Book Review: Robert Spalding, War Without Rules: China’s Playbook for Global Domination (Sentinel, 2022)

People’s Republic of China People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s Aircraft Carrier, Type 001A Shandong (Hull 17), the PLA Navy’s second aircraft carrier, but the first built domestically (above). In War Without Rules: China’s Playbook for Global Domination (Sentinel, 2022), retired US Air Force Brigadier General Robert Spalding discusses China’s military concept of unrestricted warfare. Spalding points out the concept may also include the use of armed force with its arsenal of weapons as the Type 001A Shandong, it is a military concept designed for the use of non-military forms of warfare: psychological, media, information, technology, cyber, financial, political, social, and espionage. The aim of unrestricted warfare is to weaken the US internally and to exploit its vulnerabilities. Spalding says there can be no doubt that the ultimate goal of the Communiet Party of China is world dominance. From his perspective, that does not bode well for the US.

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping promises the Chinese people that China will supplant the US as the world’s dominant power in every sector. (Surely, it would be out of character for Xi to assure the Chinese people something as mundane as French King Henry IV declared one day in 1598 as France was just beginning to emerge from its ruinous religious wars: “Je veux que chaque laboureur de mon royaume puisse mettre la poule au pot le Comanche.” (I desire that every laborer in my realm should be able to put a fowl in the pot on Sundays.). Reference is commonly made to that statement with the phrase, “poulet au pot.”) One might imagine that some similitudes of the romanticism á la the French Revolution, megalomania, or some bizarre combination of both, perhaps in concert with others, have driven the zeal of Communist Party of China’s leadership over the years to achieve this goal. Xi will very likely have a lot of other unsettling things to say as time goes on. As attaining the dominant position in the world has been a long sought goal but never reached, some experts, scholars, and policy practitioners still look askance at the whole idea. China’s ambitions and capabilities as they concern attaining this lofty goal no longer sit in the realm of the theoretical or left to philosophical meanderings. Xi is clearly determined to achieve it under his leadership. If China were ever to make the dream of dominance come true, it would not be so willing to relinquish that position. Beijing would doubtlessly do whatever it took to stay on top.

Although the idea of China being the world’s dominant power may be a pleasurable thought in Beijing, the moral and ethical implications are remarkably overwhelming. The idea of China achieving that goal is a frightening prospect, terrifying leaders in other countries whether its friend or foe. The subject of this review is Robert Spalding’s War Without Rules: China’s Playbook for Global Domination (Sentinel, 2022). In his book, Spalding says there can be no doubt that the ultimate goal of the Communiet Party of China is world dominance. From his perspective, that does not bode well for the US. A retired US Air Force Brigadier General, Spalding, in War Without Rules, expresses his most recent meditations about China’s efforts to achieve dominance overseas and even greater control at home. He offers more answers on how the US and its allies might respond to that effort. Spalding states in his “Introduction”: It is not enough to know what your enemy wants. One needs to understand his strategy. In this regard, Washington has been, to use Spalding’s words, “really confused.” He says the US is “primed to fight in one way-all-out war-and see aggression through the same lens.” The indications and implications of this is that the US over the years has failed to discern and accept the Chinese are doing something very different and thereby, Washington has failed to act appropriately. To that extent, War Without Rules is a further attempt by Spalding to get the word out to US political leaders about what China is doing. Yet, more than a book about China’s concepts, intentions, and actions to knock the US off its perch as the dominant power in the world, greatcharlie found that War Without Rules is a book that stirs the reader’s curiosity. The reader is caused to inquire further into the author’s judgments and give greater consideration of their own views on the matter. Such books are figurative catnip for greatcharlie.

Robert Spalding retired from the US Air Force as a brigadier general after more than 25 years of service. If US Air Force officers were listed by achievements–perhaps they are somewhere in the Pentagon, Spalding would surely be among the luminaries. His Air Force biography provides the best picture of the experience and knowledge he possesses. Spalding is a former insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that as a former flag officer and B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, he was among a him in unique, elite caste of military officer, not quick to speak out, does not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, not the type to fret over a perception without the full facts, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously.

Overview

In War Without Rules, Spalding frames the problem in getting Washington to understand how China has been steadily moving in the direction of achieving dominance in his Introduction by stating: “From our standpoint, we use military force to achieve a political outcome.” To that extent, he continues: “So they’re constantly in a state of war, they never exit time to peace. And that means they’re always fighting for advantage, they’re always fighting . . . to gain an advantage over their opponent, and . . . are willing to do whatever means necessary.” Spalding states that over those years he came to two key realizations: first, the number one goal of the Chinese Communist Party is the survival of the Chinese Communist Party; and, second, the number one threat to achieving that goal is American democracy. Spalding observes that although there may not be full agreement in the US that China is an enemy, China certainly views the US as its enemy, an existential one. Much as with Spalding’s preceding work, Stealth War: How China Took Over While America’s Elite Slept (Portfolio, 2019), which greatcharlie reviewed in its November 30, 2021 post, Wat Without Rules is not about moving from choppy waters to calmer times. It is about preparing the US, using all tools of its power, to best handle what is happening with China and the worst that will most likely, or will eventually, come from its direction.

Unrestricted Warfare: the Playbook 

The central element of Spalding’s discussion on China’s efforts to dethrone the US as the world’s dominant power is the concept of “unrestricted warfare.” That concept is laid out in a 1998 book entitled Unrestricted Warfare authored by two People’s Republic of China People’s Liberation Army (PLA) colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Spalding essentially uses War Without Rules to parse out the text which was once relatively unknown in the West. In each of the chapters of War Without Rules, Spalding presents excerpts from Unrestricted Warfare along with his interpretations and assessments of the text.

Spalding explains the concept of unrestricted warfare, or what the two authors call a “cocktail mixture of warfare” and define as “warfare which transcends all boundaries and limits.” Spalding points out that while China’s version of unrestricted warfare may also include the use of armed force, it is a strategy that prioritizes the use of non-military forms of warfare: psychological, media, information, technology, cyber, financial, political, social, and espionage. (The espionage element will be considered in greater detail later in this review.) The aim of unrestricted warfare is to weaken the US internally and to exploit its vulnerabilities. (Spalding would call unrestricted warfare in War Without Rules as “beyond-limits combined war.” As the term seems to best reflect the flavor of strategy’s meaning in Chinese, greatcharlie shall hereinafter refer to the strategy of unrestricted warfare more thoroughly as “beyond-limits combined war.”) Since under what was a new concept in 1998 the battlefield is everywhere, for the PLA, everything can be weaponized. On a short list of things weaponized, Spalding includes computers, drugs (fentanyl), financial markets, viruses (COVID-19), social media platforms, universities, scientific organizations, NGOs, trade, and media outlets. To create a foundation for the conceptualization of their new approach, Spalding explains that the two PLA colonels “pulled together centuries of Chinese thinking about warfare and made it relevant in a modern context.” To that extent, Spalding goes as far as to state that the book, Unrestricted Warfare, preached a new version of a very old Chinese formula for victory first set down in print thousands of years ago by Sun Tzu, who wrote in Art of War (c. 5 B.C.), which focused on military organization, leadership, and battlefield tactics, that the acme of skill was to defeat an enemy without fighting.

Spalding insists Unrestricted Warfare is “the main blueprint for China’s efforts to unseat America as the world’s economic, political, and ideological leader.” He states further, it is “the key to decoding China’s master plan for world domination.” Spalding points out that the two colonels wrote the book at a time when the US was enjoying its brief “unipolar moment,” having recently achieved victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War and won a one-sided military victory in the First Persian Gulf War. And China had not yet attained economic and military superpower status. Much as their superiors in the Communist Party of China, the sense of ardor of the two PLA colonels were respectively inflamed by what they witnessed in the Gulf War and they became more determined than ever to find a way to enhance their country’s capabilities and raise its status globally. Given what Spalding says Unrestricted Warfare endows, it is a wonder why its two authors were allowed by their masters to publish, nonetheless write such a piece in an unclassified context. There must have initially been some nervousness in China’s Ministry of Defense and the Communist Party of China over security concerns. Some time and effort was presumably put into parsing out how the US and its allies would react if a copy got into their hands.

Cynics and conspiracy theorists would doubtlessly go as far as to say Unrestricted Warfare may be a false document, a piece of disinformation, generated by one or more national governments wanting to create a picture of a virulent, predatory China hellbent upon dethroning the US as the global superpower in any way possible. To that extent, they ostensibly insinuate that Spalding has taken the bait and run with it to an extreme. They would perchance offer a caveat to the effect that readers not allow themselves to be bewitched by Spalding the “dream-weaver” or the “teller of tales”. Other detractors of Spalding’s opus would hypothesize that if political leaders were sufficiently impressed by the length and breadth of Chinese activities depicted in the book, it would open the door to greater overwatch and responsibilities for counterintelligence services in the US Intelligence Community and federal law enforcement. Thereby, the document was very likely created within the intelligence industry to influence political support for enhancing their respective powers, broadening their respective missions, and increasing their respective resources. That would be quite a judgment on the character of the men who run the intelligence services and federal law enforcement organizations in the US. Anything is possible from an industry in which many of its professionals as a practice must deny their own names and concealing their accomplishments and contributions is de rigueur. So many “capers” are still kept close to the vest by top executives and managers. Then again, some could say conversely that any effort to create second thoughts on Unrestricted Warfare could possibly be the work of the opposition, a misinformation campaign of some sort.

Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Having said that, it might be helpful to remind such cynics that Spalding in part resolves the provenance of Unrestricted Warfare by laying out the manner in which events have unfolded and continue to unfold and how Chinese activities “follow the script” of Unrestricted Warfare practically to the letter. Spalding notes that Unrestricted Warfare has been used at China’s military academies. It would be unusual for a “misinformation tool” to be placed on syllabi in such educational institutions. Surely, that evidence alone should help carry his argument well-outside the realm of conjecture and settle it down into reality for most. All that being stated, greatcharlie reckons that diving any deeper into such matters, would be counterproductive, and that it would be best to “stay on mission” and discuss the good readers will find in War Without Rules.

As a book concerning the course of China’s implementation of beyond-limits combined war, War Without Rules, to an extent, is a book about both the past and present. Yet, more importantly, it is an argument concerning the type of future the US and the rest of the world’s industrialized democracies really want. Spalding leaves doubt that he believes the idea of Chinese dominance is unacceptable given the nature of China’s totalitarian government. He feels the growing concern about China within Washington and the capitals of its allies is warranted. Spalding insists that much more must be done by those capitals to convince China that the matter of it becoming the world’s dominant power is simply out of court. In his view, too many mistakes have been made already by them, especially by Washington, that have allowed China to advance quite a bit in that direction. Spalding makes considerable reference to the political leaders, business leaders, senior government officials, and distinguished scholars, academics, and technical experts who exercise the lion’s share of authority within their countries. Western elites called themselves keeping an eye on Beijing, but Spalding explains for far too long have assumed the military is China’s main weapon in a war. To his amazement, he observed they somehow or another failed to realize that money can be a stronger weapon. To the detriment of the interests of their own respective countries, through interactions with China, particularly economic through commerce, finance, and trade, have lavished Beijing with enough money to wage a beyond-limits combined war against them which the Communist Party of China fully intends to win! 

In Act II, scene iv, of William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of Richard the Second, a Welch captain speaks these words of doom and gloom to the Earl of Salisbury: “The bay-trees in our country are all wither’d / And meteors fright the fixed stars of heaven; The pale-faced moon looks bloody on the earth / And lean-look’d prophets whisper fearful change; / Rich men look sad and ruffians dance and leap, / The one in fear to lose what they enjoy, / The other to enjoy by rage and war:” Rest assured, War Without Rules is not a manifestation of a sense of doom and gloom concerning China held by Spalding. War Without Rules does not present a “scare story”, pour employer une phrase populaire. Spalding certainly is not whining about China in War Without Rules.  From what greatcharlie is aware of, operating with such a mindset would hardly be Spalding’s way of thinking or doing things. Despite his strong feelings, his discussion is more intellectual than overtly emotional. Afterall, he is a consummate professional from the US foreign and national security policy realmand for warriors such as Spalding, “strength of character consists not only of having strong feelings, but maintaining one’s balance in spite of them!” Spalding has a mind and will to win.

In a 1978 October 13, 1978 Wall Street Journal article entitled, “U.S. Monetary Troubles” by Lindley H. Clark Jr., Paul Samuelson, the Nobel laureate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recalled that John Maynard Keynes once was challenged for altering his position on some economic issue. “When my information changes,” he remembered that Keynes had said, “I change my mind. What do you do?” Spalding admits initially having been somewhat dismissive, himself, about the Unrestricted Warfare and viewed the precepts revealed by the two PLA colonels as somewhat fanciful or lofty. Spalding notes in the Introduction of War Without Rules: “When I first read the Chinese war manual Unrestricted Warfare in 1999, I thought it was wacky. I was flying B-2 Stealth bombers out of Whiteman Air Force Base in western Missouri and reading a lot about war. As an Air Force officer, I thought it was part of my day job to understand the bigger picture–even though the prevailing attitude in the military was ‘Just fly the planes.’ ” Torah Lishmah! Spalding’s whole perspective changed once he discerned China was putting everything he read into motion, and doing it well. Spalding spoke truth to power at the Pentagon and the White House then, and speaks of only what he knows to be the truth in War Without Rules now.

At the time of this review, a 212 page translation of Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America, Reprint ed. (Echo Point Books & Media, 2015) has been made available for purchase on Amazon.com. The description provided for the book on Amazon is as follows: “Two colonels in the People’s Liberation Army, Qiao Liang (乔良) and Wang Xiangsui (王湘穗). Its primary concern is how a nation such as China can defeat a technologically superior opponent, such as the United States.” Having examined Unrestricted Warfare, greatcharlie would wholeheartedly agree that the audience best situated to parse it out in the round would be academics, other scholars, and practitioners in the province of foreign and national security policy. Any level-best effort by those somewhat unfamiliar with these matters, which would be laudable. Still, Unrestricted Warfare is made more easily understood through Spalding’s lens, colored by his expertise and experience. Spalding’s examination of the book via War Without Rules better enables readers with the chance to gain knowledge on a matter that would essentially be limited to those thoroughly steeped in China policy, Chinese defense issues, Chinese military culture, and military science. To that extent, his book will remain an important resource in every personal, public, academic, and institutional library.

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 Book XLIV, sec. 15 of that history Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), he writes: “Plerumque ipsam se fraudem, etiamai initio cautior fuerit, detegere.” (A fraudulent intent, however carefully concealed at the outset, will generally, in the end, betray itself.) Increasing sunlight has been shone upon China’s activities, not just on the coronavirus disaster or in the domain of foreign and national security policy, but the totality of its malign actions. Included among those actions would be: predatory investment scams directed against trusting governments of often small and less industrialized countries; intrusions into sovereign waters for mass fishing; intellectual property theft from companies and research labs that have invested millions in research and development into; and, demands of censorship insisted upon of those in any arena who have received funding from, or are doing business with, China, Beijing must accept that as a result of such actions, impressions of China have not generally been positive worldwide. Communist Party of China leaders have doubtlessly come across the many statements made internationally about Chinese government spokespersons, diplomats, and other officials. To that extent, the Communist Party of China can hardly be happy about the damage being done worldwide to China’s reputation through books such as War Without Rules. Spalding’s voice is surely one that is looked upon as something better than annoying by the Communist Party of China. Spalding is among an ever growing group of China specialists who are determined to uncloak the fraudulent intent of China established decades ago. They put China’s intentions in full view of the world to see. Perhaps what specialists as Spalding present on China might be perceived as nothing less than affront or rebuke. It could only have been worse it his voice emanated from Taiwan. Then Beijing would have considered his act of writing and publishing the book as one more betrayal.

Spalding holding up copies of War Without Rules (left) and Stealth War (right). Although packed with excellent suggestions, War Without Rules, as with his preceding work, Stealth War, is not about moving from choppy waters to calmer times. It is about preparing the US, using all tools of its power, military, diplomatic, economic, political, and information (media) power, to best handle what is happening with China and the worst that will most likely, or will eventually, come from its direction. Given the success of Stealth War, Spalding was undoubtedly pre-empted to write another work of such magnitude. Surely, he was not lumbered by that task, and welcomed the opportunity to gnaw further at the issue of China ambitions and maligned actions and intentions. War Without Rules is every bit as brilliant as its predecessor. It is another superb exposition of Spalding’s pragmatic thinking.

The Author

In War Without Rules, readers are presented with the perspectives and insights on US-China relations through the lens of a man with years of experience on such matters. While hesitant to rewrite the biography of the author from its aforementioned November 30, 2021 post in which it reviewed Stealth War, greatcharlie believes that only by presenting his singular education and military experience in that way can the reader get a true sense of qualifications to inform readers on the subject matter.

Robert Spalding retired from the US Air Force as a brigadier general after more than 25 years of service. If US Air Force officers were listed by achievements–perhaps they are somewhere in the Pentagon, Spalding would surely be among the luminaries. His Air Force biography provides the best picture of the experience and knowledge he possesses. Excluding his list of educational accomplishments, it reads as follows: “General Spalding received his commission through Fresno State University’s ROTC program in 1991. He earned his doctorate in economics and mathematics from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 2007. The general attended undergraduate pilot training in 1993, and was subsequently assigned as a B-52 Stratofortress co-pilot in the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. He subsequently transitioned to the B-2 Spirit at Whiteman AFB, Missouri. In 2001, he was selected as one of three Air Force Olmsted Scholars, and was a distinguished graduate of Mandarin Chinese language training at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Afterward, the general attended Tongji University in Shanghai as a graduate research student. He then returned to Whiteman AFB as a B-2 evaluator pilot and assistant director of operations for the 393rd Bomb Squadron. The general was then assigned to the Office of Secretary of Defense’s Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office as the military assistant for the deputy assistant secretary of defense. During the Iraq surge in 2007, General Spalding deployed to Baghdad and directed the Personal Security Coordination Center. After a stint at the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, he was reassigned to the B-2 at Whiteman AFB. While at Whiteman AFB, he was the chief of safety, operations group commander and vice wing commander. He was then selected as a Military Fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. General Spalding then served as the chief China strategist for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, Washington DC. His next assignment led him back to China as the Senior Defense Official and Defense Attache to China in Beijing, China. Prior to his current assignment he served at the White House as the Senior Director for Strategic Planning at the National Security Council, Washington D.C.”

Spalding is by no means an outsider, with special access, looking in on the situation. He is an erstwhile insider, who worked within the deepest points, most grave points of the US military and other national security bureaucracies. It must be noted that being a former flag officer and B-2 Stealth bomber pilot and unit commander, which placed him in unique, elite caste of military officer, not quick to speak out, does not lightly show emotion, at least publicly or react because of it, not the type to fret over a perception without the full facts, never speak idly, and whose views when expressed should be taken very seriously. 

On Stealth War

Spalding’s Stealth War was promoted as a book which discusses how China has quietly waged a six-front war on America’s economy, military, diplomacy, technology, education, and infrastructure, and has been winning. It might be enough for greatcharlie just to describe Spalding’s exceptional achievement with Stealth War as providing piercing judgments, a novel-like reporting of actual events, and a clarity that allows him to cast a cold eye on China policy analysis and intelligence analysis and its practitioners, both past and present. However, Spalding, even more, has interestingly taken his own dissatisfaction, disappointment, and anger over how badly the US has handled China, placed his country in some considerable degree of danger, and safely expressed it on paper, turning it into a positive force to better understand how things have taken shape and how atrocious events are unfolding right before the eyes of every US citizen.

Although packed with excellent suggestions, Stealth War, as with War Without Rules, is not about moving from choppy waters to calmer times. It is about preparing the US, using all tools of its power, military, diplomatic, economic, political, and information (media) power, to best handle what is happening with China and the worst that will most likely, or will eventually, come from its direction. Given the success of Stealth War, Spalding was undoubtedly pre-empted to write another work of such magnitude. Surely, he was not lumbered by that task, and welcomed the opportunity to gnaw further at the issue of China ambitions and maligned actions and intentions. War Without Rules is every bit as brilliant as its predecessor. It is another superb exposition of Spalding’s pragmatic thinking.

If you were fortunate enough to have read Spalding’s Stealth War, you are certainly primed and ready to approach the heady revelations of War Without Rules with an open mind. However, if you have not had the chance to read his preceding work, you can still jump right in War Without Rules. If Spalding had written War Without Rules solely to communicate with professionals within the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies or the respective bureaucracies of US allies, his target audience still would have been somewhat sizable, and in of itself a market satisfying enough for his publisher. 

However, knowing the considerable level of interest in China across an array of issues is presently high, the targeting of a larger general audience was very likely insisted upon by his publisher. Of course, publishers make money selling books. Spalding, himself, was evidently willing to reach a far greater audience with his work, but his priority in writing this book apparently went beyond turning a profit. As Spalding explains in his “Introduction”, in attempting reach a larger audience, his intention was  to make average citizens, particularly in the US, better aware of China’s malign aims and objectives and tactics. An attendant benefit of that would possibly be mobilizing them to get their representatives in the US Congress and especially the White House to mitigate its creeping influence.

As part of his effort to reach a greater audience with War Without Rules, Spalding intentionally presents his discussion in a way as to coast the most interested China policy wonk as well as someone who has not read a book on China beforehand comfortably through the subject matter. Spalding does not take for granted how much the reader can absorb from what he teaches. As part of his effort to control that process, he carefully apportions how much of the story he feels would be appropriate. When he feels the reader should be ready for more, Spalding ratchets up the complexity of discussion and his anecdotes. Spalding surely accomplished that presumed mission, as his text is informative, lucid, challenging and accessible.” One can only imagine an individual with his richesse connaissances is holding back considering how much more he could have potentially ruminated upon. To that extent, while all should find War Without Rules a browsable, satisfying meditation, Spalding’s lack of profundity might disconcert some.

Previous Reviews

As Beijing pushes ahead with its varied malign efforts, books as Spalding’s War Without Rules surely deserve a look from the eyes of many. In most reviews readily available online, appreciation is shown toward Spalding’s willingness to share the meditations of his praiseworthy exploratory mind. Reviewing War Without Rules for the New York Review of Books, Francis Sempa, who at the time was Assistant US Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, explains that China, according to Spalding, is the enemy of the US, and its statesmen and strategists to “know” the enemy better and to appreciate the enemy’s strategy. Sempa points to Spalding’s view that the aforementioned US statesmen and strategist need to appreciate that we are at war with China, though not yet “a shooting war”, and suggests it is uncertain whether they will recognize that reality. Sempa notes Spalding’s evidence that China is waging war lies in the tactics and strategies set forth in Unrestricted Warfare. Citing what Spalding gleaned from that text, Sempa similarly explains that unrestricted warfare, or what the Chinese authors call “beyond-limits warfare,” includes psychological, media, information, technology, cyber, financial, political, social, and espionage warfare. to. Revealing even more from the text of War Without Rules, Sempa explains Spalding believes that China’s practice of waging war with non-military means lulled the US into a false sense of security after the Cold War by convincing US elites that China was liberalizing politically and that the US could benefit financially by “engaging” China rather than containing or confronting it. Sempa notes that a lot of American elites did (and still do) benefit financially from engagement with China. Overall, the review was favorable. Yet, Sempa notes, too, that Spalding failed to mention another factor that imperils US security–the gradual formation of a new Sino-Russian strategic partnership, which developed and expanded while the US was distracted by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He says additionally that China has also engaged in a massive military build-up and has extended its influence throughout the Indo-Pacific region via its Belt and Road Initiative. Sempa declares: “Unrestricted warfare also includes geopolitics.

Reviewing the book for the journal of the US Naval Institute, Proceedings, a Lieutenant Cregge states that War Without Rules is “no doubt a blistering critique of the Chinese Communist Party.” Cregge cites Spalding’s explanation that two Chinese PLA colonels, Unrestricted Warfare, provide the playbook for a broad, undeclared Chinese war against the US. Beyond a translation of the two colonels concepts to English, War Without Rules seeks “to explain the challenging prose, logic, and colloquialisms” of Unrestricted Warfare that remain. Through his own description, Cregge notes that the colonels reflected on, among many other topics, how the face of war “would change”, given the US preeminence demonstrated both in its coalition victory in the First Persian Gulf War and its commanding position in the international economic and diplomatic orders. Cregge states that for those interested in examining an array of examples of Chinese coercion against the US-led international order, War Without Rules provides such cases “in spades.” He also notes that for more skeptical China doves, it may be less convincing. Criticizing the War Without Rules, Cregge proffers the book’s compelling argument suffers for two reasons. He explains that many modern examples of Chinese unrestricted warfare against the US rely on seemingly arbitrary citations. He further asserts the book’s partisan perspective is evident throughout, which may further estrange some policymakers or voters, despite a desire, quoting Spalding, that “we should all be China hawks.” Cregge admits that these particular critiques do not argue that the information asserted is necessarily wrong. Cregge additionally criticizes the book saying that given the weight of accusations against Chinese and US organizations and even named individuals, a comprehensive citation regime and bibliography would have greatly reinforced War Without Rules.

Providing a review of War Without Rules for The Epoch Times, that also makes use of quotes from an interview Spalding provided Epoch TV’s “China Insider” program, journalists Hannah Ng and David Zhang report his book walks readers through the principles outlined in the Chinese publication, revealing the regime’s belief that there is no sector of life outside the realm of war. Spalding, they note, determined that this approach stemmed from a doctrine laid out by two Chinese colonels back in 1999 in their book, Unrestricted Warfare. Seeking to boil the matter down further, Ng and Zhang state that according to Spalding, the notion of war espoused by the Chinese communist regime is completely different from ideas in the West. Citing Spalding, the reviewers note that from the Western standpoint, military force is used to achieve a political outcome. However, the “Chinese Communist Party” sees the outside world as always in a state of war. Thus, China is constantly in a state of war with it. That necessitates always fighting to gain an advantage over their opponent, and are willing to accomplish that through any means necessary. To push back against this unconventional war imposed on the US, Ng and Zhang say Spalding called for the country to decouple from China. Quoting Spalding once more, the reviewers write: “If we can decouple from China . . . get them out of our economic, political, academic and natural systems and begin to reinvest in our own citizens, reinvest in infrastructure and manufacturing in science and technology and STEM [science, technology, engineering, maths] education, you’re going to start to see opportunities arise that haven’t been there for decades in the United States.”

Interestingly enough, more than just reviews exist of Spalding’s book. As of the time of this writing, a couple of unofficial “study guides” for War Without Rules have been made available for purchase on Amazon.com at prices oddly not far short of the cost for the book itself! The study guides are in effect synopses of a synopsis of a book. (Without pretension, greatcharlie hopes readers will not find that its review of War Without Rules should be placed within that category, too.)

The August First Building in Beijing, Headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army (above). The central element of Spalding’s discussion on China’s efforts to dethrone the US as the world’s dominant power is the concept of “unrestricted warfare.” That concept is laid out in a 1998 book entitled Unrestricted Warfare authored by two People’s Republic of China People’s Liberation Army colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Spalding essentially uses War Without Rules to parse out the text which was once relatively unknown in the West. In each of the chapters of War Without Rules, Spalding presents excerpts from Unrestricted Warfare along with his interpretations and assessments of the text. Spalding insists Unrestricted Warfare is “the main blueprint for China’s efforts to unseat America as the world’s economic, political, and ideological leader.” He states further, it is “the key to decoding China’s master plan for world domination.”

The Chapters of War Without Rules

War Without Rules is 256 pages in length, and has 11 chapters. The chapters are well-arranged and titled as follows: Chapter 1: “Know Your Enemy”; Chapter 2: “A New Way of War”; Chapter 3: “The Magic Shoes of Technology”; Chapter 4: “The Weapons of Revolution”; Chapter 5: “The War God’s Face Has Become Indistinct”; Chapter 6: “Desert Storm: ‘A Military Masterpiece”; Chapter 7: “America’s Weakness”; Chapter 8: “Weaponizing the International Order”; Chapter 9: “Deploying All of the Above”; Chapter 10: “Calling It War”; and, Chapter 11: “Fighting Back with New Rules”. One might figuratively call each chapter a “deep penetration strike” against what the former B-2 Stealth pilot presumably views as Washington’s record of willful ignorance and to a degree, political apathy.

With the aim of not spoiling the readers’ own experience reading War Without Rules, greatcharlie will not provide a sizable review covering chapter by chapter. Instead greatcharlie delights to simply peek, to gaze therein on those parts of his admirable work that it found fascinating and captivating. The same approach was taken in its review of Stealth War. At the same time, Spalding has done a more than admirable job at breaking down the blueprint for China’s effort to attain dominance, Unrestricted Warfare, in order to allow all readers to grasp the work. There was concern in writing this review that an unintended consequence of summarizing his effort would be to gut Unrestricted Warfare to the point that its essence would be significantly obscured to readers. Thus, with a focus on keeping the discussion to the more significant lessons learned from the Gulf War by the two PLA colonels, greatcharlie presents a somewhat fulsome discussion of what it has determined to be its “top 3” chapters. They include: Chapter 4: “The Weapons Revolution”; Chapter 7: “America’s Weakness”; and, Chapter 11: “Fighting Back with New Rules”. Of course, greatcharlie believes every reader will best select for himself or herself, the chapters that content them most.

Chapter 4: “The Weapons Revolution”

In Chapter 4: “The Weapons Revolution”, Spalding explains when Unrestricted Warfare was written China did not have Stealth bombers, am adequate Navy. He notes that the colonels saw promise in what China did have in abundance. Those resources include: a billion people, computer programmers, devious hackers, financial speculators, currency reserves. Spalding, himself, adds what would be recognized as the issue de jure doctors studying exotic viruses. Spalding says the colonels explained all of these, organized and tasked to maximize their potential, could be used as weapons and must be seen as such. Effecting the possible disruption, destruction, and potentially gaining control all areas of the opponents society would be possible to the degree that the opponent’s ability to fight wars in the standard way would be broken. The opponent would be destroyed from the inside similar to an erstwhile healthy individual struck by an unseen virus. The colonels explain that with the weaponization of its abundant resources, China could strike at the very hearts of its opponents. To that extent, the two colonels suggest that fully accepting such ideas requires one to adopt “a new way of thinking about warfare.” Spalding remarks that unlike ships and planes, these weapons needed no upgrades as a result of being suited for the last conflict. The colonels write: “In the past, all that was needed was the invention of a few weapons or pieces of equipment, such as the startup and the Maxim machine gun, and that was sufficient to alter the form of war, whereas today upwards of 100 kinds of weapons are need to make up a certain weapons system before it can have have an overall effect on war. However, the more weapons that are invented, the smaller any individual weapons role in war becomes, and this Is a paradox that is inherent in the relationship between weapons and war . . . Other than the all-out use of nuclear weapons, a situation which is more and more unlikely and which may be termed nuclear war, none of the weapons, even those that are extremely revolutionary in nature possess the right to label future warfare. . . .”

Interestingly, Spalding does not delve too much into the idea that such claims by the two colonels seemed more than just skance as an effort to justify the state in which the Communist Party of China had left their country’s defense, its security. After reading the above passage, greatcharlie thought that perhaps the two colonels overlooked, or worse, dismissed an important aspect of the human element of warfare as it concerns the way weapons are often innovatively used to the extent one could call their influence on the battlefield revolutionary. Imaginably, in the PLA, the sort of go-ahead mentality that has led to innovation in the use of weapons in Western armies, does not fit well. That is doubtlessly the case in all the bureaucracies of China’s totalitarian, Communist government system. The ability of research and development teams, commanders, and soldiers, sailors, and marines to find new ways to exploit available high-tech and information warfare technologies in often absolutely brilliant ways, cannot be discounted, or worse, dismissed so readily. 

In World War II, the decision by German Army commanders to level their long range, high velocity firing, 8.8 cm Flak 18, an 88mm anti aircraft gun, at opposing forces in the North African desert in 1941 changed the picture concerning artillery range, speed, and destructive effort through the war. Batteries of 88s were successful at supporting movement of tank and infantry units and breaking up attacks by opposition forces. In terms of weapons systems as a category, airplanes were initially used in observation and reconnaissance roles. The two colonels mention the contribution of the renowned Italian air war theorist General Giulio Douhet relatively in passing in Chapter 4: “Desert Storm: A Military Masterpiece”. They do not discuss just how genuinely revolutionary his precepts on potential use of the airplane in war were. Spalding surely would have included any comments by the two colonels on US Colonel William “Billy” Mitchell if they had deigned to mention the contribution of his ideas on air power and the need to make airplanes an integral part of US defense in preparation for the next war. It took an impressive degree of inner strength it took for these commanders to subject themselves to being “the voice crying in the wilderness,” a phrase that perhaps alien to the ears of the two colonels (Certainly not to Spalding!). The impact of the airplane was multiplied exponentially when it was eventually used as an asset for tactical and strategic attacks against an enemy. They can destroy enemy positions along the forward edge of the battle area, provide close air support for troops in contact with an opponent or move to a point deep in an opponent’s rear. When attacking an opponent’s units in depth, diverting, disrupting, or destroying attacking forces before they are even in contact with friendly troops, and destroying command, control, and communication centers and lines of supply. In a strategic attack role, airplanes can disrupt and destroy an opponent’s ability to even wage war, affecting the opponent’s ability to produce weapons, train troops. Further, airplanes can serve in an air defense role, friendly forces on the ground and at sea, and provide air cover for other airplanes in strategic attacks.

The two colonels sort of obedient, lock-step, short-sighted thinking on sophisticated weapons systems was further apparent in their statements about high-tech and information warfare. In another quote from Unrestricted Warfare provided by Spalding, it was explained: “Even if in future wars all the weapons have information components embedded in them and are fully computerized, we can still not term such war as ‘information warfare’ . . . because, regardless of how important information technology is, it cannot completely supplant the functions and the roles of each technology per se. For example, the F-22 fighter, which already fully embodies information technology is still a fighter, and the “Tomahawk” missile is still a missile, and one cannot lump them all together as “information weapons” nor can a war that’s conducted using these weapons be termed information warfare. Computerized warfare in the broad sense and information warfare in the narrow sense are two completely different things. The former refers to the various forms of warfare which are enhanced and accompanied by information technology, while the latter primarily refers to war in which information technology is used to obtain or suppress information. . . .” 

Spalding explains the two colonels believe huge investments in cutting edge weapons was a misallocation of funds and a dangerous distraction from what really matters in international conflicts. To that extent, Spalding looked at US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the administration of US President George W. Bush falling into what the colonels saw as a self-made trap as his focus was on constantly improving US weapons systems in terms of accuracy and lethality, an approach called the Revolution in Military Affairs. Intriguingly, on this point, politics seems to be playing more of a role than some sort of singular military thinking. Lending support to the idea that the Communist Party of China has the country on the right course militarily, better than imagined, because it has not heavily invested in weapons technology as the US, could have simply been a manifestation the two colonels belief, trust in, and loyalty toward the decisionmaking of China’s leadership. L’élan de générosité des croyants. On the other hand, China has always lagged behind a bit with the US in terms of its own research, development and deployment of its “big weapons”. It appears the two colonels have gone a bridge too far in suggesting that China would only need to innovate and adapt by exploiting nonmilitary resources to surpass the US and drive it from the top of the world order. Under a totalitarian, Communist government system in which even the commas of a text would be repeatedly scrutinized, placating the leadership and Communist Party of China’s military thinkers by pandering would surely be de rigueur especially if one hopes to have a position in a bureaucracy, advance in it, or even more, stay healthy and safe. Robust expressions of appreciation and optimism over the decisionmaking of the Communist Party of China’s leadership are expected. Speaking truth to power is just not the norm in China. To that extent, as alluded to earlier, it is likely the two colonels were once more taking on the role of “justifiers” in that last passage.

The US Air Force F-22 “Raptor” Stealth Fighter (above). Spalding explains the authors of Unrestricted Warfare believe huge investments in cutting edge weapons as the F-22 was a misallocation of funds and a dangerous distraction from what really matters in international conflicts. To that extent, Spalding considers the idea that Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defense in the administration of US President George W. Bush fell into what the colonels saw as a self-made trap because his focus was on constantly improving US weapons systems in terms of accuracy and lethality, an approach called the Revolution in Military Affairs. On this point, politics seems to be playing more of a role than military thinking. The two colonels could possibly be lending support to the idea that the Communist Party of China has the country on the right course militarily, better than imagined, because it has not heavily invested in weapons technology as the US. China has always lagged behind a bit in its own research development and deployment of its big weapons.

Further criticizing the US weapons acquisition process, according to Spalding, the authors of Unrestricted Warfare further explain there is a general unwritten rule that an army fights the fight that fits its weapons. They assert that very often it is the case that only after a military acquires a weapon does it begin to formulate tactics to match it. They go on to say, with weapons coming first, there is a decisive, constraining effect on the evolution of tactics. However, as the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.” One only need consider how the thinking of commanders as Heinz Guderian on the use of tanks, or panzers in his case, impacted German military strategy and tactics through World War II. In 1937, when he was a relatively obscure officer in the German Wehrmacht, Guderian wrote Achtung-Panzer!: The Development of Armored Forces, Their Tactics and Operational Potential. It was a seminal text that pointed out that in the next war, the importance of the tank with the very crucial addition of motorized infantry had to be recognized by the German Army. After carefully studying armor for 15 years, he insisted through Achtung-Panzer! [Beware the Tank!] that if tank forces were “full of verve” and “fanatically committed to progress” they would “restore the offensive power of the army.” Such ideas were adopted by the German Army, the result of which would be laying the foundation for the German Blitzkrieg. Such was the revolution on the battlefield Guderian had envisioned. He was given the opportunity to put his ideas into effect. Guderian commanded the XIX Corps during the invasion of Poland in 1939 and France in 1940, and commanded Panzergruppe Guderian during Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia in 1941.

Similar thoughts were espoused by other military thinkers in the West between the world wars who influenced the way World War II fought and won. then US Army Colonel George S. Patton published a piece entitled,“Tanks in Future Wars”, in the Cavalry Journal (May, 1920), pages. 342-346, in which he explained the War Department must focus on tanks as an armored force and not place them piecemeal among infantry and artillery. He concluded, “The tank corps grafted onto infantry, cavalry, artillery, or engineers will be like the third leg of a duck; worthless for control, and for combat impotent.” Reportedly, Patton was immediately told to cease and desist by the powers that were if he wished to have a career in the US Army. Patton famously led the US 3rd Army on its armored and mechanized rampage through France in 1944 and its drive into Germany in 1945. Captain Dwight Eisenhower, wrote a piece for the Infantry Journal entitled, “A Tank Discussion,” (November 1920), pages 453-458, in which he sought to make the case for keeping tanks as part of the equipment of the infantry units. Eisenhower became the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and great say in how the war was fought in Europe. In the United Kingdom, Captain B. H. Liddel Hart and Brigadier J. F. C. Fuller also mused about a revolution in armored warfare after World War I recognizing how the nature of warfare had changed with the introduction of the airplane, poison gas, and longer range artillery, and that machinery was stronger than wool. The British Army was experimenting with armored units under General Percy Hobart beginning in the 1920s. (In 1926, Fuller who served in the Tank Corps in World and participated in both the Battles of Arras and Cambrai, was given command of an Experimental Force (Tank)  brigade at Tidworth, on the Salisbury Plain. He ran into some difficulties while there.)

After examining in the round the situation of US and NATO Allies in Western Europe which faced a massive Warsaw Pact force in the East and thoroughly reviewing the US military experience in Vietnam, in the late 1970s and early 1980s US military theorists and planners sought to move away from the notion of fighting a battle of attrition, hoping to hold the line against an armored and mechanized heavy surges across the. Inner-German Border into the North German Plain, the Fulda Gap, and the Hof (Hessian) Corridor. They developed the Airland Battle concept which included an emphasis on maneuver, the operational art, high-mobility, high-tempo operations, innovation, flexibility, agility, capabilities, and military acumen, leadership, intimate knowledge of the battlefield, enhanced command, control, communication, and intelligence, the attack in depth, firepower, greater lethality, and the better use of existing weapons systems and the introduction of new, more capable weapons systems with the belief that they would have a considerable multiplier effect on the battlefield.  Notable among those weapons systems were the F-15 Eagle fighter, F-16 Falcon fighter, A-10 close support fighter, M270 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System), the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, the M2 and M3 Bradley fighting vehicles, the HMMWV (Humvee), and many more pieces of impressive gear. Later would come rather exquisite weapons systems such as the F-117A “Nighthawk” Stealth fighter and the E-8A Joint STARS (Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System). Special operations forces would be better developed in order to successfully engage in direct action behind opposition lines and alongside allied forces, and provide security for critical facilities and equipment and engage in other sensitive missions. The Airland Battle concept was manifested in the US Army’s formidable FM 100-5 Airland Battle Strategy.

For all of the advanced military thinkers mentioned and beyond, it was more often not an easy route to establish a strategy-resources match. They, too, were voices crying in the wilderness in the beginning. However, they managed to get the right attention. Through research, testing, and applying lessons learned from every failure, their theories were validated, the right weapons were procured, and the result was success in its use, though not completely successful for some as Guderian, fortunately for the world, given the politics of his country and the off-kilter way higher authorities prosecuted the war in which they were used. The renowned poet of Ancient Rome, Publius Ovidius Nāsō, known as Ovid (43 B.C. – 17 A.D.) wrote: Cui peccare licet, peccat minus. (Who is allowed to make mistakes, makes fewer mistakes.) In the environment in which the two colonels functioned, it is apparent that creating a theory on war then hoping funds would be  appropriated for their development was unheard of. It is hard to imagine some burgeoning, truly innovative military thinker in China leaping up to suggest ways of fighting wars that were beyond what was immediately understandable to superiors, required the use of weapons systems China did not have, and would have called for massive expenditures on defense.

General Heinz Guderian (top) in a half-track modified for use as a mobile command center during the Battle of France, 1940. According to Spalding, the authors of Unrestricted Warfare explained the general unwritten rule is that an army fights the fight that fits its weapons. They further assert that very often it is the case that only after a military acquires a weapon does it begin to formulate tactics to match it. They go on to say, with weapons coming first, there is a decisive, constraining effect on the evolution of tactics. One only need consider how the thinking of commanders as Heinz Guderian on the use of tanks, in his case, panzers, influenced German military strategy and tactics. In 1937, when he was a relatively obscure field officer in the German Wehrmacht, Guderian wrote Achtung-Panzer!: The Development of Armored Forces, Their Tactics and Operational Potential. It was a seminal text that pointed out that in the next war, the importance of the tank with the very crucial addition of motorized infantry needed to be recognized by the German Army. His ideas were adopted, they would serve as the foundation for the German Blitzkrieg. Such was the revolution on the battlefield Guderian had envisioned.

Spalding repeatedly remarks that in this chapter of Unrestricted Warfare, the two colonels rebuke the practice of developing weapons to meet the requirements of a theory for a new tactic, doctrine, or grand strategy. The two colonels began to sound more as cynics as Spalding quoted their reflections on US weapons systems design. It seemed more of the same self-serving perspectives seemingly aimed at placating the Communist Party of China. Perhaps coming across weapons systems then being forced to find ways to use them is a problem faced by the armed forces of countries which “garner” foreign military technologies and research, development, and plans by clandestine means.

There are points on which Spalding apparently fully agrees with the two colonels’ assessments. He stated that in Somalia, for the first time in history, unilateral access to superior weapons technology stopped conferring a big advantage to the dominant power. Spalding quotes from Unrestricted Warfare: “Customizing weapons systems to tactics that are still being explored and studied is like preparing food for a great banquet without knowing who is coming, where the slightest error can lead one far astray. Viewed from the performance of the US military In Somalia, when they were at a loss when they encountered Aidid’s forces [the ragged gunmen of warlord Mohammed Aidid, who tried to force foreign troops out of Somalia in the early 1990s], the most modern military force does not have ability to control public clamor, and cannot deal with an opponent who does things in an unconventional manner.” Far be it for greatcharlie to serve as an ideal apologist for the US armed forces over Somalia, Afghanistan, or Iraq–it lacks the faculty, but casting ones mind back, one might recall the outcomes of those campaigns were determined more by resources made available, how resources were utilized, and how those campaigns were fought, than by the nature of the varied resources of the US armed forces themselves. Spalding goes on to say the US nuclear arsenal would be useless in small-scale deployments as Somalia and in the counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Cutting edge conventional weapons developed via Rumsfeld’s Revolution in Military Affairs would also have little effect according to Spalding.

However, looking at the matter realistically from the two colonels’ position, applying China’s abundance of certain nonmilitary resources much as weapons was,  for so long, the only prospect China had for possibly defeating a larger, more powerful, more advanced industrial power as the US. The US had choices concerning the development of weapons system and strategies, China really did not. Interestingly enough, if the matter were considered forthrightly, those resources in abundance which are discussed in Unrestricted Warfare were resources already in existence. Thus, the beyond-limits combined war concept was developed around those abundant resources. As with any theory, the colonels could hardly have been certain that the application of these resources would yield all the desired results.

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war.” Spalding notes in this chapter that through beyond-limits combined war, China has been acquiring technology without paying a cent toward developing it, carefully taking control of the world’s shipping businesses, infiltrating US corporations and scientific laboratories, using US investor dollars to finance its factories and companies-and then insisting that any profits stay in their country. However, in War Without Rules, Spalding has spotlighted China’s ongoing open and clandestine efforts to implement beyond-limits combined war. To that extent, the prospect that China might quietly succeed completely as originally envisioned ostensibly no longer exists. There is time for the US and other industrialized powers to put things right, but no time to waste. An array of defenses can be further organized and calibrated to thwart China’s beyond-limits combined war.

As War Without Rules was written before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Spalding writes about nuclear weapons arsenals without knowledge that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin now speaks of using them to respond what he perceives as the US and NATO’s attempt to conquer Russia, rob it of resources and squeeze it to death, much as its was outlined in what is known commonly as the Gerasimov Doctrine. The US faces the real prospect of having to use its nuclear weapons in response to a strategic attack from the Russian nuclear triad. Spalding writes that for superpower as the US, the only real value of the nuclear triad now is as a deterrent. China understood this early on and mostly stayed out of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War. Until recently, the Communist Party of China chose to maintain a minimal nuclear arsenal, just enough to deter any other nation’s potential nuclear strike. By keeping its stockpile modest and its nuclear budget limited, the Chinese avoided the massive expenses that helped bring down the Soviet Union. However, as their wealth has grown, the Chinese have added to their nuclear stockpile, creating alarm and some confusion among Western analysts. 

Spalding, laying his thinking process bare for the world to read, asks the following questions: Are new silos and warheads just a deepening of their deterrence or is this a change of strategy  in creating an offensive nuclear capability? Is it perhaps a ruse, with empty silos or hollow missiles meant to provoke the US and others to waste yet more billions? Mais dans nos cœurs, nous n’y croyons pas complètement. From the colonels perspective in 1998, nuclear war is obsolete, but this may be an area in which the Chinese leadership has moved beyond that notion.” Spalding then adds, “And even if they are simply increasing their deterrence, does that mean we have to increase our lethality.”

Earlier in this very same chapter of Unrestricted Warfare, Spalding notes how the colonels warn against making statements and acting in ways concerning weapons systems development and deployment which can up the ante with an opponent and result in unforeseen negative consequences. Spalding includes the following passage from Unrestricted Warfare: “Marshal [sic] Olgarkov, the former chief of the Soviet General staff [Nikolai Olgarkov was chief of staff from 1977 to 1984], was acutely aware of the trend of weapons development in the “nuclear age” and when, it an opportune time, he proposed the broad new new concept of the “revolution in military technology,” his thinking was clearly ahead of those of his generation. But being ahead of his time in his thinking hardly brought his country happiness, and actually brought about disastrous results. As soon as this concept . . . was proposed, it further intensified the arms race which had been going on for some time between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was just, at that time, no one could predict that it would actually result in the break up of the Soviet Union and its complete elimination from the superpower contest.” It does not appear China will disintegrate as a result of increasing its nuclear arsenal. However, from what the colonels emphasize here, it is unlikely the Communist Party of China is bluffing, playing some game, by investing in the construction of nuclear missile silos, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and a far greater sea launched ballistic missile capable submarine fleet.

Chapter 7: “America’s Weakness”

Spalding begins Chapter 7: “America’s Weakness” explaining that in Unrestricted Warfare, the two colonels were diligent students of the US military. When they performed a post-mortem of the first Gulf War, and discovered a number of missed opportunities by the US that were considerable. What caught his attention was the view of the two colonels that US bombers were used in the war that were nothing less than “flying mountains of gold” which they also said made the US arrogant while they exposed the morbid US fear of casualties as a fundamental weakness. Spalding cites the following passage from Chapter 4 of Unrestricted Warfare: “Large-scale use if costly weapons in order to realize objectives and reduce casualties without counting costs–the kind of Warfare that can only be waged by men of wealth-is a game that the American military is good at. ‘Desert Storm’ manifested the Americans unlimited extravagance in war, which has already become an addiction. Airplanes which cost an average of US$25 million each carried out 11,000 wanton and indiscriminate bombings in a 43-day period, destroying the headquarters of Iraq’s Socialist Party with each US$1.3 million Tomahawk guided missiles, taking aim at foxhole with precision guided bombs worth tens of thousands of dollars . . . even if the American generals knew as soon as they began that they need not spend so much on this unrestrained US$6.1 billion dollar battle banquet . . . their own extravagance would still not have been prevented. An American made bomber is OK Ike a flying mountain of gold, more costly than many of its targets. Shouldn’t hitting a possibly insignificant target with tons of American dollars arouse people’s suspicions?”

Spalding states that although Unrestricted Warfare was published four years before what he calls Gulf War Two, that war’s mismanagement and heavy price in lives and dollars is something they could have predicted. He notes that it began with the same intensity of the first Gulf War, routing the overmatched army of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein rapidly. However, he say what came next, an asynchronous guerilla war fought by remnants of the Iraqi Army along with what he says the colonels would call non-state actors. The mission of the US opponent was to kill US soldiers and create a body count that the US public would not tolerate.

Here once again, the colonels offer the more of the same self-serving perspectives seemingly aimed at placating their commanders in the PLA. Spalding notes as much in this chapter stating:  “These are military men, writing first to a military audience.” The two colonels also again do their level best to establish a clear pattern of purpose and consistency in everything done by the Communist Party of China. Surely, the US spends great amounts on defense. Political leaders have sought to address the problem with defense contractors. Still,, survivability of US soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines is put at a premium. Survivability of the planes they fly,, the ships in which they sail, and tanks in which they fight is an important factor in weapons system research and development. However, at the point in China’s defense development, the leadership was hardly interested in doing the same. This of course left the PLA far less advanced and in fact underdeveloped as a force. The implications would most likely have been dreadful for Chinese troops if they had been asked to fight in the army they had against an advanced industrial power or powers. More than anything else, this chapter of Unrestricted Warfare as with others, is window into the breast of two Chinese Communist military apparatchiks.

Two PRC PLA Navy Upgraded Type 094A Nuclear Submarines underway (above). Spalding writes that for a superpower as the US, the only real value of the nuclear triad now is as a deterrent. China understood this early on and mostly stayed out of the nuclear arms race during the Cold War. Until recently, the Communist Party of China chose to maintain a minimal nuclear arsenal, just enough to deter any other nation’s potential nuclear strike. By keeping its stockpile modest and its nuclear budget limited, the Chinese avoided the massive expenses that helped bring down the Soviet Union. However, as their wealth has grown, the Chinese have added to their nuclear stockpile, creating alarm and some confusion among Western analysts. Spalding asks the following questions: Are new silos and warheads just a deepening of their deterrence or is this a change of strategy  in creating an offensive nuclear capability? Is it perhaps a ruse, with empty silos or hollow missiles meant to provoke the US and others to waste yet more billions? From the colonels perspective in 1998, nuclear war is obsolete, but Spalding says it is possible that China’s leadership has moved beyond that notion.

Further focusing singly upon the US military with regard to the overall picture of US national security, Spalding indicates the two colonels use beyond-limits combined war as measure to gauge the development of US theory on warfare. Spalding cites a passage from Chapter 4 of Unrestricted Warfare which says the following: “Formulation of the ‘joint campaign’ originally came from the ‘Number One Publication in November 1991 of the United States Armed Forces Joint Operations’ regulations issued by the US Military Joint Conference . . . This regulation exposes the four key elements of the ‘joint campaign’ –centralized command, equality of the Armed Forces, complete unification, and total depth while doing battle. It has made clear for the first time the command control authority of the battle zone unified commander; it has stipulated that any one military branch can 5ake a leading role based on different situations; it has expanded air/ground integrated battle’ into ground, sea, air, and space integrated battle; and it has emphasized implementation of total depth while doing battle on all fronts.” Citing the colonels further, they go on to explain: “The limitations of this valuable thinking , however, lies in that its starting point and ending point have both fallen onto the level of armed force and have been unable to expand the field of vision of ‘joint’ to all of the realms in which humans can produce confrontational behavior. Surely, this a direct reference to their idea of weaponizing almost every enterprise and endeavor in which China can come into contact with the US.

Pushing ahead, the two colonels consider total dimensional warfare, a theory bandied about in the US Army’s Training and Doctrine Headquarters concerning non-military combat operations and referenced the 1998 edition of the compendium, The Essentials of War, which emphasized “a single principle covering all types of the Amy’s military operations.” Spalding quotes them as writing: “Their practice [the US Army] is to no longer distinguish between non-combat operations and general military operations, but to differentiate battle operations into four types–attack, defense, stabilization, and support–and return the original manuscript to such responsibilities of non-combat operations as a rescue and protection and reassembling the old set of combat operations, in order to . . . altogether discard the concept of “total dimensional warfare.” In evaluating their own imperfect assessment of thinking in the US Army which they apparently conflate with thinking across the board in the US Armed forces and the US Department of Defense, Spalding further cites the two colonels as saying: At face value, this a move of radical reform and simplification by simply cutting the superfluous. In reality, however, this is . . . poor judgment. At the same time as the theoretical confusion brought by the unripe concept of ‘non-combat military operations’ was eliminated, the rather valuable ideological fruits that they had accidentally picked were also abandoned on account of the newly revised compendium. . . . Further criticizing the thinking of US military thinkers, the two colonels admonish: ” ‘Total dimensional war’s’ understanding of battle is already much broader than any previous military theorist, but as far as its innate character is concerned, it still has not escaped the ‘military’ category. For example, the ‘non-military combat operations’ concept . . . is much broader in meaning than military operations and can be placed along with comparable war realms and patterns outside the field of vision of American servicemen. It is precisely this large domain that is the area for future servicemen and politicians to develop imagination and creativity–with the result that it also cannot count as truly meaning ‘total dimensional.’ “

In evaluating what the two colonels have stated, Spalding interestingly states in agreement that just considering warfare from the point of view of the application of military force is insufficient. He points out that from his experience on the Joint Staff at the Pentagon that a US President “has numerous levers of power under his control, which can easily lead to overreliance on military options.” Going further he states: “At the end of the day, our system is still geared to leaning on the military and hard power as our best deterrent. That leaves the rest of the playing field open to the Chinese way of war.

All the ways in which that Spalding says China has engaged as beyond-limits combined war–taking every enterprise and endeavor in which one country can come into contact with another, social, political, diplomatic, military, commercial, financial, scholarly,  scientific, and informational, and weaponizing them–would be activities that fell in the province of a country’s intelligence services. Intelligence services engage in a incredibly broad array of both open and clandestine, and covert activities, using appropriated tools and available resources, to create or exploit opportunities to act in support of the policies and the interests of their countries. Legions of agents or operatives are recruited by intelligence services worldwide to work to meet collection requirements and otherwise in various fields and in a multitude of organizations too large for most services to maintain sufficiently trained staffs of professional officers and agents to cover. Recruited spies are selected for their facilities and tabs are kept on the lot of them in reasonable, undetectable ways to avoid the potential double-cross. The Roman historian and politician, Publius Cornelius Tacitus, known as Tacitus (c. A.D. 56 – c. A.D. 120), remains widely regarded as one of the greatest Roman historians by modern scholars. His final work, Annales (The Annals) is a history of the Roman Empire from the reign of Tiberius to that of Nero, the years A.D. 14–68. In Book I, chapter 58, he writes: Proditores etiam iis quos anteponunt invisi sunt. (Traitors are detested even by those whom they prefer.)

The weaponization of the ordinary, the day-to-day, in the intelligence world has been taken to extremes in the spy genre of film, particularly with the series, “James Bond” in which a shoe would become a telephone, a pen would become a pistol, a car would become a submarine, and so on.

It is understandable that China’s state-run and private sectors would work together to act against foreign opponents and imaginably even friends. It would appear from Unrestricted Warfare  and War Without Rules they call it beyond-limits combined war. Cynics might make the case that Spalding has gone a long way in War Without Rules to make what is actually rather mundane appear novel and intriguing. On a more practical level, and to avoid unnecessarily offending any US or foreign intelligence service, the operations of the erstwhile foreign intelligence service of the Deutsche Democratische Republik (German Democratic Republic, also known as East Germany or GDR) during the Cold War are discussed here to provide an example of an intelligence service engaged in beyond-limits combined war.

Generaloberst Markus Wolf, chief of the erstwhile German Democratic Republic’s (East Germany’s) foreign intelligence service, Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance). All the ways in which that Spalding says in War Without Rules that China has engaged as beyond-limits combined war–taking every enterprise and endeavor in which one country can come into contact with another, social, political, diplomatic, military, commercial, financial, scholarly,  scientific, and informational, and weaponizing them–would be activities that fell in the province of a country’s intelligence services. For instance, East Germany’s foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance), with frightening efficiency, operated against its Western opponents to collects as much information possible in preparation for any conflict in Europe between East and West, and be in position to potentially break down the societies of the Eastern Bloc’s opponents from within. Throughout the Cold War, his agents poured into West Germany and when possible countries beyond, secured key positions, and reported on, and influenced the activities of, a multitude of organizations in a broad spectrum of areas, social, political, diplomatic, military, commercial, financial, scholarly,  scientific, and informational.

For 34 years, Generaloberst Markus Wolf was the very successful head of GDR’s foreign intelligence service Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (the Main Directorate for Reconnaissance), commonly referred to as the HVA. With frightening efficiency, he developed an array of tactics, techniques, procedures and methods for operating against his Western opponents in advance of any eventual conflict in Europe between East and West, or to break down the societies of opponents of the Eastern Bloc. Throughout the Cold War, his agents poured into West Germany and when possible countries beyond, secured positions, reported about, and influenced the activities of a multitude of organizations in a broad spectrum of areas, social, political, diplomatic, military, commercial, financial, scholarly,  scientific, and informational. 

Wolf described the work in his memoir, Man without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster (Times Books, 1997). In Chapter 4, he recounts the process of penetrating non-military combat targets for exploitation. He explains: “Once accepted in West Germany, agents usually began their assignments with an inconspicuous period of manual labor to help overcome the bureaucratic barriers of getting established in the West. We therefore preferred candidates with craftsman’s skills or practical experience in a profession. Almost every one of the students and budding scientists who emigrated in the early years found employment in research facilities or companies of interest to us–the Federal government’s nuclear research facilities in Julich, Karlsruhe, and Hamburg; the Batelle Institute in Frankfurt-am-Main, which had been set up by the United States; Siemens, Germany’s largest electronics company; and IBM Germany or the giant German chemical companies BASF, Hoescht, and Bayer. Because we assumed that Germany’s traditional arms manufacturers would–after the storm over German militarization died down–eventually resume military production, we also placed people in companies such as Messerschmidt and Bölkow.” With specific regard to the controllers, they were not mere handlers of spies in the West but expert psychologists who prided themselves on their close personal ties to their charges on the ‘invisible front’.” (For those interested in more on Wolf and the HVA, see the November 13, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled Book Review: Markus Wolf, Man without a Face: The Autobiography of Communism’s Greatest Spymaster (Times Books, 1997) for a bit more detail on the matter.)

As a brief thought, perhaps some push back would have been caused in the minds of two the colonels if they had been made aware of the fact that the US Intelligence Community includes a number of organizations from the armed forces and the Department of Defense, to include the US National Security Agency, and human intelligence elements that are staffed in great measure by US military personnel and led by military commanders. From that fact, perchance they would even admit that the US armed forces for quite some time, have been engaged to some degree in beyond-limits combined war worldwide.

Chapter 11: “Fighting Back with New Rules”

In Chapter 11: “Fighting Back with New Rules”, Spalding unleashes one insight after another on how the US should respond to beyond-limits combined war. He explains the US needs a defense to meet an offensive we are only beginning to understand beyond-limits combined war. China is quite different as an opponent than the Soviet Union because it has become the factory of the US providing cellphones to toys. Through its theft, China is becoming competitive in the most high-tech areas such as super computing and artificial intelligence. They have a space program and a rapidly growing military. They have suddenly developed a nuclear arsenal that could potential match that of the US.

Taking lessons from Unrestricted Warfare, Spalding writes the US can begin to exploit a range of economic problems. China has a government of one man, one rule which has never worked. He says world opinion is turning against China due to its blatant aggression. He suggests the same principles of Sun Tzu which the authors of Unrestricted Warfare espoused, should be used to respond to the strategy: Know the face of war: it is combined, unrestricted war that seeks victory through no violent means, but does not rule out violence; Know your enemy, his strengths and weaknesses; Join your forces to meet the threat: create one-mindedness”. Focusing the many parts of our government on the single objective of stopping China is essential; and, The people must be in harmony with their leaders.

Spalding says the US needs to map out a globally inclusive strategy built on three pillars: protect, rebuild, and inspire. These three pillars would found a robust effort to reshape the international order away from the totalitarian form of government upon which China is built and wants to impose on the world and toward the promotion of human rights, democracy, civil liberty, rule of law, and economic prosperity. Exploitation of labor and environmental challenges must also be confronted as global supply chain reorient to nations that support competitive markets, strong labor protections and environmental standards. 

Protect

Refine and export tools that encourage those nations that play by the rules of fair and open markets to tighten collaboration in economic, financial, trade, and information flows. The ability of rule breakers to use the US and partner countries to exploit the free system’s near open borders to avoid tariffs and other protections. Examples Spalding provides for such activity includes: making tariffs permanent for the Communist Party of China-led economy and contingent upon an annual vote in the US Congress,  which would consider whether China is a human rights violator and if it has a market based economy. On finances, he suggests the US Department of Labor allow every person in the US who participates in a public or private pension fund to opt out of sending their investment dollars to China and designate that portion of their funds be invested manufacturing in their local communities.

Rebuild

Spalding recommends a massive movement in fiscal spending “away from guns toward butter.” By focusing on infrastructure, our industrial base, energy, STEM education, and research and development, the US will rebuild its core economic and science and technological superiority to lead the world once again. Explaining that idea, Spalding says $100 billion from the defense budget could be shifted to a massive research and development and reindustrialization effort focused on quantum computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, 5G and telecommunications, “the internet of things”, nuclear and carbon-free energy, data science, cryptocurrency, biopharma, robotics, logistics, manufacturing, and transportation. Those investments would be protected with a robust counterintelligence program designed to ensure the benefits of these investments only accrue to the US and its allies and partners.

Inspire

Spalding states that the US should join with “developed” allies and partners to create a strategic economic development plan that seeks to promote collective economic prosperity tied to democratic principles. He proposes that idea be brought to fruition via the creation of an organization able to work with like-minded developed countries to identify and promote the economic prosperity and institutional integrity of like-minded developing partners. 

Among further recommendations in this province, Spalding says a Global Development Fund for Democratic Infrastructure Investment should be developed with a mandate to analyze the global trading routes and infrastructure to invest in a robust, resilient international logistics architecture, which would promote free trade, secure and verifiable customs procedures, and the collective economic prosperity of like-minded countries. Attendant to that, he states an international data-tracking system should be developed to inform where the US, allied countries, and their respective companies are investing to assist smaller companies and institutional investors to allow them to take advantage of the accompanying economic growth prospects. Spalding feels that by linking “a resurgent economic and science and technological powerhouse” with democratic-allied and partners countries, the US will forge a new consensus, which will begin to drive positive outcomes in international institutions such as the UN and World Trade Organization. Together, this coalition of free countries with strengthened economic, financial, trade, and informational ties, girded with a robust military alliance focused on deterrence, will fuel a rebound in the growth of democracy around the world 

Spalding insists that there are many specific actions that extend from those strategic concepts that cover all aspects of US society. He concisely examines a few realms among which those actions could occur: political; economic; diplomatic; information; education; military; consumers; and voters.

As it is generally taught in US military educational institutions, for the US to achieve optimal outcomes following a military conflict–in the case with China, non-combat military operations, it must converge all four elements of national power—diplomacy, information, military, and economics (DIME)—into a cohesive, multi-domain campaign plan before, during, and following military confrontation. Here are Spaldings recommendations that concern those elements.

Diplomacy

Spalding praises the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad Alliance: US, Japan, Australia, India) As a strong deterrent to Chinese aggression. It can be strengthened and expanded. As large as Chin’s military might is, when combined with the US, the countries of Asia including South Korea and Vietnam are more than a match. He calls the Australia, United Kingdom,, US (AUSKUS) Agreement an important step in linking the US, United Kingdom and Australia in more than a mere military alliance. The sale of US nuclear submarines to the Australians is an action the Chinese colonels would admire if grudgingly. It draws a line in the sand declaring that China’s actions will be countered. Spalding believes the agreement and the sale have the effect of forcing allies who have maintained close ties economically to China to choose sides. Spalding says the decision really boils down to whether the would prefer to have the US military or the PLA defend their interests in Asia.

US President Joe Biden announcing the AUKUS pact and nuclear submarine deal on September 15, 2021. On screen for their respective announcements on the pact and deal are United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra. Spalding calls the Australia, United Kingdom, US (AUSKUS) Agreement an important step in linking the US, United Kingdom and Australia in more than a mere military alliance. The sale of US nuclear submarines to the Australians is an action the Chinese colonels would admire if grudgingly. It draws a line in the sand declaring that China’s actions will be countered. Spalding believes the agreement and the sale have the effect of forcing allies who have maintained close ties economically to China to choose sides. Spalding says the decision really boils down to whether the would prefer to have the US military or the PLA defend their interests in Asia.

Information

Spalding notes one of the greatest successes of China has been the use of information warfare. To challenge that success, Spalding suggests the US government should encourage US-based social media companies to assist more robustly in countering Chinese Propaganda. Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others are committed to publishing accurate information. However, a constant flood of Chinese falsehoods, intended to create political dissension should fall well outside their guidelines. In more sophisticated realms, Spalding says the US needs to protect the next generation of data. For example, one key step the US should pursue is universal encryption. By ensuring that all data in a free society are encrypted, and by developing platforms that allow for safe processing of encrypted data, the West can successfully compete with China in artificial intelligence.

Military

Spalding recognizes that while the two colonels did not envision, at least I. Unrestricted Warfare, a Chinese military thar could confront the US, that day appears to be nearing. Still, he notes that the theory of Unrestricted Warfare is that military expansion is just a ruse to provoke even greater spending by rivals. Starting with their second rate aircraft carriers and the proliferation of missile silos that may or may not hold nuclear warheads, the Chinese military may be more Potemkin than not. On this point through his words, Spalding does not connect the cause for China’s military build up as preparation for the possible invasion of Taiwan. Still, Spalding says he believes China will make a move on Taiwan soon. That would require the US to plan the evacuation of Taiwanese civilians and resupply of Taiwan’s military as well as a plan to destroy the country’s high-tech manufacturing capabilities for computer chips.

Yet, Spalding says there remains some small wrinkle in his own thinking that says under Unrestricted Warfare, that the military invasion on the ground would be China’s last option given it has quite a few nonmilitary options at its disposal. If China truly seeks to avoid a shooting war, perhaps the leadership of the Communist Party of China might attempt to find satisfaction in peace.

Casting its mind back to the aforementioned Livy and his Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), greatcharlie is reminded of a passage in Book XXX, section 30, in which the historian presents the exordium of the Carthagian general before Roman generals whose forces werecamp outside of the city of Carthage, itself. He wrote: Maximae cuique fortunae minime credendum est. in bonis tuis rebus, nostris dubiis, tibi ampla ac speciosa danti est pax, nobis petentibus magis necessaria quam honesta. melior tutiorque est certa pax quam sperata uictoria; haec in tua, illa in deorum manu est. ne tot annorum felicitatem in unius horae dederis discrimen. cum tuas uires tum uim fortunae Martemque belli communem propone animo; utrimque ferrum, utrimque corpora humana erunt; nusquam minus quam in bello euentus respondent. non tantum ad id quod data pace iam habere potes, si proelio uinces, gloriae adieceris, quantum <dempseris>, si quid aduersi eueniat. simul parta ac sperata decora unius horae fortuna euertere potest. omnia in pace iungenda tuae potestatis sunt. (The greatest good fortune is always the least to be trusted. In your favorable circumstances, in our uncertain situation, peace, if you grant it, will bring you honor and glory;8 for us who sue it is necessary rather than honorable. Better and safer is an assured peace than a victory hoped for. The one is in your own power, the other in the hands of the gods. Do not commit the success of so many years to the test of a single hour. Bear in mind not only your own resources but also the might of Fortune and the impartial god of war. On both sides will be the sword, on both sides human bodies. Nowhere less than in war do results match men’s hopes. You will not add so much glory, if victorious in battle, to what you can now have by granting peace, as you will lose in case of any reverse. The fortune of a single hour can lay low honors already won, and with them those in prospect. In making peace.)

Economic

Spalding says that China has been getting away with so much for so long, forcing it to play by the rules will cause a shock. From the US side, Spalding explains that there are thousands of details that the US Department of Treasury and the US Securities and Exchange Commission could enforce. Congress has been aggressive about proposing new restrictions, such as requiring companies to certify that there is no forced labor in their supply chain. Spalding believes legislation is needed that will alter the view in the corporate sector that it is in its best interest to promote a country that defies free markets and the rule of law. Spalding says the US growth strategy must be looked upon as a matter of national security. US manufacturing that has gone overseas to China must be brought back.

To an extent, top US civilian authorities and military, intelligence, and law enforcement elements of the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies as well as other policy circles–to include businesses, universities, think tanks, and news media houses, to name a few–are now regularly discussing the matter, at least publicly, displayed concern in studies and reports and more importantly in the spectrum of policy approaches toward China. He also had a haunting suspicion that very few were aware of what was happening. Far less aware of it all was the US public, going on day-to-day believing they were safe and secure from China and every other country for that matter, and the well-being of the country was in the diligent, conscientious, and thoughtful hands of their elected leaders.

Surely the dead-enders among some elected officials, China policy experts, and business executives of firms in the US well-tied and still benefitting immensely from China’s opportunities surely would rebuff what Spalding has been saying. Imaginably, some, perhaps hurt particularly by his insinuations of failing in their respective duties to place concern for their company employees and their country as paramount, would likely look upon him–perchance given what greatcharlie after many years has come to understand about human nature– disdainfully and mock him as something akin to the character of Scottish writer Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (1908), “Mr. Toad”  He writes: “The clever men at Oxford / Know all that there is to be knowed. / But they none of them know one half as much / As intelligent Mr Toad!

In more direct action, Spalding proffers in this section that the US should seek opportunities to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, through which it provides countries loans with the aim to gain political leverage. In many cases, countries that have defaulted on those loans have been left with no choice but to give China long-term access to mineral resources or their ports. Spalding calls it a form of economic colonialism which must be countered.

With regard the other 4 points in which he suggests action should be taken: political, education, consumers; and voters, Spalding says the following: 

Political

Spalding states plainly that the US Needs a single coherent team that would manage its opposition, China. He implores that it can no longer reside in twenty agencies. China comes at the US as one force, thereby, the US Needs to be one force to oppose it. He notes that ultimately, a decision on this matter must come from the US President, but the foreign and national security bureaucracies must go in on it, too.

Education

Spalding believes that there is great value in Chinese students’ coming to the US to study, but the system has been abused and needs to be tightened. However, he notes that the point of such exchanges is to encourage the Chinese to learn our values and way of life. The Chinese government has directed many instead to maneuver into positions from which they can steal US technology. Spalding feels the US government has some leverage on this matter as China does not have the capacity or quality of schools to educate the hundreds of thousands of top students that emerge from its secondary school system each year. He reports that US universities earn billions of dollars by admitting them. He insists the universities, themselves, need to do a better job of vetting who is allowed in, and the federal government probably needs to help. Spalding believes denying Chinese students access to any Chinese apps such as WeChat in the US is one solution. Those apps, he explains, are censored and curated by the Communist Party of China. Spalding says the Communist Party of China’s controlling links to the exchange students must be broken, otherwise they will end up doing its bidding without truly understanding or appreciating democracy. Subita causa, fellitur offectue. (Upon removal of the cause, the effect is removed.) 

Spalding notes that related to this is the growing number of academic espionage cases involving professors and graduate students stealing property. Although both Spalding in War Without Rules and greatcharlie earlier here noted that that US counterintelligence and law enforcement has been following China’s activities albeit all are elements of its beyond-limits combined war strategy, alas, effort to identify and neutral Chinese operatives and their networks have not gone so well. With each successful military and civilian intelligence, industrial, and private effort, and there have been far more than a few, the Chinese learn much about the US security measures and how to penetrate government bureaucracies and private organizations from defense contractors to elite universities. Through that incrementalist approach they have enabled themselves to act at will in the US, pilfering research and development and gaining access to US policy planning, contingency plans, and decision making. Some might state derisively that Beijing now knows more about what is transpiring within many US government bureaucracies, businesses, hi-tech firms, and universities than those who have worked in them for decades. The most apparent evidence of that is when equivalents planned products of sensitive and highly classified US research and development projects are constructed and almost mockingly displayed in official parades and technology fairs and conventions as China’s latest technological achievements. China is dead wrong for stealing industrial and high-tech secrets. However, the operational elements of foreign and national security policy bureaucracies of the US and its allies and partners are wrong for failing consistently over two decades to put a halt to China’s fruitful espionage efforts. Rather than reporting goose chases to headquarters, it appears some investigating agents more often press dead ends and repeatedly sift through the same dust, creating a type of self-inflicted wound to their respective organizations’ efforts. More than yielding nothing, such practices result in further darkening their powers to make headway on new cases by using lessons learned based on failures and looking at facts from new angles. 

It is difficult to discern just how much reliance Spalding would place in the US counterintelligence services and law enforcement to thwart China’s unrestricted warfare operations against the US in the various no military realms. To that extent, he rarely mentions them in War Without Rules. Perhaps something more might be read into Spalding’s final statement in this section, “Our counterespionage efforts have improved, but I suspect there is much more that can be done.” Perhaps it is useful to mention that in Chapter 3: “The Magic Shoes of Technology”, Spalding notes that in September 2021, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Christopher Wray stated before the Congress regarding threats to the US that there were more than two thousand ongoing investigations into Chinese espionage in the US. Spalding quotes Wray as saying: “We’re opening a new investigation that’s tied back to China about every 12 hours, and it covers pretty much every sector of the economy in every state in the nation.” Spalding then writes: “The colonels who wrote Unrestricted Warfare would be proud.” (For more on the efforts by US counterintelligence services and law enforcement to fend off beyond limits combined war by China, see greatcharlie’s August 31, 2021 post entitled, “Sidelights on Nicholas Eftimiades, A Series on Chinese Espionage, Vol. I: Operations and Tactics (Vitruvian Press, 2020))”.

Consumers

Spalding says once again here that US citizens must understand their country is at war with China. It is a war China started, and citizens must avoid doing anything that would make China stronger. He notes, given the fairly common reports in the newsmedia about human rights violations, that China”s actions must be opposed. However, opposing those violations is only one weapon to use against them. Spalding suggests boycotting Chinese products, and avoiding stores that do not sell alternatives made in the US and “democracy-friendly” countries. As War Without Rules was written before current high inflation levels were reached, Spalding suggests “paying a little more and buying a little less as long as products come from the US and reputable countries.”

Voters

Spalding makes the statement highlighted by another reviewer: “We should all be China hawks.” Out of fairness, one might better understand what Spalding meant with these words by citing added to them was a discussion of his concern over what those who seek political office have on their minds about China. He notes the governors have made all kinds of deals with China where the benefits unintended went one way. Spalding feels those whose actions support China over the US interests should be viewed as unpatriotic. That would be particularly true given China’s actions and intentions via unrestricted warfare, beyond-limits combined war. Spalding urges citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable. He albeit aggressively states that China’s actions should be presumed guilty until proven innocent, which is an idea most readers of War Without Rules who adhere to the precepts of the US Constitution, as greatcharlie, would likely feel uncomfortable with. Any pressure that the Communist Party of China can put upon political leaders through corporations that have business ties in China must be thwarted.

Spalding also has a section in this chapter entitled “What Does Victory Look Like?” In it, intriguingly, Spalding does not sound much as the warrior out for blood that some have portrayed him given what is written in this chapter. Rather than explain further, greatcharlie will allow readers to discover what he says and reach their own judgments. Ex inimico cogita posse fieri amicum. (Think that you may make a friend of an enemy.)

Nicolas Malebranche was a 17th century French Oratorian priest and rationalist philosopher. In his works, he sought to synthesize the thought of St. Augustine of Hippo and René Descartes, in order to demonstrate the active role of God in every aspect of the world. Reportedly, after Malebranche read Descartes’ Traité de l’homme, he turned towards a study of mathematics and physics. In his reaction to Descartes’ book is recounted: “The joy of becoming acquainted with so large a number of discoveries caused him such palpitations of the heart that he was obliged to stop reading in order to recover his breath.” Alas, greatcharlie will not go as far as to declare War Without Rules was the manifestation of Divine inspiration through Spalding. Still, as readers may have detected throughout this review, greatcharlie enjoyed reading every bit of the book. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that greatcharlie whole-heartedly recommends War Without Rules to its readers.

It is almost assured that after the first reading War Without Rules, one would most likely go back to the book and engage in that stimulating process repeatedly. There is no telling what insights and how many might be brewed up from within readers after they have had a chance to read through it. Hopefully Spalding will keep on writing books. While writing books may not be as enthralling to him as flying a B-2 Stealth bomber, he nevertheless, is damnably good at it. Vires acquirit eundo. (We gather strength as we go.)

By Mark Edmond Clark

Would the Ejection of Russian Forces from Ukraine Lead to a Thermonuclear Response by Moscow?: Some Meditations on Putin’s Likely Thinking

Test launch by the  US Air Force Global Strike Command of an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. In discussing the Ukraine crisis even prior to the Russian invasion, it has been greatcharlie’s near mantra that understanding what Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin thinks is critical to resolving the issue for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. There may be a possible nuclear dimension to his thinking that deserves greater attention. Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. At some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Putin’s Russia similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles being deployed to Cuba in October 1962. The nuclear issue regarding Ukraine should be brooked before events suddenly conspire to create a catastrophe. 

The people of the respective Western countries that support Ukraine during its present struggle have put much faith in their political leaders concerning the management of this very complicated situation. Much as their elected officials, they have applied hope against their fears that their world would not be enabled to regress back to a stage in which the evils as the quest for dominance, war, and tyranny would become norms of existence. As it was suggested in greatcharlie’s June 31, 2022 post entitled, “Brief Thoughts from Outside the US Foreign and National Security Policy Bureaucracies on Putin and Facilitating an End to the Ukraine War”, by training Ukrainian troops and providing them with an abundance of relatively cutting edge firepower assets and loads of other military gear along with financial assistance. Indeed, Western governments have lavished Ukraine with almost every kind of assistance in its fight against Russia, but it appears they have done so without keeping the matter fully in perspective. Yet, at some point, some or all of those governments must catch themselves out, and recognize victory for Ukraine may result in a crisis greater than the war itself, a nuclear showdown with Russian Federation President Vladimir and his Russian Federation similar to the showdown between the US and the Soviet Union over nuclear capable Soviet missiles that were being deployed in Cuba in October 1962. 

The honest choice would be to explain to their respective electorates that there is the possibility that the worst might be  the outcome of the Ukraine effort, nuclear war. However, they are also well-aware that mere talk of the use of nuclear weapons can bring strong images and feelings to the minds of their people. There are of course other huge concerns such as financial markets, international trade, commerce, and progress in general. Talk about thermonuclear war could truly have deleterious effects on such important things, and as such the mere mention of it would be a mistake. Perhaps with that in mind, putting the best face on the matter, aiding Ukraine’s potentially winnable ground war was settled upon as the course. If true, that would make it a case of deliberate short-sightedness. Waiting and then attempting to explain the dangers when things are hotting up will likely result in a considerable, unfavorable public reaction. The people would almost certainly ask what the devil their political leaders have been playing at. They would be angered that the efforts of their political leaders for landing them in such a terrifying situation. 

In preceding posts, greatcharlie has suggested that the matter with Putin runs deeper, more subtle than many might suppose. Understanding what Putin thinks is critical to resolving the Ukraine matter for he is at the center of it all. It was Putin who started the war. To that extent, for greatcharlie, providing thoughts on Putin’s pattern of decisionmaking on Ukraine and inferring from those patterns how Putin may perceive actions by the West and may respond to them has become a preoccupation. A possible nuclear dimension in his thinking, the greatest threat of all, deserves examination. It is certainly a issue that should be brooked before events conspire to create a catastrophe. Apparently, greatcharlie is not alone in thinking this. There has been greater visible discussion of this matter by well-experienced former military and diplomatic officials in the West presented within mainstream print and broadcast newsmedia houses. In an admirable essay published in the Sunday Times in August 2022 by retired British Army General Sir Richard Barrons, a former commander of the United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command, very publicly brought the issue to the fore. Earlier in June 2022, the news website RealClearDefense.com provided a lucid report on Russia’s new threshold for the use of nuclear weapons by Russia and reinvigoration of its nuclear triad. Given this apparent rise in awareness, greatcharlie feels it can comfortably move on to cover other matters. However, before that happens, greatcharlie is compelled to figuratively gnaw at it once more.

Some readers might conclude the rather elementary suggestions made here appear too fanciful, too recherché. However greatcharlie’s aim and objective here is not to present something that resembles what has already been produced in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies as well as those of other Western governments, but to present novel ideas. ItsHow the War. Its ideas are designed to help ignite new lines of thought, new insights. Omnia non properanti clara certaque erunt; festinatio improvida est, et cæca. (All things will be clear and distinct to the man who does not hurry; haste is blind and improvident.)

Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov (center). Putin appointed Dvornikov commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: It has been alleged online, but not confirmed by Moscow, that he has been replaced.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Under Dvornikov, many Russian commanders have displayed skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation.

How Putin’s “Special Military Operation” Is “Progressing”

Fortunately for Putin, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov, who he appointed commander of the “special military operation” in Ukraine on April 9, 2022, has seemingly well-orchestrated a regrouping of Russian forces, sweeping up the stable so to speak and getting things going. (Note: There has been chatter online from the West and even from Russia alleging Dvornikov was replaced in June 2022 as the overall commander of the special military operation by an an officer subordinate in rank, Colonel-General Genady Zhidko, who was serving as director of Russia’s Military-Political Directorate at the time. The strongest argument offered in support of the alleged change has been that Dvornikov has been away from public view. The supposed change in command has been neither confirmed or denied by the Kremlin or Russia’s Ministry of Defense. Absent official notice of the change, one might safely accept Dvornikov most likely remains in command in Ukraine.) After the relatively disastrous initial weeks of war, the military plans of the General Staff of the Russian Federation were left in pieces on the floor. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike. On the ground in Ukraine, he has breathed vigor into what was a thoroughly dismayed and disoriented force. Minus habeo quam speravi; sed fortasse plus speravi quam debui. (I have less than I had hoped for; but maybe I had hoped for more than I ought.)

To expound a bit more about events on the ground, Russian commanders displayed some skill in moving troops fairly long distances, shifted them to reinforce those in contact that desperately needed assistance, moved units of both the Army and Naval Troops from sector to sector, and avoiding any repeat of the punishing fights that resulted from attacks and counterattacks by Russian units at Kyiv and Kharkiv in the early days of the special military operation. That success early on convinced some military analysts in the West of the superiority of Ukrainian military leadership. As of this writing, especially in the Donbas, Ukrainian forces have faced retreats, setbacks, and even surrenders as in Mariupol. A land bridge between Crimea and Donbas has been created by Russian forces. It remains to be seen whether Russian forces have truly gained the initiative, and if so  whether they can retain it. Successfully protecting their units from the relatively slow-moving, low-flying threat of observation and attack drones and improving their units’ techniques of assaulting the opponents positions remain big issues for Russian commanders as losses from both continue to be abysmal.

If the Russian campaign is ever to become the fluid one originally envisioned, particularly by some experts in the West in which battalions would advanced hundreds of miles en masse, it must determine how to extricate their units from regional struggles east, southeast, and south, and attack west and north. Perhaps emphasizing the use of superior firepower, they might be able capture large swaths of territory and massing on decisive points, to include some large cities, in a formidable manner. Right now, Russian commanders do not appear to possess the forces in Ukraine or back in Russia necessary to do that and under current circumstances, may never be able to organize that capability. Additionally, such an offensive would need to be conducted before the spring, when the ground thaws, once frozen rivers and streams run faster and harder, and thick mud would positively hinder unit mobility.

General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, is Holovnokomanduvach Zbroynykh syl Ukrayiny or Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and is often mentioned with regard to the defense of Ukraine and foreign military assistance. However, Dvornikov’s main Ukrainian opponent in the field is Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov, commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. His more immediate boss is the commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, Ukrainian Armed Forces Colonel General Olexander Syrskiy, the masterful defender of Kyiv. When the war began, Ukraine’s strength in the JFO’s was 10 brigades and its soldier were considered among the best trained and equipped in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Zaluzhnyi’s opposite number is Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov.

Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were unfavorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones, stronger at least on paper. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never.”

The top field commanders of both Russia and Ukraine have likely become accustomed to having their respective political authorities on their backs concerning the very latest developments despite their respective victories and tactical accomplishments. Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky–the latter having become visibly more mature and harder in his job via an unsought crash course in national leadership during wartime–do not appear to be men who have the time and inclination to hear unsolicited opinions of others. They have enough opinions of their own. Nevertheless, both are quite expectedly absolutely gripped by matters concerning the war. In the interest of being diligent, they would imaginably seek recommendations from their respective commanders on how to proceed and what they will need to win the war. Such a potential circumstance would actually work well for both Dvornikov and Moskaliov.  Doubtlessly both would like to have far more firepower, troops, useful drones, and greater, effective close air support to name a few things.  It would seem their respective political authorities are actually working hard to get them just that. 

 From what is presented in international newsmedia reports, with everything taken into consideration, especially military assistance from the US, the war in Ukraine could still end in either side’s favor. To that extent, both Kyiv and Moscow have scrambled to reach out to allies and partners to request military assistance to the extent possible and ways to help them turn the tide sooner than later on the battlefield, to troops on the ground from mercenaries to units from their respective national armed forces.

Kyiv has genuine plans to raise a force of 1,000,000 soldiers to eradicate Russian forces from Ukrainian territory, to include the liberation of Crimea. Apparently, it is much more than an off-handed suggestion, but rather, an active pursuit. Indeed, Zelensky, still much lionized in Western capitals, has told the Ukrainian Armed Forces to retake coastal areas vital to the country’s economy, Ukrainian forces continued to engage in fierce fighting over control of the eastern Donbas region. Ukraine does not appear prepared as yet to mount any counteroffensive that could achieve decisive results. However, that, too, remains to be seen. The Ukrainians, as initially demonstrated in Kyiv, have often surprised observers by achieving what many might assess as unlikely.. Note that Ukrainian commanders have introduced US M142 High-Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and the United Kingdom’s M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) among their artillery units and are using that enhanced firepower in their operations. Thus, they may be prepared to do a lot of “big” things.

As for Ukrainie’s Western supporters, making certain Ukraine is able to take the fight to the Russians under current conditions has been challenging enough. An ailing global economy, limitations on the even the most feasible levels of military assistance from industrialized Western powers, Ukrainians available and ready to serve immediately in the military, resources for training both at home and abroad, and time available to make difference on the battlefield, to mention only a smattering of challenges facing the million man army plan, really puts the whole matter out of court. Before anyone might feel prompted to argue over what is possible or impossible for Ukraine to do based on what little is presented here, greatcharlie suggests one take also into consideration that Russian commanders will not wait around until Ukraine raises an army that would take the field and potentially overwhelm Russian battalions. Indeed, the Russians will have some say on how things turn out.

Ukrainian Armed Forces Major General Eduard Moskaliov (above), commander of the Operatsiya ob’yednanykh syl or Joint Forces Operation. The Joint Forces Operation or JFO is military jargonese for the operational zone in the Donbas. The commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, his boss, is Ukrainian Armed Forces Colonel General Olexander Syrskiy, the masterful defender of Kyiv. Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another, withdrawing their units when conditions were most favorable more often than demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender. The ability of Ukrainian commanders to think fast and soundly has been key to their relative success as time is always of the essence. Their opponent relentlessly seeks to gain ground and gain and retain the initiative, and more often than not weaker Ukrainian units have been pitted against stronger Russian ones.

In Moscow, Putin has ordered the Russian Federation Armed Forces to increase by another 137,000 troops starting January 1, 2023. The decree dated August 25, 2022 did not explain by what means Russian forces would be increased,, through expanded conscription, taking on more volunteer soldiers or some combination of both. Responding to concerns over a broader wartime mobilization among the Russian public, Moscow explained that only volunteer contract soldiers would  take part in the “special military operation” in Ukraine. Apparently, Putin’s hope is to increase the number of Russian Federation Armed Forces personnel to 2,039,758 overall, including 1,150,628 servicemen. Reportedly, a similar order in the past put Russia’s military strength at 1,902,758 and 1,013,628 respectively at the start of 2018.

Foreign fighters, who some might label mercenaries, they have been used on both sides of the conflict to bolster numbers and bring trained and well-experienced fighters immediately to the front. Foreign fighters for Russia are normally put under the control of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU. 

Foreign fighters for Ukraine operate in units under the control of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Ukrainians have had some success taking foreign fighters on to the strength of their frontline units. Many foreign fighters serving with Ukrainian forces are from the armed forces of Member States of NATO. (One must pardon this digression, but at the mere mention of the words mercenaries, greatcharlie calls to mind Stanzas of the renowned 19th century British Romantic poet and satirist, George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, known better as Lord Byron. In “When a Man Hath No Freedom To Fight for at Home” first published in Letters and Journals, November 5, 1830, ii, 337, Byron depicts the mercenary. The stanza’s jaunty lines were sent in a letter written to an associate, Thomas Moore, dated November 5, 1820. Byron writes: When a man hath no freedom to fight for at home, / Let him combat for that of his neighbours; / Let him think of the glories of Greece and of Rome, / And get knock’d on the head for his labours. / To do good to mankind is the chivalrous plan, / And, is always as nobly requited; / Then battle for freedom wherever you can, / And, if not shot or hang’d, you’ll get knighted.)

Napoleon is quoted as saying: “In war, the moral element and public opinion are half the battle.” What has not been very useful to either commander are the respective political warfare operations. In their own way, both sides through political warfare have resorted to Babylonian methods: eye for an eye and that sort of thing. It has not directly led to any apparent boost in morale, shift in momentum, or a dramatic turn of the tide. The indications and implications of it are not clear. At best, it has been a distraction, particularly with respect to the videos produced by both sides showing their opponents’ troops being killed and injured. Those videos have shown the world just how horrible the war is.

Postea noli rogare quod inpetrare nolueris. (Don’t ask for what you’ll wish you hadn’t got.) Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Yet, recall that Achilles took revenge over Patroclus’ killer, Hector, dealing with him in a positively merciless fashion. Putin, much in the same way as Achilles again, would surely try to act ferociously against the West following a hypothetical loss.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (above). Hopefully, not one Western political leader actually believes that, if things go their way and fortune goes against Russian forces on the battlefield, Putin will simply throw up his hands, do Sweet Fanny Adams, wait for the West to reach out for peace talks, agree to the West’s terms for the unconditional withdrawal from Ukraine, and let chips fall where they may with regard to Russia’s future and his own. In Western capitals, some might imagine Putin after defeat in Ukraine, sitting alone, crying tears into his favorite samovar much as Achilles in Homer’s Iliad was depicted as crying an ocean of tears over the death of Patroclus. Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat,would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine.

Any form of acquiescence by Putin to Western demands would be very unlikely. To expect some gross retardation of Putin’s aggressive instinct and expect him to become humble and conciliatory in the aftermath of defeat would be absolute madness. Given this, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what the genuine objective of the West is in Ukraine. It is hard to imagine what Putin and his advisers–inarguably better aware of Putin’s authentic nature and intentions than anyone outside of Russia–make of it all. Suffice it to say, even in the best case scenario for the West in which Ukrainian forces reclaim the overwhelming majority of territory taken by Russian forces, problems of great magnitude will very likely be encountered. In his Ad Urbe Condita (From the Founding of the City) (c. 28 B.C.), the Roman historian Titus Livius (59 B.C.-A.D. 17), known as Livy, provides in Greek a history of Rome that begins with the earliest legends of Rome before the traditional founding in 753 BC through the reign of Emperor Caesar Augustus during his own lifetime. In Book III, section 39, he writes the apposite passage: “The troubles which have come upon us always seem more serious than those which are only threatening.”

There was a Moravian born scholar who within a series of lectures between 1911 and 1915 expressed: “It is a predisposition of human nature to consider an unpleasant idea untrue, and then it is easy to find arguments against it.” That Moravian scholar was Sigmund Freud, the neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, a clinical method for evaluating and treating pathologies in the psyche through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. In 1917, 28 of his aforementioned lectures were published in his book Introduction to Psychoanalysis or Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis (German: Einführung in die Psychoanalyse). Pertinent to matters discussed here, Freud discusses the concepts of denial or abnegation–in German, Verleugnung or Verneinung, a psychological defense mechanism in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead, insisting that it is not true despite what may be overwhelming evidence.

One’s denial can take three forms according to Freud. The two seemingly more apposite in this situation are simple denial and minimization. 1) simple denial: deny the reality of the unpleasant fact altogether; and, minimization: admit the fact but deny its seriousness (a combination of denial and rationalization). Let no ones heart be troubled as greatcharlie has no intention of getting involved in the business of psychoanalyzing anyone. Still, Freud’s luminous thoughts have helped to provide greatcharlie with insight into what, beyond political expediency, would lead to the insistence publicly that the defeat of Russia in Ukraine would lead to a favorable outcome for the West.

Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.” Barrons reminds readers that “Russia will have declared areas of occupied Ukraine part of the Russian state. So should an Ukrainian offensive roll over this new self-declared border, the use of nuclear weapons to break up the attack will be on the table. This is not unthinkable–it is only unpalatable.” He says that the type of nuclear weapon he has in mind is the Russian Iskander missile which has a range of 300 miles and can deliver a conventional or nuclear warhead of selected yield. He notes that it has already been used with a conventional warhead in Ukraine. Barrons makes the distinction between those weapons and the 1,000 kiloton weapons that might target Washington or London, and assures that he is in no way referring to the possible use of the latter. He concludes by stating: “These [nuclear] weapons exist for just the sort of circumstances the war in Ukraine may lead to, so nobody should claim total surprise if they are used. Events since 2014 have established that neither hope nor denial are sound approaches to dealing with Russia today.”

Russia’s mobile, short-range, nuclear capable, 9K720 Iskander ballistic missile system (above). Someone with experience and expertise who has considered the possibility of a potential nuclear tragedy, as aforementioned, is retired British Army Lieutenant General Sir Barrons, former commander of United Kingdom’s Joint Forces Command (now designated United Kingdom Strategic Command) In his essay published in the Sunday Times online on August 6, 2022, Barrons explains “The West needs to think about the shape the fighting may now take and to include in that the prospect of catastrophic success for Ukraine: if Russia is thrown back to the extent that Putin senses strategic defeat, he is likely to employ tactical nuclear weapons.” He states such thinking is nothing new as Russian nuclear thinking accepts the use of small nuclear weapons to impose unacceptable damage on an opponent as a means of coercion, particularly in circumstances where the existence of the state is in question.”

Barrons knows what he is saying. Given his impressive experience he is surely as experienced or more so to parse out this matter than many military analysts working an intelligence unit in any government focused on Ukraine. Reinforcing Barrons’ point of view is the current head of United Kingdom’s Strategic Command, British Army Lieutenant General Jim Hockenhul. In an interview with the BBC published August 12, 2022, Hockenhull stated that the likelihood of Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine may change if the battlefield dynamic shifts. Armies kill selectively and to that extent, a tactical nuclear weapon would be used on the battlefield to kill selectively. There is an odd rationality to it all. Still, greatcharlie states with immense respect for the well-considered views of these honorable men both of whom throughout their careers have spoken truth to power. that their depiction of Putin’s hypothetical nuclear response to the battlefield is a charitable one. 

Although the use of nuclear weapons remains a part of Russian military doctrine much as it was in the Soviet Army as both Barrons and Hockenhull point out, Dvornikov is fighting a conventional war without having some backup plan at his headquarters to use nuclear weapons if he is pushed up against Russia’s border. Putin would unlikely authorize him to use nuclear weapons. Putin would unlikely come to Dvornikov seeking a recommendation regarding the use of nuclear weapons. Taking such a hypothetical step in that direction would very likely be planned out in advance by Putin while doing “what ifs” before he launched his invasion.

Add to all of that, Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.”

Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons. What is immediately intriguing about the statement is that except to shape diplomacy as it had before the war, Moscow rarely explains its military plans and intentions. When it has done so, it has offered what were at best soupçons. Moscow is similarly reluctant to offer anything about its intelligence operations. Surely Shoigu does not believe Russia will lose the war. He is not expecting any pushback of Russian forces by the Ukrainians. Thus, in his mind there would hardly be any need to consider such a great step as to respond with nuclear weapons. Concerning what the international press has been saying about Russia, that long ago should have stopped being a concern of any loyal official in Moscow. If it has been a concern especially among top officials such as Shoigu, the indications and implications of his speech may be that the door is wide open for greater manipulation of them via the newsmedia. Perhaps the degree to which newsmedia reporting has already influenced thinking in Moscow has not been thoroughly appreciated in the West. 

On the other hand, perhaps deceptively, Shoigu wanted to relax Western capitals with regard to a nuclear end to the Ukraine War. Maybe he wanted to figuratively stir the pot by adding his words to the debate on Russian plans and intentions in Western foreign and national security policy circles. Absent any reason that might be remotely viable, Shoigu’s comments concerning Russia’s use of nuclear weapons could be considered superfluous. Still, it is unlikely that Shoigu would take the time and effort to make a public statement with the intention to speak superfluously or idly. Putin presumably green-lit his statement. Shoigu would not have formulated such an approach to nuclear weapons use on his own. Putin is still calling all the shots. To that extent, perhaps Shoigu’s statement should not be considered definitive. There must be something there. Whatever it is, it is not very apparent, but probably important.

Putin (right) and Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left). Moscow denies it has even considered the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. On August 16, 2022, Shoigu declared that Russia has no military need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. In his own words, Shoigu stated: “From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals.” Shoigu reportedly went further “to slam newsmedia speculation” that Russia could potentially use nuclear or chemical weapons to compensate for slow progress in its special military operation in Ukraine as “absolute lies.” Shoigu’s statement on the use of nuclear weapons on its face may have struck many as very odd. Rather than provide clarity, which was his stated intention, he has actually created more questions in inquisitive minds and among skeptics about Moscow’s thinking on nuclear weapons.

The Ladder of Escalation

More than just having an impact on the battlefield, Russia’s use of nuclear weapons might become just an initial step up the ladder of nuclear escalation. Although members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response. 

Some national capitals in close proximity or actually bordering Russia are already very concerned, unnerved, over Putin’s potential plans and intentions for their respective countries. Presumably, protocols have already been established for such potentiality. Still, if frightened enough by the detonation of nuclear ordinance in Ukraine, there is no real knowing what a possible panicked response might be by political leaders in some governments. Perchance reactions to such an event may not be as orderly as NATO might have planned.

Putin may have already concluded that taking such an action would be akin to striking a hornets nest with a stick while in the nude. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. To that extent, nothing would be gained on the ground in Ukraine by using the weapons. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. 

Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely. Putin would probably be resigned to the fact that the West would hardly be able to back down after nuclear weapons hypothetically had been used in Ukraine. Domestic political considerations would make that nearly impossible Western national leaders. The respective countrymen would expect them to display strength, though groups of citizens may be formed that may insist peace be sought. It would not be prudent for Putin to apply any hope to what Moscow would likely view as “positive efforts”. 

Nullum est malum majus, quam non posse ferre malum. (There is no greater misfortune than not to be able to endure misfortune.) Some European leaders may panic when faced with a staggering crisis. When such a crisis arrives unexpectedly, it can unnerve one who might already be affected by chronic stress and might lack an identical or similar experience to draw from, it can happen to some of the best. (Although he was not one of the best, recall how in 1940, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin was so shocked by German Reich Chancellor Adolph Hitler’s betrayal of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that he suffered a nervous breakdown and left a power vacuum for two days while German forces poured in the Soviet Union.)

To be certain, moderately armed NATO Members do not take orders from the more powerful ones or the one military superpower, but they are more inclined to see their point of view. As more time passes, Western leaders more assured of what is the right way forward will be able to gird the resolve of those leaders less certain of how to proceed through continuous communications and hastily arranged bilateral and multilateral talks at NATO headquarters and the Europa building. Unsteady leaders, in particular, would be given the time and opportunity to draw upon the energy of the stronger ones. In general, the Europeans would be given more time to prepare for whatever might come next. In Cyropaedia (“Education of Cyrus”), the renowned Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, and student of Socrates, Xenophon (c. 430 – 354 BC), presents a partly fictional novel about Cyrus the Great, the founder of Persia’s Achaemenid Empire, but more so it was a tract on kingship and generalship addressed to the class of educated Greek commanders and potential leaders. Pertinent to the matter at hand, in Book I, Chapter 6, section 21, Xenophon writes: “[P]eople are only too glad to obey the man who they believe takes wiser thought for their interests than they themselves do. And you might recognize that this is so in many instances but particularly in the case of the sick: how readily they call in those who are to prescribe what they must do; and at sea how cheerfully the passengers obey the captain; and how earnestly travellers desire not to get separated from those who they think are better acquainted with the road than they are. But when people think that they are going to get into trouble if they obey, they will neither yield very much for punishment nor will they be moved by gifts; for no one willingly accepts even a gift at the cost of trouble to himself.” People have not changed too much over a couple of millenia.

Among the number of national capitals that would normally take the lead in such a hypothetical crisis, some heed should be given to Xenophon’s words. According to a Pew Research Center survey published on June 22, 2022, the outlook is good so far. Overall ratings for the US were largely positive and stable. A median of 61% of the citizens across 17 countries in which surveys were conducted–not including the US–expressed a favorable view of the US, and large majorities in those countries viewed the US as a reliable partner to their country. Attitudes toward NATO, in contrast, are largely positive, and ratings for the alliance improved since 2021 among citizens surveyed in several of the 17 countries 

With the foreign and national security policy bureaucracies of 30 NATO Member States plus the staff at NATO Headquarters working night and day to formulate favorable moves that would allow the West considerable advantage over his country, Putin also might find it too risky to get locked into a back and forth struggle, attempting to stay ahead in the action reaction cycle against the aggregate of their capabilities. Naturally, Putin would not be inclined to slow walk himself into any of that. There would just be too many possibilities to consider. The playing field would be a bit too level or even feel a bit one-sided toward the West, despite its positively Wagnerian proportions. He would want to retain, at least in his mind, his position above all of that. Equally naturally, while all of that was happening, Putin would need to keep a very close eye on what was happening politically in Moscow and around Russia and the reactions to each step he would take. Looking at matter from another angle, but still from Putin’s lens, despite the excellent assessments of former and current expert military practitioners, in the grander scheme of Putin’s world, using nuclear weapons on the battlefields of Ukraine would relatively amount to “bad behavior” and not the appropriate response. 

In the worst case scenario, Putin may feel he could truly steal a march on Western leaders by attacking them first, hitting them where it hurts strategically, and then see just how committed they were to a green future. His hope in that vain would be that enough Russians and enough of Russia would survive to a degree that his efforts would not have been in vain. Knowing how some often misconstrue statements to the extent they give them the wrong meaning, it must be noted that greatcharlie is not married to the idea that initiating a thermonuclear war following a loss in Ukraine. For greatcharlie, the outcome it has outlined here is completely undesirable. Going a step further, more so than stealing a march, if Russian forces were forced out of Ukraine, to include Crimea, Putin would know it would be his end at home and everywhere else, and he would likely have no compunction making it everyone’s end.

NATO Summit Meeting on February 17, 2022 (above). Although united as members of a regional collective security organization and a political and economic union, in Putin’s mind, European countries are mainly an amalgamation of political authorities, each constrained by domestic political concerns and beholden to their respective electorates. Still, he could not be sure how under such extraordinary circumstances how the US, other Member States of NATO, the EU, or European countries independently might act in response to Russia’s use of a nuclear weapon in Ukraine. Retaliatory action could come from so many directions. His troops in Ukraine would be the initial victims. If Ukraine’s partners were to take that bold step to strike Russian forces, likely against its Iskander and other nuclear capable weapons systems, it would be up to Putin to decide whether he would strike military targets in their countries. He would also have to imagine what would be his opponents’ follow-up response to his next move. Moving up the scale of escalation at that pace would simply be a slow walk toward global thermonuclear war. It is not inevitable, but very likely.

Taking Putin’s Words Seriously

When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

In July 2022, President Vladimir Putin threatened to continue the war until the last Ukrainian man was standing and his Deputy Dmitri Medvedev suggested that “punishing” Russia over war crimes “potentially poses a threat to the existence of humanity.” Since 2007, nuclear threats have been commonplace among high level Russian officials but the current ones are clearly more extreme. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson once noted that Putin had personally made nuclear threats 35 or more times.

Putin’s June 2020 directive on nuclear deterrence made it clear the most alarming reports concerning the Russian nuclear first use threshold were accurate. Paragraph 19 (d) of President Putin’s June 2020 decree [translated] states concerning the conditions specifying the possibility of nuclear weapons use by the Russian Federation would inckude: “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.” Further, Paragraph 4 of Putin’s decree links nuclear weapons use to sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is potentially very permissive.

To briefly return back to the aforementioned statement by Shoigu, what should not be downplayed is his remark that “the main purpose of Russian nuclear weapons is to deter a nuclear attack. Its use is limited to extraordinary circumstances.” Shoigu did not define what would qualify as “extraordinary circumstances.” That was an odd choice given his statement was ostensibly designed to provide clarity on the nuclear issue.

Putin (center), Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu (left), and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (right). When Putin makes statements, announcements, declarations, and addresses on foreign and national security policy issues, his usual purpose is to lay out a foundation for action on them. His build-up of remarks foreshadowing the February 24, 2022 invasion provides an example of this. However, it would seem Putin’s words as with that matter and a number of others are more often viewed as being of no-count among political leaders in Western capitals as well as within their respective foreign and national security policy bureaucracies. Surely, they can seem to be scare tactics more than anything else, but in the end they tend to have meaning. As of late, Putin and his top officials have been doing a lot of talking about nuclear weapons and their use. Their expressions alone hold enough materiality and scope to warrant a significant investigation.of the nuclear issue or perhaps there could be wider exploitation of what has been uncovered already.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and Putin’s Comfort-Level with Nuclear Weapons

Alterations of Moscow’s policy and posture concerning intermediate range nuclear forces have run near concurrently with its troublemaking in Ukraine. Many might remember, perhaps some a bit vaguely, how nuclear weapons were an all engrossing topic in Western capitals during the Cold War and their reduction became a primary aim of diplomacy among Western countries,  prariiy the US, and the Soviet Union. Reductions were achieved through the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  The INF Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. Regarding its basics, the treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 300 and 3,400 miles by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. By the deadline, the two countries had together destroyed a total of 2,692 short- and intermediate-range missiles: 1,846 Soviet missiles and 846 US missiles. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. Two protocols to the treaty established unprecedented procedures for observers from both countries to verify firsthand the other nation’s destruction of its missiles. 

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987, however, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier, reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict. The West sought to reason with the Russian leadership on what were seen as disturbing developments. The US initially first raised concern with Russia about the 9M729 missile system on May 23, 2013 without positive results. At NATO’s September 5, 2014 Summit in Wales, Member States called on Russia to preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. That was after Russia had displayed heightened aggressiveness in February 2014 when its forces moved into the Crimean Peninsula and subsequently annexed the territory. At NATO’s Summit in Warsaw in July 2016, Members called on Russia to answer US charges and preserve the viability of the INF Treaty. In an somewhat mocking response, on December 9, 2017, Moscow finally admitted the 9M729 exists but claimed it is compliant with the INF Treaty.

Leaving little doubt as to its thinking, on February 5, 2018, the West received news via the Russian news agency RIA that the head of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament’s defense committee reported Iskander missile systems had been sent to Kaliningrad, Russian sovereign territory on the Baltic Sea. The Iskander, a mobile ballistic missile system codenamed SS-26 Stone by NATO, replaced the Soviet Scud missile. Its two guided missiles have a range of up to 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) and can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads. Moscow stated that previous deployments of Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a slice of Russia wedged between Poland and Lithuania, were temporary and a response to the buildup of US forces in the Baltic region. In addition to having a destabilizing effect on NATO countries in the immediate area, US officials at that time expressed concern that the deployments appeared permanent.

In July 2018, NATO Members stated that after years of denials and obfuscation by the Russian Federation, and despite repeatedly raising their concerns, Russia had only recently acknowledged the existence of the missile system without providing the necessary transparency or explanation. Due to the absence of any credible answer from Russia on this new missile, the assessment was that Russia was in violation of the INF Treaty. In December 2018, NATO Foreign Ministers supported the US finding that Russia was in material breach of its obligations under the INF Treaty and called on Russia to urgently return to full and verifiable compliance with the Treaty.

NATO stood open to dialogue and welcomed engagement with Russia on its violation, to include a NATO-Russia Council meeting on January 25, 2019. However, Russia continued to deny its INF Treaty violations, failed to provide any credible response, and did not move a jot toward returning to full and verifiable compliance. Stating Russia’s continued non-compliance as the cause, on February 1, 2019, the US announced its decision to suspend its obligations under Article XV of the INF Treaty. On February 1, 2019, NATO Members stated that unless Russia honored its INF Treaty obligations through the verifiable destruction of all of its 9M729 weapon systems, thereby returning to full and verifiable compliance, Russia would bear sole responsibility for the end of the Treaty. Russia was entitled to return to compliance with the treaty in 6 months and thereby halt the US withdrawal and NATO Members repeatedly urged Moscow to do so, but it refused. On August 2, 2019, the US withdrawal took effect. On that day, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that “Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise.” NATO Members issued a statement fully supporting the US decision, and attributing “sole responsibility” for the INF Treaty’s termination to Russia. The statement made clear that NATO would respond in a “measured and responsible way” to the risks posed by Russia’s SSC-8 system, with a “balanced, coordinated and defensive package of measures,” ensuring credible and effective deterrence and defence. Members also made clear their firm commitment to the preservation of effective international arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. 

On August 18, 2022, near the time of this writing, the Russian Federation Armed Forces reported that it had deployed Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet armed with state-of-the-art hypersonic missiles, Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, to the Chkalovsk air base in Kaliningrad as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”as part of “additional measures of strategic deterrence.”

The fact that steps taken on policy concerning and deployments of nuclear weapons, with the exception of the deployment of MiG-31K jet armed with the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles have all occurred outside the context of Ukraine or at least the circumstances appear to be such, should indicate that whatever Putin is saying or doing now regarding the is of far greater conception than the “special military operation.”

Certainly, it would be rather counterintuitive for Putin to continue to make statements that intensively would inform the West that there has been a shift in his thinking about nuclear weapons to the extent that he is now more prepared to use them if in his calculus the sovereignty of Russia were both endangered.  That stated, Putin, having had his expositions and entreaties on relatively lesser foreign and national security policy issues of concern to him dismissed consistently by the West, Putin should now be reasonably aware that his concerns regarding nuclear weapons will continue to be brushed aside as Western leaders neither want to consider the possibility of him using them, nor want his words on the issue to have any meaning.

If orders were to be given by Putin to the military to use nuclear weapons, instead of Dvornikov, the call would more likely go to Colonel General Sergei Karakayev, the commander of Raketnye Voyska Strategicheskogo Naznacheniya Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Strategic Rocket Forces of the Russian Federation or the Strategic Missile Forces of the Russian Federation [literally Strategic Purpose Rocketry Troops]) or RVSN RF. The Rocket Forces are a branch of the Russian Armed Forces that control Russia’s land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In addition, the Aerospace Forces (VKS), as well as the Russian Navy’s Northern and Black Sea, and Pacific Fleets would be alerted. Commanders who are in control of Russia’s strategic nuclear triad would act in the manner prescribed respectively by political authorities. Any plans to use nuclear weapons would be of the utmost secrecy. Discussion of it would surely be limited to a handful of advisers.

US President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (right) signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was an arms control treaty between the US and the Soviet Union. US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on December 8, 1987, and entered into force on June 1, 1988. The treaty required both countries to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles that could travel between 500 and 5,500 kilometres (between 300 and 3,400 miles) by an implementation deadline of June 1, 1991. The INF Treaty was the first arms-control treaty to eliminate an entire category of weapons systems. However, in 2013, the Russian Federation, which had assumed the obligations agreed to by the Soviet Union under the INF Treaty, had decided to untie itself from the treaty’s restrictions. Russia began developing, producing, testing, and deploying a new intermediate-range missile known as the 9M729, or SSC-8. The 9M729 Iskander missile, mentioned earlier. reduced the warning time for European capitals of Russian nuclear attack to minutes, lowering the threshold for nuclear conflict.

Implications of Russian Losses in Ukraine

For those who might find it difficult to imagine Putin destroying the world over hypothetical defeat in Ukraine and that firing nuclear weapons is far short of setting off a conventional war, think again. A great conventional war involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers in these times was also extremely difficult for so many to imagine a few short months ago. The invasion of Ukraine and attending gross losses of Russian troops may serve as a proxy for understanding Putin and measuring his willingness to sacrifice human lives in pursuit of his goals. As mentioned earlier, Putin started the war. It was his decision to tear millions of people in Russia and much more so Ukraine from peace and cast them to a seeming foreverness of death and destruction, torment and anguish.

With regard to Russian casualties, according to the latest estimate by US intelligence and military officials, reportedly 500 troops are either killed or wounded every day. The casualty estimates of US officials are reportedly based on satellite imagery, communication intercepts, social media and on-the-ground media reports. The US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters at the Pentagon on August 12, 2022: “I think it’s safe to suggest that the Russians have probably taken 70,000 or 80,000 casualties in less than six months.” The New York Times on August 12, 2022 reported that two US officials estimated that Russia’s losses included about 20,000 deaths. One confidentially explained further that about 5,000 from that number are believed to be fighters from the Wagner Group, and foreign fighters. US officials have gone as far as to assess that the progress of Russian forces in the Donbas became stalled in part due to high casualties. 

During his May 9, 2022 Victory Day address, Putin made a rare reference to casualties suffered by Russian forces fighting in Ukraine. With respect to casualties, Putin mentioned the “irreparable loss for relatives and friends.” He informed Russians then that support would be put in place for the children of the dead and for the wounded. Of course, one could say there is good reason for Putin to take this tack. It is a fairly elementary idea, but Napoleon expressed it in a succinct fashion: “We should always go before our enemies with confidence, otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them with greater boldness.” It may very well be the case that Putin is thoroughly disappointed by the heavy losses. He may even have strong personal feelings, and may in private appear somewhat emotional about it all. While that could be true, in public, he shows not a scintilla of interest in those losses. To a great degree, he has glossed over the losses with his words..

Still, readers might bear in mind that during an interview on June 7, 2015 the editor of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, then Luciano Fontana, asked Putin: “Mr. President is there one thing that you regret more than anything in your life, which you consider an error that you would never again want to repeat?” Reportedly, Putin adjusted himself in his chair, and his eyes suddenly seemed to sparkle. He remained silent for a few seconds, and then, according to the daily’s English transcription of the interview, stated: “I will be quite frank with you. I cannot recollect anything of the kind. By the grace of God, I have nothing to regret in my life.” In August 2022, perhaps Putin might offer another response to this question. On the other hand, it is more likely he would not alter his response in any way.. 

Putin as Epic Hero

Putin has a penchant for bringing to bear events in Russian and Soviet history in support of his arguments concerning both domestic and foreign, and national security policy issues. In April 2020, as Russia entered its first coronavirus lockdown, he compared the pandemic to 19th-century Turkic nomadic invasions of medieval Russia during a televised address to the nation. In July 2021, the Kremlin published an almost 7,000-word essay by Putin, entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians”, in which he argued that Russia and Ukraine were one nation, artificially divided. Putin’s inclination for referring to history was apparent in his February 24, 2022 speech announcing the special military operation during which he again  provided a lesson on Ukraine’s historic connections to Russia.

In June 2022, Putin compared himself to the 18th-century Russian Tsar Peter the Great, drawing the following parallel: “Peter the Great waged the great northern war for 21 years. It would seem that he was at war with Sweden, he took something from them. He did not take anything from them, he returned [what was Russia’s].” Putin might humbly shun being labelled a history buff, but he certainly can be said to have retained innumerable facts on the history of Russia and the Soviet Union. It may all appear quite puerile to some onlookers, but simply put, Putin’s predilection for making references may augur that in a very grave danger that may lie ahead in which Putin may view a situation from an historical perspective, not a pragmatic one for the here and now.

A part of Russia’s history and culture has been the creation and promulgation of tales about powerful mythical beings, whose behavior and actions supposedly account for the development of certain geological formations, aspects of Russian behavior, the Russian zeitgeist past and present, and a few place names in the country, to name a few things. Putin, who greatcharlie will go out on a limb and call an historian and recognize as an erudite on all things Russian, is doubtlessly familiar with such mythical heroes, and would surely be able to explain that everything which is most heroic and great about them, holds a place in the soul and spirit of all good Russians. Hearing those tales can reaffirm that. (It would be interesting to hear Putin speak on such matters.)

One of Russia’s greatest mythical heroes is Ural-batyr. His tale is popular particularly among ethnic Bashkirs who named their national epic poem after him. As the story goes, all his life, Ural-batyr (who for Putin might represent himself) selflessly fought against devs (demons), serpents, and dragons (who for Putin might represent the West), defending the human race (who for Putin might represent the Russian people). Also, he was kind and always showed forgiveness to his toxic and malevolent elder brother Shulgan (who for Putin might represent the national government in Kyiv, at least since Euromaidan), who associated with the devs, and responded to their demands that he destroy Ural-batyr and the humans. The people loved and extolled Ural-batyr as their hero and were proud to follow him. Defeating death was an aim and objective to which Ural-batyr dedicated himself. He wanted to allow his people to live forever and not have to die. One day, Ural-batyr encountered an immortal older man who was weary of life and explained to to the effect: “What we call Death and what we are accustomed to regard as evil are just the eternal order of things . . . There is only one thing in life that does not die and remains forever young – goodness.” The immortal’s words sowed within Ural-batyr an inner peace and happiness.

Ural-batyr, himself, would die performing an heroic act of self-sacrifice: He swallowed an entire lake in which devs, snakes, and evil spirits roamed to protect the people from them. The devs, snakes, and evil spirits gorged on Ural-batyr from the inside, thereby killing him. As he died, Ural-batyr tells his descendants not to accept evil in fellow travelers, always accept advice from elders and wise people, and to offer advice to the youth and assist them. By his example of self-sacrifice, Ural-batyr instructed the people to live by justice and peace. The people buried him high in mountains which they named in his honor, and were thereafter called Uralskiye gory: the Ural Mountains.

To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to find that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war that he might start, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Despite the expansive devastation around them, Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them. He would also sense he would be instructing them by action that they should place no limit on their will to fight for the survival and freedom of Russia or some lesson to that effect. Male facere qui vult numquam non causam invenit. (Those who would do evil never fail to find a reason.)

Putin center stage at a concert marking the 8th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea  in support of Russia’s on-going special military operation in Ukraine at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on March 18, 2022. To the extent that greatcharlie has managed to understand him, any situation that would put Putin up against the wall would demand nothing less from him than something akin to a suicide charge. It would be less about achieving victory and more about a final display of what he might perceive as heroic valor. Inarguably, Putin would surely prefer to lead the Russian people in the next phase after a thermonuclear exchange. A man who has well-managed his survival for three decades would hardly become fatalist, chuck everything aside, and willingly go on to a higher calling. However, if Putin were to determine that he would not survive a hypothetical thermonuclear war, he would conceivably hold some sense of satisfaction as he commenced it knowing that as the mythical Russian heroic figure, Ural-batyr, he was doing his utmost for the Russian people as their defender. Putin might believe they would come to realize that he secured for them a chance to rebuild and enjoy a future that the US and rest of the West sought to deny them.

The Way Forward

Art Buchwald was a US columnist and humorist who delighted in the absurd, satirizing the follies of the rich, the famous and the powerful. In an interview from his hospital bed for the Associated Press on April 5, 2006, he stated: I don’t know what’s coming next and neither does anyone else. It’s something that we do have to face but the thing is that a lot of people don’t want to face it. And there’s denial. If somebody says it, like me, everybody feels a little better that they can discuss it.”

Finding a point to halt the war and seek peace without total victory by one side or the other seems remote. The ongoing fight could be best described as “bitter, relentless, and cruel.” Nevertheless, it may be the best possibility. Sometimes a solution that might be found can go beyond the physical boundaries of a struggle and include matters that at the moment seem remote from it, in order to provide a reasonably comfortable, sustainable peace for both sides. As aforementioned, for greatcharlie, there is little doubt Putin would not hesitate, in the normal sense, to launch a thermonuclear war in response to a theoretical defeat in Ukraine. In such an event, there would be little opportunity in the West for post mortems, who said what, when, and where. Assumptions are not conclusions, and can go only far with a good number of experienced hands. Expert individuals as them may feel there is no reason to make heavy weather of the issue as it seems so remote, at least at the moment.

Multo enim multoque seipsum quam hostem superare operosius est. (It is harder, much harder, to conquer yourself than it is to conquer your enemy.) As greatcharlie has mentioned in preceding posts, the idea that Putin would be willing to somewhat casually take an action that he knew could potentially lead to global annihilation is too difficult for many to fathom. It requires accepting a line of thinking which for them would be beyond the settled order of nature. It was once widely expressed by leaders in Western capitals that Putin was little more than a callous former executioner for the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. A return to that thinking is not really suited to the discussion on Ukraine right now. Numquam aliud natura, aliud sapientia dicit. (Never does nature say one thing and wisdom say another.)

Recently, the editor of greatcharlie was described as a polemicist by one of the blogs readers. The somewhat brusque remark was albeit intended as bon mot. While it is certainly a more preferable label than propagandist, polemicist seemed a bit too heavy a word to derive from the not too controversial scribblings of greatcharlie. There has scarcely been an argument with which greatcharlie has been so bound that it has sought to incite readers to peruse a post. If there is a need to define greatcharlie as one thing or another, perhaps it might help to point out that the words of Stephen Grellet, the early 19th century French-American Quaker missionary, have provided guidance in the writing of every post: “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way

Putin the Protector of the Russian People or the Despoiler of Ukrainian Resources: A Look at War Causation and Russian Military Priorities in Ukraine

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin could be viewed as a true black box if ever a national leader could be viewed as one. Given that, finding ways to deal effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. Doing so has been made more difficult by the fact that Putin, while generally in the West as rebarbaritive, even murderous route, is recognizably a calculating and calibrated thinker. Regarding Ukraine, he has seemingly been acting well-off the mark. Taking on the persona of the defender of Russian people everywhere and scourge of fascism, he insists that his cause in Ukraine was pure and just in his address announcing Russia’s special military operation on February 24, 2022. However, the basis for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine may very likely been founded on some plan of far greater conception than the rescue of, and retribution on behalf of ethnic-Russians as he announced.

Long after its end, the war in Ukraine will likely persist in the collective memory of the world as a tragic waste of human lives and the shape of things to come, future challenges and horrors countries should expect to face, now that lower, cost high tech tools can be employed copiously on the battlefield. Machine guns, grenades, mortars, tanks, mechanized vehicles, heavy artillery and rockets are joined on the one hand by a set of small remotely piloted drones that keep watch over the battlefield while another set delivers heavy blows with their accurately targeted deployable ordinance. If an army does not have them or cannot counter them, its troops and equipment will face grave problems when sent to war. In the initial weeks of the Russian invasion, Ukrainian forces left the Russians sitting down hard at the door steps of their cities. The Ukrainians have fought the Russians with strength, endurance, and bitterness. How long the Ukrainians will remain favored by Tyche is unknown. As the war progresses, Russian efforts, now focused in East and southeast Ukraine appear to have met with some success despite fierce resistance by determined defenders.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin could be viewed as a true black box if ever a national leader could be viewed as one. Given that, finding ways to deal effectively with Putin has been made far more challenging. Doing so has been made more difficult by the fact that Putin, while generally in the West as rebarbaritive, even murderous route, is recognizably a calculating and calibrated thinker. Regarding Ukraine, he has seemingly been acting well-off the mark. Taking on the persona of the defender of Russian people everywhere and scourge of fascism, he insists that his cause in Ukraine was pure and just in his address announcing Russia’s special military operation on February 24, 2022. However, the basis for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine may very likely been founded on some plan of far greater conception than the rescue of, and retribution on behalf of ethnic-Russians as he announced. In pursuit of what may have been some Delphian objective, Russia’s military and naval commanders, instruments of the Kremlin’s hypocrisy, nearly poured a quarter of Russia’s forces down the drain.

In each attempt to tackle the subject of Ukraine’s invasion, greatcharlie has sought to dive a bit deeper into Putin’s mind to better understand how he thinks and additionally offer not just insight on decisions he has made but foresight on decisions he might make in the immediate future and shape of future events. While it may be difficult for some in the West accept Putin feels he has achieved great gains in Ukraine, looking at the situation from his perspective create some clarity concerning that. Putin may also have reason to hope the situation on the battlefield may turn considerably in Russia’s favor. This essay is relatively brief and could hardly squeeze the issue dry so to speak, in order to put one in the full picture of Putin’s thinking. The hope, however, is to present some new ideas and insights that may lead readers, hopefully some practitioners in the field of foreign and national security policy analysis and decisionmaking to develop new lines of thought on how to proceed concerning this pressing issue. Duc In Altum! (Put out into the deep!)

Few officials, analysts, or news media commentators in the West would comfortably contend with the suggestion that Putin’s special military operation was less about protecting the Russian people and denazification than asserting his power against–at least in terms of size–his smaller neighbor. Nevertheless, in his national broadcast on Russian television on February 24, 2022 announcing his special military operation against Ukraine, Putin did his best to at least create the impression that the former was true. Still, it was certainly unreasonable for Putin to think Ukrainian forces were so weak that they could not even figuratively brush a harassing fly off their nose. Allowing Russia to walk into Ukraine the first time in 2014 has doubtlessly tormented leaders in Kyiv since, believing it was a gross error. For Kyiv to allow Russia to walk into Ukraine a second time would surely have been an historical act of gross negligence.

Revisiting Putin’s February 24, 2022 Speech

In two preceding post, greatcharlie has examined Putin’s February 24, 2022 televised speech on Ukraine, in which laid out the reasoning behind his decision to invade Ukraine. February 24, 2022 broadcast speech on the special military operation in Ukraine. Working under the aphorism that “there is always a good soup in an old chicken,” greatcharlie looks at it again with the aim of highlighting additional pertinent points, with the hope shedding additional light upon patterns in Putin’s decision-making. At the crux of his reasoning for starting the war is Putin statement that he acted “to protect people who, for eight years now, have been facing humiliation and genocide perpetrated by the Kiev regime. To this end, we will seek to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation.” Putin surely wanted that “rescue and retributive” aspect of his speech to reverberate among listeners both at home and abroad. Yet, rather than a rescue operation, the indications and implications of his speech likely remained uncertain among those aware of patterns in his thinking. On the one hand, he may have thinly veiled his intention to conquer Ukraine entirely. French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte is quoted as saying: “We should always go before our enemies with confidence, otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them with greater boldness.” On the other hand, rather than the whole ball game, he might of had some yet to be revealed objective which was in his view, worthy of the sacrifice of the men and women of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. There were too many missing pieces to allow one to be certain.

Quite prescient in Putin’s mind, as expressed in his February 24, 2022 address, appeared to be the Soviet ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people during World War II. At least outwardly, Putin convincingly gave the impression that he was hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own. Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian armed forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to again simply march into their country. Putin can surely tell the difference between real and unreal. He has not managed to stay in power since 2000 by engaging in Quixotic pursuits. Still, there appeared to be a singular emotional commitment on his part to the ideas of Russian-Ukrainian unity and the fealty of the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces to Moscow, to him, that it apparently was made a feature of his war plan. Putin “appealed” to members of the Ukrainian armed forces as follows: “I would also like to address the military personnel of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. Comrade officers! Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine. You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.” Putin continued: “I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.” Lastly, he stated: “I want to emphasize again that all responsibility for the possible bloodshed will lie fully and wholly with the ruling Ukrainian regime.” Il a une araignée au plafond.

The Combat of Saint-Cast and Putin’s Delusion

What Putin seemed to expect in February 2022, having surprisingly announced the “surprise” invasion–the special military operation–was being launched, was to shape and ensure through his words a situation similar to 2014 when Russian troops, dubbed the “green men”, moved without warning and somewhat stealthily into Crimea and the Donbas. To that extent, in his mind, the result of his address, particularly the points of which he spoke directly to the Ukrainian armed forces, should have been something akin to the legend of “The Combat of Saint-Cast”. The legend, judged by some historians to be a “Victorian confabulation,” is admirably discussed in Lewis Spence, Legends and Romances of Brittany (Pinnacle Press, 2017), As the story goes, In 1758 a British army was landed upon the shores of Brittany with the object of securing for British merchant ships safety in the navigation of the Channel and of creating a diversion in favor of the German forces, then our allies. A company of men from Lower Brittany, from the towns of Tréguier and Saint-Pol-de-Léon, says Villemarqué, were marching against a detachment of Scottish Highlanders. When at a distance of about a mile the Bretons could hear their enemies singing a national song which resembled “The Garb Of Old Gaul”.  “The Garb Of Old Gaul” (also known as Auld Gaul) is an 18th-century patriotic Scottish march. The title “Garb of Old Gaul” refers to the traditional Highland dress, ancient Gaul being thought of at the time as the heartland of the Celtic peoples. “The Garb Of Old Gaul” begins: In the garb of old Gaul with the fire of old Rome, / From the heath cover’d mountains of Scotia we come, / Where the Roman’s endeavour’d our country to gain, / But our ancestors fought, and they fought not in vain.

Spence reports in Legends and Romances of Brittany: “at once they halted, stupefied, for the air was one well known to them, which they were accustomed to hear almost every day of their lives. Electrified by the music, which spoke to their hearts, they arose in their enthusiasm and themselves sang the patriotic refrain. It was the Highlanders’ turn to be silent. All this time the two companies were nearing one another, and when at a suitable distance their respective officers commanded them to fire; but the orders were given, says the tradition, ‘in the same language,’ and the soldiers on both sides stood stock-still. Their inaction, however, lasted but a moment, for emotion carried away all discipline, the arms fell from their hands, and the descendants of the ancient Celts renewed on the field of battle those ties of brotherhood which had once united their fathers.” Unlike the Scots and Bretons nearly 265 years ago at Saint-Cast,  Russian and Ukrainian troops had no problem firing upon each other. The ties of brotherhood were not renewed on the battlefields of Ukraine.  Perhaps, the first verse edited for present circumstances might be altered to the following: “When the Russians sic [Romans] endeavored our country to gain, / Our ancestors fought, and they fought not in vain.”

Soldiers of the Soviet Union (above), likely from a mix of the then 16 union republics, on the attack during World War II, armed with PPSh-41 “burp guns”. Most prescient in Putin’s mind during his February 24, 2022 address appeared to be the Soviet ties between the Russian and Ukrainian people during World War II. At least that seemed to be his strongest selling point. Putin put much into his perception of an unwavering sense of comradeship between the Russian and Ukrainian people’s as former Soviet citizens. Putin convincingly gave the impression that he was hooked on the idea that among the officers, men, and women of the Ukrainian armed forces there was a lingering sense of Soviet unity equal to his own, Putin would go as far as to implore the Ukrainian armed forces to submit to his will and allow Russian troops to once again simply march into their country.

Putin surely appeared quite confident about his assessments of the situation and forecasts of how events would unfold. Yet, one should always expect the unexpected. It would have been daylight madness for Putin to think Ukrainian forces were so weak that they could not even figuratively brush a harassing fly off their nose. Passivity should hardly have been expected of Kyiv the second time by anyone thinking clearly in the Kremlin. Allowing Russia to walk into Ukraine the first time in 2014 has doubtlessly tormented leaders in Kyiv since, believing it was a gross error. For Kyiv to allow Russia to walk into Ukraine a second time would surely have been an historical act of gross negligence. Herodutus of Halicarnassus (c. 484 B.C.-c. 425 B.C.), was a renowned Greek historian of the Hellenic period, referred to as “the father of history” and known as for The Histories, his masterwork which mainly discusses the struggles between Greece and Persia. In Book 7, Chapter. 226 of The Histories, Herodotus provides an anecdote about Dianeces, who he describes as the bravest Spartan, pertinent to Putin’s likely reaction to reports indicating the Ukrainians were better prepared than he imagined. He writes: “Before battle was joined they say that someone from Trachis warned him [Dianeces] how many Persians there were by saying that when they fired their bows, they hid the sun with the mass of arrows. Dianeces, so the story goes, was so dismissive of the Persian numbers that he calmly replied, “All to the good, my friend from Trachis. If the Persians hide the sun, the battle will be in shade rather than sunlight.”

There may have been those in the Russian Federation Armed Forces who did not agree that Ukraine would rollover for Russia much as it had in 2014. However, once that fantastic position was generally accepted by Putin and his chief advisers, there was no room left to contradict it. François-Marie Arouet (November 21, 1694–May 30, 1778), most famous under his pen name Voltaire, was a French writer, philosopher, and leading writer of the enlightenment. Voltaire was recorded as stating in “Catalogue pour la plupart des écrivains français qui ont paru dans Le Siècle de Louis XIV, pour servir à l’histoire littéraire de ce temps,” Le Siècle de Louis XIV (1752): “Il est dangereux d’avoir raison dans des choses où des hommes accrédités ont tort.” (It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong.)

It was discovered a few weeks into its special military operation in Ukraine that a good amount of what one organization among the Russian intelligence services had provided Putin was pure fabrication. That was revealed to the world by the Russian government itself. Yet, that revelation had no impact on the prosecution of the war. No troops were withdrawn. No discernable urgency was placed on reaching a negotiated peace. In greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post entitled, “Brief Meditations on the Role of Deception, Deceit, and Delinquency in the Planning, Preparations, and Prosecution of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine”, it was discussed that there is the possibility that Putin, knowing what he knows, experienced as he is, wanted to be deceived because he so badly wanted to invade Ukraine and needed to show his decision could not be viewed as reckless, but rather based in reason that would be generally accepted.

Putin also expressed in his February 24, 2022 address what might have posed a conscious or subconscious snag in his confidence over success in Ukraine. That was his concern over the West’s level of assistance to, and influence upon Kyiv since the collapse of the government led by his stern ally former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Putin indeed discovered after the invasion that the assistance that the West had been providing Ukraine, to include training and equipping its forces to meet Russian aggression on which former US President Donald Trump was impeached, turned out to be far greater in degree and quality than Putin likely ever imagined.

Putin reflecting (above). One might suggest Putin’s military priority Ukraine aligns with his spoken political goal, the elimination of Ukraine as a military, economic, and political ally of the West and the reduction of Ukraine as a military ally and obviation of the country from as a potential military threat to Russia. Yet, one cannot possibly be absolutely certain of Putin’s priority with any genuine expression from him to confirm the idea as true. It was stated by the aforementioned Polybius in The Histories that “true policy does not regard only the immediate necessities of the hour, but must ever look still more keenly to the future.” To that extent, one might also suggest that with Putin and his advisers having a mind to the future, precepts of economic warfare, which have shaped Russian military doctrine, played a considerable role in decisionmaking in the Kremlin on Ukraine.

A Second Look at the Ukraine War’s Causation

In his Dialogue xiv, Le Chapon et la Poularde (1763); reported in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 10th ed. (1919), Voltaire states: “Ils ne se servent de la pensée que pour autoriser leurs injustices, et n’emploient les paroles que pour déguiser leurs pensées.” (Men use thought only as authority for their injustice, and employ speech only to conceal their thoughts.) As the situation has developed in Ukraine, it would seem that has been a goal. However, at least in terms of conquering territory in Ukraine, to the degree that Moscow can, it is possible that Russian aims were of far greater yet at the same time, very traditional in nature. Theorizing on the possibility of war during the period now realized as the run up to invasion, greatcharlie indicated in its January 25, 2022 post entitled,Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”: “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. Since then, Putin has doubled down regarding such rhetoric. During the Victory Day parade in Moscow on May 9, 2022, Putin claimed that Kyiv was seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. He asserted there were parallels between the Soviet Union’s struggle against Nazi Germany and Russia’s current confrontation with Ukraine, the west and NATO. Further, with words somewhat more acerbic and accusatory than in his February 24, 2022 address, Putin stated US was assisting forces with historic links to the Nazis, who were planning to terrorise the Donbas and invade Crimea. As Russian soldiers were defending historical territory that belonged to the motherland, Putin exclaimed they were “fighting for the same thing their fathers and grandfathers did”.

One might suggest Putin’s military priority Ukraine aligns well with his spoken political goal, the elimination of Ukraine as a military, economic, and political ally of the West and the reduction of Ukraine as a military ally and obviation of the country from as a potential military threat to Russia. Yet, one cannot possibly be absolutely certain of Putin’s priority with any genuine expression from him to confirm the idea as true. In his work also entitled The Histories, Polybius (c. 200 B.C.-c. 118 B.C.), the renowned Greek “pragmatic historian” and intriguingly an eyewitness to the siege and destruction of Carthage accompanying none other than Cornelius Scipio Aficanus as one of his commanders, well-covers the Punic Wars. In it, Polybius states that “true policy does not regard only the immediate necessities of the hour, but must ever look still more keenly to the future.” To that extent, one might also suggest that with Putin and his advisers having a mind to the future, precepts of economic warfare, which have shaped Russian military doctrine, played a considerable role in decisionmaking in the Kremlin on Ukraine. While there are other documents, expressions that are reveal how such ideas have had an impact, the one in which greatcharlie is best familiar with is what was called the “Top Secret” 2013 Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation now dubbed the “Gerasimov Doctrine” in the West. 

The 2013 plan was developed in response to Moscow’s concerns with NATO expansion and Putin’s sense that Russia stands vulnerable to the US “tricks.” In greatcharlie’s November 16, 2016 post entitled, “Belarus Allows Small Demonstrations Outside KGB Headquarters: As Belarus Curries Favor with the West, Can It Help Russia, Too?”. That 2016 post noted that on February 14, 2013 at a conference called “Russia’s Military Security in the 21st Century,” the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, General of the Army Valery Gerasimov, provided a 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 impact of Putin’s thinking on the Western threat to Russia is apparent. The Russian Federation General Staff believes future conflicts will be “Resource Wars.” Indeed, they conclude 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 their prices to steeply rise. Russia’s senior military leaders believe outside powers, primarily the US and its allies, may invade their country from several directions to physically grab territory and its resources. The Kremlin has accepted the threat assessment of the Russian Federation General Staff. Putin signed the Plan of Defense of the Russian Federation into law on January 29, 2013. The plan guided Russia’s defense spending in 2016 which exceeded 6 percent of Russia’s GDP, along with national security and federal law enforcement budgets totaling an additional 3 percent. The plan guided the Russian military build-up in the Arctic, the Pacific, the Baltic, in Crimea and on the Ukrainian border. The Syria expedition was also part of that picture. Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu, when announcing the massive strategic military exercises, Zapad 2017, explained on November 2, 2016: “The US and NATO are actively increasing their offensive potential, building new bases and developing military infrastructure, undermining international stability, and attempting to impose their will by economic sanctions and use of military force. A propaganda information war is raging.” Shoigu further stated that Russian borders were being threatened and adequate defensive measures are being taken.” All of these ideas based on defending against Russia’s main opponent, the US and the West, run contrary to notions in the Western governments on the need to combat climate change, the move away from fossil fuels via public policy. One might presume, however, that in Moscow, such notions emanating from the West are beside the point.

Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit. (Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.) Admittedly, on matters concerning economics, greatcharlie, not being steeped in them, figuratively goes out into a darkness in the midst of which it “does walk with an assured step.” Economists and historians alike hopefully might charitably read this bit with an open mind and aqua vitae on hand.

In the 19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote that the main source of instability in the international system would be capitalist globalization, more specifically the conflict between two classes: the “national bourgeoisie” and the “cosmopolitan proletariat.” Historical materialism would be Marxism’s guideline in understanding the processes both in domestic and international affairs. Thereby, from the perspective of Marx, human history amounted to a struggle to satisfy material needs and to resist class domination and exploitation. Surely greatcharlie dates itself by relying on Bernard Brodie for support in this portion of its discussion as it has relied upon his work over the last 40 years. However, in his War and Politics (Macmillan, 1978), the renowned military strategist and proponent of the strategy of deterrence, known affectionately as “the American Clausewitz”, explained the Marxian theory of war causation has an explicit historical limitation. One might read into the Marxian philosophy a general emphasis on the economic interpretation of history that would seem to favor the notion that all wars are due primarily to economic causes. Marx’s main theoretical preoccupations were with the period of history marked by fully developed capitalism. Marx was uninterested in what were the respective causes of wars before that period of history. Nevertheless, his claims concerning the application of his ideas within that period were all-embracing. According to Marx, all important wars and important international conflict during that period resulted from the existence of the capitalist form of society. One might discern a theoretical weakness from the outset, as one sees no conspicuous increas,e in frequency of wars historically following the emergence of what Marx would call fully developed capitalism. On the other hand, Brodie concluded, there is no obvious reason why wars should not have distinctively different causes at different phases of world history. Intriguingly, such dialectic disagreements concerning old Soviet Marxism and Western capitalism have hardly been amplified in the West as a major cause for the dysfunctional relationship between it and Putin’s Russia. Nevertheless, when one hears from Putin, those disagreements are made more apparent. In less promoted, lesser known tracts and speeches, Putin stated as much beginning as early his first year as Russian Federation President. (Please see Putin’s December 31, 1999 essay, “Russia at the Turn of the Millenium”, that appeared on the website of the Russian Federation government. Putin’s expression as this type are discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s 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”.)

To delve further with regard to Marx and war causation, in later years, a school of advocates, quite different from him and his Orthodox followers, even to the extent that they did not regard themselves as Communists, furthered Marxian theory, with what was dubbed neo-Marxian theory. They theorized that neither stupidity nor chauvinism or individual psychological quirks or wrong-headed ideologies among substantial numbers of people may have accounted for most of the wars of the modern era. Instead they have put the blame entirely on one emotion, that of personal greed, and have shifted primary guilt from the institution of capitalism to the individual capitalist. The latter has to be rich enough to be extremely influential politically and corrupt enough to use his political influence to advance his own profit at whatever cost to the nation. To that extent, it is worth noting that in a December 24, 1946 an address at the lighting of the National Community Christmas Tree at the White House, US President Harry S. Truman stated: “Selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.”

In greatcharlie’s February 4, 2022 post entitled, “Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine”, it is noted that Putin has stated more than once that he believes the US is run by unseen power brokers, individuals with unmatched business interests. These individuals, who would likely be categorized by Putin as the aforementioned “independent capitalist”, Putin would likely submit, have accounted for most US wars and others in the modern era. They have a singular degree of political influence and use their political influence to advance their own profit at whatever cost to the country. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Putin (above) holds a doctorate in Economics from Leningrad State University. Long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg). Putin’s 1997 thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Perhaps in his mind he imagined how future generations of Russians could benefit greatly through the possession of such resources. That would be one more piece of his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia.

Putin the Mineralogist

Long before he became the legendary Russian President that he is today, Putin was a doctoral candidate at Leningrad State University (now the University of St. Petersburg). (A fuller discussion of that period of Putin’s life can be found in greatcharlie’s March 31, 2017 post entitled “Book Review: Vladimir Putin, First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia’s President (Public Affairs, 2000)). The rector at the St. Petersburg State Mining University as of this writing, Vladimir Litvinenko, chaired the committee that awarded Russian President Vladimir Putin his doctorate in Economics in 1997. He recently stated that Putin’s thesis was titled “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region Under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations.” Putin’s economic studies, at what was then Leningrad State University, were most likely heavily doused in Marxian theory. Even more pertinent here, his research made him quite knowledgeable about the resources of countries that were formerly republics of the erstwhile Soviet Union. He would be very aware of Ukraine’s wealth in minerals, particularly in the eastern and southeastern regions. Indeed, Ukraine has a large supply of many valuable mineral and raw material resources. Ukraine in fact holds approximately 5 percent of the world’s mineral resources. Its significant mineral resources include: iron ore, coal, manganese, uranium ore, natural gas, oil, salt, sulfur, graphite, titanium, magnesium, kaolin, nickel, mercury. As for stocks of iron, manganese, titanium and uranium ore Ukraine is ranked first among European countries. As for mercury ore reserves, it is second only to Spain. It seems, Putin wants it all for Russia. Perhaps in his mind he imagined how future generations of Russians could benefit greatly through the possession of such resources. That would be one more piece of his legacy, the legacy of Putin’s Russia.

Putin the Despoiler

As for the amounts of these resources that have fallen into Russia’s hands, coal, the main fossil fuel of Ukraine, is mined in the Donetsk and Lviv-Volyn basins. The Donetsk Basin is the largest in Ukraine. It is located within the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts–provinces. At the time of this writing Luhansk oblast has essentially fallen to Russian troops and their attacks in the Donetsk oblast have intensified. A titanium ore deposit exists in Dnipropetrovsk oblast which reportedly has virtually unlimited reserves. Titanium is used in constructing rockets, submarines, making synthetic rubber,artificial rubies, sapphires, and products of that nature. Dnipropetrovsk oblast borders Donetsk oblast to the west, and its capture may be a likely follow-on objective of the Russian drive into Ukraine. Raw materials for aluminum production include nephelines in the Azov Sea area and boxites in the Vysokopillya deposit in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. These areas are mainly under Russian control or, as aforementioned, may soon be. 

Ukraine reportedly has modest recoverable resources of uranium, recorded to be 225.000 tU in IAEA Red Book 2011. Uranium mining began in 1948 at Pervomayskoye in the Crimea, and 65.000 tU have been produced. Records indicate production reached about 1.000 tU/yr. Records indicate that it reached 960 tU in 2012 and 922 tU in 2013. Production was forecasted to increase by 2014-2015. 

There are oil and gas deposits in Ukraine, however, their reserves are not significant. Reportedly, reserves of these fossil fuels were depleted during the Soviet period. Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest shale gas reserves at 1.2 trillion cubic meters. There have been two potentially large shale gas fields. One is the Yuzivska gas field located in the Donetsk oblast and Kharkiv oblast. In 2013 the government of Ukraine reached a sharing agreement on shale gas produced at Yuzivska and Oleska with Dutch Shell and US Chevron. That in itself would be enough to convince Putin that there has been a longstanding interest within the US in Ukraine’s shale gas resources.

When it annexed Crimea in 2014, Russia managed to capture a considerable portion of Ukraine’s energy resources, to include the complete loss of its Black Sea gas fields. By Ukraine’s own statistics collected before the February 24, 2022 invasion, resources in the northwestern part of the Black Sea shelf were estimated at 495.7 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 50.4 million tons of oil and condensate. In the Kerch area, resources were estimated at 321.2 billion cubic meters of gas and 126.8 million tons of oil and condensate. In the continental slope, resources were estimated at 766.6 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 232 million tons of oil and condensate. The total gas potential of the Black Sea shelf was estimated at 2.3 billion tons of fuel. It is approximately 40 percent of total gas deposits in Ukraine. Though the industry requires large investments, the development of The Black Sea deposits was viewed as a possible means by which Ukraine could effectively reduce its dependence on gas supplies from Russia.

Besides having them is keeping them from others, another considerable benefit of capturing the natural resources in eastern and southeastern Ukraine was keeping the West from having access to them. Thereby, by securing Ukraine’s oil and gas resources, its mineral mines, and large ports, Putin likely feels he has taken a huge step in the direction of making Ukraine undesirable to the West. Only in ground combat, extracting Russian forces from Ukraine by force of arms, would the situation be potentially altered. It is very likely Putin postulated a while back that there is in fact nothing so special, so endearing about the Ukrainians that would cause Western powers to take such an interest in them. He likely felt certain that it is Ukraine’s proximity to Russia, making an ideal potential base for attack against it, its natural resources and its ports on the Black Sea and the Azov Sea which makes it so attractive.

In “Master of the Secret World: John Le Carré on Deception, Storytelling and American Hubris” by Andrew Ross, in Salon (21 October 1996), a quote is provided from the great British spy novelist John Lé Carre that is most apposite to what is discussed here. Le Carré stated: “In every war zone that I’ve been in, there has been a reality and then there has been the public perception of why the war was being fought. In every crisis, in every confrontation that has come my way, the issues have been far more complex than the public has been allowed to know.”

A map of Ukraine’s east and southeast (above), displaying the resource rich Donetsk, Luhansk, and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts and the Azov Sea. A great amount of Ukraine’s natural these resources that have fallen into Russia’s hands, coal, the main fossil fuel of Ukraine, is mined in the Donetsk and Lviv-Volyn basins. The Donetsk Basin is the largest in Ukraine. It is located within the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts–provinces. At the time of this writing Luhansk oblast has essentially fallen completely to Russian forces and their attacks in the Donetsk oblast have intensified. A titanium ore deposit exists in Dnipropetrovsk oblast which reportedly has virtually unlimited reserves. Titanium is used in constructing rockets, submarines, making synthetic rubber, artificial rubies, sapphires, and products of that nature. Dnipropetrovsk oblast borders Donetsk oblast to the west, and its capture may likely be a follow-on objective of the Russian drive into Ukraine. Raw materials for aluminum production include nefelines in the Azov Sea area and boxites in the Vysokopillya deposit in the Dnipropetrovsk oblast. These areas are under Russian control or, as aforementioned, may soon be.

Have the Russian Federation Armed Forces Recovered after Earlier Failures?

Prewar in the West, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was speculated upon by many commentators to be something akin to a one act drama with an early curtain. Many were seemingly married to the idea that the Russian armed forces were ten feet tall. The danger ostensibly posed by Russian forces was worthy of a 2 percent expenditure on military articles pertinent for battle and training and maintaining their armed forces every year by NATO Members. Despite all that transpired, on February 24, 2023 the walls came down on what was supposed to be a Russian military juggernaut. So rapidly did Ukrainian forces discover and exploit the weakness of Russian forces wherever they could find them. Aux innocents les mains pleines. To be frank, the Russian Ground Force was very plainly outmatched by the Ukrainian fighters and lost in cities such as Kyiv and Kharkiv. The General Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces were left with few good options but to pull back from the Kyiv as well as the Chernihiv regions regroup elsewhere. That elsewhere has been inside Ukraine, across the east, southeast and southern borders. Those forces and their movements have been aggregated and have formed a solid front. 

As expressed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, anyone trying to paint a picture of what was happening in the Russian command over the Ukrainian security operation would accurately produce an ugly daub. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require flexibility, innovation, thinking through problems, unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels in advanced armies are instructed to improvise and adapt. Since that is not taught and trained into the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Russian Army, once in contact with an opponent, units up to the battalion level–the battalion being the main tactical formation of the a Russian Army–tended to suffer greatly. Often commanders of many units handled their troops and equipment as if they were participating in an exercise–parking companies and battalions of T-90 tanks and BMP armored personnel carriers on open roads without air cover or organic antiaircraft systems providing security–rather than moving in strength behind enemy lines in a shooting war. Disorganized assaults reportedly also contributed to the deaths of several Russian generals, as high-ranking officers were pushed to the front lines to untangle tactical problems that Western militaries would have left to more junior officers or senior enlisted personnel.

From what can be seen in broadcast and online videos, albeit most provided by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, no security was set up for units not in contact with their opposing forces in forward battle areas. There were visibly no pickets for armored and mechanized units while halting on roads, no moving pickets, no flank security, no air defense even watching the skies with heavy machine guns. This was the case despite foreknowledge that Ukrainian tank hunters with javelins and Turkish drones were lurking on the ground and in the air in their vicinities. Javelins and stingers provided to Ukrainian forces by the West were exploited to the point at which they had a multiplier effect on the battlefield. To that extent, a popular feature in the broadcast and online newsmedia on the Ukraine War are videos of formations of Russian T-90s and BMPs being identified and destroyed by Ukrainian drones or being hit by Ukrainian troops using javelins. Highways, roads, and even trails were seemingly used as a means to locate Russian armored and mechanized units, which were naturally traveling in the direction toward Ukrainian lines on them. Suffice it to say, practically the whole world via the international newsmedia learned this was the situation in the field. No amount of spin by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense could alter the truth of what was witnessed. Russian commanders at the company and battalion levels virtually sabotaged their units as a result of their repeated delinquencies. 

The annual, immense Zapad exercises of the Russian Federation armed forces, much touted by Moscow, clearly were not exactly all that they were made to appear to be in terms of demonstrating their true strength and capabilities of the Russian armed forces, as well as the possibilities for their use. Putin, himself, had regularly observed the Zapad exercises and everything seemed fine enough, but it was not. Military commanders simply went through the motions with elaborate displays of firepower and mobility with little to no concern about how it would all come together in real world situations. This aspect is discussed in greater detail in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post. In the end, the Russian armed forces fought the way they practiced. Commanders were left with no other way to do things. All the illusions created by the well-choreographed military drills were disintegrated in the light of reality.

The deficiencies and delinquencies of a commander or a group of commanders can become consistent enough to become predictable. Such shortcomings, when left uncorrected, can be well-exploited by a discerning opponent and can serve to determine the outcome of a campaign.

Discussing, in The Histories, the deficiencies and delinquencies of Hannibal, the great Carthaginian commander of the Second Punic War, whom he refers to as “Hanno,” Polybius notes that the Carthaginian commander had achieved regular success in defense. In fact, he states “duly he showed considerable ability, but he was quite a different man at the head of a sally in force: he was not sagacious in his use of opportunities, and managed the whole business with neither skill nor promptitude.” Polybius supports his view reviewing Hannibal’s failed first expedition to relieve Utica, during which he claims Hannibal very nearly brought the besieged, as well as himself, to utter destruction. He brought from Carthage catapults and darts, and in fact all the apparatus for a siege; and having encamped outside Utica undertook an assault upon the enemy’s entrenchment. Polybius notes “The number of his elephants, of which he had as many as a hundred, struck terror into the enemy.” He reports: “The elephants forced their way into the camp, and the enemy, unable to withstand their weight and the fury of their attack, entirely evacuated the position. They lost a large number from wounds inflicted by the elephants’ tusks; while the survivors made their way to a certain hill, which was a kind of natural fortification thickly covered with trees, and there halted, relying upon the strength of the position.” However, having achieved all of that Polybius says Hannibal made poor a use of the advantage he created. 

Polybius determined that Hannibal, “accustomed to fight with Numidians and Libyans, who, once turned, never stay their flight till they are two days removed from the scene of the action, imagined that he had already put an end to the war and had gained a complete victory.” He then was remiss, and gave little attention afterward to his men, or about the camp generally, but “went inside the town and occupied himself with his own personal comfort.” However, mercenaries among his opposition, who had fled in a body on to a hill within close proximity to Hannibal’s camp, had been trained in the daring tactics of the Barcas according to Polybius. (Barca was Hannibal’s family name. His father Hamilcar commanded the Carthaginians during the First Punic War.). Polybius suggests those mercenaries were also accustomed from “their experience in the Sicilian warfare to retreat and return again to the attack many times in the same day.” Once they discovered Hannibal “had left his army and went into the town, and that the soldiers, owing to their victory, were behaving carelessly, and in fact slipping out of the camp in various directions: they accordingly got themselves into order and made an assault upon the camp; killed a large number of the men; forced the rest to fly ignominiously to the protection of the city walls and gates; and possessed themselves of all the baggage and apparatus belonging to the besieged, which Hanno had brought outside the town in addition to his own, and thus put into the hands of the enemy.” Polybius notes that “this was not the only instance of his incompetence.”

A woman (above) walks amid destroyed Russian tanks in Bucha, outside Kyiv, in April  2022. As expressed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, anyone trying to paint a picture of what was happening in the Russian command over the Ukrainian security operation would accurately produce an ugly daub. What has been discovered since the invasion began is that Russia had been running its military campaign against Ukraine out of Moscow, with no central commander on the ground to coordinate air, ground and sea units. Reportedly, that tack assists in explaining why the invasion struggled against an unexpectedly stiff Ukrainian resistance, and was plagued by poor logistics and flagging morale. In situations that require flexibility, innovation, thinking through problems, unit commanders at the squad, platoon, company, and even battalion levels in advanced armies are instructed to improvise and adapt. Since that is not taught and trained into the officers and noncommissioned officers of the Russian Army, once in contact with an opponent, units up to the battalion level–the battalion being the main tactical formation of the a Russian Army–tended to suffer greatly.

Problems Rest at the Commander’s Doorstep

Moscow could not hide the fact that Russian forces were in trouble in Ukraine. With much fanfare,, by March 29, 2022, it was announced by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense that it was shifting its focus to expanding the territory held by pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donbas region. The Russian Federation Defense Minister, General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stated hours before the talks the “main goal” was now the “liberation” of Donbas. This shift left little doubt in the minds of observers outside of Russia that an apparent initial plan to move rapidly to capture major cities in Ukraine and replace the national government had failed or at least had not gone as planned. That surely signaled that big problems might lie ahead for them. There was an attempt to spin the matter as a success. As aforementioned, a big part of that was to omit any discussion of the terrible costs in troops, materiél, and treasure for the military’s blunders. As the matter was laid out by the Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation Colonel General Sergei Rudskoy, head of the General Staff’s main operations administration stated “The main tasks of the first stage of the operation have been carried out.” He further stated: The combat capabilities of the Ukrainian armed forces have been substantially reduced, which allows us to concentrate our main efforts on achieving the main goal: the liberation of Donbas.” Clearly, the focus of Rudskoy’s spin was an effort to convince that efforts to encircle key Ukrainian cities as Kyiv and making them subjecting them the multiple airstrikes and artillery onslaught was to pin down Ukrainian forces elsewhere in the country in order to allow Russian forces to focus on the east. Thinking reasonably, one might imagine that Putin would unlikely be willing to begin a new adventure for greater gains eastward. Still, casting reason aside, there remains the chance that he still wishes to capture Kyiv and Kharkiv, and add to that Odesa. He may be insisting upon those actions and engaged in the process of planning them with his generals.

At first blush, many Western military analysts generally foresaw the shift in Russia’s approach as an effort by the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation might have in mind trapping Ukrainian forces situated in eastern Ukraine roughly between the Donbas and the Dnieper River. Executing a two pronged attack, with one force moving north to south, the other moving south to north, Russian forces could potentially move to cut those forces off from the rest of Ukraine and their comrades defending larger cities and new units being trained in the western part of the country. Once the Ukrainian forces were cut off, the Russians would then seek to kill it.

It is still unclear whether Russian forces have recovered from the theater of errors in the first phase of the special military operation. It would be difficult enough to change tactics, techniques and procedures broadly for a force in constant contact with an opponent at multiple points, especially when initiative and independent thinking is not emphasized. Having a good portion of those forces somewhat battered and tattered would make carrying out such adjustments far more difficult. Indeed, turning the corner would be a terribly hard thing to do, not only in terms of reshaping and executing a better plan, tactics, and performing better, but in terms of motivating the troops to fight and win despite what had already transpired in the disastrous drives against Kyiv and Kharkiv. Russian Federation commanders and planners were surely clear eyed about all that. It is likely that there was likely an unspoken, private fear within the forces fighting in Ukraine that victory was out of reach. The early phases had gone too poorly to dismiss, just shrug off. Interestingly, if one lives with failure too long, one sometimes forgets what success is or how to achieve it.

The Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus was quoted as saying: “Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.” On April 9, 2022, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine. The sort of leader, thinker, manager, and commander that Dvornikov is mostly known from what Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released, all of it being very positive. On April 10, 2022, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) dispassionately described Dvornikov with the following: “Dvornikov, 60, served in Chechnya in the 1990s and in 2015 became the first Russian commander to lead military operations in Syria. Since 2016, he has overseen the southern military district, which includes Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula seized by Russia in 2014.” RFE/RL continues by stating: “Dvornikov has a notorious reputation for his conduct of the war in Syria, where Russia bombed civilian districts. Putin awarded Dvornikov the Hero of Russia medal, one of the country’s highest awards, for his work in Syria.” It was likely hoped that Dvornikov’s presence at the helm of the special military operation would have a steadying effect throughout the armed forces. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike, raising morale to some degree, albeit modest perhaps, by his presence. The big question is whether he can make a difference.

If Russian forces can manage to completely dislocate Ukrainian forces in the Donbas and push them out of and away from the region and more importantly away from the Russian border, it would be an enormous relief for Shoigu, Gerasimov and Dvornikov. However, their problems would hardly be over. A well-armed, well-trained, and well-experienced Ukrainian military staring down at Russia for years to come, if that hypothetically would be the outcome of a negotiated peace, would be the last thing that they would want to leave in place. More than that, it would surely be the last thing that the Russian Federation President would want to leave behind. That may turn out to be a problem that the world will need to contend with.

As it is discussed in greatcharlie’s April 30, 2022 post, Russian Federation commanders and planners are aware that in the fights for urban centers, the ground forces of allies could do more than simply chisel away at enemy lines. Numerical advantages are not rare on the frontlines, yet Russian forces, if they choose to economize in less active areas, could develop superiority at points of their main efforts. An attacker, after concentrating quickly, can normally strike hard at an unexpected place and time to throw the defender off balance. Once the attack is underway, the attackers’ chance of success can be improved if he moves fast, aggressively pressing every advantage, and if the attacker capitalizes on opportunities to destroy the enemy’s forces and the overall coherence of his defense. Russian forces have appeared either too sluggish or to wreck less to accomplish any of this.

Russian Federation commanders and planners also know air power can greatly impact enemy moves in urban centers. If forced to move quickly in the face of Russian air power, an enemy commander would be allowed less time to ensure his unit’s concealment. It could cause him to move when conditions would not impede aircrews’ search of his unit. Rapid movement could also decrease the effectiveness of his air defense systems, allowing aircrews greater freedom to search for his unit, increasing the chance for it to be spotted. So far in Ukraine,  over 95 percent of the Russian Federation Aerospace Force flies 200 sorties a day, and according to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, 57 Russian aircraft and 7 Russian drones [unverified] have been downed. However, in response to the Ukrainian air defense threat, Russian aircraft are not evading by flying sorties at 15,000 to 20,000 feet as they had over Syria. Russian aircraft are remaining above Russian airspace and firing air launched cruise missiles into Ukraine. Since aircrews cannot identify targets across the border, airstrikes are made in areas where air intelligence reports the enemy is located. In attacking urban centers, that will always result in collateral damage in the form of civilian deaths and injury and the destruction of nonmilitary structures.

Les portes de l’avenir sont ouvertes à deux qui savent les pousser. Of course, Ukrainian forces will try to have some say in how things turn out for Russian forces in their country. Before Russian forces can do any of that the Ukrainian armed forces would surely like to launch a counteroffensive to drive them out of their country. Given the need for speed to play a role–Ukrainian forces have an uncanny ability to stay a step ahead in the action reaction cycle despite the small amount of experience maneuvering significant sized units on the battlefield that any Ukrainian commanders have had over recent years. One would need to go back to the invasion of Afghanistan decades ago, to point to such an opportunity. A huge issue for the Ukrainian armed forces at this point is fatigue. So much has been asked of so few for so long who were truly fighting, and albeit achieving success, against an opponent well above their weight class. The spirit may be willing to go on but the flesh may not be. Occasio non facile praebetur sed facile ac repente amittitur. (Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and suddenly lost.)

Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov (above). On April 9, 2022, Russian Federation General of the Army Aleksandr Dvornikov was appointed commander of the special military operation in Ukraine. The sort of leader, thinker, manager, and commander that Dvornikov is mostly known from what Russia’s Ministry of Defense has released, all of it being very positive. It was likely hoped that Dvornikov’s presence at the helm of special military operation would have a steadying effect throughout the armed forces. Dvornikov has become quite a figurehead for the Russian Army cutting a tough as nails image, captivating Russian soldiers and officers alike, raising morale to some degree, albeit modest perhaps, by his presence. The big question was what to do.

Can a Hastily Deployed Force Recover from Initial Errors and Win a Campaign?

With the intent not to oversimplify, the conundrum Russian commanders face in Ukraine at first glance reminded greatcharlie of the circumstances British forces dealt with during the Boer War. If readers will allow greatcharlie to provide a short overview of the conflict’s genesis, the war began as two Boer Republics the South African Free Republic and the Orange Free State wanted to stemmed British expansion and influence in Southern Africa, especially in the Boer Republic in which large gold deposits were discovered. British citizens from the Cape Colony were denied rights, such as the right to vote and treated as invaders by the Boers. British citizens protested to British authorities in the Cape Colony who in response sought to negotiate with the Boers, but those talks failed. The Boers then began attacking British outposts. British battalions and regiments were hastily mustered and sent to South Africa. Indeed, the British force sent to cope with it was a force acutely less advanced technologically, militarily, intellectually and had drastically less opportunity to organize for military action than the Russian armed forces that invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Once British forces landed in South Africa, a large portion of it concentrated at the garrison town of Ladysmith. On October 30, 1899, a seizable force sallied out to engage Boer armies which were slowly surrounding the town. The result was a disaster for the British. Summarizing what occurred, omitting a discussion on the maneuvers, it is pointed out here how singular deficiencies of artillery and infantry in terms of tactics, techniques, and procedures caused British forces to face severe challenges. 

Regarding British artillery, Its role was somewhat marginalized in the fight. The fire of British guns was not as productive as that of the Boer StaatsartillerieBritish artillery came under accurate and effective fire from the Boers’ field guns, which were fought as individual gun detachments, and were quickly moved between emplacements before British guns could find their range. British field guns did occasionally hit their mark, silencing Boer guns, but not often enough to be called effective. Due to poor reporting on their opponent’s whereabouts, the fire of British guns was often wasted. British guns were deployed as they had been drilled to do, in neat rows of six without using cover from artillery or even rifle fire. Thereby, British gun batteries were regularly incurring casualties.

Regarding British infantry, establishing fire discipline through fusilade by command and movement as a team, no matter how trying the situation, were practices driven into British soldiers through excellence of drill. However, that product of excellence in the drill square and a practice that was effective and successful in battle for the British Army around the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, was liability against the Boers. (In a few short years ahead, on battlefields in Belgium and France, that practice will have no place whatsoever among British troops.) The Boers, although attacking in organized groups, moved independently, rapidly sought cover where they could find it, and fired at targets where they saw them. Since the British infantry relied on drill, they were firing volleys on the command of an officer. By the time the order had been given, the intended target was safe behind cover, while the British soldiers were exposed to fire. Unable to maneuver against or attrite the Boer’s in any effective way combining fire and movement, most often British troops fought their static, fighting in place, suffering heavy casualties, running low on ammunition and supplies, and facing exhaustion. In the end, the British fell back into Ladysmith. An isolated detachment of 800 men was forced to surrender.The day was subsequently termed “Mournful Monday”. The Boers, however, did not immediately take advantage of their victory by proceeding towards the strategically important port of Durban. Instead, they began a siege of Ladysmith. Following a near unrelenting, ferocious struggle to break through to Ladysmith by British regiments and battalions, it was relieved after 118 of that siege. In the end, the overwhelming power of the regiments and battalions of professional military officers and soldiers of the British Army quelled a brutally waged guerilla warfare campaign and overcame all other incumbrances–as aforementioned, some unknowingly self-inflicted–and defeated the rebellious Boers.

It is highly unlikely that Russian commanders studied the British Army’s experience during the Boer War before crossing into Ukraine. However, in a similar way to the ultimately victorious British forces, they likely hope now that overwhelming force and firepower applied effectively and rapidly can achieve immediate results that cannot be so easily responded to or countered by Ukrainian forces. In terms of creating opportunities and options for their political leadership, great gains by Russian forces might support any demands made for compromise from Ukrainian representatives at the negotiation table. Perhaps they may have created opportunities and options for something else.

Dvornikov at war (above). Dvornikov likely hopes now that overwhelming force and firepower applied effectively and rapidly can achieve immediate results that cannot be so easily responded to or countered by Ukrainian forces. In terms of creating opportunities and options for their political leadership, great gains by Russian forces might support any demands made for compromise from Ukrainian representatives at the negotiation table. Perhaps they may have created opportunities and options for something else.

What Will Putin Do with Russia’s Ill-gotten Gains in Eastern Ukraine?

Ukrainian cities and towns have drawn the brunt of Russian forces’ destructive capabilities. It was forecasted in greatcharlie’s February 10, 2022 post entitled, “Commentary: The Choice of War or Peace Between Russia and Ukraine Rests on the Ability of Parties to View Each Other Differently”, in captured Ukrainian cities and towns. Ukrainian civilians, as well as any insurgents mixed among them, might be hemmed into zones by Russian forces. In a horrific twist, the more difficult zones would be better defined as killing zones, in which “cooperative Ukrainians would be separated from more difficult ones. Insurgents in those zones would be required to punch above their weight, likely against the Federal’naya sluzhba bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsii (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation) or FSB as well as the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, battered and tattered after fights in the initial stages of the invasion, and other well-suited Russian Federation Army units. They would perhaps need to do that long past the point when reasonably the towel might be thrown. Russian forces could be best informed of how to effectively use such a method by its allies in Beijing. Paramilitary police units of the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Public Security have developed an expertise in this sort of thing. To that extent, an arrangement might be made with Beijing to provide “a sufficient number of advisers” under the control of the Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, to assist in the prospective zones. (Putin would likely love to have the Chinese involved in some fashion. He would prefer to share claim to such villainy with China.) It all may seem fanciful, too imaginative, but one must consider the absolute madness of the current circumstance itself, and judge this possibility in that context.

Ideally for Putin, inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and towns will be displaced at such a level that the cities and towns themselves would more or less resemble the southern portion of the city of Famagusta in Cyprus or the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. (Given results, it almost seems as if Russian engineering officers, artillery officers, air power officers, and ordnance officers, it would seem, are regularly drawing up plans for the systematic demolition of Ukrainian cities and towns, district by district, block by block, using ordnance fired from a variety of weapon systems.) The intermittent attacks on populated areas may indeed have some psychological warfare, punitive, or perhaps even a tactical purpose. Yet, something of far greater conception may be behind them. Perchance Russian commanders, as part of a preconceived plan, seek to displace Ukrainians from their homes, out of the cities and town through “massive evacuations” to make them easier to “manage,” easier to control. Surely, Putin would appreciate having the West finance and supply for their care on the other side of the Dnieper River. Destroying certain parts of cities and towns would also make them far less desirable. At the time of this writing, UN estimates are that over 4.1 million Ukrainians have moved into other countries. When Ukrainians move west, the better things become concerning Putin’s likely plans for Ukraine. 

There might be the chance that citizens of the Russian homeland would be “invited” to relocate and settle in those cities and towns to participate in their reconstruction and, particularly in the southeast, reside in cities and towns in order to reconstruct and work at ports on the Azov Sea and in the many mineral mines. Veterans of the military operation who so inclined could be invited to relocate to the cities and towns they “liberated,” in effect to enjoy the spoils of the war. (Putin must hope that future world events, fate and fortune, will cause sanctions to be lifted just enough that international markets will be open again to Russian products. Not such a fanciful notion, noting again that the current US administration reportedly has turned to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and others to increase production of oil for markets after heavily sanctioning the regimes and industries of those countries, in some cases for years. Some may even be allowed to develop nuclear power plants and reap benefits from uranium production.) In the same vein, Kyiv, if eventually captured–as of the time of this writing that seems doubtful–would imaginably be transformed into a center of Russian Othodox theological study. The return of displaced Ukrainians, an ineluctable issue of any peace negotiations, will likely be difficult to sort out with Moscow. If parts of Ukraine unavoidably must remain in control of Russia at the time of ceasefire or peace talks, how the issue of returnees is settled will doubtlessly influence the speed of reconstruction in certain districts of cities and result in limited numbers of displaced being accepted. Imaginably for Moscow, ethnic-Russians would perhaps be given priority for what it might tacitly consider to be “naturalization.” 

Returning to Polybius, in The Histories, he describes the Roman invasion of Africa in 256-55 BC during the First Punic War, commanded by the ruthless and vengeful M. Atilius Regulus, which resulted in a singular disaster. As the story goes, Carthage lost over 90% of its forces as the Romans achieved a string of successes. The Carthaginian commander was taken prisoner by Regulus. Polybius explained that Regulus had the opportunity to end the war on very favorable terms, however, in 256, the Roman commander pushed his luck and demanded overly harsh terms of surrender. This drove the Carthaginians to fight him again in a battle that ended in a complete Punic victory. The situation on the battlefield was reversed, and the Roman army was nearly annihilated. The outcome was that Africa was freed from the constraints of occupation. Regulus was severely punished, but Rome from that point was put on the defensive. Polybius ends his account of Regulus there. Modern historians report that the First Punic War was fought for another 14 years, wearing down both sides. Rome eventually forced Carthage to surrender after the Battle of Aegates Islands in March 241 BC, on terms lighter than those Regulus had proposed.

Polybius offers a lesson that both Russia and Ukraine might learn from the ill-considered and brash actions of Regulus in the The Histories. He states: “This event conveys many useful lessons to a thoughtful observer. Above all, the disaster of Regulus gives the clearest possible warning that no one should feel too confident of the favors of Fortune, especially in the hour of success.”

Novotoshkivka (above), a small village about 16 miles southeast of Severodonetsk, in Luhansk. Ideally for Putin, inhabitants of Ukrainian cities and towns will be displaced at such a level that the cities and towns themselves would more or less resemble the southern portion of the city of Famagusta on Cyprus or the village of Oradour-sur-Glane in France. The regular attacks on populated areas may indeed have some psychological warfare, punitive, or perhaps even a tactical purpose. Perchance Russian commanders, as part of a preconceived plan, seek to displace Ukrainians from their homes, out of the cities and town through “massive evacuations” to make them easier to “manage,” easier to control. Surely, Putin would appreciate having the West finance and supply for their care on the other side of the Dnieper River. When Ukrainians move west, the better things become concerning Putin’s likely plans for Ukraine.

The Way Forward

Putin has created a national security emergency for Russia by invading Ukraine. He realizes Russian forces are performing poorly on the battlefield. He knows that he was not provided the opportunity to give a victory speech in Kyiv. He is aware of the immense drain his special military operation has placed on his military resources. The situation is far from satisfactory. It is a wonder if national leaders in the West, and the foreign and national security policymakers in their respective cabinets at all foresaw this outcome. If so, in all seriousness, they surely should have done more in response the urgent need to “save Putin from himself.” As the situation stands, Russia and Ukraine remain in conflict, and the West is remaining outside of the fighting, but supplying Kyiv with what it needs to handle and possibly completely defeat invading Russian forces. That has been forecast as being a long rather drawn out process in which casualties will continue to mount on both sides. However, in war, things do not always turn out the way one might expect. In viewing the situation in the way just described, from the outside of the policymaking and decisionmaking process of every Western country, it appears to greatcharlie that the West has engaged in a bit of self-deception. A blinddpot appears to have been created, fostered by the sense of security, comfort, due to the unity resulting from long-standing bilateral d multilateral ties, at least among the major industrialized powers, membership in NATO, of course, EU membership, and memberships in a variety of regional organizations. The fact is, as aforementioned, Russia is facing a national security emergency and that is a huge problem for the West because from the lens of Moscow, the West is at the center of its problems and has exacerbated them. 

As far as Moscow is concerned, things have not gone as they were supposed to for Russia in Ukraine. It is unlikely, but nonetheless possible that some genius for war in Russia may emerge and turn the situation on the ground immensely and Russia will move unstoppably to the Polish border. That would settle the matter in the most unfortunate way. However, if the situation collapses for Russia in a profound way his response will include retribution against the West. To that extent, the better Ukraine does on the battlefield offensively, the more dangerous the situation becomes for the West and the world. Just viewing a handful of video clips on the death and destruction levied on Ukraine, a country in relative peace–the Donbas excepted, should not leave anyone to think the one responsible would hesitate to bring worse to the rest of the world. It would seem enough to remind those who have forgotten that Russia is a nuclear superpower.

At the moment, again due to Putin’s choice to invade Ukraine, everyone is actually in the same bucket. Ensuring Putin is unable to worsen the situation certainly requires action, training and equipping and assisting Ukrainian forces with combat support so they can halt and push back Russian forces. Actively working to increase the degree of emergency Russia faces makes the world itself less secure. Again, all parties to the conflict, Ukraine, Russia, and the West are all the same bucket. No one will get out if there is no cooperation, some agreement. To be frank, without any intention to insult, greatcharlie states that to believe anything else would be to delude oneself. 

The idea that fighting in Ukraine can be allowed to go on until some stalemate, some situation on the ground will force the warring parties to negotiate is a lost proposiition. For Russia, its an emergency and perhaps for Putin, the last gasp of power. He cannot lose, he cannot turn back so easily. Ukraine, a country that was once a Soviet republic drew a bad card being so abundant  resources and bordering Russia. It wanted the freedom to decide to join NATO and the EU. It rejected terms that it declare its neutrality. All of that was reasonable, but its insistence on these matters facing Russia under its current leadership could only lead to problems to say the least. There must be a starting point for Ukraine to rebuild, rejuvenate itself. There must be a pot in which Putin must be enabled to stop fighting. The opportunity to forge the best possible peace before the killing began has been long since lost. However, there remains the opportunity to create the framework for an evolving peace that will allow both sides to end hostilities.A robust effort must be made in that direction for the sake of everyone. Potiusque sero quam numquam. (It is better to do something late than never.)

Recherché Pieces of the Putin Puzzle That May Serve To Better Enable Engagement with Him as Either an Adversary or a Partner Regarding Ukraine

US President Joe Biden (right) and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (left). “What is your substance, whereof are you made, . . . .” Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, is a fine thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego, do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Here greatcharlie hopes to assist those in US foreign and national security bureaucracies seeking to get a better handle on the Ukraine crisis, and gain greater clarity about Putin and his thinking.

With imaginable strain upon the national budget, Russian troops for the moment lie snug in the Winter weather in their homeland, still close enough to its border with Ukraine to unnerve those on that side. They are ostensibly the cudgel meant to induce the minds of leaders in Western governments–the US, United Kingdom, and the EU countries–to think Putin’s way on NATO’s “ceaseless” expansion toward its border. Putin’s demand to the West boils down to “Get out of my tree and stay out!” Things have not gone exactly his way so far, but perhaps to his satisfaction he has bathed in the sound of Western government voices and broadcast newsmedia, expressing shear terror and prognosticating war and doom in the meantime. Indeed, most Western governments believe that Putin intends to do a lot more than just build up military forces defensively and induce Western thinking to his like. Reportedly, multiple analyses of Western foreign and national security policy bureaucracies have concluded that he will definitely invade Ukraine. 

Surely, this has been a beast of an episode for the relatively fledgling, democratic government in Kyiv. One might posit that Putin’s presidency is the general misfortune of all countries neighboring Russia. The threatening, aggressive atmosphere is intolerable. They must reconcile to the universal order of nature. They have knowingly, comfortably organized middle grade armies to face a first class multidimensional military force, and they have left themselves in a state in which they could never see themselves winning without the US by their side. What beats the brains of decisionmakers in Western capitals is how to mitigate the danger in a sustainable way without disturbing the status quo much or at all. Concerns expressed in conference rooms on the top floors of the US foreign and national security bureaucracies might reasonably be that relaxation of the atmosphere may require taking Putin to the limit hoping he will choose peace and avoid the massive loss that would result from even a successful push into Ukraine. There is also the possibility that relaxation of the contentious atmosphere will not reverse ambitions in Moscow regarding Ukraine. Nevertheless, at some point after applying fears to hopes and hopes to fears, both sides will need to be flexible and to compromise, if either really wants to get anything out of the diplomatic process. New calculations must be made now on both sides if the aim is peace and stability. Qui totum vult totum perdit. (He who wants everything loses everything.)

To possibly assist the efforts of the US, and its allies also, to peer in on the other side to better understand Putin’s actions and intentions concerning Ukraine by stimulating ideas in others, in this essay, greatcharlie offers a few new ideas. They were inspired while preparing greatcharlie’s preceding January 25, 2022 post entitled, “Resolving the Ukraine Crisis: How Better Understanding Putin and the Subtle and Profound Undercurrent Influencing His Thinking on the West Might Help”. That post also offered suggestions for optimizing US-Russia diplomacy regarding the Ukraine crisis that matched the importance, enormity of the situation. Making the effort to stimulate new ideas sometimes requires stepping onto shaky ground. A few thoughts on possible steps and schemes of Putin, the course of things and thinking that may be hidden or most often excluded from analyses, are presented here. They were developed primarily in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting. To an extent, thoughts offered might more aptly be described as intimations. Some facts uncovered and presented may appear odd, recherché, but nevertheless they were all gleaned from credible, often official sources made available to the public. Hopefully, that will not be a distraction for readers. To hold only to existing thinking on Putin is to cut oneself off from roads to understanding him and his decisions that might result through further examination. Facilius per partes in cognitionem totius adducimur. (We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.)

Putin (left) being interviewed by Le Figaro in the Russian Cultural Center in Paris on May 29, 2017. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US presidents have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin again referenced, albeit vaguely,, unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Putin’s View of “Who Is in Charge” in Washington

If readers would bear with greatcharlie through these initial points, they will discover there is a method to what on the face of it recognizably appears as madness. Reportedly, within the Russian government, there are varied theories held about the level of power US president have and theories that US presidents are under the control of groups of individuals in the background, some allege they are shadowy figures. To the extent this relates to US President Joe Biden, some of Putin’s advisers have also apparently been informed by stories from the US that say others act as a hammer to shape him into the instrument they want. (That view nearly parallels the impression previous US administrations once held on Putin’s situation in Russia.) Without judgment from greatcharlie, claims of such an arrangement have been proffered by conservative commentators, particularly those appearing on Fox News. Reportedly, Fox News pundits have repeatedly pushed the theory that Biden is president “in name only” and that a group of progressives–initially said to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and including former US President Barack Obama and former US Attorney General Eric Holder–are actually in control in Washington. How comments so outré expressed on Fox News, as well as others concerning the US administration found on online celebrity gossip magazines, blogs, websites, and YouTube channels, could find acceptance in Moscow is a curious thing. Perhaps the original hope among Russian officials was to sift through them to pick-up faulty scraps of “palace intrigue” with the correct degree of discernment was absent. Once such ideas are caught, despite all that is wrong about them, they often worm their way into analyses. 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 person in good health..

Russian theories concerning the power of the US President tend to be equally off-kilter. In an August 1, 2017 article, a journalist for Time, Simon Shuster, who served a stint in Russia, explained that “confusion over the limits on executive authority goes back to the early years of Putin’s presidency, when he established control over the Russian media and began to assume that his Western counterparts could do the same in their countries.” Pointing to the memoir of former US President George W. Bush, Decision Points, Shuster noted that during a discussion at a summit in 2005, Putin refused to believe that the US commander-in-chief does not have the power to muzzle journalists in the US. Bush quotes Putin as saying: “Don’t lecture me about the free press.” Referring to Dan Rather, formerly of CBS News, Putin continued, “Not after you fired that reporter.” Shuster further explained: “In Russian officialdom (and among the public generally) people often assume that the West functions a lot like Russia, with a tame judiciary, a subservient media and a ruling clique that pulls all the strings.”

However, the most shocking theory concerning “shadowy powers the run the US is that the ones who actually run the administration are more than simple advisers in the background receiving federal government salaries supposedly. On the official website of the Kremlin is the transcript of a May 29, 2017 interview Putin provided the French publication Le Figaro. In it, Putin depicts those who, in his view, pull the strings of US presidents. He states: “I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.” Putin went on to say concerning US presidents: “Changing things is not easy, and I say this without any irony. It is not that someone does not want to, but because it is a hard thing to do.” During a June 11, 2022 interview in Moscow with NBC News, Putin was told Biden viewed him as a leader of autocrats, who is determined to undermine the liberal democratic order. The interviewer asked Putin if it was true. In response, Putin vaguely referenced unknown parties who he believes are iInfluencing perspectives of Russia’s bilateral relationships and himself. Putin stated: “Well, I don’t know. Somebody presents it from a certain perspective. Somebody looks at the development of this situation and at yours truly (THROAT CLEARING) in a different manner. All of this is being offered to the public in a way that is found to be expedient for the ruling circles of a certain country.”

Concerning thoughts in the West on Russian views of how the US President in handling the Ukraine crisis, there was a considerable uproar heard worldwide, particularly in the newsmedia and expectedly from his political adversaries in the US, over how Putin might perceive and respond to a statement Biden made during his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. In fairness to Biden, presented here are comments in some detail to a question concerning the Ukraine crisis and whether the US and its allies were willing to put troops on the line to defend Ukraine, whether the US and its allies can agree on a sanctions package, and whether the threat of new sanctions would give Putin pause. BIden explained: “Well, because he’s never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves, number one. Number two, we’re in a situation where Vladimir Putin is about to–we’ve had very frank discussions, Vladimir Putin and I.  And the idea that NATO is not going to be united, I don’t buy.  I’ve spoken to every major NATO leader.  We’ve had the NATO-Russian summit.  We’ve had other–the OSCE has met, et cetera. And so, I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades.  And it depends on what it does.  It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera. But if they actually do what they’re capable of doing with the forces amassed on the border, it is going to be a disaster for Russia if they further ingra–invade Ukraine, and that our allies and partners are ready to impose severe costs and significant harm on Russia and the Russian economy.

Damnant quod non intellegunt. (They condemn what they do not understand.) It was determined on the face of it that with those words, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion,” Biden opened the door to a Russian incursion into Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would react. The newsmedia in the US and worldwide laid it on thick, denouncing and condemning Biden for doing far more than giving away the store. Reporters and commentators put their art of communication into providing drama, much as Rembrandt in his works, to convince that Biden somehow worsened the crisis. That was hardly valid thinking. Their forecasts did not bear out. Russian forces did not move a jot in Ukraine’s direction en masse or piecemeal, nor was the deployment of them dramatically increased. Biden would not speak idly on such a grave matter. Recognizably, Biden erred to the extent that he offered a trifle, a glint from the discussion in the backroom, that turned out to be too much information for a world ready to react with opinions on what most appear to know too little about. Even the most experienced can learn lessons on matters they have known well for a long-time. Yet, in fairness to Biden, he may have had good reason to say what he did.

While satellites and other technical means are providing streams of intelligence on the day-to-day activities of their presumed opposition Ukrainian forces, there have no doubt been occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by the Generalnogo Shtaba Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) or Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate) or GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Independent Guards Reconnaissance Brigade of the Vozdushno Desantniye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Special reconnaissance missions typically include penetrating deep behind opposition lines to engage in the covert direction of air and missile attacks, place remotely monitored sensors, and prepared the ground for other special operations troop who might engage in direct action against the opposition and unconventional warfare, to include guerrilla operations and counterinsurgency operations. On special reconnaissance missions in Ukraine, Spetsnaz might be tasked to move a little bit deep into the country to determine what activities are being conducted at certain highly secured military facilities, locate new weapon systems that have been deployed, locate and assess newly constructed defenses, monitor troop movements, locate and monitor foreign military advisers possibly operating in the Donetsk and Luhansk and Ukrainian military officers and other foreign military officials of interest.

Scouts from Russian Federation Army reconnaissance units at a minimum would do the following: investigate the quality and size of enemy units; report on all activities of opposition units observed; report grid coordinates of opposition units. (If opposition units are moving, determine whether they are advancing of withdrawing and what routes they are using; determine which opposition military units or civilians are performing an activity, collecting information on uniforms, patches, any unit designations and features of civilians; report which opposition units were engaged in a particular activities; and, collect specifics about opposition units and their activities, detailed information with descriptions of tactics used, equipment and gear involved and all other noticeable aspects.

As suggested in greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, one could conceive that concerning Western military assistance, a special task force has been organized and assigned in advance, among other things, to: monitor the delivery, stockpiling of stinger, javelin, and other weapons systems 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 monitor the intelligence activities and military operations of–Western countries as they relate to supplying Ukraine with special military capabilities.

Russian Federation Army reconnaissance scouts in training in the Western Military District (above). During his January 19, 2022 press conference at the White House. To many ears, Biden appeared to suggest that the US and its allies may not act strenuously to what he called a “minor incursion” into Ukraine. It was determined on the face of it that with those words Biden opened the door to a Russian invasion of Ukraine. There was alarm over how Putin would “react.” There reality is that there have doubtlessly been several occasions when Russian intelligence units have gone on forays into Ukraine to take a good look, a “shifty,” to confirm what is known or find out if anything has not been discern imagery or other information. Special reconnaissance missions are likely being performed by GRU Spetsnaz (special operations units), Spetsnaz of the 45th Detached Reconnaissance Regiment, and even reconnaissance units of Russian Federation Army formations. Surely, it was easier for many to launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would most likely have done so in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the unseen forces.

Additionally, Russian military advisers are very likely present, “covertly”, in the Donetsk and Luhansk, recognized in Kyiv and by the  majority of governments in the world as the sovereign territory of Ukraine, engaging in a range of military assistance activities to separatist force the two regions to include some of the following: supplying weapon systems; resupply ammunition; provide training on new weapon systems, provide training separatist in small unit tactics and larger unit operations, support the operation of air defense systems; support the operation of intelligence, surveillance systems; support the operation of rocket systems (Interestingly enough, the Minsk Agreement requires Russia to maintain knowledge on all of these types if weapon systems, their capabilities, locations, and numbers deployed.); support air traffic control; support separatist command, control, and communications, supporting separatist operations and strategy; and support the collection of intelligence; and, provide separatist commanders with technical intelligence from Russian sources.

Finally, according to the US and the overwhelming majority of governments in the world, Crimea remains the sovereign territory of Ukraine. There is currently a rather large Russian force on that territory which moves troops and equipment in and out of it daily. The presence of those Russian forces in Crimea is a serious problem, yet the regular movement of troops in and out of the province at this point is a relatively minor matter.

In “Il Penseroso” (1631), published in his Poems (1645), the great John Milton quips: “Where more is meant than meets the ear.” With respect to Biden’s statement, it would appear more was meant than met the ear. The minor movement of Russian military personnel into Ukraine most likely for reasons outlined here would certainly not be worthy of a nuclear confrontation. Still, more pertinent is the fact that Putin, himself, unlikely believed Biden was suggesting hypothetically that Russia could move into Ukraine with a battalion sized force to capture some border territory in Donbass to establish some permanent Russian military presence or even more fanciful, land paratroopers at Kyiv’s Airport, reinforce them with tanks, create a well-defended corridor to the border along the most direct highway. Misunderstanding that says much about what the majority understands about Putin. Surely, it was easier for many to believe that Biden was suggesting such a thing and the launch into hysterics about his words than to think of a technical alternative. There was nothing that Biden or his aides could have said publicly about actual minor incursions by Russian forces into Ukraine as described here without making matters far worse. If the episode were docketed at all by Putin, he would have done so because Biden’s comments indicated the US and its allies were aware of Russian intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance activities inside Ukraine. He would most likely have docketed the event also in recognition of how the matter supported his thinking on the weakness of the US president versus the “shadowy forces.” 

To make one last point concerning Putin’s view on the relative impotence of the US President versus the unseen power in Washington, one must cast one’s mind back to the time when everything negative imaginable was said about US President Donald Trump in the newsmedia and elsewhere by his detractors and political adversaries. Given the sort of visceral reactions that typically ensue with the mere mention of Trump’s name, greatcharlie feels it is going out on shaky ground to remind how official action was regularly undertaken against him–in the Congress, through multiple hearings on alleged wrongdoings and two impeachment and through the appointment of a Special Counsel. All of that and more was done seemingly with a blindness to the interests of the US as it concerned the presidency as an office and US foreign and national security interests. No matter which side one might fall on this matter, it might be recognized that even to some small degree, on international matters, the new administration is reaping the bitter fruit of those negative efforts.

Conceivably, Putin (above) began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. It was a move made in tandem with his enhanced support of ethnic Russian separatist movements in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts that they might stoke emotional responses from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, To the degree that they would be led to miss advantages, make big mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might possibly provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion.

A Possible Manipulation of Great Conception

In greatcharlie’s January 25, 2022 post, it is noted how Putin so surprisingly has gone through some lengths to signal that he is considering a move into Ukraine. Everything done to date appears designed to ensure the US and its allies know exactly what Russian forces are doing. Putin’s experiences as an intelligence officer in the field, political leader, and national leader have no doubt given him a mighty understanding of human nature and human interactions. However, equally pertinent is the fact that he is a judoka and well-experienced tournament competitor. In this respect, he is an expert in assessing competitors’ responses and reactions to forced falls and defeat. 

Conceivably, Putin began the Ukraine enterprise believing he had a good understanding of the way many senior Biden administration foreign and national security policy officials, many of whom had held senior posts in the administration of US President Barack Obama, would respond to a move toward Ukraine, real or feigned. Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. He possibly intuited that they hold a sense that Crimea was lost on their watch. They were caught flat-footed when Russian forces moved in by the thousands. They were dubbed the “green men.” It was a move made in tandem with supporting ethnic Russian separatist movements in Donetsk and Luhansk, oblasts (provinces) which border Russia. Donetsk and Luhansk are still inhabited by somewhat large populations despite the heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatists within them. According to the World Population Review, in 2021, the population in Donetsk was 899,325 and in Luhansk was 398,505. Fighting in both areas was exceedingly heavy. Eventually both movements declared their provinces independent, sovereign republics. 

Despite their best efforts short of military action, Obama administration officials could not put together a response that could pry Russia out. Bonjour les dégâts! Not to offend those in power now, but on Crimea,  as on a few other issues, senior Obama administration officials would habitually underestimate Putin. Putin then added figurative insult to injury by formally annexing Crimea. His latest build up of forces, several miles distant, yet near enough to the border of Ukraine, has caused sufficient anxiety in Washington and teasingly offer the opportunity for former senior Obama administration officials in the Biden administration to have a return engagement with him, and as he might hope, an opportunity to settle an old score. Perhaps in such a way Putin, too, might be revealing his desire too for a return engagement in which he could get even more of what he wants from Ukraine. Consuetudinis magna vis est. (The force of habit is great.)

Surely, in Washington, officials would claim what happened in the past with Russia on Crimea has not colored their new reactions on Ukraine. Subconsciously, perhaps it is a different story. As Putin had strenuously wrestled with them via diplomacy before and doubtlessly had thought about them considerably since. To that extent, Putin may feel he has seen them straight, and seek, possibly as a side project, to stimulate their attitudes and behavior and calculate, even influence their moves successfully. As an element of his current gambit, Putin may have  urged Russian foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders to deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, it is clear that US administration officials believe the threat of Russian invasion is real. To enhance that sense of alarm, Putin would intermittently move a modicum of his forces in very observable ways, guaranteed to catch the attention of the US and its allies and heighten the sense of alarm, even though nothing  significant was really happening. As for the Ukrainians, every movement would hopefully serve to emphasize the defenseless condition in which the US and its allies have left them in. Putin might hope that would stir a sense of extreme vulnerability and anxiety, anguish and despair, among them. Ostensibly, enough confusion might be created by Russian officials in talks and communications with what Putin may perceive as their overly sensitive US counterparts and panic among the Ukrainians that an emotional response might be stoked from US decisionmakers on Ukraine, to the degree that they might make big mistakes or even miss considerable advantages that are right before them.

To enlarge on this point on forced mistakes, Putin could desire an outcome in which US officials might provide a provocation in words and actions that would allow him to green-light an invasion. Alternatively, depending how the wind blows, he would seek to check US decisionmakers, leaving them without any good options that would allow the successful support of US interests and only holding the choice to make compromises, even furtively, on his main demands, that  would allow Ukrainians to live in peace in some satisfactory way. No one is infallible. As Putin knows, logic sometimes fails us. Reacting out of emotions rather than logic and wisdom could only result in missteps. Perhaps US decisionmakers might not even recognize any errors were made until they witnessed Putin exploiting their choices to the fullest. This may all sound like a mad-capped scheme, However, it is all hardly beyond Putin. His thinking in formulating such a scheme would likely be informed, bolstered by the aforementioned shambolic US pull-out from Afghanistan in 2021.

Without any intention to be offensive, greatcharlie states that one top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Putin is quite familiar with Blinken as he played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration–he was Obama’s National Security Adviser. He likely sees him as a real foe. Blinken is a professional, with experience in the high realms of government in the Obama administration, surely seeks only to be unwavering in his pursuit of US interests and not to be distracted by emotions toward Ukraine and its people. He is absolutely loyal and patriotic to the highest degree possible as his country’s top diplomat. In addition to being handsome and débonnaire, Blinken has a strong intellect and is strong-minded. Yet, he is mindful and very appreciative of his ethnic Ukrainian heritage. One might imagine that in a very human way, he would hope to make the land of his parents, grandparents, and ancestors very proud of his intercession in Ukraine’s time of crisis. On May 5, 2021, Blinken made his first visit to Ukraine as Secretary of State. Blinken visited Ukraine numerous times as a senior official in the Obama administration. Blinken’s great-grandfather, Meir Blinken, emigrated from Kyiv in 1904. He was accompanied by his wife Hanna and sons Solomon and Maurice Henry, Blinken’s grandfather. For Blinken, it was a cracking visit, during which his Ukrainian heritage was emphasized. At events, he often spoke the national language as taught to him by his family.

Etiam sapientibus cupido gloriae novissima exuitur. (The desire for glory is the last infirmity to be cast off even by the wise.) A shark can smell blood a mile off when he is hungry. That first Ukraine visit as Secretary of State in May 2021 meant much personally to Blinken. That visit very likely meant much to Putin, too! He no doubt, closely analyzed moments of it, to better understand Blinken and to uncover some advantages gleaned from it all. Exploiting someone’s meaningful personal event in some dark way is an unprincipled, reprehensible business, and a practice that was polished and honed within the erstwhile intelligence organization in which Putin spent his first career, the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) or KGB. Needless to say, intelligence work was his metier. 

To go a little further on this point, also as explained in greatcharlie’s February 28, 2018 post, individuals as Putin can have a different context for learning about people. When Putin asks about an interlocutor’s family, home, office, even capabilities, it is not small talk or the result of friendly interest. Rather, he may be signalling, warning, that he has already evaluated an interlocutor as a potential target. He may be confirming information or collecting more. He may also be testing one’s vulnerability to falsehoods or how one might respond to unpleasant information. He is creating a perceptual framework for his interlocutor. Such tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods truly match those of a predator. Predators often use deflection, social miscues, and misinformation to provide cover for themselves. “Predatory humans” can use a contrived persona of charm and success to falsely engender trust. They have an exit plan in place, and are confident with regard to the outcome of their actions. Boiled down, they accomplish their deception using three steps: setting a goal; making a plan; and, compartmentalizing. By setting a goal, they know what they want and what it will take to get it or achieve it. They have no inhibitions about causing damage or harm. They stay focused. By making a plan, they not only determine ways to get what they want, but also develop exits if needed. By compartmentalizing, they detach themselves emotionally from attachments that might be embarrassing or be a liability if their plans are found out. They train themselves to give off no tells, so they can pivot easily into a different persona. While some might acquire this skill as Putin likely had while working in the intelligence industry, others may not have any natural sense of remorse.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meeting in Geneva in January 2022. It is possible that as an element of his current gambit, Putin and Russian Foreign and national security policy officials and political leaders would likely deliberately seek to aggravate, frustrate, and provoke US officials by denying a threat to Ukraine. Through their statements, the US administration believes the threat is real. One top US official that Putin would seek to influence most by his actions would be the Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He played a prominent role in all of the rather rough approaches taken toward him and Russia during the Obama administration. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, it was revealed publicly that Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion.

Revenons à nos moutons. Without being present, it is impossible to know if Russian Federation Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, perhaps obedient to some possible directions from Putin, may have tried to push Blinken’s buttons so to speak in the way aforementioned. The likely consonance of Lavrov claiming there was no intent to drive Russian troops into Ukraine, yet lacking any authority to guarantee that his superior, Putin, would not order such, would imaginably be unsettling for Blinken. Perchance Lavrov would use his diplomatic acumen to artfully speak in a way to hint at compromise, to thoroughly turn Blinken’s ear in his direction, and then make a half-turn away from the correct side enough to frustrate, to perturb. In the end, Lavrov doubled down on the demand for guarantees on NATO expansion. Deeper and more subtle than what is on the surface for Blinken in such a circumstance would likely be the thought that Ukrainians at the end of all his diplomatic effort could find Russian troops sitting their laps. For him, that will not do. No prospective thought of Blinken on the whole matter would likely be more offensive than that to the extent US military units would not be involved on the ground. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. (Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul)

Although the vicissitudes of fortune in foreign affairs and war–friction in battle–have been described many times and in many ways by statesman, commanders, and scholars over millennia, greatcharlie chooses to quote Polybius (c. 204-122 B.C.), the Greek “pragmatic historian.” As presented in Book II, Ch. 4 of The General History of Polybius [Books 1-17] Tr. by Mr. Hampton 5th Ed. (TheClassics.us, 2013), he states: “In all human affairs, and especially in those that relate to war, . . . leave always some room to fortune, and to accidents which cannot be foreseen.” Whatever position Blinken may have developed concerning his ancestral homeland’s protection, perhaps its current citizens might be seeking to recast it a bit in what they deem would be a more helpful way. During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” 

Zelensky also explained that the decision by the US, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv “doesn’t necessarily signal an inevitable escalation and is part of a complex diplomatic game.” He went on to say tactfully, “We are working together with our partners as a single team.” Speaking in the Ukrainian Parliament also on January 25th, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, “as of today, there are no grounds to believe” that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way across the border. He sought to comfort the parliamentarians by stating: “Don’t worry–sleep well,” He continued by sardonically saying: “No need to have your bags packed.” 

The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering considerable disfavor and rebuke from them. In this wise, it clearly appears to be the preference of his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation. To that extent, the Ukrainian officials would surely like to douse the “madding fever” consuming its proud son over Russian moves with a bucket of ice cold water. Faber est suae quisque fortunae. (Every man is the artisan of his own fortune.) (Note as aforementioned, thoughts as these are intimations, developed in the abstract from evidence provided by official statements and newsmedia reporting.)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (left) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right). During a televised speech to the nation on January 25, 2022, Zelensky urged Ukrainians not to panic. It was the second such speech on the crisis in two days. The speeches were not only in response to the situation the country faced, but also in response to what Zelensky appears to perceive as ad nauseum and unhelpful comments about an imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine heard from US and other Western officials. Depicting a very trying situation facing Ukraine in a graceful way, he told Ukrainians, “We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization.” The indications and implications of these statements for Blinken may have been that repeatedly sounding the alarm that the “Russians are coming,” more than stoking fears of invasion among Ukrainians, was garnering disfavor and rebuke from them. On this wise, it would surely be the preference of the people leading his ancestral homeland to counter and handle Putin by stimulating an authentic atmosphere of cooperation.

Putin’s Understanding of “the US Within”

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public.  With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for  committing US troops for that purpose either. If this parsing of Putin’s line of thinking at all hits the mark, certainly polling, would support any of the analysis hypothesized as being held by him. According to a Pew Research poll published on January 26, 2022 overall, 49% of US adults perceive Russia a competitor of the US. Only 41% view it is an enemy, and oddly 7% see Russia as a partner of the US. Despite evidence of increased political polarization in recent years, Republicans and Democrats apparently hold similar views of Russia’s bilateral relationship to the US. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, about 50% believe Russia as a competitor to the US, and 39% call it an enemy. About 9% of Republicans feel Russia is a partner of the US. Among Democrats and Democratic leaning independents, 49% see Russia as a competitor, while 43% view it as an enemy. About 6% of Democrats say Russia is a partner of the US.

Putin would also conceivably posit that at best what is known in the US public as the great East-West geopolitical struggle begun long-ago during postwar years and the unstemmed, unsatiated predilection of dividing up the world and deciding which country stands in which bloc, for most part is the stuff of school studies where the average Joe was concerned. If anything, they are viewed as matters in the province of government officials, policy officials. The January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll also finds that about 26% in the US public perceive the Russian military buildup near Ukraine to be a major threat to US interests. Only 33% in the US public believe Russia is a minor threat to US interests. About 7% of those polled say it is not a threat at all. As it is hypothesized here about Putin’s likely assessment, 33% of the public, a noticeably large share, are unsure whether Russian actions toward Ukraine affect US interests. Impressions of Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine also do not differ much by political affiliation. Republicans 27% of Republicans consider Russia a major threat to US interests, while 36% of Republicans view it as a minor threat in that regard. A somewhat large portion, 28% of Republicans, say they are unsure how the military buildup will have an impact. Among Democrats, 26% consider Russia’s build-up a major threat to US interests, while a greater 33% view it as a minor one, despite the position of the current Democrat-led US administration. Surprisingly, despite numerous public statements made about Ukraine by the administration, about 34% of Democrats stand slightly unsure how Russia’s military buildup will affect US interests. It would seem that for the US public, Ukraine is nothing to signify. They would do nothing to discover more about the situation. Even for those somewhat interested, doing so would hardly be worth the candle.

In his parsing of US policy construction before engaging in the current Ukraine enterprise, Putin (above) doubtlessly concluded societal attitudes in the US toward himself, Russia, and military action must be considered. He likely would assess that Ukraine is a country unimportant or of no-account in their day-to-day lives. He may further assess the true level of investment with what is the vague goal of halting Russia from taking control over territory in a distant country who most would not be able to locate on a map is unknown to the US public. With regard to the more pertinent matter of committing the US in strenuous ways to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression, support from the US public would reasonably be decidedly low. Most apposite, there would certainly be no drum roll for committing US troops for that purpose either.

Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) Perhaps the worst episode of his experiences with State Department diplomats during the Obama administration was over Ukraine. Some diplomats stationed in Kyiv–names purposely excluded here–had made some very disturbing statements concerning Putin and Russia that likely seared a negative impression of State Department officials upon the Russian President. From that, one might imagine that still today, Putin may judge US foreign and national security policy officials as seeing the world strictly through the filter of their comfort. They take a high and mighty attitude toward all others. Publicly they tell the world how their interests are amplified by their values, and express concern over human rights, diversity, and global warming. Yet, privately, they are most frantic about US power and prestige, economic power foremost, and the aesthetics of its power in the world which translates into its geopolitical stance. Putin would expect them to put the US national interest first and foremost, but he may feel they take that tack with a blindness to the interests of others. On Ukraine and Taiwan, Putin hopes it will lead them down blind alleys to deadends.

To enlarge on this point, as it would concern US public opinion, State Department officials in Putin’s view, act in a world of their own, and drag the US public in directions that they for the most part are unaware of, and may disagree with, if ever consulted. As far as Putin might see, there are types in the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies who look upon members of the US public as “Hottentots,” who could hardly fathom the complexity of the policy issues, situations their high offices contend with. Putin might imagine they would hardly believe the US public could understand what kind of skill and experience is required to maneuver against, to supplant, and to negate the interests of other countries and secure that of their own. That would closely equate to what Putin might project of his sense of the condescending attitude and behavior taken toward him during the Obama administration.

Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public presently knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, Putin would want to be the one to do that. What would lead Putin to believe he would have a chance now at Influencing US public opinion would be his likely assessment that the Biden administration, as he may perceive has been pattern in the US administrations he has dealt with over two decades, would not want the US public to be fully aware of what is happening, what is being done about Ukraine ostensibly in their interests. Putin would certainly be following polls of the US public, too. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from the January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it.

Using whatever medium might be made available and capitalizing on any popularity he may retain as an international figure, he may again seek to pitch his facts, his perception of the realities of the Ukraine matter to the US public. To be a bit more specific, Putin might express why Russia feels as it does about the situation, and what it feels it must do without security guarantees. Surely, it would be loaded with history from the Russian perspective, that any citizen living in Russia would dare not disagree with. Putin would hold out hope that the right choices will be made by the political leaders in the US. His hope would be that he will, using a diplomatic tone and soft phrases, stealthily scare the US public straight and make a lasting impression upon them, albeit a decidedly frightening one. Responding in a manner that he would doubtlessly suggest in his communication, he would hope the public will contact their Congressional Representatives and Senators, and repeat the facts and views he would have supplied them with. The ultimate hope for Putin would be to have encouraged Members of Congress to contact the White House and State Department to suggest “a better course” to Biden and top foreign and national security policy officials.

Recall that Putin attempted to reach the US public to shape opinions on Russia more than once. In a September 13, 2013 New York Times editorial entitled “A Plea for Caution,” Putin reached out to the US public concerning what he then perceived as the problematic nature of Washington’s policy approach to Syria and problems that could have been expected or possibly might have been avoided if a better path would have been chosen. He apparently believed then,  as very likely does now, that because of a perceived disinterest and disregard of public opinion in the US in foreign affairs, there was space for him to jump in to insinuate his views among the people. Misreading or miscalculation, he actually made the attempt. (See greatcharlie’s August 31, 2014 post which analyzes Putin’s 2013 editorial.) Prior to that editorial, Putin published November 14, 1999 op-ed in the New York Times, justifying Russia’s military action in Chechnya which at great cost re-established government control of the breakaway province. Putin was so concerned with shaping opinions in the US that doing so apparently in part impelled his efforts to interfere with the 2016 US Presidential Election. 

When he became Russian Federation President in 2000, he was mistakenly viewed in the West as shy, self-effacing despite his willingness to give interviews, make speeches, and publish writings, including a book entitled, First Person. An experienced national leader and well-practiced speaker, he seems more eager than ever to offer his views in public. Data directly on the point of public attention in the US to the Ukraine crisis from a January 26, 2022 Pew Research poll confirms that public interest has been very limited. While 23% of those from the US public surveyed say they have heard a lot about the deployment of Russian troops near Ukraine, a greater 45% have heard a little about the military build up, and 32% say they have heard nothing about it. Surely, Putin would enjoy aggravating any gap between what the current US administration is doing on Ukraine and what the US public knows about it. If the US position could be better defined for the US public, surely Putin would like to be the one to do that.

The Way Forward

Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.) No senior Western official has publicly made the argument that Putin has lost his mind, nor has any provided evidence, even circumstantial evidence, that would lead one to believe some dramatic change in his mental health has occurred. To that extent, one might conclude no matter how disagreeable, deplorable his actions may be, it is accepted that he is behaving in a logical, quite sane manner. Moving comfortably in the reality of a leader as Putin is no mean feat. Few national leaders have had an authentic, natural rapport with him. That was not a shortcoming on their part, simply a reality as a result of their respective life experiences. Many Western governments view working with Putin on the Ukraine crisis, which they say he caused, as an undesirable task. Still, like it or not, that is the job at hand, and it can be successfully handled. Putin has some grievances, and says he wants to get them resolved. 

Standing strong and fast, assured of the correctness of one’s positions, one’s righteousness, is a good thing. On the other hand, posturing, pride and ego do a poor job at concealing insecurities. In this particular crisis, the elimination of insecurities on both sides will be central to its resolution. 

What needs to be created is a sustainable balance of power that advances US, United Kingdom, EU, Ukrainian, and the better parts of Russian interests to promote peace and security and foster collaboration. It would be most beneficial and virtuous for all parties involved to work together to construct clear agreements, improve ties, and accomplish even more. Superficial approaches to achieving an agreement, mere appearances of taking action that lack materiality, that are elaborate and useless, must be avoided. Such fruitless efforts will end up aggravating the situation. This episode may have actually opened the door to healing wounds, to solving problems that have only been bandaged to this point. Opportunity is not easily offered, but it is easily and easily lost. Hopefully, the parties involved will make the most of this opportunity. Casus ubique valet, semper tibi pendeat hamus. Quo minime credas gurgite piscis erit. (There is scope for chance everywhere, let your hook be always ready. In the eddies where you least expect it, there will be a fish.)

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.)

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.)

Book Review: Bill Gertz, Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019)

People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping in People’s Liberation Army uniform (above). Successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. However, it is clear now that China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as a dangerous threat to peace and security as it seeks to become the world’s dominant power. How this all came about and what the US can expect from all of this is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

In Deceiving the Sky: Inside Communist China’s Drive for Global Supremacy (Encounter Books, 2019), Bill Gertz, the author, directs a flood light on China’s practices that are designed to undermine the US economy, weaken and ultimately defeat the US military, and diminish the global influence of the US. An emphasis of Gertz’s discussion is how US leaders have repeatedly failed to understand the preparations in which Beijing is engaged to ready China for a confrontation with the US in the near future. Gertz also asserts the US leaders have also habitually failed to take appropriate steps to deter and act appropriately in response to Beijing’s threatening moves. An example of how destructive and impactful such delinquencies have been is the US response following Beijing’s use of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to crush the democratic aspirations of thousands of Chinese in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. China was sanctioned. However, Gertz says that far more consideration should have been given to how China would and actually did react to sanctions. Gertz says what China actually did was launch an unbridled campaign over the next three decades to steal and otherwise acquire some of the most valuable technology from the US. The theft has been staggering, estimated to be as much as $600 billion annually in stolen technology and intellectual property. However, in successive US administrations, both Democrat and Republican, there was a wilful blindness toward what was occurring. They stuck to a belief that by maintaining good relations with China and conducting trade and other business with it, the Communist regime in Beijing would eventually evolve into a free market, democratic system. 

Gertz says the outcome of this decades long policy failure by the US has been the emergence of an expansionist, hard line Communist regime headed by a supreme leader, who took power in 2012, with unchecked powers matched only by Mao: People’s Republic of China President and Communist Party of China Party Secretary Xi Jinping. Gertz asserts that Xi has ruled with an iron fist. China has reverted to its Maoist Communist roots. Instead of becoming more moderate and more democratic, China has become a more repressive dictatorship domestically. Fundamental freedoms rights and prosperity for the Chinese people have essentially been eliminated.Internationally, instead of becoming more integrated, China has emerged as an ever more dangerous threat to peace in security as it seeks to become the world’s dominant power. Communist ideology is the centerpiece for that Chinese drive for dominance. How this all came about and what the US can expect from it all is elaborated upon in Deceiving the Sky: Inside China’s Drive for Global Supremacy.

The attention of greatcharlie was drawn to Deceiving the Sky at first upon recognizing the title’s reference to “The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies.” The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies or Stratagems are a collection of tactics that can be applied to very different situations. The strategies are derived from military tactics applied during the Warring States Period (403-221 B.C.) or during the Three Kingdom Period (220-265 B.C.). Comparisons are naturally made to other Chinese military texts such as Sun Zu’s Art of War focus on military organization, leadership, and battlefield tactics, the Thirty-Six Strategies, is a unique collection of ancient Chinese proverbs, more apt for the fields of politics, diplomacy, and espionage. The origins of this book are unknown. No author or compiler has ever been mentioned, and no date as to when it may have been written has been ascertained. Deceiving the Sky is the first stratagem of the thirty-six.

Gertz explains in the text that the title Deceiving the Sky comes from an ancient Chinese strategy used by generals to win battles called deceive the Sky to cross the ocean. As the story goes, an Emperor was hesitant to launch a military campaign against neighboring Koguryo, now Korea. In reaction, one of his generals convinced the Emperor to go to dinner at the home of a wealthy peasant. As the Emperor entered the house for a meal, the residence moved. The emperor had been tricked onto a boat ended for battle across the sea. Rather than disembark, he ordered the military campaign to advance, and the battle was won. What is derived from this story is that a leader’s determination to win a war should be so unrelenting that even an Emperor, viewed in Chinese culture as the son of heaven or the Sky, can be deceived. Translated into military precepts, deceiving the sky suggests that a commander: 1) Openly act as if intending to do one thing then do something else; 2) Create false alarms until the opponent no longer takes notice of alarms; 3) Lull the opponent into a sense of false security by appearing innocuous. Then when the opponent ignores you, one can attack at will; and, 4) One can also do the reverse, acting mysteriously and pretending to know things onees do not. Try different things and watch the opponent’s responses. The opponent will react most strongly to that which creates most concern. (See Stefan Verstappen, The Thirty-Six Strategies of Ancient China (China Books and Periodicals, 1999))

As Gertz discusses how China has acted against the US in recent decades, no doubt is left about how pertinent this ancient yet timeless stratagem is to its approach. According to Gertz, the strategy well-reflects the Marxist maxim that the ends justify the means. Beijing practices strategic deception known in the ancient formula as using false objectives to facilitate true objectives. It is another way of describing the Communist strategy of using all means warfare against the US which is the sole obstacle to China crossing the ocean and achieving the rightful place as the most powerful state in the world. Nemo repeite fuit turpissimus. (No suddenly becomes bad.)

So impressed was greatcharlie with Deceiving the Sky, it has sought to allow its readers to gleen enough about the book in a review that they would choose to well-thumb its pages themselves. What greatcharlie can state in all conscience that if one really does not have much time to dig deep into the crisis of Chinese actions and intentions, Gertz’s breakdown of the whole matter is about as accurate and concise a report on the matter as one is going to get. What is most impressive to greatcharlie about the book is the manner in which it stimulates thought on the grave issues concerning China. As greatcharlie has stated in previous reviews, books that can stir a fire inside the reader, and a passion for a subject, are the most memorable and most enjoyable to sit with. The role of reviewer, an unsolicited intermediary between a book’s prospective reader and the author, is a responsibility that greatcharlie takes seriously. Rarely if ever, will greatcharlie read a book then take the time to write a negative review, presenting its judgments on the shortcomings and failures of an author’s toil on a manuscript. It is greatcharlie’s preference to provide reviews of books that readers of blog can enjoy and from which they may edify themselves. Never is harm intended.

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. On China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. Gertz has been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia; the Central Intelligence Agency; the National Defense University at Fort McNair, and, the Brookings Institution.

The Author

Gertz is an award-winning national security journalist and author of eight books, four of which were national bestsellers. He is currently national security correspondent for The Washington Times. As a journalist, he recognizes his responsibility to speak truth to power. On the issue of China, he is accepted in both journalistic and foreign and national security policy circles as being an authority. Even more, he is something of a treasury of knowledge on its pursuits versus the US. 

Confidential sources for years within the US national security bureaucracies have shared what they have reasoned was permissible with Gertz that clarified much about personalities, events, and situations concerning China with all possible precautions concerning national security firmly in mind. Gertz’s considerable standing among federal employees in rather sensitive positions is a reality that the most senior executives in the US government have recognized and have begrudgingly accepted. In his biography posted by the Harry Walker Agency, a speaker’s bureau, it is noted that former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director R. James Woolsey stated: “When I was DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] Bill used to drive me crazy because I couldn’t figure out where the leaks were coming from. Now that I’ve been outside for two years, I read him religiously to find out what’s going on.” During the 1990s, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson told the author: “We talk about your stories at Cabinet meetings.” Defense Secretary William S. Cohen once remarked to China’s military intelligence chief that Bill “has access to more intelligence information than anyone I know.” Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld once told him: “You are drilling holes in the Pentagon and sucking out information.”

Gertz has also been a guest lecturer at the FBI National Academy, the CIA, the National Defense University at Fort McNair, the Brookings Institution, and Hillsdale College. He has participated in the National Security Studies Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the Syracuse University Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz has provided a most discouraging account of how the US has fared in a “struggle” to claim the perch of the dominant power in the world which China has promoted. At the same time, he answers in an admirable way the questions that US policy makers and decision-makers should be asking. To that extent, he has supplied the US foreign and national security policy bureaucracies with their deficiencies. An earlier work by Gertz, The China Threat: How the People’s Republic Targets America (Regnery, 2000), was prescient in assessing Communist China’s goals and intentions. Deceiving the Sky includes new details of the danger and proves his warning was correct. Gertz warns that if nothing significant and lasting is done, it will only get worse.

Gertz digs into the dark roots of Beijing’s plans. Readers will find that the information Gertz provides will prove to ring true on every issue. He demonstrates that there are clearly greater issues hanging from any issue with China than usually appear at first glance. Surely, presenting a full excavation of China’s actions and intentions was unlikely desired or practical given the larger audience Gertz sought to reach. Perchance if Gertz were to write enough works on the matter he will manage to at least touch upon all of its many aspects. Gertz is not a storyteller. His job is not to entertain, despite what his publishers might desire without the ultimate objective of every publisher which is to sell books. As a journalist, he delivers the news, lays out the facts as they are, and to the extent that he may provide analysis, he edifies and enlightens with his insights. Gertz has the power to intellectually stimulate with his words

The present situation between the US and China is recognized by many scholars, academics, policy analysts, and journalists as being unhealthy. Gertz’s reports on Chinese plans and actions have run concurrently to those of other journalists and scholars writing on the subject and the main features of their stories tally. Indeed, a lengthy list of authors have written fine books on the matter and offer similar perspectives. Concerning those other books, greatcharlie would not dare offer even a short-list of them for it would only open the door to judgments on the the selection of them and perhaps their numerical order. As this review is focused on Gertz’s work, all of that would be beside the matter.

It would be difficult to convince greatcharlie that Gertz wrote Deceiving the Sky with the objective of eclipsing the whole of its kind. What he has done is add an invaluable volume to the body of literature that accurately discusses “The China Threat.” He articulates the struggle in a manner that gives all matters that hang from it real meaning. Gertz only asks readers to follow closely what he has written and learn. Some seem disposed to remain content with that situation as long as it lasts. Though he lays it all out impressively before his readers, those not so warm to Gertz’s views will for themselves determine what if anything in the book is essential and what is not. Certainly, one must also accept that not everyone will be attuned to the scream of writers such as Gertz on the real and immediate threat China poses. 

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.) To those who seek to find normality and safety in what China is doing in Asia and beyond and see it all as being modest enough, it is likely Deceiving the Sky put their noses are not out of joint. Whether they might be characterized as rejectionists or alarmist in accord with their responses to Gertz, nothing in Deceiving the Sky was apparently intended to harshly cut so deep into the foundations of thinking of proponents of an ascending China that they should find his facts and deductions threatening to their own analyses or interests. He is not on the attack. His goal is to illuminate. He encourages all readers to simply evaluate for themselves how things have actually been moving and where they are actually heading. Not just out of a sense of professional satisfaction but rather the urgency and importance of the matter, he would welcome and wish for an effort by them to test the virtues of what he presents.

Xi and senior decision makers on foreign policy within the Communist Party of China albeit are individuals of an exceptional nature judging from what they have displayed of themselves in challenging the US for the position as the world’s dominant power. That is a desire that they have in abundance. They have shown themselves to be a thoroughly bad lot. Gertz paints an even more sinister picture of Xi in a discussion of historical figures among his role models.

To accept that China would cause the release of COVID-19 through what might be called deliberate negligence would cause one to accept China was capable of any fantastic outrage. Doubtlessly, many already believed that. Gertz would perhaps be among their number. China was frugal with information about COVID-19 enough so that rather than being seen as heroes, they have set themselves up as the antagonist of every Western country, primarily the US, struggling to resolve the COVID-19 pandemic in this all-too real global tragedy. Many in the federal government foreign and national security policy bureaucracies and the US Congress with the responsibility to monitor what China is doing, have refrained from telling too much about its actions and intentions and the full extent of what its intelligence services are doing against the US to the public possibly for fear of figuratively frightening the horses. An unwavering conviction over China’s malign intentions appears to be a luxury that many especially in US foreign policymaking circles sense they cannot afford to have. They understand that one’s political fortune could possibly be balanced against it. That job has really been left to individuals as Gertz.

It appears important to note that in more than one spot in Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s discussion on US policymaking on China is colored by his political perspective, recognizably conservative. As aforementioned, Gertz is a national security correspondent for the Washington Times, a daily newspaper with a conservative political alignment and was employed in that position at the time he wrote Deceiving the Sky. The book was published in 2019, and Gertz also expressed some satisfaction with the decision-making of the administration of US President Donald Trump under a strategy of competitive engagement. (Readers for whom this will pose some problems have been forewarned.) Not to make a labor of this matter, suffice it to say that such digressions in the text should not distract somber and astute readers from taking into consideration the healthy, accurate, and urgent message Gertz offers exposing the true intentions. That discussion, in greatcharlie’s assessment, is not partisan.

What greatcharlie Found Most Interesting

Deceiving the Sky is 256 pages, portioned in 13 chapters and a titillating conclusion. It presents what could perhaps be called a catalogue of sins by China. The range of Gertz’s coverage of China’s activities in Deceiving the Sky can be readily observed in his descriptive chapter titles. They include: Chapter 1: How Communists Lie: The 2007 ASAT Test; Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 4: The Coming Space War with China; Chapter 5: Assassin’s Mace in Space; Chapter 6: Seeking Digital Superiority: China’s Cyberattacks; Chapter 7: High-Tech Totalitarianism; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations; Chapter 9: Influence Power: Beijing and the Art of Propaganda and Disinformation Warfare; Chapter 10: Financial and Economic Warfare with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 11: Corporate Communism: Huawei and 5G; Chapter 12: Military Might: World Domination Through the Barrel of a Gun; and, Chapter 13: Flashpoints at Sea and China’s String of Pearls Expansion. He sums up the book with the thought-provoking segment: Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People. 

It would be impossible for greatcharlie not to receive the lessons and messages of books as Deceiving the Sky and feel compelled to ruminate upon them. Yet, in this review, greatcharlie’s focus is not turned dutifully and perhaps expectedly toward the fundamental and vital issues of concern such as China’s military growth, military strategy, investment in space platforms, ties to Russia, moves in the South China Sea, threat to Taiwan, and other issues of the utmost importance concerning its expansion and hegemony in its the Far East and ambitions beyond Asia. Regular readers of greatcharlie are aware that the blog’s editor has a keen interest in what author’s offer about what makes those of interest to them tick. For years, such independent analyses by reliable sources have often saved federal bureaucracies an infinity of extra trouble by offering insight on what may very well be on the minds of decision makers in foreign capitals. After examining a sufficient record of an individual’s attitudes and behavior in the aggregate sometimes, their motives may still remain inscrutable and those writing books on their policy making and decision making with little resource may turn to speculation. An additional interest of greatcharlie of late are the activities of Chinese intelligence services in the US.

Four chapters in which Gertz offers insights into the thinking of the leadership of the Communist Party of China at the present and into the future  and Chinese intelligence services that caught greatcharlie’s attention are: Chapter 2: The East Is Red: Communism with Chinese Characteristics; Chapter 3: China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement; Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations. Insights Gertz offers in the book’s close, Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People, are also worthy of special note.

According to Gertz, no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system. By 2018, under Xi, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi has assumed more power than any Chinese leader since Mao.

Chapter 2 The East Is Red

It is in Chapter 2, Gertz’s more fully explains, as mentioned earlier, that no other Chinese leader since Mao has embraced the rigid orthodox Communist ideology more than Xi Jinping, who came into power in 2012. Soon after, Xi engaged in a ruthless, albeit less viable, ideological cultural revolution of his own, a political purge of thousands of officials, some were among the most powerful players in the system, such as regional Communist Party boss Bo Xilai, police, intelligence and security czar, Zhou Yongkang, and former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, General Guo Boxiong. 

Gertz reminds that beginning in the 1980s and over the decades that China noted the post-Mao policy dubbed “reform and opening up,” Gertz has readers cast their minds back to the years when Chinese Communist leaders went to great lengths to hide their ideology. He states that “ideological speeches were reserved for Party meetings and three-hour long recitations on the great works of the Party.” He continues further explaining that propaganda organs deliberately substituted the more-moderate sounding Socialism in place of Chinese Marxist-Leninsm in a strategy designed to win widespread support from non-Communist countries around the world.

Gertz then emphasizes how all of that changed with Xi. By 2018, the Party once again emerged with Mao-like devotion to the Socialist ideal of creating New Chinese Man. He lays out how Xi had assumed more power than any Chinese leaders since Mao. Gertz notes that following the death of Mao, the next leader of China, Chairman Deng Xiaoping, argued that Mao’s fanatic view of the World Communist Revolution needed to be changed. In its place, he adopted a new strategy called “Beyond Ideology and Social Systems” that sought to scale back Maoist ways but not give up Communism. Deng intentions were not benign. Gertz asserts that Deng believed world peace was at hand and that China should find a way to exploit it. To that extent, Gertz writes, Deng put forth China’s pragmatic strategy enabling massive trade and investment with the Capitalist world. As Gertz explains,”Bide our time, build our capabilities” was the Dengist ideology, and when the peace eventually collapsed, China would be ready both economically and militarily to dominate. Interestingly, despite appeasement of China by successive US administrations after Chinese tanks crushed the hopeful democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, Gertz notes that Beijing continued to harbor the conspiracy theory of US plans to subvert and contain the People’s Republic.

As a very intriguing and instructive point, Gertz explains that “Chinese Communism mimics religion-it presents a version of history with a journey of deliverance played out in chapters written in a chosen language. It boasts its own priesthood–political commissary ubiquitous throughout–and an enforced infallibility of its leadership.” There are prophets and devils, along with a council of senior religious leaders who have the power to change or interpret the Communist historical narrative. Gertz goes on to state that Party loyalty equals morality; doubting history is blasphemy, heresy and treasonous. He then declares: “There is a chosen people, the Chinese, a promised land, China, temples, pilgrimages, faith in the face of contrary facts, deep intrusion into the personal life of each person, and the indoctrination of children into the tenets of Chinese Communism.”

Perhaps a very apparent expression of Chinese Communism as religion is through united front work. To better understand united front work, greatcharlie turns to the expert source for perspective, Peter Mattis. Since leaving the CIA, where he was a highly-regarding analyst on China, Mattis has published a number of superlative essays on Chinese intelligence and counterintelligence. Mattis, along with a former military intelligence officer and diplomat, Matthew Brazil, published a superb book, Chinese Communist Espionage: An Intelligence Primer (United States Naval Institute Press, 2019). According to Mattis, the central element to understanding what the Chinese Communist Party is doing and why to shape the world outside the party is united front work. Mao 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 paper in the 1950s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defined united front work 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. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work entails shaping those outside the party, and not simply the Chinese people or world outside the People’s Republic of China. United front work must also be a tool of political struggle. It is not confined to activities that we would call propaganda or public diplomacy. It is not limited to covert action. In 1939, Mao wrote: “Our eighteen years of experience show that the united front and armed struggle are the two basic weapons for defeating the enemy. The united front is a united front for carrying on armed struggle. And the Party is the heroic warrior wielding the two weapons, the united front and the armed struggle, to storm and shatter the enemy’s positions. That is how the three are related to each other.” Mao’s outline of united front work within the party’s toolbox remains as the core understanding of it within the Communist Party of China today. United front activities have “aided” the Communist Party of China in resolving several dilemmas of the post-Mao era. That was most apparent following the Tiananmen Square and the death of Deng.

Evaluated on the basis of the united front policy system, the Communist Party of China’s management of political influence operations runs to the very top of the party, involving senior leaders directly. The policy system extends through the party’s hierarchy and spills over into China’s government ministries as well as other state-owned and state-administered organizations. The State Council ministries to include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and many other organizations with a party committee offer unique platforms and capabilities that the united front policy system can draw upon for operational purposes. United front work is conducted wherever the party is present. To that extent, as Mattis explains, united front work is not an “influence operation” or a campaign. It is the day-to-day work of the party. The importance of united front work to the Chinese Communist enterprise is the reason why Xi has repeatedly emphasized the importance of a working organ of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, the United Front Work Department (UFWD ), to China’s rejuvenation. Among experts on China, UFWD is generally understood to be a Party intelligence organ,

One could only have imagined that foreign policy decision makers at the top of the Communist Party of China were aware that if the COVID-19 disaster was not put right with urgency, it would have had an unfortunate effect on US-China relations. Relative to the enormity of the crisis created, Beijing’s response could not reasonably have been considered apologetic or a recognition of their misstep at all. Overall, the design of the response appeared to be to protect the image and reputation of the Communust Party of China, and leave the impression that it was infallible in its response.

United front work in diplomacy can often be a dominant feature. Diplomacy with leading industrialized Western countries and prominent industrialized countries in their own region is used as a platform to promote the message of the Communist Party of China and bolster its standing. To discern such efforts, one might watch for matters stated publicly that might have little purpose in a more private setting and in fact might be best conveyed on the sideline meeting or during a break in bilateral or multilateral talks.

The reason for this is that the target audience of those comments will not be the party to the negotiation. The target is the people of China and people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who erroneously might see China as having eclipsed the power of leading industrialized countries and directly confronting them. China’s effort to pull countries of the Third World in Asia and Africa and even countries in Eastern Europe, with a particular focus on the Balkans, within its sphere of influence to turn a phrase has the characteristics of a near collection mania. However, the behavior of the Communist Party of China perhaps has had its best results among countries led by tyrants and other potentates who themselves have engaged in the ions old quest for dominance in their region or in the world. Aliquis latet error. (Some trickery lies hidden.)

A tangible demonstration of how China is leading the march to a “better” future for the world, by taking on US power publicly. This was recently done during a two-day bilateral meeting from March 18, 2021 to March 19, 2021 at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. A  US delegation led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan met with 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. The two-day meeting got off to a tense start, with a public display of the strained nature relations between the US and China. 

Blinken laid out many of the areas of concern, from economic and military coercion to assaults on basic values. Sullivan made clear that the overriding priority of the US was  to ensure that its approach in the world and approach to China benefits the US public and protects the interests of US allies and partners. Further, he explained further that the US did not seek conflict, but welcomed stiff competition and will always stand up for its principles, for its people and its friends.

Yang responded boldly, taking a bit of time to express sharp criticism of the US. He spoke with great authority. There was an air of ceremony in his reproach. Yet, through his words were evinced the restricted, mental prison of Communism. His statement must be examined in some detail to allow readers to sense the style, tone, rhythm, mood, the expression of indignation, and the recognition that a new world order is on the horizon that will have Chinese characteristics. One can discern a certain flavor in expressions of united front work in diplomacy.

Yang explained: “We believe that it is important for the United States to change its own image and to stop advancing its own democracy in the rest of the world. Many people within the United States actually have little confidence in the democracy of the United States, and they have various views regarding the government of the United States. In China, according to opinion polls, the leaders of China have the wide support of the Chinese people. So no attempt to–the opinion polls conducted in the United States show that the leaders of China have the support of the Chinese people. No attempt to smear China’s social system would get anywhere. Facts have shown that such practices would only lead the Chinese people to rally more closely around the Communist Party of China and work steadily towards the goals that we have set for ourselves.”

In an effort to turn a disadvantage into advantage with mere words, Yang went on to say: “On human rights, we hope that the United States will do better on human rights. China has made steady progress in human rights, and the fact is that there are many problems within the United States regarding human rights, which is admitted by the US itself as well. The United States has also said that countries can’t rely on force in today’s world to resolve the challenges we face. And it is a failure to use various means to topple the so-called authoritarian states. And the challenges facing the United States in human rights are deep-seated. They did not just emerge over the past four years, such as Black Lives Matter. It did not come up only recently. So we do hope that for our two countries, it’s important that we manage our respective affairs well instead of deflecting the blame on somebody else in this world.

Ostensibly speaking on behalf of peoples “oppressed” and formerly oppressed by Western powers as China, itself, once was. Yang was particularly biting, stating: “The United States itself does not represent international public opinion, and neither does the Western world. Whether judged by population scale or the trend of the world, the Western world does not represent the global public opinion. So we hope that when talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope the US side will think about whether it feels reassured in saying those things, because the US does not represent the world. It only represents the government of the United States. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion, and those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order.”

No doubt was left as to his loyalty and dutiful nature toward the Communist Party of China as Foreign Minister Wang performed his united front responsibilities expressing the following position: “China certainly in the past has not and in the future will not accept the unwarranted accusations from the US side. In the past several years, China’s legitimate rights and interests have come under outright suppression, plunging the China-US relationship into a period of unprecedented difficulty. This has damaged the interests of our two peoples and taken its toll on world stability and development, and this situation must no longer continue. China urges the US side to fully abandon the hegemonic practice of willfully interfering in China’s internal affairs. This has been a longstanding issue, and it should be changed. It is time for it to change. And in particular, on the 17th of March, the United States escalated its so-called sanctions on China regarding Hong Kong, and the Chinese people are outraged by this gross interference in China’s internal affairs and the Chinese side is firmly opposed to it.”

Latrant et scitis estatint praetesquitantes estis. They bark, so you know that you are in front of them.) One could reasonably presume any genuine negotiations planned by Chinese officials was secondary to what was stated at the outset of the meeting. Nothing stated by them could have led one to believe they were negotiating, seeking to establish common ground and points of agreement on issues and ways to come together on the most nagging ones. The meeting in Anchorage, Alaska provided a grand stage. The target audience of the Chinese officials’ reproaches was not really Blinken and Sullivan who were present in the room, but rather the people of China stand people of underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries who would likely see China directly confront the US through their words. The Chinese officials sought to establish separate warring identities between the US and China. They sought to create the impression that some equipoise of power had already been by China versus the US.

Further, the Chinese officials clearly wanted to establish an image for the world to see of how disassociated China’s worldview was that of the US. They also appeared to want to demonstrate that China’s old view was more closely related with underdeveloped and burgeoning industrialized countries. They wanted to create the impression that there were both positive and negative forces present at the meeting, setting China up as the positive force and the US as the latter. 

Director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China Yang Jiechi in Anchorage, Alaska, March 2021 (center). Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic socialist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

Chapter 3: “China Wars: The Failure of Pro-China Appeasement”

In the four decades after the period of reform and opening up began in 1972, Gertz says that “the vast majority among a relatively small and close knit community of China experts who glowed into government policy positions, intelligence agencies, and the officer corps from universities and think tanks produced one of the most serious failures of foreign and security policy in US history.” Gertz explains again that “forty years of willful blindness about China led to the adoption of disastrous policies toward China that have produced a new era of danger many experts see as analogous to the 1930s,” a period when shortsighted diplomats and policymakers prevented the US military from preparing to meet the threat of the growing power of the Japanese Empire. As that story goes, tabletop war games against Japanese forces were forbidden. The ruling elite feared that “it would create a new Japanese threat where there was none.” Gertz says that similarly, pro-Beijing hands created another strawman argument for the appeasement of China. In the aggregate, the result according to Gertz has been “a devastating run of policies toward Beijing that avoided all reference to China’s illicit activities and behavior from the massacre of unarmed pro-democracy students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989, to China’s role in stealing US secrets on every deployed nuclear weapon in the US arsenal and hastening their spread globally by supplying nuclear warhead design secrets to Pakistan.”

Cuiusvis hominis est errare, nullius nisi insipientis, in errore perseverare. (Any man can make a mistake, only a fool keeps making the same one.) Gertz explains that in the 21st century, “the US is facing the potential of a new world war by miscalculation involving China that has been quietly and systematically building up what it terms comprehensive national power–military, diplomatic, economic–for what the Chinese Communust leadership believes will be an inevitable showdown in creating a new anti-democratic sociakist and communist world order without the US.” In his most acidulous commentary, Gertz declares that “the pro-Beijing hands in and out if government were complicit in these policy crimes that deliberately appeased China through a rigid, establishment view that ignored the reality of the People’s Republic and cast it as a normal nation and not as a nuclear armed Communist dictatorship.” He goes on to state the dominant pro-China community of both officials and non-government experts “inflicted serious damage on US interests by consistently producing biased and misleading assessments on both China’s intentions and capabilities.” Gertz says that it was not until 2015 that the pro-China view was recognized as being no longer sustainable.

As greatcharlie discussed in its March 29, 2021 post entitled, “Listening to and Understanding the Positions of Others: A Requirement for Thoughtful and Fruitful Talks in All Cases,” diplomacy has been defined as the established method of influencing the decisions and behavior of foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiation, and other measures short of war or violence. In its practice, its key for negotiators to ensure the other side is listening and understanding what they are communicating. That necessitates managing negotiations without arousing hostility. Any awkward situations must be handled with tactfulness. 

Although only in office for a few months at the time of this writing, the administration of US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris presumably has used US citizens, individuals with the very best reputations to contact Beijing through so-called back channels. Those individuals would be doyens, men or women of the world with a natural turn for diplomacy, and for discreetly presenting issues of concern and arranging delicate matters as a point of honor for Washington. China appears to commit itself to nothing where the US and Western countries are concerned, or where any other country is concerned for that matter. China’s government is founded on a movement that produced a revolution. It believes it provides a way of living based on Mao’s teachings that should be embraced for all humanity. It will never be satisfied until it puts the rest of the world’s government’s on a solid footing in that direction.

Whether diplomats, intelligence officers, Communist Party of China operatives, or businessmen, they spout the old propaganda line while overseas, “Communism is the wave of the future.” The Biden-Harris administration’s policy makers will have ample opportunity to test theories on how to get the best results from US bilateral relations and economic competition with China. Gertz does not use page space to present readers with exact details of how the US has bargained and negotiated with China, or the tone heard during opportunities in which they communicated bilaterally. The outcomes of such talks speak for themselves. It is one thing to establish a competitor firmly in one’s mind to help drive the effort “to up one’s game.” It is wholly another thing to seek something akin to world domination and to find a way up by stealing from, forcing out, and stepping upon, others. China is attempting to do all of the latter to the US. China will almost always be happy to meet with US officials to negotiate and sign any agreements both to humor themselves, satisfy those among US policy makers and decision makers naive enough to believe there would be any hope of hampering China’s march to dominance, and mollify others who may “fear” the change that Beijing assures is coming.

Qui cumque turpi fraude semel innotuit, eriemsi verum dicit amittit fides.  (Whoever has once become known for a shameful fraud, is not believed even if he speaks the truth.) One could go as far as to say it is delusional to persist in communicating entreaties of that kind to Beijing. This is especially true when it is clear how the troubling behavior in question is associated with China’s quest for dominance. There is no shortage of ambition. One cannot show a tender conscience to Beijing without soon facing a test of will or other undesired effect. The next generation may say preceding ones were dull indeed not to recognize and respond to China’s maneuvers. To go on in partnership with the Chinese, US administrations have forgiven, while not warranted, its worsening behavior. They have forgiven much. Diplomatic outcomes on contentious matters may often be part of larger arrangements, schemes of the Chinese. Indeed, Chinese negotiators will expect that parties to a negotiation will be willing to accept and start with the conditions they initially present. They will strenuously negotiate. If the Chinese can find no flexibility and no further room for satisfactory results from the negotiations they may alter their position more in line with the other party’s terms. The other party may be eager to accept China’s new amiable terms but they may be unaware that there could be a catch. A follow-on malign action, may weaken the benefit of any settlement on the same original matter. An opportunity for the Communist Party of China to test the the virtues of this approach presented itself with the Trump administration when it negotiated and signed a trade agreement in 2020. The Communist Party of China was already aware of the burgeoning COVID-19 crisis at home. It no longer appears Beijing is disposed to negotiating fairly, nobly, on anything. This may appear all the more the case as Beijing may feel it is moving closer and faster to its goal of overcoming the US as the world’s dominant power. After examining this, readers should recall the discussion earlier in this review of the “decieving the sky” strategy ascribed to China’s approach. It is very fitting. Quite so!

By the time the second action is realized by the second party, be it the US or otherwise, it is usually still too unfathomable to imagine that the more malign outcome was sought all along by China. By the time it may be accepted by the second party that every step taken by China was part of one larger scheme, the dye will have long since been cast. In its business of conquest, Beijing almost always does everything completely. China’s efforts in this manner do not seem to have an end.

US political leaders must be willing to do the hard yards to ensure its position is protected. This is not a situation that can be nuanced through talks at the negotiation table. China will not surrender any of its gains or leave what appears to be clear paths to its objective for anything the US might offer, except surrender or capitulation.

However, those US political leaders might also consider the words of Paine, 18th Century American political writer, theorist, and activist of the American Revolution asserted in The Crisis No. V (1778): “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

Workers in a high-tech facility in China (above). Gertz explains that an expert source in the US Intelligence Community revealed to him that Chinese intelligence operations only began receiving the attention they deserved in the late 2010s after China stopped using more cautious methods and adopted bolder approaches to stealing secrets and recruiting spies. Citing a retired source from the US Intelligence Community, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz explains that current Ministry of State Security recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs.

Chapter 8: Chinese Intelligence Operations

In Chapter 8 “Chinese Intelligence Operations”, Gertz takes the reader into the arcane world of espionage via the operations of Chinese intelligence services in the US. US counterintelligence services have tried to grapple with the matter of Chinese espionage, however the situation with the activities of Chinese intelligence services nevertheless has become an impossible one for them. The anecdotes that Gertz presents well depict the course of that intelligence struggle. He reconstructs the drama of each case. He does this so clearly, that one would believe that he was present in each case to watch events unfold.

At the core of the chapter’s discussion, Gertz explains that today, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), Ministry of State Security (MSS), and People’s Liberation Army (PLA) intelligence agencies, along with the United Front Work Department, a Communist Party intelligence unit, are the leading forces of China’s intelligence power. Gertz supports the well-established view that the power of those services is focused solely on maintaining and expanding the power of the Communist Party of China in its drive for global domination. At the end of the chapter, Gertz briefly explains that there was ano important reorganization of the PLA intelligence departments has been eliminated. Oversight of the PLA’s technical intelligence capabilities (including cyber, signals, and imagery intelligence) now resides with the new Strategic Support Force under the Central Military Commission. To provide a bit more detail on that transition, the Second Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for human intelligence, the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army, the rough equivalent of the National Security Agency, responsible for cyber operations, and a Signals Intelligence, or a Fourth Department of the People’s Liberation Army, responsible for electronic warfare have been rolled into the new Strategic Support Force. The PLA’s human intelligence operations are managed by the Joint Staff Department, and comes under the Central Military Commission. Surely, Gertz is aware of all of this. However, as the main focus of Deceiving the Sky was shed light on the realities of China’s attitudes and behavior, actions and intent, with regard to the US, it was reasonable for him to preclose where he saw fit in his discussion of the Chinese intelligence services.) As for the United Front Work Department, as mentioned earlier in this review, it is 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 are the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the International (Liaison) Department, and the Propaganda Department.

Regarding MPS, Gertz says that it is the Chinese version of what has been called intelligence led policing that seeks to preempt crime. Yet, unlike the West, where laws limit the activities of police and security services, Gertz says Chinese security operations have few boundaries. One feature of the MPS is a system called “the Big System” that seeks to fuse masses of data from Chinese police and intelligence services into one program. Big intelligence is the intelligence version of the PLA’s drive for “informatization,” a term used for high technology analysis activities. 

Gertz informs that the massive police intelligence apparatus promises to make it more difficult for those seeking democratic political reforms in China to operate. As Gertz puts it, dissidents and enemies of the state as well as actual criminals will find it hard to plan and organize without leaving behind digital breadcrumbs that security services can collect and connect. He notes that theos MPS has also created the Golden Shield, a military style command structure designed to share intelligence throughout China. The systems have created pathways designed to breakthrough bureaucratic obstacles and link data. Golden Shield involves automatic analysis and cloud computing for analyzing masses of data including computerized facial, voice, and gait recognition. While MSS and PLA focus their spying operations on technology acquisition, MPS agents are engaged in spying on Chinese dissidents in the US.

Citing a former CIA director of counterintelligence, Gertz notes that Chinese intelligence activities, lay those of MSS and the PLA, are akin to a storm. That Chinese intelligence storm is a secret assault on the US that is without parallel since that mounted by the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s. Gertz appears absolutely taken by the fact that penetration of US national laboratories has led to the loss of at least six nuclear weapons designs and the enhancement of Chinese offensive and defensive capabilities. Gertz explains that current MSS recruitment efforts are focused on all US citizens with access to secrets China wants. Those secrets come in two main categories: counterintelligence information about Chinese working for US intelligence, and government secrets and even openly available information that will boost China’s military and civilian modernization and industrialization programs. The modus operandi of MSS counterintelligence Includes the recruitment of foreign intelligence officers and their agents for work as double agents. Gertz tries to get to the center of the mystery of how MSS was able to completely destroy the CIA’s networks in China through combination information from an operative within the CIA and communications system breach. An estimated 30 agents were caught of which three were killed.

Beyond its own human intelligence activities, the PLA, particularly what Gertz, as mentioned, still refers to as the 3rd Department of the PLA, has engaged in a cyber campaign which has inflicted considerable damage to include the theft of sensitive government trade and industrial secrets.

Much Gertz explains here, greatcharlie has also observed in previous posts that 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 too few facts have been collected for them to run on to break new ground or produce anything worthwhile for that matter. 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 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. If US counterintelligence services had ever managed to achieve some significant breakthrough on the Chinese intelligence front, one would hear “singing in the valleys.” US intelligence services, much as those of other countries, abhor the prospect of public scrutiny, but it is too late now to be concerned by such anxiety.

The deluge of Chinese espionage has torn away 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.

In Aristophanes’ play, Birds (414 BC), the character Epops states: “The wise can often profit by the lessons of a foe, for caution is the mother of safety. It is just such a thing as one will not learn from a friend and which an enemy compels you to know. To begin with, it’s the foe and not the friend that taught cities to build high walls, to equip long vessels of war; and it’s this knowledge that protects our children, our slaves and our wealth.” Chinese intelligence services, perhaps at one time, expecting to face something out of the ordinary, that US counterintelligence services would have a few tricks up their sleeves, have not been challenged in any way that has halted or deterred their cyberintelligence or human intelligence activities. Chinese intelligence services have unfortunately managed to do their job successfully, collecting mountains of secret and information from the government bureaucracies and research and development sites, private businesses, high-tech firms particularly, academia, and think tanks. Surely there must be an atmosphere of optimism in the halls of the headquarters buildings of the Chinese intelligence services. The Communist Party of China most likely delights that without openly admitting to possessing such intelligence capabilities, at least through perception, it has that power over the US. 

One can imagine that on more than one occasion, resources, energy, and time were squandered following a false scent. (God help those who have been wrongfully suspected and falsely accused by mistaken or errant officers of any of the US counterintelligence service. It happens. No amount of reparation could ever fix the psychological and material damage very likely done to innocent targets and their loss of reputation and honor.)

Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.) Perhaps US counterintelligence services are applying old ways of thinking to a new type of intelligence struggle that bears little resemblance to previous ones. The key to it all remains out there somewhere. Finding those who would be capable and disposed to sniff it out using traces available would seem to be the real task ahead. One might presume that US counterintelligence services would hardly imagine anyone from outside the bureaucracy would be capable of producing some shred through their amateur study of the matter. Indeed, some senior executives and managers of US counterintelligence services, determined to stand as solid pillars of standard thinking and behavior that will not be blown down by the winds of change, may brook the idea of bringing in outsiders to handle sensitive matters. They may be mistaken. 

The solution to this espionage riddle, at least based on public reports, appears no closer within their reach. If the matter has not indeed already been settled, it may seem to some that it is at least at the edge of the end. The chance for US counterintelligence services to exhale will not come for a while. Chinese intelligence services do intend to let it come at all. US counterintelligence services have not despaired of getting a handle on the situation. Uppermost in the minds of senior executives and managers in US counterintelligence services is whether anyone within the bureaucracy can produce the magic that will allow them the ability to gain and retain the initiative in a cause that appears to be lost. They must press ahead on the forward foot.

A US B-2 bomber and two US F-22 fighter jets fly in formation (above). The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. He still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might bring a solution to the crisis. Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. Ostensibly to assist in that effort, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics.

Conclusion: What Is to Be Done? Declare China an Enemy, Liberate the Chinese People

Readers might recall the words of the 16th century Italian diplomat and political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli in his famous instruction guide for new princes and royals by The Prince (1532): “There are two ways of contesting, the one by the law, the other by force; the first method is proper to men, the second to beasts.” The rocky nature of US relations with China is a matter of great urgency. Yet, Gertz is not planting seeds of war in a time of peace. Despite how he labels his conclusion, he does not propose war as a solution. Prosing out on that matter, he still holds hope that US officials will come across something along the way that might help them develop a solution to the crisis.

Gertz explains that there is a growing bipartisan political consensus that new strategies and policies urgently are needed to deal with China. He does not believe it will be impacted by what he calls the national predicament, a seeming loss of clarity amid increased political polarization. To assist in finding that solution, he presents a set of 14 recommendations for what he hopes will be a policy of liberation for the Chinese people from the yoke of Marxist-Leninism with Chinese characteristics. Gertz emanates a sense of assurance in his writing that the recommendations he offers in Deceiving the Sky would obtain good results.

Each of the 14 recommendations is sufficiently self-explanatory, some are accompanied here with a précis of his summary on it or greatcharlie’s own comments on it. Together, his recommendations have a cumulative effect. They include: 1) Information: Conduct aggressive competition in the realm of ideas. He proffers that the first step in creating a free and democratic China would be regime change, an effort to peacefully oust Communist Party of China; 2) Reciprocity: Restrict access by China to the US in ways equal to Chinese restrictions. A key measure would be to counter Chinese financial warfare with a US program of economic warfare; 3) Intelligence: Shift the focus and operating methods of American intelligence toward more robust and aggressive operations and more effective analysis. Rather than accept being pushed back on its heels, Gertz recommends that the US Intelligence Community should step up aggressive intelligence and counterintelligence operations against the Communist Party of China and the PLA; 4) Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system. Such reforms would need to be implemented in a way that would allow the US to better confront and counter growing Chinese hegemony; 5) Alliances: Create a pro-freedom, pro-prosperity, and pro-rule of law network in Asia. What was already seen in the Trump administration and still being seen in the Biden-Harris administration is Gertz recommendation that the US develop “a global network of democratic alliances targeting China that will seek to pressure Beijing into abandoning its totalitarian communist system and global designs.”; 6) Cultural/Educational: Severely restrict activities by Chinese nationals in the US who are abusing the American system. Gertz suggests that such activities should be restricted in recognition of the subversion and technology theft threats many unfortunately pose; 7) Counterintelligence: Major strategic counterintelligence operations and analyses should be implemented that focus on aggressively targeting Chinese intelligence and security services; 8) Economic: The US should begin a gradual policy of disengagement from Communist China economically; 9) Financial: Plan and carry out covert financial warfare operations against China; 10) Military Exchanges: The Pentagon and US Military must adopt a new policy that recognizes the Communist Party of China and the People’s Liberation Army as the main enemy; 11) Military Missile Defense: Expand American Regional missile defenses. As part of a strategy of neutralizing China’s massive and growing force of ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles, Gertz says US missile defenses around the world should be expanded; 12) Military Gray-Zone Warfare: Develop asymmetric warfare capabilities designed to negate Chinese military, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities; 13) Political: Create a Parliament in exile. The creation of a “democratic Chinese parliament in exile” that will develop new policies for a free China is an old chestnut.; and, 14) Russia: Play the Russia card. One might call Gertz the suggestion that the US should play the “Russia card” against China by seeking a free and democratic Russia aligned with the free world somewhat fanciful.

Most notable to greatcharlie in the context of this review is Gertz’s recommendation on “Foreign Policy/Diplomacy: Restructure and Reform the diplomatic system.” In his summary of that recommendation, Gertz suggests that US diplomats and foreign service personnel should be retrained in the use of new and innovative diplomatic methods and techniques for the information age that emphasize successfully implementing new strategic objectives toward China that reject the failed diplomacy of the past. The new diplomacy will be rooted in honest assessments and understandings of the true nature of Communist China. A new objective will be to report on and take steps to force an end to the systematic abuse of human rights in China as a high priority. The US should seek to create a new alliance of nations that will seek to isolate China and spur internal democratic political reforms and promotion of freedom and free market systems in the region. Strategic and economic dialogues such as those in the past that produced no results must be ended. New engagement should be limited to conducting bilateral and multilateral talks on concrete, achievable objectives such as verifiable arms limitation and enforceable trade agreements. It certainly would not be velvety going forward if such a course were followed, but perchance US values and interests would be well-served.

In Deceiving the Sky, Gertz’s research sheds an extraordinary side light on the undeniably aggressive thinking of Beijing. While US political leaders are still in a position to reexamine the facts, they should do so. Surely, if any of them were to take the time to look at Gertz’s book with an open mind, it would given them the necessary nudge to begin thinking in that direction. Deceiving the Sky could also lend support to deliberations among colleagues on the matter. 

There are likely quite a few citizens in the US who have heard about China’s aggressive activities. Surely, they would appreciate reading Deceiving the Sky as it would provide them a firm basis for understanding the many issues involved. As greatcharlie has already stated in this review, information from the text that is discussed here only represents a fraction of what the reader will find in Deceiving the Sky. For greatcharlie, the book was both edifying and a pleasure to read. Without hesitation, greatcharlie recommends Deceivibg the Sky to its readers.

By Mark Edmond Clark

Commentary: There Is still the Need to Debunk the Yarn of Trump as “Russian Federation Spy”

The current director of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Sergey Naryshkin (above). US President Donald Trump’s adversaries have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. Some in the opposition Democratic Party have gone as far as to offer dangerous fantasies that Trump and officials in his administration are operatives of the Russian Federation. The notion that Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers would not only approach, but even more, attempt to recruit Trump, is daylight madness. No one knows that better than Naryshkin and the directors of the other Russian Federation intelligence services. It is more than likely that in the 2020 US Presidential Election, the outcome will go Trump’s way. Unfortunately, many of the ludicrous allegations, having been propagated for so long and with prodigious intensity by his adversaries, will likely stick to some degree for some time.

From what has been observed, critics and detractors, actual adversaries of US President Donald Trump, within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have exhibited a practically collective mindset, determined to find wrong in him as President and as a person. His presidency was figuratively born in the captivity of such attitudes and behavior and they remain present among those same circles, four years later. Trump’s adversaries have tried endlessly to uncloak some nefarious purpose in his legitimate effort to perform his duties, which has been akin to seeking long shadows at high noon. Many of those engaged in such conduct have garnered considerable notoriety. Specific individuals will not be named here. When all is considered, however, those notables, in reality, have only left a record littered with moments of absolute absurdity. That record might break their own hearts, if they ever took a look over their shoulders. In developing their attacks on Trump, his adversaries have built whimsy upon whimsy, fantasy upon fantasy. One stunt that became quite popular was to make an angry insinuation of Trump’s guilt in one thing or another, and attach the pretense of knowing a lot more about the matter which they would reveal later, in an childlike effort to puff themselves up. Ita durus eras ut neque amore neque precibus molliri posses. (You were so unfeeling that you could be softened neither by love nor by prayers.)

Of the many accusations, the worst was the claim, proffered with superfluity, that Trump and his 2016 US Presidential Campaign were somehow under the control of the Russian Federation and that he was the Kremlin’s spy. The entire conception, which developed into much more than a nasty rumor, a federal investigation to be exact, was daylight madness. (It is curious that anyone would be incautious enough to cavalierly prevaricate on hypothetical activities of the very dangerous and most ubiquitous Russian Federation foreign intelligence services in the first place.) Before the matter is possibly billowed up by Trump’s adversaries again in a desperate effort to negatively shape impressions about him, greatcharlie has made the humble effort to present a few insights on the matter that might help readers better appreciate the absolute fallaciousness of the spy allegation.

With regard to the yarn of Trump as Russian Federation spy, his adversaries sought to convince all that they were comfortable about accusing Trump of being such because they had the benefit of understanding all that was necessary about the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of the Russian Federation’s Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR, Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU, and, the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB. However, it was frightfully obvious that the whole subject was well outside the province of those self-declared experts. Whenever they made statements concerning how Russian Federation foreign intelligence services operated, no doubt was left that they did not have a clue as to what they were talking about. It actually appeared that everything they knew about it all was gleaned from James Bond and Jason Bourne films, as well as streaming television programs about spying. That fact was made more surprising by the fact that Members of both chambers of the US Congress who were among Trump’s political adversaries actually can get facts about how everything works through briefings from the US Intelligence Community. They even have the ability to get questions answered about any related issue by holding committee hearings. Those on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, in particular, can get themselves read-in on a good amount of available intelligence on an issue. The words and actions of many political leaders leaves open the real possibility that they were intentionally telling mistruths about Trump with the goal of deceiving the US public. That would simply be depraved and indefensible. As one should reasonably expect, there are stark differences between the banal amusements of Hollywood and the truths about spying.

Imaginably as part of their grand delusion, Trump’s adversaries would claim the reason why Russian Federation foreign intelligence would want to recruit him would be to establish an extraordinary, unprecedented level of access to, and influence upon, US policymaking, decisionmaking, and top secret information. In considering how Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers would likely assess Trump as a recruitment prospect, purely out of academic interest, one of the first steps would be a genuine examination of his traits. Among the traits very likely to be ascribed to Trump that would obviate him as an intelligence recruitment target would include: his extroverted personality; his gregarious, talkative nature; his high energy; his desire to lead and be in command at all times; his oft reported combustible reactions to threats or moves against him, his family, or their interests; his strong intellect; his creativity; his curious, oftentimes accurate intuition; his devotion to the US; and his enormous sense of patriotism. To advance this point furthrr, if Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers were to theoretically ruminate on just these traits while trying to reach a decision on recruiting him, they would surely conclude that an effort to get him to betray his country would fail miserably. Indeed, they would very likely believe that an attempted recruitment would more than likely anger Trump. They would also have good reason to fear that he would immediately contact federal law enforcement and have the intelligence officers, who approached him, picked up posthaste. If any of the lurid negative information that his adversaries originally alleged was in the possession of the Russian Federation intelligence services–all which has since been totally debunked–were used by Russian Federation intelligence officers to coerce him, Trump might have been angered to the point of acting violently against them. (This is certainly not to state that Trump is ill-tempered. Rather, he has displayed calmness and authority in the most challenging situations in the past 4 years.) Whimsically, one could visualize Russian Federation intelligence officers hypothetically trying to coerce Trump, being immediately reported by him and picked up by services of the US Intelligence Community or federal law enfiecement, and then some unstable senior executives and managers in Yasenevo would go on to publicize any supposed embarassing information on him. That would surely place the hypothetical intercepted Russian Federation intelligence officers in far greater jeopardy with the US Department of Justice. They could surrender all hope of being sent home persona non grataCorna cervum a periculis defendunt. (Horns protect the stag from dangers.)

Perhaps academically, one might imagine the whole recruitment idea being greenlit by senior executives and managers of the Russian Federation foreign intelligence services despite its obvious deficiencies. Even if they could so recklessly throw caution to the wind, it would be beyond reason to believe that any experienced Russian Federation foreign intelligence officer would want to take on an assuredly career-ending, kamikaze mission of recruiting Trump and “running” him as part of some magical operation to control the US election and control the tools of US national power. As a practical matter, based on the traits mentioned here, no Russian Federation intelligence officer would have any cause to think that Trump could be put under his or her control. Not likely having a truly capable or experienced officer step forward to take on the case would make the inane plot Trump’s adversaries have speculated upon even less practicable. Hypothetically assigning some overzealous daredevil to the task who might not fully grasp the intricacies involved and the nuance required would be akin to programming his or her mission and the operation for failure. (Some of Trump’s adversaries declare loudly and repeat as orbiter dictum the ludicrous suggestion that Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin was his intelligence “handler.” No one in the Russian Federation foreign intelligence mens sana in corpore sano, and as an existential matter, would ever suggest that Putin should involve himself in such an enterprise. The main reason for that being because he is Putin, and that means far more in the Russian Federation than outsiders might be able to comprehend.) One could go even a step further by pointing out that in order to make his adversaries’ notional plot work, Russian Federation foreign intelligence senior executives and managers conceivably involved would need to determine how to provide Trump with plenty tutoring along the way given that Trump had no experience whatsoever with the work involved in the sort complicated conspiracy as his adversaries have envisioned. Such notional work would require the impossible, Trump’s “obedience,” and even more, plenty of covert contact, thereby greatly increasing the chance that any Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers involved would be noticed and caught.

Politically, for Russian Federation foreign intelligence service senior executives and managers, there will always be a reluctance to make new problems for the Kremlin. If proper Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers under this scenario were actually caught attempting to recruit Trump, US-Russian relations would be put in a far worse place than where they were before the theoretical operation was executed. If the matter of recruiting Trump were ever actually brought up at either SVR or GRU headquarters, it would imaginably be uttered only as an inappropriate witticism at a cocktail reception filled with jolly chatter or during some jovial late night bull session with plenty of good vodka on hand. Even under those circumstances, experienced professionals would surely quiet any talk about it right off. Unquestionably, few on Earth could be more certain that Trump was not a Russian Federation operative than the Russian Federation foreign intelligence services, themselves. For the Russians, watching shadowy elements of the US Intelligence Community work hard to destroy an innocent man, the President of the US nevertheless, must have been breathtaking.

Information that may appear to be evidence for those with preconceptions of a subject’s guilt very often turns out to be arbitrary. One would not be going out on shaky ground to suggest that a far higher threshold and a more finely graded measure should have been used by the US Intelligence Community to judge the actions of the President of the US before making the grave allegation that the country’s chief executive was functioning as a creature of a hostile foreign intelligence service. Initiating an impertinent federal investigation into whether the US President was a Russian Federation intelligence based primarily on a negative emotional response to the individual, and based attendantly on vacuous surmisals on what could be possible, was completely unwarranted, could reasonably be called unlawful, and perhaps even be called criminal. Evidence required would imaginably include some indicia, a bona fide trail of Russian Federation foreign intelligence tradecraft leading to Trump. The hypothetical case against him would have been fattened up a bit by figuratively scratching through the dust to track down certain snags, hitches, loose ends, and other tell-tale signs of both a Russian Federation foreign intelligence operation and presence around or linked to him.

To enlarge on that, it could be expected that an approach toward Trump by Russian Federation foreign intelligence officers under the scenario proffered by his adversaries most likely would have been tested before any actual move was made and authentic evidence of that initial effort would exist. Certain inducements that presumably would have been used to lure Trump would have already been identified and confirmed without a scintilla of doubt by US counterintelligence services and law enforcement as such. To suggest that one inducement might have been promising him an election victory, as his adversaries have generally done, is farcical. No reasonable or rational Republican or Democrat political operative in the US would ever be so imprudent as to offer the guarantee of an election victory to any candidate for any local, state, or national office. Recall how the good minds of so many US experts failed to bring victory to their 2016 Presidential candidates, to their 2018 midterm Congressional candidates, and to their 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates. Anyone who would believe that the Russian Federation Intelligence Community would be more certain and better able, to put a candidate into national office in the US than professional political operatives of the main political parties would surely be in the cradle intellectually. Martin Heidegger, the 20th century German philosopher in What Is Called Thinking? (1952), wrote: “Das Bedenklichste in unserer bedenklichen Zeit ist, dass wir noch nicht denken.” (The most thought-provoking thing in our thought-provoking time is that we are still not thinking.)

Trump came to the Oval Office somewhat contemptuous of orthodox ways of doing things in Washington. He referred to those elements of the system in Washington that were shackled to traditional, politically motivated ways of doing things as “the swamp.”  Trump said he would do things his way and “drain the swamp.” To an extent, as US President, that was his prerogative. Trump was new to not just politics in general, but specifically national politics, new to government, new to foreign policy and national security making, and new to government diplomacy. (This is certainly no longer the case with Trump for he has grown into the job fittingly.) For that reason, and as their patriotic duty, directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community should have better spent their time early on in Trump’s first term, developing effective ways of briefing the newly minted US President with digestible slices of information on the inherent problems and pitfalls of approaching matters in ways that might be too unorthodox. More effective paths to doing what he wanted could have been presented to him in a helpful way. With enormous budgets appropriated to their organizations by the US Congress, every now and then, some directors and senior managers in the US Intelligence Community will succumb to the temptation of engaging in what becomes a misadventure. If money had been short, it is doubtful that the idea of second guessing Trump’s allegiance would have even glimmered in their heads. Starting a questionable investigation would most likely have been judged as being not worth the candle.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s superlative sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, had occasion to state: “To a great mind, nothing is too little.” It should be noted that Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services almost certainly have kept their ears perked hoping to collect everything reported about the painstaking work of elements of the US Intelligence Community first to prevent, then to bring down, Trump’s Presidency. Indeed, they have doubtlessly taken maximum advantage of the opportunity to mine through a mass of open source information from investigative journalists, various investigations by the US Intelligence Community, the US Justice Department, and varied US Congressional committees, in order to learn more about how US counterintelligence services, in particular, operate. Strands of hard facts could be added to the existing heap of what Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services had already collected about the deplorable enterprise. Previous analyses prepared in the abstract on other matters were also very likely enhanced considerably by new facts. Indeed, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services very likely have been able to extrapolate, make inferences about, and more confidently conceptualize what was revealed to better their understanding of the activities of the US Intelligence Community in their own country, both past and present. Sadly, that may have helped to pose greater challenges and dangers for US intelligence officers, operatives, and informants.

The illustrious John Milton’s quip, “Where more is meant than meets the ear, “ from “Il Penseroso” published in his Poems (1645), aptly befits the manner in which words and statements are often analyzed in the intelligence industry. When those senior executives and managers formerly of the US Intelligence Community who were involved in the plot against Trump and are now commentators for broadcast news networks, offer their versions of the whole ugly matter on air, there is always something for Yasenevo to gain. Despite the best efforts of those former officials to be discreet during their multiple on air appearances, there have doubtlessly been one or more unguarded moments for each when a furtive tidbit that they wanted to keep concealed was revealed as they upbraided Trump. Moreover, their appearances on air have surely provided excellent opportunities to study those former officials and to better understand them and their sensibilities. Such information and observations doubtlessly have allowed Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services to flesh out psychological profiles constructed on them over the years. (Although it seems unlikely, some could potentially return to government in the future. It has been said that “Anything can happen in cricket and politics.”) Moreover, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence services have also likely been allowed to use that information and observations, to put it in the bland language of espionage, as a means to better understand specific US intelligence and counterintelligence activities that took place during the years in which those errant US senior executives and managers involved in the plot against Trump were in their former positions.

To journey just a bit further on this point, Russian Federation foreign intelligence and counterintelligence additionally had a chance to better examine specific mistakes that they respectively made in their operations versus the US, using revelations from investigations into the plot against the Trump administration. That information would have most likely inspired audits in Yasenevo to better assess how closely its foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants have been monitored and how US counterintelligence has managed to see many Russian Federation efforts straight. Whether these and other lessons learned have shaped present, or will shape future, Russian Federation foreign intelligence operations in the US is unknown to greatcharlie. Suffice it to say that there were most likely some adjustments made.

Trump has absolutely no need to vindicate himself concerning the “hoax” that insisted he was in any way linked to the Russia Federation for it is just too barmy. Trump has the truth on his side. Nothing needs to be dressed-up. He has been forthright. Regarding the Russian Federation, Trump has stood against, pushed back on, and even defeated its efforts to advance an agenda against the US and its interests. Those who have tried to suggest otherwise are lying. The normative hope would be that Trump’s adversaries actually know the truth and for their own reasons are acting against it. In Lord Jim, Joseph Conrad wrote: “No man ever understands quite his own artful dodges to escape the grim shadow of self-knowledge.” It seems, however, that Trump’s adversaries, refusing to accept reality, have replaced it with a satisfying substitute reality by which they may never find the need to compromise their wrongful beliefs. In the US, one is presumed innocent until proven guilty, has a right to due process, and upholding the rights of the citizen is paramount. For the most part, US citizens understand these ideas and are willing to defend those rights. As such, there has actually been a very poor reaction among US citizens toward the aggressive posture Trump adversaries have taken toward him. It is still a possibility that in the 2020 US Presidential Election, the outcome will go Trump’s way. Unfortunately, the many abominable, false stories of his wrongdoing will likely stick to him to some degree for some time. Opinionem quidem et famam eo loco habeamus, tamquam non ducere sed sequi debeat. (As for rumor and reputation let us consider them as matters that must follow not guide our actions.)

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 2)

The Headquarters of the Ministry of State Security (above). The primary civilian intelligence service engaged in the political warfare struggle against the US is the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Yet, while fully involved in that work, MSS has adhered to its bread and butter mission of stealing national security and diplomatic secrets with specific regard to the US. It has also robustly enhanced another mission of grabbing intellectual property and an array of advanced technologies from the US. This essay’s focus is not the political warfare effort by MSS. Rather, it provides a few insights on this topic from outside the box on MSS tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods used to keep its ears to the ground and to collect what it needs to improve China’s capabilities and capacity to compete and struggle with the US.

This post should be considered a direct continuation of the preceding one. The complete essay focuses on what the Ministry of State Security (MSS) is and what it does, day-to-day, for China. It is presented in two sections. “Part 1,” published on July 31, 2020, provides greatcharlie’s insights from outside the box on the MSS and the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods it believes both help to keep China secure and help to improve China’s capabilities and capacity to compete and struggle with the US. That discussion is buttressed by a few celebrated and trusted sources. This section, “Part 2,” completes discussion begun in “Part 1,” and then it calls attention to how, over recent years, a number of less-familiar, self-inflicted wounds have hindered the prosecution of a successful campaign by US counterintelligence services against the MSS as well as other Chinese intelligence services. The extent to which those same issues concerning US counterintelligence services have impacted the Trump administration is also touched upon. Without pretension, greatcharlie states that there is no reason for it to believe policymakers and decisionmakers in the White House and among US foreign affairs, defense, and intelligence organizations, would have a professional interest in its meditations on MSS intelligence operations in the US. However, it is greatcharlie’s hope that if given some attention, perhaps in some small way it might assist those who work on matters of gravity in this province improve their approach to defeating and displacing the MSS networks and operations as well as those of its sister organizations in the US. Bonus adiuvate, conservate popular Romanum. (Help the good (men) save (metaphorically in this case) the Roman people.)

People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping (above). President Xi Jinping is the man in charge, the top decisionmaker in China, therefore he has ultimate responsibility for what China has done, is doing, and will do. How China has responded to the crisis turned pandemic so far has been a source of curiosity and absolute outrage globally. The Communist Party of China and the National Party Congress were unapologetic and frightfully defensive concerning all discussion of China’s role in what was happening. They became particularly warm toward US President Donald Trump. It seems as if China’s leadership will continue to assail the global media with waves of distortions. In the meantime, around the world, the number of people infected by the coronavirus continues to increase, the death toll rises, and the financial loss is being calculated in the trillions. Hopefully, Chinese President Xi Jinping is genuinely aware of what is transpiring and has set some type of guidance on just how far this whole cabaret should go.

MSS Counterintelligence

A primary mission of the MSS counterintelligence service is the infiltration of all the foreign special service operations: intelligence, counter-intelligence, police forces all over the world. Its primary targets assuredly are its chief competitor, the US, the bordering Russian Federation, and Australia and New Zealand. The advanced industrialized countries of Western Europe would also fall under its watchful eyes although China has not achieved prominence in their space. Second would come Taiwan, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Mongolia, and Iran which it trusts up to a point.  China must also measure its national interests, and particularly its national security against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore. China has also 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.)

Certainly, counterintelligence would do whatever possible to intercept, neutralize, and recruit foreign intelligence officers, as well as their operatives and informants in China and those working in locations close to, and on matters concerning, Chinese interests in other countries. As with almost any other counterintelligence organization worldwide, necessary attributes must be present to initiate a counterintelligence investigation on a suspected “foreign spy.” The primary means to confirm their identity is through careful study and observation of the subject and thorough research of all available information. It is a process similar to selecting a target for recruitment. Covert audio and video monitoring in the residences, vehicles, offices, hotels frequented and homes of friends of the suspected foreign spy. Passive collection by informants will also be used to eavesdrop on the individual’s conversations. The surveillance effort may not always be easy going. A foreign intelligence officer’s trade craft may be superb and all of his or her interactions and moves might appear authentic. The foreign intelligence officer’s movement technique could make maintaining surveillance on the subject difficult. For any counterintelligence services, that type of professionalism in an opponent can pose a challenge. Oddly enough though, it will result in increased suspicion among some.

Chinese intelligence services are capable of constructing a sophisticated profile of the online activities of individuals. It does not appear, however, that the MSS and supporting agencies have established the capability to identify espionage in the offing. Every now and then, though, they are lucky enough to identify espionage underfoot with hum shoe detective work, online. In an excellent essay published May 7, 2014 on Jamestown, Mattis relays that in May 2014, Guangdong State Security Department (GSSD) of the MSS revealed brief details of an espionage case in which the chief suspect received a ten-year prison sentence. An unnamed foreign intelligence service reportedly recruited the suspect, dubbed “Mr. Li,” in an online chat room. Electronic prowling led him to documents of immense value, a variety of classified military documents and publications. Recognizing that a long price could be had for what he might acquire, “Mr. Li” turned to an online contact “Feige.” GSSD counterintelligence discovered that “Feige” had more than 40 other contacts—12 in Guangdong—spread over 20 provinces and provincial-level cities. Additionally, “Feige” had been an active online persona since 2007, collecting information off of military enthusiast (junmi) discussion boards and using services such as QQ to meet others like “Mr Li.” Those who “Feige” recruited collected military information through friends and contacts, subscribed to sensitive and internal military publications, and even took pictures of local military installations. Although a long price could surely have been had for what he had collected and provided the foreign intelligence service, “Mr. Li” was paid only a few hundred renminbi per month. Chinese authorities did not identify the foreign intelligence service behind the theft of the military secrets. Nevertheless, the case compounded an apparent sense of siege in Beijing over what then called US Internet hegemony, and the prevalence of foreign-made communications technology in sensitive Chinese systems. There were also allegations that the US had managed to exploit Huawei’s equipment, a concern that has since flipped the other way. For a state known to be as controlling of information as China, the reality is that an incredible amount of sensitive information was publicly accessible. It was all overwhelming for China which was well-aware of that its counterintelligence services could not stem figurative waves of attempts to penetrate its systems. The MSS will always want Chinese citizens to believe its elements such as the GSSD are as present as “air and water” with “information on everyone.” However, contradicting that, Chinese security officials were also reported at the time that more than 70 percent of state secrets cases involve information being leaked or passed to a foreign intelligence service online It led to changes.

It goes without saying that Chinese military and civilian intelligence services have immensely improved their cyber capabilities. Efforts by the, have tormented advanced industrialized countries. However, lessons learned in the past decade by MSS counterintelligence concerning foreign intelligence services’ cyber operations against China apparently stuck. Perhaps, the main lesson was that it was not safe to continue creating and maintaining secret communications or reports, any truly important documents, electronically. It was the same as leaving an open door to foreign intelligence service penetration. The transition back to paper would be the best answer and easy enough. Indeed, the use of hard documents and files was what the most seasoned foreign intelligence and counterintelligence officers were most familiar with using. Moreover, they are very likely individuals of conservative habits, and never became so familiar with computer work as their younger counterparts. The return to paper files would certainly lead to the collection of what would now be thought of as considerable amounts of documents. File rooms and vaults have very likely been rebuilt or returned to service. Urgent issues concerning diplomatic matters were likely communicated via encrypted transmissions. There was very likely a sharp increase in transmissions once the consulate received notice that it was being forced to close. Use of that medium would provide some reasonable assurance that content of the communication would be protected. Nothing of any real importance was likely communicated by telephone given that the US would surely successfully eavesdrop on the conversation. One might venture to say that a move to hard documents was evinced when the world observed presumably Ministry of Foreign Affairs security officers and MSS intelligence officers using fire bins to burn bundles of documents inside the compound of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston, Texas as it prepared to close. It might be the case that burning the documents is standard operating procedure for Chinese diplomatic outposts in such instances as an evacuation. MSS counterintelligence would hardly think that US intelligence and counterintelligence services would pass up the fortuitous opportunity to search through or even keep some or all of the documents consulate personnel might try to ship or mail to China while evacuating the building, even if containers of documents were sent as diplomatic pouches.

Staff burning massive bundles of documents within the compound of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston, Texas (above). Lessons learned in the past decade by MSS counterintelligence concerning foreign intelligence services’ cyber operations against China apparently stuck. Perhaps, the main lesson was that it was not safe to continue creating and maintaining secret communications or reports, any truly important documents, electronically. The transition back to paper would be the best answer. One might say that a move to hard documents was evinced when the world observed presumably Ministry of Foreign Affairs security officers and MSS intelligence officers using fire bins to burn bundles of documents inside the compound of the People’s Republic of China Consulate in Houston, Texas as it prepared to close. MSS counterintelligence would hardly think that US intelligence and counterintelligence services would pass up the fortuitous opportunity to search through or even keep some or all of the documents consulate personnel might try to ship or mail to China while evacuating the building, even if containers of documents were sent as diplomatic pouches.

Once MSS foreign intelligence officers are lucky enough to recruit operatives and informants in the US, federal indictments and criminal complaints against those caught indicate that they task them as intelligence collection requirements demand. However, in almost all of those taskings, certain counterintelligence aspects can also be discerned. Those aspects appear aimed at providing ways to assist MSS counterintelligence in identifying and locating foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, particularly in China, or assist in devising ways to intercept, neutralize, and recruit them. Typical counterintelligence aspects in takings that include collecting information on how the US intelligence services communicate with officers, operatives, and informants overseas. In August 2016, Kun Shan “Joey” Chun, a Chinese-born naturalized US citizen, pleaded guilty to illegally acting as an agent of the Chinese government. Chun, an electronics technician and veteran FBI employee who had a top-secret security clearance, reportedly passed sensitive information to China concerning, among other things, surveillance technologies used by the FBI. Prosecutors said that while working for the agency in New York he sent his Chinese handler, “at minimum, information regarding the FBI’s personnel, structure, technological capabilities, general information regarding the FBI’s surveillance strategies, and certain categories of surveillance targets.” Chun’s Chinese intelligence contacts provided him with financial payments and partially paid for a trip to Italy and France, during which he met with a Chinese intelligence officer.

In order to develop ways to counter FBI efforts against MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, MSS counterintelligence would want to know how the organization is set up to confront adversarial networks of spies, who is who, where they are situated, and what exactly are they doing. Understanding FBI surveillance strategies, would inform MSS counterintelligence of what layers of surveillance are usually being pressed on MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives, and informants in the US and how to devise better ways to defeat them. Technological capabilities would inform MSS counterintelligence whether all along the FBI has had the capability to monitor its activities or whether they have the capacity and have simply failed to use it effectively. The collection of information on what MSS foreign intelligence has been doing ineffectively in the face of US counterintelligence surveillance strategies and technological capabilities would undoubtedly inspire audits to better assess how closely its operatives were being monitored and how US counterintelligence managed to see a number of MSS efforts straight.

Kun Shan “Joey” Chun, (above). Once MSS foreign intelligence officers are lucky enough to recruit operatives and informants in the US, federal indictments and criminal complaints indicate that they task them as intelligence collection requirements demand. However, in almost all of those taskings, certain counterintelligence aspects can also be discerned. Typical counterintelligence aspects in takings that include collecting information on how the US intelligence services communicate with officers, operatives, and informants overseas. In August 2016, Kun Shan “Joey” Chun pleaded guilty to illegally acting as an agent of the Chinese government. Chun, an electronics technician and veteran FBI employee who had a top-secret security clearance, reportedly passed sensitive information to China concerning, among other things, surveillance technologies used by the FBI. Prosecutors said that while working for the agency in New York he sent his Chinese handler, “at minimum, information regarding the FBI’s personnel, structure, technological capabilities, general information regarding the FBI’s surveillance strategies, and certain categories of surveillance targets.”

In the case of former CIA case officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, who, in November 2019, was sentenced to 19 years in prison last year after pleading guilty to conspiring with MSS intelligence officers after he left the agency in 2010. According to the US Department of Justice, Lee had created a document including “certain locations to which the CIA would assign officers with certain identified experience, as well as the particular location and timeframe of a sensitive CIA operation.” Lee also possessed an address book that “contained handwritten notes” related to his work as a CIA case officer prior to 2004. These notes included “intelligence provided by CIA assets, true names of assets, operational meeting locations and phone numbers, and information about covert facilities.” Allegedly, Chun’s espionage activities led to the deaths of a number of the CIA’s Chinese informants.

The damage done to CIA networks and at least one ongoing operation in China, accompanied by the tragic loss of any operatives or informants as suggested by news media reports would create a sense of immeasurable anger and betrayal within CIA. However, the Agency has been through similar situations before with notables such as Edward Howard, Aldrich Ames, and Harold Nicholson. MSS counterintelligence would capitalize on Lee’s efforts by creating an active template based on how its case officers operated, the types of operatives and informants targeted and methods of their recruitment. Further, typical locations for meetings could be plotted and ways and means to surveil new operations and collection efforts could be developed. Most importantly, the information could allow for the conceptualization of the potential moves that CIA might make to resurrect lost networks and activities against China. Countermeasures would put in place to potentially thwart new recruitments and stymie new technologies that could support operations in the field and run alongside human intelligence collection.

Much ado was made in the US Intelligence Community about the espionage case of Ron Hansen. In a May 2019 guilty plea and plea agreement, Ron Hansen acknowledged attempting to communicate, deliver, or transmit to MSS intelligence officers, information concerning US national defense with intent or reason to believe that information would be used to harm the US and provide advantages to China. Hansen was a retired US Army Warrant Officer with experience in signals intelligence and human intelligence and former Defense Intelligence Agency civilian intelligence case officer, fluent in Mandarin as well as Russian, with top secret security clearance, In early 2014, the MSS targeted Hansen for recruitment and he began meeting with them regularly in China. During those meetings, the MSS intelligence officers described the type of information that would interest them. One of the most important taskings Hansen received was collecting  forensic software and sending it to the operatives in Beijing without first obtaining the license from the US Department of Commerce which constituted a crime. As Hansen described events, he partnered with two Chinese nationals, to whom he identified “Amy” and “Robert,” via an office he maintained for his company, H-11 in Beijing. Amy and Robert operated Beijing Hua Heng (Infosec) which partnered with H-11 to sell computer forensic products in their company. Robert informed Hansen that he maintained close connections to several contacts in Chinese intelligence. In November 2016, Amy instructed Hansen to purchase and send to her in China, Recon software from Sumuri LLC, a Delaware based firm. She specifically requested the Recon Mac OS X Forensics with Paladin 6 software, which contained cryptographic capability. Despite being aware of US laws forbidding the export, Hansen did so despite being aware of US laws forbidding the export. In December 2016, Arny instructed Hansen to purchase the Intella 100 software from Vound LLC, a US company that provided products related to forensic search, e-discovery, and information governance. He obediently bought it and had it shipped it to her in China in January 2017. Again, he did so, despite being aware of US laws forbidding the export.

Tasking Hansen to grab forensic software could surely have served a counterintelligence requirement. Software forensics is the science of analyzing software source code or binary code to determine whether intellectual property infringement or theft occurred. Advanced forensic software could allow MSS counterintelligence officers to conduct in depth analysis of user files to collect evidence such as documents, pictures, internet history and more. MSS counterintelligence could use the software to monitor communications and collect information on dissidents, ethnic groups, suspected foreign intelligence operatives and informants, even foreign intelligence officers of some countries, visiting foreign officials, businessmen, and tourists alike. It could support the theft of intellectual property and trade secrets.

Counterintelligence may very well be the greatest manifestation of the paranoia business, but it, as all other elements of the intelligence industry, requires wisdom, reason, and logic to be performed well. A MSS counterintelligence officer was not supposed to be the same as his internal security service or law enforcement counterpart. Unlike such, displeasure and frustration over denials of intercepted foreign intelligence officers and agents in interrogations generally should not manifest in violence.

There is no reason for frustration over denials of intercepted intelligence officers, operatives, or informants to result in violence. If progress through interviews indicates that an investigator is on the right track, there will be an attempt to find another door inside to open and pass through in order to get deeper on matters. Such technique is honed and polished over the years. When MSS managers have determined the situation demands rough treatment, typically some sort of exigent circumstance, and when the decision will align with the thinking and plans of the Communist Party of China leadership, coercive measures are employed to include forms of torture. Expectedly, “good managers” will be ill at ease with that. Much to the grief of foreign intelligence officers, foreign agents, and Chinese citizens, it is that style of pursuit which has been honed and polished over the years by MSS counterintelligence officers.

Sensation seekers might believe that being involved in authentic espionage would be thrilling. However, there is plenty of real danger involved. Once the MSS officer is in the ground working in a foreign land, there is always the chance of arrest while carrying out one’s duties or expulsion of the officer persona non grata. From what has been observed, when US counterintelligence and law enforcement ensure that such interceptions of Chinese intelligence officers, operatives, and informants receive high profile reporting, to include conducting press conferences and widely disseminating press releases, it is akin to hanging out MSS’ dirty laundry for all to see.

MSS counterintelligence officers surely caution their counterparts in MSS foreign intelligence to keep their eyes and ears open. The MSS foreign intelligence officer in the field must be able to intuit when a situation is right and when it is wrong. Experienced hands will take counsel not from their fears, but from their intimations. They know when to seize up and walk away. Still, there would be a natural concern among counterintelligence officers everywhere that as a human habit, sometimes what is obvious is often immediately accepted as true. The result can be catastrophic. MSS took a big hit in October 2018, when Yan Jun Xu, a Chinese citizen and Deputy Division Director, Sixth Bureau of Jiangsu Province of the MSS, was arrested and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and steal trade secrets from multiple US aviation and aerospace companies. US counterintelligence officers were able to lure Xu, a successful MSS intelligence officer, to Belgium in April 2018 where he was arrested pursuant to a federal complaint, and then indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio. Belgian authorities provided significant assistance with the arrest and extradition of Xu to the US. Among Xu’s tasks as a MSS foreign intelligence officer in the US was to obtain technical information, including trade secrets, from aviation and aerospace companies not only in the US but throughout Europe. Xu often cloaked the true nature of his employment, by representing that he was associated with Jiangsu Science & Technology Promotion Association. From December 2013 to October 2018, Xu worked, traveled, and communicated with individuals associated with or employed by MSS and a number of Chinese universities and institutions, particularly Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Xu also actively targeted specific companies in the US and overseas that were acknowledged to be leaders in the field of aviation and aerospace technology, design, and manufacturing. Within these aviation companies, Xu and other individuals, some of whom were already known to law enforcement, would spot individuals who they deemed to be “experts” in those aviation companies, and who could potentially be targeted and recruited to travel to China, manipulated under the belief that they were traveling to China merely for “an exchange” of ideas and to give a presentation at a university. Xu and others would pay the “experts” stipends and would arrange for and pay expenses associated with their travel to China. To achieve their objective of collecting specific aviation technology documents and information, Xu and others exchanged messages concerning the types of information that they desired, and actively discussed methods for obtaining the desired information. That effort would include the use of codes and series of letters in place of the technology being discussed and the name of the company targeted. The arrest of Xu, who handled both Ji Chaoqun and Weiyun Huang, (whose circumstances were discussed in “Part 1” of this essay) preceded their arrests.

Xudong Yao, also known as Yan Jun Xu ( above). MSS counterintelligence officers surely caution their MSS foreign intelligence counterparts to keep their eyes and ears open. The MSS foreign intelligence officer in the field must be able to intuit when a situation is right and when it is wrong. They must know when to seize up and when to walk away. Still, there would be a natural concern among counterintelligence officers everywhere that as a human habit, sometimes what is obvious is often immediately accepted as true. The result can be catastrophic. MSS took a big hit in October 2018, when Yan Jun Xu, a Chinese citizen and Deputy Division Director, Sixth Bureau of Jiangsu Province of the MSS, was arrested and charged with conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage and steal trade secrets from multiple US aviation and aerospace companies. US counterintelligence officers were able to lure Xu, a successful MSS intelligence officer, to Belgium in April 2018 where he was arrested pursuant to a federal complaint, and then indicted by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Ohio.

Doubtlessly, if MSS officers are caught they will be told what they can say if “pressure” is severe enough. The information would likely be designed as an active measure to help distort a foreign counterintelligence services understanding of MSS tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods. Given estimates by experts on the potential volume of their intelligence activities in the US, a casual observer might expect the impact of a loss here and there would likely be viewed as nominal with respect to the overall picture. However, intercepted MSS officers, who stumble due to poor tradecraft, a simple misstep, or for reasons unknown to MSS counterintelligence, may not recover beautifully if returned to China. To start, the MSS would not at all like having its officers identified in China, identified in the US, or even worse, see them apprehended by US counterintelligence services or law enforcement. Further, it would not appreciate having an entire operation or network in the US detected and effectively neutralized

For the MSS officer, Commandment 11, “Thou shall not get caught!”, applies. Being caught while on the beat will never be chalked up as a sword scratch or a badge of courage. Yet, the greatest problem would be the embarrassment that it would cause the MSS as an organization, the Chinese government, and the Communist Party of China. The intercepted officer would have to face the reality that he failed at his task. Facetious managers and colleagues would likely say he or she was not up to the job. If there was  some error in judgment, failure to do things by the book, or wilful dereliction for failing to attain proper authorization before acting, the size of the failure would grow exponentially. Doubtlessly, the officer would be held out as an example of how an MSS officer should not operate. Concerning the situation of the hypothetical errant MSS officer, Il a foutu la merde dans sa vie.

The manner in which the Communist Party of China might come down on the officer for the failure would likely depend upon the political temperature at the time in Beijing. One could use the Party’s response to the bad news of the coronavirus outbreak as a yardstick. There would be no way to conceal the matter from the Communist Party of China. Even if the attempt was made to do so, informants inside the organization would likely report the matter up to Party leaders, making them familiar with the case before the matter even moved through MSS channels and managers and senior executives there were read-in on everything. The Communist Party of China would be especially interested if it concerns the US. One could only imagine the reaction of Party leaders if they were to find out about the arrest or PNG of a MSS officer via the US news media before hearing from its own government.

Putting aside the reality that a vital MSS intelligence operation may have been disrupted or destroyed and putting aside the potential negative reaction by the Communist Party of China, one might consider that for MSS senior executives and managers at headquarters, the saving grace would be that if the US counterintelligence were doing so, it meant attempts recruit the officer and compel him or her to play the double-game against their former colleagues and bosses as a counterespionage operative for the US failed. To advance a step further on this point, MSS managers would also recognize that burning the MSS offficer would be a palliative step and the only “constructive” option left for US counterintelligence. Holding a captured MSS officer in prison instead of putting them out of the US, PNG, would almost ensure some type of retaliation against an US intelligence officer or merely a suspected officer would be taken in China. In effect, a de facto modus vivendi exists. As for the future of the MSS officer caught, by burning him or her with heavy news media coverage of his or her identification or arrest could possibly destroy the officer’s prospects for receiving another overseas posting or participating in future intelligence operations leaving them in a solitary despair. MSS can always hire and train another.

A considerable concern for any counterintelligence service regarding foreign intelligence officers and their operatives and informants functioning in foreign territory is the threat of betrayal. Indeed, intelligence organizations in general spend much time and energy hunting among their own ranks for foreign spies. Of course, concerns are always raised among Chinese citizens when anyone with whom they may have just met or were in contact for other reasons, suddenly showed what could be considered under the circumstances as an eccentric interest in them. They could imagine that such inquires could be a trick perpetrated by the security services to test their loyalty. That surely causes the most fear. Defections from the MSS do happen, but as aforementioned, they are somewhat rare. Nevertheless, it is guarded against as surely not all MSS officers are gun barrel straight. At least, this would be the most likely presumption of Chinese counterintelligence officers. Certainly, all intelligence services have their share of problems with errant officers. Some, such as MSS, likely have less problems than most. However, even the clean, loyal, and obedient will occasionally look over their shoulders because of that. Bent intelligence can serve any preconceptions, and it often does in many intelligence services; sometimes purposefully and wrongfully to destroy an innocent officer’s career.

MSS counterintelligence managers with practiced hands know the first step of a breakdown in a officer’s sense of duty to China and the Communist Revolution can take place as far back as when an individual is hired who might manifest reactions such as jealousy and envy over the success of others faithfully operating in the field and achieving many victories. The second step of that breakdown usually happens when those less-than qualified hires are placed in a position to monitor, audit, and evaluate the work of those in the field. Those inner rumblings are often more than just a matter of maturity or being uptight. They are character issues that should have been resolved long before those particular individuals met their MSS recruiters. Their varied emotional disorders subsequently became most apparent after they began working.

A satellite image of the imposing MSS Headquarters in Beijing (above). In the abstract, one might conceptualize that a foreign technology analysis office with specialized units likely exists within one of its analytical departments to perform that task. One might consider further how tasks are divided within it and how it logically manages the mass collection of information and data collected. The overall aim of the hypothetical advanced foreign technology assessment unit would be to enhance the analytic capability of the MSS to enable it to more effectively provide to the Communist Party of China, ministers, and MSS senior executives the highest quality intelligence on advanced technological developments in the US and in other advanced industrialized countries. For the obvious security reasons, the workplace of these supposed technology analysts would likely be situated In some prohibited place, if not within the depths of the massive Beijing Headquarters of the MSS, itself.

MSS Large Data Processing of Technologies Stolen from US Conceptualized

Facilius per partes in cognitionem todus adducimur. (We are more easily led part by part to an understanding of the whole.) With dozens of operatives moving about the US with their eyes wide open and ears pinned back attempting to obey instructions from MSS officers either back in China or on the ground in the US, a backlog of information collected would be expected. The volume might be seen as problematic by experts in the US. However, MSS senior executives and managers, much as the MPS and all the parallel PLA and Communist Party of China intelligence services and units and all of the iterations of Chinese intelligence services that came before them, would apply reason to find a way to handle bundles of reports from intelligence operatives and informants. It stands to reason that a division exists which is engaged in piecing together information and data stolen from the US to advance its own technologies. China would hardly vouchsafe such.

In the abstract, one might conceptualize that a foreign technology analysis office with specialized units likely exists within one of its analytical departments to perform that task. One might consider further how tasks are divided within it and how it logically manages the mass collection of information and data collected. The overall aim of the prospective advanced foreign technology assessment unit would be to enhance the analytic capability of the MSS to enable it to more effectively provide to the Communist Party of China, its minister and deputy ministers, and senior executives, the highest quality intelligence on advanced technological developments in the US and in other advanced industrialized countries. For the obvious security reasons, the workplace of these supposed technology analysts would likely be situated In some prohibited place, if not some inner sanctum of the massive Headquarters of the MSS in Beijing, itself. Visualize, in some edifice in China, several MSS analysts, all of whom are experts on US and other advanced industrialized countries’ military, scientific, medical or artificial intelligence technologies, engaged daily in an intelligence practice of uncovering the latest, most advanced, and most desired information of foreign technologies from collected intelligence. In an intelligence tradition from the earliest days of CDSA, they can be imagined mining through foreign sources in a time consuming process akin to sifting through dust, yet enjoying the hunt so to speak.

One might say the work of such prospective foreign technology assessment analysts would be something similar to that of codebreakers of World War II in the United Kingdom, yet they are isolated from the conditions of the past. That art, as with many aspects of intelligence collection, has become electronic. The label analyst should be interpreted widely to include researchers who regularly use secret intelligence. Individuals drawn to and hired for such work would have an acumen for being able to work on what are essentially puzzles. Solving puzzles is actually a science dubbed enigmatology. The analysts turned “enigmatologists,” or visa-versa, would most likely be elated to keep their brains on edge. They would have little difficulty remaining occupied forever long it takes to put together pieces of information to create the picture of a new technology or new research and development project. When such a figurative puzzle is cracked, new ones would very likely be immediately placed before analysts.

Bletchley Park, a country house in Buckinghamshire, was bought by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in 1938 as a site to which the Government Code & Cypher School and MI6 could be evacuated when war came. However, Bletchley Park’s great success was as a result of the mechanization of the decryption process keeping pace with the mechanization of encryption. Although the decryption of Enigma is the best known of Bletchley Park’s exploits, other successes, such as the decryption of Luftwaffe hand ciphers, and the development of Colossus, the world’s first computer which solved the enciphered German teleprinter, made a significant contribution to the Allied victory. One might say the work of such prospective foreign technology assessment analysts would be something similar to that of codebreakers of World War II, yet they are isolated from the conditions of the past as that art, as with many aspects of intelligence collection, has become electronic.

While the supposition may sound a bit ordinary, perchance there would be some sort of analytical triage by the most experienced analyst. After some possible sorting and collating through the use of artificial intelligence given the volume of what is collected, perhaps senior leaders and best experts from the analytical team might gather weekly or daily to perform that task. It would also give the supervisors a good sense of what might be coming down the pike for examination. The areas of expertise of participating supervisors, themselves, would reflect countries from which the technologies would be stolen and would be proficient in the respective languages of the industrialized countries from which the reports, plans, schematics, charts, and other data would originate. The final sorting would be done by supervisors intimately familiar with at least one area of the technologies stolen. There may be information gathered on a new US technology or ongoing research and development project that is already in sufficient quality and quality to send up to higher levels of management to create additional collection requirements for MSS officers and operatives in the field to help complete the picture. Even if there is a relative paucity of information on a foreign technology, if it is a technology discovered that is so advanced that it would have the potential to be a game changer in terms of the development of Chinese technologies or might be of the utmost importance regarding China’s defense and national security, it would very likely be brought up to senior executives who would decide how to pursue it. Counterintelligence would also likely be involved to make certain that any miracles are not simply sophisticated material dangled as bait for some elaborate trap. The supervisors speculated upon here would also be the ones to deliver information in formal reports or as presentations and desk-level briefings to customers in government.

After they receive a batch of information, the emphasis of the analysts’ search through it will be to identify and consider new discoveries, as well as determine whether the information is simply interesting or can be given higher meaning. Much as case officers may run more than operative in the field, each analyst or team would likely work on, not many, but very likely more than one puzzle at a time. The foundation of the puzzle would most likely be formed by a pattern of information. Each bit of new information may be a possible missing piece. Each new piece gives one an idea of what the next piece might look like. In a mosaic, stone fragments are cut to for a particular image the artist has in mind, a preconception. With a puzzle, the image is created  with each new piece. There is something to learn every time the image is developed. Eventually the image figuratively begins looking back at the one working on the puzzle telling its story. Priority is likely given to those puzzles closest to solution or those that begin releasing information about some new exquisite US technology that MSS senior executives, and thereby the Communist Party of China wants to get its hands on. As a next logical step, the collection of pieces for the remaining parts of the puzzle by operations departments from Beijing or the provinces can be directed through collection requirements. Perhaps the same analyst or analytical team or a group of troubleshooting technological experts would take over the case at that point.

One exercise would be to find commonalities among reports on a US research and development project. The likely thinking in each unit would be that there is always something in what has been collected, it just needs to be fully twinkled out. Imaginably, instead of having too few clues, in some cases there would be too many. To pull out a particular strand from a mass of information requires a very clear sense of priority. Doing that would also serve a counterintelligence purpose. The analysts would likely be trained to know there are patterns in reporting. A new technology will rarely simply emanate from  a single source, with no other references to it and no communication about it.

When pieces of information might be missing, there would always be the possibility that the next batch of reports from the US might help to do that. If that telling piece of information is not in the next batch, it may be in the batch after that. There are no blind alleys. If a report says something is there then it is there. The analysts would be fully cognizant that a considerable effort is being made within the US to conceal secret projects. Success at their work is likely invigorating, and likely impel more strenuous efforts. No matter how slowly any puzzle would develop, there would unlikely be any case regulated to something akin to a cold case file. If any information exists on a technological project, MSS managers know that there is metaphorically something cooking in the US. With several civilian informants working inside and around technological development centers, the day might come at any time when pieces of puzzle take on greater meaning and the puzzle starts telling the analysts something considerable.

While the image that the puzzle presents may not yet be completely in focus, the most experienced, knowledgeable, and resourceful eyes, masters in the business of sorting these puzzles out will be put on the matter. Such a case would likely become a collaborative focus. After a while of that, the newly discovered technology would very likely come into focus and resources of operations would be directed to the effort to hunt down the remaining elements and get them to China. In some cases, the few stray pieces of the puzzle could be conceptualized and reproduced by technology experts in China. What one can invent, another can surely reproduce.

Students of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics studying in the library (above). One might say the work of such prospective foreign technology assessment analysts would be something similar to that of codebreakers of World War II, yet they are isolated from the conditions of the past as that art, as with many aspects of intelligence collection, have become electronic. Chinese colleges and universities graduate a near endless list of qualified candidates for every year. The Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in particular is a happy hunting ground for MSS recruiters. Given in part to the availability of a highly qualified pool of potentials, Chinese intelligence services surely have the personnel capacity to handle the loads of stolen information coming in from the US and other advanced industrialized countries. The two female students at the bottom right of the photo are apparently taking a short break from all of their serious academic work with a little diversion.

There must be a balance in all of their analyses without a smidge of bias. In their analytical product, they would need to guard against apophenia, seeing patterns in unrelated things. Engaging in informal speculation would be appreciated, some US technologies would possibly seem so advanced as to be called exotic. However, assessing any to have a potential bordering on science fiction would face disapproval. No one would be allowed to attach importance to anything purely arbitrary. Latching on to something definitively trivial will be proven when nothing ever follows to assist in solving the matter.

Reports that the analysts received would unlikely solely focus on technologies although that information would have primacy. Reports that identify government agencies, offices, supporting specific cutting-edge research and development of technologies. Where those government agencies are, that is where the MSS will very likely be prowling. Names of experts from US government departments and agencies or from private organization experts that came up related to a particular technology may among other things help to understand the project’s importance. Reports on how information is kept secure would certainly be useful. Information on security officers associated with protecting a project may be important for operational purposes. It may become necessary to know who they are, what they are doing, what they are saying, and what their routines, interests, habits and health are, particularly if it is determined that the door should be left open to possibly conducting a covert collection effort against the office or facility for which he or she might be responsible.

Assumably, morale would be high in such a foreign technology assessment office given its victories. In terms of supervising performance and ensuring a quality work product, there would very likely be a nose to the grindstone, deadly serious, scholarly approach demanded of analysts in their work. One would unlikely hear much jolly chatter in the workplace. Imaginably, there would unlikely be any of the peculiar infernal squabbling in morning meetings and weekly reviews that has been dubbed part of a creative process within certain Western intelligence and counterintelligence services. It is unlikely that competitive urges, ego and ambition impell the work of the MSS enigmatologist. Again, as they are only human, there may be some elements of each that pushes each to be their best. While there is an urgency to the work, getting things right would be most important and to that extent accuracy would equate to speed. There would surely be one-to-one mentoring, with more experienced team colleagues who offer support, in addition to that offered by line managers. Nearly everyone appreciates acknowledgement for a job well-done and pat on the back from colleagues and managers, coaches and mentors. Respectful, motivated, and dedicated, younger members of teams usually want to make a good impression upon older, more experienced ones, and typically thrive on recognition, attention, guidance, approval, and praise from them. (Supervisors must reinforce good work, extinguish bad habits and that sort of thing.) If Beijing would even discuss the existence of such an analytical group, it undoubtedly has the world believing that the desire to do a good job for China and the Communist Revolution provides all of the impetus needed.

Unlike other analysts who might rotate between operational, analytical and managerial duties, analysts would essentially work in a professional closed shop. Successful analytical work of this kind would require unbroken contact with information on new technologies as it arrives to avoid gaps in specific knowledge and assessment capabilities that would naturally occur if the analysts most familiar with the technology were moved out and replaced with analysts from some other area such as foreign military operational analysis, counternarcotics, or organized crime. Technology assessment would be a high priority specialization and any advancement would take place within it.

Provincial and local departments and bureaus of the MSS often use cover names inside China such as “Shanghai Municipal Government Office number seven.” It could be the case for Shanghai State Security Bureau (SSSB) that Municipal Government Office number seven is actually the Shanghai State Municipal building (above). Two satellite dishes are often found on office building roofs of MSS departments and bureaus. (See the satellite dishes on the left and right sides of the municipal building roof. In a photo in Part 1 of this essay, notice two similar model satellite dishes atop the roof of the Wuhan Hubei National Security Office which is the home of the Ministry of State Security Bureau.) Going out on a rather slender thread, greatcharlie ventures to say the fact that two “MSS-style” satellite dishes sit atop Shanghai State Municipal building, makes it a candidate for being where SSSB resides or at least some shop of the active spy organization resides.

An Ugly Truth the MSS Surely Knows About the US Counterintelligence Services

MSS senior executives and managers have much with which they can be satisfied regarding their organization’s performance against the US. Certainly, their enthusiasm over the performance of their personnel has been ineffectual within the organization. MSS foreign intelligence officers, operatives and informants have amassed a record of considerable success in the US and continue to plow ahead. Some analysts of Chinese intelligence might say the extraordinary success of MSS was partly founded on luck. The organization was smart enough to ratchet up its operations at a time when US concerns over the capabilities and capacity of Chinese intelligence were astonishingly lax especially in person contacts. Employees at lower levels, drivers, housekeepers, managed to insinuate themselves into the offices and homes of US Senators, US Representatives, hotels, resorts, military bases, government departments and agencies, and important offices of major US industries. Needless to say, that is the kind of luck that tends to follow those who usually become pre-eminent in their field. However, MSS managers are comfortable enough to operate so boldly in the US not because they feel their officers, operatives, and informants are so superb. Its managers feel less threatened because, as aforementioned, it recognizes US counterintelligence services have allowed themselves to deteriorate to some degree in nearly all areas, but especially concerning personnel, over recent years.

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 see.) US intelligence, counterintelligence, and law enforcement have all but admitted that they are somewhat baffled by what the MSS and its sister Chinese intelligence services are doing. They literally advertise their limitations. Surely, US counterintelligence knows all of this is a part of the reason why it is somewhat in the woods regarding Chinese intelligence operations in the US. They are happy that very few are aware as to why, too! There has been a never-ending rosy US news media narrative about US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement which has influenced the US public’s understanding of how well the counterintelligence job is being done. That new media narrative intensified immediately after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the US. The US public’s impression of US counterintelligence work has also been shaped for decades by Hollywood via bedazzling images of near supermen and superwoman catching wretched enemy intelligence agents, terrorists, and international organized crime figures. Even greatcharlie must accept some responsibility for creating a certain image of US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement by typically referring to the “somber and astute” professionals among them.

True, the majority of officers within the civilian US counterintelligence services, energetically and earnestly do all they can to thwart and defeat the activities of foreign intelligence services operating in the US. Those proper US counterintelligence officers indeed have their eyes on the MSS and other Chinese intelligence services. The presence of such professionals in US counterintelligence should have been enough to cause concern and caution for the MSS as they ventured into the US. MSS officers should literally tremble as they approach, and as they begin to move about on the beat, they should be constantly and carefully looking over their shoulders. Unfortunately, in the larger world of US intelligence and counterintelligence there are other officers who could hardly be characterized as such.

Fate would have it that there are a number of US counterintelligence officers who do not perform in such a praise worthy way.  While the type of errant officer identified here may not be present in every office of a US counterintelligence organization. The errant officers described do not move around much as gremlins doing wrong at every turn, breaking every rule. Their numbers are still sufficient enough that they are noticeable to their adversaries as much as they are to their colleagues. What the MSS doubtlessly picks up about the errant officers that arguably presents much hope and perhaps even joy when MSS senior executives and managers in charge of US operations. MSS managers have very likely observed the errant officers thinking and behavior either rising to insanity or sinking to imbecility. They have likely heard all of their tales of woe. Most are distraught by the denial of overtime, reductions in allowances for expenses, and relatively modest salary. Some feel benefits such as medical and dental insurance are insufficient. Others are angered not only by those factors, but also by having to distribute significant payments to informants and multiple operatives greatly in excess of their salaries. Trouble really begins when a case or cases allow the errant officers access to funds for the payments to operatives and informants. As it is done under the honor system, the door is opened wide for embezzlement. (The details of the varied devilish artifices used to embezzle are too hefty to detail here. The decision to allow case officers of US intelligence and counterintelligence services access to such considerable amounts of taxpayer dollars in this day and age without the strictest forms of oversight is of questionable judgment.)

MSS managers surely have noticed that when engaged in investigations against their intelligence officers, operatives, and informants, such errant US counterintelligence officers are satisfied in performing poorly and being incompetent. Indeed, when it comes down to identifying, intercepting, neutralizing, and recruiting foreign intelligence officers and operatives, the errant officers are hardly game for the trudge. Typically, a history of rarely being able to get anything started in a recruitment will fill the performance records of their sort. Even when given an opportunity to bring in a foreign intelligence officer or operative, the whole case is usually muffed. It is the practice of most US counterintelligence services to give officers full control of their cases, with supervision from other special agents or case officers on a management track–often with less experience on the field than themselves. Having been given the authority from managers and those novice supervisors, the have no reservations about chasing down a false lead regardless of the fact that they have been read-in on all that indicates there is nothing at all to follow. Interestingly, money somehow never seems to be short for their cases. Bringing a case to resolution would not allow for the use of varied tricks to enrich themselves as the continued reconnaissance and surveillance of a target and use of informants without having any real counterintelligence goals. The operatives or informants in contact with the adversary are kept active enough and encouraged enough to hold their interest and to compel them to stay involved. In some cases, everything might abruptly stop if some change in the office, some feeling–call it intuition–causes the errant officers to be concerned. Most of the time, however, the errant officers become so comforted by the ease with which they managed to collect their ill-gotten gains, they become slow to notice any nuanced changes that may happen around them. Supervisors may push for results but they typically become accustomed to getting nothing from the errant officers. At best, they will push to shut down the case, but the damage will already have been done to the effort against the foreign intelligence service. In some rare exception, the errant officers will collect enough on an innocent citizen to secure an indictment. An offhand remark or joke made to a clandestine contact or false statements signed by the errant officers’ operatives tied to arbitrary evidence wrongfully cooked to take on higher meaning may be enough to prompt eager prosecutors to move against the innocent.

Bewildering to MSS managers but perhaps the most noticeable of the errant officers behaviors that immediately benefits not just the MSS, but all foreign intelligence services operating in the US, is the employment contractors who will bizarrely hire untutored surveillance operatives right off the street even for an intended clandestine operation that is supposed to be finely calibrated. In most foreign intelligence services, great care is placed in the selection of operatives for a task as important as surveillance. Due to the heavy reliance on the competence of observers, reports they produce, and even their immediate impressions. All of that information will impact data extrapolated and inferences made. Nevertheless, money hungry contractors to whom those services often outsource such work could apparently careless about such matters. If one were to put a good spin on the practice, the grand thought behind the practice would ostensibly be that placing more eyes, even nonprofessional, untrained eyes, on the target allows for better coverage of the targets activities, better. Yet, the real result is simply the accumulation of several observations, varied in accuracy and quality. False observation can often be provided by nonprofessionals in an ordinary case seeking to puff themselves up, as if to say: “Hey, look at me! I am a real spy!” Indeed, this lesser form of “spying” may bestow a certain dignity to the mixed bag engaged in it. However, the real magic behind the practice is the potential for dishonor that it creates. Since the hires are essentially transient, not all names on a list of impromptu operatives may be genuine. Errant officers can benefit themselves by collecting the recompense of  nonexistent operatives added to the list. Experienced counterintelligence hands are well-aware that repeated, considerable hiring for surveillance, especially in massive bundles for any case could be a beckoning initial indicia of someone trying “to give themselves a pension.” When that surveillance and investigation results in nothing, it is a red flag.

How MSS has likely benefited from this is obvious. MSS operatives would only need to put themselves in a position to be hired in any more formal process of becoming a surveillance operative for a contractor for US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement. As some will tend to seek a diverse pool of operatives, they will usually consider all applications with scant vetting in part to accelerate the hiring process but mostly to avoid the expense. After making certain they have presented themselves as qualified candidates, the MSS operative is very likely hired. If they can situate themselves in the vicinity of a diplomatic installation of the Chinese government or the proximity of a site in which MSS or another Chinese intelligence service might be operating, like a canary in a coal mine, a call or text from a US counterintelligence contractor request the operative participate in a surveillance nearby will notify the MSS that their people may be under observation. In addition, the MSS operatives can make a few extra dollars courtesy of the US taxpayer. (While it may strike one as daylight madness, one can rest assured that it is actually happening daily!)

What may be shocking and surprising to MSS managers are those occasions when errant officers, in an effort to manufacture a case, will submit knowingly false information to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA Court) to secure warrants and authorizations for warrantless searches and surveillance against a wrongly targeted citizen. It happens more than the average US citizen could imagine. The bigger the lie that they tell about the innocent citizen, the more significant the case will be. That means greater resources will be alloted for it. In the process of obtaining FISA Court warrants and. authorizations, administrative personnel in the errant officers’ counterintelligence organization, particularly attorneys, who have the responsibility to oversee the correctness of applications to the court, have been known to simply rubber-stamp them. As for FISA Court judges, they tend to simply accept whatever is in the applications as valid.

A counterintelligence focus on the innocent US citizen will always be at the errant officers instigation. On one end of the chain are errant officers focused on enriching themselves with taxpayers dollars on the other end is some poor chap, knowing by God that he is innocent, who is nevertheless having his life turned upside down wrongfully. The errant officers will not hesitate to manufacture false information to submit to include tutoring so-called informants in preparing false statements for them. Sadly enough, as mentioned earlier, the errant officers can pick out informants who would be willing to prepare such statements and they will be handsomely paid. To paraphrase a recent remark by US Senator Charles Schumer of New York on the tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods of the US Intelligence Community, they can come at you six ways from Sunday. Indeed, under the incredible weight of the US intelligence and counterintelligence services and federal law enforcement, some of the innocent are unable to survive without being harmed psychologically and physically. To enlarge on the point of damage done by errant US counterintelligence officers who misused and abused power and the tools provided them to protect the US, there are more than a few cases that are well-known to those who have worked in the intelligence industry. Rest assured, MSS managers have kept track of US news media reporting and collected information about those cases. Among the high-profile cases is that of Wen Ho Lee.

Wen Ho Lee leaving a Washington, DC courthouse in 2000 (above). In a December 1999 federal indictment, Wen Ho Lee was charged in 59 counts concerning the tampering, altering, concealing, and removing restricted data, the receipt of restricted data, the unlawful gathering of national defense information, and the unlawful retention of national defense information. Reportedly, the US Intelligence Community received information from an intelligence source revealing that China had obtained details of the W88, a US nuclear warhead. The FBI investigation into the case erroneously pointed them to Lee. Lee was arrested in December 1999 and held without bail for 278 days. The FBI later eventually determined that Lee could not plausibly have been the source of information on the W88 to China. Still, the FBI moved forward with its investigation of Lee. Lee was charged with the improper handling of restricted data. In September 2000, Lee pled guilty to one count as a part of a plea bargain arrangement. The other 58 counts were dropped. Lee would file and win a lawsuit against the US government and five news organizations for leaking information that violated his privacy.

Circumstances concerning Wen Ho Lee were complicated, but not so much as to evolve into an episode so tragic and regrettable. Boiled down, his life, liberty, his ability to go on quietly pursuing what made him happy as a US citizen was torn to shreds based on a rush to judgment and the wrongful use of the awesome powers provided to the US intelligence and counterintelligence services and law enforcement to protect the US public. In a December 1999 federal indictment, Wen Ho Lee was charged in 59 counts concerning the tampering, altering, concealing, and removing restricted data, the receipt of restricted data, the unlawful gathering of national defense information, and the unlawful retention of national defense information. Reportedly, the US Intelligence Community received information from an intelligence source revealing that China had obtained details of the W88, a US nuclear warhead. Allegedly due to certain pieces of evidence, the FBI investigation into the case, Operation Kindred Spirit, pointed them to Lee. Lee was arrested in December 1999 and held without bail for 278 days. The FBI was made aware that Lee, a US citizen and University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, travelled twice to China in the 1980s to meet with scientists. During a interview with the FBI, Lee admitted that he had been asked by them to supply information that would assist China in developing a nuclear missile force. On a polygraph test administered by the FBI, it was indicated that Lee was not always being truthful in his responses. An examination of his computer revealed that he had transferred classified documents to an unsecured network and in the process deleted the security classification in the material. Reportedly, the information was accessed 40 times on a computer at the UCLA student union by an unknown user.

As the investigation into his alleged espionage began, Lee was fired from his job at Los Alamos by UCLA on March 8, 1990, under pressure from the US Department of Energy, which oversees the laboratory. The news media was informed of his dismissal by an unknown source and the stories were widely reported. While his alleged espionage was being reported, the FBI had determined that Lee could not plausibly have been the source of information on the W88 to China. The normative hope, yet perhaps a bit optimistic one given the players involved, would be that once exculpatory information existed that should prove one’s innocence, a FBI investigation would be halted. Nevertheless, the FBI moved forward with its investigation of Lee. Although the original espionage charge was dropped by the FBI, Lee was still charged with the improper handling of restricted data. In September 2000, Lee pled guilty to one count as a part of a plea bargain arrangement. The other 58 counts were dropped. Later, Lee filed a lawsuit against the US government and five news organizations–the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, ABC NEWS, and the Associated Press–for leaking information that violated his privacy. In August 2004, a US District Court judge in held reporters from four of the news organizations in contempt for not revealing the source that identified Lee as a spy. The government would pay over $895,000 to cover Lee’s legal fees and taxes. The news organizations paid Lee $750,000.

From the ostensible professional side of what occurred, one might say FBI investigators may have measured the impact of what they were doing in terms how they looked before managers and whether their case at least had the appearance of being viable. They did not measure their impact in terms of the population of which he was part, Chinese-American professionals working in national security areas, many of whom were left fearful of being looked at or pursued whenever an espionage case had a China nexus. Indeed, Lee and his supporters have argued that he was unfairly singled out for investigation because he was Chinese-American. Wen Ho Lee was not the enemy but has been called a victim of the blind, unfettered power of a few men hiding behind the shadows who possessed a little brief authority. That bit of humanity that should exist in each human heart was in such insufficient quantity in the counterintelligence special agents handling his case. In his book Securing the State, David Omand, former United Kingdom intelligence and security coordinator, wrote security intelligence operations—such as counterterrorism and counterintelligence—require cooperation between security officials and civilian populations among whom threats wish to hide. In the case of Chinese intelligence, this includes ethnic Chinese émigré communities, which, at least in the US, are now suspicious of the FBI. The botched investigation of Wen Ho Lee, in Ormand’s view, appeared to be politically (or racially) motivated witch hints rather than the serious security investigations they were. To Chinese-Americans, these suspicions and resulting investigations are the natural result of an unwillingness to analyze Chinese intelligence more rigorously on the basis of evidence.

For the MSS, the Wen Ho Lee case undoubtedly provided considerable lessons and the possible makings for a countermeasure to thwart efforts by US counterintelligence against its foreign intelligence operations inside and outside of the US. MSS managers would know better than anyone that Wen Ho Lee was not functioning as an intelligence operative for their organization or any other Chinese intelligence service. Given that Lee’s visits to China, professional discussions with scientists, and conversations with MSS, which its officers furtively initiated and to which he did not respond to positively, apparently served as indicia that he was a Chinese operative, US counterintelligence services, in this case the FBI, made the decision to act aggressively toward him. Doubtlessly, repeated authorizations for searches and surveillance were secured from the FISA Court and the pressure placed on Lee was intense. MSS managers surely from a distance, and at times likely up close, monitored how US counterintelligence resources were poured into Lee’s case. Meanwhile, they would smile as MSS officers, operatives, and informants, on the ground in the US, perhaps in the very locations in which US counterintelligence officers were surveiling and investigating Lee, were functioning with seeming impunity. What shrewd MSS managers likely reasoned from the episode was that calling more Chinese-American scientists, engineers, academics, and other scholars to China for conversations with their counterparts, would allow for the creation of dozens of potential decoys, or, to use the parlance of the intelligence industry, unwitting “dangles” out of those visiting experts which US counterintelligence services perchance would chase around whenever true MSS officers, operatives, or informants stole highly-prized information and data from the US. The tactic would be relatively low cost, low risk, and US counterintelligence services would really do all the work to make the effort successful. There would likely also be the hope among MSS managers that US counterintelligence would even chase Chinese-Americans that the MSS had no contact with whatsoever. What is presented here is by no means an unwarranted extrapolation. The question that should really pique interest is whether the MSS had such a countermeasure in place long before Lee first visited China to speak with scientist counterparts. While one might expect they have been interviewed regarding such a possibility, defectors, whose own foreign intelligence activities were likely compartmentalized, would unlikely know about a secret Chinese counterintelligence program such as the one hypothesized.

Robert Mueller (above). Perhaps one of most disturbing abuses of power by US counterintelligence elements was the continued clandestine use of powers and tools designed to deal with terrorists and actual foreign intelligence operatives against candidate Donald Trump to prove that he and his campaign colluded with the Russian Federation. In what was hands down a sham investigation, there was a total breakdown of the rule of law. Facts were manipulated. There were deliberate efforts to defraud the FISA Court to secure warrants, authrizations for warrantless searches and surveillance, and near unlimited powers to use against US citizens. A host of other nefarious acts were committed system wide. One can hardly imagine that one morning a group of civilian US counterintelligence officers from the very top to the rank and file decided to take on the US President and give some new tactics a try. Every step taken against Trump’s campaign and administration was undoubtedly well-rehearsed in prior cases. A significant advancement of their cause occurred when former FBI Director, Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters on May 17, 2017.

Perhaps one of most disturbing abuses of power by US counterintelligence elements was the continued clandestine use of powers and tools designed to deal with terrorists and actual foreign intelligence operatives against candidate Donald Trump for collusion with the Russian Federation and the subsequent investigation of the administration of US President Donald Trump. Investigative journalists and concerned Members of the US Congress have informed that the wrongful, ghastly spying was conducted under the name, “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.” In what was hands down a sham investigation, there was a total breakdown of the rule of law. Facts were manipulated. There were deliberate efforts to defraud the FISA Court to secure warrants, authorizations for warrantless searches and surveillance, and near unlimited powers to use against US citizens. A host of other nefarious acts were committed system wide. Incontrovertibly, the activities of US counterintelligence officers, themselves, ironically could have impacted the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election. One can hardly imagine that one morning a group of civilian US counterintelligence officers from the very top to the rank and file decide to take on the US President and give these tactics a try. Every step they took against Trump’s campaign and administration was undoubtedly well-rehearsed in a great number of prior counterintelligence cases. The conspirators were seemingly absolutely confident in the prospects for their success. A significant advancement of their cause occurred when former FBI Director, Robert Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters on May 17, 2017. Mueller’s office has issued more than 100 criminal counts against 32 people. Among those ensnared in the investigation was Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Flynn was coerced into a plea agreement requiring him to admit gulit to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian Federation ambassador to the US.

As of this writing, much attention is being given to senior executives and managers involved in the illegal activity against both President-Elect Trump and then President Trump. However, the willingness of a number of line officers in US counterintelligence to commit wrongful acts, and failing to report malfeasance and illegal actions of their superiors leaves no doubt about the complicity of more line officers than at least publicly acknowledged on the matter. They operated against a trusting presidential candidate, and that candidate became president, and members of his administration. Hands down, the evidence points to an overarching culture within the US counterintelligence service that it’s members were above the law. It is always far easier for one to betray those who give one their trust. It was the impressive intuition and intimations of Trump over what was happening around him which provided the initial faint signal, largely dismissed by friend and foe alike, that something wrong was going on.

Tragically, concern over the harm caused to the innocent is a feeling senior executives, managers, and supervisors notoriously lack. Typically, when private citizens have been put in such dreadful situations as to be falsely accused or mistakenly identified, one would get the impression that in the minds of senior executives and managers of those organizations that the only person who really has a problem is the one to whom all of the wrongful actions are being perpetrated against. Too often senior executives and managers seem in greater fear for the reputation of their organizations if real corruption is unmasked than fear failing their duty to support and defend the US Constitution, to uphold the rule of law, and protect the well-being of US citizens. Further, as long as their organization is considered a trusted, reliable government source, and few would accept the word of an innocent US citizen accused of espionage or worse over their organizations, they tend to behave as if the problem will take care of itself. Much damage has been done to US counterintelligence capabilities today as a result of their delinquency. (Given some of the publicly known facts of the counterintelligence operation against Trump, senior executives and managers of counterintelligence organizations involved actually pushed the case forward despite lacking an authentic legal cause for doing so. That lack of obedience to the law and procedure could lead one to believe they knew that the opportunity would be created for all types of wrongdoing as described to transpire in the field, but senior executives and managers showed little concern over that. The whole enterprise was scandalous. Nemo repente fuit turpissimus. (No one suddenly becomes bad.))

Michael Flynn (above). Among those ensnared in the investigation was Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. Flynn was coerced into a plea agreement requiring him to admit guilt to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian Federation ambassador to the US. Tragically, concern over the harm caused to the innocent is a feeling senior executives, managers, and supervisors notoriously lack. Typically, when private citizens have been put in such dreadful situations as to be falsely accused or mistakenly identified, one would get the impression that in the minds of senior executives and managers of those organizations that only person who really has a problem is the one to whom all of the wrongful actions are being perpetrated against. Too often senior executives and managers seem in greater fear for the reputation of their