Roosevelt’s December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat: Inferences from Its Text on Likely Meditations That Helped Him Create Hope for a Country on the Brink of War

US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt customarily delivered his famous Fireside Chats from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House where he is seen (above) seated at a table before seven microphones and newsreel cameras to his front. Roosevelt began broadcasting Fireside Chats during his presidency on March 12, 1933. They initially served as a means for him to inform the public of what the government was doing to resolve the Great Depression. The December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat is famously known as the “Arsenal of Democracy Speech,” for it is recognized as being the moment Roosevelt declared the US “must be the great arsenal of democracy” for countries already fending off the Axis Powers–Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. The story provides a fitting historical example of the trials and tribulations that can beset a President who must lead his country to war. As a bridge to our days, the situation for countries fighting the Axis Powers in 1940 mirrored that of Ukraine in 2022. The Ukrainians, desiring peace, were torn from it by the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation. Under US leadership, an array of support from Europe and worldwide in response to the pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky for help. It would be interesting not only to look at what Roosevelt sought to communicate in his address, but discern deeper meaning in what he said. Presented is greatcharlie’s interpretation of what his inner thoughts might have been.

On December 29, 1940,  Fireside Chat, the sixteenth in a series of presidential radio broadcasts in the US, as well as Europe and Japan, 32nd President of the US, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, informed the people of their government’s plans to keep the country safe and secure. This particular Fireside Chat is famously known as the “Arsenal of Democracy Speech,” for it is recognized as being the moment Roosevelt declared the US “must be the great arsenal of democracy” for countries already fending off efforts.by the Axis Powers–Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan–to conquer them. This vital part of Roosevelt’s story provides a fitting historical example of the trials and tribulations that can beset a President caused to lead his country to war, a task made more difficult when the priority of the people is maintaining the peace and avoiding overseas conflicts at almost all costs. New priorities had come to fore and had to be accepted. Dark days were ahead. Terrible challenges would need to be endured by the people. Their strength and fortitude would be tested. As a bridge to our days, the situation in 1940 mirrored that of Ukraine in 2022, mutatis mutandis. The Ukrainians, desiring peace, were torn from it by the aggressive actions of its neighbor, the Russian Federation. Under US leadership, an array of support from Europe and worldwide in response to the pleas of Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky for help. In Roosevelt’s case in 1940, he was relying principally on the United Kingdom to hold the line against the Axis Powers across its vast Empire and the Commonwealth. There was no country that the US to fall back on for support. The US was the final protective line of freedom, democracy, and civilization, itself.

Certainly, the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat has been well trodden by historians and Roosevelt scholars for more than eight decades since its original broadcast. Still, greatcharlie thought it would be interesting not only to look at what Roosevelt sought to communicate in his address but what he, then age 57, pondered at the time when he was alone with his thoughts in an attempt to discern deeper meaning in what he said. In presenting its interpretation of what some of Roosevelt’s inner thoughts might have been, greatcharlie has stayed true to actual facts. Each consideration is informed by what was known to be the situation at the time in the US and rest of the world, particularly the United Kingdom. While sharing its impressions regarding Roosevelt’s complexity. greatcharlie has remained grounded in what was possible. Insights that historians and Roosevelt scholars have already presented are not regurgitated, yet support for its Inferences are drawn from historical examples provided in their works. Notions that have generally been discounted or dismissed in the context of the address are not included. Nothing is made too complex and greatcharlie does not pretend to have all of the answers. 

The text of the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat is drawn from a transcript provided by The American Presidency Project of the University of California at Santa Barbara. Comparisons were made with the online typescript of the address published by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum to confirm its accuracy. Here, the text is divided into 10 segments with headings to facilitate its examination.

Roosevelt’s December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat,

Roosevelt began broadcasting Fireside Chats during his presidency on March 12, 1933. The broadcasts initially served as a means for him to inform the public of what the government was doing to resolve the Great Depression. While Governor of New York State, Roosevelt had some success using Fireside Chats to inform state residents of the latest developments and steps being taken to provide some relief from the devastating effects of the crisis upon them. The first one he made as governor was on April 3, 1929. During the New Deal, Roosevelt gave a radio address around twice a year, informing the public one or two weeks beforehand with the hope of garnering a large audience. Typically, he would include in the address: aspects of government programs; criticisms of them and his responses; and, expressions of  optimism and encouragement. Roosevelt usually delivered his address from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. Reportedly, he would arrive 15 minutes before air time to greet members of the newsmedia, including radio and newsreel correspondents.

Despite the severe nature of the threat posed by the Axis Powers, in his December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat, Roosevelt remained a paragon of sangfroid and equanimity in the face of it all. He was a gentleman at all times publicly. One would expect by reputation that he would be on his game on that day, and show well of his presidency, his country, and his own scruple. While offering answers to the dangers he highlighted, he spoke in an informal and relaxed style, his aim being to create a tone of familiarity and sense of forthrightness among listeners. That evening, Roosevelt was speaking to everyone in the US, including officials with whom he worked and conversed daily. At 9:30PM, Roosevelt began his address. It lasted 36 minutes and 53 seconds.

1. Sentences 1 through 11: The Country Faces a New Crisis Unlike the One Discussed in the 1933 Fireside Chat: It Is a Matter of National Security

Inferences

Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.) A primary purpose of the December 29, 1940 Fireside Chat naturally was to assuage apprehensions on the rise within the US public concerning ongoing violent events in the world. Equally naturally, more than just explaining that everything would be alright, Roosevelt sought to provide hard facts on what was exactly happening in the world and what his administration was doing in response. To the good fortune of the US, at a time of such great crisis, there was an intrepid president in office of great creativity particularly on matters concerning defense and the armed forces. Indeed, he was correct in every particular. Roosevelt did not exaggerate one jot.

The Roosevelt administration’s isolationist policy, then in effect, assured a considerable degree of non-entanglement in international politics, particularly non-involvement in ongoing and burgeoning conflicts in Europe and Asia. The US took measures to avoid political and military conflicts across the oceans, it continued to quietly manage economic interests in China and Southeast Asia and actually expanded its economic interests in Latin America.

Through the isolationist policy, US citizens who were still suffering the effects of the Great Depression, could sense it was okay to focus onward on family sustainability, employment, and community in some cases. Roosevelt’s administration worked feverishly to resolve the situation. The people needed a bit more time to heal from the Depression’s ills and the isolationist policy allowed them the psychic space to do that.

Many isolationists among political and business leaders, scholars, national and grassroots non-interventionist organizations in the US in1940 surely wanted their country to stand fast, dignified and proud, in the face of provocations by Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan. Aggressive external parties had a great say in how the US would act. The US could not just stand by as some impressive paragon, placid and imperturbable, while Hitler plotted its utter destruction and the enslavement of its people. Time was of the essence. By the end of 1940, for all intents and purposes, a war with the Axis Powers, for all intents and purposes, had essentially become unavoidable for the US. In 1940, that would have been a hard saying. It Is very likely that for the US, everything would have been lost if the US had failed to act as Roosevelt prescribed.

Roosevelt had to bring the people and many in the government, too, to understand not his truth but “the truth” about the situation the US was in. He had to do so realizing how difficult it was for people to unlearn what they have held true for a long time about their country being able to stay out of war abroad.

Sentences 1 through 11 of the Fireside Chat

“My friends:

This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk on national security; because the nub of the whole purpose of your President is to keep you, now, and your children later, and your grandchildren much later, out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence and all the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours.

Tonight, in the presence of a world crisis, my mind goes back eight years to a night in the midst of a domestic crisis. It was a time when the wheels of American industry were grinding to a full stop, when the whole banking system of our country had ceased to function.

I well remember that while I sat in my study in the White House, preparing to talk with the people of the United States, I had before my eyes the picture of all those Americans with whom I was talking. I saw the workmen in the mills, the mines, the factories; the girl behind the counter; the small shopkeeper; the farmer doing his spring plowing; the widows and the old men wondering about their life’s savings.

I tried to convey to the great mass of American people what the banking crisis meant to them in their daily lives.

Tonight, I want to do the same thing, with the same people, in this new crisis which faces America. We met the issue of 1933 with courage and realism.

We face this new crisis–this new threat to the security of our nation–with the same courage and realism.”

2. Sentences 11 through 21: The Threat

Inferences

Nazi Germany would serve as the best example to illustrate the clear and present danger the US faced. It was a danger that could not be ignored or avoided. Nazi Germany was on the rampage in the world abroad the most in the US knew or were from. It would need to be confronted. It would not be enough to dissuade or deter the Nazis. Nazi German Reichskanzler (Reich Chancellor) Adolf Hitler’s ability to make war had to be destroyed. There was no other option. No amount of coercive diplomacy would convince Hitler to dismantle his war machine. The time that idea might have had any validity as a suggestion had long since passed. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, all under the control of the Nazis had to be freed. Hitler could not be allowed to feed off their respective resources and manpower of those countries to further build Nazi Germany’s strength and military prowess. The United Kingdom had to be protected. Surely, Roosevelt considered every possibility.

However, the situation in Europe was positively fluid. Just the year before the United Kingdom, France seemed to have answers to blocking Hitler’s plan to conquer the Continent. In the Low Countries–Netherlands, Belgium and even Luxembourg–had no intention of being open doors for a westward drive by Nazi Germany and took defensive measures. Norway was under threat but still free. By December 1940, the United Kingdom was standing alone. It had already fended off Nazi Germany in its skies, and knowing conquest was foremost on Hitler’s mind, it girded itself for an invasion that nearly everyone expected to come. All of that and more was going on at home while its armed forces were fighting furiously against the Axis Powers.

On May 22, 1932, Roosevelt, then New York Governor of New York State, received a Doctor of Laws honorary degree from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia during a commencement ceremony. He gave a powerful address on the state of the country and the place of the youth in its future, the precepts of which founded his New Deal plan as US President. Roosevelt’s address also provides insight into his courageous approach to seemingly insurmountable problems. He explained: “The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something . . .We need enthusiasm, imagination and the ability to face facts, even unpleasant ones, bravely. . . .”

How the US could best take on the fight to defeat the respective Axis Powers while remaining neutral was the big question. In developing a concept for doing that Roosevelt seemed to find wisdom in the aphorism “an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure.” Creating more time to prepare by keeping the aforementioned friendly countries, with which the US had not yet become formally allied, was the most appropriate course of action at that point. He would provide encouragement to countries fighting the Axis Powers to hold the line at all points in which the Axis Powers were active, but Roosevelt did not intend to stand by and wait to see how things would turn out. Rather than wait for what came next, he sought to influence what was transpiring to create favorable outcomes on those frontlines.

To the extent it could, the US responded to requests for weapons and resupply of equipment from “belligerents” at war with the Axis Powers. Time was of the essence. Action had to be swift. The window of opportunity to act as supportive as possible on multiple fronts while standing off from the fighting would remain open for only so long. Despite the assistance provided, many being assisted could still fall. That was the case with France.

Regarding the situation of United Kingdom specifically, in 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in cooperation with his French Premier Edouard Daladier fell for a rather prosaic scheme organized by Hitler and his Nazi government, with Italian leader Benito Mussolini in tow, that evinced a frightfully transparent motive. The leaders negotiated to permit Hitler to take control of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The government in Prague had no role in the talks. Hitler recognized how the Western powers were willing to surrender the peace and territory of others to protect their own peace and well-being. Chamberlain appeared truly naive to those within his own political party in Parliament, the Conservative Party, byname Tories, and within the loyal opposition, the Labour Party. Labour forced a vote of no confidence which ended Chamberlain’s days as Prime Minister.

Sentences 11 through 21 of the Fireside Chat

“Never before since Jamestown and Plymouth Rock has our American civilization been in such danger as now.

For, on September 27, 1940, this year, by an agreement signed in Berlin, three powerful nations, two in Europe and one in Asia, joined themselves together in the threat that if the United States of America interfered with or blocked the expansion program of these three nations–a program aimed at world control—they would unite in ultimate action against the United States.

The Nazi masters of Germany have made it clear that they intend not only to dominate all life and thought in their own country, but also to enslave the whole of Europe, and then to use the resources of Europe to dominate the rest of the world.

It was only three weeks ago that their leader stated this: “There are two worlds that stand opposed to each other.” And then in defiant reply to his opponents, he said this: “Others are correct when they say: With this world we cannot ever reconcile ourselves. . . . I can beat any other power in the world.” So said the leader of the Nazis.

In other words, the Axis not merely admits, but the Axis proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy, their philosophy of government and our philosophy of government.

In view of the nature of this undeniable threat, it can be asserted, properly and categorically, that the United States has no right or reason to encourage talk of peace, until the day shall come when there is a clear intention on the part of the aggressor nations to abandon all thought of dominating or conquering the world.

At this moment, the forces of the states that are leagued against all peoples who live in freedom, are being held away from our shores. The Germans and the Italians are being blocked on the other side of the Atlantic by the British, and by the Greeks, and by thousands of soldiers and sailors who were able to escape from subjugated countries. In Asia, the Japanese are being engaged by the Chinese nation in another great defense. In the Pacific Ocean is our fleet.”

United Kingdom Prime Minister Winston Churchill at his seat in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, London, circa 1940.

3. Sentences 22 through 40: Hitler and the Axis Powers: What They Represent

Inferences

United Kingdom Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was installed May 10, 1940. As Roosevelt correctly saw the United Kingdom as essentially the aegis of the US, he appeared to depend particularly upon Churchill to hold the line against Hitler as promised. In Churchill’s first speech before the House of Commons, three days after being installed on May 10, 1940 as Prime Minister, he powerfully stated regarding the war: “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.”

Roosevelt learned that holding the line would not be a mean feat for the United Kingdom. In a May 15, 1940 cable, Churchill revealed the truth of the dire straits his country found itself in to Roosevelt. He wrote: “The scene has darkened swiftly. The enemy have a marked preponderance in the air, and their new technique is making a deep impression upon the French. I think myself the battle on land has only just begun . . . The small countries are simply smashed up, one by one, like matchwood. We must expect, though it is not yet certain, that Mussolini will hurry in to share the loot of civilization. We expect to be attacked here ourselves, both from the air and by parachute and air borne troops in the near future, and are getting ready from them. If necessary, we shall continue the war alone and we are not afraid of that. But I trust you realize, Mr. President, that the voice and force of the United States may count for nothing if they are withheld too long. You may have completely subjugated, Nazified Europe established with astonishing swiftness, and the weight may be more than we can bear.”

By providing weapons to the United Kingdom, the capabilities of its armed forces would be enhanced and the chances of it holding out would be increased. However, Churchill had to be depended upon to hold the line at home, too. Churchill determined that the United Kingdom would fight on, but there were Members in his War Cabinet willing to sign a peace agreement with Hitler. 

With the hope that three parties would work together with the common aim of defeating Nazi Germany, Churchill created a War Cabinet in which two out of five members were Labour politicians, one was National and two were Conservatives.  Yet, despite the crisis, domestic political fighting was not restrained. In the Parliament, a series of crucial, often heated, discussions and debates took place in late May 1940. If anything had suddenly happened to Churchill, politically or physically, there was the danger that those willing to strike a deal with Hitler would follow through with their wrongheaded ideas. As well as bolster the United Kingdom’s ability to fight, US military assistance would prove to Churchill and those shaky Members of Parliament that the US was standing fast with them. By working together, Roosevelt and Churchill forged a sort of entente cordiale.

Sentences 22 through 40 of the Fireside Chat

“Some of our people like to believe that wars in Europe and in Asia are of no concern to us. But it is a matter of most vital concern to us that European and Asiatic war-makers should not gain control of the oceans which lead to this hemisphere.

One hundred and seventeen years ago the Monroe Doctrine was conceived by our Government as a measure of defense in the face of a threat against this hemisphere by an alliance in Continental Europe. Thereafter, we stood guard in the Atlantic, with the British as neighbors. There was no treaty. There was no “unwritten agreement.”

And yet, there was the feeling, proven correct by history, that we as neighbors could settle any disputes in a peaceful fashion. The fact is that during the whole of this time the Western Hemisphere has remained free from aggression from Europe or from Asia.

Does anyone seriously believe that we need to fear attack anywhere in the Americas while a free Britain remains our most powerful naval neighbor in the Atlantic? Does anyone seriously believe, on the other hand, that we could rest easy if the Axis powers were our neighbors there?

If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australasia, and the high seas–and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere. It is no exaggeration to say that all of us, in all the Americas, would be living at the point of a gun—a gun loaded with explosive bullets, economic as well as military. [The source of the transcript of the Fireside Chat utilized here notes that although the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum online typescript of the address includes “Australia” and not “Australasia,” a close review of an authentic recording has confirmed Australasia is correct. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)]

We should enter upon a new and terrible era in which the whole world, our hemisphere included, would be run by threats of brute force. To survive in such a world, we would have to convert ourselves permanently into a militaristic power on the basis of war economy.

Some of us like to believe that even if Britain falls, we are still safe, because of the broad expanse of the Atlantic and of the Pacific.

But the width of those oceans is not what it was in the days of clipper ships. At one point between Africa and Brazil the distance is less from Washington that it is from Washington to Denver, Colorado–five hours for the latest type of bomber. And at the North end of the Pacific Ocean, America and Asia almost touch each other.

Why, even today we have planes that could fly from the British Isles to New England and back again without refueling. And remember that the range of the modern bomber is ever being increased.”

4. Sentences 42 through 71: What the Axis Powers Are Capable of and Plan To Do; How They Think; Areas They Threaten; The US Plan of Action

Inferences

Every step of the way, Roosevelt had to be thorough in his analysis of matters, very calculating in his choices, and very measured in his actions. Surely, he often had to show restraint, perhaps knowing that certain bold advances would likely be most helpful, yet prohibiting himself to limited moves that would be most effective. No one was allowed to get in the way of those efforts. In greatcharlie’s humble view. the following words of the renowned Irish novelist, short-story writer and poet in “Chapter 9: Scylla and Charybdis” of Ulysses (1922) are apposite to Roosevelt: “His own image to a man with that queer thing genius is the standard of all experience, material and moral.”

Roosevelt was well aware that everyone in Washington had an opinion on how to proceed with regard to Europe and Asia. Roosevelt however, had his own opinions and did not need to pollinate them with theirs. What he wanted most from others were good, solid suggestions for lines of action.

Officials in the government, business, academia, his own political party as well as the ever-present pestiferous critics who were hardly acquainted with the actual facts must have appeared truly counterintuitive to Roosevelt for believing that Hitler would somehow choose to work diplomatically with the US or ignore it on his path to world conquest. He appears to have concluded that given technological advances, the Atlantic could be easily overcome by the massive Nazi war machine whereas others still had not.

As an objective of Roosevelt’s Fireside Chat was not arouse fears within the country but rather put its people on an even keel in a time of trouble, he could hardly explain that the Axis Powers would not forever tolerate robust actions from the US to undermine their respective plans for conquest, even though he likely believed Hitler would strike with some bold violent move soon enough.

For the War Department, the US was the only priority. There, calculations were assuredly being done all the time in 1940, focusing particularly on depleted supplies, weapons and ammunition due to cash-and-carry, which in the department was seen as a virtually unlimited stream of military assistance flowing out of US arsenals and military production plants into the United Kingdom. Cash-and-Carry was a creative program implemented by Roosevelt. Under the program the US could sell countries such as the United Kingdom and France as long as they paid cash and carried the war materials on their own cargo ships. Roosevelt managed to persuade the US Congress to allow the US the flexibility to take such a step just before the passage of the Neutrality Act on August 15, 1935 which imposed strict limitations on US interactions with “belligerent” countries.

Imagining that military commanders and war planners in Roosevelt’s War Department had occasionally turned their focus to classified “map maneuvers and “chart maneuvers” concerning the situation in Europe from the position of the Nazi German Armed Forces, they may have judged that Nazi Germany would easily recognize the United Kingdom, the British Empire and its Commonwealth, stood in the way of their line of march. Churchill actually presented that position as a statement of fact in his June 4, 1940 speech before the House of Commons, saying: “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war.” They may have concluded in the War Department that soon enough Hitler would want to mitigate that problem. Cutting the United Kingdom off from the US using U-Boats would very likely be Hitler’s solution.

Roosevelt was already keenly aware U-Boats could cause something close to insurmountable damage to merchant fleets operating in the Atlantic. Churchill once wrote that, “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt observed how they successfully performed before the US entry into World War I. He would surely find that conclusion logical. Given what had been demonstrated by Hitler to that point, Roosevelt most likely presumed the dictator would eventually seize the opportunity before him. The question left was exactly how much longer Hitler would tolerate the resupply and support from the US that kept the United Kingdom in the fight. 

Undoubtedly concerned with the timing of such a possibility, Roosevelt appeared compelled to increase the tempo of action and do the most possible while conditions were moderately favorable on the Atlantic. As it so happened, by 1940, German U-Boats had already achieved considerable success in sinking merchant ships on the way to the United Kingdom. However, Nazi Germany had not vastly increased their U-Boat arsenal and formed a fleet in such a way to deliver a decisive blow. It is now known that Konteradmiral (Rear Admiral) Karl Dōnitz, who at the start of World War II, served as the Befehlshaber der Unterseeboote (Commander of the Submarines), pushed for a German fleet that consisted almost entirely of U-boats. He fully believed that depriving Germany’s enemies vital supplies such as food and oil would be more effective than sinking enemy ships with the risk of combat. He claimed that given 300 of the Type VII U-boats, he could defeat the entire Royal Navy utilizing tactics that would later be named “wolfpacks”. 

Luckily, Hitler was not so clever. He gave the jobs of both Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy) and Großadmiral, Oberkommando der Marine (the Naval High Command) Erich Raeder. Raeder was uninterested in Dönitz’s theories. Raeder was a traditionalist whose focus was surface warfare. Raeder also judged that Germany could not contest the Royal Navy for control of the sea. Even more, Raeder believed submarine warfare was cowardly. By 1941, although relatively small in number, U-boats under then Vizeadmiral (Vice Admiral) Dőnitz were threatening Allied shipping as far as the US east coast. However, the U-Boats were never used at a level to knock the United Kingdom out of the war despite having the genuine capability to do so.

Sentences 42 through 71 of the Fireside Chat

“During the past week many people in all parts of the nation have told me what they wanted me to say tonight. Almost all of them expressed a courageous desire to hear the plain truth about the gravity of the situation. One telegram, however, expressed the attitude of the small minority who want to see no evil and hear no evil, even though they know in their hearts that evil exists. That telegram begged me not to tell again of the ease with which our American cities could be bombed by any hostile power which had gained bases in this Western Hemisphere. The gist of that telegram was: “Please, Mr. President, don’t frighten us by telling us the facts.”

Frankly and definitely there is danger ahead—danger against which we must prepare. But we well know that we cannot escape danger, or the fear of danger, by crawling into bed and pulling the covers over our heads.

Some nations of Europe were bound by solemn non-intervention pacts with Germany. Other nations were assured by Germany that they need never fear invasion. Non-intervention pact or not, the fact remains that they were attacked, overrun; thrown into modern slavery at an hour’s notice, or even without any notice at all. As an exiled leader of one of these nations said to me the other day—”The notice was a minus quantity. It was given to my Government two hours after German troops had poured into my country in a hundred places.”

The fate of these nations tells us what it means to live at the point of a Nazi gun.

The Nazis have justified such actions by various pious frauds. One of these frauds is the claim that they are occupying a nation for the purpose of “restoring order.” Another is that they are occupying or controlling a nation on the excuse that they are “protecting it” against the aggression of somebody else.

For example, Germany has said that she was occupying Belgium to save the Belgians from the British. Would she then hesitate to say to any South American country, “We are occupying you to protect you from aggression by the United States”?

Belgium today is being used as an invasion base against Britain, now fighting for its life. And any South American country, in Nazi hands, would always constitute a jumping-off place for German attack on any one of the other Republics of this hemisphere.

Analyze for yourselves the future of two other places even nearer to Germany if the Nazis won. Could Ireland hold out? Would Irish freedom be permitted as an amazing pet exception in an unfree world? Or the Islands of the Azores which still fly the flag of Portugal after five centuries? You and I think of Hawaii as an outpost of defense in the Pacific. And yet, the Azores are closer to our shores in the Atlantic than Hawaii is on the other side.

There are those who say that the Axis powers would never have any desire to attack the Western Hemisphere. That is the same dangerous form of wishful thinking which has destroyed the powers of resistance of so many conquered peoples. The plain facts are that the Nazis have proclaimed, time and again, that all other races are their inferiors and therefore subject to their orders. And most important of all, the vast resources and wealth of this American Hemisphere constitute the most tempting loot in all the round world.”

US M3 Grant tank being loaded onboard a cargo ship bound for a war zone overseas.

5. Sentences 72 through 108: Plans of Axis Powers to Overcome the US and Explaining Why Opponents to US Assistance Are Wrong; A Struggle for Human Liberty and Freedom Is Underway

Inferences

In Napoléon: Ses Opinions et Jugemens sur les Hommes et sur les Choses (1838) by Jean-Joseph-Stanislas-Albert Damas-Hinard, an entry under courage is Correspondance de Napoléon avec le Ministre de la Marine, Lettre du 25 Mai 1805 states: “Rien ne donne plus de courage et n’éclaircit plus les idées que de bien connaître la position de son ennemi.” (Nothing gives more courage or better clarifies ideas than knowing accurately the position of one’s enemy.) In the prewar years as well as during the war, Roosevelt seemed to have a reliable intuition which he appeared to use to its fullest. Concerning Hitler’s very likely determination to invade the US, Roosevelt did not need to read about that in an intelligence report, or rely upon his intuition. If one could forgive greatcharlie’s frankness, as Roosevelt was an experienced politician from New York State and a learned man, he understood just how monstrous and vile the thinking of individuals as Hitler could be.

Yet, Roosevelt knew the value of intelligence and surely wanted to get a leg up on the Axis Powers however he could. He wanted to know what they were doing abroad, particularly throughout the northern and southern continents, and especially in the US. Rather than wait for the veils to lift, he charged the somewhat meager intelligence resources the US had at the time to break through them.

It is uncertain whether what sufficed for foreign intelligence services for the US at that time–the Special Intelligence Service of the Federal Bureau, of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Naval Intelligence, and the Military Intelligence Division—would have been aware in 1940 of any high-tech research and development planned or underway in Germany such as long-range rocket and ballistic missile programs and jet-powered aircraft. The FBI had developed ties with the United Kingdom’s MI6 foreign intelligence service and MI5 internal security organization and learned much from them in order to work more effectively on common causes.

An Interdepartmental Information Conference in 1939 brought all elements of the burgeoning US intelligence community together for the first time, to discuss creating a structure to handle the espionage threat to the US.  Rather than fight like a sack of wildcats, new linkages were created between the FBI and the US military, and partnerships were established with foreign services such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as well as Mexican and British intelligence officials.  The FBI’s General Intelligence Division was established to manage foreign counterintelligence and other intelligence investigations.  In 1940, US President Franklin Roosevelt signed a Presidential order allowing FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, to begin wiretapping embassies and consulates.  Sizable failures, new initiatives, and the FBI’s education in managing the intricate details of counterespionage matters resulted in the surprise arrest of 33 German agents in 1941, effectively breaking the back of Abwehr (German military intelligence) in the US. To that extent, Roosevelt was made aware of Nazi Germany’s espionage activities in the US, and within certain parameters he could inform the US public of those efforts which were aimed at laying the groundwork for the conquest of their country.

Much as Churchill, Roosevelt seemed gripped by a strange fear about Hitler. He truly believed that it would be impossible to discuss anything with him. In Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943  (St. Augustine’s Press, 2013), reviewed in greatcharlie’s March 2, 2015 post, George Rutler explains that Roosevelt believed Hitler could very well have been the Devil Incarnate. Related to this Churchill recalled during a subsequent radio interview that before his discussion with Roosevelt began aboard the battleship HMS Prince of Wales at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland on Sunday, August 10, 1941, the two leaders attended a church service on the warship’s fantail. Churchill commented regarding the church service: “I felt that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we are serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high.”

Sentences 72 through 108 of the Fireside Chat

“Let us no longer blind ourselves to the undeniable fact that the evil forces which have crushed and undermined and corrupted so many others are already within our own gates. Your Government knows much about them and every day is ferreting them out.

Their secret emissaries are active in our own and in neighboring countries. They seek to stir up suspicion and dissension to cause internal strife. They try to turn capital against labor, and vice versa. They try to reawaken long slumbering racial and religious enmities which should have no place in this country. They are active in every group that promotes intolerance. They exploit for their own ends our own natural abhorrence of war. These trouble-breeders have but one purpose. It is to divide our people; to divide them into hostile groups and to destroy our unity and shatter our will to defend ourselves.

There are also American citizens, many of them in high places, who, unwittingly in most cases, are aiding and abetting the work of these agents. I do not charge these American citizens with being foreign agents. But I do charge them with doing exactly the kind of work that the dictators want done in the United States.

These people not only believe that we can save our own skins by shutting our eyes to the fate of other nations. Some of them go much further than that. They say that we can and should become the friends and even the partners of the Axis powers. Some of them even suggest that we should imitate the methods of the dictatorships. But Americans never can and never will do that.

The experience of the past two years has proven beyond doubt that no nation can appease the Nazis. No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it. There can be no appeasement with ruthlessness. There can be no reasoning with an incendiary bomb. We know now that a nation can have peace with the Nazis only at the price of total surrender.

Even the people of Italy have been forced to become accomplices of the Nazis; but at this moment they do not know how soon they will be embraced to death by their allies.

The American appeasers ignore the warning to be found in the fate of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and France. They tell you that the Axis powers are going to win anyway; that all of this bloodshed in the world could be saved; that the United States might just as well throw its influence into the scale of a dictated peace, and get the best out of it that we can.

They call it a “negotiated peace.” Nonsense! Is it a negotiated peace if a gang of outlaws surrounds your community and on threat of extermination makes you pay tribute to save your own skins?

Such a dictated peace would be no peace at all. It would be only another armistice, leading to the most gigantic armament race and the most devastating trade wars in all history. And in these contests the Americas would offer the only real resistance to the Axis powers.

With all their vaunted efficiency, with all their parade of pious purpose in this war, there are still in their background the concentration camp and the servants of God in chains.

The history of recent years proves that the shootings and the chains and the concentration camps are not simply the transient tools but the very altars of modern dictatorships. They may talk of a “new order” in the world, but what they have in mind is only a revival of the oldest and the worst tyranny. In that there is no liberty, no religion, no hope.

The proposed “new order” is the very opposite of a United States of Europe or a United States of Asia. It is not a Government based upon the consent of the governed. It is not a union of ordinary, self-respecting men and women to protect themselves and their freedom and their dignity from oppression. It is an unholy alliance of power and pelf to dominate and enslave the human race.”

Attendees of the August 22, 1940 Destroyer Conference at the White House. From left to right, US Attorney General Robert Jackson, US Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Acting US Secretary of State Sumner Welles and US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox.

6. Sentences 109 through 123: The US Must Act; What the Failure to Support the United Kingdom Would Mean; Time Is of the Essence

Inferences

Given his objective of doing the most possible while conditions were moderately favorable on the Atlantic, Roosevelt likely reached the logical conclusion that many weapons still sitting in US arsenals, beyond what had already been sent abroad, would be put to far better use in the hands of the combat experienced fighting forces of countries already engaged in the struggle with the Axis Powers. He may have assessed that any additional weapons supplied to the United Kingdom and France while it was still in the fight, would have, what would decades later be dubbed, a “multiplier effect” on both the morale, capabilities, and possibilities of those forces. He clearly wanted the United Kingdom to have every chance of success.

In implementing his policy of assisting the United Kingdom with as much as the US could within safe parameters, Roosevelt had to cope with incessant virtual debates–virtual, as there was no room for a debating directly with the president on foreign and national security policy that he set in place and wanted action on–with top military officers and top bureaucrats in the War Department who believed they were presenting what could be characterized as “America First” arguments.

The US Armed Force opposed the diversion of its military supplies to the United Kingdom. At the nub of that position was the pessimistic belief of the Chief of Staff of the US Army General George Marshall that the United Kingdom would not be able to fend off Nazi Germany. (That assessment was frightfully off the mark.) As was the case when France fell, Marshall anticipated that when the United Kingdom surrendered, all of the US war materials that were being rushed there would fall into Nazi German hands. Marshall and others argued that the US national defense would not be served by clearing out its arsenals for others’ lost causes, but rather by retaining military supplies for the protection of the Western Hemisphere.

Yet as alluded to earlier, Roosevelt understood that moment, such thinking was too pessimistic, very limited, even defeatist. It has often been the case that only after a crisis has crossed its tipping point that the great value of a creative approach is recognized. However, in this case, if Roosevelt had waited for anyone to have some epiphany, the chance to have a positive impact would likely have been lost forever. If the US failed to try all options with real potential still available, it would tragically have little say in the final outcome which likely would have been dark. To that extent, Roosevelt, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Armed Forces, insisted top military and naval officers and senior bureaucrats in the War Department fix themselves to the task of finding ways to immediately implement his plans, rather than wait to simply hope they would see things his way.

While administering the Navy and working somewhat closely with the Army as Assistant Secretary of Navy during World War I, Roosevelt may have detected a parochialism among senior military and naval officers that colored thinking in planning. He may have also detected that among top commanders and planners, there was a certain piquancy in knowing all the right boxes were ticked and everything that was planned was accepted as being done in the correct way. Roosevelt understood what a liability such thinking would be in the country’s circumstances in 1940. For Roosevelt, the usual practices and perfunctory work had no place.

As noted earlier, Roosevelt would not respond to his advisers in toxic, hostile ways. He remained well-beyond that. Still, at times, senior leaders in the War Department, appearing uncertain, even distrustful of Roosevelt’s thinking, in their own way put extra pressure on him. If he reacted at all, his words would be more sardonic than cutting. In an intriguing December 29, 2015 article in Politico written on the 75th Anniversary of the Fireside Chat discussed here, historian Josh Zeitz wrote, unfortunately without citations, that Roosevelt would often brace and threaten to expel those who were hesitant to comply with his orders. This behavior was most apparent when on June 1, 1940, weeks before France fell to Nazi Germany, Roosevelt unilaterally declared enormous caches of military equipment “surplus” and ordered that they be shipped immediately to the United Kingdom. When the US Secretary of War Harry Woodring, an ardent isolationist, fired off a strong memo to the President voicing concern about the legality of the order, Roosevelt ordered him to comply or resign. (Roosevelt eventually had to demand his resignation when refused to release B-17 “Flying Fortresses” to the United Kingdom. He replaced him with a Republican from the administration of US President Howard Taft, Henry Stimson.) General Henry Arnold, Chief of the US Army Air Corps repeatedly expressed concerns that the order would have a deleterious effect upon the country’s readiness for war, Roosevelt reportedly told an aide: “If Arnold won’t comply, maybe we’ll have to move him out of town.” When the US Navy’s Judge Advocate General balked at sanctioning the transfer, Roosevelt instructed the US Secretary of the Navy, Charles Edison, to send the “sea lawyer” on a protracted vacation. Zeitz explains Edison refused, to which Roosevelt replied: “Forget it and do what I told you to do.”

A national leader must have a well-considered idea of what the objectives of a country’s military action will be and how that action should be prosecuted. Those choices are political, established in the country’s foreign and national security policy long before any choices are made, but often in history the need to fight has been existential. Top military commanders must remain obedient to the concept and intent expressed by the national leader. To that extent, war becomes a continuation of politics with other means much as the 19th military theorist, Prussian General Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, suggested in his renowned book Vom Kriege (On War) published posthumously in 1832: “Der Krieg ist eine bloße Fortsetzung der Politik mit anderen Mitteln.”

As a highly developed individual, Roosevelt seemingly was able to keep perspective on almost everything. He did not appear to truly despair or fault those in the foreign and national security bureaucracies for furnishing patent answers they were long trained to provide and patriotically as well as emotionally compelled to make. Yet, he was also likely aware, well-ahead of most, that the circumstances of war with the Axis Powers would demand that many unlearn lessons from the past and open their minds up to new thinking on a global scale, transcending anything they might have considered or dared to imagine before. Nothing said ever caused Roosevelt to halt or even slow down the export of US military resources. In truth, more often, Roosevelt would receive answers and rapid responses from advisers much as he desired.

When Churchill asked Roosevelt for the loan of “forty or fifty of your older destroyers,” and warned that without them the United Kingdom would be unable to fight the “Battle of the Atlantic” against Nazi Germany and Italy, what followed was three-and-a-half months of negotiations. There were significant issues to sort out. Roosevelt’s first response disappointed Churchill. Roosevelt truthfully responded, “a step of that kind could not be taken except with the specific authorization of Congress and I am not certain that it would be wise for that suggestion to be made to the Congress at this moment.” Still, Churchill continued to do his part with regard to holding the line. On July 3, 1940, the Royal Navy was dispatched to bomb the French Navy at its base in northwestern Algeria with the purpose of at best destroying or at least disabling the French fleet to prevent it from being used by Nazi Germany. If the United Kingdom had even largely fallen to Nazi Germany, the naval assets of the French fleet, aggregated with Germany’s Kriegsmarine and the Italian Regia Marina (Royal Navy), the US would be left to fight an enormous armada of naval and air power. By August, talks between the US and the United Kingdom shifted from a loan or sale of the surplus destroyers to an exchange of the surplus destroyers for bases on British Territories in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean. Though he was reportedly not open to thoughts from some advisers on what should be accomplished, he was presumably open to thoughts on the best way to accomplish the “Destroyer-Bases Exchange.”

First, Roosevelt met with US Attorney General Robert Jackson to discuss the legal situation regarding his authority to provide surplus US Navy destroyers on that basis with the United Kingdom without further authorization from Congress. 

Second, on August 13, 1940, US Secretary of State Henry Stimson, US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, US Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles and US Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, met with Roosevelt to outline the essential points of an agreement. Third, on August 15, 1940, Jackson advised Roosevelt that the Department of Justice definitely believed he did have authority to act without the consent of Congress as the destroyers to be transferred fell in the classification of obsolescent materials. All he needed was certification from naval and military authorities that the warships were not needful for the defense of the US. On September 2, 1940, President Roosevelt signed the Destroyers for Bases Agreement.

Sentences 109 through 123 of the Fireside Chat 

“The British people and their allies today are conducting an active war against this unholy alliance. Our own future security is greatly dependent on the outcome of that fight. Our ability to “keep out of war” is going to be affected by that outcome.

Thinking in terms of today and tomorrow, I make the direct statement to the American people that there is far less chance of the United States getting into war, if we do all we can now to support the nations defending themselves against attack by the Axis than if we acquiesce in their defeat, submit tamely to an Axis victory, and wait our turn to be the object of attack in another war later on.

If we are to be completely honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is risk in any course we may take. But I deeply believe that the great majority of our people agree that the course that I advocate involves the least risk now and the greatest hope for world peace in the future.

The people of Europe who are defending themselves do not ask us to do their fighting. They ask us for the implements of war, the planes, the tanks, the guns, the freighters which will enable them to fight for their liberty and for our security. Emphatically we must get these weapons to them; get them to them in sufficient volume and quickly enough, so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of war which others have had to endure.

Let not the defeatists tell us that it is too late. It will never be earlier. Tomorrow will be later than today. Certain facts are self-evident.

In a military sense Great Britain and the British Empire are today the spearhead of resistance to world conquest. And they are putting up a fight which will live forever in the story of human gallantry.”

Chief of Staff of the US Army General George Catlett Marshall (seated center) with members of his general staff in November 1941.

7. Sentences 124 through 130: A No US Boots on the Ground Pledge; Addressing Naysayers; Integrating the War Needs of US and the United Kingdom

Inferences

In July 1940, the Democratic Party nominated Roosevelt for an unprecedented third term in office. His opponent, Republican nominee Wendell Willkie, agreed with Roosevelt that the US should lend active assistance to the United Kingdom. Yet, as the election drew closer, Willkie began to give speeches warning that a vote for Roosevelt was a vote for entering the war. As polls narrowed, Roosevelt sought to assure voters, stating: “We will not participate in foreign wars and we will not send our army, naval or air forces to fight in foreign lands outside of the Americas except in case of attack.” Ultimately, Roosevelt won reelection, and with that behind him, he perhaps believed he had more flexibility to make more decisive moves to support countries fighting the Axis Powers and prepare the US for war

On September 16, 1940. the US Congress approved the Selective Service and Training Act. The majority of Members of Congress, despite resistance from isolationists in the body, could see the writing on the wall with regard to the Axis Powers and war. The act, which instituted the first peacetime military draft in US history, required men between the ages of 21 and 36 to register for the draft. The number of selected draftees was capped at 900,000 men, who would be enlisted for one year of training and service, and could only serve in the Western Hemisphere or in US territories. Though there were anti-draft protests on college campuses nationwide, in December 1940, 78% of US citizens polled favored the military draft. Once the Selective Service and Training Act went into effect, the requirements for more weapons and supplies in the US would sharply increase. With conscripts starting to arrive for training in the armed forces, the War Department became concerned that those conscripts would be fully equipped. 

While the situation in Europe worsened, Marshall would repeatedly convey the concerns of the uniformed services in the War Department over his foreign military assistance efforts in his meetings with Roosevelt. Surely, Marshall may have felt he was doing his job with fidelity, speaking truth to power. He, too, was part of the aforementioned “cabal” that questioned the legality and Roosevelt’s decision to declare swathes of war materials surplus and ship them off post haste to the United Kingdom. Expressing caution based on the best ways one knows how to handle a situation was logical, and somewhat understandable. The War Department did have war plans that were dependent on those military resources. Marshall’s intent was to stockpile resources for a coming fight. This certainly would have been the position of top military leaders generally as it is what they had been trained to do. Moreover, it would become nearly impossible to make adjustments and firm up war plans and strategies without knowing what would be available, or better, what would be left, after weapons, surplus and new, from US arsenals were shipped around the world.

Marshall’s reaction to the near non-stop movement of such high levels of military resources to the United Kingdom might have been expected by Roosevelt. According to an anecdote drawn from Forrest Pogue’s George C. Marshall, Vol. 2: Ordeal and Hope, 1939-1942 (Viking, 1966), in the fall of 1938, when the threat of war loomed in Europe, Roosevelt called a White House meeting with key members of his administration in order to discuss his proposed defense plan, which primarily consisted of a rapid and dramatic expansion of US airpower. Marshall had been the Deputy Chief of Staff of the US Army for less than one month. As a new brigadier–one-star–general, he was one of the lowest ranking attendees of the meeting. During the course of the discussion, Roosevelt asked each attendee if they agreed with his proposal. All voiced agreement except Marshall who tactfully disagreed with Roosevelt’s concept. The other attendees noted that Marshall’s disagreement visibly startled Roosevelt. After the meeting adjourned, many of those present made it clear that they believed Marshall had effectively ended his career. Five months later, in a move that stunned most of Washington, Roosevelt asked Marshall to serve as the next Chief of Staff of the US Army. 

In another instance, during a meeting at the White House with Roosevelt, Marshall presented a chart that reflected the arrangement for dividing planes coming off the assembly line, particularly the US Army’s prized B-17 “Flying Fortress”, mentioned earlier, with the United Kingdom, particularly exhibiting the wide difference between orders and deliveries. Marshall reportedly asked pointedly whether the United Kingdom’s consignment should be computed as half of the planes scheduled for delivery or as half of those actually delivered. Roosevelt’s response to Marshall allegedly was: “Don’t let me see that chart again.” As the leader of the US Army, certainly, Marshall was aware of the indications and implications of that statement for him personally.

Perhaps it is bitter this but Roosevelt likely understood Marshall could hardly provide him with a forecast of what the situation would be in another year that would hold any degree of certitude. In other words, Marshall could not be certain how the world for which his planners had organized military strategic objectives, military plans, and military resources would Iook in a year. Roosevelt knew that the time to act was now. In a calibrated way, he could supply the United Kingdom and many others who were fighting the Axis Powers what they needed when they needed it the most. The US would be the one through such efforts to aggregate all of the power available for the fight immediately.

It is possible that in Roosevelt’s eyes, perhaps even for fleeting moments, he might have been irked. Roosevelt, after all, was only human.. In those imagined moments, he might have felt the attitudes and behaviors  that Marshall and other senior officials in the War Department as well as other foreign and national security bureaucracies was more akin to the type of rural or urban shopkeeper who was more focused with the fullness of the stockroom, orderly shelves, and keeping his or her portion of the sidewalk swept than selling inventory, making profits, and best serving his or her community: the recipe for ruin.

When Marshall argued against efforts to elevate the United Kingdom’s military capabilities at the expense of those of the US, perhaps he may have actually managed to create some degree of doubt, no matter how small, that the general was not the best strategic thinker and would not, as Chief of Staff of the US Army, be able to make the whole challenging and unfortunate trek he saw the country on. The general’s attempts to tactfully lobby Roosevelt perhaps would lead many today to think that every so often an afflatus would strike him. To be more frank, Marshall acted as if he viewed his president’s choices as something closer to whims than thoughtful, strategically sound decisions. Roosevelt may have held in mind, perhaps even had nightmares over the fact, that Marshall’s line of thinking somewhat resembled that of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force in France, British Army General Lord Gort. He used his troops to construct the “Gort Line,” a 45 mile defensive line comprised of bunkers, pillboxes, and anti-tank traps along the France-Belgium border rather than build up mobility assets, firepower, and air power, and train his commanders and their units to integrate combined arms warfare with air power, and to use deception, speed, maneuver, and concentrate power. That approach, seemingly not too advanced for 1940, would have been more compatible with the British Army’s offensively-minded Dyle Plan, established as a response to a possible Nazi German invasion. When the invasion of France began in the Spring of 1940, Gort was unable to act decisively. While Churchill praised Gort in his June 4, 1940 speech before the House of Commons, his remarks about the disaster in France seemed to reveal that he felt Gort’s handling of the British Expeditionary Force may have hurt its chances of achieving greater success. 

Still, Roosevelt seemed to retain enough confidence and faith in Marshall and may have believed the general would come around to looking at things with a broader view that would parallel his own. To the extent that is accurate, it would mean Marshall was an exception. Roosevelt sympathies were always with members of the armed forces knowing how indispensable and difficult their work so often was yet very distant in the thoughts of most of those they defended. Marshall would serve as Chief of Staff of the US Army throughout World War II. Gloriosum est iniurias oblivisci. (It is glorious to forget the injustice.)

Sentences 124 through 130 of the Fireside Chat 

“There is no demand for sending an American Expeditionary Force outside our own borders. There is no intention by any member of your Government to send such a force. You can, therefore, nail, nail any talk about sending armies to Europe as deliberate untruth.

Our national policy is not directed toward war. Its sole purpose is to keep war away from our country and away from our people. Democracy’s fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the rearmament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines. And it is no more unneutral for us to do that than it is for Sweden, Russia and other nations near Germany, to send steel and ore and oil and other war materials into Germany every day in the week.”

US Navy and Royal Navy sailors inspect depth charges aboard Wickes-class destroyers in 1940. In the background are USS Buchanan (DD-131) and USS Crownshield (DD-134). Both surplus warships were transferred to the Royal Navy on September 9, 1940.

Roosevelt and Churchill meet face-to-face for the first time for a secret meeting aboard the battleship USS Augusta at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland August 9, 1941.

8. Sentences 131 through 144: Replenishing US Arsenals; Building Greater Weapons for Defense; Taking Workers into Consideration; Expectations of Industry Leaders

Inferences

Looking back, one might suggest that rather than burden the president with his concern over stockpiles, Marshall should have developed for Roosevelt plans that would allow for the replenishment of what was old with new weapon systems with the latest capabilities and identified how that replenishment could have been performed rapidly with the existing US industrial base and a recommended expanded one.

When Roosevelt spoke of counsel from the military experts, he concealed the fact that he, himself, was such an expert. Roosevelt had acquired considerable experience maintaining the readiness of the US Armed Forces and preparing them for war long before becoming US President.

As only touched upon earlier, on March 12, 1913, Roosevelt, then a two-term state New York State Senator at age 31, received the nomination to become the US Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the administration of US President Woodrow Wilson. Confirmed unanimously by the US Senate, Roosevelt was the youngest Assistant Secretary of the Navy until that date. US President Theodore Roosevelt, his fifth cousin, had held the same post. It was more than fate that caused another Roosevelt to be selected for the same position. Roosevelt’s superior, US Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels focused on policy and Congressional matters, leaving him to handle personnel matters, operations, and contracting. Although new to naval affairs, Reportedly, Roosevelt had the energy Daniels required to get things done. Fortuitously for Roosevelt, Daniels was willing to serve as a mentor, which allowed him to learn valuable lessons in politics that would be useful to him for years to come.

Even before World War I began, Roosevelt worked to prepare the US Navy for his country’s entry into it. Then, much as in his future, many in government lacked his perspective. Some officials even dismissed the idea that the US would enter the war. Wilson’s doctrine of neutrality would actually thwart many of Roosevelt’s efforts to ready the Navy. Nevertheless, observing events in Europe Roosevelt kept pushing for the Navy’s preparation. Lessons learned on navigating through the administration, particularly with Daniels and Wilson, enabled him to eventually create some movement in the right direction. In late 1915, the US invested in a $600 million program to upgrade and expand the Navy. In the meantime, German U-boats began sinking hundreds of Allied ships. When they began unrestricted warfare on the oceans, Wilson went to Congress for a declaration of war. Congress obliged on April 6, 1917. In the meantime, during the war, Roosevelt placed great focus on mitigating the U-boat threat. He advocated for a plan to lay vast anti-submarine minefields in the North Sea. The mine project was an early sign of Roosevelt’s appreciation for creative solutions. Reportedly, by February 1918, 100,000 mines were prepared for deployment, but the war ended before the system could be fully tested, but the minefield is believed to have destroyed at least four U-boats

It was surely Roosevelt’s unequivocal concept and intent in 1940 to ensure commanders and planners in the US armed forces had as many advantages as possible and enhance the chance for victory, he wanted them to have a preponderance of weapons. It was a mistake for others to think anything otherwise. The war’s outcome bears that out. With an unrivaled wealth of newly minted military resources, their capabilities would be considerable and the possibilities for action would become nearly unlimited. How well US commanders and planners would use them remained to be seen.

Sentences 131 through 144 of the Fireside Chat

“We are planning our own defense with the utmost urgency; and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain and the other free nations which are resisting aggression.

This is not a matter of sentiment or of controversial personal opinion. It is a matter of realistic, practical military policy, based on the advice of our military experts who are in close touch with existing warfare. These military and naval experts and the members of the Congress and the Administration have a single-minded purpose—the defense of the United States.

This nation is making a great effort to produce everything that is necessary in this emergency—and with all possible speed. And, this great effort requires great sacrifice.

I would ask no one to defend a democracy which in turn would not defend everyone in the nation against want and privation. The strength of this nation shall not be diluted by the failure of the Government to protect the economic well-being of its citizens.

If our capacity to produce is limited by machines, it must ever be remembered that these machines are operated by the skill and the stamina of the workers. As the Government is determined to protect the rights of the workers, so the nation has a right to expect that the men who man the machines will discharge their full responsibilities to the urgent needs of defense.

The worker possesses the same human dignity and is entitled to the same security of position as the engineer or the manager or the owner. For the workers provide the human power that turns out the destroyers, and the planes and the tanks.

The nation expects our defense industries to continue operation without interruption by strikes or lock-outs. It expects and insists that management and workers will reconcile their differences by voluntary or legal means, to continue to produce the supplies that are so sorely needed.”

9. Sentences 145 through 168: Refitting Manufacturing To Meet Growing Needs Now and Imagining the Future

Inferences

Roosevelt’s interest and emphasis on workers was well-established when he implemented the New Deal. In his addresses and public and private writings, he expressed a fondness for workers in his tone. He surely was glad his efforts had many back on their feet, but likely ambivalent over the fact that a further increase in employment would be the result of preparations for war. Roosevelt’s discussion of workers here, however, may have also been a manifestation of a concern over having sufficient manpower in the armed forces while also having enough manpower available for greatly increased industrial base. Meeting manpower requirements, based on War Department plans led to the aforementioned Selective Service and Training Act.

Considerations along those lines would likely require examining the degree to which isolationist zeal would cause many able workers to refrain from working in war plants. A sort of counterbalance might be the reality that hypothetical war plant jobs would draw those more concerned about steady work and providing for their families and themselves. Perchance when Roosevelt, not having foreknowledge of Pearl Harbor and its impact on the US psyche, contemplated the possibility of being forced by circumstance to declare war on Nazi Germany or Japan, he may have felt unsure of the public response to some degree. With some many US soldiers dying in 1918 alone and the deaths of troops due to influenza–Roosevelt, himself, caught influenza while returning to the US after a visit to the front lines–it is unclear how many able men would be willing to subject themselves possibly to the same for the sake of the Europeans or the Asians.

Surely Roosevelt wanted to duplicate, at a far greater capacity, the military production underway with urgency in the United Kingdom as Churchill described in his June 4, 1940 speech in the House of Commons. Churchill indicated that in such an emergency, industry and labor can find common ground. Churchill explained: “An effort the like of which has never been seen in our records is now being made. Work is proceeding everywhere, night and day, Sundays and week days. Capital and Labor have cast aside their interests, rights, and customs and put them into the common stock.” To that extent Roosevelt would mention that there was cooperation between the government, industry, and labor. He extolled industry and labor for their dedication to the effort to build up the “Arsenal of Democracy.” However, it was hardly close to the levels he understood would be needed to defeat the Axis Powers.

Sentences 145 through 168 of the Fireside Chat

“And on the economic side of our great defense program, we are, as you know, bending every effort to maintain stability of prices and with that the stability of the cost of living.

Nine days ago I announced the setting up of a more effective organization to direct our gigantic efforts to increase the production of munitions. The appropriation of vast sums of money and a well coordinated executive direction of our defense efforts are not in themselves enough. Guns, planes, ships and many other things have to be built in the factories and the arsenals of America. They have to be produced by workers and managers and engineers with the aid of machines which in turn have to be built by hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the land.

In this great work there has been splendid cooperation between the Government and industry and labor; and I am very thankful.

American industrial genius, unmatched throughout all the world in the solution of production problems, has been called upon to bring its resources and its talents into action. Manufacturers of watches, of farm implements, of linotypes and cash registers, of automobiles and sewing machines and lawn mowers and locomotives are now making fuses, and bomb packing crates, and telescope mounts, and shells, and pistols and tanks.

But all our present efforts are not enough. We must have more ships, more guns, more planes—more of everything. And this can be accomplished only if we discard the notion of “business as usual.” This job cannot be done merely by superimposing on the existing productive facilities the added requirements of the nation for defense.

Our defense efforts must not be blocked by those who fear the future consequences of surplus plant capacity. The possible consequences of failure of our defense efforts now are much more to be feared.

And after the present needs of our defenses are past, a proper handling of the country’s peace-time needs will require all of the new productive capacity—if not still more.

No pessimistic policy about the future of America shall delay the immediate expansion of those industries essential to defense. We need them.

I want to make it clear that it is the purpose of the nation to build now with all possible speed every machine, every arsenal, every factory that we need to manufacture our defense material. We have the men- the skill- the wealth- and above all, the will.

I am confident that if and when production of consumer or luxury goods in certain industries requires the use of machines and raw materials that are essential for defense purposes, then such production must yield, and will gladly yield, to our primary and compelling purpose.

So, I appeal to the owners of plants—to the managers—to the workers—to our own Government employees—to put every ounce of effort into producing these munitions swiftly and without stint. With this appeal I give you the pledge that all of us who are officers of your Government will devote ourselves to the same whole-hearted extent to the great task that lies ahead.

As planes and ships and guns and shells are produced, your Government, with its defense experts, can then determine how best to use them to defend this hemisphere. The decision as to how much shall be sent abroad and how much shall remain at home must be made on the basis of our over-all military necessities.”

10. Sentences 169 through 187: The Government Has the Matter Covered; It Is Taking Steps; and More Will Be Done

Inferences

Roosevelt committed the US in June 1940 to assisting belligerents in the fight against the Axis Powers with war material, he did so with the insistence, as required under US law, that recipients pay for purchases with cash. As aforementioned, in the summer of 1940, Churchill warned that his country would not be unable to continue paying cash for purchases. By December 1940, the worst had come to pass, and Churchill informed Roosevelt that the United Kingdom was no longer able to pay it for military supplies. Apparently prepared for such news, Roosevelt had ready a proposal for a new initiative that would be known as Lend-Lease. Under it, the US would provide or “lend” the United Kingdom with the war materials and other supplies it needed to fight Nazi Germany, and payments would be deferred. When payments were eventually made, the emphasis would not be on payment in dollars. Payments would primarily take the form of a “consideration” granted by the United Kingdom to the US.

Roosevelt reportedly garnered support for the lend-lease concept through use of the analogy of lending a neighbor your garden hose if his house was on fire and thereby keeping the fire from spreading to your own house. At a press conference held at the White House on December 17, 1940, at which he announced Lend-Lease, Roosevelt explained: “Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him to put out his fire . . . I don’t say to him before that operation, ‘Neighbor, my garden hose cost me $15; you have to pay me $15 for it’ . . . I don’t want $15–I want my garden hose back after the fire is over. . . .”

On January 10, 1941, Roosevelt would introduce the lend-lease program to Congress. It would formally allow the US, via Congressional approval, to lend or lease war supplies to any nation deemed “vital to the defense” while keeping the country only indirectly involved in World War II. The Lend-Lease Act was passed on March 11, 1941. Roosevelt had more than sufficiently proved the concept and value of such an approach throughout 1940.

Sentences 169 through 187 of the Fireside Chat

“We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war.

We have furnished the British great material support and we will furnish far more in the future.

There will be no “bottlenecks” in our determination to aid Great Britain. No dictator, no combination of dictators, will weaken that determination by threats of how they will construe that determination.

The British have received invaluable military support from the heroic Greek army, and from the forces of all the governments in exile. Their strength is growing. It is the strength of men and women who value their freedom more highly than they value their lives.

I believe that the Axis powers are not going to win this war. I base that belief on the latest and best of information.

We have no excuse for defeatism. We have every good reason for hope—hope for peace, yes, and hope for the defense of our civilization and for the building of a better civilization in the future.

I have the profound conviction that the American people are now determined to put forth a mightier effort than they have ever yet made to increase our production of all the implements of defense, to meet the threat to our democratic faith.

As President of the United States I call for that national effort. I call for it in the name of this nation which we love and honor and which we are privileged and proud to serve. I call upon our people with absolute confidence that our common cause will greatly succeed.”

Roosevelt and Churchill meet face-to-face for the first time for a secret meeting aboard the battleship USS Augusta at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland August 9, 1941.

A Job Well Done

In 1940, Roosevelt and Churchill, although not having as yet met in-person, forged a personal bond, an entente cordiale, and more importantly, a bond between their countries that would further develop through the challenges of World War II into what would be called the special relationship. Such a union would have been deemed improbable 154 years before when the Founding Fathers of the US declared their country’s independence from the “United Kingdom of Great Britain”. While all things related to monarchy were surely anathema to Roosevelt given his firm adherence to the precepts of democracy and the US Constitution, yet it would seem the lyrics of George Frederick Handel’s coronation anthem “Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened” (1727) might have been quite an apropos felicitation for him as he led the US, the United Kingdom, and world forward against tyranny: “Let thy hand be strengthened and thy right hand be exalted. / Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat! / Let mercy and truth go before thy face. / Let justice, judgment, mercy and truth go before thy face. / Allelujah.”

Roosevelt was a genius for his practicability, a talented leader superbly harnessed, and self-controlled. Still, taking all aspects of the crisis in daily, as he did, he must have occasionally felt a sense of vulnerability. Even if such intrusive thoughts were infrequent, they would likely have had some degree of influence on his work and his spirit. Alone in his thoughts, Roosevelt apparently was left to dig down deep and draw strength from within. He imparted that strength to the audience of his address in the US.

Roosevelt had an almost mystical, crystal clear perspective of what was happening in the world and what to do despite the atypical and overly generous appearance of his action. Too many advisors did not and seemingly could not gain that same perspective, and placed additional pressures on a President who had already been strained beyond the capacity of most around him. Fulfilling the work that he swore to do during two inaugurations, Roosevelt was faithfully executing the Office of President of the US, and will to the best of his ability, acting with the goal of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the US in the face of threat from the Axis Powers. The even harder work of leading a country engaged in what would be an horrendous and very costly war worldwide had yet to begin.

Roosevelt died during his fourth term in office on April 12,1945 and thereby did not see the results of his incredible efforts. The most important result was the unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers and total victory that back in 1940 Roosevelt said would come if war came. The Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provided in Greek, a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 B.C. through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In the Preface of Book I of that history Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), Livy states about the study of history: “Hoc illud est praecipue in cognitione rerum salubre ac frugiferum, omnis te exempli documenta in inlustri posita monumento intueri; inde tibi tuaeque rei publicae quod imitere capias, inde foedum inceptu, foedum exitu, quod vites.” (What chiefly makes the study of history wholesome and profitable is this, that you behold the lessons of every kind of experience set forth as on a conspicuous monument; from these you may choose for yourself and for your own state what to imitate, from these mark for avoidance what is shameful in the conception and shameful in the result.)

Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help

Russian Federation President Vladimir (above) at the International military-technical forum “Army-2021” at the Patriot Congress and Exhibition Centre, Moscow, August 2021. Putin ostensibly wants the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near Russia’s borders, are moving very close to a red line for him. Ostensibly to achieve that, he has massively built-up Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border with Ukraine. Some in the West believe Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Still, more appears to be involved here than Putin just being the Putin he has been over four US administrations. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of Putin, the person, will be briefly scratched a bit here.

Regarding the massive build-up of Russia Federation military forces perilously close to the border of its neighbor, Ukraine, and alarming activities that may indicate those forces will invade it soon, Washington and Moscow continue to wave their fists at each other. Moscow has denied having any intention to attack Ukraine and has explained away its buildup of troops as being a defensive measure. By building up military forces near Ukraine, which is all he has actually done physically at this stage, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin ostensibly would like to cause the US and its allies to understand that their military activities in Ukraine, too near the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as Russia), are moving very close to a red line for him. Putin insists that the US and its allies provide Russia with signed guarantees to refrain from expanding NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia and limiting their military activity near Russia’s borders, particularly in and around Ukraine. However, some in the West believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and negotiate. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he plans to invade Ukraine. In that way, the current situation concerning Ukraine has become an inflexion point in US-Russian relations. Ukraine was a flashpoint during the administration of US President Barack Obama in February and March of 2014. It was then that Crimea, Ukraine, was quietly and orderly captured by Russian troops dubbed “the green men.” The Obama administration was similarly at odds with Russia over Syria, mutants mutandis.

Putin seems to enjoy being seen fighting the good fight against Russia’s old adversaries the US and its allies.On the other side of the coin, dealing with Russian moves, Russian aggression, has become more tiresome for US administrations and Western capitals as much as anything else. Yet, Putin has not challenged the US mainly as a result of some domestic political consideration, or even less likely boredom or some vanity. Putin did not move so many troops to Russia’s western border because that area is more commodious than the locations they were previously based. Assuredly, Putin harbors negative thoughts and feelings toward the US and choices made by decision-makers that concern Russia in a significant way. Asked to bend: retreat back away from a matter, it is unlikely that he would without acquiring “concessions” from the US and its allies. He has issued preconditions concerning an agreement on “NATO expansion” already. (Perhaps he did not issue preconditions before entering any talks because he even realized that would be going a bit too far.) One would imagine he entered into this venture thinking, hoping he could potentially get what he wanted without having Russian forces fire a shot. it does not appear that Putin and his advisers are not too far down the road to change course. However, greatcharlie agrees that he would probably go into Ukraine if at some moment he feels it is, as it likely would have been determined by him along with his advisors and war planners in advance, to be the right time to do so. One would do no more than justice to Putin by presuming he long contemplated his military moves before cutting orders to get them rolling. He is certainly not moving step by step in what might be described as a hot-headed manner. Still, the larger decision to act as he has regarding Ukraine may very well be the result of a miscalculation. It is the unsought, undesirable job of the West to help him see that.

Inquiry into the fruit of things requires consideration of how Putin may view the situation. Russia has been led by Putin and his thinking from the posts of president and prime minister since 2000. A positive relationship with Russia has not been maintained by the US. There are many patterns apparent in his repeated confrontations with the West. Some eyes in the West appear somewhat closed to what may be happening with the Russian Federation President from the inside. What currently plagues the relationship is more than Putin just being the Putin he has been over five US administrations. The threat of the use of force, even mutual destruction, underlies Washington’s diplomacy with Moscow. The idea being that a somewhat expansionist, yet plainly aggressive, Putin can be made to behave as desired by placing a club at the end of the path he is traveling. He is ostensibly put in a position to act reasonably before he reaches it. It would go a long way to explain the somewhat unbroken string of unsuccessful interactions of US administrations with him, if the problem is that no useful perspective of why Putin has responded so aggressively has been developed. If the US is to get a real handle on relations with him, not just a perceived one, a more useful understanding of the man will be required. To that extent, what may lie beneath the surface of the intractable Putin, the man, will be briefly scratched a bit here. New light is shed on the man by using a different lens. There may be something about his inner self repeatedly being manifested and must be looked at from the correct angle. The aim is not to shoot down other analyses, but hopefully to add to them in a way to figuratively help put the reticle of some analysts on the bulls-eye. Offering what may be a few missing links might create an improved understanding of Putin and his actions, lifting thinking on Putin, to a degree, up from the region of the commonplace. Periclum ex aliis facito tibi quod ex usu siet. (Draw from others the lesson that may profit yourself.)

The Russians are coming! A mixed formation of Russian attack and transport helicopters moving toward their target during the Zapad 2021 military exercise. (above). If Putin decides to go into Ukraine, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly from sea assets, would likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the field, and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

The Situation: What Could Russian Forces Do?

From what can be gathered about the situation, the US Intelligence Community has concluded that the Kremlin could be planning a multifront offensive involving up to 175,000 troops. An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have already been deployed near the Russia-Ukraine border. Satellite imagery has revealed a buildup of Russian tanks and artillery as well as other gear near the border, too. Reportedly, online disinformation activity regarding Ukraine also has increased in the way it did in the run-up to Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea. According to the New York Times, the most evident scenario given the scale of troop movements on the ground is a Russian invasion of Ukraine may not be to conquer the entire country but to rush forces into the breakaway regions around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, or to drive all the way to the Dnieper River. Purportedly at the Pentagon, “five or six different options” for the extent of a Russian invasion are being examined. Suffice it to say, Moscow calls such assessments of Russia’s intentions slanderous ravings. Russia denies it is planning an invasion and, in turn, accused the West of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine. Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who unfortunately does not exactly have a watertight record for tying her statements to reality, laid it on thick in the newsmedia, alleging Western and Ukrainian talk of an imminent Russian attack was a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.” It is really disempowering to put out such a message. 

If Putin decides to go in, firepower, astronomically massed, from ground, air, and possibly the sea assets, would most likely be used to destroy Ukrainian forces in the main battle area and in depth as far back as units held in reserve or even on training bases. Relentless fire from air and ground would be utilized to support the movement of forces inside Ukraine. What might have been identified as the front line of Ukraine’s defense would figuratively become a map reference for Hell. Russian forces would most likely be deployed in a way to prevent the resurrection of Ukrainian forces in areas which Russian forces have captured. As for reinforcements or reserves, the rest of Russia’s armed forces would be right across the border in Russia. Imaginably, the main objective of the deployment of Russian forces would be to create a sufficient buffer in Ukraine between Russian and “ever expanding NATO forces.” In performing this task, Russian forces would ensure territory and forces that might remain in Kyiv’s control would be of less utility to NATO as potential a launching pad for a ground attack on Russia and could not be used as part of a larger strategy to contain Russia at its own border.

A stern fact is that the Ukrainians will hardly receive enough military aid from partners and friends, particularly Javelin handheld anti-tank rockets and Stinger handheld antiaircraft rockets, fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of Javelins, Stingers and other weapons systems shipped to Ukrainian forces; maintain real-time knowledge of the distribution and location of those weapons; destroy those weapons systems; and, destroy or support actions by other Russian military units to destroy Ukrainian military units to which those weapons were distributed. That hypothetical task force would also likely be tasked to monitor–covertly surveil the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities. As for an insurgency in captured areas after an invasion, doubtlessly Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Amat victoria curam. (Victory loves preparation. [Victory favors those who take pains.]) As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan, stratagem, to counter such steps short-term and long-term. Watching the West interact with Ukraine since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 as a result of Euromaidan, the Revolution of Dignity, Putin likely feels more and more that he is being “rock souped.” Surely, from his lens, the military dimension of the relationship remains at the forefront of Western expansion eastward. NATO forces are creeping closer to Russia’s border, and the government in Kyiv is hopelessly pulled further away from Moscow’s reach. Putin might believe any reasonable observer would accept and agree with his thinking about a threat from the West, and that his logically reached perception has actually been fostered by Western actions.

Ukrainian troops training with the FGM-148 Javelin, a handheld, shoulder-fired precision missile system designed to destroy tanks and other armored vehicles, as well as hovering helicopters (above). The Ukrainians would hardly receive military aid from partners and friends fast enough in the short-term to check a well-coordinated, rapid advance of heavy Russian forces. In the most favorable assessment, they might be able to supply them with enough to hurt Russian forces and perhaps “tear off an arm.” Having experience in contending with somewhat recent Western efforts to assist Russia’s adversaries and those its allies in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine militarily, perhaps a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to handle all aspects of that matter. As for a post-invasion insurgency, surely Russian security services have some sinister plan to cope with that contingency that will not be speculated upon here.

Admittedly, it is surprising how much Putin has done to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. However, there is surely an art that moves Putin’s mind. One might presume that as he initially staked the situation with regard to the US, almost nothing communicated through telephone conversations or bilateral talks alone would be enough to compel the US to act as he wished. The potential use of military force could not exist as an abstraction, being left to the imagination of Western national leaders and their advisers. With a build-up military force, he could illustrate, convince US decisionmakers that the threat of military action was real.

Surely Moscow closely observed events as they developed in the border crisis between India and China. Although it has been repeated as of late that China backed down to India on the matter of the border crisis in which occasional gunfire was exchanged and lives were lost. The common wisdom is that the aggressive moves it made with ease against India placed China in a situation which in the long run would prove too consuming, too difficult to handle and contrary to national interest, particularly such an approach can have an impact economically. There was also too little gain for China both geostrategically or geopolitically as compared to the potential loss suffered from such an investment. 

An odd advantage that Putin has is that the US will act in a fairly predictable fashion. There is less for him to fear of some random, unexpected decision from the US than the US may fear about such a choice made by him. Placed in a trying position, which Putin surely hopes he has done, a certain reality would need to be faced by US decisionmakers. Conceivably, he would expect the top military officers and officials at the Pentagon (US Department of Defense) to see the situation straight. Indeed, he may be hoping the Pentagon would be the voice of reason, the source that will explain that the real possibility exists for the situation to get out of control if the US were to commit itself too heavily to Ukraine’s defense. That would seem especially true if US decisionmakers contemplated having to act if both Russia moved on Ukraine and China moved on Taiwan almost simultaneously. That is a real possibility despite how fanciful it may sound. Tremendous pressure would be placed on the available military resources of the US and its allies. It would seem unlikely to Putin that decisiommakers in Washington would sink themselves deeper into a situation in which only bad choices were left available. C’est comme ça! However, Putin still cannot be absolutely certain that Washington would parse out the situation as he has. He has the task of showing it this perspective and convincing it to acquiesce to at least most of his demands.

The clever bit for Putin would be to determine what military action by NATO, if any, would be taken to physically halt a Russian advance into Ukraine. To that extent, Putin may have assessed that with regard to Ukraine, as well with Taiwan, policies of past eras are no longer viable under current circumstances. The military forces of Russia have been transformed. Insofar as Putin is concerned, unless the US planned to transport the bulk of its armed forces into Ukraine and nearby, any challenge by the US and its allies that included military action would mean recklessly placing some small set of their forces in great peril. Russia would not back down once hostilities were initiated. Again, fighting along its own border would allow Russia countless advantages to bear on its prospective opponent. It would truly be absolute madness for Washington to commit its forces to the fight without some clear way to win or create some acceptable circumstance they could not have achieved without firing a shot. Ironically, in the name of global peace and security, to avoid a nuclear Armageddon, it would need to let its declared partners in Kyiv fall. Even though the US public today is uninterested in starting foreign wars, if the Biden administration commits the US to a fight that would have an uncertain purpose and outcome, it would garner great attention from the public and very likely fail to get its approval. To the extent that these considerations factor in Putin’s calculus, he would most likely find Washington’s stated position on Ukraine to be unrealistic and unreasonable. It only makes sense as long as Moscow does not act.

If efforts at peace fail, it is not completely clear to greatcharlie whether Putin would want all of Ukraine or just some of it: Donetsk and Luhansk for instance. If he wants more, his plans may likely include capturing Kyiv and establishing a new Ukrainian government. That would take up an enormous amount of time, resources, effort, and political capital. Putin seems too shrewd to rush into something as colossal as administering Ukraine. Still, no one is infallible. Putin has been known to miscalculate. It was a gross miscalculation to interfere with the US elections in 2016, an action Putin has repeatedly denied despite the fact that direct proof of Russian meddling has been presented on by US intelligence and law enforcement organizations. If Putin acts militarily in Ukraine and successfully captures enough territory to his content–at least on paper he should be able to with some ease, he would again be looked upon as a shining hero among supporters. The effort by NATO and the West in general to deter him would be depicted as a debacle. If he fails to make gains against the Ukrainians and capture sufficient territory, the failure would be an enormous defeat for Putin. It is possible that the rippling effect of such a prospective defeat would lay the groundwork for his departure as Russia’s leader.

US President Joe Biden (left center) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). As aforementioned, Putin is hardly acting on impulse, making it up as he goes along. Evidently, Putin believed acting now militarily would best serve Russian interests as he perceives them, not knowing whether the opportunity would present itself again. His decision suggests to the mind that events have apparently moved in some way that enough boxes were ticked off to allow a well-thought out plan based on facts, calculations, possible opposition moves, and predicted outcomes, to be green-lit. To that wise, one might presume any and every coercive economic measure possibly levied against Russia by the West would doubtlessly be anticipated by him. One also might presume he has some plan to counter such steps short-term and long-term.

The View from the US

In remarks before meeting with his Infrastructure Implementation Task Force on January 20, 2022, US President Joe Biden laid out his position on a potential invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. Biden, who would not expect to speak idly on such a grave matter or any matter, for that case, stated: “I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin.  He has no misunderstanding.  If any–any–assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion.  But–and it would be met with severe and coordinated economic response that I’ve discussed in detail with our allies, as well as laid out very clearly for President Putin. But there is no doubt–let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price. It is also not the only scenario we need to be prepared for: Russia has a long history of using measures other than overt military action to carry out aggression in paramilitary tactics, so-called “gray-zone” attacks, and actions by Russian soldiers not wearing Russian uniforms. Remember when they moved into the Donbas with “Little Green Men”?  They weren’t–they were dealing with those who were Russian sympathizers and said that Russia had no–nobody in there. Well, that includes “Little Green Men” in uniforms, as well as cyberattack. We have to be ready to respond to these as well–and decisively–in a united way, with a range of tools at our disposal.” Très, très fort!

During a two hour videolink call concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, Biden also warned Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invades Ukraine. Putin complained NATO is attempting to “develop” Ukrainian territory. He demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand farther eastward. Although there were no breakthroughs, the two sides agreed upon continuing communications. In greatcharlie’s December 31, 2021 post entitled, “Infrequently Discussed Issues Regarding Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders,” it was explained that from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. Despite expressing concerns that Putin may invade Ukraine at any moment, there may still be some in Washington who assess and intuit, correctly or incorrectly, that since action has not been taken, with all of the tactical benefits such a surprise move would garner, it may not be taken. The delay In smashing into Ukraine may be a true lack of desire on the part of Putin to bear the burden of administering more of that country. There is the off chance that Putin may have some doubts about the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, it is possible, despite what greatcharlie has already suggested here on this matter, that Putin may be worried about economic retaliation from the West. (Russia does not have much to shield itself from economic retaliation as compared to China, bound to the West with its products and production capabilities. The energy it provides to Europe and Nord Stream 2 are the more meaningful cards for Moscow to play. With concern to that, during the administration of US President Donald Trump, the US offered Europ a fairly decent alternative source of energy worthy of consideration.)

Putin usually plays his cards close, making it difficult to know whether some resolution might be found through a more open dialogue. No doubt officials in Western capitals are mindful of being too attached to diplomacy in coping with Putin. Each is doubtlessly versed enough in history to hark back to this infamous statement which likely has an expected chilling effect on efforts to work with him: “As long as war has not begun, there is always hope. For the present I ask you to await as calmly as you can the events of the next few days. As long as war has not begun, there is always hope that it may be prevented, and you know that I am going to work for peace to the last moment.” These words were spoken by United Kingdom Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 27, 1938, during an address to the British people as concerns of war rose as negotiations between German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and himself. The tragic outcome of that effort is well-known. 

For Washington, Moscow’s actions have far greater implications than the progress of US-Russian relations. As Blinken also explained during his January 8, 2022 CNN appearance: “There are large principles at stake that go to the fundamentals of international peace and security.” He went on to note that the US is joined by international partners “to make it clear to Russia that this aggression will not be accepted, will not be tolerated.” An additional step in knocking down the idea that this crisis stands as a problem between Washington and Moscow has already been taken by the US. On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated very clearly on CNN: “It’s hard to see making actual progress, as opposed to talking, in an atmosphere of escalation with a gun to Ukraine’s head. So, if we’re actually going to make progress, we’re going to have to see de-escalation, Russia pulling back from the threat that it currently poses to Ukraine.” In effect, he expressed the view that despite intercession of the US and its allies, this matter remains Kyiv’s problem mainly. Looking at the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes, from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally published as twelve short stories in the Strand Magazine (1891), was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy a readership made much distraught over his demise. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation. Moreover, Putin is a far more powerful opponent for Ukraine than Moriarty was to Holmes.

Putin (right) seated in a conference room at the Kremlin during a videolink call with Biden (on screen left). During a two hour videolink concerning Ukraine and other disputes on December 21, 2021, There were no breakthroughs, but the two sides agreed to continue communications. From Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict draws near, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. In theory, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. There is the off chance Putin may have some doubts as to the military capabilities of Russian forces. The capture of Ukrainian territory may be quick and dirty but may leave unexpected problems in its aftermath. Given the way in which Biden spoke of sanctions, Putin may very well be worried about economic retaliation from the West.

Some Key Issues for Negotiation as the Situation Stands

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis for the moment would imaginably mean, in brief, crafting an agreement with Russia that will relax tensions, strengthen the sovereignty of Ukraine, enhance the security of Ukraine, and ensure Russia remains committed to whatever agreement is reached. Ukrainians must be allowed to enjoy full control and use of their own territory. Ukraine would retain self-determination as a sovereign state. If Ukraine wants to join NATO that wish will be protected. (Perhaps with some disagreeable yet necessary minor alteration in the short-term.) Russia would need to take action assented to in an agreement that would confirm it has no aggressive intention. Any action that may have prompted accusations by both sides that the other was moving back to the adversarial thinking of the Cold War and the paradigm of East-West spheres of influence of the past must be addressed. Lending some further context for Washington’s efforts to negotiate with Moscow on Ukraine, Blinken, also stated during his January 9, 2022 interview on CNN that, “It’s also not about making concessions. It’s about seeing whether, in the context of dialogue and diplomacy, there are things that both sides, all sides can do to reduce tensions.” 

Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia. They would all doubtlessly agree they have no reason to give up anything they have. They are not bothering Russia and Russia should not be bothering them. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow that they could accept, they would want to know how Russia would be held to the terms of the signed document. They would be skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. Plus ça change! All would likely agree that force should not need to be relied upon to hold Moscow to it. There is the likelihood many NATO allies and neighboring countries to Russia might sign an agreement with Russia, but would be hesitant to do so. If the US sought some collective agreement concerning the situation with Ukraine, those countries may see it as too much to ask or a manifestation of naiveté by leading powers less threatened by Russia. Some capitals would likely respond to the suggestion with reproach. Even more, they may believe the constant struggles with Russia that have created their anxieties among them about negotiating with Moscow. US officials would be up against that sort of reception and more if it sought to create some consensus among the Europeans on constructing a comprehensive agreement with Russia. Perchance if the situation is approached with a degree of gentleness and patience–“with diplomacy”–their efforts may bear fruit.

Yet, given these and other considerations that would shape a diplomatic effort in this crisis, to get a firm handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Putin (center) flanked by Russian Federation Minister of Defense, General of the Army Sergey Shoigu (right) and Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov (left). Recognizably, neither the US nor any government in the West wants to jump through hoops to satisfy Russia regarding Ukraine. Even if some agreement were constructed with Moscow, all would remain skeptical over Russia’s willingness to adhere with anything to which it might be remotely disagreeable in the long-run. To get a handle on this matter, the primary focus, as postulated here, must be placed on Putin. All that has transpired, all of the preconceived management of this crisis from the Russian side, has been the manifestation of his vigorous and masterful mind. Formulating the best response diplomatically will mean better understanding him and how he thinks. For US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators, finding a way, within reason, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, to satisfy Putin and themselves will be no mean feat.

Some Common Wisdom Regarding Putin

Many Western political leaders and senior foreign and national security policy officials have claimed to have the ability to look into Putin’s soul. The reviews of their skills have been mixed. US President George Bush provided the following statement on the matter on June 18, 2016: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. And I appreciated so very much the frank dialogue.” However, given his former work in the intelligence industry, his decades of experience in politics and as a national leader, Putin is the one who has mastered such an art. While he is never publicly vocal with his findings concerning other national leaders he meets, his conclusions are best manifested by the actions he takes as they regard their interests.

Every US official Putin meets likely for him becomes the avatar of Western duplicity. He will always be distrustful, and will simply study the individual seeking to gain a sense from his or her words, the nature of the conversation among the most senior US officials on Ukraine. To this extent, each conversation informs his next move, not due to its content, but due to what he perceives to lie behind their words. In many ways times have changed for Russia, and more dramatically for Putin. Russia can not exactly match the US as a global power. It cannot exactly match the power of the US even militarily. However, its capabilities have increased and it can do more things in the world now than a decade or two ago. It would appear that Putin so badly wants to get that point across.

It was never the case that Putin could have been shaped into the Russian leader Washington wanted. Moreover, Putin was never a man to be trifled with. However, these were among many ideas about Putin perhaps carried over from the tail-end of the Clinton administration, over two decades ago, when the then young president was establishing himself both at home and abroad. Perhaps it accounts for the manner in which those officials in the Obama administration approached Putin, dismissing him to a degree as something akin to a potentate, a footnote in their dealing with a Russia that was a shadow of its former self during the Soviet era in nearly every respect. There is a popular saying among many in the younger generation that “to compete, one must compare.” Officials in the Obama administration saw no comparison between the power Russia had maintained following the Soviet Union’s collapse, and the US which was at the time, and remains, the preeminent power in the world. Putin would likely posit that Washington has done more than enough since the Obama administration to push him to act as he has.

It remains a trend to look at Putin superficially. Interestingly, it allows everyone to have an equal shot at analyzing him and his moves. To that extent, time is spent, near idly, discussing how bad a person he is. (One very senior US official referred to Putin as “a killer” In May 2021.) At the core of even such unremarkable analyses must be something about the whole authentic enough to give it true weight. Yet, aspects of such analyses are often not quite logical. It is fascinating to see how simple facts may go some way to explain what might be recognized at best as a charitable position. As seasoned analysts would tell, if that product is simulated, conclusions that result from it will be inauthentic. What is left to examine amounts to a mere perception of what is going on in Putin’s mind and in his camp as compared to the hard facts. Using conclusions that result from such analyses will never allow policymakers and other senior officials to approach him in the right way. Even logical opinions are not the equivalent of fact. Truth is not an opinion. In the defense of some analysts, adhering to such a limited, official approach to Putin could hardly be described as neglectful. Perhaps considerations outside of what is generally accepted are avoided in fear of being castigated for devoting time and effort to trivialities. There must be something stronger that lends an understanding of his state of mind

Another problem arises when such views, despite all that is wrong about them, are adopted unconsciously by senior policy officials or worm their way into analyses, and even worse, as a possible result of that contamination, more apposite aspects may fail to receive sufficient or any treatment. It is hardly deliberate. They may appear as trifles, made imperceptible by the fact that they are notions, too commonplace in the mind to raise concern. Nonetheless, they are damaging much as the microscopic virus that can fell a world class athlete.

The West’s position on Putin as it stands today is that Putin has a mind to have Russia serve as the follow-on to the Soviet Union and claim its status and glory as a power. The enterprise has faced some rough patches over the years, but has progressed nonetheless. Putin’s actions in countries formerly aligned with the Soviet Union or were under its influence decades ago have been his targets and he has managed to get the attention and response from the West led by the US, the adversary of the erstwhile Soviet Union. It sounds bad enough for his neighbors, the West, and all others interested in maintaining stability and security in their countries, regions, and the world. Yet, in taking that tack, he has to an extent guaranteed Russia would remain stuck, limited to being a only simulacrum of the Soviet Union, a shadow of the past. Granted, Russia may be seen as possessing formidable military forces, with new weapons developments and declarations of the intention to defend its territory and its interests, but not a country that was advancing politically, economically, or socially, seeking to elevate to something better. Not to offend, but perhaps that was the best he could ever expect from his people.

Putin (right) and US President Bill Clinton (left) at the G8 Summit in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in July 2000. When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

Missteps in Responding to Putin Somewhat Downplayed

The formal inclusion of the new Russian Federation in the high realms of international politics following the collapse of the Soviet Union was nobly attempted. A seat in the Permanent Five Members of the UN Security Council was inherited from the erstwhile Communist state. As important, Russia began to engage in separate meetings with leaders of the intergovernmental group of the leading economic powers, the G7, in 1994 while Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin was in office. Russia formally joined the group in 1997 at the invitation of US President Bill Clinton and United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair. This noble step was ostensibly taken in the name of international peace and security. Surely, inviting Russia to join the G7 was more than a friendly gesture and a fresh start. Membership would plug Russia into the international order, forestalling any burgeoning sense that if left isolated, control in Moscow might fall fully into the hands of organized crime groups, and so would Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Russia membership would more importantly plug the G7 countries vis-à-versa into Moscow in a structured way, creating an effective, stable line of communication and political and economic influence.

When Putin became Russian Federation President, he took the seat created for Yeltsin at the G8. Perhaps the other G8 leaders felt that it was important to keep Russia in the G8 for the same reasons it was brought in but also hoped that keeping Putin in their circle might stir and help sustain a great desire within him to make Russia a country “like to one more rich in hope.” Other national leaders of what became the G8 may have thought that Putin would passively acquire an appreciation of their world, imagine the potential of a rejuvenated Russia fitting into their world, and acquire similarities with them. However, their eyes appear to have been closed to what was happening with Putin and Russia and why the move was nearly doomed to fail to ameliorate East-West tension in the long run due to his personality, no offense intended.

At the G8, national leaders would come to the big table committed to having a positive impact in not only economic affairs, but world affairs in general. The existing seven members–the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Italy, plus the EU–were bound by shared values as open, democratic and outward-looking societies. Russia was not a country completely devoid of desirable things, Russia possessed natural resources, particularly oil and gas which the energy industries of the other powers coveted. Certainly, Russia retained the power to destroy with its nuclear arsenal and the residue of the once powerful Soviet military. However, Russia was hardly developed enough to participate in that way as a member. 

As for Putin, he had not as yet grabbed all reins of power firmly in Russia, much as he tightly grips them today. It is not inconceivable that his political qualities were not fully scrutinized by any member state. However, more pertinently, Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, while in his own way appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. For Putin to be satisfied at that time, Russia would need to possess membership on his terms, legitimate terms. Within G8 meetings, Putin presented himself with grace and charm befitting his position. If Putin ever got the idea then that Western leaders enjoyed observing him outside of his comfort zone or disrespected him in any way, he would unlikely be able to hide his anger in his countenance and dwell on lashing out in some big way. Perchance at some point Putin might have imagined that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage to lampoon Russia. He would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps in unconscious condescending behavior toward him, that they imagine everything about Russia being tawdry and slipshod, particularly its goods and services, and would describe its industrial centers resembling a carnival the day after the night before. Perhaps such thinking could be said to have some validity given that such was essentially the case in early post-Soviet Russia. Putin had already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. That sensibility seemed to stick regardless of all else good that came his way through the G8. The G8 experience overall may have left a bad taste in his mouth. It is likely other group leaders may not have imagined that would be the outcome.

As a result of Euromaidan, power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced Western influence were taken. Putin responded robustly. The escalation of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea. Crimea, at time was the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and most national capitals say it still is. Putin’s actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8 and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all. Although Russia was suspended from the G8–once again the G7, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the group until 2017.

Further reflecting his hot and cold impressions about the other industrial powers, although Russia was suspended from the G8, Russia delayed announcing a decision to permanently withdraw from the G8 until 2017. Surely, Putin had great concerns over the perceptions in Russia and around the world of the decision of the G7 countries. Putin appears to have had a morbid fear that the G7 countries were exercising power over Russia and himself. That would not do. By waiting, Putin retained control of that situation by choosing when Russia would depart and then exist in the substitute reality that his country had not been pushed out of the organization and marginalized. As far as he was concerned, Russia was still a member of the club of the most powerful countries. Despite everything, that recognition remained an aspiration of his. It is an apparent odd duality. Satisfying Putin’s desire for Russia to possess the ability to discuss world problems with the leaders of the most influential countries, was Russia’s continued membership in the G20–the Group of 20, in essence a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from 19 of the world’s largest economies, including those of many developing nations, along with the EU. While the G7 existed for the top-tier industrialized countries, the G20, formed in 1999, provided a forum for the discussion of international financial matters that included those emerging economies which at the time began to represent a larger part of the global economy. The G20’s aim is to promote global economic growth, international trade, and regulation of financial markets. As of 2021 there are 20 members in the group to include Putin’s erstwhile G8 partners, the US, United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the EU, and also Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey and his Russia. To all appearances, as a G20 member, Russia plausibly retains authority in world governance. 

Una idea perplexina. (The idea is strange to us.) Intriguingly,  Putin did not attend the G20 summit in Rome in October 2021, informing the organization that his decision was due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Not to take precaution in these times would be short-sighted, but for Putin to abstain from physically attending a G20 leaders summit could indicate that the organization, for at least that moment, may have less meaning for him. Putin participated in the summit in Rome via videolink, but the optics were hardly favorable. Reportedly, Putin coughed quite a bit during the meeting creating questions in the minds of others about his condition. That seemed unusual for a man who exudes strength and robustness. (Hopefully, Putin was not feeling any real discomfort.) It was a small matter, a trifle, but perhaps it will later be discovered that it was small in the way that small movements of a needle would indicate an earthquake on a seismograph.

One must add to this story the influence of the destructive impact of the West on the Russian economy and the country’s efforts to “build back better” immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union on Putin’s thinking. As discussed in the June 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed “Struggle” with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students,” Putin would doubtlessly explain that under Yeltsin, the Russian leadership made the mistake of believing Russia no longer had any enemies. Putin, while ascending to the top in the new Russian Federation, saw how mesmerizing “reforms” recommended to Yeltsin’s government by Western experts unmistakably negatively impacted Russia’s economy in a way referred to somewhat euphemistically by those experts as “shock treatment.” Yeltsin was unaware that Western experts were essentially “experimenting” with approaches to Russia’s economic problems. His rationale for opening Russia up to the resulting painful consequences was not only to fix Russia’s problems but ostensibly to establish comity with the West. The deleterious effects of reform recommended by Western experts’ could be seen not only economically, but socially.  In another statement made while he was acting President in 1999, Putin diplomatically explained the consequences of relying upon foreign experts for assistance. He stated: “The experience of the 90s demonstrates vividly that merely experimenting with abstract models and schemes taken from foreign textbooks cannot assure that our country will achieve genuine renewal without any excessive costs. The mechanical copying of other nations’ experience will not guarantee success, either.” Once fully ensconced as Russia’s leader, he would publicly state that the greatest danger to Russia comes from the West. He also brought that sensibility to the G7 table with him. 

One might go as far as to say apparently none of the negative perspectives, memories that Putin held regarding the West were revealed. He concealed them with sangfroid and equanimity. Yet, he likely thought of them by day and nursed them by night. Inclusion was not enough to stem those feelings or his responses to Western moves albeit in Russia’s direction. Once power changed hands in Ukraine, and a series of measures that enhanced US influence were taken, Putin responded robustly. The promotion of a struggle between ethnic Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk with the fledgling democratic Ukrainian government was followed by the greater step of Russia’s seizing and annexing Crimea, then the sovereign territory of Ukraine. His actions resulted in Russia being placed back into what was supposed to be isolation; it was put out of the G8–now once again the G7–and hit with many punitive economic measures. Both Putin and Russia have seemingly survived it all.

Putin (left) United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron (center) and US President Barack Obama (right) at the G8 Summit in Lough Erne, Northern Ireland in June 2013. Putin was unlikely ready to manage Russia’s stake at the G8 when first began participating in leaders’ summits. Looking into Putin’s inner-being, it is possible that Putin, though appreciating the status G8 membership bestowed Russia and him, he likely felt well-out of his comfort zone and despite his ego, felt somewhere inside that the manner in which Russia acquired G8 membership was counterfeit. Perchance Putin could imagine that the other technologically advanced countries used G8 meetings as a stage, and he would be seated before them as they flaunted their economic power and progress while giving the impression in occasional off-handed comments and perhaps unconscious condescending behavior toward him, He already brought to the table a sense within himself that Russia remained vulnerable to Western plans and intentions. The whole G8 experience may have left a bad taste in his mouth.

Putin from a Different Lens

What one might gather from this part of the story is that more than anxiety and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves, there is apparently a real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies. It has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. Often, that sense of vulnerability has been exacerbated by efforts from Washington to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Note how every step taken eastward by the US in Europe, as innocuous as each may have appeared to Washington’s eyes, has led to hyper-vigilance–for example, increased intelligence and surveillance activity and aerial and naval incursions in the territory of NATO Members–and military action by Moscow. Though it has been listened to with skeptical ears in the West, Putin has said that US moves evoke his actions.

In a December 21, 2021 Washington Post opinion piece entitled, “Putin Wants Us To Negotiate over the Heads of Our Allies. Washington Shouldn’t Fall for It”, the former US Ambassador to the Russian Federation Michael McFaul lists what he identifies as Russian actions and policies undermining European security. McFaul included the following on that list: Russia well-maintains troops and weapons from the territory of the Republic of Moldova; Russia has recognized the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries; Russia caotured and annexed Crimea and well-supports the separatist movements in eastern Ukraine; Russia has deployed SS-26 Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and maintains them in other deployment locations; Russia has placed tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad; Russia has engaged in assassination operations, such as those conducted in the European cities of London, Moscow, Salisbury, Berlin and Tomsk; and, Russia has aided remaining European dictators who kill and arrest Europeans exercising freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. One can only imagine Putin’s inner-dialogue as he took each step.

Cast one’s mind back to Putin’s greatest expression of vulnerability in March 18, 2014 speech declaring Russia’s annexation of Crimea. He vented his anger at the US and EU, enumerating some Western actions that fostered contempt in Moscow. He mentioned: Russia’s economic collapse, which many Russians recall was worsened by destructive advice and false philanthropy of Western business and economic experts that did more to cripple their country; the expansion of NATO to include members of the Soviet Union’s own alliance, the Warsaw Pact; the erroneous Russian decision to agree to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, which he referred to as the “colonial treaty”; the West’s dismissal of Russia’s interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO and the EU; and, Western efforts to instruct Russia on how to conduct its affairs domestically and internationally. Conceivably, the aggregate of US moves eastward in Europe over time have truly rattled Putin and could potentially push him over the edge. That must always be considered. If the actual intention is to irritate Putin, then there will be no firm peace ever reached while he runs Russia.

Putin (above) in an office in the Senate Building at the Kremlin. In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, the possibility exists that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message.

What Might Be Done Regarding Putin To End This Crisis?

More than once has Putin associated himself with the ideas of “West German” Parliamentarian Egon Bahr on East-West competition. Discussing NATO in an interview published on January 11, 2016 in Bild, Putin provided insight into his thinking then and now. During the interview, Putin quoted Bahr who stated in 1990: “If we do not now undertake clear steps to prevent a division of Europe, this will lead to Russia’s isolation.” Putin then quoted what he considered an edifying suggestion from Bahr on how to avert a future problem in Europe. According to Putin, Bahr proffered: “the USA, the then Soviet Union and the concerned states themselves should redefine a zone in Central Europe that would not be accessible to NATO with its military structure.” Putin claimed that the former NATO Secretary General Manfred Worner had guaranteed NATO would not expand eastwards after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Putin perceives the US and its allies as having broken their promises to avoid expanding further eastward, and doing only what is best for their own interest in the name of all countries. Putin told his interviewer: “NATO and the USA wanted a complete victory over the Soviet Union. They wanted to sit on the throne in Europe alone. But they are sitting there, and we are talking about all these crises we would otherwise not have.”

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat inchoare longam. (Life’s short span forbids us to enter on far reaching hopes.) Whatever it is that Putin wants to achieve, he must move faster than time wastes life. Time is not on Putin’s side. National leaders and political figures in power now in the capital of those countries of the former Eastern bloc which Putin so dearly covets to develop Russian influence are individuals of the last generation that even briefly lived while the Soviet Union had considerable influence, sway in their countries. Coming generations will only know the Soviet Union from history books. They will unlikely as a pattern, by inertia, due to insouciance  simply seek as their predecessors seek to connect with Moscow. The benefits of connection to the West will be well understood by them. Relatives who in the past decades who immigrated West would likely have some influence on their understanding of those benefits. Russia simply will not compare, offer anything they would desperately want to invest in their future. Russia itself represents the past, and how bad things were, something no one should reasonably want to be like or be part of.

As greatcharlie ruminated on in its January 18, 2018 post entitled, “Trump Wants Good Relations with Russia, But if New Options on Ukraine Develop, He May Use One,” Putin very likely has considered what Russia would be like after he, as one might presume he accepts, is “called to heaven” or perhaps elsewhere, goodness knows. It would seem that now while on Earth, he is on course regarding Ukraine to saddle future generations of Russians with a country or parts of it that are still economically, socially, and politically challenged that they will need to care for, to pay for. Future generations may not appreciate that. In Donetsk and Luhansk, future generations might abandon their homelands for “the other Ukraine” or points further West. They would unlikely pour into Russia for employment, a “better life.” In the future, a Russian leader might very well try to reverse whatever Putin seems to be attempting in Ukraine due to financial strains caused, or–not to be offensive–out of decency. Taking on Donetsk and Luhansk might very well be viewed in the future as a grave miscalculation, another step toward sealing Russia’s fate as a second tier superpower. It is greatcharlie’s assessment that future generations of Russians will not want to hold on to Ukraine as leaders of Putin’s generation, with an idea to reestablish Russia to resemble the Soviet Union. This reality may have value in negotiations with Putin. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting at Hotel Wilson in Geneva, Switzerland. January 21, 2022. For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Washington and Moscow could engage in an exploratory dialogue during which suggestions could be sought on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be.

A Possible Way Ahead in Diplomacy

For their next diplomatic step with Moscow, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Engaging in what in essence would be an exploratory dialogue, transparent and frank, between Washington and Moscow on such matters would be the first step. In that dialogue, suggestions could also be sought from Moscow on how the two sides could get from where they are to where they want to be. If the US and Russia can cooperate on matters concerning the International Space Station, surely they can cooperate on an Earthly matter as Ukraine. N’est-ce pas vrai?

In theory, enough compromise might result from the collective talks to result in an agreement that would satisfy hopes and mitigate fears on all sides. Perhaps it would become the paradigm for peace in Europe that would remain until that time a new generation of Russia leadership that would share the values of other open, democratic and outward-looking societies. After the agreement is reached, Putin would need to feel freer and be able to stand upright. The US and its allies, the EU, NATO, the OSCE, the UN, and especially Ukraine would be on a long list of those who would need to be satisfied with the plan for negotiating with Russia and the resultant argument. Creating consensus and acquiring agreement across the board on everything negotiated with Russia will take time but that course must be taken. Besides, if one is to believe Putin, and accept that he has no plans to invade Ukraine, then there is no real need to rush.

In state-to-state talks between the US and Russia concerning Ukraine a structure has been established in which talks are held in rank order. Biden communicates with Putin, and Blinken communicates with Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. On both sides, it is possible that a set of reactions and responses to the positions and personas have already been formed. It would only be human to color anything truly novel added to the dialogue with considerations of what had already been said. Accordingly, it might be useful to enlist an envoy who could deliver the message that will end Putin’s sense of vulnerability and give immediate legitimacy to a call for multi-party negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on European security. That individual would need to have considerable standing with Putin to deliver that message. It could be a former US President, German Chancellor, or European President or Prime Minister that Putin seemed to favor. Perhaps a small multinational delegation of doyens rather than a single doyen could meet with Putin. He may appreciate that. The immediate task of whoever meets Putin would be agreement to cease actions threatening Ukraine and publicly making demands for that would require its government to surrender self-determination and freedom to associate with other countries as Kyiv saw fit. The appropriate alternative suggested would be to discuss all issues. Putin would need to be convinced that everything Moscow, he, might deem pertinent could be hashed out at the suggested multi-party talks. The theme of the conversation would essentially be “Let us do everything the right way this time.” Again, Putin may appreciate that.

As for any agreement reached through multi-party talks, if Putin accepts that approach to diplomacy, more than simple guarantees must be insisted upon. Apparently, Lavrov presented a rather one-sided draft treaty to Blinken when they met in Geneva on January 21, 2022. That will not do. It was a rather incommesurate and hasty approach to the situation given its enormity. The effort to maintain Ukraine’s security, Russia’s security, Europe’s security must not only be comprehensive, it must be a dynamic process. Not to get into too much detail,, but as a comprehensive agreement, a new agreement would supersede the existing Minsk Agreement, although its terms could be referenced. Reasonably, terms of a new agreement could be built upon terms of the Minsk Agreement when directly related. Of course, the decision on that, as with everything else, is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties. All issues concerning Crimea and existing sanctions could be disassociated from these talks. Those talks could continue in their current venue. Again, the choice there is completely in the hands of the negotiating parties.

The negotiation process might require parties to take some the following steps, among many others: construct detailed plans of action on every key area as mutually recognized, each issue of contention, must be formulated to ensure greater clarity not confusion; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for actions as reducing the number of destabilizing forces near border; create a security zone could be created within which zero tolerance of isolation of the agreement would be established; create firm timetables for the suspension for refraining from existing actions such as military exercises; reduce the scope and scale of military exercises near the Russia-Ukraine border despite perceptions of whether they are threatening or benign; establish liaison offices in the security zone on both sides of the Ukrainian-Russian border could be created staffed by Russian and Ukrainian officers and military advisers if desired by either party; organize limited but comprehensive aerial surveillance over the security zone would be organized and appropriately scheduled; establish multiple military and diplomatic committees each with responsibilities in key areas of the agreement and respectively staffed with appropriate expertise and authority could be created to review plans for action in key established under the main agreement or hash out nagging issues could possibly exist; organize and schedule direct Ukraine-Russia talks, in a multiparty forum, at the ministerial level and deputies just below to include NATO Members and non-NATO Members in European countries neighboring Ukraine can be created.

It would be crucial to eliminate all ambiguities at the negotiating table through multilayered agreements if necessary as the process moves along. Pull all loose threads detected at the negotiating table may include using scenarios and hypotheticals. Whether a negotiating path as suggested will create stability in Europe right away, greatly improve Ukraine’s security and remove Russia’s fears, perhaps even through some very creative steps, remains to be seen. Nil sine magno vita labore dedit mortalibus. (Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky (center) visiting his country’s eastern frontline in December 2021 (center). On January 9, 2022, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the view on CNN that in the end, despite the vigorous efforts of the to correct the situation, this matter is mainly Kyiv’s problem and the Ukrainians have a Russian “gun to their head.” Viewing the crisis in that way makes it something akin to Ukraine’s “Reichenbach Falls”, the moment where Arthur Conan Doyle’s great fictional detective character, Sherlock Holmes was confronted by his archrival Professor James Moriarty after repeatedly disrupting his criminal schemes. As the story initially went, Holmes met his end in combat with him. It was revealed in subsequent installments of the series appearing in the Strand Magazine that Holmes survived the fight, his resurrection being demanded of Doyle by the magazine’s editors to satisfy their readership. One might hope fate will allow Ukraine to survive this crisis intact, yet there is nothing fictional about this situation.

The Way Forward

Non enim parum cognosse, sed in parum cognito stulte et diu perseverasse turpe est, propterea quod alterum communi hominum infirmitati alterum singulari cuiusque vitio est attributum. (For it is not having insufficient knowledge, but persisting a long time in insufficient knowledge that is shameful; since the one is assumed to be a disease common to all, but the other is assumed to be a flaw to an individual.) Putin does not seek to make Russia first in Europe nor match the power and position of the US in the world. Russia lacks the wherewithal, the resources,, and a lot of other things required to accomplish such objectives. However, Putin does want to control what he claims to be in Russia’s “near abroad”: the former Soviet republics on its border. As the US and its European allies become more engaged with them, it becomes less likely that he will be able to accomplish that goal either. If the US and its allies were not enough trouble for Putin, his “friends” in Beijing have been knocking on the doors of those near abroad governments, making enticing, huge offers, which Moscow cannot match, to invest in their economies and support industrial and infrastructure development as a way to enhance ties–albeit perhaps not always in a legitimate way. Unfortunately for Putin, he was unable to shape Russia’s position in the world positively over the past two decades, by transforming the country to be a contributing member as an advanced industrialized, economic power, and present Russia as anything close to an alternative as a partner to its neighbors. Russia remained a country from which villainy of some sort was expected more than anything else. Unable to sway the capitals of bordering former Soviet republics to Russia’s camp, it would seem he made the decision a while back to use brute force. US decision-makers should not simply expect Putin to get a hold of himself, and get a grip concerning the use of greater military force in Ukraine. He already moved on Crimea, so for many, no points could be argued that would convince them that he would not do more. The capture of Crimea may have actually been only the first phase in a plan of far greater conception concerning Ukraine.

Washington wants to avoid a conflict in Ukraine. For Washington, success in resolving the Ukraine crisis would likely mean crafting a sustainable agreement with Russia, within acceptable parameters of US values and interests, and that is the rub. Some national leaders in Europe might go as far as to say aggression simply resides in Putin and it is too late for any worthwhile diplomacy with him. They may need to overcome an anxiety over the history of Russian behavior before altering their thinking on that. Still, at the same time, no responsible party involved in this matter wants war. Given how Putin thinks, more than aggression and dissatisfaction with US policies and moves inform his actions. A real sense of vulnerability in Putin toward the US and its allies has been a subtle and profound undercurrent in his decisionmaking and approaches toward them. That sense of vulnerability is intensified by Washington’s efforts to make diplomatic inroads with countries Putin seems to feel belong to Russia. Putin has actually said that US moves evoke his actions, which thereby are actually reactions. That is hardly something he, or any military commander, would want to admit or to accept.

As suggested here, US policymakers, decisionmakers and negotiators must find a way for the two sides to work together in similar positive ways to create an outcome in which they both have a mutual and balanced influence on the situation. For instance, perhaps ways in which Ukraine could be helped along the way by both the West and Russia in tandem through an agreement that would also promote the maintenance of good neighborly relations and support the establishment of strong, positive relationships overseas without anyone being irritated. Some, despite everything presented here, albeit in brief, might contend that there is little obvious room for compromise from either side. However, the referee has not yet blown the whistle for full-time. It has always been greatcharlie’s contention that smart people are usually able with the appropriate amount of effort to find answers to problems. A posse ad esse. (From possibility to actuality.)

Infrequently Raised Issues Concerning Taiwan Likely Influencing Decisions of Communist Party of China Leaders and PLA Commanders

Map of Taiwan (above). Note on the map that part of Taiwanese population lives on islands in the Taiwan Strait and the East China Sea, perilously close to the shore of Mainland China. Despite being a tacit ally, and over the years occasionally directly declared one by some hardline US politicans, Taiwan is understood internationally to be part of China, and Beijing refers to it as a province. China says it has held claim over the island since 239 AD. There could be no greater insult to Beijing than to hear Washington come close in words to declaring Taiwan to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence falls within US interests. It is uncertain how much longer People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping and other Communist Party of China leaders will be able to stomach what they likely perceive as the shameful global image of their new China, after literally centuries of subservience to Western powers, still unable to claim its own sovereign territory from them. Examined here is how this sentiment and others infrequently broached likely influence Party and People’s Liberation Army decisionmaking on Taiwan.

It is uncertain whether the US and its allies through their words and actions have successfully mitigated the People’s Republic of China’s plans to take control of Taiwan or Beijing is simply approaching the task very methodically, on its own schedule, leaving no appearance of feeling rushed to act militarily. What is clear however, under both circumstances, it is clear that perceptions in Beijing on either will ultimately determine how China will act. What those perceptions may prove to be is of concern among the US public. An April 3, 2021 Pew research study found that 89 percent of adults in the US “consider China a competitor or enemy rather than a partner.” The percentage of those who harbored “cold” feelings toward China increased from 46 percent in 2018 to 67 percent in 2021. During the same interval, poll participants in the US who held “very cold” feelings toward China more than doubled, from 23 percent to 47 percent. More than a few foreign and national security policy officials in the US and its allies, likely hope the status quo will hold fast. Imaginably, enough simple facts could be aggregated that might go some way to explain and support that position, which might be reasonably recognized as charitable. A temper of the soul wants to live in illusion. However, it must be accepted that convincing Beijing to surrender what it declares to be its sovereignty over Taiwan, may be akin to convincing a devoted mother to surrender her child. The Communist Party of China may even say its lead by an even deeper sense of a rightful custody. This is a very dangerous business and it appears less than likely that some peaceful resolution will be found to satisfy Beijing regarding Taiwan given how both sides have staked their respective interests. Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.)

In attempting to inspire thinking beyond the typically raised geostrategic issues concerning US dominance in the Indo-Pacific and China’s challenge to that and the stature it has acquired as it continues to grow as a regional hegemon, and get beyond the geopolitical dynamics of East versus West, Chinese Communism versus capitalism, the eventual victory of the Communist Revolution worldwide, and so on, one might successfully discover that there are other aspects to consider in looking at key elements that drive the thinking of the Communist Party of China on Taiwan. Further thinking on matters is always possible.

The intent of greatcharlie with this essay is to offer a few new ideas that may stimulate others to peer more deeply into Beijing’s ongoing actions and intentions. Most were inspired following it’s reread of Robert Spalding’s Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019), on which greatcharlie posted a book review on November 30, 2021. It is unlikely that all readers will find what greatcharlie presents as agreeable, this is most likely possible in the portions of the discussion that concerns how China may approach Taiwan militarily and the discussion on the possible influence of race and history upon thinking on the US by Communist Party of China leaders. However, sometimes making the effort to stimulate new ideas requires stepping a bit onto what might be deemed shaky ground. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping (above). There could be no greater standing insult to a more audacious and assertive China than to stand by while Washington declares Taiwan, China’s own province, to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence is in US interests. According to the facts as one knows them, the US and China since 1971 have had an implicit understanding that Washington would not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, and China would take control of Taiwan by force. As the US since then has done as much as possible, short of recognition of Taiwan as an independent country, to provide support for the government in Taipei, one might reasonably sense that in the eyes of the Communist Party of China, the US, through its policy approaches toward the island, exercises its power over China. There is an art in the way Xi moves. If there is a way he can take control of Taiwan with acceptable loss by his calculus, he will very likely act.

Immediate Thoughts on US Regarding Taiwan That Likely Beat the Brains of Leaders in Beijing

Assessing the aggregate of sentiment expressed by the leadership of the Communist Party of China, one might posit that they believe their country’s stand, one-on-one with the US, which at one time for most of them appeared to be an indomitable power, is nothing less than heroic. At the same time, however, there is very likely some quiet recognition that Taiwan is a manifestation, a very apparent sign, of US dominance in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite being an tacit ally of the US, Taiwan is understood internationally to be part of China, and Beijing refers to it as a province. China says it has held claim over the island since 239 AD. There could be no greater insult to a more audacious and assertive China than to stand by while Washington comes close in words to declaring Taiwan to be an ally and within its sphere of influence and that maintaining its independence falls within US interests. The US approach on Taiwan has been conspicuously at variance to that taken toward China for decades on the economic front.

According to the facts as one knows them, the US and China have had an implicit understanding that Washington would not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country, and China would take control of Taiwan by force. It is an agreement that resulted from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Beijing in 1971. As the authorized version of the story goes, during talks with the People’s Republic of China First Premier Zhou Enlai, Kissinger agreed the US would “recognize the government in Beijing, not Taipei, as the only legitimate China.” During a November 15, 2021 virtual meeting between US President Joe Biden and Communist Party of China under People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, the issues of Taiwan’s status and security were broached. Reportedly, Biden underscored that the US was still committed to the “one China” policy, guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurances. However, he also explained that the US was strongly opposed to any unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.

Given that the US for quite some time has been doing as much as possible, short of recognizing Taiwan as an independent country, to provide support for the government in Taipei, one might reasonably sense that in the eyes of the Communist Party of China, the US, through its policy approaches toward the island, exercises power over China. There may also be a belief within the Party that the US enjoys exercising that power. It is uncertain how much longer Xi and other Communist Party of China leaders will be able to stomach what they may likely perceive as the shameful image presented throughout the world of their new China, a supposed power, after literally centuries of subservience to Western powers, still unable to claim what is, by its own declarations, its own sovereign territory. All of China’s taunts of becoming the dominant power in the world appear to amount to nothing more than whistling in the wind. Certainly, regarding Taiwan, China does not display itself as the rising world power that it pretends to be. 

Surely, some foreign capitals have begun to believe Its military power and capabilities have been subject to hyperbole. Indeed, many in the world, watching it all transpire might be left with the impression that there is not a thing China can do about except lie back and take it, as unpleasurable as it may feel. An October 12, 2021 Newsweek article indicated that such feelings about the unlikelihood of China doing anything about Taiwan were recorded in a poll on the island. According to a public opinion survey released on September 29, 2021 by Taiwan’s opposition-run think tank, Intelligentsia Taipei, it was revealed that despite the apparent gathering shadows, 50.2 percent of respondents were little concerned about the prospect of war with China compared to 42.5 percent who were. Moreover, 58.8 percent believed a war with China was unlikely to happen in the next 10 years, compared to 17.6 percent who thought it was probable. A slender 2.2 percent were certain war was coming within this decade.

“Peace in Our Time”

Admirably discussed in Spalding’s Stealth War, are the matters of past US administrations’ blindness towards China’s actions and intentions and the importance of how Beijing assesses how Washington would respond to a move to retake Taiwan. In his search for a reason, a rationale, a purpose, for the current state of relations with China, Spalding, led by the data available to him explains it was the “errant” policy positions of former US administrations. At the core of those policies pursued, according to Spalding, was the misguided belief that economic development would lead the way to China’s transformation to a more democratic form of government and away from Communism. As he explains it, one is left to contemplate how such a horrifying blunder could continue on for so long. Attractive lies can worm their way into the intellect.

Regarding Beijing’s assessments on Washington’s most likely response to its taking control of Taiwan, pertinent is Spalding’s focus on how preceding US administrations perceived, constructed policies, and acted on China. It would appear that in current times, the way in which the US and its allies will respond to a move against Taiwan is how it will perceive China’s action toward its overall interests in the region. Despite what most might imagine, war may not be the obvious choice. Parsing out such concerning the US must be an ongoing process, an obsession, in Beijing at the moment. It would be part of the effort to determine how the US might react when presented with a situation as an assault on Taiwan.

Quod bellum oderunt, pro pace cum fide laborabant. (Because they hated war, they were working for peace with fidelity.) Presently from Washington’s perspective, the door must be left open to type of contrition in diplomacy. Within time perceived to be available as conflict appears to draw, there must exist an opportunity to amend a position. Hypothetically, there may be an epiphany within logic and reason that leads one side to align itself with a view closely matching the other. The expectation is for senior policymakers to master the situation through their management of it. When this is the case, they can often be more precise, to an extent exact, in policy planning, formulation, and implementation. On the other hand, policymakers can sometimes be out of touch with the real situation and act on mere perceptions and perhaps faulty inferences. Errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est. (Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.)

There remains the real possibility that a train of atrocious, unimaginable, grave events may come to such a head that it might be impossible to wait even an hour before taking the correct action. Fighting the type of war that the US might be required to prosecute, defeat China, thwart China’s ambitions, drive it off and forever away from Taiwan might not be characteristic of certain leaders. In taking that course, there would be the potential for millions to die in China, unacceptable losses on the side of the US and its allies. Additionally, as grotesque as the thought may be, China could potentially level an unexpected, crippling blow to US naval and air forces could also result. Indeed, what might be hoped in Beijing to be a limited lighting war attack launched in the name of protecting China’s sovereignty, could become total war, a war of national survival. (Note that there is no intention by greatcharlie to put into question the personal qualities of the men and women who have honorably chosen to dutifully serve the people to the best of their abilities.) As noted in greatcharlie’s November 30, 2021 review of Stealth War, perhaps in Washington, a decision has already been made on how to proceed in such a contingency. Perhaps the decisions on the defense of Taiwan have been established as protocols. In defense of its ally, US political leaders may be obliged to comply with them. If no such protocols exist, in the end, it will boil down to what the US political leaders want from the situation, a war ending in a type of Pyrrhic victory with losses or a struggle resulting in some acceptable or tolerable new paradigm that allows for an Irenic victory, in which the two opposing sides find some resolution and at least a modicum of satisfaction. 

During the Cold War, US assessments of a possible conflict initiated by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites was a surprise attack across the Iron Curtain initiated with conventional weapons. As discussed in greatcharlie’s March 16, 2014 post entitled, “Obama Urges Putin to Pursue Diplomacy; After Crimea Is Firmly Under Russian Control, Perhaps He Will”, Bernard Brodie explained in his renowned work on military affairs and statecraft, War and Politics (Macmillan, 1973): “The attack might be general along the line, intended to wipe out NATO and take over Western Europe to the Pyrenees.” However, Brodie also suggested that “there might be some variation in diminished form, like what became known as the ‘Hamburg grab.’  In the latter instance, the Soviet forces would slice around the important city of Hamburg and then leave it up to us to try to take it back—which without large conventional forces we obviously could not do unless we were prepared for a nuclear holocaust.” In contemporary times, the question of how the US and its NATO allies might respond when Russian Federation forces marched in Crimea which was the sovereign territory of a NATO partner–not a Member State–in 2014. The manner in which the US responded on the Crimean matter could possibly have enormous implications concerning Beijing’s thinking on Taiwan.

Lex talionis. (The law of retaliation.) As far as one knows, central to arguments made in Beijing to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, may very well be what was central to the argument on taking all available steps to subtly exploit the US investment in China’s possible development into a more democratic society; the character of the US political leadership. Indeed, as consideration of the character of US political leaders did much to place the US in the current challenging position with Beijing, it may influence a decision by Beijing to go to war. To that extent, the nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference.

People’s Liberation Army Ground Force General Li Zuocheng, Chief of the Joint Staff Department of the Central Military Commission (above). As far as one knows, central to arguments made in Beijing to take military action to gain and retain control of Taiwan, may very well be what was central to the argument on taking all available steps to subtly exploit the US investment in China’s possible development into a more democratic society; the character of the US political leadership. Indeed, as consideration of the character of US political leaders did much to place the US in the current challenging position with Beijing, it may influence a decision by Beijing to go to war. To that extent, the nature of the one who would make the decision in the US on how to respond to China’s aggression will make all of the difference.

Begrudging Acceptance of a New Paradigm?

Tacit and explicit threats of a military response to an assault by China on Taiwan may with difficulty be recognized as a failed effort at deterrence. Domino theories and arguments based on the like predicting China’s systematic conquest of one US ally in the Indo-Pacific region after another may fail to gain traction among the most senior decision makers in Washington. That case would be made that all along it was recognized that Taiwan’s case was quite different from that of sovereign countries in the region. If anything, in the face of Taiwan being grabbed by a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) blitzkrieg, regional allies will need to strengthen their military partnerships and coordination with the US more than ever. In the capitals in which wisdom is exalted, leaders will immediately recognize that reality.

Though very aggressive statements may be made and every coercive tool other than war, particularly economic, would surely be used, military action that may lead to devastating attacks on regional allies, increasing the loss of life, may not be seen as the best way to establish a new dynamic with a relative world power. China in control of Taiwan might be albeit reluctantly accepted as a new paradigm.

Possible War with China over Taiwan

Forecasts of all types have been made on how a conflict between China and US and its allies will ignite. Perchance there may be points in each of some value. Perhaps some are worthy of great consideration. Still, in the end, they may prove to be in the aggregate, a mass of mistaken theories, indicating that there is no certitude or uniform position established on how the PLA will come at Taiwan. For long-time China watchers and the newly interested, the near deluge of newspapers, magazine, and broadcast and online reports up to journal articles and scholarly studies on Taiwan has left available a mass of diverse assessments, making the possibility of twinkling out the most likely scenario from the pack far more difficult. Ficta voluptatis causa sint proxima veris. (Fictions should approximate the truth in order to please.)

Reuters’ Predictions

Warplanners of the armed forces of the US and its allies surely without fail have established in their professional judgment what they believe to be the most viable. There is a fairly popular theory discussed in the US newsmedia that the PLA is waging so-called gray-zone warfare against Taiwan, lending support to the theory that China’s effort to retake the self-governed territory is already underway. Gray-zone warfare reportedly includes: an almost daily campaign of threatening military exercises, aerial and naval patrols, and all manner of surveillance. China has also used sand dredgers to swarm Taiwan’s outlying islands. In response, the US and its allies have accelerated, weapons sales to Taiwan, Taiwanese regular and reserve forces have improved readiness, stockpiled munitions, organize for asymmetric warfare: It disperses and conceals hundreds of lethal, long-range missiles capable of striking at the PLA’s superior force of warships, aircraft and targets inside Chinese have been dispersed. Further reports indicate that military planners in China, the US, Taiwan, Japan and Australia are expectedly gaming out scenarios for how an attack should launch, how the island’s defenders should act, and what the likely outcome will be. As the attacker, experts recognize that China has a range of options. Options suggested include seizing Taiwan’s outlying islands such as Quemoy and Matsu and the remote Pratas Islands, military and economic blockades, or least likely, invasion. 

An intriguing November 5, 2021 Reuters online report entitled, “Reuters Investigates T-Day: The Battle for Taiwan,” examined some of the conflict scenarios. It is based on interviews with close to a dozen military strategists and 15 current and former military officers from Taiwan, the US, Australia and Japan and drawing from articles in US, Chinese, and Taiwanese military and professional journals and official publications.

It is assessed by many of Reuters‘ military experts that top PLA commanders would likely convince Xi that an invasion, even under the most volatile circumstances, would be the biggest and most complex amphibious landing ever attempted, and is beyond the PLA’s capabilities. The alternative they foresee is an effort by China to launch a devastating air and missile attack on the island’s defenses. The military objective would be to destroy Taiwan’s military, demoralize the population and force Taipei to the negotiating table before the US and its allies can intervene.

Four PLA Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missiles (above). The DF-46 missile is feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. It has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. In order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, a US aircraft carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. The sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships.

What Must Be Remembered from Stealth War

In Stealth War, Spalding tosses into the debate on the defense of Taiwan the reality that China has thousands of precision warheads tied to a sophisticated command and control system. He expounds on this by pointing out that the Dong Feng-26 (DF-26) ballistic missile–46 feet long, 44,000 pounds, and built to carry both conventional and nuclear warheads–was designed to obliterate aircraft carriers. The DF-26 has a range of 2,500 miles, which means it can strike US warships in the western Pacific Ocean, including ships based in Japan. He gets across the idea that in order to deploy a carrier’s bombers on a mission in the South China Sea, the carrier would have to come within the range of DF-26 and other missiles that would destroy it. Though noting that the US Navy has SM-6 interceptor missiles, thought to be capable of destroying the DF-26, Spalding leaves no doubt that the sheer amount of smaller, long-range ballistic missiles at China’s disposal and the blazing speed with which these weapons travel–six thousand miles in thirty minutes–pose, at the moment, an enormous threat to US warships. To that extent, he writes: “It is conceivable that an undetected conflict might end in thirty seconds. Game over.” That is a hard saying.

Gnawing on the subject a little bit more, Spalding explains that when assessed from an economIc standpoint, the PLA constructed a $1 billion dollar missile system designed to destroy a $30 billion ship. Spalding says that there is no doubt our carriers are valuable and powerful machines. However, in plain English he also states that “their effectiveness in policing the Pacific is now extremely limited.” To that extent, ironically, the wrong message may have been repeatedly sent at an exorbitant cost. Again, introspectively, the value of the option for the US and its allies is the opportunity to rehearse cooperation, display joint power, and appreciate benefits of US leadership. Other than that and attendant technical accomplishments, in deterring China the move is valueless. In fact, no matter how necessary some action, some display would be in the face of challenges presented by Beijing to Taiwan, no greater support could be provided to the cluster of expressive hawks within the leadership in the Communist Party of China under Xi, mustering for a national war with the US.

The Digital Battlefield: A Decisive Factor?

Information and the technology used to generate, transmit, process, store, and manipulate it, has well become the primary means of obtaining an offensive or defensive advantage. Perhaps readers can cast their minds back to the era when strategists, tacticians, and military analysts were exploring the many possibilities resulting from its use in warfare. One article that greatcharlie recalls was entitled “Information Warfare: Good News and Bad News,” published in 1997 by then US Army Major Keith D. Anthony in Military Intelligence. In the 25-year-old article–which greatcharlie fortuitously discovered online, posted by the Federation of American Scientists, the author explained that military history is replete with examples of how information has been used in conflicts. He stated, “It has always been sought; sometimes it has even been used effectively, and sometimes it has been vital. The common thread, though, has been that physical engagements were still necessary to impose one’s will upon the enemy. Information warfare changes the rules.”

In the 1997 Military Intelligence article included the discussion of a translated “Military Forum” column by Zhang Feng and Li Bingyan, “Historical Mission of Soldiers Straddling 21st Century Roundup of ‘Forum for Experts on Meeting Challenge of the World Military Revolution’,” in Beijing Jiefangjunm, 2 January 1996. It reveals that over 25 years ago, the two authors recognized that this significant change had occurred in the nature of warfare, even calling it a military revolution. To that extent, one author explained, information technology is the nucleus and foundation of this revolution, for it is information and knowledge that bring change to the old practice that the military strength of an army was measured simply by the number of its armored divisions, air force wings, and aircraft carrier groups. He further stated that today, a number of invisible forces need to be taken into consideration, which include the calculation capacity, the telecommunications volume, and the reliability and real-time reconnaissance ability of relevant systems.

In the aforementioned 1996 conference paper on the burgeoning role of information technology in warfare, the notion of a digital wing of the PLA or intelligence services was nominal, only conceptualized. However, it soon became a reality. As Spalding explains in Chapter 5: “The Digital Battlefield”, in Stealth War, in making it so, it was determined that the PLA, an official security wing of the Communist Party of China, would become more than a national army, in the traditional sense of the term. Spalding goes on to explain that an organization, designated Unit 6139, became the PLA’s massive cyber warfare division. He deems it a politically sanctioned hostile military force built to prey on the West day in and day out. To that end, the PLA engages in digital assaults to access data that are both destructive–entrapping and disrupting the West by setting off digital landmines, raids, and intelligence operations–and constructive. The results of these operations–covertly harvested data–have allowed China to amass influence and power. In a political warfare mode, the goal of such work is to obtain and use influence to force other countries to cede to its way of looking at the world–how to organize society, what rights citizens should have, and encourage economic decisions that will benefit China

Spalding writes that by 2008, several published reports indicated that the Chinese government was paying tens of thousands of citizens 50 Chinese cents–the equivalent of 7 US cents–each to write an independent post promoting Party policy. By 2013, China’s state-run media reported that the propaganda wing of the Communist Party of China had hired 2 million “public opinion analysts.” Spalding assesses that number has climbed since, aided by an estimated 10 million student volunteers, who also engage in monitoring and disinformation work, both at home and on foreign websites. Meanwhile, the PLA’s force of hackers, continued to wander with near impunity, hidden, putting US counterintelligence in their shade, and continues to bombard US companies, government agencies, and political parties today

Perhaps it is bitter thIs, but an assault on Taiwan will be the occasion that among the near countless pieces of secret information, intellectual property, and actual technologies collected by China’s intelligence services, there was everything needed to thwart a successful defense of Taiwan. For the those wretched citizens and legal permanent residents of the US, who were accepted and ascended to positions of importance enough in their government, corporate, high-tech, or academic institutions to be sought out by Chinese intelligence officers and due to venal, self-interest, ideology, conspiracy, or dispaysment and love of homeland, chose to betray their country, as well as their organizations, colleagues and fellow citizens, perhaps there will be satisfaction knowing their villainy led to a prospective tragedy. For those whose responsibility was to halt the capture of key information and technologies that may have led to some tragic outcome and intercept Chinese intelligence officers who encouraged betrayal, there would surely be, among those really interested, a great burden of failure and loss, guilt and regret, to bear which could potentially take a lifetime to heal, if ever

Xi (above) during an inspection of the command center of PLA’s Joint Battle Command. The battle-dress camouflage uniform indicates that he is Commander-in-Chief of the PLA’s supreme Joint Battle Command. Xi is the long-time Chairman of the Central Military Commission. How China manages to pull Taiwan back in its fold permanently may not be as important to Xi as just getting hold of the island. Securing the island quickly with as few losses in personnel and material as possible, may require something a far cry from using the operational art, and acting with combined arms decisively to conquer territory. That may require both the complete destruction of the military capacity of Taiwan, and the complete and total destruction of property and eradication of those living there. A strategy of this type is known in military terms as a “battle of annihilation.” PLA commanders and warplanners would surely be prepared to execute such.

Pertinent Concerning Thinking of Communist Party of China Leadership and PLA Commanders about Taiwan

How China manages “to pull Taiwan back in its fold permanently” may not be as important to Xi as just getting hold of the island, again, as it is what the Communist Party of China “knows” to be China’s sovereign territory. There are military options available for reclaiming Taiwan that take a turn toward the sinister. Securing the island quickly with as few losses in personnel and material as possible, may require something a far cry from using the operational art, and acting with combined arms decisively to conquer territory. Achieving that military objective may require both the complete destruction of the military capacity of Taiwan, and the complete and total destruction of property and eradication of those living there. A strategy of this type is known in military terms as a “battle of annihilation.” PLA commanders and warplanners would surely be prepared to execute such.

Such thinking should not be deemed too fanciful or alien. To keep the discussion of the postulation brief, a model to ponder in order to better understand such an approach could be measured against how China’s military partner, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), has made the complete destruction of the capital of the Republic of Korea (South Korea), its most likely adversary, central to its defense. Indeed, it is well-accepted that North Korea has had an estimated 200,000 artillery pieces aimed at Seoul for quite some time. Ostensibly, the threat of the destruction of Seoul from the North Korean perspective was established as a deterrent to any thoughts the South Korea’s most powerful ally, the US, might have of invading and reuniting the island by force. Yet, from another perspective, the destruction of Seoul would avoid the need to capture it by ground assault. The decisionmakers and warplanners in Pyongyang have never been under any illusion that the government in Seoul would allow the North’s control of its capital and an urban battle similar to those witnessed during World War II in places such as Stalingrad (1942), Caen (1944), Manila (1945), Berlin (1945), to name only a few would delay offensive action and drain resources for initial attacks on other critical points as well as likely plans for decisive engagements in depth. With this in mind, it may not be as difficult to consider that thinking in Beijing concerning a PLA assault against Taiwan, mutatis mutandis, may be similar in concept to that of Pyongyang for Seoul. The destructive effort, of course, would be on a far larger scale. The defense of Taiwan will be ferocious. Its struggles against China’s opening attacks, however, would appear self-destructive and self-defeating. Ostensibly, the sheer weight and power of the PLA juggernaut as organized would overcome whatever defense Taiwan might have in place. On Taiwan, the scene would be nothing less than apocalyptic.

With regard to a likely decision to attack essentially all structures on Taiwan, it must be considered that the independently minded Taiwanese government falls into one of the categories of what the Communist Party of China declared to be the “five poisons.” Those five include: Uyghur advocates of the East Turkestan Independence Movement; Tibetan advocates of the Tibetan independence movement; believers of the Falun Gong; followers of China’s democracy movement; and, adherents of the Taiwan independence Movement. Looking at the matter from that angle, one might imagine leaders of the Communist Party of China long ago recognized that even if China captured the island and gained control of what remained of its civilian population, surely the work of re-education could far surpass the level of exertion put into the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and people of Hong Kong combined. Re-education indeed may have been assessed to be so difficult that it may not at all be a part of reconstruction and rejuvenation planning for the island. The sinister solution would be to mitigate the problem during the military assault. Those Taiwanese who might remain, the survivors, would most likely be relocated, probably dispersed. Far worse acts against the people–for instance the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution–blaze on the pages of Communist China’s history. The Communist Party of China’s leaders would likely be concerned that spectacle of re-education camps on the island, following a destructive assault, would hinder any post-assault diplomatic efforts to create normalcy and do much to put China’s claim to a world in jeopardy, especially given the world’s reaction to camps in Xinjiang.. Imaginably, Xi would want to avoid that after the military assault

Among those in the world rightly concerned with the circumstances of ethnic and religious minorities in China, the moral fiber of Xi has certainly been looked upon darkly by. As aforementioned, the Uyghurs, Tibetans, as well as Falun Gong and Christians are roughly handled, pressured to uncouple from their culture and traditions, philosophies, and religious tenants and assimilate into culture and beliefs of Chinese Communism. If Xi can be viewed as contorted morally on those issues and just for being able to direct state security organs to act monstrously against his own citizens on mainland China in the name of preserving the integrity of the Communist Movement and the country, and putting counterrevolutionaries and reactionaries, and organized and individual criminals, there should little doubt that Xi would do whatever he thought was necessary to gain and retain control of Taiwan.

Ethnic Uyghurs standing in formation in a secured facility (above). China’s Xinjiang region is home to around 10 million Uyghurs, Turkic Muslim people by identity. In a report released on April 19, 2021, Human Rights Watch accused the Chinese government of engaging in a systematic campaign of human rights violations against Uighur Muslims in northwestern Xinjiang, an autonomous region in the country. Up to 1 million people, or about 7 percent of the Muslim population in Xinjiang, have been incarcerated in an expanding network of “political re-education” camps, according to US officials and UN experts. One might imagine leaders of the Communist Party of China long ago recognized that even if China captured Taiwan and gained control of what remained of its civilian population, surely the work of re-education could far surpass the level of exertion put into the Uyghurs, Tibetans, and people of Hong Kong combined. Re-education indeed may have been assessed to be so difficult that it may not at all be a part of reconstruction and rejuvenation planning for the island when captured. The sinister solution would be to mitigate the problem during the military assault. Far worse acts against the people–for instance the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution–blaze on the pages of Communist China’s history.

Taiwan Pummeled?

The prospective unending aerial and naval bombardments and a long range missile onslaught from mainland China would not resemble what may already be expected and planned for. As aforementioned, there is the belief that attacks with firepower will be used not only to weaken Taiwanese forces, but destroy morale on the island and force the Taipei government to the negotiating table. However, that would take a considerable amount of time to achieve. There is a line of thinking characteristic of analyses of what is likely to happen in the event of a Chinese assault on Taiwan that leaves time available for friendly action. Sentiment should never serve as a substitute for true feeling and fact. One could be assured that the lapse of time between a prospective Chinese assault on Taiwan and the movements of the US and its allies in response has been factored into any strategy developed by PLA commanders and warplanners. Within that interval, whatever calculation of that time and distance has been predicted by PLA warplanners for the movements of their opposition, would likely be the time frame set for successful action. It would be that anticipated time frame the Communist Party of China will expect Taiwan to fall into its hands.

The bombardment of Taiwan hypothesized here would be of a size that would exponentially surpass even those witnessed during the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001. More structures would likely be destroyed on Taiwan in the initial hours of the attack than had been built in its first 50 years. The number of lives lost on the island after a pummeling as foreseen might possibly be qualified as Biblical. 

The situation that Taiwanese military and security forces face brings to mind the French song and military march, “Le Régiment de Sambre et Meuse” by Robert Planquette and Paul Cezano. The lyrics concern a regiment that battled the Austrians in 1794 to defend the emerging French Republic. The march was composed in 1870 in an effort to raise patriotic feelings within the French public following their country’s defeat during the Franco-Prussian War. “Sambre et Meuse” is the name of a former French province that is now part of Belgium. In the fourth verse, the lyrics state: “Le nombre eut raison du courage / Un soldat restait – le dernier! / Il se défendit avec rage / Mais bientôt fut fait prisonnier. / En voyant ce héros farouche / L’ennemi pleura sur son sort / Le héros prit une cartouche / Jura, puis se donna la mort.” (Numbers prevailed over bravery. / A soldier was left standing. The last one! / He defended himself furiously, / but soon was taken prisoner. / Seeing this fierce hero, / the enemy took pity of his fate. / The hero loaded a cartridge, / cursed, then took his own life.) There is ample reason to believe China would do its worst in an effort to take control of Taiwan. If it takes untrimmed, the drastic, destructive course described here, it is likely that much as the “Régiment de Sambre et Meuse,” Taiwan as it exists today, after its capture by China, would attain immortality in memory, and perhaps also go on living only in verse. C’est une situation extrêmement désagréable.

Taiwanese soldiers in training (above). The bombardment of Taiwan hypothesized here would be of a size that would exponentially surpass even those witnessed during the earliest days of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001. More structures would likely be destroyed on Taiwan in the initial hours of the attack than had been built in its first 50 years. The number of lives lost on the island after it was pummeled might possibly be qualified as Biblical. Both pleas and demands for China to halt its action as well as fierce protests and condemnation from capitals world-wide and international and regional bodies would surely be expected and most likely be disregarded. Beijing doubtlessly would have some plan formulated well in advance to deal with such matters after Taiwan was firmly in China’s hands.

Assessing Beijing’s Likely Thinking Correctly

In greatcharlie’s February 26, 2021 post entitled, “Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” included was an excerpt from an intriguing story by Clarice Lispector published in the Winter 2011 edition of the Paris Review, entitled, “A Story of Great Love.” Lispector writes a sentence that is conceptually germane as well to what is discussed here: “Once upon a time there was a girl who spent so much time looking at her hens that she came to understand their souls and their desires intimately.” The leaders of the Communist Party of China and PLA Joint Military Staff are certainly not hens. Still, the notion that deeper look into their respective thinking to include emotional concerns and reactions is surely valid, even if it requires giving room to intimations and “informed speculation” in the abstract. Here are a few thoughts on other ways in which Beijing may view the Taiwan matter through its lens.

Political and Economic Competition

Most often in US newsmedia commentary on China’s arguments on the difference between the US and itself, centrality is given to the difference in political systems. In a November 8, 2021 article in the Economist, it was explained that if all goes to plan for the Communist Party of China in 2022, political events in the US will ostensibly offer a study in contrasts that humiliates the US. The article suggests that China’s leaders, reading opinion polls, expect the Democratic Party to suffer a considerable set-back in the mid-term Congressional elections in November. Beijing hopes a divided government with all of its uncertainties, including gridlock, would be the possible result. If all of this transpired, supposedly China’s propaganda machine would be presented with a new chance to declare that “China enjoys order and prosperity thanks to one-party rule,” while US-style democracy “brings only chaos, dysfunction and decline.” Interestingly, if such is indeed their strategy, then the Communist Party of China’s propaganda wizards will likely find themselves moving down a blind alley. The outcome of this premeditated ideological collision would be nothing to signify.

If economics were the determining factor of a choice by the Communist Party of China to move on Taiwan, on its face there would be little chance of military action. Capitals world-wide and international and regional bodies would react harshly and the impact on China’s economy would be catastrophic. Recognizing that and hope Beijing could be brought back to reality, on the onset of an assault, both fiery demands for China to halt its action, some even accompanied by threats of military action. However, such would surely be expected and most likely be disregarded. Beijing doubtlessly would have formed a picture of what that period would look like and some plan formulated well in advance to deal with such matters after Taiwan was in China’s control. 

The Communist Party of China may calculate that China through its products and the production of those for others is sewn into the lives of nearly everyone in the world. Although foreign capitals, particularly those of highly industrialized countries, would strenuously condemn and do the maximum to isolate China, ensure its status as a pariah, they would not really want to do so. While they would take every measure possible to inflict pain and bring China to its knees, they would very unlikely cut themselves off from it for the long-term. Beijing would likely assess that political leaders in capitals world over would need to calculate what cutting their countries off from China would mean for their own economies, businesses, and institutions, as well as their own citizens’ pocketbooks. An improvement in relations sooner than later would be expected. Finely detailed plans for rejuvenating China’s economy have likely been formed and continuously updated and upgraded in case events move in the direction of war. However, until a positive change in relations got underway, the people of China would need to make do, but do so knowing that the Taiwan province was firmly in their hands.

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi (center), and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi (left), in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. Communist Party of China leaders–though not being absolutely certain, greatcharlie will nevertheless go out on a slender thread here to ascribe the trait to Xi himself–appear to hold considerable animus toward the US. Of course, there have been waves of what has been dubbed anti-foreigner sentiment propagated by Communist Party of China leaders before. The primary case was China under Mao in the 1950s and 1960s. However, the issue of race as posited here is something different as the sentiment is not some political tool or mechanism for social control. It goes to self-esteem. self-worth, self-image. Indeed, an inner awareness, sentiment intérieur, of the racial dimension of China’s history with the US may attend Communist Party of China thoughts, beliefs, sensations, and passions, albeit very negative, toward it. To that extent, the impact on individual leaders, their attitudes and policies could possibly be strong.

Race and History

What is rarely broached is the Communist Party of China leadership’s thinking on the somewhat inviolable issue of race and history. Indeed, though seldom in the forefront of discussion and analyses, it may have a greater importance in thinking on China’s side than one might imagine. To that extent, it might influence decisionmaking on Taiwan as it concerns the US response. Further, it may influence the Party’s perceptions and actions in the face of rebuke and “punitive actions” from the US in the aftermath of Taiwan’s capture.

Communist Party of China leaders–though not being absolutely certain, greatcharlie will nevertheless go out on a slender thread here to ascribe the trait to Xi himself–appear to hold considerable animus toward the US. Of course, there have been waves of what has been dubbed anti-foreigner sentiment propagated by Communist Party of China leaders before. The primary case was China under Mao in the 1950s and 1960s. Things foreign were purged. The foreigner was the enemy. However, the issue of race as posited here is something different as the sentiment is not some political tool or mechanism for social control. It goes to self-esteem. self-worth, self-image. Indeed, an inner awareness, sentiment intérieur, of the racial dimension of China’s history with the US may attend Communist Party of China thoughts, beliefs, sensations, and passions, albeit very negative, toward it. To that extent, the impact on individual leaders could possibly be strong.

Perchance, on some far deeper level, the leadership of the Party may want to leave no doubt that the men calling shots today in China are not little coolies who came to the old West to labor on the railroads sporting shaved heads and queues–ponytail first worn by the Jurchen and Manchu peoples of Manchuria, and later was required to be worn by male subjects of Qing Chinai–an indication of submission, who unfortunately suffered incalculable indignities at the hands of their exploiting hosts.

Party leaders likely want to leave no doubt that China’s military is not the same lesser-skilled and equipped, albeit courageous force, that suffered atrocious losses nearly a century later during the Korean War. China, then under Mao Zedong chose to go into North Korea to support the Communist Movement led by Kim Il-sung, providing far more than their partners in the Soviet Union. Apocalyptic size casualty lists resulted from frontal assaults, human wave attacks, on hilltops dubbed by US forces with names such as the Ice Cream Cone, Punchbowl, Heartbreak Ridge, Hill Triangle, Hill Eerie, Jane Russell, Old Baldy, T-Bone, and Pork Chop. Although these battles are long forgotten to the great majority in the US, are doubtlessly firm in the minds of Communist Party of China leaders and one might imagine stories of relatives lost are likely still told within a sizable number of families in China, too!

Party leaders likely want to leave no doubt that they are aware of, what they may believe are, prevailing images and impressions of the Asian male, particularly the Chinese male, are in the West. Statistics may show that some change has occurred and more positive, politically acceptable images of Asians in the US and the West in general are now the norm. According to a new Pew Research Center survey produced in this era of COVID-19, the vast majority of Asian adults (81%) also say violence against them is increasing, far surpassing the share of all US adults (56%) who say the same. To go further, it appears to be the case empirically that negative impressions of the Asian male, and most relevant here, the Chinese male, have seemed to stick. Suffice it to say they are still often portrayed appallingly in Western entertainment media as amusing little men, most often comedic, socially inept, even pathetic, stubborn and suspicious, brash and insufferable, and exuding scattered energy.

An awareness of Western impressions of the Asian male as noted here appears to factor into thinking, planning, and action at many levels in international affairs. As reported in greatcharlie’s May 24, 2021 post entitled, “Food for Thought for US Companies Maintaining Robust Operations in China despite Beijing’s Strained Relations with Washington”, during a bilateral meeting in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021 between a US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, and a People’s Republic of China delegation led by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi, there was a heated diplomatic exchange. As the story goes, Blinken started the meeting off by telling the delegation from China that the US intended to address “deep concerns” over the treatment of the Chinese citizens in Xinjiang and Hong Kong and the situation with Taiwan. However, Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US over what he described as its struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and over its foreign and trade policies. Yang, as well as Wang when he spoke immediately after him, comported themselves with a certain astringency. Their words were unkind and ungenerous, ostensibly designed to embarrass the new administration in Washington.

A large part of communication comes down to tonality, how one sounds. The choice by Chinese officials to respond angrily was at the time explained by and large in the US newsmedia and foreign policy circles mainly to be a matter of expediency. Perhaps instead, the words of the Chinese officials reflect more what greatcharlie has previously described as the Communist Party of China’s unsheathed antipathy toward the US. One might not be going too far to state the words spoken by Yang, a senior member of the Communist Party of China. smacked of something more personal.

Sensibilities on race and history may also account in part for the popularity and acceptance of the Communist Party of China and the population in general of the recent compensating and repairing image of “Wolf Warrior” in the Chinese film industry. Released in 2015, “Wolf Warrior” presents the adventures of Leng Feng, a PLA special operations sniper who is as tough as nails, smart, and near invincible. He is also popular with females, including his special operations commander, the beautiful Long Xiaoyun. Its sequel, “Wolf Warrior 2,” released in 2017, was the highest grossing film of all time in China.

Stirring poster for the film “Wolf Warrior” (above). Sensibilities on race and history may also account in part for the popularity and acceptance of the Communist Party of China and the population in general of the recent compensating and repairing image of “Wolf Warrior” in the Chinese film industry. Released in 2015, “Wolf Warrior” presents the adventures of Leng Feng, a PLA special operations sniper who is as tough as nails, smart, and near invincible. He is also popular with females, including his special operations commander, the beautiful Long Xiaoyun. Its sequel, “Wolf Warrior 2,” released in 2017, was the highest grossing film of all time in China.

Perhaps the mere thought of these indignities, as well as others, super charges the desire among leaders of the Communist Party of China, at the far end of the spectrum of possibilities, to obliterate both the memory and the progenitors of the offenders, generally. As such, it might also be an attendant element of Xi thinking, it may not be too fanciful to believe that he would enthusiastically take on the West via an assault on Taiwan to do his part to forever wipe away the image of the little people of China who are available to be bullied and a country, despite its achievements is merely tolerated as a player on the international stage, and spoken of in foreign capitals as an annoyance or nuisance as much as anything else. Lessons of China’s Communist Movement perhaps suggest to him that the habit of a lifetime for many in the world of viewing the Chinese people in such a condescending way cannot be altered by anything except an appropriate display of force. Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.)

While one could imagine that thoughts of issues concerning race and history might often inflame even Xi’s sense with ardor to lash out with China’s newly minted military might. Yet, to the knowledge of greatcharlie, Xi is not at all known for being hotheaded or indiscreet when discussing national security issues or  foreign relations, at least not publicly. Surely, if such moments of madding fever have at all occurred, doubtlessly sangfroid and equanimity have prevailed over them. Any strong feelings are harnessed and redirected in calibrated ways in actions against the interests of what might be deemed in Beijing as the main opponent. From what has been presented publicly, it seems that national leaders who have talked with Xi have not encountered or have failed to discern any thinking or attitude of this kind. If he has been able to hold such within, perhaps it could be said that Xi, a complex man, perhaps has mastered the art of being all things to all people, but never at last to be a particular thing to anyone. What is also known publicly is that national leaders leave talks with Xi feeling they understand him and have handle on matters concerning China. Alas, they very seldom do. 

While the issue of race and history may be looked upon as a supposable issue and among those belonging to the far side of analyses on Communist Party of China thinking concerning a possible military assault on Taiwan or worse viewed to be of no-account. Some internationally may perceive this discussion as a projection of the dysfunction on race and ethnicity that has long-plagued the US. Nevertheless, race and history may indeed be a very impactful factor if the US hopes to negotiate an agreement with China that will help sustain the relative peace, slow the marshaling of forces and other requisite preparations on the mainland for an assault on Taiwan. The influence of thoughts about race and history, as partially outlined here, is surely within the bounds of possibility. Issues of race would not be some element alien to the consciousness and the decisionmaking of the leaders of the Communist Party of China. If one were only remotely aware of how the Communist Party of China has responded to the Tibetan, Uyghur, and other Muslims, as well as people of Christian faith and others, issues aforementioned in this essay, the claim could hardly be made that race would unlikely be an issue of concern to the Party’s leadership.

A fuller discussion or argument on these points will certainly not be presented here. Imaginably, there may be the urge among some reading what little has been discussed here to dismiss the matter as a possible peripheral issue, however, for all one knows the matter may very well factor into the thinking of the Communist Party of China leaders specifically on the Taiwan issue. That makes it worthy of consideration. All doors inside the thinking within the Communist Party of China leadership must be opened and the interiors that they open to must be fully examined.

A rare public expression of disapproval in Xi’s countenance (above). While one could imagine that thoughts of issues concerning race and history might often inflame even Xi’s sense with ardor to lash out with China’s newly minted military might. Yet, to the knowledge of greatcharlie, Xi is not at all known for being hotheaded or indiscreet when discussing national security issues or  foreign relations, at least not publicly. Surely, if such moments of madding fever have at all occurred, doubtlessly sangfroid and equanimity have prevailed during them. Any strong feelings are harnessed and redirected in calibrated ways in actions against the interests of what might be deemed in Beijing as the main opponent.

The Way Forward

Est tempus quando nihil, est tempus quando aliquid, nullum tamen est tempus in quo dicenda sunt omnia. (There is a time when nothing may be said, a time when something may be said, but no time when all things may be said.) While recognizing in current analyses that major challenges exist, it may be worth giving consideration to the idea that too much of what is intrinsic to the thinking of US policymakers and warplanners–at least on the surface for that cadre–is being projected on Xi, the Communist Party of China leadership, and the Chinese military command and warplanners. Perchance in Beijing, they would gladly accept that outcome as there would be nothing better than to have decision makers of their main opponent blind as beetles. They would relish discovering that those decision makers have been clouding and obscuring their own thinking and negating what may be a deeper awareness when the pieces of what is known are out together in the subconscious, absent thoughts of political leaders’ expectations. Of course, they indubitably hold themselves to the duty of speaking truth to power as Spalding has in Stealth War and throughout his military career, but they may be ignoring and obviating what may twinkle in their intuition and intimations, and as a result, some analyses perhaps are being driven in the wrong direction. There may be the chance that greatcharlie is ruminating on something here that some US warplanners may feel unable to say themselves under current circumstances. The odds are not enormously against this theory being a reality. Yet, entertaining a discussion of these issues would doubtlessly disrupt routine examinations and responses. That is a hard saying. Hopefully, there is currently no place for intransigence. Certainly, discernment is always required, but with regard to China, no precaution should be neglected.

In previous posts on Chinese intelligence operations in the US, greatcharlie has suggested that if firm understandings of how the Chinese operate in the US and lessons learned regularly are aggregated with thinking from outside he national security bureaucracies, new lines of sight may be opened into difficult problems by which old hands in the US counterintelligence services would surely find advantage by including in their analyses. Ostensibly, the thinking of those fromm the outside would not be biased by any existing theories and prescriptions. Perhaps a similar recommendation could be made on the matter of how China may move against Taiwan. Based on how things appear and continued lack of real success, it would seem greatcharlie’s cautious appeals for US counterintelligence services to seek assistance from certain recherché thinking individuals from outside the national security bureaucracies, who could possibly help to resolve the conundrum of the Chinese espionage storm, amounted to watering dead plants. One might reasonably get the impression the matter is just not a real emergency, not that important. Alas, with that track record as a measure, it seems unlikely there would be a belief that any step in the direction of seeking assistance from external sources on the Taiwan matter would accomplish anything greater. Somehow, left to their own devices, they may move from where they are to where they ought to be. Fata volentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt. (Fate leads the willing, and drags the unwilling.)

Sidelights on Nicholas Eftimiades, A Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020)

China is currently engaged in a very aggressive, massive espionage, cyber, and covert action assault on the US with the goal of catching up with it technologically, militarily, and economically as quickly as possible. China hopes to eventually become the world’s dominant power. Atrocious thefts are now occurring right before everyone’s eyes. Penetration by Chinese officers, operatives, and informants appears to be successfully carried out almost anywhere China desires in the US or worldwide. Victories on the intelligence front have likely most satisfied People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, as under his leadership, China’s intelligence capabilities have been greatly enhanced and have evolved. In his monograph, A Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020), Nicholas Eftimiades shares information and data that will shock its readers. They will discover that China’s spy activity is of far greater conception than they might have ever imagined.

Since the era of the People’s Republic of China’s Second Chairman Deng Xiaoping, from 1976 to 1994, the Communist Party of China’s leadership has lived in optimistic expectation of better fortune for the Chinese people in terms of economics and their standard of living. Party leaders covet the position the US holds as the dominant power in the world. In accordance with that thinking, long range plans were formulated. Such really should have been the expected response of Chinese national leaders who were first and foremost dedicated to a very aggressive revolutionary movement. It was determined in Beijing that espionage offered a relatively cheap, quick, and easy method to obtain information that could help Chinese companies remain competitive. At that time, many of China’s largest companies were state owned, or had close linkages to the government. From all accounts, China thereby embarked on what has become a very aggressive and massive espionage, cyber, and covert action assault on the US with the ever-fixed goal of catching up with it technologically, militarily, and economically as quickly as possible.

Atrocious thefts are now occurring right before everyone’s eyes. Penetration by Chinese officers, operatives, and informants appears to be successfully carried out almost anywhere China desires in the US or worldwide. Chinese intelligence officers have experienced innumerable satisfactions in the spy war. According to a former chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), James Olson, in his superb book, To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), China is presently in a class by itself in terms of its espionage, covert action, and cyber capabilities. (The January 31, 2021 greatcharlie post is a review of Olson’s To Catch a Spy.) The struggle on the intelligence front impacts the whole climate of the relations with China. Even when China is engaged in bilateral or multilateral talks, whether on trade, security, or the environment, Chinese intelligence services never cease engaging in robust espionage. Imaginably, victories on the intelligence front provide a most satisfying opportunity for People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, to cock-a-doodle, about how, under his leadership, China’s intelligence capabilities have evolved to the point at which the intelligence services can carry the battle to the home ground of the US itself and win. Senior executives and managers in US counterintelligence services doubtlessly stand exasperated over regular disappointments.

In A Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020), Nicholas Eftimiades shares information and data that, although well-known within the US Intelligence Community and within other intelligence services worldwide, will shock nonpracticioners among his monograph’s readers. They will discover that China’s spy activity is of far greater conception than they might have ever imagined. As might be expected, Chinese intelligence services target a broad range of US national security actors, including military forces, defense industrial companies, national security decision makers, and critical infrastructure entities. The revelation will be that Chinese espionage activity is not the exclusive purview of China’s civilian and military intelligence services. In addition to government organizations, commercial entities, academic institutions, and private individuals, entrepreneurs are heavily engaged in espionage against preferred targets in highly industrialized countries. Chinese firms have proved themselves to be quite capable at performing such work. Surely, if the average US citizen fully understood the audacity and effectiveness of this campaign, they would be outraged and would demand action. 

Eftimiades examination is based on his study on the nature of Chinese espionage worldwide and in-depth understanding developed through decades of experience in the intelligence field. He reviews intelligence processes, setting objectives and tasking, organizations that engage in espionage, looks at their efforts through case studies and analysis of them. He also discusses how China’s espionage activities worldwide has had an impact on US national security, international security, the international political economy, and geopolitics. Eftimiades delves into the practical matters that concern intelligence officers of government organizations and employees of commercial entities and academic institutions as they engage in espionage, and how the Chinese government manages the hybrid government and “independent” civilian intelligence system it has created. While Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics is the actual title of Eftimiades’ monograph, the monograph is listed on Amazon.com as Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020). The monograph is heretofore referenced in this essay by the latter title. (It might be best for those who may wish to possess a copy to research the text under the latter title. The publication date is September 3, 2020).

A sidelight, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is a piece of information usually given by accident or in connection with another subject, that helps one to understand somebody or something. The goal of sidelights offered in this essay is to present Eftimiades’ monograph in a way that will give our readers a good sense of both what is in it and sort of ideas and insights they might draw from it. In effect, it is a review. For those who may excavate through the monograph and thoroughly and consider points of exposition concerning specific malign activities conducted by China, his work will prove to be substantially edifying. What is most impressive to greatcharlie about the monograph is the manner in which it stimulates thought on a grave issue concerning China. As stated in prior posts, greatcharlie prefers to review texts that can stir a fire inside a reader, and transmit the author’s passion for a subject. Those writings are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.)

The role of reviewer, an unsolicited intermediary between a text’s prospective reader and the author, is a responsibility that greatcharlie takes seriously. Rarely if ever, will greatcharlie read a work then take the time to write a negative review, presenting its judgments on the shortcomings and failures of an author’s toil. It is greatcharlie’s preference to provide reviews, sidelights here, that readers of the blog can enjoy and from which they may edify themselves. Nothing greatcharlie states in this essay is intended to give Eftimiades some stick–perish the thought. In greatcharlie’s view, he is brilliant, and works such as his monograph educate nonpracticioners as greatcharlie. They are very much appreciated. This review is not an inquiry into facts presented. All that is being presented here are insights greatcharlie birthed while parsing out the text. Although important details of Eftimiades monograph are discussed here, not everything is revealed. This is greatcharlie’s hard and fast rule on reviews, whether books, or as in this case a monograph. Plenty is left for readers to discover and draw their own insights upon.

Nicholas Eftimiades, the author (above), among other high level positions in the US government, was formerly the Director of Counterintelligence at the Central Intelligence Agency. He is highly regarded for his expertise on China and national security space issues. Currently, Eftimiades is a professor at Pennsylvania State University, working in the Homeland Security Program. He is a member of the graduate faculty, teaching homeland security, intelligence, and national security policy. He conducts research on China’s economic espionage, intelligence, and emerging threats. Eftimiades holds an MS Strategic Intelligence, National Defense Intelligence College; and a BA East Asian Studies, George Washington University.

The Author

Eftimiades, among other high level positions in the US government, was formerly the director of Counterintelligence at CIA. He is highly regarded for his expertise on China and national security space issues. For over two decades, senior government officials and Members of the US Congress relied on Eftimiades to provide in-depth expertise and cogent analysis on China and other national security issues. As a former senior intelligence executive, he has considerable experience in managing intelligence programs, strategic security issues in Asia, and emerging threats/disruptive technologies. The Intelligence Community awarded Eftimiades with its highest honors to include the National Intelligence Council Achievement Award and DIA Director’s Intelligence Award. As of this writing, Eftimiades holds appointments on the National Intelligence Council as an Intelligence Community Associate, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Economic Security Subcommittee, and the Defense Science Board. Although he has left the CIA, one does not get the impression that Eftimiades has left the fight yet! Eftimiades has testified before several US Congressional and Presidential Commissions concerning National Security issues, future technology development, and the future of the US space program. 

Among several high level positions, Eftimiades was formerly the director of Counterintelligence at CIA. He is highly regarded for his expertise on China and national security space issues. For over two decades, senior government officials and Members of the US Congress relied on Eftimiades to provide in-depth expertise and cogent analysis on China and other national security issues. As a former senior intelligence executive, he has considerable experience in managing intelligence programs, strategic security issues in Asia, and emerging threats/disruptive technologies. Currently, Eftimiades is a professor at Pennsylvania State University, working in the Homeland Security Program. He holds an MS Strategic Intelligence, National Defense Intelligence College; and a BA East Asian Studies, George Washington University. He has lived and studied in Asia. He once served as a senior research fellow at King’s College, War Studies Department in London. During that period, Eftimiades authored books, reports, and a number of articles on China’s intelligence methodology, national security, technology, and space issues. Currently, Eftimiades is a professor at Pennsylvania State University, Homeland Security Program. He is a member of the graduate faculty, teaching homeland security, intelligence, and national security policy. He conducts research on China’s economic espionage, intelligence, and emerging threats. 

As Eftimiades possesses such formidable credentials, it seems needless to say that readers should approach all matters of fact presented by Eftimiades as true to the best of his knowledge and belief. Eftimiades spoke truth to power within halls of the US national security bureaucracies and in the White House. He presents the monograph’s discussion essentially in that same mode, discussing only what he knows to be the truth on Chinese Intelligence Operations. His proceeding publication, Chinese Intelligence Operations is regarded as the seminal work in the field. In the period surrounding its publication in 1994, greatcharlie’s editor did not have the pleasure to read Nicholas Eftimiades, Chinese Intelligence Operations (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 1994) and in fact was not even aware of its existence. Having read through it in preparation for this review, the book impressed as being a damnably good breakdown of the organization departments, the missions, guiding concepts and intent of its leaders, and the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of each service of the “Chinese Intelligence Community” during what could now be called a bygone era. 

To the extent that it has relevance other than by mere subject matter with regard to Eftimiades Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics. The preceding enables one, through comparisons of assessments of the work performed in varied operational and functional areas, to observe how far Chinese intelligence services have evolved, among many things, as organizations, within the country’s foreign and national security policy bureaucracy, and as vital tools in the hands of the leadership of the Communist Party of China. Interestingly, by examining both Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics and Chinese Intelligence Operations, one is also provided the opportunity to examine an evolution in the experience, education, thinking and type of insights developed on Chinese intelligence services.. Perhaps readers will discover, much as greatcharlie did, that Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics takes the reader to a higher level of understanding of the topics and raises the level of discourse to a seasoned intelligence analyst on China. For China watchers in particular, the monograph provides a loom from which new understandings and fresh insights can be crafted. Of course, for those who have not read or do not plan to read Eftimiades, Chinese Intelligence Operations, the opportunity still exists to prosper intellectually by plotting Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics as the start point on the figurative charts of their respective learning curves on Chinese Intelligence.

Make no mistake, Eftimiades worked at the sharp end of intelligence work and knows the true value of each bit, even trifles, emphasizing in the text what is important to know in order to get the counterintelligence job done. Indeed, through his monograph, readers get a small taste of the discourse between intelligence officers within the bureaucracies in which Eftimiades served, and the flavor of its tone. One might as far as to say that by reading Eftimiades monograph, one gets a sense of the thinking within key US national security bureaucracies on Chinese intelligence activities in the US in the current climate.

Previous Reviews

Among reviews of Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics published on Amazon.com are a few from former and current US senior executives and intelligence officers of the US Intelligence Community. Their glowing expressions of satisfaction and appreciation,reviews attest to the value, positive impact the monograph had on their thinking and their work. One such review was by Maryann Fialdini, Former Chief, Counterintelligence Operations of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). She explained: “Mr Eftimiades has broken new ground on his closely researched series on Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics. His work on Chinese espionage spans 30 years in the intelligence community. In the 90’s he sounded the alarm on China’s rising espionage activities directed against US corporate and government entities. His current series on Chinese Espionage identifies for the reader China’s massive “whole of Society” approach to espionage activity and offers the exceedingly rare combination of insight and judgement from a professional who has a wealth of firsthand experience. Eftimiades work fills an important gap in US literature as it relates to Chinese intelligence. I highly recommend this book!” Another fine review was from David Tsai, formerly of the Library of Congress. He stated: “Most up-to-date comprehensive and detailed treatment of the subject based on the author’s objective analysis of close to 600 cases! An intelligence practitioner as well as academic scholar Mr. Eftimiades has given his readers a clear picture of Chinese espionage doctrine and tradecraft, based on a combination of his experience and scholarship. This excellent and insightful book is highly recommended for both professionals and novices who are interested in this subject.” A review from Nicholas Kikis, former Director of the DIA’s Defense Clandestine Service and Chief of East Asia Division, that appears on the back of the monograph, proffers: “A must-read for professionals in Counter intelligence, security and government affairs. The author has crafted the most detailed account ever published on China’s espionage operations and tactics . . . The USA is loosing its secrets and technology to China’s “whole of society” approach . . . Our Nation’s need for good counterintelligence has never been greater . . . Mr. Eftimiades is the real deal, a veteran of the Intelligence Community who describes the challenges and provides recommendations on how to do a better job in protecting America.”

Interestingly, Eftimiades does not mention anything about having to submit his monograph to the Publications Review Board of his former employer, CIA, for review. For security reasons, it is a requirement for officials from the US Intelligence Community with backgrounds as his. One might expect his former employer’s solemn warning of secrecy was increased with regard to the knowledge he retained as any of that information could possibly provide some important bit, some nuance on what the US knows about China’s espionage operations and tactics in the US. Surely, the Publications Review Board stopped anything from going into the text if in its view it even approximated classified information. Hypotheses and arguments are a bit more challenging to judge for security reasons. Certain facts, even if left out hypotheses and arguments, can be assessed as being confirmed by some clever sorts in an adversaries camp seeing that those facts might alone be the sole solid basis upon which a particular inference might logically be made.

Sidelights

Eftimiades’ monograph is divided into 12 sections. They are entitled as follows: Section1: “Preface”; Section 2: “Key Findings”; Section 3: “Introduction”; Section 4: “Analytical Methodology”; Section 5: “China’s Legal Framework for Espionage”; Section 6: “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”; Section 7: “Intelligence Collection Objectives”; Section 8: “Analysis of Espionage Cases”; Section 9: “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft”; Section 10: “Impact”; Section 11: “Summary”; and, Section12: “Link to video Analysis of China’s Economic Espionage Tactics.” Since the monograph is only 56 pages in total, it seemed apropos for this review to condense the discussion of 8 of its 12 sections, highlighting from each what might be its most intriguing elements/aspects for our readers. For 9 of the monographs sections, to include one not précised, greatcharlie provides sidelights.

Section 1: “Preface”

From the outset, Eftimiades makes it clear that the focus of his monograph, although there is some emphasis on espionage activities against the US, is on China’s worldwide human intelligence operations. The monograph does not include a discussion of China’s intelligence analysis capabilities, technology collection, not domestic operations against perceived internal threats. He indicates that cyber espionage is only addressed in select cases which were enabled by humans providing insider access. Eftimiades notes that he brings his own experiences and perceptions into his interpretations of those cases.

Eftimiades also gives notice to readers that the monograph only reflects known Chinese intelligence operations. Even with a review of hundreds of espionage cases, he recognizes that certain matters are left open such as the number of individuals engaged in espionage activities worldwide for China, and whether the cases he analyzed represent as much as 90 percent of the total or as little as 10 percent. (The word “worldwide” qualified the former statement of the two. Perchance the number operating in the US is known!) Eftimiades insists that even the Chinese government does not know the precise number of individuals spying on its behalf. He suggests that uncertainty about that total would be due to China’s decentralized “whole of society” approach to intelligence collection. Still, he felt enabled due to the volume of cases and careful–experienced, astute–analysis of operational details, he could draw certain conclusions about China’s espionage operations and tactics.

Eftimiades’ statement about Chinese intelligence operations and tactics practiced in the US is a very bold one to make starting off from scratch in his “Preface”. Writing in that manner, Eftimiades was sure to create more questions than anything else. Reading what was stated by a number of reviewers of the monograph from outside the US national security bureaucracies, this point could perhaps be deemed as the metaphorical low-hanging fruit for criticism. Given the strength of the mind of a man as Eftimiades, it could be the case that he has dangled this statement on the number of Chinese officers and operatives around the world, aware that it would draw a strong reaction among close readers and light the fire that would ignite a lively discourse within and among them. He is a former director of CIA Counterintelligence, which makes him a member of a rather unique caste of singular individuals who would hardly do anything without considerable forethought. To go a bit further, given Eftimiades background one might think perhaps there is some counterintelligence benefit in refusing to confirm publicly, not allowing an adversary to discover what the accepted size and strength of its espionage operations are. Imaginably that information might aid them in planning around US thinking, potentially finding some advantage if the estimated figures are too high, too low, or spot on. 

The likely first impression of readers resulting from Eftimiades’ “declaration of nescience” on the numbers of would be Eftimiades could not have managed to effectively consider the ends, was, and means of Chinese organizations engaged in espionage if an important leg of the three leg “strategy stool”, means, which includes the resources, size and strength of those organizations, was unknown to him. Unaware of that it was harder to see how he could delve into a more elaborate discussion of their operations and tactics. Curiosity over how Eftimiades managed everything would surely compel the many readers to push forward into the text. However, it would very likely be regularly done with some reservation. To the extent that Eftimiades does not have the actual figure of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives or numbers of Chinese espionage operatives from commercial entities, academia, as well as individuals engaged in such activity at his fingertips, anything he discusses that offers some picture of the totality Chinese espionage in the US, to be both above board and fair, are only proffered in the abstract.   

Readers looking at the matter on their own might wonder what is the average caseload for a Chinese intelligence officer from either the civilian or military service If it is more than one, let one surmise three or four, then one might begin to believe the espionage crisis is much greater in magnitude. One might consider that given likely number of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives in the field, the true number of Chinese personnel involved increases exponentially when the number likely needed to provide logistical support for such a grand number of officers and operatives in the field and their operations which appear to vary in size and scope, are considered. One might not only infer from the number and size of known operations, their intensity and tempo, and apparent effective level of support for each the totality of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives in the field, but a close approximation of their number might be reached by considering just how much has been stolen, usually detected well after the fact. Later, in the “Summary” section, Eftimiades notes that although he may not be certain of the true number of Chinese intelligence officers that are on the ground in the US but himself surmised it must be in the thousands.

There have been claims that the number of Chinese intelligence officers in the US was at least 25,000, meaning the number of their operatives in the field. The issue of numbers of Chinese spies in the US is not limited to debate within the US Intelligence Community. It has been widely reported by the mainstream newsmedia in the US that China’s intelligence services have established espionage networks throughout the country. Guo Wengui is a billionaire businessman who claimed to have close ties to China’s civilian and military intelligence services and broke with the regime. Guo revealed in his first interview in the US that those espionage networks reportedly include up to 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers and more than 15,000 recruited operatives. Guo explained that he learned about Chinese spy activities from Ma Jian, a former vice minister of the civilian intelligence service and Ji Shengde, a former military intelligence chief. As that figure, 25,000, was put forward nearly 5 years ago, the number of Chinese intelligence officers who have essentially strolled into the US and are now operating clandestinely and successfully on the ground now may be much higher. Surely, there is an officially estimated number of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives in the US Intelligence Community. Whether it will ever be made public remains to be seen, but surely, even without that figure, there is some general acceptance that what is coming toward the US is à la débandade.

People’s Republic of China Minister of State Security, Chen Wenqing (above). Chen studied Law and Political Science at Southwest University in Chongqing, and joined the Ministry of Public Security in 1984, where he worked for a decade. In 1994, Chen was assigned to the Ministry of State Security (MSS), becoming Deputy Director at the Sichuan provincial state security department. In 1998 Chen took over leadership of the State Security Department in Sichuan. He held that position until 2002, when he was appointed Chief Prosecutor at the Sichuan Provincial People’s Procuratorate. In 2006, Chen transferred to Fujian, serving as Deputy Party Secretary and concurrently head of the provincial Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) until 2012. Following the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party China, Chen was brought to Beijing to serve as a Deputy Secretaries of the CCDI. He was appointed Party Secretary of the MSS in October 2016 and Minister in November 2016.

Section 2: “Key Findings”

In the section, “Key Findings”, Eftimiades provides a list of judgments supported by the information and data in his monograph. For readers, especially students, they may provide some guidance on an academic inquiry concerning Chinese intelligence. Right out of the gate, he notes that his “Key Findings” section is the product of his earlier analysis of 595 documented cases of China’s worldwide collection efforts. Thereby, they stand here independent of, but a primary feature of what is discussed in the monograph. In the monograph’s “Preface”, Eftimiades plainly states that “the focus of this work is on [China’s] worldwide human intelligence (HUMINT) operations.” Yet, in his key findings, he seems to indicate that the true focus of the monograph’s discussion, rather than being the aggregate espionage efforts of government organizations and commercial entities, academic institutions, and independent individuals in the US, is Chinese government civilian and military operations. Imaginably for some, Eftimiades may appear to shortshrift readers on any findings developed through the study of the totality of China’s espionage in the US. Perhaps in Eftimiades’ defense, his omission may very well have been more of an issue of editing and oversight.

To the extent that his key findings are limited to government espionage activities, some might readily assert that rather than opening up new territory, his findings were nearly all well-trodden ground. Indeed, at first blush, one might view what Eftimiades presents as his findings as a somewhat prosaic enumeration of highlights from his examination of the 595 cases. However, greatcharlie assures that they are much more as there are some striking elements among them. Eftimiades 10 key findings were a follows: 1) Chinese espionage activity  has greatly expanded in the past 20 years; 2) Chinese entities conducting espionage include government agencies, the People’s Liberation Army, State Owned Enterprises, private companies, individuals, and several universities; 3) Approximately half of China’s worldwide intelligence collection efforts target military and space technologies; 4) Over 90 percent of China’s espionage activities are performed by ethnic Chinese and males perform more than 80 percent of it; 5) The Ministry of State Security, China’s main civilian intelligence service, exploits social media to target foreigners with access to sensitive information. Those recruitment efforts vary in quality considerably; 6) The Ministry of State Security make use of China’s visa and border control system to identify potential recruitment and manage clandestine assets; 7) Ministry of State Security espionage tradecraft has improved over the last four years, due in part to pressure against it from US counterintelligence services; 8) Nearly half of China’s traditional espionage efforts–pursuing political and military secrets–and covert action campaigns are targeted against Taiwan; 9) China’s foreign science and technology collection efforts correlate closely to the priority technologies identified in government strategic planning documents; and, 10) China’s “whole society approach” to espionage has a harmful effect on the US economy, diplomatic influence, and military capabilities. Furthermore, China’s actions threaten European national and economic security through espionage and coercion against government entities and business decision making.

What sparked greatcharlie’s interest considerably was Eftimiades finding concerning non-ethnic-Chinese recruitment, that more ethnic Chinese recruits are used than nonethnic ones by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US. Multum in parvo. (Much in little. (Small but significant.))

He makes an impressive statement, but regrettably, he does delve deeper into this issue at any point later in the monograph allowing readers to understand how he got there.  His “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft” section would have been taken to even greater heights. Useful at some point of the monograph’s discussion also would have been some background on the evolution of Chinese intelligence practices to recruit nonethnic Chinese as well as ethnic Chinese as operatives. With regard to greatcharlie’s aforementioned presumption concerning Eftimiades somewhat likely effort to stoke debate on the monograph, perchance once again he is providing more grist for the mill on this score. Perhaps a set plan regarding the monographs page length did not allow him to expound on the matter.

Perhaps it would be enough for some to say in this case that Chinese intelligence services may have recognized they can achieve their respective goals more efficiently and effectively by working mainly with ethnic Chinese recruits. Yet, surely, Chinese espionage in the West has evolved from pursuing ethnic Chinese sources alone. All things considered, such a limited effort by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities would hardly be the case. It stands to reason that the number of nonethnic recruits with which they have been successful is far higher than the few he has enumerated. To an extent, in Eftimiades own examples there is evidence that a number of nonethnic Chinese operatives were targeted and successfully recruited. Chinese intelligence services clearly have the interest and capabilities to bring in such recruits presumably as would Chinese commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US.

As discussed in the July 31, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” it was once generally understood in the West that the standard approach to human intelligence collection by MSS has been to co-opt low-profile Chinese nationals or Chinese-American civilians to engage in the acquisition of mid-level technology and data. Travellers, businessmen, students, and visiting researchers are often approached to undertake intelligence tasks, and the MSS maintains control of them through inducements and personnel connections, and the potential threat of alienation from the homeland. Members of the Chinese diaspora residing in Western countries, especially new émigrés, who possessed the requisite expertise and appropriate positions in a public or private organization and family members remaining in China, would be compelled to perform tasks and to steal information of interest that they came across for the intelligence services. This method of intelligence collection also followed the concept of keeping things simple. It is still being put to use. However, while ostensibly being a satisfactory solution, MSS found itself simply working on the margins targeting ethnic Chinese as a priority. It proved too reserved, too limiting. Not wanting to confine themselves to a small set of targets for recruitment, the logical next step was to attempt the recruitment of operatives and agents from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. According to William C. Hannas, James Mulvenon, and Anna B. Puglisi in Chinese Industrial Espionage: Technology Acquisition and Military Modernization (Routledge, 2013), cases at the time of the book’s writing suggested that was exactly what Chinese intelligence services did as a whole. Tradecraft was observably broadened to include the recruitment non-ethnic-Chinese assets as well. MSS still uses this method.

Guo Wengui, aforementioned here as the billionaire businessman who broke with the regime and revealed information from highly placed sources in the Chinese intelligence services that China’s espionage networks reportedly include up to 25,000 officers and 15,000 operatives, also spoke on the matter of non-ethnic-Chinese recruitment. Guo said Ma Jian, who recall was the vice minister for the civilian intelligence service, told him that a major shift by the Chinese was expanding the scope of agent recruitment from Asians to other ethnic groups.

One might argue that if Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US were running only a few nonethnic operatives in the field, an idea Eftimiades’ statistics would apparently support, those few nonethnic operatives were doing a colossal amount of work alone to collect the loads of information from institutions where ethnic Chinese may not necessarily have been well represented or significant at all. In the abstract, and not to cast aspersions on any employees anywhere in which the erstwhile spies worked, but it may have been the case that other nonethnic Chinese employees were involved in espionage in those same institutions who went undetected and whose work was completely unknown to those who were caught.

Imaginably from a counterintelligence standpoint, if Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US were running merely two or a few more nonethnic operatives in the field, trying intercept so few well-concealed individuals from a field of dozens of potential spies would conceivably be rather challenging. Finding them all during the past few years would be nothing less than spectacular accomplishment. C’est chercher une aiguille dans une botte de foin.

Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US go after whomever might be best suited to meet their needs. For the accomplished services in the intelligence industry, espionage is a results focused business, not an ethnocentric one. It was noted earlier that Eftimiades insists that no one really knows how many officers and operatives working for China are on the beat in the US, but later in his “Summary” section suggests that they may very well number in the thousands. Aforementioned, too, were claims that the numbers of Chinese intelligence officers in the US was at least 25,000, meaning the number of their operatives in the field would be enormous. If those high numbers are accurate, it would likely mean those officers would be going after greater numbers of recruits. Surely, along with increased ethnic Chinese recruiting, nonethnic Chinese recruiting numbers would see far more than a nominal increase as a result.

Incidentally, Eftimiades mention of the balance between ethnic and nonethnic Chinese recruitment by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US, determined as a product of his analysis of the 595 cases, somewhat flies in the face of what he boldly asserted earlier in the discussion on the general on the unawareness of numbers of officers and operatives working on the ground there for China. As stated earlier, to the extent that Eftimiades does not have the actual figure of Chinese intelligence officers and operatives or numbers of Chinese espionage operatives from commercial entities, academia, as well as individuals engaged in such activity at his fingertips, anything he discusses that offers some picture of the totality Chinese espionage in the US is in the abstract.   

People’s Republic of China PLA Major General Chen Guangjun (above), Chief of Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau. The 54 year-old Chen currently serves as chief of Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau as well as an Assistant to the Chief of the Joint Staff. Chen joined the Rocket Forces of the PLA in 1984. In the mid-2000s, he earned a Ph.D. from Northwestern Polytechnical University. The PLA’s human intelligence (HUMINT) operations are managed by the aforementioned Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau. Chen achieved some notoriety prior to taking over the Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau. Through 2007 and 2008, Chen was the focus of several newsmedia reports chronicling his role in improving levels of education in his unit.

Section 3: “Introduction”

Eftimiades begins his Introduction by stating that while espionage is often employed to support foreign policy, a country’s clandestine activities rarely become the subject of foreign policy. However, despite how rare it might be, he says that is the case for the People’s Republic of China with its massive “whole of society” approach to conducting espionage. Eftimiades believes its approach is creating a new paradigm on how intelligence activities are conducted, viewed, and addressed by countries. He notes that a key element in the US-China trade war and downward spiral in relations–a matter the received much attention from the US newsmedia at the time he penned his monograph–is Washington’s demands that Beijing cease stealing US intellectual property and trade secrets. Despite China’s denials, Eftimiades stressed that “hundreds of recently prosecuted espionage cases” prove otherwise. China’s espionage activities are changing the global balance of power, impacting the US and foreign economies, and providing challenges to domestic, national security, and foreign policy formulation.

Not to be an apologist, but rather, to be fair-minded, Eftimiades notes that there are otger governments, companies, and individual entrepreneurs that violate US laws in the drive to possess or sell US technology, government and corporate secrets. He states: “Violating a country’s laws is common practice in the murky world of espionage. According to Eftimiades, almost every time an intelligence service conducts espionage in another country, it violates that country’s laws, and that includes US intelligence operating overseas.” However, he insists that the difference is that the US and other countries engage in espionage to determine and counter hostile or potentially hostile adversaries. The purpose of espionage is not to develop their countries’ own industries or transfer foreign wealth which is a main focus of China’s activities.

There is little doubt that the public affairs departments of nearly every bureaucracy under the State Council, and Propaganda Department and Foreign Affairs section of the Communist Party of China would chomp at the bit to enthusiastically and gloatingly state in response that the US space program was developed through the employment of scientists and engineers from Occupied Germany. The resettlement of the professionals and all of their research and development was facilitated by intelligence elements of the US national security bureaucracies. The Chinese would doubtlessly assert that US activities on that matter essentially established the model for acquiring foreign capabilities through national security bureaucracies to support their technological needs and channel down to large industries mostly related to defense and intelligence to support their advancement. Chinese public affairs spokespersons would surely go on to state, likely with the pretension of lamenting, that as a result of depriving Germany of its own citizens best efforts in aerospace technologies, the country was denied trillions in revenue from potentially providing the world the fruit of their expertise. Indeed, Germany could have become the epicenter of aerospace technology development and research in the world. (Mind readers this is a presumed argument of the Communist Party of China, not at all the position of greatcharlie.) Mayhap, the counterpunch would be that Werner Von Braun and the other German scientists and engineers sought to to the US and if they were left to their devices in Occupied Germany, the Soviet Union would have surely grabbed them up to use for Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin’s sinister purposes. Germany as a whole benefited immensely from postwar reconstruction due to the US Marshall Program. German industries were given an excellent restart as a result of their rebuilding and retooling under that program.

Section 4: “Analytical Methodology”

Eftimiades explains that for purposes of this study, all of the legal definitions of criminal acts in the statutes and administrative regulations found in the export violations–International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), Export Administration Regulations (EAR), International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), as well as covert action, and research violations, are categorized as espionage. Eftimiades again explains that over a period of 10 years, he compiled and analyzed 595 cases of Chinese espionage that have occurred worldwide. He notes that over 450 of those cases occurred after 2000. He states again that through the analysis of these cases, sufficient evidence provided on espionage by the Chinese government, Beijing’s promotion and support of organizations outside of the government responsible for the same, and the information objectives, determines gaps in their knowledge, and operational “tradecraft” techniques of those organizations.

There is perhaps an argument to be made that once Eftimiades decided upon the definition of espionage mentioned in this section, he shaped his discussion of what Chinese non-government entities, institutions, and individuals would be viewed as engaging in espionage. One could hardly find fault with his decision. After all, his choice was not without precedent as certain bureaucracies of the US government involved in the 595 cases he studied made the same decision based on the law. However, from the lens of the accused Chinese non-government entities, institutions, and individuals, it may be the case that they were stealing trade secrets and intellectual property, but they may not have viewed their actions as espionage, rather just theft and just a part of business. One could imagine individuals of elements involved with such thefts saying with acidulous humor that if those, who possess information that they desired to purloin, really wanted to prevent theft, they would do a far better job at securing that information. Those with such larcenous instincts might go on to insist that those possessing the information would need to look deeper within to find the answer as to why they have so often left themselves wide open to theft. This thought, on the perception of thieving Chinese non-government entities, institutions, and individuals on whether their actions are a matter of espionage or “merely” grand larceny, is developed further in this essay in the “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft” section.

The monograph’s following four sections on Chinese operations and tactics were meat and drink for greatcharlie and will likely be for like-minded souls. They are: Section 6: “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”; Section 7: “Intelligence Collection Objectives”; Section 8: “Analysis of Espionage Cases”; and, Section 9: “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft”. Only three of the four are fully discussed in this review.

Section 6: “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”

The espionage effort by Chinese government organizations and commercial entities, as explained by Eftimiades, has features that are entirely its own. From an analysis of his 595 cases, Eftimiades explains espionage activities correlated to their sponsoring organization (the “customer” receiving the information or technology) showed five distinct clusters of organizations engaging in espionage. The governing Communist Party of China uses government, quasi government, academic, and commercial entities as mechanisms to conduct all forms of espionage abroad. Most interesting of these are China’s “non-traditional collectors”, which include State Owned Enterprises, universities, and private companies. He confirms that the employment of such a broad set of entities for intelligence collection evinces China’s “whole of society” approach to espionage. The list of includes: 1) the Ministry of State Security, the Guojia Anquan Bu, China’s preeminent intelligence agency, responsible for overseas espionage and counterintelligence both at home and abroad; 2) the Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), responsible for collecting and analyzing foreign military intelligence, including technology; 3) State Owned Enterprises (SOE), include the 50,000 aerospace and defense companies, subordinate research institutions, and technology transfer organizations owned by the central government; 4) Private Chinese companies or individuals acting unilaterally for commercial benefit only were engaged in espionage in approximately 22 percent of cases Eftimiades analyzed, and in nearly 30 percent of those cases, there was a clearly identifiable Chinese government, SOE, or university as the ultimate customer for illegal exports or trade secrets; and, 5) Other Chinese government elements that collect intelligence (information) and technology include the PLA Political Department Liaison Office (targeted against Taiwan), the United Front Work Department (UFWD), and many universities under the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND). 

Most intriguing to greatcharlie was Eftimiades’ discussion of the PLA Political Department Liaison Office, the UFWD, and SASTIND. Beginning in reverse with SASTIND, Eftimiades explains that the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), which is housed under the State Council, manages military acquisition requirements for the Central Military Commission’s Equipment Department. Clearly put by Eftimiades, as the start point of a virtual wheel of information exchange, SASTIND assigns projects to ministries with military production responsibilities. Those ministries pass the work to the research institutes under their auspices. The associated research institutes send their information and technology gaps back to SASTIND. There are two departments within SASTIND,responsible for developing and tasking technologically related intelligence requirements and for collecting intelligence against those requirements.They are the Comprehensive Planning Department and the International Cooperation Department. The Comprehensive Planning Department tasks collection to the MSS and most likely to the PLA Joint Intelligence Bureau. The International Cooperation Department has its own independent collection capability. Members of this department travel with China’s scientists to collect information against specific requirements.

Eftimiades reports that SASTIND also has direct supervision over seven universities as well as contracts more defense research with 55 additional universities. The seven universities have been dubbed the Seven Sons of National Defense. Some have been identified in US federal court documents as actively conducting espionage, working with the MSS to conduct espionage, or receiving stolen foreign research and technology. Many of these universities have high security research facilities that support classified technology development for the PLA and are on the US Department of Commerce Entities List for their research in support of Chinese defense entities involved in the theft of technologies. That list includes: Beijing Institute of Technology; Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Beijing Engineering University; Harbin Engineering University; Harbin Institute of Technology; Northwestern Polytechnical Institution [University]; Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics; and, Nanjing University of Science and Technology. As of the monograph’s writing, over 35 Chinese universities (or professors from those universities) have been identified in US federal court documents as having some role in China’s overseas espionage cases, according to Eftimiades.

Eftimiades explains that the distribution of Chinese espionage cases worldwide illustrates the magnitude of Communist Party of China controlled businesses, research entities and business organizations involved in espionage activities. Providing superb graphs and charts for readers to examine while following along with his discussion, he shows that there is a near equal distribution of espionage activities between the four major organizational clusters (MSS, PLA, SOEs, and Private Companies). Eftimiades explains that the distribution indicates a concerted effort to use all mechanisms of government and the economy to collect foreign information and technology. To date, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese government have not taken steps to impede illegal activities (according to foreign countries laws) of their state corporations, private businesses, universities, and citizens. Eftimiades says China, referring to it once again as a “digital authoritarian state”, is clearly capable of doing so. He suggests that the Communist Party of China sees the appropriation of foreign innovations and technology as part of a policy aimed at developing domestic technology and increasing production.

In addition, his statistical breakdown of the 595 espionage cases illustrates that Chinese private companies have an aggressive posture in conducting espionage, resulting in 136 cases or approximately 23 percent of all activity worldwide. Similarly, SOEs were surreptitiously examining or collecting information or technology in 121 cases or 20 percent of the total. The SOEs are primarily collecting advanced military technology and associated research. Private companies and individuals primarily pursue commercial technologies, intellectual property and military technologies. Espionage activities conducted by the PLA Joint Intelligence Bureau give primacy to defense information, armaments, and military (or dual use) technology. The PLA was involved in 122 instances of espionage or 19 percent of all cases. Eftimiades reports that the MSS was involved in 95 instances of espionage or 16 percent of all cases. Preferred MSS targets included political or defense information, foreign policy, overseas dissidents, military capabilities, too, and foreign intelligence services. The final category of entities conducting espionage on behalf of China were Chinese universities and the UFWD. The universities generally targeted foreign technology to support advanced military weapons systems development and commercial endeavors.

Regarding the PLA Political Department Liaison Office, Eftimiades, in a markedly  unadorned way, explains that it is targeted against Taiwan. However, some confusion may befall those readers who perhaps may think of the Communist Party of China’s International Liaison Department when they come across the title, International Liaison Office. Among the pertinent facts, as part of Xi’s military reforms, in November 2015 the General Political Department of the Central Military Commission was abolished and was replaced with the Political Work Department. In January 2016, the Political Work Department became official. Its primary role as the chief political organ under the Central Military Commission is to integrate the Communist Party of China and its ideology and propaganda into the People’s Liberation Army. In that role, its responsibilities include: preparing political and economic information for the reference of the Political Bureau; conducting ideological and political work on foreign, particularly adversarial armed forces, by promoting China’s policies among their ranks, and disrupting unit cohesion within adversarial forces by withering their morale. It also has the duty to incite descension and rebellions particularly within the Taiwan army and other foreign armed forces. The Political Work Department’s Liaison Department controls a united front organization called the China Association for International Friendly Contact (CAIFC) that is active in overseas intelligence gathering and influence operations. Reportedly, the International Liaison Office has dispatched agents to infiltrate Chinese-funded companies and private institutions in Hong Kong. Their mission is also counter-espionage, monitoring their own agents, and preventing their recruitment of Chinese personnel by foreign intelligence services.

The International (Liaison) Department of the Communist Party of China is a very different organization. It stands as one of four key bodies of the Communist Party of China’s bureaucracy at the central level for building and exercising political influence outside the party, and especially beyond China’s borders. The other three include the UFWD, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the Propaganda Department. Founded in 1951, International (Liaison) Department is the party’s diplomatic arm, handling relationships with more than 600 political parties and organizations as well as individual, primarily political, elites. The department previously handled the Communist Party of China’s relationships between fraternal Communist parties and cultivated splinter factions of Moscow-dominated Communist parties after the Sino-Soviet split. The activist bent of the International Department disappeared as the department began re-establishing itself from 1970 to 1971 following the tumultuous early years of the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, in the 1970s, as Anne-Marie Brady explained in Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003), the International Liaison Department’s intelligence efforts often surpassed and even outmatched those of regular Chinese intelligence services. It became deeply involved in inciting and assisting international revolution by moving weapons, financial support, and other critical resources to numerous Communist and non-Communist insurgencies and guerrilla movements worldwide. Interestingly, the department originated as a UFWD bureau before being carved out into an independent entity.

You Quan (above), head of the Communust Party of China’s United Front Work Department (UFWD). You Quan was appointed United Front Work Department (UFWD) head on November 7, 2017. You directs the UFWD, assisted by seven deputy directors. The UFWD is divided into offices, bureaus, and subordinate units, that is to say, mass organizations. The nine numbered Bureaus each specialize in either a particular facet of united front work or a geographic location. While the Communist Party of China employs many means through which it seeks foreign intelligence, the UFWD is distinct from other organizations in its overt and benign appearance.

Although he mentions the UFWD, Eftimiades does not provide any discussion of the organization. For readers wholly unfamiliar with it, greatcharlie provides some small treatment here. As discussed in the October 19, 2020 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Case of a NYPD Officer Allegedly Engaged in Intelligence Activities for China Spotlights the United Front Work Department”, within China, the UFWD plays a vital policy development and coordination role, especially for ethnic and religious minorities. Outside of China, the UFWD has had a hand in developing political and business ties with overseas Chinese, bringing investment and research benefits, as well as helping the Communist Party of China shape foreign views of China. Xi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of the UFWD to China’s rejuvenation. United front work is the central element to understanding what the Communist Party of China is doing and why to shape the world outside of itself. In a June 9, 2020 Australian Strategic Policy Institute report, You Quan, the head of the UFWD, is quoted as saying: “The United Front is a political alliance, and united front work is political work. It must maintain the party’s leadership throughout, having the party’s flag as its flag, the party’s direction as its direction, and the party’s will as its will, uniting and gathering members of each part of the United Front around the party.” People’s Republic of China Chairman Mao Zedong described the purpose of this work as mobilizing the party’s friends to strike at the party’s enemies. In a more specific definition from a 1950s CIA paper, united front work was referred to as “a technique for controlling, mobilizing, and utilizing non-communist masses.” In other words, united front policy addresses the party’s relationship with and guidance of any social group outside the Party.

Perhaps from a publisher’s point of view and with some intimation of what would most interest the monograph’s readers in fields of business and finance, Eftimiades thought it most necessary to place emphasis upon the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND) over all of the other PRC organizations engaged in espionage. The information presented on SASTIND, for instance, is assuredly not part of regular discourse on Chinese espionage. Eftimiades, in a rather sedate tone but still a quite edifying stream of consciousness, lays out what that government organization’s well-controlled work against the US and other highly industrialized countries worldwide and its stealthy and insidious nature.

It should be expected, and may actually be tacitly accepted by some intelligence analysts in the US and in the services of other highly industrialized countries, that among Chinese government organizations and commercial entities on the ground in the US engaged in espionage, there are understood defined areas of responsibility and much as the clear boundaries already set, and well-known, between PLA HUMINT targets and activities and those of its civilian counterpart, MSS, similar arrangements have been made to avoid unwittingly conducting redundant operations, accidental collision of officers and operatives in the field, and potential interservice competition and quarrels in pursuit of available sources for US secrets. A similar delineation between the MSS and Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbùthe Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China (MPS), both a law enforcement and an intelligence and counterintelligence service. Harmony among organizations is doubtlessly desired and required in order for them to succeed and to avoid being caught.

Yet, with so many Chinese government organizations and commercial entities on the ground in the US engaged in espionage, theft, overt collection, hiring operatives, surveilling and studying the opposition, as a reality, on more than one instance an effort to collect a particular type of information might lead more than one organization, for example, one governmental and one commercial, to the same target. One might imagine how chaos could reign without some communication. Officers and operators, perhaps not even immediately aware of each others presence, might literally run into each other, occasionally tread on each other’s work, and might even step on each other’s toes now and then creating some disruption. Some general agreement between organizations and entities in the field would need to exist in order to ensure possible fruitful operations would not face “friendly” challenges and obstacles albeit unintentionally, and to ensure they are enabled to adhere to clearly delineated lanes of action for each organization. On the matter of security, one might imagine how much easier it would be to detect and intercept Chinese espionage operators from the different organizations if they all kept showing up at the same institution trying to contact, recruit, smooze, cajole the same people in them, or one institution were simply bombarded by attempts by individuals to inveigle their way into it with a similar focus on its research and development. Obviously Chinese espionage efforts have been far quieter, smoother, and more sophisticated in nature.

Perhaps the best way to what is discussed here is simply to state that there are likely furtive bridges across organizational lines and areas of responsibilities that allow managers on the ground and officers, old hands in the business who have mastered the job, engaged in intricate operations against similar targets to directly communicate, provide assistance, modest resources, and advice all designed to facilitate security and activities and promote success. It would be a form of unofficial, collegial, furtive modus vivendi established with the requirements for operational security firmly in mind and every imaginable precaution taken. In this section, Eftimiades briefly mentions that in at least two cases, there were actually joint MSS and PLA operations in which individuals inside an aerospace company were recruited as operatives to assist in targeting the company for cyber-attacks. The MSS is so segmented with its many state department’s and provincial bureaus, that the most effective aspect of any effort by the two organizations to work jointly must have occurred between managers in the field. Given the success each espionage element, government or otherwise, has found in the US, the Communist Party of China, which would indubitably be aware of such interorganizational contacts, would likely stay mum about it all but monitor it all the same. After all, Communist Party of China intelligence organs operating sub rosa in diplomatic missions and commercial entities or incognito wherever else, would conceivably benefit too from being tied into the clandestine communications among managers in the field imagined here.

Concerning another point that flows from this discussion, rather than lacking actual knowledge or even a good sense of where everyone was relative to each other among Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US and not having an full account of who was on the ground and stand bereft of paths for the most senior network managers of each organization to liaise, potentially in some extraordinary emergency, in the abstract, surely one could conceive that there would be a least some tacit coordination among their senior leaders, perhaps back in China. Such information would at least be in PLA, MSS, and–as often ordinary Chinese citizens will usually be involved–MPS hands. MPS surely has the most complete, up-to-date records–are perhaps often pulled into the mix of overseas espionage activities to some small degree for that reason. That information would also most likely be in the hands of the Communist Party of China via MPS. In addition to performing standard domestic functions as a law enforcement and intelligence and counterintelligence service, MPS is very much tied to the Communist Party of China to the extent that it helps the Party maintain its tight grip on the population.

For the edification of greatcharlie’s readers who may be not so familiar PLA intelligence, as explained in the  January 31, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled Book Review: James M. Olson, To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019)”, the PLA’s human intelligence (HUMINT) operations are managed by the aforementioned Central Military Commission (CMC) Joint Staff Department, Intelligence Bureau. The previous breakdown of the PLA into intelligence departments has been eliminated. Oversight of the PLA’s technical intelligence capabilities (including cyber, signals, and imagery intelligence) resides with the new Strategic Support Force under the Central Military Commission. Thereby, the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army (2PLA), responsible for human intelligence, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army (3PLA), something similar to the National Security Agency (NSA), responsible for cyber operations, and a Signals Intelligence, or a Fourth Department of the People’s Liberation Army (4PLA), responsible for electronic warfare are now aggregated into the Strategic Support Force. As with its sister civilian service, the MSS, and intelligence services worldwide, the PLA makes regular use of diplomatic, commercial, journalistic, and student covers for their operations in the US. It aggressively uses Chinese travelers to the US, especially business representatives, academics, scientists, students, and tourists, to supplement their intelligence collection.

Eftimiades explains that the State Administration for Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), which is housed under the State Council, manages military acquisition requirements for the Central Military Commission’s Equipment Department. Eftimiades reports that SASTIND has direct supervision over seven universities as well as contracts more defense research with 55 additional universities. The seven universities have been dubbed the Seven Sons of National Defense. On that list is Northwestern Polytechnical University of Xian, China, It is ranked number 1 in the discipline Aeronautical and Astronautical Science and Technology, known for producing some of the best brains in China’s defense industry.

Section 7: “Intelligence Collection Objectives”

As promised, greatcharlie has condensed the sections of Eftimiades monograph, providing important details, but it has not revealed everything. Yet, with such a relatively short text, there would naturally arise occasions when little option would appear available than present wholly what is provided in a particularly diminutive section, in order to provide the reader with a full understanding of the author’s thinking. That is the case with the “Intelligence Collection Objectives” section of the monograph. Under what has been whimsically dubbed as “spookspeak” by members of the intelligence industry some time ago, Collection Objectives, also known as Information Objectives or Requirements, identify the specific information or technology that is tasked to intelligence services for collection. Eftimiades stated that requirements can number in the tens-of-thousands, and explains that one can infer from requirements a country’s knowledge and technology gaps for they are a reflection of them. He provides as an example a country that has been continually pursuing information on specific components of turbine engines. The implications and indications for taking that course, says Eftimiades, are that the country most likely lacks the required information or technology on turbine engines for its planned purposes and espionage presents the only immediate way of acquiring it. Non solum eventus hoc docet, iste est magister stultorum, sed etiam ratio. (Not only does the outcome teach (us) this, that is the teacher of fools, but (so) too does reason.)

Regarding China, Eftimiades explains that its strategic collection objectives can be identified through a number of national level strategic planning documents. Listed earlier in the “Key Findings” section in the monograph, they are: Made in China 2025; Space Science and Technology in China; and, A Road Map to 2050, the National Key Technologies R&D Program, and the 13th Five Year Plan. Those national level strategic planning documents can be subdivided into specific technology development programs, are the following: the National Basic Research Program (973 Program); the National High-Tech Research and Development Program (863 Program); the National Key Technologies R&D Program; and, The National S&T Major Projects. Eftimiades offers a subset of those National S&T Major Projects which includes: Advanced Digital Control Machines and Fundamental Manufacturing Equipment; Breeding of New Variety of Transgenic Biology; Core Electronic Devices, High-end General Chips and Fundamental Software; Key New Drug Innovation; Large Scale Development of Oil and Gas Fields and Coal-bed Gas; Megascale Integrated Circuit Manufacturing Technologies; Next Generation of Broad Wireless Mobile Networks; Wastewater Control and  S&T Achievement Industrialization; National New Products Program; and, the National Soft Sciences Research Program. 

Eftimiades says that as one further breaks down the strategic technology objectives, a strong correlation to China’s espionage activity emerges. The Director of National Intelligence report, Foreign Economic Espionage in Cyberspace (2018) identified industries and private technologies that are frequent targets of foreign espionage. Eftimiades’ informs that an even closer correlation between China’s espionage efforts and national requirements can be made when comparing the 595 cases with the 19 key Technologies identified in the Communust Party of China strategic industrial planning documents Made in China 2025. These technology requirements were the primary objectives in the 435 cases. The fact that such a high proportion of espionage activities are correlated in Made in China 2025 Key technology list indicates the Communist Party of China’s role in guiding China’s global espionage effort.

Laying out points on this matter from his case analysis for all readers to understand, avec brio, Eftimiades states that China puts a strong emphasis on the collection of aerospace and aeronautical equipment. (116 cases). Approximately half of those collection activities are targeted against military aerospace technologies, related trade secrets, and intellectual property. The primary collectors are: the PLA Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau and private companies conducting export violations, and individuals, Eftimiades refers to as “Insider Threats”, working in foreign aerospace companies. He says the MSS is actively engaged in stealing foreign aerospace technology, too. Several of the 595 cases show the MSS utilizes both HUMINT and contract cyber hackers to collect foreign aerospace technology. In at least two cases, these were Joint operations recruiting individuals inside an aerospace company as operatives to assist in targeting it for cyber-attacks. Such collection efforts support PLA military aerospace programs and China’s commercial aviation sector. Going further, he states that a review of the 116 cases targeted at aerospace companies identified over 200 specific military and civilian technologies and trade secrets (stolen and attempted stolen). Among the many “Key Technologies” sought, were: Cryogenic pumps for space vehicles, valves, transfer lines, refrigeration equipment, space qualified radiation hardened circuits, components for the storage and use of liquid hydrogen, cryogenic coolers, Ka-band space communications, satellite/missile insulation blankets–germanium coated polyimide film, and multi octave traveling wave tubes used as amplifiers in satellite transponders. Major systems include: the Space Shuttle, Delta IV Rocket, F-15 Fighter, C-17 transport, F-22 Fighter, F-35 Fighter, B-1 Bomber, Ch46/47 Chinook, C-130 training equipment.

China’s Mars rover, the Zhurong (above) rolls off its lander, to begin a mission of seeking out geological discoveries. Was its development the result of espionage? Eftimiades states that China puts a strong emphasis on the collection of aerospace and aeronautical equipment. (116 cases). Approximately half of those collection activities are targeted against military aerospace technologies, related trade secrets, and intellectual property. The primary collectors are: the PLA Joint Staff Department Intelligence Bureau and private companies conducting export violations, and individuals, Eftimiades refers to as “Insider Threats”, working in foreign aerospace companies. He says the MSS is actively engaged in stealing foreign aerospace technology, too. Several of the 595 cases show the MSS utilizes both HUMINT and contract cyber hackers to collect foreign aerospace technology. In at least two cases, these were Joint operations recruiting individuals inside an aerospace company as operatives to assist in targeting it for cyber-attacks.

Another high priority collection target of Chinese espionage is information technology. Statistically speaking, China’s collection of information technology (113 cases) is second in numbers only to aerospace technology. China has placed strong emphasis on collecting information technology to include semiconductors and manufacturing technology. Eftimiades reports that in 2015, Beijing began allocating $50 billion dollars for the domestic development of advanced integrated chips. This action was initiated to ensure self-reliance after the US began restricting semiconductor sales to the Chinese company ZTE. ZTE was sanctioned for evading sanctions on Iran and North Korea respectively, and repeatedly lying to US Department of Commerce officials. The US subsequently lifted the order three months later when the company paid a $1 billion fine and agreed to reprimand its Board and cut their bonuses, which it never did. The Chinese company Huawei has been under similar export restrictions for evading restrictions on Iran and stealing US technology. Company personnel face charges of economic espionage or espionage in the US, Germany, and Poland. Eftimiades explains that China has not as yet developed the manufacturing technology to produce certain categories of advanced semiconductors, including radiation hardened chips. Such technology has as its core element, several methods of etching laser lithography chips at a nanoscale.

Key information technology related to China’s collection requirements include: microelectronics, microwave integrated circuits, microprocessors, circuit boards, crypto key devices, data and voice transmission systems, semiconductors, and trade secrets such as laser manufacturing techniques. Semiconductor manufacturing is a priority target for Chinese espionage as the US and several other nations still maintain a sizable lead over China in production capabilities. Additional priority targets for collection include biopharma and medical devices, automated machine tools and robotics, energy saving/new energy vehicles, and new materials development. Eftimiades informs that these are often distinct patterns of intelligence activity that correspond to each category of technology. For example, excluding China’s  cyber espionage campaigns, collection on biopharma and medical devices is limited to exploiting research programs (e.g., Thousand Talents Program) or economic espionage using company insiders. The three targets for this category are universities, research institutes, and pharmaceutical companies. Lastly, In the category of energy saving/new energy vehicles, Eftimiades states that most of the collection activity has been economic espionage employing insiders. The two targets for this collection effort have been companies and research laboratories. Eftimiades reveals that the majority of thefts of this technology have occurred through insider threats with cyber espionage as a secondary method.

To be succinct, in many fields, subject areas for analysis, facts are often misused and abused, but on intelligence, it can lead to great failures, and potential national disaster. Facts cannot be nailed down and used to support only what one wishes. To the contrary, facts should take the analysis toward what is authentic. From that judgments and plans must be based. Doing anything otherwise, especially while in pursuit of an opponent, is simply to procrastinate by entertaining oneself with errant deliberations. The opponent, no matter what one might choose to believe, does not procrastinate. As Eftimiades, himself, notes in the “Intelligence Collection Objectives” section of his own text, the Chinese know what they want and go after it at the time, in the way, and with the means they desire. Operatives complete their tasks and off secrets go–and oftentimes actual technologies as well–to China. That is one of the simple and more apparent keys to the opponent’s success.

China has shown little compunction over putting in full view at home, marketing, technologies, and making geopolitical moves that would be suggestive of the fact the information that allowed for those developments and actions was stolen from the US. It is almost as if the Communist Party of China encourages such actions to flaunt their country’s considerable bag of intelligence victories. Of course, government officials in Beijing will normally assert that there have been thefts and declare any evidence presented of such as circumstantial or outright lies.

Given just how much China has poached from the US has been revealed, even paraded in Beijing, one could reasonably conclude–and it is absolutely true–that China has run off with far more than a bale of information and data on classified defense and intelligence related projects, innovative commercial products, trade secrets, intellectual property, and classified foreign and defense policy documents. It is safe to say that an enormous amount is being collected. It might leave some to reasonably accept that a stratospheric level of espionage is being conducted by far greater numbers of intelligence officers and operatives and it has been ongoing.

Eftimiades provides a brilliant account of Chinese intelligence collection requirements. He supports his claims with superb charts. Some are practically signposts pointing to where the adversary is likely to show up next. Some are strong enough to serve as figurative beckoning fingers enticing along with whispered words, “Here they are.”

Eftimiades reports that in 2015, Beijing began allocating $50 billion dollars for the domestic development of advanced integrated chips. This action was initiated to ensure self-reliance after the US began restricting semiconductor sales to the Chinese company ZTE, now defunct. ZTE was sanctioned for evading sanctions on Iran and North Korea respectively, and repeatedly lying to US Department of Commerce officials. The US subsequently lifted the order three months later when the company paid a $1 billion fine and agreed to reprimand its Board and cut their bonuses, which it never did.

Section 8: “Analysis of Espionage Cases”

The dominant activities for China’s overseas espionage are espionage, economic espionage, and export administration regulation (dual use) violations, together comprising 60 percent of all activities. Taken as a whole, statistically speaking, illegal exports (theft of dual use and military technology) make up approximately 47 percent of China’s espionage activities abroad. Eftimiades divides the 595 espionage cases that he analyzed into the following categories: espionage; economic espionage as defined by ITAR, EAR, IEEPA; covert action; and, research violations. China’s illegal export of military and dual use technology, to include IEEPA, EAR, and ITAR violations and other export related violations in the US, comprise 43.7 percent (260) of all cases worldwide. Eftimiades says more than 80 percent of these cases occurred in the US. Reportedly, economic espionage which is mainly conducted by private companies or individuals, account for 25.98 percent (119 total) of cases). The category of “traditional espionage” stands at 22 percent (108 total) of worldwide activities. Eftimiades notes the figure of traditional espionage cases sits at 55 if Taiwan is separated out as a Chinese intelligence target. Of known cases, Taiwan is the single highest priority target for individual espionage.

On a chart provided by Eftimiades, one can observe the distribution of cases to the many venues of Chinese espionage in the US. The distribution pattern reveals concentrations occurring in tech sectors, manufacturing hubs and business centers. In California, “Silicon Valley” is shown to be the number one spot in the US for China’s illegal technology collection efforts. Apparently, more than half of the 140 cases that occurred in California targeted technology firms in that venue. Other cases centered around San Diego and then Los Angeles in the state. Further, collection activity in California was mainly economic espionage (51) cases), EAR violations (30 cases), ITAR violations (25 cases), and IEEPA violations (13 cases). In the economic espionage cases, the predominant form of tradecraft was using insiders (employees) to access restricted technology and trade secrets. Priority collection objectives in California were information technology (46 cases), aerospace and aeronautical equipment (27 cases), and automated machine tools and robotics (20 cases). Nationwide, China’s collection activities cluster around the major educational, research, and manufacturing centers in several states to include Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas. Victims of China’s espionage efforts in the US include major defense and aerospace companies, pharmaceutical firms, technology research companies, and manufacturers. In cases in Virginia and Florida, Chinese diplomats and citizens were caught trespassing on military facilities to conduct ground photo reconnaissance. Those facilities were associated with US Naval forces and special operations capabilities.

Multi cives aut ea pericula quae imminent non vident aut ea quae vident neglegunt. (Many citizens either do not see those dangers which are threatening or they ignore those that they do see.) Eftimiades notes that research universities are clearly primary targets for collection efforts, achieved most often through talent programs such as China’s Thousand Talents Program, Hundreds Talents Program. Eftimiades reports that most estimates suggest there are “at least 200 Chinese talent programs designed to employ academic and professional expertise from the West into serving China’s national development.” He continues further to explain: “This expertise ranges from scientific and engineering fields to business, finance, and social Sciences. These programs are serviced by 600 overseas stations that gather information on foreign scientists and then attempt to recruit them. In numerous cases, professors, graduate students, and PLA researchers have also been arrested for stealing research from overseas universities for use in China.”

Chinese intelligence services apparently studied the situation, and recognized just how open the US was for theft of its secrets in all sectors and then clearly decided to pour through, taking whatever they could. Surely, the Communist Party of China saw no need to halt commercial entities engaged in their own espionage activities, much as Eftimiades remarks earlier in the section entitled “PRC Organizations Conducting Espionage”. It appears they have seen nothing but opportunities to do a lot of open field running for them with little real risk. To date, it appears that they have all found no reason to pare down their operations, and certainly no reason to retreat. From Eftimiades own data, one can infer their espionage activities have steadily increased. Opinionis enim commenta delet dies, naturae judicia confirmat. (For time destroys the fictions of error and opinion, while it confirms the determination of nature and of truth.)

Though Eftimiades explains in his Preface that “cyber espionage is only addressed in select cases which were enabled by humans providing insider access. However, in discussing how exactly the FBI and DHS have thwarted Chinese espionage efforts later in his “Analysis of Cases” section, the discussion meanders into cases in which they discovered sources within China of cyberattacks into sensitive computer files of the US government, defense related businesses, financial institutions, high-tech and medical research facilities, academia, and anywhere else the hackers apparently believed there was a good opportunity to break-in and seize data. While Eftimiades expressed the intent to focus on HUMINT operations and tactics of Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US, it would seem that he had little choice but to present it if he sought to put some positive face on what US counterintelligence services are doing to thwart China’s efforts. It is the brightest rift which can at present be seen in the clouds,

Readers may recall in Act 1, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play, The Life and Death of Julius Caesar, Cassius utters these apposite words to his co-conspirator Brutus: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, . . . .” With the intention of being frank, but by no means beastly, greatcharlie proffers that the fault for China’s success may lie with the US counterintelligence services themselves. It may be less a matter of tactics, techniques, procedures and methods, and rather a problem among US counterintelligence service personnel that the Chinese have recognized that they can exploit. As a matter of professional development, some effort might be made to ensure their cognitive abilities regularly honed through weekly, even daily, exercises and tests to strengthen their thinking skills, their prowess at uncovering all relevant facts, even from trifles, and developing solid insights from those facts, and their effective and correct use of a reliable intuition and intimation. Though this is stated in the abstract, one can almost be certain that the Chinese intelligence services to some degree are doing like-minded things to strengthen their intelligence officers competences. It could be something as simple as the private performance of Tai chi chuan or likely Martial Qigong every morning. (imaginably, both techniques would be performed respectively with a dynamic and free-flowing form and stances that would cause any instructor to weep with delight while observing ) Along with exercise, stretching, and breathing, it would allow their intelligence officers to mediate and attain deep focus and a relaxed state. Such activity would be helpful in any struggles with dépaysement.The Chinese intelligence services surely are quite determined to maintain an edge over their adversaries. So far, they have proved themselves to be competent and accomplished services in the field.

The Chinese company Huawei has been placed under similar export restrictions as ZTE had been, for evading restrictions on Iran and stealing US technology. Company personnel face charges of economic espionage or espionage in the US, Germany, and Poland. Eftimiades explains that China has not as yet developed the manufacturing technology to produce certain categories of advanced semiconductors, including radiation hardened chips. Such technology has as its core element, several methods of etching laser lithography chips at a nanoscale.

Section 9: “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft”

As stated earlier, a condensed review of Section 9 “Analysis of Espionage Tradecraft” is not included here. The section is left to each reader to enjoy at first blush and perceive and decipher all they can from it. Recall that in November 1922, when excavating the tomb of Tutankamen, the English archeologist and Egyptologist, Howard Carter, pierced a hole enabling him to see inside the actual chamber. He was asked by colleagues if he could see anything, and he simply replied: “Yes! Wonderful things!” Readers will say the same when they read this section.

Having stated that, greatcharlie nevertheless includes some commentary on section, compelled by Eftimiades to mention that among those committing acts of espionage for China are commercial entities, SOEs and private companies, academic institutions, and independent individuals, particularly entrepreneurs. Eftimiades explains that SOEs and commercial entities have been determined to engage in espionage in the US and elsewhere outside of China. Having dubbed them as entities engaged in espionage, they are examined as such and ascribe all of the qualities of an intelligence service. Thereby, one would expect to observe certain traits of an intelligence service such as tradecraft to be performed by their representatives while operating in the field. Yet, unless there is some information collected by US Intelligence Community–and that would unbeknownst to greatcharlie–stating those entities as well as individual business engaged in similar acts, view themselves to be intelligence services or espionage organizations, one may not see them regularly act as such.If they display any tactics, techniques, or methods that resemble tradecraft it should be viewed as exceptional and not an expectation. Imaginably, they, themselves, might be quite surprised anyone might refer to them as espionage organizations. They simply may view themselves as a “collective” Chinese citizens working in the US availing their home companies and country of technologies, hardware, documents or whatever else they might grab from US institutions that may employ them as the opportunities present themselves. To that extent, they may really be nothing more than somewhat organized rings of thieves, nothing more. As for these individuals showing such willingness to respond to the requests and demands of the Chinese intelligence services or other State Council bureaucracies as SASTIND, too much might be made of the fact that they are obedient to the commands and demands of their authoritarian and very often punitive, government. After all, in addition to their own lives, everything that they hold dear, their families, are in the hands and under the awful power of an authoritarian–some might say totalitarian–Communist government in Beijing.

Of course, one must be open-minded. Thus, the door should not be shut completely on the possibility of some deliberate design in the practices of such commercial entities and individuals with regard to their espionage. Note that overall, their practices are not chaotic or haphazard, but rather they are grounded and for the most part accomplished. Aliquis latet error. (Some trickery lies hidden.)

In the abstract, one could imagine their movements and interactions of individuals operating for commercial entities may be intentionally stochastic. Indeed, if the activity is genuine espionage and not simply criminal behavior what greatcharlie supposes should really draw the attention of US counterintelligence is not as much whether it meets a certain expected standard of tactics, techniques, procedures and methods. What should draw that attention is the appearance of control, orchestration, and forceful activity, and that something intense is happening. Something is intended and is being achieved. The fact that there is a professional side to all of that activity must also be considered. The focus, greatcharlie humbly suggests, perhaps should be placed first on the purposefulness of the activities displayed by Chinese commercial entities and individual businesspeople, not its randomness. 

Acting as described, they allow themselves some degree of security without the need to set up resources, set up sites, train in tactics, techniques, procedures and methods to communicate and pass information physically. Keeping their movements randomly determined might leave their efforts open to analysis statistically. One could discern some random probability distribution or pattern. However, it might still be impossible for those movements and interactions to be predicted in a useful way. One might imagine that to rise to a certain level in their companies or institutions, the individuals involved are well-educated or clever enough to consciously plan their activities in a seemingly random way. Surely, anyone in a commercial entity or institution selected for such work will be tested and screened before being sent off. In some welcome back, job well-done session or maybe a torturous debriefing, the employees surely inform their manager what practices worked well in the field and which at the time were determined to be too risky.

What would seem as important, or perhaps even more vital for Chinese commercial entities, would be properly casting each “espionage operative” or “thief.” The absolute right man or woman must be assigned for the right job. Surely, human resources would bring in and spotlight the right people and managers would make selections for such work and overseas deployment. One would hardly find such individuals to be hot-blooded, and wreckless, incompetent in any fashion. They would exude equanimity, sangfroid, graciousness, and professionalism. They apparently work with a mindset that nothing is unattainable. Loosely, one might posit, taking such an attitude and approach to their efforts, might be said to be at the foundation of any “ostensible tradecraft.” Everything they do, choices they make, flows from that line of thinking.

Looking at Eftimiades discussion a tad more it would seem that he gives Chinese commercial entities and individuals engaged in espionage too much and too little credit at the same time. He perhaps gives them too much credit by identifying them as intelligence gathering organizations and thereby assessing their use of tradecraft. He gives them too little credit in that if he believes his presumption as to their status as spies and their “spy-like practices,” correct, then he dismisses the possibility that their actions are disguised, deliberately performed in a way distant from tradecraft as a technique. If their intention was to cause confusion among possible observers by taking that tack, Eftimiades’ expression of some puzzlement over the absence of traditional tradecraft in their practices serves as evidence that to a degree they may have succeeded in that. At the same time, certainly nothing they might do, would be intended to stand out, such as, perhaps in extreme, appearing gargoyle or something of the type, and drawing attention daily.

Some foundational information and thought on Chinese espionage activities in the US has to be established if study and understanding on the subject is to be advanced. The establishment of such a baseline of information, however, should not result conversely in some uncompromising stance toward it. New facts must be collected and an openness must exist to consider alternative analyses of those facts, which may lead to new possibilities and potential successes against such activities. There are likely many unexplored possibilities that perhaps should be considered about all matters concerning the subject. From what has been publicly reported, often in the US national security bureaucracies, perspectives on adversaries have reportedly become too austere. Over time, even unknowingly, walls are built around those perspectives, fending off an effort to more accurately understand an adversary at the present that may shake the foundations of them. That sort of mindset, perhaps most akin to an unconscious bias, can creep its way in and become comfortable. That can spell disaster. This may very well be the case with regard to Chinese foreign intelligence activity in the US.

It seems high time that US counterintelligence services ceased looking at Chinese intelligence operations and tactics with a focus on their deficiencies and flaws in practice. Equally or even more important is to consider precisely what they are doing right in order to be successful. A starting point would be an assessment of how Chinese intelligence services and all the other government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US view US counterintelligence services and how they are responding to US defenses set up against them. It would seem from Eftimiades text that a burgeoning notion in defense of the current situation in which China is achieving a degree of success is that their numbers in the US are so high that it would naturally be difficult to struggle with them head-to-head. Hopefully, this is not the case. To be frank, the ability of Chinese intelligence services to position so many of their personnel in the US is just a symptom of the conundrum of not being able to stem their activities. Focusing upon that will not yield a cure. There are surely considerable deficiencies and flaws in the way in which US counterintelligence operates that have given Chinese government organizations and commercial entities the confidence to act without much fear. Res ipsa locquitor. (The thing speaks for itself.)

Of the seven universities that have been dubbed the Seven Sons of National Defense, some have been identified in US federal court documents as actively conducting espionage, working with the MSS to conduct espionage, or receiving stolen foreign research and technology. Many of these universities have high security research facilities that support classified technology development for the PLA and are on the US Department of Commerce Entities List for their research in support of Chinese defense entities involved in the theft of technologies. On that list is the Nanjing University Aeronautics and Astronautics (above). Nanjing is also known for providing the MSS with recruits for its corps of intelligence officers.

Section 11: “Summary”

Since what is found in Eftimiades “Summary” section is drawn from his discussion of his analysis of the 595 espionage cases since 2000, it would stand to reason they would serve well as a figurative subset of eight ample bullet points for his “Key Findings” which themselves extracted directly from the facts of those many cases. Of that seeming “subset of findings” in Eftimiades “Summary” section, the “top 5” selected by greatcharlie are the following.

First, Eftimiades explains that the US Intelligence Community is not well-organized to protect the secrets of US industries. It is far better at protecting its own secrets. He says the same holds true for most other technologically advanced [highly industrialized] countries. A problem he points to, calling it obvious, is that commercial industry and scientific research programs, the primary targets for Chinese intelligence collection, are the most vulnerable.

Second, as aforementioned in the discussion of the monograph’s Preface, Eftimiades says the DHS and the FBI are leading the effort in the US “to combat China’s massive intelligence collection campaign.” He again states that both organizations “have done excellent work in reducing Beijing’s relentless efforts,” noting the FBI has made advances since 2018 to assist US industry and academia, and DHS is also working aggressively to curtail illegal exports of advanced technology and those who steal scientific research. However, he declares “there is still much more to be done.” He explains that the work of other government agencies as well as a bipartisan effort in Congress will also be necessary to ensure national and economic security.

Third, Eftimiades proffers that success in thwarting China’s aggressive collection efforts will ultimately rest upon three factors: 1) the ability of US law enforcement and intelligence apparatus to shift organizational culture and support private industry and academia; 2) developing a strategic campaign in the US integrating all the elements of the government and its allies; and, 3) having Congress pass laws to raise the costs of economic espionage to the Communist Party of China. Chinese companies and individuals via visa restrictions, sanctions, investment restrictions, and otherwise. 

Fourth, Eftimiades explains, as he has surely illustrated throughout his monograph by reporting his case analysis, yet does not declare in any vehement way, that China’s “whole of society” approach to espionage has been quite successful thus far in defeating government and private industry organizations. He focuses more on what has been positive about US counterintelligence efforts,

Fifth, Eftimiades reveals that efforts by some countries within the EU, India, and Japan to restrain China’s intelligence activities have been comparatively less apparent in public sources. Although espionage arrests in India, Germany, France, Belgium, and Poland have been low in number, he sees such developments as an indication that those countries now seek to more vigorously counter China’s collection efforts. In addition, Eftimiades asserts that “China’s public image is suffering worldwide as the French and German governments have made statements on China’s aggressive espionage on social media, human rights issues, COVID-19 response, and Beijing’s threats over trade.”

In determining the percentage of Chinese espionage efforts thwarted, it must again be noted that the percentage would need to be calculated based on the entirety of the Chinese espionage effort. If one accepts Eftimiades does not know that number, and there is no reason not to do so, knowing the percentage of thwarted espionage efforts seems impossible and his claim is only a presumption or at best the result of “secret knowledge.”

When writing about the success of the FBI and DHS in thwarting espionage efforts of Chinese government organizations and commercial entities, there was less of an appearance by Eftimiades of reporting facts, and a more apparent effort by him to convince readers on a position tenuously supported in the text that he wants them to accept. To that extent, he actually presents more than anything else, as there is no supportable alternative story to present given the realities of the situation, is a well-supported outline of concerted, energetic, and endless activity to steal US secrets by China.

It would seem that the nature of the situation has already been firmed in the minds of the public based on reports in the newsmedia. It is unlikely that readers of his monograph would be inclined to Eftimiades perspective, despite his remarkable background. It is unlikely that anyone in the US counterintelligence services, particularly among senior executives and managers, is on Cloud 9 over results versus Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US. Somewhere deep inside, some may feel a bit stuck and stagnating, clutching at straws, and listening to the wind, but conceal such concerns from their colleagues. One might imagine their feelings: “Je suis las de toujours faire la même chose.” That would be a multifaceted problem for US counterintelligence services in itself. Perchance in trumpeting FBI and DHS success was an effort to boost morale or at least comfort those from each service who may have had their fill of Chinese success in their country. Eftimiades may have viewed optimism as the best and most available elixir for defeatism, and employed it liberally. Perhaps this line of thinking that drove Eftimiades, who leaves no doubt that he is unwavering in his support and confidence of the FBI and DHS, consciously drifts a tad away from his encomium of their respective work against Chinese espionage moves in the US. As also mentioned in the discussion of the monograph’s Preface, in the “Summary” section, Eftimiades does say “there is still much more to be done.”

Noticeably, in the “Summary” section, as noted in the discussion of the Preface, Eftimiades also relents so to speak from his “declaration of nescience” to say there are very likely thousands of Chinese espionage operators in the US. However, although there is clear evidence that their purpose is to steal US secrets and technologies, one might consider in the abstract whether there may be other interests of the utmost importance to the Chinese intelligence services that require such a labor-intensive effort. That should beat the brain. Going back to the suggested figure of 25,000 intelligence officers, professionals, albeit discrepantly trained and experienced, on the ground–a force one and half times the current size of a US Army armored division, it may be worth considering whether they may be engaged in a bold, cunning reconnaissance and surveillance mission of far greater conception than ever seen in the past or might normally be imagined in the present. Itt might be a mission that could not be performed in any other way than with a large force of professional intelligence officers. To be direct, yet admittedly still a bit Delphic, there must be a clear reason why officers of Chinese Intelligence services operating in the US, in particular, are so successful at not being wherever, whenever US counterintelligence services are looking for them. 

There is a thin line that separates reality from illusion. It must be kept firmly in mind that if one denies or unconsciously suppresses reality, what is left is only an illusion, false reality. Once one begins planning and operating within that, all is lost. If that is or ever would be the case concerning the Chinese conundrum, the situation will become far worse than ever imagined. Further, the more one deals in truths and reality, the more one develops reliable intuition and intimations. The more one entertains fallacies and what is artificial, the farther one moves away from having any real intuition or developing any intimations at all. These skills in the end will prove to be absolutely imperative if endsieg, a final victory against all of the odds stacked against them, is to be achieved by US counterintelligence services in their struggle against Chinese espionage efforts. As the celebrated Spanish novelist, translator, and columnist, Javier Marías remarked during an interview for the Winter 2006 issue of the Paris Review: “One must have courage to see what one does see and not to deny it for convenience.”

Regarding China’s concern about having the image of being a country of thieves and copycats, stealing the best ideas of other countries to support and propel its conspicuous advancements in nearly all sectors, the Communist Party of China absolutely has an interest in global public opinion of China and perceptions of its actions on the world stage. Still, it is unlikely that the Communist Party of China has too much concern about that in that vein. One must remember, the Party insists that at the foundation of all advancements of the Western industrial powers are the years those countries overwhelmed peoples who were defenseless and through a colonial system violently oppressed them and allowed business enterprises of their respective countries to exploit the conquered peoples’ lands for raw materials and mineral wealth for centuries. They will use the experience of China to support that argument. Within their own countries, the Party says down-trodden workers were essentially enslaved by the same business enterprises now called multinational corporations. (Note that greatcharlie asserts in the abstract that this is the Communist Party of China’s perspective; it is by no means greatcharlie’s perspective.)

Still, more salient based on the Party’s mindset would be the overall judgment of the world on the robust energy China displays as it pushes onward and upward into the future and, albeit mistakenly believing, eventually reaching the position at the top as the world’s dominant power. From that perspective, the Communist Party of China would see their country as having a very positive, lasting impact on global perceptions of it everyday. To that extent, the Party leaders and propagandists likely weigh that global perception on “energy” and Western measures of global public opinion ratings, particularly if those ratings are based on reactions to independent events and not the bigger picture. While one might agree that there are some universal truths about our world, still not everyone thinks the same on all issues. China’s view of its future is quite at variance with that held by most in the US best familiar with the issues involved. Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. (In most cases men willingly believe what they wish.)

There will naturally be more that US counterintelligence services would want from the US Congress to appropriate for them in order to pursue adversarial countries’ intelligence services operating without pause, on the ground, in the US. However, the matter must be examined from the lens of Congressional leadership. From their view, US counterintelligence services  presently possess considerable resources to pursue Chinese intelligence officers and operatives. There are no indications Chinese espionage networks are being regularly taken down. Harsh critics and skeptical observers might begin to believe that, unbeknownst to the public, US counterintelligence services are actually being restrained from doing their utmost to defeat opponents here in the US. However, there would hardly be any logic to that. Surely, US counterintelligence services are not flâneurs, in the field simply playing chase games. Even the slightest act in that direction would betray the trust and reliance the US public has in their fidelity and  their belief that they are protecting the country’s sovereignty, its property, its interests and especially its people. As expressed in the February 26, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled “Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts”, by 2021, it should have been the case that MSS networks were being regularly penetrated by US counterintelligence and rolled up in waves at times chosen by US counterintelligence services. Ongoing and developing MSS operations should have already been heavily infiltrated and those infiltrated operations which are not destroyed should be used as conduits to push disinformation back to China. As for individuals recruited by MSS, many should have already been identified as a result of US counterintelligence infiltration of MSS networks and at appropriate moments, those operatives and informants should have been intercepted, neutralized, and recruited as counterespionage agents. Sardonically, from a paranormal perspective, one might suggest that although Chinese intelligence officers may be operating in the same spaces in which US counterintelligence services are looking hard, they do so in some other plane existence, undetectable by mortal eye. Sous une surface calme tout se passe.

There has been more than enough talk about how bad the problem with China is. C’est la Bérézina. As it has been discussed so often that, in a way, such talk haa become by the by to some degree for the US public. There must be more talk about how to defeat it. The US must move from the defensive to the offensive, and destroy all of its networks. As greatcharlie has mentioned in proceeding posts on the Chinese espionage crisis, It could be the case that US counterintelligence officers must relearn and hone the skill of lying before the water course and awaiting the big game. Many plans can be developed to advance against a problem. However, choosing the right plan, the one that will work, is the challenge. Eftimiades clearly understands that much as with physicians, for investigators, every symptom must be told before a diagnosis can be provided. Fundamental changes may be needed in efforts to halt Chinese espionage operations. There is the possibility that certain apparent aspects of Chinese intelligence operations are not being focused on sufficiently or appropriately. Making the right improvements requires being persistent in one’s search for answers. To continue the pursuit successfully will require a certain boldness in thinking. Although he literally lost his head by guillotine two years later, George Jacques Danton, the 18th century French revolutionary leader, addressed the Legislative Committee of General Defence, September 2, 1792 with words concerning the situation in France which are apposite for counterintelligence organizations dedication protecting their countries against any harm by Chinese intelligence services: “De l’audace, et encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace, et la France est sauvee.” (Boldness, more boldness, and always boldness, and France is saved.)

What Eftimiades presents on Chinese espionage operations and tactics represents a stage of those activities existent at the time he wrote the monograph. However, Chinese intelligence operations and tactics appear to be constantly and rapidly evolving, becoming something more effective, more efficient everyday. As their capabilities improve, the possibilities for action also increase. It is difficult to accept but very likely a reality that success has given Chinese intelligence services so far good reason to approach the future with confidence. To that extent, the worst may be yet to come. However, on the other side of the coin, while it may seem counterintuitive to some ears, the success of Chinese government organizations and commercial entities engaged in espionage in the US should not frustrate US counterintelligence officers. Rather, it should embolden officers of US counterintelligence services to struggle even harder to succeed. Hope must still exist in the situation for that. Surely, establishing a pattern of success would go a much longer way in building self-confidence among officers in US counterintelligence services struggling on their own home ground with the Chinese.

What one finds in Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics is of considerable quality. The book remains a steady flow of information, data, and expressions that well-demonstrates the author’s command of the subject matter, from beginning to end. Without pretension, greatcharlie states that what is presented here represents less than twenty percent of the insights birthed in greatcharlie by Eftimiades monograph. Readers should imagine what insights might be brewed up from within themselves after they have had a chance to read through it. 

It is assured that after the first reading Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics, one would most likely go back to the book and engage in that stimulating process again and again. The monograph will very likely be regularly consulted as a reference for intelligence professionals and prompting new ideas and insights among intelligence professionals, law enforcement officers, other professional investigators, and scholars. Surely, the monograph would be quite useful to an Intelligence Studies instructor who, as a primary part of an assignment, might decide to have students read the monograph, observe the manner in which Eftimiades report is formatted, how information is presented in its sections, and develop insights from its discussion.

Perhaps it is eedless to say at this point, but it is nonetheless stated with absolute conviction and true relish, greatcharlie unequivocally recommends Eftimiades Chinese Espionage Operations and Tactics to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

The Defection That Never Was: Meditations on the Dong Jingwei Defection Hoax

People’s Republic of China Vice Minister of State Security Dong Jingwei (above). Beginning in February 2021, Dong became the subject of a rumor alleging that he, along with his daughter, defected to the US. The possible implications of his supposed defection were staggering. It was eventually revealed and proved that the rumor was pure fiction.  Never before has Dong’s name, or any other Chinese counterintelligence official’s name, been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in the manner it has been lately. An attempt is made by greatcharlie to some degree how this all came about and what was the purpose of it all.

Rumors of the alleged defection of Dong Jingwei, a vice minister of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of State Security–China’s relative equivalent to the Central Intelligence Agency, were the subject of intense discussion in the US newsmedia and social media particularly in June 2021. Allegedly, Dong fled China in February 2021 and handed himself over to US intelligence officials. Dong would have been one of the highest-ranking officers from China’s Intelligence Community, and the Chinese government in general ever to defect to the US. Yet, alas, the rumored defection never occurred.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping, is now highly selective, positively picky, about those who serve in national security positions in his government. Considering what would be the most likely nature of the man or woman who would be able to serve as his Vice Minister at MSS for counterintelligence, it is hard to form a mental picture of where the rumor that Dong had defected to the US with his daughter, or who, or better, what organization, may have actually given it wings. It is harder to understand how those who ignited the rumor of Dong’s defection intended to benefit from its formulation and promotion. It is hardest to envision who among those with any knowledge of the Chinese government and the national security apparatus would believe, would ever consider defecting to the US no matter what the circumstances may be within the Communist Party of China or in his personal life. One could imagine Dong would be a deadender, sticking with the Party and his country until the rattle. There is always the possibility–though there are absolutely zero newsmedia reports anywhere that suggested some proceeding mental health episode had befallen him–that Dong may have been overwhelmed by some cacoethes. Barring that, there was no earthly reason to believe that he would defect, and to the US nonetheless. The puzzle now having been “resolved”–the whole truth is out there somewhere, greatcharlie gives a go at parsing out some of these issues hoping it does not come off as l’esprit de l’escalier. In that process, greatcharlie, albeit, steps out on shaky ground to present some unsolicited–and hopefully not unwanted–suggestions on how similar false reports in the future might be given appropriate consideration. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

Some might conclude after noting the topic of this post that this is one more by greatcharlie on Chinese espionage in the US. Some, perhaps duly, might also grumble to the effect: “Now greatcharlie is all China, all the time!” While greatcharlie approaches the defection that did not happen out of academic interest, this examination, much as those of proceeding posts, is part of an ongoing effort by greatcharlie to give consideration of what it could offer to contribute to development more effective approaches to such hostile intelligence collection efforts against the US. Indeed, with the objective of being transparent, greatcharlie must disclose that on the matter of Chinese espionage in the US it is partisan, giving its complete support to the US, the homeland. Readers will likely discern facts are interpreted from that perspective. However, no information is skewed or bent with preconceived ideas or bias.

Who Is Dong Jingwei?

Dong was born on November 18, 1963. He is presently 57 years old. In China it would be of some significance to note that he is of Han nationality. As for his studies, he has earned a master of science degree. The only publicly reported member of Dong’s family is his daughter, Yang–also known as Dong HuaHua on social media, who as part of the defection hoax was said to have allegedly fled China with him. She is the ex-wife of Alibaba executive Jiang Fan, who now heads the company’s powerful e-commerce platforms, Tmall and Taobao. 

Dong is a member of the Communist Party of China. Highlights of his career include service as the Secretary of the Party Committee and Director of the State Security Department of Hebei Province. He is a Member of the Party Committee and, of course, Vice Minister of the Ministry of State Security. With some reluctance, greatcharlie calls attention to the reporting of the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. Referencing Intelligence Online, Wikipedia explains that heading the State Security Department in Hebei was significant for Dong because it was a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles, and accolades as much, provided to Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Ānquán Bù (Ministry for State Security of the People’s Republic of China) or the MSS, where Dong is vice minister, is an intelligence service responsible for foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security as well. Their impact stems mainly from providing consumers in Beijing to include the Communist Party of China leadership, the Party’s key organs responsible for foreign and national security policy, and ministers and senior executives of appropriate ministries and organizations of the State Council, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with data that may shape their decisions.

As noted in greatcharlie’s July 31, 2020 post entitled, “China’s Ministry of State Security: What Is this Hammer the Communist Party of China’s Arm Swings in Its Campaign against the US? (Part 1),” the primary targets of the MSS hands down are its chief competitor, the US, the Russian Federation, Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes. In the countries of Eastern Europe, China has achieved some prominence in their space. China must equally measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. Taiwan, which Beijing declares is part of China, is a special case and a very important MSS target. The second rung of competitors would include India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Mongolia. India has doubtlessly garnered a bit more attention from MSS due to its ongoing border struggle with China. MSS has stepped up intelligence operations throughout Africa to support and facilitate its effort to extend its geopolitical influence and acquire oil, rare Earth minerals, and fish. Africa is estimated to contain 90 percent  of the entire world’s supply of platinum and cobalt, 50 percent of the world’s gold supply, 66 percent of the world’s manganese, and 35 percent of the world’s uranium. Africa accounts for almost 75 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a key mineral required for the construction of electronic devices, including cell phones. Well over 10,000 Chinese firms are operating on the continent with 25 percent located in Nigeria and Angola. China has also expanded its military presence in Africa, rivaling the level of US military equities there.)

In defining counterintelligence, James Olson, the former chief of Counterintelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency and author of To Catch a Spy: The Art of Counterintelligence (Georgetown University Press, 2019), which greatcharlie reviewed for its January 2021 post, states that it “consists of all the measures a nation takes to protect its citizens, secrets and technology from foreign spies.” The primary mission of MSS counterintelligence is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence and counterintelligence services, as well as law enforcement organizations worldwide. MSS shares the counterintelligence role with Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Gōng’ānbù (Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China) or MPS. MPS is an intelligence service under the State Council in charge of the country’s internal and political security and domestic intelligence.

The achievements of MSS in the US have certainly been no mean feat, and should not be underestimated. As discussed in the February 26, 2021 greatcharlie post entitled,”Suggestions for Resolving the Conundrum of Chinese Intelligence Operations in the US: Fragments Developed from a Master’s Precepts,” the tide of essentially unchallenged Chinese espionage has lapped up so much information, eroded so many formerly reliable defenses, that each day the situation moves closer to the tragic and the terrible. Hopefully, among possible dissenters, an interest, not solely due to exigency, will grow on the idea. Chinese intelligence services have hampered the work of US businesses, research and development firms, high-tech firms, academia, and the federal government itself. They have created spy networks within institutions critical to US economic security and defense. They have attempted to inconvenience the US in its efforts to improve bilateral and multilateral relations in under-developed, less industrialized countries and even long time friends of the in certain regions, and multilateral institutions that the US actually had a hand in creating. One might speculate that having achieved countless victories with near impunity inside the US, Chinese foreign intelligence services now very likely conduct counterintelligence exercises in the field, likely in a nondisruptive way vis-a-vis ongoing operations, to ensure that in their present state, their intelligence networks are free from US counterintelligence detection and interference and that no intelligence service from anywhere could play havoc with them.

Dong (above)  once headed the State Security Department in Hebei, a province which has reportedly produced many of Xi’s securocrats.” Loyalty to superiors, age and regional background apparently won him favor with senior party officials under Xi. He then became part of the “Xi Jinping Clique,” one of the main political factions within the Communist Party of China. By 2018, Dong was close to Xi. Other important Communist Party of China titles held by Dong include: Representative of the 18th and 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China; and, Member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

As with all other elements of the intelligence industry, counterintelligence work requires wisdom, reason, and logic to be performed well. It is not the nature of intelligence services to regularly use force and aggression to halt an opponent, shut down its networks, thwart its operations, and intercept its intelligence officers, operatives, and informants. The intellect is the tool used for doing so. It stands to reason that in order to be a successful vice minister for MSS counterintelligence. Dong must be a man who has a deep understanding of how people tick, how they fit in and feel where they live and work, and how they can get the ones they have targeted tangled up in their respective espionage enterprises.

In attempting to ascribe certain traits to Dong given his role at MSS, those considered by greatcharlie may appear to be mere abstractions. However, the few traits listed here along with a reliable intuition and challenging experiences within his own intelligence organization may very well have enabled Dong to perceive likely thinking, decision making, planned approaches, and actions within adversarial intelligence services. These same traits perhaps have also assisted Dong in successfully navigating the top rung of China’s national security apparatus and to perform well at the side of leaders of the Communist Party of China.

One might first postulate that Dong possesses the traits of clarity, purpose, and focus. Surely, Dong puts his intentions forward for the best outcome possible. Clarity would allow Dong to concentrate with intention on what is ahead, on what needs to be done. One might expect that Dong believes by now that serving in MSS, performing executive duties for counterintelligence is his purpose. To that extent, purpose was likely revealed to Dong when he discovered the ability to use intuition to understand what may be clear to others. He would be able to focus on what truly matters, and understand what needs to be avoided, such as anything that might frustrate, seriously inconvenience, hamper, or inevitably destroy his organization’s efforts

Dong would be an intelligence officer and political leader of great energy,enthusiasm, and creativity. That energy is transmitted through the MSS. In the US, it would be transmitted not only to officers in the field but to errant citizens and Chinese émigrés recruited to serve the purposes of the intelligence service. He would exude a positive attitude that encourages officers, operatives, and informants to do their utmost in the field. He would be able to find unlocked potential in situations and determine ways to uncover what may be hidden away

What Was Reported on Dong’s Alleged Defection

Relate retero. (I tell what I have been told.) Some simple falsehoods went some way to explain and support what was from the outset a questionable story. From what can be gathered about the episode, stories about Dong’s alleged defection initially emanated from conservative websites in the US. Newsweek points decidedly to a June 4, 2021 report from the conservative political commentary website, RedState, as a source of the rumor. Discussion within conservative circles reportedly became even more intense as days passed. There was considerable discourse on Dong’s defection found in Chinese-language, anti-Communist newsmedia outlets in the US and on Twitter.

Among those who reported on the defection, there was general acceptance of the sequence of events. The defection scheme as laid out was indeed mad-capped. Dong allegedly defected in mid-February, flying from Hong Kong to the US with his daughter, Dong Yang. Dong supposedly provided the US government with information about the Wuhan Institute of Virology that allegedly impacted the position of the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Han Lianchao, a former People’s Republic of China Ministry of Foreign Affairs official who defected in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Dong’s defection was raised by the Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi, and People’s Republic of China Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the US-China Summit in Anchorage, Alaska in March 2021. On June 16, 2021, Han, citing an anonymous source, alleged that in Anchorage, Yang and Wang demanded that the US return Dong to China, but US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken refused. Subsequent reports, coupled with analyses by China specialists continued as Dong’s precise whereabouts remained unknown. Speculation had even reached Chinese social media threads after Dong had not been seen or photographed for several weeks.

While preparing a story on the alleged defection, SpyTalk, an online news site offering reports on national security topics, with an emphasis on US intelligence operations, had sought comment from the State Department last week, however, it did not respond. In the first public clarification put out by the US government on the affair, a US official, speaking anonymously, “reached out” to say reports of Dong’s defection were not true. With regard to Dong’s whereabouts, he stated “We can’t confirm or deny where he is exactly,” but hinted he remained in China. The official refused to go any further. When SpyTalk asked why the Biden-Harris administration sought to knock down rumors of such a high level defection, an ultra-sensitive issue, the official reportedly stated, “that’s more of a policy question”and referred SpyTalk to the White House. Reportedly, the National Security Council did not respond to SpyTalk’s request for comment.

Notably, Newsweek reported on June 22, 2021 it was informed by a US government official that the reports about Dong’s defection “are not accurate,” without elaborating. A second US government source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the rumors were “absolutely untrue.” Yet, such reporting still did not cause those insisting on the defection to retreat back, away from the issue. It is always a capital mistake to reach conclusions before having all of the facts on a point at issue.

The Chinese government, itself, delayed publicly addressing the stories about his alleged defection. Then on June 23, 2021, officials of the People’s Republic of China Embassy in Washington informed that Dong made a recent public appearance despite rumors that he had defected to the US four months ago. According to minutes released by the Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, Dong was among five Chinese officials who attended the 16th meeting of the Security Council Secretaries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Member States on June 23, 2021 Reports of the meeting were also shared on Weibo, China’s largest social media service.

Sources of the Hoax: Views on That in the Newsmedia

The Daily Beast quoted Robert Manning, a former top Asia specialist in both Republican and and Democratic administrations for more than 30 years as saying the decision of the Biden-Harris administration’s willingness to address such a normally highly secretive issue was “to excise an unnecessary additional irritant in the still downward-spiraling bilateral relationship” between the US and China. The Daily Beast also reported another possible motive was to beat back a Republican campaign to deflect blame for the COVID-19 pandemic in the US from the erstwhile administration of US President Donald Trump to China’s Wuhan Virology Lab and, by extension, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who has been critical of the former president’s response to the disease. In the same vein that the motivation may be domestic politics, the Daily Beast reported that a leading China watcher suggested the objective was to head off Republican accusations that the Biden-Harris administration was “hiding a defector who has info on the lab leak or [other] embarrassing stuff.” Essentially amplifying what was aforementioned here, the Daily Beast explained reports of Dong’s defection originated in conservative circles here and abroad that have been critical of the scientific consensus that the COVID-19 pandemic was transmitted from animals in Wuhan’s “wet market.”

On June 4, former Fox News reporter Adam Housley tweeted that “US intelligence has a Chinese defector with Wuhan info. and China is trying to produce variants that suggest it came from bats to cover up that coronavirus originally came from a lab.” Housley’s report was referenced by RedState, which alleged that “a person believed to be among the highest-ranking defectors ever to the United States from the People’s Republic of China has been working with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) for months.” Citing anonymous sources “inside the intelligence community,” The Daily Beast further reported that Red State cautiously claimed “the defector has direct knowledge of special weapons programs in China, including bioweapons programs,” and that the alleged information had created “a sudden crisis of confidence in Dr. Anthony Fauci.”

In a June 24, 2021 Washington Times story, it was suggested by a former National Security Agency counterspy that the defection rumors were “part of a Chinese disinformation effort to distract attention from growing international concern over reports the coronavirus pandemic may have originated in a Wuhan laboratory.” If that intriguing possibility is true, it would seem that the other shoe dropped when Dong was seen at a meeting with the head of MPS later in the month. It might be said the some in the US newsmedia are so expectant and desirous of good news for the US on the Chinese espionage front, that some outlets were even ready to jump at a contrived one. he US Intelligence Community did not flinch in response to the defection reports at any point until,  as aforementioned, one US official spoke “just looking to correct the record.” 

Other Suggestions

One can only imagine–if he was actually unaware that the fiction of his defection, would be laid on so thick in the newsmedia worldwide–what Dong’s immediate reaction was when he received news that he was the subject of a farce that put his loyalty and honor in question. Dong was imaginably a little put out. It may have also caused him some embarrassment, some loss of honor. While the truth of Dong’s loyalty to the Communist Party of China and his country would eventually be made very clear, he would surely recognize that once his name was associated with he would indubitably feel was a damnable rumor, that taint would still stick, even if only to some small degree, long afterward. 

 Perchance that the defection rumor was contrived by MSS, then it would be accepted honorably as an unavoidable sacrifice he had to make with the aim of protecting China. Perhaps some monitoring should be done to see if somewhere along the line in the near future, there is some sudden mention of Dong awarded some high honor for his “service” from the Communist Party of China. Perhaps he would receive the award from Xi, himself. That may very well signal, and could help support the idea, that the defection story was indeed part of some nefarious MSS scheme.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes. (Who watches the watchmen.) Dong has unlikely gotten lost in any hurt. Yet, one might speculate that perhaps somewhere, someone believes Dong pretends to have an inner strength, nerve, that he actually lacks. Though the true source remains publicly unknown, so far to greatcharlie’s knowledge, no one has been denounced at least publicly in China for having responsibility for igniting the rumor against Dong. One could hypothesize that if the source of the rumor was actually in China, it may have been the case that Dong recognized attempting to establish blame among any rivals for the episode would only be corrosive, and trying to reconcile with some sense his own guilt for leaving himself open to the of such a rumor would be self-defeating. In such a hypothetical case, an expression of such acrimony within days of the celebrations of the Centennial of the Communist Party of China taking place in Beijing on July 1, 2021, would unlikely be of any benefit to Dong politically, professionally, or personally. To that extent, in the eyes of Communist Party of China leaders, he likely would do himself much honor by deciding to hold his tongue at this time, if he even needed or desired to speak out at all.

Arthur Conan Doyle in “Adventure IV. The Boscombe Valley Mystery” of his twelve short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes published in the Strand Magazine (1891) had his main character, the damnably good detective Holmes, state the following which is apposite here: “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing. It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”

Xi Jinping’s Counterintelligence Concerns

Xi has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. In his address at the ceremony, Xi lauded the major contributions made by the Chinese police to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests, He called them a mighty force that can be fully trusted by the Party and the people, and spoke highly of the major contributions made by the Chinese security forces to safeguarding national security, social stability and people’s interests. Xi also called upon the security forces to uphold the Party’s absolute leadership.

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (above) has placed considerable focus on police, judges, prosecutors, public security, and state security officers as part of a new Communist Party of China drive against graft, abuses and disloyalty in their ranks. Xi has ordered China’s security forces to be loyal to the Party, serve the people and be impartial in law enforcement. Xi also demanded the police force forge iron-like discipline and conduct. Clearly, Dong has been mindful of Xi’s concept and intent and obedient to the new counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021.

Would Beijing Call It a US Counterintelligence Plot?

As discussed already here by greatcharlie and in previous posts, little progress has been made in halting it or even making a discernible dent in Chinese intelligence operations. Many minds in the US national security bureaucracies are certainly working fiercely on this matter of utmost importance, but it seems too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile. Trails of espionage may lead to the MSS and PLA, directly in many instances, but those who commit the devilry of spying on Beijing’s behalf, in the US and from China, are seldom caught. With estimates as high as 25,000 Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants on the loose in the US, it is difficult even the most partisan US observers such as greatcharlie to deny China has secured a massive advantage for itself. Publicly, there appears to be not much of anything comparable achieved to knock back Chinese espionage.

Dong’s team and counterintelligence executives and managers of the other Chinese intelligence services surely study the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services. They would seek to better understand and prepare for expectant future attempts to covertly insinuate operatives into the Chinese foreign and national security apparatus, including particularly both the clandestine posts and covert networks of civilian and military Chinese intelligence services and Communist Party of China organs operating overseas.

Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS doubtlessly understand the situation the US Intelligence Community has faced, scoring few victories and suffering many defeats in the intelligence struggle with China, and they very likely recognize that US foreign intelligence and services are anxious to turn the situation around and get some things going. They have likely concluded US foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services are under stress and are bound to take risks to score a victory or win the whole ball game. 

To that extent, one might imagine it could plausibly be claimed within MSS headquarters that whole episode was a US counterintelligence artifice, designed to twinkle out Chinese intelligence service officers and operatives based on the their reactions by some the following: movements–attempt to leave US; communications–sending communiques by codes and encryption to provincial departments and municipal bureaus to confirm rumors and see instructions on next actions; contacts–reaching out to network managers in distress or panic; and, email, text, call, and meet other intelligence officers to parse out situation as reported. Alternatively, also with a counterintelligence purpose, the US could be said to have attempted to smoke out prospective defectors among those officers and operatives, attempting to convince them that some “tower moment” for Chinese intelligence service operations in US had occurred and the moment had arrived to choose to remain part of Communist Chinese system or seek refuge in the US. 

Dong and his manager further parsing out the matter might have speculated that beginning in February 2021, he may have been out of pocket for an extended period or on medical leave for some illness. Such speculation could go further to suggest the US Intelligence Community became aware of the situation, which would have been a chilling prospect in itself for MSS counterintelligence, and sought to capitalize on it 

What might cause Dong and his managers some discomfort even though the whole defection story was revealed as a hoax, and if it was the actual source of the hoax, is that for a while at least there appeared to be good news about success against China. Even if proven false, it would be good to have such positive news reach the ears of the US public, and Beijing would not want that. Further, even though the truth is out, the belief may exist among many in the US public that the “super secret” US Intelligence Community may have truly scored the specified success, and now, for reasons unknown, want to conceal it. Among conspiracy theorists in the US, the imagination may have also been given fuel to run wild and the whole matter of the defection will linger for a while. Chinese intelligence services would likely hope that some sense of discouragement might reach into the psyche of the US public over how Chinese espionage in their country appears unstoppable, even though it may be an issue somewhat outside of the average citizen’s day-to-day concerns.

As for the Communist Party of China, propaganda elements might eventually seek to use the whole circumstance to an advantage against the US. The goal would be to embarrass the US by making it appear as if the US Intelligence Community conjured up a story of defection because that has had no real successes at all against China. What would then perhaps be called “the big US lie” or something to that effect would doubtlessly be denigrated by Beijing through declaring it as being too contrived, unsubtle, poorly executed, and further evidence of how little the US Intelligence Community knows about the Chinese intelligence services. Then again, there may just be silence from Beijing.

A Novel MSS Counterintelligence Tactic to Smoke Out “Disloyalty in the Ranks?”

It would appear Dong may have actually been expecting to face something out of the ordinary from US and other foreign counterintelligence services much as discussed here, and it factored into MSS calculations on operations against the US. According to a story in the June 18, 2021 edition of the South China Morning Post, a report on a seminar on a counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April 2021 was posted on Changanjian, the social media account operated by China’s top law enforcement agency, the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China. At the seminar, Dong urged the country’s intelligence officers to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces. A read-out from the seminar quoted Dong as explaining: “The promulgation of such regulations provides us, the principal agents responsible for counter-espionage work, with the legal means to prevent, stop and combat criminal activities that would jeopardize our national security.” Dong went on to state: “This will reinforce our responsibility in counter-espionage work, and enable us to do a better job in organising and mobilising all social forces in waging ‘people’s warfare’ against espionage activities.”

In addition to Dong’s expressions on catching foreign spies, the actual report as posted stated that the intelligence officers must also go after “insiders” and “people who bankroll their activities behind the scene.” On that point, the report additionally noted: “At present, infiltration and spying activities by foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces have increased significantly.” It went on to say, “In particular, there are individuals who have willingly become ‘insiders’ colluding with foreign intelligence agencies and hostile forces and engaging in anti-China activities.” The South China Morning Post story lastly noted the insistence in the report that “All state security agencies must stand firm … deepen and carry out our various counter-espionage work to safeguard our national security.”

Given what was stated by Dong at the June 18th seminar on the counter-espionage regulation that came into effect in April and the report on the event, it may be grotesquely improbable, yet all the same conceivable, that the defection hoax was actually an MSS loyalty test on a grand scale to as was suggested, to step up their efforts to hunt down foreign agents and insiders who collude with “anti-China” forces.

Attempting to look at thinking in MSS from the outside, trying to put moments and trifles from recent events in order and give them a deeper meaning, greatcharlie hypothesizes that Dong and his counterintelligence managers at MSS could not be certain of how the US Intelligence Community, and other foreign intelligence services for that matter, might apply pressure to its officers and operatives. For them, that is always the pinch. To do something more than just study the matter, they may have created a scenario that would likely shock MSS personnel in the field: the defection of the MSS Vice Minister, for counterintelligence nonetheless. That might explain why Dong’s good name was thrown into the mix of something so repugnant. Dong and his managers could test what may have been a working theory on the likely causality of some occurrence, in this case it would have been collusion with anti-China forces, and see if it could be confirmed by facts through investigation. Indeed, Dong and his managers would have wanted to see for themselves how officers and operatives in the field would respond to a very deceptive approach that perchance in their minds could have plausibly been attempted by US counterintelligence.

Many of the MSS foreign intelligence networks and operations in the US, and elsewhere overseas, are run by MSS Provincial departments and municipal bureaus. It would most likely be the case that foreign intelligence and counterintelligence managers of those departments and bureaus would have understood that there would be no reason to leave their locations or try to leave the US in the case of such a defection. It would stand to reason that their identities as spies would likely remain unknown for the time being and everything would be handled by Beijing to prevent their capture and keep them safe. That would likely be instilled in training and before deployments. Expectedly, as a result of training, loyalty and dedication, equanimity and sangfroid would be displayed by officers and operatives. However, through experience one might postulate Dong could have felt that there are patterns one can discern that establish order in the human mind. An unexpected blow to the MSS leadership as a defection of its chief of counterintelligence, which they depended upon for their very lives, might surprisingly elicit inordinate behavior among trained officers and operatives.

Dong might have conceptualized further that if one of his officers or operatives had even considered going over “to the other side” or perhaps might have already been in “friendly contact” with so-called “anti-China” force, the former might fear of being uncovered by an alleged defecting chief of MSS counterintelligence might impel them to act, the latter might want to use the situation to capitalize on the connection already made and go to the other side. (After reading what is presented here, perhaps some may accuse greatcharlie of having too much imagination, others may say, too little.)

A Thought about Future Defections by Foreign Intelligence to the US

As expressed in previous posts by greatcharlie, how the US handles every defection will surely shape decisions by officials to defect in the future.What US counterintelligence services do with defector would certainly have value for MSS to the extent that it could be used to discourage, plant in minds of officers and operatives that turning to the US would not be a wise choice. What prospective defectors might gather from the whole Dong business is that his or her defection could easily become a very public matter, very quickly in the US and eventually worldwide. It could be imagined by them that facts concerning who or what, when, where, how, and why would somehow be leaked to the news media. Rather than a serious concern, their defection might be presented and looked upon at least among some in the US as a banal amusement. Bookmakers in Las Vegas may very well have been taking bets on the outcome of it all: “Did he or did he not defect?, and “Will he stay in the US or be returned to China for one of our spies?” Regardless of the rank or position a prospective defector might be, he or she would hardly get the impression that the way Dong’s name was tossed about was nothing to signify, but rather unseemly. They would perhaps recognize that they would have little cause to expect any better treatment for themselves. None of this should be looked upon as exaggeration or fanciful if the Dong episode might be considered at all instructive. Using the backdrop of this episode as a gauge, one can only imagine what would go through the mind of an intelligence officer of adversarial country, wanting to defect when thinking about the treatment and well-being of his or her family members and himself or herself, how seriously their situation would be taken by the US, and what would be their final disposition. That may not portend well for the US Intelligence Community or prospective defectors. Hopefully, that will not be the case.

The Way Forward

Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.) Despite pronouncements of Communist precepts that are designed to allow the society to evolve socially, economically, and politically, declarations to maintain an orderly society though a system of justice demanding obedience and assurances from the Communist Party of China on the smooth running of the state and conduct of government affairs aimed at supporting a high quality of life for the people, visible and publicly released reports of scientific achievements in the medical field to high-tech, greater endeavor in the vast ocean and into space, and the notices of accomplishments externally on foreign affairs and guaranteed that the country cannot be threatened, bullied, or taken advantage of ever again, China is nonetheless a nontransparent society. What one knows about China is what Beijing says is true. Independent observations that defy its realities are anathema in Beijing, and can be responded to harshly. There is plenty of secrecy. The frugal release of information on the Wuhan virus is the latest best example of that. Beijing, without fail, will double down further in secrecy when it comes to national security. Yet, to discerning eyes, what the world observes China doing also speaks volumes about what is highly likely being decided behind the scene. That was especially true in this case when ostensibly a man viewed widely in the Communist Party of China as one of the country’s most loyal and dedicated servants, was accused of what could be called the unthinkable. 

While Dong’s name has never been bandied about in the US newsmedia or worldwide in any way close to the manner it has been in just days before thus writing. For those somewhat familiar with such matters, greatcharlie’s editor, himself, being simply an enthusiast and nonpracticioner, well-separate from the intelligence world, the notion that that he of all people in Chinese intelligence would defect would be a bombshell neatly as big if Alexander Bortnikov of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, was said to have defected instead. That is simply unimaginable. 

Revenons à nos moutons. The hope of US counterintelligence should be “simply” to come into positive contact with an officer, operative, or informant with an albeit some leaning toward an idealistic vision of China as the dominant power and shape of the world for the future, but with reservations, serious reservations. Those sentiments would need to be worked on. The next best hope would be to find the officer, operative, or informant who is not doing things for an ideal, and whose reasons for turning on China would be venal. 

Given the peculiarities of the world of intelligence, this analysis should not be considered too extravagant. The desire of greatcharlie is that nothing in this post would be deemed too fanciful by readers and a bit of their curiosity on the topic at hand would be satisfied. Admittedly, it would be doubly satisfying to know what is presented here might  resonate with a few in US counterintelligence services grappling with the Chinese espionage conundrum. However, if greatcharlie has not achieved the latter, the 18th century French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, François-Marie Arouet, known by his nom de plume Voltaire, sums up its sentiment in Poème sur la Loi naturelle (1756), Quatrième partie: Je n’en dirai pas plus sur ces points délicats. / Le ciel ne m’a point fait pour régir les États, / Pour conseiller les rois, pour enseigner les sages.” (I will not say more on these delicate points./ heaven made me not to govern states, / To counsel kings, to teach wise men. Spero melior. (I hope for better things.)

Commentary: A US-North Korea Denuclearization Agreement, if Reached, Must Not Be Left Open to Destruction by Others

North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un with his country’s future, its children, at youth rally (above). Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan may not assure peace Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s northern neighbors might react poorly to a denuclearization agreement. More specifically, the Russian Federation might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a troubling manipulation of Pyongyang, leading to a US encroachment toward its borders. Hypothetically in response, Moscow might create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korean territory. Without deterrent power, Pyongyang may not be able to prevent that. Those engaged in the denuclearization negotiations should give consideration to this possibility as such a scenario could bust everything they might achieve.

What US President Donald Trump wants from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is the same end product that was at the root of his decision to talk with North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un in 2018: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured the mitigation of economic pressure, to include draconian sanctions implemented under a maximum pressure campaign, that has had a considerable deleterious effect not only upon North Korea’s economy but its existence. Additionally, Trump has assured that the prospective partnership with the US would be a long-term and a robust path toward economic vitalization, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US. Indeed, the US would be prepared to support the economic transformation of North Korea, supporting not only the growth of its industrial capabilities and capacity, but introduce North Korean firms to new techniques and technologies for efficient and high quality production. Further, the US would encourage new investment in North Korea from other industrialized countries, to include its neighbors, South Korea and Japan, both of whom it currently views as adversaries. What is being presented to North Korea is the choice to be something other than a stranger, or worse, an outcast, to the rest of the world. Even so, throughout 2019, demurs and objections were heard from senior officials of the North Korean Foreign Ministry. Their comments appeared to echo a speech by Kim at the 1st Meeting of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly, on April 12, 2019, during which he indicated a willingness to negotiate “on the condition that [the US] has the right attitude and seeks a solution that we can share.” Kim further stated at the Supreme People’s Assembly that he would “wait patiently until the end of the year for the United States to make a bold decision.” Kim’s words were uttered long before he and Trump met impromptu at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in Panmunjom on June 30, 2019, but they nevertheless seem to have stuck within the North Korean foreign policy apparatus. In Washington, it all rings bells, reminding of the past and raising questions whether Pyongyang’s ways of thinking and doing things are trapped in amber. For the sake of the negotiations and their potential for enhancing global peace and security, one should hope that is not the case.

Resolution of the decades long face-off between North Korea and the US, South Korea, and Japan, however, may not assure peace on Korean Peninsula. North Korea’s neighbors immediately to its north, China and the Russian Federation, may not react well in the wake of a denuclearization agreement. Based on what it has declared to be its strategic interests, the Russian Federation in particular, might view the new link between North Korea and the US as a threat, and that Washington was simply manipulating Pyongyang in order to move closer to the Russian Federation’s borders. Hypothetically, Moscow might decide to create a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula by grabbing North Korea’s sovereign territory to halt any perceived encroachment by the US. Without deterrent power, it is hard to see how Pyongyang on its own could keep the Russian Federation off its land. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Russian Federation has displayed a propensity for maligned behavior. There is still a chance fate will bring a denuclearization agreement as envisioned by Trump, all of North Korea’s neighbors will put down the shutters and accept the new development, and the Russian Federation, in particular, will show restraint. That would be ineffable. Nevertheless, if there is a chance that everything might not land quietly and gracefully, requisite caution must be shown now by the negotiating parties. Trump must be on guard.

This is the ninth in a line of occasional commentaries concerning the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization published by greatcharlie since August 2017. An enchantment on the matter and support and enthusiasm for the effort has stimulated the preoccupation. Through its commentaries, greatcharlie has sought to put together the arithmetic of what both sides, the US and North Korea, are doing on the matter. In this commentary, greatcharlie emphasizes that realism must be a key ingredient to the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Nothing discussed here should sound extravagant in today’s world. Together the US and North Korea must open the figurative box from which all the essential qualities and ingredients for a longstanding, sustainable peace are released, and at the same time avoid releasing the makings of conflict from another direction. Both sides must really look at the situation diligently, not dismissing unpleasant possibilities, to ensure negotiators do not construct an agreement that may not serve either side’s purposes in the long-run. Through such a reflective approach, greater unity of purpose and action can grow between the negotiating parties, and the viable and sustainable peace sought more likely will be found. Certum est quod certum reddi potest. (It is certain, whatever can be rendered certain.)Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that they can cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US would not pose difficulties. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its economic well-being, Pyongyang has displayed a curious sort of faith in Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources mainly come into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Putin and Xi control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival already rests in their hands. Kim can allow that to go on, or seek a better path for his country.

A Concern from Outside the Box or from Left Field?

One might conclude that there is an almost inherent connection, a natural affinity, between North Korea, China, and the Russian Federation. The defunct Soviet Union, the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, was the model from which North Korea structured its government. As it is the first and largest Communist government in Asia, there is much that North Korea has mirrored in a cultural sense from China. In support of Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung, the Soviet Union provided not only weapons, equipment and training for North Korean forces during the Korean War, but also provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to engage covertly in combat operations. The Russian Federation, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower, and to a degree has taken on from the Soviet Union the image of caretaker for North Korea. Nevertheless, China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater than that of the Soviet Union in terms of blood and treasure. China has really been the country’s steward and economic lifeline.

Alieno more vivendum est mihi. (I must live according to another’s whim.) China and the Russian Federation for the moment may reasonably assured that it would not pose difficulties to cause Kim to shy away from a denuclearization agreement with the US. Indeed, If Kim possesses any doubts that an agreement would not lead to North Korea moving up and away from the status quo, one might assume the two countries can quietly interfere and exert influence on Kim. From what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Pyongyang has shown a curious sort of faith in both Beijing and Moscow. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources apparently can still slip into the country through various schemes set up by Kim’s Chinese and Russian friends. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping control North Korea’s links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival pretty much rests in their hands. Kim can allow things to go on as they are and bend to the will of China and the Russian Federation, or seek a far better path for his country. It would reasonable for him to prefer the later. Having ambition is not an offense.

To the extent that officials in China and the Russian Federation feel North Korea is their ball to play with, an agreement that would create firm, lasting ties of friendship between the US and North Korea would likely stick in their throats. If unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim before an agreement is signed, one or both may decide to pose a threat to the agreement afterward. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim if he moves alongside the US. However, Beijing knows where to draw the line. The Russian Federation might do far more, which is the point of interest here. As alluded to earlier, at some point, Putin might order Russian Federation forces to move into North Korea’s sovereign territory with the objective of creating a buffer zone between the Russian Federation and the Korean Peninsula. The goal would be to set a limit to the likely perceived encroachment by the US. After its nuclear arsenal might potentially be evacuated under the terms of a denuclearization agreement. North Korea would lack the deterrent power to scare away a Russuan Federation move onto its territory, and could become the victim of just that. A conventional response might also be less feasible as the bulk of North Korea’s conventional forces may continue to face south near the DMZ for a while even after a denuclearization agreement is reached. Korean People’s Army forces of sufficient power are not presently deployed north in a manner to fend off an attempted land grab by the Russian Federation.

The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. It borders the Russian Federation along approximately 29 kilometers of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and to its east is the Sea of Japan. A rocket launching site is located at Musudan-ri. The Hoeryong concentration camp is also located in the province. It has some value as a line of access by rail to Russia. However, since no customs area exists there, most bilateral trade between North Korea and the Russian Federation moves first through China, raising costs. Ironically, the border with the Russian Federation, having no huge benefit to Pyongyang for years, could become a liability as a point from which hostile forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could land significant numbers of forces at Chongjin. The capability and capacity of the Russian Federation armed forces to conduct such an operation was well-demonstrated during their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. Putin has already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US sharing the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. Considering the possibility of an extreme reaction, a military incursion by the Russian Federation into North Korea, would not be out of court.

The View from Russia

Observing Washington getting cozy with Pyongyang has doubtlessly stirred a some sense of trepidation in the Kremlin. If Pyongyang turned toward Washington, Putin might feel Moscow had been figuratively stabbed in the back after having provided North Korea with assistance and support for decades. In terms of his personal relationship with Kim, Putin may feel a deep sense of betrayal. Putin has shown how he will respond when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being pulled toward the West.  Putin does not want any country friendly with US either sharing, or even touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can. (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are lucky that NATO got on top of their situation right away!) Kim and the Workers’ Party of Korea would have the North Korean people believe that their country is a fortress from south to north. A robust, whirlwind of an attack by Russian Federation forces by air, land, and sea, would very likely be able to rapidly displace or destroy any North Korean forces much as a whirlwind has the ability to uproot the staunchest oak tree. On the other hand, if Russian Federation forces are able to act with sufficient stealth and surprise, and–as was the case with Crimea–without any “bang and boom”, they may be able to capture North Hamgyong Province without a struggle. As with Crimea, they may be able to “accommodate” Korean People’s Army troops deployed in the province, perhaps even taking them back to the Russian Federation “to ensure their safety.” Mala mens, malus animus! (Bad mind, bad designs!)

Putin would likely offer some pretense that would “legitimize” the hypothetical incursion. For example, he could conceivably declare that North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation granted by some long-held document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a monumental, decades old debt is owed to the Russian Federation by North Korea. Alternatively, by entering North Hamgyong, Putin may claim the Russian Federation has taken an in-kind repayment territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might attempt to claim a Russian Federation incursion into the area was executed for humanitarian reasons, shocked by what was being said by former detainees in Moscow about atrocities taking place in the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp. If former detainees are not available, Moscow would find some. Under the second and third scenarios, Putin could leave the door open as to whether the Russian Federation land grab was temporary or permanent.

Long before Trump declared his intent to campaign for the US Presidency, the Russian Federation was concerned with the figurative noose being placed around it by US bilateral relationship building with countries on its borders. That thinking is reflective of the Russian Federation’s defense doctrine as articulated by Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov. Recall that on February 14, 2013 at a conference entitled “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” Gerasimov provided the first glimpse of Russia’s official assessment of future wars it may face as outlined in the top secret Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation. The clever boots on the Russian Federation General Staff assessed that future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.”  Indeed, they concluded the depletion of energy resources will soon become an ultimate world crisis and overtake regions. Severe shortages of oil, gas and other natural resources would cause prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders proffered that outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may actually invade the Russian Federation from different directions to physically grab its territory and resources. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. That plan, and later variations of it, have guided Russia’s thinking on defense and defense spending since 2016, during which it exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, and on other national security related and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. Further, the 2016 plan has guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on its border with Ukraine. The Russian Federation’s Syria operation is also part of that picture.The prospective area that might be targeted by Putin for capture is the Hamgyöng Bukto (North Hamgyong) Province. Enlarging the map above, one can see the province in the northeast corner of North Korea. It borders the Russian Federation along 18 miles of the Tumen River. The province borders China to its northwest and the Sea of Japan to its east. The border with the Russian Federation could become a key point from which Russian Federation forces could seize the province. The Russian Federation Navy could also land significant numbers of troops at Chongjin. The Russian Federation armed forces’ capability to conduct such an operation was demonstrated by their Zapad 2017, Vostok 2018, and Tsentr 2019 exercises.

Putin Will Take Risks

The hypothetical offered here should have a realistic feel because history has been used as a guide to develop it. Rational inferences are made from what Putin has been saying and doing. For example, with regard to Ukraine, what cannot be forgotten is the text of a lengthy call that Putin had with US President Barack Obama on March 6, 2014, Putin said Ukraine’s government came to power as the result of an “unconstitutional coup” and was “imposing an entirely illegitimate decision onto Crimea and the eastern and southeastern regions of Ukraine. Russia cannot ignore calls for help on this matter and is responding accordingly in full compliance with international law.“ On another occasion, Putin insisted that he was only acting in response to Western behavior toward Russia. When speaking about Ukraine at a conference in Moscow on April 16, 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained: “The United States and its allies have crossed all possible lines in their drive to bring Kiev into their orbit. That could not have failed to trigger our reaction.” It does not seem too far off from a truism to state that Putin has a penchant for placing Russian Federation forces in other countries, even without welcome. For that reason, despite the drain on its defense budget, the Russian Federation currently has its troops sitting in the sovereign territory of others, to include: Armenia; Belarus; Georgia; Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Moldova; Syria; Tajikistan; Vietnam; and, at least a far as Kiev is concerned, Ukraine. Among the countries on that list who have reluctantly accepted the Russian presence or who have very publicly and vigorously demanded that Russia leave their territory are: Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Belarus has grumbled about its Russian “guests”. Thereby, as denuclearization agreement would mean Pyongyang was moving closer to Washington, North Korea could definitely meet the same fate as the countries mentioned. Thus, conceptualizing a possible military incursion into North Korea by the Russian Federation is not out of court.

The Russian Federation is not the only country that has insisted upon placing its troops in another country without welcome in order to shape the situation within it. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan had a near ravenous desire to carve out a 32 kilometer deep and 480 kilometers wide buffer zone along the entire Turkish border with Syria. Through Operation Peace Spring, Erdogan hoped to establish a safe area in his planned buffer zone for millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. He also planned in undertaking what he declared to be a counterterrorism operation. Once Turkish forces moved into the autonomous Kurdish territory in Syria, understanding that there would be heavy fighting with the Syrian Kurd People’s Protection Units, militias affiliated with the sworn enemy of the Turkish government, the Kurdistan Workers Party which has been at war with Turkey for decades. Turkey amassed nearly 15,000 Turkish forces along with 14,000 fighters of the Syrian National Army attacked Syria on October 9, 2019. Recall that on December 19  2003, then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to voluntarily eliminate his country’s weapons of mass destruction programs, to include its nuclear weapons program which was initiated in 1969 when he took control of Libya’s government. He also agreed to limit Libyan missiles to range no greater than 300 kilometers. US President George Bush stated at the time: “With today’s announcement by its leader, Libya has begun the process of rejoining the community of nations. And Colonel Gaddafi knows the way forward Libya should carry out the commitments announced today.” However, from March 19, 2011 to October 31, 2011, under the mandate of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, the Obama administration led NATO forces and those other countries under Operation Unified Protector against Gaddafi regime. The multinational force imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and destroyed government forces loyal to Gaddafi in support local fighters that eventually overthrew Gaddafi and killed him on October 20, 2011 alongside a road. (In just mentioning Libya’s elimination of its nuclear weapons, greatcharlie feels it is stepping out on shaky ground. On May 13, 2018, the matter was publicly discussed by the former US National Security Adviser John Bolton while details of the June 12, 2018 Trump and Kim Singapore Summit were still being negotiated by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Indeed, Bolton made the unhelpful suggestion that the “Libya model” of denuclearization could be applied to North Korea, which would require it to eliminate all of its nuclear weapons before it receives economic sanctions relief and other support for it economic vitalization. Much to the dismay of Trump, Bolton’s public suggestion placed the summit in jeopardy somewhat.)

Without reservation, greatcharlie believes that nuclear nonproliferation is the correct direction in which the world should move. Having stated that, and with no intention of being whimsical about the matter, perhaps if Gaddafi had hypothetically retained his nuclear program, even at the aspiring stage it was in when he surrendered it, he would still be alive and in power in Tripoli. In that same vein, one might let oneself go and suggest if Kiev by chance had kept nuclear weapons under its control, Crimea would unlikely have fallen and the Donbass would be less of a mess. Outlining how hypothetically Ukraine could have plausibly retained those weapons would require adding a complicated coda to this section, completely unsuited in size for this commentary. What actually occurred is Ukraine agreed to divest itself of all nuclear weapons and nuclear infrastructure in accord with the Lisbon Protocol In 1992, along with considerable diplomatic effort and political maneuvering, By 1996, Ukraine had returned all of its nuclear warheads to Russia in exchange for economic aid and security assurances, and it became a non-nuclear weapon state party to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in Ukraine was eliminated in 2001 under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. At the time it declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine held the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, including an estimated 1,800 strategic warheads, 176 long-range ballistic missiles, and 42 strategic bombers.A transit map of North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province (above). In a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab, Kim might turn toward Beijing to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. However, China would unlikely want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, China would likely insist that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a relationship with the US. China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too!

Preparing for the Worst

Kim has always had much to worry about from Putin. It stands out a mile. For that reason, North Korea and its prospective US partner should at least consider the potential of a very aggressive Russian Federation reaction as an important “what if”. The matter merits treatment. Ways to prevent it from happening should be considered, and plans should be developed on how to use means available in response. The lack of right discernment on this hypothetical matter could lead to untold suffering. Unless greatcharlie is extremely mistaken, as far as Pyongyang might be concerned, the most plausible way to cope with the matter, would likely be to maintain some level of deterrent nuclear capability. Washington would hardly want to hear anything of the kind. Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear weapons and medium-range nuclear capable missiles alone are military equities it possesses that Moscow may want no part of. Readying those systems for launch could coincide with any discernible build up of Russian Federation forces near or along the northern border. That may have a deterrent effect. If some means to make a Russian incursion impossible or unprofitable is not available, attempting to respond before or after an attack has begun will unlikely amount to much

As has been witnessed, the best available option for the US after the fact in response to the Russian Federation’s incursion into Ukraine has been to train Ukrainian government forces and equip them with a limited set of weapons, mainly anti-tank javelin systems. That effort could only attenuate the considerable tactical advantages that Donetsk and Luhansk secessionist forces possessed as a result of being fully supported by Russia. Indeed, the tank-busting javelins along with tactical training from both US and European military advisers may have enhanced the chances of survival for the Ukraine government forces on the battlefield, but they have not allowed Kiev to successfully defeat or eject Russian and Russian-backed forces from the Donbass. Crimea remains firmly in the Russian Federation’s hands.

There is the possibility that preemptive diplomacy, right now, could successfully assuage concerns about a potential Russian Federation military incursion into response to a denuclearization agreement. That would not mean including Moscow in the diplomatic process of denuclearization to prevent it from engaging in malicious behavior. Although there is plenty available from which one can make inferences, Moscow has not as yet said or done anything directly that would indicate an intention to move into North Korea and create a hypothetical buffer zone across their mutual border. In fact, Russia may never do anything of the sort in the end. Still, there is no reason to wait and see on a matter that could potentially keep an agreement from being fully realized. Accordingly, as a reasonable precaution, Washington may want to broach the matter with Moscow, explaining that its concerns stemmed from its past actions.

The US-North Korea relationship might very well grow into something very special. Still, it is unlikely that in a time soon after the signing of a prospective denuclearization agreement that the Communist regime in Pyongyang, with its self-reliant identity, would seek recourse from Trump and the US to find the answer to a hypothetical Russian Federation military incursion into North Hamgyong. On a personal level, Trump undoubtedly would want to see Kim through his troubles. However, if North Korea is unable to fend off a land grab north, it is unclear what exactly the US could do effectively to repair the situation after the fact. Attempting to drive Russia out of North Korea with economic sanctions in response to a hypothetical incursion may not prove fruitful. That tack has not worked most obviously with its incursion into Ukraine. Pointing out what is obvious, a decision by the US to go toe to toe with Russia with thermonuclear weapons over North Korea would be daylight madness. That would hardly be a genuine option. The chance that any US President would alternatively throw US forces into a conventional fight with the Russian Federation over North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province is less than zero.Imagery of the Russian Federation-North Korea border along the Tumen River with an area of detail showing a railroad bridge across the river (above). Conceivably, Putin may find reason to declare North Hamgyong Province is the territory of the Russian Federation as granted by some document signed by Kim Il-sung that was sitting inert in some Russian Federation Foreign Ministry file. Alternatively, Putin might outline how records indicate a decades old debt is owed by North Korea to the Russian Federation. Putin may claim by entering North Hamgyong, Moscow had taken an in-kind repayment in territory of what it calculates should cover the outstanding balance. Then again, Putin might also attempt to claim an incursion into the area was for humanitarian reasons, given the infamous Hoeryong concentration camp is located in the province.

For Kim, a scenario involving a Russian Federation land grab would be a nightmare. It would also likely be the first occasion when Kim would have a palpable sense of separation from Moscow, and plenty of anxiety would come with that. Kim would never consider capitulation to whom would then be an erstwhile ally. However, dazed and confused by an inundation of likely negative reports about the situation in North Hamgyong, Kim may initially run toward what is familiar. Kim might turn toward Beijing and press it to encourage Moscow to withdraw and initiate diplomacy on the matter. Under such a scenario, China certainly would not want to tear itself away from peace over a situation facing North Korea. Indeed, Beijing would likely take the position that Pyongyang created the hypothetical situation with Moscow by establishing a historic, new relationship with the US. Thus, unwilling to knock on Putin’s door on behalf of its close ally, Beijing’s advice to Pyongyang would likely be “Talk to Moscow!” China may not be tied to any strategic alliance with the Russian Federation, but it still has a defense and security partnership of a sort with it. Although that cooperation may not be tied to fixed shared interests, in this hypothetical instance, what is good for the Russian Federation–keeping the US off its border and knocking down the denuclearization agreement–would be good for China, too! Understanding Putin, Beijing would likely have parsed out the whole matter early on, imagining Putin getting his nose out of joint about a denuclearization agreement, and never ruling out a military incursion. China would likely find it quite imaginable under such a hypothetical that Moscow would expect Pyongyang to rush to the negotiation table despite any fighting that may be underway. To prevent an unanticipated response from China, in such a hypothetical scenario, Moscow presumably would quietly inform Beijing of its planned action and intentions just before any prospective military operation began. Beijing would also undoubtedly place the People’s Liberation Army and People’s Liberation Air Force units near North Korea’s North Hamgyong Province on alert just in case Moscow’s operation went beyond its expressed purpose and scope. From those who have proven to be false one can rarely obtain anything true.

Tu si hic sis, aliter sentias. (If you were in my place, you would think differently.) Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if the most senior officials there were convinced the denuclearization agreement was the fillip for a Russian Federation attack. Indeed, a possible consequence of a Russian Federation incursion might be that Pyongyang would turn its back on the US. Under tremendous stress and not thinking clearly, Kim may very likely wonder whether Trump had considered the contingency. Moreover, Kim might conclude that Trump may have actually predicted what would issue with Putin following a denuclearization agreement and sought the agreement knowing North Korea would eventually be left open to attack. If that were to become his mindset, potentially, Kim might even begin to behave once again in a belligerent manner toward Trump, and might once again begin using over-the-top language. That would most likely signal the point at which Kim will have made the decision to negotiate with Moscow on terms for the withdrawal of Russian Federation forces from North Korea’s northern province. With a dodgy leader as Kim, anything might be possible in such a situation.

One could imagine under the hypothetical here that Putin might plan to use force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, Putin’s goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement and have North Korea make amends for its sin by cutting the cord with the US. Perchance as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program. That would likely mean putting the matter before the UN Security Council. Note that using military force to drive countries to the negotiating table was also a favored stratagem of the Obama administration. If Moscow and Pyongyang might have an inkling that they could get away with it, to quell international condemnation of the Russian Federation over a hypothetical military incursion, they might offer a story about some mix-up in timing occurred over a movement by Russian Federation troops to North Korea for a planned joint exercise. They would deny any disharmony existed. In that vein, Pyongyang would probably keep the North Korean people in the dark about the hypothetical incursion. Pyongyang would very likely refrain from making any official reports of the embarrassing episode, hoping it could resolve the matter quickly, and make the whole thing go away.

One could imagine further, under the hypothetical put forward here, that Putin, the maestro himself, might calculate an incursion into North Hamgyong would create political confusion and disarray in Pyongyang. Prospective talks with Moscow in such a situation might take place with or without Kim at the helm in Pyongyang. Kim might even have the courage or insanity to throw the Korean People’s Army into fight with Russian Federation forces. Nevertheless, likely being incapable of ejecting the invaders from the sovereign territory of North Korea, Kim would live under a frightful cloud. He would unlikely be absolved of responsibility for the possible crisis. He could possibly be seen within the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea as inciting the Russian Federation’s action with his denuclearization agreement. A scenario can be imagined in which Kim would no longer be considered fit to serve as the North Korean Communist Movement’s figurative lodestar. The Workers’ Party of Korea might decide to replace him. That would be harder to conceal, but if they did so, they would try to present a plausible reason for the change. Surely there are those in Pyongyang with designs on Kim’s spot. (Note that no matter how things fall, war, peace, or a leadership change, both the Russian Federation and China would be beneficiaries of the success of the US in getting North Korea to denuclearize.)Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Unable to do anything to rectify the hypothetical situation proffered here, Pyongyang would hardly be concerned with keeping any prospective new US-North Korea relationship intact if it indeed was the cause for a Russian Federation attack. One could imagine under the hypothetical proffered here that Putin might plan to use of force only temporarily in order to drive officials in Pyongyang to quickly resolve the matter to the negotiating table. At the table, the goal would be to thoroughly destroy the denuclearization agreement with the US. Perhaps as an artifice, Putin may insist upon a multilateral effort to deal with the North Korean nuclear program.

Matters Pyongyang Should Address in the Diplomatic Process on Denuclearization

Abundans cautela non nocet. (Abundant caution does not harm.) Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would seem akin to daylight madness to ignore what might very well knock down whatever might be constructed. Pyongyang supposedly understands Moscow. Therefore, it surely understands that Moscow only sees it as a junior partner, not equal to it. If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Moscow. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. If they have not broached such an important issue, the indications and implications may be that Pyongyang was being disingenuous about its interest in denuclearization and North Korea’s economic vitalization. What their real intentions are, might be put into question. On the other hand, it is imaginable that North Korean foreign and national security officials possibly may not be cleared to discuss what may very well be a sensitive matter for Pyongyang: the Russian Federation’s reaction to a denuclearization agreement! It may be a matter, a secret, only for the purview of Kim and members of the Central Committee. The thing about secrets is that outsiders very rarely know what they are. If US negotiators are not willing to broach and fully address this matter with their North Korean counterparts, they may be setting the stage for failure, taking a huge gamble with something extremely important. There would exist an element of superficiality to the negotiations. If the North Koreans clam up in response to their inquiry, US negotiators could respectfully request that their counterparts seek clarification and instructions on the matter from Pyongyang. It may turn out that the matter would need to be broached at the highest level: Trump and Kim.

If ever North Korean negotiators are queried about their country’s concerns over an aggressive Russian Federation reaction to Kim signing a denuclearization agreement with the US, and they are willing to respond, common sense would demand that they completely outline security concerns Pyongyang feels the new situation might create. It would be the best time to explain any concerns that voiding themselves of nuclear weapons to the point in which they would not have any deterrent nuclear power at all would inherently dangerous, having China and the Russian Federation as neighbors. At that point, US negotiators must be able to offer real solutions to mitigate the North Koreans concerns. If North Korean negotiators, once queried, fail to speak forthrightly, and answer “Who is this Putin fellow to whom you keep referring?” or something to that effect, US negotiators would be provided with a real sense of Pyongyang’s genuineness. North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un observes weapons test (above). If Pyongyang truly intends to move in the direction of the US, it is hard to imagine North Korean officials would not expect some problems from Putin. It is unknown to greatcharlie whether North Korea has broached the possibility of a military incursion by the Russian Federation at the table with US negotiators or Pompeo. There has not been any news media reporting concerning the matter. Policymakers and negotiators from the US and North Korea can use available time to think through what to do in such a hypothetical North Hamgyong-grab by Russia. It would be daylight madness to ignore what could knock down whatever might be constructed.

Suggestions

Quoniam id fieri quod visit non potest, velis id quod possit. (As that which you wish cannot be effected, you should wish for that which may be obtained.) A desire by Kim to retain the ability to deter any sudden, rogue moves by China or Russia, would be the most plausible reason he could offer for retaining his existing nuclear arsenal. If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. (The immediate elimination of North Korea’s long-range missile program must remain a US stipulation.) At the same time, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be phased in place. A demonstration of unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany Korean People’s Army on patrols North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not serve as a deterrent to a Russian Federation incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult. Alternatively, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some ominous military and naval deployments were under way. That alternative would most likely be far more palatable to the North Koreans. While that would be happening, some US and South Korean in phases and at a deliberate pace, could move away from the DMZ, much as Russian Federation forces withdrew from Germany after reunification. US forces could be reallocated to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to reassure allies of the US commitment to their defense and continue to effectively preserve Northeast Asian peace and security.

As aforementioned, nuclear nonproliferation is the correct way for the world to go. Another option that may be very off-putting to US officials would be to allow North Korea to retain a portion of its nuclear arsenal after a phased reduction to serve as a deterrent. That deterrent power must be specified publicly to ensure that the small number of weapons retained would have a deterrent effect. In Washington, there would likely be a political backlash over walking back from the initial demand for the total elimination of all nuclear weapons in North Korea. To ameliorate concerns about that in a practical way, some additional specific steps that could be taken. If the North Koreans could put their suspicions and distrust aside, on-site joint US, North Korean, South Korean, and Japanese inspection teams could be deployed where the nuclear deterrent would be kept in North Korea. As part of the larger denuclearization agreement, military liaison offices could be created in North Korea, South Korea, and Japan for military officers of all countries involved in maintaining peace and security on the Korea Peninsula which would facilitate the deployment of those inspection teams. The prospective North Korean military liaison officers would also have the right to make escorted visits to one another’s bases in the region. An open skies arrangement with regard to flyovers by aerial reconnaissance and surveillance satellites of all sides should be agreed to in additional to physical inspections by prospective military liaison officers. As suggested in the first option, it could also be proposed that US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability  serve as a type of “peace force” to patrol the North Korea’s northern border in cooperation with the Korean People’s Army. As an alternative here too, Washington could reach an agreement with Pyongyang, under which it would share intelligence on any developments in the Russian Federation that may indicate some odd, threatening military and naval deployments were under way. With high expectations about their inventiveness, negotiators could certainly devise additional steps to create a more secure situation.

A third option might be for the US to provide Pyongyang with an assessment of the likelihood that the Russian Federation might seek to establish a buffer zone on North Korean territory in reaction to a denuclearization agreement. In following, the suggestion might also be made to Pyongyang that in conjunction with eliminating nuclear weapons from its arsenal, military equities once organized to defend against an attack from the south should be moved north. It was stated in a publicly available portion of 1995 US Defense Intelligence Agency report published by the Federation of American Scientists that North Korea has deployed over 10,000 artillery systems (mostly multiple rocket launchers and self-propelled artillery systems) near the DMZ.  They most likely have many more deployed now. Once those forces begin moving north, they could be kept in cantonments, while fighting positions could be constructed where they could be immediately deployed in an emergency on the northern border. Of course, under this hypothetical scenario, Moscow may declare the redeployment of Korean People’s Army forces as threatening. In response, North Korea could make clear diplomatically that the redeployment is part of comprehensive change in its national defense strategy. It might appear impolitic but it would be truthful for Pyongyang to declare the redeployment as necessary given the Moscow’s pattern of creating buffer zones in its neighbors’ sovereign territory to provide a theoretical bulwark against US and European encroachment toward its border. Moscow may also decide to deploy its own forces near or on the northern border under such a scenario. However, if the North Koreans bring sufficient power to bear, the threat of a possible Russian Federation attack aimed at grabbing territory should be stemmed. While that is happening, some US and South Korean forces could be redeployed to other points in South Korea from which they could continue to preserve Northeast Asian peace and security vis-a-vis China and Russia, who would ostensibly remain as regional adversaries. With Tokyo’s consent, there could potentially be some redeployments to Japan. The DMZ, North Korea-South Korea relations, and the whole unification issue would left to bilateral talks between the two countries. The US could play a supporting role, if asked. Pyongyang may view the proposed assessment and suggestion to redeploy its forces as a manipulation, a ploy to have it drop its defenses south and open the door to a joint US and South Korean invasion. It would be the task of US negotiators to convince their North Korean counterparts by words and deeds that such is not the case.US, South Korean, and North Korean troops handling a US soldier’s remains from the Korean War (above). If maintaining a portion of its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent becomes a sticking point, one option may be to allow a phased reduction weapons that will eventually result in its complete elimination. In tandem with that, an alternate means for North Korea to secure its northern border could be put in place. A demonstration of support and unity might include an offer to have US, South Korean, and Japanese forces of sufficient size and capability to participate in a type of “peace force” that would accompany the Korean People’s Army on patrols of North Korea’s northern border. While the international troops may not be a deterrent to an incursion, they would make a swift, stealthy move far more difficult.

After reaching a denuclearization agreement, North Korea should no longer think solely about directing its military equities at the US, South Korea, and Japan. Pyongyang must be assured and understand that their military equities would be directed at North Korea. As explained here, the sizable and capable armed forces of China and the Russian Federation would still pose threats to their security, and possibly North Korean security. Training exercises and testing of weapons for self-defense is a right and even necessity that should not simply be stripped from any country in the region. One must also consider practical issues, for example, the metal of armored and mechanized weapons tends to fatigue when sitting idle. However, the agreement might support a move away from extempore tests and exercises and toward greater transparency among military forces. Countries in the region could agree to engage in limited exercises and testing during scheduled dates and times determined via discussions among senior military and diplomatic officials. Critical to maintaining peace and security following a prospective agreement would be the construction of some means for the US, South Korea, Japan, and North Korea to monitor developments, tests, deployments, and other activities as partners to ensure peace.

To create firm channels of communication that will strengthen confidence and dissipate distrust, there must be regular interactions between non-military government officials working on North Korea’s economic vitalization. Interactions should move from likely being stolid and officious to more personable yet still professional. Advisory teams from all governments could interact very closely to guarantee internationals in North Korea are well-informed of the laws under which they must operate, and informed of culturally expected behavior by guests in North Korea. This will help eliminate mysteries about the country which was mostly closed to outsiders, and allow visiting officials and businessmen proceed with their work with confidence and walk with an assured step. The influx of well-trained and acculturated business people, experts on North Korea, will hopefully facilitate that. Success might be measured empirically by the number of congenial linkages created between US and North Korean firms. Eventually, US firms might receive contracts to provide supplies and perform services.US President Donald Trump (left) and Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) at the DMZ. The entire diplomatic process on denuclearization might seem much as a rabbit hole to Kim, given the many facets and angles that he needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

The Way Forward

It is burdensome to hold on a hope that has not yet been fulfilled. Impatience, however, can poison diplomacy, and is rarely viewed as sensible by those in foreign services worldwide who instead extol statesmanship and sangfroid. To that extent, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US negotiators have responded to maximalist North Korean demands and cavilling with anodyne statements. In seeking to create a sustainable peace in Northeast Asia, Trump has demonstrated once again that he is willing to take on situations that are not easy. While negotiations appear to still be moving through the confidence building stage between negotiating parties, defusing old animus, the fact that everything has actually reached this point must be credited to Trump. With the many facets and angles that Kim needs to keep track of and consider as they evolve, the entire denuclearization process might seem much as a rabbit hole to him. One might have expected Kim at some point might have thrown his hands up over the whole denuclearization matter because it was all too rich for his blood. Again, Trump must be given credit for providing strength, confidence, and friendship, and assuring Kim that he will standby him before and after any denuclearization agreement is reached. Further, he assured Kim that he will go as far as he can to buttress the economic vitalization of North Korea. The situation is challenging, but it has a handle.

What has been presented here are aspects of a hypothetical scenario in which a denuclearization agreement could ironically open another door to a conflict on Korean Peninsula. In that struggle, North Korea would not be pitted against the US, South Korea, and Japan. Rather, North Korea might find itself struggling against its longtime companion, the Russian Federation. Policymakers and negotiators on both sides must consider the situation on the Korean Peninsula both as it is now and how it might appear after an agreement is reached. Likely threats to a prospective denuclearization agreement must be sorted out with a similar level of interest as sanctions relief is for one party and the drawdown of the nuclear arsenal and long-range missiles is for the other. While impatience may poison for diplomacy, superficiality is its bane. Policymakers and negotiation teams may need to take a new, diligent look across all aspects of the situation, paying as close attention as possible to potential unpleasant developments that may arise once an agreement is reached. If a denuclearization agreement that is genuinely viable and sustainable cannot be found due to new wrinkles, perhaps an agreement somewhat short of what was originally sought, could be considered. In the extreme, the undesirable and regrettable decision to stop seeking an agreement altogether may need to be made. The collapse of the process would not at all be a blot on Trump’s escutcheon. However, the curtain has not fallen yet. Hopefully, both sides can come up with a smart solution for this important issue. Omnia prius experiri, quam armis, sapientem decet. (It becomes a wise man to try all methods before having recourse to arms.)

Commentary: Trump and Kim at the DMZ: Is a Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign” Helping Trump Prompt Denuclearization?

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) walk side by side toward South Korea following Trump’s historic June 30, 2019 crossing of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) into North Korea. It appears that attendant to the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign of economic sanctions, a virtual “maximum defusion campaign” designed to mitigate lingering distrust and cauterize tension is being directed at North Korea through Trump’s interactions with Kim. A genuine friendship has developed between the two leaders. Hopefully, Kim will further open his consciousness to see the great possibilities Trump’s denuclearization proposal will create for North Korea and finally accept it.

The immediate impression of supporters, critics, and detractors of US President Donald Trump over his suggestion that he and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom was surprise, skepticism, and apprehension. Yet, on June 30, 2019, the meeting occurred, and the results were excellent. To Trump’s credit for inviting Kim to meet at the DMZ, and to an extent to Kim’s credit for accepting his invitation, the diplomatic process, which appeared to be moving somewhat slower after their last summit has been invigorated. The parties have now taken the step to organize teams of officials from both countries that will form working groups on the denuclearization matter. Many observers are still struggling to understand how Trump managed to get the US relationship with North Korea to this point. The situation is surely a long way from the flap early in the Trump administration during which there were reports every ten seconds about some vituperation he or Kim had hurled at the other. The situation in Northeast Asia seems an even longer way from the formerly atrocious condition of relations between their respective countries since the end of the Korean War. Generally, contentious relationships as that which existed between the US and North Korea do not recurvate so quickly. The surprisingly fast change in this case started from the moment Trump opened to the door to talks with Kim. Nearly all foreign and national security policy circles in the US were skeptical that Trump’s entreat to Kim to enter diplomatic talks on denuclearization would amount to anything worthwhile. However, Trump clearly understood that the time for the two leaders to meet, far more than just face-to-face, but one-on-one, eye to eye, head-to-head, brain-to-brain, had come. The improved environment resulting from the burgeoning relationship between the two leaders through their meetings in Singapore on June 12, 2018 and in Hanoi, Vietnam from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019, and in satisfying communications through diplomats and letters, surely encouraged both Trump and Kim to meet extempore at the DMZ. Both men, thinking in harmony, saw something attractive, constructive, and very positive, in the opportunity.

The diplomatic process on denuclearization is a devilishly complex undertaking. For that reason, many less discerning eyes, looking for some dramatic advancements, continually report that Trump and Kim are accomplishing little to nothing through their interactions. Yet, in reality the indications and implications are that much has been achieved. They are unaware that Trump has not only taken a real step away from war, but he has also been engaged in a virtual “maximum defusion campaign”. That diplomatic campaign has been running parallel with his maximum pressure campaign. Perhaps greatcharlie is going out on a slender thread by positing that Trump has been engaged in some unannounced and nowhere else expressed diplomatic campaign. However, the world can see for itself how much attention and energy Trump has given to what has been a masterful, statesmanlike diplomatic effort, uniquely shaped by his bold and self-assured personal style to encourage Kim to move toward denuclearization. His maximum defusion campaign has required a considerable, dedicated effort to do what is necessary to reduce, relieve, alleviate, moderate, and mitigate rough spots and tackle some nagging issues most present to mind between the US and North Korea that might preclude the reaching of an agreement on denuclearization. The meeting at the DMZ was a very visible manifestation of the positive, forward thinking mindset that has developed between Trump and Kim via the maximum defusion campaign.

Admittedly, in 2019, greatcharlie has been somewhat focused on the Trump-Kim diplomacy on denuclearization. Its enchantment with the matter is stimulated by its support of the effort. Through this essay and others it has written on the topic, greatcharlie, using the faculties it has on US and North Korean foreign and national security policy decisionmaking, has sought to put together the arithmetic of what Trump nas been doing. His prosecution of a so far successful virtual maximum defusion campaign is outlined. Interestingly, the diplomatic process on denuclearization can be seen as a vessel in which all of the strengths attitudes and varied aspects of Trump’s diplomacy can be found. Perhaps it could said that the diplomacy on denuclearization is a metaphor for Trump administration diplomacy in general. Through a closer look by greatcharlie at the diplomatic process, to some extent, a better understanding of the Trump administration’s approach to foreign and national security policy is provided. Non viribus celeritate corporum magna gerimus, sed sapientia et sententia et arte. (We accomplish important things not with the strength and quickness of our bodies, but by intelligence and thought and skill.)

The Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign”

With regard to the word “defusion” as used in the term “maximum defusion campaign”, it is defined as an effort to improve a difficult or dangerous situation, for example by making people less angry or by dealing with the causes of a problem.  A tame double entendre can be found in the term “maximum defusion campaign” when effort is interpreted as having the purpose of deactivating, disarming, and disabling North Korea’s nuclear weapons and long-range range missiles programs to make the region and the world safer. Assuredly, the maximum defusion campaign has meant far more than peppering his interactions with Kim with simple acts as using humor or a slap on the back to lessen tension at severe moments. The maximum defusion campaign could best be described as a nondestructive method of conflict resolution. It has been an effort in which Trump, through face-to-face diplomatic exertions and other direct forms of communication such letters, has sought to create a genuine, personal connection with Kim. Through that connection, Trump would hopefully would be able to encourage a change in Kim’s conception of denuclearization and make the idea of a US assisted economic renaissance in North Korea more comfortable for him. The two leaders would be energetically engaged in tandem to resolve was once a nuclear crisis.

Among obstacles to finding a peaceful path between the two countries was the great animus existed between them for many years following the July 27, 1953 armistice ending a horrific three year war on the Korean Peninsula. They were a time of anger, aggression, deception and betrayal between the US and North Korea. For the US, the thrust of its dislike of North Korea was anti-Communism. Its main goal was containment of the Communist threat there as well as everywhere else in the world. Communism was correctly characterized then as an aggressive revolutionary political system dedicated to the destruction of the West. That anti-Communist posture morphed in the 1990s to the extent in which the uncertainty and instability that North Korea posed in the region to primacy over the geopolitical threat. In North Korea, there was an almost anti-US underpinning to the country’s development, that was perhaps not as strong as, but almost equally significant as its Communist movement. Out of all three potential adversaries in the Northeast Asia, North Korea, not the Russian Federation or China, posed the greatest threat to US allies in the region despite the existence of the US nuclear umbrella that provided was designed have a deterrent effect. That type of de facto bigotry in thinking on both sides colored personal and institutional perceptions, doubtlessly insinuating itself into studies, observations, and other various reports. This was particularly so in the military, the intelligence services. Lest we forget, for 65 years, tens of thousands of troops on both sides of the DMZ have remained heavily armed and on alert in a stand-off.

The process of creating a connection between the US and North Korea could only begin with one side expressing itself to the other. It was Trump who took the first step. He saw the opportunity to initiate a form of personal diplomacy with Kim. Fortunately, Kim was willing to listen and understand, albeit cautiously, to what Trump was saying. In establishing terms that interaction, there were very apparent and essential differences between the two leaders that could have become hurdles for them to overcome. On a very basic level, they included: political orientation, age, work experience, prestige, power. Trump, however, decided straightaway to engage Kim by looking beyond outward appearance, seeking to discover what is in his heart, and grasping the realities of his position as a young leader. As the personal diplomacy evolved, to some degree it has also entailed an unspoken reliance upon soft sensory abilities, using intuition and intimations, exploiting all of their human potential. Ever since those surprising beginnings of the diplomatic process, there has been a seemingly irreversible mutual respect exhibited between Trump and Kim. All along the way, an authentic effort has been made by both leaders to be understanding toward the positions expressed by one another in their negotiations.

No precondition of creating some faux parity in status between the US and North Korea as countries was insisted upon before the talks began. Big concerns about that still have not been raised since by North Korea. An equilibrium in power and prestige did not need to be feigned between Trump and Kim. Conversely, there was not an insistence by the Trump administration that Kim recognize Trump’s greater standing as President of the US. Although the talks could not be honestly described as “a meeting between equals”, they could certainly be called an “exchange between friends.” Trump has kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way. Trump has essentially been the administration’s metaphorical talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking.

In the talks, surely there have been moments when Trump and Kim have been required to reconcile with dissonant components of one another’s thinking. Steps taken by Trump to cauterize tension would certainly fall under the rubric of Trump’s virtual maximum defusion campaign. Among the culprits that have likely elicited such dialogue between the two leaders are: joint military exercises; ship seizures, missile launches, and delays or deception concerning the dismantling and destruction of nuclear weapons and long-range missile development facilities. Whenever matters have needed to be smoothed out, rather than loose ground, Trump turned those occasions into opportunities to propel the conception of denuclearization forward with Kim. To be certain, whatever Trump has discussed has not exceed what is decent. Indeed, what he has said and has offered would only be congruent with the interests and values of the US. The same has most likely been seen from Kim. The extent to which the leaders have been successful in handling controvertible issues is evident to all that Kim and North Korea appear far less the threat that deservedly made headlines in 2017 when the administration began.

The maximum defusion campaign has required Trump to create une atmosphère ouverte et amicale, an open and friendly atmosphere, when engaged with Kim that will ensure forward thinking must be dominant in all interactions. That positive atmosphere has been promoted without effort or pretentiousness, and a natural discourse between them has resulted. That undoubtedly accounted for the warm interaction was observed by the whole world at the DMZ. It is essentially what has been publicly observed from Trump since his first meeting with Kim in Singapore. Further, there is apparently no disproportion between what had been seen publicly and what has been happening behind closed doors between Trump and Kim. Reportedly, from small bits and pieces overheard when their meetings have started, Trump and Kim have spoken to each other in a very friendly, very natural manner. Their conversations have unlikely been fraught with technical matters, unless the discussion migrated into issues concerning land development, architecture, engineering, and construction and Trump’s enthusiasm got the best of him. It certainly seems that Trump has accurately claimed that he has a friendship with Kim, and certain chemistry exists between them.

In their conversations, both Trump and Kim have surely been exposed to considerable amounts of unsynthesized intelligence that has come from one another. That would be a natural result of negotiating truthfully and in good faith. That has required both leaders to evaluate what is heard, select what is important, and advance the dialogue by incorporating in their decisionmaking. That process of selecting what should be given their attention is aided by experience and a strong sense of priority, a clear focus on ones goal. It would appear it has all gone well because the two leaders have made progress and a good rapport has apparently developed between them. Further, both Trump and Kim have proven respectively that they can been discreet. Nothing of substance has leaked from their furtive talks. That may be doing much to further build confidence between the two leaders.

Maximum Defusion May Aid Trump’s Efforts to Encourage Denuclearization Nearly as much as Maximum Pressure

The maximum pressure campaign has been centered on the entirety of North Korea’s world so to speak. However, the virtual maximum defusion campaign has been centered on Kim. In all fairness, it was Trump who managed to awaken the curiosity of Kim, and moved him to consider the prospect of working, of all things, alongside the US President. As explained in a February 4, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Second US-DPRK Summit: A Few Additional Things Trump and Kim Might Consider ”, the connaissance suffisante that they acquired of one another then has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them were comfortably founded. Those communications were conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other, their chemistry, will be verified by the results their meetings. It is very likely that at the DMZ, they were no longer appeared exactly the same to one another as they had in Singapore or Hanoi. Surely, Trump may feel Kim has evolved in terms of his thinking on the US and on the possibility of transforming his country. Kim has displayed an awareness that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump has been moving through a process of growth. As important, he has likely recognized how Trump has grown into the job of US President.  Regarding his own maturation, Kim has likely developed a greater sense of what could be done for North Korea with Trump. Perchance he has already noted just how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea. He may finally decide to grab what Trump is offering, the best path possible for his country’s future. Concordia res parvae crescent. (Work together to accomplish more.)

As a critical element of personal diplomacy, there must be trust and there should be a palpable sense that it is always evolving, always improving. Trump must be able to trust Kim. Kim must be able to trust Trump. Each must believe what the other says, and say what they really mean. It appears at this point that they trust one another to a certain degree. Coming across the DMZ at the invitation of Trump  was a firm, physical expression of trust in the US President. For Trump, going across the DMZ at the invitation of Kim was far more than quid pro quo, tit-for-tat. Rather, it was a reciprocal firm, physical expression of trust in the North Korean leader. All in all, their mutual crossing of the DMZ could be categorized as an historic confidence building exercise, a very visible symbol of the mutual trust that exists between Trump and Kim.

As aforementioned, Trump without question created a comfortable atmosphere for Kim at the DMZ, as well as in all previous meetings. Kim has apparently tried to create a similar comfortable for Trump. At the DMZ, Kim was successful to the extent that Trump was willing to come into North Korea. Through a brief discussion in a conference room on site, it was jointly determined that the parties would move to the next step which is establishing teams of officials from both countries to form working groups on the denuclearization matter. As Trump explained in his own words on July 1, 2019 on Twitter, “@realDonaldTrump: . . . . In the meantime, our teams will be meeting to work on some solutions to very long term and persistent problems. No rush, but I am sure we will ultimately get there!” Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid.

Away from the negotiation table, the maximum pressure campaign goes on. Trump has kept all economic sanctions in place. Still, some military exercises have been suspended. There have been no flyovers of formations of US bombers and stealth jets, and Japanese and South Korean fighter-bombers. For his part, Kim has not test launched any long-range missiles, and no nuclear tests have been conducted. US warfighters reported missing in action during the Korean War have been returned. Cyber activity against the US is below the threshold that would illicit a concerted response. There have been no revelations on cyber activity by North Korea against the US. Valuable talks, positive conversations with good exchanges of ideas, have taken place between diplomatic officials of both countries. Letters have moved back and forth between Trump and Kim. Right on the heels of the Hanoi Summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome had not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress is being made on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.”

Trump, Unlike Others, Is Kim’s True Friend

Publicly, the historic meeting between Trump and Kim at the DMZ was initiated with a Twitter message from the US President to the North Korean Chairman that stated: “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”

Writing in that manner, Trump indicated clearly that while the message was ostensibly a short note on the progress he made with other countries during the G20 Summit in Osaka, the exertion even more was directed at getting the attention of the North Korean leader. From that perspective one can begin to find more underlying meaning in those other portions of the message that Trump also wanted Kim to notice. Indeed, very conspicuous was the emphasis Trump’s placed on his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who he considers to be a friend and with whom his administration is engaged sensitive  negotiations on trade and sorting out the matter of tariffs. It was as if Trump wanted to remind Kim that the Chinese have created a very successful, evolving economy while being a Communist country. Although moving toward a similar path alone would be incredibly challenging, it is along a similar course that Trump would like to see Kim take and would like to support.

However, almost as conspicuous in Trump’s tweet was the absence of any mention of Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. It could be supposed that Putin was mixed in with names other leaders that Trump met under label “world leaders”. However, doing so meant not giving Putin any special recognition as the leader of a superpower which Putin craves. There was no recognition of their talks as a meeting of eagles. (Given the childlike taunts heard from the Russian Federation news media over the Fourth of July Celebration hosted by Trump, one cannot help but sense that there was no feeling that at the G20 in Osaka, Putin had once again failed to have Trump “eat out of his hand” as critics and detractors in the US have repeatedly suggested he could. In fact, the very telling attitudes and behavior displayed within the Russian Federation media very likely manifested an attitude of dissatisfaction that perchance has trickled out from the corridors of the Senate Building of the Kremlin over the outcome of his meeting with the leader of the world’s only superpower.)

With certain domestic political troubles facing Trump in mind, US commentators would likely make the case that Trump refrained from mentioning Putin in his Twitter message to avoid triggering commentaries from critics and detractors in the US news media and political opponents who, incredulously, are still holding on to the belief that Trump has some secretive tie to Putin concerning his 2016 Presidential Election. Such commentaries regarding Putin had emerged, they could have obscured what Trump was trying to communicate concerning a possible meeting with Kim. Trump is aware of what greatcharlie, in a June 18, 2019 post entitled, “Why Putin Laments the Soviet Union’s Demise and His Renewed ‘Struggle’ with the US: A Response to an Inquiry from Students”, referred to as un grand defi, a great challenge, promoted by Putin, pitting the US against Russia, to a large extent, in order to raise Russia’s profile as a superpower. Trump will not lend any credence to the idea that there is some all-encompassing geopolitical and geostrategic struggle between the US and Russian Federation. What Kim possibly read into it is that Trump, who is the main player on the world stage, mentioned him before Putin. Moreover, Kim was presumably struck by the fact that Trump gave special attention, put considerable thought into meeting with him.

Kim may be ruminating over side-by-side comparisons between his treatment from Trump with that from Putin and Xi. North Korea has a long history with the Russian Federation and China, but the matter at hand is the country’s future. It is a fact that Putin, Xi, and others did not stop by the Korean Peninsula to see Kim on their way home or ever before when they have been in the region. Neither at least publicly suggested doing anything of the kind. In Trump’s ostensible campaign of maximum defusion, it is always the thought that counts. Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. If Kim has engaged in an honest comparison of treatment by the three leaders, Trump presents Kim with something absolutely different than Putin and Xi. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to break free of the status quo which has locked Kim in as the very junior partner in its relations with both the Russian Federation and China. Those ties established many decades ago through revolution and war have become de facto chains for the North Korean people. Trump offers Kim the opportunity to escape the bondage of his ties with the Russian Federation and China and find a path to a greater future than the one they have essentially engineered for his country. Whether Putin and Xi are willing to admit it or not, they have both treated North Korea as if it held some second-class status. If one would allow greatcharlie to say, Kim is treated as a junior worm in their de jure tripartite partnership. Perhaps due to habit or simply a manner of thinking, they could not bring themselves to interact with Kim in any other way. Iniqua nunquam regna perpetao manent. (Stern masters do not reign long.)

However, while their approach to Kim and North Korea may feel right given his power and his country’s diminutive size and output relative to theirs, Kim certainly does not see the world from a worm’s eye view. With respect to that, Kim may have come to the realisation that the foreign and national security steps he has taken since coming to power have supported the existing paradigm between North Korea and its powerful allies in Asia. Those steps have greatly served their interests. To that extent, the Russian Federation and China have commodated North Korea in the development of many aspects of its military equities, although they both vehemently deny assisting Pyongyang in any way with it nuclear weapons program or long-range missile program. Surely, the nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs provide directly for North Korean defense. Yet, from where one sits, whether in Moscow, Beijing, or Pyongyang, the relative value of those weapons can be determined. From Moscow and Beijing, surely, at least initially, they supported North Korea in its role as a buffer to the US and its allies in the region.

Intriguingly, it would appear from what has been seen from the surface so far In terms of its well-being economically, Kim and North Korea must have a curious sort of faith in Russia and China. Despite sanctions, embargoed financial, energy, and other industrial resources can still seep into the country primarily through various schemes set up by Kim’s friends in Moscow and Beijing. North Korea is so reliant upon such resources that beyond any threat that its powerful neighbors might pose to it militarily, at the present, Putin and Xi can control its links to the outside world to the extent that its people’s very survival essentially rests in their hands. Kim has a choice to allow that to go on as it is, or to seek a far better path for his country. Being who they are as leaders and as individuals, Putin and Xi would hardly accept a similar existence for themselves or their respective countries. To the extent that the picture presented here is on target, it is possible that the initial overly aggressive stance that Kim took toward the Trump administration in some part may have also been a manifestation, or even a projection, of his angst over being boxed in by his purported friends in Moscow and Beijing.

In vinculis etiam audax. (In chains, yet still bold.) It is hard to imagine that since he came to power following the death of Kim Jong-il, that officials in Moscow and Beijing believe they have managed their relative relationships with Kim well. It could be supposed that the coming of a US President such as Trump, and his authentic and energetic efforts to connect personally with Kim and forge some sustainable agreement regarding peace and security between their countries, was never a factor in their geostrategic forecasts. That despite the ruffling of feathers and some saber rattling, the situation in the region would remain pretty much the same for some time to come. Everything that has occurred so far between Trump and Kim has no doubt been disturbing for Putin and Xi to watch, and for them it may pose terrifying prospects. Likely among his own reflections, Trump has considered and weighed the possible impact of any complicity by Putin and Xi in delaying Kim’s movement on denuclearization and outright efforts by them to undermine the diplomatic process. Streams of intelligence from the US intelligence services more than likely indicate that any negative impressions he might have were not limited to being just a hunch. Trump, however, would want to get a picture from Kim on the relative roles of Putin and Xi. Whether Trump would ever broach the matter with Kim is uncertain as it is a delicate area. Still, it may be an area that needs speaking to at some point because with the assistance of the US, Kim could be put in a better position to fend off efforts by the Russian Federation and China to spoil any efforts to economically develop North Korea that might get underway.

The Importance of Empathy

Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional responses, the full meaning of the diplomacy to him, and his reaction to the enormity of the matter. Indeed, from the very beginning, Trump regularly expressed publicly an interest in Kim’s well-being and what he was thinking. Developing that understanding has likely been somewhat difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. If Pyongyang could pardon greatcharlie’s frankness, it cannot be denied that Kim has certainly made some dreadful mistakes in the treatment of his people and in international affairs that would reasonably cause pause. Trump has faced criticism for speaking only somewhat elliptically about that. However, no one should not get that idea that Trump is in the least bit dewy-eyed over building relations with the North Korean leader. Indeed, as greatcharlie has repeatedly explained, he is very aware of Kim’s maliferous leanings and outright violent acts against North Korean officials, friends, family, and ordinary citizens. Looking at the greater picture of Northeast Asian and global security and for the purpose promoting dialogue, Trump has focused upon Kim as a national leader who still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump has sought to find the humanity in Kim, to convince him to work for good, to stir the better angels of his nature. He has placed his attention to bringing Kim along to share his vision of North Korea path. Trump wants to walk with Kim to what could colloquially be called “a good place”. Trump hopes reports of Kim’s past negative behavior will eventually become simply an unfortunate record “from his past”, and not describe a potentially far more evolved “Kim of the future”. Given the great opportunity put before Trump, to be certain, it would be absolutely counterintuitive for Trump to splice the budding communications link with Kim by belaboring the matter.

The G20 in Asia, Northeast Asia, brought the major regional powers to the table except Kim. Trump arranged to meet bilaterally with Moon Jae-in in Seoul afterward. Kim and North Korea, although situated geographically in the middle of things, were left on the outside. True, Putin had a summit with Kim in Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. Xi met with Kim for a secret three-day meeting in Beijing, China, from March 25, 2018, to March 28, 2018; in a surprise two-day meeting from May 7, 2018 to May 8, 2018 in Dalian, China; in a one day meeting in Beijing from June 19, 2019 to June 20, 2018; in another three-day meeting in Beijing from January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019; and, in a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea from June 20, 2019 to June 21, 2019. Yet, while they were on the world stage, when all were present, Kim was clearly not at the forefront of the minds of his Russian and Chinese partners. They left him off the international stage. Trump, on the other hand was thinking about Kim, and wanted him to have a palpable sense of the possibilities for his future and North Korea’s future. To do that, he set up an impromptu meeting with Kim at the DMZ. Kim was given time on the international stage. Kim might consider that this action was a sample of what Trump wants to bring to him. Trump was to end North Korea’s existence in the shadow of other nations, to tear the label hermit kingdom off of it. Trump’s visit to the DMZ was in a way a gift to Kim. Surely, it was not some small coin of a certain age and value exchanged as a supposed symbol of friendship. Trump shared his own moment in the spotlight with Kim. Just the thought by Trump, at that moment in time of attempting to connect with Kim, well-expressed his goodwill and positive intentions. Through his actions, Trump essentially seemed to speak the words: “I promised to support your ascendency on the world stage and here we are. You can count on  my word, my promise, my efforts!”

How it all has actually registered with Kim, though, is unknown. How anything Trump has done for Kim remains uncertain. Only Kim really knows. Perchance, it has all been authentically expressed sublimely in Kim’s letters to Trump. To go a step further, perhaps Kim’s thinking may have been evinced by his decision to meet with Trump on June 30, 2019. Indeed, what has certainly been left out of most media commentaries is how big a decision it was for Kim to drop everything and immediately visit the DMZ. Reportedly, Trump was uncertain Kim was even in North Korea at the time he sent his invitation on Twitter. As fate would have it, he was there. Apparently sanguine about the meeting, Kim got his aides and advisers to clear his schedule and get all of the necessary logistics done to bring him securely to his country’s southern border. Doubtlessly, the cost of the unexpected trip was no small amount. From what was observable publicly, Kim appeared travelled to the DMZ to interact with Trump alone. There was no visible official entourage hanging on Kim except a bevy very adept security men, a troupe of photographers who displayed the dexterity of small bees, and a dutiful interpreter. Staying in the background was the First Vice Director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea of Korea, who is Kim’s very handsome sister, Kim Yo-jong. Kim seemingly holds her in high regard and whose counsel he appeared to appreciate at one time. She was accompanied the North Korea’s negotiation team. As he reportedly having fallen into disfavor with Kim after the Hanoi Summit, no one would have expected to see Kim Yong-chol, once Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, a foreign policy doyen, and sacred cow of the North Korean intelligence industry.

A Diplomatic Process between Leaders

Clara pacta, boni amicitiae. (Clear agreements, good friends.) Many critics and detractors of Trump have a tendency to view the diplomatic process on denuclearization from the mindset of a bureaucrats and bean counters, judging every step, wanting to set their own their measurables all along the way. They insist that a genuine agreement of some type should be immediately printed on paper, put on the table, and signed, even though Trump and Kim are only moving through the first phase of a multi-step process. Undeniably, progress needs to be gauged. At some working level, there must be immediate, quantifiable measurable must be created There should be timelines. However, Trump and Kim are not bureaucrats. Oddly, enough, the manner in which they relate to each other is a very “human process”.  While fully aware of what steps are necessary to accomplish tasks, as leaders they must conserve their energy and psyche for examining the bigger picture. Leaders must be the chief imagineer, and decide what course to follow, and pass down their concept and intent for moving in a determined direction. Through their talks, getting thoughts and words of both leaders to closely connect, perhaps not seamlessly, but at a sufficient number of points to have a mutually acceptable agreement is their main job. The two parties are not there yet, but moving closer. Communications between Trump and Kim are most fruitful when they relate at the level of leaders, not as bureaucrats. Once they reach that point in which they are in mutual agreement, it will be the job of subordinates to complete the background work and hammer out documents for them to sign.

Assurément, Trump is not simply going through the motions of talking with Kim. He too expects results, measurable, even if he is not in a rush. In the February 23, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Will the Trump-Kim Summitt Yield an Agreement That Is Cosmetic or Consequential?”, it was explained: “What Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure to include sanctions would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.” Recall again that Trump, firm about getting what he wants, without animus, walked away from an agreement the North Koreans sought in Hanoi for a relaxation of sanctions in exchange for partial denuclearization.

A Few Things Trump and Kim Might Consider Moving Ahead

1. Trump Might Include the US Congress in the Diplomatic Process

Realistically, the long-term process of ensuring denuclearization is sustained and North Korea’s economic development will go beyond Trump’s possible years in office. The mission of ensuring that North Korea never becomes a nuclear threat again and ensuring North Korea would be successfully transformed economically would be transferred to future US administrations. Although Trump has emphasized that he has an exceptionally good relationship with him, he should also consider Kim’s possible concern that perchance, relations between himself and another US President soon to follow may not be as positive. If that turned out to be the case, rash behavior might once again be seen from Kim. Indeed, the need to break any perceived “chains” of Western economic and financial subjugation, and the need to regain full control of its destiny, may impel the most aggressive responses possible by Pyongyang. A mechanism must be established to make sure that the US-DPRK relationship will continue to be handled with empathy and nuance.

To accomplish that, Trump might turn to the US Congress. Pyongyang may be aware at this point all US Presidents make policy in the world of politics. Certainly Trump as the chief executive is the top decision maker on foreign and national security policy. However, as it was noted in a February 18, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump and Putin: A Brief Look at the Relationship after Two Years”, government powers concerning foreign and national security policy also reside in the Congress. Members of the US Congress, who also represent the citizens of the US, their electorate, will review administration initiatives, relations with other countries and on its own judge behaviors of other national leaders. Often Congress will take action through legislation, that will impact the shape of US policy. It will do assuring that it has support from enough Members to prevent action by the President to halt it. Further, no matter what direction either takes on policy, both the President and Congress must take actions that connect with the US public.

It might be worthwhile to have a US Senate delegation led by US Vice President Mike Pence very briefly visit Pyongyang. The purpose would not be to negotiate. Among the things that might be accomplished through such a visit is: to allow Kim a chance to meet Members of Congress; to allow Members of Congress to meet Kim; to allow Members of Congress to demonstrate the goodwill of the US; to allow Members of Congress to see North Korea and assess for themselves its potential to become another economic power in the region; to allow Kim to ask questions of the Members of Congress and hear about their desire to see denuclearization and bring vigor to North Korea’s economy; to allow Kim to especially hear the enthusiasm of some Members of Congress who are fully onboard with Trump’s ideas for supporting North Korea’s economic development; to allow Members of Congress express the concerns of their constiuents regarding North Korea and its nuclear program and long-range missile development program; to allow Members of Congress to hear Kim’s thoughts on denuclearization; to allow the visiting Members of Congress to personally extend an invitation for Kim to visit Capitol Hill attendant to an invitation from Trump for him to visit Washington.

A decision by Trump to include the US Congress at this stage in the diplomatic process on denuclearization may not be enough to assure Kim that US is trustworthy, but it could help further build his confidence in the process and add to the forward momentum that exists. Indeed, involving the Congress in the interaction between the US and North Korea in this manner might prove crucial to its outcome. The main hope would be that the brief visit would display to Kim that Congress has an interest in, and a positive view of, the diplomatic process on denuclearization. Concomitantly, the visit may serve to gird support within the Congress on the diplomatic process. Surely, it would be worth the candle for Trump to make a go at it.

US President Woodrow Wilson faced a similar decision on whether to include the Congress in perhaps his most important diplomatic effort. Wilson refused to include US Senators among the negotiators accompanying him to the Paris Peace as suggested by his rival, Republican Majority Leader and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge. Wilson needed Lodge’s active support to ensure Senate approval of the Treaty of Versailles.  As a result of that “offense”, and Wilson’s refusal to negotiate with Lodge on the treaty, Lodge gave little support to the Treaty of Versailles. In the end, on November 19, 1919, for the first time in its history, the Senate rejected a peace treaty.

2. Kim May Ask Trump: “Prove That You Really Trust Me”

There are likely other North Korean concerns regarding the longevity of a prospective with the US. Kim may not has posed the question but certainly must be wondering whether Trump trust Kim enough now to let him keep weapons that he has. What would be acceptable limits of nuclear capability under trust. If Trump does not trust Kim to that extent, some explanation must be given as to why. Presently from the US perspective, denuclearization is defined as the eradication of all elements of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program as well as it long-range missile program. It is expected that denuclearization will be defined in the same way by the time an agreement is reached.

Oddly, on July 1, 2019, the New York Times reported that a freeze of Kim’s nuclear arsenal might suffice to prompt Trump to lift sanctions on North Korea. That report was never confirmed by the Trump administration. US National Security Adviser John Bolton denies that there has been any discussion of a freeze. Bolton stated on Twitter: “@AmbJohnBolton: I read this NYT story with curiosity. Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President. There should be consequences.”

Whether such a modification had been confirmed or not, the notion itself, having been published in the New York Times, might have an impact on the course of negotiations. Certainly, Kim does not want to be left undefended in the region as he may have already begun to feel uneasy about the future of its relations if not with the US, instead with Russia or even China. It will be difficult to reconcile Kim’s desire to be trusted over committing to a freeze.

One stands on shaky ground by making this suggestion, but it might very well be that the US may need to provide a security guarantee to protect North Korea from military actions by any foreign power. In a complete transition, much in the way of many present NATO allies that were formerly members of the Warsaw Pact, the North Korean military might be moved to transform itself to fit with the current US-led collective security arrangement in Northeast Asia. To go a step further, North Korea may be invited to receive the protection and deterrence provided by the same nuclear umbrella the US provides to its other regional allies.

3. A Phased Elimination of North Korea’s Nuclear Arsenal?

Surely both the Russia Federation and China are not pleased at all to see Trump make significant “psychic” inroads with Kim. It is very likely that they will try to improve their relative positions with their very junior ally, North Korea. They may even seek to improve the toehold they have on the Trump led diplomacy on denuclearization through some pretense. On July 2, 2019, just two days after Trump and Kim met at the DMZ, the Russian Federation Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared on Twitter: “@mfa_russia: We welcome meeting between US an #NorthKorea. Normalization of relations is a vital element of any solution of regional problems, incl #nuclear. Multilateral efforts needed for a complex solution in the interests of all parties.”

In a more troubling scenario, the Russian Federation and China may believe to a large extent that they own North Korea. Being unable to disrupt, divert, and displace Trump’s efforts with Kim, one or both may decide to pose a credible threat to its future. China may just desire to make things a bit more difficult for Kim, if he moves closer, even alongside the US. However, in Ukraine, Putin already demonstrated how he responds when he feels a country formerly in the Soviet orbit, is being entertained by the West. Using history, he points to a way in which that country is actually in possession of Russian Federation territory or some other interest. He might outline how that country owes Russia some long-standing debt. He then takes back what he feels properly belongs to Russian Federation. Perhaps Kim would have much to worry about from Putin. (Putin would hardly want any country friendly with US sharing, touching the Russian Federation’s border without creating some type of buffer zone within that country, if it can.)

There is no desire by greatcharlie to go out on a limb on this issue, but Kim’s desire to be able to deter rogue moves by either country, may to some small degree legitimize his insistence on retaining his existing arsenal to deter any sudden moves. If maintaining a deterrent becomes a major obstacle to an agreement, perhaps Kim could be allowed a phased reduction of that arsenal that will eventually result in its complete elimination. That might be agreed to in tandem with the provision that North Korea’s long-range missile program must be immediately eliminated.

The Way Forward

The adage obtains, “All’s well that ends well.” Despite the rapid actions required and personal strains by staff that resulted from organizing the DMZ visit on both sides, it was all accomplished brilliantly. Interestingly, Trump’s sudden desire to meet with Kim at the DMZ reflected a pattern making quick decisions to act decisively once he discerns the potential making parfois audacieux, bold moves given events and situations. Such thinking greatly resembles what is defined in military science as maneuver. Indeed, Trump’s approach is very similar to what was once taught at Germany’s Kriegsakademie (War Academy) in Berlin before World War II. It was emphasized that commanders needed a superior understanding of maneuver at all points to ensure they would always be stronger than an opponent at the decisive point, which they referred to as the Schwerpunkt. Military science scholars and historians may recall two classic examples of this being applied by German commanders during World War II: the Battle of Flanders during the German invasion of France in May 1940; and, the Battles of the Minsk and Smolensk Pockets during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.

The fulcrum of the diplomacy on denuclearization has become a commitment between Trump and Kim. If Trump, in particular, had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. He certainly would not have had the idea to very publicly invite Kim to meet him at the DMZ. Moreover, he would not have taken the extraordinary step of crossing it into North Korea with Kim at his side. Perhaps Trump now sees more promise in the entire diplomatic process on denuclearization than he had before. For Kim, that could mean economic sanctions are closer to being removed. Certainly, Trump has also created circumstances in which the entire world might begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work with it in normal, internationally legal ways. For Kim, that means Trump is already setting the stage to support North Korea’s economic renaissance.

Kim, too, has certainly moved forward with diplomatic process audaciously. Lingering mistrust and uncertainty undoubtedly still influences Kim’s thinking on it. Despite progress, it has likely delayed his full investment in the denuclearization plan as Trump has proposed. The historical record of the last century as example, it indicates that even deep thinkers have made mistakes by relying only on their limited powers of deduction. It can only be hoped that Kim will likely make greater personal progress as he confronts this particularly tough, challenging matter. After all, the talks concern North Korea’s survival, not the survival of the US. Kim must open his consciousness to all the possibilities of a new, economically successful North Korea. The odds are that a change in his thinking will take place, but over time. Trump has indicated that he is willing, within reason, to give Kim the time he needs reach the point at which they can together sign a verifiable, sustainable agreement to create an improved peace in Northeast Asia. Homo doctus in se semper divitias habet. (An educated man always has riches within himself.)

Commentary: The Hanoi Summit: What Kim Did Wrong and What Trump Is Doing Right

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right). Before the Hanoi Summit, Trump insisted that if he became unsatisfied with the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That was precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not reach a common understanding with Trump in order to create a denuclearization agreement. Yet, regardless of what drove Kim, the question of what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point remains. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in Hanoi’s aftermath.

The strains placed on both US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in their February 27-28, 2019 meeting in Hanoi were quite significant. The intended outcome of the meeting, that primarily being an agreement on denuclearization and North Korea’s economic rejuvenation, would have been positive for both sides. Before Hanoi, Trump put considerable energy into considering the type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. He remained optimistic despite being bombarded by the voices of pessimism heard from naysayers and dream killers of all political stripes. For Kim, moving North Korea along a path toward the economic miracle that Trump proposed would require a well-planned, monumental project to restructure the only world he and his people have known. Surely, it was worth the candle for both Trump.and Kim to make a go at it. However, it may very well be that Kim did not fully understand that everything North Korea is, and everything it has, was actually at stake. To that extent, North Korea may not have been properly invested in the move toward denuclearization. It appears even Kim’s purported percipience of Trump and US foreign and national security policy making was also lacking. (Perhaps that knowledge was simply not being properly applied in practice.) .

Trump insisted before the Hanoi Summit, much as he had before negotiations with other national leaders on agreements, that if he became unsatisfied the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That is precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not to reach a common understanding with Trump and create a denuclearization agreement. Given Kim’s human rights record, some might suggest may have been influenced by ingenious telepathy from Hell. Sardonics aside, the talk’s outcome provides indicia to support a few reasonable theories. Thinking outside of the box in order to find causality for Kim’s decision, one might conclude on a basic level, that the whole negotiation soon became too rich for his blood and rather than take a giant step forward and risk making the wrong choice, he held pat on his position. On a higher tier, one might assess that there may have been senior advisers in Pyongyang who convinced Kim that he could get Trump to eat out of his hand, and in a leap of faith, he tossed everything into an effort to twist Trump’s tail and get him to accept a deal shaped by North Korea’s terms. Additionally, there is the possibility that some self-doubt might have found a place in Kim’s thinking. Despite his leadership through iron rule, one might also politely conclude that Kim possesses a sort of 50-50 mentality. That would mean that Kim can see the potential of all arguments, even those made by the US. From that, it might be considered that he would typically need more time to reach a decision that would best suit North Korea long-term. In whatever way Kim may have been driven, the question now is what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in the aftermath of Hanoi. Having apparently gotten things mixed up in Hanoi, hopefully Kim will not mess things up from this point on with Trump. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

Is Kim Missing the Bigger Picture?

Right on the heels of the summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, essentially to explain why an agreement could not be reached. Trump told reporters that the crux of the matter was sanctions. In summarizing the situation, Trump stated Kim wanted sanctions lifted to a degree in which they would be rendered ineffective. In exchange, Kim would be willing to denuclearize portions of critical areas. Yet, Trump said those testing areas Kim was willing to break down were not the ones the US wanted. They were hardly enough to elicit the cessation of sanctions. Since Kim held firm to that position, Trump explained that there was little choice but to walk away from that proposal. However, Trump never indicated the conversation on the denuclearization had been exhausted.

Indeed, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome has not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.” As for how the parties might move forward with the diplomatic process following Hanoi, Trump explained: “In the meantime, we’ll be talking. Mike [Pompeo, US Secretary of State] will be speaking with his people. He’s also developed a very good relationship with the people — really, the people representing North Korea. I haven’t spoken to Prime Minister Abe yet. I haven’t spoken to President Moon of South Korea.  But we will, and we’ll tell them it’s a process and it’s moving along.”

There was no legitimate cause for any confusion in Pyongyang as to what Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. As one can see, progress made on some of these matters was mentioned by Trump during his Hanoi press conference. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure, sanctions, would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of North Korea. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense of where things stand in North Korea regarding denuclearization. There was also no ambiguity over the fact that the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Alas, at the table, the maximum that Kim could possibly collect about Trump, in order to make a good decision on the deal offered, was put before him, for all answers concerning the US position, concept and intent, ultimately resided in Trump, himself. Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang could not reasonably ask for anything more.

It would say much if Kim could not see that real empathy may have come from Trump, understanding how heavy a burden such a decision might be for the young leader. Previous deals with North Korea of great significance were last reached with his father, Kim Jong-un, and they crumbled under the insistent strain within North Korea, in Kim regime to pursue the goal of his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung of developing nuclear weapons. That goal has been achieved.  There may still be the strain within Kim to ignite an economic development akin, or even beyond, the Chollima Movement, as initiated by Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung. There is much that needs to done in North Korea, and as Trump has repeated, great potential exists within its workforce.

Trump’s critics and detractors insisted that Trump was out of court to even attempt to reach agreement with Kim that would meet the requirement of serving the interests of the US and its allies in the region. Surely, the Trump administration would never surrender  the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Those critics and detractors, upon discovering that Trump was unfazed by their persistent negative voices and was going to make the effort anyway, eventually turned to the standby criticism concerning any of Trump’s efforts on foreign and national security policy: he is unqualified. Further, they would also insist that behind everything Kim has done was a hostile DPRK plot, a “Red plot”, to lure Trump and the US to destruction.

The Snare of Insufficient Analysis

Attacks by critics and detractors of Trump have manifested more than elementary cynicism. The dark shadows of their machinations gathered as the Hanoi Summit came near. Their efforts did more more than serve to tear those in the US public who are supportive of Trump away from him. Despite claims from Trump’s political adversaries, and the usual critics and detractors that what was happening in Washington had no impact on what occurred in Hanoi, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it would seem that Pyongyang, unfortunately chose to do what was expedient. That meant believing Trump was stressed from the potential release of a final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters. There have been repeated insinuation that Trump faced the threat of investigations by the Deputy US Attorney for Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General. Pyongyang might have believed that Trump, caught in the wave of excitement concerning the 2020 US Presidential Campaign, mystifying reports of supposed gains by Democrats in polls versus Trump, and the reported mayhem that exists within the mainstream political parties. There may have been the belief that Kim could capitalize on some forecasted by the intelligence services on the impatience on the part of Trump. Reports commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media surely would have rung a bell for Kim’s aides and advisers and analysts in North Korea’s intelligence services. From that, it would follow that Trump’s political difficulties at home would likely distract him. If any of this was the case, it may explain why Pyongyang seemingly went all in on an effort to force Trump’s hand.

What Trump confidently knew, but Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang would have unlikely been able to discern clearly, was that the hearings of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives and in camera testimony before the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives in which Trump’s erstwhile attorney Michael Cohen testified, in essence amounted to vanity projects undertaken by political opponents of Trump in his rival Democratic Party. Although the hearings grabbed headlines in the US news media while Trump met with Kim in Hanoi, the new information gained from them was for the most part already widely known. As it has been repeatedly counseled by greatcharlie, reacting, and much worse, inferring how Trump’s mind moves on an issue from stories, iniquitous commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media. For the most part, US news media houses have done a complete job presenting themselves as Trump’s adversary, not simply critics and detractors. In either case, they are not playing the impartial watchdog role in which the fourth estate is supposed to serve.

Leaders often take unimaginable risks under stress. One could surmise that Kim must have been under some stress at home. Indeed, looking at Kim objectively, the question would be whether Kim was being ambitious or desperate in Hanoi. There is the possibility that in the intelligence services or the Workers’ Party of Korea, it may have posited that Trump could be manipulated into accepting a deal far less than he originally wanted. Lending support for the idea would be that Kim managed to secure a second meeting and that Kim was the actual master at the negotiation table with Trump, and he could take US President down whatever path he wanted. Although it may all sound like daylight madness, it is actually the sort of colorization of policy with delusional notions of an all powerful supreme leader that has underpinned many prior ham-handed decisions by Pyongyang. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Kim’s 50-50 Personality?

One might theorize that Kim’s failure to return home with a constructive answer may not have driven as much by politics but by the possibility that he possesses a 50-50 personality. This is not intended as a disparagement or an affront. It is not to suggest that Kim is a mixed bag, or worse, indecisive. It does not mean Kim is regularly afflicted by the paralysis of analysis. The 50-50 personality is the one able to see beyond black and white to the grey areas of significance. Kim cannot be pegged as one extreme or the other. Kim’s trained ability to project calmness and authority in all circumstances publicly has little relation to what might be stirring within. In private, he may in reality be as much the introvert as the extrovert, he may entertain his sense of things as much as use a honed intuition. He may try to feel through issues and situations coupled with thinking them through ad infinitum. He may be willing to use his perception of matters taking into account his experience and much as making calibrated judgments based on available facts and methods of analysis.

New Problems or a Curious Attempt to Ignite Further Talks?

Kim has created an additional problem himself at this point. Reportedly, he has sought to reconstruct a disassembled testing facility for long range rockets at Tongchang-ri. On first blush, it certainly does seem there is nefarious purpose behind his actions. It is hard to see how anyone could view Kim as anything but an aggressor. Trump has invested in diplomacy to resolve matters in contention: North Korea’s nuclear program and its long range delivery systems. Tactical moves must have payoffs or they are useless exertions, often opening the door for opponent to act. Kim, having met Trump, should not be under any illusion that Trump would not respond fiercely to moves he might find aggressive and or threatening. Kim does not need to extrapolate and infer anything from overt or covert sources that his intelligence services may be relying upon to understand and predict Trump’s moves. The suspension of military exercises should not have signalled to Kim that Trump is not interested in a military option. As he indicated in words he has since set aside in the spirit of negotiating some resolution, North Korea’s aggression would met with “ fire and fury the world has never known!” Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but military exercises with conventional forces would hold less significance on the North Korea front if an attack conceived by Trump would include the use of scores of nuclear weapons.

Does Kim Really Know What Is Best for North Korea?

Even with the notion that he has a type of 50-50 mentality, and with all of his revolutionary zeal and his commitment to the Communist movement taken into consideration, Kim must realize that Trump’s deal was too good to pass on. Nevertheless, he did so. Looking at the matter purely from the perspective of an external observer, Kim made a big mistake. As a national leader concerned with his people’s real future and being much more than a functionary within the system, logic should have driven him toward it. One stands on shaky ground saying anything positive about Kim given the sensitivity of government agencies in the US to such comments, nonetheless, failing to engage Trump for a bit longer in Hanoi on the development of a fitting agreement for both parties was not a surprising error for a national leader who is new to such high stakes diplomacy. Errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est. (Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.)

A logical next step for Kim and his aides and advisers, if they are truly interested in, and dedicated to, this important diplomatic process, might be to try to get the toothpaste back into the tube. A sign that such an effort could already be underway might be official statements by the foreign ministry of North Korea insisting that there was a desire in Pyongyang for a partial denuclearization. Indeed, on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho explained that Kim’s regime sought only “partial” sanctions relief in return for dismantling the North’s main enrichment capabilities for fissile material. As for continued negotiations, Ri stated, “It is difficult to say whether there might be a better agreement than the one based on our proposal at current stage.” He continued authoritatively, “Our principal stance will remain invariable and our proposal will never be changed, even though US proposes negotiation again in the future.” Ri also confirmed that the North would be willing to “permanently dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities” at the main Yongbyon nuclear site and allow U.S. nuclear experts to observe. He went on to complain that North Korea had sought an end to “sanctions that hamper the civilian economy, and the livelihood of all people in particular,” citing five out of 11 sanctions packages imposed by the UN Security Council. As mentioned earlier, sanctions relief along those lines would have amounted to a significant easing of the pressure on North Korea.

Although some somber and astute analysts might reach the conclusion that the foreign ministry’s bold, inaccurate statements, with their familiar antagonistic cadence, was simply a pretension, one more dramatic expression of Pyongyang. The odd hope of it all would appear to be influencing opinion among senior officials of the Workers Party of Korea and other elites of business circles of the society that Trump was not sincere about sanctions relief and he failed to respond to what is likely extolled in Pyongyang as Kim’s “generous offer”. It may very well have been the case that Pyongyang had the foreign ministry’s statement “locked and cocked” even before Kim left by train for Hanoi in the event that Trump would not accept the terms he planned to offer him.

The Agony of Negotiating with North Korea

It is interesting how North Korean officials have spoken so obstinately of Trump’s openhandedness toward their country. Perhaps Pyongyang has forgotten that Kim is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. (That is unlikely something anyone in Pyongyang would ever say in Kim’s presence.) Among industrialized countries, ruling out the Russian Federation and China, few governments hold a favorable opinion of North Korea. Pyongyang should rest assured that a number of capable US allies have likely suggested in confidence that Trump should move on from diplomacy and simply use military force on North Korea and indicated the willingness to join that effort. Trump, the one that North Korean Foreign Ministry officials now criticize, is the national leader who truly has the military power to destroy North Korea, yet he has given it a chance to prove its positive intentions to the world. Trump has sought to create the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work well with it. Trump’s description of his contacts and communications with Kim and public statements about his friendship and chemistry with him, have made him far less the threat that deservedly made headlines with angry words and aggressive moves in 2017 when the administration began. Trump kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way as he has become the administration’s talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking. More than half way through his term as of this writing, Trump has amassed a record of making things happen; getting things done.

Not under any circumstances would the reconstruction of the testing site fall under the category of a benign act. It would hard to see where Pyongyang, having had two bites at the diplomacy apple, might hope to have some understanding of its move to reconstruct it’s long-range rocket testing site in a positive way in Washington or anywhere in the US for that matter. In reconstructing the testing site, Kim is doing precisely what Trump said he did not want North Korea to do. Nonetheless, taking a second look at the matter of Kim’s move to reconstruct the testing site from another angle purely out of academic interest and with a dose of optimism, one could say that the effort, albeit poorly conceived, was designed to create a position of perceived strength and encourage Trump to talk with Kim again. After all, that step was less threatening than other available options to garner immediate attention, create urgency. Kim could have begun reconstruction on a shuttered nuclear facility or begun building a new one. Kim could have made unsubstantiated public claims of possessing new nuclear technologies to enrich uranium for weapons such as the ability to separate isotopes through laser excitation (“SILEX”). (Note, this is just a hypothetical. There is no effort here to suggest that North Korea possesses such capabilities.) For Pyongyang, the danger in engaging in such tricky stuff is that the wrong signal may be sent to Washington. By and large, Pyongyang has asked the Trump administration to be patient and to recognize that on the world stage, North Korea is going to display a lack of sophistication, savoir faire, and present itself as the isolated, authoritarian “hermit kingdom” it has always been. While it may have hoped to move things in a specific way, it is possible that what might be intended through such moves could be lost in the labyrinth. Perhaps even unknowingly, Pyongyang has placed its best hope in Trump’s willingness to interpret its moves in a somewhat positive way and view the diplomatic effort as being worth the trouble.

It is apparent that Trump along with those foreign and national security policy officials who were optimistic about a deal being reached on denuclearization with North Korea, reasoned that it would be worth giving Kim the benefit of doubt.  However, one could never be completely clear on how denuclearization would fit into the worldview of the Workers’ Party of Korea or Kim’s inner thinking. Shots have not been fired at anger across the border. There has been no testing over nuclear devices and no testing of long-range or short-range rockets. If a chance might be taken in the name of finding a peaceful agreement, right now is certainly the time to take them. It certainly would be a ashame if the positive spirit which had been discern in the White House from Kim’s thoughts, words, and deeds from Singapore until Hanoi, was simply imputed by the administration to greater degree than warranted. Admittedly, it is hard to understand why Pyongyang would at this point, hope for peace while reconstructing a testing facility for long-range rockets.

It is worth noting that in a more forceful, less grateful statement than Ri’s on February 28, 2019, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, explained: “The impression I got observing this summit from the side was that our chairman seems to have difficulty understanding the US way of reckoning.” Choe, offering her own assessment, declared: “I felt that our chairman has lost the will to engage in dealmaking, with the US saying that even a partial lifting of sanctions for the civilian economy is hard.” Conditions surely will not change through diplomacy if Pyongyang refuses to negotiate. If anything positive could be gleaned from Choe’s statement, itself, it is the fact that the harshest words were delivered by a vice foreign minister, not Kim or a very senior Workers’ Party of Korea official. That may have left the door open for Kim or a senior officials to walk back from those words, making diplomacy with the hope that cobbling together a denuclearization agreement might still be viable. Apparently, Trump mercifully brushed off pretentious statements by DPRK’s officials on their country’s power relative to that of the US, and the great disproportion between them with reality. It is difficult to determine how long Trump’s patience will last though. Given a third chance, Kim might goof again.

Trump certainly has not indicated that he feels the time has come to tie things off. It may be that Trump is more concerned with the prospect of millions of lives being lost if he does not give it every chance. When asked in Hanoi whether the bridge could be gapped between Kim’s desire to have all or a significant portion of sanctions removed and his desire to more significant denuclearization, he responded: “With time.  It’ll be bridged, I think, at a certain point.  But there is a gap.  We have to have sanctions.  And he wants to denuke, but he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want.  We know that — we know the country very well, believe it or not.  We know every inch of that country.  And we have to get what we have to get, because that’s a big — that’s a big give.” Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat. (I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.)

Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World

US President Donald Trump (above). International Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO have served well in promoting global economic development, international peace and security, and providing responses to threats to democracy and freedom. Still, some countries, sensing they are surrendering a degree of control and power by creating space for the conciliation of such institutions, frequently work outside of them. Doing that well is not easy. Lessons can be drawn from Trump’s efforts at effecting change in other countries’ foreign and national security policy decision making.

Throughout centuries, overwhelming military power, hard power, has been used by empires, countries, tribes seeking to force some modifications in other groups or halt certain actions altogether. Threaded through that history has been the less frequent use of what the renowned international affairs scholar Joseph Nye referred to as “soft power”, the ability to shape the long-term attitudes and preferences of country by using economic and cultural influence rather than force. Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO, have well-served the interests of countries since the postwar era by promoting economic development worldwide, international peace and security, and providing responses to Communist aggression and other threats to democracy and freedom. However, effecting change peacefully since the end of the Cold War has often been a process in which stronger, very capable, sophisticated, industrialized countries, with a goal of “leveling the playing field”, and promoting an Utopian unreality of all countries “negotiating as equals”. Great strain and limitations have been placed on their diplomatic efforts. Indeed, they feel that they have been in a downward spiral in which they are slowly surrendering an ever increasing degree of control and power to create space for the conciliation of international institutions. Hardline political elements of those countries have gone as far as to complain that working through international institutions has resulted in an absolute derogation of their respective countries’ rights and power.In addition, authoritarian regimes have regularly exploited international institutions for their own ends. For example, Cuba and Venezuela, two of the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers, sit on the UN Human Rights Council. China exploits benefits of membership in the World Trade Organization while engaging in unfair trade practices to protect its domestic market.

In response to this dilemma, the US and a number of other countries have begun to engage more frequently outside of those institutions in their diplomatic efforts on major issues. They want to better enable themselves to determine outcomes on those efforts. Moreover, as Kiron Skinner, Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, explained in a December 11, 2018 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: “With the international order under siege from actors that would remake it in their own illiberal image, the Trump administration is acting to preserve a just, transparent and free world of sovereign states.” Surely, this does not mean that international institutions are not being abandoned. Efforts are being made to reform them. Abandoning them completely would be a terrible miscalculation for their good offices still have purpose in certain urgent and important multilateral, regional, and global diplomatic situations. Rather, as an alternative, countries can cooperate effectually by making themselves the guarantors of their own domestic freedoms and national interests. Once national leaders become involved in bilateral or multilateral diplomacy outside of the auspices of an international institution, they must be a bit shrewder, more incisive, have an optimal situational awareness, and remain truly dedicated to reaching an agreement or resolution as there will be no “middleman” available to referee or mediate. They must be willing to struggle with an idea until its inception, rather than back away from finding a solution because it takes too much effort, energy, and time. Countries may not be able to insist upon negotiating as equals outside of international institutions, but that matter can be overcome by acting with a heightened spirit of goodwill. National leaders and negotiators must ensure that they are empathetic toward an opposite’s circumstances and positions.

Lessons can be drawn from the approaches taken by Trump aimed at affecting change in the foreign and national security policy decision making of other countries in his first term while working outside the auspices of international institutions. There might be some disagreement with this suggestion, but often from what observers might perceive as crises, Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach, there will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. His critics and detractors insist that there are strictures on foreign and national security decision making to which he must adhere as US President. However, Trump, having been engaged in international business for years, has had time to examine the world using his own lens, and not a political or bureaucratic prism. He came to office confident that he could maneuver well among the galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. He indeed exhibits the type of flexibility of thinking and action that an accomplished general would hope to display in war. It is possible that he has by instinct the methodology to do it all well. By identifying and examining patterns in his efforts, lessons become available. From an out-of-the-box perspective, an abbreviated discussion is provided here of the types of considerations behind Trump’s thinking on four salient foreign and national security policy issues set before his administration: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK”) denuclearization; Russian election interference in the US; the Russia-Ukraine confrontation in the Azov Sea (Kerch Strait); and, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Khashoggi assassination. The intention here is not to insist that other national leaders should be guided by the meditations of greatcharlie on Trump’s decision making. Rather, the discussion simply outlines what may be some of the new necessities of thinking and reasoning by national leaders and their foreign and national security policy decision makers today as more countries seek to engage in diplomacy outside of international institutions. Further, it is hoped that the discussion here will become part of policy debate concerning the Trump administration. ‘Tu me’ inquis ‘mones? iam enim te ipse monuisti, iam correxisti? ideo aliorum emendationi vacas?’ Non sum tam improbus ut curationes aeger obeam, sed, tamquam in eodem valetudinario iaceam, de communi tecum malo colloquor et remedia communico. (“What,” say you, “are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?” No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.)

Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. The Singapore Summit was held on June 12, 2018. in the months since, Kim, nestled in Pyongyang, has likely become comfortable. Just thinking now and then about drawing closer to denuclearization and the future Trump presented, likely disrupts that sense of comfort. Calculating what would actually be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country, may make change a less attractive. Encouriaging Kim to move forward may be a challenge for Trump, but not an insurmountable one.

The DPRK and Denuclearization

Given DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un’s apparent temporizing on the decision to denuclearize, critics and detractors of Trump would want everyone aware of the interactions between the US and DPRK to believe that Kim is using the US President to achieve his own ends. However, even if Kim actually feels that there is something more to the idea of denuclearization, surely he would still be hesitant to advance the matter. It would only be natural for anyone to have a bout with wintery feet facing the enormity of the potential undertaking before Kim. In the chambers where Kim and the DPRK’s most senior officials make decisions on foreign and national security policy, innovative and imaginative thinking would hardly be welcomed and denuclearization is likely accepted unenthusiastically. What has been produced there for quite some time has usually been uninspired stuff, aimed primarily at advancing the ideals of the Worker’s Party of Korea . Kim is surely aware of what happened in Russia economically with the help of “Western experts” after the fall of the Soviet Union. As mentioned in the July 27, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “To Foster Forward Movement on Denuclearization by Kim, Trump Says there Is No Rush, But His Patience Has Limits”, a complete trust in Trump hardly could have sprouted and blossomed exponentially in Kim during the Singapore meeting. Months have passed since Singapore, Kim is some distance away from it all. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have morphed into considerable apprehension since. Kim has been comfortably nestled in Pyongyang. Drawing closer to the world that Trump presented, would require Kim to tear away from the only world he and his people have known. Just ruminating about what would be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country may make it all seem so difficult and thereby a less attractive option.

When mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. They often moved so slowly that during World War II in particular, they became relatively easy targets for dive bombers and torpedo planes. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. Decisions are usually reviewed endlessly, as they seek to advance their organizations’ parochial interests in an optimal way. Indeed, the bureaucracies can suffer the paralysis of analysis. Compromise is usually reached as last resort. Yet, “turf battles” can become so volatile on an issue that often in the end, while there may have been some compromise from the different organizations, no satisfactory decision is made at all, no approach truly beneficial to the country is advanced. Another result can be some composite solution that will be ineffectual in resolving the matter at hand in the best interests of their country. Further, there can be a result in which too many points, most of which were found to be too controversial to settle on in the bureaucratic struggle, are left uncovered, making it virtually impossible to proceed in the best interest of their country on a matter. All of this makes encouraging change in the thinking of another countries foreign and national security policy appear insurmountable. Trump and his advisers and aides have taken all of this into full consideration, and remain confident that the administration’s efforts will lead to success. In fact, it remains a goal in Washington to find a way to get Kim to accelerate his efforts at denuclearization. What they would like to do is create an occasion on which Kim to have a second chance to be in contact with the persuasive and assuring Trump. For Trump, there is a type of voluptuous quality about the entire challenge, as it will require the full use of his capabilities along the lines of excellence. Moreover, Trump has the freedom to maneuver in his own unique and often successful ways in the negotiation process. He does not need to be concerned that an international institution might impose limitations on his ability to make deals. Fortuna adversa virum magnae sapientiae non terret. (Adverse fortune (adversity) does not frighten (intimidate) a man of great intellect.)

As a practical matter, negotiating countries should ascribe probabilities of their opposites’ likely actions and reactions respectively. In that vein, national leaders of the negotiating countries must also be a bit more empathetic of each others circumstances. As the negotiation process continues, direct communication must be used to convey and remind what the expectations are for both sides and respective red-lines on trade-offs that neither side will cross. Nothing does more to prove how vested the other is on an issue when one party absolutely refuses to negotiate on it, even when perhaps minor agreements tied to it are reached in the negotiating process. Every country has lines that it simply will not cross. If anything, those small steps that might be achieved should serve to build confidence on other matters as the negotiations continue. If one country feels unduly pressured or imposed upon, some capitals could react in a disproportionately negative way. One-sided outcomes successfully forced down one party’s throat will not last.  One-sided outcomes, even if consented to by the initiating party will rarely survive over time. This was recently observed with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Paris Agreement of Climate Change.

Months have passed since Singapore. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have possibly morphed into considerable apprehension. The foreign and national security policy machinery of the DPRK, mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with the US, is moving very slowly. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan positions undoubtedly far surpass their “enthusiasm” over denuclearization. 

For Trump, as would be the case for any US president, success in such an endeavor would also depend upon the ability to create an outcome that supports balance in the international order; that is compatible with US values and interests. If the matter at hand is urgent enough, substantial resources and energy will be speedily directed to it. That has been the case with DPRK denuclearization; trade with China; and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. For Trump specifically, there would most likely be a determination to remain stalwart at the side of the US public. Without deviation, he will keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers how he will encourage and initiate the changes he desires. He will also keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers withdrawing from US military commitments overseas. While reelection in 2020 is certainly the goal and the plan, Trump is not in a popularity contest to the extent that he only wants to make the US public happy or get the people to like him. (Many do already.) He wants to do what is best for their true interests, both for the short-term and the long-term. In that respect, Trump cannot always, metaphorically, serve dessert first, but there is always something better coming.

Omnis nimium longa properanti mora est. (Every delay is too long to one who is in a hurry.) As a caveat, one should not become so steeped in the effort to encourage and draw the response from the other side that one would be willing to make concessions that were never even imagined before the negotiation process began. Trading off something a country’s negotiators would prefer not to relinquish, a major concession, may very well be required at some point. It is almost an immutable part of the process of negotiating at the international level. Still, a line must be drawn along the measure at which nothing beyond would be acceptable. To lessen the pain of giving up anything, whatever one might be willing to part with must be determined and enumerated before any diplomatic negotiations begin. When mulling over what to give up, one must use reason to determine what it’s relative value might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. (In that process of determining what would be best to trade versus what might be gained, difficulties can arise internally in many national governments’ foreign and national security bureaucracies.) Concerning the DPRK and denuclearization, the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of the DPRK. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense on where things stand in the DPRK regarding denuclearization. Where explanations are somewhat unclear, there becomes the need to ascribe the probability of success from the interpretations of what has said and even what has not been said during negotiations and in the briefest communications to include pull asides and other less formal discussions away from the negotiating table. Attention would also need to be placed on what is said contemporaneously among officials from the respective countries who may have met on unrelated matters. That would include theories, surmisals, and any offhand comments. When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services.

US Air Force U2 Surveillance Plane (above). When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above.

As greatcharlie explained in its May 31, 2018 post entitled, “An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump”, for intelligence services, getting to know what is happening in a country, regarding a particular event or issue will invariably require having agents who are in the right place, are articulate, can answer questions, and receive instructions. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above. Electronic collection, although very costly, has brought many benefits, by allowing for the monitoring of all manner of communications, discovering plans, patterns of activity and locations of targets. Many have grumbled for years in the intelligence industry that increased use of such surveillance and reconnaissance systems has resulted in the disappearance of the sure-fire agent on the ground with his string of spies and informants and with a willingness to travel the danger route. When this issue became most apparent in the US in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were efforts to make adjustments, but it is still posited that human intelligence has taken a back seat in favor of technology.  Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.

Trump has no intention of moving down a blind alley. Regarding the use of his “gut feelings”, intimations backed up with the strength of reports and briefings from intelligence community, military, and diplomatic professionals. Supported in that way, such feelings are less guesses than judgments based on the aggregate of all the information received, tied in with an awareness of seemingly abstract pieces of information to form an orderly and coherent perception. During World War II, German military commanders were known for relying on intimations based on what was occurring on the battlefield and perceptions of what the thinking and planning was in the opponent’s command center. Still, in contemplating what Kim might do, the US will do much more than rely on such hunches. The administration cannot afford to become complacent even to the slightest degree. It will remain vigilant and cautious. Resources have been dedicated to surveilling developments at North Korean nuclear sites. As many analytical resources as possible should also be dedicated to the discernment of signs of a reversal in Pyongyang.

Il ne fait pas l’ombre d’un doute que Trump and his advisers and sides will seek to be read-in on daily assessments, appraisals, and conclusions. Concrete facts, inference, interpolations from data, intimations, hunches based on experience, will all be heard and considered when senior US foreign and national security policy officials meet. Leg work by a secret grey army of US intelligence officers in the region and confirmed reports from agents ensconced naked where detection could mean certain death, serve to confirm possible actions or unsettling activity, even if not immediately threatening, would be rapidly synthesized and provided to decision makers. Those consumers may also have an interest in reading reports from intelligence officers of regional allies and their agents, as well as data streams from technical collection systems of those allies. US allies just might discern something the US might have missed. Despite the most optimistic hopes and projections on the DPRK, Trump remains ready to process in his mind what he sees to surmount what he is hoping for. Looking deeper allows one to see what is lacking. The diplomatic process with the DPRK cannot sit between success and failure in a figurative foreign policy halfway house. Previous administrations submitting to the fantasy that the DPRK wanted peace allowed Pyongyang to establish a pattern of success that very likely helped build Kim’s self-confidence in dealing with US. One can be assured that Trump will not base his decision on an emotional response, and bend too much in an effort to understand the uneasiness of Kim’s position. It is most important for Kim to know that.

Trump (right) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left). The efforts of Russian operatives were too unnatural, too unusual. Their focus was primarily on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity, and were detected. The fact that Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public was disproportionate to the degree of risk involved with undertaking a political manipulation effort of such magnitude in the US.

Russia’s Ongoing Election Interference

The unique qualities and character of each US President in great part impels the US public to select them on election day. As chief executive of the US Government, the president is required to take certain positions and actions in accord with US values and interests. Yet, it is the unique qualities and character of each which causes the choices of each to diverge a bit or a lot from those of their predecessors. How a president will act on certain foreign and national security policy issues will typically be outlined during an election campaign for the public to read and hear. From what is enumerated, the public will form an opinion on a candidate. Indeed, in the end, it is not what is wrong with a candidate that sticks in the mind of a voter that is so important. It is what is right for the voter which makes the difference. The thinking of the US public generally moves in that direction.

To clarify further on the perception of how a candidate will perform differently to satisfy the voter, there must be the belief that the candidate will make a positive difference in their lives personally such as making them financially better off and more secure, allowing for improvement to their communities by making more services available and life better in general, and in the country by improving its condition, guiding it in a positive direction, and ensuring its status as a world leader and force for good. Negative ideas that might to orbit around a preferred candidate and even a rival candidate, while seemingly important in campaign efforts–every campaign has elements that focus on those matters and to an extent promulgate negative information on an opponent–and in news media stories broadcasted, published, and posted, may remain correlative, even de minimus, in the minds of many voters. In some cases, the negative information about a preferred candidate may drive voters to the polls to ensure their candidate wins.

Although Russian Federation intelligence services may pride themselves as having what they may believe to be a considerable expertise in US affairs, they are surely not up to snuff when it comes to understanding US politics. While their studies and observations of the US may have appeared to yield a genuine picture of the broad US political scene, certainly when it came to understanding what was happening in the lead up the 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Presidential Election, they completely missed the mark. An immediate impression is that since Russian analysts lacked points of reference within their own society that resembled what was happening in the US, there was really nothing upon which they could found their interpretations and conclusions. As social media was a main focal point on which Russian operatives sought to inflict considerable damage during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, it appears that much of what was collected and extrapolated about the US political scene came from popular, yet incredibly hostile commentaries propagated on social media by emotional individuals across of the political spectrum, political activists, and fringe elements who simply attack and lack boundaries. The Russians analysts could not discern that what was on social media did not reflect what was going on in the mind of the US public. Basing the interference operation on that sort of failed interpretation of US political activity, meant it was doomed from the start. Essentially, it was sabotaged by ignorance. As they performed their mission, the efforts of Russian operatives, being too imitative, too unnatural, too unusual, stood out. It was all nothing more than  a soupy simulacrum of the real thing. Their focus was almost solely on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity. Their efforts  were out of rhythm and rhyme with the stylings of authentic political message of mainstream US political parties. No matter how well Russian operatives may have believed their operation was cloaked, executed, and managed, those who began investigating what was going on could flag their burlesque without too much difficulty. The fact that Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public. The operation’s modicum of success was disproportionate relative to the degree of risk involved in undertaking an extensive political manipulation effort in the US. The interference operation really appears to have been an act of vengeance more than anything else. Passion did not obey reason in the Kremlin.

Added to that, the US intelligence community and law enforcement had the technological means to trace the efforts of Russian operatives all the way home to their headquarters. So successful were the counterintelligence efforts of the US intelligence community and law enforcement that they could determine when and how things happened and who was involved. For example, they acquired complete profiles of those members of the Russian Federation’s Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU involved with the interference operation. They were able to determine the particular role each played in it. Recall that Putin reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Once on the right path, he broke all sorts of records on his way to the top. In 1997, he served as head of the Main Control Directorate. In 1998, he was named first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, responsible for the regions, he was ordered to serve as director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, and he was named Secretary of the Security Council. Having observed the US collect such granular information on the operation, it is very likely that Putin had parsed out that someone in Russia’s intelligence services pointed the US in the right direction. He likely began to believe that there was a rotten apple buried somewhere at the bottom of the Russian intelligence apple barrel. One might informally speculate that anger, even rage over the the ability of the US to discover so much might have been one more straw on the pile that has caused Russia to lash out at the West, and those in West’s fold, in ham-handed ways since. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul (control your emotions))

The fact that Russia sought to disrupt the democratic process of the country is what makes the interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election so insidious. A long espoused criticism of Trump is that he is enchanted with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous. This tenuous notion became a story was heavily covered even before Trump’s inauguration, and has received even greater coverage since. The story considered in light of reports from the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election, has been posited as the causality for the investigations of the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The reality is that rather finding a national leader as Putin intoxicating, Trump has his own considerable reservations about them. In the past year, Trump observed Putin behave in a very disappointing manner. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has closely monitored hostile Russian moves, not only the continued interference in US elections, but also: Russia’s continued interference in the election processes of countries other than the US; Russia’s efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and, Russia’s efforts to tighten its grip on Crimea and the Donbass. As it was explained in the October 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage”, Trump has repeatedly gotten on Putin’s case about the matter, and has publicly insisted that he has done so. Trump also has surely shared his perspectives with him on: how reported government abuses within Russia have left the world with a very negative impression of the country as a whole; why it is difficult for anyone to see Russia as a decent constitutional society; why considerable doubt exists in the minds of top Russia hands and his close advisers and aides that Russia could ever be an honest broker and good partner in tackling transnational issues; and, how tough it will be for Russia to ever overcome such views on its own. It would seem that Trump could publicly snatch Putin’s lunch away, eat it, and pop the bag in his face, and critics would still say he too soft on the Russian leader. There could not be a worse source or gauge of Trump’s interactions with Putin than his critics and detractors.

German troops passing through Ardennes Forest on their way to France in 1940. (above). Trump knows it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirm some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. The failure of consumers to include assessments of situations in their calculations can be unfortunate. Consider how the French military high command failed their government In 1870, 1915, and 1940 by dismissing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments.

Trump knows that it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Predictions concerning an action are made more urgent when commingled with existing impressions of a national government or national leader, specifically, based on behavior both at home and abroad. The consequence of insufficient intelligence analyses, the failure by consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations, can be most unfortunate. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government 3 times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signalling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1914, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signaling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signaling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signaling that the German Army might attempt to move via the the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

A newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffectual.

There were more recent occasions when intelligence was not given primacy required and not sufficiently analysed and integrated in the decision making of a US administration. Boiled down to the bones, in the late summer of 2001, the administration of US President George Bush was remiss in not giving primacy to information indicating the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US. In fact, Al-Qaeda did strike on September 11, 2001. Failing to become overly concerned over warnings of an impending terrorist attack, the Bush administration did not formulate and implement an effectual response to deter or defeat the threat that revealed itself. As explained in the December 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump Withdraws US Troops from Syria: What Considerations Impelled His Decision?”, US President Barack Obama and other national leaders poorly interpreted information concerning an opposition movement that had organised against the regime of Syria Arab Republic President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. They believed that opposition movement made Assad regime ripe for change, however, opportunity was seen by Obama and his foreign and national security policy decision makers where there was none. The conclusion was that with a modicum support for the right opposition groups, the Assad regime would face collapse and be forced to the negotiation table, where Assad, himself, would agree to an orderly and immediate transition of power. Among a long list of negative consequences that have resulted from that policy approach have been: a seemingly never ending civil war in which millions of civilians have become casualties, millions more have been displaced; Russia and other countries who are potential adversaries of the US have strengthened their presence in Syria and increased their influence on the Assad regime; and, extraordinarily dangerous terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have established strongholds.

How a US President might proceed at forks on the road on policy concerning, a countries, or group of countries will typically be based on information provided by the US intelligence community. Sometimes, that information will create a clear path on which the president can proceed with a relatively assured step. In cases in which US responses have been ineffectual or simply wrong, there may have been a failure to integrate information that warned that success was unlikely. Sometimes, “The path is smooth that leads on to danger.” If the US public were kept aware of every occasion in which Russia posed a threat or interfered with US interests, and if the US Government were to react publicly to concerns and intelligence reports about Russian activity, certainly the US would have stumbled into war with Russia long ago. Consider for example that the Russians regularly use their satellites to interfere with US satellites as they transit the Earth. That situation is made more challenging by the fact that there is considerable positive cooperation between the US and Russia on space and it would be disadvantageous to tear it apart. In that same vein, an honest assessment must be made of where incidents fit into the bigger picture of vital US interests and the maintenance of international peace and security. At best, the country must rely on a president’s experience and judgment as each incident arises.

Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more US intelligence services and law enforcement is enabled to discover about Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources.

Russia was wrong to act against US interests in the 2016 elections. Trump can continue to respond to its behavior by keeping the most effective punitive economic measures in place. However, he also knows that Putin, to the best of his ability has thought through the possible consequences to his actions with his advisers. He does not at least publicly appear overly concerned with retribution from the US short of acting on Russian sovereign territory or acting harshly against Russian interests and its allies. Beyond providing lip-service to Putin as suggested by critics and detractors, Trump has sought to close the door on Russian election meddling activities against the US as best as possible, build a positive personal relationship with Putin, and improve US relations with Russia. Although Trump, a patriotic US citizen, very likely feels some anger, bitterness, and resentment in his heart over what Putin and Russia have done, he knows behaving too aggressively would be short-sighted, and would only lengthen the distance he will need to travel to improve the US relationship with Russia. Trump will not sacrifice any benefits that might result from his acting in a measured way. Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown, and keeping it going seems a bit barky. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more enabled US intelligence services and law enforcement are to uncover Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources. Perhaps he is on the verge of becoming conscious or accepting of that now.

According to Kiev, the confrontation in the Kerch Strait began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard. (The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway separating the Black and Azov seas.) The Russian Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors are now being held in Crimea by Russia.

Russia, Ukraine and the Kerch Strait Incident

Trump came to office with the intention of assuaging the long standing tension and anger that characterized the US-Russia relations, exacerbated by the Obama administration’s poor stewardship of it. He did not begin by trying the figuratively test the water nervously with his big toe. With boldness, he jumped right in, attempting to find a way to create a genuine connection with Putin in order to establish a stronger bond bofh between themselves and their two countries and hopefully as a result, a decent arrangement for interaction could be created. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them. With any luck, Putin would understand and appreciate what Trump has been doing and recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia be seen as doing some good for the world. It has been a bedeviling process. At Helsinki, there was an incident that certainly raised Trump’s antennae. Despite his desire and efforts to make things right, Putin took the anomalous and very awkward step of presenting Trump with an official football from the World Cup saying, “The ball is in your court.” Trump stated that he would give the ball to his son Darren, and tossed it to the First Lady, Melania Trump. One could immediately observe by his visage that Trump would want answers from his team on what Putin’s move was all about.

Although, with some effort, benign intent can be posited to Putin’s presentation of the ball to Trump. The negative side of Putin may have been on full display. It was clear to all who observed closely that Trump’s reaction to the presentation was negative. His countenance revealed disgust and disappointment in Putin. It may very well be that Trump felt vibrations about trouble ahead with him. It was also very surprising because Putin, an acute watcher and listener. should have known by the time he met with Trump in Helsinki that the presentation of the ball would have created more difficulties than inroads with him. Critics and detractors of Putin would surely explain that he did not seek to gain anything from doing such an unorthodox thing and that it was all very characteristic of the Russian President’s churlish thinking. Si animus infirmus est, non poterit bonam fortunam tolerare. (If the spirit is weak, it will not be able to tolerate good fortune.)

The clash between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait makes plain the reality that problems between the two countries are deepening. According to Kiev, the confrontation began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard in the Kerch Strait. The Russian Federation Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. In addition, Russia scrambled jets and helicopters, and even blocked the Kerch Strait with a barge, closing access to the Sea of Azov. Russia claims the Ukrainian ships violated territorial waters. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 crewmen as have been held as of January 2019 by Russia in Crimea. The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway that serves as the gateway from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, which borders both Russia and Ukraine. From Moscow’s perspective, it is most importantly, the waterway between mainland Russia and Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Both countries have the right to patrol the waters in accord with a bilateral treaty. However, the strait is also the site of a new 12-mile bridge built by Russia that cost an estimated $4 billion. Russia has significantly built up its military presence in the region since 2014.

Russian Federation FSB officer (left) escorts Ukrainian sailor (right). Trump indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. In flight, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.”

The incident in the strait alarmed senior US officials. Sharp criticism of Russia’s actions were immediately voiced. For US allies in Europe, the incident was edge of the seat stuff. There were widespread calls for Russia to immediately release the 24 Ukrainian sailors it captured, and some European leaders called for fresh sanctions against Russia. Kiev put martial law in effect for 30 days in Ukraine. The Kremlin scoffed at an appeal by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for NATO to reinforce the Azov Sea with naval ships. Russia shrugged off Western pressure. Moscow maintained that the crisis was created by Poroshenko for political gain. When Trump commented on the matter right after occurred, his words fell short of condemning Russia directly by stating: “I don’t like that aggression.” While there was nothing irregular about that, Trump’s critics and detractors, in response, characterized him as being too reticent on the matter. However, the situation was fluid, and Trump wanted to collect all the information available before taking any steps. So profound was his reaction that he reportedly signalled to the Washington Post that he would consider forgoing the meeting with Putin after the incident in Kerch Strait and escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Trump then indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. Early in the flight, however, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.” He added: ““I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

Likely swept off their feet over “how well” they were managing their interactions with US and believing that they had a handle on the highly publicized meeting with Trump at the G-20 Summit Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Putin and his whole cabaret of acolytes were caught completely off guard by his decision. Coming down from their overdose of confidence, their immediate concern would reasonably have been what Trump’s move would mean in terms of future Russian interactions with the US. The Kremlin’s worry seemed to be manifested in the attitude and behavior of Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. At the time, his works lacked a usual sense of certitude. There was a noticeable absence of his normal swagger. He presented a less impressive substitute of himself. Early on November 29, 2018, Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the meeting between Trump and Putin would take place December 1, 2018 around noon. He explained, “We are expecting the two presidents to speak briefly at first, but everything is left to the discretion of the heads of state.” He added that “Washington has confirmed.” Agitated by Trump’s tweet, Peskov told TASS Russian News Agency that the Kremlin had not been informed separately by the White House of the cancellation. He made the necessary correction by stating, explained, “If this is indeed the case, the president [Putin] will have a couple of additional hours in his schedule for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.”

Whatever could have led the Kremlin to think for a moment that they ever had a firm handle on Trump is a bit of a black box. Among the basket of possibilities, one might hypothesize that the vengeful thinking the prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration is now insinuating itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. (Many of former Obama administration officials successfully needle Kremlin’s officials by presenting acidic analyses of Putin’s behavior, antagonistic critiques of Russian foreign and national security policy, and make warlike recommendations on handling Russia for the Trump administration.) There is the possibility that Putin and Kremlin officials, being vexed by Trump’s willingness to bargain on the basis of fairness with them, chose the easy answer of simply continuing to do what they had been doing in response to Obama. There is also the possibility that being unable to understand Trump, and believing that his range of action, ability to do big things, and take on real challenges, was likely restrained somewhat by his domestic political struggles, which they doubtlessly perceive as amusing. If that perchance is the case, there is the possibility that Russian intelligence analysts covering the US political scene have been remiss by conceivably allowing highly politicized commentaries from Trump’s critics and detractors and iniquitous reports in the US news media insinuate themselves in their assessments. It is possible that any penetration by the GRU and the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR in the US may simply be collecting: chicken feed; misleading information grabbed because it was within easy reach of officers, sounded plausible, and would look good in Moscow; or, false reports conjured up by delinquent officers just to look good or prolong their postings in the US. (It can happen even in the best intelligence services.) Additionally, Kremlin officials may have decided to simply leave well-enough alone and remain satisfied with stale, derivative analyses that would serve the bureaucratic requirement of producing some product, but inhibits the exploration or exploitation of opportunities for positive engagement with, and actions toward, the US.

Trump did not make contact with Putin on December 1, 2018 at the G-20 Summit. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the leaders stood for a group photo. Still, having studied the the Obama administration responses to very questionable moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. A conversation finally occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires, organized for the national leaders and their wives. Putin told reporters later that they discussed the “Black Sea situation.”

Having studied the Obama administration’s responses to contentious moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. Putin’s reaction to that approach was adverse and disproportionate. Sensing that Putin may actually have a penchant for destroying progress made with the US, Trump would not set him up with the opportunity to do so again. Moreover, Trump saw no need to move up the ladder of escalation for no benefit, for no purpose. Apparently as an expression of his disappointment with Putin over Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait, Trump did not make contact with him for most of the day, December 1, 2018. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the world’s leaders stood for a group photo. Kremlin officials insisted throughout the day that the two leaders would ultimately meet. Finally, the two leaders had an “informal” conversation. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the conversation occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires’ famous Teatro Colón, organized for the national leaders and their wives. As for its content, Saunders stated: “As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the First Lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin.” Putin told reporters afterward that he indeed met with Trump briefly at the event and they discussed the situation in Ukraine. Putin further explained, “I answered his questions about the incident in the Black Sea. He has his position. I have my own. We stayed in our own positions.”

As mentioned earlier, Trump’s patience has limits. However, he will at least make the effort manage contact with Putin as best as possible to get a successful result. If it should all fall apart, it will not be because of a silly move or the failure to do everything feasible within reason to promote it. Again, Trump is not doing any of this for himself; he has committed himself to this process for the sake of his country and the US public in particular. He will not allow his personal feelings about those he may deal with to get in the way.

Jamal Khashoggi (right) entering the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey. On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the Consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Khashoggi Matter

On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere. Before the murder, the Turkish Government had been monitoring a 15-person team that arrived at the consulate on October 2, 2018. That team returned to Riyadh the same day. The Turkish Government reportedly provided US officials with both audio and video recordings that confirm Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.

Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est. (All savageness is a sign of weakness.) The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. With the advantage of hindsight, it would appear that the assassination plot was formed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter. On dit, the Khashoggi assassination has also allegedly provided a candid look at how the Saudi Arabian Government has typically quieted voices of perceived adversaries both at home and abroad.

When the furtive “wet work” of an intelligence services is uncovered, the consequences for the national government that sanctioned the mission and it’s operatives, even if they avoided detection and capture if acting in another country, can be severe. This is a unique and not so often discussed area of commonality among national leaders. An affinity could surely develop for others in that same circumstance. Attendant to that affinity is a type of empathy that may insist the one should not be too judgmental or harshly slam another leader, particularly over an intelligence misstep or disaster. That empathy may obviate efforts to claim the moral high road and false claim of innocence after perhaps having similar experience. In international affairs, much as in “ordinary life” only partial version of oneself is offered. The priority of coexistence must be considered in what one might say or do versus what might be gained or lost. Countries may spare the feelings, national pride, or honor of allies and friends or even or avoid provoking or inciting adversaries. To that extent, acting in that way requires a country to circumscribe itself. Typically, a national leader who might sign off on any covert operation will be provided with the ability to plausibly deny knowledge of it. Yet, on top of that, secrecy, albeit deceit, might be used to protect relationship with an ally or friend and to make any act of circumscription by that ally or friend a bit easier.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above). The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. From all news media reports, it would appear that the assassination plot was executed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter.

Any harsh criticism and expressions of deep disappointment conveyed by the US to Saudi Arabia–which most likely have been made by Trump in his telephone contacts with Riyadh early on during the matter–would never be explicit with an ally of such stature. Certainly, Trump did not shy away from the beastiality of the crime. What Trump and senior administration officials tried to do is bring perspective to the matter. On November 28, 2018, then US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Pentagon reminded reporters that as of the moment he was speaking about the Khashoggi matter: “We have no smoking gun the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.” He further explained that the US still expected those responsible for the killing to be held accountable. In a November 28, 2018 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expatiated on the matter, summarizing the position of the US Government as follows: “The US doesn’t condone the Khashoggi killing, which is fundamentally inconsistent with American values—something I have told the Saudi leadership privately as well as publicly. President Trump has taken action in response. Twenty-one Saudi suspects in the murder have been deemed ineligible to enter the US and had any visas revoked. On Nov. 15, the administration imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis under Executive Order 13818, which builds on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. We’ve worked to strengthen support for this response, and several countries, including France and Germany, have followed suit. The Trump administration will consider further punitive measures if more facts about Khashoggi’s murder come to light.” Pompeo went on the explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as a regional ally, by additionally stating: “The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s. Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has also contributed millions of dollars to the US-led effort to fight Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Saudi oil production and economic stability are keys to regional prosperity and global energy security.” Yet, once Trump and his senior officials sought to explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally when discussing the Khashoggi matter, a knee-jerk response of critics and detractors was the hackneyed claim that the US President placed a pecuniary interest in its Middle East ally at greater value than the life of journalist. That claim was stated so often that it became a common observation.

wTrump (left) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (right). An intriguing type of leadership could be seen from Trump on the Khashoggi matter. A US President must keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage, is a role model to much of rest of the world. It is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide. If the US had officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder and that a strong response was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken tough steps against it. 

Through Trump’s decision making regarding the Khashoggi matter, an intriguing type of leadership could be seen in him. A US President in considering how to proceed on a matter, must indeed keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage is a role model to much of rest of the world. As such, the US is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide through its actions. The values and interests of the US, of course, will hold primacy in decision making on a matter, the interests of allies and partners will also be taken into account. In the Khashoggi case, the reality is that the murder occurred in Turkey (although the Saudi Arabian Consulate is technically the sovereign territory of Saudi Arabia). As reported, the assassination team that killed Khashoggi came into Turkey through Istanbul Airport and a number of the co-conspirators moved in and around the streets of Istanbul before and after the killing. If the US had immediately and officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was directly responsible for the murder and that some form of retribution was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken some type of steps against it. Turkey may very well have acted unilaterally and swiftly, utilizing its military or intelligence services, to punish those who used its country as the site to slaughter an esteemed and welcomed journalist. Turkey would have unlikely felt that it needed the permission of the US to act, just as Saudi officials, at some level, doubtlessly felt that they did not need to confer with or ask the permission of the US to act against Khashoggi.

As for the US role in mitigating Turkey’s likely desire for retribution, it offered not only words exhorting restraint, but also served as an example of restraint. Consider that there was a preexisting animus between Turkey and Saudi Arabia before the Khashoggi murder. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia was angered over Turkey’s support to Qatar and withdraw its troops from the country. That demand caused Turkey to perceive Saudi Arabia as a threat to Turkey’s interests. In Riyadh, Turkey was on the top of its list of enemies. Khashoggi’s murder brought tensions to new heights. Knowing this, Saudi Arabia, days after the murder, made a secret offer to pour billions of dollars into Turkey’s economy and ease its hard-line stance on Qatar if Ankara helped whitewash the scandal. Turkey rejected the proposal. Afterward, Turkey allegedly began producing evidence that indicated Mohammed bin Salman was involved. Nevertheless, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan did stop short of accusing Prince Mohammed directly. He would only posit that responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lied at “the highest levels” of the Saudi Arabian Government. Turkey’s fresh anger against Saudi Arabia also added to decades of animus toward the Arab World ignited as a result of battles of the Ottoman Empire to maintain order. What happened so long ago remains a big part of Turkish history, culture, and psyche. Indeed, the loss of many young Turkish soldiers in Arabia still touches the hearts of many Turkish families. None of this is to suggest or imply that an anti-Arab strain runs through Turkish thinking today. Nonetheless, given that memories of past wars persist, and the fact that emotions were running very high after the Khashoggi murder, convincing Turkey, free to act on its own, not to act, was not an easy thing to do. Turkey, as the guarantor of its own national interests, made the choice to cooperate effectively with US diplomatically, outside the auspices of an international institution.

Trump has made shrewd, empathetic considerations whenever acting on foreign and national security policy. His judgments have been made with circumspection, and are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he develops his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measures what might be lost versus what might be gained short-term and long-term. A great portion of the US public, watching him, feels assured that all will be fine.

The Way Forward

In Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline, King Cymbeline of Britain has married a woman who has made him her puppet. Cymbeline arranges for his beautiful daughter, Imogen, to marry his new wife’s son, Cloten, but she instead marries the poor but worthy Posthumus Leonatus. Angered, Cymbeline banishes Posthumus. Before he leaves for Italy, Imogen gives him a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet. In Italy, Posthumus encounters a Iachimo, who vacuously argues all women are naturally unchaste, and bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. Yet, once at the British court, he fails to seduce her. Full of tricks, Iachimo hides in a large chest he has sent to her room; slips out at night while Imogen slept, and steals the bracelet Posthumus gave her, Iachimo returns to Italy and uses both the bracelet and knowledge of the details of Imogen’s bedchamber, to convince Posthumus that he won the bet. Posthumus, furious, sends a letter to his servant, Pisanio, in Britain, ordering him to murder Imogen. Pisanio, believing in Imogen’s innocence, gets her to disguise herself as a boy and get to Posthumus while he would report to him that Imogen was dead.  On the run, Imogen becomes lost in the wilds of Wales, where she meets Belarius, a wrongfully banished nobleman, and his sons, Guiderius and Arviragus. Unbeknownst to them, both were actually Cymbeline’s sons. They would later come to the aid of Imogen and to the aid of Britain against the Romans. The audience first meets Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus as their “father”, instructs them on the nuances of a calm life while climbing a mountain. Belarius states: Now for our mountain sport: up to yond hill; / Your legs are young; I’ll tread these flats. Consider, / When you above perceive me like a crow, / That it is place which lessens and sets off; / And you may then revolve what tales I have told you / Of courts, of princes, of the tricks in war: / This service is not service, so being done, / But being so allow’d: to apprehend thus, / Draws us a profit from all things we see; / And often, to our comfort, shall we find / The sharded beetle in a safer hold / Than is the full-wing’d eagle. O, this life / Is nobler than attending for a cheque, / Richer than doing nothing for a bauble, / Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk: / Such gain the cap of him that makes ’em fine, / Yet keeps his book uncross’d: no life to ours. These words, which may appear somewhat cryptic to modern readers, essentially explain that maintaining a balanced, rational view is the best way of examine a situation and will allow for a rational analysis of it. In each foreign and national security policy issue examined here, evidence indicates Trump made shrewd, empathetic considerations as he acted. His judgments were made with circumspection, considering what precedes and what follows, are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he developed his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measured what might be lost versus what might be gained in both the short-term and the long-term. When moving to make changes in the status quo, Trump typically assessed the situation before him much as a half-back in US football searches for openings in the line that may allow him to breakthrough and do some open field running. Trump has also exuded a confidence on the world stage. Trump knows where he is and what he is doing, and a good portion of the US public, watching him work, feels assured that everything will be alright. Presenting oneself as confident and assured in itself is an art of leaders. When taking risks one naturally feels risk. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte explained of himself: “There is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign. I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the circumstances make possible. I am in a thoroughly painful state of agitation. This does not keep me from looking quite serene in front of my entourage; I am like an unmarried girl laboring with a child. Once I had made up my mind, everything is forgotten except what leads to success.”

In each case presented here, Trump, in seeking to manage and influence the actions of other national leaders, was allowed the freedom to act in his own way, and unshackled by what administration officials might call the limitations of an international institution managing some collective action under its auspices. Countries that would like to work effectively outside of international institutions should feign nothing, and make a wholehearted effort at it. As Trump continues to evolve as US President, other national leaders are provided with an example on how they might approach foreign and national security policy decision making for their own countries. Perhaps most leaders would have small interest in the ministrations of greatcharlie on this matter. Of course, there are rarely situations that arise that are so uniform in nature that lessons from one leader would allow a cookie cutter approach to resolving them. However, smart people are able to find solutions to problems. If national leaders would like to work outside of international institutions more frequently, new more thoughtful and empathetic perspectives must be allowed to arrive in their thinking on their diplomacy with other countries.

Trump Achieved More at Helsinki than Most Noticed: Putin Is Not a Challenge for Him

US President Donald Trump (left) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right). Trump is attempting to repair a broken relationship between the US and Russia, and snuff out the danger that contentious interactions between the two countries poses. US President Barack Obama was barely on nodding terms with Putin by the end of his administration. Trump hoped to move to a higher level of understanding with Putin at Helsinki. He has not as yet given up on the idea that he will find some touch that would knock everything with Putin in the right direction.

One of the main pitfalls US President Donald Trump has faced while serving as president is that he must operate from Washington, which could be sardonically called occupied territory given the many power circles arrayed against him there. Indeed, Trump and members of his administration have been afflicted by hostile opposition and persecution. A very raw and destructive claim has been repeated by many elements of the US news media and certainly by critics and detractors among the pundits, that Trump is incompetent and there is no pattern or direction to action for the country from his administration. In terms of foreign policy, the administration characterized as being adrift. Perhaps “krise” is the word that would best describe the situation as depicted. The dislike of Trump is so intense in many media circles that it would not be melodramatic to assert that the ultimate goal of reporting has not been to correct Trump or improve his policy decisions, but rather to cause him to falter. Even many policy experts who would normally take a serious analytical approach to their critiques of Trump more often do less to inform in a balanced way, and rather, set out to tear him down. Such was the case concerning the July 16, 2018 Helsinki Summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. Discussion of summit even before it began was rarely described other than harshly. Critics and detractors indicated that in order for Trump to impress them, which is not his job, they would expect to see nothing less from him at Helsinki than to approach Putin with a gritty teeth attitude, making bold accusations and great demands. Predictions made of Trump’s likely performance in the US news media were decidedly negative. After the summit, those same observers insisted that their ideas were confirmed. They characterized Trump as being subordinated by Putin.

There is always the danger of theorizing before facts are actually available. However, critics and detractors whose views were published in newspapers and magazines, broadcast on television, and posted online, were unconcerned with facts as pilloried Trump with their vitriol. Yet, in taking that approach, those observers of Trump made some pretty big wrong turns in their analyses Trump’s efforts in Helsinki. It might be worthwhile for them and all interested in Helsinki to take a step back, and look afresh at the matter, considering all facts, not just those that conveniently lend albeit tenuous support to a negative view. While what is offered here by greatcharlie may only be a worm’s eye view of an enormous matter and may not be able to change the perspectives of many. However, the purpose is provide an outside the box analysis of the meeting that may help contribute to the policy debate of US-Russia relations and stimulate fresh ideas. A number of aspects of the meeting that have not received much attention are examined. Some insights into how relations between Trump and Putin are evolving are also offered. For intelligence services worldwide, understanding the inner thinking of national leaders and their coteries of advisers, can be both a joy and a torment. For greatcharlie, examining the matter remains intriguing and has practically become a daily obsession. Confragosa in fastigium dignitatis via est. (It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.)

Any time the presidents of the US and Russia meet, it could be billed as a meeting of eagles. The two are leaders of the only military superpowers on Earth, both capable of omnicide through a single decision. What stands between all of the people of Earth and eternity is the vocabulary of the two men.

Matters Covered by Trump and Putin in Helsinki

Any time the presidents of the US and Russia meet, it could be billed as a meeting of eagles. The two are leaders of the only military superpowers on Earth, both capable of omnicide through a single decision. What stands between all of the people of Earth and eternity is the vocabulary of the two men. The Helsinki Summit began with a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin. Except for translators, no other advisers or aides were present. It was followed by a bilateral meeting with advisers and aides included. On the heels of those meetings, a joint press conference was held.  When it began, Trump spoke first, then graciously deferred to Putin by allowing him to provide a list of issues covered in their meeting.  For Trump, this was certainly a rational choice, reinforcing goodwill and strengthening his evolving rapport with Putin. Trump’s moderation was put on full display for the world to see. Moreover, Trump most likely wanted to avoid getting into a meaningless and unconstructive chicken-and-egg debate on whether a Russian report on what transpired during the summit was heard before the US presented its version.

The US news media made inquiries into why list came only from Putin and whether Trump agreed with the list. Some characterized Trump as being mysterious about what was discussed. Critics and detractors immediately claimed that their first blush impression that Putin would dominate Trump at the summit and run the meeting were confirmed. Rather than viewing what Putin offered as a manifest of topics covered, it was panned by reporters as a list of spoils that Putin took from the meeting. The general approach to US news media reporting of the meeting was negative. Moreover, only a modicum of fact was used to portray a maximum of knowledge, which ultimately revealed a lack of awareness among the reporters and no real ability to discern what happening before them. Their negative perspectives were reinforced when they were commingled with the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election and reports of continued Russian efforts to interfere with the US election system and democratic process. Insubstantial interconnections between Trump and Russia prior to the 2016 election were reported  once again and incredulously characterized as indicia of wrongdoing. Attempting one more time to ameliorate concerns on the election interference front, Trump acknowledge that issues concerning election interference were broached and addressed, but his desire was to move past what was done to what can be done immediately. For the US news media as well as critics and detractors, the immediate impression was that Trump’s statements were not solid enough, and simply interpreted his words negatively.

When Trump went on to make gracious statements to Putin, he was seen as again being reluctant to use the opportunity of these US-Russia meetings to criticize Putin for additional ills that go beyond election interference. Statements Trump made concerning Putin’s response clearly evinced a desire to move forward, however, by his own admission, he would recognized that he may have said what he did not want to say. Indeed, two days later, on July 18, 2018 at the White House, he admitted that he misspoke amidst his comments concerning Russian interference. Trump explained that he was moved by the spirit of the moment and insisted that it was not his intention to declare everything as being hunky dory.

The US news media also found Trump’s politeness toward Putin very disconcerting. Many observers still wonder whether it was simply politeness. Some critics and detractors found it nothing less than obsequious and alleged that it was due to timidity. Over the top theories in the US that Putin possesses some derogatory, even threatening information on Trump, kompromat, were written and spoken once more. Surely, if Trump had found it prudent, he would have had little problem in meeting the wishes of critics by admonishing Putin once again over election interference in furtive one-on-one session, the bilateral meeting, or publicly at the press conference. However, life experience had surely taught Trump that aggressively reproaching Putin at Helsinki would not bring satisfaction, not even for the short-term. Russia was wrong to act against US interests in the 2016 elections, but what was done is done. Trump can respond by taking punitive economic measures, sanctions, and expelling Russian diplomats and intelligence officials from the US, and padlocking Russian government facilities in the US. However, he also knows that Putin to the best of his ability has thought through, “gamed”, the possible consequences to his actions with his advisers. It appears that he stands ready to take his medicine and he is not overly concerned with retribution from the US short of acting on Russian sovereign territory or acting harshly against the interests of Russia and its allies. What might be wise for Trump to do beyond providing lip-service to Putin as suggested by critics and detractors, is close the door on future Russian activities against the US and as best as possible, build a positive relationship with Putin, and improve US relations with Russia. Although Trump certainly has some anger, bitterness, and resentment in his heart over what Putin and Russia have done, he knows behaving too aggressively would be short-sighted, and would only lengthen the distance he will need to travel to improve the US relationship with Russia. Trump will not sacrifice any benefits that might result from acting in a measured way. What critics and detractors have been demanding from Trump, to repeatedly confront Putin, is most telling of their own flawed understanding of the situation. Aggressively reproaching Putin would never be an effective plan for dealing with the Russian leader if positive results are desired. 

Putin has been rather ambiguous about what exactly he did during his time in the KGB. There have been no official revelations about the operations that he participated in during his career. However, from the time Putin entered the spot light, pundits in the US have done a good amount of creative thinking on Putin. A persona was steadily crafted for Putin, heavily influenced by colorful characters of spy novels, feature films, and television programs about espionage.

Trump also likely recognizes just how devastating the outcome of the wrongful Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 US Presidential Election was for Putin. Putin does not have too much to gloat about. Not only was the covert operation discovered, but a great number of those involved in it from the Russian intelligence and security services have been identified. Ironically, as Putin approved the effort to exploit gaps in the security of the US election system that would allow foreign penetration, he learned at the same time as the rest of the world that the US had broken into the systems of the Russian intelligence and security services to the extent that they could provide profiles of those involved beyond name, rank, and serial number. The whole world was fascinated by the fact that the US could detail the exact role that officers from Russia’s intelligence and security services each played in the operation. One could even surmise sardonically that the US had the ability to determine “when those officers were home and when they were not.” Indeed, it was Putin’s own intelligence and security services that had been successfully penetrated. While his intelligence and security services may very well be continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections, he may be on the verge of recognizing that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more US intelligence services and law enforcement is enabled to discover about Russian intelligence tactics, technique, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources. 

To better understand what in part guides Trump’s thinking on foreign policy, one must keep in mind that in his “previous life”, he was foremost a land developer, a builder. To build a building one must have a design and plans from architects and engineers. However, the most important initial action must be to ensure that the structure will be stable will last by creating a strong foundation. That is a requirement that will never change. Those builders who have failed to recognize this have met with disaster. Now Trump, in his own way, is building a new foundation for US role in world. Trump was initially accused of thinking of Utopian possibilities on foreign policy: revising trade agreements; terminating long-standing but nonviable treaties; and, making better deals for the national interest and for US firms. Trump has sought to create an environment for peace, with the support of allies and through an authentic rapport with competitors and adversaries. To accomplish this, strategic concept on US foreign policy and diplomacy includes seeking open dialogue with decision makers from around the world, including those who may hold different views than his on how to approach issues but also place great value in the rule of law, democratic government, human rights, freedom of speech and free enterprise that underpin human progress.  He supports a rules-based international system and closer cooperation across borders to address geopolitical, economic and social challenges. So far, things that once seemed so impossible, now appear so simple and natural when handled by Trump. “Das Wunder Trump!” Trump’s foreign and national security policy efforts represent an invasion of new ideas, new approaches the political circles in the US have not been easily accepted, but one way or the other must submit to. Trump’s optimism, his nature as an “imagineer”, has driven him to at least take a crack at making things better.

With Putin, Trump is certainly not staring at his shoe laces. He is attempting to repair a broken relationship between the US and Russia, and snuff out the danger contentious interactions between the two countries poses. US President Barack Obama was barely in nodding terms with Putin. Trump has expressed the nice idea that the US and Russia could accomplish so much more positive things in the world if they could find a way to work together on issues in the transnational interest. With an optimism spurred by having found some areas of agreement and given the degree of mutual respect between Putin and himself, Trump hopes to move to a higher level of understanding with him at Helsinki. Trump has not as yet given up on the idea that he will find some touch that he could put on the situation that would knock everything in the right direction.

A long espoused criticism of Trump is that he has a self-enchantment with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin even before Helsinki were decried by critics and detractors, and as well by many in the US news media, as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous, particularly in light of reports from the US Intelligence Community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Trump dismisses the obloquy of critics. In fact, rather than finding Putin intoxicating, Trump has his own considerable reservations about him having had a number of disappointing experiences with him in the past year. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has observed Russian moves such as continued interference in the US election system and the election systems of US allies and partners, Russian efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and the tightening of Moscow’s grip Crimea and the Donbass.

In the one-on-one session, Trump and Putin undoubtedly sought to present every issue discussed from the best advantage of their respective countries. Trump certainly understood that it had to be done without compromising conditions for finding agreement or resolution on them. Each issue needed to be presented with a certain amount of emphasis and pressure. Yet, nothing would be allowed to deviate far from Trump’s vision of what the US needed. After the one-on-one session, Trump surely better understood Putin’s thinking and intentions.

Trump is not relying on banal Hollywood depictions of the KGB or any other fictions to understand Putin. He wants to understand him in the rough. Searching for publicly available expressions from Putin about his thinking and reactions, Trump undoubtedly came across what Putin wrote in his 2000 memoir, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000). It would serve as an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to understand how Putin perceives himself and his relationships with others.

What Trump Knows about  Putin

It may very well be that following Helsinki, Putin surmised the Russian government was magnified in the eyes of its people and the world. He may have returned to Moscow and “tripped the light fantastic” over the way things turned out with Trump. That behavior would fit the US media version of Putin: an icy, former KGB officer who views the US, the West, and especially Trump with disdain. Undoubtedly, Putin is a shrewd, experienced operator, who always acts with purpose, remain focused on his intention, and has applied as much pressure necessary to maintain his grip on power in Russia. The manner in which Putin does his homework for meetings with other national leaders, such the summit with Trump in Helsinki, was previously explained in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response,”

For decades, Hollywood has presented spying as a tough, violent business, with a thousands twists everyday. However, while some intelligence officers may have exceptionally exciting careers, for the most part, life in the intelligence world is humdrum and far from that conjured in the minds of creative screenwriters. Inured with the imaginary version from feature films and television, it is perhaps difficult for outside observers to accept that reality. It is a reality that is unappealing, unappetizing for pundits for it spoils the fantasy the excitement, and fascination. Except for certain parts of his 2000 memoir, First Person, An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000), Putin has been rather ambiguous about what exactly he did during his time in the KGB. There have been no official revelations about the operations that he participated in during his intelligence career. However, from the time Putin entered the spot light, pundits have done their own share creative thinking on Putin. In this way, a persona was steadily crafted for Putin, heavily influenced by colorful characters of spy novels, feature films, television program about spying, that the pundits can understand.

In an almost amorous way, they ogle over Putin, as everything a KGB officer would be serving as the point of the spear of the ideological face-iff between East and West. They oddly insist that Putin is an amoral spy, a master of his craft always operating, making use of the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of that job. A vision of Putin is very often created for readers and viewers by reporters as the officer still in the field, developing agents, tracking down intercepting, neutralizing and recruiting foreign spies, and engaging in “wet work”, assassinating the foes of the Soviet Union. Left alone in your den, he would very likely attempt to read your mail. One could easily be convinced by it all that Putin is still on the beat and that he never really left the service. By breathing so much of their own imaginations into their depictions of Putin, pundits and reporters also create a type of Walter Mitty experience for themselves, finding excitement in interviewing him, and even just covering him. Pundits and reporters may insist that there is nothing sporting, nothing good about Putin, but their depictions of him are often so passionate that they seemingly evince many are oddly enamored by him. When reporters as well as critics and detractors match “their Putin” against Trump, there is no contest. Putin wins hands down.

Res ipsa repperi facilitate nihil esse homini melius neque clementia. (I have learned by experience that nothing is more advantageous to a person than courtesy and compassion.) As opposed to wrongly characterizing Trump’s politeness to Putin as obsequiousness or subordination, it should have been given far higher meaning. It was clearly an exhibition of a higher order of social grace, his mastery of good manners and etiquette, should have been discerned as such. As mentioned, Trump came office with the intention of cauterizing long standing tensions, exacerbated by the previous administration’s mishandling of US Russia relations, and finding a way to create a genuine connection with Putin in order to establish a stronger bond bofh between the two leaders and two nations. It has been a bedeviling process. What observers were seeing was a truly inventive approach to Putin, which seems to have yielded some positive results.