Here’s what you ought to read to gather the latest on security and defense-related issues in the Asia-Pacific:
Big organizational changes at the PLA. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s overhaul has finally been announced and will involve a serious regrouping of the hierarchy in the Chinese military, in effect consolidating power with President Xi Jinping and the powerful Central Military Commission (CMC) even further. The restructuring announcement came at the CMC’s leading group for national defence and military reform, which Xi attended. As analysts have noted in the Diplomat, this may be the PLA’s closest analog to the United States’ own Goldwater-Nichols Act, which reformed the U.S. Department of Defense in the late-1980s.
$43 million gas station in Afghanistan? Unlikely. Remember those takes, including mine here at the Diplomat, that you may have read citing the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) on a particularly egregious instance of cost overrun in Afghanistan? The allegation by John Sopko was that the U.S. Department of Defense ended up building a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan that cost 86 times more than a comparable facility in the region. Writing at War on the Rocks, Jeff Goodson suggests Sopko’s letter has numerous shortcomings. Meanwhile, the Hill reports that SIGAR is conducting criminal probes into the $43 million gas station.
Mischief Reef updates. Last weekend, leaks from the U.S. Department of Defense suggested that we’re slated for another U.S. freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea, possibly as soon as next week. Why is Mischief Reef significant? To begin, I’d recommend the always-excellent Center for Strategic and International Studies’ island tracker for Mischief Reef that outlines what China has already set up on the artificial island it constructed there. A few weeks ago, I took a deep dive into the legal distinctions between Mischief and Subi Reef, the site of the first U.S. Navy freedom of navigation operation on October 27. Notably, Mischief may be the site of a third Chinese airstrip in the South China Sea, after similar improvements at Subi and Fiery Cross Reefs.
An Iranian ICBM in 2015? Don’t count on it. Over at the National Interest, Greg Thielmann looks into why it’s almost January 2016 and we still have seen no Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tested. In essence, the 1999 U.S. National Intelligence Estimate that suggested Iran would be likely to test an ICBM by 2015 turned out to be a little off-the-mark.
OPM vs. Snowden. What was worse for U.S. national security? At Overt Action, an outlet dedicated to analysis from former intelligence officials, the verdict is in: the damage to U.S. national security from the catastrophic breach of the Office of Personnel Management, in which the personal records of at least 20 million U.S. government employees were comprised, outweighs the damage caused by Edward Snowden’s leaks and discloses of U.S. SIGINT and HUMINT methods. This case has been made elsewhere as well. The OPM breach demonstrated its adverse impact on U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts in China when it withdrew spies from within the country.