Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category

The following essay was submitted to the 2015 Capstone Essay Contest by MIDN (now ENS) Steven Hallgren and is published as submitted. This is the first of several essay contest submissions that will be published in the coming weeks.

carrierOn September 25th, 2011 in the Northeastern port city of Dalian, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) brought the newly-refurbished aircraft carrier Liaoning into service.[1] The commissioning came as the result of a decades-long endeavor to acquire such a ship, and perhaps more importantly represented China’s ambitions to establish blue-water naval capabilities. Though the Liaoning itself will only serve as a test bed for Chinese carrier aviation and ostensibly will never see operational service, it nevertheless shows progress towards China’s ultimate goal of bolstering its fleet with home-built carriers.[2] A PLAN fleet with power-projecting aircraft carriers would profoundly expand China’s naval capabilities in the hotly-contested waters of Southeast Asia. As the initial sea trials of Liaoning usher in the age of the Chinese carrier fleet, it is worth examining how the PLAN would employ such assets within its greater maritime strategy.

From a broad perspective, China’s quest for a carrier fleet is a manifestation of its need to defend its territorial claims from foreign threats in much the same way that it had to defend its tremendous landmass from continental threats throughout history. More concrete ideology launched a fervent pursuit of an aircraft carrier dating back to the 1980’s when Soviet-trained Admiral Liu Huaqing began shaping China’s maritime direction.[3] Increasing strain across the Taiwan Strait primarily fueled what he described as the “extremely necessary” urge to manifest China’s maritime—and, ergo, national—power in the form of a carrier.[4] Since the 2000s, waning tensions with Taiwan have shifted China’s maritime focus towards new areas—though the pursuit of a carrier has remained constant.

Liaoning began her peculiar life as Varyag, intended to be an aircraft carrier of the Soviet Navy. Her construction halted with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s, and Varyag was left incomplete to rust in a Ukrainian shipyard until the Chinese purchased the empty hull in 2000. After an elaborate trek out of the Mediterranean and around the world to Dalian, Varyag entered a decade-long refit period, culminating in her renaming and commissioning as Liaoning.[5]

As with many aspects of its military, the PLAN is far from forthcoming with the features and capabilities of its infant carrier. However, its expected specifications can be approximated based on the small amount of information China has released and the Soviet Admiral Kuznetzov class to which Varyag belonged. The carrier will host a modestly-sized air wing totaling around 50 aircraft, divided between J-10 and J-15 fighters and an assortment of helicopters used for anti-electronic warfare (AEW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).[6] Additionally, Liaoning’s ship-board weapons include a CIWS defense system, air-defense missiles, and ASW offensive missiles.[7]

In analyzing the impact of carrier developments on the PLAN fleet, care must be taken to avoid falling into the trap of directly comparing Chinese capabilities to those of the American Navy. As a result of this practice, many analysts tend to be overly dismissive of the carrier. [8] While by any measure the Nimitz class aircraft carriers objectively outperform Liaoning, such comparisons are only illuminating insofar as the two ships would be expected to meet each other in combat. Direct naval combat with the American Navy is not only substantially unlikely, but also entirely beyond the strategic maritime scope of the PLAN.[9]

Further, even assuming the current state of Liaoning to be the effective extent of the Chinese carrier program is rather short-sighted. As mentioned previously, the PLAN does not even intend for Liaoning to become an operational ship. That being said, it serves as a useful proxy for future carrier development as it not only will become a “modestly capable” ship in its own right, but will also serve to train the PLAN in the tactics and employment of such an asset.[10] As such, although direct contrast with the more familiar and transparent capabilities of Western navies is simple, a more useful analysis is achieved through a localized assessment of the impact of a PLAN-operated carrier strike group in the Western Pacific. After all, Asian waters currently host a power vacuum waiting to be filled by the first Asian nation with a fully-operational carrier.[11]

Having broadly established the current state of China’s carrier program, the question then becomes how a fleet with operational aircraft carriers would change China’s ability to achieve its strategic maritime objectives. Naturally, the strategy of the Chinese military is every bit as wide-sweeping and nuanced as that of any other major power. Even still, it is possible to observe recurring themes within those plans, isolate the capabilities needed to achieve them, and analyze the extent to which a carrier navy would bolster those capabilities. From a regional security perspective, perhaps two of the most important strategic objectives are China’s desires to establish a broad territorial claim over the South China Sea and to define itself as a major power of the Western Pacific.[12]

China continues to assert ambiguous and expansive territorial authority over the islands and waters of the South China Sea. Its claims have engendered considerable regional maritime disputes over the status of small islands, reefs, and even rocks that now define foreign relations in the Western Pacific. China’s maritime neighbors and several members of the international community continually contest China’s state position to prevent it from becoming legitimized.[13] One of the primary means by which China strengthens its position in such disputes is through its own maritime patrols conducted by the PLAN.[14] Such patrols aim to simultaneously use military force to assert control over the region while also effectively deterring its Pacific neighbors from doing the same. Analysts typically categorize such operations as anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), which describes the general maritime strategy of restricting competitive access to a region.

Ultimately, A2AD campaigns and the defense of territorial claims fundamentally cannot be supported entirely from shore. As a case study, consider the Johnson South Reef Skirmish fought between China and Vietnam in 1988. The Spratly Islands are just one of the numerous contested territories that China lays claim to. These islands, located over 1,000 nautical miles from the Chinese mainland, are also claimed by Vietnam, among other parties in the region.[15] When a skirmish broke out between the two nations, the Chinese faced unexpected difficulties countering attacks on their fleet by Vietnamese aircraft.

During the conflict, Chinese aircraft had to operate from a distant Chinese-controlled airfield. The transit time from the base to the area of operation was so long that the aircraft were left with only four to five minutes of time on station, dramatically limiting their effectiveness against their Vietnamese adversaries. Admiral Chen Weiwen, a commander during the battle, noted later that “if…we had our own [air] cover from a nearby aircraft carrier, we would simply not have had to fear Vietnam’s air force.”[16] Land-based assets play a critical role in their own time and place, but that place is frankly not in rapidly changing, forward operating areas.

Aircraft carriers are occasionally caricatured as being “several thousand tons of diplomacy,” but the aphorism does hold weight. In the Spratly scenario as with the rest of China’s maritime claims, no act of diplomacy or demonstration of force can compare to moving an aircraft carrier on station. For one, even the mere presence of a carrier would be a deterrent against further escalation, as the resource allocation would demonstrate China’s commitment to the claim. Moreover, the capabilities the carrier brings would be better able to respond to emergent threats than perhaps any other tool in the Chinese arsenal. This combination makes the aircraft carrier virtually indispensable for the preservation of maritime claims. In fact, the United States routinely employs its carriers for this exact purpose, as demonstrated by the stationing of the USS Nimitz and USS Independence off the coast of Taiwan during the height of cross-strait tensions in the mid-90s.[17]

Simultaneously, China has shown interest in becoming the leading nation in the region beyond merely maintaining territorial control. The PLAN has noticeably shifted its development efforts towards acquiring naval capabilities beyond mere defense and offense, to include the mission sets of counterpiracy and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR).[18] Such military operations other than war (MOOTW) on behalf of the international community require the foundational capabilities of forward presence and power projection coupled with the platforms and equipment necessary to carry out such tasking.

Accordingly, the utility of aircraft carriers extends far beyond strictly military endeavors. For the same reasons that they are vital to power projecting operations, carriers can also play an instrumental role in virtually any military staging operation far from home. China will almost certainly employ carriers to expand its gradually growing peacekeeping and HADR mission set. Recently, the PLAN has only just begun to dip its toes into these waters. Since 2008, the PLAN has continuously participated in counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, marking its first foray into conducting open-water MOOTWs.[19]

Such operations ultimately are diplomatic tools used to not only strengthen China’s reputation in the international community, but also to establish China as a major regional power. While counter-piracy operations can be effectively conducted with a frigate- and destroyer-based fleet such as China currently has, the addition of aircraft carriers into its arsenal opens up substantially more potential MOOTWs.

Consider again an example from the United States. In 2011 after Japan was rocked by an earthquake and tsunami, the United States started Operation Tomodachi to provide HADR support to the region. USS Ronald Reagan served as the centerpiece of naval resources and manpower during this operation and coordinated rescue efforts for nearly one month off the coast of Japan.[20] Arguably only an aircraft carrier could offer the combination of endurance, flexibility, and capability required for such a long-term coordinated effort. A PLAN equipped with an aircraft carrier and a healthy complement of rotary wing assets would be capable of conducting similar HADR operations in the South China Sea. The regular completion of such operations would indisputably mark China as a dominant power in the region, and may even fundamentally alter the perceptions Southeast Asian nations have towards China.

Possessing an aircraft carrier is a tremendously potent tool of diplomacy in a way comparable perhaps only to developing nuclear weapons. Though the PLAN’s carrier program is by all accounts still in its infancy, it is maturing rapidly. As initial carrier training is conducted on board Liaoning, reports indicate that work has already begun on China’s first home-built carrier.[21] The reality of a Chinese carrier fleet is no longer a question of “if” so much as “when.” Whether that fleet would pose a legitimate threat to a US carrier strike group is immaterial. A PLAN with carriers will irreparably alter the nature of Southeast Asian relations and indeed the face that China presents to the world.


[1]. Ananth Krishnan, “China Commissions First Aircraft Carrier Liaoning,” The Hindu, 26 September 2012,


[2]. Stew Magnuson, “China’s Navy Takes Great Leap Forward,” National Defense Industrial Association, April 2014,


[3]. Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN, “Drawing Lines at Sea,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 137, no. 11 (November 2011), 48-51

[4]. Ian Storey and You Ji, “China’s Aircraft Carrier Ambitions,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 57, no. 1 (Winter 2004), 76-93.

[5]. Captain Bernard D. Cole, USN, “China’s Carrier: The Basics,” U.S. Naval Institute News, 27 November 2012,

[6]. “Liaoning (Varyag) Aircraft Carrier, China,” Naval Technology,

[7]. Ibid.

[8] See, for instance, James R. Holmes, “Top 5 Reasons Not to Ballyhoo China’s Carrier,” The Diplomat, 2 October 2012,

[9]. Bryan McGrath and Seth Cropsey, “The Real Reason China Wants Aircraft Carriers,” Real Clear Defense, 16 April 2014,


[10]. Andrew S. Erickson et al., “Beijing’s ‘Starter Carrier’ and Future Steps,” Naval War College Review, vol. 65, no. 1 (Winter 2012), 15-54.

[11]. Donald Kirk, “Asian Aircraft Carrier Race—China Vs. India Vs. Japan,” Forbes Magazine, 13 August 2013,

[12]. Vice Admiral R.N. Ganesh, Indian Navy, “Maritime Ambitions of China”, Indian Defense Review, 19 February 2013,


[13]. Kevin Baumert and Brian Melchior, “Maritime Claims in the South China Sea,” Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 5 December 2014,


[14]. Peter Dutton, “Three Disputes and Three Objectives: China and the South China Sea,” Naval War College Review, vol. 64, no. 4 (Autumn 2011), 42-67.

[15]. “China’s Activities in Southeast Asia and the Implications for U.S. Interests,” United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 4 February 2010,

[16]. Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins, “Introducing the Liaoning: China’s New Aircraft Carrier and What it Means,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 September 2012,


[17]. Chun W. Chiang, “Crisis Management in the Taiwan Strait,” U.S. Army War College, 7 April 2003,

[18]. Ronald O’Rourke, “China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Naval Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress,” Congressional Research Service, 23 December 2014,

[19]. Zhou Bo, “Counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden: Implications for PLA Navy,” China-United States Exchange Foundation, 30 December 2013,


[20]. Ryan Zielonka et al., “Chronology of Operation Tomodachi,” The National Bureau of Asian Research,

[21]. Charles Clover, “China Media Confirm Second Aircraft Carrier,” Financial Times, 10 March 2015,

Please join us at 5pm Eastern Daylight Time (U.S.) for Midrats Episode 286: A Restless Russia and its Near Abroad with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg:

It is time to catch up with Putin’s Russia, her domestic developments, involvement in Ukraine, and the changes she is forcing on border nations and the near abroad.

To discuss this and more, for the full hour we will have returning guest Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.

Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Lawand a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. You can also pick the show up later from our iTunes page.

20141113 IRON SWORD Closing Ceremony - assembled troops, vehicles and national flags“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” – Morelly/Blanc/Marx/Soviet Union/etc 

For an organization based on “collective security,” using socialist/communist guidance isn’t totally out of synch – it actually makes a lot of sense.

As with all collectives, there is a big problem – free riders. Those who benefit from being part of a collective – or alliance – but do not even attempt to make and effort to contribute their fair share.

For a very long time, there have been calls for NATO to be an alliance not just of benefits, but of obligations – that regardless of size or economic might, that each nation should make a fair and reasonably equitable investment in the collective defense.

Though an imperfect measure, defense spending as a percentage of GDP has been the best benchmark to use as it gives a reasonable measure of each nation’s dedication and willingness to contribute to the expensive work of deterrence and when needed, action.

The agreed upon benchmark has been 2%. How are we doing?

Military spending by NATO countries is set to fall again this year in real terms despite increased tensions with Russia and a pledge by alliance leaders last year to halt falls in defence budgets, NATO figures released on Monday showed.

The figures showed defence spending by the 28 members of the alliance is set to fall by 1.5 percent in real terms this year after a 3.9 percent fall in 2014.

The fall comes at a time when tension between NATO and Russia is running high over the Ukraine conflict. Russia has sharply raised its defence spending over the past decade.

It also comes in spite of a pledge by NATO leaders, jolted by Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, last September to stop cutting military spending and move towards the alliance’s target of spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense within a decade.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said 18 allies were set to raise defence spending this year in real terms, but the total was lower, continuing a trend of declining military spending, especially by European NATO allies.

NATO expects five NATO allies to meet the 2 percent spending goal in 2015, up from four in 2014.

Poland, which has embarked on a major military modernisation programme, is set to join the United States, Britain, Estonia and Greece as the only NATO allies meeting the target.

You can find a nice historical scorecard here, go to page 6. BusinessInsider has the goods too.
screen shot 2015-06-23 at 3.38.30 pm

Who is increasing defense spending?

… defense spending in a number of NATO states will either fall or remain nearly flat compared to the previous year — with the exceptions of the “frontline” states of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, along with Luxembourg:

Combined populations of those nations in millions: 38.4+2.2+3.5+.5= 44.6 million. That is a little less than the combined populations of Texas and Florida.

Once you get past the accounting indicator, what is another indication of an alliance members operational utility? The willingness of the citizens of its member states to follow through once war starts.

Pew has done some serious work on this exact topic.

Roughly half or fewer in six of the eight countries surveyed say their country should use military force if Russia attacks a neighboring country that is a NATO ally. And at least half in three of the eight NATO countries say that their government should not use military force in such circumstances. The strongest opposition to responding with armed force is in Germany (58%), followed by France (53%) and Italy (51%). Germans (65%) and French (59%) ages 50 and older are more opposed to the use of military force against Russia than are their younger counterparts ages 18 to 29 (Germans 50%, French 48%). German, British and Spanish women are particularly against a military response.

Sadly, it seems that the Europeans remain the world’s military security welfare queens; willing to defend Europe to the last American;

While some in NATO are reluctant to help aid others attacked by Russia, a median of 68% of the NATO member countries surveyed believe that the U.S. would use military force to defend an ally. The Canadians (72%), Spanish (70%), Germans (68%) and Italians (68%) are the most confident that the U.S. would send military aid.

I guess institutional anti-Americanism ends when the bear is at your throat.


What is the best hedge if you are a front line nation? Spend like you are on your own – because there is a good chance that you will be – and if you are there is a better than average chance at at least the USA will stand beside you. Uncle Sam can be a spotty ally, one election away from throwing you to the wolves, always remember that – and the rest of Europe? Review your own history.

Uncle Sam is trying. This isn’t a REFORGER, but Salamander approves this messaging:

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirmed Tuesday that the U.S. is to station heavy military equipment, including tanks and other weapons, in new NATO member states for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

“These are responses to Russia’s provocations,” Carter told CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan in an exclusive interview in Estonia, one of the nations the American defense chief said could already “feel” the imminent threat posed by its massive neighbour to the east.

The increased American military presence on Russia’s doorstep is intended to reassure jittery allies like Estonia, which have been alarmed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists leading the war in eastern Ukraine.

Finally, there is in the end more than just money – there is will. Let’s look at those five nations again, and use their performance in Afghanistan as a benchmark and give them a grade on their will to fight:
1. USA: A.
2. GBR: A.
3. EST: A.
4: POL: B. (late to the game in numbers, limited equipment, needed a lot of help, some caveat issues – but solid effort).
5: GRC: F. Really? Yes, really. I have a story about a potted plant in the CJ-5 shop, but I’ll keep it to myself.

There is your “what.” What about the “so what” and “what next?” Ready or not – history will deliver that in her own sweet time. The alliance will continue as an exercise shop at least by inertia at worst. First contact with an enemy will tell the story. Hopefully we will do better than the Franco-Bavarian army at Blenheim.

As reported by the Washington Post on June 4th – “Hackers working for the Chinese state breached the computer system of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in December, US officials said Thursday, and the agency will notify about 4 million current and former federal employees that their personal data may have been compromised.”

ig_logoWhat is OPM? The organization that collects, collates and manages all the security clearance information for US personnel. That includes biographical details about the people in the US government who hold security clearances.

This is the single biggest US security breach since at least the Cold War, although I am personally struggling to think of anything directed against the US that approaches this scale. You can change access codes, passwords and encryption standards in a compromised computer system fairly easily but once the names and biographical details of everyone who holds a clearance are stolen by a rival nation for nefarious purposes … that’s a whole different ballgame.

The identity of the Watchers at NSA, CIA and the Pentagon are now likely known to the Chinese military. Some of these individuals will be the target of Chinese surveillance operations ranging from spear phishing emails to physical shadowing. In war time they may actually become targets for kinetic operations. American spies used to be able
to watch the Iranians, Chinese and Russians secure in the knowledge that they could observe without putting themselves at risk of detection. That era – the era of the American Panopticon – is over.

Update June 25th, 2015: Its possible that the number of affected could be as high as 18 million.


Earlier this month, 36-year old Massachusetts resident Keith Broomfield was killed in Syria while fighting with Kurdish peshmerga forces against ISIS. He is believed to be the first U.S. citizen killed in action against ISIS. He was remembered yesterday in Massachusetts and laid to rest. It is unknown exactly how many U.S. citizens have volunteers to fight ISIS, though a Kurdish source suggested in March about one hundred Americans were serving in Syria alone.

This is in stark contrast to the past decade when the American media has highlighted those citizens who have fought against U.S. interests. The first high-profile citizen was John Walker Lindh who fought with the Taliban and was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in November 2001. Others have worked with Al-Qaeda included Adam Gadahn, a senior advisor to Osama bin Laden, who was killed earlier this year by a drone strike. According to testimony earlier this year before the Senate Special Committee on Intelligence, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen, stated that “more than 150 U.S. persons from a variety of backgrounds and locations in the United States have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria. A handful of these U.S. persons have died in Syria.

Private citizens joining foreign conflicts or in the service of other nations has a lengthy history. After the American Revolution, for example, John Paul Jones left the U.S. to serve as an admiral in the Russian Navy in the Russo-Turkish War. War of 1812 naval hero Captain David Porter (the step-father and father of two Civil War admirals, David Farragut and David Dixon Porter respectively,) was court-martialed in 1824 and later commanded the Mexican Navy. U.S. Naval Academy graduate Philo McGiffin, having failed to secure a commission in the Navy, served in the Chinese Navy during the Sino-French War and the First Sino-Japanese War.

In the twentieth century, volunteer citizen-warriors became more organized. Nearly forty Americans served including eleven killed while serving with the Lafayette Escadrille, a fighter squadron, in France during World War I. American pilots served with the Kosciusko Squadron with the Polish in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-21. Of more than 3,000 Americans fighting against Spanish fascist forces in its civil war (1936-38), nearly 700 died as part of the Lincoln Battalion. Prior to entering the Second World War, American pilots comprised three Royal Air Force Eagle Squadrons. Still others fought the Japanese with Clair Chennault’s Flying Tigers.

Broomfield was the first citizen to die fighting ISIS but, as history shows, it is unlikely he will also be the last.

Away All Boats! This battle cry met American theater goers in a 1956 movie by the same name, an adaptation of a novel by Kenneth Dodson based on his experience aboard the USS Pierce (APA 50) in World War II. The film stars the crew of a fictional amphibious attack transport Belinda and features one of Clint Eastwood’s first unaccredited roles as a Navy Corpsman. But those who know something about military films remember it for its Technicolor realism and gritty depiction of amphibious warfare in the Pacific. The last few days on the USS San Antonio have felt like a modern reinterpretation of this classic.

one two

The flagship is brimming with Swedish, Finnish, British, and American Marines, their vehicles, boats, and support staff. Some of the Scandinavian forces sport beards worthy of Viking ancestors (one carries an axe as a guide on), the chow lines have been longer than usual, the cooks are working overtime, and all are in good spirits. Finally, today the order all had been waiting for was given, “AWAY ALL BOATS!”


Today, the 700-strong multinational BALTOPS Amphibious Landing Force stormed the beach of the Ravlunda training range in Sweden, one of the largest amphibious exercises ever orchestrated in the Baltic region. Also participating were Soldiers from the 173rd Brigade Combat Team in Vicenza, Italy. The landing force came from a NATO sea base, consisting of the big deck, HMS OCEAN (LPH 12), USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), and POLISH LSTs: LUBLIN (LST 821) and GNIEZO (LST 822). A variety of amphibious vehicles served as connectors to get the Marines ashore from the sea base including fast and maneuverable Combat Boats (CB 90s), Marine Corps Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), Landing Craft Air Cushioned (LCAC) and numerous other amphibious assault craft.

fourfiveWhat we accomplished today on the Ravlunda range is a testament to NATO’s robust amphibious capability—or “amphibiousity.” Demonstrating this capability is just one of the many facets of BALTOPS, a training exercise that is testing NATO’s ability to conduct air defense, undersea warfare, mine countermeasures operations, and maritime interdiction operations, skills that NATO has been practicing ever since the first exercise took place forty-three years ago.


What makes this BALTOPS different, though, is that it is being conducted under a NATO flag. I am joined here by my deputy Read Admiral Tim Lowe of the Royal Navy and Chief of Staff of Operations Rear Admiral Juan Garat of the Spanish Navy who have built an amazing team. My Lisbon-based staff of Striking and Support Forces NATO is aboard the command ship USS SAN ANTONIO, working diligently to ensure that we maximize training opportunities for the entire force.

sevenThe exercise is part of NATO’s broader goal to show its commitment to regional security. From the very beginning the numbers alone attest to this unwavering resolve. BALTOPS 2015 is larger than ever, a multi-national exercise conducted in a joint environment by 14 NATO and three partner nations throughout the Baltic Sea and Baltic region at large. We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime personnel.

eightWe are grateful that Sweden and Finland could join us in this exercise – because regional security is a collective effort and requires us to communicate, understand each other, and establish lasting relationships. These relationships are built on common values and interests.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Swedish Prince Carl Philip and his wife to be, Ms. Sofia Hellqvist on their wedding day. The Prince serves his country as a Major in the Amphibious Forces of Sweden. We hope that the newlywed couple will view today’s events in Ravlunda as a token of Alliance appreciation for Sweden’s partnership and a significant contribution to the peace and security of the Baltic Region.

moustachepricelessWhat I saw today was not a Technicolor movie. There were no actors. It was not art. It was life. What the cameras caught and what you see in pixels on Youtube is the force of ideals truly embodied in the young men and women who serve our individual nations and who are willing to protect and defend our values.

“A good Navy is not a provocation of war. It is the surest guarantee of peace.” -Theodore Roosevelt

On 8 June I reported in this media forum on the launch of 49 ships from the port of Gdynia, Poland for the largest BALTOPS exercise ever — BALTOPS 2015.

The reason we are assembled as the maritime arm of the NATO alliance for this exercise is to show unity of effort and purpose, and to strengthen the combined response capabilities of our NATO allies and partners in the Baltic Sea region.

We come with 49 ships of all varieties large and small, over 60 aircraft, 5,600 air, ground and maritime forces from 17 participating nations to include 700 Marines from Finland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

During the first day of operations, we were over-flown by Russian Air Force and shadowed by three Russian Navy surface ships. This was not unexpected based on recent experience.

The Russian planes made a few passes and then a couple of Russian Corvettes came up on either side of the formation as we were conducting our exercises – nothing untoward, just showing interest and an acknowledgement that they know we are here.

As Navies have done for centuries, we have taken a dual track approach to maritime security. What do I mean by that?

While BALTOPS 2015 is demonstrating a sizeable and highly capable force at sea, we are pursuing other avenues to assure security in this and other maritime regions in Europe. As an example, we invited a Russian Navy delegation for the annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review, which took place yesterday at the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Headquarters in Naples, Italy. The Russian delegation was headed by Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev and the U.S. delegation by Rear Adm. John Nowell, Chief of Staff, U.S. 6th Fleet.

150610-N-OX801-072 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY CAPODICHINO NAPLES, Italy (June 10, 2015) Head of the U.S. Delegation, Rear Adm. John Nowell Jr., and Head of the Russian Delegation, Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev, sign documents at the conclusion of an annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review at Naval Support Activity Capodichino Naples, Italy, June 10, 2015. These annual reviews are a professional discussion of the agreements in place to prevent incidents or collisions at sea between U.S. and Russian ships and aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released)

150610-N-OX801-072 NAVAL SUPPORT ACTIVITY CAPODICHINO NAPLES, Italy (June 10, 2015) Head of the U.S. Delegation, Rear Adm. John Nowell Jr., and Head of the Russian Delegation, Vice Adm. Oleg Burtsev, sign documents at the conclusion of an annual Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas (INCSEA) review at Naval Support Activity Capodichino Naples, Italy, June 10, 2015. These annual reviews are a professional discussion of the agreements in place to prevent incidents or collisions at sea between U.S. and Russian ships and aircraft. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Daniel P. Schumacher/Released)

Discussions between the two delegations were frank and professional with the intent of alleviating any miscues, misunderstandings or miscalculations between our two naval and air forces wherever they might encounter one another.

Established in 1972, the bilateral INCSEA agreement between our two countries codified the mutual interest of both sides in promoting safety of navigation and safety of flight when operating on and over international waters and specified an annual meeting to review compliance with the articles of the agreement.

The last time our two navies met was in November 2013, in St. Petersburg, Russia.

BALTOPS 2015 and the subsequent INCSEA review is a good example of naval forces and naval officers acting as an extension of diplomacy.

For me, as Commander of BALTOPS, I look forward to the positive outcome of the INCSEA discussions filtering down to the deck plate level of the Baltic Fleet. The true measure of success will be when ALL Navies operate ships, submarines and aircraft safely and professionally not just here in the Baltic Sea, but elsewhere around the world. Stay tuned…


On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

Today, June 8, a fleet of Allied and partner ships set sail from Gdynia, Poland, in one of the largest naval exercises the Baltic Sea and greater Atlantic Ocean area has seen in the 21st Century. In its forty-three year history, BALTOPS has been a means by which NATO and its partners have demonstrated an enduring commitment to regional stability and a Europe that is safe, secure, and prosperous.

In 1971, fewer than a dozen ships and only a handful of nations participated in the exercise. BALTOPS 2015 has 49 ships representing seventeen nations participating. I am often asked by European Allies what impact, if any, the rebalance to the Pacific will have on Europe? To put those numbers in perspective, last year, the Pacific Rim of the ocean exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest naval exercise, also had 49 participating ships. What is happening right now in the Baltic Sea is NATO’s own version “RIMPAC.”

NATO’s integral role in the exercise is seen in BALTOPS from the top down. For the first time in recent memory, the exercise is led by a NATO headquarters. As Commander of Striking and Support Forces NATO, I am now embarked on USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), which is serving as the command ship for my STRIKFORNATO staff. The STRIKFORNATO staff has been mobilized from Lisbon and is operating from both here onboard SAN ANTONIO and HMS OCEAN, a testament for their expeditionary headquarters staff capabilities.

This, however, is not my first time to sail in these waters. As a Lieutenant onboard USS SEA DEVIL (SSN 664), I deployed to the Arctic Ocean in 1985. On our way home, we scheduled a port visit in Kiel, Germany. I was one of the primary OODs on the bridge for the long maneuvering watch through the Straits of Denmark, also known as the Kattegat, Skaggerak and Storr Belts. It was the best surface OOD training a JO could ever have with a completely different kind of traffic separation scheme, two superb chain-smoking Danish pilots, whose mantra was “speed equals safety,” as we maneuvered the boat through a multitude of ferries crisscrossing the channel at right angles to our track.

We made it safely into Kiel, but this was a different era and a different geo-political situation at the time. The Berlin Wall would not come down for four years and Germany was still divided. Many of the NATO Allies and partners participating in BALTOPS 2015 today were reluctant members of the Warsaw Pact in 1985. My how times have changed! Today’s BALTOPS includes 14 NATO Allies and three Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations aligned and unified for a common purpose—peace and security in the Baltic Region. The crowds of people that greeted our BALTOPS Fleet just days ago for the pre-sail in Gdynia, Poland were a clear sign that these relationships are solid and enduring.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

On 7 June 2015 Maritime Forces from 17 nations gather together for BALTOPS 2015. BALTOPS is an annually recurring multinational exercise designed to enhance flexibility and interoperability, as well as demonstrate resolve of allied and partner forces to defend the Baltic region.

BALTOPS is just one of the many ways NATO and its partners demonstrate a continued commitment to the foundational principle of mutual defense. While the number and type of ships have changed, it is this consistent message over the last nearly half century that has guided the exercise. When we talk about reassurance we are not just talking about capabilities, but a commitment that has been consistent throughout the years.

BALTOPS represents an excellent example of a global network of navies, a concept based on participation, robust exercises, relationship building, communication, and interoperability. BALTOPS demonstrates how these global priorities are expressed in a regional context, each participant contributing to the success of the whole.

Today’s BALTOPS Photo-Ex captured an image of this unified effort for all to see. A picture is worth a thousand words…


Ghost Fleet. P.W. Singer & August Cole, (2015). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. New York, NY: 416 pp. $28.00.

An editorial in China’s Global Times reportedly said that if the U.S. position is that China must halt its reclamation activities in the South China Sea “then a U.S.-China war is inevitable.” Meanwhile the United States has signaled its willingness to move up the escalation ladder in defense of its position with Freedom of Navigation transits and P-8 flights. Elsewhere, Russia’s rulers seem bent on military adventurism along its borderlands. With such a real-life backdrop readers could be forgiven for fixating on the geopolitical backstory of Ghost Fleet, P.W. Singer and August Cole’s self-described new “novel of the next world war.” After all, the writer/academic/think-tanker/consultant duo chose to portray the three powers* as the plot’s antagonists – opening with a P-8 flight above a Chinese position.

Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.

Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.

Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.

This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.



*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.




Our Three COAs

June 2015


three-choices-blogIn his latest book, Superpower: Three Choices for America’s Role in the World, policy Übermensch Ian Bremmer outlines three future courses of action for our nation through the middle of this century.

As outlined in TheTelegraphUK, and discussed on last Sunday’s Midrats, these COA should sound somewhat familiar to you;

1) keeping faith with the old “Indispensable” America that underwrites global stability 2) adopting a “moneyball” approach where the US pursues its narrow economic and security interests, or 3) an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Let’s look at these for a bit.

COA-1 represents what we think now was the post-WWII norm. In a fashion it was – and in many ways still “is” – but not in the global police context of the last 20 years. People forget that for most of the WWII era, we were in a global struggle against an expanding Communist empire – one whose high water mark was only 35 years ago. We could barely control our own frontier, much less ensure stability around the globe. From Africa to SE Asia to S. America – stability was not our FITREP bullet. “Indispensable” was the ideal – but in practice, not as clean and powerful as it sounds. America was never all that comfortable in its global policeman uniform others tried to put on her at the best of times. In the second decade of the 21st Century – there simply is no political will nor popular desire for such a role.

COA-2 has a very realist-retro vibe to it – almost a Steam Punk foreign policy. Mercantilist and a bit cold of heart, it also echoes of a policy not foreign in our nation’s history – and one that the Chinese are looking to benchmark as they rebuild their global trade routes and stretch their influence limbs. In some ways, it is the slightly more narcissistic version of the final COA.

COA-3. Let’s look at this again,

an “Independent” America where the US gives up trying to solve the world’s problems, but seeks instead to lead by example by investing in America’s security and prosperity at home.

Could there be a more natural American policy?

Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; …

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; …

—- George Washington, American Daily Advertiser September 19, 1796

If that works for George Washington, who wrong could it be?

Though he leaves it up to the reader to decide, Ian Bremmer also goes with COA-3.

If that is the path we go – either led by a politician or by the drift towards the center mass of the electorate – where I think it is – how does that effect the national security structures of our nation? If we become interested in security at home and the economic prosperity of the citizenry – how do you hedge against the chaos of a violent world? How much can you disconnect? What is our minimum level of national defense spending? Where is it best utilized?

Of the three COA – which ones have our allies chosen? Which have our potential challengers chosen?

Are those we consider allies really allies – or just those who are content to prosper in their home under a shield we built and paid for? Are those we consider challengers really our challengers in that they present a real and present threat to national survival?

Is COA-3 really something new, or just a regression to the mean?

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