National Security Evidence File

Nov18: New National Security Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
Beijing’s Nuclear Option: Why a U.S. – Chinese War Could Spiral Out of Control” by Caitlin Talmadge, in Foreign Affairs (Also, “Would China Go Nuclear?” by Caitlin Talmadge in International Security)
SURPRISE.

“The odds of a U.S. – Chinese confrontation going nuclear are higher than most policymakers think.”

Chinese nuclear forces are embedded with conventional forces, and thus vulnerable to loss in US deep strike against the latter, which could create a “use them or lose them” situation.
America’s New Attitude Towards China is Changing the Countries’ Relationship” in The Economist 18Oct18
A broadly-based interdependence ties Beijing’s pigs to Iowa’s fields, interweaves supply chains and distribution networks across the Pacific and has seen copious Chinese investment in America. That had, until recently, led observers in both China and America to think attitudes like Mr. Trump’s could be nothing but bluster.”

“Though relations might be testy from time to time, the economic logic which favoured getting along was simply too strong to ignore. But American unease about China’s growing technological heft, increasing authoritarianism and military strength is now overriding that logic.”

“America is undergoing a deep shift in its thinking about China on right and left alike. There is a new consensus that China has a deliberate strategy to push America back and impose its will abroad, and that there needs to be a strong American response”.

Meanwhile in China, “Well-connected scholars and retired officials have shared their concerns with Western contacts about a febrile mood within China’s national security establishment. They detect genuine excitement over the prospect of a great-power contest in which China is one of the protagonists. This coincides worryingly with the squeezing of public space for discussion. Scholars are not now supposed to debate foreign policy in the open, and strident nationalists dominate what debate there is.”

“Even the idea of an expensive arms race with America strikes some Chinese experts as a fine plan, given their confidence in the long-run potential of their economy. In this dangerous moment, blending grievance and cockiness, it seems astonishing to remember that less than a generation ago Chinese leaders assured the world that they sought only a ‘peaceful rise’.”
Many stories about China’s mass detention of several hundred thousand to more than one million Muslim Uighurs in the western province of Xinjiang
China has stopped denying, and is now defending its actions in Xinjiang, calling the camps “vocational and educational training centers”. This further worsens China’s relationship with Western nations, and especially the US.
China Faces a Debt Iceberg Threat, Warns Rating Agency”, Financial Times, 16Oct18
“China could be facing a “debt iceberg with titanic credit risks” following a boom in infrastructure projects at local governments around the country, rating agency S&P Global has warned.”

“Local governments could have accrued a debt pile hidden off their balance sheet as high as Rmb30tn to Rmb40tn ($4.5tn to $6tn) following “rampant” growth in borrowings, said S&P Global.”

“The mounting debt in so-called local government financing vehicles, or LGFVs, hit an “alarming” 60 per cent of China’s gross domestic product at the end of last year and was expected to lead to increasing defaults at companies connected to small governments across the country.”
This month saw more indicator stories about protests by Chinese homeowners angry at falling prices; by parents angry at the education system; and by veterans angry at their treatment. (The Economist has a story about the broader context of these protests (“Why Protests are So Common in China”) and concludes that they are all indicators of rising social stress.
Protests add to pressure on the Chinese government to stimulate the economy, despite already high debt levels and the declining marginal productivity of debt (the amount of GDP growth produced by additional amounts of debt).

While Xi Jinping appears to be firmly in control, protests indicate an underlying level of dissatisfaction, which, at some point, could support rapid change in China.
Danger: Falling Powers” by Hal Brands
SURPRISE.

“We often lose sight of a different pathway to great-power war, for peril may emerge when a country that has been rising, eagerly anticipating its moment in the sun, peaks and begins to decline before its ambitions have been fulfilled. The sense that a revisionist power’s geopolitical window of opportunity is closing, that its leaders cannot readily deliver the glories they have promised the population, can trigger rashness and risk-taking that a country more confident in its long-term trajectory would avoid.”
China’s Coming Financial Crisis and the National Security Connection” by Stephen Joske
This article offers a scenario that is an example of Brand’s thesis.
Improving C2 and Situational Awareness for Operations in and Through the Information Environment” by Paul et al from the RAND Corporation
Noting that “defeat is a cognitive outcome” RAND analyzes the extent to which information operations (IO) in the information environment (IE) have been integrated with situation awareness and operations in the land, sea, air, and space environments. The authors conclude that the integration of IE situation awareness and operations with the other environments has, up to now, been weak.

This echoes findings from Defense Science Board 2018 Summer Study on “Cyber as a Strategic Capability”, which concluded that, “Current cyber strategy is stalled, self-limiting, and focused on tactical outcomes. The DoD must build and adopt a comprehensive cyber strategy.”
US Vice President Mike Pence’s 4Oct18 speech at the Hudson Institute
SURPRISE.

Pence effectively declared a new Cold War with China. His speech complemented the new US National Security Strategy that describes “a new era of great power competition.”

“America had hoped that economic liberalization would bring China into a greater partnership with us and with the world. Instead, China has chosen economic aggression, which has in turn emboldened its growing military.”

“Nor, as we had hoped, has Beijing moved toward greater freedom for its own people. For a time, Beijing inched toward greater liberty and respect for human rights. But in recent years, China has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression of its own people”

“By 2020, China’s rulers aim to implement an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life — the so-called “Social Credit Score.” In the words of that program’s official blueprint, it will “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven, while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”

While there have been many indicators that a return to the previous relationship between China and the United States is increasingly unlikely, this speech was a surprisingly blunt statement that the US administration’s view that the relationship will be characterized by higher levels of conflict in the years ahead.
Interagency Task Force Report: “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States

Also: GAO Report: “Weapons Systems Cybersecurity
This new report found significant vulnerabilities, particularly dependence on foreign made components (including components manufactured in China), as well as weakening worker capabilities in the United States.

The GAO concluded that, "The Department of Defense (DOD) faces mounting challenges in protecting its weapon systems from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. This state is due to the computerized nature of weapon systems; DOD’s late start in prioritizing weapon systems cybersecurity; and DOD’s nascent understanding of how to develop more secure weapon systems. DOD weapon systems are more software dependent and more networked than ever before.”

“Automation and connectivity are fundamental enablers of DOD’s modern military capabilities. However, they make weapon systems more vulnerable to cyber attacks. Although GAO and others have warned of cyber risks for decades, until recently, DOD did not prioritize weapon systems cybersecurity. Finally, DOD is still determining how best to address weapon systems cybersecurity.”
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Oct18: New National Security Information: Indicators and Surprises
Why Is This Information Valuable?
In addition to headlines about the growing China-US trade war, (and to a lesser extent high Chinese debt/GDP and the fragility of its shadow banking system), other stories appeared in September, including growing frustrations as increasing automation produces rising layoffs, repression of Marxist student movements that have attempted to unionize workers, protests by People’s Liberation Army veterans over their treatment, and parental anger over school crowding.
As summarized by George Magnus in his new book, “Red Flags: Why Xi’s China is in Jeopardy”, increasing use of repression in China – from growing use of surveillance technology to Uyghur concentration camps to forced acquisitions of private companies by state owned companies – comes in response to evidence of growing dissatisfaction within the nation. In the context of Chinese history, this is a pattern that repeats. These indicators provide a reminder that as China-US conflict increases, its domestic problems are also serious.
China Doesn’t Want to Play by the World’s Rules: Beijing's plans are much bigger than the trade war.” By Abigail Grace

“Securing economic growth is a question of existential importance for Xi and his comrades. The Chinese Communist Party knows that it must deliver a higher quality of life to Chinese citizens in order to retain popular support—or else increase repression of internal dissent.

Xi has personally staked out hypernationalist positions and silenced any opposition to his authority, thereby increasing his own personal culpability for losses in a trade war. In fact, rumors that Xi could be facing domestic political trouble have abounded in recent weeks, raising questions about the costs of his shift away from the collective leadership model.

China’s leadership knows that addressing the U.S.-China trade imbalance is a personal priority for
Trump and is priming its own population for a long and ugly fight.

Despite U.S. pressure, China remains committed to its own economic agenda because it believes that achieving technological supremacy today will enable it to write tomorrow’s rules…As long as Chinese leaders
think that the key to winning tomorrow is dominating today’s technology through all means short of war, they will remain unwilling to address the structural issues driving economic tensions between the United States and China.”
An insightful compliment to Magnus’ book, that helps to develop a better mental model of the various forces driving Chinese behavior, that could push us closer to, or away from, potential critical national security thresholds.
The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age” by David Sanger “Bluntly, there are no effective laws which govern cyberhacking originating in St Petersburg or Shanghai— or, for that matter, in Tehran or Pyongyang”
Further evidence of the profound change that is occurring in the nature of international conflict, which has substantially heightened uncertainty and the potential for non-linear events with substantial negative impact.
Assessment of the Role of Cyber Power in Interstate Conflict” by Eric Altamura.

“To understand how actors attack computer systems and networks to accomplish limited objectives during war, one must first identify what states actually seek to accomplish in cyberspace… Achieving such an advantage requires targeting the key functions and assets in cyberspace that enable states to accomplish political objectives…To deny an opponent the ability to utilize cyberspace for its own purposes, states can either attack information directly or target the means by which the enemy communicates its information.

Once an actor achieves uncontested use of cyberspace, it can subsequently control or manipulate information for its own limited purposes, particularly by preventing the escalation of war toward its total form…access to information through networked communications systems provides a decisive advantage to military forces by allowing for “analyses and synthesis across a variety of domains” that enables rapid and informed decision-making at all echelons. The greater a decision advantage one military force has over another, the less costly military action becomes.

Secondly, the ubiquity of networked information technologies creates an alternative way for actors to affect targets that would otherwise be politically, geographically, or normatively infeasible to target with physical munitions.
Finally, actors can mask their activities in cyberspace, which makes attribution difficult. This added layer of ambiguity enables face-saving measures by opponents, who can opt to not respond to attacks overtly without necessarily appearing weak.

In essence, cyber power has become particularly useful for states as a tool for preventing conflict escalation, as an opponent’s ability to respond to attacks becomes constrained when denied access to communication networks.
Societies’ dependence on information technology and resulting vulnerability to computer network attacks continues to increase, indicating that interstate violence may become much more prevalent in the near term if aggressors can use cyberattacks to decrease the likelihood of escalation by an adversary.”
Surprise.

This article caused me to expand my mental model based on a more detailed understanding of the logic that could guide nations’ use of cyberweapons in future conflicts, and how a cyber advantage could actually lead to an increased probability of kinetic conflict.
How China’s Middle Class Views the Trade War”, by Cheng Li in Foreign Affairs.
Up to now the middle class has quietly criticized Xi; but harsher trade sanctions may shift them to blaming Trump.
National Will to Fight” by McNerney et al from RAND Corporation
Surprise.

The authors “define national will to fight as the determination of a national government to conduct sustained military and other operations for some objective even when the expectation of success decreases or the need for significant political, economic, and military sacrifices increases.” They also note that it is “poorly analyzed and the least understood aspect of war.” This initial study is the beginning of an attempt to change that, and improve our mental models for thinking about this critical issue.
Clash of Civilizations – Or Clash Within Civilizations?” by Cropsey and Halem in The American Interest
Surprise.

On the 25th anniversary of the publication of Samuel Huntington’s classic essay on “The Clash of Civilizations”, the authors analyze how well this concept has stood the test of time, and how it needs to be modified to better understand interstate conflict drivers in today’s world, including conflicts within and not just between civilizations. It should provide a significant improvement to many people’s mental models of international competition and conflict. It also integrates well with RAND’s “National Will to Fight.”