Russia’s foreign policy toward USA is not schizophrenic

Professor Kimberly Marten tries to explain an apparently schizophrenic Russian foreign policy toward the United States in this policy memo on PONARS Eurasia.

She comes up with four possible explanations:

  1. Putin succumbed to his own ignorance and biases.
  2. Putin’s advisors are afraid to tell him the truth.
  3. Inconsistent foreign policy is the result of infighting in Putin’s inner circle.
  4. Disparate members of Russia’s intelligence network are controlling foreign policy with negative consequences for state interests.

I think there are a few additional explanations to consider.

It’s not about Russia: Nobody can figure out Donald Trump

Marten gives two examples of inconsistencies in Russia’s foreign policy toward the United States.

The first one Continue reading

Homicide charges for US warship collisions are a big mistake

Four officers from USS Fitzgerald and one from USS John S. McCain including both commanding officers will face criminal charges for negligent homicide. As Navy Times notes, this is a very rare step, and now the internet is boiling over with discussions about it.

I think the criminal charges are a big mistake. …Continue reading

More dire predictions following US sale of Javelin missiles to Ukraine

Michael Kimmage for War on the Rocks in connection with the American decision to provide anti-tank missiles to Ukraine:

Both sides interpret their own actions as defensive. The greater the need to defend from the other’s aggression, the more an expansion of military assets makes sense — hence, the provision of “defensive lethal weapons.” Hence, Russia, chooses to …Continue reading

Proxy wars seem to be a thing again

Sébastien Roblin for War of the Rocks in connection with the American decision to provide Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine:

Michael Kofman, an analyst with extensive knowledge of Russian military affairs, was skeptical that a “few missiles” would be of any serious military benefit in a New York Times column in August. He wrote that the Javelin is “expensive and impractical” for Ukraine, especially compared to using the same money to purchase a larger number of new Ukrainian ATGMs.

Kofman also warned that if Javelin missiles result in dead Russians, Moscow could “signal back” with dead Americans. One obvious avenue for retaliation would be providing weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Earlier in 2017, the military and State Department claimed they had evidence Russian agents were providing small arms to the Taliban. This could theoretically be stepped up to heavier weapons.

Three random things that aren’t too important for U.S. military

Forward Observer has made a list of three things that the U.S. military needs to fight in NATO-aligned Europe. The list is:

  1. Installation of GPS navigation in those Blackhawk helicopters that don’t have it already.

  2. Better cold weather gear and boots.

  3. An ADR safety certification of cars and trucks laden with hazardous materials.

They could have picked anything, and this is what they found it worthwhile to put on the list? Might as well have called the article “Three random things we heard about this week”.

Update: Turns out that this list is actually from Defense One. Here the list is elaborated and put into context:

After 15 years of fighting in the comparatively uncontested deserts of the Middle East, everything from tactics to the physical environment offers new challenges and chances to learn, they said. They also listed a few items that they say U.S. forces need to fight a war in Europe.

This angle makes a big difference for me. The list contains three things that of course need to be solved, and that are good examples of lessons learned by specific units returning from Europe. But it also makes it clear that the range of new things to learn is much longer.

I might add, though, that two of the three things on the list aren’t necessarily crucial for fighting in Europe but more related to moving things around in a regulated peace time traffic environment. In case of a war with Russia there is a good chance that GPS doesn’t work, so Blackhawks should be able to navigate without it. And ADR safety certifications aren’t that important for actual fighting either.

Critical review of lessons from US warship collisions

The US Navy’s report on recent collisions of USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain fails to see the true shortcomings of seamanship and procedures.

We now have the official report regarding the collisions that led to the deaths of 17 sailors on the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain earlier this year. I have read the report, and some of the conclusions were so puzzling to me that I decided to make a critical review to come up with my own conclusions. I have done this on the basis of the report itself and this article in Defense News.

I have earlier been critical about the US Navy’s procedures and level of competence in the field of navigation and seamanship. The report about USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain only further deepens my distrust in the US Navy’s abilities. The performance of the crews on the two ships was appalling but the conclusions derived by the Department of the Navy are equally poor and raise serious questions about the ability of the Navy to learn from the incidents. …Continue reading

Missile defense is not as effective as Donald Trump believes

Overconfidence in the missile defense can lead the United States to make dumb foreign policy decisions and neglect relationships with allies.

Figuring out the effectiveness of a missile defense system is complicated business, and often the matter is oversimplified in order to make it understandable.

It is for example easy to confuse the maximum range of a missile with the size of an area that the missile could potentially protect. For a variety of reasons that is not the case because the effective range of an air defense missile is much smaller and depends on the relative movements between the incoming missile and the air defense missile. This misunderstanding of the effective coverage area can for example be found in the Danish debate about the need for SM2 missiles on the frigates of the Iver Huitfeldt class, where it has been widely claimed that a single frigate with these missiles would be able to protect most of the country. While a circle around the center of Denmark with the radius of the maximum range of an SM2 missile does cover most of the country on the map, that is unfortunately not even close to the actual effective protection that such a frigate would provide.

But even more importantly, the success of the missile defense system depends on probability calculations that are somewhat counterintuitive for most people. It is not just a simple matter of missiles one-on-one, but a question of figuring out an overall probability of success in a scenario with X number of incoming missiles against Y number of defensive missiles. And the uncomfortable truth is that it usually doesn’t take very many incoming missiles to saturate your defensive system.

A basic understanding of the mathematics of probability is therefore important when trying to determine the effectiveness of your missile defense system and the level of trust you can put on that system. If decision makers don’t understand the concept of probability, they may get overconfident about their defensive systems.

A few weeks ago, Donald Trump talked to Fox News about North Korea:

“We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air 97 percent of the time, and if you send two of them it’s gonna get knocked out.”

So president Trump seems confident in his defense system against ballistic missiles from North Korea, and that may lead him to believe that a preemptive first strike could be a good idea. But as Ankit Panda and Vipin Narang show in War On The Rocks, the president is wrong:

Trump’s remarks, however, make it clear that he believes each interceptor has [a single-shot probability of kill] of 97 percent (rather than 57 percent). Hence “if you send two of them it’s gonna get knocked out.” This is a wildly inflated — almost delusional — sense of how accurate the system is, and how many North Korean ICBMs it could potentially successfully intercept. Trump’s claim is …Continue reading

Ticonderoga is getting old

The Ticonderoga-class cruisers are getting old, and some are due to be decommissioned soon. But it will take a long time before they are all gone.

David B. Larter for Defense News:

According to the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, the Navy will continue to have between 98 and 100 large surface combatants in the fleet during the years the cruisers are decommissioning. The Navy is systematically putting its newest 11 cruisers in layup to modernize them and extend their service life into the late 2030s. But a decommissioning schedule obtained by Defense News shows the oldest 11 cruisers will be out of the fleet by the end of 2026.

Europe should prepare to defend itself without America

Europe desires a fundamentally disinterested protector, but the European countries better realize that America’s unwillingness to provide that security will continue to grow, writes Jeremy Shapiro in this insightful piece in [War On The Rocks] [WTHR link]:

But presidential incompetence and the public’s lack of interest is a weak foundation on which to build a durable foreign policy. The disinterested nature of America’s security relationship with Europe means that its commitment to the continent is usually first in line for the foreign policy chopping block. For a public that wants to put America first, it is particularly hard to explain why America should protect a relatively stable continent of rich democracies. Trump has made a lot of rhetorical hay out of Europe’s freeriding on America. Neither the American foreign policy establishment nor their European allies have found an effective political counter-argument.

All of this creates a deep challenge for Europe. Europe has an intense strategic and psychological dependence on the United States, yet Trump’s America, and arguably any future America, is both uninterested in, and unable to fulfill, its traditional role in Europe.

The states of Europe should be preparing for that day. But, as the mild reaction to the radical Trump presidency shows, internal divisions mean that by and large they are not. For all the upsetting changes in America and Russia, for all the crises that have rocked Europe in the last several years, and for all the destabilizing developments in Europe’s neighborhood, E.U. member states clearly prefer the old bargain that has served them so well. For the most part, they will cling to it until its demise becomes clearer than truth. In the meantime, no one will block Trump’s photo opportunity at the next NATO summit.

In my story about the Danish submarine debate I described how Danish rear admiral Wang and German commodore Reineke expressed fundamentally different expectations about the probable American support in case of a regional conflict in the Baltic Area:

Wang’s argument was that […] Denmark would […] find itself in a position where the navy must play the offensive role in a mission to escort troops to the Baltic states under the support of allied forces counting several carrier strike groups located in the North Sea. […]

[T]he German point of view was that the regional powers must be prepared to manage a conflict in the Baltic Sea without external support from allies.

Jeremy Shapiro’s argument supports the German position.

Worrying initiatives to improve navigational safety in US Navy

The US Navy attempts to improve navigational safety in the wake of a series of accidents involving ships from the Pacific Fleet, reports Geoff Ziezulewicz for Navy Times after obtaining a command message outlining some of the initiatives. The list of revised procedures does give grounds for some worry, though.

It starts off well enough. There will be a revised watch schedule to ensure better human performance:

[S]urface fleet skippers will be required to implement watch schedules and shipboard routines that better sync with circadian rhythms and natural sleep cycles.

This is a good idea. In many navies around the world sleep routines are an underestimated factor in performance, and in some places there has developed a culture where a tough schedule is even regarded as a sort of test of manhood (try reading the comments to the article).

But then the list continues with this:

In a nod to old-school seamanship, and regardless of any installed radar capability, Rowden’s message also dictates that maneuvering boards will be used by both the bridge and combat information center for all vessel contacts with an initial closest point of approach of 5,000 yards or less.

No, seriously, who uses maneuvering boards for actual collision Read more