Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category
Please join us at 5pm EDT on 10 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 340: China’s Maritime Militia with Andrew Erickson
As China continues to slowly use a variety of tools to claim portions of her maritime near-abroad in the South China Sea and elsewhere, part of their effort includes what can almost be considered naval irregular forces – a Maritime Militia.
What is China doing with these assets, why are they being used, and what could we expect going forward as she taps in to a variety of assets to attempt to establish her authority?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Andrew S. Erickson.
Dr. Erickson is Professor of Strategy at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC)’s China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI). Since 2008 he has been an Associate in Research at Harvard University’s John King Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, and is an expert contributor to the Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time Report, for which he has authored or coauthored thirty-seven articles.
He received his Ph.D. and M.A. in international relations and comparative politics from Princeton University and graduated magna cum laude from Amherst College with a B.A. in history and political science. He has studied Mandarin in the Princeton in Beijing program at Beijing Normal University’s College of Chinese Language and Culture; and Japanese language, politics, and economics in the year-long Associated Kyoto Program at Doshisha University. Erickson previously worked for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) as a Chinese translator and technical analyst. He gained early experience working briefly at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, the U.S. Senate, and the White House. Proficient in Mandarin Chinese and conversant in Japanese, he has traveled extensively in Asia and has lived in China, Japan, and Korea.
It was history in the making on Sunday, 26 June, as an international contingent celebrated the opening of the expanded Panama Canal. I was proud to be there with the U.S. Presidential party, led by Dr. Jill Biden. For Panama, the expansion represents a potential for growth in the country’s maritime sectors and serves as a symbol of national prestige. In recognition of its strategic maritime significance, and the value U.S. Southern Command places on forward engagement with the region, the USS Oak Hill (LPD-51) sailed through the canal a few days earlier (using the older and narrower set of locks). The Oak Hill was pierside at the canal’s Pacific entrance during the ceremony to recognize this Panamanian accomplishment, to celebrate this second engineering marvel that dramatically expanded the path between the seas, and to signal our continued commitment to working with our partners to ensure its defense.
From the very beginning the Canal—both the original and this expanded addition—offered both great promises and significant challenges. It required an investment of time, talent, and treasure—in blood and dollars—as well as great commitment and patience to turn opportunity into reality. At U.S. Southern Command we see transregional opportunities and challenges and the need for multinational solutions everywhere we look—especially standing beside this new Panama Canal.
It was great to visit the Oak Hill the day before the ceremony and talk to the officers, chief’s messes, and assembled crew. Embarked was a U.S. Marine detachment with equipment to help illustrate our humanitarian-assistance/disaster-relief (HA/DR) capabilities and our commitment to rapidly respond to any neighbor in need, such as our support after the recent earthquake in Ecuador. U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley eloquently captured what the Oak Hill represents: “a warship, coming in peace, symbolizing a legacy of partnership, commitment, and ready assistance in times of need.”
On board the Oak Hill, we talked with one officer who said that his earlier UNITAS deployment (an annual multinational naval exercise we host) as a lieutenant (junior grade) kept him in the Navy. We talked about how the Navy runs out of ships long before it addresses all the global requirements we face. We talked about the prioritization of requirements to other important regions and how that inevitably results in minimal allocation of Navy ships to help safeguard our interests in this vital region. I told him that once the littoral combat ship comes on line in greater numbers, U.S. Southern Command will seek to increase its presence in collaboration with maritime forces of the region to better protect our southern approaches and counter threat networks.
For now, we will make the most of the short deployments like that of the USS Lassen (DDG-82), which over a period of weeks wreaked havoc on drug traffickers in the tropical eastern Pacific; and with other Navy ships changing home ports from one coast to the other, such as the USS George Washington (CVN-73) and crew who excelled in partnering engagements and conducted multiple exercises during their South American transit. We are eager for the transit of the USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and the USS Wasp (LHD-1). I commented to the young officer that transiting ships should not make quick dashes to their new ports; their time in the Americas should be maximized because our presence is so limited and their ability to create goodwill is something on which you can’t put a price tag.
The Oak Hill was the only warship from any nation to attend the Canal Expansion opening ceremony. When it comes to defending the Canal, however, the duty is shared by many. Following on the ceremony’s heels, civilian and military organizations from 21 regional partner nations, with forces led by Panama, Colombia, Peru, Chile, and the United States, will conduct PANAMAX 2016, an exercise to demonstrate our shared commitment to the defense of the Panama Canal.
Standing beside this great achievement, I see the Canal as a metaphor for the region. It is the embodiment of transregional connections. Its defense depends on a partnership of nations—no one can do it alone.
Transregional Opportunities and Challenges
This region has never held such opportunity. The last remnants of the Cold War may finally be fading as a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations unfolds. Political change in Argentina also shows the promise of improved relations. In Colombia, a peace accord is progressing toward closing more than 50 years of political violence. Yet the obstacles to turning these and other opportunities into reality are large and growing. Astounding violence and related murder rates; transregional criminal networks trafficking not just in drugs, but also humans, illicit natural resources, weapons, and more; endemic corruption; small but concerning numbers of radicalized fighters joining the Islamic State in Syria—all these elements pose challenges to the region. Those challenges flow up to the southern approaches of the United States; what affects our neighbors soon enough is felt on our streets and cities.
Just as the Canal has global reach and impact, so do many of the challenges and concerns that touch Latin America and the Caribbean. More and more, geographic combatant commanders, focused on regional areas of responsibility, are seeing and responding to transregional challenges. In our interconnected world, we need to pay attention to those nations and non-state organizations that may be pursuing strategies across multiple borders and regions. If we are concerned about Russia’s conduct in Eastern Europe, we should pay attention to what they are doing in Latin America as well. If we are concerned about China’s performance as a responsible actor in a transparent rules-based system in the South and East China Seas, we may want to better understand their activities in the Western Hemisphere. If we are concerned about Iran’s use of surrogates and proxies in the Middle East, we should keep an eye on their clandestine activities across Central and South America.
The Panama Canal stands as a testament to vision, tenacity, and an enduring symbol of partnership—opportunity turned to reality through patience and perseverance. In Latin America we can achieve great and necessary things with the same patience and perseverance. In the face of these challenges, the United States is fortunate to have stalwart friends, allies, and partners throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, who are committed to working with us and one another to ensure our hemisphere remains a beacon of stability, security, and prosperity.
On a closing note – you never know when you will bump into a fellow Academy Alum. Sitting next to me at the canal inauguration ceremony was Maximo Mejia, the Government of the Philippines Administrator for Transpiration and Communications and USNA class of ’88.
Robert Kaplan’s OCT 2015 article, Wat in the World, is a great tonic to those who think, again, that we are just on the edge of transforming, offsetting, or just plain wishing away the strong, deep currents of history and the nature of man. It is worth a revisit in order for us to make sure we are taking the full view of history and the nature of man as it was, as it is, and as it will be.
National Socialism, Communism, Maoism; the last century saw a parade of gore hard to fathom from the 1915 Armenian slaughter, 1930’s Ukranian Holodomor, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, through to the 1970’s Cambodian killing fields and more – yet it is not fresh.
With the end of the Cold War, we have faced another -ism, Islamism, but even in its wholesale cutting of necks, burning, drownings, and genocidal pedophilic sex slavery, in our consciousness – in spite of the slaughter is has wrought on our own shores – its cold reality has yet to soak in.
That is unfortunate, as both history and our understanding of the constant nature of man should inform us that there is never an end to history, there is never a New Man. The tools and the players may change, but the baseline story remains.
That day that dawns another mass slaughter and war may never come again in our lifetime, but I doubt it. If you think the days of large fleet battles are done; that we will no longer see large armies in the field in the millions slogging against each other; that somehow next time it will be better, cleaner, quicker, less deadly – well – take a deep breath and read the whole thing.
Ponder the nature of man;
… utopia is, in and of itself, the perfect political and spiritual arrangement, any measures to bring it about are morally justified, including totalitarianism and mass murder. But what, on the individual level, has always been the attraction of utopian ideology, despite what it wrought in the 20th century? Its primary attraction lies in what it does to the soul, and understanding that makes clear just how prone our own age is to a revival of utopian totalitarianism.
Aleksander Wat, the great Polish poet and intellectual of the early and mid-20th century, explains that communism, and Stalinism specifically, was the “global answer to negation. . . . The entire illness stemmed from that need, that hunger for something all-embracing.” The problem was “too much of everything. Too many people, too many ideas, too many books, too many systems.” Who could cope?
So, Wat explained, a “simple catechism” was required, …
Then there is loneliness. Toward the end of The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt observes: “What prepares men for totalitarian domination . . . is the fact that loneliness, once a borderline experience usually suffered in certain marginal social conditions like old age, has become an everyday experience of the evergrowing masses of our century.” Totalitarianism, she goes on,
is the product of the lonely mind that deduces one thing from the other in linear fashion toward the worst possible result, and thus is a “suicidal escape from this reality.” Pressing men and women so close together in howling, marching formations obliterates individuality and thus loneliness. But even with all of our electronic diversions, is loneliness any less prevalent now than it was when Arendt published her magnum opus in 1951? People are currently more isolated than ever, more prone to the symptoms of the lonely, totalitarian mind, or what psychiatrists call “racing thoughts.”
If that assumption about the human condition is accurate, then how do you plan for it? How do you try to shape it? How do you mitigate it?
The vast majority of the world’s people are not Muslim, so are not likely to join in the -ism of the moment, Islamism. Does that mean that we can just contain that -ism, and not worry about the rest of the planet’s restive masses finding their own -ism?
People everywhere—in the West, in the Middle East, in Russia, in China—desperately need something to believe in, if only to alleviate their mental condition. They are dangerously ready for a new catechism, given the right circumstances. What passes as a new fad or cult in the West can migrate toward extremism in less stable or more chaotic societies.
The jet-age elites are of little help in translating or alleviating any of this. Cosmopolitan, increasingly denationalized, ever less bound to territory or parochial affinities, the elites revel in the overflow of information that they process through 24/7 multi-tasking. Every one of them is just so brilliant! They can analyze everything while they believe in nothing, and have increasingly less loyalty to the countries whose passports they hold. This deracination renders them wholly disconnected from the so-called unwashed masses, whose upheavals and yearnings for a new totality, a new catechism, in order to fill the emptiness and loneliness in their souls, regularly surprise and shock them.
Syria and the general Arab Spring, latest case in point that we are not too good at predicting even the near future.
The ascent of the Islamic State and other jihadi movements, both Sunni and Shi‘a, is not altogether new in imperial and post-imperial history. The seasoned, Paris-based commentator William Pfaff, who covered international politics for decades before he died, observed that the rise of radical populist movements, demanding in many cases the restoration of a lost golden age, occurred twice in mid- and late 19th-century Qing China (the Taiping and Boxer rebellions), once in mid-19th-century British India (the Sepoy Mutiny), and once in late 19th-century British Sudan (the Mahdist revolt). In that vein, as Pfaff explains, groups such as the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram, which we in the West label, in almost infantile fashion, as merely “terrorist”, are actually redemptive millennial movements that are responding to the twin threats of modernism and globalization.
What is next then?
Globalization, as it intensifies, carries the potential to unleash utopian ideologies by diluting concrete, traditional bonds to territory and ethnicity, for in the partial void will come a heightened appeal to more abstract ideals, the very weapons of utopia. And it is not only the Middle East that should concern us. China is in the process of transforming itself from a developing country into a national security state that in future years and decades could adopt new and dangerous hybrid forms of nationalism and central control as a response to its economic troubles. Russia’s Vladimir Putin may yet be the forerunner of even greater xenophobia and nationalism under leaders further to the Right than himself, as a response to Russia’s weakening social and economic condition. In an age of globalization, not only religion, but nationalism, too, can become still more ideological, illiberal, and abstract.
We must be both humble and vigilant, therefore. Humble, in the sense that we don’t assume progress; we shouldn’t feel safe in smug assumptions about the direction of history. Vigilant, in that we always stand firm in the defense of an individual such as Aleksander Wat, who, however doubt-ridden and self-questioning, refused to submit to pulverizing forces.
I worry that too many people think they can shoe-horn the world to their vignettes, CONOPS, and POM cycles. Has it ever? What is the danger if we think we can?
Hat tip Jack.
Our theme for BALTOPS 2016 was straightforward: “Baltic Unity and Strength bring Security.” “Unity,” though, is a word tossed around quite a bit without much thought given to the actual definition. So what unifies 15 Allied nations and 2 Partner nations in these Baltic Operations, and — now that BALTOPS is over—how is what we did here relevant to the problems Europe is facing today?
The strength of the assets represented in this year’s iteration of BALTOPS was evident from the earliest stages. Forty-three ships and submarines along with eight hundred troops from fifteen Allies and two Partners of NATO speak for themselves even when presented in the sterile form of a Power Point slideshow at a mid-planning conference. Once the ships were steaming in formation for the Photo Exercise (PHOTOEX) or deploying LCACs and AAVs to storm a beach, the message became even clearer. These force offerings showed a unity of resolve, a common purpose and commitment to security which will no doubt be a major theme within the upcoming Warsaw Summit. The nations of NATO are unified in their commitment to the defense of the whole.
Seven hundred troops from Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, and Finland made up the assault force. Within the short period of ten days they stormed the beaches three times, in three different countries. While talking to Marines of different nationalities it became clear to me that their perspective on unity was a little different; the unity they felt comes from relationships on a personal level. Parliaments and Congresses and Summits can talk about unity and friendship, but those friendships between military Allies and Partners are worked out in ships at sea and in the mud and sand ashore. There is a saying I heard once which I believe came from the British military, “We sweat in peace so we do not have to bleed in war.” We work hard now to be better prepared for anything that may come. In BALTOPS we are sweating together.
There is another sort of unity at work in BALTOPS and that is a unity of effort. BALTOPS 2016 is the largest live, NATO-led, joint air-maritime exercise in Northern Europe. At first that distinction may seem to contain a few too many qualifiers to actually be relevant. The level of integration, though, between the air, surface, and subsurface assets in this year’s exercise is really unprecedented in recent memory. BALTOPS 16 stressed complex coordination between units.
From waterspace and airspace management to radio communication, each piece of the puzzle had to fit together. First, the mine countermeasure vessels swept the operating areas to locate and neutralize any mine threats. Submarines and surface ships conducted anti-surface and anti-subsurface warfare to obtain local maritime superiority, protecting the high value units. Sailors and Marines boarded other surface vessels and searched for prohibited materials during Maritime Interdiction Operations. Ships assigned to the surface task units worked with friendly aircraft to provide air defense coverage over the high-value units.
The sequence of events was designed to be rigorous. The first landing in Hanko, Finland, was only one day after we sailed from Tallinn, Estonia. Training intensified as the forces in Sweden met opposition forces and prepared for the final exercise phase in Poland. I am continually impressed with the cohesion achieved in such a short time. Unity of effort is not just a plan. It is a common purpose that serves as guide when the plan falls to pieces.
Unity of effort is what allowed the forces from the seventeen participating nations to adapt and move forward. This unity is not built on common principles alone; it is not just built on friendships; it can be discussed at tabletop exercise, but it is really developed and put to the test in places like BALTOPS. Raw power is not enough to guaranty the security of the Alliance because that power can be misdirected. It is when power is guided by a common effort, each part working together, unified, that NATO really delivers on its obligations to defend peace in Europe.
The NATO Alliance and Europe in general is beset on all sides: a leadership in Russia that oddly seems more interested in burning than building bridges, a migrant crisis of epic proportions not seen since World War II, and barbarians that are not only at the gates but have actually come inside in the form of Daesh. The Baltic Sea is center stage for some of these challenges, while others are being played out in the Black Sea, Mediterranean, and greater Atlantic. The answers to each, though, are heavily dependent on the maritime domain.
Unity on the operational and tactical level is necessary to achieve the goals which have been agreed upon at the strategic level. If the Alliance is not unified, the message it sends is muddled and its strength, wasted. During BALTOPS 2016 we saw a force unified at every level. We honed our skills in amphibious, anti-submarine, anti-surface, and mine counter measure warfare and are now better prepared to ensure regional security in whatever way we might be needed. What we have done in the Baltic Sea for the last two weeks reverberates far beyond this body of water…even the Pacific. The ramifications reach every part of the Alliance.
Per last month’s post on the USNI Blog, the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Robert Neller, challenged veterans to “stay connected with those they served with” as an answer to help stop “young Marines from killing themselves.”
Strengthening personal moral bonds between veterans is part of the answer. So is strengthening moral bonds between U.S. Presidents, members of Congress and those they order to war. From 1798 to 2016, Congress made 11 declarations of war and 11 statutory authorizations for the use of military force. Congress did not authorize the Korean War. President Truman committed American troops to war in Korea citing U.N. authorizations and resolutions.
National moral bonds in the U.S. were strongest during World War II. The president requested and the Congress declared war against Japan and Germany. Three of President Franklin Roosevelt’s sons served with distinction in combat during World War II. James Roosevelt earned a Silver Star and promotion to brigadier general in the U.S. Marine Corps. Elliot Roosevelt enlisted in the Army Air Corps, flying 300 aerial combat missions as a pilot and commander and retiring as a brigadier general. John Roosevelt earned a Bronze Star as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy. Americans committed themselves to the personal and national sacrifices necessary for unconditional military victories over Japan and Germany. Their sacrifices included a draft, rationing, and military industrialization instead of commercial industrialization. From 1941 to 1945 more than 16 million Americans, about 12% of the U.S. population, served in the military and over 405,000 military members were killed.
From 1950 to 2016, the moral bonds between Presidents, members of Congress, most Americans and those ordered to fight their wars have become increasingly tenuous and sporadic. Presidential and Congressional strategies to avoid domestic political risks by incrementally side-stepping their constitutional duties repeatedly failed to produce military victories. Neither have they increased national security nor global security.
The most recent statutory authorizations in 2001 and 2002 started two ill defined and open-ended wars lasting more than three times as long as the declared wars with Japan and Germany.
Instead of spreading the cause of democracy these wars are destabilizing the Middle East and North Africa while forcing Europe to absorb tens of thousands of refugees. The sons and daughters of Presidents at war no longer wear the cloth of the nation and lead their fellow Americans to victory in combat against the nation’s declared enemies. The percentage of veterans in Congress continues to decline:
- 18.7% in the 114th Congress (2015-2016)
- 64% in the 97th Congress (1981-1982)
- 73% in the 92nd Congress (1971-1972)
Presently, less than 1% of the U.S. population serve in the military. Most Americans connect with their military with a “thank you for your service” and heart-felt applause for military members and patriotic ceremonies at major sporting events.
The political and media attention presently given to our wounded and post war veterans is necessary but not sufficient. Strong and enduring national moral bonds are created and sustained before, during and after our wars. They require Presidents and members of Congress to lead a majority of Americans in fulfilling the moral obligations necessary to win wars. The difficulties in fulfilling these obligations necessarily constrain wars. They require that all Americans return to sharing wartime risks and sacrifices, not just the 1% in uniform.
Next — Changing the Veteran Narrative: Moral Injury
Surveying the rugged coast of Finland, rocky beaches guarded by an army of small islands and towns once scarred by wars, I am reminded of the resilience and tenacity of the people who call this place home. These attributes were on dramatic display on the shores of Hanko, Finland today as Marines from five nations conducted their first of three amphibious landings. NATO’s inclusion of Finland and Sweden in the BALTOPS 2016 exercise as “Partnership for Peace” nations underscores the fact that their regional security interests in the Baltic are in sync with the 28 members of the Alliance.
Just two days ago on 4 June the exercise participants assembled as an entire group for the first time in Tallinn, Estonia, for the Pre-Sail Conference. On 5 June we set sail from Estonia. On 6 June we hit the beach running. . . Literally! The rapid assembly and deployment of forces in the first few days of BALTOPS 2016 is a powerful testament to the strength and agility of the Alliance. Even more striking is the longevity of the exercise. BALTOPS began in the 1970s as a U.S. exercise with U.S. assets affirming the right to sail in international waters. In the mid-1990s the focus shifted toward building trust with Partnership for Peace nations with the understanding that working together to enhance regional security is beneficial for every nation with interests in the Baltic Sea. In 2015 the exercise took an important step when, for the first time, it was planned and executed by a NATO headquarters and commanded by a NATO commander.
BALTOPS 2016 continues this trajectory today, emphasizing cooperation with full-Alliance members and aspiring partners. Of the nearly 550 marines landed on the Hanko beaches today, more than half were Finns and Swedes. And let me tell you, from their fierce looks I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of them.
Finland and Sweden are already closely integrated within the Swedish-Finish Naval Task Group (SFNTG); however, they do not have large amphibious assault ships. NATO provided the amphibious ship capability with USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) and HNLMS Johan de Witt; Finland and Sweden provided over 300 Marines. For this day of BALTOPS 2016 (a day which happens to be Sweden’s National Day), it was as if NATO was participating in a Swedish-Finnish joint exercises rather than the other way around. To enhance the quality of training there was a great deal of cross-decking. When one Lance Corporal from Wyoming was asked what he thought of the Finnish assault craft that took his Band of Brothers to the beach, he answered, “Awesome,” and continued to describe the assault craft as “the fastest boat I’ve ever been on.” Others—Germans, Italians, Swedes, and Finns echoed this review of the opportunity to train together. On a personal level that’s what it’s all about—learning from one another and building lasting relationships.
Talking to the international contingent of young Marines after they charged ashore reminded me of photos of another amphibious assault seventy-two years ago on June 6, 1944, during Operation Overlord (D-Day). Today, our exercise was conducted in peacetime. The participants are well-trained. Many are veterans of BALTOPS 2015. In 1944, the Normandy landing was the beginning of the end of the last great powers war. Many of the soldiers storming Omaha, Juno, and Sword Beaches had never seen combat. Thousands died on both sides. We are training today so that scenes like those on the Normandy beachhead will never be repeated.
There is talk in the news about heightened tension between the West and Russia. I have written about it myself. Russian media has claimed that NATO’s posture is provocative, although we are a defensive alliance, and BALTOPS represents a series of naval maneuvers designed to hone the skills of the allies and partners to deter (or to prevent war). It is important to remember that Russian and Western interests are not mutually exclusive. We are both fighting terrorism in the Middle East. We have worked and trained together in the past and that sort of cooperation is possible in the future, but Russia is not participating in BALTOPS this year. Security, economic prosperity, and freedom of navigation in the Baltic are in the interest of all nations whose commercial ships plow these waters. That’s why NATO is here . . .
Predicting the future is spotty at best, and predictions can change as rapidly as their inputs. As any economist will tell you thought, you have to try to understand what the numbers are trying to tell you if your are going to be ready for what is right around the corner.
A primary driving force through history is demographics. Demographics framed by economics is an irresistible force for change. The future belongs to who shows up, and those people who show up need a way to survive and prosper. All else flows from that.
Lets say we have to long range planning groups that we want to give an assignment to given the above entering argument. There are lots of options on what we can have them focus on. Here are my top two.
Team OAK: Managing China’s rise is not the challenge, managing their rapid decline relative to India will be.
Team PINE: AFRICOM will be next decade’s most important Combatant Command.
Due to circumstances beyond his control, Mr. Roggio had to postpone his visit with Midrats. He will appear at a later date. In lieu of his appearance, CDR Salamander and Eagle1 held a “free for all” discussion of current events.
You can find our “Spring Time Free-for-All” here.
We regret any inconvenience.
A military that faces budget constraints must make choices. The US military is no exception. Is it more important that we fund a large force that can build relationships and spread out over every potential conflict zone? Or should we instead invest in capabilities that will make our individual units more lethal and survivable? In other words, do we build a lot of the assets we know how to build, or do we instead develop better assets that we can build in the future? Secretary of Defense Carter has referred to this debate in terms of posture vs presence (advanced future-forces vs large current-forces).
The fundamental question of this debate is whether war is more likely now or in the future. If we knew we had 50 years until a large conventional conflict, most would advocate investing in capability. That would allow us to build more effective forces for when we needed them. On the other hand, if we knew we only had 1 year, it would not be prudent to divert current readiness in favor of capabilities that wouldn’t be available in time.
The United States’ modern defense establishment has faced one real peer-competitor: the USSR. They posed a threat that was felt viscerally by the populace and the military that defended them. If there was ever a challenge that dictated a large number of ready forces, it was the Cold War. New technologies always had to be researched, but they would be useless if the operational forces couldn’t win a war that day.
When we look at a graph of US defense research spending as a percentage of total defense spending, this pattern is clear. Time periods where the blue line is below the red are when research spending was lower than the historical average.
Data from SIPRI and AAAS
From the early-60s to the mid-80s, when the Soviet threat was large and immediate, research took a back seat to presence. Regular military spending outpaced research spending by a greater than normal amount. Then, America woke up in the 90s to a peerless world. Presence took a back seat to capability. The US military had breathing space to begin to think about the future. It used that breathing space to fund the technologies that would power a networked military that has yet to be seriously challenged in conventional warfare in the post-Cold War era.
In the 21st century, China has replaced the Soviet Union as the threat that focuses defense planners. So how does China compare as an adversary? Do we have the time we need to focus on capability, or should we go all-in on our currently operational forces?
Without going into direct capabilities, a fairly reasonable way to compare threats is to look at top-line military budgets. How did our spending compare to the Soviets’ and how does our spending compare to China’s? Let’s first look at the Cold War.
Data from SIPRI and CIA
From 1966 to 1989, the United States was able to muster enough defense spending to approximately match that of the Soviet Union. There were long stretches where the US lagged the Soviets, but it was always fairly close. The rest of NATO seems to have consistenly spent somewhere between 50% and 60% of the Soviet’s budget. Combined, NATO and the US spent 20-80% more than the USSR.
Data from SIPRI and CIA
Looking at these graphs, you see what looks like a close struggle, but one where the US and NATO are clearly superior. That was not at all the perception in the 60s or 70s, though. The nightly news in that era was gloomy. And the Soviet military really did pose a legitimate threat to an American-led world order. We talk today about China holding US aircraft carriers at risk. The Soviet Union held every city in America at risk. It was a global challenger as much as it sought regional hegemony. So the US strategy was to prioritize the readiness of the forces that it had. Not to prioritize the forces it wished it had.
And in the end, it is hard to argue that this was the wrong strategy. Afterall, the world is not a nuclear wasteland and America has enjoyed lone superpower status for the last 25 years. So if this is the threat picture that warrants “presence” oriented spending, what is a threat picture that warrants the opposite? This:
Data from SIPRI
It is not terribly close. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR spent similar amounts on defense. The United States outspends China three times over, today. Additionally, China’s neighbors currently spend an amount equal to China’s defense outlays, not the 60% deficit that NATO could muster on its best days.
The trajectory of China’s spending is clearly up, while the United States’ trajectory is clearly down. But America presently enjoys a vast lead. And China’s neighbors are increasing defense spending, as well (albiet at a lower rate). Taking these factors into account, it seems as though the United States has a long time before it must worry about China challenging global order. China may be building “facts on the ground” that will be beneficial once it is a mature power (by flouting international law in the South China Sea), but it is not currently a serious challenger to the United States.
While the US and NATO once spent a combined 120% of the Soviet’s budget, the US and its Asian allies currently spend 384% of China’s budget.
Data from SIPRI
If every trend stays exactly as it currently is (and that is already not realistic since China recently announced a reduction in military spending growth), it will take a decade before China poses a threat similar to that of the USSR.
China cannot currently contest our dominance in Asia in the way that the Soviets contested our dominance in Europe. During the Cold War, America waited to prioritize current-force spending until the Soviet’s military budget was about 80% of the American budget. China’s is currently at 35% of America’s.
If American strategy requires that its chief adversary be able to plausibly challenge its dominance in a region before it prioritizes current-forces over future ones, it’s clear that now is not the time for a buildup. With a minimum of 10 years before a new Cold War, and more realistically 20 or 30 years, the US military would be remiss to not fund future capabilities while it can.
The question then is relegated to one of magnitude. How much should the United States prioritize research? Let’s first look at where our current military budget is in comparison to where it’s been.
Data from SIPRI
Defense spending has averaged 6.1% of GDP since 1949. It currently rests at around 3.5% of GDP. As you can see in the above graph, defense spending was high up until the end of the Cold War, shrunk greatly in the 90s, and then rose again during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With those wars now over, our budget is in a new trough.
Data from SIPRI
Total defense spending as a percentage of GDP has only been lower for a brief time in the late 90s/early aughts. There is room to increase it if needed. And if there is to be an increase, it should go toward modernizing the force.
Research and development as a percentage of GDP lies at around .4%. The long-run average is .55%, but the R&D boom of the late 80s reached .7%.
Data from SIPRI and AAAS
The late-80s investment in R&D produced the advanced military that was able to decimate Saddam’s Soviet-style military. It was sufficient to produce a force capable of decisive victory. Similar levels of investment will be required to produce similar margins of victory. What would it take to get spending back to similar levels?
It would require 70% more research spending, but would only increase the total defense budget to 3.8% of GDP from 3.5%. Which is far below the 6.1% long-run average. By reducing our current-force size in areas unlikely to contribute in a large, conventional conflict (the least likely scenario, but easily the most damaging), we could likely keep our overall budget similar to its current levels.
China is a threat to an American-led global order in the long-run. It will eventually be able to credibly challenge our core interests in the world. It, however, does not currently warrant the same defense structure than did the USSR. We still have time to ensure our forces are capable enough to win the wars of the future. And in their current structure, they would likely prevail in any surprise conflict that comes sooner. We shouldn’t restore our military to its Cold War size. We should worry about how we can build the military of the future.
In 2008, just before the official stand-up of the new Combatant Command in Stuttgart, Germany, I listened to General “Kip” Ward, AFRICOM’s first Commander, discuss his first trip around the continent to talk to key leaders of African nations, militaries, and government organizations like the African Union. He made an important observation during this presentation that I never forgot.
I’ll paraphrase his comments as follows: He said, you know, we in the military have a lot of acronyms and terms. We just throw them out in conversation and expect everyone to get it . . . But you have to be careful what you say and understand the full impact of your words. When I met people and told them I was the incoming Commander of AFRICOM and my “AOR” would include 53 African countries, the first question was, “What’s an AOR?” Well, it’s my Area of Responsibility he said, to which African leaders responded, “Who’s Area of Responsibility? Yours . . . or ours?” There’s a lot to think about here in the way we approach partnerships.
Likewise we have another favorite acronym in our military vernacular known as ASAP—As Soon As Possible! A versatile term . . . I’ve been using it all my life, and if you’ve served in the military I suspect you have too. On the other hand, ASAP means something different to our African partners. The African Union interprets the acronym ASAP to mean: “African Solutions for African Problems.” This is not to suggest that Africans want to solve their problems and challenges in isolation. Rather, I believe that African leaders would prefer to cultivate partnerships with the international community in order to explore solutions to African problems.
And so, under the leadership of AFRICOM, the Commander Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) has endeavored to assist our African partners through joint programs such as the Africa Partnership Station (APS), the Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Program (AMLEP), and our signature series of exercises around the four quadrants of the African continent known as the “Express” series.
Having had the benefit of hindsight during my time as the Deputy Commander U.S. 6th Fleet from 2010 to 2012, I can tell you that my observations of the progress made from 2010 until my arrival as Commander 6th Fleet and Deputy Commander NAVAF in 2014 has been like night and day.
Africa is a continent that includes about 35 percent of the world’s land mass and during my previous assignment, the African Partnership Station was frequently frustrated by the phenomenon of “sea blindness,” or an underappreciation for the importance of the maritime domain. Africa, after all is a big island surrounded by water and although we still have much work to do, I don’t hear that term as much anymore. Instead, I hear the term “sea vision” as applied to our work with African navies and coast guards.
The most recent example of our work together culminated just last week in the opening ceremony of Obangame/Saharan Express (OE/SE) 2016. This is the first year the two exercises were combined into one larger exercise. Previously, Saharan Express focused on the waters from Senegal to Guinea, and Obangame Express was from the coast of Côte d’Ivoire to Angola.
Creating a multi-national exercise with 32 participating nations allowed us to challenge ourselves to practice the zone framework outlined by the Yaoundé Code of Conduct. The Senegalese Navy hosted the main OE/SE opening ceremony in Dakar, with local ceremonies held in other participating countries. For OE/SE 2016, service members from Brazil, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States joined 21 West African nations for the 10 day exercise.
This was my first trip to Senegal, and I was reminded of the incredible land mass of Africa as I flew from Naples to Dakar for hours over the vast, red sands of the Sahara Desert. The historic nature of the ceremony was palpable as senior leaders addressed the audience, U.S. Navy Band members played alongside Senegalese musicians, and national media asked questions about the nature of our relationship.
In fielding the reporters’ questions, Admiral Cissoko and I both underscored the fact that it takes teamwork to counter piracy, stop illicit trafficking, and combat illegal fishing, and teamwork is a huge part of OE/SE. The word “Obangame” actually means “togetherness” in the Central African Fang language. Like any good team, the earlier we start working together, and the more we practice together, the more proficient we become.
Africa Partnership Station and Obangame/Saharan Express are nothing more than an extension of the Global Network of Navies. Our work is made easier by relationships established in our Coalition Force Maritime Commander’s Conference (CFMCC) run by the Naval War College and the Gulf of Guinea Conference recently held by the Secretary of the Navy in Annapolis Maryland for senior African naval leaders. Other relationships were revealed and reinforced during this opening ceremony. In Dakar, I met a Senegalese Officer who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1992, and now serves as the Chief of Logistics for the Senegalese Navy. He was a classmate of my Chief Engineer when I was in command and the two men had served in the same company in Annapolis. Both had maintained a deep and abiding friendship.
The Senegalese recommended that we visit Gorée Island before our departure. President Obama and his family had visited this place, which was the last stop in Africa for men, women and children forcibly taken from their homes and sent to America during the slave trade. It was a sobering experience, but just before departure, the head of the port authority approached me and wished me well. He was a retired Senegalese naval officer, who had also attended the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I. We found common ground in our shared experience as well as our common interest in security and stability.
Indeed, with 52 ships, 13 aircraft and more than 1,000 people participating in Obangame/Saharan Express 2016, we were determined to improve interoperability in order to enhance African maritime security and regional economic stability. OE/SE 2016 is the largest maritime exercise ever held Africa.
We’ve come a long way since the Express series exercises began in 2011 and we’ll continue this commitment to our African partners for years to come. While my time in Senegal was short, Commodore Heidi Agle, Commander Task Force 63, positioned herself in Cameroon to supervise the operational and tactical aspects of the exercise from the Maritime Operations Center in Douala and onboard the Expeditionary Patrol Vessel, USNS Spearhead (T-EPF-1). I asked Commodore Agle to share her perspective with you as well.
From Commodore Heidi Agle, Officer-in-Charge of Exercise:
I came to U.S. Naval Forces Africa after serving four and a half years in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations where I worked frequently with island nations that had unilateral control of their borders. The area still had territorial disputes, but individual nations exercised great autonomy within their territorial waters and economic exclusion zones. When I first started working with West African countries, I quickly realized how close the Gulf of Guinea nations are to each other, both geographically and economically. Their proximity makes regional cooperation essential as they work toward greater economic viability.
There is too much shared space among too many countries for conversations not to occur on a daily basis. In the main OE/SE 2016 exercise hub, Douala, Cameroon, I observed these necessary country-to-country conversations during the exercise and am encouraged by the commitment of their leadership to continue this interaction long after the exercise ends.
My Cameroonian counterpart, navy Capt. Sylvestre Fonkoua, gave me a tour of his Douala-based maritime operations facility. I was most impressed by the progress they had made in reducing the zone’s illicit maritime activity in just a few years. In 2009, Zone D recorded 40 incidents of piracy attacks. The Zone D navies of Cameroon, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé/Príncipe then set up a maritime operations center in Douala and committed ships to provide maritime security in their combined waters 24/7, 365 days a year, with communications readily available among all participating militaries and government agencies. In 2015, they recorded only two incidents, proving the effectiveness of their information sharing and teamwork.
“It is obvious that asymmetric threats such as piracy are likely to move from one maritime border to another, and the seas are so wide that this kind of dynamic threat can’t be addressed by only one country,” said Fonkoua. “That means that we cannot overcome these scourges alone.”
The Gulf of Guinea has almost reached a positive tipping point; they are poised to exponentially grow and progress. In support of their vision, executing OE/SE helps the region toward its goal of effectively policing its own waters.
A recent regional success is the rescue of the pirated fuel vessel, M/T Maximus in February. Ghanaians and Americans were patrolling Ghanaian waters aboard expeditionary fast transport vessel USNS Spearhead (T-EPF 1) as part of a real-world Africa Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership Operation, when they were tasked to locate a suspected pirated vessel. The Ghanaian-American team found M/T Maximus and relayed the location to the maritime operations center in Ghana.
Eight nations helped track the suspect vessel as it transited southwest through the Gulf of Guinea. When the ship entered the waters of São Tomé/Príncipe, São Tomé coordinated with the Nigerian Navy, who conducted the first ever opposed boarding by a West African Navy. Nigeria and São Tomé have a maritime agreement giving Nigeria the authority to conduct law enforcement activities in São Tomé waters.
The Nigerian Navy re-captured the vessel, rescued the hostages, in the process killing one pirate and taking the remaining pirates into custody. This joint operation, morphed into a successful, multi-national, real-world counterpiracy mission, and clearly demonstrates how working together across cultural lines, defending the sea-lanes leads to maritime security. This is the application of African Solutions to African Problems in its truest form.
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