Friday News Roundup — October 14, 2022

Tech Decoupling is Real; National Security Strategy Released; New U.S. Arctic Strategy

In Washington, the headlines are heated. In the likely final hearing of the January 6th committee, a unanimous vote to subpoena former President Trump came the same day the Supreme Court denied to hear his appeal over the review of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. In House races around the country, now costing tens of millions of dollars, attack ads on crime, the economy, abortion, and January 6th dominate the airwaves. The economic headlines are no less heated as the latest inflation numbers still come in hot, suggesting continued interest rate hikes.

The moves by OPEC+ to cut oil production further rankled Capitol Hill, with growing calls to reevaluate the military assistance given to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, including recent gifts of air defense systems. At the same time the west is hard pressed to provide air defense systems from its limited stockpiles to Ukraine, as Moscow now pursues a campaign targeting Ukrainian cities and civil infrastructure. In Beijing, the party gathers for the 20th Party Congress and Xi Jinping’s third term, but protestors have hoisted banners denouncing his political clampdown and zero-covid strategies.

Yesterday, Dan Mahaffee hosted a discussion with Stefan Aust and Adrian Geiges, authors of “Xi Jinping: The Most Powerful Man in the World” in a discussion on the background of China’s leader and his mindset in this growing competition. This discussion ties into what Dan covers this week, as the scope and impact of the Biden administration’s restrictions on export to China of semiconductors and AI technology becomes clear.

For the Diplomatic Courier this week, Joshua C. Huminski, the Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs reviewed “The Danger Zone” by Hal Brands and Michael Beckley. In it, the authors argue that the real risk of great power conflict is not a rising China surpassing a declining America, but a Beijing that fails to reach what it believes is its potential and, in a bid to stave off stagnation, lashes out. Using Imperial Japan and Germany prior to the First World War, the authors make a compelling case. They then draw lessons from the Cold War to suggest how the United States can avoid this crisis and better manage competition.

In War on the Rocks, CSPC Senior Fellow Ethan Brown and USAF Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Magill outline a strategy and recommendation to Air Force planners on how to build better partnerships and deter adversaries using Security Force Assistance Air Advisors, a capability that the service is divesting and a breaking news piece Ethan covered for Task & Purpose back in August.

With the 2022 National Security Strategy now released, Ethan looks at what is next in making strategy into reality. Robert Gerber reports on a new U.S. Arctic strategy unveiled in Reykjavik. We wrap with news you may have missed.

The U.S.-China Tech Decoupling

Dan Mahaffee

U.S. Department of Commerce, Author’s Photo

It has taken some time, but the wider media is catching up to the significance of last week’s moves by the Biden administration to place significant restrictions on the export of U.S. semiconductor technology to China. The restrictions — focused on advanced semiconductors and their application in artificial intelligence (AI) — mark a significant escalation in how the U.S. government is addressing the technology competition with China.

While last week’s announcement is a significant step forward, it is not a surprise. If anything, the Biden administration has continued a focus that began in the Trump administration regarding the race with China in critical technologies. Many in the Trump administration were ahead of the curve in identifying this challenge and responding to the changing nature of doing business with China, but a consistent strategy was difficult when the message from the top-down was more about a transactional relationship with China — until the final post-Covid rupture.

The Biden administration has continued this focus on China with a clear emphasis on what they see as the strategically critical technologies: AI, quantum computing, semiconductors, green energy, and, increasingly, biotechnology. Also of concern are supply chains for critical minerals, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals. The change in approach to China had been previously signaled, when on September 16th, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s remarks suggested that the administration would no longer look at export controls in terms of sliding comparative advantage, but rather that the United States must maintain an absolute lead in certain technologies. The response to Russia’s deepened invasion of Ukraine by the world’s technology leaders — and the resulting difficulties Russia has had with high tech weapons and components — have also demonstrated the leverage of technology controls.

Greg Allen of CSIS, who previously led the Pentagon’s Joint AI Center, has provided a detailed breakdown of how the latest action by the administration targets the specific chokepoints of Chinese AI efforts by restricting access to U.S. technologies and expertise. Of note:

This policy signals that the Biden administration believes the hype about the transformative potential of AI and its national security implications is real. Right now, the performance benchmarks for the advanced AI chips that China is prohibited from purchasing only apply to a relatively small set of overall market demand. However, the Biden administration intends to hold those benchmarks constant, meaning that the gap in performance will grow over time as the world advances and China remains stuck behind. It is as though the United States is saying to China, “AI technology is the future. We and our allies are going there. You can’t come.”

This is as clear a message to China, as well as to our allies and our corporate leaders, about the direction of U.S. geotech strategy. If applied across a range of technologies, not just AI, this marks a broader economic rupture with China. Doves will say that this now upsets an interdependent economic relationship; that our leadership may very well erode as we lose revenue from China’s market and China’s state-backed firms strive for now-blocked technologies. Hawks will say that it is past due, given Xi Jinping’s avowed push for technology self-dependence, myriad human rights violations, and an increasingly hostile business environment in China; “better now to decouple on our terms, rather than how Beijing has been quietly doing so” they might say. A thoughtful strategy must hold both those thoughts together at once as we understand the challenge posed by China as well as the massive adaptation it will take to reshaping business relationships with China.

A strategy solely to hold China back is unlikely to succeed. Rather what is the strategy that can build us up as well? The CHIPS and Science Act and Inflation Reduction Act’s supply chain elements demonstrate one avenue of support, but greater support still for R&D and expanded training programs are needed for maintaining an innovative edge and filling workforce needs. Streamlined regulatory approaches and avenues for trusted investment or data sharing are important as well. Government shouldn’t be standing on the fiscal gas pedal while still holding down the regulatory brake. If we’re going to finally acknowledge that what we are doing is “industrial policy” then let’s do it well — making sure Commerce, USTR, State, NSF, national labs, and others involved are all well-resourced, with needed talent. Finally, what trade and investment policies can make sure that U.S. business leaders have more ready alternatives to China as they reshape their business plans?

Building these capacities are also important for our relationships with allies. Coordinating various supports for our industries, protections for supply chains, and restrictions on adversaries to ensure that U.S. and allied efforts aren’t beggar-thy-neighbor while China moves ahead. By maintaining our competitive and economic edge, we can bring allies closer. If some allies like the Five Eyes partners and Japan are in a closer “orbit” to Washington, we have to acknowledge that others like Germany and South Korea, for example, are perhaps in a more distant orbit with their attraction to China. In some instances short-term concessions will still be required for long-term coalition building, as the waiver given to a key South Korean firm to continue business in China indicates. Policies must be guided to pull others closer to our orbit, building on existing multilateral institutions and opportunities to set new standards for the digital future.

Finally, there is the reality we must confront any policy towards China. Can we really afford to cut off wholly that nation’s population and economy? Not just on the ledger, but also for the future of humanity? 2022 could very well be the year that cements decoupling, as the west hardens and Xi consolidates power. The message of this decoupling just before the 20th Party Congress meets to seat Xi Jinping in his third term and elevate him to a level known only by Mao, perhaps now greater than Deng Xiaoping. Xi has stepped away from Deng’s path of pragmatism and engagement — and as we discussed with the biographers of Xi yesterday, Xi may be his own worst enemy. As we build these barriers now, do we do so as Mr. Allen’s analysis suggests, telling China it must stay behind — or do we do so saying that it is this China, the China on the path that Xi Jinping has chosen, that must stay behind?

The new National Security Strategy

A viable strategic vector…if defense modernization is resourced

Ethan Brown

It only took two years, but we finally have hands on the Biden Administration’s National Security Strategy, which at first glance, does not dramatically change the inherent grand strategy vector for the United States from recent years. Rather, and importantly, it squarely aligns a handful of foundational pillars for which the defense enterprise may now concentrate its train, organize, and equipping methodologies to evolve for future threats and demands. The concern in this analysis lies in the ability of COVID-impeded and fractured(and regionalizing) global networks of production — supply chains and commercial entities — to meet the ambitious demands of this top-level guidance. Without the ability to meet the demands of military capability by production engines, this new strategic focus may not matter.

Foundational to this national strategy is military modernization. Since the end of the War in Afghanistan — America’s longest and most wayward strategic endeavor — and even in its waning years, the pivot from degrading insurgent and extremist networks forced the DoD to consider fighting a ‘new’ enemy: peer militaries. The technology of that war consisted of increasingly precise and low-collateral damage weapons, and the find-fix-finish-exploit targeting paradigm. In short, we fought a war at the individual level, trying to contest and shape ideas by removing societal cancers and efforting an idealist notion that we can kill the enemy without risk to civilians.

Ukraine has reminded the world that war is brutal, that people die, often in gruesome and tragic means, and the ambition for states to achieve political objectives through violence is often only deterred by one thing: the risk to their forces and regimes as a result of military might. The shadow growing over Taiwan, and the anticipation of a repeat of Ukraine where an aggressor flouts international rules to pursue its own strategic and regional ambitions doubles-down on the reality that the United States, alone, does not possess the kind of military might to give these adversaries pause in such gambits. Of course, military force is (and as rightly stated in the NSS) for all intents and purposes a final step, only after diplomacy and engagement have failed. But

The new strategy touts military modernization under five tenets of integration: across domains, across regions, across the spectrum of conflict, across U.S. government elements, and with allies and partners. This has been dubbed “Integrated Deterrence”, and as a seeming blatant reversal of the previous administrations four years of isolationism and exceptionalism, nothing is more important than building a military fused with partners and cooperation.

However, integration hinges entirely on building the networks and technologies that achieve military overmatch and fuse allies into those cooperative architectures. Individually, the United States could certainly defeat Russia in a head-to-head conflict, nuclear weapons notwithstanding. It would be costly, and painful, but we possess that kind of overmatch and professionalism that Moscow simply cannot match. When it comes to Beijing, well, remember three years ago when the lexicon of the hour was ‘great power’ competition before we settled on ‘strategic competition’? The truth behind that lingo shift was that it was still too early to credit China’s power as ‘great’, meaning influence beyond its immediate orbit. But a direct confrontation between China and the United States, to put it mildly, would leave one hell of an opening at the top of the geopolitical food chain, and most certainly force a re-ordering of the international order. Such a conflict would leave both contestants permanently bruised, likely broken, and a return to prominence measured in centuries, not years.

The only potential of staving off such a world-shifting confrontation is by overmatch, and the only means of achieving such is through cooperation with like-minded partners. Therein lies the expanded U.S.-led efforts to bolster the Quad, to reinforce NATO, and use Ukraine as a billboard of zero-tolerance for unsubstantiated aggression by authoritarian actors.

But Ukraine is the five-meter, or ‘immediate’, target that also risks setting the United States back from the longer-term necessity. I defend and have pointed out as much since February, that overcommitment to the crisis of the moment risks shortening our capability to achieve modernization in the moderate future for that conflict many see as still a few years away…unless we achieve such integrated deterrence as would prevent another regional powder keg. Simply, the 15th installment of military aid to Ukraine (bringing the U.S. total to over $7 billion) demonstrates that the policy apparatus remains on a knee-jerk venture to ‘face’ Russia down. The continued easy button of sending aid to Ukraine has drained weapons stockpiles across NATO partners. New production takes months, exacerbated by continued COVID reflections on the economy, and increasing demand will slow any new production even further. The efficacy of all aid packages to date has been put to good use, certainly, but as Russian forces continue to be pushed back along all fronts — and Ukraine has begun seizing abandoned Russian munitions to bolster its stockpiles — one must wonder how many more billions of U.S. dollars and equipment needs to be gifted to Kyiv before we’re too deep in the hole to reasonably pursue the new strategy.

Those weapons that have gone to Ukrainians fighting Russians are not the ones that will achieve overmatch of a People Liberation Army inventory; those are the same weapons (with the exception being the rise of throw-away drone tech) that fought the Taliban in Afghanistan. Our ability to produce the ambitious and innovative military architecture to achieve that deterrent capability over Russian and Chinese threats in the future, requires significant overhaul in order to rise to the occasion. Per retired General Mike Scaparotti, former commander of U.S. forces in Europe, “our logistics infrastructure has changed through the time we were in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s not really established for high intensity conflict, nor are we supplied for high intensity conflict”.

Any conflict with a peer state will feature the full spectrum of intensity, from non-kinetic or ‘low’ intensity operations across cyber, information, and space, to the ‘high’ intensity, or open combat between fleets, aircraft, personnel, bombs and bullets. Low intensity conflict is something we have already demonstrated our ability to function in, although not always well. The National Security Strategy is clearly voicing intent on preparing to deter, and if need be, win in high intensity conflict. This is both reasonable and understandable, while the hope and stated objective of the strategy is to avoid conflict, we must prepare for it and do so by outperforming the adversary aligned with partners.

But until we achieve the ability to equip and organize the force to do so, this new strategy is roughly 43 pages of really good ideas, which we won’t be able to execute.

A New U.S. Arctic Strategy

Robert W. Gerber

Author’s photo

U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet officially presented the new White House “National Strategy for the Arctic Region” to an international audience in Reykjavik, Iceland on October 13. Mr. Chollet led the U.S. delegation to the Arctic Circle Assembly, an annual gathering of academics, NGOs, companies, and government officials. (The Assembly is not to be confused with the Arctic Council, which represents the eight Arctic states.)

The new U.S. strategy, which has been in the works for over a year, is designed to provide a roadmap for the next 10 years for the multiple U.S. Government agencies that are involved to some degree in the Arctic. (Note: the U.S. Army and Air Force each released their own Arctic strategies in the past two years.) The White House Arctic strategy features four pillars: Security; Climate Change and Environmental Protection; Sustainable Economic Development; and International Cooperation and Governance. Whereas “strategic competition” and climate change have dominated U.S. Arctic policy goals in recent years, this strategy gives top priority to protecting enhanced security cooperation to deter Russian aggression in the Arctic. This is appropriate given Russia’s assault on sovereign Ukraine and its reinforcement of its naval installations in the Arctic. The paper calls for, inter alia, defending NATO’s security interests while “managing risks of further militarization or unintended conflict” in the Arctic. The strategy pledges to upgrade domain awareness particularly through modernizing the NORAD infrastructure. The strategy says the United States would consider additional presence as needed in the European Arctic, and Mr. Chollet said that the United States plans increased military exercises in the Arctic. The strategy emphasizes “protecting the homeland” which includes building out U.S. Coast Guard capabilities and new Coast Guard ice breakers.

The strategy also commits the United States to conserving the fragile Arctic environment and mitigating climate change. At the same time, developing infrastructure (in a sustainable way) is a key goal, citing the need for new ports and airfields in Alaska. The strategy endorses exploring critical minerals in the Arctic, albeit with responsible partners and adhering to high standards for investment and the environment. The backdrop of this latter point is China’s desire to tap into the plentiful energy and mineral resources in Greenland and the Arctic Ocean. The strategy calls out China for doing military research under false pretense of civil scientific research and explicitly rejects China’s claim that it is a “near Arctic state.” With China again as the subtext, the strategy calls for protecting freedom of navigation and international law including the UN Conventional on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China has ambitious plans to use newly opened Arctic waters as a shipping highway to the Americas and envisions a “Polar Silk Road” to send cargo ships to North America and Europe via the Arctic. Notably, Beijing diplomats are welcomed at the Arctic Circle Assembly (unlike the Russians, who are not present), where they are pressing the case for Chinese inclusion in all things Arctic.

To achieve its multiple security, economic, and environmental goals, the United States says it will work through the Arctic Council and deepen relationship with “essential counterparts,” namely Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. An at-large Arctic Ambassador, housed at State Department, will lead international diplomatic engagement. The Administration has not yet announced its nominee for this Senate-confirmed Assistant-Secretary position. Domestically, the strategy will be implemented via a whole of government approach under the leadership of the NSC’s Arctic Executive Steering Committee in cooperation with the State Department, the State of Alaska, the U.S. Congress, the private sector, and NGOs.

Executive Director of the White House Arctic Executive Steering Committee Ambassador David Balton told the Arctic Circle Assembly audience on October 13 that there cannot be any cooperation with Russia under current conditions, although he left the door open to cooperation in the future if circumstances change. He emphasized the United States continues to work with the “Arctic Seven” even though the Arctic Council, which the United States considers the foremost institution for multilateral coordination for the Arctic, is basically on hold since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

News You May Have Missed

Mexican Congress Votes to Continue Military Law Enforcement

The Mexican Congress signed off on reforms to the Mexican constitution that would allow for the military to continue its role in domestic law enforcement until 2028. Already a staple of various Mexican presidencies’ efforts to tackle lawlessness and narcotrafficking, corruption among the military and its ties to cartels have become increasingly concerning. Still, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has deepened ties with the military, expanding their role not only in law enforcement but also the domestic economy and infrastructure.

Pro-Russian hackers knock U.S. airport websites offline

Pro-Russian hackers took responsibility for cyberattacks against American airport websites. On the morning of October 11, the websites for Denver International Airport, Los Angeles International (LAX), Chicago O’Hare, and Hartsfield-Jackson International in Atlanta, among others, were knocked offline temporarily by a group calling themselves Killnet. On the night before the attack the group used Telegram to urge hackers to take part in a DDos attack, which is a distributed denial-of-service caused when a computer network is flooded by simultaneous data transmissions. Killnet posted a list of airports from around the country to Telegram as their targets but it is unclear how many airports were actually affected. LAX officials shared that, “The service interruption was limited to portions of the public facing FlyLAX.com website only. No internal airport systems were compromised and there were no operational disruptions”. Orlando International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson International airport said their external websites were affected but without disruption to internal operations. These attacks come following another set of cyberattacks that impacted state government websites. Both of these instances seem to be revenge for U.S support for Ukraine.

Millions of Kenyans Risk Cellphone Disconnect

Authorities in Nairobi have encouraged Kenyans to meet Sunday’s deadline to register their SIM cards with the nation’s communications authority. It is estimated that nearly 12.5 SIM cards have yet to be registered, a measure brought forward by regulators to tackle cell phone theft and other criminal activity. The Communications Authority of Kenya previously extended the deadline for registration by half a year.

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

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