplomatic organization in the region to coordinate all diplomatic activities and all information and influence activities to support US strategic objectives. A US Northeast Asia ambassador with the requisite supporting staff organization would provide the diplomatic and information effort necessary to synchronize the elements of national power. A third organization to support the economic instrument of power could be a Northeast Asia Economic Engagement Center. These three organizations would not only bring the strength of the US instruments of power to the region in a new and dynamic way; they would also send a powerful message of commitment, especially if they were located in the right places. The Northeast Asia Command could be located in Korea, the Northeast Asia ambassador in Japan, and the Northeast Asia Economic Engagement Center in Taiwan. Of course, this would create political challenges. However, such a proposal could also enhance the strength and power of the US alliance structure in the region and provide allies with effective tools to compete with the revisionist powers and defend against the rogue powers as outlined in the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy. These are merely proposals and may not be at all feasible. However, it is time to creatively reexamine employment of the instruments of power to see if the United States can be more effective in achieving its strategic objectives and maintaining and strengthening its alliances in Northeast Asia.

7. America rethinks its strategy in the Wild West of cyberspace

The Economist · May 30, 2020

The new frontier or the wild, wild west? This is another area that makes things different than the Cold War. Along with the US-PRC interdependence cyber space is a something that creates a unique problem set as well as opportunities for us.

And yes, the timing of the release of the Solarium Project was a stroke of bad luck as it came just before the coronavirus lockdown. We need to read and heed the report and take the recommendations for action and not just file it away in the ether or on a dusty bookshelf.

8. We Should Never Lose Hope on Finding MIAs · by Robert Zapesochny · May 28, 2020

Never forget and never stop searching to bring them home.

9. 4 Times Former Green Berets Took on Extracurricular Work · by Blake Stilwell

Some positive and negative history here. I guess there is life after being a Green Beret and there is a (small) market for their skills! But most go on to do other things! But I do think anyone has done anything as well as Bull Simons (certainly when compared to the other three examples) His Iran operation was pretty amazing.

10. Why dissolving the Afghan Local Police program troubles its American architects · by Howard Altman · May 27, 2020

Obviously, there has been a lot of controversy over these programs. They are an example of too little, too late. Hindsight is 20/20 but if these programs had been implemented in 2002 when many who were on the ground recommended them perhaps things would have turned out differently. Below is the concept that should have been employed in 2002. This is from our old Foreign Internal Defense doctrine. And from the beginning of the execution of remote area operations there has to be a plan to end the support.  

Remote area operations are operations undertaken in insurgent-controlled or contested areas to establish islands of popular support for the HN government and deny support to the insurgents. They differ from consolidation operations in that they are not designed to establish permanent HN government control over the area.

Remote areas may be populated by ethnic, religious, or other isolated minority groups. They may be in the interior of the HN or near border areas where major infiltration routes exist. 

Remote area operations normally involve the use of specially trained paramilitary or irregular forces. SF teams support remote area operations to interdict insurgent activity, destroy insurgent base areas in the remote area, and demonstrate that the HN government has not conceded control to the insurgents. They also collect and report information concerning insurgent intentions in more populated areas. In this case, SF teams advise and assist irregular HN forces operating in a manner similar to the insurgents themselves, but with access to superior combat support (CS) and combat service support (CSS) resources. 

11. Special Operations Command acknowledges that it has to change as AI is set to revolutionize war · by Jack Murphy · May 28, 2020

This is an elegant and simple quote but one we must think deeply about: "Data is the new ammunition." We should always keep in mind that some "data" can only be collected through close personal relationships that can only take place face to face. I am not an iconoclast and I believe in the great potential AI but I also do not want SOF and in particular SF, PSYOP, and CA to lose some of the fundamental skills that are enduring despite the amount of AI employed. This is especially true when we talk about the comparative advantages of SOF in influence, governance, and support to indigenous forces and populations. Again, I am all for maximizing the use of AI as long as we do not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

And regarding "revolutionizing war:" I am not sure how you revolutionize fear, honor, and interest, and passion, reason, and chance (though hopefully AI will help reduce the effects of chance, but it will never eliminate it).

12. Professional Military Education Needs More Creativity, Not More History · by Adam Lowther · May 28, 2020

I still think history is important. The authors recommend a framework for creativity. I do not think creativity can be developed at a single PME institution. I think we need to focus on helping those who are life long learners. I do not think you can be successful at strategy, policy, and operational art unless you have the traits of a life long learner.

My framework recommendation in 2012 is here. But upon re-reading my essay if I am not an iconoclast I suppose I can be accused of being a traditionalist.:

13. From Captain Queeg to Winston Churchill: Lessons in Leading Up · by Andrew Milburn · May 28, 2020

I recommend Andrew's new book.

14. The Pacific Deterrence Initiative: Peace Through Strength in the Indo-Pacific · by Sen. Jim Inhofe and Sen. Jack Reed · May 28, 2020

I wish we could get more Republican and Democratic legislators to work together on critical issues such as our strategy in Asia (oops I mean INDOPACIFIC). Hopefully Senators Inhofe and Reed will set the example to be emulated by their fellow Senators and by members of the House.

15. To Counter China, the U.S. Needs a More Disciplined Grand Strategy · by Luke Nicastro

There are no George Kennans in the 21st Century. But on a less snarky note, strategy is hard and grand strategy is even harder.  In my opinion the discipline is in execution- constantly assessing the conditions and reexamining assumptions, making prudent changes to priorities and resource allocation and having a realistic understanding of time.

The author's main point about discipline is an examination and understand of core interests and peripheral interests and then ruthless prioritizing our core interests. The problem is that if we do not anticipate the future cutting away what may seem like a peripheral interest today might come back to harm our core interests in the future.



A military situation at its worst can inspire fighting men to perform at their best." 

- Marguerite Higgins, War in Korea: The Report of a Woman Combat Correspondent


"In Korea the Government forces, which were armed to prevent border raids and to preserve internal security, were attacked by invading forces from North Korea....The attack upon Korea makes it plain beyond all doubt that communism has passed beyond the use of subversion to conquer independent nations and will now use armed invasion and war."

- President Harry Truman


"East Asia has prospered since the end of the Vietnam War, and Northeast Asia has prospered since the end of the Korean War in a way that seems unimaginable when you think of the history of the first half of the century." 

- William C. Kirby 

Categories: News