US Conducts Test of New Ground-Based Cruise Missile

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Less than one month after exiting the INF Treaty (Intermediate Nuclear Forces) the United states has conducted its first post-treaty test of a ground-based cruise missile. The test was conducted on San Nicolas Island and took place on the afternoon of 18 August. San Nicolas is a small island located roughly 60 miles off the coast of California and is part of the Pacific Missile Range. The weapon was a variant of the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) which will likely prove to be the foundation of the new system. It was launched from a Mk 41 VLS (Vertical Launch System) cell set up on a trailer. Following over 500 kilometers of flight the missile impacted its target accurately.

The Trump administration and Pentagon have wasted little time in moving forward on testing, and design of missile types once prohibited by INF. This was to be expected given that Russia has had a significant head start in designing, testing, and ultimately producing missile systems in direct violation of the treaty. Now, free of the shackles that INF imposed, the United States is rapidly playing catch up.

Predictably, Russia and China have condemned the US for this test. Both nations released separate statements criticizing Washington, and warning that this could bring about a new arms race. Moscow and Beijing conveniently forget to mention that they’ve both been developing similar missiles for some time. It’s the same old story, similar to what took place in the early 80s when the Reagan administration addressed the gap between US and Soviet intermediate-range missiles in Europe at the time. The Soviets had deployed the SS-20 missile in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and it was considerably more capable then the Pershing I missile fielded by the US and NATO at the time. Reagan closed the gap by deploying the Pershing II and Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) to Europe amid anti-nuclear protests across Western Europe, and much anxiety in Moscow. It was the fielding of these two systems that directly led to the INF Treaty being signed in 1987.

This time around, things are different. Yet it heartening to see the United States is moving in the right direction at the moment.

US Formally Withdraws from INF Treaty

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The collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was a foregone conclusion. The United States set a deadline for Russia to comply fully with the terms of the treaty. Non-compliance would result in a formal US withdrawal from INF. 2 August was the deadline date and it came without any indications of Russian compliance anywhere in sight. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement on Friday explaining the US move, as well as the reasons for it. He laid the blame squarely on Russia’s shoulders, specifically its fielding of a non-compliant ground-launched cruise missile, the SSC-X-8.

With the INF Treaty now effectively trashed, many people across Europe and the United States are raising fears of a new arms race in the making. Aside the fear, and anxiety sits the simple reality that the treaty was no longer effective. The United States had little choice but to walk away from the treaty. Russia’s development and fielding of new non-INF compliant cruise missile systems since 2014 means there has been an arms race underway since then yet only one nation has been taking part.

That changes after today. The US will test its own new non-INF compliant ground launched cruise missile in the coming weeks. It will be some time before the new missile can be fielded though, leaving the US at a distinct disadvantage for the foreseeable future. Russia has already deployed several battalions of cruise missiles that directly violate the terms of the treaty. These missiles are capable of reaching US and NATO bases across Europe with either nuclear or conventional payloads.

It will be some time before the fallout from the US withdrawal, and the death of INF, become apparent. Until then, it is evident the US-Russia relationship will enter a more adversarial phase and that is at least partly because of the INF Treaty’s demise.

Hong Kong Uprising?

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The protests in Hong Kong present Beijing with its most alarming internal challenge since Tiananmen Square. Although it is premature to label events in Hong Kong an uprising, this may not be the case for much longer. Chinese President Xi Jinping has so far handled the situation in Hong Kong delicately and with an abundance of restraint. Unfortunately, the velvet glove approach has failed to have the desired effect. The protesters actions and demands have become bolder. Hong Kong is defying the Chinese government and getting away with it. If the current disruptions in Hong Kong threaten to spread onto the Mainland, Beijing will be forced to replace the velvet glove with an iron fist. And the possibility is beginning to cause concern in Washington, and other Western capitals.

The White House has expressed concern about a growing buildup of Chinese troops, and armed police on Hong Kong’s border. Weeks of often violent unrest in Hong Kong has stretched the city’s police force to the breaking point and shows no signs of letting up in the near future. Beijing has blamed the United States for playing a role in the creation of the protests even though there is no proof of US involvement. The root causes of the protests in Hong Kong are well known and have been documented in detail. Right now, the greater concern is how the situation in Hong Kong will end.

If the Chinese government declares events in Hong Kong to be an uprising, it likely will mean a bloody crackdown is on the horizon. It will also signal the end of the ‘one country, two systems’ concept that has guided Beijing’s policies regarding Hong Kong since 1997.

17 July Update: Turkey Removed From the F-35 Program

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The Turkish government had a weapons system procurement decision to make and it was a simple one at that: Turkey could purchase the Russian SA-21 (S-400 to amateurs) surface-to-air missile system, or remain in the F-35 Lightning II program. Ankara could not have both. The Trump administration made it clear that if Turkey decided to purchase and accept delivery of the SA-21 Growler it would bring about their immediate exclusion from the F-35 program.

Turkey made its choice and took delivery of the first SA-21 missiles and launchers this week. Today the US responded with the announcement that it is removing Turkey from the F-35 program because the “F-35 cannot coexist with a Russian intelligence collection platform that will be used to learn about its advanced capabilities”.

Turkish President Erdogan had long assumed the Trump administration would relent and allow his nation to possess both the SA-21 system, and F-35 fighter planes. He was wrong, and now his country is on the outside looking in with regards to the US program.

Iran Crisis Update: 9 July, 2019

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The Iranian position continues to deteriorate. The nation is voluntarily backing itself into a corner as its leaders push forward with a quasi-brinkmanship strategy which holds little prospect of bearing fruit anytime soon. Tehran’s diplomatic missteps and excitable rhetoric are adding fuel to a fire that is on the verge of becoming an out of control conflagration.

Iran’s military vows retaliation against the British for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar by British forces last week. The tanker was transporting the oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions in place against the Assad regime. British Petroleum (BP) is holding one of its oil tankers inside of the Persian Gulf amid fears that Iran could attempt to seize the tanker as it passes through the Strait of Hormuz. The prospect of this, as well as worries that Iran will move forward with plans to charge foreign ships a toll for passage through the Strait of Hormuz, are prompting concerns that a military confrontation between Iran and the West is imminent.

Iran’s premeditated violation of the 2015 nuclear agreement is not helping matters. The foreign ministers from Germany, France, Great Britain, and the European Union have officially acknowledged that Iran is pursuing activities in direct contradiction to its compliance responsibilities under the agreement. A commission of the signatories is expected to be convened in the near future and could lead to international sanctions being placed back on Iran. However, given that China, and Russia are also signatories of the nuclear agreement, a snapback of sanctions is not guaranteed.

With US sanctions crushing Iran’s economy, the expectation was that Iran would give a little leeway by now. The hardliners in Tehran, have seen fit not to budge an inch though, and continue to move the crisis in a dangerous direction.

 

Apologies for being out of the loop over an extended holiday weekend, but I’m gradually getting back up to speed now. I will post more tomorrow, and in the coming days.