President Donald Trump may not have realized on Monday that his executive order would step on Russia’s toes. Its official target was Venezuela, specifically the country’s plan to create the world’s first state-backed cryptocurrency, the petro, which went on sale Tuesday.
But behind the scenes, the petro was in fact a collaboration—a half-hidden joint venture between Venezuelan and Russian officials and businessmen, whose aim was to erode the power of U.S. sanctions, sources familiar with the effort told TIME.
Trump’s executive order did not mention the petro’s Russian backers, whose role has not previously been reported. Citing economic sanctions that the U.S. imposed against Venezuela in August, the order simply made clear that anyone who buys or uses the new cryptocurrency would be in breach of those sanctions, as would anyone under U.S. jurisdiction who helps Venezuela develop the petro. “Any conspiracy formed to violate any of the prohibitions set forth in this order is prohibited,” the document states. More here.
Meanwhile the House Intelligence Committee released the Russia report.Is the United States doing enough to respond to Russia? Still curious? Given the dramatic increase in military spending in the Omnibus, we are not prepared yet to take on the alleged star war weapons Putin advertises.
In his address to the parliament earlier this month the Russian president unveiled a small zoo of strategic programs that are supposed to counter U.S. missile defense (or make it “impotent and obsolete”). Some of these systems were not entirely new – we knew about the ejection test of the Sarmat missile, the Status-6 underwater drone, and, of course, about the Avangard hypersonic glider that was known as Project 4202 or Yu-71. A number of people pointed out that the Kinzhal “hypersonic” missile appears to be an air-launched modification of the Iskander ballistic missile and that there were reports about something like that in the past. The only genuinely new system seems to be the nuclear-powered cruise missile, which doesn’t have a name yet.
With the exception of Kinzhal, none of these systems appear to be close to operational capability. Yes, it’s been said that tests were successful, but for Sarmat it was only the first ejection test; Status-6 and the cruise missile seem to be at the point of proof-of-principle tests of their nuclear reactors and propulsion systems. As for Avangard, it probably had two successful test flights, but is not clear if it is fully ready for deployment. On the other hand, there is no reason to believe that these systems cannot become operational in the next few years, now that they are likely to be treated as priority programs.
It is not surprising that the defense industry used the specter of missile defense to get support for its programs. In fact, we have seen this before. In 1985, the Soviet defense industry put together a series of programs that were supposed to counter U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative. I described the history of these programs in my “Did Star Wars Helped End the Cold War?” paper last year. But I thought that the list of those programs may be of some interest as well. That list comes from Vitaly Katayev’s notes – he compiled a table of the programs that were included in the four anti-SDI programs at the time. Here is the document:
The table contains some interesting entries. For example, the hypersonic glider is there – it was known as Albatross then. A few other programs survived to this day as well, but most were abandoned. One word of caution – most of the anti-SDI systems existed before SDI, but of course the missile defense presented a perfect excuse for the industry to put everything in one package to ensure that they get the support they wanted. The current list of anti-missile defense programs seems to be much shorter, but the basic idea is the same.
*** Lots of questions are being asked in congressional hearings. The summary is such:
The nation’s nuclear deterrence enterprise remains as important as ever in light of the return of superpower competition and rogue nation threats presented by North Korea and Iran, senior Defense Department officials told the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee here today.
The officials discussed national security policies with regard to DoD’s fiscal year 2019 budget request and within context of the country’s nuclear force posture.
John C. Rood, undersecretary of defense for policy; Air Force Gen. Robin Rand, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command; Navy Vice Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy Strategic Systems Program; and Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, each presented testimony on the importance of the nuclear force.
Rood’s opening remarks quoted Defense Secretary James N. Mattis: “[The Nuclear Posture Review] rests on a bedrock truth. Nuclear weapons have, and will continue to play, a critical role in deterring a nuclear attack, and in preventing large-scale conventional warfare between nuclear armed states for the foreseeable future. U.S. nuclear weapons not only defend our allies against conventional nuclear threats, they also help them avoid the need to develop their own nuclear arsenals. This, in turn, furthers global security.”
Sustaining Modernization Efforts
According to Rood, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review reflects DoD’s strategic priority to maintain a safe, secure, survivable and effective nuclear deterrent. While the diverse capabilities of the current nuclear triad provide necessary flexibility and resilience, each leg of the triad has surpassed its intended operating lifecycle.
While the U.S. remains the strongest military in the world, the advantages are eroding as adversaries continue to modernize conventional and nuclear forces, now fielding broad arsenals of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the American homeland, Rood said.
“Weakness invites challenge and provocation,” he said. “Our task at the Defense Department is to ensure that the U.S. military advantages endure, and in combination with other elements of national power, we are able to fully meet the increasing challenges to our national security.”
At the direction of U.S. Strategic Command, a recent reorganization of authority took place within Air Force Global Strike Command, Rood said. In September, Rand became dual-hatted, assuming the duties of Joint Force Air Component Command, Air Forces Strategic-Air, a position created to streamline authorizations for bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile forces under one line of authority. This, along with other current and future initiatives, are a priority for Rand and Global Strike Command in the continued defense of the nation.
“Modernization of [America’s] nuclear force is absolutely critical,” Rand said. “The key to Global Strike Command’s continued success will remain on our ability to modernize, sustain, and recapitalize our force.”
Looking Toward the Future
The Navy is currently in the process of implementing life-extension programs for defense weapons. Benedict said those programs are on track and within budget constraints. Benedict said existing efforts will ensure effective and credible sea-based deterrents until the 2040s, and the Navy is also taking steps to provide credible weapons systems beyond the 2040s.
The Nuclear Posture Review directs the Navy to begin studies in 2020 to define a cost-effective, credible and effective sea-launched ballistic missile that can be deployed beyond the life of the Columbia-class submarine nuclear weapons system, Benedict said. The first of the Columbia-class submarines, which are to replace the present Ohio-class Trident nuclear submarines, is slated to come into service in 2021.
Benedict added that budget requests included funding for modernization efforts in partnership with the National Nuclear Security Administration to bolster the U.S. deterrence posture.
The NNSA, according to Gordon-Hargerty, has three main objectives, to maintain the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, reduce the threat of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism around the world and provide nuclear propulsion for the Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines.
To meet those objectives, Gordon-Hargerty said the president’s fiscal year 19 budget request included increased spending in areas such as weapons activities, defense nuclear nonproliferation and naval reactors.
“This request moves us forward to a deterrent that is modern, robust, flexible, resilient, ready and appropriately tailored to meet current and future uncertainties as outlined in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review,” she said.
Gordon-Hagerty said this added funding will also provide the resources required to ensure protection of the U.S. and its allies and partners.
“In an increasingly complex and threatening security environment, the DoD must sustain the capabilities needed to deter and defend against attacks on our homeland,” Rood said. “Along with our allies and partners, we must ensure we have the capabilities now, and into the future, to protect our people and the freedoms we so cherish, and are able to engage our adversaries, diplomatically, from a position of strength.”