Arrias on Politics: North Korea’s Weapons: Whose Money?
Editor’s Note: It is Easter Sunday, a day of joy throughout Christendom for the resurrection of the Risen Christ. Have the very best holiday possible! And remember, Arrias is a real person, not the Easter Bunny.
North Korea’s Weapons: Whose Money?
They held a parade in Pyongyang on Saturday… It’s worth searching the internet and looking at the pictures to grasp just how much effort they placed in the parade — and how much gear was on display. In particular, three different long-range missiles were on display, one completely new, never seen before.
With just 25 million people, north Korea (per the International Institute for Strategic Studies) has an active duty military force of 1.2 million, 2,400 tanks, 21,000 pieces of artillery, more than 70 submarines, and more than 850 combat aircraft and helicopters. True, many are very old systems, far less effective than similar systems used by the US or the Republic of Korea; and the average soldier in the north Korean army is paid nearly nothing. But, with a nominal GDP of less than $25 billion (and perhaps only half that), how is north Korea paying for this weapons program?
In 1995 north Korea, following negotiations with the US, agreed to end its nuclear programs (the US-North Korean Agreed Framework), and several years later agreed to adhere to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MCTR). But, by 2000 it was clear they were violating the MCTR, and by 2003 it was clear that they were also violating the Framework.
Nevertheless, nuclear weapon development was slow, and development of long-range missiles was only a bit less difficult, with one long-range missile tested in 1998, and a longer-range version of the same missile tested (unsuccessfully) in 2006. Seven other missiles were successfully tested at that time.
Late in 2006 they detonated an atomic “device,” clearly demonstrating they’d been secretly working on the program despite the Framework signed with the Clinton administration.
In 2009 they successfully tested a long-range missile and a second atomic device. In April 2012 they launched another ICBM, but it failed 90 seconds after lift-off. They tried again and succeed in December 2012.
They have since conducted three atomic “weapon” tests (Feb. 2013, Jan. 2016, Sept. 2016) and appear to be preparing a 6th test.
In 2014 they conducted 2 test launches of medium-range Nodong missiles, and 30 short-range (battlefield) missiles.
In 2015 they conducted 3 developmental tests of a submarine launched ballistic missile, and 5 short-range (125 miles) missiles.
In 2016 they launched a long-range ballistic missile, 8 intermediate-range ballistic missiles (7 of which failed), 2 KN-11 submarine launched ballistic missiles, a medium-range Nodong ballistic missile, and 3 other medium-range ballistic missiles.
So far in 2017 they’ve tested a new ballistic missile, the Pukguksong-2, a solid-fueled, medium-range missile, utilizing a fairly advanced “cold-launch” technology, meaning the missile is ejected from its canister using compressed gas, and the new missile on April 15 – which apparently failed. They also simultaneously launched 4 ballistic missiles that flew about 625 miles and landed in Japan’s economic exclusion zone, about 180 miles off Japan.
Which leads to a simple question: Who is funding this? Developing and testing missiles, and especially developing and testing atomic weapons, is expensive. For more than a decade north Korea conducted no developmental missile launches. But since 2009 they’ve conducted more than 20 tests of medium and long-range missiles, while also increasing the effort on their nuclear weapon program.
All this taking place while maintaining a huge military force that includes roughly 5% of the total population.
Obviously, part of this funding comes from Kim’s budget preferences: missiles and warheads before people. But, even assuming Kim’s willingness to starve his people while accepting lower quality, lower reliability weapons; weapons development requires cash and technology. So, in a country that’s had a stagnant economy for more than two decades, is it a reasonable suspicion someone is providing funds, and perhaps some key technology, to help accelerate the programs?
What country would possibly be interested in developing a nuclear weapon and a missile capable of delivering the weapon?
Interestingly, on January 29th of this year, Iran launched a missile that was, according to a Pentagon spokesman, an Iranian produced or assembled version of a north Korean Musudan intermediate range missile. You remember Iran… That country was able to access some $150 billion after sanctions had been lifted following the signing of the ‘Iran nuclear deal’ in 2015. In a mystery novel those might be called clues.
A bad agreement in 1995 helped create the current crisis in north Korea. In 2015 we signed arguably a worse agreement with Iran. Are we going to face a similar crisis with Iran in 10 or 20 years?
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: Cruise Missiles and Courtrooms
Standard Socotra House, LLC, Disclaimer: Arrias is his own guy. I happen to agree.
It was an interesting week:
The Supreme Court received its latest judge – one with a decidedly traditional view of the Constitution; Judge Gorsuch believes it means just what is says, and if you want to change that, there is a specific path to do so: amend it. Otherwise, it is as it stands.
That as strict an interpreter of the Constitution as Judge Gorsuch was nominated by President Trump is a strict fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to move the court towards a more literal interpretation. Which is significant relative to what happened in Syria.
In Syria, civilians in the town of Khan Sheikhoun were attacked using nerve agent. According to intelligence sources, the Syrian government was responsible. Mr. Trump, clearly incensed, asked for some options; apparently the intelligence was clear enough to identify a specific facility from which the attack was conducted; a while later USS Porter and USS Ross launched 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) and roughed up the airfield.
From an operational perspective, this wasn’t hard. It is, if you will, what the four uniformed services do. In particular, the Navy is very good at the handling and “special delivery” of TLAMs. That 58 of 59 appear to have hit their intended targets is a fairly good demonstration of that capability.
But there are several issues here that are more significant than the rather straight-forward (if a bit sophisticated) process of building, training with, and successfully employing TLAMs.
First, the US will not be constrained by previous policies. This has been shortened to “there’s a new sheriff in town,” but it’s more than that. There has been, since the 1990s, a clear position that the US will not act unless there’s international consensus. Over the past 8 years this expanded to the point that it was virtually a given that any crisis that threatened regional peace or US interests would first be debated in some international forum before any action could be taken. No more.
Second, the President has made a definitive statement to anyone who might be considering using chemical weapons specifically, or any WMD in general: If you do, we will retaliate. We will choose the time, place, and method; we will choose the level of destruction; we will choose the means of destruction. It will be more than you can possibly do to us.
This is the essence of deterrence: If you do “A” to us – or anyone else, we will do “A, B, and C,” to you. And rather than words with little action, the President chose action with few words.
North Korea and Iran should be taking notes (and China too).
Third, President Trump ordered the attack on the Syrian Air Force Base at the same time he was hosting President Xi of China. Led by a president (Xi) who wishes to establish himself as the dominant power in Asia and the world, China has a large (very) and increasingly aging population; an economy that isn’t doing as well as advertised, and is slowing; an increasingly powerful military; and an increasing thirst for energy.
China also wishes to replace the dollar with their Renminbi as the international oil currency, but that is now looking doubtful, given the rise of the US energy sector. Trend lines suggest the oil and gas market will be dominated for years to come by the US. And the largest net importer of energy will likely be, for years to come, China.
So, Xi visited the US while trying to balance these major issues – and others. And no sooner does he settle down in Trump’s house, then the US struck Syria. There are a host of messages China (and north Korea) should take from this action, but here are three:
– There’s going to be less dithering and more action. If you think you can slow roll the US for the next 4 years, as in the last 8, you should rethink your policies.
– President Trump is fully intent on keeping his campaign promises. Pay less attention to his tweets and daily ramblings; review what he definitively said, and what he has done so far; he means what he says.
– Finally, there is, indeed, a new sheriff in town. President Trump is most decidedly not President Obama. US interests will be aggressively protected. What you thought you could get away with needs to be reexamined… You need to be very careful from here on out.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: West Texas Foreign Policy
Editor’s Note: Remember, Arrias is a real human being and he writes powerfully.
Under the hard country of West Texas and eastern New Mexico, Comanche country, lies a 70,000 square mile geological formation called the Permian Basin. Since the first commercial oil well in the Basin in 1921, approximately 30 billion barrels have been pumped, and nearly 75 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Current production is 2 million barrels per day. How much more is in the ground is a subject of debate, with estimates running from several tens of billions to nearly 100 billion barrels.
How much is recoverable? In 2007 the US Geologic Survey (USGS) estimated there remained approximately 1 billion barrels of recoverable oil. By 2012 that number had climbed to 2.7 billion barrels. In 1980 the USGS estimated there were 5.7 billion recoverable barrels if prices reached $40 per barrel, roughly $150 per barrel today.
But, figures released in the last few weeks suggest 20 billion barrels or more of recoverable oil, at prices between $20 and $40 per barrel.
This lower cost (and the increase in the amount that can actually be recovered) is, obviously, the result of improved technology to recover oil (and gas) from shale and other rock formations. The implications are obvious: gasoline prices, and natural gas prices will remain low; production costs for fertilizers will also remain low; shipping costs will remain low: all good news for farmers and average families. For the US as a whole (and Canada), this technology, coupled with huge oil and gas reserves in shale oil and tar sands, means the US could soon dominant the world energy market.
But that might not be very good news for others.
Oil wells need constant maintenance; all the associated pieces must be maintained: pipelines, pumping stations, port terminals, refineries, distribution networks, etc., etc. It’s a very capital intensive industry and simply because a well is producing oil and has been for several years, and still has good pressure, maintaining the well (and the pressure) and all the other pieces of the industry is expensive, and will reflect current prices, not the price when the well was drilled. Prices go up, all the other costs go up; prices go down, the other costs go down – but more slowly.
For OPEC and others, falling oil prices mean that once profitable wells may no longer be profitable. For many OPEC countries oil revenue is essential not only in funding the basic functions of government, but also in supporting every sector of their societies. Schools, houses, food are often paid for by oil dollars. In some cases the price of gasoline is subsidized, keeping prices low so that everyone can “fill their tank,” and kill time driving around. The concept is simple: give young men something to do and a way to do it; give them gasoline for their cars at low cost so that they can drive around, meet their friends, socialize; in short, it’s a social “release valve.” This activity was – and is – important in nations where there is little real business not related to oil and where unemployment rates among men under 35 are believed to be above 20% (the actual numbers aren’t revealed by many nations).
Unfortunately, as oil production costs rose, gross revenues increased, but net revenues declined as production costs rose in a number of countries. OPEC countries are trying to diversify their economies. But this is difficult and slow, and low oil prices will make it slower still. And meanwhile, populations have grown, as have the costs of maintaining the rest of society.
And this changed market will affect more than just OPEC. Consider this one point: China is a net importer of energy, currently importing more than 7 million barrels of oil per day (some estimates suggest 8 million barrels per day). As prices drop it would seem that that would be a good thing for China. But, as prices drop, some of China’s own oil production will become too expensive, boosting imports, and their would-be suppliers in the Middle East (in particular Iran) will see declining production, due to no-longer profitable wells falling off line. And that would mean China would need to buy oil from a market increasingly dominated by the US.
A rising Asian power buying oil from an international market dominated by the US… That happened before – in 1941… And it didn’t end up well.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias On Politics: North Korea
Editor’s Note: Arrias is the pen name of a real human being with superior analytic and communications skills. It is not me. The thoughts and opinions expressed are his, and not necessarily those of Socotra House LLC, the Department of Defense, or the Hong Kong Fireworks Co., Ltd. His commentary is provided for the exclusive use of Socotra House readers.
North Korea: A Final Thought
Begin with this: Kim Jong Un, the murderous dictator of North Korea, must be told that if he attacks South Korea, or if he detonates a nuclear weapon anywhere outside the borders of North Korea, we’ll wipe his regime off the planet, we’ll wipe out his military, and most especially, he will die. That message needs to be sent, in that language.
That said, what’s next? Sanctions haven’t worked; China isn’t helping and isn’t going to help; negotiations and agreements haven’t worked; and we certainly don’t want to pay the horrible cost of war, especially a nuclear war.
Is there any option that might peacefully end the situation, after 64 years of uneasy, crisis-laden ceasefire? Various estimates have suggested that a war in Korea would result in more than 1 million dead (to include most of the 25,000+ US troops in Korea), and the total cost would easily exceed $1 trillion. And that was before the North had nuclear weapons.
As North Korea’s nuclear arsenal grows, those numbers will climb. And soon, other countries will be involved, as the North continues to develop its missile forces along with its nuclear arsenal.
So, is there any other option? A friend asked me that very thing last week. The answer is: “Yes. But it’s an answer that would require everyone to take a deep breath and then swallow hard.”
Simply put, let Kim Jong Un “Win.”
What Kim Jong Un (and his father, and his grandfather) wanted was to rule a united Korea. Okay, let’s do that.
Make Kim Jong Un the president emeritus for life of “Korea” (a unified Korea), give him a pile of money (let’s say $10 billion a year for life), give him two brigades of security forces, three or four palaces, and make him the ceremonial head of Korea until his death. Ambassadors would present him their bona fides, he would preside at major public ceremonies, perhaps he’d attend UN General Assembly meetings. Maybe give one member of his family a permanent seat in the Senate.
Kim could legitimately claim that he was responsible for the re-unification of Korea. He would have accomplished his family’s dream, accomplished what his father and grandfather were unable to do, even though they had the full support of China and the Soviet Union. And, Kim would have a position of great honor and respect, President Emeritus of Korea.
In exchange, the nation is unified, Seoul assumes actual control over the entire peninsula, the ROK economy moves north, ROK businesses move into the north and free market economics, which has made the ROK an economic powerhouse, replaces the madness of the world’s most perfect command-driven economy. The North Korean military is demobilized, the nuclear weapon program is passed over into the hands of the ROK government, and we begin a transition to a unified, peaceful, free Korea.
No one would like this. (And presumably no one is going to accept this.) But it’s perhaps the only path that would prevent a war AND allow a controlled economic transition that wouldn’t destroy the south’s economy.
It would be very difficult. And the people of the Republic of Korea would need to agree. And the actual implementation (beginning with trusting Kim Jong Un) would be horribly complex and difficult and emotionally and culturally painful. And the Chinese would object – strenuously.
And it would be especially horrible to see Kim “win;” to, in essence, get away with it.
But it would end the threat of war, and it would unify the peninsula, and it would provide the social and economic relief the people of North Korea need, and it would end this 67 year war – the real longest war in American history.
The options are all bad, and all run what are now becoming a fantastic risk: attacks with nuclear weapons. Buying off an enemy is rarely a good idea. But it is an idea. And, maybe, it would work.
But short of that, one thing is clear: Kim Jong Un poses a great, and growing, risk to Korea, Japan and increasingly, the United States. We’ve been able to maintain an uneasy armistice for 64 years. That may soon change. We need to be ready to defend our interests. But we might also want to examine all the options.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: China and North Korea
China, that is, the ruling elite in Beijing, isn’t helping things. Talking heads can be heard opining that the only way to solve the mess in North Korea is with China’s help. But, the truth is a bit more complicated.
Beijing wants to carve out a larger piece of the pie (the world). How big is a good question, but as Cicero was fond of saying: “Deeds, not words.” Despite regular words of peace, they’re engaged in a rapid expansion on all fronts, seeking to stake out a real, and dominant, presence across the globe. They’re staking out control of the South China Sea, are flexing their muscles in the East China Sea (over Japanese islands), and are working on establishing a real presence in Central Asia and the Horn of Africa.
And North Korea can play a role in that global endeavor.
China is far and away the largest trading partner of the North Koreans, counting on China for the overwhelming majority of the oil it consumes, as well as filling annual shortfalls in food production.
So, why can’t China do something about the North Korean nuclear weapon and missile development programs?
As has been widely reported, North Korea is engaged in an aggressive program– what’s known in the US as “RDT&E,” Research, Development, Test and Evaluation – of missiles, weapons, and associated gear. (Just this past week there was press speculation that a new tactical missile launcher for a North Korean missile is a Chinese made truck, a possible violation of international agreements.) In the last several years the number of tests conducted by the North has increased, one public estimate being that during his 5 years in office Kim Jong Un has conducted 4 or 5 times as many missiles launches as his father conducted in 17 years as dictator.
The nuclear weapon development program continues as well, and the UN has reported that North Korea is now producing Lithium-6, a radioactive isotope of lithium that, per numerous defense experts, is a necessary material in the manufacturing of tritium, a key component of a hydrogen (fusion) bomb.
Here’s the thing: this is expensive. With a GDP of less than $30 billion, more than a million people in their army, perennially facing food and energy crises, where does Pyongyang find the money, and the technology, to pursue these weapons and systems? While we can speculate that Iran, flush with cash following the easing of sanctions, is a partial source, it’s simply not credible that this activity would be taking place without the explicit knowledge and at least implicit agreement of the leadership in Beijing.
Imagine South Korea, or Japan, were known to be developing a nuclear weapon. Beijing would be apoplectic; we could expect a continuous stream of invective from their leadership, and loud and aggressive military posturing, tied to vociferous demands in the UN for draconian sanctions. But, while Beijing will occasionally call for North Korea to end testing, and will announce it intends to adhere to existing sanctions, in fact it continues to trade with Pyongyang.
The reality is this activity by North Korea suits Beijing. Beijing may not particularly revel in the idea that Kim Jong Un will someday soon have nuclear weapons, but it doesn’t worry them; Beijing knows those weapons will never be used against Beijing. Further, there’s no desire in Beijing, no matter what they might say, for a unified Korea. Such a Korea would be, even under the rule of Pyongyang, a thorn in China’s side. Under the rule of Seoul, it would mean a US ally with a common border to China, an unacceptable situation; a unified Korea is simply not something Beijing wants to see.
But the continued rule of Kim Jong Un? Prolonged crisis just short of war? That represents problems, and costs, to the US, the ROK, and to Japan. And increased US commitments of forces into Korea means forces not available elsewhere. All that benefits Beijing. China will talk a good game, but there’s nothing that China has done in the recent past, nor anything it is now doing, that suggests Beijing will in any way work to resolve the situation in North Korea. In fact, Beijing likes it just as it’s developing. Solutions might be found working with the Republic of Korea and Japan.
But China is not on our side.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the Nuclear Threat
While the nightly news and the major newspapers stir themselves into a frenzy over mostly trivia, real problems continue to fester:
North Korea has nuclear weapons.
Three administrations (Clinton, Bush, Obama) believed that negotiations and agreements would change the minds of the government in Pyongyang. They were wrong.
The leader of North Korea, Kim Jung Un, third member of the Kim dynasty, ruling North Korea since 1948, is a demonstrably vicious ruler who uses execution and assassination to solidify control. He isn’t, however, “crazy.” Evil and without any morals, yes. But, coldly rational. On 13 February he had his half-brother assassinated using a nerve agent. This sends an interesting signal: he has VX, and he demonstrated an ability to move it surreptitiously into another country (Malaysia).
Further, Kim views nuclear weapons as key to survival. He won’t surrender them.
The only acceptable long-term solution is unification, the entire peninsula transforming into a greater Republic of Korea. The Kim regime’s despotic rule over the north must end. But getting there is the problem. There are few options: the regime collapses from its own internal problems; a coup, country-wide collapse, or revolt by some force external to the regime but internal to the country; or war.
Obviously, we need to prevent war. A second Korean War would be catastrophic, even without the use of nuclear weapons. We must arrive at some situation where the Kim regime is gone, and the ROK can manage an orderly transition into a unified, free republic encompassing all of Korea. But how?
The standard responses (for multiple administrations) has been along two lines: 1) impose sanctions, and 2) work with China, China can control them. Two thoughts occur: 1) Clearly, the sanctions haven’t worked. North Korea is testing missiles at a furious rate, and the nuclear weapons program grinds forward. 2) China either can’t or won’t control them; (presumably, it’s a little of both.) Beyond that, China really doesn’t want a unified Korea. So, why would Beijing do something that trends in that direction? China wants the Kim regime in power, but hopes to keep them on some sort of leash, even a long and badly frayed leash.
Meanwhile, Kim has conducted multiple nuclear tests, and there are indications (publicly available satellite imagery) that he’s preparing another such test.
North Korea has also been engaged in an aggressive missile development and testing program. They may not have an intercontinental missile – yet (the missile and warhead need further testing), but they have operational missiles that can strike South Korea, Japan, and Guam. Public estimates are that they either have or will have within the next year or so a handful of nuclear weapons that will fit on these missiles.
Which leaves the current administration where?
First, several initiatives are moving forward. While there are a host of sanctions against North Korea already, they’re not necessarily well enforced. The US can insist that others, allies and trading partners, not only refuse to deal with North Korea, but also seize any ships that attempt to trade in certain goods. The US can use its political and economic “weight” to insist countries strictly honor the sanctions.
However, the North is very good at working through loopholes, small and large. Sanctions are important, but sanctions alone are not going to stop the North.
US military posture in Korea, and in the Western Pacific (especially Japan) has been strengthened under the Trump administration, particularly in our missile defense posture, with the deployment of the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-ballistic missile system.
The US has repeatedly made it clear that we will not tolerate an attack on the South and statements from the new administration (including from the President), as well as Secretary of Defense Mattis’s visit to Korea and Japan, help convey that message.
Against the backdrop of a corruption scandal in Seoul and the impeachment of President Park, the real question is: how to separate Kim from power without a war or a paroxysm of destruction?
Strengthen the alliance, buttress sanctions, work with the new president, hold fast against North Korea’s demands; all that sort of thing is appropriate.
But in the end, Kim needs to go.
We must work with the ROK, we need to penetrate the north, irrespective of risk, make contact with possible replacements, destroy the Kim regime internally, and move northern Korea out of the 19th century and into the 21st. It will be painful and there will be setbacks. But, there are really no other acceptable options.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: A 350-Ship Navy
The President wants to add $54 billion to the DOD budget next year, and expand the Navy to 350 ships; and expand the Army, Air Force and Marines.
Several retired admirals and generals opined that it won’t really work, and that once Washington DC reality sets in, there’ll be universal recognition of that “fact” and this talk will end.
Concerning “sage” commentary from the retired 4-stars; there are 3 assumptions that form the foundation of their commentary:
1) There’ll be no real economic growth. Real growth – the economy producing more, hence, there’s more to tax and there’s more real revenue – is needed for increased spending. The US averaged just under 4% real growth for 230 years; the last 8 years more like 2%.
Is 2% all the US is capable of?
2) There’s no improving the efficiency or effectiveness of the federal government. Efforts to eliminate waste or redundancy will produce no meaningful savings.
But: a 10% cut in the non-uniformed federal workforce would mean 200,000 fewer government workers; that’s $22 billion per year.
3) There will be no substantive change in federal budget priorities. National security currently consumes 4.5% of the gross national product and 22% of federal spending.
The “Sages” believe Congress will not act, and the people will not tolerate, an increase in those numbers.
Frankly, my bet is on the American worker, and on President Trump providing the necessary stimulus and incentives to American enterprise; there’ll be real growth, we can find real efficiencies in the bureaucracies, and the citizenry recognize the need to changing our priorities.
Some critics chided the President, noting that the US already spends more on defense than the next half dozen countries combined.
But US defense spending reflects living in the US.
Our military personnel are paid well (and should be); substantially more than soldiers in China or Russia. DOD pay and benefits account for more than 40% of the budget (up to 50% in some years). That’s what you’d expect in an all-volunteer military in the world’s wealthiest country. Elsewhere? A colonel in the Chinese Army is paid about 15% of his US counterpart.
The US pays more for weapons because that’s the nature of our economy; an aircraft made in the US means paying US wages, not Russian wages. And the US still makes the best aircraft in the world.
The US defends its interests around the world. Broad generalizations comparing US spending with that of other nations are misleading. US interests include defending others, such as South Korea, necessitating having forces available to conduct combat operations in Korea. Some forces are stationed in Korea permanently, other forces need to get there, and be sustained while they are in Korea. And more forces are needed to continue protecting US interests elsewhere while forces are in Korea. A potential enemy, such as North Korea, doesn’t need to move its forces anywhere, or save forces for another potential crisis.
This “tyranny of geography” necessitates that the US have an Army – Air Force – Navy that is larger and more capable than one tasked simply to “defend the US.”
That said, expanding the military isn’t easy.
The Army has 32 Brigade Combat Team (BCTs, the basic combat element) in the regular force, 28 in the National Guard. (Marines have 11 Regimental Combat Teams – roughly equivalent, plus 3 reserve RCTs). A BCT, about 4,500 soldiers, can operate as a complete, integrated, unit; very capable, very flexible, but very complex.
At any moment half the Army is not in a BCT, but in a training command, a support command, on a staff, etc. Expanding the Army means adding a BCT plus the support personnel necessary to train, equip and sustain it. So, to add 1 BCT means adding perhaps 10,000 soldiers, plus gear, plus training, etc.
Adding ships and airplanes is similar: more personnel, more support, etc., “more tail with more tooth;” you can’t simply “buy another airplane.”
Which leads where?
To some wisdom: deterring a war is far cheaper than fighting one. The goal isn’t to defeat anyone in battle; the goal is to never need to fight that battle in the first place. Ronald Reagan once observed that no one was ever attacked for being too strong. President Trump is right to want an Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines strong enough to fight and win any war.
And a nuclear arsenal to match.
In an increasingly dangerous world, such a force is the surest guarantee we won’t need to fight a major war. That would makes this endeavor very inexpensive…
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: Hobbes and the Deep State
Years ago, I listened to a man discussing how to rescue troubled organizations. Among other things, he said real change was never easy, and it was never accepted by most of the people — even in organizations that were failing badly, and the only way to make change “stick” was to make it fast and radical. Incremental change didn’t work, and in particular, slow change didn’t work. And if you went into an organization and took 3 to 6 months ‘studying the problem’ you’d be co-opted by the system and end up accomplishing little.
There’s an interesting political philosophy that explains that wisdom, a book written during the English civil war, by a rather dour individual – Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan. In it, Hobbes describes how governments work to bring order.
But, it’s in the details where Hobbes really gets interesting, because while the system and process Hobbes was discussing was that of an all-powerful government, the essence of his argument applies to any organization; the larger the organization, the better the fit.
In any organization, those who obey the rules are treated well by the organization; those who break the rules are viewed as a threat. Those who aid the organization are rewarded by it; the more they aid it, the more the reward. Conversely, those who do anything that threatens the organization are the enemy. The larger or more powerful the organization, the more extreme are both rewards and punishments. This is particularly true in regards to government, and specifically, to the federal bureaucracy. Loyalty flows not to some amorphous “nation,” but to your specific organization, to the bureaucracy; it’s the bureaucracy that’s protecting you and providing for you.
Virtually every organization acts this way: you join a club or group of some sort, you provide it support, and the more you help it, the higher you go in the club; maybe you become the club president. A company is much the same: you join, you adopt the rules of the company (always wear green shirts, smile at the customers, sell more widgets, etc.) and you get promoted.
But large government bureaucracies are, of course, what Hobbes was talking about: join the Navy, become a “Navy Man,” do Navy things in a Navy way: the Navy promotes you. Loyalty to the Navy is “expected.”
But where does your real loyalty lie? Is it with the company? The club? The Navy? Or is it to your families and to the Constitution (which in the case of the Navy, is what you swore to protect – not the Navy)? To Hobbes (a strong monarchist), the monarch, and his bureaucracy, was the state.
Modern nations, in particular the United States, have a different perspective: the bureaucracy is a servant and a tool of a nation. Power technically resides in the citizenry. But in fact, power flows increasingly into the bureaucracy, pulled out of the hands of the citizens; bureaucracy becomes the master, the people the servants.
Given enough time, organizations become very protective; they develop rules and language that protect them from outsiders. Consider the rise of the Mandarins in Imperial China, who built a bureaucratic structure – to enforce the Emperor’s laws – that was so complex, and used such arcane language, that no one could understand it, except them. Their power and position was therefore protected. Anyone who’s watched the budget process in the DOD will begin to get an idea of this sort of “insider language.”
The “Mandarins” become the leaders of their “Deep State.” Every bureaucracy will, in fact, strive for that. Every bureaucracy will use the tools at hand: the ability to craft rules and regulations and processes, both in the budget process and in the hiring and firing process, that seek to ensure that only those internal to the bureaucracy itself can effect change. And anyone outside the bureaucracy who tries to change things, who “threatens” the organization, is the real enemy. The bureaucracy will burrow in and fight for survival; it’s needs being far more important than the needs of any such amorphous thing as “the nation.”
Which leaves us where?
The federal bureaucracy is huge, complex, and committed to itself. Mr. Trump wants to change it. The bureaucracy is fighting back. Many members of the bureaucracy are committed to their organization, fully convinced they’re doing the right thing. For them, as members of the bureaucracy, the rest of the nation simply is wrong. Call them mandarins, or the “deep state;” call them what you will. But Hobbes understood them. And they are real.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: Why Don’t We Win?
Secretary Mattis: everyone seems to hope he’ll bring some sanity to national security. Perhaps he can even win these seemingly interminable wars. Maybe. But consider Hannibal:
He was, perhaps, the greatest tactician in history. For 14 years he ravaged the Italian countryside; despite being outnumbered, he defeated every army put against him (in one 6 hour battle his 50,000 man army destroyed a 120,000 man Roman army, killing perhaps 80,000); in the end Rome only defeated him in battle after his key ally was paid off and switched sides – hours before battle.
There’s much to learn from the Second Punic War, but the most important lesson is at the root of the most dire question:
Why doesn’t the US win wars?
To be clear: the US (like Hannibal) is consistently, decisively successful on the battlefield. Why doesn’t that translate into final victory?
That question is asked again and again by various experts and their answers are legion: but most answers suggest that political machinations – often termed “policy” – have replaced real strategy for most decision-makers.
But there’s another – much more significant – problem.
As noted, we’re superb tactically; we don’t lose in combat. We haven’t lost a battalion sized operation or larger (a battalion is about 500 men), since 1953.
Therein lies the first truth: wars are NOT about technology, or tactics or doctrine; they’re not about organizations or training plans or operational plans or leadership councils. And they certainly aren’t about diversity or inclusiveness. Wars are about will.
Victory means your will prevails; the enemy yields.
If you want victory you must have the will to expend the energy, and commit the assets. But most importantly you must have the will to commit to whatever violence is necessary to impose your will on the enemy. If you don’t, he will impose his will on you. You break his will, or he breaks your will; his will or yours must prevail.
At that point, the war ends. One side decides it’s “spent” enough, one side refuses to yield. Rome understood this – with amazing clarity – for more than 1,000 years.
One way to achieve that clarity is make certain you never go to war unless you absolutely need to. The subsequent point is: but if you do need to, then you fight to win. That was based on a simple concept: belief that preservation of our society was of greater importance than the preservation of any other society.
But, most of the news media, a significant slice of our political leadership, and much of our academic “leadership” believe in “globalism,” in the equal value of all cultures, in the idea that nothing about our nation warrants placing it ahead of any others. If so, there’s no point in sustaining our society over theirs; there’s no reason to fight for victory. If one society, one view of the world, is no better than another, why fight to impose that view on someone else? Philosophical ambivalence cannot produce the will to fight and endure. In practical terms this translates into a requirement that warfare be as antiseptic as possible; we aren’t trying to make the people of country “X” change, we’re only trying to defeat the particular force facing us.
But defeating armies doesn’t win wars; ask Hannibal. We consistently defeat every army we face. But if we haven’t defeated the people, if we haven’t broken their will, or at a minimum the will of their leadership, than all the tactical success in the world will not suffice.
Thus, guidance from policy experts that suggests that we must strive to make war antiseptic may make it impossible to win. The enemy can still win, because they aren’t playing by the same rules we are. But we can’t, the rules won’t let us reach that point where the enemy population and leadership is convinced that continuing the war is worse than surrendering.
Clausewitz, the German field marshal, noted that: “…war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst…”
What that means is this: Before going off to war, the nation must be all in or not in at all. So, hold a debate, write and pass a clearly worded declaration of war. Then go and fight for victory – no matter the cost. Or don’t go at all.
Until Congress and the media and academia understand that, it will matter little how hard Secretary Mattis or President Trump work to produce victory. Victory is a product of our national will.
Copyright 2017 Arrias
Arrias on Politics: Watchers at the Gate
Presidents are charged to defend the Constitution. Virtually all of them have stated at one time or another that their prime duty, which comes before all others, is to defend the nation. But defending the nation begins with recognition of threats, and then an acceptance of certain risks. For each president the acceptable level of risk will vary. Accordingly, the security policies of two presidents may vary widely, even though they may see the world in a similar light. Two presidents with substantially different views of the nation and the world, and different views of acceptable levels of risk, will develop substantially different security policies.
Which is another way of saying: President Trump’s immigration policies are going to be different than President Obama’s. To not accept that is to deny reality. We can debate the process, and ask whether specific adjustments are legal, but to suggest that one president is “right” and the other “wrong” solely based on their stated concerns about immigration from a particular country is nonsensical. One sees it one way, one see it another; each will guard the “gate” differently; that shouldn’t surprise us.
That said, the law itself seems pretty clear:
“Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.” (8 USC 1182 para f)
Well, what about the specifics of immigration? What is fair? Are these fair questions to ask of someone wishing to enter the US?
What is your name?
How old are you?
Are you married or single?
What is your occupation?
Are you able to read and write?
What country are you from?
What is your race?
Have you been in a prison, almshouse, or institution for care of the insane?
Are you a polygamist?
Are you an anarchist?
Are you deformed or crippled?
If they can’t answer the questions, or if certain information can’t be confirmed, or if they are clearly ill, is it fair to deny them entry? Perhaps hold them in quarantine, or turn them around and send them back to their country of origin?
Consider what two previous presidents said about immigration:
“[T]here are those in the immigrants’ rights community who have argued passionately that we should simply provide those who are [here] illegally with legal status, or at least ignore the laws on the books and put an end to deportation until we have better laws. … I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair. It would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision. And this could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. And it would also ignore the millions of people around the world who are waiting in line to come here legally. Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship. And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.”
“After years of neglect, this administration has taken a strong stand to stiffen the protection of our borders. We are increasing border controls by 50 percent. We are increasing inspections to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants. And tonight, I announce I will sign an executive order to deny federal contracts to businesses that hire illegal immigrants.”
The questions above are from the standard questions asked of the 12 million people who entered the US through Ellis Island. The same questions were also asked of the quarter million who were stopped and sent back.
And the quotes? The first is from President Obama (2010), the second from President Clinton (1996).
Amidst all this seething anger it might be worth remembering that there are millions of people who want to come here, including citizens from the 3 largest Muslim populations: Indonesia, Pakistan, and India (none of whom were included in the 90 day suspension)). If you have a few minutes, do a little research on the internet and find how many people are waiting to move to those countries…
Copyright 2017 Arrias