Category Archives: Geopolitics

The One Year Budget Cycle Must Go

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         Photo Courtesy “Dabble With” dot com     

By  Ken Larson                               
Having  dealt with the funding process in the government contracting industry  (both large and small business) for over 40 years through many  administrations and much frustration, I can discuss with  some  credibility a major weakness in the huge machine we call the US  Federal  Government — the one year budget cycle. Its tail end is whipping everybody this month and we have undergone previous sanctimonious “Shutdowns”, with the promise of more to come.

A huge reason for much of the largess in this entire area is the one year budget cycle in which the US Government is entrenched.

About mid-summer every agency begins to get paranoid about whether or not they have spent all their money, worried about having to return some and be cut back the next year. They flood the market with sources sought notifications and open solicitations to get the money committed. Many of these projects are meaningless.

Then during the last fiscal month (September) proposals are stacked up all over the place and everything is bottle-necked. If you are a small business trying to get the paperwork processed and be under contract before the new fiscal year starts you are facing a major challenge.

Surely the one year cycle has become a ludicrous exercise we can no longer afford and our government is choking on it. It is a political monstrosity that occurs too frequently to be managed.

Government must lay out a formal baseline over multiple years (I suggest at least 2 fiscal years – ideally 4 – tied to a presidential election)  – then fund in accordance with it and hold some principals in the agencies funded accountable by controlling their spending incrementally – not once year in a panic mode.

Naturally exigencies can occur. A management reserve can be set aside if events mandate scope changes in the baseline due to unforeseen circumstances. Congress could approve such baseline changes as they arise.

There is a management technique for the above that DOD, NASA and the major agencies require by regulation in large government contracts.    It is called “Earned Value Management” and it came about as a result of some of the biggest White Elephant overruns in Defense Department History.

http://www.smalltofeds.com/2008/…

I contend we have one of the biggest White Elephants ever in front of us (a National Debt approaching $20 Trillion)

We need to get this mess under control, manage our finances and our debt or it will manage us into default.

 

Revolving Door Picking Up Speed at the Pentagon and Homeland Security

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Pentagon Revolving Door

“THE INTERCEPT”

“Defense firms have eagerly watched as Trump recently unveiled a budget calling for $54 billion in additional military spending next year.

President Trump has weaponized the revolving door by appointing defense contractors and their lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programs.”


“The spending spree will provide a brand new opportunity for defense lobbyists to get business for their clients. And the most effective lobbying generally involves contacting former colleagues in positions of power.

Two Department of Homeland Security appointments Trump announced Tuesday morning are perfect examples.

Benjamin Cassidy, installed by Trump as assistant secretary for legislative affairs, previously worked as a senior executive at Boeing’s international business sector, marketing Boeing military products abroad. Jonathan Rath Hoffman, named assistant secretary for public affairs, previously worked as a consultant to the Chertoff Group, the sprawling homeland security consulting firm founded by former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. The firm has come under fire for advising a variety of firms seeking government contracts, including for full-body scanners deemed invasive by privacy activists. Hoffman also led a state chapter of a neoconservative military-contractor advocacy organization during the 2016 presidential campaign. Neither position requires Senate confirmation.

Personnel from major defense companies now occupy the highest ranks of the administration including cabinet members and political appointees charged with implementing the Trump agenda. At least 15 officials with financial ties to defense contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far, with potentially more industry names on the way as Trump has yet to nominate a variety of roles in the government, including Army and Navy secretaries.

Before their confirmations, Jim Mattis and John Kelly, the secretaries of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, were primarily paid by defense firms.

Mattis was paid $242,000, along with up to $500,000 in vested stock options, as director of General Dynamics, a company that produces submarines, tanks, and a range of munitions for the military. Mattis also received speaking fees from several firms, including Northrop Grumman. Kelly previously served in a number of roles at defense contracting consulting and lobbying firms and worked directly as an adviser to Dyncorp, a company that contracts with the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Major lobbying groups for the arms companies, including the National Defense Industrial Association and the Aerospace Industries Association, welcomed the selection of Secretary Mattis, who has already scheduled meetings with industry executives. Secretary Kelly has pledged to work more closely with the private sector, promising greater collaboration with private firms to accomplish his agency’s goals.

To carry out this private-sector friendly agenda, defense officials have taken major roles throughout Trump’s administration.

Pat Shanahan, nominated last week by Trump to serve as deputy secretary of defense, is a vice president at Boeing who formerly led the company’s missile defense subsidiary. Disclosures show that Elaine Duke, the nominee for deputy secretary of homeland security, previously consulted for Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, and the Columbia Group, a small contractor that builds unmanned naval drones.

The nominee to lead the Air Force, former New Mexico Congresswoman Heather Wilson, worked as a consultant to a Lockheed Martin subsidiary after retiring from public office. The company sought Wilson’s help to maintain a $2.4 billion a year contract to manage Sandia National Laboratories, the premiere nuclear weapons research facility, and to keep the contract closed to competition. “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile,” Wilson urged the company in a memo revealed later by an inspector general report.

Trump’s pick for national security council chief of staff, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, has worked at a variety of defense contracting companies. After serving in senior roles in Iraq’s provisional government after the 2003 invasion, Kellogg left the government for the private sector. He told the Washington Post in 2005 that he joined Oracle to “establish a homeland security business unit” at the firm, and later joined CACI International, a company with major contracts in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Following CACI, Kellogg joined Cubic Defense in 2009 to develop the company’s combat training business.

A list of temporary political appointees recently published by ProPublica reveals a number of less-known influence peddlers who have taken senior roles in the administration.

Chad Wolf and Lora Ries, two recently appointed advisers at the Department of Homeland Security, are formerly registered defense lobbyists. Wolf lobbied for Harris Corp. and the United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Ries previously lobbied for a range of defense and homeland security contractors, including Altegrity, Boeing, Implant Sciences Corp., General Dynamics, L1 Identity Solutions, and TASC Inc.

In the White House, one of the newest members of the National Economic Council staff is Michael Catanzaro, formerly a registered lobbyist working for both Boeing and Halliburton.

Palanatir Technology’s Justin Mikolay, formerly a chief in-house lobbyist for the company who worked to win over billions of dollars in Army contracts, was quietly appointed to serve as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Several appointees are associated with SBD Advisors, a consulting that firm that advertises its ability to facilitate “engagements between the technology and defense sectors,” and is advised by a high profile team of former government leaders, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff retired Adm. Mike Mullen and former National Security Agency Director of Operations Ron Moultrie.

SBD Advisors’d Sally Donnelly and Tony DeMartino work as temporary political appointees at the Office of the Defense Secretary, according to the list assembled by ProPublica. Kristan King Nevins, recently appointed as chief of staff to Second Lady Karen Pence, also previously worked at SBD Advisors as the director of communications.

The Trump administration is the “military-industrial complex personified,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms & Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Hartung noted that while the administration is bringing arms industry officials into government, it is also demanding a massive increase in military spending and appears to be escalating conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

In short, the Trump proposals are an armsmaker’s dream come true,” he said. “

https://theintercept.com/2017/03/21/revolving-door-military/

 

 

68 years of NATO: 10 things You Might Not Know About the North Atlantic Treaty Organization

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What is NATO NATO Global Interdependence

IMAGE: NATO GLOBAL INTER-DEPENDENCY

“MILITARY TIMES”

“On April 4, 1949, the United States was joined by Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom in signing the agreement.

Since then, NATO members have remained committed to the collective defense principle — Article 5 of the treaty — that regards an attack on one member country as an attack on all member countries.

In recognition of the treaty’s anniversary, here are 10 things you might not know about NATO:

10. From 12 to 28 member countries

Over the 68 years since the original 12 countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty, an additional 16 countries have become members in the international agreement. Turkey and Greece were the first additional countries to join in 1952, followed by then-West Germany in 1955. Albania and Croatia are the most recent two countries to join NATO, becoming members in 2009.

9. Separate, yet derived from the United Nations

While NATO is a separate international organization from the U.N., it derives its authority from Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Article 51 of the charter reaffirms the rights of independent states to individually or collectively defend themselves.

8. NATO and the Warsaw Pact

Originally the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation, and Mutual Assistance, the Warsaw Pact was created on May 14, 1955, in response to West Germany joining NATO,according to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian. During the Cold War, nearly all of Europe was divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, with East Germany joining the Soviet Union for the pact. All former Warsaw Pact countries except for Russia — Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia — have since become NATO members, with East Germany reuniting with the rest of Germany in 1990.

7. Air policing in Eastern Europe

F-15C theater security package arrives in Europe

Pilots assigned to the 159th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron exit their F-15C Eagles after landing at Leeuwarden Air Base, Netherlands, April 1, 2015. The F-15s from the Florida and Oregon Air National Guard are deployed to Europe as the first ever ANG theater security package here. These F-15s will conduct training alongside our NATO allies to strengthen interoperability and to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the security and stability of Europe. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane/Air ForceNATO allies support member countries in Eastern Europe who do not have their own fighter jets by providing year-round 24/7 airspace defense for Albania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia.

6. An integrated command

NATO maintains a permanent, integrated command in which both military and civilian personnel from all member countries work collectively. This includes two strategic commands based in Belgium and the U.S., joint force commands in the Netherlands and Italy, air command in Germany, land command in Turkey and maritime command in the U.K.

5. The only invocation of Article 5

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all,” reads Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

If a NATO member or members invoke Article 5, all members will assist the attacked party, which includes the use of armed force. The only time that Article 5 has been invoked was in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington. In addition to military assistance in Afghanistan, NATO allies assisted with Operation Eagle Assist and Operation Active Endeavour. Eagle Assist ran from October 2001 to May 2002, consisting of NATO E-3 AWACS assisting with airspace defense and security over the U.S. Active Endeavour involved maritime patrols in the Mediterranean, with the goal of preventing movement of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists.

4. New NATO members around the corner?

Four countries want to join NATO: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia all aspire to join the treaty.

“Any European state which can contribute to the security and principles of the Alliance can be invited to join. It is up to the country concerned to decide if it wishes to seek membership,” according to NATO. The allied members assess NATO applicants and require “a wide range of political, economic and security reforms” to be implemented before they can join.

3. International partners

Spanish forces conducting a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.

Spanish forces conducting a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.Photo Credit: Hussein Malla/APNATO maintains a relationship with many other nations and international organizations. The U.N., the European Union and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe maintain strong relationships with NATO. Since 2005, the African Union has received support from NATO. Other initiatives such as the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, the Mediterranean Dialogue and the European-Atlantic Partnership Council have fostered relationships with non-members in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Additionally, NATO maintains relationships with its Partners Across the Globe. These include Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, New Zealand and Mongolia.

2. Supreme Allied Commanders always American

Dwight  Eisenhower

General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied commander, leaves his closed staff car behind because of the mud and boards a jeep in Europe to start on his recent tour of the fighting front in November 1944.Photo Credit: APThe Supreme Allied Commander, or the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, is the military head of NATO, serving as the head of Allied Command Europe and the head of Allied Command Operations. This position has always been held by American generals, with the first being future president, then-Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The current commander is Army Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti.

1. So who is paying for NATO?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Donald Trump

President Donald Trump meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 17, 2017.Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/APPresident Donald Trump has made headlines both during his campaign and once elected president, asserting his belief that NATO allies need to pay more. While Trump has been criticized for his words regarding the alliance, he is not the first president to highlight the need for NATO allies to pay more.

NATO allies are meant to spend two percent of their gross domestic product on defense. In 2016, only five of the allies — the U.S., the U.K., Greece, Estonia and Poland — were at or above the minimum spending target. The U.S. spent 3.61 percent of its GDP on defense in 2016. Canada, Slovenia, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg all spent the least, respectively, with Luxembourg putting 0.44 percent of its GDP toward defense.

President Obama called on NATO allies to contribute their share as well, according to the Washington Post.

“[E]very NATO member should be contributing its full share — 2 percent of GDP — toward our common security, something that doesn’t always happen,” said President Obama during a April 2016 speech in Germany. “And I’ll be honest, sometimes Europe has been complacent about its own defense.”

In addition to President Obama, President Trump’s campaign opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also raised the issue of NATO members spending more on defense.”

http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/68-years-of-nato-10-things-you-might-not-know-about-the-north-atlantic-treaty-organization

 

How Russian Hackers Will Attack the US Next

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Russia Hack the hackers

RZOZE19/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

DEFENSE ONE”

“The U.S. needs to be planning now how it will respond.

The question is not if Russia will conduct another major cyberattack on the U.S., but when.

Russia has been the subject of much American press speculation this spring, as questions and suspicions swirl regarding its involvement in alleged hacks during the U.S. presidential election. While the details of these specific attacks remain unclear, what is clear is the danger posed by the superpower’s well-established hacking prowess.

As such, America needs to be planning now how it will respond. In 2015, cyberthreat firm FireEye alleged Russian nexus-hackers had caused power and energy outages across Ukraine, impacting thousands of citizens. No other country has been so publicly accused of conducting a cyber-to-conventional attack (a cyberattack with visible, physical consequences). Russia leadership has also publicly prioritized its information warfare and cyberweapons. “Information is now a species of weapon,” wrote Russian major general Ivan Vorobvev in 2013.

As proven by the alleged hacking activities this U.S. presidential election, the fear of information warfare is very real. However, the US must also remain vigilant about cyber-to-conventional attacks; many of our critical infrastructure networks are littered with vulnerabilities, and consumer technology is moving more and more citizens into the line of battle.

Because cybertools have become so accessible, it’s unlikely even a limitless defense budget could stop every attack. With this in mind, response must be the key priority. Based on my qualitative analysis of Russia’s previous military motives, strategies and tools, any Russian attempt to exploit US cybervulnerabilities will most likely target the US’s communications and IT critical infrastructure.

Intensifying the Fog of War

Russia is unlikely to target other industries for a number of reasons. Historically, it has avoided attacks that could trigger a full-scale military response, preferring to intensify the fog of war and cause maximum confusion. Within this strategy, Russia is unlikely to target such important U.S. sectors as chemical, nuclear, public health, energy, or defense industries. Russia is also unlikely to seriously attack the U.S. financial, agriculture, or manufacturing industries, which could anger U.S. allies and damage Russia’s growing role in the global economy.

But attacks on communications and IT infrastructure could take several forms.

Targeting alert systems would prevent U.S. monitoring systems from catching intrusions fast enough. This could in turn precede tactics with more immediate conventional consequences. As an example, conducting denial-of-service attacks against central IT networks could cripple government operations, disrupting service for thousands of phone customers or severing internet access for millions of consumers. If timed well, a communications attack during wartime could disrupt national emergency alert services. This includes 911 networks and emergency broadcast stations. During a national disaster, this would have devastating consequences.

Russia could also target physical parts of national infrastructure managed (and defended) by private companies, including fuel centers, power sources, and trucks that transport IT components. These industries also rely heavily on the internet of things, with vulnerabilities in cloud and mobile computing.

The U.S. is certainly aware of these risks. Following the 2013 National Infrastructure Protection Plan, national leaders assessed all critical infrastructure for vulnerabilities, and proposed defensive plans. As a result, industry departments have started performing a number of routine checks, including information sharing, monitoring, and backing up essential information.

However, budgetary gaps remain a huge problem. The Obama administration asked for only $19 billion (yet to be received) for its 2017 Cyber Security Budget. While the Trump administration has included huge proposed increases for cybersecurity investment in its 2017 budget (including $61 million for the FBI to combat criminal encryption tools), the private sector spent approximately $80 billion on cybersecurity five years ago. Of note, none of these federal government cybersecurity budgets were, or have been, approved.

Hacking the Hackers

As a result of these budget constraints and realities, it’s crucial the U.S. focus its efforts strategically. As a minimal option, the U.S. could respond to a Russian cyberattack by conducting simple cyberintrusions against Russian internet networks, government websites, and communications services, causing disruptions and damaging Russia’s security credibility. For example, using National Security Agency’s TreasureMap tool, which tracks all global connections to the internet, the U.S. could also place malware in these networks for future intelligence gathering.

A more aggressive response would involve conducting operations against Russia’s own critical infrastructure networks. By inserting logic bombs into Russian networks (tools that self-destruct once within systems), the U.S. could potentially damage the Russian economy. These same tools can be leveraged to cause even more damage if used to target dams, air traffic control towers or other infrastructure. Such actions would send a grave message, but the risk of escalation would be higher as well.

The most aggressive response would involve directly attacking Russian military targets by shutting off power at a nuclear facility or an airfield. Many Russian industrial networks run on Windows XP, a very old system, while remaining connected to the internet. Not only are these systems extremely vulnerable to attack, the U.S. has already shown it has the ability to do so. In November 2016, the U.S. reportedly penetrated Russian military systems and left behind malware, to be activated in the case of Russian interference of U.S. elections.

The problem with these cyberattacks is that the potential for counter attacks is infinite. Russia attacks the U.S. communications grid. The U.S. does the same. And on it would go, potentially until a physical war was started.

In 2016, Christopher Painter, the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for cyber issues, said “cyber activities may in certain circumstances constitute an armed attack that triggers our inherent right to self-defense as recognized by Article 51 of the UN Charter.” This means the U.S. could legally respond to a Russian cyberattack with conventional military forces, in an effort to deter Russia from escalating further.

But ultimately, there’s a reason the Obama administration referred to the plethora of powerful U.S. and Russian cybercapabilities as a digital arms race. The cycle is perhaps best described as an endless series of advantages, with Russia and the U.S. continuing to make each other more and more uncomfortable. And now Trump’s administration will need to figure out just how uncomfortable he is willing to get.”

http://www.defenseone.com/threats/2017/03/how-russian-hackers-will-attack-us-next/136469/?oref=d-river&&&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

Doing the Most with the Least – The Coast Guard Dilemma

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Lean Coast Guard

National Security Cutter Munro completed builder’s sea trials in August. HII Photo

“U.S. NAVAL INSTITUTE”

“No other service over the last decade has been hit harder by budget cuts and sequestration than the U.S. Coast Guard.

In a time when our maritime services have been asked to do more with less, the Coast Guard has been engaging increased maritime threats with its leanest force in decades.

While today’s focus is being steered towards the U.S. Navy’s 2016 Force Structure Assessment (FSA), which called for a 355-ship Navy, there has been relatively little discussion about increasing the size of the U.S. Coast Guard.

“We are depleted of resources.” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft recently stated to a packed audience at the annual West 2017 conference in San Diego. “When you add both transnational criminal organizations, plus the Arctic…we need to move from being a bantam-weight fighter to being a welter-weight fighter.”

The mission requirements for the Coast Guard are mind-boggling.

Today, the Coast Guard protects and defends more than 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways. Additionally, it has the imposing requirement to safeguard an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) encompassing 4.5 million square miles stretching from the far reaches of the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific and from the Caribbean/Atlantic to Guam in the Western Pacific. This U.S. EEZ is a vast area that includes nine time zones and is one of the largest EEZs in the world.

Map

In President Donald Trump’s recent address to Congress, he said, “We’ve defended the borders of other nations, while leaving our own borders wide open, for anyone to cross – and for drugs to pour in at a now unprecedented rate.” The salient point here is that a majority of illegal drugs, cocaine in particular, come into this country via the maritime routes – where the drugs are in their most concentrated and in their most vulnerable form. A critical asset in the campaign to combat this illicit trade is the Coast Guard’s Legend-class National Security Cutter.

During the Surface Navy Association symposium in January, Zukunft listed the accomplishment of the crew of latest NSC cutter USCGC Hamilton (WMSL-753) that included response to Hurricane Matthew and the interdiction of more than 52,000 tons in cocaine.

A significant shortfall in the force structure of the Coast Guard fleet is the current shortage of High-Endurance Cutters. During the height of the U.S. drug interdiction efforts, the Coast Guard had a fleet of 12 Secretary-class 378-foot High-Endurance Cutters. Today, only five remain in service and the cost to maintain these 50-year old ships has become an unsustainable burden on the Coast Guard’s budget.

In 2008, to start the replacement of the aging High-Endurance Cutters, the Coast Guard commissioned the USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750), first of the Legend class. Shortly after commissioning in 2009, Bertholf completed an extended operational deployment and exceeded all operational expectations of a “first-of-a-class” vessel.

The major concern with the current planned Coast Guard force structure is that it calls for only eight (now nine) National Security Cutters to replace 12 High-Endurance Cutters. Since the commissioning of the Hamilton-Class High-Endurance Cutters in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the maritime security landscape for our nation has changed dramatically. With the Department of Defense heavily involved overseas, the Coast Guard has taken the lead, appropriately so, in protecting and securing America’s homeland and our own backyard, as illustrated in the Commandant’s Western Hemisphere Strategy (September 2014).

US agencies stop semi-submersible, seize 12,000 pounds of cocaine

“If you look at DoD’s statement of key priorities, they are not focused on the Western Hemisphere. We have the responsibility by default and design,” Zukunft stated. Stressing the Coast Guard’s force structure deficiency to combat illegal drugs and illegal migrants in the southern approaches to the U.S., Zukunft went on to say, “The Navy’s Perry-class frigates have gone away. On the best of days, you have three Coast Guard ships in the Caribbean. That is your entire force to deal with threats in that region.”

The Coast Guard’s focus on the Western Hemisphere also includes the Arctic, as illustrated in the Commandant’s Arctic Strategy. In fact, increasing activity from cruise ships, eco-tourism, oil exploration, fishing vessels, and commercial cargo vessels seeking a shorter route between Asia and Europe have necessitated the need for the National Security Cutters to go where they never planned to go before: the unforgiving, icy waters of the Arctic.

In addition, with China’s expansion in the South China Sea and the U.S. Navy’s shortage of assets in the region, there has been discussion of the Coast Guard providing a more persistent presence in the area. The Coast Guard would be the perfect service to work with our allies in the region. If assigned, the National Security Cutter – with its 12,000-nautical-mile range and its 60-day endurance – would be the ideal ship to perform this mission.

In summary, as the new administration strives to enhance our overall national security posture, there should be serious consideration given to building at least 12 National Security Cutters to replace the 12 retiring ships in the High-Endurance Cutter program. A “one-for-one” NSC for HEC replacement strategy would better secure our nation and help the U.S. Coast Guard combat a host of emerging national security threats on multiple flanks.”

https://news.usni.org/2017/03/09/opinion-doing-the-most-with-the-least-the-coast-guard-dilemma

 

  

 

Science Offers Peace-building Mechanism in South China Sea Dispute

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science diplomacy

“GEOPOLITICAL MONITOR”

“Territorial claims among China, Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei in the South China Sea remain a serious threat to the political and ecological security of Southeast Asia.

Science diplomacy is not a completely new approach to international relations, and, at the moment, has raised two important questions in efforts to successfully settle the South China Sea dispute, namely: Should we do it? And will it work?  The answer to both is, “yes.”

Protecting marine environments and ensuring the ocean’s sustainability is a global issue that is vital for all life, and nowhere is this more important than in the South China Sea.As such, environmental degradation remains at the center of South China Sea scientific policy conversations, and for an increasing number of policy shapers and scientists, there’s an urgent need to address acidification, biodiversity loss, regional impacts of climate change, coral reef destruction, and fishery collapses.

Enter science diplomacy. Defined by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as science being used to inform foreign policy decisions, promote international scientific collaborations, and establish scientific cooperation to ease tensions between nations, science diplomacy is a widely accepted method that environmental policy planners use to contribute to conflict resolutions and, for several decades, has been adopted as a diplomatic tool for peace-building by many countries. During the Cold War divide, scientific cooperation was used to build bridges of cooperation and trust.

Science diplomacy helps directly and indirectly promote confidence-building among the parties involved in the South China Sea dispute, offering a much-needed strategic pause in rising regional tensions. The probability that science diplomacy can successfully manage the South China Sea dispute is quite high because of timing, creditability, and the potential for support from major powers. It offers more advantages than not in terms of economics, politics, social responsibility, and beyond. Most importantly, there’s already a rising tide of cooperation in the exchange of data and information, consensus on the value of marine protected areas, and an increase in joint research expeditions.

There are strong ties among scientists across Southeast Asia and China, partly due to a series of international scientific projects, conferences, and training workshops, such as those associated with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s South China Sea Fisheries Development and Coordination Program from the mid 1970s to the mid-1980s. Informal “Track 2” working groups and associated fieldwork throughout the 1990s and up to the early 2000s included many regional scientists and their projects aimed at promoting peaceful joint resource management in the South China Sea. The UNEP and Global Environment Facility sponsored a South China Sea environmental analysis and management project from 2002 to 2009, and efforts are underway to initiate a follow up project. Other such confidence-building activities are under discussion.

These proposed science collaborative measures are essential in the face of the rampant overfishing and coral reef degradation that has occurred across the South China Sea, in part because the conflicting territorial claims have made ecological analyses and management actions difficult. There are strong indications of impending collapses of fisheries and potential species extinctions. Given the fact that the South China Sea hosts a large proportion of known marine species, including threatened giant clams, sea turtles, and marine mammals, there is no time to waste.

The prospect of a fisheries apocalypse in the South China Sea should weigh heavily on all claimant nations, all of which rely on fish protein to feed a burgeoning population of roughly 1.9 billion people. Challenges around food security and renewable fish resources are fast becoming a hardscrabble reality for more than fishermen. In 2014, the Center for Biological Diversity warned that it could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly headed towards extinction by mid-century.

Nevertheless, it’s encouraging that Chinese scientists have been engaged in science diplomacy in polar regimes for the past three years. This includes cooperative fishing regulations research and especially their participation multilateral diplomacy efforts in the central Arctic Ocean. Although Beijing’s role is still limited, they are preparing to play a substantial role in good governance in the Arctic.

Despite the intractable SCS sovereignty issues, and difficulties in securing permissions for environmental field work, even in non-disputed areas, a focus among regional scientists on environmental protection and fishery issues may prove far less difficult than problems in the Arctic.

Science diplomacy seems quite affordable for all claimant countries. In fact, while it is hard to draw an exact comparison of the expenditures a government provides for other ways of solving the South China Sea dispute, science diplomacy would prove very cost effective. Because military and economic initiatives, especially the transformation of reefs into military outposts, unlike scientific ones, are often seen as the actions of one country protecting its sovereignty and is directly related to national defense, any non-state actor’s involvements are inevitably sensitive subjects and considered inappropriate.

The key is to encourage international scientific cooperation. Through joint marine research surveys, the region’s scientists can provide policymakers with the data and information they need to make informed and responsible decisions in the South China Sea.

Science initiatives are more widely accepted as efforts to solve global issues that require contributions from all players in the international relations arena. This not only makes science diplomacy-related initiatives financially possible, but also leads to broader dissemination of results and enhances their impacts on policy decision-making and capacity-building on the regional level.

Most SCS states have adopted marine protected areas to address present and future environmental issues, and there are plans to include areas that fall within disputed waters. Existing MPAs play important roles in the development of the marine economy; they improve the livelihoods of coastal fishing communities and also serve as an excellent directed science policy model. If sovereignty concerns could be set aside in treaties implementing freezes on claims and claim-supportive activities, as has been done in the Antarctic, these and other natural resource management tools could be used far more effectively to secure fisheries and biodiversity, and also to promote sustainable tourism.

Secondly, science diplomacy is a safe and neutral approach to international relations for all governments. While economic or military cooperation requires strong consideration for signs of foreign policy direction, scientific cooperation is much more neutral, even in conflict-torn countries, since they can cooperate with each other in scientific projects “to affirm and to improve human life” without worrying about misleading the international community about their foreign policy orientation or invoking domestic anger because of shaking hands with the “wrong partners.”

Finally, science diplomacy serves essential needs in the lives of human beings. While other types of diplomacy tend to only solve issues at the state level, like sovereignty or territorial integrity, the science research cooperation in the South China Sea aims at a more “down-to-sea” approach, namely ensuring that fishers can fish safely, marine products for human beings are unpolluted, and marine resources are protected correctly.

Looking at science diplomacy from a broader perspective, it provides collateral benefits to resolving the South China Sea dispute. Last year, Fidel V. Ramos, the former president of the Philippines (1992-1998), and a member of the ASEAN Eminent Persons Group stated that environmental cooperation could promise to bring about “mutually beneficial efforts to improve tourism and encourage trade and investment, and to promote exchanges among think tanks and academic institutions on relevant issues.”

Science diplomacy offers a peace-building mechanism for South China Sea scientific advisors to demonstrate their roles as “resource analysts, trend spotters, science communicators, and applied-policy advisors.”

With natural resource politics steering the South China Sea narrative, science diplomacy offers the dual hope of protecting coral cathedrals, marine habitats, and fish species, and it can serve as a peace-building model for similar environmental conflicts elsewhere.”

https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/science-offers-peace-building-mechanism-in-south-china-sea-dispute/

 

 

 

What Mark Thompson Has Learned Covering the Military for 40 Years

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Image:  “Otherwords.org”

“Scant public interest yields ceaseless wars to nowhere”

 

“Straus Military Reform Project – Center for Defense Information at POGO”

“It turns out that my spending four years on an amusement-park midway trying to separate marks from their money was basic training for the nearly 40 years I spent reporting on the U.S. military.

Both involve suckers and suckees. One just costs a lot more money, and could risk the future of United States instead of a teddy bear.

But after 15 years of covering U.S. defense for daily newspapers in Washington, and 23 more for Time magazine until last December, it’s time to share what I’ve learned. I’m gratified that the good folks at the nonpartisan Project On Government Oversight, through their Straus Military Reform Project, are providing me this weekly soapbox to comment on what I’ve come to see as the military-industrial circus.

As ringmaster, I can only say: Boy, are we being taken to the cleaners. And it’s not so much about money as it is about value. Too much of today’s U.S. fighting forces look like it came from Tiffany’s, with Walmart accounting for much of the rest. There’s too little Costco, or Amazon Prime.

There was a chance, however slight, that President Trump would blaze a new trail on U.S. national security. Instead, he has simply doubled down.

We have let the Pentagon become the engine of its own status quo.

For too long, the two political parties have had Pavlovian responses when it comes to funding the U.S. military (and make no mistake about it: military funding has trumped military strategy for decades). Democrats have long favored shrinking military spending as a share of the federal budget, while Republicans yearn for the days when it accounted for a huge chunk of U.S. government spending. Neither is the right approach. Instead of seeing the Pentagon as the way to defend against all threats, there needs to be a fresh, long-overdue accounting of what the real threats are, and which of those are best addressed by military means.

The Defense Department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, which is supposed to do just that every four years, has become an engine of the status quo. The Pentagon today is little more than a self-licking ice cream cone, dedicated in large measure to its growth and preservation. Congress is a willing accomplice, refusing to shutter unneeded military bases due to the job losses they’d mean back home. The nuclear triad remains a persistent Cold War relic (even former defense secretary Bill Perry wants to scrap it), with backers of subs, bombers and ICBMs embracing one another against their real threat: a hard-nosed calculus on the continuing wisdom of maintaining thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert.

Unfortunately, it’s getting worse as partisan enmity grows. It’s quaint to recall the early congressional hearings I covered (Where have you gone, Barry Goldwater?), when lawmakers would solemnly declare that “politics stops at the water’s edge.” The political opposition’s reactions to Jimmy Carter’s failed raid to rescue U.S. hostages held in Iran in 1980 that killed eight U.S. troops, and to the loss of 241 U.S. troops on Ronald Reagan’s peacekeeping mission in Beirut in 1983, was tempered.

But such grim events have been replaced Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi and Donald Trump’s Jan. 29 special-ops raid in Yemen. Rancid rancor by both sides cheapens the sacrifice of the five Americans who died. It only adds a confusing welter of new rules designed to ensure they aren’t repeated. Yet mistakes are a part of every military operation, and an unwillingness to acknowledge that fact, and act accordingly, leads to pol-mil paralysis. It’s amazing that the deaths of Glen Doherty, William “Ryan” Owens, Sean Smith, Chris Stevens and Tyrone Woods seem to have generated more acrimony and second-guessing than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, in which 6,908 U.S. troops have died.

There is today a fundamental disconnect between the nation and its wars. We saw it in President Obama’s persistent leeriness when it came to the use of military force, and his successor’s preoccupation with spending and symbolism instead of strategy. In his speech to Congress Feb. 28, Trump mentioned the heroism of Navy SEAL Owens, but didn’t say where he died (Yemen). Nor did he mention Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria, where nearly 15,000 U.S. troops are fighting what Trump boldly declared is “radical Islamic terrorism.”

But he did declare he is seeking “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” His $54 billion boost would represent a 10% hike, and push the Pentagon spending, already well beyond the Cold War average used to keep the now-defunct Soviet Union at bay—even higher.

“We are going to have very soon the finest equipment in the world,” Trump said from the deck of the yet-to-be-commissioned carrier Gerald R. Ford on Thursday in Hampton, Va. “We’re going to start winning again.” What’s surprising is Trump’s apparent ignorance that the U.S. military has had, pound-for-pound, the world’s finest weapons since World War II. What’s stunning is his apparent belief that better weapons lead inevitably to victory. There is a long list of foes that knows better.

It’s long past time for a tough look at what U.S. taxpayers are getting for the $2 billion they spend on their military and veterans every day. It would have been great if Trump had been willing to scrub the Pentagon budget and reshape it for the 21st Century. But the U.S. has been unwilling to do that ever since the Cold War ended more than 25 years ago. Instead, it simply shrunk its existing military, then turned on a cash gusher following 9/11.

I know many veterans who are angered that their sacrifice, and that of buddies no longer around, have been squandered in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I recall flying secretly into Baghdad in December 2003 with then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The bantam SecDef declared on that trip that the U.S. military had taken the “right approach” in training Iraqi troops, and that they were fighting “well and professionally.” Last month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the fifth man to hold that job since Rumsfeld, declared in Baghdad that the U.S. training of the Iraqi military is “developing very well.” His visit, like Rumsfeld’s 14 years earlier, wasn’t announced in advance.

Even as Army Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, tries to chart a path forward in Iraq, it’s worth remembering that he earned his spurs 26 years ago as a captain in a tank battle with Iraqi forces.

If we’re going to spend—few would call it an investment—$5 trillion fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Syria, and Yemen), don’t we, as Americans, deserve a better return?

The problem is that the disconnect between the nation and its wars (and war-fighters) also includes us:

  • Our representatives in Congress prefer not to get their hands bloodied in combat, so they avoid declaring war. They prefer to subcontract it out to the White House, and we let them get away with it.
  • Through the Pentagon, we have subcontracted combat out to an all-volunteer force. Only about 1% of the nation has fought in its wars since 9/11. We praise their courage even as we thank God we have no real skin in the game.
  • In turn, the uniformed military services have hired half their fighting forces from the ranks of private, for-profit contractors, who handle the critical support missions that used to be done by soldiers. The ruse conveniently lets the White House keep an artificially-low ceiling on the number of troops in harm’s way. We like those lower numbers.
  • Finally, we have contracted out paying for much of the wars’ costs to our children, and grandchildren. We are using their money to fight our wars. They’ll be thanking us in 2050, for sure.

Until and unless Americans take responsibility for the wars being waged in their name, and the weapons being bought to wage them, this slow bleeding of U.S. blood and treasure will continue. “We have met the enemy,” another Pogo once said, “and he is us.”

http://www.pogo.org/blog/2017/03/military-industrial-circus-national-security-column.html

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2By: Mark Thompson, National Security Analyst

Mark Thompson Profile

Mark Thompson writes for the Center for Defense Information at POGO.

 

America’s “Unsinkable Little Aircraft Carriers”

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Image:  Richard Johnston National Post

“GEOPOLITICAL MONITOR”

“America’s approximately 800 military bases spread across more than 70 countries is perhaps the biggest indicator of the sheer size and unparalleled reach of the US military.

Some forget just how dependent Washington is on a network of small, rarely-mentioned countries that act as its “unsinkable aircraft carriers.”

The Trump administration’s first special operations attack certainly didn’t go as hoped. On the night of January 28, in a village in central Yemen, the first raid authorized by the new president allegedly killed 14 Al-Qaeda fighters, at least 11 women and children, and one US commando. In addition to causing the deaths of civilians and a member of the US military, it’s questionable if the attack even achieved its stated objective. While the raid succeeded in killing its target, Abdel Raouef Dhahab, a suspected leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), it might well cause unintended consequences. Farea Muslimi, chair of the Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies, claimed that his death will merely stoke anti-US feelings, since “he is a tribal sheikh and has nothing to do with AQAP.”

It’s well known that the US’ history of killing civilians only plays into the hands of the terrorists they are supposedly targeting. And Trump’s statements that he believes torture works, his comments that he might revive CIA-operated “black site” prisons, and his attempts to ban visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries, are likely to backfire, giving terrorists more motivation to attack US targets.

However, one of the most insidious holes in US counterterrorism policy is likely to be Djibouti, the very base that serves as a launch pad for the administration’s war on terror in Yemen and East Africa. Despite Trump’s oft-repeated quip that he would take out the families of terrorist suspects – a clear infringement of the Geneva Convention that amounts to nothing less than a war crime – there is one black swan event that could make him rethink the entire drone program: China’s moves inside Djibouti. How the former real estate mogul negotiates this relationship will have drastic consequences for America’s relations with other small and medium countries that are nevertheless important for national security.

Djibouti, a barren, forgotten “sandlot” of a country roughly the size of New Jersey, is the host of America’s only bricks and mortar base in Africa. Camp Lemonnier, leased for $60 million per year, houses 4,500 troops and contractors who lead missions against Al-Shabab in Somalia and AQAP. The US military bought the base from the French soon after 9/11, seizing on its strategic potential. They selected Djibouti for its relative stability in a volatile region and for its position, close to both East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Since then, other powers have taken note of Djibouti’s increasingly critical placement. The country also hosts Japan’s only overseas base, Spanish and German anti-piracy soldiers, and Saudi Arabia is set to start building its own installation as well.

Despite Djibouti’s undeniably choice location, US officials might have made a deal with the devil in choosing to partner with such a government. Ismail Omar Guelleh, the four-term president that rules with impunity over this pin sized country, is now one of China’s closest allies. The Middle Kingdom is the biggest investor in the East African nation, prompting the Djiboutian finance minister, Ilyas Moussa Dawaleh, to say that relations with China are “much more important than any other long-standing partner.”

What’s more, Beijing decided to break with decades of foreign policy restraint and open its first foreign military base here. In 2015, the US was reportedly ordered to vacate a supply base in the Obock region so that it could be turned over to the Chinese. Guelleh has also attempted to give Beijing a concession over its key port, which would force the US military to run key supplies through a Chinese-run zone.

It’s highly unlikely that the new US administration will look kindly on Djibouti’s efforts to play both sides while still receiving injections of US funds. Trump himself has sharply questioned the value of foreign aid during his campaign, saying the US should stop sending such funds to “countries that hate us.” As a candidate, he said little to nothing about US policy in Africa, only recently breaking the silence to ask State Department staff a series of questions that only further demonstrated his skepticism about aid to the continent.

When considering Trump’s hostile stance towards China, it’s not impossible to see the White House deciding to take a step back and scaling down its drone wars in East Africa while the relationship with Djibouti is reassessed. Were Camp Lemonnier compromised by Chinese counterespionage – as the US ambassador there worried – the short-fused Trump would likely take drastic action and simply move the base or start a proxy war with Beijing.

And therein lies the rub: while many analysts worry about US alliances with other G20 members (as the ruckus over the call with the Australian Prime Minister showed), some forget just how dependent Washington is on a network of small, rarely-mentioned countries that act as its “unsinkable aircraft carriers.” Djibouti is just one example out of many: Lithuania, Austria, and Greece hosted CIA black sites and participated in the “extraordinary rendition program,” Romania boasts the American missile defense shield, and Kuwait has no less than four camps used by US forces. Each of these countries has a special interest in working with the Trump White House, but their US allegiances should never be taken for granted. Greece has been flirting with Russia, the Austrians are deeply skeptical of the U.S., and Kuwait has historically been one of Iran’s closest allies.

Moving forward, it’s important to take note of these undercurrents streaming across the global landscape.”

https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/the-weakest-link-in-trumps-war-on-terror/

Eric Prince Of “Black Water” Fame is Back in the Business Working for China

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“BUZZFEED”

“Erik Prince — founder of the private military company Blackwater,  brother to the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and frequent Breitbart radio guest  has been offering his military expertise to support Chinese government objectives

“He’s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater,” said one former associate.

“He’s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world’s preeminent private military provider.”

The move could put him at odds with Trump, who has often taken a hard line against China, and could also risk violating US law, which prohibits the export of military services or equipment to China.

Former associates of the 47-year-old Prince told BuzzFeed News that the controversial businessman envisions using the bases to train and deploy an army of Chinese retired soldiers who can protect Chinese corporate and government strategic interests around the world, without having to involve the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open “a forward operating base in China’s Yunnan province” and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. “FSG’s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel.” The training at the Chinese bases would “help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.”

“Mr. Prince and Mr. Trump know each other and share mutual respect,” the statement added.

White House spokespersons did not respond to emails requesting comment for this story.

Frontier Services Group trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and its largest shareholder is an investment fund owned and controlled by the People’s Republic of China, CITIC. Until last year Frontier claimed to be merely a logistics and transportation company, steering clear of Prince’s specialty of providing private military capabilities for operations — though last March The Intercept news organization ran a story saying that Prince, sometimes using his role at Frontier, was pitching security and paramilitary services. In the story, Frontier denied the company was involved.

When Frontier later told its board it was shifting into security services — largely to assist China’s international development policy — the development disgusted two American executives at Prince’s Hong Kong company.

Gregg Smith, the former CEO of Frontier, said he was ready to quit last March if Erik Prince was not removed from the company. Then, at a board meeting late that month, he said a company official made clear that Frontier would be providing security services in support of Chinese government objectives. “That was the final straw,” he told BuzzFeed News.

Retired US Admiral William Fallon, a Frontier board member, was at the same board meeting. He resigned too when he heard that the firm was providing security services. “That wasn’t what I signed up for,” he said in an interview.

President Donald Trump has talked tough about China. To be sure, he recently reaffirmed that the United States will formally recognize only mainland China and not Taiwan, a crucial point for Beijing. But Trump has installed a sharply anti-China critic as the head of his National Trade Council. Before winning the presidency, Trump called China an “enemy.” Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who interviewed Prince on Breitbart frequently, predicted last year that the US will be at war with China “in the South China Sea in five to 10 years.” And even if no hot war breaks out, many experts believe Trump is gearing up for a trade war with the country that manufactures much of the world’s goods (including some Trump brand products.)

During the campaign, Prince donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, which supported both Trump’s election bid and the Republican Party. Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who has long covered Prince, recently wrote that the businessman is advising the Trump Administration.

Just four days before the election, Prince gave an interview to Breitbart radio, part of the media empire that Bannon used to run, in which Prince pushed an unfounded theory that the NYPD had been about to announce arrest warrants in the Clinton investigation but was blocked by the Justice Department, and that Hillary Clinton had been to a “sex island” with a convicted pedophile “at least six times.” Prince’s bizarre claims were prominently displayed on Breitbart’s website leading up to the election and were widely distributed on right wing websites.

Now, however, Prince’s new business foray could put him at odds with Trump.

Former executives said that Frontier’s “forward operating bases” will be training former People’s Liberation Army soldiers to work as discreet non-uniformed soldiers for hire.

The former associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prince “is making Frontier Services a full-on private military company.”

As of the summer, this person continued, “the plan was to set up Blackwater-like training facilities specifically to train the Chinese.”

Another former ally of Prince said: “The idea is to train former PLA soldiers in the art of being private military contractor. That way the actual Red Army doesn’t have to go into these remote areas.”

Asked about Frontier’s claim that Prince was planning “unarmed” security projects, both sources dismissed it, and emphasized that was not their understanding. It is “ridiculous,” said one.

“Are they using sonic weapons,” joked the other. “Is it psychic powers?”

Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a private military company — Prince objects to the term “mercenary” — that did phenomenal business during the war on terror. The firm was frequently embroiled in scandal: Four of its employees were killed in Fallujah in 2004, leading to a Marine Corps onslaught on the city; several former employees pleaded guilty to arms violations in a lengthy investigation; and still others were convicted in a wild shooting spree in Baghdad in which 17 civilians were slaughtered.

Typically, Prince has been involved in ventures that he claims are in line with US foreign policy goals. He has reportedly helped the United Arab Emirates set up a military unit of former Colombian soldiers; pushed for an anti-piracy operation in the Puntland region of Somalia; and tried to sell a mercenary operation in Nigeria.

The current China plan appears to be different. China is widely understood to have interests that are adversarial to the US, and the two powers compete for world influence. And US law bans US citizens from exporting defense-related services or equipment to the country.

Frontier’s December press release said the Yunnan base would “allow FSG to be able to better serve companies in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.” The Uighur region, which would be home to the company’s second base, abuts Afghanistan.

According to the press release “these bases will provide training, communications, risk mitigation, risk assessments, information gathering, medevac and joint operations centers that coordinate security, logistics and aviation.”

The press release said the company was “expanding its security offerings” to include “training for personnel,” as well as “Personnel Protection” services, which is industry jargon for providing bodyguards. The December press release did not state that the security offerings would be unarmed.

Frontier’s expansion into China, its December press release said, was designed to help clients take advantage of China’s new development plan, “One Belt One Road,” a massive program that many experts believe aims to increase Chinese economic and political sway.

China expert Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute said US regulators would likely take a dim view of security operations in China’s Uighur areas. “It’s at odds with the American government view that we don’t want to help the Chinese oppress the Uighurs in Xinjiang.”

https://www.buzzfeed.com/aramroston/betsy-devoss-brother-is-setting-up-a-private-army-for-china?utm_term=.ld1jVAKaN#.vhL4oNrnE

What We’re Fighting For

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Image: United States Army soldiers transported Iraqi detainees captured during Operation Steel Curtain in 2005. CreditJehad Nga

“THE NEW YORK TIMES” 

After spending 13 months in Iraq, I think back to the stories that defined, for me, what it meant to be an American at war, and the reasons I was proud to wear the uniform.

After seeing violence go down not because we managed to increase our lethality but because we improved our ability to work with Iraqis, I became convinced that there were other stories of war equally important for Americans to understand.

When his convoy was ambushed during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, First Lt. Brian Chontosh ordered his Humvee driver to head straight into the oncoming machine gun fire. They punched through, landing in a trench full of heavily armed Iraqi soldiers. Lieutenant Chontosh and his Marines leapt out and he ran down the trench firing away, dropping one enemy soldier after another. First his rifle jammed, then he ran out of ammunition, so he switched to his pistol. He shot it dry, reloaded, and shot it dry again. So he picked up an AK-47 from a dead Iraqi, fired that dry, picked up another AK, fired that dry, picked up a rocket-propelled grenade, fired it, and led the group back to the Humvee, their attack having almost completely cleared the trench. Almost.

One Iraqi was playing dead, fiddling with the pin of a grenade. Lieutenant Chontosh had no ammo, but on the ground were a couple of M-16 rounds from when his rifle had jammed. He grabbed one, loaded, and before the Iraqi could pull the pin, Lieutenant Chontosh locked eyes with him and shot him dead. All told, according to the journalist Phil Zabriskie’s account of the ambush in “The Kill Switch,” Lieutenant Chontosh had killed about two dozen people that day.

When I was a new Marine, just entering the Corps, this story from the Iraq invasion defined heroism for me. It’s a perfect image of war for inspiring new officer candidates, right in line with youthful notions of what war is and what kind of courage it takes — physical courage, full stop. We thought it was a shame more Americans didn’t know the story.

Midway through my deployment a Marine arrived on base with severe wounds. He’d been shot by an enemy sniper, and the medical staff swarmed around his body, working frantically, skillfully, but it wasn’t enough. He died on the table.

Normally, there’d be a moment of silence, of prayer, but the team got word that the man who killed this young Marine, the insurgent sniper, would be arriving a few minutes later. That dead Marine’s squadmates had engaged the sniper in a firefight, shot him a couple of times, patched him up, bandaged him and called for a casualty evacuation to save the life of the man who’d killed their friend.

So he arrived at our base. And the medical staff members, still absorbing the blow of losing a Marine, got to work. They stabilized their enemy and pumped him full of American blood, donated from the “walking blood bank” of nearby Marines. The sniper lived. And then they put him on a helicopter to go to a hospital for follow-up care, and one of the Navy nurses was assigned to be his flight nurse. He told me later of the strangeness of sitting in the back of a helicopter, watching over his enemy lying peacefully unconscious, doped up on painkillers, while he kept checking the sniper’s vitals, his blood pressure, his heartbeat, a heartbeat that was steady and strong thanks to the gift of blood from the Americans this insurgent would have liked to kill.

This wasn’t just a couple of Marines and sailors making the right decision. These weren’t acts of exceptional moral courage in the way Lieutenant Chontosh’s acts were acts of exceptional physical courage. This was standard policy, part of tradition stretching back to the Revolutionary War, when George Washington ordered every soldier in the Continental Army to sign a copy of rules intended to limit harm to civilians and ensure that their conduct respected what he called “the rights of humanity,” so that their restraint “justly secured to us the attachment of all good men.”

American soldiers outside Mosul, Iraq, in 2008. CreditJoao Silva/The New York Times

From our founding we have made these kinds of moral demands of our soldiers. It starts with the oath they swear to support and defend the Constitution, an oath made not to a flag, or to a piece of ground, or to an ethnically distinct people, but to a set of principles established in our founding documents. An oath that demands a commitment to democracy, to liberty, to the rule of law and to the self-evident equality of all men. The Marines I knew fought, and some of them died, for these principles.

That’s why those Marines were trained to care for their enemy. That’s why another Marine gave his own blood to an insurgent. Because America is an idea as much as a country, and so those acts defend America as surely as any act of violence, because they embody that idea. That nurse, in the quiet, alone with that insurgent, with no one looking as he cared for his patient. That was an act of war.

After I left the Marine Corps, I met a veteran named Eric Fair. He was quiet. He wrote strange and affecting stories about guilt and alienation, and at first he didn’t tell me much about his past. Only over time did I learn that he’d been an Army Arabic linguist before Sept. 11, and then had signed up as a contractor and gone to Abu Ghraib prison in January 2004, all things he would later write about in his memoir “Consequence.”

Back then Abu Ghraib was a mess, he told me. Thousands of Iraqis, some of them insurgents, plenty of them innocent civilians caught up in the post-invasion chaos, and far too few qualified interrogators to sort it out. And the information they were seeking — it was literally life or death.

So Eric began crossing lines. Not legal lines — he followed the rules. But moral lines, personal lines, lines where it was clear that he wasn’t treating the people in his interrogation booth like human beings.

One time, it was with a boy captured with car batteries and electronic devices. The boy said his father used the batteries for fishing, an explanation that Eric found absurd. So, he used the approved techniques. Light slaps, stress positions. The boy eventually broke and, weeping, told Eric about a shop where his father delivered the electronics.

When a unit was sent to raid the shop, it found half a dozen partly assembled car bombs. “It was an enormous adrenaline rush,” he told me. He’d used techniques he now considers torture and, he thought, saved lives.

So, naturally, he kept using them. There were a large number of detainees caught with car batteries, all of them with the same story about fishing. With them, Eric would go right to the techniques designed to humiliate, to degrade, to make people suffer until they tell you what you want to hear. But Eric didn’t get any more results. No more car bomb factories. Just a lot of broken, weeping detainees.

Eventually, he told a fellow contractor the ridiculous fishing story, and how he wasn’t falling for it, and the contractor told him: “Of course they fish with car batteries. I used to do it in Georgia.” The electric charge stuns the fish, a simple method for an easy meal.

Eric isn’t sure how many innocent Iraqis he hurt. All he knows is how easy it was for him to cross the line. Just as with that wounded insurgent there was a codified set of procedures set in place to help guide Marines and Navy medical personnel to make moral choices, choices they could tell their children and grandchildren about without shame, for Eric, there was a codified set of procedures beckoning him to take actions that he now feels condemn him.

He doesn’t even have the consolation of feeling that he saved lives. Sure, they found a car bomb factory, but Abu Ghraib was a turning point. In 2003, thousands of Iraqi soldiers had begun surrendering to the United States, confident they’d be treated well. That’s thousands of soldiers we didn’t have to fight to the death because of the moral reputation of our country.

Abu Ghraib changed things. Insurgent attacks increased, support for the sectarian leader Moktada al-Sadr surged, and 92 percent of Iraqis claimed they saw coalition forces as occupiers rather than liberators or peacekeepers. WikiLeaks later released a United States assessment that detainee mistreatment at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo was “the single most important motivating factor” convincing foreign jihadists to wage war, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal said, “In my experience, we found that nearly every first-time jihadist claimed Abu Ghraib had first jolted him to action.” Our moral reputation had started killing American soldiers.

So, yeah, they found a car bomb factory. Once.

Eric has a relationship to his war that’s much different from mine. Yet we were in the same war. And Eric did what our nation asked of him, used techniques that were vetted and approved and passed down to intelligence operatives and contractors like himself. Lawyers at the highest levels of government had been consulted, asked to bring us to the furthest edge of what the law might allow. To do what it takes, regardless of whether such actions will secure the “attachment of all good men,” or live up to that oath we swear to support and defend the Constitution.

What to make of that oath, anyway? The Constitution seems to mean different things at different times and places — whether in my unit’s dusty little combat hospital, or in Eric’s interrogation booth, or in a stadium where a crowd cheers a presidential candidate vowing to torture his nation’s enemies. We live in a democracy, so that document can be bent and twisted and re-formed to mean whatever we want it to.

If we choose to believe in a morally diminished America, an America that pursues its narrow selfish interests and no more, we can take that course and see how far it gets us. But if we choose to believe that America is not just a set of borders, but a set of principles, we need to act accordingly. That is the only way we ensure that our founding document, and the principles embedded within, are alive enough, and honorable enough, to be worth fighting for.

Which brings me back to Brian Chontosh, that man with such incredible skill at killing for his country. Years after I left the Corps I was surprised to learn that he didn’t really put much stock in his exceptional kill count. He told Mr. Zabriskie this about killing: “It’s ugly, it’s violent, it’s disgusting. I wish it wasn’t part of what we had to do.”

When people ask him if he’s proud of what he did, he answers: “I’m not proud of killing a whole lot of people. That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m proud of who I am today because I think I’ve done well. I think I’ve been honorable. I’ve been successful for my men, for the cause, for what’s right.”

Brian Chontosh doesn’t dwell on the dead, but he does wonder whether there were times when, perhaps, he need not have killed. One of these is that last soldier in the trench. He’ll remember him, trying to pretend he’s dead but wiggling a bit. “It’s not a haunting image,” he told Mr. Zabriskie. “It’s just — man. I wonder. I wonder if I would have just freaking grabbed the dude. Grabbed his hand, thrown the grenade away or something. I could have got him some medical treatment.”

If he had, then that enemy soldier would have ended up with a unit like mine, surrounded by doctors and nurses and Navy corpsmen who would have cared for him in accordance with the rules of law. They would have treated him well, because they’re American soldiers, because they swore an oath, because they have principles, because they have honor. And because without that, there’s nothing worth fighting for.”

Phil Klay is the author of the short-story collection “Redeployment.”

2014 National Book Awards

Phil Klay