Half measures won't save Ukraine or restore American deterrence
The strongest part of President Biden’s State of the Union address was the section on the war in Ukraine. Biden condemned the Russian invasion. He welcomed the Ukrainian ambassador. He led Congress in a statement of solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their fight against the Russian aggressor. He announced that the United States was closing its airspace to Russian planes, cutting off Russia from the international financial system, penalizing the Russian central bank, sanctioning the Russian government and its leadership, and targeting Russian oligarchs. He made it clear whose side the United States is on. “Together with our allies,” Biden said, “we are providing support to the Ukrainians in their fight for freedom. Military assistance. Economic assistance. Humanitarian assistance.”
All good. All sensible. And not nearly enough. Defeating Russia in Ukraine and restoring American deterrence will require much more than Biden has announced so far. The State of the Union was a chance for Biden to explain the nature of the threat, the stakes for America, his plan for rolling back Putin’s offensive, his strategy for American revival, and the potential costs to American citizens. He ducked the hard questions. He relied on bromides. He left the impression that the road ahead will be relatively painless, and that victory is assured. It isn’t.
“Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks, but he will never gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people,” Biden said. He meant to say the “Ukrainian people.” A laudable sentiment. And a misleading one. What does it matter to Putin if he gains the “hearts and souls” of Ukrainians? He doesn’t want their love. He desires their territory. And he won’t just encircle Kyiv with tanks. He will level it. Biden could have warned America and the world about the sorts of horrible images already being broadcast from Ukraine. He could have explained why the misery will grow worse long before it subsides. He could have steeled the nation’s spine for the uncertain years ahead. He chose not to.
“Freedom will always triumph over tyranny,” Biden said. Another lovely idea that crumbles under scrutiny. Ask the North Koreans or the Cubans or the Venezuelans or the Iranians or the Chinese or, for that matter, the Russians if freedom always triumphs over tyranny. The tragic fact of the matter is that freedom is rare. Authoritarians are resilient. Biden left out the element essential to freedom’s victory. Freedom requires more than will. It requires force. And in today’s world of proliferating dangers, the only nation with the power to shield freedom from its enemies is the United States.
I’m not talking about the power of our example. I mean the military and strategic assets at our disposal. These elements of national power are the foundation for a world of democracies. But they have atrophied. America’s armed forces labor under budget constraints. America’s nuclear deterrent requires modernization. America’s research and development has withered, and American energy has been constricted. America’s alliances are force multipliers that Biden has leveraged well against Russia. They can only get us so far, however. In the end, it will be American will and American might that guarantee international security in Europe, East Asia, and the Greater Middle East. Every minute spent evading this reality is wasted.
Which is why Biden’s easy confidence in the eventual victory of freedom over oppression troubles me. Take the defense budget. Biden mentioned the Department of Defense a single time—in reference to his plan to “end cancer as we know it.” He spent an hour calling on Congress to pass legislation that has failed already. Not once did he ask Congress to pass the defense appropriations bill. Nor did he ask for more to be spent on defense in this global emergency. America spent an average of 7 percent of gross domestic product on our military during the first Cold War. Now we spend about 3 percent. To win a Second Cold War against an expansionist Russia and a belligerent China, we must spend more. Failure to do so isn’t just unserious. It’s reckless.
Biden’s energy plan was similarly troubling. He announced the release of strategic petroleum reserves to tamp down the rising cost of oil and gasoline. The problem with reserves, though, is that they eventually run out. How will we replenish them? Biden left no clue. He wants to provide “investments and tax credits to weatherize your homes and businesses to be energy efficient.” He wants to “double America’s clean energy production in solar, wind, and so much more.” He wants electric vehicles to be cheaper. He’s deluding himself. The words “drill,” “natural gas,” and “nuclear” never passed his lips. He won’t ban Russian oil imports—meaning that we continue to fund the butchers of Ukraine. The American energy sector is the key to national independence, freedom of action on the world stage, and long-term weaning of Europe from dependence on Russian energy. You wouldn’t know that from listening to Biden.
But you would get the impression that the president is averse to conflict. “Let me be clear,” he said, “our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine.” The reinforcements he’s deployed to Europe are there to defend NATO if Putin turns against the Baltic States, Poland, or Romania. America will send weapons to Ukraine, but otherwise the Ukrainians are on their own. This message doesn’t inspire confidence. It gives Putin a green light to conduct the war on his terms. The best way to prevent the expansion of the war is to make Putin second-guess his actions. How? Not by continually reminding him of what you won’t do. You deter Putin by forcing him to consider what you might do.
The State of the Union contained nothing that might stop Putin from continuing his assault. Biden’s silence about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan was telling. He said the word “Afghanistan” just twice, in a section devoted to spending more resources on American veterans. I’m all for spending money to help the troops—active duty as well as reserve and retired. But the 13 servicemen killed as America retreated from a land that we protected for two decades deserved better. The Afghans themselves deserved a mention, as well, especially the ones we have welcomed to America. Their absence was odd.
The whole speech was odd. It lacked the seriousness required during a national trial. Its logic was nonsensical: Biden argued with a straight face, for instance, that protectionism somehow will reduce inflation. His policy proposals either had nothing to do with, or will actively undermine, national priorities such as reducing inflation, securing the southern border, and reestablishing a peaceful world through military strength. “We are stronger today than we were a year ago,” Biden concluded. It’s pleasant to think so. But that doesn’t mean it’s true.
Albert Einstein is said to have thought that God does not play dice with the universe. Two nations, Russia and the United States, now possess about 90 percent of the world’s inventory of nuclear warheads and have the godlike power to destroy most of humanity and all it has built. Yet we are not gods but flawed human beings. In a very real sense, the presidents of Russia and the United States are stewards for all humanity: They have a duty to act responsibly in current arms-control negotiations. “Get on with it” must be humanity’s instruction to them.
In recent days, there has been a glimmer of hope. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to extend the life of the nuclear accord known as New START by at least one year beyond its expiration date of Feb. 5, 2021. Russia also agreed to accept the U.S. proposal for a political commitment to “freeze” for one year the total number of nuclear warheads on each side, and to use the time gained to continue negotiations on a new agreement. The Trump administration is seeking to negotiate verification measures for the warhead freeze, which in our experience will be a complex endeavor and take considerable time.AD
The United States and Russia should seal the deal now to extend New START, because if the last remaining bilateral treaty governing U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces ends in February, the world’s most destructive nuclear arsenals will be unlimited and unverified for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
Despite the significant progress of reducing total nuclear stockpiles by 75 percent since their Cold War heights, the danger of nuclear weapon use is growing. Approximately 14,000 such weapons in the world are spread among nine countries. Many of these arms are on high alert, ready to be launched in only a few minutes, based on the decisions of a handful of fallible humans and their fallible computers. Cyber-interference with command-and-control and the warning systems of any nuclear-armed nation significantly increases the risks of false warnings and nuclear war-by-blunder.
New START must be extended without delay, but it is now threatened by a risky game of chicken being played by Presidents Trump and Putin. Skillful diplomacy between the United States and Russia could extend the life of the agreement by up to five years, as provided for in the treaty, and as Russia offered last year. This would allow precious time for negotiating deeper reductions in the world’s two biggest nuclear arsenals. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has insisted on the inclusion of China, whose military programs are growing rapidly, in future nuclear negotiations. The goal is laudable, but China must be persuaded to join, not bullied by diplomatic stunts and threats. Beijing has made clear that it first needs to see substantial reductions in the stockpiles of both the United States and Russia, which far exceed its own.AD
The United States, Russia, China and other nuclear powers need time to address the range of destabilizing factors that threaten to turn a conditional peace into an irreparable catastrophe. As a first significant step, China could be invited to join the United States and Russia in restating the Reagan-Gorbachev principle: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
The Trump administration’s pursuit of a freeze on all U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads is also an important goal, but it will take time to develop an agreement with meaningful constraints and verification provisions. Russia has its own list of issues to be addressed in the next treaty. Extending New START would provide essential time for a careful, step-by-step approach to further stockpile reductions, with the ultimate goal of eliminating these weapons as a threat to the world.
With the foundation of New START in place, all of the two countries’ nuclear weapons — including those associated with short-range systems, the so-called tactical nuclear weapons, of which Russia has a larger number — should be subject to limits. But the United States and Russia will have to invest the time and effort necessary to establish new verification methods. Other long-standing issues will need to be discussed in parallel, including ballistic-missile defense; weapons in space; precision-guided, long-range conventional arms; and emerging technologies, including cyber.AD
Is there reason for hope? Can the world get onto a less dangerous path? We believe the answer is yes, but the United States and Russia must extend New START to preserve what is already working and to gain time for discussions about what can be done next.
Given the dangerously high risk that a nuclear weapon could be used today, and the catastrophic consequences if that happened, extension of New START is a crucial and responsible step.
By Peter Roff • RealClearPolitics
The relationship with Kuwait should be one of the United States’ strongest, but it is starting to fray. There’s still time to set it right, and the Kuwaiti Emir’s visit to Washington last week was a good start. Meanwhile, however, investors remain on edge, as they have been ever since officials in this Gulf state froze millions of dollars in American and international assets without any clear explanation.
Candidly, there’s a lot going on in Kuwait that’s suspect. The regime seems to be cozying up to Iran and China, officials have made remarks about Israel that are just short of incendiary, and corruption surrounding the delivery of supplies to U.S. troops stationed there has been highly disruptive. Americans, it seems to me, have the right to expect better from those whom they saved by leading an international intervention after their country was invaded by Saddam Hussein.
It seems instead that much has changed since President Donald Trump hosted Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah last year and hailed the countries’ bilateral relationship, calling it as strong as it had ever been. Indeed, the country continues to be a key regional security partner with 20,000 U.S. troops stationed there.
Recently though, officials in the Kuwaiti government seem to have gone to great lengths to offend America’s allies and get close to our adversaries. Their outspoken defense of the Palestinians inside the U.N. Security Council has undermined the White House’s effort to make peace and has caused problems for Israel. The United States was even forced to veto a Kuwaiti-drafted resolution calling for the protection of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Continue reading
Eighteen months after the 2016 presidential elections, the United States of America finds itself in the throat of a most destructive existential crisis. The over two hundred forty years old Republic has been placed in this dangerous situation by the illegal manipulations of the political and legal systems of the extremely politicized Obama appointed political elite, in cohut with the entrenched Republican establishment, and not by the actions of the Trump Administration. These two political groups have been afraid of being exposed as conspirators to overturn the verdict of the majority of the American people against their steadily growing bureaucratic dictatorship. Hence the unending barrage of baseless allegations and outright lies to paralyze and ultimately overthrow the legitimately elected President of the United States of America.
The glaring contradictions between the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and the gross abuses of bureaucratic powers by the Obama Administration have caused too many hatred and fears across all elements of American society. This toxic mix of hatred and fears has obscured the very real difference between right versus wrong, has made a mockery out of the rule of law, has introduced insanity as the new normal in the general discourse, and has destroyed basic morality in public life.
Throughout its troubled history, the world has never quite witnessed anything like the North Korean regime of absolute fear and Kim Jong Un’s sick domestic and foreign policy reactions to it. The story of the Kim dynasty, reverentially called the Mount Paektu Bloodline, entails the most destructive totalitarianism of the founder Kim Il-sung, his son, Kim Jong-il, and his grandson, Kim Jong-un. Assuming power with the political and military assistance of the Soviet Union over the northern part of the divided Korean peninsula in 1948, Kim Il-sung quickly established his cult of personality, modeled after his mentor Josif Vissarionovich Stalin. Following the failed invasion of the south he enunciated his version of absolute leadership called Suryong and its ideological justification called Juche, an archaic version of national self-reliance, that became the founding political, economic, and cultural policy of North Korea.
His grandson, Kim Jong-un became North Korea’s Supreme Leader on December 29, 2011. In 2013, Paragraph 10 of Article 2 of the amended constitution, officially known as the Ten Fundamental Principles of the Korean Workers’ Party, enshrined the hereditary principle of the Kim family’s totalitarianism by stating that the party must be guided and the revolutionmust be led “eternally” by the “Paektu Bloodline.” Continue reading
by Natalie Johnson • Washington Free Beacon
U.S. adversaries are rapidly catching up to America’s fifth generation fighter aircraft capabilities—a risk that has exacerbated given ongoing cyber vulnerabilities in the F-35 fighter jet program, according to an Air Force major general.
Maj. Gen. Jerry Harris Jr., the vice commander of Air Combat Command at the Langley, Va., base, said Thursday that while the United States maintains an advantage in the stealth and weapons capacities inherent in fifth generation fighter aircraft models, adversaries are “quickly closing the gap.”
“We are trying to maximize our ability to procure fifth generation airplanes and go from a 100 percent fourth generation fleet to a significant mix of fifth generation [planes] so that we have the opportunity to operate in these hostile environments against these threats that are catching us faster than we thought they would,” Harris testified before the House Armed Services Committee. Continue reading
A rise in terrorist attacks is further evidence that the global appeal of ISIS-inspired jihad is not dwindling.
By M.G. Oprea • The Federalist
It seems every couple of days we hear about another ISIS-linked terrorist attack. The global appeal of the radical Islamist group is on the ascendant as it is continually able to inspire young Muslim men to wreak havoc in its name, from Orlando to Istanbul. Rather than a sign of the success of the U.S.-led assault on ISIS’ territorial claims, the growing frequency of terrorist attacks are, in part, a product of our own negligence.
Last Tuesday, three gunmen wearing suicide vests attacked the international terminal at Turkey’s Atatürk airport in Istanbul, killing 45 and injuring more than 200. Although ISIS hasn’t yet claimed responsibility, Turkish officials told the United States the organizer of the attack was a former commander of an Islamic State battalion in Syria.
On Sunday, Iraq suffered its deadliest attack since 2003, when ISIS attacked a busy neighborhood of Baghdad with a truck bomb that caused a massive fire, killing more than 215 people. On Friday, five gunmen killed 22 hostages in an attack on a café in an affluent neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. Continue reading
By George Landrith • American Military News
North Korea has test fired five new missiles and claims to have successfully tested a miniaturized hydrogen bomb. Iran too is racing towards nuclear weapons and advanced missile technology. Around the globe, risks are increasing. As a result, deterrence is more important than ever.
There was a time when deterrence simply meant having retaliatory nuclear weapons. But the risks are far more complex than a generation ago. Maintaining a strong and credible nuclear deterrent is absolutely necessary. But by itself, it is not enough. Today, the risks are too varied to have a single solution. The US must have a robust, multifaceted, broad-based deterrent to stop the world’s evil doers. A modern military deterrent includes: (i) a strong up-to-date nuclear threat; (ii) a robust multi-layered missile defense; and (iii) a powerful conventional military force that can meet any threat and defeat any foe.
The need for a nuclear deterrent is clear. If any nation is tempted to use nuclear weapons, they must know that the retaliatory nuclear strike that would follow, would be devastating. With our nuclear weapons aging and more than a generation old, however, we must make needed upgrades to our nuclear triad. Continue reading
by Condoleezza Rice and Robert M. Gates • Washington Post
One can hear the disbelief in capitals from Washington to London to Berlin to Ankara and beyond. How can Vladimir Putin, with a sinking economy and a second-rate military, continually dictate the course of geopolitical events? Whether it’s in Ukraine or Syria, the Russian president seems always to have the upper hand.
Sometimes the reaction is derision: This is a sign of weakness. Or smugness: He will regret the decision to intervene. Russia cannot possibly succeed. Or alarm: This will make an already bad situation worse. And, finally, resignation: Perhaps the Russians can be brought along to help stabilize the situation, and we could use help fighting the Islamic State. Continue reading
Craven American leadership harms the cause of peace and stability, and only benefits the world’s dictators and aggressors.
by George C. Landrith & Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi
Vladimir Putin is a gambler. He has a weak hand. But he will bluff, pretending that he holds a good hand, until someone in power calls him on the ruse. While President Barack Obama’s hand is not weak, he behaves as if he holds no cards at all. Thus, Obama plays into the hands of Putin who is pleased at his good fortune to have an anemic and spineless American president unwilling to call Putin’s bluff or reveal his untenable position.
Putin’s willingness to bluff despite his weak hand is at least in the long run quite risky. But given Obama’s consistent and demonstrated weakness, why would Putin do anything else?
Putin is devoid of sentimentality. He is pragmatic in the extreme. Some say he longs for the days of Soviet power and prestige. No doubt power and prestige are of interest to a vain and ambitious poser like Putin. But his main objective is to rescue his rule at home by diverting attention from the near bankrupt Russian economy. By giving his countrymen the impression that he is restoring “Russia’s greatness” abroad, he hopes to neutralize the total failure of his economic policies and the financial pain that Russia is experiencing. Continue reading
Introduction by Peter Huessy • National Security Roundtable
Iran’s foreign minister and chief negotiator in nuclear talks with the West declared victory for his country, stating that no matter how the negotiations end, Tehran has come out “the winner,” according to remarks made on Tuesday (see below).
While some may dismiss this as typical Iranian bluster, we (NSR) would venture to say it’s one of those rare moments where Iran is actually telling the TRUTH.
As we and others have been saying from day one, Iran’s main goal in its negotiations with the West has been to gain TIME. Time to complete its nuclear weapons program and delivery systems, and operate freely, while under relaxed sanctions.
But the truth is Iran is doing much more. Its Revolutionary Guards have taken over and are leading the Iraqi military and Iraqi Shia militias in the fight against ISIS. That would explain the recent sightings of General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force (a division of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards) in places like Tikrit, Iraq and even in Amman, Jordan. Continue reading
The White House has called the North Korean cyber-attack on Sony an act of vandalism. This entirely misses the point. Vandalism is typically limited to relatively minor property damage. This attack was not merely a teenager spray painting the side of an old building. This was not merely some college-aged nerd sitting in his dimly lit bedroom in the basement of his parent’s house trying to hack into someone’s website. Yet, the administration appears to be treating it lightly. Continue reading
by Travis Korson • Townhall
Over the last few days, North Korean actions that ultimately scuttled the release of Sony Picture Entertainment’s release of “The Interview” have dominated the headlines.
To date the current national security leadership has been vague in describing a formal American response to the attack. Coupled with Sony’s ultimate decision to not release the film publicly, Kim Jong-un is likely feeling emboldened. This may very well mean an expansion of their cyber program, a cause for serious alarm. Even more concerning may be what a nuclear missile program looks like in a newly emboldened North Korea.
Sanctions have proven unsuccessful to date in deterring bad behavior by the North Koreans and countless negotiations have failed to make the country a more responsible actor in the international community. History has proven that the ability to neutralize threats to the homeland, and to project American power in the Asia-Pacific region is the only things this regime recognizes. Continue reading
Like all theocracies throughout history, Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini’s doctrine of Velayat-i-Faghih, the absolute power of guardianship of divinely qualified Jurists over all Muslims, attempted to blend political expediency and religious utilitarianism. By declaring the regime Islamic, he granted himself divine power, and thus freed himself of any control that the Shi’ite Grand Ayatollahs within and outside Iran might have exercised on his policies. Simultaneously, by designating the form of government Republican, he seemed to suggest that the theocracy, at least to a certain extent, would share power with the people. In reality, Khomeini’s scheme had resulted in a Mullahcracy that could be neither legitimized by free elections nor could be justified by the religious tenets of Islam. The result had been a deformed medieval autocracy characterized by a deceptive religious ideology based on lies. Continue reading
by Travis Korson, Senior Fellow
As Congress debates the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill, it is important that members fully fund key components of a layered Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) to protect the American homeland and forward based land and sea assets from missile attacks.
Systems such as Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), the Army Navy/Transportable Radar Surveillance (TPY-2) radar, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), the Patriot Missile, and AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System are key components needed to provide America and its allies with a robust layered missile defense.
While global dangers to the American homeland continue to grow and geopolitical foes continue to develop a greater number of increasingly sophisticated missiles, it is important that America possess the capabilities to protect the country, its interests and its service members abroad. Continue reading