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Sept. 3, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Russia’s nuclear weapons buildup challenges Obama’s reduction goal
President Obama’s decision two years ago to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. military and defense policies is being challenged by Russia’s large-scale buildup of nuclear forces, along with Moscow’s revised nuclear doctrine and recent threats to use the weapons.

The U.S. guidance was outlined in a 2013 White House order called Presidential Policy Directive-24, which calls for reducing the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in national security strategy and maintaining deterrence with smaller nuclear forces.

A Pentagon report to Congress states that the administration is seeking “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” At the same time, the U.S. views the safety, security and effectiveness of nuclear arms as a deterrent that must be maintained “as long as nuclear weapons exist.”

One flaw in the White House guidance was outlined in the classified PDD-24. PDD-24 says a “key part” of the new guidance is a more benign global security environment, but that has not come to pass under Mr. Obama’s watch.

Nuclear threats posed by North Korea and Iran remain, and China’s nuclear buildup remains a concern.

Fear of the nuclear threat posed by Russia, too, has actually become more serious than when the order was signed by Mr. Obama.

The 2013 order erroneously states that despite differences, “Russia and the United States are no longer adversaries and the prospects of a military confrontation between us have declined dramatically.”

That assumption has become less valid after Russian annexation of Crimea, continuing destabilization efforts in eastern Ukraine and announced threats by Moscow against Eastern European states.

The new Russian threat also has been highlighted by recent statements by senior military and defense leaders.

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the nominee to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

Several days later, NATO commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said Russian revanchism has undermined strategic stability. Russia “is a nation that possesses a pretty vast nuclear inventory, and talks about the use of that inventory very openly,” he said on PBS. “And they talk about using, as a matter of course, nuclear weapons. For that reason, these senior leaders, I believe, see that as a major threat.”

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said that what has changed under President Vladimir Putin is that Russia has become an “antagonist,” forcing the United States to adjust its military posture to deter Russia and support allies.

Because the White House’s guidance anticipated a different scenario than what is actually occurring, the Pentagon and the U.S. Strategic Command, the war-fighting command in charge of preparing for a nuclear conflict, are said to be preventing full implementation of the plan. The presidential order requires an annual review of the security environment, but defense officials say so far no review has been carried out.

Adjustment of the nuclear employment guidance most likely will be worked out after Gen. Dunford takes over as chairman Oct. 1.

Pentagon and U.S. Strategic Command representatives had no comment on the new nuclear employment guidance.

Emails released this week by the State Department reveal how Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton agreed to play down a 2010 meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama.

A Feb. 11, 2010, email from Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was at the time the State Department director of policy planning, urged Mrs. Clinton to avoid upsetting the Chinese about an upcoming meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

“We should not use our meeting w/DL to beat them up, but treat it like we would treat a meeting with a Coptic leader from Egypt or a Bahai leader from Iran, etc.,” Ms. Slaughter wrote. “Let the Chinese make a big issue out of it if they want to; we will just do what we have always done.”

Mrs. Clinton replied: “I agree and will act accordingly.”

A large portion of the email was censored by the State Department, indicating it was among the emails in the Clinton file that contained classified or sensitive information. From the released portion, it appears the redacted section outlined China’s expected reaction to the meeting.

Mr. Obama met the Dalai Lama on Feb. 18, 2010. Two additional meetings also were held, and all prompted protests from Beijing.

A new Air Force directive on contacts between service members and Chinese military and defense officials outlines prohibited areas of discussion.

The Aug. 5 directive updates earlier guidance to military and civilian personnel who meet with Chinese officials, and followed an Air Force headquarters review of the contacts.

“With the rise of PRC influence in the international community and the increasing capabilities of the Chinese military, Air Force military-to-military relationship with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is becoming more crucial than before,” the directive states.

The directive offers a security warning about visiting PLA officials and Air Force officials who visit China as part of the Pentagon’s military-to-military exchange programs.

According to the order, the Air Force airmen and civilians are prohibited from discussing, among other areas, with Chinese military or defense officials topics such as force projection operations; nuclear operations; chemical and biological defense and other capabilities related to weapons of mass destruction; surveillance and reconnaissance operations; military space operations; and arms sales or military-related technology transfers.

The list is based on a 2000 law restricting Pentagon contacts with the Chinese. The law was enacted after military secrets were disclosed to visiting Chinese military officials. Chinese military officials repeatedly have criticized the restrictions in meetings with U.S. counterparts, claiming the curbs are a sign that the Pentagon does not favor closer ties.

All the Chinese military exchange programs are being monitored by Heidi Grant, Air Force undersecretary for international affairs, who signed the directive.

Critics of the Pentagon’s aggressive military exchange program have said the exchanges have been used by Chinese intelligence to obtain military and war-fighting secrets that could be used against the United States in a future conflict.

The Taliban Islamist terror group is facing internal divisions following the announced death of its leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who died in April 2013 in a Karachi, Pakistan, hospital, according to a State Department security report.

The Taliban this week acknowledged covering up the death for two years despite issuing official statements in Omar’s name until July, when the death was first acknowledged. The cover-up was revealed in a biography of his successor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.

According to the report, Mullah Mansour, the new Taliban commander, is opposed by Mullah Omar’s brother, Mullah Abul Manan, who has refused to pledge his loyalty to Mullah Mansour. Additionally, Mullah Omar’s eldest son, Mullah Mohammed Yaqoob, is opposing Mullah Mansour, and conflicting reports from the region indicate that Mullah Yaqoob may have been killed as a result of the opposition.

“While the Taliban denies any reports of a succession crisis, there are reports of organizational schisms that are likely to have larger implications for regional security,” the report said. Among the problems have been Taliban defections to rival Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan (ISIL-K), the Islamic State branch in Afghanistan that is building up its capabilities in the region.

“Omar’s death and Mansour’s new role will result in increased instability, as Mansour attempts to assert his legitimacy and keep the organization intact,” says the report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council that supports U.S. businesses operating overseas.

Additionally, there have been reports of dissident Taliban members creating a new Taliban offshoot and clashing with other Taliban factions. The splits within the Taliban mean the terrorist group will likely to step up its attacks in Afghanistan.

“To appease those dissatisfied members and, more importantly, to consolidate his power, Mansour will continue to target the Afghan government aggressively,” the report says. “This was apparent a week after his election, when multiple bombings rocked Kabul.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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