Friday News Roundup — May 20, 2022
SOFIC 2022; Surprise State Revenue Windfall; West Disconnects from Russia; Japan-Russia Relations on Sakhalin
Welcome to this week’s Friday News Roundup, which will be a special one. In addition to our usual survey of events in the United States and the world in the past week written by CSPC staff, this roundup will also include editorials from some of our Presidential Fellows on topics of their choice. As mentioned in the April 29 roundup, CSPC’s Presidential Fellows conference was a strong success this year, and brought more than 50 Fellows from around the country and the world to Washington for a busy week of talks, discussions, and networking.
In the news this week, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine amidst Russia’s continued invasion of the country. Passing 86 to 11 with Republicans making up all of the “Nay” votes, the aid package includes humanitarian, military, and economic aid to the Ukrainian people and government. While the package had, in the end, passed by a wide margin, the vote came after a week of delays after it was held up by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) out of oversight concerns. While support for Ukraine previously enjoyed near-unanimous bipartisan support in both chambers, the emerging split within the Republican Party on the issue of aid to Ukraine could be a harbinger of less consensus in Congress and the country on what should be done to support Ukraine, if at all.
Significant primaries in the run-up to the November midterms have continued this week. In Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman defeated Congressman Conor Lamb for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. The Republican primary for U.S. Senate in the state continues to make waves as ballots continue to be counted, with the Trump-backed former TV personality Mehmet Oz holding a narrow lead over investment banker John McCormick. While Kathy Barnette, who was known for her many incendiary comments, has effectively been knocked out of the running in the Republican primary, the election will likely continue to be divisive as former President Trump raises baseless claims of election fraud and urges Oz to declare victory prematurely. In North Carolina, the divisive and beleaguered freshman Congressman Madison Cawthorn lost to his less-explosive primary challenger Chuck Edwards, a North Carolina state senator.
In other news, news of outbreaks of Monkeypox in Europe and the United States continues to circulate. Cases have been reported in the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Canada and the United States. While experts at national health agencies are advocating for quick action to investigate the source of this unusual outbreak, scientists are less concerned that it will metastasize into a larger epidemic or pandemic.
For the Diplomatic Courier, Joshua C. Huminski–the Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs–reviewed Louisa Lim’s “Indelible City” about Hong Kong’s search for identity amidst China’s rise and Beijing’s increasing authoritarianism towards the territory. As much a personal narrative as a journalistic account, Lim brings Hong Kong and its people vividly to life in their own context–neither as colonial subjects of the United Kingdom nor as part of greater China.
Last week, CSPC also hosted the Wall Street Journal’s Erich Schwartzel to discuss his book “Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy”. A video of this discussion should be live on CSPC’s YouTube page, soon.
In this week’s roundup, Ethan gives a readout on the Special Operations Forces Industry Convention. Wes discusses how the Russian economy is handling being disconnected from Western economies. Hidetoshi analyzes how Japan’s relationship with Russia on the Russian island of Sakhalin makes Japan’s relationship with Russia more ambiguous. Robert finishes the staff section with an examination of how states are handling larger-than-expected budget windfalls.
SOFIC 2022: Future ISR will include cyber, space and open-source data fusion. And actual robots.
Defense conventions tend to be largely awkward affairs where a handful of DoD uniforms spend a week or more getting swarmed by the latest and greatest pitches from defense contractors. Don’t misunderstand, both parties are there for that exact purpose, but the problem with these conventions is that every penny is extra shiny, the promises and great ideas abound, but at the end of the day, proprietary systems and acquisitions remain the greatest stumbling block to getting innovative commercial tech into the hands of the end-users that need it most.
U.S. Special Operations Command runs their conventions a little differently than big DoD shows. Oftentimes, operational units will send team folks to represent the command and engage directly with vendors and air grievances on what kit is missing, what requirements really are for the pointy-end-of-the-spear, and provide critical feedback on the best vectors for commercial entities to focus their tech savvy. This week, the Special Operations Forces Industry Convention (SOFIC 2022) brought industry leaders together with the USSOCOM human inventory to parse out the exact problems faced by the command and provide a forum for problem-solving by all parties.
There have been a few fascinating and quizzical developments from the event, highlighted by a variety of press releases and public comments made by attendees, the guest list led by key leaders like USSOCOM Commander General Richard Clarke, Lt. General James Slife (Commander, AFSOC), CAPT. David Markle (Navy Special Warfare Command’s Deputy Commander), Col. John Lynch (MARSOC, Dep. Commander) and LTG Jon Braga (USASOC Commander).
One of the notable stories from this week’s event was Gen. Clarke’s emphasis on developing new strains of sensors for the future battlefield — critically restricted from fusion with other surveillance capabilities due to the unique nature of the preceding twenty years of low-intensity combat in dominated battlespaces. Simply, because the battlespaces in Afghanistan and the Levant were utterly dominated by American air power (no air threats since the enemy was insurgencies and terror groups), there wasn’t a need to fuse overhead sensors with other data-promoting platforms like space, cyber, and commercially open-sourse information to enable or advance better situational awareness of the battlefield. If American or coalition forces were on the ground, moving towards and objective, they had supreme awareness of the target because that same target couldn’t do anything to interdict an ISR asset twenty thousand feet up, loitering in a circle above the compound piping high-definition feeds into hand-sets grasped by those same maneuver elements.
Gen. Clarke told the conference in a key leader address that “next-generation ISR [is] something that needs further development — just buying overhead UAVs is not going to be the solution in the long run. There are so many capabilities that have to come together — space, open source data, cyber-based targeting — that can allow our people to get a better feel than just having something above their heads”. What the USSOCOM commander is referring to here is a futuristic system that can fuse information and enable forward-operators to gather information that has never previously been fused, in order to better develop the ground truth before setting foot on an objective. To date, maneuver forces have not considered cyber, or space assets, in their supported asset panoply when mission planning for a specific target. Whether that target is a high value, single individual like a terror group key leader, or a adversarial states center of gravity (infrastructure — airfields, energy plants, key routes and hubs), special operators have typically applied mechanical and technical systems that merely look around the corner in a two-dimensional, fatal funnel perspective. The General is inferring here that operators need to not only see around corners in physical battlespace (live feeds from overhead sensors), but they need to see the cyber and space domains related to the same battlefield as physical presences as well.
This isn’t easy to do of course, because such a system is at risk of being so inundated with data that the kill-chain sequence or even simply fire and maneuver methods become burdened by too many data-driven variables. Does this mean that forward-staged teams responsibility includes directing and controlling space assets to provide imagery, timely updates on enemy order of movement, and application of futuristic space-based effects like electronic warfare? Potentially, yes, which means the Special Forces of the DoD have to change how they perceive the battlespace at the most fundamental level. How does cyber factor in? Are special forces teams now expected to employ cyber from austere locales in order to influence the enemy order of battle?
All of these are realistic expectations for America’s most elite fighting units, especially in the complex battlefields of tomorrow. One critical point mentioned by the General in his remarks include the integration of open-source data to augment those overhead, space and cyber capabilities. Open source intelligence has risen to the fore in the world’s most recent modern battlefield, in fact it predicted Russian activities and has been a stalwart bastion of tracking and monitoring since the invasion kicked off in late February. Brand names like Bellingcat — reliably swift in getting sensitive, timely information out to the open internet with relative reliability, have challenged the GWOT-induced norms of isolation of intelligence sources and data sharing across disparate entities. If USSOCOM is going to continue to press itself to remain one step ahead of the future enemy — all but certain to be peer forces in denied environments — then learning how to integrate secure and open source data intelligently will be a key component in shortening the decision sequence for battlefield problem-solving.
This brings us to pivot to the aforementioned ‘robots’ of the future fused sensor fight. Separate, but related to SOFIC’s week of pitches and fireside chats, members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Special Forces Group conducted a fascinating proof-of-concept exercise at Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground back in February, which was promoted extensively this week during the convention. At that exercise, which fell under the Army’s Project Origin Experimental Robotics program, Special Forces A-teams performed direct action raid and clearance operations on mock-up target compounds…with Remote Combat Vehicles (RCVs) leading the formation and conducting initial engagement with the ‘enemy’.
American soldiers followed a robot into a gunfight, and the robot achieved initial clearance and provided fire superiority as if it was just part of the A-team. While not quite as ostentatious as scyfy caricatures like the battle-automata of Warhammer 40k lore, these remote-piloted vehicles aren’t too far off the fictional depictions of such systems. Two soldiers attached to the A-team operated the RCV from a safe distance, and the robot led the charge into the objective while the ODA fell in line and continued with the mission. Further, the robot was used to engage targets at distance, sparing the human soldiers from compromising their cover and concealment. The RCV, of course equipped with localized sensors, was fused into the A-teams situational awareness network, making every operator aware of what the robot was seeing and doing as part of the team’s overall scheme of maneuver.
This is the future battlefield that Special Operations Forces are preparing to fight in — where the line between human and machine is blurred to the point of left-seat/right-seat between sentient and semi-autonomous operators. Nothing will ever replace a human thinking inside the OODA loop of a gunfight, but where SOF is concerned, every battlespace is assumed to have more enemy than friendlies, that’s where SOCOM makes its hay in preparing the battlespace for follow-on conventional forces. What USSOCOM is clearly focusing on, based on the reporting coming out of SOFIC and the recent jumps in defense tech, is that special operators are rapidly moving to become more integrated, more self-sufficient in denied territory, and more lethal against capable peers in tomorrow’s gun[space-cyber-sensor]fights.
Russian Economy Continues to Sort Out Disconnecting From the World Economy
Almost 90 days on from Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s economy continues to process the effects of punishing international economic sanctions. While Russian leaders have attempted to stabilize the economy, private companies, especially local Russian branches of multinational corporations, have been forced to sort out their disconnection from the world on their own. Challenges to the Russian defense and energy industries by pre-February sanctions appear to have been exacerbated by the newest sanctions imposed on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine.As sanctions on Russia begin to cut deeper, Russia’s economy is being forced to insulate itself in real time.
Western companies such as Renault and McDonalds which previously hesitated to leave Russia, facing sanctions and international pressure, have had to make the decision to pull out of Russia. In a move which Renault described as a “responsible choice” for its remaining employees who have been unable to work since the invasion, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced on May 16 that the company’s Moscow auto factory “Reno” would be taken under the city’s administration and rebranded under the Soviet “Moskvitch” brand. While Renault CEO Luca de Meo emphasized that the arrangement would allow the company to resume control of the factory in the future, no concrete timelines or plans to do so were given by the French company. Similarly, McDonalds announced on May 19 that it had sold the remainder of its 850 franchises in Russia to the Siberian businessman Alexander Govor, who already owns and operates 25 McDonalds locations in Siberia. McDonalds had previously been paying its employees in Russia despite its stores being closed after the invasion, but the sale of the entirety of its Russian operations indicates that the American company has lost faith in its future in Russia.
As Russian access to foreign products and technologies dwindles, Russian companies have already begun to engage in import substitution. A March 6 Kremlin decree which effectively lifted patent protection for companies headquartered in countries which Moscow has deemed “unfriendly” has helped pave the way for Russian import substitution to borrow heavily from the original Western import in question, as has been done in China for decades. Russian producers continue to try to introduce a variety of consumer goods substitutes, ranging from imitations of certain Western soft-drinks to advanced electronic parts, but the pace of the development of substitutes has been irregular at best. While some Russian business leaders have thrown their support behind a full transition to an autarkic economy, significant questions remain about what sort of cost this transition will demand.
Russia’s defense and energy industries are likely to be significantly challenged by the disconnection of Russia’s economy for the rest of the world as well. Russia’s defense industry was already struggling with securing the supply of critical technologies and finance from abroad before the invasion. Recent Western sanctions have further hampered Russia’s access to military or dual-use technologies, forcing the Russian arms industry to contend with massively disrupted supply chains of inputs for a wide range of military technologies. The European Union’s May 18 announcement of a multi-year project to wean the bloc off of Russian energy will present a significant challenge for the growth of the country’s energy industry, which is a significant element of the Russian economy and depends on foreign investment and know-how. Also on May 18, the Russian Ministry of Economic Development released forecasts that oil production in Russia was expected to fall by almost 10% this year, indicating that falling demand from the West and sanctions on the Russian energy industry are impacting the industry.
Even as Russia’s Central Bank and other economic authorities in Russia struggle mightily to stabilize the Russian economy, it is unlikely that they to insulate it in the long term. According to recent economic analysis from April, Russia’s GDP will likely fall by 12.5% to 16.5% without even factoring in the final effect of Europe’s fitful but definite effort to disconnect itself from Russian sources of energy. Russia’s development bank also cautioned on May 17 that a massive drop in imports will prevent the Russian economy from modernizing, with some estimating that imports into the Russian economy shrank by up to 80% through April. Through aggressive action taken by Elvira Nabiullina’s Central Bank, the Russian ruble has reached a nearly 20 year high of 62 rubles to the U.S. Dollar, and the growth of inflation has begun to cool off in the country as the economy contracts, a point of some hope for Russian consumers. While Nabiullina has a reputation as a relative economic liberal in an otherwise very statist Russian system, her moves to stabilize the ruble and the economy via strict corporate and individual capital control measures indicate willingness to use all levers of state power.
Even as the Russian state has achieved temporary stabilization of some key consumer-level economic indices, it has been unable to stem the contraction of the Russian economy and is yet to feel the full effects of being unable to trade with traditional Russian partners.
Sakhalin and Japan’s Lingering Strategic Ambiguity toward Russia
In marked contrast to Finland’s and Sweden’s decisive pivot to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the West’s common struggle against Russia, Japan has recently demonstrated strategic ambiguity toward its northern neighbor. Despite its declared policy of accelerating decoupling from Russia, Tokyo has paradoxically reaffirmed Japan’s continued stakes in Moscow’s hydrocarbon projects on the forlorn Far Eastern island of Sakhalin. Tokyo’s pretext was supposedly to prevent China from dominating the island’s energy resources. Such a rationale is dubious at best in light of Sakhalin’s turbulent history and at worst could impinge on the future of Japan’s nascent economic security policy.
Sakhalin is a Far Eastern geopolitical flashpoint marked by the perennial Russo-Japanese geopolitical rivalry since the 19th century. From the Russian perspective, Sakhalin is an important bridgehead from which to extend geopolitical influence over Japan, beginning with the country’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, which is only less than 50 km away from the Cape Crillon. Likewise, Sakhalin would provide Japan with a similar regional stronghold from which to thrust its geopolitical influence into the Eurasian continent. The upshot of these competing geopolitical imperatives is that Sakhalin has frequently changed its hands between Russia and Japan throughout its modern history, culminating in the Soviet Union’s complete seizure of the island during the final days of WWII.
One peculiar aspect of Sakhalin’s contested history is that the island has served both regional powers as an economic frontier rather than a military stronghold. In fact, Imperial Japan even swapped the entire Sakhalin island for the Kuril island chain in the 1878 Treaty of St. Petersburg for fear of losing its regional maritime preponderance to Russia as the nascent Asian empire modernized its navy. Russia thus gained a desolate island beyond Siberia perfectly suitable for settling political prisoners as forced labor to cultivate the enormous resource potential on the country’s Far Eastern flank. Yet, Russia’s geoeconomic design for Sakhalin largely withered on the vine as the island failed to transform beyond a veritable gulag archipelago as vividly described by Anton Chekhov in his 1895 travelogue, Sakhalin Island. Ironically, it took Imperial Japan’s acquisition of the southern Sakhalin in 1905 and its protective occupation of the northern half in the early 1920 before Russia could fully tap the island’s vast resource potential. In other words, Russia needed an external, if not rival, power to leverage its own domestic economic potential even at the expense of losing a war and a portion of its territory.
In fact, such a bizarre economic relationship was perfectly consistent with Russia’s geopolitical behavior in general. Russia has invariably courted outside powers for its internal economic development throughout its history, ranging from Vladimir Lenin’s New Economic Policy (NEP) to the Russian president Vladimir Putin’s policy of economic cooperation with Japan in Siberia and the Russian Far East. The perennial pattern of Moscow’s economic courtship is that foreign capital has almost always ended up in the Kremlin’s kleptocratic hands. Imperial Japan’s foray into the energy projects in northern Sakhalin was no exception as Tokyo’s state-owned company, the North Karafuto Petroleum Company, suffered constant sabotage from its Soviet joint-venture partner. The denouement of Imperial Japan’s energy venture in Sakhalin was its humiliating exit followed by Russia’s invasion of the island’s southern half in August 1945.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, Japan once again sought inroads into Sakhalin to pursue a joint-venture with the Soviet Union over the island’s untapped energy potential. Japan’s largest business lobby, the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren successfully lobbied for the creation of a state-owned company for the joint-development of Sakhalin’s energy with the Soviet Union in 1972. Despite Tokyo’s high expectations for securing an energy foothold in its vicinity, Moscow’s main interest was to procure cutting-edge Western technologies for resource extraction while simultaneously gaining foreign currencies from the gullible Japan. The Kremlin succeeded in meeting its objectives for Sakhalin before suspending its cooperation with Japan in the 1980s.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Sakhalin’s energy potential looked to become a significant source of income for the newborn Russia. Moscow once again opened up Sakhalin for the rest of the world and courted foreign investments in an attempt to address its floundering economy of the 1990s. Driven by post-Cold War euphoria, Japan once again indefatigably vied for stakes in Sakhalin’s energy potential and secured its presence in Sakhalin 1 and 2 along with other global supermajors, such as Exxon Mobil. Although the multinational arrangement appeared to mitigate the abiding concerns for various business risks inherent in Russia, Moscow relentlessly pursued its traditional policy of exploiting foreign elements for its own economic development agenda, culminating in its hostile intervention in Sakhalin 2 in 2006 to support the Russian state-owned company Gazprom’s acquisition of the majority stakes. Nonetheless, Tokyo continued to view the Kremlin-led Sakhalin energy projects as indispensable to resource-scarce Japan’s energy security, leading to rely on them for 1.8% of its oil imports and 8.7% of its liquified natural gas (LNG) imports by 2021.
Against this backdrop, the Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida recently reaffirmed Japan’s continued presence in Sakhalin 1 and 2 even after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent mass exodus of western supermajors from the projects. Apart from contradicting his own policy of anti-Russia solidarity with the West, Kishida’s recent declaration on Sakhalin is both ahistorical and astrategic. In fact, Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine was a godsend for Japan in resetting its relationship with its northern neighbor. Relying on Russia for energy security is perhaps the most astrategic proposition for its neighboring countries, including Japan, but Tokyo has consistently demonstrated strategic folly by tirelessly pursuing the questionable prospect for securing its energy foothold in Sakhalin throughout the country’s modern history. The conundrum is that while Kishida came to a rude awakening about Russia after February 24, including the uncertainty over Japan’s energy stakes in Sakhalin, and quickly realigned Japan’s grand strategy with the West’s, he nonetheless repeated the mantra of energy security and even cited the Chinese influence in justifying Tokyo’s longstanding energy joint-venture with Moscow in the Far East.
One clue to this enigma is the lingering perception gap between Japan and the West on Russia. One of the fundamental drivers behind the Russo-Japanese economic cooperation in general, including the Sakhalin energy projects, is Tokyo’s dubious view of Russia as an economic frontier aiding its perennial search for energy security. Indeed, such a view gained support from Japan’s political establishment after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, leading the former prime minister Shinzo Abe to expand the country’s imports of Russian LNG from Sakhalin 2 to remedy the loss incurred from the suspension of nuclear plants. Although the private sector largely shares Tokyo’s view, most companies rely on the Japanese government’s statist economic policy for Russia due to the perennial threat of the Kremlin’s predatory interventions in economic affairs. The upshot is the lack of initiative on the part of Japanese companies operating in Sakhalin unlike other western supermajors, which quickly pulled out from the island due to the unfavorable business environment, including reputational risks. With private firms unable to steer their own future, Tokyo stepped in to prop up their continued operation. On their balance sheets, the damage is manageable at least for now, and the worst appears to have been averted.
Yet, the real worst is perhaps yet to come. The most dire scenario possible is not China’s replacement of Japan in Sakhalin as feared by Kishida, but the unintended consequences of distorting Tokyo’s thinking about economic security. The foundation of Japan’s economic security is the rules-based order thanks to which it achieved the post-WWII economic miracle and its enviable international position as one of the world’s leading democracies. The rationales for economic adventurism in Sakhalin may vary from energy security to countering China, but Russia remains fundamentally opposed to the rules-based order and is arguably the world’s leading authoritarian power bent on undoing it. Viewing Russia as an economic partner is antithetical to the spirit of the rules-based order without which Japan’s current economy itself would not exist. Moreover, prolonging the Sakhalin energy projects would stifle the private sector’s thinking about alternatives, which are in fact abundant among fellow democracies, ranging from the US shale industry to the decarbonization initiatives led by western supermajors. Finally, Tokyo’s strategic ambiguity toward Sakhalin augurs ill for its economic security agenda of achieving targeted decoupling from China. Russia provides Japan with the much-needed testing ground for implementing its economic security policy, but Tokyo’s indecision over Sakhalin looks to set a negative precedent for checking Beijing’s geoeconomic influence over Japan.
The recent Sakhalin affair unmistakably exposed Tokyo’s continued strategic ambiguity toward Russia. Kishida found himself divided between principle and pragmatism. Yet, his perceived pragmatism was a choice ironically because Japan remains part of the rules-based order. A more accurate view of Russia is that it is now a denied country for Japan. To be sure, China’s geoeconomic influence looks to grow and even replace Japan’s in Russia. Yet, Beijing would gain such a status at the expense of further alienating the rules-based order it itself long benefited from in its rise. The world in 2022 is eerily similar to that in 1952 when postwar Japan regained sovereignty as a respectable member of the Bretton Woods System and the key regional military ally of the US. Kishida’s party predecessor, the former prime minister Shigeru Yoshida, took extra pains to defend Japan’s newfound position by upholding the principle of non-engagement with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China lest perceived pragmatism erode principle. Similar virtues are demanded of Kishida especially when Tokyo continues to question Washington’s alleged strategic ambiguity over Taiwan. By contrast, the last thing expected from him is to sell Russia the proverbial rope with which to hang Japan in Sakhalin and beyond.
States Enjoy Surprise Revenue Windfall — But Where Will They Spend It?
Robert W. Gerber
Thirty-two U.S. states are projecting 2022 revenues above their original forecasts, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. State revenues climbed 14.5% in 2021 (versus 2020) to $455 billion cumulatively according to the Association. The reasons for these funding windfalls are the $1 trillion federal infrastructure act (signed November 2021) and the American Rescue Plan, which allocated $195.3 billion in federal support for states, combined with an economy bouncing back from the depths of COVID. California is looking at a record $100 billion surplus. Governors and state legislatures will in the coming months wrestle with what to do with these extra resources. New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) proposed a middle class tax cut, and New Jersey is considering a plan to issue property tax rebates for 1.8 million home owners. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) wants to use the state’s budget surplus to give $250 in tax refunds to state taxpayers. Oregon, Indiana, and Colorado all require that taxpayers receive a portion of state budget surpluses. California is bound by law to spend half of its surplus on education. Gov. Gavin Newsome (D) plans to put some $23 billion into a “rainy day” fund, and he wants to fund new infrastructure investments, including $8 billion for power grid improvement, clean energy projects, and fire prevention, and $2 billion for COVID preparedness. Another portion would be spent on social programs, such as $2.7 billion in rental assistance, $1.4 billion in utility assistance, and $400 checks to automobile owners to provide relief for the rising price of petrol. Newsome has also proposed $759 million in free public transit, $2 billion for housing, and $700 million to address the state’s homelessness crisis. Advocacy groups for low-income Californians would like to see more “direct, meaningful assistance to individuals and families struggling the most to pay for basic needs in our communities,” according to Chris Hoene, director of the California Budget and Policy Center.
Josh Goodman of Pew Research said states need to distinguish between investing in projects with ongoing expenditures and projects that have one-time costs. State leaders also need to reckon with the fact that direct-to-consumer payments or subsidies, while tempting to politicians, will exacerbate inflation (currently around 8% with disproportionate impact on low-income families) and do not address supply shortages. The surprise fortunes of many states could factor into Congress’ decisions on federal taxes and grants for states in FY2023, possibly impacting White House priorities like further COVID relief, the broadband initiative, and the Department of Transportation initiatives.
News You May Have Missed
On May 18th, the United States Soccer Federation reached a consensus that the men’s and women’s national teams will receive equal compensation and prize money, including at World Cups. Multiple players filed a federal wage discrimination lawsuit in 2016, saying that female players were paid less than their male counterparts while generating more money for the U.S. Soccer Federation. The United States Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) and U.S. Soccer decided to collaborate to address the compensation disagreement after this occurrence. The United States Soccer Federation is the first in the world to equalize prize money for the FIFA World Cup.
On May 18th, the European Commission and the EU foreign policy chief presented an analysis (in EU jargon “a joint communication”) on measures to fill the bloc´s defense investment gaps. The paper focuses on joint acquisitions of military equipment by EU member states, strategic defense programming and boosting financing for the European industrial base. Joint acquisitions are a new step in EU defense policy — a sign that the war in Ukraine has resulted in political momentum to create a stronger European defense posture.
In what has been the first trial conducted to try a Russian soldier of war crimes committed as part of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian Army Sergeant Vadim Shishimarin plead guilty to charges including war crimes and premeditated murder. Shishimarin was accused of shooting and killing a 62-year-old Ukrainian man near the village of Chupakhivka in the Sumy region in the opening days of Russia’s invasion. According to Ukrainian prosecutors, the Russian soldier was instructed to shoot the Ukrainian man, who had been riding a bike near Shishimarin and a group of other Russians. A handful of other, similar trials of Russian soldiers accused of war crimes in Ukraine are scheduled to take place in the coming days and weeks. Ukraine has made the administration of justice for Russian war criminals an important tenet of its war effort.
After acknowledging that he had previously deleted certain text messages from his old Nokia phone before offering the remainder to government archivists, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte faced significant blowback in parliament for a perceived pattern of low transparency on his part. While Rutte received the condemnation of many opposition figures in parliament (including a motion of no confidence introduced by far-right party leader Geert Wilders), criticism of him was mostly limited to complaints that Rutte had not made good on promises to improve transparency in his government. Jesse Klaver, the head of the opposition party GroenLinks, was one of Rutte’s most vocal critics aside from Wilders. The story had initially been broken by the major Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, but as of May 20, it was not dominating coverage in the largest Dutch news publications.
Presidential Fellows Editorials
Banning DA-ASAT Tests Would Make Space a Safer Place
At any second, space trash could damage or disable the International Space Station (ISS), sending it back to Earth, and that’s not the worst of it. Space trash, also called space debris, could take out satellites that impact banking, telecommunications, utilities, disaster mitigation, and national security, leaving the world in a centuries long satellite-dark age. Humanity must drastically reduce space debris generating activities, like destructive direct ascent anti-satellite (DA-ASAT) missile tests, or face losing access to space as a natural resource. Whether by international treaty or bilateral agreement, a common international ban on would be small step in the right direction toward the giant leap humanity needs for a more sustainable space environment
In April 2021, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and the four astronauts aboard were nearly hit by debris, some of which travels 25,000 MPH, after being launched on their mission in the ISS, coming close enough that they were only given 18 minutes notice by ground control to get back in their launch suits and buckle up. In November 2021, the ISS was nearly hit by more debris after Russia successfully destroyed one if its dead satellites using a DA-ASAT test, forcing astronaut and cosmonaut alike to take shelter. The ISS Canadarm2 suffered an impact in May 2021, cratering equipment and stoking concern for the safety of today’s space travelers and the prospects of space development into the future. China’s Tiangong space station and taikonauts are at similar risk. On May 16, 2022, the ESA successfully avoided a collision between their earth observation satellite and debris from Russia’s November 2021 test, doing so with less than 24 hours’ notice.
After its February 2022 update, a Secure World Foundation publication that tracks decades of space debris activity, shows that of the trackable space debris attributed to DA-ASAT tests, all but 11 of the nearly 4,000 debris objects still in orbit are attributable to tests performed by China (2007) and Russia (2021). The U.S. has performed tests in the past, however it did so at a low enough altitude that most of the debris deorbited relatively quickly.
Why is there so much debris? In short, rocket launches and missile tests that have taken place over the last 65 years have left a lot of stuff out there.
From the beginning of the space race to present, humans have left tools, human waste, and dead satellites in orbit. This activity is responsible for tens of thousands of debris objects orbiting today. Some dead satellites have been used for target practice in DA-ASAT tests. Debris generated from these tests represents nearly 50% of the total trackable objects in space. Some very small debris, estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands, is too small to be tracked but because of the speed at which the debris travels, can still be very destructive.
Vice President Kamala Harris announced on April 18, 2022, that the U.S. will no longer perform destructive DA-ASAT missile tests, communicating to the international community that the U.S. wants to lead in this effort and is putting its best foot forward to ensure a sustainable space environment that keeps space crafts and human space travelers safe. This is a bold and necessary move, but it is not enough.
Banning DA-ASAT tests does not, as some have claimed, leave the U.S. or its allies in a more vulnerable position. Rather, the U.S. position as a space power is already well established as we have successfully performed such tests when fewer satellites were in lower earth orbit (LEO). Repeating these demonstrations will put the U.S. and its allies at higher risk as a majority of satellites in orbit today originated from U.S. soil, providing services to national security agencies, allies, and other overseas clients. Additionally, when the air, land, and sea forces of the world aim their missiles and bombs they expect gravity to help deliver them to their target. Space does not afford this luxury. Space debris just keeps going, losing only a little altitude each revolution, all the while capable of indiscriminate destruction.
Satellite activity in LEO like Starlink, new and old space stations, and military observation satellites, is growing at a fast rate. If the U.S. were to try to test a DA-ASAT missile, it is now more likely that it would have secondary or tertiary effects in space but also on the ground. Debris may not stay aloft long if generated in LEO, but with more satellites in LEO than before, the likelihood of a conjunction or collision is far higher than in the past. Additionally, satellites from other countries could be impacted, delivering a blow to international relations on the ground.
Owners and operators of satellites, whether government or commercial, are constantly on the lookout for debris and other satellites in operation, to avoid collisions. It is increasingly the case that an operator will have to move a satellite to avoid a collision, expending precious fuel resources which shortens the life of the mission. Mission costs are already likely to increase as a result.
Finally, if the U.S. reaches an agreement for such a ban with its allies, partners, and adversaries alike, the global population will be made safer, much as was done in past nuclear test ban treaties. A destructive DA-ASAT missile test ban would offer a safer future on and off Earth. It’s time for the U.S. to boldly lead the way into that future.
The Soft Underbelly of a Nationalized Campaign
My grandparents live off a dirt road in rural South Arkansas, only moving once in the past six decades from one small home to, unsurprisingly, another built right across the street. Pop is a retired feed store owner raising a small number of cows; Nanny works daily in her garden, years after ending her former career as a USPS rural carrier. Their most tangible policy needs should include, among other things, accessibility to reliable healthcare centers; having high-quality roads to connect their dispersed community; reliably recovering electricity following severe storms; and being able to afford the farm equipment necessary to generate their small, bovine stream of income.
The posters, mailers, social media posts, and television advertisements currently inundating their community for primary season tell a different story. Campaigns are no longer a debate over who appoints the state highway commission or the efficiency of state bureaucracy that beckons people to the polls — sensational issues, though I know. Rather, every state, every county, every small town has a stake in the national political game. Everyone is told they have a salient bone to pick with someone or something in Washington, D.C., and politicians on every level are making their case to fight Joe Biden or Donald Trump on behalf of their communities.
In this way, national party platforms find themselves crammed into a state-size mold. Issues, rhetoric, and named opponents all either exist on the national stage or descend from that larger political arena. State and local campaigns take advantage of this nationalization to mobilize voters, generating support with a shared political vocabulary. By nationalizing, smaller-scale campaigns consequently avoid evaluation on what their candidates’ election would actually entail politically on a local level before they cast votes. A citizen may not know how a lieutenant governor candidate would work to improve state healthcare or education, but they’ll know the candidate’s perspective on federal government overreaches. Meanwhile, a county justice of the peace candidate pairs small business experience with their positions on gun control and Roe v. Wade. National themes interweave with the local, substituting conversations of localized pertinence with popular nationalized credentials.
The state of Arkansas encapsulates much of this nationalizing trend. In a state which ranked 50th out of 51 for voter turnout at the 2020 general election, national issues reign politically supreme yet bear weak ties to the state’s distinct issues. Nearly every statewide and regional candidate advertises their views on nationally prevalent topics like the 2nd Amendment, reproductive rights, school choice programs, law enforcement policy, and individual liberties especially in relation to COVID-19. Amidst these nationalized nods, politicians and/or politics outranked educational concerns when Arkansans were polled in 2021 about the most urgent issue facing the state (the economy and healthcare consistently take the top two spots in this poll). Nevertheless, Arkansas remains frequently among the bottom 10 states in educational quality. Additionally, few state or local candidates articulate policies addressing the state’s central agriculture industry or the rampant food insecurity which leaves 1 in 5 Arkansas children not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Even state infrastructure, which received an overall grade of D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers in 2021, receives little mention in state executive or legislative political ads (municipal and federal legislative campaigns deserve some credit here). Most political messaging roads instead wind their way back to Washington, D.C.
In January 2021, a prominent figure from this national scene followed in her father’s footsteps and announced her candidacy to serve as chief executive for the Natural State. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has continually embraced this trend of nationalization in her gubernatorial campaign, answering “You bet I am” when asked about the practice. Not only are her political teeth partially cut from her federal experience as President Trump’s first White House Press Secretary, but her campaign also relies almost solely upon federal-level policies to gather support and mobilize voters. Her initial campaign pitch in her seven-minute announcement video features first party platform buzzwords like “the Radical Left,” “law and order,” “government control and censorship,” and “socialism and cancel culture” before proceeding into discussions of Arkansas or her state-specific narrative. Policy commitments made include the prohibition of sanctuary cities and the stopping of the Green New Deal, objectives with prominence in the national dialogue but with weaker connection to a state which prohibited sanctuary cities in 2019 and voted overwhelmingly Republican in 89% of counties in 2020. The implications of these and other campaign rhetoric and commitments are clear. The political forces Sanders intends to “defend [Arkansans’] freedom” from as her overarching mission are found outside of the state, not within. She is indeed campaigning to be a state leader but one whose priorities are to play a part in the national dialogue, engaging policy actors on a national level in order to “fight for Arkansas,” as a May primary mailer asserts.
The nationalization continues into campaign social media. On Twitter, policy goals such as state income tax elimination, school-choice expansion, and improving Arkansans’ quality of life are mentioned occasionally. Interspersed more frequently among the policies are tweets advertising Sanders’ national presence. Fox News appearances with Sanders commenting on topics like federal student loans and inflation are followed by campaign videos targeting Vice President Kamala Harris, CNN, and other national entities. These tweets are intended to stir a nationalized dialogue from the stable political home base of Arkansas.
Nationalization can indeed make Arkansans feel like they are a part of something larger than themselves; the awed clarity of Arkansans’ personal retellings of President Clinton’s 1992 victory speech on the steps of the Old State House in Little Rock evidence that. Yet, Arkansans’ needs for a high-quality, low-cost living, accessible social services, efficient governance, and more do not go away when they are not deliberated by leaders campaigning in a nationalized election. They simply go unaddressed. Those looking to serve on a state, local, and even national level must balance the need to efficiently mobilize voters with the recognition that nationalizing a campaign yields its own set of ambiguities for voters. These ambiguities can be relieved through prioritizing locally-informed policies in campaigns rather than those with provocative names or sponsors. Decisions to invest more locally are admittedly a political risk but would indicate good-faith steps towards engaging communities in resolving decades-long issues.
A Tale of Two Policies
Joe Biden should put his money where his mouth is. The Biden Administration has been very clear that China will face repercussions for its human rights abuse against the Uighur population. This ongoing pressure and focus for human rights has become a hallmark foreign policy for Joe Biden and his administration.
His appointment of humanitarian hawks like Samantha Powers to the USAID supports his belief in human rights and building a free and open indo pacific through strengthening democracies. The Biden Administration has also suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia due to concerns of escalating the violence in Yemen.
This same pattern of humanitarian and human rights focus should be considered in the foreign policy decision in all of the Indo-Pacific, including Vietnam. The middle power, authoritarian country is one of the most important countries in the Indo-Pacific. The Biden Administration must navigate diplomatically in order to build a counterweight to China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia.
The history of human rights in Vietnam and diplomacy with the United States is tied to the history of the Vietnam War. Vietnam and the United States both conducted inhumane actions from torture in POWs to rape and killings in the My Lai Massacre and the release of Agent Orange by the United States. As both countries normalized bi-lateral relationship in 1995, the
Biden Administration seems likely to continue the past administration’s commitment to growing
Vietnam’s bi-lateral relationship. Obama’s end of the decades-long arms embargo in 2016 and
Trump’s welcoming of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to the White House in 2017 were reaffirmations of the U.S commitment to Vietnam in terms of maritime security and diplomacy.
These incremental steps in normalizing bi-lateral ties are in recognition of Vietnam’s important role in challenging China’s aggressive behavior around the South China Sea and Southeast Asia. Vietnam has counteracted China’s assertiveness by acting responsibly within the Indo-Pacific community and chaired ASEAN in 2020 and will be a non permanent member of the United Nations Security Council from 2020–2021.
Supporting Vietnam will be an important Indo-Pacific strategy for the United States, but disregarding Vietnamese violations of human rights from censoring freedom of speech and expression is a contradiction to American democratic values. The human rights issue was raised briefly by the Obama Administration once it lifted the arms embargo but the factor has now since been deemphasized as a factor in Vietnamese relations. This complicates Biden’s charges against Chinese human rights violations against the Uighurs if the United States turns a blind eye to the crisis in Vietnam. Incidents like the brutal arrest of Yale Student Will Nguyen during protest against the proposed economic zones favoring China are clear representations of the influence from China into Vietnamese governance and culture.
The United States should be clear on human rights issues in Vietnam as in China. Traditional leaders within the Vietnamese Community Party may be uncomfortable with the discussion of human rights but this similarity in governance with China is only one of the few issues binding the two nations together. Tensions over the South China Sea as seen in the Vanguard Bank where Vietnam was forced by China to cancel a $200 million contract with the Spanish energy firm Repsol.
The United States can alleviate Chinese control and influence while addressing the human rights issue in Vietnam. The Vietnamese public views the United States much more favorably than China in terms of relationship building and views the Chinese government as the aggressor. Focusing on humanitarian issues like cleaning up the Agent Orange leftover from the war and focusing on improving education through the establishment of the U.S Fulbright University are crucial areas for more U.S support. This will be the soft power support that will incrementally push for addressing the human rights crisis in Vietnam.
The United States must also give Vietnam alternatives in economic trade and investment aside from China’s Belt and Road initiative. Giving Vietnam an escape from the overdependence on China will be a great area of growth for the United States and Vietnam and possibly a pressure point for the United States to use in the future for addressing human rights.
Incorporating Vietnam into the international system with rules and guidelines with like minded allies and partners would also diversify the economic and security interactions of Vietnam, serving as another deterrence to Chinese aggression. The Vietnamese government already made major strides in economic reform to be a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the United States unfortunately left the partnership, this shows the potential to use economic support and motivation to pressure Vietnam toward more human rights.
The United States may not even have pursued aggressive policies that would shift the Vietnamese government away. Increased tensions with China, including a new missile base built by the Chinese in the region along the China/Vietnamese border may put Vietnam down an important decision inflection point.
The Vietnamese government can continue to play the line of neutrality between Washington and Beijing, accepting its fate being dictated by an increasingly aggressive Chinese policy along the South China Sea and in economic trade. The Vietnamese government can also, under the support and pressure of the United States, begin from a position of greater strength from Chinese dependence while allowing the people of Vietnam to dictate their future. Either way, the Biden Administration must maintain its narrative of human rights and a free and open Indo-Pacific in all of the region.
Technology Protecting Our Cities From Cyberattacks, A new Federal Commission is Needed
Municipalities across the nation are experiencing cyberattacks and are not prepared to defend themselves. Some of these attacks come with a goal of profit, but many come with the goal of sowing chaos, of breaking the public’s trust in their government. From large cities like Baltimore, MD to small towns like Cockrell Hill, TX, attackers are taking advantage of municipalities’ lack of technical expertise, lack of funding, and lack of public support in improving cybersecurity.
The United States Congress is starting to realize we need to take cybersecurity seriously. The changing tone on cybersecurity is evident in their actions; in March, a cyber incident reporting bill was passed, receiving unanimous consent, despite being contentiously removed from the large defense bill in December. The infrastructure bill allocates billions for cybersecurity grants, including a billion dollars to go to states and cities. But despite this increased investment, there have not been structural changes to incentivize and support local and state entities in improving their cybersecurity. Centralized federal leadership is urgently needed to help coordinate and support a national effort to improve local cybersecurity.
Money helps, but funding is not the only barrier to local cybersecurity. As it stands today, municipalities simply lack both the incentive to and knowledge of how to improve their cybersecurity. When your constituents are worried about their schools, their housing, their safety nets, it’s difficult to turn your attention to upgrading your data storage systems or requiring employees to take anti-phishing training. And when a town has poor cybersecurity and little technical expertise at their disposal, how do they even start upgrading their systems and developing response plans? Without a change in the structural incentives and resources given to cities and towns, their cybersecurity will continue to lag behind; these structural changes come through policy making, but there is not yet a clear picture of what effective policy looks like.
The creation of a new commission charged with researching potential policies to improve state and local cybersecurity, evaluating existing state initiatives, and providing recommendations and guidance to state officials would start shifting the conversation on municipal cybersecurity. Today, municipal cybersecurity is an under-researched area in academia, is rarely the focus of legislation, and comes with many unique challenges, resulting in few existing proposals for what is effective policy that incentivizes and supports improving local cybersecurity. Creating a federal commission would enable a centralized place for technical and policy experts to work together to develop effective policy.
State leadership is clearly needed on municipal cybersecurity; state governments should be the ones working most closely with their own cities and towns. However, states today are not in a strong position to know what policies are an option or might be effective. Half of states do not even have cybersecurity task forces , working groups or councils, leaving them without coordinated state level leadership. Some states like Michigan and Massachusetts have established innovative programs to improve cybersecurity, but others take little action. A commission that helps coordinate research on potential policies and aggregates learnings from the different states would enable the creation of resources and guidance that states could then look to. Federal leadership on state and local cybersecurity is not unprecedented; the Multi State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) seeks to improve state and local cybersecurity via technical support (incident response services, table-top exercises, etc.); however, it does not provide research or advice on policy proposals.
National leadership is also needed on municipal cybersecurity because it is not just a local issue, it’s a national security issue. At first glance, the security of one police department, elementary school, or city clerk’s office may not seem relevant to our national security stance. However, when many departments, schools, and offices across the nation are being attacked, it can lead to what some call “death by 1000 cuts”. Municipal entities are often those closest to the daily lives of citizens; their disruption can result in chaos and uncertainty entering the lives of people across the country, degrading trust in America’s institutions.
The US is beginning to make progress towards taking improving cybersecurity seriously, but that progress is happening in an unbalanced and uncoordinated way across the nation. Federal leadership through establishing a commission to research, facilitate knowledge sharing, and provide guidance would help change this. It is often said that in cybersecurity you are only as strong as your weakest link. Right now, weak links are scattered across our nation in the form of municipalities; it’s time to figure out how to strengthen the whole chain.
The views of authors are their own and not that of CSPC.