Friday News Roundup — January 24, 2020

Good morning and greetings from Washington, D.C., where the historic impeachment trial of President Trump is in full swing; political and financial leaders from around the world are gathering for their annual confab at Davos; and global news is focused on updates out of China about the spread of the novel Coronavirus that has led to the quarantine of Wuhan and surrounding cities — with cases popping up around the world and millions of Chinese prepared to travel for the Lunar New Year celebration.

CSPC has also released its 2020 annual report, covering where we are at with our current programs and priorities, while looking ahead at the challenges we plan to tackle in 2020. The full report is available on our website, but this week’s roundup starts off with the report’s letter from Chairman Mike Rogers, the inaugural David M. Abshire Chair at CSPC and the former Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. His letter looks at the growing competition the United States faces with other powers — competition that guides much of CSPC’s approach to foreign and security policy.

In the press this week, CSPC Senior Fellow Sherman Katz provided an optimistic take on what could come next regarding trade with China, even though the “phase one” deal doesn’t address China’s industrial subsidies.

In the rest of this week’s roundup, Chris covers the role of Chief Justice Roberts during the impeachment proceedings, while Ethan covers how the military is using cloud computing to improve platform interoperability and information management for battlespace awareness. As always, we wrap with news you may have missed.

A New Era for Great Power Competition

Mike Rogers

Reflecting back on 2019, one marvels at how much has happened in such a short time. How much the rules-based international order constructed under U.S. leadership following World War II, for instance, has been challenged, stressed, and strained in ways both unforeseen and yet unsurprising. Who would have thought that at the end of 2019 we would need to reaffirm basic tenets of diplomacy, foreign relations, and indeed democracy? Yet, as we turn to 2020, we find ourselves doing just that.

Take the United States’ leadership of, and dependence on, a globe-spanning network of alliances. Alliances may be challenging, they may be frustrating, and they may be both labor and time-intensive. Yet they still matter. This year we witnessed the erosion of long established norms of international diplomacy and grave challenges to American foreign relations. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) celebrated its 70th anniversary amid questions about the alliance’s value to its members and to the international order writ large.

For 70 years NATO has represented the collective will of the Western alliance, ensuring security and maintaining stability in Europe. Yet President Trump has questioned NATO’s utility, seeing it only through the prism of a faulty financial calculus. Should our NATO partners do and contribute more? Certainly. But that is a matter calling for a civil conversation among partners, not a reason to question the fundamental value of the alliance itself. Let us not forget that NATO has invoked its Article 5 pledge of collective defense only once in its history — in response to the 9/11 attacks against the United States.

Our alliances matter especially when we are witnessing a resurgent Russia, a rising China, and an aggressive Iran. In Europe it seems not a day goes by without Moscow trying to disrupt the established order, provoking unease and uncertainty, and bullying its neighbors across all domains. From Beijing we see an aggressive flexing of economic and military muscles, expansions of its sphere of influence in East Asia and the Pacific region through intimidation, all designed to create doubt among America’s traditional allies and partners. In Tehran we confront a fundamentally destabilizing player, one that arms proxies, launches barely concealed covert action against its neighbors, and ultimately undermines the regional order.

All of this destabilizing activity is occurring at a time when the current discourse among our political leaders seems to question the value of the United States’ outsized role in the world. In Washington, D.C. politicians have taken to wondering aloud whether it is a public good or even in the national interest to remain a part of venerable alliances and the world writ large. We should all be concerned that erstwhile allies are expressing doubts about whether America would have their backs in the event of a crisis, or whether we can be counted on to honor our commitments and support our friends.

The costs of this confusion and doubt about the United States’ role in the world are not abstract. They are incredibly consequential. When the world witnesses the United States’ wholesale abandonment of the Kurds in Northern Iran and Syria to the aggressive designs of Turkey, know that a price in lost trust and confidence will be exacted. The Kurds who, mind you, sacrificed their lives to aid the U.S. military’s campaign against the Islamic State — a campaign that was wildly successful at comparatively low cost. Who could blame the Kurds or any other regional partner — nation-state or otherwise — for questioning America’s commitment in light of such a rash and impactful decision?

We cannot now, nor could we ever have successfully “gone it alone” on the world stage. Confronting the challenges posed by Russia, China, and Iran, to say nothing of transnational violent extremist groups, requires partners and alliances at all levels if we are to be successful.

Winston S. Churchill said it best: “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.”

Return of Great Power Competition

At the beginning of 2018, then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis noted:

The world, to quote George Shultz, is awash in change, defined by increasing global volatility and uncertainty with Great Power competition between nations becoming a reality once again. Though we will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we are engaged in today, Great Power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of U.S. national security.

Secretary Mattis was both right and prescient. For the last 18 years, the United States has waged counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns against extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State, and their affiliated franchises and networks. Our defense, intelligence and law enforcement agencies shifted to meet that challenge, and did so admirably.

Yet while we focused intently on violent extremist groups, wishing that great power competition had ended with the Cold War, other major powers filled the vacuum. Nation-state conflict and the clash of spheres of interest never actually went away, even if we chose to look the other way. China with its “One Belt, One Road” initiative and hegemonic aspirations; Russia with its yearning for lost empire; and Iran with its arsonist instincts and revolutionary pursuit of power — all seized upon America’s inattention.

Today, a revisionist Russia poses a significant challenge to U.S. leadership, not by offering a competitive worldview, but rather by its determination to subvert the order that the Western Alliance created from the ashes of World War II. Russia produces little beyond energy and regional instability. Its population is ill and aging. Yet Moscow still possesses one of the two largest arsenals of nuclear weapons in the world, and it can start fires where it wants, forcing others to respond to its provocations. From Syria to Ukraine, Venezuela to the Arctic, Russia supports those that would challenge the Western order.

Kremlin Photo

By contrast, China does offer an authoritarian alternative to the rules-based, liberal international order, even if it is hollow and unappealing to free peoples. Beijing is using economic largess and military coercion to bend the Indo-Pacific region to its will, and it is just getting started. China seeks to dominate data by 2025, win at artificial intelligence and advanced technology, and govern the international order by fiat from Beijing. The Communist Party is using every available tool to achieve this end, in ways we have yet to fully grasp or appreciate. China is gaming the capitalist system in a manner that Lenin would have marveled at. Beijing is using the allure of cheap consumer goods to increasingly dominate global markets, and it has a strategy to own the digital networks of the future. Unfortunately, the debate about Huawei’s attempts to dominate advanced 5G networks only scratched the surface of this challenge. China is playing three-dimensional chess at a time when our government seems unable to put the right pieces on the board, or find the board for that matter.

Iran may aspire to reclaim its Persian heritage and attain great power status, but its instincts are for destabilization, not empire building. That is enough, however, to warrant our concern and attention. Along with Russia, Tehran has backed the murderous Assad regime in Syria, enabling a war criminal and the unchecked slaughter of the Syrian people. Backing the Houthi rebels in Yemen, it further contributes to what has been called the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster. Tehran is also pursuing advanced ballistic missiles and it yearns to acquire nuclear weapons, an effort enabled by the administration’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action.

Bipartisanship is Critical

One of the reasons I joined the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress as the David M. Abshire Chair is respect for the Center’s approach to national challenges. These are not, nor have they ever been, Republican challenges or Democratic challenges — these are American challenges. Throughout 2019, the Center, under the leadership of its president and my colleague Rep. Glenn Nye, gathered smart people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to address national challenges — from space and cybersecurity to the frontiers of geo-technology, and onto political reform to help heal our partisan divides.

The spirit of cooperation and consensus-building is alive and well at CSPC, even if it is lost on too many of our former colleagues in Congress, the White House, and elsewhere. If we are to truly address the challenges our country faces, we must reinvigorate that spirit of bipartisanship and cooperation. We must recognize that while there are things that divide us, such as policy solutions or perspectives on issues, we are still Americans who share the same core values and enjoy the same freedoms.

I believe we must put aside our ideological blinders and work together in a bipartisan manner. While we argue and bicker, focusing on our differences rather than our commonalities, Russia, China, Iran, and others are taking advantage of our distraction and successfully pursuing their interests at the expense of our own.

The post-World War II international order may have been imperfect, but it produced the most peaceful and prosperous epoch in human history. Our alliances may be flawed, but they have ensured our collective security through the Cold War and right up until today. Our democracy was imperfect by design and will always be a work in progress, but it is still the best hope for ensuring our freedoms and advancing prosperity.

I am proud to be part of an organization that embraces bipartisanship and cooperation as core values, and I am excited to see what the Center accomplishes in 2020. I hope you will join us in this effort.

An Umpire for Impeachment

Chris Condon

Chief Justice Roberts presides over the beginning of the impeachment trial. C-SPAN screenshot

A trial to impeach the president of the United States is one of the most visible, remarkable things that the United States Congress can do. It is a political process cloaked in the mantle of judicial legitimacy. Members of the Senate, although they swear an oath to act as impartial jurors, are constantly making calculations regarding how each vote will affect their prospects in the next election. Majority leader Mitch McConnell directs the trial from his chair, although from looking at a photo of the proceedings you would think he is just another juror. This extremely gifted political operator makes his own calculations, deciding how to conduct the trial in a way that will strengthen his party’s case. In sum, it is the purest distillation of the modern United States Senate. That is an uncomfortable environment for Chief Justice John Roberts.

Any time a federal judge is nominated to the bench, the Senate holds confirmation hearings to vet the candidate for one of the most powerful jobs in the country. It was in this capacity that Chief Justice Roberts found himself in the Senate last, roughly 15 years ago. Then, he was only Judge Roberts. To date, Chief Justice Roberts’ confirmation hearings are perhaps the clearest articulation of a judicial conservative’s view of a judge’s role in governance. Rather than making visible, public declarations of principle, judicial conservatives see a judge as a wallflower. In this philosophical framework, judges consciously adhere to written law, allowing as little wiggle room as possible for themselves to create law that is not explicitly written. The Chief Justice used part of his opening statement in his confirmation hearings to articulate this line of thinking with a now-famous metaphor: “…I will remember that it’s my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.”

When Chief Justice Salmon Chase presided over the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, he was a batter. Abraham Lincoln’s former Treasury Secretary cast multiple tie breaking votes on procedural matters, and directed the trial as a judge might in any other courtroom. In the end, the Senate failed to convict President Johnson by only one vote. The story was quite different during the next impeachment trial of a president, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided over the trial of President Clinton. Rehnquist chose to remain as invisible as possible, later stating that he did nothing “but did it very well.” Rehnquist was an arch-conservative Chief Justice, and his judicial philosophy likely influenced his role in President Clinton’s impeachment trial (which also resulted in an acquittal, albeit by a wider margin).

Chief Justice Roberts is also likely influenced by his thoughts on the role of the judiciary, which are rather similar to those of Chief Justice Rehnquist. In fact, then-attorney Roberts clerked for then-Associate Justice Rehnquist from 1980–1981 after graduating from Harvard Law School. Chief Justice Roberts sees himself as an umpire, charged mostly with sitting silently unless called upon specifically to answer a question. Rather than making himself part of the story of this trial, he is content to sit back and watch the story unfold.

This penchant was tested in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, when the parties were nearing the end of their arguments for that day. House manager Jerrold Nadler accosted Republican Senators for voting against subpoenas for documents and multiple witnesses arguably important for the House’s case against President Trump. He both accused them of being complicit in a “cover up” scheme by the president’s legal team and called their votes “treasonous.” In response, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone rebuked Rep. Nadler, stating that he should “be ashamed of himself.” The environment in the room was tense, and Senators looked on as the arguments devolved into insults lobbed by both teams. It was at this point that Chief Justice Roberts spoke for the first time outside of basic procedural rubber stamps. While the Chief Justice sees himself as an umpire, he also sees himself as an institutional guardian.

“I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and the President’s counsel, in equal terms ,to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body,” Roberts calmly stated. “One reason it has earned that title is because its members avoid speaking in a manner and using language that is not conducive to civil discourse.” He then went on to cite an obscure historical example to illustrate his point, as he is wont to do: “In the 1905 Swayne trial, a senator objected when one of the managers used the word ‘pettifogging’ and the presiding officer said the word ought not to have been used,” Roberts said. “I don’t think we need to aspire to that high of a standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are.” As someone with an uncommonly strong sense of decorum in Washington, Chief Justice Roberts used his role as presiding offer to preserve the dignity of the proceedings without wading into value judgements or attacking one side in particular.

Regardless of this admonition, Chief Justice Roberts will likely maintain his role as umpire throughout the proceedings. Aside from maintaining a basic standard of decorum, he likely sees not intervening as a more important statement than anything he could say or any vote he could cast.

Managing Battlespace in the Cloud

Ethan Brown

They’re in the clouds, not *the* cloud, yet... Photo Credit: USAF

Managing Warfare

Command and Control (unimaginatively referred to as C2) is the most critical component of directing and managing the execution of warfare. The United States military operates under a clearly defined, established set of rules defining the lines of authority, reporting and lines of communication, and distributed responsibilities emanating from the departments/headquarters echelon, down to the lowest tactical/maneuver levels of the warfighter.

The US military has employed a variety of reporting and control mechanisms throughout its storied history, from carrier pigeons to vacuum tube monstrosities and on to the modern battlefields digitized panoply. At the higher levels of reporting, systems like the Army and USMC Blue Force Tracker, or the Air Force Link16 have served their basic purpose to date, but interoperability and cross-pollination of these Tactical Data Link (TDL) systems have historically been one great dud in the US military’s C2 paradigm. These shortfalls are often attributable to service-specific systemics and fall victim to the same contracting quagmire of proprietary systems awarded by a flawed acquisitions process.

Technological Shortfalls

An example of the issues facing these systems rests with the fifth-generation F-22 and F-35 fighters. These highly advanced aircraft do not use a conventional radio system like one would find on every other aircraft. Owing to their stealth-driven design, these aircraft utilize Low-Probability of Detection/Low Probability of Intercept (LPD/LPI) suites that replace traditional radio transmitters/receivers, using a manipulation of physics to conduct line-of-site communications. Generally, these aircraft are still able to communicate with ground units and other aircraft equipped with traditional radio systems, but the whole point of the LPD/LPI, again, is to avoid detection while still sharing information.

While the individual systems work just fine in a vacuum, the two most advanced pieces of US military technology have been unable to communicate with one another due to their systems operating on different frequencies and software packages. As hard as it may be to believe, the reality is the two flagships of the US air interdiction and Joint-strike capabilities are unable to communicate with each other through their stealth-mandated comms suites.

Until last November, when a new gateway was introduced by the DevOps (Developmental/Operations) component, introducing a gadgetized link that cross-pollinates the two systems, reported to be a remotely piloted vehicle. But this potential capability offers more than the ability to chit chat between pilots. A critical attribute of the F-22 and F-35 over previous generations of fighters is in its capacity to process and transmit a myriad of critical battlefield information, including friendly air and ground unit locations, enemy air and air defense locations, safe transit information for airspace management, and sensor feed/data back to higher headquarters. This capacity is critical in creating situational awareness across the force when addressing a capable adversary…so long as it actually works.

The Defense Cloud

While this recent test only hints at the potential to bridge the communication gaps between the aircraft, it offers a hopeful glimpse at the future of the DoD’s version of the “internet of things”. Which, in the 21st century, is a critical development in military capacity. Especially when great power competition (both as a field of study, strategic thinking, and a DC buzzword) demands innovation and traditional arms races are being supplanted by the information exchange race.

Photo Credit: Breaking Defense

The Air Force has been focusing on this issue of updating the management of battlefield systems and has begun the rollout of some interesting and positive early results. On a broader scale, specific to the cross-service issue, the Air Force has introduced its Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS), collectively summarized by the “xxxxONE’ moniker; “gatewayONE” for the F-22/F-35 link system (see ‘gateway’ link above), “cloudONE”, allowing commanders at various locales network access (at multiple classification levels) without being beholden to a single secure node at a desk, and the gargantuan “OmiaONE”, which is a Common Operating Picture (COP) intended to fuse the entirety of battlefield data across all combatant domains (not just the ‘air’ or ‘ground’ picture like traditional digital COPs).

Why This Matters

In an age of emerging peer threats who operate in increasingly diverse domains aimed at undermining the international order, the ability to process vast amounts of information quickly and efficiently may be the deciding factor in limiting, controlling, or winning in outright conflict. The DoD has recognized this reality, and the experimentation/development aimed at achieving a fused system of information sharing across the departments of service is a necessary step in the right direction.

The fog of war is an issue that commanders have spent centuries working to overcome. This reality is largely why the US military doctrine is built on the principle of Centralized Control/Decentralized Execution. In short, this doctrine provides commanders the ability to interpret guidance from higher echelons of command, disseminate guidance to lower echelons, and entrust the execution methods to that lowest enabled commander. This doctrine ensures that the strategic vision is clearly understood throughout the ranks, while the actual maneuver elements are uninhibited by overbearing and dislocated commands without timely and accurate information.

Counter to this methodology is the traditional Soviet doctrine, which bases its principles on concentration of forces, initial mass, and detailed, exacting preparation against the objective under unified command. Essentially Centralized Control & Execution. From a purely geographic and societal perspective, this doctrine meshed with the Soviet-era consolidation of economy and government, but its performance in warfare is blunted by bureaucracy, a lack of efficiency, and slow decision making. Modern adversaries like Iran, North Korea and China still adhere to the skeleton of this doctrine (mass, decisive point preparation), although modernization efforts are in the wind, particularly in the case of the People’s Liberation Army.

Power rivals of the United States recognize the need for advancing their information warfighting capacity, and in an era of great power competition, the force that can adapt to threats across domains are the likeliest to succeed…provided the information is accurate, relevant, and commanders make the right call in reacting or pre-empting those threats. Based on these DoD efforts to set the foundation for a fast, multi-domain cloud of information sharing, the US appears to be taking this warfighting paradigm shift seriously.

The views are of the author, and do not reflect the views, position, or policy of the U.S. Air Force or Department of Defense.

News You May Have Missed

UN Report Implicates Message from MBS in Hacking of Bezos’ Phone

According to details in a report issued by the United Nations, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, better known as MBS, sent a WhatsApp message with a video attachment containing malware to the phone of Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post. The report indicates that the hacking was part of tensions between Bezos and MBS, following the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, as well as that the hacking was likely carried out by Israeli private sector hackers contracted by the Saudis.

Jim Lehrer, Journalist, Presidential Debate Moderator, and Host of PBS NewsHour Dies at 85

Known for his calm seriousness as a news anchor and moderator of presidential debates from 1988 to 2012, Lehrer passed away “peacefully in his sleep” according to a statement released by his family. One of the giants in political and national journalism, we should take to heart what Lehrer said about how he and his longtime TV partner, Robert MacNeil approached reporting on politics and national affairs, “we both believed the American people were not as stupid as some of the folks publishing and programming for them believed.”

Netflix Adjust Viewing Metrics to “Two Minute” Gauge

While Netflix has taken its latest quarterly report as an opportunity to crow about some of the viewing figures for its streaming service, others have noted that Netflix has changed the metrics used to determine viewership, stating that users have “chosen to watch” a program after just two minutes of viewing — which, to be fair, is also the metric used by YouTube and the BBC’s streaming service. Critics have pointed out that similar chicanery that boosted video rating numbers at Facebook led to a premature “pivot to video” by many online outlets, with journalists laid off and customers unhappy with having to watch, instead of read, their content.

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




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Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress

Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress

CSPC is a 501(c)3, non-partisan organization that seeks to apply lessons of history and leadership to today's challenges

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