Friday News Roundup — February 18, 2022

Updates on Russia Tensions, Lessons from Ukraine for Taiwan, Embassy Drawdowns and Closures, a Cold War lookback: the Neutron Bomb

Happy Friday to you from Washington, D.C., where the President’s Day long weekend and Congressional recess have many looking forward to travel, staycations, or at least a little break. The stopgap deal reached last night means that the government funding deadline is pushed to March 11th. When Congress returns for the March 1st State of the Union, much will remain to be done, though the speech may presage a push for the finish line on competition legislation and a historic Supreme Court nomination.

This week, Joshua reviewed Mark Galeotti’s latest book, “The Weaponisation of Everything” for the Diplomatic Courier. An enjoyable and sober look at how states weaponize, well, everything to influence the behavior of ally and adversary, alike, Galeotti argues that–Ukraine notwithstanding–we may be heading to an era of permanent, (mostly) bloodless competition.

He also published an op-ed on the day after, the day after, in a post-invasion Russia-Ukraine crisis, arguing that the West needs to think through the second and third moves, not just the first, especially as Moscow has the tools to, and will, respond.

In this week’s roundup, Joshua and Wes lead with updates on Russia’s deployment, mixed signals, and the state of diplomatic efforts. Dan looks at what lessons the effort to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine can be applied to Taiwan. Robert looks at the impact when we shutter an embassy and the signals it sends. Ethan closes with a historical look: the Cold War legacy of the neutron bomb and its relevance in today’s strategic environment. As always, we wrap with news you may have missed.

Russia’s Alleged Withdrawal & Military Deception

Joshua C. Huminski

This week, Russia reportedly began drawing down forces along Ukraine’s border. Igor Konashenkov, spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said, “Units of the southern and western military districts, which have accomplished their missions, are boarding trains and trucks and will head for their garrisons later today.” The Ministry of Defence published footage of tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers departing the Crimean Peninsula.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, later confirmed that forces near Ukraine’s border had conducted a “partial” withdrawal.

According to Putin, “It’s a partial withdrawal of troops from the areas of our exercises”. A Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, added, “We’ve always said the troops will return to their bases after the exercises are over. This is the case this time as well.” The drills in question are slated to end shortly — joint exercises with Belarus are due to end on 20 February and naval exercises in the Black Sea are expected to end on the 19th.

The alleged drawdown took place shortly before the 16th of February, the day that President Joe Biden said that Russia could attack Ukraine. In Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called for a day of national unity on the 16th.

The statement was initially seized upon as a sign that the crisis was de-escalating, but the claims were swiftly debunked. In fact, Russian forces appeared to merely have repositioned units along Ukraine’s border and reinforced them with an additional 7,000 troops, according to reports.

Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, said “So far we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground from the Russian side. Over the last weeks and days we have seen the opposite.” He added, “We see they have increased the number of troops and more troops are on their way. We are prepared for the worst.” Echoing Stoltenberg’s remarks, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, “We’ve seen some of those troops inch closer to that border. We see them fly in more combat and support aircraft.” He added, “We see them sharpen their readiness in the Black Sea. We even see them stocking up their blood supplies. You don’t do these sort of things for no reason, and you certainly don’t do them if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home.” His counterpart in London, Ben Wallace, remarked “We have seen the opposite of some of the statements. We have seen an increase of troops over the last 48 hours, up to 7,000.”

Previous drawdowns, such as in December 2021, were not drawdowns in practice, with a large amount of kit and equipment left behind. Personnel may re-deploy and equipment shifted, but there remains a considerably large force along Ukraine’s borders. It is also worth noting that the reported movements did not include forces from the Far Eastern Military District, the furthest units Moscow has deployed. Moreover, the forces withdrawing from Crimea are, allegedly, only being redeployed elsewhere along Ukraine’s border.

Russia has, in the past, used the “withdrawal” of forces to mask a repositioning of personnel and equipment along the front. This was the case in 2008 prior to the invasion of Georgia. It appeared that Moscow was pulling back from the front, but in fact was merely realigning its forces for the later invasion. It is beyond cliché to say that all warfare is deception or to observe that Russian operational doctrine has deception baked in at a more fundamental level than Western militaries, but this is an example of shaping the information space and masking movements. This is all the more complicated when there is the proliferation of open source analysis and commercially available satellite imagery.

It also appears that Russia is working to strengthen its position, as open source imagery revealed the construction of a pontoon bridge across the Pripyat River near Belarus’ border with Ukraine. This could be as much an exercise in the deployment of a pontoon bridge as preparations for invasion, but it is a sign of just how fluid things are on the ground.

In reality, even minor withdrawals will not fundamentally reshape the calculus on the ground as Moscow will retain the ability (should it wish to do so), at this stage, to launch an operation across multiple axis into Ukraine at effectively a date and time of their choosing, regardless of Western prognostications.

As it stands now, Russia has roughly seven staging areas around Ukraine, including Crimea and Belarus. The withdrawal of forces out of Crimea, as was suggested by the Kremlin, isn’t in and of itself a positive sign — again it was merely a redeployment, but Crimea is less likely to be a main axis of attack. An attack from the North/Northeast would put Kyiv in greater jeopardy and is likely a greater political prize. This is, however, not a game of Risk and any public prognostications on what the Kremlin may or may not do and how the Russian armed forces may or may not invade should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism and caution.

We do not know whether or how Russia will act in the immediate future. We can, however, expect increased noise and information over-saturation. The West, particularly the United States, is leaning very far forward into communicating publicly intelligence and information to undercut Russia’s efforts to shape the information space and define a narrative on its terms. Tensions are high, and could well increase, and hostilities very much remain a real possibility.

Mixed Signals Complicate Prognosis on Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Wesley Culp

As concern in Western capitals mounts over the threat of a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian messaging regarding its intentions remains contradictory. Causes for both optimism and concern exist in Moscow’s messaging surrounding Ukraine. The Kremlin has publicized supposed withdrawals from the Ukrainian border while also alleging the existence of a genocide against Russian-speakers in Ukraine. Such claims are particularly worrisome, since they represent the core of how Russia may attempt to justify any potential future action against Ukraine. Even though Russia’s population has limited ability to directly influence Moscow’s policies, Kremlin decision-makers nonetheless seek to justify Russian foreign policy in order to build public support. External observers should note contradictions between Moscow’s messaging towards Western and domestic audiences since the Kremlin would seek to justify any aggressive actions towards Ukraine to the Russian people before it carries them out. As the Kremlin media campaign intensifies and a wholesale civilian evacuation of separatist-controlled territories in Donbas is announced, the importance of the Kremlin’s domestic signaling is an important part of any attempt to predict future aggressive Russian actions against Ukraine.

Russian claims that the Ukrainian government is conducting a genocide against Russian-speakers in the Donbas region are a key pillar of the Kremlin’s domestic messaging. President Putin’s assertion in his press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that events taking place in Ukraine constituted “genocide” is only a more visible aspect of Russia’s broader campaign to build a case of genocide against Ukraine. This messaging campaign has been a whole-of-government project of Moscow’s in an effort to justify Russia’s pressure against Ukraine in a way that is perhaps more emotionally charged than the Kremlin’s “security proposals.” Russia’s Investigative Committee, a federal agency ordinarily charged with domestic criminal investigations, opened an investigation into alleged abuse and targeting of civilians by Ukrainian forces on Wednesday. When combined with Putin’s declaration that the “problems” in Donbas must be urgently resolved through the Minsk agreement or any means necessary, these claims do not appear to be harmless suggestions, but instead part of a more comprehensive strategy.

Russian state media outlets have also amplified claims that Ukraine is positioning troops and equipment to potentially violate the Minsk agreements. This attempt to misrepresent Ukrainian aims and actions represents a chance for the Kremlin to shift blame for escalating tensions from itself and its own buildup to a supposed Ukrainian one. The Kremlin’s claim that the likelihood of a major Ukrainian military operation is very high is a major element of efforts to present Ukraine to the Russian people as the aggressor. Accusations that Ukrainian marines are being trained for urban combat or that the Ukrainian military is preparing to employ attack aircraft against separatist forces further elaborate on allegations of Ukrainian aggression.

Moscow’s foreign policy messaging has sought to justify its actions in the framework of the Minsk agreements. In response to the State Duma’s passage of an “appeal” to recognize the independence of the separatist DNR and LNR statelets in Ukraine, President Putin claimed that the appeal was simply a reflection of the supposed support of the two entities by a “majority” of Russians. Despite Putin’s claim, the Russian public appears split on the issue — a March 2021 poll of Russians by the independent Levada Center found that 28% supported the recognition of the DNR and LNR as independent republics, while 26% supported returning the statelets to Ukraine in some form and 25% supported their direct annexation into Russia. While this indicates that the Russian public supports the regions remaining closely affiliated with Russia, the Kremlin is likely conscious of the need to justify a potential choice that only enjoys a plurality of support among Russians. This is especially true if the Kremlin hopes to use such recognition as a basis for further intervention in Ukraine.

There is evidence that Russia’s population is a receptive audience to the Kremlin’s claims. Before the recent uptick in messaging surrounding claims of a Kyiv-sponsored genocide, 66% of respondents to a November 2021 Levada poll believed that the United States or Ukraine were to blame for the current crisis, while only 7% blamed Russia or the DNR and LNR. Nonetheless, the Kremlin will need to overcome a widespread fear of war in Russia if it plans to move into Ukraine in a renewed invasion. This could be the reasoning behind Russian accusations of genocide against Russian-speaking Ukrainians: Moscow may see this as a tool to paint military intervention as a necessity. Thursday’s flurry of Russian state media stories blaming the Ukrainian Armed Forces for attacks on civilian targets in Donbas and shelling DNR and LNR positions was accompanied by Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov warning of the high potential for a Ukrainian offensive in Donbas. The decision by DNR and LNR leadership to announce the total civilian evacuation of their statelets to neighboring Russian regions ahead of a supposed planned Ukrainian offensive adds a foreboding note to what is already a threatening media campaign. Focused Russian state media coverage of the Kremlin’s claims of genocide combined with actions on the ground are reasons to be concerned that Moscow’s rhetoric presages Russian military action.

In this scenario, Russian messaging to its domestic audience mirrors Western reporting on Russia’s buildup on the Ukrainian border as a means to control the narrative. It is likely that the Kremlin seeks to discredit credible Western evidence of the threatening Russian buildup on its border with Ukraine. As tensions continue to boil over between Russia, Ukraine, and the West, external observers should pay close attention to the Russian government’s messaging to its population, whose approval or demurral must be secured before any aggressive action.

Russia’s Response to America’s take on Moscow’s Security Proposals

Joshua C. Huminski

On Thursday, Moscow released what appears to be an increasingly hardline take on the present situation in Ukraine. The communique was in response to the United States’ take on the Kremlin’s security proposals. According to the 10-page response, “the American side did not give a constructive response to the basic elements of the draft treaty prepared by the Russian side with the United States on security guarantees.”

The Foreign Ministry said, “The growing US and NATO military activity close to Russian borders is alarming, while our “red lines” and core security interests, as well as Russia’s sovereign right to protect them, continue to be ignored.” It added, “In the absence of the readiness of the American side to agree on firm, legally binding guarantees of our security from the United States and its allies, Russia will be forced to respond, including through the implementation of military-technical measures.”

Speaking last month, those “military-technical measures” “imply the deployment of military hardware, it is obvious. And when we make decisions about these or those steps, we always know what we mean and what we are getting prepared for” according to Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister.

The statement added new demands to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, including the cessation of arms transfers to Ukraine, the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from central and eastern Europe, as well as the Baltics, the suspension of any joint exercises with Ukraine and the withdrawal of all weapons provided to Kyiv, but opened the door for arms control and deconfliction, but only as part of a broader NATO deal.

The Kremlin’s demands, like the original “treaties” are non-starters, even if (perhaps) one could find some abstract conceptual underpinning e.g. confidence and stability building measures. it appears, however, that even beyond that Russia has closed the door to negotiation writing, “Russian proposals are of a package nature and should be considered in a complex without identifying its individual components.”

Whether this is the establishment of a new negotiating position, a stalling tactic, part of the diplomatic dance, or something entirely different remains to be seen. It equally could be a long-term gambit for future crises/negotiations. By articulating these “red lines” and then declaring that the West would not even engage or address them, Moscow is laying the foundation for future crises/negotiations, giving the Kremlin something to which to point and say “see, the West does not respect our position and never has.”

Talking and communication, however tense and hyperbolic is a good thing to be sure, but the situation on-the-ground remains tense and what comes next is beyond anyone’s, perhaps save Putin’s, line of sight.

Early Lessons from Ukraine for Taiwan

Dan Mahaffee

This intro may very well need to be changed before the column is posted, or could easily be overtaken by events when you are reading this. But for now, at the time of writing, Russia has not yet invaded Ukraine and it tentatively appears that diplomacy — and the unity of those promising consequences for Russian aggression — has deterred Putin’s aggression, for now.
If the Russian attack on Ukraine is indeed deterred, what are the lessons that can be applied to the Indo-Pacific? In particular, what can be applied to defending Taiwan? There are certainly similarities — David vs. Goliath conflict, the historical baggage, various alliance ambiguities and rivalries, etc. — and some will also argue that how we handle Ukraine determines the global credibility of the west. Those are all worthy of deeper analysis, but for now, tracking early lessons yields near- and long-term lessons.

First, there is the bilateral relationship and simply ensuring that our democratic partners have what they need to defend themselves. For too long, concerns about antagonizing Russia limited what military hardware was sold or sent to Ukraine. While that has changed — visibly so with images of man-portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons on pallets on the Kyiv tarmac — arming Ukraine and Taiwan is a key part of the deterrent balance. This also means challenging legacy assumptions in favor of understanding how persistent surveillance, loitering munitions, man-portable weapons, and other aspects of modern conflict have affected the ability of Ukraine or Taiwan to asymmetrically resist a large invasion.

While it can be debated whether or not the western allies have delayed the Russian invasion by revealing false flags or calling out Russian feints and redeployments, it is clear that the United States and allies have been far more aggressive in countering Russia in the information domain, sometimes using once-closely-held intelligence to do so. Similar efforts should be applied to China, to call out: human rights violations, torn up trade deals, wolf-warrior diplomacy, massive military build ups, party corruption, and on-and-on. Beijing is even more concerned with controlling the narrative than the Kremlin, and we need to counter their narrative of systemic superiority vis-a-vis the world’s democracies.

While there is also speculation about how much this has affected Putin’s calculus, the unity displayed by the west in the face of the Russian buildup, along with the promised economic consequences, is important to note. If a coalition of those willing to inflict consequences is able to deter Russian aggression, it should be considered how the same could apply to China and Taiwan. How might Beijing think about forcefully blockading or invading Taiwan if it knew it faced a range of severe economic consequences from a wide coalition of countries? Separate from any statements on de facto or de jure Taiwanese independence, this coalition need only to weigh in on what consequences Beijing would face should it try to settle the question by force. Even with Xi’s consolidation of power, the question of whether China is willing to be a global pariah would likely force a schism between the Chinese Communist Party’s security-driven versus economically-focused cadres. Similar to what we have faced with Moscow, and likely to an even greater extent, we would face corporate and financial interests that would lobby against antagonizing measures. Finally, a balance must be found between making sure that the potential consequences are clearly signaled, but also not in a way that presents your adversary with a roadmap to prepare and mitigate any sanctions.

Ukraine has also demonstrated how tensions can result in inadvertent reverse sanctions, often from the abundance of caution now displayed in global conflict zones. As tensions have grown, insurers have canceled coverage for air and sea travel to Ukraine. Seeking to avoid repeat scenes of diplomats and expats fleeing for evacuation, many embassies have closed or relocated, while encouraging their citizens to leave Ukraine. Capital flight accompanies human departures. Even as the west has promised to isolate Russia for raising tensions, raising tensions has effectively isolated Ukraine and threaten to paralyze its economy. This should be addressed now, not only for the sake of Kyiv, but also to understand how China could ratchet up tensions to effectively isolate Taiwan — and how the U.S. and its allies can counter that.

In The Wall Street Journal this week, Elbridge Colby and Oriana Skylar Mastro wrote the provocatively titled piece, “Ukraine is a distraction from Taiwan.” What their article laid out was another, broader, strategic, and very important lesson: building European capacity — both militarily and in terms of strategic vision/thought — is vital for the United States to devote a greater share of finite resources to the Indo-Pacific. Making sure that Europe is on a sound strategic footing, and capable of its own defense, can enable the long-heralded “pivot” to Asia. It will also grant Europe greater strategic autonomy, but that must be accompanied with a strategic discussion — both in U.S. domestic circles as well as transatlantic dialogues — about how the United States and a more empowered Europe can work together on the global stage for our shared values.

In terms of preparation, the lessons from Ukraine about supply chains also apply to the Indo-Pacific. A limiting factor in the consequences that can be applied to Moscow — as well as broader European strategic autonomy — comes from European dependence on Russian energy. Weaning Europe from Russian energy is not something that can be accomplished in crisis-duration timelines. Similarly, our reliance on China for key supply chains is a vulnerability that the United States and its allies can address now to reduce Beijing’s future leverage. The current reality of U.S.-China economic interdependence has to be balanced with thinking focused on future security needs, and the realities of geotech and economic security are clearer than ever.

If the elements of this playbook have helped to deter invasion of Ukraine, then they are a roadmap for how these elements could be applied to China and Taiwan. If invasion of Ukraine does go ahead, then we will know that they were not sufficient, either in current form or scope, to deter conflict. Still, these tools and elements of national power can be better understood, and better wielded, by both the United States and our allies, as we ensure that our democratic partners have a say in their future.

The Downside of An Embassy Drawdown

Robert Gerber

US Embassy Kyiv, Wikimedia Commons Photo

American journalist and satirist P.J. O’Rourke, who passed away this week, once wrote, “Each American embassy comes with two permanent features: a giant anti-American demonstration and a giant line for American visas.”

O’Rourke was right in that U.S. Embassies can be a lightning rod for politics. On February 17, the U.S. government confirmed blog reports that Russia had asked the #2 U.S. diplomat, Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman, to leave the country. Russia has shown little restraint when it comes to harassment and targeting of American diplomats. And the United States and Russia have long engaged in tit for tat expulsions of diplomats. In fact, Mr. Gorman had been declared “persona non grata” during a previous Russia assignment. Russian government spokeswoman explained (translated), “The American diplomat was indeed ordered to leave Russia, but strictly in response to the unreasonable expulsion of the Minister-Counsellor of our Embassy in Washington, despite his status as a leading official.” White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said Russia’s expulsion of Gorman would undermine efforts to solve the Ukraine crisis peacefully, stating, “Now, more than ever, it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments.”

This comment seems incongruous with the decision to draw down the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. A few weeks ago, the U.S. reduced its diplomatic presence in Kyiv — claiming safety risks — and moved most remaining diplomats to Lviv in Western Ukraine 350 miles from the capital. Several other embassies followed the American’s lead. The drawdown of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is part of the information war: it supports the White House argument that a Russian incursion could be imminent. But there are negative repercussions. Host governments do not like it when the U.S. draws down an embassy. The Ukrainian government, which has been trying to downplay the prospects of another Russian invasion, strongly criticized the move. Closing the Embassy also makes communication with Ukrainian officials and citizens more difficult. Furthermore, embassies serve as “eyes and ears” on the ground; closing an embassy impedes our ability to gather information. Having diplomats on the ground (most of whom speak the local language) helps us know if there is a cyber-attack happening, if the lights go off, whether there are “little green men” on the street, and what the coffee shop owner thinks about current events in Ukraine. With a closed or scaled down embassy, the U.S. relies on distance diplomacy, which has its limitations, and on reporting from third party sources, whose views might be filtered by their own agenda. Shutting down the visa section — one of the permanent features described by Mr. O’Rourke — cuts off a key service used by American expats and the local business community alike. An announcement to close the U.S. Embassy can also impact investors’ risk appetite.

When the security situation deteriorates or a pandemic emerges, the Ambassador or Chargé d’Affaires (wait, we don’t have an Ambassador in Ukraine?) convenes the embassy’s Emergency Action Committee. The Embassy Regional Security Officer then reviews a set of “tripwires” then recommends whether staff presence should be reduced in country. Certain rules must be followed that ensure American citizens are given the benefit of threat information. The decision to draw down embassy presence also has to be approved by Washington. Most diplomats do not want to go on authorized departure or mandatory departure. They are trained professionals who have served in conflict zones and who take pride in their work. They do not consider themselves “non-essential.”

In August 2021, Washington made the decision to close our Embassy in Kabul while the Taliban were on the march toward the capital. I do not mean to downplay the fear that many felt when they heard the Taliban were on the gates of the city. But closing the U.S. Embassy most certainly fueled public panic and contributed to the stampede toward the airport. Other countries, including Russia, China and Turkey kept their embassies open. This gave them leverage and better understanding what was happening on the ground after the Taliban reached the Presidential Palace.

The consideration of drawing down an embassy must carefully weigh the political and economic costs of such an action. Hopefully, tensions will abate in Ukraine, and our embassy in Kyiv can soon return to normal status. A functioning embassy is an asset.

Remember the Neutron bomb?

Ethan Brown

Soviet-era coverage of the U.S. Neutron Bomb

With all of the focus this week on Russia’s alleged withdrawal of forces while cyber attacks and questionable reliability abound, I thought I’d break off from the norm of knee-jerk analysis and throw it back to an obscure weapon in the west’s arsenal that never got the attention it should have: the Neutron bomb, also known as the Enhanced Radiation Warhead (ERW).

Yes, it’s a bizarre aside all things considered, but eventually I’ll tie this waltz through history into how we are looking at security conditions in Eastern Europe and considering tools of geopolitical and national security influence…and whether or not we have matured as a society after the Cold War (spoiler, we really haven’t).

The Neutron bomb was a strange bit of ‘humane’ nuclear warfare, devised by strategic thinkers for its potential as a deterrent factor, one that President Nixon’s Defense Secretary James Schlesinger called “a sufficient accuracy-yield combination to destroy only the intended target and [to] avoid widespread collateral damage”. What made the ERW distinct from its bigger, more notorious nuclear siblings was that the weapon was not intended to produce a mass blast effect — the kind of atom-fusion explosive intended to knock over cities and paint the skies of armageddon a pallow red as it ascended into the stratosphere. Rather, the neutron bomb was a small area blast, but one that produced exponentially higher distribution of neutron radiation in a contained area. Neutron particles easily permeate not only human tissue, clothing and wood, but the armor protection on military vehicles. Because the high-energy radiation spread rapidly, it also dissipated its neutron and gamma particles in a rapid window, making it a theoretically effective counter-force weapon.

The ERW only yielded a standard payload of roughly one kiloton — for comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 yielded a 15-kiloton payload — thus it’s small size gave it tremendous employment modularity. A favored delivery platform was via the M110A2 203mm self-propelled howitzer which could lob a ERW round at distances of 20 miles. The neutron warhead was also configured as an ICBM interceptor via the Lance medium-range missile…the thinking was that a highly irradiated intercept zone could set off a Soviet missile in orbit…because that’s somehow a rational course of action when shooting missiles out of the sky.

So in short, the neutron bomb was specifically designed to irradiate military forces in a compacted maneuver formation, but unlike the comparative yield of tactical nuclear weapons, again, this bomb wasn’t meant to level infrastructure, it was meant to savagely eliminate the humans and equipment by an aggressor force so that NATO states could avoid damaging population centers and their own people. Simply, the weapon was designed to render moot Warsaw pact forces 3-to-1 advantages in numbers and creating a not-doomsday weapon for a doomsday scenario.

Controversy abounded, as President Jimmy Carter was unaware of the weapons development, indeed his inaugural address highlighted the lofty goal of “stepping toward our ultimate goal — the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this earth”. Schlesinger was the Secretary of Energy when a Washington Post article broke the story about the weapons development following a compromised congressional committee report about the Energy Research and Development Administration’s programs for weapons, making the reality of the weapons ongoing evolution a particularly damaging public relations fiasco. Backlash in Europe, in particular, was intense. Sensible enough since the employment of these weapons — a tactical option and not a strategic deterrent — would be deployed on European soil despite it’s American origins. Ultimately, the bomb was decommissioned by the Carter administration, although the Reagan admin that followed touted the capability as a “science fiction type death ray weapon of science fiction. It kills enemy soldiers but doesn’t [destroy] villages or the countryside…a deterrent weapon at much lower cost than trying to match the enemy gun for gun, tank for tank, plane for plane”.

The neutron bomb serves as a seeming inverse of strategic effect tools seen in today’s conflict arenas. While Russian forces are allegedly withdrawing from the Ukraine border…despite seeming failed diplomacy…despite indications to the contrary of a reduction in invasion forces…that hasn’t stopped cyber warfare activities aimed to disrupt and destabilize Ukraine. How should we consider cyber weapons when the neutron bomb was too controversial, too concerned with property over human life?

The point of this analysis and historical review is that weapons of today are scarcely more humane than those which were previously designed with kinetic effects in mind. When everything becomes weaponized (Joshua’s review of Mark Galeotti’s “Weaponisation of Everything is a must read, and the book as well for certs), how do we take ourselves seriously when strategic thinking suggests that one weapon — a high-radiation bomb deliberately conceived to defeat a conventional military threat and avoid civilian effects — is untenable but another, like cyber attacks shutting down critical infrastructure, banking, and life-supporting architecture is acceptable, or not deterred like any other strategic weapon?

What are the utilitarian pro’s of something like the neutron bomb in a Taiwan invasion scenario, where the semi-conductor production infrastructure so critical to the west’s supply chain is seized in a violent reunification strike? A conventional counter invasion is nothing less than a World War I style meat grinder, well within the A2/AD zone of PLA weapons, so does that make a neutron-bomb weapon an appealing alternative when defending the right of states to remain free of interference from a regional hegemon? Is cyber an option when we don’t have norms and behaviors in the digital domain established which define offensive, defensive, or destabilizing operations? The effects are what matters, while the weapons are largely indifferent here — a humane nuclear option is scarcely different from a cyber attack that renders a population center inoperable.

Of course, this space and no rational person would ever consider the use of humanity’s most devastating weapons as a reasonable option, not the neutron bomb, not it’s nuclear siblings, none of those tools of ‘deterrence’ that only served to escalate into a century-long arms race. Cyber, a tool of influence whose scale and scope is rapidly increasing, should be considered just as severe of a weapon as those nuclear options of yesteryear, it has more than a little to do with why the doomsday clock is currently 100 seconds from midnight. To think we are more civilized now when we craft tools of warfare than in years past is at times laughable, because the effects haven’t changed, the vehicles of destruction just seem to evolve.

News You May Have Missed

California Aims to Protect Asian American Women

Californian policymakers have developed two bills that attempt to combat violence and harassment against Asian American women. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Asian American population in the forms of increased incidents of racism and discrimination, as well as have violence, primarily targeting females. According to violent incidents received by Stop AAPI Hate, in March of 2021, 63% of the reports submitted were by Asian American women. The proposed bills define discrimination and harassment on the street as a public health issue, instead of a crime itself. According to Stop AAPI Hate, in 2021, 9,000 hate incidents against Asian Americans occurred across the nation, 40% in California. Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, proposed the first bill that would require the state to use transit districts to study the harassment that Asian American women face and to use the data to create safer transportation methods. Assembly members Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, and Dr. Akilha Weber, D-San Diego, presented the second legislation that would permit the CA Department of Public Health to create yearly public education campaigns to spread awareness about Asian American street harassment. Policymakers advocate the necessity of these bills to tackle street violence against women, which is currently unaddressed by present laws.

Germany Agrees on Plan to Relax COVID-19 Restrictions

After meeting on February 16 to discuss the future of Germany’s public health restrictions against COVID-19, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the heads of Germany’s sixteen states agreed to lift most pandemic restrictions by March 20. The plan calls for lifting restrictions in three phases and overrides many of the preferences and recommendations of German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who has advocated for a more cautious approach. Germany’s decision to begin lifting COVID restrictions follows the announcement of shorter-term plans to lift COVID restrictions in Austria, Switzerland, and Denmark. The issue of COVID rules has been a source of friction between the ruling SPD party and its FDP coalition partners. While most eligible Germans are fully vaccinated, Germany has seen near-weekly protests against COVID measures at both the state and national level.

The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.



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