EXECUTIVE INTELLIGENCE SUMMARY – 20 MAY 16
The National PMESII section is a break down of national- and regional-level Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure, and Information events and trends. Appendix: Collection of acronyms and definitions used.
[wcm_nonmember] In this EXSUM…
- An overview of the NATO-Russia conflict
- An overview of the U.S.-China conflict
- An overview of the West-Islamic World conflict
This content is for subscribers only. To continue reading, please log in or subscribe here. [/wcm_nonmember]
[wcm_restrict plan =”fo-osint”]
For this week’s EXSUM, we’re going to take a detour from our normal PMESII format because I want to talk about how the world is shaping up right now and some of the threats we’re likely to face for the rest of the year. I also want to explain some of the coming changes to this and other reporting formats.
For the past several months, we at Forward Observer have professionally consumed a lot of information. On an average day, I scan about 200 article titles in my inbox and read or skim about a quarter of those, looking for information that satisfies our intelligence requirements or that helps identify indicators of SHTF or other instability.
As always, the eyes of an analyst are the single greatest limiting factor of intelligence. That’s where the bottleneck typically occurs. We can have immediate access to a terabyte of information each day (or each hour or second), but if there aren’t enough analysts sifting through the information, then you can imagine what kinds of things get left out. Although I’m hiring another analyst to cover down on a few areas, I’d like to open up this process for those who want to learn more, see the inside of analytic tradecraft, and get involved.
If you’d like to join in, share information, or chat with me, subscribers will have access to our Unseen chat room. Once you register for a free account, request contact with ForwardObserver (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll add you to our OSINT Chat Group. (If you follow the Unseen link and purchase a secure email address, FO will receive a small affiliate payment. It’s not mandatory.)
Since moving to Texas last month, I’ve been preoccupied with speaking and teaching engagements, but those are winding down to a more manageable level. That gives me time to re-organize what we’re doing at Forward Observer and how we present information. It also means that we’ll be getting a permanent office location and adding to the FO Staff.
What I’d like to do is make some of our priority intelligence requirements (PIR) available to our subscribers and let you tell us what’s most important to you. Feel free to email me with your PIRs and if they’re feasible to answer, then I will add them to the list. I’d like to keep around five PIRs at any given time because that’s a manageable amount of information to provide on a weekly basis.
From now on, instead of sticking to a strict PMESII format, we’ll be providing intelligence reporting based on our PIRs. Some of the PIRs we’ll cover in future EXSUMs are:
- What are the current indicators of political-related violence?
- What are the current indicators of a conflict with Russia?
- What are the current indicators of a conflict with China?
- What are the current indicators of economic instability?
We can do far more with this format in terms of gauging how close we are to an SHTF situation. Let’s say that we identify 15 indicators that a war with China is imminent — things like a build up of fixed/mobile radar or long range standoff weapons in the South China Sea, or a scenario that requires a tactical decision with strategic consequences. In terms of early warning, the presence of five of these indicators over a period of time may point to a stable situation; however, a sharp increase from five to ten or twelve or more indicators would signal that a war could be imminent. I think that’s a far better weekly product, and it doesn’t mean that we have to stop producing our PMESII trends.
Next week’s EXSUM will focus on the global economy, the Brexit, and the 2016 general election. Future EXSUMs will primarily focus on our Priority Intelligence Requirements, and this EXSUM will focus on an overview of the three most pressing large scale global conflicts facing the U.S.
The NATO-Russia Conflict
To understand why we’re in a second cold war with Russia, we have to go back to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet-aligned Warsaw Pact nations. In short, the Warsaw Pact fell apart with the Soviet dissolution, but NATO remained. And not only has NATO remained, but it has also continued to shape Europe in the image of the West. The Russians maintain that the Founding Act between NATO and the Russian Federation was intended to promote cooperation between the two spheres of influence, and that NATO’s expansion has violated the 1997 agreement.
Twelve European nations have joined NATO since the agreement, including Warsaw Pact countries like the Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia), Romania, Bulgaria Albania, and others. Russian President Vladimir Putin sees NATO expansion as a growing and direct threat to Russian national security. Putin and the other Soviet Chekist-holdovers in positions of influence in Russia began taking some evasive maneuvers in 2008 with their intervention in the Georgia-South Ossetia conflict. Georgia — an aspiring member of NATO which has donated troops to the security efforts in Afghanistan — went to war with the pro-Russian separatist region until Russia intervened. South Ossetia, once a part of the Soviet Union, has since been re-absorbed into the Russian Federation, and has further driven Georgia into NATO’s arms.
In 2010, Ukraine elected a president named Victor Yanukovych who ran on a pro-Europe platform, but turned towards Russia after his election — by no means a small coincidence. This didn’t sit well with pro-Europe Ukrainians and it also soured the West’s opinion of Yanukovych, so the decision was made to replace him. The West-backed Euromaidan protests and fighting toppled Yanukovych, and pro-Europe Petro Poroshenko was elected later in the year.
This outcome was unacceptable to Putin and this is the essence of Cold War 2.0: who will maintain supremacy in Eastern Europe? We’ve seen a very high level of Russian activities in NATO nations, including espionage and cyber attacks. Militarily, Putin has proved to the West its new capabilities in the deserts of Syria and mountains of eastern Ukraine, introduced the Russian National Guard as a component of its military, and is investing heavily in military modernization. Politically and culturally, Putin has stoked the fires of nationalism with the idea that the Russian Empire will be resurrected. But he can’t do that without diminishing NATO’s power and influence, which leads us to this conflict with a significant chance to blow up.
NATO’s announcement to rotate four combat battalions in the Baltics has further inflamed relations in the region. For their part, the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — each has a large ethnically Russian population, come under heavy pressure of Russian espionage, and fear that Putin will attempt his trademark hybrid invasion of their nations just like he has in the separatist Ukrainian regions of Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk. Putin claims that he has no such aspirations, but his back is against the wall. The choice is clear: either Putin pushes back and diminishes NATO’s power and influence in the region, or Russia becomes further isolated from its pro-West former satellite states. We can certainly expect Putin to continue to exploit the gray zones in the area while reaching out to pro-Russian populations in NATO countries.
A war with Russia matters at home for several reasons. While a large scale war requiring national mobilization is unlikely, the U.S. military does not likely have the forces required to repel a Russian invasion of the Baltics. Although the kinetic fighting of this war is likely to be limited to Europe, we’re very likely feel the effects domestically. Russia certainly has the ability to conduct large scale cyber attacks against the U.S., and if their national sovereignty is threatened, then we can probably expect asymmetric attacks against the homeland, including cyber attacks against our communications and energy infrastructure. The weaker we are at home, the more Western leaders will be to ending the war. Russia would certainly feel similar effects, but fighting an existential war would give them few, if any, other options.
The U.S.-China Conflict
Like the NATO-Russian Conflict, the U.S.-China Conflict is about a similar issue. From the America perspective, the U.S. Navy has been charged by its leaders for decades to ensure safe and open commercial shipping lanes, even if it includes an occasional flare up. For China’s part, they’re observing the changing global landscape — an America in decline plus a Chinese Navy developing into a regional power means that southeast Asia is quickly becoming up for grabs, and China intends on taking the reigns. According to its most recent national defense strategy, China intends on completing its “great national rejuvenation” somewhere between 2021 and 2049. Sound familiar? It should, because it’s a goal shared by both China and Russia.
As China has developed technology (much of it by way of theft from the West), it’s becoming a near-peer competitor in many aspects. Judging from its previous war games, China is still experiencing problems with the “joint” part of combined arms warfare — that is to say, bringing its naval and land power to bear simultaneously, something that the U.S. has been very good at doing — but some recent displays of naval power do point to a significant threat to U.S. ships in the area. More than anything, China’s ability to mass power in the South China Sea, compared to a single U.S. carrier strike group, means that China likely retains the immediate advantage there. China’s asymmetric capabilities also pose a threat to U.S. ships, as attacking or disabling command, control, communications, and computer (C4) systems means they could significantly degrade U.S. operations in a naval conflict.
As U.S. commanders have warned Congress, the U.S. military is not wholly prepared to fight a large war, and certainly not one in China’s backyard. Yet that’s exactly the direction that U.S. policy is headed. That’s partly because a handful of Asian nations are also preparing for a conflict. Evidenced by expanding military expenditures (below), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations are rightly concerned over their own security as China expands control into the South China Sea.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter was quoted as saying, “There should be no mistake [about this]: the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows us, as we do all around the world.” As soon as the Department of Defense begins allowing other nations to bump them off a strategic global security vision, the U.S. loses face and invites others to do the same. But having a stated policy and sticking to it is another matter.
Conservative estimates put ASEAN nations’ militaries 10-20 years behind an ability to counter current Chinese force projection in the area. The thinking likely goes that if the U.S. can keep its presence in the region for even part of that time, then it gives the neighboring nations some time to become more competitive. So the U.S. is married in theory to its southeast Asian strategy — the infamous “pivot to Asia” — at least until a new policy is made, which is unlikely to be soon. That means that we’re at an increased risk of conflict as the national policies of both the U.S. and China are to control the South China Sea.
The West vs. the Islamic World
The most recent Islamic Caliphate was founded circa 2004 when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established himself as the emir of Al Qaida in Iraq (AQI). After his death in 2006, the formal Islamic State of Iraq was founded, which has morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), also called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), we know today. There have been several other caliphates in history; that is to say, several attempts to build a global caliphate.
But the problem is that ISIS/ISIL is neither limited nor bound by its geography. This is the Islamic State of the World, and that’s a trend we’ve seen as groups in North Africa, the Caucasus, southwest Asia, and the Philippines and Indonesia have pledged their allegiance to the Caliphate. That’s why referring to them as anything other than the Islamic State is inaccurate. Not only have group in over 40 nations pledged their support, we’ve also seen individuals heed the call to leave their Western countries — places like the U.S., most of Europe, and Australia — to join the Islamic State, learn the ways of jihad, and attempt to return to their home nations to export the Islamic State to new places.
The above map illustrates the Islamic State’s aspirations from 2014-2019, and explains in part why we’re seeing a flood of Muslim emigres to Europe. These Muslims may not pledge their allegiance to the barbaric fighters of the Islamic State, but they do pledge their allegiance to Allah and to Islam. Ask the many Muslims in London or Frankfurt to whom they pay their allegiance. And that’s exactly what the Islamic State is counting on; their message is that Allah has appointed a caliph over the Islamic world and it requires their support. They don’t have to join the jihad, but they must support the expansion of the Caliphate. Most Muslims in Western societies hold Islam and the caliphate above their nation, and Islamic values above their nation’s values.
Unfortunately, many Western leaders are either ignorant of how Islam will be catastrophic for Western Civilization — it was just over 300 years ago that Muslims last laid siege to Vienna, Austria — or they’re fearful of taking a hard stance against the Islamization of the West. Yes, they go on record stating that their nations are stagnant, both economically and demographically, and that they need immigrants to keep their nations growing. But whether we’re talking about suicide by implosion or murder by conquest, we’re still talking about dying cultures and nations.
The West is seeing some push back by nationalist and pro-European groups like Pegida, Britain First, the English Defence League, and traditional Scandinavian groups who patrol the streets of their towns at night. On a tactical level, they may show some success, however, they have the same fundamental strategic hurdle that many Americans do: elitist parties are in control of the nation’s policies which disproportionately affect the average citizen. Policy makers don’t feel the day to day effects of liberal immigration — things like wage depression and a higher cost of living — and so they’re more likely to support a policy with negative consequences.
But wage depression is the least of Europe’s worries. Over the past several years, we’ve watched in horror as Muslim communities have instituted and local courts have upheld Sharia law. We’ve read the stories of law enforcement officers being blocked from access to Muslim areas, and then turning around and arresting native citizens for so-called “hate speech”. This is the reason for the growth and success of European nationalist groups like Pegida and Britain First, but until European governments get serious about their immigration problem, nationalist groups are fighting a very steep, uphill battle.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen large successes from anti-immigration parties in Poland and Austria, whose leaders have vowed to crack down on loose immigration, and Marine Le Pen’s National Front Party was leading during France’s elections last year, before the socialist party withdrew candidates to swing the election in favor of more moderate politicians.
Ultimately, Europe will discover that conflict is the only way to save itself, but it’s at a watershed moment. We like to think of the caliphates of centuries past as… in the past. But it’s there again and it poses an existential threat to Europe. If we should learn anything from Germany, France and the UK, it’s that the caliphate is expanding, taking people back to the seventh century with it.