U.S. Politics

Russia, China making gains on US military power

Russia, China making gains on US military power© Getty

THE HILL

Russia and China are increasingly challenging the military superiority that the United States has held since the early 1990s.

Since the end of the Cold War, America’s naval, air, land and space capabilities, paired with key bases in Europe and Asia, has created a strategic advantage over other major superpowers.

The United States still outspends its rivals on the military, with a roughly $600 billion budget that is three times as much as Beijing and more than six times as much as Moscow.

But much of the U.S. spending is paying for military operations overseas, such as the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“U.S. forces … go halfway around the world to fight. And they fight in the other guy’s backyard, at times in places of the other guy’s choosing. And that’s the problem,” said David Ochmanek, senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation.

China and Russia, meanwhile, are spending heavily on “modernization” to improve the quality, efficiency and overall performance. The strategy is paying huge dividends, especially for China.

“It’s not just one area or few areas. If you look at the evolution of [China’s] military over the last 15 years … it’s rather astonishing. Ballistic missiles, air defense, aircraft, electronic warfare, naval vessels — they’ve just invested very substantially in modern capabilities,” Ochmanek said.

But China is not trying to match America’s military might, experts say. Their objective is greater control over the Asia-Pacific region.

“China doesn’t need to reach parity with U.S. capabilities to pose a major threat, they just have to be ‘good enough’ — and they will be there soon, if they are not already,” Harry Krejsa, a researcher at Center for a New American Security, told The Hill.

“China’s goal is to [exert] control over their near seas, a much narrower ambition than the United States’ global mission to assure freedom of navigation and commerce.”

According to the experts, China’s military advancement is most noticeable in its new naval and ballistic capabilities. These include anti-ship missiles that are designed to destroy aircraft carriers and cyber systems intended to disrupt U.S. logistics and communications.

China’s ballistic missiles also pose a new threat to the U.S., particularly when it comes to air bases in the region.

“If you think about the conflicts we fought since the end of the Cold War going back to Desert Storm, we have not worried about missiles landing on our air bases … So that creates serious problems for U.S. military planners,” Ochmanek said.

Researchers at the International Institute for Strategic Studies noted the rapid development of China’s new air-to-air weapons that will “make the air environment more difficult for the F-35 and supporting aircraft.”

Krejsa explained that the latter advancements are a part of a “bucket of capabilities sometimes called ‘anti-access/area-denial’ or A2/AD,” and are created in order to “target the United States’ ability to project force and influence in the western Pacific.”

Moscow, meanwhile, is seeking to develop new technologies that would undermine U.S. capabilities in Europe and Asia.

The Kremlin’s most visible progress comes in the sphere of modernizing its nuclear weapons and improving offensive capabilities that can bypass U.S. missile defense systems.

In summer of 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin highlighted the country’s military progress, asserting that Russia had achieved “substantial success” in modernizing its forces.

“I am not going to mention everything, but we have modernized our systems and are successfully developing new generations. I am not even talking about the technologies that penetrate missile defense systems,” Putin said in June of last year.

“We warned that we are going to do this, we said it, and we are doing it. And I guarantee you, today, Russia has achieved substantial success in this area.”

Tony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said improvements to Russia’s nuclear weapons and precision cruise missiles should be a major concern for the Pentagon.

“Were you have seen technological improvement are in areas like missiles. They are obviously pursuing more modern nuclear weapons including strategic systems,” Cordesman said in an interview with The Hill.

“Certainly Russian performance with precision cruise missiles is also of concern,” he added.

Another highlight of Russia’s push toward military innovation is it’s lethal T-14 tank. The Military Balance 2016 report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies said “revolutionary” tank will feature new technologies that will “change battlefield dynamics” in the future.

“Most revolutionary is the Armata-based T-14 Main Battle Tank featuring an uncrewed turret … When it enters service Armata will be the first tank designed for an unmanned turret and [an active protection system] APS … This will change battlefield dynamics by increasing the importance of cannon, anti-tank guns and tanks,” the report stated.

However, unlike China’s broad push to modernize its entire military, the Kremlin’s defense spending is strongly affected by Russia’s recent fluctuations in economic productivity. Despite spending much less on defense than U.S. and China, Russia often ends up allocating a larger share of its GDP on the military.

According to the latest figures of the World Bank, Russia spent approximately 5 percent of its GDP on defense in 2015 as opposed to 2 percent by China and 3.3 percent by the United States.

All the recent innovations of Russian and Chinese forces seems to have prompted a response from the new U.S. administration. President Trump’s upcoming defense budget is expected to grow by another 10 percent in 2017.

Immediately following Trump’s announcement of additional military funds, Beijing promised yet another 7 percent increase to its own defense budget.

NIKITA VLADIMIROV

U.S. Politics

In One Rocky Week, Trump’s Self-Inflicted Chaos on Vivid Display

After another week of controversies, President Trump planned a weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

© Al Drago/The New York Times After another week of controversies, President Trump planned a weekend at Mar-a-Lago.

MSN News

WASHINGTON — Minutes before President Trump was to take the stage in Nashville last week to make his case for the health care overhaul he had promised, he received some unwelcome news that shifted his script.

A federal district court judge in Hawaii had just placed another stay on his ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries, dealing his order a second legal setback in two months. As a country music duo crooned in an auditorium still filling with adoring supporters of Mr. Trump, the president fumed backstage and huddled with his staff for a hasty re-drafting of the speech.

When Mr. Trump emerged, he decided to relegate the health care overhaul, which he has identified as a top domestic priority, to a brief mention more than halfway through the speech. He instead replaced its prime billing with an angry diatribe against the travel ban ruling and the judge who had issued it.

“I have to be nice, otherwise I’ll get criticized for speaking poorly about our courts,” Mr. Trump said. But he could not help himself: The president soon suggested the court that had just ruled against him should be destroyed. “People are screaming, ‘Break up the Ninth Circuit!’ ”

Once again, Mr. Trump’s agenda was subsumed by problems of his own making, his message undercut by a seemingly endless stream of controversy he cannot seem to stop himself from feeding.

The health care measure appears on track for a House vote this coming week, and the president, who planned a weekend of relaxation at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach, Fla., club, is likely to receive a large measure of the credit. But it has also become clear that Mr. Trump, an agitator incapable of responding proportionately to any slight, appears hellbent on squandering his honeymoon.

Instead, he has sowed chaos in his own West Wing, and talked or tweeted his way into trouble, over and over again.

That was never more apparent than over the last week, when fresh questions about his refusal to release his tax returns and the blocking of his executive order sapped the spotlight from his efforts to build support for the health measure and even the unveiling of his first budget.

Even more self-lacerating: his insistence that President Barack Obama authorized surveillance on his 2016 campaign, which continued unabated despite rebukes from Republicans, denials by the congressional intelligence committees, and the complaints of the British government, which demanded an apology after Mr. Trump’s spokesman suggested one of its intelligence agencies had aided in the spying.

“It’s a pattern with him — he sometimes counterpunches so hard he hits himself,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary for George W. Bush.

The public outbursts are mirrored by internal tensions. With the embers of the old rivalry between his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, and chief of staff, Reince Priebus, extinguished, a new realignment has emerged in a West Wing already rived by suspicion and intrigue.

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who serves as the president’s top economic policy adviser and who is decidedly more liberal than the rest of Mr. Trump’s inner circle, is on the rise, and has the ear of the president’s powerful son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Mr. Kushner also gained an ally on the National Security Council with the appointment of Dina Powell, a Republican and another former Goldman official who worked with Mr. Cohn, as a deputy for strategy.

In the newness of the administration, the constant need to tend to internal dynamics has been a distraction. The aides have watched each other warily and tried tending to the president’s base of supporters amid a sea of appointments of people who worked on Wall Street.

Frustration in D.C.

Mr. Trump is not bothered by turf battles in his administration. He believes they foster competition and keep any one aide from accumulating too much power. He is even more enthusiastic about waging war publicly, believing that it fires up his white working-class base.

Indeed, in Nashville on Wednesday night, Mr. Trump spoke to a rapturous crowd of almost 10,000 people and his embattled spokesman, Sean Spicer, was greeted as a star by awe-struck supporters, who spent several minutes crowding around him for pictures and to pat him on the back.

But in Washington, some Republican lawmakers and officials have watched in dismay and frustration, they say privately, because the president they are looking to for cover and salesmanship of the health care overhaul keeps getting sidetracked.

One of those diversions came after the judge’s ruling on the travel ban. In Nashville, the president said he would prefer to go back to his first, more restrictive ban and pursue it to the Supreme Court. “That’s what I wanted to do in the first place,” Mr. Trump said, a statement that seems destined to be used against his own lawyers in upcoming court cases on the executive order.

For Mr. Trump, this was supposed to be a week of pivoting and message discipline. The president read from a script during public appearances and posted on Twitter less often. He invited lawmakers from both parties to the White House for strategy sessions on the health measure. He scheduled policy speeches, like one near Detroit, where he announced he was halting fuel economy standards imposed by Mr. Obama, and the rally in Nashville, where he visited the grave of Andrew Jackson, the populist patron selected by his history-minded political impresario, Mr. Bannon, as Mr. Trump’s presidential analog.

But by Friday, as Mr. Trump worked to call attention to his powers of persuasion in securing commitments from a dozen wavering Republicans to back the health measure, the White House was left frantically trying to explain why Mr. Spicer had repeated allegations that the Government Communications Headquarters, the British spy agency, had helped to eavesdrop on the president during the campaign.

Rather than expressing regret for a slight of one of the United States’ strongest allies, Mr. Trump was unapologetic.

“We said nothing,” he said at a news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television,” he added, referring to Andrew Napolitano, the commentator who first leveled the charge about the involvement of the British intelligence service on Fox News.

That did not seem to be enough for the irate British, who had called the charge “nonsense” and “utterly ridiculous.” Shepard Smith, a Fox News anchor, later disavowed it as well, saying his network could not back up Mr. Napolitano’s claims.

The episode left little time for talk of Mr. Trump’s “America First” budget released on Thursday, filled with domestic spending cuts so deep that even his budget director conceded they would be unpopular, or the health care measure that would affect more than 20 percent of the economy.

“This White House is on two tracks,” Mr. Fleischer said. “The legislative one, which has been surprisingly and pleasantly productive, and the other one full of self-induced error.”

The problem for Mr. Trump, he added, is that the self-destructive behavior, if it continues, threatens to overshadow everything else.

“He has a tremendous number of ingredients at his disposal to be a very successful president,” Mr. Fleischer added, “but he might not even get credit for it if he is so red-hot controversial.”

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and MAGGIE HABERMAN

U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 18, 2017

Pat Benic-Pool/Getty Images

THE WEEK

1. Trump meets with Germany’s Merkel
President Trump held his first face-to-face meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday. In the joint press conference after their discussion, Trump stressed the importance of NATO allies paying “their fair share,” saying “many nations owe vast sums of money.” Merkel said she was “gratified to know” Trump believes NATO is “important,” given the president’s past criticisms of the alliance. Though Trump championed a “stronger America” and emphasized prioritizing U.S. citizens at the start of the press conference, he later called a German reporter’s suggestion that he is an isolationist “fake news.” Prior to the news conference, the two leaders endured an uncomfortable sit-down in the Oval Office, during which Trump apparently declined to shake Merkel’s hand.

Source: CBS News, Talking Points Memo

2. Trump administration files appeal over revised travel ban
The Trump administration filed paperwork Friday to fight a ruling by a federal court in Maryland that imposed a temporary restraining order against President Trump’s revised travel ban. The judge ruled the executive order violated the First Amendment, and claimed statements made by Trump during the campaign proved “animus toward Muslims.” The Maryland decision against the ban is narrower than a similar ruling made in Hawaii; however, if the Justice Department were to appeal the Hawaii ruling, the case would be sent to the same San Francisco appeals court that shot down the first version of Trump’s travel ban last month. Trump has suggested he would take the case as far as the Supreme Court.

Source: The Washington Post, The Week

3. China advises Tillerson to take a ‘cool-headed’ approach to North Korea
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met Saturday in Beijing to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Wang pushed Tillerson to take a “cool-headed” approach after Tillerson on Friday warned a military response was “on the table” if North Korea further threatened South Korean or U.S. forces. Earlier Friday, President Trump tweeted China “has done little to help” the U.S. deal with North Korea. After a two-hour talk Saturday, Tillerson said he and Wang agreed to work together to get North Korea to “make a course correction and move away from the development of their nuclear weapons.”

Source: CNN, Reuters

4. Trump blames Fox News for wiretap confusion, Fox pushes back
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said there are “no indications” President Trump was wiretapped by former President Barack Obama. Nevertheless, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer alleged later Thursday that Obama was able to get intelligence on Trump through the British spy agency GCHQ — a theory first floated by former judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News. When asked Fridayabout spreading the baseless allegation, Trump said: “All we did was quote a very talented legal mind … So you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox.” In response, Fox anchor Shep Smith said the network “cannot confirm [Napolitano’s] commentary” and “knows of no evidence of any kind” that Trump was surveilled.

Source: CBS News, The Week

5. Man fatally shot at Paris’ Orly Airport after attempting to seize soldier’s gun
Paris’ Orly Airport temporarily suspended all flights Saturday after security officers fatally shot a man who had reportedly wrestled a soldier to the ground at the airport in an attempt to grab the soldier’s gun. No bystanders were injured, but 3,000 were evacuated from Paris’ second-largest international airport. Prior to the airport incident on Saturday morning, the man reportedly shot at police officers during a traffic stop, wounding one officer in the face, before fleeing and stealing a woman’s car. Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said the man’s identity, which has yet to be revealed, is “known to police and intelligence services.” France’s anti-terrorism division is handling the investigation.

Source: Reuters, The Associated Press

6. Fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was reportedly investigating Tom Price
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was reportedly investigating Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price when he was fired by the Trump administration last week. Price traded over $300,000 worth of health-related shares while he was voting on related legislation as a Georgia congressman in the House of Representatives. Price has argued his trades were lawful, while critics say he was using his office to make money. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York was reportedly investigating Price at the time of Bharara’s dismissal, a person familiar with the investigation said. Bharara met with Trump shortly after the election and at the time, announced he had agreed to stay on under the incoming administration.

Source: ProPublica

7. Secret Service agent’s laptop containing Trump Tower floor plan stolen
The U.S. Secret Service confirmed Friday that an agent’s laptop was stolen from her car in New York City. The laptop, which has yet to be recovered, apparently did not hold classified information and officials said the laptop is protected by “multiple levels of security.” However, the highly encrypted laptop reportedly does contain Trump Tower floor plans and the building’s evacuation protocol, as well as details on the ongoing criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. “There’s data on there that’s highly sensitive,” a police source said. “They’re scrambling like mad.”

Source: The Guardian, CNN

8. Poll finds 90 percent of Americans are open to path to citizenship
A majority of Americans don’t support President Trump’s hard line stances on immigration, a CNN/ORC poll released Friday revealed. While Trump has pledged to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall and strictly enforce U.S. immigration laws, nearly two-thirds of Americans say the nation’s top priority should be offering undocumented immigrants a path to legal citizenship. Just 26 percent say stopping illegal border crossings should be a top priority, while 13 percent say the main concern should be deporting undocumented immigrants. A notable 90 percent support offering undocumented immigrants who “hold a job, speak English, and are willing to pay back taxes” a path to legal citizenship, CNN reported. Trump has floated the idea of an immigration reform compromise, but has offered few details.

Source: CNN

9. Monopoly to replace the boot, thimble, and wheelbarrow with three new tokens
Hasbro announced Friday that it will replace the boot, the thimble, and the wheelbarrow tokens in the upcoming version of Monopoly with a rubber ducky, a penguin, and a T. rex. The toy company’s decision was based on an online survey of more than 4.3 million Monopoly fans from around the world. Other proposed replacement tokens were a smiley-face emoji, a monster truck, and a cell phone. With these changes, the only original tokens remaining in the upcoming version will be the top hat and the racecar, after the iron was replaced in 2013; the new tokens will join the existing battleship, cat, and Scottie dog pieces. The next edition of Monopoly is due out this fall.

Source: The Huffington Post, The Associated Press

10. USC defeats SMU in a buzzer-beater, marking one of few NCAA first round upsets
The first round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament came to an end Friday with few upsets or surprises. An exception was the game between No. 11 USC and No. 6 SMU. USC rallied from a 15-point deficit at halftime to win by 1 point in a buzzer-beater, 66-65. Though No. 7 South Carolina and No. 10 Marquette were close for most of the game, South Carolina pulled out a win, 93-73. No. 3 UCLA sailed to a win over No. 14 Kent State, 97-80, and No. 2 Kentucky rallied after a tight first half to defeat No. 15 Northern Kentucky, 79-70. No. 9 Michigan State beat No. 8 Miami (Fla.), 78-58; No. 10 Wichita State bested No. 7 Dayton, 64-58; and No. 7 Michigan defeated No. 10 Oklahoma State by 1 point, 92-91.

Source: ESPN, The New York Times