Friday News Roundup — November 19, 2021

Friday greetings from us in Washington, D.C. As we write, the House just passed the Build Back Better reconciliation package. While the Biden administration and House Democratic leadership will surely be celebrating this accomplishment, hurdles remain in threading the 50–50 Senate, any amendments, and all the other items squeezed into the end-of-year legislative to-do list. In evaluating the legacy of Speaker Pelosi, she will have led the passage of a second Democratic president’s agenda. The question remains whether she will lose the gavel a second time.

This week, both Joshua and Ethan contributed to the Diplomatic Courier’s bookazine on Afghanistan. Joshua provided a round-up of underappreciated books on Afghanistan, its past, and its future, while Ethan penned an essay on the missing elements from America’s strategy in that war.

CSPC also hosted author Toby Harnden to discuss his new book “First Casualty: The Untold Story of the CIA Mission to Avenge 9/11”. Joshua reviewed this book for the SCIF, George Mason University’s National Security Institute blog.

In this week’s roundup, Dan breaks down how we need to grasp the multi-faceted nature of future great power competition. Ethan looks at how the Pentagon is trying to come to grips with waste and inefficiency. Joshua analyzes President Putin’s speech to Russian diplomats. Hidetoshi Azuma weighs in with his analysis of how Japanese Prime Minister Kishida is crafting Japan’s economic security policies.

Next week we will be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends. Thank you for your readership, and we will be back in December.

Recognizing the Competition We Face

Dan Mahaffee

In the “pages” of this roundup, one of the recurring themes has long been the way that U.S.-China competition is increasingly played out in the corporate and commercial arenas — alongside the diplomatic, political, and military ones. Certainly, more attention is being paid to each of these areas. As China makes its advances and grows its capabilities, the position we find ourselves in is no longer one of seeking to contain or shape China’s rise, but having to outcompete China, along with our allies, in each of these areas. As much as we can track what China is doing, the onus falls on us to ensure that our institutions and society are in shape to rise to this competition.

First, China’s growing military competition is clear. From hypersonic tests and a nuclear arsenal build-up to naval growth and overall force modernization, China is moving ahead at the strategic and operational levels to match the United States and prevail in the types of conflicts that Beijing foresees with the Americans. While not a military focused, yet, on lengthy expeditionary deployments and a global footprint, the People’s Liberation Army branches have been aiming to constrain U.S. freedom of action as they prepare to prevail in conflicts over Taiwan, the East and South China Seas, and other regional conflicts. These are potential conflicts where China aims to combine advantages of size and geography — i.e. they’re closer to the theater of combat than we are — along with asymmetrical capabilities in space and cyber domains to blunt U.S. technological advantages.

As Ethan’s piece below describes — along with our extensive work on areas like the creation of the Space Force — the biggest determinant of whether we can meet this military competition is whether we have the will to fix outdated, inefficient, and wasteful thinking and execution of our defense. Overly bureaucratic thinking can stifle technical and tactical innovation, while the acquisition process continues to shun risk-taking, often under delivers in terms of capabilities, and wastes taxpayer dollars. At the same time, while it is positive to hear that a path forward for the NDAA is now there, too often our political brinksmanship — and the repeated CRs that substitute for a real budget — raise uncertainty about the resources available as old programs endure and new ones are unable to start.

In terms of political and diplomatic competition, on one hand, Beijing and the CCP do not seek to export their governing ideology. On the other hand, they want to make sure that the world is a safe space for autocrats and that the political and informational “red lines” enforced in China are also applied to foreigners’ political and commercial relationships with China. At the same time, as I chronicled last week, part of Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power and the elevation of Xi Jinping thought is the concept that China is bringing its autocratic solutions to the table for the range of problems shared across developed and developing countries — dealing with climate change, aging populations, growing inequality, and the impact of rapidly changing technology on economies and societies. Just as last week, the challenge to us here is to ensure that our leaders and institutions can put forth our own solutions — democratically-derived solutions — to these shared challenges.

Finally, unlike the playbooks of the Cold War where Washington and Moscow led largely separate economic blocs, U.S.-China competition takes place on the stage of a globalized economy. Simply cutting off China or rapidly decoupling would be equally damaging to our economy, as well as those of our allies; many of our greatest companies continue to depend on China for their operations and revenues; and economic interdependence can serve as a brake if we were to speed towards conflict — though brinkmanship and miscalculation can often change that balance.

Still, when considering the shape of a decoupling, we must already consider it underway in certain sectors. As was reported this week by Bloomberg, Beijing is working with its key tech companies to build an IT and digital supply chain that does not rely on the United States. Ironically, Beijing marshals its companies to gird itself for competition ahead, while pushing American companies to lobby Congress against proposed legislation to strengthen U.S. capabilities and competition with China.

While there will continue to be areas where we need to do business with China, we must be far less sanguine about how economic ties will shape China or access to China will improve, and far more focused on maintaining stability in commoditized, basic supply chains and trade, while looking elsewhere — onshore, nearshore, or “friendly-shore” — for critical supply chains. It will also require a greater emphasis from our nation’s corporate leaders on shifting to competition with Chinese companies on the global stage rather than seeking further Chinese openness.

Addressing this comes at home. Part of it is recognizing the challenges, while also adapting to the new paradigms of competition with China that are unique to this era. Simply rehashing the Cold War playbook doesn’t work when we are confronted with something that better resembles Bismarckian European politics, on a global stage, with hypersonic and cyber weaponry as well as cut throat diplomatic and corporate competition. For our political and corporate leaders, it will require thinking beyond respective electoral cycles and quarterly reports. All will have to work together to defend our values, and awareness of this challenge can only grow.

Audits unveil DoD’s biggest adversary: itself

Ethan Brown

China, modernization challenges, climate change and tech evolution lead military priorities, but investigating line-items reveals worrying levels of waste with the budget crunch looming.

SECDEF Lloyd Austin “we have much work left to do” (USAF SSgt. Jack Sanders photo)

National defense and the financial ledger to make those national security priorities pass muster are two difficult paradigms to rectify, irregardless of which party holds power in the White House or chambers of Congress. Fraud, Waste and Abuse are considered to be the most immovable standards against which the world’s largest not-for-profit enterprise must adhere to as resources are tallied against output and deliverables.

This unfortunate reality is that, like most things not-for-profit, there is often little or no incentive to be fiscally efficient, particularly with regards to a component of federal expenditures that most elected leaders agree on — more military budgets. As a result, the Defense department’s fourth annual audit, headed up by the Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord, recently notified congress and media that the long sought-after balance against waste and static resources is that just eight of 24 defense agencies have passed this iterative review. Last year’s audit, which is the fourth in a line of planned evaluations leading up to the professed goal of totally clean audits by 2027, highlighted 3,482 programmatic deficiencies in resources, unallocated funds, and requisitions that had been lost to the warehouses. Of those 3400+ items, as of this analysis, 13% (450 items), had been remedied, though by the end of the calendar year, the comptroller’s office expects that number to be closer to 19% resolved.

Among the resource red marks were the Navy’s inventory management system leaving about $960 million — yes, nine-hundred and sixty followed by six zeroes — in material left unaccounted for across multiple programs: F-18 parts, mine countermeasure implements, more than 2000 redundant requisitions orders. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency had several millions of budget dollars that were never spent, a ‘slush’ fund without line-item allocation. Both of these resource pools were seized and reallocated to programs of need or to decimate those redundant requisition orders and move the parts from the forgotten warehouses to the units that needed them most.

This section calls for an obligatory reference to the trillions of dollars spent in Afghanistan over twenty years, the equipment, resources and literal dollars lost to the sands and corruption. Which almost makes the $960 million seem laughable to have been ‘recovered’, but any small step towards balancing the DoDs resource expenditure deserves recognition.

As the onset inferred, it’s difficult to put a national defense benefit into terms of dollars and cents. In most cases of publicly appropriated funds (taxes) being withheld for the intent of public services, the taxpayer expects to see streetlights blazing at night, garbage collected, and clean water in their faucets after their truncated paychecks arrive in their bank accounts. We the common citizen are unable to actualize the benefits of national defense, and the daunting volume of cash that gets casually thrown about in congressional proposals makes the mind numb after so long. Case in point — as the audit is reclaiming a small percentage of discrepancies — that 13% corrective rate from last year — Senate and House leaders are chewing bones over next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA FY2022). Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) submitted an amendment to the NDAA legislation dubbed the Shipyard Act of 2021, with similar efforts coming from Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA). asking for an additional $21 Billion to be allocated to the U.S. Navy shipyards in Mississippi, Virginia, Hawaii and Maine. These additional funds are tabbed in order to fast track facility overhauls and truncate ship delivery timelines, Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has expressed his support and vowed to bring the proposal to the floor as congress tenaciously haggles over the next defense spending bill. The NDAA is potentially compromised from the jump thanks to the negotiations over possible spillover with the Senate’s China Competition Bill, thanks in large part to Majority Leader Schumer intending to merge the two bills and of course, the partisan hesitancy to cooperate on…well anything. The NDAA remains a stable bipartisan banner, but the China Competition Act has no shortage of debates swirling around its fringes regarding the gray-zone between national defense and domestic production/industry/economy.

The Pentagon is not above playing with both ends of the deck in this great game of dollars either. A major initiative from the Biden Administration has been combating climate change, which has a profound impact on national security issues, and also serves as another vector for DoD funding solicitation. The Pentagon has made its climate priorities clear and centerline, with Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks highlighting that the DoD has identified and is ardently requesting additional appropriations for this endeavor — $617 million worth. Part and parcel of those requests — something which the DoD has mastered in decades passed — is the ability to hide unfunded budget pools into annual requests, and then allow those collections of money to roll over into the next year’s budget lines as post-allocated expenses. That’s how the DoD has been funding its climate efforts for years, a matter of spending those ‘unallocated’ funds as they come up, so long as it can be relatively ascribed to climate programs.

Nothing moves the needle in American politics like the almighty dollar. The above analysis is merely the wavetops of the drama surrounding this broad sweeping audit for one of the biggest and most diverse ‘single’ entities on earth — the American military. One crazy note to keep in mind, is that prior to these iterative audit programs, with this year being the fourth turn of the wheel, the U.S. military has never truly been audited; the Marine Corps underwent an audit review in 2014, only for congress to learn after the fact that many critical review items (suspiciously sounding like ‘unallocated fund request’) were left off the table for review. The Pentagon spent decades escaping audit reviews, appealing to the Government Accountability Office that such reviews were too costly, too time-consuming, and couldn’t possibly paint commitments onto fiduciary murals that balance out in the end.

It is inarguably difficult to write a balance sheet for national defense, but the overwhelming missteps in allocated funds, extraneous redundancies, and haphazard cramming for more line items into budget proposals has left an inflated pile of funds that need to be accounted for, and whose correction does indeed have the potential to set the DoD on a path to future fiscal efficiency. That balance, no later than or before 2027 is critical with strategic competitors, the climate challenge, and a continually complex global security paradigm threatening the defense enterprise at every turn.

Putin Delivers Wide-Ranging Foreign Policy Speech

Joshua C. Huminski

On Thursday, Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, delivered a wide-ranging foreign policy speech that offered insights into the Kremlin’s views on the state of the world and Moscow’s concerns about the situation. The speech was clearly aimed at the Foreign Ministry audience, but it is nonetheless insightful and instructive, despite what a cursory glance at the headlines would suggest. It is also illustrative of the nature of U.S.-Russian relations, and Russian relations writ large — Putin can sound conciliatory while conducting malign behavior, best evidenced by this week’s ASAT test. Bilateral relations will be characterized by competition and, on occasion, confrontation, but engagement and dialogue are still possible, provided the activities remain below outright conflict.

It is interesting to note that the opening parts of the speech addressed the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, before turning to Moscow’s priorities on multilateral engagement through the Eurasian Economic Union, Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as well as the informal BRICS group. While the speech contained hawkish elements, this was not a wholly hawkish speech.

Putin naturally addressed the situation in Ukraine, accusing Kiev of failing to abide by the Minsk Package of Measures and Normandy Agreement, both of which aimed to de-escalate and stabilize the situation in Donbas, as well as between the two countries. Putin also accused the West of “exacerbating the situation by supplying Kiev with modern lethal weapons, conducting provocative military exercises in the Black Sea and other regions close to our borders.” Putin unironically cited flights of strategic bombers near the border of Russia, something Moscow did only days ago.

Unsurprisingly, the media chose to fixate on Putin’s remarks about red-lines, in which he said, “we constantly express our concerns about these matters and talk about red lines, but of course, we understand that our partners are peculiar in the sense that they have a very — how to put it mildly — superficial approach to our warnings about red lines.” Thereafter he referenced NATO’s enlargement after the end of the Cold War. Putin further cited NATO’s military infrastructure and Mk-41 missile launchers, which he stated could be easily switched from missile defense to offensive attack.

To fixate on this point alone is to miss the Russian forest for the apparently threatening trees. The speech is far more instructive if one reads what preceded and followed the president’s comments.

Here, the president encouraged Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to continue to pursue agreements on strategic stability, adding “keeping in mind that, after all, we are dealing with, to put it mildly, not very reliable partners who can easily backtrack on any previous agreement. Nevertheless, as difficult as it may be, we need to work on this, and I want you to keep that in mind.”The president’s characterization is unfair, but not without merit as the United States did withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty under President George W. Bush, but Moscow has also violated its share of strategic arms agreements.

On the United States writ large, Putin said, “At this point, these relations, to put it mildly, are in an unsatisfactory state.” He added, “Embassy staffs have been cut and the embassies cannot function properly, let alone systematically engage in expanding bilateral ties. These are the consequences of the provocative policy pursued by US authorities, which began to practice large-scale bans and restrictions for Russian diplomats five years ago.”

It is not all bad on bilateral relations however:

Nevertheless, the summit with President Biden in Geneva last June opened up a few opportunities for a dialogue and gradual alignment, straightening out our relations, and it is important that both sides consistently expand the agreements reached. Indeed, something is already being done, this much must be admitted: joint work has begun on the strategic stability and information security agenda. True, our interests, assessments, and positions on many bilateral and international issues differ — this is indeed so and everyone is well aware of it — sometimes the difference is dramatic. However, I would like to say this again, we are open to contact and an exchange of views, to a constructive dialogue.

Putin also continued some expected Russian positions when it came to NATO, expressing shock that the mission to NATO was sharply cut in response to Russian espionage: “Out of the blue, they expelled our diplomats without providing any reason for doing so.”; and making Russia appear to be the peacemaker and moderator in international disputes such as Azerbaijan and Armenia.

On the situation and Belarus, Putin echoed disinformation portraying the crisis as the fault of the West, saying “It is also impossible to ignore that Western countries are using the migration crisis on Belarus-Poland border as a new reason for tension in a region close to us, for putting pressure on Minsk, while at the same time forgetting their own humanitarian commitments.” But, at the same time, expressed a fairly candid perspective on its belligerent and unstable neighbor, “we know and understand that Belarus has its problems, although domestic political tensions have calmed down, but the problems exist, and yes, we are well aware of this and we certainly support a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition.” He went on to repeat that Moscow is committed to the Union State agreement’s implementation.

Putin’s speech must be understood in its context, audience, and delivery. Clearly, it was meant for the Foreign Ministry and therefore sounded much more diplomatic than, perhaps, a speech to the Ministry of Defense or Foreign or Military Intelligence (SVR and GRU, respectively) may sound. It is no different than President Biden addressing the State Department versus the Department of Defense — different audiences get different messages.

It also highlights the Western media’s fixation on attention-grabbing narratives to the exclusion of meaningful content. It is unsurprising that Putin would warn about red-lines, but it is far more interesting that he did not unilaterally close the door to discussions on strategic stability or information security, instead encouraging the foreign minister to continue those dialogues.

Here, Putin was frank that relations with the U.S. are not ideal, they are not, but he was far less bellicose in this speech than in others over the last two years. “Constructive dialogue” is better than no dialogue at all — and this is a far cry from, for example, his 2007 Munich Speech where he accused the United States of undermining global stability.

What Putin says and what Russia does are often two different things, but here again it is no different than in the United States. Indeed, this week’s ASAT test is a perfect example. It is one thing to talk about stability and another entirely to create another debris field, jeopardizing the safety of the International Space Station and even its Russian astronauts. Putin can leave the door open to engagement and dialogue, while ratcheting up tensions in Ukraine and exploiting the situation in Belarus, and doing any number of other things globally. It is not a binary approach to foreign policy. Yet, for the West, it often appears that that must be the case for Russia even if it is not for the United States or any other power.

This new era of strategic competition will see the United States engaged in dialogue with Russia at the same time that Washington will be competing and contesting with Moscow, and Moscow will almost certainly be engaging in malign activities in Europe and further afield. The goal is not victory, but strategic stability and both a recognition and appreciation of interests — appreciation in the sense of understanding, not acceptance. Washington and Brussels will need to confront Russia when necessary, cooperate where possible, and engage as first principles. This approach is more critical now, more than ever, especially as the White House wants to pivot to Asia. It can pivot, but it cannot ignore Moscow.

The Emerging Contours of Japan’s Economic Security Policy

Hidetoshi Azuma

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida convened his administration’s first cabinet meeting on economic security, the Economic Security Promotion Conference, on November 19. The event essentially marks the official start of Kishida’s signature economic security policy which he and his party allies from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), including the disgraced former LDP Secretary-General Akira Amari, gestated for several years. After Amari’s untimely fall from his role as Japan’s foremost economic security hand in late October, the conference showcased Kishida’s operational team and consolidated the framework for his top priority agenda. It also mandated the Economic Security Minister Takayuki Kobayashi to accelerate the legislative efforts for the proposed Economic Security Promotion Act. While Kishida’s economic security agenda is steadily showing tangible progress, it still lacks a coherent strategy and would require sober guidance lest enthusiasm trump prudence.

Kishida’s first Economic Security Promotion Conference on November 19 was his first public display of leadership on the economic security front since the October 31 general election for the House of Representatives. The general election ended with the surprising defeat of the seasoned lawmaker Amari in a single-seat district, leading to his humiliating resignation from his party Secretary-General post as well as his active involvement in Tokyo’s economic security discourse. Amari’s downfall was significant due to his proactive leadership in charting Japan’s nascent policy discourse on economic security toward targeted decoupling from China and a more resilient national economy based on strategic autonomy and strategic indispensability. Despite this setback, Kishida inherited Amari’s vision and continued to pursue his economic security policy in earnest, even expanding its scope to include human rights by appointing the former two-time defense minister and Japan’s top human rights hand, Representative Gen Nakatani as the prime minister’s special adviser on human rights issues. Against this backdrop, the November 19 cabinet meeting involving key ministers reaffirmed Kishida’s enduring commitment to economic security and his leadership at the helm of his signature policy even in the absence of his mentor.

The event highlighted the revelation of Kishida’s goals for Japan’s economic security. He unveiled 1) improving the autonomy of Japan’s economic structure, 2) securing competitive advantages of Japanese technologies with an eye toward their indispensability, and 3) maintenance and enhancement of fundamental values and a rules-based international order as the three key objectives for his economic security agenda. While his pronouncements unmistakably reveal Amari’s influence, the Japanese prime minister made no references to China or even cooperation with key international allies and partners, such as the US and QUAD countries. His deliberate avoidance of broader geoeconomic competitions suggests a rather narrow framework centered on restructuring Japan’s existing industrial bases under the banner of economic security. Indeed, Kishida himself has been promoting “new capitalism” to replace Japan’s “neoliberal economy” in an effort to fundamentally change the country’s existing economic model created on the former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi’s watch in the early 2000s. Indeed, the new Japanese prime minister unveiled his plan for a $5 billion economic security fund to support the growth of Japan’s emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.

Kishida also ordered his economic security minister to expedite the process for the legislation of the Economic Security Promotion Act. Kobayashi immediately set up the Economic Security Legislation Preparation Unit inside the Cabinet Secretariat on the same day to lead the institutional coordination across the government. According to the leaked documents obtained by Yomiuri Shimbun, the proposed legislation is slated to incorporate the following pillars: 1) bolstering supply chain resilience; 2) maintaining the functions of basic infrastructures; 3) classifying select patents; and 4) securing technological bases. While classified patents would significantly bolster Japan’s overall information security, the legislation currently under discussion echoes the domestic-oriented framework for economic security unveiled by Kishida at the November 19 cabinet conference.

While Kishida has undeniably made considerable progress in consolidating Japan’s economic security policy over a relatively short time frame of less than two months, his efforts rather reflect his personal enthusiasm for an alternative economic model than a coherent strategy. In fact, Kishida’s domestic-oriented perspective exhibits distinct traits of his home faction, the Kochi-Kai, whose members led postwar Japan’s reconstruction with the combination of neo-mercantilist economic policy and minimal defense commitment under the doctrinal guidance of the former Japanese prime minister Shigeru Yoshida. Kishida’s economic security policy would be an essential upgrade to the Cold War-era Yoshida Doctrine and could once again transform Japan into an economic bulwark against communism in the era of the US-China great power competition. Indeed, Japan’s acquisition of “economic chokepoints” in the country’s supply chains as touted by Kishida would bolster its overall statecraft especially in checking Beijing’s coercive economic brinkmanship as exercised in 2010 over the Senkaku islands dispute. Yet, unlike Yoshida who lived at the height of the US-Soviet bipolar rivalry, Kishida finds himself in a fundamentally different geopolitical environment where the US and China face off across multiple domains in today’s hyper-connected world. In other words, Kishida’s domestic-oriented, defensive outlook on economic security may lead his important policy agenda astray as China’s geoeconomic offensives continue unbridled from cyberspace to university campuses.

Although Kishida’s personal devotion to bolstering Japan’s economic security is an important milestone in the evolution of the country’s statecraft, his policy urgently needs a strategy. While statecraft is the art of exercising the power of a state, strategy is fundamentally different and is about the instrumental use of various means for political ends. Kishida’s stated objectives for Japan’s economic security are relevant to statecraft, not strategy. Indeed, it is one thing to acquire economic choke points as a part of statecraft, but it is quite another to utilize them to coerce Beijing into a negotiating table over the Senkaku islands. In today’s increasingly hybrid environment, Japan would also need to work closely with allies and partners to address various economic security challenges to secure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and beyond. Kishida’s economic security strategy will most likely await the official release of an Economic Security Strategy proposed by the LDP in December 2020 and would require in-depth discourse involving both government and non-government inputs for its consolidation. Given this timeline, the first reality check of Kishida’s economic security agenda will likely occur at the upcoming summit with the US president Joe Biden next month, where the two leaders could launch a proposed US-Japan 2+2 Dialogue on Economic Security to further align their respective countries’ policies.

News You May Have Missed

Australia’s ancient ‘assassin spiders’ were feared extinct after fires. Then, scientists found two alive. (msn.com)

If you were worried about the world becoming less terrifying, do not feet. Nightmare fuel of the biological sort still endure in the world’s most challenging ecological climes. Notably, Australia’s ancient “Assassin Spiders’’ — who were feared to have gone extinct during the horrific wildfires that demolished much of the country in 2019 and 2020 — have been found in some detritus near Kangaroo Island, close to the traditional haunts of these invertebrates who are critical to sustaining the local ecosystem and hunters of other, much more dangerous arachnids. The Assassin Spider, colloquially referred to as the Pelican spider, because its elongated head and upper cephalothorax resembles the maritime bird, is a ruthless predator straight out of H.R. Geiger’s imagination, whose loss would have had a profound if myopic impact on the ecology in the immediate area.

And not even fire can kill it.

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

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