The Cable

SitRep: Cold War Returns, Democracy Promotion Rejected, in New Security Strategy

Pentagon revamps innovation offices, Putin thanks Trump

President Donald Trump and National Security Advisor HR McMaster on November 7. (Jeon Heon-Kyun/AFP/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump and National Security Advisor HR McMaster on November 7. (Jeon Heon-Kyun/AFP/Getty Images)


By Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley

New strategy. The new National Security Strategy document set to be unveiled by President Donald Trump at 2:00 p.m. on Monday describes a world locked in unceasing economic competition, in which Washington has little time for things like promoting democracy abroad, and instead will focus on great power competition, economic rivalry, and homeland security.

Outlining the document for reporters on Sunday, several administration officials called the document a dose of  “principled realism” in an “ever-competitive world.”

Cold war is back. The document calls Russia and China “revisionist powers” seeking to change the global status quo, and paints a stark picture of the world, rejecting cooperation in favor of competition.

The United States has to “rethink the policies of the past two decades — policies based on the assumption that engagement with rivals and their inclusion in international institutions and global commerce would turn them into benign actors and trustworthy partners,” the document says, according to the New York Times. “For the most part, this premise turned out to be false.”

Preemptive war? Asked directly how the document treats the concept of preemptive war in places like North Korea and Iran, the officials were vague. One officials said, “we don’t use the term preemption, but we will defense our national interests and values when threatened.”

Democracy promotion out. The strategy also jettisons the idea of democracy promotion, traditionally a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy. One official said Sunday that economic relationships will guide the administration, while “ultimately it’s their choice” in how states govern at home.

“America’s economic security is national security,” the official said. “We will demand fair and reciprocal economic relationships around the world. The economic piece gets much more attention.”

Climate change out. The document is also at odds with the long-time Pentagon recognition that climate change is a problem. “Climate change is not identified as a national security threat,” one official said, noting the new strategy was “inspired by the president’s speech” in June that pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Accord.

But just last week however, president Trump signed off on the 2018 defense spending bill that states, “climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States,” and calls for the Pentagon to submit a report to Congress within a year listing the ten most vulnerable military installations, and what steps have to be taken to ensure they remain operational.

Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress that “climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today,” and military commanders need to “incorporate drivers of instability that impact the security environment in their areas into their planning.”

Pentagon burying Obama-era offices. The Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to push two organizations tasked with working outside of the traditional government bureaucracy to develop a new generation of gee-whiz weapons deep into the bowels of the building. FP’s Paul McLeary takes stock of the Pentagon’s modernization plans, and concerns that the Trump administration is prioritizing buying more, instead of buying smarter.

Intelligence sharing. The CIA helped thwart an “imminent” terrorist attack in Russia, earning a rare bit of praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin for the heads up about an attack intended to take place in St. Petersburg on Sunday. The Kremlin issued a statement of thanks followed by a phone call between Putin and Trump and a gushing, Trump-sounding readout from the White House.  

Welcome to SitRep. As always, please send any tips, thoughts or national security events to or via Twitter: @paulmcleary.

The truth is out there. The Pentagon has been quietly shelling out millions of dollars for a program that tracks unidentified flying objects encountered by U.S. military personnel. Dubbed the “Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program,” the $22 million effort, begun in 2007 at the initiative of a politically-connected wealthy friend of former Senate majority leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), shut down in 2012. Program staff analyzed “anomalous aerospace threats” recorded in footage from U.S. military aircraft, with the videos later declassified at the urging of the program’s former director.

Our man in Sydney. Authorities in Australia arrested a man who they say acted as a “loyal agent” for North Korea, accused of trying to negotiate ballistic missile sales on behalf of the Kim regime and acting as a middleman for North Korean coal purchases.

Macron says end of IS fight coming. Ignoring the last 16 years worth of lessons in the “long wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan, French President Emmanuel Macron says the fight against the Islamic State should be wrapped up by February.

Daring Pyongyang to test again. North Korea has repeatedly tested its intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads but still Secretary of Defense James Mattis says the North “has not yet shown to be a capable threat against us right now.” Some experts say that, despite the demonstrations of the Hwasong-15 missile range, they’re still skeptical the missile’s trajectory during its tests is an accurate reflection of how it would fare if fired at a different angle.

CG wars. The war of crappy computer graphics propaganda videos has begun. Over the weekend, a video depicting a fictional war between Saudi Arabia and Iran went viral, depicting Saudi missiles striking Iran and celebrations of Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman after Iran attacks a Saudi aid ship in the Gulf. The video is response to a similar 2016 Iranian animated video showing Yemeni ballistic missiles targeting Saudi military bases.

Hezbollah money men. Members of a former law enforcement task force charged with taking down on Hezbollah cocaine trafficking in the U.S. say the Obama administration thwarted their work and went easy on the terrorist group’s money men in order to grease the skids for the Iran nuclear deal. Task force members say the Obama administration let major Hezbollah coke and arms dealers slip away, including Ali Fayad, the terrorist group’s arms supplier who coordinated with Russia to equip the group in Syria, and a man called “the ghost” who was in charge of trafficking cocaine and supplying conventional and chemical weapons to the Assad regime.

Jerusalem. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is once again weighing in on the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying that Turkey will counter the move by recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine and opening up its own embassy there. Despite the rhetoric, turning Erdogan’s words into policy may be more difficult as Israeli authorities control the area and have the power to prevent the unilateral opening of new diplomatic facilities there.

Special (cyber) operations. Special Operations Command and Cyber Command’s joint attacks on the Islamic State’s networks over the past year may serve as a template for future attacks against a range of different enemies, according to Socom commander Army Gen. Tony Thomas. He described an “operation which provided devastating effects on the adversary,” providing no further details but in the past Cyber Command officials have harassed the Islamic State by changing passwords on their social media accounts.

Yemen aid crisis. The British government is lending its support to increasingly vocal calls from the U.S. government for the Saudi government to end its embargo on humanitarian aid in Yemen. British international aid secretary Penny Mordaunt said that while Saudi Arabia has legitimate security concerns about weapons smuggling at ports in Yemen, “there was no excuse for blocking ships that had been screened.”

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