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The US-Russia arms control architecture risks collapse

Published at: 29-07-2019

Posted on: July 29th, 2019 by RaduC No Comments

I am talking this week with retired lieutenant general Alexandru Grumaz*, who throughout his professional career held senior positions within the Ministry of National Defense, as head of the Department of Defense Resource Management, director of the Integrated Defense Planning Directorate or Arms Inspector. He is currently running the Security Analysis and Studies Center.

This is the first part of our discussion.

RC: General, I would like to ask you, as an army endowment expert, what is the current trend as to how important the human factor is for the strength of an army?

AG: If you look at what is going on in military operations, the human factor remains the basis. Military technique may develop and evolve towards the use of unmanned army vehicles, the UAVs, but do not forget that they are controlled by a military specialist from a C2, command and control, station. The data fed by the sensors mounted on the unmanned devices, data from the field of operations or the zone of action, are processed at the center to provide a clear operational picture of the canvassed area. So the human being with advanced technical training remains the main link in this chain of command.

We should also note that we are going through a paradigm shift. The war is no longer against terrorism. The former Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, said that terrorism had been replaced by great power competition. The great powers last competed in the 1980s when President Ronald Reagan launched the “Star War” program against the Soviet Union, which led to the collapse of the Soviet system due to the technological inferiority of its economy. It was a bipolar geopolitical world.

RC: Are we at the beginning of a new cold war?

AG: What is going on now is completely different: a new type of a cold war which is not rooted in ideology. A simple example is Russian fighter jets intercepting NATO ships in northern or southern Europe. This is a lesson that Moscow used to give during the old cold war. Russia remains a nuclear power and fights to regain the areas of influence lost in the 1990s. The arms treaties, including the nuclear deals, will have to be completely revisited as China emerged as a new global player. It used the first cold war to develop a fleet of medium-range ballistic missiles.

The US-Russian arms control architecture is at risk of collapsing.  The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe are no longer effective, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the INF, will be gone in August 2019, and the new START Treaty is due to expire in 2021. Neither Russia, nor the US are ready for a new arms control agreement, mainly because of their clashing agendas. Moscow wants to contain the deployment of US missile defense systems and hi-tech conventional weapons, while Washington wishes to bring even further down the number of Russia`s strategic and tactical nuclear weapons. Neither of them, however, is willing to completely give them up.

RC: Analysts, however, argued for a long time against a return to a cold war period.

AG: Three linked events in February 2018 gave it the distinct character of a renewed cold face-off. Firstly, the launch of the US nuclear strategy review by the Trump administration, a strategy that covers the extended nuclear arsenal and a looser policy on nuclear weapons use. Secondly, the decision by Chinese officials to do away with the presidential term limit, opening the door for Xi Jinping to retain power after his current term ends in 2023. Thirdly, the state of the nation address by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on March 1, 2018, when he announced the development of a new class of nuclear weapons meant to avoid detection by the US missile defense system and hit the “heart of America”.

“Trump’s Nuclear Posture Review” is a game changer because it refutes the logic that governed nuclear weapons under President Obama – its declared purpose was to limit their use to respond to enemy nuclear attack – and, in exchange, it provides for a wide range of uses, including to block a Russian aggression against NATO forces or to respond to a cyberattack against the critical US infrastructure.

The second factor is China`s decision on the presidential term limit. It is equally important as it allows Xi to continue his plans to restore China`s historic role as a dominant Asian power – a power which will trigger stiff opposition from Washington, reluctant to relinquish the US hegemony in the region.

Putin`s speech completed the series of critical events, and signaled Russia`s resolve to counter the US nuclear progress using terrible measures. Stating that the United States are trying to curb Russia`s attack capabilities by installing forward-deployed missile defense systems in Poland and Romania, President Putin announced plans to design and test hypersonic cruise missiles and unmanned underwater propulsion systems meant to bypass those defense capabilities.

Taken together these three events contributed hugely to creating an international environment of suspicion, hostility and warmongering, not much different from the nightmarish Cold War climate. The claims made by one party about the other party developing weapons are used to justify the making of more and more weapons and will unavoidably lead to mutual actions in an endless arms race. Moreover, as with the previous “cold” era, military measures are accompanied by a slide towards authoritarianism and suppression of dissent. We now have three, rather than two great powers creating more room for error in a world with more hotspots than ever before, including some that involve other nuclear states, such as India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

RC: The whole range of instruments used during the previous Cold War is being reemployed.

AG: Indeed, Russia uses propaganda and active measures, as well as other techniques to destabilize its adversaries just as before the 1990s. Russian hackers work mainly with the Russian state apparatus, Russia`s intelligence services and media (RT and Sputnik) to disrupt elections in the US or Europe. America continues to have the Cold War media outlets, such as the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe radio stations, set up in 1940. Washington has not created other structures to fight off efforts by today`s Russia to launch fake news. This is a strategic element which will wield great power in the near future.

So the geopolitical landscape has radically changed and the actual battle is not to conquer land but to gain free access to resources and dominance over key geographic territory. Take, for example, China`s military position in the South China Sea.

RC: Right now China has the largest army in terms of personnel.

AG: It does, but this does not matter. The Chinese army with over 2 million foot soldiers is being upgraded with weapons technologically more advanced than two decades ago.

RC: Then what does an army wishing to have military superiority look for?

AG: Let me give you an example that I use very often. Take the Navy, the ability to project power far from home. Let`s take the aircraft carriers which does not mean the simplistic approach where the superships alone are considered. Any aircraft carrier is accompanied by a naval formation made up of destroyers, frigates, submarines, supply ships, a strike group which at times can be more powerful than the army of many small or medium-sized European states.

Right now the US has 11 aircraft carriers, unlike Russia left with none. China, however, has different ambitions. It is operating a Varyag aircraft carrier bought from the Ukrainians and upgraded, is fielding a domestically produced carrier and has another one in the works. But they still have a long way to go to catch up with the US. Anyway, they surpassed France or England as both a naval power and number of carriers. We should note that the Chinese started to train their naval troops to operate aircraft carriers in the 1980s when they had yet to own one.

RC: Let me rephrase my initial question, since what you are saying is that people will continue to be needed. Can we imagine an army without boots on the ground?

AG: Yes, we can. After 1990, conflicts have been conducted based on the Desert Storm concept, the operation to free Kuwait. That operation employed a technique invented in the 1970s to be used until the 1990s-2000s. In that war, general Schwarzkopf, leading the US troops, was introduced by a US Air Force group specializing in cyber operations, to the concept of destroying the Iraqi chain of command. The general did not agree considering that radars and command centers should go down first, then you go in with airborne units behind enemy lines followed by ground troops. That approach resulted in a series of losses and even the capture of American pilots.

On the other hand, in the 2003 war, a US Air Force unit managed to hack into the secret communications network of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. We have the statement of the Iraqi brigadier general leading the Basra mechanized brigade who declared having received on the screen a message from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) warning them that the invasion was ready and would result in huge losses for Iraq that could only be avoided if they left their technology behind and went home to be called back after the removal of dictator Saddam and his children from power. That`s exactly what happened, and during the first wave of air strikes, the Americans destroyed the abandoned technology in areas where Iraqi military units were deployed.

This is what understanding military advancements is all about, as the Americans say, the role of technology in avoiding the loss of human lives.

Indeed, it is possible to have a “small-scale/limited” operation without boots on the ground. The basis remains, however, the soldier protected by ultra-performing technology. If the commander has the common operational picture provided by a C4ISR system that integrates even weapons systems, you can decide on a military operation with a rate of guaranteed success of more than 70%, with the remainder depending on tactics and military training, but also on the enemy response. All these systems rely on artificial intelligence (AI) which provides a perfect assessment of the elements gathered from the theatre of operations. The focus is now on drone use, but drones can conduct limited military actions (data collection, attacks against some military targets or sites). Remote control vehicles are being diversified. We will be able to use not only air vehicles, but also underwater or naval vehicles, etc.

Let me digress and say that Romania also used Shadow 600 drones in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. I will not end without a personal confession as I was in charge with the issue: in 1996 the Ministry of Defense received the undersecretary of defense, dr. Paul Kaminski, in charge with the DoD budget for acquisitions worth $210 Bn in 1996 (now around $650 Bn). The US official talked in front of 20 generals about drones. It was the first time that someone had spoken about the latest technology to equip American soldiers. Romania was the first country allowed by the US Congress to purchase US-made drones. That was a huge technological and operational step forward for our military.

RC: What will make a military power in 15, 20 years?

AG: Being able to digitally control the field of operations: planning, information gathering from various sensors, and here I mean radar, satellite, UAV sensors, information collected in one command centre, to make up a whole digital infrastructure protected against cyberattacks. The main purpose of C4ISR systems is to build a digital combat zone infrastructure to achieve information superiority through data available and usable in real time. A good C4ISR system, a real-time common operational picture will get you strategic and tactical advantages.

An efficient command and control needs a continuous flow of real-time data, better processing efficiency, and safe and secure information transmission to the end user, the soldier or strike system. The old C4ISR version was designed so that the information (data) follows the Sensor-Commander-Soldier pathway. This concept has gone through dramatic changes in recent years and has taken a different direction where information should flow directly to the soldier. The goal is the develop soldier ability to acquire, adapt and prioritize the information that they need to accomplish their mission and be able to send the information that they collect on the ground back into the network so others may use it.

Russia and China, to protect themselves against the extraordinary military might of the US use A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) technology which creates a 300 to 500 km perimeter where all communications are blocked. To attempt a battle inside such an area would lead to huge casualties – a space of electronic warfare with the gloves off.

This is something that Russia has done in three zones: the Baltic states, Crimea and Latakia, Syria. NATO countries should do what Romania should do. Romania has radars, Patriot missiles, the THAAD system, so it should establish an A2/AD bubble around Constanta. That equipment should only be supplemented by military ships, the new corvettes and refurbished existing frigates. The coastal artillery should also be reconsidered, and we should buy the latest generation of missiles.

(to be continued next week)

*A retired lieutenant general, Alexandru Grumaz is a telecommunications engineer, with a degree from the Military Technical Academy. Grumaz has a Master`s degree in Defense Resource Strategy from the National Defense University, United States and is a Senior Executives Program in National and International Security alumni, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.  Romania`s former Consul General to Shanghai, the general held senior positions within the Ministry of National Defense, as head of the Department of Defense Resource Management, director of the Integrated Defense Planning Directorate or Arms Inspector. He is currently running the Security Analysis and Studies Center.  Grumaz was first deputy to the STS [Special Communication System] Director, as a telecommunications expert. His expertise covers strategic planning, military and civilian international relations and is experienced in complex budget planning and management for institutions. He is very familiar with the political and military life in China and the United States of America where he spent part of his military and diplomatic career. He is currently running the Security Analysis and Studies Center.

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