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The coming challenge: part II 

Part I of this commentary (Jan. 4) discussed the dangerous national discord in our politics and placed it in historical perspective. This discord undermines our national security, especially our ability to contain an emerging North Korean existential threat to America. All diplomatic initiatives and military "show of force" operations have not diminished this growing danger to Northeast Asia or America. The civil defense sirens that sounded a false alarm in Hawaii last weekend might very well be real in the next decade without dedicated efforts to restore our strategic deterrent and development of effective, unfettered ballistic missile defenses against limited nuclear strikes.

An editorial in the Jan. 4, 2018, edition of The Wall Street Journal further highlights the decline of our nuclear deterrent. Titled "America's Alarmingly Archaic Arsenal" by Mark Helprin, it highlighted the increasing vulnerability of our strategic deterrent land-based missiles to the growing nuclear arsenals of Russia and China, soon to be joined by North Korea and Iran. China has more than 3,000 miles of tunnels to hide its road-mobile nuclear missiles (we have none) and Russia is deploying the most deadly, first-strike heavy intercontinental missile in its history. Helprin also noted that "our sea-based deterrent has shrunk from 41 nuclear missile submarines to 18, soon to be reduced to 12. No more than six will be at sea at any time yet face over 100 hostile attack submarines in the event of a conflict."

The survivability of our strategic deterrent is in doubt, which heightens the likelihood of a diplomatic retreat or military defeat in the event of another showdown comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. We no longer have the conventional capability to launch another Desert Storm to liberate a Kuwait, and our ability to defend South Korean independence via arrival of rapid reinforcements is questionable. What if China decided a Korean crisis was a great opportunity to "liberate" Taiwan? We would have to choose, and it's quite possible both South Korea and Taiwan would succumb to aggression. Such a scenario would lead to a collapse of American credibility, the rapid acquisition of nuclear weapons by any country formerly dependent upon our protection, and likely aggression against East European states by Russia. A Russian invasion could overrun Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania within 72 hours and the Ukraine would likely be re-absorbed back into a "Greater Russia." Poland, the Czechs, and Slovakia could be next.

How an American collapse would play out in the Middle East will not bode well for the fragile regional stability and most certainly will result in a regional nuclear arms race. Russia now has a permanent naval presence in the Eastern Mediterranean with the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet more notional than actual.

Any conflict in Northeast Asia that involved nuclear weapons has a high probability of expanding beyond the theater of operations and could involve either desperation strikes against the American homeland or a massive pre-emptive nuclear strike against us, especially if China and Russia detect a "once in a lifetime" opportunity to attack. Russia has adopted an "early first use doctrine" even for conventional conflicts; this is not the world of overwhelming American military/nuclear superiority that existed in 1990. We have no reliable capability to counter either scenario. The most promising options for development of a multi-layered ballistic defense system were abandoned long ago due to political obstructionism from Democrats.

The challenge for political leaders is first, start telling the American people the truth about the state of our national defenses. We have less than one-third of the combat power that we had at the start of the first Gulf War (Desert Storm) in 1990-91 to liberate Kuwait. What we do have is in serious disrepair with exceptionally low rates of readiness. We cannot sustain field operations, and we have serious shortages of munitions for what we do have today.

Congress has made little effort to rectify this and has left sequestration intact, which devastated military readiness and our ability to counter future threats under President Obama. The Trump administration has done little to rectify these deficiencies.

There are many other challenges facing us as a nation: political divisions, class-warfare, identity politics, demonization of political opponents, and over-the-top hatred of the president leaves us weakened and vulnerable as a wounded deer confronted by a pack of wolves. I will not make excuses for the president's intemperate remarks or inattention to serious national issues. He needs to apologize to the nation and conduct himself with the dignity required by the office he holds. His most ardent supporters must insist upon this, and his enemies need to focus on policy instead of ad hominem attacks on the president, his family, and supporters.

This week we will face another shutdown of the government with national issues held hostage for venal political advantage. We can continue to tear ourselves apart or resolve to overcome our differences for the good of the nation or, like France in 1940, be overwhelmed by crisis that will arrive like lightning, just as it did on a bright, sunny Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001. Next time, we may not recover. Δ

Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.


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