Small Wars Journal

04/29/2021 News & Commentary – National Security

Thu, 04/29/2021 - 9:45am

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

1. US special operations chief for Europe heads to Ukraine in aftermath of Russian border buildup

2. The unexpected Pentagon chief

3. A civilian cybersecurity reserve corps is needed for the Pentagon and DHS, lawmakers from both parties say

4. The Marine Corps Is Kno4/29/2021 Korean News and Commentarywn as a Force of Young Warriors. That's About to Change

5. Lt Gen Slife to Senate: AFSOC at an ‘Inflection Point’ Requiring Transformation in Personnel, Acquisition

6. The U.S. Can’t Betray Its Best Friends in Afghanistan

7. The Proxy Gambit

8. The US Intelligence Community Needs a 'Wild Bill' Moment

9. The Right Way to Fight a Maritime War Against China

10. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Reality of Afghanistan

11. Analysis | Was China behind last October’s power outage in India? Here’s what we know

12. Congress demands answers on Afghanistan withdrawal

13. Washington Is Avoiding the Tough Questions on Taiwan and China

14. Give the U.S. Navy the Army’s Money

15. A New Coalition to Advance U.S. Global Interests

16. Let Taiwan into World Health Assembly

17. Supreme Court to Rule on Whether C.I.A. Black Sites Are State Secrets

18. Remarks by President Biden in Address to a Joint Session of Congress


1. US special operations chief for Europe heads to Ukraine in aftermath of Russian border buildup

Stars and Stripes · by John Vandiver · April 29, 2021


2. The unexpected Pentagon chief

Politico · April 28, 2021


3. A civilian cybersecurity reserve corps is needed for the Pentagon and DHS, lawmakers from both parties say · by Rachel Cohen · April 28, 2021

Excerpts:It’s unclear how DOD and DHS would opt to use that rapid-response workforce alongside their offensive and defensive cyber teams — including uniformed reservists — or whether cyber reservists would be held to similar training standards as typical military reservists. People who don’t show up for duty when called could have their pay withheld, among other possible penalties.

Five years after the program launches, lawmakers want the head of the Government Accountability Office to study whether the effort should be changed, extended or made permanent. The pilot project would automatically end six years after establishment, according to the bill.

The sponsors hope to pass their legislation as a standalone measure or as part of the 2022 defense policy bill, an aide said.

“Creating a reserve corps similar to our National Guard or Army Reserve will allow our national security agencies to have access to the qualified, capable, and service-oriented American talent necessary to respond when an attack occurs,” Blackburn said in the release. “The Civilian Cybersecurity Reserve pilot project represents a big step in strengthening America’s cybersecurity posture.”


4. The Marine Corps Is Known as a Force of Young Warriors. That's About to Change · by Gina Harkins · April 28, 2021

A culture change?


5. Lt Gen Slife to Senate: AFSOC at an ‘Inflection Point’ Requiring Transformation in Personnel, Acquisition · by Brian W. Everstine · April 28, 2021

Excerpts:In 2020, AFSOC Airmen deployed to 62 nations for “engagements” with host militaries, while also flying through and/or landing in more than a dozen more. These agreements with “80-100” nations that U.S. special operations forces have can be “tremendous leverage” against the influence of countries such as Russia and China, Slife said.

“What I have found is that our Airmen aren’t motivated necessarily by killing and capturing terrorists. They’re motivated by relevance,” he said. “And so if the thing that makes them relevant to the nation is pursuing great power competition, you better believe they are all in on moving in that direction.”


6. The U.S. Can’t Betray Its Best Friends in Afghanistan

Bloomberg · by Editorial Board · April 28, 2021

We must recognize the moral hazard we create when working with indigenous forces. This must be taught in leadership courses throughout PME.  We must plan for the transition phase at the beginning of the campaign and those working with the indigenous forces must understand what is the transition plan and must know not to make promises (or make even implied promises) that cannot be kept. 

But we have done this so many times throughout our history from the tribes in Burma in WWI, guerrilla forces in the Philippines, Korean Partisans in the Korean War, the Hmong and Montagnards in Vietnam and others. It always amazes me that any indigenous forces still want to work with us.


7. The Proxy Gambit · by Alex Deep · April 28, 2021

Excerpts:The outsourcing of military operations to state or nonstate proxies presents a host of tactical, logistical, strategic, political, legal, and ethical challenges. What Machiavelli observed about mercenaries and auxiliaries—that they are “dangerous . . . disunited, ambitious, and without discipline, unfaithful”—can apply to any group that has its own motives, especially when those motives include profit.

Proxies are difficult to control even when their motives align with those of their sponsors. They can, for example, take it upon themselves to go above and beyond the mission’s objectives. This was the case with Operation Condor, when Brazilian military and political elites, in collaboration with their regional allies, took it upon themselves to prosecute a cross-border program of repression against suspected communist, socialist, or even merely left-wing critics of each other’s authoritarian regimes. Operation Condor received support from the United States, but it went into overdrive particularly when the Latin American authoritarian regimes suspected Washington of going soft on communism under the newly elected president, Jimmy Carter.

Finally, there has been inadequate debate and reflection about the way the United States has used proxies in the past. Proxy warfare figured prominently during the Cold War. New work is shedding important light on the ways in which the United States cultivated and worked with friendly military officers in developing countries to marginalize anti-colonial forces. It applied what came to be known as the “Jakarta Method,” mass killings, abductions, and, more broadly, repression of left-leaning civilians through close collaboration with anticommunist military and paramilitary forces, as well as civilian groups.


8. The US Intelligence Community Needs a 'Wild Bill' Moment · by Ellen McCarthy and Matt Scott · April 28, 2021

 A very bold proposal. You might make the point that it should be the IC and the special operations community.

Conclusion: “Practical first steps today might include the stand up of a new OSS-like entity, one that is not tied to existing bureaucracies, led by someone who is highly-trusted by the President and Republicans, and who is not afraid of overcoming bureaucracy. The OSS-like entity might try piloting a new capability focused on trusted content delivery but using an entirely new collection, processing and dissemination model and infrastructure, perhaps designed from successful private sector endeavors. Key to this new office would be the ability to rapidly scale new technologies coming out of America’s emerging technology incubators, and truly harnessing America’s digital economy. Thinking outside the box, another option in the spirit of the OSS might be to fund and empower the State Department to be the public sector side of a new public-private information partnership. The State Department’s current embrace of open sources could further remove challenges associated with information sharing and classification.

Whatever approach this administration chooses to take it’s clear that stability and incremental investments will not be enough. We are in a global moment where the threats are incredible, and the American Intelligence Community is not currently up to the tasks ahead. We need a ‘Wild Bill’ moment.


9. The Right Way to Fight a Maritime War Against China · by James Holmes · April 28, 2021

Excerpts:Geography is a foe to China, fettering its nautical destiny. Beijing has to fret about gaining access to the Western Pacific high seas and waters beyond from the moment a warship or merchantman casts off lines in a Chinese seaport until the time it moors in a foreign port of call. China’s misery is America’s opportunity. The United States and its allies can deliberately compound China’s access dilemma by deploying along the first island chain and barring its access to the high seas through the straits that puncture the island chain. The more PLA commanders have to worry about marine access, the more they will disperse forces along the island chain—and the less firepower they will have to concentrate at any individual flashpoint cataloged by Admiral Stavridis.

A back-to-basics approach offers the allies their best chance of massing more combat power for a contingency than can China’s armed forces. Look to the masters of strategy for wisdom—and execute.”


10. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Reality of Afghanistan · by John McLaughlin · April 28, 2021

Conclusion: "As so often happens in foreign affairs, decision-makers must place bets on all these questions based on judgment, history, incomplete data and — inevitably — politics. The Afghan case is harder than most, and Biden deserves credit for at least deciding. For the other iron rule of foreign affairs is that failure to decide … is actually a decision. And usually not a good one."


11. Analysis | Was China behind last October’s power outage in India? Here’s what we know

The Washington Post · by Fiona Cunningham · April 29, 2021

Did they or didn't they?

Excerpts:The PLA might not yet have the testing capabilities they desire to anticipate and manage all of the second-order effects of a cyberattack on critical infrastructure that would reverberate beyond its original target. A cyberattack could have caused an international outcry and Indian retaliation if the Mumbai outage had deprived hospitals of power for longer than backup systems could sustain.

Nevertheless, Chinese leaders’ incentives for restraint don’t rule out the possibility that a government-linked group or patriotic hackers might have disrupted the Mumbai electrical grid by accident or without official authorization. An attack could have slipped through despite the stricter oversight of PLA cyber operations since 2014, and non-PLA groups may be subject to different rules; at least one group linked to the Ministry of State Security reportedly still hacks for profit. And it’s also possible that China’s laws prohibiting individuals from hacking may not be enforced, especially when the target is a geopolitical rival.

While it’s not clear exactly what happened in Mumbai on Oct. 13, the speculation that it was a Chinese cyberattack has nevertheless galvanized India’s military to better counter Chinese cyber threats in the future.


12. Congress demands answers on Afghanistan withdrawal

The Hill · by Bradley Bowman and Maseh Zarif · April 28, 2021

Excerpts:It is important to note that Section 1215 also includes a waiver that Biden could use to avoid submitting the report. To exercise that waiver, the president would need to certify in writing that not providing the information is in the “national security interests of the United States” — and would need to provide a detailed explanation justifying that assertion.

That would be a difficult argument for the Biden administration to make. After all, if a withdrawal by September that ignores conditions on the ground and the advice of commanders is in the national security interest, the Biden administration should be able to answer tough questions and defend the decision in the light of day.

If the Biden administration is unable or unwilling to do so, that sends a disturbing signal regarding the merit of the rationale for the withdrawal. Regardless, in the coming weeks and months, Congress should utilize all of its oversight and legislative powers to push the administration to minimize the damage to American national security that Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal is about to inflict.


13. Washington Is Avoiding the Tough Questions on Taiwan and China

Foreign Affairs · by Charles L. Glaser · April 28, 2021


“Retrenchment may not be getting the hearing it deserves because it clashes with the United States’ self-perception as the global superpower. For those who see the United States as the winner of the Cold War, the creator and leader of the liberal international order, and the protector of much of what is worth protecting, retrenchment is simply too jarring. This is a dangerous reflex. This attachment to a certain identity could act as a barrier to revising policy, leading the United States to insist on preserving the status quo when its material interests point in the opposite direction. Although China’s rise should not cause the United States to change its values, including respect for democracies, it should prompt it to update its self-image and accept some loss of status.

Most observers appear to believe that the United States is pursuing a cautious policy: after all, it is simply maintaining its existing commitments. Yet a declining power determined to preserve the status quo can in fact be engaging in very risky behavior. This is what the United States is doing today. Without acknowledging it, U.S. officials are accepting a great deal of risk, clinging to old commitments as the balance of power in East Asia shifts. The burden for sustaining the current policy should lie with its proponents, who should acknowledge the risks and spell out why they are warranted. Without having this debate, the United States will continue, almost on autopilot, to preserve its commitments in the region, even though what is likely called for is a long-overdue change in course.”


14. Give the U.S. Navy the Army’s Money

Foreign Policy · by Blake Herzinger · April 28, 2021

Sustain a navy and raise an army.

Excerpt:The Navy’s need for a greater share of the defense budget will certainly be criticized as interservice rivalry or parochialism. But in terms of any contingency related to a rising China seeking to displace the order of the free world, there are no realistic options without a strong, revitalized Navy. To have all the modern tanks in the world surrounded by soldiers with augmented reality helmets stuck on U.S. shores or sunk hundreds of miles from land is not a winning scenario.

Active and retired naval strategists are increasingly fervent in their calls for recapitalization of the fleet—not to score points in some imagined interservice rivalry but because they know that if called on, the force may not merely be bloodied but may fail. Not for want of sailors or fighting spirit but for a simple lack of large gray ships ready to go into harm’s way.


15. A New Coalition to Advance U.S. Global Interests

WSJ · by Elliott Abrams

It is hard to argue with any of these principles from the Vandenburg Coalition.


Vandenberg’s philosophy is based on six principles:

First, American security depends on leadership.

Second, a strong America is a safe America.

Third, strategic cooperation serves U.S. interests. 

Fourth, free and fair trade advances the prosperity and security of the American people.

Fifth, we support a proud U.S. foreign policy that champions American values without apology.

Sixth, foreign policy should be responsive to all Americans—not only those in Washington or with the clout to hire lobbyists. 

The Vandenburg Coalition:

 “I am hunting for the middle ground between these extremists at one end of the line who would cheerfully give America away and those extremists at the other end of the line who would attempt a total isolation which has come to be an impossibility.”


16. Let Taiwan into World Health Assembly 



17.  Supreme Court to Rule on Whether C.I.A. Black Sites Are State Secrets

The New York Times · by Carol Rosenberg · April 26, 2021

Excerpts:The government argued that disclosures about the nature of the interrogations were different from ones about where they took place, notwithstanding the European court’s findings and press reports.

“In the world of clandestine intelligence operations, where tradecraft is deployed to cloak the true nature of activities and misdirect attention, things may be uncertain notwithstanding suppositions based on incomplete and circumstantial information,” said the government’s latest brief in the case, United States v. Abu Zubaydah, No. 20-827, which was filed in March.

Judge Richard A. Paez, concurring in the full Ninth Circuit’s decision not to rehear the case, wrote that courts should not blind themselves to what everyone knows.

“Given the overwhelming, publicly available evidence that Abu Zubaydah was detained at a black site in Poland, it is difficult to take seriously the suggestion that media outlets are untrustworthy and that the standards applied by other judicial bodies are inadequate,” he wrote. “Good grief, the president of Poland publicly acknowledged in 2012 that, during his presidency, Abu Zubaydah was detained in Poland by the C.I.A.”


18. Remarks by President Biden in Address to a Joint Session of Congress

Office of the US President-Address to Joint Session of Congress  · April 29, 2021

So many policy issues to be debated from his speech but he makes a strong case for democracy versus autocratic leadership in his conclusion.




“Insurgents tend to ride and manipulate a social wave of grievances, often legitimate ones, and they draw their fighting power from their connection to a mass base. This mass base is largely undetectable to counterinsurgents, since it lies below the surface and engages in no armed activity”

- David Kilcullen


“Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.” 

- Soren Kierkegaard


“Give instructions only to those people who seek knowledge after they have discovered their ignorance.” 

- Confucius

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