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July 9, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Russia nuclear threat grows
Russia is emerging as a new strategic nuclear threat to the United States, a senior member of the House Committee on Armed Services revealed on Wednesday.

“On the nuclear deterrence front, we likely have more cause for concern today than at any point since the Soviet Union collapsed — with a swift kick from the policies of Ronald Reagan,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, Alabama Republican and chairman of the subcommittee on strategic forces.

“Instead, it gave us [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and his Soviet-style regime,” Mr. Rogers said in a speech to an Air Force Association breakfast.

The result, according to the subcommittee chairman, has been a series of threatening Russian actions, including:

• Overt and direct nuclear threats to neighbors and NATO states.

• Illegal seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and continued aggression in eastern Ukraine.

• Violation of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and eight other arms control treaties and agreement breaches.

• Open discussion in Moscow of a new military doctrine that views NATO as a military threat and the use nuclear weapons early in any conflict involving NATO or the United States.

Mr. Rogers said the emergence of a threatening Russia took place despite, or perhaps as a result of, the Obama administration’s conciliatory “reset” policy.

“Some of us have been saying the reset was flawed from the beginning because it failed to recognize the reality of Putin’s Russia,” he said. “Now, this blindness has become dangerous.”

The failed reset is a main legacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who will likely face criticism for it during her Democratic campaign for the presidency.

The Russia threat has led to a more united NATO, which is reviewing defense postures and policies to deal with Moscow, including bolstering nuclear deterrence in the region.

Mr. Rogers said the administration so far has not responded to Russia’s violation of the INF treaty, identified as a new cruise missile. The chairman revealed, however, that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has conducted an assessment of potential U.S. military responses to the INF violation.

He did not elaborate on what those responses include, and said they seem “to be tied up in the White House.”

U.S. nuclear capabilities have been kept at 1990s levels and need to be modernized, Mr. Rogers said.

“As other nations — Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea — continue to research and deploy new nuclear capabilities, I ask, will our 1990 nuclear deterrent still be credible in 2040?” Mr. Rogers said.

Mr. Rogers also called for extending U.S. missile defenses to space, something opposed by the administration as a “weaponization” of space.

“So, while we sat back and tried to show leadership on this issue, Russia and China weaponized it for us,” he said. “For less than our current systems, we could deploy a missile defense system in space that’s more capable than what we have in today’s [Ground-based Missile Defense] system.”

As the Obama administration seeks to normalize relations with Iran by concluding a nuclear deal with Tehran, it was revealed this week that the Islamic republic has killed about 500 American soldiers via armor-piercing bombs.

During testimony Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Armed Services, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, revealed the U.S. deaths at the hands of Iranians under questioning from Sen. Tom Cotton.

“I think the Islamic State is a grave and throwing threat, but until they develop their own ballistic missile program and until they have thousands of centrifuges and tons of uranium, I believe the Islamic republic will be a graver threat than the Islamic State, that is, the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Mr. Cotton, Arkansas Republican.

The senator said Iran remains an anti-American, state sponsor of international terrorism that has killed hundreds of Americans from Lebanon, to Iraq to Afghanistan.

“Hundreds of Americans died, and probably thousands were wounded or suspected of being wounded,” Mr. Cotton said. “What should we say to their families, the families who lost soldiers at the hands of Iranian militias or Iranian roadside bombs, once we reach a deal that’s going to give Iran tens of billions of dollars in sanctions relief and international legitimacy without them changing their behavior?”

Gen. Dempsey said the estimated number of soldiers killed by the Iranians is “about 500.” He then voiced concern about the Iranian threat that exists despite the push by the administration for a nuclear deal in Vienna.

In response to Mr. Cotton’s question, Gen. Dempsey said he has told the families of the soldiers who were casualties of Iranian attacks, that “solving the nuclear issue diplomatically is a positive outcome, but make no mistake about it there [are] at least five other malign activities in which Iran is engaged that cause me grave security concerns, and won’t take our eye off those five, and you know what they are: ballistic missiles, sea-based mines, cyber activities, arms trafficking and surrogates and proxies.”

As socialist-ruled Greece moves toward bankruptcy and European states seek to figure out what to do, an even greater economic crisis appears to be brewing in China.

Reports from Asia indicate the Chinese stock market is continuing to plummet, losing an estimated $3.2 trillion in the past three weeks. And there’s no signs the crash is ending.

The vaunted socialist-with-Chinese-characteristics economy so far has not responded to government intervention efforts to stem the slide. That’s included an investment of $19.3 billion into the economy from the large state-run enterprises.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew on Wednesday commented on China’s economic woes at the Brookings Institution. The United States has little to fear from the meltdown because China’s markets are “still pretty much separated” from U.S. and world markets, he said.

“I think the concern — it is a real one — is what does it mean about long term growth in China?” Mr. Lew asked.

The Treasury chief said there are two pieces to the potential impact of the stock market decline. One is how Chinese Communist leaders respond, and the second is what impact will the crash have on the core condition of the Chinese economy.

“I think the first is quite critical,” he said, adding that over the past two years the Chinese have shown a “quite determined commitment” move toward allowing more market forces to work.

“The question isn’t their commitment to the goal; the question is the pace at which they implemented it, and do they do it fast enough for it to be effective,” Mr. Lew said. “I hope this is not something that slows down the pace of reform.”

China is moving from a heavily centralized industrial economy to a more market- and consumer-oriented system, he said.

“If the reaction is to put the brakes on reforms, that will slow that process,” Mr. Lew said.

Wang Feng, CEO and founder of hedge fund firm Alpha Squared Capital Co. and a former Wall Street trader told Reuters that unlike other stock markets, China’s market is dominated by retail investors who make up 85 percent of China trade and that is making the volatility worse.

“It’s a stampede. And the problem of the market is that all the players move in the same direction, and are too emotional,” Mr. Wang said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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