Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Will the US Negotiate With North Korea?

A recent report has stated that Secretary of State Tillerson is willing to negotiate with North Korea without any preconditions. This is good news, if the president is willing to allow Tillerson to do this. The main concern is that President Trump has contradicted statements that have been made by Tillerson in the past; these contradictions have often come after Tillerson has made a statement on an issue.

In his statement, Tillerson stated that President Trump is in agreement with him that it is unrealistic to expect North Korea to agree to give up its nuclear program in order for talks begin. He cited the fact that North Korea has a lot invested in its program and this will likely be a non-starter. Immediately after he made this statement, the press secretary told the White House press pool that the president has not changed his mind on the situation. Once again, it appears that Tillerson's diplomatic efforts have been undercut by his boss. However, given that this administration has not been able to outline clear policy goals on any issue, it could be the press secretary is the one who is misinformed; she even alluded to such concerns in her statement. Dialog will be difficult to begin if it is impossible to give a clear answer as to whether or not the US is willing to engage in it. If President Trump seeks to avoid a conflict with North Korea, then such dialog is essential to lower tensions in the region; in order for this to occur, he must let Tillerson do his job. If the president continues to contradict his chief diplomat in public, not only will he be unable to bring North Korea to the negotiating table, but he will not be able to adequately represent the US position on this issue to the rest of the world.

In conclusion, if the president is serious about reaching a non-military solution to this problem, he must allow his State Department to do its job and refrain from contradiction. If he does not feel that Tillerson is adequately representing his views on this or other issues, he must move to replace him. Coherence on this issue is essential. The stakes in the region are too high to allow messaging errors to thwart the potential to reach a diplomatic solution. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Open Source Intel from DPRK's November 29th Test

How much progress has North Korea made in their stated goal of creating an ICBM?

To have a usable ICBM, you primarily need two things: (1) a missile, and (2) a warhead. North Korea’s challenges have been creating a re-entry vehicle (RV) that will not burn up during re-entry, and miniaturizing the warhead to fit into an RV.
On November 29th, North Korea successfully tested an ICBM for the third time. However, everything about this test is new. It flew for 53 minutes (6 minutes longer than any previous test), and reached an apogee of more than 4,500 km (2,800 miles), flying 10 times higher than the international space station. The government is claiming that this missile is a new Hwasong-15, a separate class from the previously seen Hwasong-14 model.

Open source intelligence from a variety of experts yields several insights. First, the Hwasong-15 is much larger and far-reaching than any previous DPRK missile. It can carry a substantially larger warhead, certainly a thermonuclear device and perhaps one fitted with MIRVs or decoys. However, we do not know what was in the RV that was tested November 29th- if it was light, mock warhead (which it probably was), then we do not know the range it could reach in an actual attack if it was fitted with a heavy payload. Several analysts commented on Hwasong-15’s physical similarity to the American Titan II missile.
This new missile also comes fitted with not one, but two engines for its first stage. And, as expert David Wright notes, the second stage appears to hold twice as much propellant as the Hwasong-14, allowing for an enhanced thrust and a higher peak altitude. Both of these features demonstrates that this is truly a new missile.
The test was also carried out at 3 A.M. local time, something not typically seen in North Korea’s missile tests. While we still do not definitively know the reason, open source analysts have offered potential explanations: North Korea wants to show serious intent to use nuclear weapons operationally, or to show the unpredictable nature of the threat. It should be noted that our respective missile defense systems have never been tested at night time.
North Korea is also experimenting with solid fuel for its rockets, however there is no indication that the last test was utilizing this technology. Solid fuel (what we use in all of our nuclear missiles) is preferred as it is more precise and can decrease preparation time as it has a long shelf-life. Liquid fuel is corrosive to the metal lining and requires a separate fueling mission before launch, adding to potential detection time.

Should we expect more tests? Definitely. Kim Jong Un’s Birthday is January 9th. Kim Jonh Il’s Birthday is February 16th. The 2018 Winter Olympics, held in South Korea, start February 9 and end February 25th. Full list of public holidays here.

Deterrent in Chief

All I want for Christmas is rational nuclear deterrence. Tall order, but I've done everything I can to stay on the "Nice" list. I'm not the only one asking for someone to make me feel better about the spectre of looming thermonuclear war with North Korea. As Mary Chesnut noted, Obama's 2010 Nuclear Posture Review is being updated by the new administration. Early this year Congressman Ted Lieu (Dem., Los Angeles) and Senator Ed Markey (Dem., Massachusetts) introduced tiny pieces of legislation intended to bar the President from nuclear first use. Three weeks ago Senator Bob Corker called the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (SFRC) to take testimony on nuclear command and control authority. The SFRC's hearing was inconclusive but newsworthy for being the most recent public review of protocol in 41 years. Besides the NPR, one could argue that both Lieu-Markey and the SFRC hearing did little more than demonstrate Congressional impotence in this case. But that isn't the only thing they signaled. A deeper look into the testimonies of Dr. Peter Feaver, retired Air Force General C. Robert Kehler, and Brian McKeon explain why the committee shouldn't have come away dissatisfied but reassured. So how does sole Presidential authority over nuclear weapons actually keep us safe?

Feaver, Kehler, and McKeon, in their short testimonies, outlined some of the major scenarios and issues that nuclear strategy must address, and why our strategic protocols depend on what seems like an absurdly precarious design. In short, those scenarios of nuclear weapons usage are a first-use strike (launching nukes first to head imminent war), a retaliatory strike (launching missiles second), and deterrence (threat of launch).

The Lieu-Markey bill was aimed solely at making first-use illegal. But as McKeon noted, there's nothing for Congress to really do here. Since nobody could misread a nuclear weapons launch in anger as anything but a declaration of war, and Congress has sole authority to declare war, a first use is already illegal. McKeon and Kehler's testimony presented a more mixed picture of the Obama Administration's policy on first use.

If the President wasn't feeling particularly lawful, the responsibility to resist would fall to military subordinates. If members of the chain of command were surprised by an order, or mutinous, they could ostensibly take the position that an order to launch a nuclear attack looked like "first-use" and could be resisted as illegal. Potential for mutiny is problematic, suffice it to say that in terms of Congressional authority to prevent first use, it's there—in name.

Retaliatory strikes are another issue and one that we're most familiar with. Missile defense is wrapped around the retaliatory strike problem. Discussions of response times (it is worse than you think) are about retaliatory decision-making. Many of the horror films imagine two countries retaliating and ending humanity, and even the third major strategic use of nuclear weapons (deterrence) arises out of the logic of retaliatory strikes.

The discussion in the SFRC hearing was educatory for the Congressional staff attending. What they wanted to hear about was whether the chain of command that distances the Commander in Chief from actual nuclear launch is safe against this President. Reassurances were made that what is most important for retaliatory capability are trust in the command authority, and expediency. Nuclear launch facility operators need to be able to trust that orders received are authoritative and credible, and that they are able to act before being destroyed by incoming warheads. Time is of the essence. Adding extra people to vet the order could impede effectiveness. Even more perilous is distributed authority. Requiring two or more people to convene, concur, and commit to a response risks fatal decision paralysis. What if that second authority is missing or disabled? Errors and confusion risks multiply as authority is democratized. Another aspect of this design that may actually be keeping us safe is what the design signals. As explained both by Feaver and McKeon, the message to potential adversaries that the US can respond immediately makes them think twice about attacking America.
The experts repeatedly testified to the deterrent capability of the current protocol and the inadvisability of tinkering with it. Dr. Feaver got to the point early in his testimony,
For nuclear deterrence to work, we must have a high assurance that the country will always be able to present a credible nuclear strike capability to our adversaries, even in the most-dire scenarios. Otherwise, if others believe that some sort of massive or cleverly designed first strike could render our nuclear arsenal unusable, adversaries will have a powerful incentive to strike us first and early in any unfolding crisis.
While it may have been consoling for Senator Corker to hear Gen Kehler remark that the military is only required to obey legal orders, the prospect of a doubting subordinate signals to adversaries a weakly-linked chain, and that weakens deterrence. McKeon closed his testimony with this comment and urged them to be judicious in proposing reform to the command protocol.

Congress may find it frustrating to be in a position where the product of decades-long abnegation of war authority is suddenly so visible. Clawing back control from the executive may be impossible, arduous, or even dangerous, but there has not been a President in our lifetime whose quixotic penchant for tantrums and polarizing rhetoric so warranted the effort.

[Note: In the time it took you to read this article, the President would have exhausted the available decision-making window.]

China Wants to Connect With You on LinkedIn

Don't be so eager to grow your network, says German intelligence.

Russia is not the only nation that uses fake social media accounts to advance its national interests. According to the head of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), German officials have been targeted by Chinese intelligence operations via LinkedIn. Posing as recruiters or consultants, the agents scour LinkedIn for impressive and attractive resumes, specifically searching for members of government offices or parliament. The agent would then offer expenses-paid trips to China to meet with supposedly influential heads of think tanks, government, or non-profits. 

Wanting to investigate further, the BfV created a task force that was responsible for investigating the fake profiles and what exactly it was that they were after. The investigation spanned nine months, and the results indicate that Chinese intelligence agents were looking to recruit informants as a means of gaining a financial and economical edge over competitors. This is not the first instance of Chinese cyber espionage in an economic sector. As a matter of fact, Chinese cyber espionage is the main reason behind the agreement between former President Obama and current Chinese President Xi, which essentially states that both nations will refrain from knowingly engaging in cyber theft of intellectual property or other information for commercial advantage. 

Coupled with the persistent insistence of Russia's informational warfare in the United States, public and private sector companies need to be aware of the dangers that do lurk in social media. Regardless of status or position, not all people are adept at cyber hygiene. That being said, it is probably time to introduce cyber hygiene training at all levels. By offering incentives to complete the training, like a monetary bonus, a company or agency prioritize employee cyber hygiene training to avoid situations like this LinkedIn problem. Companies should also take employee concerns and grievances seriously. Why? If the Chinese intelligence agents happened to recruit a particularly disgruntled employee with knowledge of sensitive information, it puts the company or agency at risk. 

Do Foreign Donations to Think Tanks Buy Influence?

Think tanks are an essential part of the foreign policy decision making process in the United States. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle turn to them for advice and guidance; the media uses them to inform the public on foreign policy issues; and students who are studying foreign policy use them as sources to complete papers and projects. These policy shops do usually have political leanings, however these biases are almost always on display. What is not well know is the recent trend of these institutions accepting money from foreign governments. This raises an important question: do these donations buy foreign governments influence?

According to the New York Times, foreign governments have invested millions of dollars into various think tanks in the United States. Some of the largest recipients of these donations are organizations that espouse their independence and being non-partisan. However, when it comes to discussing the governments of nations that have given money to these organizations that independence is cast-aside. The Times reported that one employee was told that he could not in any way, shape, or form criticize a donor nation. While these organizations have not crossed the line to providing false information, they are not telling everything that could be said.

There is also another impact of these donations by foreign governments on the think tank industry. It risks turning the think tank industry into being an extension of the lobbying industry. Some think tanks have accepted money to suggest policy positions to Congress on behalf of foreign governments. There is one distinction from your typical beltway lobbying firm and think tanks who advocate for foreign governments: lobbying firms are not viewed as being independent and are not brought onto the news to inform the public.

The recent trend of think tanks accepting money form foreign governments is a disturbing trend. They risk turning what is viewed as one of the last remaining examples of  "independent" policy analysis into little more than lobbying shops. If these organizations are no longer able to provide this, then political leaders and the public would no longer have a trusted source of information on foreign policy. This would weaken the knowledge and understanding of both groups and would make our foreign policy less coherent and effective.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Hey public! Let's amplify our "outcry."

Amidst public outcry, has Congress done enough to pass legislation that aids failed states? American troops remain fighting the War on Terror with a 16-year old Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) that was approved by Congress in 2001 and 2002. The AUMF was put into place after 9/11 with the go ahead to fight al Qaeda militant groups and has continued to be used for wars in multiple countries. Critics from both parties have attempted to pass legislation calling for a new AUMF but there has been no resolution. American military activity in Yemen is encompassed in the al Qaeda AUMF.

U.S. forces have backed the aerial and ground bombing campaign and port blockades led by the Saudi coalition. Called one of the worst humanitarian crises of the century, the Yemeni people are facing starvation, death from cholera, and continuous civilian bombings. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented over 50 seemingly unlawful coalition airstrikes since the start of the campaign in March 2015. These strikes are estimated to “have killed nearly 800 civilians and hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, civilian businesses, and mosques.” HRW has concluded that some these attacks may amount to war crimes.

As the US economy gains from weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-led coalition forces have used US-made air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions in their campaigns.  In May 2017, the Trump administration promised the Saudi government a $110 billion US arms package. The crisis in Yemen continues but Congress is making slow strides toward a resolution. For the first time and after good faith negotiations with bipartisan House leadership, an agreement was reached that will allow for an hour-long debate on U.S. involvement in the Yemen Civil War on the House floor.

Starvation, cholera, thousands of dead civilians, and potential war crimes since 2015. Congress has agreed, for the first time, to debate the issue for an hour. How virtuous. The resolution states, “directing the President pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to remove United States Armed Forces from unauthorized hostilities in the Republic of Yemen. H.Con.Res.81 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)” Further, it “directs the President to remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen, except those engaged in operations directed at Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, within 30 days after adoption of this concurrent resolution, unless the President requests and Congress authorizes a later date, and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for the use of U.S. Armed Forces has been enacted.”

Has there been public outcry with regard to the atrocities of the Civil War in Yemen? Those that occurred in Syria seem to be old news. Undoubtedly there are many Americans who are volunteering, donating time and money to these causes. Yet action from Congress, the voice of the people, seems to have slowed to a crawl. Can we not do any better? The most powerful nation in the world is sitting back as people still die of cholera in the 21sst century? When asked about his views regarding Yemen, Rep. Dave Reichert, (R-Wash) stated, “I’m in the middle of tax reform right now.” When asked if he had a quick second to talk about the war in Yemen, Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) replied, “No, sorry man. Sorry.” Kinzinger then turned to the man with whom he had been walking and said, “How’s life, dude?” Thankfully the other man was “doing good.” “Nearly 19 million Yemenis are suffering from food insecurity, or 60 percent of the population, and a child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes and diseases:” but fear not, Congress has given themselves an hour.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Think tanks: independent idea generators or policy driven public relations propagators?

Just how close-minded are think tanks? “Universities without students” have turned into lobby markets without scruples. Think tanks are a powerful voice in the political scene, particularly in the legislative branch. They can push a donor’s specific agendas without retribution (although individuals working within a think tank can lose their jobs if they offend a donor). Similar to the decades of pressure that women have faced in the workplace, staying silent simply due to this pressure of power and the fear of losing their jobs, think tankers seem to be up against a similar challenge. In a sense, these atmospheres create a type of reverse whistle-blowing: the inability to both perform and secure one’s job while retaining freedom of speech.

Although accusations have been denied, a recent case of the negative consequences of exercising one’s First Amendment rights involved the leftist think tank New America. Funded largely by Google, New America had undergone a project called Open Markets that explored monopolies and ways to fight against them. The program director openly criticized Google as being monopolistic and soon after, the president of New America closed the Open Markets project down. Both Google and New America attest that the comments had nothing to do with the closing. Funding has devolved from grants, foundations, and discrete millionaires to wealthy business people, more commonly termed now as philanthro-capitalists.

Funding is a matter of survival but think tanks also enjoy the benefits of a tax-exempt status. Corporations share a similar advantage by being able to write off their donations as charitable contributions. Philanthro-capitalists often have specific interests and want to assure that their money is going toward that interest: targeted giving. According to documents containing thousands of internal memos and confidential correspondence obtained by the New York Times and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, the Brookings Institute and mega-corporations like JPMorgan Chase, K.K.R., the global investment firm, Microsoft, and Hitachi, “show that financial support often came with assurances from Brookings that it would provide ‘donation benefits,’ including setting up events featuring corporate executives with government officials.” Unfortunately, this is hardly an isolated happenstance.

Corporative funding of think tanks is an effective way to flip money: donate a few million and reap billions through passed legislation that directly benefit private interests. Think tanks have the ability of selling to donors the fact that they have access to politicians and therefore influence policy. Many have attempted to change the appearance of being bought off by becoming more transparent and refusing to accept anonymous contributions. Transparency is the best way to combat the power between corporations and political blocs. Although the public is well aware that lobbyists influence politics, scholars in think tanks must maintain their credibility as being independent intermediaries of policy.