Welcome to Saturday's Potluck - 1-1-2022
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
The tension of conflict keeps building and jumps to same hot spots around the edges of China, Russia and Iran. I find the frustration of the warmongers on the lack of progress towards conflict encouraging.
Erik Prince calls for upgrade of US hybrid conflict capabilities Dec 30, 2021
Prince insists that conflict can be more effectively conducted using a hybrid model that deploys smaller, nimbler and more localized units. This style of warfare, he reckons, is best managed and fought by unconventional players – be they intelligence agencies, special operations units or private military contractors (PMCs).
Such grey-area forces offer plausible deniability and operate under the threshold of the enemy. That potentially contains conflict and obviates a big-war, state-to-state response.
The obviating of even a conventional big conflict is likely good news for the US military. A study this month from the Belfer Center of Harvard’s Kennedy School revealed that in 18 realistic Taiwan war scenarios gamed by the US military, the US lost to Chinese forces, 0-18.
Off the books, under the radar
In sum, Prince would have preferred that the CIA had taken the lead in the Afghan conflict, rather than the US Armed Forces – largely due to their ability to hire and deploy private-sector and local assets.
“The better approach would have been for the Pentagon to leave, and let the [CIA] clean it up, just like they cleaned it up in the first place after 9/11, using their unique contracting authorities and their ability to operate and leave some kind of stay-behind presence,” Prince concluded.
Prince’s analysis may be simplifying the role of the gamekeeper – always a trickier job than that of the poacher. But when it comes to proxy wars – a CIA specialty – contractors can feasibly evade the kind of visibility that the high-profile US military cannot.
“A government may want more plausible deniability,” he said. “They may want to operate under the threshold of response of their opponents.”
Washington has used this approach successfully in the past, he noted.
“In the 1970s, and especially the 1980s, there was a lot of covert action activity done by the United States to counter, to push back on Soviet influence – economically, politically, culturally, socially, and somewhat even militarily,” Prince said – a likely reference to campaigns against Soviet forces in Afghanistan and against leftists in Central America.
Russia, China beating US in ‘gray-zone’ warfare Dec 30, 2021
Prince, who likes to reach back into history, seizes on to a parallel.
“Effectively, Russia is behaving as the old mythical pirate port of Tortuga, where the pirates would come back for re-provisioning,” he said. “You have ransomware gangs operating from there, that are garnering tens of millions of dollars of earnings by plaguing the West.”
Arguing that “the West has been slow on the uptake in terms of defending itself and in preventing those kinds of very real, very expensive attacks,” he cited successful breaches of cyber security on energy pipelines and beef processors: “The litany is long and continual.”
But are these hybrid war operations? Or simply cyber criminals at work? Prince concedes that much is opaque.
“These kinds of cyber ransomware attacks in some cases are maybe sponsored or encouraged by a state, but in many cases, it’s just criminals operating in a truly ungoverned gray area,” he admitted.
Prince, in 2014, founded and listed Frontier Services Group, a security, aviation, and logistics company partially owned by CITIC Group, a Beijing-owned fund. That offered him the opportunity to travel in, and meet senior executives, in various sectors across China.
One of those was the CEO of a state-owned enterprise in the harbor and dredging sector that had been engaged in Beijing’s build-up on disputed reefs and islands in the South China Sea.
“He said it had never been part of [Beijing’s] strategic plan or even wish-list to build those islands,” Prince recalled. “But they found the Barack Obama administration to be so easy, so vapid on the matter, that they just went for it.”Once the assets were in hand, any pretense of non-state intervention was ditched.
“They promised, ‘Well, they’re just commercial and we’re not going to militarize them,’” Prince said. “Of course, now they’re militarized with radars, and missiles and aircraft and all the rest.”
The fait accompli represents a major – and bloodless – strategic win for China.
While he discussed Chinese, Russian and US capabilities, Prince declined to discuss the broader competitive landscape of the PMC sector.
“Basically, so what you’re asking me is to give market intelligence to all my competitors, right?” he asked, laughing.” Pretty much for free?”
It is a field in flux, but unquestionably, there was a time when the sector was swimming in cash.
The full transcription of the interview was also available at the site.
Erik Prince: Q&A
Taiwan contingency plan: Expect Tokyo foot-dragging by Grant Newsham December 30, 2021
Kyodo News has reported that the US and Japanese militaries have written a draft plan for a “Taiwan contingency” – and may soon draw up an “official” plan. The uninitiated might think the Americans and Japanese are finally going to buckle down and develop a real joint operational plan to handle a Taiwan contingency.
However, after spending a few decades observing the trajectory of Japan’s defensive capabilities, it’s easy to become a glass-half-empty kind of guy. And a closer look at the plan – something that should have been in place years ago – doesn’t exactly inspire excitement.
Whereas the Americans are interested in stopping a Chinese invasion of Taiwan – and that means killing PLA troops – the Japanese may be more concerned with the defense of the Nansei Shoto and Japanese territory – and avoiding as much harm to anyone as possible.
And other reasons not to hold one’s breath about the plan having real-world effects anytime soon is the Japanese still need to study revising laws to permit the Marines to deploy. And then they will have to actually pass the laws.
What is on your mind today? (Responses to Covid questions and dialog to be conducted at The Dose diary)