Ukraine thanks U.S. for ‘game changing’ weapons system: But what is the HIMARS?

“Built by military contractor Lockheed Martin, the HIMARS, or high-mobility artillery rocket system, can fire the same type of long-range ordnance as a conventional multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), such as the M270, at targets up to 300 kilometers away. It too can put Ukrainian forces out of range of artillery, while placing the Russian batteries at risk.

A crew consisting of driver, gunner, and launcher section chief operate the system, which carries a payload of six precision-guided missiles. A spent munitions pod can be reloaded in mere minutes by trained soldiers.

Yet it has one key difference—the M142 is not a heavy tracked vehicle, like a tank for example, but instead uses a three-axle wheeled chassis one might find in a commercial semitruck.

“This design offers a unique shoot and scoot capability that enables soldiers, Marines and our allies to position, engage and rapidly relocate after firing,” wrote Michael Williamson, vice president and general manager of missiles and fire control at Lockheed Martin, last year in a LinkedIn post.

Thanks to its light weight, the HIMARS is also easily transportable so it can be utilized in locations otherwise hard to reach. It’s even deployable from a C-130 Hercules turboprop transport plane.”

We Poked the Bear

“Most cynical has been the West’s Big Lie that Ukraine would enjoy eventual NATO membership. In 2008, at Washington’s behest, the transatlantic alliance told Georgia and Ukraine that someday they would be inducted. Western officials spent the last 14 years repeating that promise.

However, Tbilisi and Kiev are no closer to joining, an unofficial recognition that virtually no member wants to add either one. Yet Washington led the consensus rejection of Moscow’s demand that the two states be excluded in the future. Rather than admit the truth, alliance members prevaricated, even though admitting the truth might have forestalled Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

“Long forgotten is Vladimir Putin’s conciliatory speech to the German Bundestag more than two decades ago. He explained:

“No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential.”

He went on to declare: “One of the achievements of the past decade is the unprecedentedly low concentration of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe and the Baltic. Russia is a friendly European nation. Stable peace on the continent is a paramount goal for our country, which lived through a century of military catastrophes.”

However, his attitude changed as NATO advanced. Despite the mass amnesia that appears to have afflicted the Cold War’s victors, they offered numerous assurances to Soviet and Russian officials that NATO would not march ever eastward to Russia’s borders. For instance, reported George Washington University when it released a trove of declassified U.S. documents: “Secretary of State James Baker’s famous ‘not one inch eastward’ assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.”

The allies also whispered sweet nothings in the ears of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and those around him. Explained GWU: “Declassified documents from U.S. and Russian archives show that U.S. officials led Russian President Boris Yeltsin to believe in 1993 that the Partnership for Peace was the alternative to NATO expansion, rather than a precursor to it, while simultaneously planning for expansion after Yeltsin’s re‐election bid in 1996 and telling the Russians repeatedly that the future European security system would include, not exclude, Russia.”

In a detailed study, UCLA’s Marc Trachtenberg concluded that the allies originally promised to respect Moscow’s security interests. However, he added: “It was only later that U.S. leaders realized that the USSR had become too weak to prevent them from doing whatever they wanted. So by mid‐1990, the February assurances were no longer taken as binding. What Gorbachev called the ‘sweet talk’ continued, but the whole vision of a cooperative relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect, it became increasingly clear, was at odds with the reality. All of this was, and still is, deeply resented in Russia.””

“Russian complaints continued. Early the following year a State Department cable (released by Wikileaks) reported: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.””

“the problem is not that the allies ignored East European demands that Washington garrison states of little relevance to its own security. Rather, it is that the U.S. and its allies ruthlessly ran roughshod over Russian security interests in expanding NATO up to Russia’s border—just 100 miles away from St. Petersburg. Moreover, Washington repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to aggressively promote regime change, through financial and diplomatic support as well as military force.

Washington sought to impose its will not just in its own sphere of influence, the Western hemisphere, but in countries once part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Allied claims to be surprised and shocked by Moscow’s complaints are careless at best, dishonest at worst. The West thought there was nothing Russia could do. Alas, the U.S. and its allies were wrong.

Of course, the past will do little to solve the present. However, Washington policymakers should start learning from their mistakes. Two decades of disastrous wars have left thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners dead. To this toll can be added those dying in Ukraine, another unnecessary war spurred by Washington’s arrogance and myopia.”

Russia’s Aggressive War Illustrates Importance of US Foreign Policy: Ukrainians Are Latest Victims

“As has been oft detailed in recent days, the U.S. and European states blithely ignored multiple assurances made to both the Soviet Union and Russia that NATO would not be expanded up to their borders. The allies also demonstrated their willingness to ignore Moscow’s expressed security interests with the coercive dismemberment of Serbia, “color revolutions” in Tbilisi and Kyiv, and especially support for the 2014 street putsch against Ukraine’s elected, Russo‐friendly president.

Whether such actions should have bothered Moscow isn’t important. They did, and perceptions are what matter. In this case, perception was reality. Indeed, Washington would never have accepted equivalent behavior by Russia in the Western hemisphere — marching the Warsaw Pact or Collective Security Treaty Organization up to America’s borders, backing a coup in Mexico City or Ontario, and inviting the new government to join the military alliance. The response in Washington would have been explosive hysteria followed by a tsunami of demands and threats. There would have been no sweet talk about the right of other nations to decide their own destinies.

True, this might not be the only factor influencing Putin’s decision on war. He has articulated strong, though distorted, views of Ukrainian nationhood and Kyiv’s proper relations to Russia. However, security concerns have always loomed largest. He and other officials criticized NATO expansion early, when the alliance began its move eastward. Most famously, he raised the issue in his talk to the 2007 Munich Security Conference. His position reflected Russia’s perspective but was serious both in substance and delivery.”

“If allied behavior was not a sufficient cause for Moscow’s invasion, it certainly was a necessary cause. Putin might believe Ukraine should be part of Russia, but for the last 22 years did not attempt to conquer the country. His more limited attacks in 2014 were triggered by the Western‐backed ouster of a friendly government. Whatever Putin’s view of reconstituting the Soviet Union, after two decades all he has managed to do is retake Crimea and extend Russian influence over the Donbass, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. A repeat of Adolf Hitler he certainly is not.

Again, this does not excuse Moscow’s latest conduct, which is grotesque, criminal, and immoral. However, it offers a terrible reminder that U.S. intervention has consequences.”

“the Russo‐Ukraine war adds another example to Uncle Sam’s history of foreign policy malpractice. The conflict is not strictly America’s fault, since Moscow made an independent decision to attack its neighbor. For that, the Putin government bears responsibility.

However, the U.S. and its European allies set the stage for the war, engaging in behavior that clearly yet needlessly antagonized Russia. For contributing to the horror now engulfing Ukraine, Washington should be held responsible and its officials held accountable. Otherwise more people will keep dying because of Uncle Sam’s foolish hubris.”

The Afghanistan Collapse: Inspector General Finds US Spent 20 Years Building a Dependent Potemkin Nation

“the US‐backed government likely would have survived only so long as Americans remained to fight the Taliban. Despite three successive US administrations devoting two decades and billions (actually, hundreds of billions) of dollars, and allied forces suffering thousands of casualties, little established by Washington in Afghanistan would have survived on its own.

And nothing at stake in Afghanistan warranted America staying. Washington has no significant interests inherent to Central Asia, which is about as far from the US as anywhere on earth and is bounded by several global and regional powers: China, Russia, India, Iran, and Pakistan. All have serious security interests in Afghanistan, which they would have had to address without Washington’s presence – as they have discovered after the US left.

The Bush administration intervened to destroy or disable al‐Qaeda for attacking America and punish the Taliban for hosting the terrorist organization. US forces quickly succeeded; so complete was their victory that the Taliban sought to negotiate its de facto surrender. However, arrogant and self‐righteous from start to finish, Dubya & Co. foolishly refused. The rest, including abundant death and destruction in that tragic land, is history.

Although residents of Afghanistan’s largest cities tended to benefit from the allied presence, not so rural Afghanistan, in which the war was primarily fought. Baktash Ahadi, an interpreter for the US, explained how Afghans viewed the fight: “Virtually the only contact most Afghans had with the West came via heavily armed and armored combat troops. Americans thus mistook the Afghan countryside for a mere theater of war, rather than as a place where people actually lived. U.S. forces turned villages into battlegrounds, pulverizing mud homes and destroying livelihoods. One could almost hear the Taliban laughing as any sympathy for the West evaporated in bursts of gunfire.” Which made America, along with the corrupt, incompetent, unreliable, and distant Kabul government, an enemy. Added Ahadi, “When comparing the Taliban with the United States and its Western allies, the vast majority of Afghans have always viewed the Taliban as the lesser of two evils.””

“The critical factor was the disintegration of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDFS). What happened? SIGAR concluded: “the single most important factor in the ANDSF’s collapse in August 2021 was the US decision to withdraw military forces and contractors from Afghanistan,” reflected in both the agreement signed by the Trump administration and the withdrawal ordered by the Biden administration.

Explained SIGAR: “Due to the ANDSF’s dependency on US military forces, these events destroyed ANDSF morale. The ANDSF had long relied on the US military’s presence to protect against large‐scale ANDSF losses, and Afghan troops saw the United States as a means of holding their government accountable for paying their salaries. The U.S.-Taliban agreement made it clear that this was no longer the case, resulting in a sense of abandonment within the ANDSF and the Afghan population.””

““the length of the US commitment was disconnected from a realistic understanding of the time required to build a self‐sustaining security sector – a process that took decades to achieve in South Korea. Constantly changing and politically driven milestones for US engagement undermined the its [sic] ability to set realistic goals for building a capable and self‐sustaining military and police force.”

The fault was not that successive American administrations failed to take extra time, since US interests did not warrant such an effort. Rather, the error was to imagine that the process could be completed in reasonable time at reasonable cost.”

China’s new vassal: Vladimir Putin

“When Chairman Mao Zedong visited Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in the winter of 1949, he was very much the junior supplicant. Stalin packed him off to wait for weeks in his snow-bound No. 2 dacha, 27 kilometers outside Moscow, where the humiliated and constipated Chinese leader grumbled about everything from the quality of the fish to his uncomfortable mattress.

When the two Communist leaders did get to business, Stalin bullied his way to a very favorable deal that put Mao on the hook to buy Russian arms and heavy machinery with a loan on which Beijing would have to pay interest.

Seven decades later, the power dynamics reveal a radical reset. Shortly before invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to the Winter Olympics in Beijing to proclaim the “no limits” friendship with China’s Xi Jinping, but there’s no doubting who the real superpower is in that duo these days. China’s $18-trillion economy is now 10 times mightier than Russia’s. Beijing will hold nearly all the good cards in setting the terms of any financial lifelines from big brother.

As Russia faces a sharply contracting economy under sanctions and an impending oil embargo from Europe, China is the obvious potential benefactor for Putin to turn toward.

Xi shares Putin’s hostility to the West and NATO, but that doesn’t mean he will be offering unalloyed charity. Xi’s overriding strategic concern is China’s prosperity and security, not saving Russia. Beijing is likely to buy at least some oil diverted from Europe, but only at a hefty discount from global benchmarks. China will only help Russia to the extent that it doesn’t attract sanctions and imperil its own ability to sell goods to rich countries in North America and the EU.”

“For years, Chinese officials have been quietly lobbying their Russian counterparts to cut arms sales to India, which has had a sometimes bloody border dispute with Beijing.

Between 2017 and 2022, India was the largest arms export market for Russia, followed by China, according to statistics from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Fighting Indian soldiers armed with Russian equipment may not be fun for China, but it’s certainly a lucrative business for Russia.

Before the war, “Russia was very stubborn and [would] say, ‘Oh, you’re not in a position, China, to dictate us our choices to whom we sell weapons. But I think that China will be in this position probably five years down the road,” said Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank.

India, for its part, is trying to keep an open relationship with Putin. New Delhi, like Beijing, is snapping up cheap oil, even though it’s also eager to maintain strong ties with the U.S.”

Why Biden’s off-the-cuff comment about defending Taiwan matters

“at a news conference in Tokyo, Biden was asked by a journalist: “Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”

“Yes,” said Biden. “That’s the commitment we made.”

Biden’s remark might be a big deal. US policy toward Taiwan has been one of “strategic ambiguity” for four decades — supporting Taiwan’s independence without quite saying so. As part of the “One China” policy, the US does not recognize the democratic island nation of Taiwan, but maintains “a robust unofficial relationship” with it, according to the State Department. (The US supports Taiwan with weapons and has deep economic ties with the country.) In a phrase, Biden broke down that convention.

At the same time, it wasn’t a particularly revelatory moment. It was actually the third time that Biden has said something along these lines. In October 2021, Biden stated a similar “commitment” to Taiwan. In August 2021, Biden compared the US approach to Taiwan to its pledge to defend NATO countries. (An official then walked back those remarks).

All of those comments reveal a lot about Biden’s tendency for undisciplined, off-the-cuff responses — another example is his remark in late March that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” — but don’t necessarily represent major policy shifts.

Today, once again, the White House quickly disavowed Biden’s statement. “As the president said, our policy has not changed,” a White House official said.”

Biden races against time to unlock Ukraine’s trapped grain

“The Biden administration and European allies have been working for weeks to build out the European Union’s “solidarity lanes,” a patchwork of ad hoc rail and truck land routes out of Ukraine, with the eventual goal of shipping the bulk of the grain to Romania’s seaports, so it can reach fragile countries across Africa and the Middle East reeling from food shortages and severe drought. But for now, they’re trying to keep it from being stolen by Russian forces or spoiling in makeshift containers inside Ukraine as the fighting continues.”

Negotiating to End the Ukraine War Isn’t Appeasement

“A negotiated end to the conflict is the right goal — and one that needs to arrive sooner rather than later. Ukraine likely lacks the combat power to expel Russia from all of its territory, and the momentum on the battlefield is shifting in Russia’s favor. The longer this conflict continues, the greater the death and destruction, the more severe the disruptions to the global economy and the food supply, and the higher the risk of escalation to full-scale war between Russia and NATO. Transatlantic unity is starting to fray, with France, Germany, Italy and other allies uneasy about the prospect of a prolonged war — especially against the backdrop of rising inflation.”

“Washington has not only a right to discuss war aims with Kyiv, but also an obligation. This conflict arguably represents the most dangerous geopolitical moment since the Cuban missile crisis. A hot war is raging between a nuclear-armed Russia and a NATO-armed Ukraine, with NATO territory abutting the conflict zone. This war could define the strategic and economic contours of the 21st century, possibly opening an era of militarized rivalry between the world’s liberal democracies and an autocratic bloc anchored by Russia and China.
These stakes necessitate direct U.S. engagement in determining when and how this war ends. Instead of offering arms with no strings attached — effectively leaving strategy up to the Ukrainians — Washington needs to launch a forthright discussion about war termination with allies, with Kyiv, and ultimately, with Moscow.

To prepare the ground for that pivot, the Biden administration should stop making claims that could tie its own hands at the negotiating table. Biden insists that the West must “make it clear that might does not make right.” Otherwise, “it will send a message to other would-be aggressors that they too can seize territory and subjugate other countries. It will put the survival of other peaceful democracies at risk. And it could mark the end of the rules-based international order.”

Really? Russia has illegally held Crimea and occupied a chunk of Donbas since 2014. But the rules-based international order has not come to an end; indeed, it has performed admirably in punishing Russia for its new round of aggression against Ukraine. Washington should avoid painting itself into a corner by predicting catastrophe if Russia remains in control of a slice of Ukraine when the fighting stops. Such forecasts make compromise more difficult — and risk magnifying the geopolitical impact of whatever territorial gains Russia may salvage.”

3 Scenarios for How Putin Could Actually Use Nukes

“Tactical nuclear weapons are often called “battlefield” or “theater” weapons to distinguish them from much more powerful strategic nuclear weapons, but they are far more destructive than conventional weapons. During the Cold War, tactical nuclear weapons had yields ranging from tens or hundreds of tons of TNT to thousands of tons. These weapons came in many forms: gravity bombs, short-range missile warheads, anti-aircraft missiles, air-to-air and air-to ground missiles, anti-ship and anti-submarine torpedoes and even demolition devices or mines. Reportedly, the smallest tactical weapon in the Russian nuclear arsenal has a yield of about one-third the size of Hiroshima or Nagasaki bombs, or equivalent to about 5,000 tons of TNT.

There are a few ways that such a tactical nuclear weapon could be used to fire the kind of “warning shot” envisioned in Russian military doctrine. These options come with increasing degrees of risk for the U.S., Ukraine and its allies, and for Russia.”