Small Wars Journal

06/27/2021 News & Commentary – National Security

Sun, 06/27/2021 - 11:25am

News & commentary by Dave Maxwell. Edited and published by Daniel Riggs

1. Explainer: The great spirit Chinese Communists draw strength from - Xinhua

2. Chinese surveillance firm builds influence in Washington, with help from former members of Congress

3. Emerging Biden doctrine and future of China dream

4. The Debt the U.S. Owes to My Afghan Interpreter—and Others

5. Attacks from lone terrorists in the US are more severe than those who are affiliated with groups.

6. The Myth of American Militarism

7. Even the Taliban are surprised at how fast they're advancing in Afghanistan

8. Biden Says Afghans Must ‘Decide Their Future’ as U.S. Troops Withdraw

9. Should I Hang Out With Someone Whose Political Views I Hate?

10. Dragon Man skull offers clues to human evolution

11. What a collapsed trial says about US claims of Chinese high-tech spying

12. The Misguided Continuity on Foreign Policy

13. Rebuke for the junta in Myanmar

14. Congress’s National Guard Quick Reaction Force: An Ill-Advised Military Requirement

15. Harriet Tubman honored as a Civil War spy

16. William Pitsenbarger: The commando who died so that others could live

17. Conceal or Reveal? Managing Clandestine Military Capabilities in Peacetime Competition

18. ‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war


1. Explainer: The great spirit Chinese Communists draw strength from - Xinhua · June 27, 2021

Excerpt: “Not long after the founding of the PRC, Chinese People's Volunteers (CPV) entered the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to fight the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-1953) at the request of the DPRK.

Despite a wide disparity of weaponry and equipment, the forces of China and the DPRK defeated their armed-to-the-teeth rivals in the face of overwhelming odds. They thereby shattered the myth of invincibility of the U.S. military.


2. Chinese surveillance firm builds influence in Washington, with help from former members of Congress

The Washington Post · by Drew Harwell · June 25, 2021

You would think these politicians would be black and blue from where people were touching them with 10 foot poles. Wouldn't this seem to be political and professional suicide (it seems Senator Boxer understood this)? If not then what does that say about us?

Excerpts: “Moffett will join former senator David Vitter (R-La.) in lobbying for a company racing to defend itself in Washington amid questions over its links to Chinese government surveillance and oppression. Another former senator, Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), registered to lobby for the company, but withdrew from that representation in January amid public criticism.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration banned Americans from investing in the company, citing its links to the Chinese military. Hikvision, whose largest shareholder is owned by the Chinese government, faces another critical threat from U.S. regulators who are considering whether to issue a nationwide ban on purchases of the firm’s equipment.


3. Emerging Biden doctrine and future of China dream

The Korea Times · by Yun Byung-se · June 27, 2021

A Korean view of the Biden Administration's foreign policy.

Excerpt: “It is the paradox of history that the world is on the threshold of a new Cold War and is becoming the victim of its own success. Which dream or scenario will ultimately come true? Pax Americana or the China Dream? Thucydides's Trap (a likely war) or "Kindleberger Trap" (of incapability to provide global public goods)? It will depend on how strategic competition will unfold in the coming years and decades. Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia, offers a good recipe for avoiding the war through managed strategic competition.

One big moment of truth will come sooner than later, when President Biden and President Xi are set to meet with each other probably at the G20 summit in October. But a wise counsel is in order, from John Lennon, "A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality."


4. The Debt the U.S. Owes to My Afghan Interpreter—and Others

WSJ · by Matt Watters

Excerpts: “During the Special Forces Qualification Course, Vietnam veterans showed us pictures of the Montagnards who’d fought alongside them and were never seen again. “They were the best allies we could have asked for,” an old Green Beret told me. “Never let this happen again.” Yet today, by following bureaucratic stipulations and casting aside those who never dreamed of doing the same to us, we are dangerously close to forgetting that lesson.

Shafo keeps the faith, but his wife worries for his safety. She is expecting their third child and fears her husband won’t be alive for the birth. “We have a moral commitment to those who helped us,” Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley has said.

We also have a national-security imperative. If the U.S. abandons those who served with such loyalty and conviction, why would anyone risk his life to help America again? Who will tell our soldiers which streets to avoid?


5. Attacks from lone terrorists in the US are more severe than those who are affiliated with groups. · June 25, 2021

Excerpts: “Effectively estimating the threat of the lone actor is important to guiding policy decisions. Above all, our findings emphasize the need to scrutinize existing counterterrorism policies in their ability to detect and prevent lone-actor attacks. The traditional strategies for thwarting terrorist plots largely consist of intercepting communications between plotters and utilizing undercover officers and informants to obtain information. While these tactics may be effective for terrorists who are involved with groups, the very nature of lone-actor terrorism flies in the face of such strategies. Some scholars have even suggested that those who seek to engage in terrorism in the US prefer to work alone simply because they fear that involving someone in their plans may jeopardize the success of the plot.

However, many lone actors discuss their violent intentions with bystanders, including family, friends, or random strangers. As a result, the focus in recent years has shifted towards soliciting information directly from the public, with programs such as the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative (NSI) establishing a system for gathering, analyzing, and investigating tips from the community. Programs like the NSI which use the general public as a resource for identifying suspicious behaviors may be useful in detecting and thwarting lone actor plots, but more research is needed to determine their effectiveness, especially for the online context. Nonetheless, policymakers should continue to utilize our increasingly robust understanding of lone actor terrorism to propose counterterrorism policies that are tailored to the nature of this threat.


6. The Myth of American Militarism

The National Interest · by Hal Brands · June 26, 2021

From two scholars who are among the nation's foremost thinkers on grand strategy.

Excerpts: “The key here is understanding that America has always had a checkered history fighting limited wars because those are the wars in which it has the most trouble translating its massive power into decisive results. U.S. interventions in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Mexico in the early twentieth century rarely left behind lasting stability. American intervention in Russia after World War I was a confused mess. During the Cold War, America achieved only a bloody, disillusioning stalemate in Korea. America’s first intervention in Lebanon, in 1958, was a comedy of errors; its second one, from 1982 to 1984, was a bloody tragedy. Vietnam was the costliest and most counterproductive limited war of all, in human and strategic terms alike.

The point is not that America never succeeds in military interventions. It is simply that intervention for limited aims is inherently a fraught business because the limit on aims leads to both a limit on means and a willingness to accept middling outcomes rather than wage total war in pursuit of total victory. In World War II, by contrast, the United States endured bloody setbacks that eclipse any of the “military failures” of the post-Cold War era, but the stakes were high enough that America stayed in the fight long enough to achieve ultimate victory

Conclusion:The United States has a mixed record with the use of force, as one might well expect of this most demanding aspect of statecraft. Yet its choices over the past thirty years have been wiser, its restraint and selectivity have been greater, and the domestic blowback it has suffered has been smaller than many critics allege. There are cases, alas, where the use or threat of force will be necessary in the future. There will be instances when choosing not to intervene now forces policymakers to contemplate higher-cost military interventions later. In addressing these challenges, policymakers will need something better than the Magic Eight Ball of restraint, which always answers “my sources say no” when asked for guidance on hard choices. Prescription begins with diagnosis. Busting the myth of American militarism is the first step toward positioning America, intellectually and strategically, for success in a dangerous future.


7. Even the Taliban are surprised at how fast they're advancing in Afghanistan

NBC News · by Dan De Luce, Mushtaq Yusufzai and Saphora Smith · June 25, 2021

Video and graphics at the link:

Excerpts: “The Taliban's recent seizure of districts in three provinces — Wardak, Logar and Laghman — that surround Kabul signaled a potentially ominous sign for the government's staying power. If those provinces fall, then "the path to take Kabul is wide open," Roggio said.

The Afghan military's retreat has prompted a revival of former anti-Soviet, anti-Taliban militias, with Afghan President Ghani and other officials embracing the groups and calling for a united resistance against the Taliban. The call to arms for local militias seemed to underscore the Afghan government's perilous position, and carried the risk that the rival groups could plunge the country back into a wider, anarchic civil war like the one that raged in the 1990s.

The U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the Taliban appeared poised to seize provincial cities once U.S. and NATO forces leave, and painted a bleak picture. "The possible slide toward dire scenarios is undeniable," she said.


8. Biden Says Afghans Must ‘Decide Their Future’ as U.S. Troops Withdraw

The New York Times · by Thomas Gibbons-Neff · June 25, 2021

I wonder what would have happened in December of 2001 when Kabul was liberated if someone had said the same works that are in the title of this piece? "Afghanistan, your future is up to you."


9. Should I Hang Out With Someone Whose Political Views I Hate?

The New York Times · by Kwame Anthony Appiah · June 23, 2021

My question: how can one profess to love our country when one hates so many people who live in it? Scalia and Ginsberg are dead and there seems to be no one living up to their ideals. Or even trying. By that I mean their ideals of civil discourse and even affection for each other despite their opposing political views.

"I attack ideas. I don't attack people. And some very good people have some very bad ideas. And if you can't separate the two, you gotta get another day job. You don't want to be a judge. At least not a judge on a multi-member panel.” - Antonin Scalia

Excerpt: “Identity precedes ideology: Who you are determines what you believe.”

Reflect on this: “When I was 15 and in Britain for school, I came to know a neighbor of my English grandmother’s. Then in his 60s, he was a right-wing member of Parliament whose views on the major issues of the day were utterly remote from mine. All the same, we enjoyed spending time together — when he took me trout fishing, it always involved more talk than trout — and though politics was far from the only thing we discussed, it wasn’t a topic we avoided. Once, when he drove me to visit the college he had attended (and that I would too, just as he hoped), I spent two full hours trying to persuade him to support an upcoming resolution to maintain the abolition of capital punishment for murder. We must have made an odd pair — a reactionary M.P. with the strapping build of the heavyweight boxing champion he was as an undergraduate; a willowy brown teenager who kept up with what was then known as The Peking Review. Still, as we whizzed past the hedgerows and incurious sheep of the Cotswolds, we carried on a vigorous debate over an issue we both cared a great deal about.

I do understand why people prefer to limit their socializing to people who share their view of the world and to steer clear of the maddeningly misguided. In recent years, certainly, America has reshaped itself in ways that accommodate the tendency. With the rise of “assortative mating,” bankers — to paint in broad strokes — no longer marry secretaries; they marry other bankers. Doctors no longer marry nurses; they marry other doctors. And so on, up and down the lines of income and class. (Although social scientists have argued that this trend has deepened economic inequality, it also reflects substantial and welcome gains in gender equality in the workplace.) More to the point, the United States has become politically sorted: Increasingly, your neighborhood will be predominantly red or blue, not mixed. If racial segregation has diminished somewhat over the past generation, partisan segregation has risen.


10. Dragon Man skull offers clues to human evolution · by Alan Kirk · June 26, 2021

An interesting discovery perhaps. But also note the continued impact of the Japanese occupation in pre-WWII.


11. What a collapsed trial says about US claims of Chinese high-tech spying

Technology Review · by Karen Hao · June 27, 2021

I think it would be a bad assumption that Chinese spying is less than we think it is. I don't think we should draw that conclusion from one trial.  Mr. Nowrasteh's "logic" is the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. I would not bank on that kind of logic when dealing with China. Perhaps they are practicing good tradecraft.

Excerpts: ““The DOJ doesn’t need a special initiative targeting China to go after spies,” says Alex Nowrasteh, the director of immigration studies and the Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute. “They should be able to use their normal methods and procedures.”

Hu’s trial suggests “that the scope of Chinese espionage is probably a lot less than people think,” he adds. “If there was a lot more of it, you’d think it'd be a little bit easier to find, and they wouldn’t have to make up cases.”

As for Hu, his nightmare is far from over.

He is still under house arrest, pending a decision from either the Department of Justice to renew the case or drop it, or the judge to dismiss the government’s charges entirely. He has been jobless since his US work visa expired, but he has also not been granted leave from house arrest so he can return to Canada to renew it. Doing so could put him in the crosshairs of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to his lawyer.

All he can do is wait for the US government to make its next move.


12. The Misguided Continuity on Foreign Policy · by Will Krumholz

Conclusion: "Too often, critical questions like these that strike at the heart of Washington’s flaccid foreign policy assumptions go unanswered, while those trusted to expose the truth remain transfixed, spinning a narrative for mass appeal. That keeps liberal hegemony humming along, but it’s far from serving legitimate U.S. interests."


13. Rebuke for the junta in Myanmar · by The Pioneer · June 26, 2021

I think more than a rebuke is necessary.


14.  Congress’s National Guard Quick Reaction Force: An Ill-Advised Military Requirement · by Donald McGregor


15. Harriet Tubman honored as a Civil War spy · by Craig Smith · June 26, 2021

Another great American hero who deserves to be honored.


16. William Pitsenbarger: The commando who died so that others could live · by Stavros Atlamazoglou · June 24, 2021

Where do we find such Americans? I thought the film about him was very moving.


17. Conceal or Reveal? Managing Clandestine Military Capabilities in Peacetime Competition · by Brendan Rittenhouse Green

Although a year and a half old, I just came across this (thank you social media). The PDF can be downloaded here. 

This deals with anti-submarine warfare capabilities and more broadly on clandestine technical capabilities. But the logic may also apply to more human aspects - not necessarily clandestine (or covert) intelligence activities but more along the lines of what Robert Jones has called unconventional deterrence - the employment of political resistance potential to deter an adversary.  

Excerpts: “If international relations theory is right that concealment of clandestine capabilities is the dominant behavior among states, then the world is headed for a future with nasty military shocks and untimely discoveries of hidden doomsday machines. But are political advantage and war-fighting effectiveness always and everywhere contradictory? When does a genuine trade-off between signaling information about the military balance and concealing clandestine capabilities arise? When will states signal, and when will they conceal? What are the conditions for effective signaling and concealment?

In this article, we aim to answer these questions, qualifying the dominant conclusions of the existing literature. We argue that the military and political utility of clandestine capabilities were most sharply opposed in the crisis and wartime settings that have been the focus of previous scholarship. In peacetime interactions, however, a dilemma between signaling and concealing clandestine capabilities can emerge. Peacetime signaling will often be more informative and more effective than in crisis or wartime situations, opening the path toward several potential long-term political benefits that might be worth the military costs.

Within the context of long-term peacetime military competitions, we propose that states are more likely to signal clandestine capabilities in two circumstances. First, the less unique the capability, the more attractive signaling is relative to concealment. Second, the less responsive the adversary is anticipated to be at implementing countermeasures, the more likely states are to reveal the clandestine capability. In both cases, signaling increases in attractiveness as the military costs of revelation decrease. We test these propositions with a two-part study of U.S. strategic antisubmarine warfare (ASW) during the Cold War, which meets the conditions of our theory, while in many respects providing a “hard test.”


18. ‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war

The Guardian · by Philip Oltermann · June 26, 2021

Reminds me of the 1970's Robert Redford film: Three Days of the Condor except now with computers and AI.




 "I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear." 

- Rosa Parks


"Preventing war is much better than protesting against the war. Protesting the war is too late."

-Thich Nhat Hanh. 


"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be."

- Lao Tzu

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