Friday News Roundup — December 10, 2021
Remembering Bob Dole; Biden & Putin’s Videocall; NDAA Focuses on China Competition; Beijing 2022 & Corporate Responsibility
Friday greetings from Washington, D.C., where today we remember the legacy and service of Senator Robert Dole. Dan further reflects on his leadership in today’s roundup, but our thoughts and prayers are with his family, including Secretary Elizabeth Dole, as his funeral service takes place at the Washington National Cathedral today.
Checking in on Congress’s end of year to-do list, a deal to address the debt ceiling means that a potential political showdown will not beget a political crisis. While some will accuse Minority Leader McConnell of “blinking,” we avoid gamesmanship with the full faith and credit of the United States. The NDAA is moving ahead, as has the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act. Uncertainty surrounds the status of BBB. In one corner is Majority Leader Schumer pushing for passage before the holidays. In the other: Joe Manchin, the CBO, the parliamentarian, and this morning’s CPI report of 6.8% inflation.
This week Mike Rogers Center director, Joshua C. Huminski, suggested that analysts and policymakers go back to first principles on what we know and don’t know when it comes to Russia and Ukraine in a Hill op-ed. He also suggested, in a separate op-ed, that Washington needs to come to grips with the fact that American exceptionalism isn’t what it once was, and assuming that it is will, in turn, lead to continued policy failures.
For the Diplomatic Courier, Joshua reviewed Anna Borshchevskaya’s “Putin’s War in Syria” a deep-dive into Russia’s military, diplomatic, and political intervention in support of Bashar al-Assad, and what the Kremlin’s involvement means for America’s interest in the region.
Ethan wrote in The Hill on how U.S. forces need to better prepare for the electronic battlefield, a challenge they have not faced in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations.
CSPC Presidential Fellow alumnus Mason Goad, now a graduate student at George Mason University, wrote in The Cipher Brief of the need to better understand the technical standards behind some of our most secure facilities.
In addition to Dan’s reflection on the life and service of Senator Dole, Joshua looks at the developments as Biden and Putin spoke this week to lower the temperature around Ukraine. Ethan looks further at the NDAA agreement and measures focused on China competition. Robert looks at how companies are dealing with controversies in China, especially with the Olympics looming. As always, we wrap with news you may have missed.
Bob Dole: The Greatest Generation Leader
80 years after Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into World War II, fewer and fewer of the veterans of that conflict remain. Thanks to Tom Brokaw’s appellation, this “greatest generation” was defined by service to our country — and perhaps no political leader epitomized that generation and its legacy like Bob Dole.
From his Depression-era boyhood in Kansas to the halls of power and the presidential campaign trail, Bob Dole’s life was marked by not only his determination, grit, and perseverance but also his graciousness, kind heartedness, and sense of humor. Grievously wounded on the Italian front during World War II, his wounds and disability would remain a physical testament to his sacrifice for his country — enough sacrifice for any one life — yet his leadership in politics and public service were a testament to his love of country.
A savvy and charismatic politician, armed with subtle midwestern charm and a dry sense of humor, Dole was a committed partisan and conservative. Yet, he also understood that compromise and consensus were needed in American politics. He was a critic of LBJ and an ardent supporter of Nixon during Vietnam and Watergate, yet supported the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. A firm believer in fiscal responsibility, he would work across the aisle with George McGovern to expand access to food stamps.
During his tenure in the Senate and as Minority and Majority Leader, he would work with the White House and with Democrats across the aisle on major legislative packages. In the Reagan administration, he would help with the passage of historic tax cuts, yet lead when necessary to raise taxes a few years later to shore up the nation’s coffers. His leadership helped with immigration and social security reforms of the Reagan administration. while also shepherding the Clean Air Act and Americans with Disabilities Act.
While he had unsuccessfully sought the vice presidency and presidency in the 1976 election and subsequent GOP primaries, in 1996 he gained the GOP nomination to run, unsuccessfully, against incumbent President Bill Clinton. At this point in Senator Dole’s career, the GOP was increasingly led by figures like Newt Gingrich, and compromise had become a dirty word in Washington politics. While Dole had blocked the Clinton health care plan, he increasingly had concerns over the government shutdown of 1995–96. In losing to Clinton, Dole became the only politician in U.S. history to lose both the vice presidency and presidency in a general election. While Dole could have retreated from public life, or become embittered or partisan — he met his defeat with grace and good humor, continuing his public service advocating for veterans and the disabled.
Dole’s sense of humor reflected both his spirit, as well as his ability to disarm an opponent with a dry remark. When Dole lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda this week, Majority Leader McConnell recounted when Dole was asked about managing the Senate as majority leader. Dole’s said, “if I’d known we were going to win control of the Senate, we would’ve run better candidates!” The day after he lost to Clinton, he appeared on the David Letterman show. When asked by the comedian what he’d been doing lately, Dole’s reply, “apparently, not enough.” Later in 1997, when he accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Clinton in a White House ceremony, he began his remarks “I, Robert J. Dole, do solemnly swear…oops, wrong speech!”
His humor — Dole would say “irreverence is in my blood” — as well as his sense of leadership and service were also defined by sacrifice. That was a trait he shared with many of his fellow members of the Greatest Generation. Having dealt with the deprivations of the Depression, they knew America had to not only get back to work and prosperity but also be built stronger for future generations. From Dole’s foxhole in Italy to the atolls of the Pacific, the Americans of that generation knew the country came first. In trenches, tanks, ships, and planes, they did not care whether their comrades-in-arms were Democrats or Republicans. Dole would reflect that ethos in his life, perhaps most notably in his friendship with Hawaii Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye. They met recuperating from war wounds, and their friendship would span politics to the unforgettable scene of Dole rising to salute Inouye’s casket in the rotunda.
As we remember the life of Senator Dole, there is much we can learn and emulate from his example and the legacy of the generation he embodied.
The Biden & Putin Call During Rising Tensions over Ukraine
Joshua C. Huminski
On Tuesday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and President Joseph Biden held a secure video call to discuss the ongoing and rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine. That the call was held is to be welcomed, but despite the analytical debates and political posturing, not much is definitively known about Russia’s intentions towards Ukraine as it relates to this recent build-up. Moreover, America has few tools with which to dissuade Moscow’s actions, but discussion is nonetheless to be welcomed.
The White House’s read out of the call noted that “President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.”
Biden said that putting additional U.S. troops on-the-ground in Ukraine is not an option, but warned that “if in fact he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences, economic consequences like ones he’s never seen.” What this fully entails has not been fully elaborated, but some have speculated that the United States could cut off Russia from the global financial system via the SWIFT network and, possibly, de-certifying or suspending the operationalization of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. While both are certainly options, the former would likely affect Russia as a whole more than the Putin regime and the latter would require the heavy lifting of getting Germany onside with the United States. Both situations are certainly plausible, especially if Moscow decides to move against Ukraine. Nonetheless, the fact that both SWIFT and Nord Stream 2 are on the table indicates the extent to which the administration is taking the present crisis seriously–neither were really options when Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014.
By contrast, the Kremlin’s readout stated, “Joseph Biden, in turn, focused on what he described as “threatening” movements of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border and outlined the sanctions the United States and its allies would be ready to impose should the situation escalate any further.” It is fair to say that mobilizing tens of thousands of forces on a neighbors borders, from whom you’ve already illegally annexed territory and against whom you’re waging a proxy war is decidedly “threatening” behavior.
The Kremlin added, “Vladimir Putin warned against shifting the responsibility on Russia, since it was NATO that was undertaking dangerous attempts to gain a foothold on Ukrainian territory, and building up its military capabilities along the Russian border. It is for this reason that Russia is eager to obtain reliable, legally binding guaranties ruling out the eventuality of NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive weapons systems in the countries neighbouring Russia.”
As of late, this is the most central feature of Putin’s, at least public, concerns — the enlargement of NATO and Ukraine’s relationship to the politico-military organization. Russia had previously stated its red line was on Ukraine joining NATO, but the line, for reasons that remain unclear, has moved, and seems not to suggest any engagement with the Brussels-based alliance.
Some analysts have suggested that the call in and of itself was an objective for Putin. While there may be some merit to having Russia’s interests, concerns, and views heard at the highest levels, such brinksmanship is considerable overkill for what is typically the normal course of diplomatic business. To be sure it could be an element of the calculus — getting Washington’s attention at a time when it is keen to pivot towards Asia, this is insufficient of a reason for the recent military build-up.
The reality is we do not and cannot know for sure what the reason for the military build-up is at the moment. This is not to say that Washington and Brussels cannot plan or prepare accordingly, or that it should do nothing, but merely that the majority of analysis and punditry out there is massive speculation (this piece included).
At the moment, there is not even an agreement on the size and scale of Russia’s build-up, or what will come next. Anonymous sources suggest that it could be upwards of 175,000 troops by the Spring of next year, and only between 74,000 and 90,000 at the moment. Other analysis suggests that this present build-up is actually smaller than the earlier force deployment in 2021 and 2020. It is also unlikely — though not impossible — that the Russians would move against Ukraine in the next two or three months. This delay is due, if nothing else, to the approaching winter and its associated weather, which would severely hamper operations and maneuvers.
While it is likely that Russia would defeat Ukraine’s forces, it would not be as easy of a prospect as in years past. The Ukrainian military has upgraded its capabilities, and the fait accompli that Crimea represented was unique to local conditions and considerations. Yet, a battlefield victory will not translate into ultimate victory. Neither a costly war for Ukraine with considerable Russian casualties will not be popular with the Russian people nor would a long-term drawn out insurgency. Putin, in the event he decided to launch an operation against Ukraine may well win the war, but lose the domestic popular opinion in the longer term.
Regardless of the analytical debates and political posturing by the White House and the Kremlin, that Putin and Biden are speaking, and Biden is engaging with Ukraine’s president, is to be welcomed. As Churchill once said “jaw-jaw, is better than war-war.”
Centerstage for the revised National Defense Authorization Act: China
It’s not typical for my space here to cover a single topic sequentially, but as I covered the various components at stake in the congressional haggling over the National Defense Authorization Act last week, more clarity came this week over the final version of the bill with one focus: countering China.
The bill, which removed components such as selective service obligations for women as well as compromise language on military justice reform (sexual assault), passed in the house by a vote of 363–70, with 19 Republicans and 51 Democrats comprising the ‘nays’. What is included in the bill, expressed in more detail to follow, is a top line that adds $25 billion to the Senate’s revision-clad proposal of $768 billion. The wavetops, or negotiated line items of note added under the increase, were pushed hard by GOP members and spearheaded in committee negotiations by the House Armed Services Committee top Republican Mike Rogers (the other Mike Rogers); these include an additional F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets (12 added), five additional F-15EX Strike Eagles, and an additional 13 vessels to be added to the Navy’s growing fleet inventory.
As noted in the opening, this bill is circling the figurative and literal National Defense wagons around competition with Beijing, dialed into the Pacific region while keeping its modernization soul intact. Part of the compromised revisions to the bill are spotlighted by an additional $2.1 billion to the Pentagons Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI), a special fund directly appropriated and allocated to the INDO-PACOM theater after its initial inclusion in last years NDAA, this brings the total PDI budget to a whopping $7.1 billion, astronomical compared to the higher headquarters reallocation of congressional funds to typical geographic combatant commands.
The PDI prioritizes fleet and technology for the Pacific theater, chiefly, “acceleration options” for autonomous and remote-piloted systems, and divesting older technology to free up space for incoming deterrence inventory items. Lawmakers initially decried the Pentagon first PDI funded request as being “improperly focused”, further adding that the first DoD proposal was overly platform-focused, instead of improving the “joint posture and enabling capabilities necessary to enhance deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region”. Long range offensive fires, hypersonics and intelligent surface munitions among them, are a significant part of the PDI as set forth in the Acquisitions memo posted by Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks earlier this year.
The bill also includes $28.2 billion for the Department of Energy, a unique footnote on the topic of legislation to fund and vector the military. What is included in that extra sum is the ability to improve and harden nuclear deterrence and nuclear detection initiatives, which, for all intents and purposes, is now wedded to the vast area of responsibility that missile defense must cover — the launch of any strategic weapon that could affect the United States or allies. Energy and Defense are not typically considered as bedfellows, but positive signs are manifesting across the megalithic federal government bodies that all hands on deck are pivoting to Beijing and countering it’s ambitions (for goodness sake, please do try to register for next week’s Elbridge Colby event on that very topic).
In major geotech news (keep an eye out for the Center’s forthcoming Geotech report soon), the passage of the NDAA retains Senate provisions that include $52 billion for U.S. semiconductor manufacturing, which of course now returns to the Senate chambers for affirmation. Of additional note in the bill’s language, is a provision to strengthen the U.S. semiconductor supply chain by “requiring the DoD to establish a national network for microelectronics research and development, further requiring the defense department to brief congress at interval on the establishment of such a safeguard”. Further, the House’s bill expands a panoply of cyber initiatives, including removal of duplicative IT contracts, implementing a full-sweep zero trust strategy for defense information networks, streamlining congressional reporting by the Pentagon’s principal cyber advisor, and a DoD mandate to assess the impact of the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) program for small businesses, improving the cybersecurity of the defense industrial base.
The U.S. Air Force achieved some of its stated ambitions by congress authorizing the retirement of most of its downsizing targets — but not, however, the vaunted A-10 Close Air Support attack aircraft. While the old iron piece remains unparalleled in the history of close air support to ground troops and sentimental in the extreme, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is among those air power leaders who sees the nostalgic warthog as an “anchor holding back the Air Force”. The Secretary is focused on readying the world’s greatest Air Force for countering China. The sad reality (painfully so for me, whose hide was saved many times by the 30mm expertly placed on the deck by those Hawg drivers when I needed it most) is the A-10 has functionally zero roles in a major conflict with China. Ranges, avionics, to say nothing of its massive radar signature, would make the flying CAS tanks easy pickings for anything within China’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) architecture.
Thus, the warthog is simply not fit for the Air Force’s future. The future of the air inventory must be prepared to fight in denied domains, not in dominated battle spaces without threat of interdiction or counter-air like legacy systems have enjoyed in Afghanistan. Rather, the funds that would have gone to the F-35 expansion remained tied up in the A-10 for at least one more year, but the curtain is closing on that platform. The retirement of a variety of legacy platforms including outdated aerial refueling craft (long-since replaced by newer fleets and the portending rise of Remote-Piloted Fueling craft) mean that plenty of allocation will still beef up the services’ demands for more fifth-generation aircraft, this hold in the A-10 merely delays the inevitable.
Politics never serving an aside, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.), awaiting the chance to review the new House proposal, stated that the compromised military justice reform language remains comprehensive, “the most significant [changes] in decades”, while also pointing to the bill’s 2.7% increase in military wages, a near-unanimous provision across the aisle of congressional parties. Despite the angst with certain priority items failing to survive the HASC goal line, congressional leaders tout the bill’s emphasis on China as both forward-leaning and comprehensive. Congressman Mike Rogers of Alabama said that the bill “begins divesting legacy systems that will not help us deter future threats. Instead, it invests in new technologies like Artificial Intelligence, hypersonics, and quantum computing that will help us stay ahead of our adversaries”.
It’s all-China for the topline on this version of the defense bill. In other notable legislative haunts related to Chinese efforts, and apropos considering the ongoing China emphasis, efforts to address a sensitive global issue are gaining traction in congress. That issue being the Uyghur Forced-Labor Legislation, which bans the imports of all products sourced from the Xinjiang region — home of the predominantly-Muslim Uyghur population. The Chinese genocide and repression of the Uyghur’s is well known, documented, and a key point in the global attention paid to China in all its parts. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) attempted to add the bill as a provision in the Senate’s NDAA pitch to the House, but was ultimately ousted from the bill entirely. Despite the provision escaping NDAA inclusion, late on Thursday, the House separately passed the bill by a mark of 428–1, and the Senate has already made good on its commitment to this endeavor, having passed the original draft under the paradigm established in the 1930 Tariff Act regarding goods produced under forced labor.
Strangely, there appears to be some pushback on the bill’s passage coming from the White House, although spokespersons have denied that any resistance comes from the primary Biden team. That this was important enough to be included in the defense bill speaks volumes, and remains one more component of the U.S. focus on countering China in the coming years. As of now, the standalone bill is expected to arrive at the White House in the coming weeks for the President’s signature.
Time is running out on passing the full defense bill in 2021 however, with House members departing this Friday, leaving the Senate body only a few days before its recess to get the bill onto President Biden’s desk. At some point soon the bill will pass, but this latest version gaining momentum showcases a serious shift in the defense priorities going forward.
The Diplomatic Boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics and Corporate Responsibility
Six months ago, the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China asked seven corporate sponsors of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics if they would comment on the PRC’s human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Only one company that appeared at the hearing was willing to speak: the representative from Intel said he believed that the findings of the U.S. government reporting on genocide in Xinjiang were likely true.
This week, President Biden announced a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympics over the PRC’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and other human rights abuses.” The UK, Australia, and Canada announced similar moves. The PRC reacted to the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics by proclaiming “the winter Olympic games is not a stage for political posturing and manipulation.” These diplomatic boycotts will put a spotlight on the Beijing Olympics corporate sponsors. Will some of them divest?
Multinational corporations have significant influence and leverage. They facilitate the transfer of technology, promote the development of human capital, and create employment opportunities in host countries. Robert Jan d’Hond of Kantar explained: “Between revenue and social footprint, many brands now have more power than elected leaders.” But for all the positive transformational benefits companies can have on society, the flip side is also true — companies can be enablers of authoritarian human rights-abusing governments when they don’t speak up through their actions and voice. This was an underlying theme at a December 8 Summit of Democracies panel entitled “Democracy and Private Enterprise Delivering Together.” Patrick Collison of payments technology company Stripe said it was “correct and appropriate” for companies to promote democratic values and he warned that “inappropriate neutrality” on the part of companies can subvert democracy and human rights. Kent Walker of Google said that the private sector should actively make the case for democracy, as this benefits both people and the business environment.
To be sure, companies that have spoken out on Xinjiang, Hong Kong democracy, or Taiwan’s sovereignty have faced blowback, boycotts, and bans in the PRC. Just ask H&M, Nike, and the NBA. This has incentivized self-censoring: investment titan Ray Diallo, when recently asked about China human rights on CNBC, responded, “I can’t be an expert on those types of things. These are political… it’s just not my domain.” Two weeks ago, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said it was never right to “denigrate… any country or its leadership” after it was reported that he joked about the longevity of the Chinese Communist Party. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has gone out of his way to praise the PRC’s governance and economic success.
We expect companies to act in ways that benefit their shareholders. At the same time, 79 percent of American consumers also expect companies to engage on political and social issues, and even more say they can make a difference when they do, according to a 2019 Global Strategy Group study. We could see more of this, and here’s why:
- Frustration with multinational companies’ silence on China’s human rights abuses comes from both sides of the political spectrum. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) called out U.S. companies that have been silent on China’s human rights abuses but boycotted the State of Georgia over its new election law. William Nee of Amnesty International, said he wasn’t surprised that companies standing behind American social justice movements were not vocal about rights abuses in China. “Clearly, these companies know that Beijing will retaliate fiercely against any criticism of their policies, and there is not a big domestic audience in China who will reward them for their progressive stance either.”
- There have been some recent examples of political courage: the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) suspended matches in China after the apparent detention and silencing of tennis star Peng Shuai by Chinese authorities after she accused a high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault. German footballers staged a protest against Qatar, the host of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, for the country’s exploitation of foreign workers (there’s also a grassroots Boycott Qatar 2022 movement afoot). Formula One world champion and global influencer Lewis Hamilton condemned Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and wore a helmet painted with an LGBTI pride flag at the inaugural Saudi Grand Prix on December 5. (Granted, the WTA, German national team, Lewis Hamilton are athletes, but they are also global money-making enterprises.)
- Rising Political Risk: Beijing has increasingly practiced arbitrary government intervention against private companies; for example, reining in mega-cap domestic companies under guise of protecting consumers, delisting companies on U.S. exchanges, banning U.S. social media companies, jailing business executives on spurious charges, and imposing “cyber security” laws that require data sharing with the government. These actions translate into higher risks for foreign companies doing business in the Chinese market.
- Reputational Risk: The definition of responsible business practice is that at basic level, a company cares about people and environment. And increasingly, companies don’t want to be on the wrong side of this equation. ESG (“environmental, social, and governance”) investing is booming, with over 7,000 ESG funds holding $3.9 trillion in assets. While there are no common benchmarks for what constitutes an ESG-compliant company, it is plausible that ESG shareholders will begin to ask questions about companies’ overt or tacit support for authoritarian regimes, like the PRC. A panel of UN independent experts recently warned, “The (PRC’s new) national security law would…undermine the ability of businesses operating in Hong Kong to discharge their responsibility to respect human rights in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.” A well-known Hong Kong singer/activist commented, “We see businesses profiting in China. There are a lot of U.S. companies that have been based in Shenzhen, and they have turned a blind eye…to these human rights issues.”
More governments and institutions are taking a stand against the PRC’s human rights record. Meanwhile, the political risk of doing business in China continues to rise. These forces, when combined with growing stakeholder/customer/shareholder activism, will create more incentives — or fewer disincentives — for companies to speak out against Beijing’s suppression of human rights. As always, though, companies will weigh the risks to their business opportunities before taking a stand. Certainly, the cause of democracy and human rights would benefit from the private sector reflecting on its own role. Governments and civil society cannot do the job alone.
News You May Have Missed
A November survey of 850 students at higher education institutions by Axios and Generation Lab found a striking degree of polarization among young Americans. The finding which was perhaps the most salient was that 71% of young Democrats probably or definitely would not date someone who voted for the opposing presidential president, as opposed to 31% of young Republicans. Similarly, many young Americans also would have trouble working for someone who voted for the opposing presidential candidate. Such findings suggest that young Americans are remarkably polarized in their everyday dealings with one another in spheres which previously were less politicized.
Sanna Marin, 36, missed a message while she was out a nightclub. While many of us are unlikely to hear our phones, or anyone else for that matter, in a nightclub, Sanna Marin is not your normal clubgoer. Sanna Marin is the Prime Minister of Finland, and she had missed an alert about exposure to COVID. While vaccinated and not required to isolate, Finnish authorities recommend voluntary isolation in such circumstances until a negative COVID test. Marin has apologized to the Finnish people, while the CSPC policy team salutes her for showing that you can work and go out, even into your mid-30s.
The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.