John McCain

John McCain’s character had many flaws. It takes an extraordinary man to make those flaws insignificant.

John McCain was that man.

Keep fighting, John.


Reuters: Yemen’s separatists attack military academy in Aden

Reuters: Yemen’s southern separatists attack military academy in Aden. Quoting,

Southern separatists opened fire on a military academy graduation ceremony in Yemen’s port city of Aden on Saturday, killing a cadet and wounding at least two others, witnesses said. … The incident is the latest in a series of killings and bombings in the southern city…

Yemen, Saleh (Now Dead), and Civil War, Part 2 anticipates a tertiary conflict. Quoting,

There are actually three conflicts:

  • Primary. Houthi versus non-Houthi.
  • Secondary. north versus south.
  • Tertiary, potential.  Zaydi versus Sunni in the north.

Instead of the tertiary conflict, the secondary has become active. The original prediction was based on the passivity of northern Sunnis towards the tradition of Zaydi governance.

We need a friends-and-enemies table to sort this out:

  • All Zaydis are Shia. These are religious terms.
  • Most Houthis are Zaydis. Houthis are a movement, not a religion.
  • Not all Zaydis are Houthis, and not all Houthis are Zaydis.
  • Saleh, like almost all the rulers of Yemen,  was Zaydi, but an active enemy of the Houthis (mostly of the same religion), until his fall from power.  When the Houthis overthrew Mansour Hadi, Saleh allied with the Houthis to regain some power.
  • Mansour Hadi is a southern Sunni.
  • The southern separatists, the same region and religion as Hadi, have attacked the “government” forces of which Hadi is the titular head.

This makes no sense unless one concludes that the conflict, cloaked as sectarian struggle, is actually a tribal conflict over the scarce resources necessary for life.

What remains for the tertiary conflict to become active? For the military situation, refer to Yemen Hodeidah Assault and  (Middle East Eye, 7/26)  Stalemate in Yemen: Why has the battle for Hodeidah ground to a halt? As long as the Houthis stalemate the Saudi coalition, they are not clearly losers. Should this resolve in the favor of the coalition, it is likely that the tertiary conflict will activate.








Mysterious Russian satellite; It’s a Tristatic Locator

(CNN) Mysterious Russian satellite worries experts.

CNN doesn’t ask around enough.  It’s not hard to figure out the likely mission of the Russian satellite.  It’s most likely a  tristatic array.

The U.S. has a stealth satellite program, which aims to prevent detection of the satellite from the surface of the earth. For this limited goal, it is necessary to specially design the surface of the satellite that faces earth. The surfaces of the satellite that cannot be seen from earth may have relaxed requirements of low observability.

In all cases involving stealth targets,, there is a huge advantage in observing the target from multiple locations. Bistatic radar, where the transmitter and receiver are separately located, can detect a stealth aircraft, though not necessarily track it.

So the “Russian doll” design of the mystery satellite is intended to detect satellites that are difficult to see, but not absolutely invisible. With three dolls, the basic principle of  radar, of timing the signal echo to measure distance, becomes inessential. With pure triangulation, the relative speed of the target is immaterial.

For the Russian approach to work,  a rough idea of where the satellite is required. The satellite is launched on a trajectory that will take it a bit above the target. The biggest doll gets a whiff of the target via radio or thermal emissions and a rough orbit determination.  Then it ejects the intermediate doll into an appropriate nearby orbit. The ejection must be timed carefully, since the two dolls will drift apart. With two observations, they are on their way to a triangular solution.  Now they know where to send the third doll; the U.S. stealth satellite is triangulated, possibly via LIDAR.

The above explains why the dolls are launched as a set, to maximize the time they can stay in close proximity.

In the finale, one of the dolls places itself in the way of the U.S. satellite. Explosives are not required; when cars crash in space, there are no survivors.

Since U.S. reconnaissance satellites possess sensors of extraordinary complexity, functionality, and cost, they cannot be replaced by constellations of more survivable micro satellites. It may be necessary to host future systems on space-planes like the X-37. Since the X-37 has very high delta-V, it could escape the trap of the Russian dolls.

U.S. Space Force

(WaPo) Pence details plan for creation of Space Force in what would be the sixth branch of the military.

I take the pov of Mattis. Quoting,

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said last year that he opposed a new department of the military “at a time when we are focused on reducing overhead and integrating joint warfighting functions.”

Separate service arms were historically the result of the different primary elements of land and sea, and rudimentary communication between the two. Before radio, synergistic application of force was rare. With radio, interservice rivalry became the artificial barrier. Since World War II, generals in charge of theaters have fought not just  the enemy, but also the parochial barriers that come from having separate service arms.

There are still differences. Apart from basic training, which is influenced by the primary element,

  • Since a naval vessel consists of complex machinery enclosed by a hull, a naval officer is almost always an engineer.
  • For  pilots, gymnastic skills are prized, indicating superior ability to orient in three dimensional space.
  • West Pointers swear by American football as uncannily similar to combat. Melding traditional warfighting skills, extreme fitness, and  high technology, ground force soldiers are furthest along the path of technical integration resulting in the cyborg.

The strategies and tactics required by each environment are different, but they share  the common requirements of training in human resources and command. Since the differing environments are natural barriers to force integration, a large part of the path to becoming a general officer is cross training.

We could look at the degrees of freedom of motion  (DOF) for each service. Neglecting intermodal transport, such as helicopter, naval aircraft, and the  depth of a submarine:

  • Navy. A naval vessel is described by a position and a velocity (bearing). It has 4 degrees of freedom. Latitude and longitude convert to X and Y, giving  (X, Y,  Vx, Vy). A naval vessel accelerates only for a short interval before reaching a constant value close to the top speed of the vessel.
  • Ground forces have a sequence of positions, roughly equivalent to two degrees of freedom. Velocity and bearing are not as meaningful as the estimated time of arrival at a way-point, which hopefully aligns with a   phase line on a battlefield map.
  • Air Force. For purpose of intercept or targeting, an airplane or missile has 9 degrees of freedom, 3 each of position, velocity, and acceleration. With the addition of “jerk” to the target equations, 12 may be counted.

A space force vehicle has the same degrees of freedom of movement as an Air Force airplane. The differences:

  • It’s harder to get into space.  The amount of energy required is hundreds of times greater.
  • It’s harder to maneuver once you get there. The ability to maneuver is described by the maximum delta-V. An airplane can make almost unlimited turns, because it uses the air. In space, rockets must be used, and they have limited power and fuel.
  • It’s harder to get back to earth. All the energy used to get into space is turned into heat.  An ordinary airplane would melt.

The boundary between air and space is the Kármán Line, 62 miles up. Below the line, things can fly. Above the line, they have to be thrown. Throwing, which involves rockets, is much more expensive than flying.

Do these differences make it sensible to create a Space Force? No, because:

  • The degrees of freedom of motion are the same as the Air Force.
  • A spacecraft can gain maneuverability by diving below the Kármán Line, gaining delta-V, and swooping back up. So the dividing line between an airplane and space plane is fuzzy.
  • Satellite survivability, redundancy, and replacement  are not addressed in any meaningful way.
  • New bureaucracy is almost always bad. It’s surprising the idea would come from an administration hep on cutting regulations. It is impossible to divide the mission in a logical way.

There has been a huge investment in Block III Arleigh Burke destroyers especially oriented towards missile defense.  The Air Force X-37 space plane is an operational success. Narrowing the responsibilities of the existing services ignores the intermodal nature of this problem.

The problem of survivable weapon systems, particularly of space assets, is real. While the idea of a Space Force may  attract funding, it is not a functional concept.

Let’s not solve real problems with a bureaucracy bloated before it’s even born.




Sanctions: To Russia With Love

This is for the particular interest of Russian readers. Your side of the story is omitted, because you know it.

(CNN) Trump administration slaps more sanctions on Russia after Skripal poisonings. Quoting a tweet by Dmitry Polyanskiy, first deputy permanent representative of Russia to the UN [misspellings his],

“The theater of absurd continues. No proofs, no clues, no logic, no presumption of innocense, just highly-liklies. Only one rule: blame everything on Russia, no matter how absurd and fake it is. Let us welcome the United Sanctions of America!”

Polyanskiy’s credibility is zero. For Russia, the court is no longer public opinion. In the West, institutional memory has taken over. Although we don’t have a professional bureaucratic class like France,  the 4000+ people who make up the bulk of appointed officials take this oath:

I, (name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.[80]

The Russians may think  the new sanctions are another move in the game called diplomacy. This would be one more  mistaken perception that clouds Russia’s view of the West. This is no longer about diplomacy; it’s about public safety.

Ever since the Ukraine invasion of February 2014, Russia has been busy demolishing her attractiveness and standing in the West. It’s now considered dangerous to

This is not small potatoes. If Bill Browder does not live to be a hundred, we will blame the cleverness of  Russia. It is the most unbrilliant, perverse PR campaign by Russia that could be imagined. The saber rattling, the poisons, the Syria atrocities… these things are getting to us.

Why the drama? To emphasize that this has escaped the realm of propaganda. The oath-takers are thinking that while it’s still more likely to be struck by lightning than to die of Russian poison, the thought is not absurd. Salisbury has a low density suburban layout. What if the same Novichok release had occurred in Manhattan? Who is to say the poison is not already stored at the Russian mission? Improbable? Who can say? They have shown they are willing to use it.

The Western reaction to  a few trivial killings and elections mischief puzzles Russia. How could such a meticulously crafted policy of assassination and subversion provoke such outrage?  A quote of the famed mathematician John von Neumann is on point:

“There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.”

The Russians think they possess such precise understanding of Western society that they can both manipulate it, and operate within it, without detection. But they don’t know what they’re talking about.  It results from the myth that authoritarian societies are swift and nimble, while democracies are slow and clumsy.

Now let’s get formal, and put it in the context of history.

There is something to the Russian myth. Since 2014, Russia’s foreign policy has shown tactical flexibility and surgical precision.  It is tempting to call it Putin’s foreign policy. But while Putin makes the ultimate decisions, he is influenced by the society in which he lives, and particularly, the Kremlin inner circle, which is a zoo of ideas about the West, some old, some new, and mostly incorrect. The oldest of the zoo comes right out of Das Kapital,  that capitalists are motivated almost exclusively by money. The idea survives in modern Russia as a cynical relic.

There was some truth to this. In the post colonial era, corporations managed to influence the Third World by various means, some illicit, to create favorable environments for enterprise and investment. This worked to at least some extent into the 1960’s, fostering the illusion that foreign capital could thrive almost anywhere, subject to the occasional revolution or expropriation. The multinationals executed their own foreign policies.

In the past 30 years or so, this resolve of capitalism has weakened. The experience of foreign capital in Russia has been harsh. Several trends have been encouraged by this weakening:

  • Policy shift: Increased use of economic power as an instrument of foreign policy: sanctions and tariffs, facilitated by domestic economic pressures.
  • Policy shift:  Only the most carefully controlled trade is compatible with states that exhibit aggressive military postures or diplomatic stances, or conduct subversive or lethal activities against the U.S. or allies.
  • In the U.S., some dirigisme, state direction of a free market economy.
  • Loss by the multinationals of power to push back against the above.

Let’s recap. We started off with all the reasons why Russians are running their reputation into the ground, from the anecdotal to the momentous. Then we looked at how this is reflected in Western policy changes. This is just a light sketch. You can weave back and forth on this loom. The momentous is quite sensitive to anecdote; the assassination of  Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, a single pistol shot, started World War I.

There are more ideas in the Kremlin zoo. To be continued in a bit.













Apologies to Foreign Governments and Intelligence Services re Bot Filtering

If you’re in government or intel, and your bot/crawler/scraper has been blocked, please read.

Web traffic to any website includes a large proportion of bots and crawlers- automated engines, some of which are good, others malevolent. There’s also quite a bit of hacking. Since Intel9 has limited bandwidth, bots noticeably slowed the site.

It was decided to enable filters to block most of the bots that are not part of public search engines, with exceptions made for bots that are light on bandwidth. If you are an official organization, and your bot was blocked, my apologies. There is no way for me to tell it is you from a nameless IP address without a corresponding DNS record.

Every government, most especially our European allies, and including Russia, is welcome to scrape Intel9 with bots. The caveat is that if a bot scrapes the site from top to bottom frequently, and I have no way of determining its benign intent, it will be blocked.

If it is practical for you, as it may be for some  official organs outside the intelligence communities, drop me a line, and I’ll make sure not to block you.

Aspen Security Conference; The Rise of China, Part 1

(CNN) CIA official: China wants to replace US as world superpower. Quoting CIA’s Michael Collins,

“By their own terms and what Xi enunciates I would argue by definition what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war, a cold war not like we saw during the Cold War, but a cold war by definition. A country that exploits all avenues of power licit and illicit, public and private, economic and military, to undermine the standing of your rival relative to your own standing without resorting to conflict. The Chinese do not want conflict,” Collins said.

I agree, although the tone almost implies that it’s the fault of China. The fault is ours, a major failure of U.S. policy. Historical inevitability contributes to the outcome.

On June 11, 2014, this blog kicked off with The Nine-Dotted Line. Since then, “soft power” has appeared in at least a dozen articles. Of particular relevance are the Pivot to Asia series.

I have not found it useful or desirable to disclose my politics. But the subject of China is so politically charged, you would perhaps interpret what follows as political, rather than open source analysis. To dissuade you, this brief disclosure:

  • A social, secular liberal, favoring the use of public funds and resources to foster human development.
  • Favor environmental causes  and sustainable development.
  • Appreciate the efforts of intelligence community to keep us safe in an extremely challenging threat environment.
  • International outlook in defense of liberty, but  don’t equate the welfare of multinational corporations with the welfare of the U.S.
  • Eclectic economic ideas that do not correspond to the political spectrum. This article may persuade you also, to unhook your economics from politics.

That’s enough about me. Refer to it when I offer a bitter pill.

Since the French Revolution, epochs of world order have lasted between 10 and 80 years. This span allows for differences of opinion as well as the punctuations of major conflicts. After World War One, the intervals became shorter. Bush’s New World Order of 1991 lasted a mere ten.  In 1994, reversing a campaign pledge, Bill Clinton renewed China’s MFN status. Quoting MIT’s The Tech,

Echoing the case made by George Bush when he was president, Clinton said he was convinced the Chinese would take more steps to improve human rights if the issue were separated from the threat of trade sanctions.

“This decision offers us the best opportunity to lay the basis for long-term sustainable progress on human rights and for the advancement of our other interests with China,” he said at a news conference announcing his decision to extend China’s most-favored-nation (MFN) trade status.

On December 27, 2001, China’s most favored nation status was made permanent, effectively retiring trade as a tool of foreign policy.

Clinton’s kindly thoughts were followed by statements from the Bush Jr. administration that were remarkable in the impotence of their tone, seemingly requesting the voluntary restraint of China to not exercise their burgeoning influence. During the second Bush administration, the evisceration of the U.S. industrial base became severe. At the same time, the multinationals successfully conflated their own prosperity with the welfare of the U.S. blue collar labor force. At the time, these arguments were made by multinationals and importers:

  • The U.S. now had an “information economy”, rendering the actual manufacture of goods obsolete.
  • China was creating jobs for Best Buy sales droids.
  • The welfare of the nation was best described by economic indicators highly dependent on China growth stats — which, in reality, measured the continuing evisceration of the U.S. economy.
  • Both political parties are to be blamed. The lure of cheap China goods, with the inherent buy-now-pay-later deficit plan, was politically irresistible. At one point, it was calculated that a CFL light bulb made in the U.S. would cost a few dimes more, too much for patriotism to bear.
  • Elements of the media, and of establishment intellectuals deserve blame.  The benign nature of China trade was repeated ad nauseam by almost everyone with a word processor.

No allowance was made for the simple fact that in the Rust Belt, people were ejected wholesale  from the work force by  practically irreconcilable mismatches of their training or aptitude with the job market. They could work in service positions, with incomes reduced to poverty levels. Somehow, the cost of living came to be influenced by the cost of a cell phone or a TV set, instead of bread on the table.

The above has been politicized by extremists, so that it is almost impossible to separate from association with nationalism, racial and religious intolerance, and various extreme beliefs that we hoped were in eclipse. The problem deserves the attention of every person of  liberal persuasion, and every internationalist. Politics has nothing to offer; political attitudes and doctrines formed in prior times do not apply.

Let’s consider it strictly as an economic problem. We must still bear the torch of liberty, but to be successful. solvency is required.

This has been a failure of U.S. foreign policy.  It should humble the intellectual establishment, co-opted and snookered into the belief that it would be good in the long run. If we could be so stupid so long, what can we expect of ourselves in the future? A characteristic of this recent failure is that the policy worked about long enough to pass the expiration of it on to the next generation. Generational thinking punishes generations yet to come.

The failure is measured against the span of a world-order epoch . As epochs now tend to last a few decades, what would have been a measure of success? Might some aspects of Michael Collins’ presentation be problematic for generations yet to come?

Next: historical inevitability, circulations of the elite, and sustainability.






Iran Sanctions; Bolton on Regime Change

(Politico) Bolton says US not seeking Iranian regime change. Quoting,

“Our policy is not regime change,” he said during an interview on Fox News. “We want to put unprecedented pressure on the government of Iran to change its behavior. And so far they’ve shown no indication they’re prepared to do that.”

A reasonable goal is always good. But Iran’s government is a case of multiple personality disorder.   How do you influence a psychiatric case?

Iran’s various Freudian parts are:

  • The religious establishment, who exercise control through the pulpit and via the bonyads, immense private “charities.”
  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who control a large slice of the economy, both military and non-military. It has at times been speculated that the IRG has more power than the religious establishment.  The comparison is problematic, comparing unquestioned legitimacy to hands-on-levers. The conventional military establishment has little public voice.
  • The “bazaar”, formerly the principal economic system, and which was a key player in previous revolutions, is no longer a principal actor, but important nonetheless.
  • The aggravated jobless rural youth, despite spontaneous demonstrations,  is not so far politicized.
  • A secular elite, who live a concealed Western lifestyle, tolerated for their necessary expertise.
  • A civil government that has some of the elements of representative democracy, but is basically subordinate to the religious establishment. Why does it exist at all? It probably has roots in something like the Pashtun jirgas, a chaperoned system to blow off steam, be heard, and provide input to the national consensus.

The Freudian parts fracture along these lines:

  • Religious intensity, obligatory jihad  versus secular culture.
  • Old versus young.
  • Economics: bazaar, IRG, and bonyads.

Nearby Pakistan is not totally dissimilar. Although Iran is not a failed state, and Pakistan perpetually teeters on the category edge, Pakistan  is also fractured, with something resembling jihad in   perpetual war with India. The economic damage is entirely self-inflicted. The common diagnosis: In contrast to progressive societies,  Iran and Pakistan are trapped into servicing the equivalents of grudges.

Pakistan, trapped by internally generated misery, is a nearby example of stasis typical of the region. Will U.S. sanctions force change, or result in a similarly unpleasant stasis for Iran? Let’s count the ways:

  • The IRG stokes war to keep their reason-to-exist. Closing of the Straits of Hormuz, though temporary, results in a U.S. counter strike which is interpreted as aggression. This would be very useful to the hardliners.
  • The spontaneous eruptions of rural youth acquire a political tinge. This results in repression with mass executions. This has precedent.
  • In the civil government, the hard liners grab power from the moderates, replacing Rouhani.
  • In fact, they could go further, with the goal of returning to the revolutionary fervor of 1979. To forge a new monopoly on power, the hard liners reinstate heavy indoctrination of the masses, focusing on “the Great Satan.”
  • Because it’s so traditional, they  grab some hostages.
  • The moderates hang on. Avoiding provocation, Iran initiates back channel negotiations.
  • Iran cheats so badly as to make the above worthless..

You may be more creative, adding to the above. Here I offer a heuristic I’ve found useful for prediction:

For a list of enumerated events of unknown probability, assign equal probability to each.

This gives the a priori probabilities:

  • chance of negotiations = 28%
  • chance of positive outcome to sanctions = 14%

Here a priori means without any special knowledge of the situation. It is the best we can do without a gambler’s edge, or some kind of special knowledge of Iranian society.  If the sanctions are informed by clandestine means, they may have better chances. But the above numbers are the best we can do with open source.

With such dismal odds for the success of sanctions, this is another opportunity to suggest B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning, referenced in Russia, proposed Syria cooperation with United States; Is Russia a Rational Actor? and related articles.

If you’ve read about the Skinner Box, your reaction may have been that it is too hard to implement in practice, requiring major revisions of U.S. administrative law. With Iran, it’s much easier, because the primary export is oil. Simply take charge of Iran oil sales.

The  Iraq  Oil-for-Food Programme precedes. Marred by corruption, it had a different purpose, and hence a different structure, than the current purpose demands. This requirement is for a finely modulated tool that offers Iran specific sales in return for individually minor concessions. For example: the such-and-such Martyrs Brigade to be withdrawn from Syria in return for the sale of X barrels. Pick any feasible metric: foreign militia deployments, missile inventories, subversion, provocations,  and develop a trade for each.

As with Russia, the ultimate goal is not the particular trade, but to influence the internal conversation, causing rational self-interest to squeeze out the irrational grudge-mantra that underpins Iran’s aggressive aspirations.

Think blue sky. Everything has a price.

Russia, proposed Syria cooperation with United States; Is Russia a Rational Actor?

(Reuters) Russia confirms proposed Syria cooperation with United States.

For both amateurs and intelligence pros, this poses a fascinating question. Since

  • Assad is despised in the West.
  • U.S. ire at Russian hacking of our elections is going ballistic.
  • Russia has actually increased hacking activity.
  • Russian aggression in Ukraine, and subversion in Eastern Europe have frightened a moribund NATO into new dynamism.
  • Assassinations on Western soil. Yes, dear Russians, Salisbury and other “special tasks” do count.

why would they make the proposition?

There are two possibilities, which may exist in combination.

  • The Russians don’t understand the Western mind. They don’t know how we think, or how we respond to Russian behavior, which is divided between show, presumably for the purpose of influence, and substance, which is for the benefit of Russian aims.
  • The concept of the Kremlin, and Russian military, as having tight unity of purpose, is false.

The first must play a part, or it would manifest in Russia’s internal conversation. Western ideas about the power structure of Russia, which may also be misinformed, have these varieties:

  • Putin is Russia; the “most powerful man in the world”.
  • Putin and the Kremlin “inner circle” are Russia.
  • Putin, the “inner circle”, and the “clans”, which are major divisions of interest, comprise a Russia of sometimes common, sometimes competing interests.

The Russian proposal on Syria cooperation is the end product of one of the above, but it is not a rational product.

Foreign policy of many nations has an above-board  representation in diplomacy, and in clandestine organs as well. The two are frequently at odds. In the Soviet era, many Russian ambassadors, to the extent they were even aware its presence in their embassies, found the KGB an annoyance, and they were definitely out of the loop.

In modern Russia, the above-board and clandestine organs are both present. Unity of purpose should be achieved at the top. Yet it is clear to us, if not to the Russians, that their clandestine efforts are undermining their diplomacy. If Russia is a rational actor, this is exactly the opposite of what is supposed to happen. Subversion of the U.S. political system is supposed to make us more persuadable, not less. Hence this derivation:

  • If Russia as a whole is a rational actor, election hacking would have stopped. Therefore Russia is irrational.
  • Russia’s government is composed of individually rational actors.
  • The combination of these individually rational actors is irrational.
  • The likely reason: Conflict between rational actors.

All this occurs against the background of the man of mythic power, Vladimir Putin. But the myth is contradicted by history. Such power has not existed on the world stage in modern times. Russian irrationality is compatible with a Putin who lacks complete control.  Yet the public and press are captivated by the illusion of it.  So let’s enumerate the possibilities:

  • Absolute, or complete control. Total command authority for an unlimited number instances. In today’s world, only Kim Jong-un approaches this, but it is beyond even his grasp.
  • Detailed control. Total command authority for a limited number of instances. Every time it is used, some group  is annoyed. Excessive use results in erosion of authority.
  • Provisional control. Command authority varies, depending upon clans or groups which gain or lose.
  • Control by mediation, the internal equivalent of balance-of-power. Russia has clans.

Since the level of control is partly determined by how tough the ruler is perceived to be, there is a penalty in backing up, backing out of previous policy decisions. This may contribute to the perception of irrationality.  If Russia stopped election hacking, a number of clandestine groups would feel a sudden loss of purpose. This is dangerous to provisional authority.

The sum of Russian irrationality is something like a national psychosis that has at times affected the U.S. and other nations. (Pakistan may be the premier example.) How do we deal with a crazy Russia?

If one goal of U.S. foreign policy  is to influence Russian behavior for the better, it’s been a miserable failure. There is a tendency to politicize the failure, which makes intelligent approach to the problem impossible. The Russians are a sophisticated group of people, individually sane. We want to influence the behavior of this group.

Sanctions have had nil effect. We lack explanation. One possibility is that, if Russia is as a whole irrational, it lacks the capability for internal dialog about sanctions, the effects, the reasons, and remedy. Blocked by irrational factors, such as the national pride that afflicts so many countries, the response to sanctions is somewhat like the offender who can’t be knocked down by a Taser. We may shortly discover this about Iran as well.

Modern behavioral psychology offers replacements for overtly coercive measures. Psychology is about  individuals, not nations. But B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning could result in the dialog within the Russian clans that we have been unable to induce by the brute-force of sanctions.

With that in mind, I commend to you Advice for a New Secretary of State, Part 5; Nikki Haley, Russia, and Advice, Part 6.









North Korea Buildout; Kim Defines the Game

On July 7, Mike Pompeo defended the results of the Trump-Kim summit. (Reuters) After Pyongyang put-down, Pompeo stands by ‘difficult’ denuclearization talks. Quoting,

“When we spoke to them about denuclearization, they did not push back,” Pompeo told a news conference after two days of talks in Pyongyang that ended on Saturday. “The road ahead will be difficult and challenging and we know that critics will try to minimize the work that we’ve achieved.”

This is a difficult problem. There would be no point in contradicting  Pompeo, unless I thought the problem was being mishandled, and my analysis would clarify.  Pompeo is entitled to put a spin on the talks, apropos of encouraging Kim to do the right thing.

There have been two reports since then:

After the plutonium plant accelerated, some respected retired diplomat or other, possibly connected with 38 North, said it was just what you would expect of a dictator who honestly intends to dismantle his nuke program. With the increased missile construction, I guess some respected retired diplomat or other could just keep going with the same argument: to dismantle a program, you enlarge it. You could prove the existence of God this way. This is a weakness of diplomats in general.

Instead of a proof of Kim’s benevolent intents, an uncomfortable insight is offered. In (12/26/2017) N. Korea Missile over Japan; Kim Jong Un’s Fakeout Move, Kim’s behavior amounts to a nasty trick to seize control of the narrative. Whether the sequence was accidental, or intelligently conceived by Kim is of the most vital interest. So here’s the reprint:

The recent face off between Kim Jong Un and the Trump Administration followed this sequence:

Superficially, it appears a U.S. “win”,  with Kim backing down. But he changed the narrative, the story of the strike threshold, making it contingent on a strike on Guam. In public dialog, it transforms “Strike North Korea to disrupt their missile/nuke program” into “Strike North Korea in retaliation to a hostile act.”

We proceed with the assumption that the above was not an accidental success story, that it was Kim’s intelligent conception. “Narrative” turns out be the wrong word, because this is not spin. Kim actually shaped events, converting a war of words into ground facts. Kim controls the game. If this is so, Kim possess a weapon, in the form of intelligent strategy, that the U.S. has not been able to actualize with the same precision.

The manufacturing activities reported by the intelligence community suggest that Kim may try again. This time, ground facts precede words. Mattis: “North Korea ICBM Not a Threat Right Now” Part 2 considers possible triggers for a U.S. strike:

  • A missile-born  atmospheric detonation in the Pacific.
  • A long range test of ICBM standard trajectory, possibly with a survivable reentry vehicle, although it is not required to pose an EMP threat.
  • A deployment surge.
  • An orbiting satellite, or constellation of satellites, of plausible size and mass to contain a nuclear device.
  • A threat of unconventional delivery. The channels of communication relating to the North Korea threat, which are currently vibrantly clear, would suddenly become opaque.

These were thought to be out-of-play after the summit, but they are now in play again. One of the above, a deployment surge, is consistent with the satellite reports. It is now reasonable to consider how a deployment surge could be used by Kim to his advantage. Some narratives:

  • Kim surges the missiles out, readying them for rapid in-situ conversion to operational status.
  • In this period, Kim’s language notably lacks hostility, encouraging the idea that negotiations are possible, lacking reference to ground facts.
  • With all the parts neatly arrayed for quick assembly, the missiles are fueled and the warheads attached.
  • Conversion to operational status occurs in the most inconspicuous fashion within the constraints of North Korean technology.
  • The North’s rhetoric shifts from bland to harsh. The strategy is  nuclear blackmail.

Recently, statements have appeared  in the press that, because the missiles uses liquid fuel, they are meaningfully less of a threat than solid fuel rockets.  Let’s dispose of that now.

North Korea manufactures  UDMH, a hypergolic propellant and nitrogen tetroxide. The rockets can stay fueled for a long time. The launch time is not as instantaneous as with solid-fueled rockets, but it’s not slow. The last U.S. missile in the nuclear deterrent  with similar technology was the Titan 2, which could be launched in a minute. So let’s give North Korea an hour.

But what kind of blackmail? The CIA’s assessment of Kim is that he is fundamentally sane with respect to self preservation. So this is not likely:

  • Kim demands that sanctions be lifted or he will launch.

But this satisfies the definition of sanity:

  • Kim states that in the event of a U.S. strike, he will launch. To launch against ground targets has a touch of insanity. But it’s not an empty threat either; an EMP strike is borderline.

Or he could drag the game out, with:

  • The rockets will be removed if sanctions are lifted.


  • A peace treaty is signed.

A surge supplies Kim with many more options, in both demands and longevity of the game. In fact, Kim defines the game. Examine the events of last December, and decide whether Kim is in fact a sufficiently sophisticated actor to justify these scenarios.

The viability of possible measures cannot be analyzed via open source. So I am not a critic of the administration’s policy, and I don’t have an opinion on further steps.  But the  events of  2017 suggest some simple advice:

Don’t escalate the words. Don’t talk about it.

If you’re going to do something, just do it.