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« A complication that displays the interdependency between the Chinese and US economies | Main | China comes back to even in its trade with the world!?! »
12:06PM

Nice critique of the sheer - and reckless - overkill that is ASBC

Written by an Aussie strategist for The Diplomat.

Here is the best chunk.  I italicize the parts I found most compelling.

By denying China’s capacity for anti-access, the United States intends to preserve its options for sea-control and power projection, reinforcing its primacy and role as the region’s guarantor of free navigation. This decision, in turn, reflects a deeper, more quixotic judgement that such an objective is both vital to the United States and attainable at a level of cost and risk commensurate with US interests in the region.

On both counts, though, there are reasons to be sceptical. First, the cost of AirSea Battle is likely to be prohibitive. Though it remains a largely notional concept, AirSea Battle will depend on an expansive set of upgraded capabilities: a hardened and more dispersed network of bases and C4ISR systems; more and better submarine, anti-submarine and mine-warfare capabilities; and new, long range conventional strike systems, including bombers and anti-satellite weapons. Then, of course, there are the aircraft carriers and other major surface combatants, strike-fighter aircraft, and possibly even amphibious ships.

This strategy is no panacea for the region’s problems, of course. It wouldn’t be cheap or easy and it would involve Washington making some hard capability trade-offs as well as accepting greater limits on its capacity for intervention in the Western Pacific. But there are benefits as well. In particular, maritime denial would allow the US to continue to play a strong role in the region. It would enable Washington to fulfil its defensive commitments to regional allies, prevent Chinese dominance and, at the same time, by reducing its visible military footprint, give Beijing more political breathing room. To that end, a US maritime denial strategy would also help avoid the worst aspects of crisis instability that AirSea Battle would provoke. And all without breaking the bank.

Needless to say, these are expensive capabilities. Many are disproportionately costly (and vulnerable) relative to the platforms against which they’re being fielded. And in some cases, particularly anti-submarine warfare and ballistic missile defence, their prospective cost greatly exceeds the operational effect they can be expected to produce. All of this would be exacting for the United States in peak economic condition. In a new era of fiscal stringency, with US debt expanding and the Pentagon looking to save hundreds of billions over the next decade, expecting the US military to do more with less is at best unlikely, and at worst wholly untenable.

It also risks failing to learn from history. Strategic competition in the Western Pacific is beginning to echo the Cold War, only this time the United States is at risk of reprising the role of the Soviet Union. Washington has already repeated Moscow’s mistakes in Afghanistan. With AirSea Battle, Washington is trying to do too much with too little. It’s facing off against an opponent in better economic shape whose smarter, more asymmetric strategy will impose a disproportionate military burden. For Washington, adopting such a maximalist doctrine risks playing into China’s hands and, like the Soviet Union, spending itself into penury.

But cost factors are only part of the danger. An arms race is already underway in Asia. AirSea Battle will accelerate this process, with serious implications for regional stability and crisis management. First, by creating the need for a continued visible presence and more intrusive forms of surveillance in the Western Pacific, AirSea Battle will greatly increase the range of circumstances for maritime brinkmanship and dangerous naval incidents.

Second, AirSea Battle’s emphasis on pre-empting China by striking early against the PLA will continue to compress the time available to decision-makers in a crisis. As military plans become increasingly dependent on speed and escalation, and diplomacy fails to keep up, a dangerous ‘use it or lose it’ mentality is likely to take hold in the minds of military commanders. This risks building an automatic escalator to war into each crisis before diplomatic efforts at defusing the situation can get underway.

And finally, AirSea Battle calls for deep strikes on the Chinese mainland to blind and suppress PLA surveillance systems and degrade its long-range strike capabilities. Such an attack, even if it relied solely on conventional systems, could easily be misconstrued in Beijing as an attempt at pre-emptively destroying China’s retaliatory nuclear options. Under intense pressure, it would be hard to limit a dramatic escalation of such a conflict – including, in the worst case, up to and beyond the nuclear threshold.  

Taken together, the costs and risks associated with AirSea Battle spell trouble for US primacy in Asia, and for the sea control and power projection capabilities on which it relies. Yet while Washington’s comfortable hegemonic habits will be hard to kick – especially after so many peaceful, prosperous decades – it’s not all doom and gloom. Primacy, after all, is only a means to an end, a way of preventing China from attaining regional dominance. There are other, more cost effective ways of doing that, including by playing China at its own game. That would involve developing a maritime denial strategy, focused mainly on the use of submarines, designed to inhibit China’s use of the sea for its own power projection. Indeed, the same capabilities that imperil US power projection in the Western Pacific would have an equally profound effect on China’s own fledgling efforts.

A very smart analysis of the dangers and costs.  And the "out" provided by focusing more on subs would make even me a serious believer of increasing our capacity there versus CSBA's somewhat insane notion of bombing the breadth and length of China and somehow not triggering a nuclear escalation.

People are going to construe being against the CSBA's notion of AirSea Battle as capitulating to Chinese domination of East Asia.  That is, of course, complete nonsense.

Proponents of ASBC will also toss in the if-you-only-know-the-secret-stuff-I-know-you'd-buy-into-ASBC card. That secrecy argument is the equivalent of patriotism-as-the-last-refuge-of-scoundrels temptation - as in, when you can't win the argument on cost and feasibility and dangers and operational success, then simply hide behind the "ominous" signs that only you and yours are privy to.

There are, as this article points out, cheaper and more sensible alternatives.  To those provided here, I would simply add selling plenty of military capabilities to the rest of East Asia (which we're already doing).

As I said before, ASBC suffers greatly from aspiring to be an Air Force-Navy Full Deployment Act.  Like any force structure wish list, it must ramp up the storylines - hence the fantastic war-gaming of CSBA that is intellectually fradulent to the point of being laughable.

There is no strategic logic that says the US should get in an absurdly expensive spending war with China over a scenario that happens just outside China's front door.  There is also no logic in promising a hair-trigger standoff where we pre-emptively bomb the length and breadth of China just to get them to back off from some aggressive shenanigans in their neighborhood.  For America, already deeply intertwinned with China on trade and investment and debt, to adopt such a posture is simply ludicrous.  These notions remain the fantasy of strategists who live "inside baseball" lives and have little to no clue about how this larger world works.  "Strangelovian" is not too strong a term.  In fact, it's right on the mark, because it implies a closeted world of strategists with no sense of proportion or connection to the wider dynamics of power in this era.  This is dinosaur thinking at its worst, and it needs to be opposed whenever and wherever possible.

Keeping China from doing something truly stupid in East Asia is not hard.  We need to undermine their asymmetrical approach by - as this article argue - creating our own, and NOT by setting ourselves up for a rapidly escalating great-power war.  Bombing the length and breadth of China in the opening hours of some crisis is just plain stupid and reckless and painfully unimaginative.  This is a massive retaliation response that pretends China isn't a nuclear power capable of significant retaliation.  

Sometimes I feel like I'm the only person who hasn't taken the crazy pill on this one:  YOU DON'T CONDUCT WIDESPREAD BOMBING CAMPAIGNS AGAINST THE HOMELANDS OF NUCLEAR POWERS!  

There is no clever way to spin ASBC's logic.  It promises a sheer - and therefore reckless - overkill that defies any sensible strategic logic.

This is not a "revolution in military affairs."  This is Cold War thinking at its most rigid - somehow surviving within our ranks.  It pretends, in the classic domino thinking approach, that if China pulls off anything in East Asia, we will have lost the entire competition!

Again, can you get any more narrow in your reading of the entirety of our world or our capacity to lead globally versus that of China's?  That's were ASBC truly sucks:  it reduces all our enduring strengths to one specific threat and then asks us to roll the dice on nuclear war over that one scenario.  Why?  BECAUSE IF WE DON'T ALL WILL BE LOST AND CHINA WILL RULE THE WORLD!

Honestly, doesn't that logic strike you as cartoonishly bad?  Remember when the Commies won everything by grabbing South Vietnam?  Or does it seem strange that we're now allying with Vietnam against China?

The "primacy" impulse dies hard within our ranks, especially among those who imagine that it resides solely with our military means to wage war.  The naive simplicity of this argument is almost beneath serious debate for anyone not trapped in the Pentagon's self-serving notions of "power!" (meaning 99.9% of the world as we know it).

But this is, sad to say, all part and parcel of the politics of protecting one's budget, so get used to hearing all sorts of bad strategic logic tossed in your faces.  In virtually every instance, the goal will be the same: to scare you into accepting the mis-allocation of resources within the US defense budget.

We live in a world of small wars.  That is the reality of the world America spent the last seven decades creating and defending.

But we are still far too dominated and influenced by an elite that sees the world only in big-war terms, because those capabilities are what that elite believes will continue to provide for American primacy.

Simply put, we created a world in which numerous great powers could rise, but some of us continue to freak out over that achievement.

I will readily confess: the more time I spend in international business, the less I find I have in common with the national security community in the United States. That whole mess strikes me today as being more divorced from reality than at any previous time in my career.

From the CSBA report on ASBC: the section entitled "Executing a Missile Suppression Campaign."

From the CSBA report on the ASBC: the section entitled "Blind PLA ISR Systems."

These two maps detail the places where CSBA advocates that the ASBC campaign should target in the opening salvos of any war with China. 

Again, imagine the Chinese bombing on similar terms across the length and breadth of the continental US and then consider what our strategic response might be.

Reader Comments (5)

Another will thought out piece, built on good analysis by an “Australian strategist.” Of course the South China Sea is a tricky area because of its reputed oil and gas resources exacerbated by the centuries old animosities between the Han Chinese and the Vietnamese. I think your approach to this problem makes a good deal of sense.

August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRick Wright

I read recently where the cost of the newest US carriers will be approaching 15 billion dollars and that does not include the air wing. For that price how many anti carrier missiles do you think the Chinese could field? Only a few have to get through to disable a carrier and possibly sink one with thousands of lives lost. ASBC will work when you are going up against poorer and less devleoped nations but against China you won't be getting a carrier anywhere close. Better to invest that money in submarines and anti-ship missiles that can be spread out and not in sitting ducks like carriers.

August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Jennings

Some thoughts:

Combine his idea with land-based ASBMs and everyone's favorite branch of the Service at the moment (Special Ops): Wouldn't you get a LandSea Battle? Since the Army and Marines are probably looking ahead to our exit from Afghanistan, an alternate strategy where they (and their partisans in Congress) play a prominent part probably wouldn't hurt.

How much tension could be released simply by concentrating our team-building efforts in their neighborhood on initiatives they can join in on to their profit? A joint history of WW2 and earlier events would be done between Japan and our allies, as would joint development agreements on disputed patches of sea, but China could also participate in such efforts. Road building in Andhra Pradesh would benefit Indian troops in a war with China, but would also benefit Chinese trade with India. Bringing SE Asia together on Mekong issues . . . The point being projects where the Chinese would only be hurt and isolated by refusing to work together with its neighbors.

You've made the point numerous times that geography, ethnicity and economics all dictate an eventual reunion between China and Taiwan. If that reality goes to the wrong person's head and they decide to invade or otherwise push for a unification the Taiwanese people can't agree with, all of our worries and hopes are moot:( Acquiescing would damage, if not destroy, our relationships with our allies in the region and opposing it would potentially require more than a Marine denial strategy. Not saying ASBC is a good idea, just that the better alternatives have limits that should probably be kept in mind.

August 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

I´m grateful that there is an American thinker who debates about Air Seabattle.I haven´t read any discussion about this important issue on the websites of the AEI, Heritage, Brookings Institution, Jamestown Foundation,etc.

"Bombing the length and breadth of China in the opening hours of some crisis is just plain stupid and reckless and painfully unimaginative. This is a massive retaliation response that pretends China isn't a nuclear power capable of significant retaliation."

Referenced from: http://thomaspmbarnett.com/#ixzz23EzhOV4t

That´s the next important point: US strategic planners seem to think that they can keep a war with China below a nuclear war and/or a space war.Air Seabattle planners seem to think that you can keep this war performing a conventional war.A stunning logic.However, the USA had this logic already in the 80s with the Airland Battle in Europe and the NSC directive 57 of Colin S.Gray spoke of limited, winnable nuclear war with the Sovjetunion. Even Bush senior delcared that in his opinion a war with the Sovjetunion could be limited and could be won.This sort of thinking seems to prevail in the inner circles of the Pentagon even today.

August 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRalf Ostner

There was, and still is, a great delusion that the United States won World War II all by itself. One of the great ironies of that war was that Hitler' madness, which caused so much harm to other countries and other peoples, eventually brought down Germany. His foolish invasion of Russia sealed Germany's fate. The German army was a formidable foe and no one knows what might have happened in Europe if we and the Brits were left to fight the Germans by ourselves.

Someone needs to roll up the shades and open the windows at the Pentagon. Let some sunlight in and some fresh air. Take the "gamers" out for a field trip into the real world. These folks are too insulated and spend too much time with each other. they are hold up in their own little "TS-LIfestyle-Poly" universe. Like a cult.

I know we humans are capable of folly. History has proved that. Is it possible that we could be capable of a folly as monstrous as nuclear war with China?

August 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor

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