The West Has Forgotten How to Keep Secrets

My CEPA article about the intelligence vulnerability open access, open government, and open data can create if left unaddressed and not in sync with national security – The West Has Forgotten How to Keep Secrets.
From the text:
“But OSINT, like all other intelligence, cuts both ways — we look at the Russians, and the Russians look at us. But their interest is almost certainly in freely available material that’s far from televisual — the information a Russian war planner can now use from European Union (EU) states goes far, far beyond what Europe’s well-motivated but slightly innocent data-producing agencies likely realize.

Seen alone, the data from environmental and building permits, road maintenance, forestry data on terrain obstacles, and agricultural data on ground water saturation are innocent. But when combined as aggregated intelligence, it is powerful and can be deeply damaging to Western countries.

Democracy dies in the dark, and transparency supports democratic governance. The EU and its member states have legally binding comprehensive initiatives to release data and information from all levels of government in pursuit of democratic accountability. This increasing European release of data — and the subsequent addition to piles of open-source intelligence — is becoming a real concern.

I firmly believe we underestimate the significance of the available information — which our enemies recognize — and that a potential adversary can easily acquire.”

 

 

Bye bye Vladivostok! The Chinese claim of the Russian Far East.

Russia’s decline is visible to everyone, including China, despite its grandiose claims and attempts to bury history.

In 1997, the First Opium War officially ended with the British administration and forces leaving Hong Kong. The Second Opium War is still ongoing, since the Russian Federation continues to occupy the Amur region and Outer Manchuria. This land area was extorted from China in 1860 during the Second Opium War, under threat to set Beijing ablaze.

Surely no one these days thinks of returning Vladivostok to China? 

Let’s first understand the limits of Russia’s expansive claims to territory it does not currently occupy. The Kremlin or its servants claim any terrain that has been Russian territory or under Russian administration for the last 800–900 years, or has a Russian-speaking population. These claims include Alaska, Ukraine, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Moldova. Russia also sees any country that was a part of the defunct Soviet Union as part of the Russian Empire, which must at the very least accept Russia’s authority, or risk being brought back to the fold at any time. Putin has for years talked about Russian peace, or Russkiy Mir, as the natural end state. The concept is pure Soviet ideology; mir was the happy state of global harmony achieved once the Soviets had eradicated all obstacles to socialism.

Putin further enunciated this idea at the St Petersburg Economic Forum on June 17, when he asked, “What is the Soviet Union? It’s historical Russia.” He then attempted to reassure anxious neighbors that they were unlikely to be invaded (unless they took the Ukrainian path.)

The trouble with old territorial claims against others is they’re just as likely to have claims against you. So Russia has a potential counterclaim clan composed of Finland after the loss of Karelia, Viborg, and Petsamo, and other countries such as Georgia. As things stand, the irredentists are silenced by the disparity in power between Russia and minor countries.

Not so China. Its claims to Russia’s Far East are fact-based and indisputable. Chinese maps from the 13th century show the area around Vladivostok as Yongmingcheng, and to this day the port itself is still called Hǎishēnwǎi alongside the Russian imperial name of Vladivostok. From a Chinese and Korean perspective, the name Vladivostok must feel as natural as Salisbury, as Zimbabwe’s capital was formerly known, in Mashonaland.

It is notable that public discourse on decolonization regularly avoids any mention of Russia’s continuing colonial occupation. Maybe it is time to change that.

Once understood, Putin’s selective imperialism becomes glaringly obvious. Treaties and agreements are subservient to the Kremlin’s understanding of history, or Russian military power, whichever is the greater.

Chinese (and Korean) claims over the Russian Far East are significant. There was a substantial Chinese population in the Russian Far East until Soviet mass deportation to China; ethnic cleansing of the Far East peaked in the 1930s. Before the Russian revolution, the Chinese made up 41% of the registered labor force in the then Amur and Primorsk oblasts. The actual number was likely higher as many Chinese did seasonal cross-border work as day laborers. Ethnic Russians were likely the minority, which is what drove Stalin, as always, to select the inhumane policy of mass expulsion to guarantee Russian supremacy.

What does modern China make of this? For now, it is content to ally with its fellow global disruptor in an axis fueled by discontent at the continuing dominance of the US and a supporting cast of allied democracies. Despite the laughable imbalance between the two (Chinese adjusted national wealth is more than 5.5 times that of Russia), the Communist party (CCP) is getting cheap oil and gas from Putin’s regime while helping to prop up a large, if failing, autocracy.

The real strategic upside for China is a continued deterioration of Russia’s economy and abilities (it is, for example, short of more than 170,000 IT staff after a post-invasion exodus), and population — 2020 saw its largest recorded peacetime decline following huge numbers of pandemic deaths. Officials have warned that it may lose another 12m of its 145m population by 2035.

Russia is rotting, giving China a huge range of options with its declining neighbor. If current trends persist, China can reasonably expect its old territories to one day fall into its lap.

The CCP has a long memory, as it has made clear over the years with sometimes splenetic outbursts aimed at Japan and the UK, and their role in its history. Will Russia get a free pass? That seems hard to believe.

But China can hope to decolonize the Far East by simply continuing the current long-term strategic path. This doesn’t undermine access to Russian resources because the Kremlin is ever-more reliant on its giant neighbor’s goodwill to prop up the economy. Past attempts to diversify with Japanese and South Korean investment have failed, not least because Russia swiped the Kuril Islands at the end of World War II and refuses to discuss the matter. That tentative relationship is anyway now sanctions-bound.

Seen in this light, China can take its time.

The Chinese population is 10 times that of Russia and yet each Russian has 17.5 times more land per capita than his/her Chinese counterpart. Chinese farmers already work on Russian soil in the Far East and businesses have a strong presence.

Chinese leaders may well have a better understanding of Russian decline than their Western counterparts. Russia is not a superpower but is treated as a superpower. There is a reason why Russia constantly threatens the use of nuclear arms; the country is an economic dwarf compared to its geographical size.

Russian GDP is only nine times greater than the revenues of the American retailer Costco. The economic strength of Russia is limited; natural resource sales produce cash flow that can be distributed to keep the Russian people calm and elites happy, but not much else. Almost no one outside Russia seeks to buy Russian cars, household appliances, or TVs.

It confounds logic for China to treat Russia as a superpower and an equal when Russia has a tenth of the economic torque, unless China itself has fallen for the Russian propaganda and sable rattling.

Sun Yat-Sen, the nationalist father of modern China, pushed for the decolonization of the Russian Far East and the resettlement of Han and Manchu Chinese on their ancestral lands, until the Chinese Revolution halted further discussion. But even these days, Chinese spokespeople splutter when reminded of its past status.

Will China now get tough on Russia and raise its demands, now that the Russian Far East is drained of military units, while the Kremlin has made itself an international pariah and its economy groans under the weight of Western sanctions? Probably not.

For now, Vladivostok can continue under the Russian flag with the certain knowledge that one day it’s more than likely to become Hǎishēnwǎi, a city in China once again.

Jan Kallberg

Picture credit: By Raita Futo from Tokyo, Japan – Zolotoy bridge, Golden Bridge, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64991440

Defending NATO in the High North

Defending NATO in the High North

 

The invitation and entry of Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance radically improve the Alliance’s ability to defend the High North. Sweden and Finland will provide NATO with operational depth and logistic routes that the Alliance lacked earlier. With Sweden and Finland outside of the Alliance, the route to move NATO reinforcement to Finnmark, the Northernmost part of Norway, follows the single coastal road E6 along the Norwegian shoreland. Any Russian stand-off weaponry, or special forces, could, with limited engagements, strike the E6 route and cut off Northern Norway, leaving it open to a rapid Russian advance.

This lack of operational depth and NATO’s reliance on a single route to reinforce the High North has been an opportunity for a Russian fait accompli attack early in an evolving conflict with NATO.

A sustained fight to defend an area needs a land-based supply route to maintain the flow of equipment, logistics, and reinforcements, as these represent thousands of tons to be hauled into the operational area. Airborne or air transported troops can only sustain a fight over a limited time. The recent battle for Hostomel Airport outside of Kyiv, where Russian airborne troops lost against Ukrainian ad hoc formations, shows the short duration airborne forces can sustain a fight without a land-based logistic trail that follows.

The fastest way to move ground units from Germany, Denmark, and the U.K. to Northern Norway is through Sweden, which has several roadways leading to the far North. Meanwhile, coastal Norway has fjords, deep-cut valleys, mountainous terrain, and numerous bridges that could be destroyed and hinder a NATO movement; Sweden offers a straighter route to the North.

A Russian military planner, creating a case for assault plans on Northern Norway, had to focus on the Western edge towards the defending NATO forces along the Norwegian coast. The High North engagements Southern flank towards Sweden and Finland was “protected” by the Swedish and Finnish decision to be neutral and not be a part of the conflict. So the Cold War case, and until now, for a USSR/Russian attack on Northern Norway went from East to West without considering the Southern flank.

The NATO defense of the Norwegian High North will also benefit from the opportunity for NATO with the Swedish and Finnish entry into the Alliance to base and prepare rapid build-up of air assets on Swedish and Finnish airfields when a conflict is on the horizon. The Swedish towns of Kiruna and Gällivare have civilian airports, and any airport can also be used for military purposes. There are also several airfields in Finland; Enontekiö airfield is almost on the Norwegian Finnmark border. These added airfields and assets give NATO a stronger ability to establish air superiority in the Far North and less reliance on a few Norwegian airports that can be struck in the initial stages of the war.

The development of modern anti-ship missiles, with a range of 100s of kilometers, in combination with an enhanced ability to base and use operational space in the North, also ensures NATO a broad ability to prevent the Russian Northern Fleet from reaching the Atlantic Ocean and intercept the movement of U.S. and Canadian formations to Europe.

The entry of Sweden and Finland gives NATO more opportunities to defend the High North by providing logistic pathways, operational space and depth, and the ability to base air assets which would combine strengthen the deterrence posture against Russian aggression. Deterrence translates to a higher threshold for conflict, not only the NATO’s objective but also Sweden and Finland’s, and a gain for both parties.

Jan Kallberg, Ph.D.

 

 

Drones Will not Liberate Ukraine – but Tanks Will

My CEPA article “Drones Will not Liberate Ukraine – but Tanks Will” – see full text.

From the article:
“Drones have changed the battlefield, providing additional situation awareness and the ability to strike targets, but their high success rates in the Ukraine war is a result of unique conditions unlikely to be replicated elsewhere.

Unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) such as the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 have been successful in the Russian-Ukrainian war and helped prevent the Ukrainian defenses from crumbling under the initial Russian onslaught. The absence of short-range air defenses (SHORAD) in the initial months of the war gave drones free range.

But four months later, man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) like the US-manufactured Stinger, its Russian counterpart the SA-25, and other air defense systems, are bringing down drones.”

Air defenses can as easily target larger, slow-moving drones such as TB2 Bayraktar just like other slow moving aerial targets such as helicopters and transport aircraft.

 

A Potemkin Military? Russia’s Over-Estimated Legions

My CEPA article about the overestimation of the Russian abilities – see full text. 

From the text:
“Seen from the West, the Red Army was an able, well-integrated, and competent opponent able to rapidly launch joint offensive operations with no or little warning. Every Western soldier learned how the Soviets would fight by watching Red Army propaganda movies which projected a fast-moving armored onslaught that would either overrun any defense, or destroy the defending forces after encirclement.

The West was taken in by the Communist propaganda machine because these were the only movies showing the Soviet capabilities. We believed that Russian armored divisions would sweep across the open landscape, cross rivers and streams with ease when engineers unfolded pontoon bridges as the spearhead arrived, all surrounded by a symphony of well-orchestrated artillery and rocket fire and framed by the smoke trails of SU-24 ground attack aircraft in joint operations.

We looked at the Soviet, and now Russian, order of battle and drew mathematical inference – and ended up being wrong.

We missed discipline, leadership, coordination, trust, and the effects on troops and hardware, living in a culture of corruption and theft for decades. These factors could not be quantified and never made it to the model. Instead of passing the Portuguese border on day 75 of the assault, following the original Seven Day to Rhine model, the Russians in reality barely made it to the next postal code in Donbas.”

 

CEPA Article: Russia Won’t Play the Cyber Card, Yet

My article from CEPA (Center for European Policy Analysis). Read the full text following this link. 

In reality, the absence of cyber-attacks beyond Ukraine indicates a very rational Russian fear of disclosing and compromising capabilities beyond its own. That is the good news. The bad news is that the absence of a cyber-offensive does not mean these advanced capabilities do not exist.

From the text.

“The recent cyberattacks in Ukraine have been unsophisticated and have
had close to no strategic impact. The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyber-attacks are low-end efforts, a nuisance that most corporations already have systems to mitigate. Such DDoS attacks will not bring down a country or force it to submit to foreign will. These are very significantly different from advanced offensive cyber weapons. Top-of-the-range cyber weapons are designed to destroy, degrade, and disrupt systems, eradicate trust and pollute data integrity. DDoS and website defacements do not even come close in their effects.

A Russian cyber-offensive would showcase its full range of advanced offensive cyber capabilities against Ukraine, along with its tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP), which would then be compromised. NATO and other neighboring nations, including China and Iran, would know the extent of Russian capabilities and have effective insights into Russia’s modus operandi.

From a Russian point of view, if a potential adversary understood its TTP, strategic surprise would evaporate, and the Russian cyber force would lose the initiative in a more strategically significant future conflict.

Understanding the Russian point of view is essential because it is the Russians who conduct their offensive actions. This might sound like stating the obvious, but currently, the prevailing conventional wisdom is a Western think-tank-driven context, which in my opinion, is inaccurate. There is nothing for the Russians to strategically gain by unleashing their full, advanced cyber arsenal against Ukraine or NATO at this juncture. In an open conflict between Russia and NATO, the Kremlin’s calculation would be different and might well justify the use of advanced cyber capabilities.

In reality, the absence of cyber-attacks beyond Ukraine indicates a very rational Russian fear of disclosing and compromising capabilities beyond its own. That is the good news. The bad news is that the absence of a cyber-offensive does not mean these advanced capabilities do not exist.”

Jan Kallberg

My article for 19fortyifive: “Free War: A Strategy For Ukraine To Resist Russia’s Brutal Invasion Of Ukraine?”

 

I wrote an article for the national security web-based venue 19fortyfive that addresses resistance operations seen in the light of the Swedish Fria Kriget (Eng.: Free War) concept.

The full text can be found here.
(Picture UK MOD)

 

Ukraine: Russia will not waste offensive cyber weapons

An extract from my latest article at CyberWire – read the full article at CyberWire.

When Russia’s strategic calculus would dictate major cyber attacks.

Russia will use advanced strategic cyber at well-defined critical junctures. For example, as a conflict in Europe unfolded and dragged in NATO, Russian forces would seek to delay the entry of major US forces through cyber attacks against railways, ports, and electric facilities along the route to the port of embarkation. If US forces can be delayed by one week, that is one week of a prolonged time window in Europe before the main US force arrived, and would enable the submarines of the Northern Fleet to be positioned in the Atlantic. Strategic cyber support strategic intent and actions.

All cyber-attacks are not the same, and just because an attack originates from Russia doesn’t mean it is directed by strategic intent.

Naturally, the Russian regime would allow cyber vandalism and cybercrime against the West to run rampant because these are ways of striking the adversary. But these low-end activities do not represent the Russian military complex’s cyber capabilities, nor do they reflect the Russian leadership’s strategic intent.

The recent cyberattacks in Ukraine have been unsophisticated and have had close to no strategic impact. The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) cyber-attacks are low-end efforts, a nuisance that most corporations already have systems to mitigate. Such DDoS attacks will not bring down a country or force it to submit to foreign will. Such low-end attacks don’t represent advanced offensive cyber weapons: the DDoS attacks are limited impact cyber vandalism. Advanced offensive cyber weapons destroy, degrade, and disrupt systems, eradicate trust and pollute data integrity. DDoS and website defacements are not even close to this in their effects. By making DDoS attacks, whether it’s the state that carried them out or a group of college students in support of Kremlin policy, Russia has not shown the extent of its offensive cyber capability.

The invasion of Ukraine is not the major peer-to-peer conflict that is the central Russian concern. The Russians have tailored their advanced cyber capabilities to directly impact a more significant geopolitical conflict, one with NATO or China. Creating a national offensive cyber force is a decades-long investment in training, toolmaking, reconnaissance of possible avenues of approach, and detection of vulnerabilities. If Russia showcased its full range of advanced offensive cyber capabilities against Ukraine, the Russian tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) would be compromised. NATO and other neighboring nations, including China and Iran, would know the extent of Russian capabilities and have effective insight into Russia’s modus operandi.

From a Russian point of view, if a potential adversary understood Russian offensive cyber operations’ tactics, techniques, and procedures, strategic surprise would evaporate, and the Russian cyber force would lose the initiative in a more strategically significant future conflict.

Understanding the Russian point of view is essential, because it is the Russians who conduct their offensive actions. This might sound like stating the obvious, but currently, the prevailing conventional wisdom is a Western think-tank-driven context, which in my opinion, is inaccurate. There is nothing for the Russians to strategically gain by unleashing their full advanced cyber arsenal against Ukraine or NATO at this juncture. In an open conflict between Russia and NATO the Russian calculation would be different and justify use of advanced cyber capabilities.

End of abstract – read the full article at CyberWire.