Источник
The National Interest online seeks to provide a space for vigorous debate and exchange not only among Americans but between U.S. and overseas interlocutors. This is the new home for informed analysis and frank but reasoned exchanges on foreign policy and international affairs.
Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 01:04

China Is Trying to Compare the Flu to Coronavirus. That Sounds Like Fake News.

  • 0

Mitchell Blatt Health, Asia Early on in the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the receptionist at the hotel I was staying at in China asked me if it was true that the United States was experiencing an epidemic of influenza that killed 61,000 people last year... Early on in the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, the receptionist at the hotel I was staying at in China asked me if it was true that the United States was experiencing an epidemic of influenza that killed 61,000 people last year. “No…” I responded, perplexed where this idea had arisen from. In skimming the Chinese news, I had seen some mentions of the flu “epidemic” in the U.S. I classified it as typical misdirection, the kind of subtle criticism of the U.S. that China’s state-owned media engages in from time to time when they are embarrassed, frustrated, or trying to advance a foreign policy goal. Not all of the Chinese news articles have been completely misleading. QQ News (not a specialized propaganda apparatus) published an article that pointed out the death rate for one set of numbers cited was only 0.05 percent and that “the vast majority were old, weak, or sick. It is possible that their health was already poor.” Turns out the 61,000 death toll estimate comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, making it all the more fun for China to cite in order to boost their trolling credibility. Like Sean Hannity when he finds a New York Times headline he likes: “Even the liberal New York Times/the American’s own federal health agency says…” The hotel receptionist is interested in foreign news and opinion and was initially skeptical of the Chinese report. “So it’s fake news?” he asked of the article in question. “No, not fake news exactly. The number is basically true, but it’s misleading,” I said. In fact, if you look at the CDC numbers for 2017-18, they say there were 45 million people infected with the flu, 21 million hospital visits, 810,000 long-term hospitalizations, and 61,000 deaths. Thirteen percent of Americans were infected with at least a minor flu, apparently. Do the math, and only 0.1 percent died. The fatality rate for coronavirus is estimated at 2.1 percent—well lower than SARS but over twenty times higher than the flu. The CDC uses a completely different process and different standards to calculate the extent of influenza than Chinese and global authorities are using to calculate coronavirus. The CDC’s numbers are estimates. It uses a mathematical model based on previous years, observed data, and other factors applied to the entire U.S. population to arrive at a 95 percent confidence interval. The low end of the confidence interval is typically about half of the high end, while the headline number is approximately in the middle. The CDC counts people who died after contracting influenza from other diseases. As the CDC website states: Seasonal influenza may lead to death from other causes, such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It has been recognized for many years that influenza is underreported on death certificates. There may be several reasons for underreporting, including that patients aren’t always tested for seasonal influenza virus infection, particularly older adults who are at greatest risk of seasonal influenza complications and death. Even if a patient is tested for influenza, influenza virus infection may not be identified because the influenza virus is only detectable for a limited number of days  after infection and many people don’t seek medical care in this interval. Additionally, some deaths – particularly among those 65 years and older – are associated with secondary complications of influenza (including bacterial pneumonias). For these and other reasons, modeling strategies are commonly used to estimate flu-associated deaths. Only counting deaths where influenza was recorded on a death certificate would be a gross underestimation of influenza’s true impact. It’s really comparing chalk and cheese to compare the two sets of numbers, which are calculated in different ways about different populations, and different diseases. It is certainly clear, however, that coronavirus is the more dangerous disease and is causing a much bigger effect on public health and the economy. There is no need to quarantine entire cities or monitor people’s movements within the country in order to combat the flu, for example. A chart in the New York Times shows that coronavirus is both more contagious and more deadly than seasonal flu. Yet many American publications have also adopted a version of the same line as China’s state media. “Don’t buy the media hype over coronavirus,” the NY Post ran over a column. “Something far deadlier than the Wuhan coronavirus lurks near you, right here in America,” an article distributed by Kaiser Health News announced. Buzzfeed, The Daily Beast, and Self magazine, among others, all ran articles on the theme. There are a number of reasons, somewhat justifiable, for exaggerating the threat of the flu for effect. First, many of the publications are trying to encourage people to get their flu shots (the presence of which, itself makes the flu less dangerous than coronavirus). Second, it is true that there was a panic over coronavirus in some quarters. Whether it was tabloid claims that tens or even hundreds of thousands of people were infected in the first weeks when the reported number had only hit hundreds or conspiracy theories that the virus was a weapon that escaped from a lab (suggested even by Sen. Tom Cotton), certain media outlets and bloggers really were fostering paranoia. That paranoia did, in fact, lead to instances of racism against Chinese around the world and, last week, a riot in Ukraine over the return of Ukrainian citizens from Wuhan. Face masks in Washington DC’s Dupont Circle area and around much of the country sold out at pharmacies in the U.S. after just suspicions of a few cases were first reported, even though the risk of catching coronavirus, much less dying from it, in a city of a few million with potentially one person having the virus, is close to nil. On February 13, a man was shot and killed in DC’s Chinatown district, an area I frequented when I lived in the capital. Around that same time, some friends in DC were suggesting I leave China. Yet in some ways—certainly in terms of gun violence and violent crime—I am safer here than I’d be in the U.S. Determining the proper level of fear and what kind of precautions should be taken is extremely subjective. It depends on one’s risk tolerance and how people compartmentalize different kinds of risks. We should be concerned about coronavirus without panicking about it, neither downplaying or exaggerating the situation. Currently based in China, Mitchell Blatt is a former editorial assistant at the National Interest, Chinese-English translator, and lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong. He has been published in USA Today, The Daily Beast, The Korea Times, Silkwinds magazine, and Areo Magazine, among other outlets. Follow him on Facebook at @MitchBlattWriter. Image: Reuters. 

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 01:00

It's All Politics: The 1 Reason Bernie Sanders Loves the F-35 Stealth Fighter

  • 0

Sebastien Roblin Politics, Americas Jobs and money. Key Point: Sanders may otherwise be somewhat of a dove, but he knows that the F-35 brings jobs and money to his voters in Vermont. That's why Sanders will do what he can to keep the federal tax dollars flowing. In a farewell ceremony on April 7, 2019, the Green Mountain state’s fighter pilots took their F-16 Fighting Falcon jets out for a last spin before the type’s retirement, as you can see in this video. Since 1986, the Vermont Air National Guard’s 158th Fighter Wing has flown single-engine F-16C and D Fighting Falcon fighter jets out of Burlington International Airport. The “Green Mountain Boys” of the 158th have deployed on combat missions overseas several times, and were the first to provide air cover over New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Arriving this September to replace them are the first of eighteen land-based F-35A stealth jets, plus two spares. Though marginally less agile than “Viper,” the F-35As are more survivable in most combat scenarios due to their reduced visibility on radar and powerful long-range sensors. However, local Vermonters are concerned about one parameter in which the F-35 may be decidedly indiscrete: its Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan engines may be noisier than the F-16’s—allegedly, by as much as a factor of four. The Air Force’s own study reported this would expose a thousand homes to noise levels exceeding 65 decibels, a noise level considered “unsuitable.” In an unusual turn, this has pitted anti-F-35 activists in opposition to both of Vermont’s left-leaning senators, independent Bernie Sanders and Democrat Patrick Leahy, who have supported the F-35’s deployment in Burlington. For example, this September 6, activists planned a “Weekend at Bernie's” rally at Leahy and Sander’s Burlington offices opposing the F-35’s imminent arrival. Supporters of the anti-F-35 campaign “Save our Skies” have included retired Air Force colonel Rosanne Greco who was formerly involved nuclear arms negotiations; Pierre Sprey, an influential weapons analyst in the 1970s and a longtime F-35 critic; and Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company who has provided financing. South Burlingtonians living near the airport were already reportedly unhappy with the noise produced by the now-retired F-16s. In response, the airport actively purchased and razed over 200 adjacent homes to reduce the affected population. Opponents to F-35 basing particularly cite studies showing that children growing up near noisy airports tend to suffer adverse health and educational attainment outcomes. In 2013, the National Guard also released an Environmental Impact Statement that asserted that the additional noise impact would be minimal. However, locals have questioned the assessment model. It was eventually revealed that Burlington was the least well-rated of four sites evaluated by the Environmental Impact Statement, and its selection may have been pushed specifically by Senator Leahy. Furthermore, leaked emails revealed the National Guard had developed a new noise model (Karnes 3) over the objections of the Air Force with the intention of favorably tweaking the noise assessment. Furthermore, the study’s noise model was apparently based on the assumption that the local F-35s would only use their afterburners about 5 percent of the time. Afterburners trade away fuel economy to increase turbofans maximum thrust from 28,000 to 44,000 pounds—with corresponding effects on noise levels. However, documents uncovered in August suggest that F-35s will engage their afterburners in roughly half of their missions, not 5 percent of them—particularly as the airport’s shorter runway may require combat-loaded aircraft build up additional thrust when taking off. Moreover, leaked internal Air Force memos show that some officers opposed basing at Burlington International Airport due to these environmental and political factors, arguing that a base in a less populated rural area would be preferable.  Nuclear weapons in Vermont? Some Vermonters have also objected to the Lightning’s potential capability to carry B-61 tactical nuclear bombs. These gravity bombs, designed primarily for hitting frontline instead of strategic targets, have a selectable yield .3 to 50 kilotons. For comparison, the Little Boy dropped over Hiroshima had a yield of 15 kilotons. Opponents like the group “Citizens Against Nuclear Bombers in Vermont” typically cite objections to tactical nuclear weapons in principle, but also argue that hosting them could lead to Burlington becoming a target for nuclear attacks in a conflict with Russia or China. On August 13, 2019, the Burlington City Council voted unanimously to express its opposition to deploying any aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons, though the resolution does not actually prevent the F-35 deployment. However, two important caveats to bear in mind: the F-16 was already wired for delivering B-61 bombs; and that the F-35 is not yet capable of carrying B-61 bombs until they are upgraded to the Block 4 model. Senators Sanders and Leahy claim they would withdraw their support if they learned of plans for nuclear weapons facilities.  On the one hand, not all F-35 units will be assigned a nuclear mission. On the other hand, the Air Force has a policy not to report which units are and which aren’t trained and equipped for nuclear weapons delivery.  Practically speaking, the Pentagon would likely be reluctant to build the secure facilities for storing nuclear weapons at Burlington International Airport, a project which might prove difficult to keep under wraps. However, critics argue the F-35s would be targeted, whether nuclear bombs were located there or not. Politics, Economics and the F-35 More broadly, some protesters point to the F-35’s notorious cost overruns and delays and argue that Sanders’s support for the jet’s deployment is contrary to his proclaimed intent to reign in “out of control military spending” if elected president. Senator Leahy’s support may be in part due to his prominence on the Senate’s National Guard caucus. Sanders has characterized his support for the F-35 as being primarily due to its economic benefits to Vermont rather than its value for national security per se.   In a 2014 town hall, Sanders stated: “In the real world, if the plane is built … and if the choice is if that goes to Vermont … South Carolina or Florida, what is your choice as a United States Senator? Do you want it to go to South Carolina? ... My view is that given the reality of the damn plane, I’d rather it come to Vermont than to South Carolina. And that’s what the Vermont National Guard wants, and that means hundreds of jobs in my city. That’s it.” Already, companies in Vermont build the F-35’s bomb bays and its GAU-22 25-millimeter “Equalizer” five-barreled Gatling cannon. Vermont’s Commissioner for Economic Development told CNBC that F-35 manufacturing accounts for over 1,600 jobs and $222 million in economic activity. The Pentagon plans to procure over 2,400 F-35s for service in the Air Force, Navy and Marines, meaning many more communities will host the stealth jets. Protests against F-35-related noise have also occurred in place as distant from Vermont as Boise, Idaho and Tucson, Arizona.  While both housing and employment opportunities in communities adjacent to F-35 bases will be most directly impacted, deployments of the controversial jet may also increasingly serve as a symbolic battleground on which opposing political values regarding the appropriate size and role of the U.S. military are hashed out. Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter. This piece was first featured in September 2019 and is being republished due to reader's interest. Image: Reuters

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:52

How The Revolutionary Guards Could Reshape Iran

  • 0

Ilan Berman Security, Middle East Iran’s clerical army could decide that an internal transition is the best answer, and move to remove (or at least subordinate) the country’s current clerical elite. Such a step, after all, would allow the IRGC to preserve its current, extensive grip on national power while simultaneously working to alleviate economic pressure from the U.S. and reintegrate into the international community. A little over decade ago, Ali Alfoneh, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, one of Washington’s most prominent think tanks, advanced a controversial theory about the balance of power within Iran. The idea, articulated first in a series of articles and later as a book, posited that Iran’s system of government had undergone a fundamental shift away from the clerical system established by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 and toward military dictatorship. Effectively, Alfoneh argued, Iran had experienced what amounts to a creeping coup, as a result of which the country’s clerical army, known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, was now in charge.  The concept was, for a time, enormously influential. It became the basis for the approach to Iran articulated by Hillary Clinton during her tenure as Secretary of State in the Obama administration, with the former First Lady repeatedly intoning that Iran’s Supreme Leader was being “supplanted” by military control. Many others likewise came to believe that – although still in positions of political power – Iran’s ayatollahs were effectively no longer calling the shots in Tehran. The reality, however, has turned out to be a good deal more nuanced. True, the IRGC has unquestionably expanded its power within Iran’s clerical system in recent years, not least because of the dividends imparted by the 2015 nuclear deal spearheaded by the Obama administration. Yet, at least for the time being, the IRGC has demonstrated conclusively that it remains loyal to the country’s religious hierarchy and the man at its helm: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But Alfoneh’s core point, that the IRGC constitutes a uniquely powerful and potentially transformative strategic actor, is undoubtedly correct. And today, as the Islamic Republic faces mounting internal and external pressure, his contention that the country’s clerical army might be prompted to take matters into its own hands is more germane than ever. To understand exactly why, it’s necessary to grasp the unique role that the IRGC has played in Iranian politics over the past four decades. Founded at the start of the Islamic Revolution, the Guards were envisioned from the outset as the expeditionary arm of Khomeini’s version of radical political Islam. To this end, the preamble to the Islamic Republic’s original 1979 constitution tasks the IRGC not only with preserving order within the country, but also with exporting Iran’s revolution “throughout the world.” Over the years, that sweeping mandate has allowed the IRGC to take center stage in Iranian foreign policy and political affairs. Militarily, the IRGC long ago eclipsed Iran’s standing army, the Artesh, to become the regime’s strategic tool of choice. It now serves as the custodian of the country’s burgeoning ballistic missile arsenal, as well as of its nascent (and still active) nuclear program. It is also in charge of the regime’s most valuable strategic asset: its extensive network of regional proxies. Ever since its defeat in the grinding eight-year war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq of the 1980s, the Islamic Republic has eschewed direct military confrontation in favor of indirect warfare. To this end, it worked diligently for decades to erect a broad network of proxy groups and affiliated militants throughout the Middle East and beyond. These groups, among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, and assorted Iraqi Shi’a militias, have played an essential role in promoting Iran’s interests and advancing its strategic objectives by asymmetric means. And until his death earlier this year at the hands of the Trump administration, that network had been headed by Iran’s most influential military commander, IRGC Major General Qassem Soleimani. Economically, meanwhile, the Guards have grown into a bona fide powerhouse, in control of numerous companies and corporate entities involved in everything from transportation to energy to construction. IRGC-controlled and -affiliated entities now permeate every sector of the formal Iranian economy, and wield extensive influence over the country’s gray- and black-market activities (including smuggling, illicit financial transfers and proliferation). All told, the IRGC has been estimated to command one-third or more of Iran’s total economy. All of which has made the IRGC a truly indispensable force in Iranian politics, and a key symbol of the country’s international standing. As Nader Uskowi, a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council and an advisor to U.S. Central Command, puts it: “The Iranian regime requires the IRGC so it can negotiate with the world and with America from a position of strength.” But does it want to? For decades, the United States has struggled with the question of what – if any – interaction with Iran’s clerical army might be possible. “It’s long been a dichotomy in American policy,” notes Jay Solomon of the Washington Institute, who has tracked IRGC activities for nearly two decades. “Even as we have chafed at the nature and power [of the IRGC], we have wanted to work with them” to solve various regional problems. For its part, Iran has adroitly used these competing impulses to its advantage, expand its activities throughout the region behind a veil of plausible deniability. Until now. The Trump administration’s January 3rd killing of General Soleimani – which came in response to escalating provocations against U.S. forces and assets on the part of Iranian proxies – amounted to a grievous blow to Iran’s strategic capabilities. “The Islamic Republic has been profoundly affected by Soleimani’s death,” explains Uskowi. “Without Soleimani, Iran is hard-pressed to implement its regional proxy strategy efficiently.” That, at least, is likely to be the situation under the existing balance of power within the Islamic Republic. But Tehran also faces serious problems at home. Since December of 2017, the country has weathered persistent anti-regime protests which have sorely tested the legitimacy of its ruling clerical regime. In the aftermath of Soleimani’s death and the Iranian government’s subsequent accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner, these protests have flared anew in what many observers describe as a fundamental break between ordinary Iranians and a religious regime increasingly seen as corrupt, venal and dangerous to the safety of its people. Faced with these challenges, Iran’s clerical army could decide that an internal transition is the best answer, and move to remove (or at least subordinate) the country’s current clerical elite. Such a step, after all, would allow the IRGC to preserve its current, extensive grip on national power while simultaneously working to alleviate economic pressure from the U.S. and reintegrate into the international community. The idea is hardly far-fetched. Precisely this sort of internal power shift has taken place more than a few times in recent memory. It happened in Russia in the 1990s, when that country’s intelligence “deep state” exploited post-Soviet turmoil to consolidate its control and forge itself into a formidable economic and political enterprise that endures to this day. More recently, it transpired in Egypt, when its military moved to oust Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in 2013 and reestablish a political and economic status quo that had been upset by Morsi’s disruptive religious policies. Would America welcome such a change, if it happened in Iran? It’s quite possible. President Trump, after all, has repeatedly said that the goal of his “maximum pressure” strategy is to bring Iran back to the international negotiating table and conclude a new, more comprehensive agreement to replace the 2015 nuclear deal. An IRGC takeover of the Iranian government could make such a development more likely by installing a strategic actor that is viewed by many in Washington as being more pragmatic and rational.  That, however, would represent something far short of real regime change, experts contend. “The IRGC represents the most ideological element of the regime,” notes Jonathan Schanzer of the influential Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “We shouldn’t welcome any approach that empowers it.” Even so, that is precisely what might end up happening – even if inadvertently. That’s because, while the Trump administration’s campaign of “maximum pressure” has unquestionably had a profound impact on the Islamic Republic since its start in March 2018, not all strategic actors within the country have been affected equally. “Iran’s overall economy may be running on fumes,” Uskowi cautions, “but that doesn’t mean that the IRGC itself is.” Indeed, he notes, the Guards today are estimated to control some 500 companies, at least 200 of which have foreign subsidiaries. That, in turn, gives Iran’s clerical army a “safety valve” that the regime as a whole doesn’t have. The IRGC is also poised to gain even greater political power. On the heels of the latest protests, Iran’s clerical elite has grown more reliant than ever on its praetorian guard, and has effectively given the country’s security forces “carte blanche” to purge their ranks and strengthen their hold on society. The IRGC could well emerge from this process far stronger and more capable than ever before. If it does, Alfoneh may turn out to have been right after all. As it stands, the most likely “regime change” scenario for Iran might not be that of an opposition group overthrowing the mullahs and creating a fundamentally new system of government, but of the country’s most powerful strategic actor taking the political reins of the current one. America should, at least, be prepared for the possibility. Ilan Berman is Senior Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC. This piece is the tenth and final installment of a series of articles exploring the beliefs, ideas and values of different factions within the Iranian opposition, as well as the challenges confronting them. The first installment, covering the agenda of former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi and his supporters, can be found here. The second, outlining the worldview of the Mujahideen e-Khalq, appears here. The third, examining the activism of Masih Alinejad and the broader Iranian anti-hijab movement, is located here. The fourth, detailing the efforts of activists like Mariam Memarsadeghi and Tavaana to promote democracy within Iran, is accessible here. The fifth, introducing the “Council of 14” group of human rights activists and campaigners, as well as their international backers, appears here. The sixth, a discussion of the Iranian regime’s growing capacity for cyber-repression, is accessible here. The seventh, an exploration of Iran’s ethnic politics and groupings, is located here. The eighth, covering efforts by Iranian opposition groups to create a new constitution, is accessible here. The ninth, which examines the impact of Iran’s changing demographics on protest and allegiance to the Islamic Republic, is available here.

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:45

Is China Totalitarian?

  • 0

Lee Edwards Security, Asia Has China become more liberal with the passing of the years? Has it demonstrated a willingness to respect the political and human rights widely honored by the world community? Some four decades ago, Deng Xiao-ping, the paramount leader of Communist China, took command of a country that had been nearly wrecked through Mao Zedong’s radical Marxist experiments like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution and announced a new economic policy of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Many experts in the West predicted that political liberalization would soon follow the economic “liberalization” initiated by Deng. Others were skeptical that the Communist Party would relinquish any meaningful degree of its political power. After all, they noted, Deng stressed that “we shall adhere to Marxism and keep to the socialist road.” Has Communist China become more liberal with the passing of the years? Has it demonstrated a willingness to respect the political and human rights widely honored by the world community? It is a critical question for the United States whose president has declared that U.S.-China relations are “perhaps” the best they have ever been. Is the curve in Communist China pointed up to freedom and democracy or down to Marxism-Leninism and totalitarianism? There is disturbing evidence of the latter course. Consider China’s aggressive attitude toward Hong Kong and its activity in the South China Sea, its efforts to bully the island democracy of Taiwan into accepting it is a province of China, the onerous conditions attached to its large loans to cash-hungry nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America, its blatant theft of the intellectual property of U.S. companies doing business in China. Is the People’s Republic of China on its way back to totalitarianism? One widely accepted way of measuring a nation’s place on the political spectrum is to apply Zbigniew Brzezinski’s six traits of a totalitarian state: an official ideology, a single political party typically led by one man, a secret police, party control of mass communications, party control of the military, and a centrally directed economy. Where is Communist China headed? China is ruled by an official body of socialist doctrine that covers all aspects of society. At the 2017 party congress, the Communist Party approved a new phrase for its charter — “Xi Jinping Thought For The New Era of Socialism With Chinese Special Characteristics” — elevating President Xi to the demigod status of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. The Congress’s meeting hall featured enormous side-by-side portraits of Xi and Mao. Since President Xi rose to power in November 2012, Freedom House reports, Communist China has redoubled its efforts “to exert control at home and expand its influence overseas.” It has established, for example, an extensive surveillance system in China and conducted a sophisticated propaganda campaign abroad. The Chinese Communist Party is increasingly dominated by one man, Xi Jinping, whose power is stronger than any leader since Mao. At the 2018 People’s Congress, lawmakers passed changes to the constitution abolishing presidential term limits and enabling Xi to rule indefinitely. Just how powerful Xi is can be judged by the vote on the constitutional change -- 2,958 in favor, 2 opposed and 3 abstaining. The change in the duration of the presidency aligns that office with the other positions Xi holds — head of the Communist Party and of the military, neither of which has term limits. Since taking power in 2013, Xi has centralized his authority, ousted internal political enemies, and backed policies to tighten control of civil society. Beijing depends upon a system of police control supervised by the leaders of the Communist Party and directed against all “enemies” of the regime. Although denied by the regime, the laogai system of prisons and labor camps still exists and is populated by political prisoners. According to Human Rights Watch, the government has detained and prosecuted hundreds of political activists and human rights defenders. The unexplained disappearance and subsequent confession of two high-profile citizens — actress Fan Bingbing and vice Minister Meng Hongwei — demonstrated that China’s legal system has its own set of rules. According to the BBC, forced disappearances are nothing new in China. Days or weeks may pass before the government confirms the person is being held and details the charges. Eventually there is a public confession followed by jail or a penalty: Fan Bingbing, who appeared in 2013’s “Iron Man 3,” was fined an extraordinary $129 million for evading taxes. Despite legislation that bans torture, the practice remains widespread. Since Xi became China’s leader, dissent has been systematically reduced, and loyalty to the nation — and the Communist Party — has become the prime imperative. Through its 90 million-plus members and an almost unlimited budget, the Chinese Communist Party controls all means of mass communication, particularly the electronic media. The Party has developed a sophisticated system of monitoring — the social credit system — that collects information on academic records, traffic violations, social media, friendships, adherence to birth control regulations, employment performance, and consumption of food and drink. As the State Department says, the system is calculated to promote self-censorship. A person’s “social credit score” estimates his loyalty to the government; it also creates incentives for citizens to police each other. The temptation to create a nation of informers is enormous. The majority of the Chinese people know only what they read or hear or see on the government-run media. They believe there was no such thing as the Tiananmen Square massacre, only an instance of police being forced to arrest and jail a bunch of so-called “hooligans” to preserve the peace. According to Reuters, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre is an occasion for a cat and mouse game as people use more obscure words on social media sites, with obvious allusions immediately blocked. Some years, even the word “today” has been erased. Two years after the death of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, the government continued to censor an array of words and images associated with Liu in the public media and on social media platforms. According to the State Department, phrases like “rest in peace,” quotes from his writing, and images of candles were blocked online and in private messages sent on social media. The government closed 128,000 websites in 2017 for their “inappropriate content,” particularly criticism of Xi and his regime. The government and the party are especially sensitive to the activity of Christians, Muslims, the Falun Gong and other believers. In April 2018, Cui Haoxin, a Muslim poet, was placed in an internment camp for one week for the political views in his poetry. Subsequently, Cui was warned by the police to stop posting information about the camp, whose existence the government denied. It is reliably estimated that as many as two million Uyghurs have been placed in reeducation camps. Beijing does not hesitate to monitor media far beyond its national borders. The manager of Australia’s largest independent Chinese-language newspaper described the pressure that Chinese officials applied to the paper’s advertisers in an attempt to silence its critical views. A preacher at a state-run Protestant church in southern China described how the government went about transforming the church into an instrument of the regime. It dismantled crosses, ordered the national flag to be displayed, installed surveillance cameras, and as a last step replaced the Ten Commandments with Xi Jinping Thought. The most shocking case of persecution involves the spiritual group, the Falun Gong. Meeting in London, a panel of distinguished British lawyers and medical experts concluded that Communist China is murdering members of the Falun Gong and harvesting their organs for transplant. Beijing has repeatedly denied any such practice, but admits it used organs from executed prisoners in the past but stopped doing so in 2015. However, the London panel concluded it was “satisfied” that the practice of forced harvesting of organs has continued with imprisoned Falun Gong members. The panel chairman said that “many people have died indescribably hideous deaths.” As the PRC continues to challenge the U.S. as the world’s largest economy, so too does the Communist regime increase its military strength to protect China’s overseas interests and establish itself as a major power in Asia and beyond. Since 2000, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, China has built more submarines, destroyers, frigates and corvettes than Japan, South Korea and India combined. Its first domestically designed aircraft carrier took only five years to build. (The U.S. takes as long as 10 years from design to launching.) A restructure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is scheduled to be finished this year, making the 2-million-strong PLA “leaner but mightier,” in the words of Zhou Bo of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense. ” All major military decisions are approved by the central committee of the Communist Party, in accordance with Mao’s axiom, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Visitors to China are inclined to think, after their first look at the dozens of skyscrapers in Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities, that the PRC economy is too successful to be communist. That was my initial reaction on my trip to China a decade and a half ago, causing me to dub Beijing “The City of a Thousand Skyscrapers,” an appellation my Communist hosts loved and often quoted. I subsequently learned that the skyscrapers were owned by either the Party, the PLA or the sons and daughters of the party elite. China has 51,000 state-owned enterprises (SOEs) employing 20.2 million people that are kept float by substantial government subsidies. They constitute a major budget item: SOEs account for the majority of China’s top 500 firms. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is not soft democratic capitalism but hard market socialism in which critical decisions are made by the Communist Party not the market. China’s economic growth is due to several factors, including its very loose adherence to the rules it agreed to abide by when it joined the World Trade Organization; the remarkable work habits of the Chinese; the allure of the 1.4 billion Chinese as a market to the Western businessman; and the ability of the Communist Party, so far, to balance the demands of a mixed economy. As we can see, China is already totalitarian in five of the six traits developed by Brzezinski to determine a totalitarian regime. Only with regard to a centrally controlled economy do we find an authoritarian rather than a strict totalitarian structure. Human Rights Watch has been persuaded by this capitalist tilt to describe China as “a one-party authoritarian state that systemically curbs fundamental rights.” )The U.S. State Department says that “the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the paramount authority.” But there is no sign that Communist China is becoming more liberal in its ideology, one-party politics, control of the military, censorship of mass communications, use of secret police, and suppression of speech and religion. By any reasonable measure, the PRC is becoming a totalitarian state whose actions are dictated and determined by Xi Jinping and the Communist Party he heads. To say otherwise is to ignore the totalitarian behavior of Communist China for the past four decades and to doubt that a despot like Xi will do whatever is necessary to maintain his power and control. Does this mean that the U.S. should not do business with China? No, it means that the U.S. in its trade and other dealings with the PRC should proceed from the understanding that China is ruled by a regime that is not liberal or socialist or authoritarian but totalitarian in its essence and is headed back to its Maoist roots. We can draw a lesson from President Ronald Reagan, a lifelong anti-communist, who sat down with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev once he could negotiate from a position of economic and military strength. It is clear that President Donald Trump has done his homework: he has no illusions about Communist China. He is confident he can make China keep its word to increase its purchase of U.S. products and to stop the theft of U.S. intellectual property. If not, the president will once again apply sweeping tariffs to a wide variety of Chinese goods. And while tariffs on Chinese imports are bad for Americans, they are a brand of Trumpian-style diplomacy that a dictator like Xi Jinping understands very well. Lee Edwards, Ph.D., is the Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought in the B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org). His many books include biographies of Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, Jr.  Image: Reuters. 

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:32

India Wants to Buy a Ton of Russian Weapons but There's 1 Big Problem

  • 0

Sebastien Roblin Politics, Asia Sanctions. Key point: India wants Russian weapons that are subject to American sanctions. But Washington wants New Delhi as an ally against Beijing- so what might America do? As we enter the 2020s, the Indian Air Force will continue to shrink in size to twenty-six out of a required forty-two squadrons due to retirements of aging Cold War Russian MiG-21 and MiG-27 jets.  While the IAF is mulling purchases of additional advanced Western jet fighter like the Dassault Rafale, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, the Lockheed F-21 or Boeing Super Hornet, it’s meanwhile turning to its long-running relationship with Moscow to patch up the growing gap in its air defenses—even if that means it risks running afoul of U.S. CAATSA sanctions imposed on countries that import Russian weapons.. While a companion article looks at major new arms purchases by the Indian Army and Navy from Russia, this piece will survey three different buys the Indian Air Force is making entering the 2020s to stem the bleeding away of its combat strength. S-400 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems India is proceeding with the purchase of five regiments of S-400 surface-to-air missiles in a $5.43 billion, paid in Euros in order to bypass CAATSA sanctions. In 2019, New Delhi made a down payment worth $800 million, and initial deliveries will arrive in October 2020, with the order completed between in 2023 and 2025. This come even after the U.S. kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program in the summer of 2019 for procuring S-400s from Russia—and has voiced its objections to the new deal. But real U.S. sanctions on India as building a closer defense relationship with New Delhi remains a priority in Washington. India was more interested in the S-400 than the U.S. Patriot or THAADS systems because it can threaten aircraft up to 250 miles away due to its powerful radar radars and missiles designed to engage different targets. By contrast, the U.S. systems are effective across a smaller radius. Thus, the S-400 will free up IAF fighters from performing routine air defense patrols—especially following a Pakistani incursion into Indian airspace that ended with the loss of an Indian fighter. U.S. officials have refused to back down from threats to level CAATSA sanctions on India for the deal. But when the same official tells The Diplomat that there is “no blanket application” of CAATSA sanctions, one can sense the threat may have no teeth due to Washington’s eagerness to court Indian support in strategic competition with China.  Time will tell if that changes—particularly if Modi’s controversial policies threaten to cause India to lose support in U.S. Congress. Su-30MKI Flankers Arguably the chief striking power of the Indian Air Forces comes from its force of over 250 twin-engine Su-30MKI Flanker jets, tailored to support Indian weapons and avionics. (India’s new Rafale jets are more advanced, but much fewer in number.)  India’s Flankers are fast, extremely maneuverable due to their thrust-vector engines, and can carry formidable sensors and weapons, including the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile which can threaten both maritime and land targets from standoff distances. However, Indian Su-30s have also suffered a fair number of technical problems and accidents in Indian service. Thus a new order to license-build twelve more Su-30MKIs is not about expanding the fleet, but replacing losses from accidents to maintain a total force of 272 aircraft. MiG-29UPG Fulcrum India also operates three squadrons of lighter-weight MiG-29UPG Fulcrum tactical fighters, upgraded with additional fuel stores, new radars, and modernized avionics and air-to-ground capabilities. The MiG-29 is highly agile but hasn’t been as successful abroad as the Flanker. Nonetheless, India is following a lead on a Fulcrum bargain: twenty-one Soviet-era MiG-29 airframes that reportedly were never flown. India has reportedly verified the condition of the MiG-29, a wise move given a prior failed attempt to sell dilapidated MiG-29s to Algeria. In a reportedly $847 million deal in order to fulfill an “urgent” operational requirement, MiG will upgrade the jets to the MiG-29 UPG standard and deliver them to India for $847 million over the next 18 months. Though the MiG-29UPG is longer exactly a cutting-edge aircraft, the offer around $40 million per aircraft is about half the price of a new 4.5-generation jet, and thus represents a relatively cheap way for the IAF to quickly field an additional fighter squadron. After all, twenty-six squadrons does not compare that well with to Pakistan’s twenty squadrons given the disparity between the two country’s populations—let alone China’s 1,700 combat aircraft Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter. This first appeared earlier in January 2020. Image: Reuters.

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:29

Despite Trump's Visit, A U.S.-India Trade Deal Isn't Close

  • 0

Akshobh Giridharadas Security, Asia Donald Trump’s maiden Presidential visit to India is more show than substance. Air Force One has touched down in India, thus commencing U.S. President Donald Trump’s first state visit to India. As Jeff Smith of the Heritage Foundation writes, for Washington, New Delhi continues to be a democratic lynchpin for the U.S. agenda in the Indo-Pacific. On the president’s agenda will be meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian President Ram Nath Kovind. President Trump and the First Lady, Melania Trump (accompanied by daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner) will also travel to the Taj Mahal in Agra and to a grand reception in Ahmedabad. NO TRADE DEAL The optimism around the visit was earlier centered around an impending trade deal between the United States and India, a much-touted deal which didn’t come to fruition last September at the sidelines of the UNGA 2019 week. The omens did not look good with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer canceling a scheduled visit to India, just weeks before the president’s. However, Washington is increasingly interested in working out agreements on agricultural products and medical devices. Both countries have been going back to the drawing board and trying to work out a trade deal in the last twelve months. But Trump himself signaled a day earlier that no such deal would be hammered out during his present visit. The president himself stated, that “I’m really saving the big deal for later on. I don’t know if it will be done before the election, but we’ll have a very big deal with India.” TRADE AS IT STANDS The current trade relationship between the United States and India stands at $160 billion, and the goal is for it to grow to as much as $500 billion in the near future. Last year, the United States had a $23.2 billion goods trade deficit in 2019 with India, its ninth-largest trading partner in goods. Both countries have been engaged in a tit for tat tariff war over the past year. India was hit hard by Trump’s aluminum and steel tariffs. New Delhi slapped tariffs on twenty-eight U.S. products including Harley-Davidson motorcycles and U.S.-grown apples, after Washington withdrew its long-standing preferential status-the General System of Preferences (GSP) in June 2019. By doing so, India was precluded from exemption of billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. taxes and levies. India in a retaliatory measure to the withdrawn GSP benefits slapped fresh tariffs on U.S. products in its new 2020 budget. Trump has made trade and trade deals the hallmark of his presidency and has called India the “tariff king.” American manufacturers have been hit hard by heavy tariffs from India, which have imposed an exorbitant duty on their products. Under the current circumstance, there is little to no maneuver room for a trade deal to take place. President Trump himself indicated it would take place, but sometime in the future Trump has eschewed from multilateral trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Obama-era hallmark and trade deals such as NAFTA. Being the transactional businessman that he is, Trump prefers bilateral deals. The American chagrin with India has always been what they perceive as a largely protectionist state. India’s economy is driven by large domestic demand and in the GOP imagination, this is a cardinal sin to a large market waiting to be tapped into by American businesses. THE ECONOMY Despite being a pro-business prime minister and having won a large mandate in 2019, Modi and his government face challenges of a slowing economy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) slashed its estimate of India’s growth rate to 4.8 percent, down from 6.1 percent. Global credit rating agency India may have improved its ranking in the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, but challenges still remain. However, in Washington, the American appetite for India’s economy remains strong. There remains a strong sense of investor enthusiasm, despite the slump in economic growth rates. Investors remain bullish across various sectors. For the Republican establishment, India has always been a strong economic, democratic counterweight to China. MILITARY While India and the United States are not allies, they continue to remain strong strategic partners. Since the Cold War ended, India has diversified its weapons and military portfolio. India is no longer just dependent on sales from Russia, but imports from Russia, the United States, France and Israel and thus in doing so, U.S. defense sales have greatly increased. India is set to buy over $2.4 billion worth of Lockheed Martin helicopters and more defense deals could be in the offing. THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM IS THE DRAGON The pivot to India from Washington is twofold. On one hand, it is the thawing of Cold War era tensions when India shared a close bonhomie with the Soviet Union. The second being the China factor. Washington has long viewed New Delhi as a democratic counterweight to Beijing. President Trump and his team are also expected to raise their trepidation of Huawei and 5G technology. India has allowed Huawei to participate in 5G test trials, however no final decision has been made. India and the United States have also coalesced on their concerns vis-à-vis China and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), cross border terrorism, a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, and the Quad. NAMASTE TRUMP Superficially, there have been many analogies drawn between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump. While there is very little substance in those similarities, there is, however, a mutual affinity that they both share for large audiences and at times, commentators have called it grandstanding. The star-studded Howdy Modi spectacle in Houston took place in the NRG stadium, a football arena in Houston. If football (American football) is sacrosanct to American culture, only fitting that President Trump be welcomed to a rousing reception in the soon to be world’s largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad. The visit is seen as largely symbolic as a photo opportunity for both leaders who have suffered domestic pushback. President Trump with the impeachment hearings while Prime Minister Modi with the anti-CAA/NRC protests. President Trump also heads into an election year and will try and court the Indian diaspora back in the United States who have traditionally voted Democrat. Meanwhile, photo opportunities of Modi with the most powerful person in the world will be useful for his image at home. The optics will be good for both leaders as each will seek political benefit from domestic constituencies. While India and the United States have increased their strategic partnership in the last decade, there have been no high profile agreements since the landmark nuclear accord between George W. Bush presidency and Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government. Relations were cordial during the eight years of the Barack Obama presidency, including a visit by Obama in January 2015 as the guest of honor at India’s Republic Day celebrations, thus making him the only sitting president to visit India twice during his presidency. Prime Minister Modi, too, addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in June 2016. But symbolic bonhomie aside, the only ink that has flowed has been from journalists and not from policymakers, meaning no iconic agreement has been announced. Akshobh Giridharadas is a former broadcast reporter covering business and international relations with Channel NewsAsia in Singapore. He has regularly published with outlets such as The Diplomat, the Observer Research Foundation, Inside Sources, and FirstPost on geopolitics, business and sports. Image: Reuters.

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:24

Bernie Sanders Was Just Asked by 60 Minutes When He Would Go to War

  • 0

Daniel R. DePetris Security, Maybe we are asking the wrong national security questions. Presidential candidates like to talk tough on the campaign trail in order to persuade the American public that they can answer that 3 a.m. phone-call without skipping a beat. It’s time for all of us, journalists, pundits, analysts, and ex-officials, to begin viewing the 3 a.m. call through a wider scope.            Every candidate for President of the United States gets the inevitable “when will you use military force?” question. Of course, every candidate should; those auditioning to become the next commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces will have immense power at his or her disposal to deploy U.S. troops, launch a missile strike, and freeze diplomatic relations with another country (if America’s system of government actually abided by what’s codified in the U.S. Constitution, presidents would have much less authority on war and peace than they currently exercise). There is no position on the planet that is as lonely, serious, and psychologically straining as president, where you have to make the final decision and ultimately live with the consequences. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the presumptive Democratic presidential frontrunner post-Nevada, received this question from Anderson Cooper during a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, February 24. Sanders largely kept to the script, saying that he would authorize the use of U.S. military force if the security of the American people was threatened or if Washington’s allies were under threat of attack. He’s hardly the only candidate who has been faced with this query. Bill Clinton’s 1991-1992 presidential campaign was consistently enveloped with doubts about whether the anti-Vietnam war activists had the stomach to make the difficult decisions. So too was Barack Obama, who entered the 2007-2008 campaign with a short stint on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as the only foreign policy item on his resume. Donald Trump didn’t have any foreign policy experience at all when he entered the race in 2015.  Nonetheless, all of these public figures eventually delivered long-winded speeches detailing the circumstances in which they would leverage U.S. military power around the world. George W. Bush talked about downsizing the U.S. military role in peacekeeping and policing operations in the Balkans and focusing more of the Pentagon’s attention on conventional conflict with nation-states. Obama promised to end the U.S. military occupation in Iraq as soon as possible and redeploy more troops, intelligence assets, and dollars to the war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Trump committed his administration to extricating the United States from wars that were black-holes for American blood and treasure and bombing the Islamic State into extinction. Yet what if we have been focusing too much on the wrong question? Understanding when a potential president will engage in armed hostilities is certainly an important component of the debate. But it shouldn’t be treated as the only line separating those who qualify for the job from those who don’t. To treat it as such is to suggest that candidates can only be considered presidential material if they take the most hawkish position possible.  National security policy is about much more than when and where to drop bombs. The mainstream commentariat has an unhelpful habit of drilling down on this subject to the exclusion of all others. And if other questions are asked during a debate—would you meet with Leader X directly; would you get return to this or that agreement—they are given not nearly the same amount of attention. Being president is just as much about bold diplomatic initiatives as it is about green-lighting a daring special forces raid or authorizing a military operation. It’s also about having the judgment to do what can often be the unpopular thing in Washington, D.C. by stepping back and deescalating from a looming crisis. Choosing restraint and opting for diplomatic measures takes just as much strength, perseverance, and leadership as making the gut-wrenching decision to plunge the United States from peacetime to wartime.  Presidents must also demonstrate a willingness to prioritize and execute on it. Administrations of both parties have learned the hard way that doing too much or taking the lead on problems that have little to no impact on U.S. national security one way or the other is like gulping down a poisonous cocktail. It leaves the United States exposed to mission-creep, overextension, needless loss in lives and taxpayer money, captive to unattainable objectives, and vulnerable to the machinations of minor powers. Those who have the foresight to distinguish between what is truly vital to preserving Washington’s political and economic interests from those that don’t have a half-way decent shot at managing the United States in a world infested with problem-children and opportunists. Presidential candidates like to talk tough on the campaign trail in order to persuade the American public that they can answer that 3 a.m. phone-call without skipping a beat. It’s time for all of us, journalists, pundits, analysts, and ex-officials, to begin viewing the 3 a.m. call through a wider scope.            Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities, a foreign policy organization focused on promoting a realistic grand strategy to ensure American security and prosperity. Image: Reuters. 

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:20

The Navy Has a "Ghost Fleet" but How Do You Really Count Robot Warships?

  • 0

Sebastien Roblin Security, Americas An interesting problem. Key Point: Obviously, a ship is a ship. But the Navy is having political problems on what qualifies as a "ship" for housekeeping purposes. Congressional legislators rumbled with displeasure in December 2019 when the Office of Management and Budget released a memo proposing to early retire a dozen U.S. Navy ships in service and cut twelve more that are on order.  The vessels affected included operational Ticonderoga-class cruisers, littoral combat ships and San Antonio-class landing platform docks, as well as orders for new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, CHAMPS auxiliary ships, a Virginia-class submarine and a forthcoming FFG(X) frigate.  When combined with additional orders of newer ships, the OMB proposal leaves the Navy with three fewer ships than it started with, despite a (likely impossible) mandate to boost ship totals from 290 to 355 ships. A companion article details the types of ships being cut, and the still vaguely-conceived successors the Navy sees stepping in to take their place. This piece will look at the political strategy that may underly the OMB proposal, and a peculiar bureaucratic problem which may be undermining the Navy’s modernization strategy. Part of the difficulty facing the Navy budget, as that it wants to procure ten 2,000-ton LUSV drone warships as well as two smaller MUSV drone vessels with anti-submarine payloads, at a total cost of $3 billion.  In theory, robotic surface combatants could be much cheaper to build and operate than manned warships, could be employed more aggressively in areas threatened by anti-access/area denial weapons, and would allow the Navy to spread out its firepower more broadly without forcing it to stick humans on vulnerable ships like the LCS. Above all, LUSVs could reduce the overwhelming operational burden placed on Navy’s over-worked destroyers, cruisers, littoral combat ships, and planned-for frigates. But the drone ships of its “Ghost Fleet” don’t officially count towards the total number of ships in service. That makes it seem like the Navy is shrinking more than is actually the case. It’s also worth noting that some critics think the Navy is mistaken to commit itself so heavily to drone ships before they have been operationally tested. For example, maintaining unmanned vessels at sea could prove challenging without crew on hand to patch up breakdowns.  Thus in 2019, Congress pushed back against the Navy plans, requesting a slower roll-out to buy time for more operational testing. That has resulted in LUSV procurement being reduced to one instead of two ships per year. Whether skepticism towards drone warships is justified or not, the Navy needs to change the way it counts ships if large drone ships are destined to play a major role in the mid-twenty-first-century fleet. It’s worth noting that the Navy is also planning to deploy drone submarines to perform reconnaissance and eventually combat roles—both types designed for autonomous independent operations, and smaller large-diameter UUVs that would be launched from a manned submarine mothership. “Cry for Help” Strategy? The attempt to retire Truman earlier in 2019 may indicate a political strategy underlying the cuts proposed in the OMB memo. The Truman’s proposed retirement raised howls of outrage in Congress—leading to additional money begin appropriated not only to fund Truman’s mid-life overhaul, but for a block purchase of two new (and infamously troubled) Ford-class carriers. Thus, some see the OMB’s proposed cuts as amounting to another fishing expedition (or more charitably, a “cry for help”) intended to shake down Congress for money lest ship-building programs popular with their constituents pay the price. However, the Navy must contend with the reality that most analysts don’t expect the U.S. defense budget to increase significantly beyond current levels in the next few years. The sea warfare branch, therefore, has to place bets on how likely a conflict is to occur in the near term, how much of its current fleet it can pawn off prematurely, and how long it can afford to wait for next-generation vessels like the LSC, FFG(X) and SSN(X) to pick up the slack. By process of elimination, we can also see which current ship-building programs are prioritized by the U.S. Navy: its Gerald Ford-class supercarriers, America-class light carrier/amphibious ships, and forthcoming Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. The Columbia-class remains such a priority because they perform the critical role of providing the United States with nigh-unkillable sea-based nuclear deterrence. Furthermore, they must Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines as they begin to age out. The emphasis on carrier construction also reflects that the Navy still centers its warfighting capabilities around the huge ships laden with jet fighters. Indeed, a large chunk of the Navy’s frigates, destroyers, cruiser sand submarines are dedicated solely to protecting carriers from attack.  Thus the budgeteers proved willing to cut an order for five highly capable destroyers rather than reduce planned carrier construction by a single ship. However, the Navy’s dedication to huge and expensive carriers may be myopic in an era when land-based anti-ship weapons are beginning to out-range the aircraft based on carriers. Balancing the operational needs of the present with the technological needs of the future is a difficult equation to solve. But a healthy initial step towards solving it would be to count armed 2,000-ton vessels as “ships”, even if they don’t have humans onboard. Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter. This first appeared in 2019. Image: Reuters

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:18

Here Comes Donald Trump and the GOP: RNC Raises Record Amounts of Cash

  • 0

Hunter DeRensis Politics, The Republican National Committee raised $27.2 million, a record for the first month of the year, and nearly triple the amount raised by the Democratic National Committee ($10 million). With the release of January’s Federal Election Commission numbers, Republicans are celebrating their financial largesse as the 2020 campaign season progresses. The Republican National Committee raised $27.2 million, a record for the first month of the year, and nearly triple the amount raised by the Democratic National Committee ($10 million). At the start of February, the RNC had a total of $76 million cash-on-hand, which doesn’t include the $92 million held by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. In comparison, the DNC has only $9.9 million cash-on-hand, with possible Democratic campaign funds still divided among eight competing primary campaigns. Money among the Democratic field is split thusly: frontrunner Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, began February with $16.8 million cash-on-hand; former Vice President Joe Biden with $7.1 million; former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg with $6.6 million; Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota with $2.9 million; Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts with $2.3 million; and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii with $2 million. Billionaire candidates Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg both had more cash-on-hand than they’re competitors, $17.8 million and $55.1 million respectively. Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York City, is self-funding his entire campaign. The 2020 general election is expected to be the most expensive on record. In 2016, Trump’s presidential campaign, in combination with outside groups, spent $302 million. In comparison, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign spent over twice as much, $639 million. Even 2016 spending was down from the colossal expenditure of 2012. That each, both candidates spent nearly a billion dollars in combination with outside groups, with incumbent President Barack Obama spending $985 million, and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney spent $992 million. The difference that this campaign might have is the refusal of Bernie Sanders to use the help of Political Action Committees. The senator has long been a critic of the undue influence money has on the political system. While some of his competitors had previously forsworn the use of SuperPAC’s during the primary process, Sanders has promised to reject the use of donations by outside groups. His campaign, like it was in 2016, is entirely funded by the grassroots and mostly financed through small-dollar donations. But Sander’s rejection, in the likelihood he is the Democratic nominee, won’t remove the wealthy from the political process. Michael Bloomberg, worth over $61 billion, has promised that he’ll use the immensity of his personal wealth to unseat Donald Trump, whether he is the Democratic nominee or not. On the other hand, a reaction could be expected on the other side of the spectrum. Most billionaire’s identity politically as Democrats, however, the candidacy of Sanders, who has identified as a democratic socialist his entire life, may scare more donors into either staying out of the election or even financially supporting Donald Trump. The current numbers a snapshot in time. It’s expected for both the Republicans and Democrats to reach a kind of parity once the Democratic primary has finished and their party can coalesce around a single candidate. Hunter DeRensis is senior reporter for the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis. Image: Reuters. 

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:12

Bernie Sanders Wants a Universal, Federally Financed Childcare Plan

  • 0

Hunter DeRensis Politics, This is an addition to Sander’s current platform of Medicare for All (which would provide publicly funded healthcare to all residents of the United States), the Green New Deal, free admission to public colleges, and the cancellation of all student debt. Last evening Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced a new childcare plan he would enact if elected president in November. Speaking with Anderson Cooper on CBS’ 60 Minutes, Sanders described why he felt a universal, federally financed childcare plan was necessary and how he would attempt to pay for such a far-reaching proposal. This is an addition to Sander’s current platform of Medicare for All (which would provide publicly funded healthcare to all residents of the United States), the Green New Deal, free admission to public colleges, and the cancellation of all student debt. “I get a little bit tired of hearing my opponents saying, 'Gee, how you going to pay for a program that impacts and helps children or working-class families or middle-class families? How you going to pay for that?'” Sanders complained during the interview. “And yet, where are people saying, 'How are you going to pay for over $750 billion on military spending?' How you going to pay for a trillion dollars in tax breaks to the 1% in large corporations which was what Trump did? When you help the billionaires and you help Wall Street, 'Hey!' Of course, we can pay for it. That's what America's supposed to be about.' Well, I disagree." “Childcare must be guaranteed for every child regardless of their parents’ income, just like K-12 education,” Sanders said in a statement after the interview. “We know that the first four years of a child’s life are the most important years of human development, so it is unconscionable that in the wealthiest country in the world, we do not properly invest in early childhood education.” Sander’s plan has two parts, focusing on care before the age of three and after. From infancy to age three, Sander’s plan would guarantee childcare at least ten hours a day every single day of the week. The program would function at different hours of the day to accommodate all parent work schedules. Under Sander’s vision, the workforce would be unionized and mandated child-to-adult ratios and group sizes. After the age of three, Americans would be provided with full-day, every-day childcare locally administered but funded by the federal government. Special resources would be reserved for special needs children. This comes more than a year after Sander’s primary competitor, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, presented her own plan for a nationally-funded childcare system. Both senators say their plans would be funded through a wealth tax. Warren’s proposal would take 2% (what she often refers to as “two cents”) of a person’s wealth if they are valued at more than $50. This amount would increase to 3% on individuals worth $1.1 billion or more. Sander’s wealth tax is more strident. His would involve taking 1% of what a person owns if it’s more than $32 million. And for amounts over $10.1 billion, the tax accumulates to 8% of a person’s total wealth. Hunter DeRensis is senior reporter for the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:10

Right Before the Cold War, America Gave the Soviets 150 Invasion Ships

  • 0

Sebastien Roblin History, Asia Wait, what? Key point: America thought it needed Russia's help to crush Imperial Japan. But then Truman dropped the A Bomb and suddenly Washington and Moscow weren't friends anymore. On April 10, 1945 a Soviet freighter slipped up to a quay at a frozen military base on a remote tip of Alaska aptly named Cold Bay. Inside her were over 500 sailors of the Soviet Navy. The Soviets had arrived to train on the first of 149 vessels the U.S. Navy was transferring to the Soviet Union. That fleet’s secret mission: to transport the Red Army for an invasion of Japan, even while Moscow and Tokyo remained officially at peace. By early 1945, the U.S. military had ample evidence that an amphibious invasion of the Japanese home islands would prove exceptionally bloody and destructive. If Japanese troops were ready to fight to the death for distant, barren islands like Pelelieu or Iwo Jima, how much worse would the struggle be on densely populated Honshu or Hokkaido? As a result, U.S. President Franklin R. Roosevelt was keen to draw Stalin’s massive Red Army to support an invasion—but the Soviet leader initially wasn’t interested. Earlier in October 1939, Soviet tanks and Mongolian cavalry had crushed Japanese forces in Mongolia in the decisive Battle of Khalkin Gol. Afterwards, the two nations signed a neutrality pact; the Japanese Kwangtung Army had little appetite for a rematch, while the Soviet Union soon had its hands full repelling the horrific Nazi invasion, which would ultimately cost the lives of 20 million Soviet civilians and seven million military personnel. Finally, in October 1944, Stalin told Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that he would only commit the Red Army to fight the Japanese three months after the defeat of Nazi Germany—and only then if he was given the ships to do so. Though the Soviet Navy executed smaller-scale amphibious operations in Arctic, Baltic and Crimean Seas throughout World War II, their land power never developed the massive and specialized amphibious landing capabilities of the Western Allies. Not only did Soviet ships lack cutting-edge technologies, but they were mostly deployed on the Atlantic-facing side of Russia for the anti-Nazi struggle. If the United States wanted Soviet assistance for an invasion of Japan, it not only needed to pitch in the ships to pull it off, but it would have to train Soviet sailors how to operate them. What happened next is detailed by Richard Russell in his study “Project Hula: Secret Soviet-American Cooperation in the War Against Japan.” In February 1945, Washington and Moscow agreed to arrange a transfer of vessels in Cold Bay, Alaska because the site harbored the abandoned Army base of Fort Randall and had no civilian population. Because the Soviets remained officially neutral, it was essential that the naval buildup, codenamed Project Hula, remain secret. In the end a transfer of 180 ships was approved. The most capable were thirty 1,415-ton Tacoma-class patrol frigates optimized for anti-submarine operations, with three 3-inch guns and multiple flak cannons and depth charge projectors. These were supplemented by thirty-four similarly-armed Admirable-class minesweepers that were under half the displacement. There were also ninety-two smaller submarine chasers and wooden-hulled auxiliary motor torpedo boats s as well as four hulking floating workshops to administer repairs at sea. However, the most important donation consisted of thirty Landing Craft Infantry (Large), equipped with ramps that could discharge over 200 soldiers onto a beachhead. In March, a Soviet Navy delegation arrived in Cold Bay to hash out the training program with U.S. Navy staff of 1,350 led by Captain William Maxwell, a genially-mannered veteran battleship officer. The Russians favored hands-on training at sea while the Americans had more classroom instruction in mind, but in the end both sides reached a compromise. The first five Soviet ships arrived from April 10 through 14 bearing more than 2,358 Soviet sailors and their commander, Rear Admiral Boris Popov, a former destroyer officer. They were trained over the subsequent weeks while the U.S. vessels filtered into Cold Bay, many necessitating repairs due to shoddy upkeep and difficult Arctic waters. Predictably, language barriers proved a major challenge, particularly for explaining sonar and radar technology the Soviets were largely unfamiliar with. English-language training manuals had to be rapidly translated and prodigal Soviet students were retained to train subsequent cohorts. The Americans and Soviets by all accounts got along well though, and the latter reportedly loved shooting the deck guns. Despite linguistic challenges and breakdown-prone sub chasers, starting May 17 a steady stream of ships was decommissioned from U.S. Navy service in special ceremonies and sent to the Soviet Union with trained crews. By July 31, over 100 vessels had arrived at the port of Petropavlovsk. Eight days later, on August 8—three months to the day after the surrender of Nazi Germany—the Red Army’s mechanized juggernaut rolled into action against the hopelessly outgunned Japanese Kwangtung Army in Manchuria. Even as Project Hula continued, the Soviet Navy put its newly acquired vessels to use in the waters adjacent Japan and Russia. Their targets were two parallel island chains that led like stepping stone to the Japanese home island of Hokkaido: the huge Sakhalin island, which ran parallel to the Russian coastline and was split between Japanese and Soviet control, and the Kuril island chain running from the Russian Kamchatka peninsula to the Japanese home island of Hokkaido. Soviet ground forces in North Sakhalin began their invasion of the southern half of the island on August 11. On August 15, Japanese forces were ordered to cease resistance and the Soviet Navy began a series of amphibious landings starting on the 16. However, the Japanese garrison continued to fight back, and so the landing sustained casualties seizing the coastal ports of Toro and Maoka after the official surrender. The assault on the Kuril Islands, begun at dawn on September 18, proved even messier. Sixteen Project Hula LCIs were deployed to land Soviet marines on Takeda Beach of Shumshu island. However, coastal batteries on Cape Kokutan sank five of the LCIs, leaving the marines stranded without their radios or heavy weapons. The beachhead was nearly overrun by counter-attacking Japanese armor, though Soviet air support, anti-tank rifles and naval gunfire ultimately defeated the lightly armored Type 94 and 97 tanks. After several days, the Japanese garrison finally adhered the surrender order, and Soviet naval forces began securing the remainder of the Kurils. Project Hula was only terminated on September 4, two days after the official Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri, having trained 12,000 Soviet sailors and transferred 149 ships into Soviet hands. Four months later, the U.S. Navy began demanding the return of the ships. However, a little thing called the Cold War had by then begun to gum up U.S.-Soviet cooperation. Twenty-seven of the patrol frigates were finally returned in October 1949, minus one which had run aground. Fifteen of the twenty-five surviving Landing Craft wouldn’t follow until 1955. By then the vessels were in such poor condition the U.S. Navy didn’t even wish to incur the expense of scrapping them, so the remaining ninety vessels were scuttled or sold for scrap back to the Soviets. Though Soviet military leaders briefly considered landing troops on the home island of Hokkaido, thirty LCIs would have proven inadequate for all but a token Soviet presence. Besides, some considered that a Soviet presence on the home islands had by then been ruled out at the Yalta Conference. However, the amphibious craft did enable the landing on the Kuril Islands, reshaping international boundaries. Japan still maintains the Kurils are part of its northern territories in a dispute with Russia that continues to this day. Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This piece was originally featured in September 2018 and is being republished due to reader's interest. Image: Reuters

Выбор редакции
25 февраля, 00:07

Bernie Sanders Won't Speak at AIPAC. Could That Hurt His Presidential Quest?

  • 0

Hunter DeRensis Politics, “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference,” tweeted Sanders. Yesterday, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, announced he would not speak at next week’s annual conference hosted by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The vigor of the rejection invoked criticism by the lobby and its allies. If elected, Sanders would be the first Jewish president in U.S. history. “The Israeli people have the right to live in peace and security. So do the Palestinian people. I remain concerned about the platform AIPAC provides for leaders who express bigotry and oppose basic Palestinian rights. For that reason I will not attend their conference,” tweeted Sanders, who lived on an Israeli Kibbutz for several months in 1963. “As president, I will support the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians and do everything possible to bring peace and security to the region.” The committee’s response was immediate. “Senator Sanders has never attended our conference and that is evident from his outrageous comment,” they said, describing their coalition as intersectional and diverse with different political, racial, and religious backgrounds. “By engaging in such an odious attack on the mainstream, bipartisan American political event, Senator Sanders is insulting his very own colleagues and the millions of Americans who stand with Israel. Truly shameful.” AIPAC’s predecessor was the American Zionist Council, of which the committee was an unincorporated lobbying arm. In November 1962, the Department of Justice ordered the AZC to register itself under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938. Two months later, in January 1963, AIPAC officially incorporated itself and took over the duties of the AZC. It has never been requested to register itself as an agent of a foreign power. An increasing number of Democratic activists and politicians have rebuked the influence that AIPAC has over members of Congress and U.S. policy in the Middle East. In February 2019, freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) came under a firestorm of criticism for saying that AIPAC was using money to buy politician’s support for Israel. In actuality, AIPAC acts as a middleman, recommending pro-Israel donors to approved political action committees, without handling the money itself. Omar was condemned by both Republican and Democratic members of congress for “antisemitism,” and in August 2019 was told she would not be permitted to visit Israel. Omar endorsed Bernie Sanders for president in October 2019. Sanders has been open in his complaints about Israeli policy, especially the behavior of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party. Since the inauguration of President Donald Trump in 2017, Netanyahu has seen multiple political goals fulfilled, including the movement of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, U.S. recognition of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights from Israel, and U.S. recognition of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Under international law, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the West Bank are recognized as under illegal military occupation by a foreign power. For criticizing Israeli policies and being connected to Omar and other figures such as activist Linda Sarsour, Sanders has been tarred by some in the media as antisemitic himself, despite his own Jewish heritage. Hunter DeRensis is senior reporter for the National Interest. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis. Image: Reuters.