Friday News Roundup — October 8, 2021

Assessing Alliances; U.S. F-35s to Britain; NATO expels Russian diplomats; Politics of SCOTUS

Friday greetings to you from CSPC. This round of debt ceiling drama has come to an end — or at least been postponed until the holidays — as a short-term deal was reached by Senate leaders Schumer and McConnell. A 61–38 vote overcoming the filibuster has opened the path for a deal increasing the nation’s debt limit by $480 billion. It is estimated that this will allow the nation to pay its bills until December 3rd.

In CSPC’s own news this week, we were excited to announce the creation of the “Nate Morris Fellowship at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs,” thanks to a gift from the Morris Foundation. This is the second Presidential Fellowship for Princeton students at CSPC, supplementing the Gerald L. Parsky Fellowship for undergraduate students, and the second Fellowship endowment for Mr. Morris, a CSPC Trustee, who previously endowed the Nate Morris Fellowship at the University of Kentucky’s Gatton College of Business and Economics.

This week, Joshua reviewed Douglas London’s “The Recruiter: Spying and the Lost Art of American Intelligence”, a look inside the life of a CIA Operations Officer, but also a critique of the state of the Agency.

This week, Dan looks at how our allied capabilities cannot be ignored as he surveys transatlantic and Indo-Pacific partnerships and alliances. Ethan provides an update on F-35 deployment to Europe, while Joshua looks at NATO’s expulsion of Russian diplomats suspected of espionage. Our intern Stella Delgado, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, makes her inaugural contribution with a look at the politics surrounding the Supreme Court as she starts her term. We wrap with news you may have missed.

Bolstering our Allies for the Long Haul

Dan Mahaffee

A Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter makes a vertical landing aboard the JS Izumo, a Japanese helicopter carrier, in the Philippine Sea, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) via Stars & Stripes

In imagining the risks of future great power conflict, the risk of simultaneous transatlantic and transpacific conflict cannot be discounted. Should China make a move against Taiwan or tensions otherwise grow in the Pacific, Moscow could easily make a move deeper into Ukraine, or even against the Baltics. Vice versa could also be imagined, as well as all manner of other contingencies involving Iran or North Korea. In planning for the reality of multiple, simultaneous conflicts, there is only so much that our current military strength could handle — at least in the immediate start of the conflict(s). Therefore, as we deepen our defense partnerships with key allies and build new networks of security cooperation, the global and regional capabilities of our allies become ever more important. Surveying the key transatlantic and Indo-Pacific allies, promising avenues of cooperation also confront the reality of uneven capabilities and challenges to existing and nascent institutions.

First, with global reach, the AUKUS agreement has the potential to deeply link the technological research and defense industrial base of all three nations. Beyond the important cooperation in nuclear submarine technology, the shared approach to technological, intelligence, and industrial matters promises to deepen the already close bond between Canberra, London, and Washington. The deployment of the Royal Navy carrier group to the Pacific marked Britain’s intent to play on the global stage. Still, while AUKUS shows promise for naval and technological cooperation, other concerns about Britain’s military strength must be considered in the context of NATO and European defense.

This week, British parliamentarians suggested that the British Army would struggle to field a quick response mechanized brigade in 2024, raising further questions about the decline of British military strength. Even with the aforementioned Royal Navy deployments to the Indo-Pacific, Britain’s global vision is challenged by the limits of the exchequer. Despite this, as Ethan covers in his following piece, U.S.-UK cooperation and U.S. basing in Britain grows deeper and more capable.

Still these defense budget (and capability) concerns are not unique to the UK, however, as NATO military spending and allied commitments — while generally improving before the pandemic — have been an eternal point of friction between Washington and the other NATO allies. The future of European defense capabilities, however, may no longer be driven by pressure to meet NATO targets, but the reality of a post-fall-of-Kabul, post-AUKUS desire to truly build European defense autonomy.

While the Biden administration has worked to smooth over the contretemps with the French government over the AUKUS aftermath, French President Macron had already, pre-AUKUS, called for European defense autonomous from the United States, looking beyond “brain dead” NATO for the future of European defense. The reality of relying on the United States during the Fall of Kabul, as well as the shock over AUKUS, have further strengthened the French drive for greater security autonomy — which has also been repeated by leadership in Brussels, with Charles Michel calling 2022 “the year of European defense.”

Improving European defense capabilities, even if it does mean greater European autonomy separate from NATO, is complementary to U.S. interests. European defense autonomy generally implies a strengthening of what Europe-integrated-into-NATO could bring to a potential conflict. Where U.S. leadership, the future of NATO, and European defense autonomy come into sync is continuing to focus on NATO’s bread-and-butter of interoperability and logistics planning — the capabilities necessary to deter or defend against a Russian attack — and then complementing that with novel cyber, command-and-control, and intelligence capabilities. If the rhetoric of strengthened European defense is to become reality, there are still the questions surrounding the European consensus, as rearmament and spending are both politically tricky in Berlin, while illiberal Hungary serves Moscow’s and Beijing’s interests. The difference in Europe itself, between east and west, must also be bridged when it comes to the perception of the threat from Moscow.

Moving to the Indo-Pacific partnerships, the deepening of the Quad partnerships, the security-focused cabinet of new Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, and AUKUS plus bilateral cooperation with Australia show how the Biden administration builds on Trump administration efforts — with bipartisan support from Congress — to build security frameworks in this strategically vital region. Japan is moving forward in strengthening its military and tools for interoperability with the United States. The U.S.-UK exercises with Japan and the testing of F-35Bs on Japan’s flattop “helicopter destroyers” — political semantics for a small aircraft carrier — are a good example of this. Still, deepening defense cooperation with Japan, and India, is promising, but there are ceilings — with Japan’s pacifist constitution and India’s legacy inclination towards defense cooperation with Russia.

Where things become even more complicated, unsurprisingly, is when it comes to Taiwan. The mainland’s increasingly bellicose actions, combined with the heated rhetoric over potential conflict, bring greater attention to U.S. defense assistance to Taiwan. As Taiwan’s capabilities to deter and defend against a communist invasion are considered, there is an opportunity to reshape the Taiwanese military to better avail itself of new technologies and capabilities — undersea, unmanned systems, swarm drones, anti-ship missiles, etc. — that are key for future conflicts. The old model of trying to build a miniature U.S. military of outdated equipment will no longer deter Beijing from violent reunification. Asymmetry and guerilla warfare will be Taiwan’s best tools. The reports of U.S. Special Forces training with their Taiwanese counterparts is a promising example of cooperation in those concepts of combat, but risk miscalculation with Beijing.

These strengthened military alliances and partnerships serve our shared interests and values, while also providing for global stability and deterring authoritarian aggression. Be it building greater European autonomy or reshaping concepts of defending Taiwan, thorny political and fiscal hurdles cannot be ignored. Allied militaries need not look exactly like the U.S. military in miniature, but we can innovate together to face future challenges. To deter the risk of simultaneous conflict(s), building allied defense capacity and capability is of strategic importance.

U.S. F-35’s get permanent EUCOM Base

Ethan Brown

USAF Lt. Col. Ian McLaughlin, commander, 495th Fighter Squadron RAF Lakenheath, speaks at his command ceremony for the new F-35 unit (USAF Airman 1st Class Cedrique Oldaker photo)

Fifth-generation fighters are the new standard of air power projection, although digitally-engineered sixth-generation aircraft, UCAV’s, and low-earth orbit vehicles/logistics are certainly gaining prolific influence in the new era of strategic competition.

While those futuristic systems draw rave reviews in both video games and popular fiction, here in 2021 strategists still have to parlay systems of today against traditional problems. In a move to continue deterrence against, and pressure on Russia’s flexing in the European theater, the U.S. Air Force recently re-flagged the 495th Fighter Squadron under the 48th Fighter Wing “Valkyries” banner, standing up the dormant unit once again at RAF Lakenheath Air Base in England.

Quite a bit of historical significance to this re-activation, so before we parse words on the geopolitical and strategic impacts of this move, the story of the Valkyries is warranted. First, the date of the unit being stood up (last Friday, October 1st) coincides with the thirtieth anniversary of the 495th being deflagged as an operational unit. At 8:49 and 50 seconds, on October 1st 1991, the “Thundervarks” were deactivated from active duty and U.S. Air Forces Europe (USAFE) task organization following the decommission of the vaunted F-111F “Aardvarks”, then the primary air interceptor platform assigned to the unit based at Lakenheath. “Thundervarks” was the informal yet tribal moniker assumed by the 495th Tactical Fighter Squadron, owing to the inescapable roguish fighter pilot mentality that creates exclusive and cherished symbology by affiliation. Symbolism being so significant in fighter pilot ethos, last week’s re-flagging and formal standup occurred at the same minute in time of that original date. At the precise thirty-year mark is when the former commander of the 1991 495th fighter squadron, Colonel James Russell (ret.), ceremoniously passed the unit guidon (flag) to current 48th Fighter Group Commander Col. Sean Lowe, who then passed the guidon to Lt. Col. Ian McLaughlin, who will now lead the first permanent U.S. F-35A squadron at an overseas posting.

RAF Lakenheath is home to a diverse and storied U.S. presence, thanks to the exceptionally close relationship the U.S.-U.K. alliance in all matters of military import dating back to the early 20th century. But the area is also historically dense with historical Nordic and Viking influence, as the region was host to a massive influx of the Scandinavian explorers and settlers in centuries passed (strongly recommend Neil Pierce’s “Children of Ash and Elm” book, or the new Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla video game on Xbox One for additional England-Viking immersion). Hence, the designation “Valkyries” — owing to the legendary female warriors of Norse mythology whose purpose is to choose who lives or dies in battle — is of accentuated symbolic import for this new unit.

American F-35s already have a staple presence at RAF Lakenheath, which has hosted rotational units of the aircraft and its pilots, groundcrew, and support teams during integration exercises and real-world contingency operations. Going back to 2017, U.S. F-35s made multiple deployments to the base to begin familiarizing American servicemembers with the operational demands of the northern European theater. Those rotations also enabled American systems to begin working out the kinks of integrating data sharing systems with European partners of the F-35 program, as many of those partner nations have already deployed and enserviced their 5th-gen aircraft for real-world taskings.

An F-15C and F-35A prepare to launch at RAF Lakenheath, 2017 (USAF SSgt. Emerson Nuñez)

The F-35 is the future of the U.S. fighter inventory, much to the chagrin of Close Air Support purists who point to the deficiencies of the “Lightning” compared to its geriatric and legendary progenitor, the A-10. Truly, the F-35 will never match the A-10 in terms of durability against surface to air threats, or even shrugging off the errant impact of the refueling ‘boom’ on a KC-135C tanker. But the “Hawg” was built for a different era of aerial combat, a myopic role at that, for which it may never be dethroned as the king of CAS; although I defend that the AC-130U worked succinctly well when I called in fires within 50m of my position, something I would hesitate to direct an A-10s GAU-8 for in most circumstances.

Complaints about the F-35 from the traditionalist community point to its lack of payload relative to the A-10, the F-18, or even the F-16 in full combat arraignment. However, what should be noted is that the F-35 offers a multi-role capability while preserving its stealth-mode, meaning those limited payloads come at the cost of avoiding detection. But here is where the F-35 outpaces the A-10 and the like and many misplaced assumptions reside — the F-35 is capable of external munitions and absolving its low-detectable role, at which point its payload stacks up favorably to the F-18.

Yes, the 25mm cannon is laughably inadequate against anything but point blank on an adversary aircraft, but direct-fire munitions are so 2016…

Most important regarding the F-35 is in its hyper-connectivity, which is precisely where the advantage lies in adding a permanent U.S. F-35 presence to a theater that already features a variety of allied F-35 systems. The United States and partners are firmly engaged in this new paradigm of strategic competition, where conflict and outright confrontation may not always be likely, but constant pressure from a variety of adversaries, aggressors, and bad actors demand more than the U.S. can deter individually.

The F-35 command and control abilities, which include advanced sensors, radar and acquisition systems, and long-range weapons, act as nodes which feed into the bigger connected defense aperture, to include those same systems on allied F-35s. One Lightning aircraft can function as its own C2 node, but multiplying the airborne fleet exponentially increases data dissemination, processing speeds, and situational awareness across the defense architecture. In times where Russian air and sea excursions around the European theater occur at daily intervals, this type of situational awareness cannot be overstated for importance, both militarily and geopolitically.

NATO Expels Russian “Diplomats” in Response to Moscow’s Malign Activities

Joshua C. Huminski

NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium — NATO Photo

On Wednesday, NATO expelled eight Russian officials identified as “undeclared intelligence officers” from Brussels. The posts will also be eliminated along with two other vacant positions. This will cut Russia’s presence at NATO headquarters to ten. This move comes after new revelations about Moscow’s involvement in espionage across the continent, but specifically its hand in a munitions’ depot explosion in 2014 in Czechia, the 2015 poisoning of a Bulgarian arms dealer supplying Ukraine, and an attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016.

This is not the first time NATO has acted against Russian “diplomats” in response Moscow’s malign activities. As part of a collective action, NATO previously slashed the Russian mission from 30 to 20 in response to the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in 2018.

Commenting on the move, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “The decision to withdraw the accreditation of eight members of the Russian delegation to NATO was done based on intelligence because these are undeclared Russian intelligence officers.” He continued, “We have seen an increase in Russian malign activities, at least in Europe and therefore we need to act.”

Unsurprisingly, Russia vowed to retaliate, but has not yet done so. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said, “The collective West is continuing its policy of diplomatic confrontation with Russia.” He added, “After the dramatic end of the Afghan era, how can they can get by without the bogeyman of the ‘Russian threat’”. In all likelihood Russia will expel diplomats from NATO member state embassies in a tit-for-tat exchange.

While NATO policy towards Russia “remains consistent” according to a statement from NATO on the expulsions, the step is nonetheless notable given the present state of NATO-Russia relations. Stoltenberg noted that the “relationship between NATO and Russia is at its lowest point since the end of the Cold War. And that’s because of the Russian behavior.” For his part, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin commented, saying, “There is an obvious contradiction in the statements of NATO representatives about the desire to normalise relations with our country and in real actions”.

From a Western or NATO perspective, the aforementioned actions by Moscow are certainly alarming, if a bit strange. Why would Moscow be using the GRU — Russian military intelligence — across Europe in what are nearly, if not, acts of war? Therein lies the rub, as it were. Russia believes itself to be at war with the West and NATO. The color revolutions of the 2010s, the West’s support of democratic movements within Russia, and its backing of Ukraine are seen by Moscow as part of a Western hybrid warfare strategy. The end goal of this strategy, in Moscow’s view, is the destabilization of the Putin regime and defeat of Russia. If Russia believes the West is at war with it and, in turn, it must be at war with the West, then all options are on the table, including those that are in the extreme.

That Russia is using its presence at NATO to spy is anything but surprising. It is in the normal course of the business of a state. In turn, NATO’s expulsion of the intelligence officers is equally a sensible response to Russia’s malign activities across the continent, but is unlikely to dissuade them from their actions. Indeed, it is the cost of the intelligence business. It will certainly disrupt their activities in the near term, but the efficacy of their expulsion is likely to be limited — if they were “undeclared intelligence officers” but known to NATO counterintelligence, their penetration and reach was likely limited. More alarming are the unknown Russian agents within NATO and its member states.

Checks and Balances, Colliding in the Courtroom

Stella Delgado

The United States Supreme Court Building at Dusk — Wikimedia Commons Photo Credit Joe Ravi

October 4 marked the beginning of a new session of Oral Arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court. This will be the start of the first full session for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the court, since her nomination last year following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This session is a test of what is arguably a newly politicized and polarized Supreme Court. Of the current justices, there are now six justices nominated by Republican presidencies and three from Democratic ones.

Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the President has the power to nominate justices of the court, who are to be approved by the Senate. Not surprisingly, the process can become politicized. Controversy surrounded each of the Trump administration’s nominees. President Obama’s 2016 nomination of Merrick Garland was blocked by Senate Republicans for over a year following the death of Antonin Scalia, who was ultimately replaced by Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee. Then there was the highly publicized Senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault. The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett was quickly approved by Senate Republicans just before the 2020 election. Regardless of politicization and the occasional scandal, the court has historically persevered as the most trusted institution in the federal government.

However, according to a recent Gallup Poll, public confidence in the court is at a twenty year low of 40%. (This is still higher than Congress’s approval rating and is about even with President Biden’s.) The wavering confidence in the court spans across the political spectrum as both liberals and conservatives are questioning the impartial judgement of the court. Many on the left are worried about the current lineup of justices because they fear the reversal of many progressive decisions, such as the challenge to Roe v. Wade coming up in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case to be argued December 1. For conservatives also faltering in confidence about the future of the court, their concerns are not just because of the potential increased influence to policy, but also for their implications in the future of the court. For example, the long-standing adherence to judicial precedent as a foundation of the court. Previous justices, such as the late Antonin Scalia, advocated for strict constitutional constructionism and spoke out against “activist” judges, i.e., those who influenced policy and went against precedent.

In anticipation of a potential reversal of Roe v. Wade, the House of Representatives passed the Women’s Health Protection Act on September 24, written to preserve women’s rights to terminate pregnancies; however, the bill’s prospects are poor as it heads to the Senate where it is likely to fail. Following the passage of the bill in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the Capitol steps, “it is sad that it is necessary because of the actions of the Supreme Court supporting legislation that is shameful in every way to our country.” This is a reference to the court’s refusal to block recent Texas legislation banning abortions after six weeks — currently the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Pelosi’s criticism, which is representative of many Democrats, is an accusation that the court is politicized and no longer impartial. Checking the Supreme Court is one of the jobs of Congress, and it can do so by overriding statutory decisions through the legislative process. It did so with the 1991 Civil Rights Act, which was used to override some of the decisions made by the Rehnquist Court. So, knowing this, the court can potentially issue a ruling that effectively punts responsibility to Congress- leaving the burden of the American public’s judgement for Congress to carry.

The intra-branch criticism does not stop with the legislature. It also comes from the executive branch: The Biden administration filed a challenge to the Texas law through the Department of Justice, and a Federal District Court judge paused the bill’s implementation starting October 6. It is unclear what this means in the long term for the policy or for the relationship between this court and the Biden Administration. The success of Biden’s challenge to the Supreme Court’s decision means that the court may have to hear the case anyways. It also demonstrates how the lower courts and Department of Justice provide the executive branch with a judicial option to push back at the court’s decisions. In April, President Biden established a commission to study whether to expand the supreme court. This follows pressure from some Democrats and his own campaign pledge to consider the issue.

There’s been much speculation about when the next seat will open up on the court. Some have suggested that Justice Breyer, a Clinton era nominee, will be the next to retire because he is 83 years old, although Breyer has not publicly stated he has any intention to retire. The next oldest are Justices Thomas and Alito, nominees of George H.W. and George W. Bush, respectively, who are in their early 70s. Unless any unexpected retirements happen in the coming years, or additional seats are added to the court, this will be the makeup of the court for the foreseeable future. This leaves President Biden with less influence over the court than his predecessor, who as previously mentioned, nominated three of the nine justices.

When it was initially ruled, Roe v. Wade was focused on a Texas law that banned abortion. Now, almost 50 years later, the court is being pressured by the legislative and executive branch to once again, decide on the constitutionality of a woman’s right to an abortion in the state of Texas. This case is just one example of the ways that our three branches of government continue to intertwine and collide to influence and establish the body of law. If Roe were to be overturned, the Biden Administration can continue to pursue legal challenges at the lower courts, and Congress could pass overruling legislation like the 1991 Civil Rights Act.

News You Might Have Missed

British PM Johnson Addresses Conservative Party Conference

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson addressed the Conservative Party conference on Wednesday in a speech that promised a post-pandemic economic revival predicated on the familiar Biden catchphrase “Build Back Better. “Johnson pledged to shepherd his country into a new era of British politics that he has referred to as “radical and optimistic Conservatism.” The Prime Minister largely glossed over the supply chain, fuel, and labor shortages facing the UK, dismissing them as the temporary growing pains associated with an economic comeback. The left-leaning Guardian newspaper said Johnson’s speech contained “truthlessness” and that it was short on substance. The BBC commented that the Prime Minister “wants to persuade voters his is the party to distribute wealth and opportunity more evenly across the UK. He wants people to feel good about the future.” “Levelling up” has been the slogan repeated by ministers at this conference. This was a speech thin on policy, big on jokes and rhetorical flourishes.”

U.S. Submarine in Collision, Injuring 11

11 sailors were injured on the USS Connecticut attack submarine, according to the U.S. Navy, following a collision with an object in the South China Sea. The injuries were described as “minor to moderate” while the damage to the submarine — an advanced Seawolf-class boat — is being evaluated.

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

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