The Weakening of Babylon the Great

U.S. military edge has eroded to ‘a dangerous degree,’ study for Congress finds

Shane Harris

November 14 at 12:01 AM

The United States has lost its military edge to a dangerous degree and could potentially lose a war against China or Russia, according to a report released Wednesday by a bipartisan commission that Congress created to evaluate the Trump administration’s defense strategy.

The National Defense Strategy Commission, comprised of former top Republican and Democratic officials selected by Congress, evaluated the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, which ordered a vast reshaping of the U.S. military to compete with Beijing and Moscow in an era of renewed great-power competition.

While endorsing the strategy’s aims, the commission warned that Washington isn’t moving fast enough or investing sufficiently to put the vision into practice, risking a further erosion of American military dominance that could become a national security emergency.

At the same time, according to the commission, China and Russia are seeking dominance in their regions and the ability to project military power globally, as their authoritarian governments pursue defense buildups aimed squarely at the United States.

“There is a strong fear of complacency, that people have become so used to the United States achieving what it wants in the world, to include militarily, that it isn’t heeding the warning signs,” said Kathleen H. Hicks, a former top Pentagon official during the Obama administration and one of the commissioners. “It’s the flashing red that we are trying to relay.”

The picture of the national security landscape that the 12-person commission sketched is a bleak one, in which an American military that has enjoyed undisputed dominance for decades is failing to receive the resources, innovation and prioritization its leaders need to outmuscle China and Russia in a race for military might reminiscent of the Cold War.

The military balance has shifted adversely for the United States in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, undermining the confidence of American allies and increasing the likelihood of military conflict, the commission found, after reviewing classified documents, receiving Pentagon briefings and interviewing top defense officials.

The U.S. military could suffer unacceptably high casualties and loss of major capital assets in its next conflict. It might struggle to win, or perhaps lose, a war against China or Russia,” the report said. “The United States is particularly at risk of being overwhelmed should its military be forced to fight on two or more fronts simultaneously.”

In its list of 32 recommendations, the commission urged the Pentagon to explain more clearly how it intends to defeat major-power rivals in competition and war. It assailed the strategy for relying at times on “questionable assumptions and weak analysis” and leaving “unanswered critical questions.”

Eric Edelman, a top Pentagon official during the Bush administration, who co-chaired the commission along with retired admiral Gary Roughead, said the report wrestled with the consequences of years of ignored warnings about the erosion of American military might.

Russia and China have “learned from what we’ve done. They’ve learned from our success. And while we’ve been off doing a different kind of warfare, they’ve been prepared for a kind of warfare at the high end that we really haven’t engaged in for a very long time,” Edelman told Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA and a fellow member of the commission, during an episode of Morell’s podcast, “Intelligence Matters.”

Edelman said people had lost sight of how complicated the international security environment had become for the United States, and argued that for a lot of reasons the American public and Congress haven’t been as attentive to the urgency of the situation as they should be.

The commission argued that despite a $716 billion American defense budget this year, which is four times the size of China’s and more than 10 times that of Russia, the effort to reshape the U.S. defense establishment to counter current threats is under-resourced. It recommended that Congress lift budget caps on defense spending in the next two years that in the past have hobbled the military’s ability to plan for the long term.

“It is beyond the scope of our work to identify the exact dollar amount required to fully fund the military’s needs,” the report concluded. “Yet available resources are clearly insufficient to fulfill the strategy’s ambitious goals, including that of ensuring that (the Defense Department) can defeat a major-power adversary while deterring other enemies simultaneously.”

The call for even more robust defense spending comes as the Democrats take over the House and seek rollbacks of key Pentagon programs. It also comes after the White House instructed the Pentagon to pare back its planned budget for the coming year by some 4.5 percent, or about $33 billion, after the federal deficit increased sharply following last year’s tax cut.

White House national security adviser John Bolton recently said he expected the defense budget to remain relatively flat in the coming years, as the administration seeks to cut discretionary spending, and suggested the Pentagon would need to reshape the military with funds derived from cuts to other areas.

Money saved from planned Pentagon reforms will prove insufficient to make the kind of investment the military needs to execute the new national defense strategy, the commission found. It also said Congress should look at the entire federal budget, including entitlement spending and tax revenue, to put the nation on more stable financial footing, rather than slash defense spending.

To counter Russia and China, the commission said the Navy should expand its submarine fleet and sealift forces; the Air Force should introduce more reconnaissance platforms and stealth long-range fighters and bombers; and the Army should pursue more armor, long-range precision missiles and air-defense and logistical forces.

In its recommendations, the report advocated seeing through the modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and putting a top Pentagon official in charge of developing additional air and missile defenses.

Another area of focus for the commission was innovation.

It described current Pentagon acquisition programs as too risk-averse, and urged the Defense Department and Congress to create a new category of pilot programs aimed at “leap-ahead” technologies that could serve as breakthroughs to help retain American military dominance.

The report also resurfaced questions about the civilian-military divide that arose after retired Marine Corps general Jim Mattis took over as defense secretary, thanks to a vote in Congress that waived a requirement for military officers to be out of uniform for 10 years before serving in that role.

In his nearly two years as secretary, Mattis has relied more on current and former military officers for expertise than his recent predecessors have.

Without singling out Mattis, the commission warned that “responsibility on key strategic and policy issues has increasingly migrated to the military,” and urged Congress to exercise oversight to “reverse the unhealthy trend in which decision-making is drifting increasingly toward the military on issues of national importance.”

Babylon the Great Builds Up Her Nuclear Horn


Published 12:58 p.m. ET Oct. 22, 2018 | Updated 6:48 p.m. ET Oct. 22, 2018

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Monday he would build up America’s nuclear arsenal in response to what he portrayed as growing threats from Russia and China.

“Until people come to their senses, we will build it up,” Trump said in reference to U.S. nuclear weapons capacity. “We have more money than anybody else by far.”

Trump also reiterated his intention to withdraw from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, which he accused of violating the pact.

“I’m terminating the agreement,” Trump told reporters before leaving for a campaign rally in Texas. “Russia has not adhered to the agreement. This should have been done years ago.”

Trump first announced plans to withdraw from the three-decades-old accord, commonly referred to as the INF Treaty, during a campaign rally over the weekend. The agreement, signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, required the U.S. and Russia to destroy ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of between approximately 310 and 3,400 miles, along with supporting equipment.

The White House says Russia is breaking the accord by producing or testing ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles with that range. Russia has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Trump made the threat of a nuclear weapons build-up shortly after his national security adviser, John Bolton, landed in Moscow for a series of previously scheduled meetings.

White House officials said Bolton would focus on a broad range of issues, from arms control to the Syrian civil war. But Putin’s spokesman said they would use the meetings to demand answers from Bolton about the fate of the nuclear accord.

Russian President Vladimir Putin expects “a detailed explanation” of Trump’s threat to withdraw from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty, a Kremlin spokesman said Monday before Bolton’s meetings began.

“Putin has always said that scrapping this document would cause damage to global security and stability,” Dmitry Peskov, the Russian leader’s spokesman, said Monday, according to the state-controlled media outlet Tass. “We would like to receive a detailed explanation from the U.S.”

European leaders have not disputed U.S. allegations of Russian cheating. But they’ve expressed concerns that Trump’s plan to nix the treaty will lead to a new nuclear arms race.

The INF treaty “contributed to the end of the cold-war and constitutes a pillar of European security architecture since it entered into force 30 years ago,” the EU said in a statement Monday. It noted that the treaty led to the elimination of nearly 3,000 missiles with nuclear and conventional warheads have been removed and verifiably destroyed and urged the U.S. and Russia to resolve its differences over the accord.

“The world doesn’t need a new arms race that would benefit no one and on the contrary would bring even more instability,” the EU statement says. .

Trump’s announcement also sparked concern among some members of Congress.

“They’re a nuclear power, and I think it’s foolish of us to get out of the INF treaty willy-nilly or flippantly,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told reporters during a conference call Monday. “We should be appointing arms negotiators to work out our differences.”

Senate Foreign Relations chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told CNN on Sunday that Trump’s decision could undermine other disarmament agreements. He said he hoped Trump would reconsider.

“Maybe this is just a move to say, ‘Look … if you don’t straighten up we’re moving out of this’,” Corker said. “… And I hope that’s the case.”

But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it was “absolutely the right move” to nix the treaty. “The Russians have been cheating,” Graham said on Fox News.

@AmbJohnBolton began his visit to Moscow by meeting with Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. They discussed a wide range of topics including strategic arms control, Syria, Iran, North Korea and the fight against terrorism. https://t.co/KToxiqmLU7

— Andrea Kalan (@USEmbRuPress) October 22, 2018

Contributing: The Associated Press

Forming the Nuclear Arm of Babylon the Great

Democrats next year will control the gavels for the defense and foreign policy committees in the House for the first time since 2010.

The party has been itching to check on a host of issues, from his relationship with Saudi Arabia to the ballooning defense budget.

But to get legislation through Congress, House Democrats will need to work with the Senate, which is still in Republican hands. And the chairmen poised to lead the defense and foreign policy panels in the upper chamber are seen as staunch Trump allies.

Here are the top foreign policy and defense fights to watch in a divided Congress:

U.S.-Saudi relations

Lawmakers in both parties have been eyeing ways to punish Saudi Arabia over the killing of U.S.-based journalist and Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi.

House Democrats have said responses should include an end to U.S. military support for the Saudi-led coalition in neighboring Yemen’s civil war. Democratic lawmakers were already opposed to U.S. backing because of civilian casualties, but Khashoggi’s murder has given the issue new urgency.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (D-Wash.), who’s poised to be chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Eliot (D-N.Y.), in line to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are among the top Democrats who have signed on to a bill that would end military support for Saudi Arabia.

But Republicans have said the Yemen civil war and Khashoggi killing are two separate matters. Continuing support in the civil war, they argue, is imperative to countering Iran, which supports the rebels in Yemen.

GOP senators have talked about sanctions as a possible response. Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), who is expected to take over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), signed on to a committee letter last month triggering a sanctions determination by the administration.

But Risch is a Trump loyalist who is seen as much more likely to be deferential to the president than Corker. Trump, who has fostered a close relationship with the Saudis as central to his Middle East strategy, has waffled on how to respond to the Khashoggi killing.

On Tuesday, Trump said he’d have a “stronger opinion on that subject over the next week.”

Space Force

The Trump administration has said it wants the establishment of a “Space Force” included in next year’s defense policy bill. That position has contributed to increasingly diverging opinions between House and Senate lawmakers.

Republicans in the Senate — who were initially skeptical of creating a separate branch of the military for space — have appeared more open to the idea since Trump got involved.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a Trump ally who will keep the gavel in the next Congress, has said he has an open mind but is awaiting more cost details.

The Senate may lose one of its most vocal Space Force critics, albeit on the Democratic side. Sen. Bill Nelson(D-Fla.), who led the chamber’s opposition to a similar plan from the House last year, is fighting for his political life in a reelection race that appears headed toward a recount.

Meanwhile, Democrats in the House have grown more entrenched in their opposition to Space Force ever since Trump injected himself into the debate.

Smith, who supported the House’s space corps plan last year, came out against Space Force in September. He said that while he believes the military needs to do a better job of prioritizing its presence in space, a separate branch is not the most cost-effective way to do so.

Space Force still has some key Democratic support in the House. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), who worked alongside Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) to lead the chamber’s space corps push, said in September that he hopes Trump’s involvement doesn’t “ruin the debate” about it.

Defense budget

Smith has said this year’s defense budget of $716 billion is “too high,” and in a Thursday letter announcing his run for chairman he vowed to target “inefficiency and waste” at the Pentagon.

The Washington Democrat has argued that lawmakers need to start making tough choices about spending and taxing as rising deficits have been compounded by the GOP’s 2017 tax-cut law.

Defense hawks and the Pentagon pushed for the $716 billion to help address what they characterized as an urgent readiness crisis. Few Democrats argue that the military is not facing readiness issues, but Smith has said the military needs to be “smart” about how it spends its money. He has cited the Navy’s 355-ship goal, saying the focus on a number is flawed logic because “capability matters.”

Senate Republicans argue that defense cuts would reverse any readiness progress that’s been achieved. They say the budget needs to continue the growth trend from the past two years in order to fully emerge from the readiness hole.

Asked by The Hill in October about the potential House-Senate split and the looming return of budget caps, Inhofe expressed confidence that the defense budget would at least stay flat.

“We have to catch up,” Inhofe said. “We have to keep that up, or all that we have done in catching up in those last two fiscal years will go out the window. So that’s not just going to happen.”

But in this case, Democrats may actually have an ally in Trump, who recently ordered his administration to propose a $700 billion defense budget for fiscal year 2020 — a $16 billion cut from this year and $33 billion less than the initial plan for 2020.

Nuclear weapons

One of Smith’s longtime concerns has been the U.S. nuclear arsenal. He opposed the Obama administration’s modernization plans, arguing they weren’t affordable.

With the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review calling for new capabilities, Smith has stepped up his criticism, vowing to scrutinize the nuclear budget to look for savings in the overall defense budget.

In his Thursday letter, Smith said Democrats must “take substantial steps to reduce America’s overreliance on nuclear weapons.”

Adding to Democrats’ nuclear anxiety is Trump’s intention to withdraw from a Cold War-era arms accord with Russia known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Smith and Engel wrote a letter to the administration last month warning they “will neither support, nor enable, a precipitous course of action that increases the risk of an unconstrained nuclear arms race.”

Congress is limited in its power to prevent Trump from withdrawing from the treaty, but it could block funding for any new missiles that would be out of compliance with the accord.

Inhofe backed the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and is unlikely to support reduced funding for weapons in the defense policy bill. Risch, meanwhile, issued a statement of support after Trump announced withdrawal from the INF Treaty, saying “the time has come to set the treaty aside.”

The Reason for Babylon the Great’s “Space Force”

4How America Planned to Win a War Against Russia: Nuke the Satellites

What could possibly go wrong?

by David Axe

In 1962, U.S. president John F. Kennedy was in a bind. He was eager to negotiate a nuclear test ban with the Soviet Union. But the Soviets had recently shattered a three-year test moratorium and now Kennedy was under pressure to respond with a display of strength.

One eventual result was America’s Cold War nuclear satellite-killer — a missile that could lob an atomic warhead into Earth’s orbit and fry enemy spacecraft. So-called Program 437 was active between 1963 and 1975 and remained a secret for a full year.

Bowing to pressure from his more hawkish advisers, Kennedy approved the Project Starfish atmospheric nuclear tests.

The tests had an interesting and frightening side effect, as the Stimson Center’s Michael Krepon  wrote:

At least six satellites were victimized by Starfish Prime: the British Ariel I, the U.S. Traac, Transit 4B, Injun I, Telstar I and the Soviet Kosmos 5. The most famous victim of Starfish Prime’s electromagnetic pulse effects was Telstar, which enabled the transmission of images across the Atlantic, just as the British music invasion of the U.S. airwaves was building.

Before the Beatles scored their first number-one hit and transfixed viewers on the  Ed Sullivan Show , another British band, The Tornados, topped the U.S. charts with Telstar, an instrumental inspired by the satellite. Telstar was dying from nuclear effects while it was #1 on the  Hit Parade .

The Pentagon was thrilled at the accidental proof that a nuclear device exploding in the high atmosphere could knock out spacecraft. Now America had a way of shooting down Soviet satellites. U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel Clayton Chun described the resulting Program 437 in a paper for the Air University Press in 2000:

he Air Force was able to rapidly cobble together an operational system out of deactivated missile components, existing launch pads, and a space tracking system to create the capability to use nuclear antisatellite weapons in a direct ascent mode to destroy orbiting space vehicles. …

[Air Force] Secretary [Eugene] Zuckert’s operational concept for the program incorporated two bases, Johnston Island and Vandenberg [Air Force Base]. The Johnston Island site provided launch pads for two Thor [anti-satellite] boosters on continuous alert. The Air Force would use Vandenberg AFB as the support and training facility for Johnston Island.

The Air Force planned to airlift Thor boosters, crews, nuclear weapons and support equipment to Johnston Island as needed. As envisioned by Zuckert and others, the location of Johnston Island, west southwest of Hawaii, would allow the Air Force to intercept a hostile satellite before it reached the continental United States.

The Air Force established the 10th Aerospace Defense Squadron to operate the satellite-killers and conducted a series of non-nuclear tests.

In 1964, the Pentagon revealed the program to the public. But there were problems, Chun explained:

The use of an atomic weapon to kill an enemy satellite might inadvertently signal the start of a nuclear war. The U.S. might launch such an attack suspecting that the Soviets were launching a surprise strategic attack from space. The USSR in turn might react by launching an all-out nuclear offensive thinking the United States was preparing for a nuclear first strike.

Even if an ASAT mission were successful and did not start an all-out nuclear war, the residual radiation and EMP effects likely would have had unintended consequences. For example, such an ASAT attack might accidentally destroy friendly satellites as had happened during the Starfish Prime test.

Wear and tear and funding cuts took their toll on the Thor missiles, and in 1975 the Pentagon shut down Program 437.