March 23, 2018
Greetings Fellow Citizens,
As War Clouds Gather
We all must find it in our brains and in our hearts to support President Trump’s signing of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill. The Bill restores America’s deteriorated Military in a way that will send a signal to bad actors out there who are sharpening their swords at this very moment. North Korea and Iran, pawns of Russia and China are themselves swiftly fashioning their swords. And all those swords have or will shortly have nuclear tips.
Each day that passes further deteriorates our military. Each day our current weaknesses embolden our enemies, adversaries and friends to resist compelling North Korea to abandon her nuclear force. Each day inches Iran that much closer to a nuclear bomb with a delivery system capable of hitting Israel, Europe, and yes, the United States homeland.
Make no mistake about it. Our arsenal and especially its neglect for longer than a decade (see article below on “America’s Alarmingly Archaic Arsenal” by Mark Helprin) guarantees that we will not be taken seriously even as we put economic sanctions in place. Soft power unsupported by hard power is easily disregarded.
The enemy knows the stakes are high. Do we?
This Bill restores our Military to the credible force it needs to be to ensure the peace and move the process forward. Its costs amount to nearly half of the total expenditures of the Bill but the critics only mention the 1.3 trillion total.
Reagan and Lincoln understood that national survival trumps fiscal conservatism when the two principles starkly counterposed.
Last week Trump removed Tillerson as Secretary of State and replaced him with Pompeo of the CIA. Yesterday McMaster resigned as National Security Advisor and replaced him with the experienced and skillful hawk, (former) Ambassador John Bolton.
Does anyone not believe we are moving towards an epoch confrontation on the two fronts of North Korea and Iran? If you doubt this, you are asleep.
Trump is systematically putting the right team in place to face these challenges. This team is now in place for what may be dark days ahead. It would have been dangerous to proceed with equivocators who were not on the same page with him.
We are not privy to the war council’s deliberations but one can feel that many options, including military options, are in the works and appropriately not being spoken about publicly.
Big Wake-Up Call
It took Trump a year to get the right team in place. Why? He is an outsider and had to rely the advice of Establishment figures who of course overwhelmingly suggested Establishment figures to fill key cabinet positions He wisely bided his time and went along to a degree. Now, he has stepped forward with great confidence in his new choices.
He is on a similar learning curve regarding Congressional Establishment figures. We must remember Congress got him the Tax Bill. Naturally Trump gave them more slack because they delivered on the centerpiece of his domestic agenda.
The Omnibus Bill, in contrast, reveals the inglorious Congressional Establishment in full swamp regalia. The Bill is a monstrosity of business-as-usual or, worse, as an attempt to embarrass Trump and drive a wedge between him and his supporters. This is a wake-up call for Trump to see the dangers of relying on these advisors.
My sense is that Trump saw that the whisperings in his ear from Ryan and McConnell were designed to lead him down the rosy path of supporting a deeply flawed Bill (not counting the military spending and a few other items).
The Democrats were handed big chunks of their agenda as the price for the restoration of the military. Trump’s promise to never sign such a Bill again and his call for an end to the filibuster and his criticisms of the “bad” and “wasteful” parts of the Bill suggest he is drawing the appropriate lessons not, as some have said, he has caved.
The filibuster, cherished by McConnell, prevents separate Bills short enough to read and evaluate from being voted upon. It compels last minute omnibus Bills that further the aims of Big Government. The filibuster is not in the Constitution and prevents majority votes from prevailing.
It will also be abolished – you can be sure – the next time the Democrats become the majority. The filibuster was designed for use in rare instances in national emergencies and is now invoked for everything. Truly an abuse. It must be abolished. And the sooner the better. The responsible functioning of government is at stake.
Trump’s Base is Shaken
Today’s signing has not put a dent in my support for Trump. Yet, I also believe it is a good thing that critics on the right are going after the Bill and even raising questions of Trump’s judgement. Pressure from the grass roots help keep him in line and help educate him on all fronts is essential. Finally, in a democracy all these forces play a part in determining the final outcome. If criticism were absent, that would be of no help in reforming our institutions.
The abolitionists were a bothersome lot to Lincoln who had a long term view and strategy. Nevertheless, they represented an ongoing pressure essential to ending slavery. In the end, even Frederick Douglas payed Lincoln homage and Lincoln returned it in kind.
It is possible to criticize what deserves to be criticized and still support the general Trump project which has already accomplished so much. At this point, the only mistake Trump’s base can make is abandoning him and giving the Establishment the victory it wants.
When the Chicago Cubs were down 3-1 (best of 7) in the World Series two years ago, a fan saw me looking a little glum. He leaned forward and whispered “There’s still a lot of baseball left.”
America’s Alarmingly Archaic Arsenal
The Trump administration’s recently unveiled National Security Strategy is an excellent and overdue statement of intent. But unless it is ruthlessly prioritized, political and budgetary realities will make it little more than a wish list. And in regard to nuclear weapons, it hardly departs from the insufficient Obama-era policy of replacing old equipment rather than modifying each element of the nuclear triad to meet new challenges.
National survival depends on many factors: the economy, civil peace, constitutional fidelity, education, research, and military strength across the board. Each has a different timeline and resiliency. Nuclear forces, on the other hand, may have a catastrophically short timeline combined with by far the greatest immediate effect.
Alone of all crucial elements, the failure of America’s nuclear deterrent is capable of bringing instant destruction or unavoidable subjugation, as the deterrent’s unarrested decline will lead to either the opportunity for an enemy first strike or the surrender of the U.S. on every foreign front and eventually at home.
Believers in total nuclear abolition fail to recognize that if they are successful, covert possession of just a score of warheads could mean world mastery. And though they, like everyone else, are routinely deterred (from telling off the boss or driving against the flow of traffic), they fail to extend their understanding to nuclear deterrence. They seem as well not to grasp that whereas numerical reduction from tens of thousands of warheads would reduce the chances of accident, below a certain point it would tempt an aggressor by elevating the potential of a successful first strike. Nor do they allow that Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran — which have through their conduct of war and in suppressing their populations callously sacrificed more than 100 million of their own people — subscribe to permissive nuclear doctrines and thresholds radically different from our own.
The Obama administration understood nuclear rejuvenation to mean merely updating old systems rather than changing the architecture of the deterrent to match Russia’s and China’s programs, as well as advances in technology. Given that short of abject surrender the sole means of preventing nuclear war is maintaining the potential to inflict unacceptable damage upon an enemy and/or shield one’s country from such damage, what are our resources, and against what are they arrayed?
The “nuclear triad” commonly referred to is rather a pentad, its land, air, and sea legs joined by missile defense and the survivability of national infrastructure. America’s land leg comprises static, silo-based missiles, which (other than in the potentially catastrophic launch-on-warning posture) are vulnerable not only to nuclear strike, but, with soon-to-come millimeter accuracy, even to conventional warheads. Russia, China, and North Korea have road-mobile missiles (and Russia, additional rail-based ones), making their land legs more survivable and in the case of tunnel systems — of which we have none and China has 3,000 miles — unaddressable and uncountable.
The U.S. air leg consists of ancient bombers and outdated standoff cruise missiles, both vulnerable to Russian and Chinese air defense, along with only 20 penetrating bombers, the B-2. To boot, the planes are concentrated on only a handful of insufficiently hardened bases.
Our sea-based nuclear force, the least-vulnerable leg, for many years included 41 ballistic-missile submarines, SSBNs. These dwindled to 18, then 14, and, with the new Columbia class set to enter service beginning only in 2031, a planned 12. A maximum of six at sea at any one time will face 100 Russian and Chinese hunter-killer subs. At the same time, the oceans are surrendering their opacity to space surveillance and Russian nonacoustic tracking. Even a deeply running sub disturbs the chemical and sea-life balance in ways that via upwelling leave a track upon the surface.
Russia is moving to 13 SSBNs with high-capacity missiles that carry many maneuverable warheads; China, with 4 SSBNs, is only beginning to build. A possible new dimension is Russia’s announced, but as yet unseen, autonomous stealth undersea nuclear vehicle, capable of targeting the high percentage of U.S. population, industry, and infrastructure on the coasts. We have no such weapon and Russia presents no similar vulnerability.
American ballistic-missile defense is severely underdeveloped due to ideological opposition and the misunderstanding of its purpose, which is to protect population and infrastructure as much as possible but, because many warheads will get through, primarily to shield retaliatory capacity so as to make a successful enemy first strike impossible — thus increasing stability rather than decreasing it, as its critics wrongly believe. Starved of money and innovation, missile defense has been confined to midcourse interception, when boost-phase and terminal intercept are also needed. Merely intending this without sufficient funding is useless. As for national resilience, the U.S. long ago gave up any form of civil defense, while Russia and China have not. This reinforces their ideas of nuclear utility, weakens our deterrence, and makes the nuclear calculus that much more unstable.
Beyond these particulars are the erosion of the American nuclear-weapons complex and the larger defense-industrial base; the dangerous mismatch of nuclear doctrines and perceptions; the sulfurous fuse of North Korea and Iran; Russian “tactical” nuclear weapons that outnumber U.S. counterparts 10 to 1; Russian programs suggesting that it is working toward the capacity for nuclear “breakout”; 2,600 currently deployed Russian strategic warheads as opposed to America’s 1,590; and consistent and brazen Russian treaty violations.
The addition of China as a major nuclear power now presents an analogy to the three-body problem in physics, in which three variables acting upon one another create an unpredictable and unstable system. That is but one reason why China must either be brought into an arms-control regime with the U.S. and Russia or forced by its refusal to show its hand for all the world to see. It is inexplicable that the U.S. government and arms-control enthusiasts have both failed to address the fact that China, the third major nuclear power, is totally unconstrained.
All the above is only a precis of a long-developing peril that, though difficult to see upon the surface, day by day strengthens the chances of Armageddon or capitulation. The only way to face it is objectively and without fear, and the only solution (requiring just a tiny fraction of gross domestic product) is to correct the shortcomings and right the balances.
America’s powerful deterrent has kept the nuclear peace all these years. If it withers, it will keep the peace no longer. The nuclear problem has no adequate superlatives. As great as all other concerns may be, they must yield to it. For the force to be confronted is the breaker of nations and the destroyer of worlds.
The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4, 2018
Soften the Tone and Harden Our Defenses
The North Korean nuclear crisis can be defused peacefully and to America’s advantage if its elements are perceived with strategic clarity, and if U.S. leaders recognize that diplomacy depends less upon signals than upon maneuver.Kim Jong Un is not entirely irrational. The purpose of his nuclear program is not to court annihilation but to deter American military options on the Korean Peninsula and change the correlation of forces in his favor.
North Korea created chemical and biological arsenals that effectively neutralized American tactical nuclear weapons and led to their withdrawal. What we see now is an amplification of that strategy, with the object of eventually driving American forces from Korea.It is extremely unlikely that Mr. Kim would strike, if at all, before his nuclear forces have matured in numbers and reliability. Relatively few of his delivery systems or miniaturized warheads have been extensively tested. Nor have they been proven to work together. And the U.S. and Japan have multiple layers of midcourse and terminal-phase missile defenses.
Thus, time remains to set in motion options on the escalation ladder between the fatal extremes of either doing nothing or taking precipitous military action. The problem is that these opportunities have not been exploited, the focus having been too much on Pyongyang rather than on Beijing, which can both completely shut down the North Korean economy and credibly threaten military intervention.To the extent that China is shifting, it is because it fears a war on its border, understands what such a war would do to its own and the world’s economy, fears even more that Japan and South Korea might develop nuclear deterrents, and sees that its nuclear calculus has been disrupted by the Thaad radar’s ability to enhance American missile defense via forwarding data on Chinese missile launches in boost phase.But this is not enough.
As the late U.S. ambassador to China James Lilley said: “You won’t get anything from them unless you squeeze them.” In view of America’s disappearing red lines, repeated nuclear capitulations to North Korea and Iran, the largely substanceless “pivot” to Asia, and our passivity in the South China Sea, China will wait to see if we fold.To date, the Trump administration has failed to apply the kind of intermediate measures on the escalation ladder that are outlined below. It needs to understand that China is watching and waiting, and that absent either overwhelming military superiority or a vast store of credibility — neither of which we now possess — a diplomacy primarily of signals will not produce results. In addition, the Trump administration may think that Pyongyang is too important for Beijing to “abandon.” True, North Korea serves as a “fleet in being” for China, tying down U.S. forces and ready to supply another front to divide them in case of war elsewhere, but now conditions are sufficiently dangerous and different that China can be stimulated to reassess.
That is, if the U.S. takes previously neglected measures to respond to China’s military rise, protect our Asian allies, and guard international waters from maritime irredentism.
The president can switch from tough-guy talk to going before a joint session of Congress to ask for an emergency increase in funding to correct the longstanding degradation of American military power. He can say that the can has been kicked down the road far too long, and the buck stops with him. If Congress responds enthusiastically, as it should, China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran will see that the giant has awakened, and the funding will make possible what follows:
— Given the immense distances across the Pacific, American conventional military leverage and deterrence vis-a-vis China depend entirely upon bases in South Korea, Japan, and Guam. These bases are insufficiently hardened against attack by China’s many intermediate-range ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and bombers. Munitions bunkers and aircraft are ranged in tight rows rather than scattered in deep, underground, highly fortified shelters. Given the wingspans and tail heights of B-52s and C-17s, these would be immensely expensive, but war is much more so in every respect.
— Now that the U.S. may soon be threatened by a rogue regime’s ICBMs, a vigorous acceleration of every aspect of ballistic-missile defense is warranted. This will protect against Iran and North Korea, promote uncertainty and hesitation in mature powers’ calculation of their nuclear thresholds, and reduce the chances of a first strike against the U.S. by protecting its retaliatory capacities.
— The F-22 — slated for 750 copies but reduced to 187; much faster than the F-35, with almost twice the range and more than twice the armament — is essential in the vast expanses of the Western Pacific. But it was taken out of production not that long ago when the Obama administration believed that security situations such as we now face were inconceivable. Restoring production lines, at a cost of one-tenth the AIG bailout, would exert priceless influence upon China.
— Nothing would rivet China’s attention more than if the U.S. formally announced that absent the abolition of North Korea’s nuclear capacity it would look with favor upon and assist with a Japanese and/or South Korean nuclear deterrent, and then established a commission for this purpose. So as to de-link North Korea from the South China Sea, the U.S. should at this point make clear to China that it is weighing supply of coastal anti-shipping missiles to the Philippines and Vietnam. Establishing such a gauntlet to preserve sovereign rights and freedom of navigation is long overdue.
These maneuvers well short of war can rebalance power, instill caution, and stabilize the increasingly volatile Western Pacific, as well as contribute to stability elsewhere. A cost-benefit analysis objectively applied will so depress the value to China of a rogue North Korea that China should find common ground with us in coordinating action and point of view. The choice need not be between capitulation and war, silence and bluster. But only if the United States decides upon carrying a bigger stick and speaking more softly.
This article appeared in The Wall Street Journal, August 16, 2017.