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Entries in US Military (150)

8:29AM

Buying time on defense spending

WSJ story from 22 October.  It was the chart that caught my eye.

Per a post I should have out later today at Esquire, most experts don't see the GOP takeover of the House impacting defense spending all that much, even though it's the biggest (now at just under 20% of the Feb budget) discretionary item at over $700B in 2010.  

The Tea Partiers, most notably the new senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, say there's plenty of waste to be cut.  But with Gates already earnestly trying to clip $100B over five years, it's hard to see the House coming after the Pentagon while Iraq is winding down and Afghanistan remains hot.

The longer-term problem:  what drives a lot of defense growth is the same thing driving Medicare's similar trajectory:  higher medical costs.

Tony Cordesman at CSIS says Gates' efficiency drive only buys time in the face of these twin internal and external pressures. In my mind, that reality makes Obama's efforts to reform healthcare look less "out there."

I am one who thinks Europe's current struggles with budgets, pensions, defense cuts, etc. are a harbinger of what we eventually end up doing.  Our engagement with the world will be deemed "excessive" (Barney Frank's term) in light of all this fiscal tightness.

And then how China inevitably steps into that void, and how we interpret that trend, will determine much.  

That's why the sad state of Sino-American mil-mil cooperation could turn out to be a decisive non-enabler of what should have logically followed.

10:38AM

Clubbing at the Del Monte (old school)

 

I got here last night before it got dark, and my Navy host took me to get some takeout before locking me up on base for the night. This is where I'm staying (a postcard of its third incarnation in 1926--see below).  The place has a Twenties sense of grandeur alright.  It's just been navalized and governmentized somewhat over the decades--sort of an over-the-top-BOQ (Bachelors & Officers Quarters).  Rooms are cavernous and I've got a suite.

Club Del Monte is an art deco jewel set amongst 25 acres of sprawling lawns dotted with oak, cypress and pine. Originally built in 1880 as the grand Hotel Del Monte, it was destroyed twice by fire and rebuilt. The present imposing structure (which is the 1926 incarnation) resembles a Spanish-Moorish fortress. It remained an elegant hotel until 1951, when it was acquired for the Navy's Naval Postgraduate School.

At this point, only a small section (on the pic, the first wing to the right as you enter the front) seems to be hotel rooms anymore.  Otherwise the rest appears to have been cannabilized into all manner of offices, schools of this and that, and so on--like any giant base facility.  Still, the sheer physicality of the place cannot be denied.

No proper desk in my suite (weird), so my work day sees me hunched over a side table.  Works because I've been doing the yoga lately (also good for the big mushy bed here, the kind that usually messes with my back).

If Mountain Runner is interested, then we can get together after my talk late this afternoon.  I'm usually pretty chatty after a talk.

12:56PM

Big-War Thinking in a Small-War Era: The Rise of the AirSea Battle Concept @ China Security journal

Big-War Thinking in a Small-War Era:  The Rise of the AirSea Battle Concept 

Amidst increasing US-China tensions in East Asia, America has upped the ante with the introduction a new war doctrine. The AirSea Battle Concept is a call for cooperation between the Air Force and Navy to overcome the capabilities of potential enemies. But the end result may be an escalation of hostilities that will lock the United States into an unwarranted Cold War-style arms competition with China.

Read the entire article at China Security.

1:00AM

Taiwan Relations Act: The Brer Rabbit defense

My friend Galrahn dutifully--and correctly--takes me to task for not specifying, in last week's post, that the Defense Department is obligated by law to both provide for Taiwan's defense against China (sell them arms) and maintain a US military capacity to resist Chinese force.  He says that my critiquing the Pentagon on this is unfair.

While Galrahn's points are technically correct, it's also certainly true that the Defense Deparment has a lot of leeway on how they can interpret meeting that requirement.  After all, what stops us from simply noting that we've got a lot of nukes and they can be enough to deter China from invading Taiwan.  Nothing in the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 specifies conventional capabilities versus nuclear.  It just says "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan." Give Taiwan enough defensive firepower, promise a nuclear back-up and call it a day.  But we choose, or rather, our Defense Department now chooses, to build an entire big-war warfighting concept around this scenario (no, no, nothing provocative there).  Nothing in the law demands that level of strategic focus or conventional effort.  So no, Galrahn, my rant wasn't misdirected. Pointing the Pentagon's finger at Congress and saying, "I'm just following orders" doesn't cut it here.

We've made a series of choices inside the Pentagon to elevate the meaning of Taiwan going back a decade and a half.  No outside power forced these choices; the military made this call on its own. The Taiwan scenario has become the calling-card scenario for the big-war force, much sturdier than the pathetic North Korean scenarios of collapse, or the bomb-heavy vignettes for Iran (unless you think we want to occupy that place too any time soon).  Simply put, until the Taiwan Strait crises in 1995-96 got the DoD turned-on to China as the near-peer competitor, you simply never heard about the Act as a baseline justification for force structure.  It merely explained arms sales to the island.  I know this, because I worked force structure issues for the Navy at the Center for Naval Analyses in the early 1990s (it was, like, bullet 4-a on slide 53, and when you saw it, you'd turn to the guy next to you, and intone knowingly, "Of course, the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979," and then you'd be back to business).  The Act was a completely backburner issue until the Sov residual threat got so low in those early post-Cold War years (after it became likewise apparent that the "rising sun" wasn't going to fulfill anybody's fantasies except Michael Crichton's--yes, I actually had senior military officers tell me in great seriousness to read the book to understand the future looming Japanese threat), that the Act sort of surfaced like a bureaucratic bedrock at low tide.

The Taiwan Strait crises also birthed many of the original network-centric warfare concepts.  It really was a seminal series of events--the proverbial wake-up call.  But then 9/11 comes and we don't hear about it all that much anymore--save for those pesky arms sales and the usual huffing and puffing from Beijing on the subject. 

The difference today is that the AirSea Battle Concept--basically a navalized, mini-me version of the AirLand Battle concept vis-a-vis the Sovs in Europe during the 1980s--is clearly based on this scenario, with a paltry assist from Iran (not a great country you want to lump in, image-wise, when you seek China's help on Iranian nuke developments, but a sale is a sale).  And I gotta tell you, that's some chutzpah, basing a new high-end combat ordering principle on the same nation you're seeking all this cooperation from--like salvaging your economy right now.

Seriously, anybody has to admit that making an entire air-sea, big-war battle concept out of the Taiwan Relations Act is going above and beyond the call of duty.  In my opinion, it goes beyond defense policy to a good share of foreign policy as well, cementing in something for the long haul that may not serve our overall purposes in our evolving bilateral relationship with China.  

Is this a step we debate as Americans?  No.  Is this something our president explains to us, or our Secretary of State?  Not really. It's just an inside-the-Beltway affair led by a think tank that results in some language here and there in various planning docs and ultimately finds its expression in the budget.  Would the Navy or Air Force protest?  Above their pay grade, as they say, although plenty of retired flags from both services will tell you openly they think this is an odd path to be on, given the larger picture.  But most, if not all, will readily admit, as I do in an upcoming China Security piece, that, once you accept the deterrence logic on Taiwan, America needs to make the AirSea Battle Concept happen as merely the next-step ante to stay in this poker game.  And frankly, given the shopping list ginned up, any protest would sound very much in the Brer Rabbit mode.  After all, these are tight budgetary times, and quite frankly, Gates' logic begins with the need to find synergistic savings.  So why target the best thing going (enshrined in law!)?  I mean, the Chinese do the same, do they not?

My point is this:  is this the best we can do at this point in history?  China doesn't need any help triggering a balancing response across Asia, as I've noted here many times; they do it brilliantly on their own.  Frankly, we don't need much of a hedging strategy as a result; the containment policy writes itself--again, thanks to Chinese heavy-handedness.  

But the larger effort isn't particularly being made:  we are not building a better, bigger positive relationship with China, especially in mil-mil relations, to supersede the legacy negative one.  You can tell me that the Pentagon is just doing its job--following Congressional orders, as it were.  I just want something more imaginative at this point in history, you know, something that preps the diplomatic "battlefield" a bit--something the navy does well throughout history.  

And I just don't see it happening.  Our offers of cooperation with China typically involve asking them to join our party on our terms, whatever the situation in question.  Will you do what we want you to do in Iran/Sudan/Myanmar/North Korea/South China Sea/etc.?  You know, show us you're responsible by giving us what we want.  [Then there's the awkward but oddly workable--if entirely unfair in burden sharing--"limited liability partnership," as I call it, in Iraq and Afghanistan, where our blood pays for Chinese treasure.]  

And big surprise, rising powers don't negotiate well on those terms.  America rarely did during its decades of rising. That sort of trajectory makes you arrogant and full of yourself, and China is definitely in that mode.  

And yes, while that sort of thing needs to be subtly resisted, we need to be preparing for the leaner years--as in, our leaner years and China post-some crash or inevitable slowdown.  We need to building something--again--positive, and mil-mil relations can be spectacularly positive in that way.

I don't think we've thought through, in any comprehensive sense, what our devotion to this blue law from from the Cold War is costing us--opportunity-wise, or the signals that it sends, or what we risk with it in a strategic sense.  I think it's simply on the books, so the bureaucracy grinds its answer, and when sanctuary from a scary budgetary climate is sought, that "requirement" is not just an oldie but a very goodie.

It's just not where we're going as a power or where this system is going.  We are steering by our wake, because it feels comfortable and good, and--damn it--it's the law!

And I don't see a lot of strategy in that.  I see people, like Galrahn, patting the Obama administration on the back for simply having foolish behavior fall into their laps and doing the right thing by it--again, because it feels good and it makes us seem more important than--quite frankly--we really are.  Our "cooperative strategy," as he calls it, is pretty much what it's always been in the Pacific:  make us the most important bilateral partner with as many states there as possible.  Again, with the Chinese playing the fools (i.e., old Soviet role) on this one, that's not a hard strategy to pursue, but it's one that retards the Asian integration process to a certain extent, in the name of hedging against, and somewhat containing, China.  

And if we were set to play global policeman with budgetary ease for the next couple of decades, I would be the first to say, fine and dandy.  Wait on these guys to grow up, and democratize, and a whole bunch of other requirements.  But I don't think our finances or globalization will wait on those evolutions, so I think we need to start thinking about making do with the landscape--and players therein--as they're presented to us.  Because keeping China in this retarded state of "pol-mil" development (and I use that term of art purposefully) isn't wise, in my opinion.  I think we need to do more--faster--than just keep them in their place until they demonstrate the preferred type of global following skills (I mean, leadership).  I think that attitude retards our own, much needed pol-mil development (yes, we actually have some things still to learn about this globalization of our making).

Unless you think U.S. military power is what makes us who we are. I've always thought it enables us to display leadership, but that it's not a substitute for it.  

And that worries me--this unstated, barely articulated strategic course we seem to be on.

I got accused a lot--and rightfully--of granting Bush-Cheney better rationales for their policies than they themselves had. I think Galrahn does the same here with Obama and Clinton.  I think Hillary is the shining star simply by default, because I see no great accomplishments, just well-worn reactions to a perceived rival's foolish behavior.  Remember, these guys came in with Jim Steinburg's "strategic reassurance," when "nice" China was having a good year (2008-09) and we were grateful for their saving the global economy (and let's admit it, no China, and things get a whole lot worse).  Now China is having a bad year, as Galrahn rightfully notes, and now we're all about overstating our interest in the South China Sea so as to match China's absurd claim of sovereignty.  If that's isn't chasing events or trends, than what is?

This is Schadenfreude masquerading as grand strategy--too much of it, actually, on both sides.  Mirror-imaging in this regard ("Look how popular we are in Asia right now!  Vietnam loves us! Take that, China!") isn't all that imaginative.  China's "charm offensive" got offensive, so now we've fallen into one by default.

And you know, hoping Brett self-destructs isn't the same as getting the Packers into the Super Bowl.

There are other paths and there are other voices.  If we want to get this future right, we should invent it ourselves.

11:18AM

Deng: Develop the place, then decide the sovereignty

Another John Milligan-Whyte & Dain Min piece, this time in China Daily.com.  They argue that China needs to stop standing on the sidelines fuming about joint US naval ops/exercises with locals and simply join them, which I think is brilliant.  If China wants to assert the normality of their naval ops in their local waters, then they need to exercise with everybody at every opportunity.  They need to make their presence a welcome, stabilizing thing, because right now, their own operations in their own waters ARE destabilizing, because they are perceived to be about establishing/claiming sovereignty in a way that trumps the diplomatic process.

The underlying logic of the piece is even smarter--right out of Deng's mouth:

What can China do about having jurisdictional disputes with its neighboring countries which have now been complicated by China and America asserting conflicting "vital national interests" in the South China Sea? How can China put jurisdictional disputes back into their normal peaceful mode? China and the nations that it has jurisdictional disputes with can form a joint development corporation called "South China Sea Joint Development Corporation" to economically develop the disputed areas peacefully. It is easier to negotiate the size of each participating nation's investments, responsibilities and share of the profits of such a corporation with multinational win-win policies. The joint development corporation approach avoids the zero sum game ownership disputes during which no nation can safely develop the economic benefits nor safe guard its national pride and interests in the disputed areas.

On February 22, 1984 Deng Xiaoping discussed what now for decades have been China's successful solutions to the Taiwan and Hong Kong sovereignty issues with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He said, "I have also considered the possibility of resolving certain territorial disputes by having the countries concerned jointly develop the disputed areas before discussing the question of sovereignty. New approaches should be sought to solve such problems according to realities."

Smart stuff.

Make the development happen first, and then calmly divide the spoils, rather than get all huffy up front and suggest the only acceptable answer is that somebody wins and somebody must lose.  In the end, China will end up winning most of the time, NOT because of the supply of its military power, which will consistently backfire in its application, but because of the power of its domestic demand, which everyone will want to satisfy because there is good money to be made in doing so.

11:05AM

WPR's The New Rules: Nation-Building, not Naval Threats, Key to South Asian Security

It is hard for most Americans to fathom why the U.S. military should be involved in either Afghanistan or northwest Pakistan for anything other than the targeting of terrorist networks. And since drones can do most of that dirty work, few feel it is vital to engage in the long and difficult task of nation-building in that part of the world. These are distant, backward places whose sheer disconnectedness relegates them to the dustbin of globalization, and nothing more.

If only that were true. 

Read the rest of the column at World Politics Review.

The book reviewed in the piece is Monsoon:  The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.

6:00AM

A biographical sketch in "Military Transformation and Modern Warfare: A Reference Handbook" (2010)

Book by Elinor Sloan, Ottawa-based IR prof and retired Canadian military officer.  Part of a regular series.

Description:

This book focuses on military transformation, including its revolution in military affairs origins, its newer special operations forces, counterinsurgency, and stabilization and reconstruction components, and its wider homeland defense, space and deterrence dimensions. It examines the militaries of the United States, China, Russia, NATO, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, and Germany.

Furthermore:

The book contains a biographical sketch of Andrew Marshall, Andrew Krepinevich, William Owens, Arthur Cebrowski, Donald Rumsfeld, and Thomas Barnett, all of whom have been involved in some aspect of military transformation.

A pretty tight formation.  I've worked for three:  Owens when Vice Chairman on a CNA study, Cebrowski at the Naval War College and then at the Pentagon under Rumsfeld.  I've met and worked side-by-side with Krepinevich for a defense contractor, and came away impressed with him as a person and thinker, even as I often disagree with him (the same was often true with Art).  Marshall I've met and spent time with at select workshops (not a big talker), and also briefed a couple of times (once in group and once alone), and have also passed several times while we both addressed conferences. Rumsfeld I personally met once, despite the two years of working one body below:  when I interviewed him for the 2006 Esquire cover story/profile.  I would, with no feigned humility, describe myself as the least important in that historic crowd, my role being primarily a function of Art and Art's being--at its apogee--a function of Rumsfeld.  But then, that's what I always said when asked. Art was also a function of Owens--as were many others.  Krepinevich, as his sketch notes, was/is a function of Marshall, although it can be argued that, with the ascendance of the AirSea Battle Concept, he has become his own force--pun intended.  I would also say I'm the only small-wars focused guy in that crowd, which doesn't speak to my "influence" (see below) so much as my predictive ability.

My biographical sketch:

Thomas P.M. Barnett

 

When Arthur Cebrowski took on the task of leading the office of force transformation in the fall of 2001, one of the first things he did was establish five study areas.  Although one focused specifically on the military transformation efforts of the U.S. services, others were much broader. Thomas Barnett, a Harvard educated expert on Russia and the Warsaw Pact who was a strategy professor at the U.S. Naval War College while Cebrowski was its president, was brought to Washington and asked to conduct a wide reaching study on "how the U.S. military should look at the world."  At the office of force transformation he developed a power point presentation that catapulted him to prominence in the years immediately following 9/11.  He eventually delivered the presentation over 500 times to audiences of government officials, military officers, and think tanks in and outside America.

The central idea of Barnett's presentation, and the 2004 book for which he is best know, The Pentagon's New Map, is that the world can best be understood through the lens of globalization. He divides the world into two: a "functioning core" of nations, fully plugged into the world economy, including the old core of North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and also the emerging core of Eastern Europe, Russia, China, South Africa, India, Brazil, Chile, and Argentina; and a "non-integrating gap" of nations comprising theocracies, dictatorships, and failed states that are unwilling or unable to participate in a globalized world economy. Barnett argues that if we want to know where future conflicts will take place we need to look at where globalization has taken root and where it has not.  Where globalization has spread we find stable governments that do not require military interventions and do not warrant consideration as threats, but where globalization has not spread we find "failed states that command our attention and rogue states that demand our vigilance."  Not only has the vast majority of the crises since the end of the Cold War taken place within the nonintegrating gap, he points out, but in his view "this gap is the expeditionary theater for U.S. military forces in the 21st century."

Barnett's contribution to the conceptual thinking surrounding military transformation lies in his particular view on the sorts of forces that will be necessary to operate in this nonintegrating gap. He argues the United States needs two militaries:  one to fight wars, a Leviathan force, and one to wage peace, a System Administrator force--and it is on the latter where he places his greatest emphasis.  While the leviathan force may occasionally be necessary, he argues, the focus should be on funding a system administrator force that can "shrink the gap" by helping failed and conquered joint the functioning core of nations.  In his view war with China is highly unlikely, given that it is part of the functioning core, and resources expended to meet this potential peer competitor would be better spent on capabilities for peacekeeping and nation-building.  These would comprise primarily ground troops and especially the marine corps--which he feels is better suited to a system administrator role--while the Leviathan force,which would grow progressively smaller as nations integrated into the global economy, would draw primarily from the air force and the navy, as well as heavy armor.  Barnett's focus on peacekeeping was consistent with ideas that emerged more generally in the office of force transformation in 2003 about stability and reconstruction divisions.  

It is unclear how much influence Barnett, who expanded his ideas in a 2005 book Blueprint for Action and is now a private consultant, had on the current course of military transformation in the United States.  Nonetheless, his ideas sparked a valuable debate on the appropriate prism through which to view the world, and on the types of forces necessary to address contemporary threats.

10:26AM

This week in globalization

 

Clearing out my files for the week:

 

  • Martin Wolf on why the US is going to win the global currency battle:  "To put it crudely, the US wants to inflate the rest of the world, while the latter is trying to deflate the US."  We win because we have infinite ammo.  But better that we come, per my Monday column, to some agreement at the G-20. 
  • Sebastian Mallaby, also in FT, says that, despite the current currency struggles, the "genie of global finance is out of the bottle" and not to be stuffed back in.  Wolf had noted $800B capital inflows to emerging markets 2010-2011, which is gargantuan, thus the crazy struggle of some places to keep their currencies low.  As for America stopping China from buying US bonds in retaliation for our not being able to buy Chinese assets?  China holds only about one-third of the US T-bonds abroad ($3T total), so it can buy all its wants from others in the system.  There is no turning back, he says.
  • Meanwhile, the Pentagon makes plans to turn back the clock on the globalization of defense manufacturing.  A new spending bill provision--inserted at DoD's request--includes the power to exclude foreign parts suppliers (read China). Just about every US-based defense firm uses offshore suppliers, so this is going to get very expensive very fast.  It'll be a lot harder to find that $100B in savings over five years. This is almost a fifth generation warfare version of shooting yourself in the foot--first, before the other guy can.  China does nothing here, that frankly we shouldn't be able to handle, but we move down a path that instantly adds a significant tax to everything we buy in the growing-by-leaps-and-bounds IT realm.  One hopes there's a half-billion for that American rare earths mining co. that's looking for a new investor.  Interesting how China's becoming vulnerable to, and dependent on, so many unstable parts of the world for resources, and we're going to cut off the tip of our IT nose to spite our face.  I can imagine a cheaper way, but that would be so naive in comparison to spending all this extra money.
  • China continues to buy low, as a ruthless capitalist should. Giving us a taste of what it could be like if we don't get too protectionist, it's buying up Greece's "toxic government bonds."--and plenty more in Europe. All of the EU is getting a taste, says Newsweek, as Chinese investors are snapping up bankrupt enterprises and--apparently--putting people back to work.  China also, like a ruthless capitalist, seeks to make bilats reduce the chance of EU-wide restrictions on its trade. Old American trick.
  • Another sign of globalization on the march:  emerging economies buying up food and beverage companies in the West that would otherwise naturally be targeting them for future expansion. Bankers expect the trend to continue.  Gotta feed and water that global middle class that keeps emerging at 70-75m a year.  Emerging economies are buying up the companies from equity firms that had previously bought them during down times.
  • Great FT story on how Turkey has the Iranian middle class in its sights.  Long history of smuggling inTurkey dips a toe in, would like to drink entire tub eastern Turkey.  Sanctions hold up what could be a major trade, so the black-marketing local Turks mostly smuggle gasoline--and a certain amount of heroin.  But the official goal is clear enough:  be ready to take advantage whenever Iran opens up.  A local Turkish chamber of commerce official floats the notion of a free trade zone at the border. Those 70m underserved Iranian consumers beckon.
  • India's airline industry can't keep up with demand generated by itsGet me planes and pilots--now! booming middle class. Boeing says Indian airlines will buy over 1,000 jets in the next two decades. Already they're forced to have one-in-five pilots be foreigners.
  • Fascinating WSJ story on how China's car economy is going wild, with ordinary Chinese exploring the freedom of the road.  Drive-in service is taking off, weekend jaunts mean hotel business, etc. In past visits I saw a lot of this coming down the pike.  Just like when America's car culture went crazy after WWII, this is a serious social revolution.


Don't forget your meal of eternal happiness!

  • Funny thing about all this South China Sea hubbub: "Corporate ties linking China and Japan have never been stronger," says the WSJ.  Serious driver?  Japan is exporting its mania for golf to China--the fastest growing market for the sport.  It's what middle-class guys do.


Coming soon: the "golf wars"

 

  • WSJ story on Vietnam creating its own Facebook to keep a closer eye on its netizens.  Defeat the anti-capitalist insurgents!What caught my attention: "The team has added online English tests and several state-approved video games, including a violent multi-player contest featuring a band of militants bent on stopping the spread of global capitalism."  I would say we finally won the Vietnam War.

 

10:00AM

The "rising near peer" returns the paranoid favor

The NYT reports that the U.S. military is alarmed at the rising anti-American tone and sentiment of younger Chinese military officers.  This is the same U.S. military that assembles multinational war games in China's front yard and sells advanced weaponry to a small island nation off its coast--in addition to anyone else who will buy it in the region (and yes, business is very good right now, as weapons purchases are up 100% over the past half decade).

The U.S. military, which found its network-centric warfare roots in the seminal shell game known as the Taiwan Straits crises of 1995-1996, now takes inspiration from China's response since then (a build-up of anti-access/area denial assets that rely heavily on ballistic missile attacks to keep our carriers at bay) to launch its own AirSea Battle Concept--a new high-tech warfighting doctrine that makes no bones about specifically targeting the Chinese military.

And we wonder why the Chinese military seem to think we're their number one enemy?  Are we honestly that clueless or has our disingenuity broken through to some higher, slightly irrational plane?

Follow me into this brave, alternative world:

 

  • Imagine the Chinese navy holding multinational exercises with the Cubans and Venezuelans and Nicaraguans (a silly sight, I know) in the waters around Cuba, while Beijing warns us subtly that their 1979 Cuba Defense Act will be pursued to the ultimate vigor required, including the sale of advanced attack aircraft to the Cuban air force.  
  • Imagine Chinese carriers conducting such operations, sporting aircraft and weaponry that could rain destruction over most of the continental U.S. at a moment's notice.  
  • Imagine Chinese spy craft patrolling the edge of our local waters and flying around the rim of our airspace.  
  • Imagine the Chinese selling all sorts of missile defense to Venezuela and other allies "scared of rising American militarism."
  • Imagine weapons purchases throughout Latin America doubling in five years time, with China supplying most of the goods.  
  • Imagine Chinese naval bases and marine barracks doting the Latin American landscape and Caribbean archipelago.
  • Imagine a Cuban missile crisis-like event in the mid-1990s, which led the Chinese military to propose a new evolution in their warfare since.  
  • Imagine the Chinese military conducting regime toppling events in the Middle East, involving countries upon whom our energy dependency is dramatically and permanently rising, while China actually gets the vast bulk of its oil from non-Persian Gulf sources like Canada, Mexico, Latin America, Africa and itself.  
  • Imagine the Chinese government demanding that the Chinese military produce an elaborate report every year detailing the "disturbing" rise of U.S. military power.  
  • Imagine the Chinese military announcing their new military doctrine of attack from the sea and air, with their documents chock full of bombing maps of U.S. military installations that are widely dispersed across the entirety of the continental United States, meaning their new war doctrine has--at its core--the complete destruction of U.S. military assets on our territory as the opening bid.
  • Imagine the U.S. military stating that this new doctrine of attacking the entirety of the U.S. territory is necessary to maintaining the regional balance of power in the Western hemisphere, because the U.S. Navy has--in an "unprovoked" and "provocative" manner, begun significant patrolling operations in the Caribbean Basin, whose waters constitute a "profound" national interest to the Chinese.
  • Imagine this series of developments unfolding over close to two decades, as China, having lost its familiar great-power war foe, the Soviet Union, firmly glommed onto the U.S. as a replacement enemy image.
  • Imagine all that, and then imagine how the U.S. military views the Chinese military.  
  • Imagine if the Chinese military offered military-to-military ties under such conditions.  

 

What do you think the U.S. Congress would say to that?  Would it be considered "caving in" to Chinese pressure?

The truth, unexplored in this otherwise fine article, is that the U.S. military needs--and has needed--rising China as an enemy image for more than a decade-and-a-half now, so I don't know how we can expect anything from young Chinese officers other than returning the favor.

I'm on the BBC World Service yesterday with John Mearsheimer of Chicago (go ahead and listen to the guy--see the post directly below for link), who is stunningly open in his claims that America will never allow China to become an influential power in Asia because we are firmly committed to remaining the world's sole superpower and will basically do whatever it takes to stop China's rise, including a containment strategy that marshals the entire region's militaries to box in the Chinese.  He raised the specter (rather fantastic) of a China with a per capita GDP equivalent to our own in the foreseeable future--a prospect he labeled incredible in its fearsomeness.

[Mearsheimer has a tendency to use the word "power" over and over again, like a mantra, and he clearly meaning warfighting and power-projection capacity.  He seems to have drunk mightily at the neocons table and remains hungover in his appreciation that the American government's number one goal is to remain the dominant military power on the planet and prevent anybody's rise that might challenge that.  He is very much in the George Friedman vein of thought.]

This is the state of our discussion:  the world's biggest and by-far strongest military regularly getting up into the grill of the second-biggest economy on the planet and letting it know--in no uncertain terms--that it will not countenance China exercising military power in its own region!  Why?  Despite being intensely overdrawn militarily around the planet and facing military resource shortages in the very same regions where Chinese economic interests are skyrocketing, it's in our best interest to deny China's rise with all our might.  Safely buttressed by the vast security resources of our NATO allies, it's clear that we don't need any new friends and--instead--must do everything possible to deny their emergence, because more Chinese security means less U.S. security; it is a completely zero-sum game.

Brilliant stuff.  I can't imagine why the Chinese look upon us as anything but the best of friends.  I am flabbergasted at our naivete in hoping for something better to emerge.  This is all working out so brilliantly--for the U.S. Navy and Air Force.  If only we can get a sensible Republican back in who can jack the defense budget back . . . I dunno . . . just up!  

Because when I look two decades down the road, it's clear to me that we don't want to have anything to do with China or its military.  While boxing them in--in East Asia, we and we alone will manage the world's security system, using money that arises from our rapid quadrupling of exports . . . to places like China, which will be cowed into accepting our goods by the awesome specter of our military power!

It's really all so easy when you think about it.  Just zero out all the complexity and interdependence created by this globalization of our making, and we'll be able to boss the entire world around militarily--assuming we have the courage and strategic intelligence to devote as much resources as necessary to completely box in the Chinese military and keep them as paranoid as possible.

Happiness is a warm gun, my friends, pointed at "rising" China. That path will get America everything it needs while costing us nothing of strategic importance.

And yes, we should remain shocked . . . shocked! . . . at the rising ant-Americanism in the ranks of the Chinese military.  I cannot imagine where this mindset comes from.

But read the piece, because it's a good and balanced bit of writing (Wines is almost always totally solid in delivery). The quotes from the Chinese academics echo stuff written here many times--especially the bit about the Chinese military officers being a bit inexperienced and retrograde in their PR skills.  David Shambaugh, the U.S. expert on the Chinese military, is cited offering his usual wisdom on the subject.  Unlike the many hyperbolists on this subject, most of whom get paychecks or contracts from the U.S. Navy or Air Force, he remains a very calm and intelligent voice. [Another pair of intelligent voices on the subject are Mike McDevitt and Dave Finkelstein at the Center for Naval Analyses (complete disclosure--I do some on-call work there, though not with those two)].

And Shambaugh is right, this is an unnecessary and unstrategic and wasteful path for both sides to be on.  We are pretending to play Cold War when both of us should be managing the global security environment--in tandem.  I'm not saying our logic doesn't make sense.  Things like the AirSea Battle Concept make eminent sense--if a war over Taiwan is the ordering principle for the U.S. military going forward.  Me?  I just don't buy that as our North Star for the 21st century and globalization's further evolution.  Instead, I see it as a colossal and stupid diversion of resources and attention span.  

Why?  Again, back to my basics:  thinking about war within the context of everything else and not just within the context or myopic logic of war itself. That "everything else," for me, is best encapsulated by the term globalization, because it's the global economy + all those rising connections + all those rising interdependencies + all those overlapping security interests ("security" ain't the same as zero-sum defense--remember) + all those ever-changing dynamics that arise from all this complexity. Compared to all that, the Taiwan scenario is frozen in time. Fine, I guess, for our military to obsess over it, just like the PLA, because it keeps those otherwise unoccupied by the Long War and frontier integration and nation-building occupied with something they naturally are drawn to as ordering principles. But, in the end, it's make-do work, in historical terms; it's shutting the door on the past and not opening the door on the future. It simply does not rank in a US foreign policy that's coherently focused on shaping a future worth creating.

But this is what we end up with when our primary goal in foreign policy is to--as Clinton puts it--keep all the balls in the air. When everything is equally important, there is no strategy whatsoever. It's just chasing your tail and current events and putting everybody--save yourself--in the driver's seat.  

Obama needs to take control of his foreign policy and start paddling faster than the current, because he is--by not taking more control--losing control of his own national security enterprise, and that is not leadership.

NOTE:  Post picked up by Time magazine's "Swampland" (politics and policy) blog.

11:00AM

China's alleged control of the rare earth materials

From John Batchelor Show

FT story on how "US is scrambling to resume production of raw materials vital for defence equipment and green technology in response to rising fears about Chinese domination of the sector."

The point to be clear on:  China dominates current production of rare earths (95-plus percent) but in no way has a dominant supply/reserve position.  The world has simply allowed China to achieve its dominant production position by abandoning their own mining efforts.  Why?  Very expensive and very environmentally damaging.

Rare earths are a collection of 17 metallic elements with similar chemical make-up.  They present unique magnetic and optical properties that make them highly useful for miniaturization, lasers and energy efficiency. There are considered strategic because of their applications in high-tech industries, to include weaponry.

No one much cared about China's domination of production, until the South China Sea dust-up with Japan led China to allegedly slow exports to Japan (not entirely clear what happen, but impressions were made).  China has also recently signaled that it will cutback on exports to make sure it has enough for its own burgeoning domestic demand.

Now, according to the article, we've got people in Congress dreaming of US self-sufficiency on this score, which will be--like most things in this globalized economy--virtually impossible to achieve.  Long ago, the US was the dominant global producer, but we abandoned the effort due to environmental and cost realities. Article says the last US mine closed in 2002 and is looking for $500m to reopen.  Those guys should send a thank-you letter to Beijing, because I'm betting they'll get their investment soon.

Obviously, if the material is considered strategic, there's good logic for mining at multiple sources.  I would consider this a reasonable space for cooperation with long-time allies so that we're not all doing this in the most expensive manner possible.

12:01AM

Why I don't worry about A2/AD (the PG version)

Pair of FT stories.

First is front-pager on how the U.S. defense industry is cleaning up on sales to PG Sunni states worried about Iran's reach for the bomb, with jets, radar and missile defense orders leading the way. While the short term fear is plain enough:  a U.S. or Israeli strike on Iran could trigger Iran's retaliations against whomever and they want to be ready. But longer term, we have dueling anti-access, area-denial strategies, with our local allies buying what we're selling: ways to penetrate Iran's alleged A2/AD capacity (mostly fixated on US naval assets in the Gulf) and ways to set up competing versions of their own.

Point being, I'm not a big believer in A2/AD working as a peacetime influencer.  When the Sovs made that effort with us during the Cold War, it was all about the actual fight, and didn't add anything to Soviet ability to freak anybody out and thus influence them.  The nukes they fielded did plenty of that.

Iran won't be getting to any serious nuke total for a very long time, and they're unlikely to make it very high without suffering some debilitating fight with its regional neighbors, so their version of A2/AD (the short version is to say anything that puts our carriers at serious and doesn't allow us to park off your coast and do sorties to our hearts' content) logically presents more ambition (i.e., they really hope to cover some of their own vulnerabilities here).  But deliver any serious peacetime influence? Ain't going to happen. Too tight a space and too many enemies with money to spend and a big friend to make the sales. Plus, no matter what we put in the Gulf, we can reach out with long-range bombers and pretty much do what we want with Iran, from all sorts of distant and untouchable friendly bases.

So what great lord-it-over-them influence does Iran get with its A2/AD and nuke efforts?  Nothing really.  The regional balancing is natural enough and there's no superpower standing behind Iran ready to bail it out if the fight really does come.  Plus (reference 2), a nakedly assertive Iran (i.e., when it's anti-Israeli, aren't-we-Muslims-in-this-all-together rhetoric is stripped away) only buys its co-religionists throughout the region a lot more persecution.  

So Iran's local influence goes down and ours goes up--A2/AD denied.

And it happens in such a nice way for our defense industry facing lower acquisitions back home.  Honestly, it's made to order--unless you're hoping to use the whole A2/AD to get the Pentagon to buy your gear back here. Because the more we arm up our friends, Nixon Doctrine style (shoe not being on Iran's foot this time), the less assets we need to keep in region and the more likely it is that, if we so choose, we'll rain iron from significant, out-of-touch distances.

8:53AM

WPR's The New Rules: Global Warming Shifts Focus to Friendly North

 

From the Arctic Council's website.

According to virtually all global warming projections, humanity faces significantly more conflict in the decades ahead as we fight over dwindling resources in climate-stressed lands. However, those reports typically overlook one likely outcome that could counterbalance the more negative impacts of global warming -- that of northern territories becoming significantly milder, more accessible, and, most intriguingly, more hospitable to immigration. This is the essential good news to be found in Laurence C. Smith's fascinating new book, "The World in 2050."

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

Read about the book because of Smith's piece in the WSJ, which I blogged.  Asked Putnam for the book and got it pronto.  Like I hint at in the piece, Smith's survey of futurism was only average and didn't really add anything to the book.  I have no idea why he or his editors felt the need to promise "the world in 2050," because the text simply doesn't deliver. But the book-within-the-book on the "New North" was eye-popping. I would have loved to hear more about that and skip all the surveying.

12:04AM

Explaining the surge's successes

WSJ weekend interview with General Odierno, once the poster boy for a shoot-em-up Army ill-suited for SysAdmin work, now the longest serving general in Iraq and the poster boy for COIN done well enough.

Good quotes:

[The surge] shows we learned to adapt, to change.  We changed our organization, we changed how we were equipped, and we changed how we did our operations--all while in contact [with the enemy].  That's an incredible feat.

 

In 2007 I would go out and Americans would show up in a community where they hadn't been in a while. For the first three days, no one would talk to any of the Americans.  But as soon as they started setting up their base—usually meaning they put T-walls around a couple buildings—[Iraqis] would come out of the woodwork. Why? Because when they saw the T-walls go up they knew it was gonna be somewhat permanent, that [the Americans] were going to stay . . . not just gonna come through here for a few days and leave us and we'll be slaughtered.

 

Everybody I talk to, I mean every political leader, every military leader, every citizen—and if you're there living and reading their newspapers and what they're saying—it's very clear they want to be their own country. They don't want anybody—the United States, Iran, anybody—telling them what to do.

 

A strong, democratic Iraq with a developing economy could really be a game-changer in the Middle East.

 

It's going to be three to five years [after 2011] for us to figure out if this is going right and if it's what we want. There's a real opportunity here that I don't think the citizens of the United States realize. I really truly believe there's an opportunity we might never get again.

Good interview.

12:09AM

Obama to Petraeus: I cede your win--pre-emptively--on Afghanistan

Karen DeYoung preview piece in WAPO that says Obama has already decided the Petraeus strategy in Afghanistan is solid enough that no major changes are expected in the end-of-year White House review.

This resolve arises amid a flurry of reports from outside experts and former officials who are convinced that the administration's path in Afghanistan is unsustainable and its objectives are unclear. Lawmakers from both parties are insisting that they be given a bigger say in assessing the war's trajectory.

The White House calculus is that the strategy retains enough public and political support to weather any near-term objections. Officials do not expect real pressure for progress and a more precise definition of goals to build until next year, with the approach of a July deadline President Obama has set for decisions on troop withdrawals and the beginning of the 2012 electoral season.

I would say that Petraeus won that round a bit too easily, suggesting Team Obama is keen to avoid a profile-enhancing--for the general, that is--fight.

And I must admit, I consider that a bit of an abdication of responsibility for civilian oversight, not on the level of Bush-Cheney's damn near complete outsourcing of the Iraq effort to the generals in 2007--but same zip code.

It speaks to Petraeus' enormous standing--a national asset in the Long War.  But I see a great risk in this for the US military: Obama does nothing more than Bush did to regionalize the solution set and that lack of progress, more so than defects in the COIN approach, dooms the project to an outcome just bad enough for Obama to wash his hands just before the 2012 election cycle gets serious.

8:37AM

WPR's The New Rules: China Still Needs U.S. in Global Security Role  

 

When Europe ran the world, trade followed the flag, meaning that globalization in its initial expression -- otherwise known as colonialism -- grew out of the barrel of a gun, to paraphrase Mao Zedong. On this subject, Franklin Roosevelt and Vladimir Lenin agreed, even if that conclusion led them to embrace diametrically opposed strategies: FDR's realization that "the colonial system means war" drove him to erect an international liberal trade order following World War II that doomed the vast colonial systems of his closest European allies. Roosevelt's success not only enabled America to contain and ultimately defeat the soul-crushing Soviet alternative, it laid the initial groundwork for today's American-style "open door" globalization, itself a nod to cousin Theodore. In the end, that "traitor to his class," as Roosevelt was often labeled, should rightfully be acknowledged as the single-most successful anti-imperialist revolutionary leader of the 20th century.

Read the entire column at World Politics Review.

I just participated--this morning--in my first virtual meeting of the Geopolitical Risk Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum as led by Eurasia Group CEO Ian Bremmer.  I wrote this piece in anticipation of that, in effect offering my definition of the biggest geopolitical risk I could imagine: "declining" or "retreating" America + rising-but-pol-mil-weak China = a system whose revealed risk could suddenly spike.  How so? Some scenario comes along that confirms US impotence or unwillingness to step into any new breaches, while likewise confirming the "paper tiger" nature of the PLA (shiny weapons + no experience makes Wang a tentative soldier).  Then the question is, what or who steps into this breach?  Rising secondary powers? Underpowered and/or atrophied international organizations? Or, most likely, is that breach simply left wide open, revealing the true macro geopol risk in the system--namely, that we stand astride a transition from an overburdened and overleveraged superpower to an inexperienced and lacking-in-will-and-political resilience newcomer?  And what is the possibility of alliance between the two at this time?  Poor indeed. You pile that geopol "revealed risk" on top of a fragile global recovery, and that's a dangerous mix.

12:06AM

Everybody's got a definition of what was won and lost in Iraq

"There’s a guy selling fish. He’s got a fish cart. He’s cooking fish. And there’s a watermelon stand and then there’s an electronic store right next to it, and people are everywhere. And I’m sitting in traffic and I’m going, ‘Man, this is unbelievable.’ That’s a victory parade for me."


--COL. ROGER CLOUTIER, on conditions in Baghdad.

See the excellent Steven Lee Myers story on the combat pullout from Iraq.

One reasonable description of what just happened:

The invasion has left behind a democracy in an autocratic part of the world, but a troubled young one with uncertain control over its security and destiny.

I have yet to see a young democracy start in any other way.  It's a very American story.

12:03AM

What the Leviathan taketh away, the SysAdmin better provide

Great NYT piece on "shadow war" (the usual term of art when your Leviathan ops--meaning kinetic--are conducted by your special ops guys here and there).  The gist:

At first, the news from Yemen on May 25 sounded like a modest victory in the campaign against terrorists: an airstrike had hit a group suspected of being operatives for Al Qaedain the remote desert of Marib Province, birthplace of the legendary queen of Sheba.

But the strike, it turned out, had also killed the province’s deputy governor, a respected local leader who Yemeni officials said had been trying to talk Qaeda members into giving up their fight. Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, accepted responsibility for the death and paid blood money to the offended tribes.

The strike, though, was not the work of Mr. Saleh’s decrepit Soviet-era air force. It was a secret mission by the United States military, according to American officials, at least the fourth such assault on Al Qaeda in the arid mountains and deserts of Yemen since December.

The attack offered a glimpse of the Obama administration’s shadow war against Al Qaeda and its allies. In roughly a dozen countries — from the deserts of North Africa, to the mountains of Pakistan, to former Soviet republics crippled by ethnic and religious strife — the United States has significantly increased military and intelligence operations, pursuing the enemy using robotic drones and commando teams, paying contractors to spy and training local operatives to chase terrorists.

The White House has intensified the Central Intelligence Agency’s drone missile campaign in Pakistan, approved raids against Qaeda operatives in Somalia and launched clandestine operations from Kenya. The administration has worked with European allies to dismantle terrorist groups in North Africa, efforts that include a recent French and Mauritanian strike near the border between Mauritania and Mali. And the Pentagon tapped a network of private contractors to gather intelligence about things like militant hide-outs in Pakistan and the location of an American soldier currently in Taliban hands.

While the stealth war began in the Bush administration, it has expanded under President Obama, who rose to prominence in part for his early opposition to the invasion of Iraq. Virtually none of the newly aggressive steps undertaken by the United States government have been publicly acknowledged.

This is why, when I divide up the "kids" between Leviathan and SysAdmin in the brief, I put the SOF triggers pullers with the Leviathan but shove the Unconventional Warfare guys (a misleading label because they're really the hearts-and-minds/milk-mil training crowd) into the SysAdmin pile.  My excuse:  I don't care to explain publicly what the trigger-pullers do--and neither does the USG.

But the larger point:  fine to do the nasty work on the nasty types, but that needs to be publicly balanced with highly transparent SysAdmin efforts, otherwise the shadow war starts to feel like a cynically maintained shadow empire of the "escape-from-New-York" variety--as in, we put a fence around bad countries and enter them at will primarily for the kinetics/killing.  

That is a defense but not a solution.  It's also morally unsustainable.

Obama has shown an amazing toughness on the kinetic side, acting far beyond his words.  But he's also shown a strong desire to "come home" when the SysAdmin stuff--in all its magnificent difficulty and frustrations--drags on to long.  That second instinct, when coupled with the USG's continued lack of strategic imagination regarding new allies and serious regionalization strategies (like in Afghanistan) makes us look still too unilateral and too cynical in our approach.

12:09AM

Pakistan's government: always quick to blame the world for its inadequacies

WAPO story on how Pakistan (canubelieveit!) complains that the world's aid response to the recent flooding is inadequate. Granted, it's the nation's worst disaster, but it's also a clear sign of the government's near-failed-state status.  The clearest sign of a competent government is its ability to handle a system-perturbing event of this magnitude, and Pakistan is a lot closer to helpless than help-able.

I'm not saying Pakistan isn't correct, because, by recent measures (like Haiti's earthquake), it is being shortchanged, but I suspect a certain amount of that stinginess comes from the sense that Pakistan is an incompetent, ungrateful, hate-filled place as far as the West is concerned.  How much of that is true is obviously up for debate, but the argument cannot be dismissed out of hand--and yeah, those dynamics limit the love that comes back to you in your moment of need.

Of course, the US military steps up (a generosity that will be instantly forgotten) and--as usual--the lack of helos is the long pole in the SysAdmin tent.

I will naturally be accused of blaming the victim here, but when the victim is so willing to blame the responder, that sort of feedback is to be expected.  Nobody deserves this level of pain, but people, I have learned, tend to suffer and die the same way they love and live.  That's not karma; it's human nature.  A let's-all-pull-together place goes down fighting, while a let's-point-fingers place just goes down.  Granted, you can always blame the Brits for Pakistan's fake-state status, and you can always blame us for abusing the place plenty ever since, but Pakistan--in pockets--is a place of highly inventive and ambitious people who are nonetheless trapped in a nation-state cell with a collection of Gap populations that will not be dragged into the future without a huge fight.  America was once that state:  an ambitious and go-getting East simultaneously saddled with a crazy West that needed to be tamed.  We were fairly brutal in the latter process, and succeeded dramatically on that basis.  We were lucky to be relatively isolated from threats--unlike Pakistan, but that nation faces a very similar choice on which it has punted for decades now, preferring to nurture its hatred toward India and the West in general (the source of all its woes [at least those beyond that created by nefarious India], according to the nation's unreal conspiratorial mindset), and yeah, that narrow mindset comes back to haunt the place at moments like this--which is shameful for all sides but a cruel fact.

One can only hope the disaster pushes ordinary Pakistanis to expect better from their own government and not instinctively ask what the world owes it, because, quite frankly, the world is not in a good mood right now with regard to Pakistan, and to me, that's the real tragedy here.

12:05AM

Petraeus: we surge and Taliban do the same

photo here

Pair of WSJ stories.

In the first, Petraeus says the uptick in Taliban violence is directly related to the uptick in engagement pursued by the US military in the surge--as in, we fight more and they reply.  He also says that as the US military seeks to expand its "security bubbles," the fight will naturally grow as the White House conducts its policy review near the end of the year.

His focus now:  tracking the size of the individual bubbles and looking for ways to cross-link them.

One good sign:  fewer IEDs because those nets are under more stress from US operations.

Big difference with Iraq:  the surge is not coinciding with a reduction in inter-ethnic strife but with an increase, primarily, the WSJ opines, because of Karzai's offer to negotiate with the Taliban (see my other post below).

Bottom line:  Petraeus seems to be prepping the bureaucratic battlespace by reminding people that the surge doesn't equate to less violence in the short run but a whole lot more--part of the delicate dance he's pursuing with a White House eager to find early progress so as to justify the beginning of the drawdown slated for the summer of 2011.

As such, Petraeus doesn't need any additional triggers for violence in-country, hence his unusual intervention into the whole Quran-burning threat from Florida.

12:02AM

As the Leviathan experiences a budget squeeze, another door opens--a bit

BAE Systems announces in FT a cut of almost 1,000 jobs, just after Lockheed announces 600 execs take buy-out packages--all because of expected cuts in big platform purchases (total cuts sought are $100B over five years, or $20B a year).  Boeing, also announcing cuts, even broached recently the notion of a merger with another big firm.

Meanwhile, defense companies applaud (Bloomberg Businessweek) the proposed export-control revamp offered by Obama, described as the most important change in that area in the last two decades.  The change: instead of one big list of technologies that face export controls, now a three-tiered structure where government approval for export is made easier (2nd tier) or completely obviated (3rd tier).  For example, in the realm of tanks and trucks, of the 12,000 items currently requiring export licenses, three-quarters would now be shifted to the lesser control categories.

Talk about just-in-time!

Good move for US exports and competitiveness and a reasonable sop to the defense industry facing a smaller US defense budget.

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