Archive for August, 2010
The US Naval Institute recently announced that the 2010 history conference will discuss the topic of piracy. Hopefully this little bit of interesting news finds its way into the discussion.
A judge on Tuesday dismissed piracy charges against six Somali nationals accused of attacking a Navy ship off the coast of Africa, concluding the U.S. government failed to make the case their alleged actions amounted to piracy.
The dismissal of the piracy count by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson tosses the most serious charge against the men, but leaves intact seven other charges related to the alleged April 10 attack on the USS Ashland in the Gulf of Aden. A piracy conviction carries a mandatory life term.
These pirates still face other charges, but lets just go over what has happened here a second.
For those who don’t know the details, these 6 pirates tried to attack the USS Ashland off the coast of Somalia, and the USS Ashland responded by blowing their little skiff out of the water, rescuing the pirates, and arresting them on charges of piracy. The defense for the pirates was able to argue that the actions of attacking a US Navy ship accidentally – thinking it was a commercial ship they could hijack – does not qualify as the definition of piracy.
“The court finds that the government has failed to establish that any unauthorized acts of violence or aggression committed on the high seas constitutes piracy as defined by the law of nations,” Jackson wrote in granting the defense motion to dismiss.
Attorneys for the six men had argued that the men did not seize or rob the Ashland, falling short of the centuries-old definition of piracy.
I imagine it was kind of hard for the US government to make their case considering they blew the little pirate skiff out of the water for attacking the warship. By the standards this judge is setting in US courts, someone can attack a US flagged ship and as long as they can dump their equipment overboard before they are caught – anything short of a successful hijacking doesn’t quality as the definition of piracy.
The decision is intended to protect protesters like Greenpeace from being labeled pirates (but not all NGOs are Greenpeace, just ask Israel), which means now US case law is protecting the NGO which can now take the act of “protesting” US flagged ships on the high seas to a whole new level if they are smart about it.
Thankfully, Code-Pink doesn’t have a Navy… yet. This is a pretty nasty can of worms the judge has opened up because apparently, in the 21st century we cannot find a suitable definition of piracy that distinguishes Somali’s with AK-47s attacking US warships from Greenpeace activists – at least that’s how it played out in a Virginia courtroom. You really can’t make this up.
Note: I was going to post my reply to Arherring and Rick Wilmes in the comments on my last post. But, it grew into the length of an actual post and has enough substance to warrant a new post, methinks.
After WWI and continuing through WWII, there was a significant effort to remove civilian populations from war–the Geneva Conventions. However, in works like Unrestricted Warfare and in tactics called terrorism civilians are directly targeted and ‘everyday items’ are used as weapons of war. Continuing in this is what we call cyber-warfare. In that, what we’ve become dependent on in everyday life to pay our bills, coordinate our civil infrastructure and make use of in everyday life is now squarely in the crosshairs of our potential and actual enemies. The importance of the internet is on par with the all the other critical infrastructure of a nation.
In cyber-warfare we are growing our capacity to both wage and defend against this type of warfare. But, we have not even started to get close to being able to define where it is that a kinetic, or real world, response is warranted. If a Nation-state purposefully destroyed the Hoover Dam, it would be unequivocal that we would have to respond in kind. However, in a cyber-attack, if the NYSE was taken offline we would 1) struggle to say who was guilty of the attack and 2) struggle to prove the efficacy of a kinetic/real world response to the attack—does utter economic devastation demand a nuclear response? Is a way of life shattered the same no matter if the cause is nuclear or electronic?
We have this ‘gray area’ in our use of force continuum because of the novelty of ‘warfare’ in a completely synthetic domain (online). We do not have thousands of years of experience to fall back on, or to show a precedence to warrant our course of action, or to make the decisions readily understood by the guy on the street. However, to both effectively protect our infrastructure and project force in this domain we have to have a clear ethical and philosophical foundation from which to act. For us to develop this foundation we have to look to outside the DoD and defense industry. We are held to the orders of the National Command Authority and the laws of the United States, it is from there we must understand how to proceed. Yet, all I hear is static on the line from the NCA and our jurisprudence.
The same ambiguity enjoyed online in cyber-warfare is being mimicked in the real world. The sinking of the Cheonan is as ambiguous as many cyber attacks. Terrorist attacks from extra-state actors do not fit neatly into our experience in justifying reasons to go to war. Many commentators online are noticing this, and are justifiably looking for new conceptual constructs through which to understand what we are defending against today. However, I do not agree with creating a new genus of ‘generation’ in defining these threats; in that the end goal of each attack is not novel in the taxonomy war. There are the same end goals (strategy) with only quasi-novel means and domain (tactics and field of battle), not enough to justify a new genus in my mind.
As I said earlier, it is our lack of philosophical and ethical understanding of warfare that is limiting strategic thought. A system cannot be completely proven within itself (Gödel). You must look outside the system to completely verify and understand it. Because of this, the understanding and clarity we need to defend the Nation must come from outside the military. Though to get this understanding we seem to need to ask for it, as no one is rushing to offer us an explanation (I hear McChrystal is headed to Yale…). The need for this understanding is an idea larger than a single Nation-state can decide on its own and demands rigorous philosophical and ethical debate, beyond what we do here online. It will take another effort on par with the Geneva Convention to define what is, and is not a reason to go to war and what warrants a kinetic response from a cyber-attack, as well as the legality of affecting civilians directly or collaterally in cyber-attacks.
Or, should we wait for events on par with the Somme, Pearl Harbor, Dresden and Hiroshima to make us realize that a common understanding of, and limitations to warfare is needed?
It’s been awhile since I last checked into USNI blog! Since commissioning on May 28th from the Academy, I visited Italy for leave with my brother and saw my great-uncle’s grave at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial. After leave, I spent a few (great) weeks at a stash/TAD job with the Information Technology and Systems Division at the Institute for Defense Analyses in Alexandria, VA.
Most recently, I’ve been becoming familiar with Rickover Center, Charleston, SC, and the view from my 6 ensign house (power in numbers). But really, lots of Rickover Center. As part of the submarine training pipeline, I am attending Nuclear Power School, a 6 month crash course giving us an academic background in the hot rock that makes the boat go. Right now, I’m in what is fondly referred to as “pre-school,” a 3-week course designed to acclimate students who graduated with a non-technical major to the rigors of nuclear engineering.
It’s been a lot of work. Our class periods start at 0700 (muster at 0645) and can run until 1615. They crammed the ~3 semesters of calculus I’ve had into about 2 class sessions. We have a 3 hour preschool “final” on Thursday. Of course, this will be followed by a class outing that evening to the Class-A Minor League Charleston Riverdogs where hotdogs topped with bacon can be found.
While pre-school has kept us busy, it’s also been a great opportunity to meet fellow students. My pre-school class of ~50 includes LTjgs who are coming from a SWO (surface ship) tour and are in training to operate the plants onboard our nuclear-powered carriers and ensigns from OCS, ROTC, and the Academy. One of the classes before us have PXOs, the prospective executive officers of carriers, who also have to attend nuclear power school before assuming their duties. While they get their own study room (with a “NUCLEAR AVIATION” sign over the door) and their own pre-filled sets of notes, the instructors tell us they tend to be the hardest working students in the class. After all, they have gotten to be PXOs for a reason. The entire Class of 1006 will comprise of ~100 students to include the majority of the Navy’s first female submariners.
I will update you MUCH more regularly now that I am here. Let me know if you are curious about anything in particular!
Let me be upfront and say that my knowledge of military public affairs is limited to the past thirty minutes I’ve spent researching it online, a Navy Times column I read during this morning’s Ops/Intel brief, and a thing I had for this knock-out Air Force public affairs officer I saw only 3 times from afar during my last deployment but wanted desperately.
So I don’t know much about the trade, technically. What I do know is that if articles, op-eds, blog-spots and perspective pieces are the radio check of our minute-by-minute web based news-cycle, the transmission of the Department of Defense is coming in weak and barely readable; while those with a less informed (and in many cases, flat-out wrong) story on defense matters are coming in loud and clear.
No One Reads the Marine Corps’ Website, Except for Marines.
In a given morning I’ll scan a couple dozen websites and blogs for various angles on the day’s same headlines. CNN, FOX, The Drudge Report, Huffington Post, Salon.com, VictorHanson.com, NationalReviewOnline, RealClearWorld, TheHill.com, Politico, TheDailyBeast, RealClearPolitics, GovExec.com, are a few of my usual stops. Some lean right, some lean left – all are well done, receive millions of unique hits each day and maintain a significant base of loyal readership that fuels the national debate.
Before my morning ritual of coffee drinking and mouse clicking comes to an end, I’ll visit the military sites. I’ll stopover at USMC.mil and DoD.gov before getting on the secret computer and reading what’s come down on the high side from CENTCOM and the EarlyBird. What I notice between the news I’m reading in the popular media and what’s coming down on the secret side is (not surprisingly) incredible. And for many important security-orientated reasons, ought to be kept that way. But, there’s no reason why other truly important (unclassified) stories, like some I read about on USMC.mil, can’t be tailored ‘fit to print’ and digested by a greater audiences accessed through more mainstream outlets.
No one reads the Marine Corps’ website, except for Marines. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem because the U.S. Department of Defense is doing a lot of good in the world and all anyone reads about is the bad. Or some perversion of the good.
It’s a problem because in a world shaped by instantaneous media, framed by a post 9/11 landscape, information is power and flows fast and freely. That and the ‘little guy’ (who might be drinking beer in Queens or building a bomb in Sanaa) has a voice.
‘Everyman’ has (at least some) power to shape opinion and policy and communicate in ways they never could before in the history of media. Stories are read, watched and listened to without the benefit of the full (to say nothing of the true) story (my contributions to this forum excluded). The order of battle has changed for good and the human terrain is now the most critical to the wars we wage; 0s and 1s are more powerful than gunpowder, public opinion (at home and abroad) matters now more than ever and did I mention no one is reading the Marine Corps’ website?
All this is a problem because we’ve got to write as well as we fight. And we’re not. Each day we lose key ground in the arena of public opinion. Ground we can’t afford to be losing and shouldn’t have to surrender in the first place. Not to beer drinkers in Queens or bomb makers in Sanaa. Not to no one.
The Pentagon’s Don Draper & Co.
Strengths and Weaknesses.
All this is not the fault of the Public Affairs Office. My experience with those in this line of the work is that they are extremely smart, capable, creative, professional and good looking (at least she was from a distance). No, the fault is not theirs. The failure is institutional. The Department of Defense is the nation’s war machine whose principle undertaking (to blow stuff up) is not tailored to appeal to (or really even make sense to) the average well-read and informed citizen (to say nothing of the average drooling, self-medicated FaceBook-dazed idiot). So that’s the first problem, tough message. Then there’s that second problem – what makes a good warrior or a competent staff member doesn’t make a good advertiser. And aggressive advertising and an on-point message is what we need these days.
All branches of our military adhere to the fundamental American-warrior tenants of service before self, commitment to a greater good, honor, and quiet professionalism. These values are effective in war but do not resonate in the always-be-closing culture of your hottest Madison Avenue advertising agency.
It seems the U.S. military’s greatest strengths in its execution of war – the power of our enlisted men and women and our collective values and ethos (and other stuff like discipline, stoicism, selflessness and our God given right to air supremacy) – run counter to the things needed to achieve our desired post-modern end-game (winning the information war) which includes sex-appeal, a well-articulated (civilian translated) message, and any sort of press or attention we can get on Craigslist, Twitter, or Google.
Recognizing that both problems with the information-war-end-game (the Pentagon’s message and its military staff) are institutional creatures and necessary for the conduct of our national defense (and really long PowerPoint meetings), it’s pretty clear that it can only be fixed by means of the post modern economy’s dirty little answer to all dirty little post modern business problems: outsourcing!
Dirty, dirty outsourcing.
The Pentagon needs to outsource a Madison Avenue advertising agency to do that which it cannot: give their good work a better message. “Task Force Mad Men” – an elite unit of civilian contracted advertising executives – would do just that. Headquartered in the Pentagon, in a specially designed and smartly decorated corner office, they’d handle the DoD’s media-relation woes with ease, humor, and welcomed sex-appeal; all without the burden of such things as honor and quiet professionalism.
Of course we wouldn’t want to hinder their creativity with those stuffy Pentagon rules, so they’d be able to wear great suits, drink stiff Manhattan’s at 1030 in the morning and chain smoke cigarettes while inventing brilliant ways to sell the plans, policies and events of the U.S. military war machine to both the educated and the drooling.
By their exclusive talents and skill sets (and for the right price) they will be uniquely suited to advertise on behalf of an entire body of government incapable of doing it for themselves. Their job would simply be to articulate to the world what it is the U.S. military does (help when possible, dominate always), and integrate these stories with what it is the public is reading, watching, and thinking we do (blow stuff up). They would exist to achieve the desired end-game in the information war.
Mad Men’s Mission: Explain Iraq, and…Everything Else.
Mission 1: Explain Iraq.
The Bush Administration couldn’t do it. Iraq was an unpopular war that many Americans disagreed with from the start. But aside from the politics of the thing, the war (all things considered and as wars go) was waged well: a remarkable 3-week ground campaign, a successfully waged counter-insurgency (which, as a matter of military history, is outright momentous), the development of a new army, the construction of a national economy, the birth of an independent judiciary, and the establishment of a Congress and consensual national government were all events that didn’t need to happen, but did, largely due to the political agnosticism, professionalism and dedication to mission accomplishment by the men and women of the Department of Defense who served there.
Placing politics aside, and viewing the war in Iraq with the necessary comparative circumstance (that is, from the eyes of a soldier who walked the earth and understood his purpose there in ways the civilian-citizen could not) Iraq was a great success. And as our troops begin their exit from that place this month, they deserve that due respect of what their service meant and has accomplished.
Instead they return to an ambivalent American public largely unaware they were gone in the first place; the media will report on “news” as irrelevant as Bristol Palin’s love life and as boring as Tiger Woods’ being sorry. Too politically traumatized to say “welcome home” and too anti-Bush to say “job well done,” pop-media will not report on our servicemen’s return from a 7 year war no one expected them to win anyway.
Mad Men’s Mission 1: President Bush Couldn’t Explain Iraq Sober. Have a six martini, emergency Crisis-Action-Team-style lunch and explain Iraq, half drunk.
Mission 2: Everything Else.
Next the Mad Men will need to explain everything else. This will be done probably between stages of blacked out drunkenness and hungover self-loathing. They’ll need to start with why every Pentagon project is so damn expensive (because it really does take $100,000 worth of vehicle armor to defeat the blast from $100 worth of explosives) and ending with, you know, everything else. And they’ll need to do so across the spectrum of popular culture and media and in ways that can be digested, understood and reasoned by the American public. Even to the drooling idiot who just now friend-requested me on FaceBook.
And they’ll have to explain other things too. Hot-topic issues like Afghanistan. And less heated and politically mild issues like the repeal of Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell.
Operations in Haiti are still underway, but Wycleaf Jean’s stripper addiction is more of a story than the East Coast MEU’s life saving and rebuilding efforts in that country.
What about Pakistan? As I write this I’m sitting off the coast of Karachi in a plastic chair in a tiny ship’s cabin that’s 98 degrees. 20% of the country is underwater. A dozen helicopters are leaving this ship and the others around us, all to fly north to help save thousands of men, women and children from drowning. Two out of every three Pakistani’s “hate” America. Most have never met an American. But they “hate” us. Many Pakistani’s secretly believe there is a Marine Regiment somewhere in hiding, just waiting to come and take over their country (which is precisely why my platoon and I are still sitting on the ship and not headed north on the helicopters). And so now, despite their hatred of us, many Pakistanis will meet an American for the first time and will do so with outstretched hand as they’re lifted to safety by the brave pilots and crew chiefs that will save them.
Explain that Mad Men! Please explain that, because if you go online right now you’re more likely to read about Blago than the DoD’s impressive humanitarian efforts here to help save the drowning masses that, up until now, so despised them.
And these are just some of the many stories that must be told and sold to the American people and an audience worldwide.
A Sales Strategy That Might or Might Not Work.
Like any DoD strategy, this Public Affairs strategy is bullet-proof and incapable of failure. And, like any DoD policy, I have a concrete 5-pillared plan of execution and have staffed out the details. So you can read about those later.
MAD MEN 5 PILLAR PLAN OF EXECUTION.
1.) Hire only long-ball hitters. Mad Men style.
2.) Spend the money.
3.) Engage the mainstream.
4.) Put an end to quiet professionalism.
5.) Other things I can’t think of.
And it’s really as simple as all that.
While it’s hard to say that we’re a “nation at war” when the average American is more familiar with what happened in the last six seasons of Lost than in the last 9 years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy to see we’re not the world’s favorite. The military certainly understands there’s a war going on and we’ll all be fine for now (remember our cry: help when possible, dominate always! except in Latin), but for later’s sake, we need the drooling masses to know there’s a war going also. Which is precisely why the Pentagon must have their Mad Men who will write as well as we fight and deliver their radio checks loud and clear. All this or else some beer drinking bozo from Queens will have the final say – and I was kind of hoping to have the beer-drinking-internet-blogging-bozo market cornered should this whole thing fall thru.
 This sentence is not, for the record, well written.
 Does anyone know the Latin for this? It could go on the DoD seal.
 Their secondary mission would be to look really cool, get bombed and run freely around the Pentagon in the middle of the work day, and later write an HBO miniseries based on events that actually happened. Everything would be free game so as not to inhibit their artistic genius. Except sexual harassment, that would need to be toned down a bit and would be best practiced after hours at their favorite K-Street saloon.
 (If at all possible, just hire the actual cast of Mad Men.)
In the last month or so, there has been a lot of talk considering if we have crossed into the Fifth Generation of Warfare (5GW). In reading these blogs, I rejected the notion because there was nothing novel or unique about them, for me to consider expanding the taxonomy of warfare. But, more or less I left it at that. More recently, I have been reading the thoughts of others stating that various ways of influencing nations and populations can be considered one generation or another of warfare. Minutes ago, I read this:
For that reason it was disappointing that the Independent Panel had very little to say about the defense strategy enunciated in the QDR. It preoccupied itself, puzzlingly, with proposals for developing civilian capacity in other departments and a new national security strategy formulation process—important issues, to be sure, but outside the purview of the QDR that the panel was to review.
war is the continuation of politics by other means
We’re always told that life is short and we should appreciate each and every day we have on this earth. But, sometimes we are reminded that a lifetime can be very long, and that the daily stresses of our lives today will eventually fade into a distant memory. Spending some time at retirement home, especially one that cares for veterans, reinforces that lesson.
The Armed Forces Retirement Home is a pastoral oasis nestled in the heart of urban D.C. It has a storied past that dates back to 1851, when it was established as the “U.S. Military Asylum” in what was then a rural area of Washington, D.C. Among its historic buildings is a cottage that was used by President Lincoln as a summer getaway. But some of the best stories at the Home come from its residents. This week, the oldest one celebrated his 105th birthday. Navy Chief Steward Lorenzo Senires, who was born on August 10, 1905, was joined at a ceremony attended by his sons, grandchildren and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Rick West, as well as a team of Seabees who were on hand to dedicate a ship’s anchor they recently planted on the grounds of the Home. Lauding this Navy veteran’s longevity, the story of his life was recounted by David Watkins, director of the Home’s Washington campus. A Philippine immigrant who came to the U.S. as a stowaway on a cruise ship, Senires was hired by an American housewife to be a “houseboy” for her. Her husband, a naval officer, was either overtly or obliquely influential because Senires enlisted in the Navy in 1926. He failed his first medical entrance exam because he did not weigh at least 100 pounds.
Senires served under Adm. John McCain on USS Nitro (AE-2) 1932-33 and says that he voted for Senator McCain for president because he had so much respect for his grandfather. He also served on USS Indianapolis (CA-35) before Pearl Harbor and lost many shipmates when the ship was sunk several years later. He was later assigned as a steward to a naval officer in Washington, D.C., and remained there for the majority of World War II. Senires obviously made a strong professional impression during this stint, as his son Dave Senires recalls his dad telling him that he later spent some time working for President Truman, fishing with him on the presidential yacht Sequoia and at Truman’s “Little White House” in Key West.
For those of us who have lived for less than a century, centenarians like Senires give us some perspective on our own lives. Think about how much change he has seen in his life: World War I and World War II, Pearl Harbor and 9-11, the advent of flight, computers, changes in race relations, the women’s movement, rock ‘n’ roll – the list is endless. What does it feel like to look back on a century of living? Senires is a bit hard of hearing now, but seems to have most of his faculties and certainly has retained his sense of humor – something many elderly people say is the key to surviving old age. When his son asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he answered unequivocally that he wanted a young woman and his driver’s license.
For years, there has been one constant challenge for United States and coalition military operations in Afghanistan: insufficient rotary wing aircraft. Rotary assets ferry supplies, carry soldiers, and provide air support all over the country. Put bluntly, helicopters are the coin-of-the-realm: the more you have, the more you can do. And we do not have enough.
There has been numerous attempts to rectify the dearth of rotary assets, including some rather shady ones. However, helicopters still remain one of the most needed military resources in Afghanistan.
In response to the deadly flooding in Pakistan, the Pakistani military reassigned some helicopters from combat operations to disaster relief. For its part, the US military provided six helicopters to the relief efforts, however it kept the bulk of its rotary wing assets in Afghanistan:
“It’s a question of risk mitigation,” the official said. “Helicopter lift is critical to the mission” in Afghanistan, where road transport is difficult and dangerous, he said. “It’s not like we have a great surplus of helicopters in theater that are not engaging.”
It would also be absurd to say that we can’t afford to divert resources from the war to emergency flood relief, when much of the story told on behalf of the war is 1) all about “winning hearts and minds” and 2) all about Pakistan; and when the press is reporting that Islamist militants in Pakistan are cleaning our clocks in the battle for flood relief.
However, it looks like the Marines are coming to the rescue. Today it was announced that USS Peleliu is waiting in international waters off the coast of Karachi with 19 Marine helicopters available for disaster relief missions. These aircraft will allow the six US helicopters mentioned above to return to combat operations.
This week’s row over the allocation of helicopters highlights a greater and largely undiscussed issue. In a world of finite resources, when the needs of hard power and soft power conflict over an asset, which takes priority?
The answer is not as straightforward as you think. Department Of Defense Instruction 6000.16 states:
“It is DoD policy that: a. MSOs [editor: Medical Stability Operations] are a core U.S. military mission that the DoD Military Health System (MHS) shall be prepared to conduct throughout all phases of conflict and across the range of military operations, including in combat and non-combat environments. MSOs shall be given priority comparable to combat operations and be explicitly addressed and integrated across all MHS activities including doctrine, organization, training, education, exercises, materiel, leadership, personnel, facilities, and planning in accordance with Reference (b).” [Emphasis: Mine] (Department Of Defense 6000.16, 1)
Thus, under 6000.16, in at least one part of the US military, soft power should be given the same access to resources as hard power operations. The reality is that the allocation of resources must be a compromise between soft and hard power roles, balancing the benefits of having a resource in one role with the costs of lacking a resource in another. That is the very essence of strategy.
Editor’s note: I published the wrong version of this post for a few minutes. All fixed now. Apologies from my end.
We Navy-Gazers write a lot about anti-access threats. Most of the threats are frighteningly kinetic–the Type 022 carrier-killing small boat or the DF-21D carrier-killing missile. But looming environmental anti-access threats–the legal exclusion of replenishment vessels that pose a potential environmental “threat”–are just as scary. And possibly, in a raw strategic sense, more effective, too.
International legalese may not be as exciting as a Type 022 catamaran, but insuring access for mundane old replenishment vessels is important. If a carrier–or any other warship–can’t get fuel, it can’t do the job.
So over at NextNavy.com, you can find out why Canada’s government worries that the HMCS Protecteur and the HMCS Preserver, their two 40-year-old oilers, are going to pose an environmental anti-access threat to Canadian Forces.
And you can find out why America may face a rather rude surprise if it doesn’t engage on this issue–and get serious about recapitalizing (or re-conceptualizing) its long-underfunded logistical train.
While we are focused on the Middle East and Central Asia, further to the East – history isn’t waiting for us to rejoin it. A lot more is happening, and arguably more important things, than the occasional North Korean news that breaks out from the ambient noise.
If you missed yesterday’s Midrats, you missed a good one. For the full hour, fellow USNIBlogg’r EagleOne and I had Dr. Michael Auslin, PhD, as our guest. Dr. Auslin is the author of two books, Negotiating with Imperialism: The Unequal Treaties and the Culture of Japanese Diplomacy and Japan Society: Celebrating a Century 1907-2007, and is the director of Japan Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Prior to that he was was an associate professor of history and senior research fellow at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale University. He has been named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, a Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, and a Fulbright and Japan Foundation Scholar.
China, Australia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Koreas, Japan and the other players on the other side of the Pacific are discussed as they relate to the developments in the last decade that impact economics, trade, multi-lateral institutions, and the balance of power.
At its root it is all about resources — protein to supplement meager domestic harvests and oil to drive economies that governments push to unnatural and unsustainable annual growth. It is about an emergent regional power, poised on the brink of asserting itself as something more, flexing new found muscle in new domains and deepening suspicion of others in the region. . . “It” is a body of water, bounded to the west by Indochina, to the south by Indonesia and the east by the Philippine Islands. A marginal sea, it is the largest body of water after the world’s five oceans, measuring some 3.5 million square kilometers. Bordered by nearby home for over 270 million people.
Through its passages at Malacca and Taiwan, pass great streams of commerce — more than half the world’s supertankers and almost half of the world’s tonnage by most counts. Outward-bound to distant lands with finished products, inbound with the raw wealth drilled, mined, scraped and otherwise pulled from the earth, grist for the shore-bound industries. From crowded, stinking cities and wave-swept shore, fishermen set to sea to bring its bounty back to a waiting family, village or hungry nation. They set sail in everything from small boat to vast maritime industrial fleets, so efficient at harvesting but with so little thought of sustainment. At day’s end, visitor and native alike pause to consider the marvels of a watercolor sky, brushed in deep shades of vermilion and azure from above met by molten gold and dark sapphire from below – merging on the horizon.
Marvelous beauty, marvelous bounty – but alas, one that has seen mighty conflict in its time. From the early days of vessels powered by muscles and fear, to sail and later, plied by great grey hulking beasts that sought out like kind for battle or hurl anger ashore, it has seen war in all its stark, naked rage.
The South China Sea. Nán Hǎi. Dagat Timog Tsina. Laut China Selatan. Biển Đông.
The resources – living and mineral, have been a source of strife among the major regional actors and a look at the multitude of claim/counter-claim lines drawn on a chart, of overlapping claimed sovereignty is to behold a modern Gordian-knot. The modern day Alexander in the region, China, has sought to quietly, relentlessly snip away at that knot through bi-lateral negotiations, playing nations off one another and using new found bluster to attempt to quash any semblance of emergent multi-lateral dialogue. A 2002 declaration of conduct between ASEAN nations and China wherein all would exercise restraint over claims in the region has begun to unravel. ASEAN members claim it is meaningless in the face of Chinese naval assertiveness in the region and growing conflicts between fishing fleets and naval forces. The US, no stranger to these waters from the late-19th century forward, is still a relative new comer but underscoring its resurgent presence in SE Asia, asserted through SecState Clinton’s surprising (to the Chinese) statement last month at a forum on maritime matters hosted in Hanoi, that a leading diplomatic priority for the US would be a multilateral approach to resolving territorial disputes in the South China Sea while challenging China’s claims to the entirety of the sea.
China’s response wasn’t long in coming.
The Chinese military declared Friday that China had “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea but insisted it would continue to allow others to freely navigate one of the busiest waterways in the world.
The statement by the People’s Liberation Army seemed designed to reiterate China’s claims to the entire 1.3 million-square-mile waterway while calming concerns in Washington and Asian capitals that its policy toward the region had suddenly become significantly more aggressive.
“China has indisputable sovereignty of the South Sea, and China has sufficient historical and legal backing” to support its claims, Senior Col. Geng Yansheng, a Ministry of Defense spokesman, told reporters Friday during a visit to an engineering unit on the outskirts of Beijing.
But he added, “We will, in accordance with the demands of international law, respect the freedom of the passage of ships or aircraft from relevant countries.”
Coming on the heels of competing naval exercises off the Korean peninsula and in the Yellow Sea in July by China (which also began a major round of air exercises today), the US remarks raised hopes of nations in the region who have expressed increasing concern over China’s growing naval presence. At home, the Chinese press whipped itself into a veritable froth, taking every opportunity to highlight the naval exercises and declare China’s emergence, something the MoD spokesman quoted above noted later in the same press conference as “not helpful.”
Make no mistake about it — if the US chooses to press ahead in the region militarily and diplomatically there will be substantive challenges and an increased likelihood of a confrontation on the high seas. China has made no bones about using sharp elbows where it feels its sovereignty is being impinged and with increased capacity and capabilities, will undoubtedly feel it is in a position of greater strength to exercise the same. On the part of the US, it is the opening act of what a number of writers and strategists are coming to see as at least one major feature of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world – one that requires a naval presence for persistent presence, able to flow forces on short notice that are able to conduct sustained operations from the seabase. It is the core of the maritime strategy and naval operations concept.
It is also one that demands a navy with wide-ranging capabilities across the spectrum of war and which will not be found in a dwindling force of undermanned ships, aging aircraft and neglected weapons systems. It will require small combatants, big-deck amphibs, multi-mission destroyers and cruisers, submarines for hunting and deterrence and carriers that bring a revitalized mission of sea control back into a portfolio too-long dominated by strike warfare. Grey hulls, white hulls. Sailor, Marine, Coast Guardsman. The need is there — the question – can we afford to build and sustain the necessary force structure to put “paid” to the diplomatic checks being written?
Can we afford not to?
crossposted at steeljawscribe.com