24 February 2023

Rattled by China, U.S. and allies are beefing up defenses in the Pacific

Ellen Nakashima and Christian Shepherd

CAMP SMITH, Hawaii — The Chinese spy balloon spotted over sensitive nuclear sites in Montana and shot down by a U.S. fighter jet earlier this month jolted the nation.

But for Adm. John Aquilino, commander of all U.S. military forces in the Indo-Pacific, it was only the latest in a string of provocations that includes missiles fired over Taiwan following a visit by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in August, China’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal and a pair of Chinese surveillance balloon sightings in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands last year.

Add to that North Korea’s record number of missile launches last year, Beijing’s “no limits” relationship with Moscow and China’s unrelenting expansion of militarized air bases in the South China Sea, and “the current environment is probably the most dangerous I’ve seen in 30 years of doing this business,” Aquilino said in a recent interview in his hilltop office overlooking Pearl Harbor.

The provocative actions taken by China, North Korea and Russia have prompted the United States and its closest allies in the Indo-Pacific to ramp up military capabilities and deepen their cooperation. “They’re bolstering their own defenses, they’re looking to strengthen their alliances and partnerships with the United States in particular, and they’re reaching out to each other,” said Ely Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs. “All of these things are happening at once.”

Spying Versus Spying – OpEd

John Feffer

This weekend, I went on a walk on a paved road that soon turned to dirt. The further into farmland it went, the muddier and more difficult to traverse the road became. The map function on my phone, connected by invisible strands to a satellite way above my head, continued to show me these roads, no matter how small they became. However, the map didn’t distinguish among paved, dirty, and impassable roads. I nearly lost my sneakers in the muck.

Perhaps you have a better map function on your phone. Sophisticated satellite imaging can capture details at a 30-centimeter resolution. That’s good enough to tell whether a road is paved or unpaved. It can also determine from space what infrastructure has been destroyed in a tornado or an earthquake. Or it can peer closely at suspected nuclear weapons facilities.

What a satellite can’t do yet is read a newspaper or a license plate from space. Until the more recent innovation of synthetic aperture radar, which relies on a variety of wavelengths, satellites couldn’t see through clouds either. They’re also expensive, and you need quite a lot of them to get any consistent view of an object on the ground over time.

So, now you know why it might be useful—if you want to see something specific from the air—to rely on less sophisticated aerial surveillance devices, like relatively cheap weather balloons that sail through the stratosphere with whatever data collection devices you can cram into them. With Project Loon, which it started in 2011, Google even solved the navigation problem by devising sophisticated computer algorithms to steer high-altitude balloons.

China Seeks To Reverse Passive Situation In Geopolitical Game – Analysis

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi has started a week-long trip to Europe starting February 14, with France, Italy, Hungary, and Russia being on his itinerary. In addition, he was also in Germany for the 59th Munich Security Conference. Noteworthily, as of February 18, other than meeting with diplomatic officials from various countries, French President Emanuel Macron, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have successively met him. Wang also gave a special speech at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), expounding China’s foreign policy and views on current international issues.

Considering Wang’s trip to Europe and the reactions it has produced so far, this appears to be a rather dynamic diplomatic and influential geopolitical display made by China on the international political stage in recent days. In a sense, this helps to reverse China’s passive situation in the international geopolitical scene in the past year.

In this regard, there are several aspects worth noting:

First, it positively expounds China’s two major principles on international issues, i.e., sovereignty and peace.

Correspondence: Debating China's Use of Overseas Ports

David C. Logan, Robert C. Watts IV


David C. Logan and Robert C. Watts IV respond to Isaac B. Kardon and Wendy Leutert's spring 2022 article, "Pier Competitor: China's Power Position in Global Ports."

Cloak-and-dagger moves allow Biden to sneak into Ukraine’s war zone

Matt Viser and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

WARSAW — As President Biden stepped out of a golden-domed church during his unannounced, high-stakes trip to Kyiv — a city under regular bombardment from Russian forces — an air-raid siren abruptly went off, signaling that a Russian military jet armed with missiles had taken off from its home territory.

The plane ultimately did not pose a threat to Biden’s location; U.S. officials had tried to reduce the risks by taking the extraordinary step of informing Moscow of Biden’s planned visit ahead of time. But the shrill alarm was a reminder of the peril of an American president visiting a war-besieged capital in a region where military groups and mercenaries are not known for following the rules.

“There was still risk — and is still risk — in an endeavor like this,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, speaking by cellphone as he accompanied the president out of Ukraine on Monday. Among the striking features of the whirlwind visit was Biden’s use of a train that had been set aside for him to get in and out of Ukraine, a necessity given the dangers of traversing Ukrainian airspace.

Power-Grid Attacks Surge and Are Likely to Continue, Study Finds

Katherine Blunt

Physical attacks on the U.S. power grid rose 71% last year compared with 2021 and will likely increase this year, according to a confidential industry analysis viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

A division of the grid oversight body known as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation found that ballistic damage, intrusion and vandalism largely drove the increase. The analysis also determined that physical security incidents involving power outages have increased 20% since 2020, attributed to people frustrated by the onset of the pandemic, social tensions and economic challenges.

The NERC division, known as the Electricity Information Sharing and Analysis Center, or E-ISAC, recorded the sharp increase in incidents in 2022, driven in part by a series of clustered attacks on infrastructure in the Southeast, Midwest and Pacific Northwest. One of the most significant incidents occurred in early December when attackers targeted several substations in North Carolina with gunfire, leaving roughly 45,000 people in the dark.

Choice Words From Biden

K. Lloyd Billingsley

“I think every kid, in every zip code, in every state should have access to every education opportunity possible. I guess, for some, that isn’t the consensus view.” That was Joe Biden, criticizing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, seemingly unaware that he was making a strong case for parental choice in education.

“Every education opportunity possible” includes the programs such as the G.I. Bill, which funds the scholar, who then chooses the school he or she wants. Under the G.I. Bill, scholars can choose UCLA, Brigham Young University, USC, Florida State or Notre Dame, and so on. That kind of opportunity does not exist for every K-12 kid in every state. In zip-codes such as the nation’s capital, government schools are dysfunctional and dangerous.

Low-income parents can’t afford the prestigious Sidwell Friends School, the choice of presidents Carter and Obama. The best alternative is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships Program, run by Congress. For the 2022-23 school year, the program awards scholarships up to $15,307 for high school and $10,204 for elementary and middle school. Parents can use this money for tuition, uniforms, books, and other school-related fees, at the independent school of their choice.

Parents and students love the program, but education bureaucrats hate it. Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan took it to a whole new level. The former Chicago Schools boss rescinded scholarships to the D.C. Opportunity program that had already been granted. The deprived families were virtually all black. As the Washington Post said in a 2009 editorial, “nine out of 10 students who were shut out of the scholarship program this year are assigned to attend failing public schools.”

U.S. presidents who served in the military

Of the 46 men who have become president, 12 not only served but reached the rank of general, six of them during the Civil War. Men such as George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, and Dwight D. Eisenhower demonstrated leadership and administrative abilities as generals that stood them in good stead as presidents.

But the biographies of presidents who did not become generals show that military life can reveal leadership skills that had yet to be demonstrated. That was the experience of Harry S. Truman, when he became the captain of an artillery unit in WWI. Political connections helped John F. Kennedy receive a commission in the Navy, but he showed his mettle during WWII as a PT boat commander who saved the lives of his ship mates after his boat was rammed by a Japanese destroyer.

Kennedy was the first member of the Navy who became president. That branch of the military has since proved to be a good path for the White House, as six of the last eight presidents on our list were sailors.

The 8 Reasons Why Russia’s Much-Hyped Coming Offensive Will Fail Miserably

Enough with the “Russian offensive” hype. Whatever the Kremlin manages to stitch together in the coming weeks and months, there is no reason to suspect it will be anything different from what Russian operations have been for the more than ten months since the end of March, the last time Russia saw any major successes on the battlefield: that is, ineffective and incompetent.

                   By Brian E. Frydenborg 

As the phase of the war in Ukraine marked by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s February 24, 2022 incredible escalation of the war beyond long-contested parts of the Donbas and Crimea is closing in on hitting its twelfth month, or one-year-mark, there is much hullaballoo about some sort of coming large-scale Russian offensive, presumable in the coming weeks or months. But when considering this potential Russian offensive, there are a number of obvious and clear factors that mean whatever may be Russia’s offensive will not succeed, but, instead, will fail spectacularly. Here they are…

1.) “What Have You Done for Me Lately?”

I think a sports analogy works pretty well here. If you are big sports better and a team starts its season with 5 wins, and then goes onto lose every game or match for months straight after that, you would not want to bet on that team given the more recent trends in its performance. It’s the same thing with investing: if a company’s performance has been poor for many quarters in a row, a few quarters of very strong performance before that long, consistent period of poor performance will not be a major factor in the minds of investors, who would avoid investing in a company that had not been performing well lately.