Archive for the 'Asia' Tag

While we’re focused on Russia and Ukraine, recent events in Asia may have slipped under the radar. Taiwan is considering signing a major free trade agreement with China. Nationalized Chinese companies may soon be able to make major investments in sectors such as banking and transit.

That may seem underwhelming, but in naval literature, when we think of Chinese expansionism, the various Taiwan scenarios dominate the conversation. In the eight articles of the most recent China’s Near Seas Combat Capabilities journal published by the Naval War College, “Taiwan,” is used 109 times. Are we spending too much time thinking about and planning for a cross-strait conflict?

Taiwan isn’t the prime mover for PLAN development. Bryan McGrath and Timothy Walton neatly unpack this in “China’s Surface Fleet Trajectory: Implications for the U.S. Navy,” predicting the PLAN will continue towards “regionally dominant and globally capable navy in the next decade.” They’ve moved beyond Taiwan. Moreover, “the versatility (and thus utility) of the People’s Liberation Army’s A2/AD capabilities” is well above what’s required to impede US intervention in a cross-strait conflict. If not Taiwan, what then is China’s objective?

Trying to predict world events is extremely difficult as noted in a recent post by CDR Salamander. However, some thought experiments can be useful to help us consider the range of possibilities and their likelihoods. Let say at some point, the Communist Party and China, destabilized by internal problems, turn to an outward show of force. Is anyone going to stop them from beating on Vietnam over water rights or access to oil reserves? Doubtful. Would someone intervene in a conflict with Taiwan? Maybe. Probably? Either way, I’d bet that US intervention is much more likely in a China/Taiwan conflict than a China/Vietnam conflict. I think that China would make the same bet.

I’m just using Vietnam to illustrate that Taiwan is not the natural starting point when we broadly consider the use of China’s naval power. It’s hard to build a fleet to counter all the possibilities of conflict in Asia; perhaps the key, as noted by McGrath and Walton, is “to maximize cooperation with allied and partner states…’penning in’ the Chinese fleet.”

 



Much has been said in this forum and others about the U.S. Navy’s rebalance to Asia-Pacific as well as current and impending fiscal constraints. Less has been said about how these two significant challenges might simultaneously impact the Navy’s operating paradigm and investment strategy. As the Navy rebalances, we face a challenge of simultaneously maintaining a forward and ready posture—where it matters, when it matters—while continuing to invest in the capabilities that are necessary for addressing present and future challenges to America’s national interests. This challenge is neither easy nor without precedent, but it is imperative as current fiscal constraints drive the Navy to be even more judicious in directing resources. To that end, an integrated and thoughtful force design is essential if the Navy is to invest in the force of tomorrow while ensuring our current employment is scaled and configured to affordably accomplish all of our missions today. I believe there are two primary pillars to this force design – creating an affordable operating paradigm for today’s force and investing in the force of the future. I would like to address here the first pillar under a concept I call tailored global presence.

Tailored global presence is an approach to how the Navy organizes, prepares, and deploys forces. The Asia-Pacific rebalance, already underway, is part of that approach: by 2020 the Navy will have rebalanced 60 percent of its forces to this critical region. As we shift the bulk of our forces to Asia-Pacific we will continue to maintain a robust capability in the Middle East with rotational deployments of aircraft carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups as a bulwark in this volatile region. In Europe the Navy will emphasize our unique contributions to the NATO alliance through specific capabilities such as maritime ballistic missile defense using our most advanced destroyers. In the Western Hemisphere our primary focus will be on lower-cost, small footprint missions aimed at protecting the approaches to the homeland. Innovative employment of inherently flexible ships such as Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and Joint High-Speed Vessels (JHSV) will prove invaluable to maritime security and cooperative efforts in Africa and South America – an alternative to sending large amphibious ships or destroyers.

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam in March enroute to Singapore. US Navy Photo

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam in March enroute to Singapore. US Navy Photo

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The Center for Naval Analyses built their new report, “The Navy at a Tipping Point: maritime Dominance at Stake?” on a comforting trellis of assumptions:

“First, there will be a continued demand for a safe and secure global maritime environment. Advantages to having an open world economy and trade for all major powers are growing…Increasingly, nations are trying to formulate a set of maritime rules to support local/regional development and maritime policing of illicit activities.”

How nice! This vanilla-flavored assumption is positive, doesn’t challenge status quo, and, in addition, makes excellent consultancy fodder for high-paying corporate audiences.

But is this assumption valid? A recent bulletin from Inside the Pentagon (subscription, sorry) suggests otherwise:

“U.S. and Chinese officials agreed last December to hold the next plenary meeting under the 1998 bilateral Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) in March or April of this year. But China subsequently suspended a range of military-to-military activities to protest the Pentagon’s planned arms sales to Taiwan. And now PACOM is confirming the safety talks are a casualty of that row.”

Oops. Other countries (particularly Asian navies that seem to have a higher tolerance for settling maritime disputes via intimidation and, often, gunfire) may not fully subscribe to the U.S. vision of maritime safety.

Here’s CNA’s second set of assumptions:

“Second, no other country (or combination of countries) will create the forces required for a navy with global influence…[other] navies can also conduct short-term surges for uses of force against low end threats or act as supporters to USN-led naval operations; however persistent out-of-area operations (even by a low number of assets) would quickly deplete their resources and political support at home.”

New navies, when well used, pay enormous domestic political dividends. Remember the Maine? Or the year-long voyage of the Great White Fleet? What about Imperial Germany’s use of their growing fleet to build/bolster a colonial empire? Wasn’t Germany’s acquisition of Tsingatao (done after the murder of German Catholic priests) rather…popular?

So..with history in mind, how might China (given its self-acknowledged internal domestic weaknesses) use their fleet? To forge a better sense of national unity, maybe?

Which brings us to CNA’s third assumption-set:

“…China is behaving exactly as every growing nation has behaved since the dawn of the Maritime Age in the 1400s…”

Hey, they got one right (two out of three ain’t bad)…but, hey…Didn’t those new navies ultimately make the seas less safe? Did they not lead to increased conflict at sea? To wider naval conflict?

Seems that the CNA researchers don’t think so.

To be blunt: Other nations may share U.S. appreciation for a “safe and secure global maritime environment.” The problem is that other nations may define “safe and secure” somewhat differently than America does.

U.S. defense thinkers must stop assuming the rest of the world shares our world view. You heard it here first…America’s habit of mirror-imaging (a symptom of having a rather poor grasp of history) is a well-known point of exploitation.

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