Archive for the 'Foreign Policy' Category
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.
The Navy’s new “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” was released for public dissemination in January 2016. Upon its public unveiling at the Navy Flag and Senior Executive Service (SES) gathering in Wash., DC, CNO John Richardson was quick to explain that this is not ‘my’ Design, it’s yours . . . the ‘Fleet’s’ Design . . . take it and run with it!
The fourth Line of Effort in our Design is to “Expand and strengthen our network of partners.” This is further defined as: Deepen operational relationships with other services, agencies, industry, allies and partners – who operate with the Navy to support our shared interests.
So, how are we going to do that? There are several avenues of approach, but let me articulate one particular idea—leveraging the Olmsted Scholar Program.
For more than 50 years, this prestigious program has partnered with DoD to educate young officers in foreign language fluency and foreign cultures, which are becoming more and more important in today’s world.
With the selection of the 57th Olmsted scholar class in March 2015, 618 scholars have completed, are completing or are preparing for two years of study abroad. Their studies to date have been in 40 languages, in 202 different foreign universities, spanning 60 countries worldwide.
I was privileged to participate in the program in 1987 at the University of Strasbourg, France, the birth place of the European Union. I have been a strong advocate for the program since my matriculation, but I have also opined that although it is one of the best graduate education programs available for young officers, it is not as widely known as it should be and therefore some highly qualified and career motivated officers may not be taking advantage of such an opportunity.
That is apparently changing for the better and I credit the CNO, the Chief of Naval Personnel (CNP), the Naval Education and Training Professional Development and Technology Center (NETPDTC), and the leadership of the Olmsted Foundation and its strong alumni association for the increase in Navy participation over the last year. The Olmsted Foundation Board of Directors just selected the new Olmsted Scholar Class of 2017: 6 Navy, 5 Army, 5 USAF and 2 Marines. A banner year for the Navy and Marine Corps including four submariners, one SWO and one EOD officer. According to the Olmsted Foundation, the quality of Navy applicants was just that good! It is my sincere hope that next year, we’ll see an even broader distribution of Navy scholars among ALL the warfare specialties.
So why is this so important and what linkage does the Olmsted Scholar program have to the “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority? Well, here’s my two cents worth: like Cecil Rhodes, founder of the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, whose goal was to promote leadership marked by public spirit and good character, and to “render war impossible” by promoting friendship between the great powers, Major General George Olmsted, USMA Class of ’22, had a similar vision when he said that “the world’s greatest leaders must be educated broadly.” But General Olmsted’s legacy and generous endowment to establish the Olmsted Scholar program is distinguishable from the Rhodes Scholarship because it is designed only for people in uniform. Throughout his active duty service in both WWII and the Korean War, General Olmsted learned that understanding foreign cultures could be an asymmetric advantage that would lead to friendships, partnerships and alliances — especially in times of crisis. Furthermore, I believe he subscribed to the philosophy of Sun Tzu: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. . .” Understanding our allies and partners is one thing; understanding peer competitors and potential adversaries is equally as important prior to the outbreak of conflict. In fact, understanding your adversary might avoid mistakes and miscalculation, thereby avoiding conflict.
So where do you get this type of situational awareness? As attractive as American graduate schools can be, there is no substitute for immersion in a foreign culture and study aboard. But who is the “training audience?” What a great military phrase you hear aboard ship and ashore in our training programs Navy-wide. The training audience for the Olmsted Scholarship program is YOU—yes YOU, the Lieutenants in the Fleet! If you ask people who work for me, they’ll tell you they hear some distinct mantras, often repeated over and over again like a broken record. One of these mantras is “Empower the Lieutenants!” In reply, I sometimes hear that a Lieutenant is a small fish in a big ocean; so what do you want us to do? Those who ask that question usually get a passionate response from me along the following lines: “John F. Kennedy was a Lieutenant on PT-109 and look what he did during WWII; so was John Kerry in Vietnam! Every Department Head on my fast attack submarine was a second tour Lieutenant—they ran the ship and stood Command Duty Officer underway on deployment on the “pointy end of the spear!” Lieutenants have energy, Lieutenants are malleable, Lieutenants are intelligent and they are “current”—i.e. they have the most recent educational experience and have been exposed to the latest theories swirling around in the academe–as compared to those of us who have been out of school for many years. Empower yourself . . . educate yourself! Go for broke! The Olmsted Scholarship program is a stepping stone to empowerment. Apply now, you won’t regret it!
Let me give you some examples of how you can put this education to work in support of the Design and Line of Effort #4–Expand and strengthen our network of partners.
Anecdote Number One:
First, I will tell you about the most famous Air Force Officer at 6th Fleet Headquarters, and he doesn’t even work here. When it comes to detailing and the assignment of qualified officers to our N51 (Europe Engagement) or N52 (Africa Engagement) organization, the name LTC Leo Kosinski frequently comes up. Leo was the Japanese Desk Officer at JCS J5 when I worked for ADM Mike Mullen, as his Executive Assistant, during his tenure as Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS). In the run-up to the Chairman’s first visit to Japan as CJCS, as ADM Mullen did for all of his counterpart visits, he studied hard. He was famous for taking home “helmet bags” of books and papers to his residence to continue to work after dinner and late into the night. This upcoming trip was no exception and ADM Mullen let us know that it was very important because he was going to see his friend and counterpart, ADM Saito-san, one last time before he (Saito) retired. ADM Saito, the Japanese CHOD had been a great ally and friend. He and ADM Mullen had grown up together as fellow Fleet Commanders, CNOs and now their respective country’s Chiefs of Defense (CHOD = CJCS in our parlance). This was an important visit as the Japanese had acquired and were using our AEGIS technology in their warships and they had been very supportive to the U.S. Navy in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). ADM Mullen read his trip book, full of facts and figures and questions and answers on “all things Japan.” He called me into his office and asked, Who put this book together?
“LTC Leo Kosinski, USAF, JCS J5,” I said.
He said, “tell him to come down for a chat . . . it’s excellent work.”
The Chairman liked talking to the Iron Majors, Lieutenant Colonels and Commanders on the staff. He found their outlook honest and refreshing. The 1MC call went out to Kosinski. He appeared a few minutes later.
I introduced Leo to the Chairman. “Sir, LTC Leo Kosinski, the guy who compiled the book.” Air Force Academy graduate, Olmsted Scholar and graduate of the University of Tokyo—he’s fluent in Japanese and a graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to boot.
Leo stood tall in front of the Chairman’s desk.
“Let me get this straight,” the Chairman said. “You’re a graduate of the University of Tokyo, you speak Japanese, you’ve served in the region and you are my Japanese Desk Officer?”
“Yes sir!,” said Leo.
“Well,” said ADM Mullen, “how in the world did that happen?”
Leo wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question, but I had come to really appreciate the Chairman’s dry sense of humor. How many times had we all been in a command whereby someone is a highly qualified officer, but placed in the wrong job. Detailers call this “fit” and “fill.” In Leo’s case, he was “the perfect fit” for the Japanese Desk Officer position.
The Chairman went on to tell him that his was the best prep book he’d read to date and gave him a BZ!
Leo accompanied us on the trip to Japan and like his book, the interaction with ADM Saito and the rest of the trip was perfect in execution. Leo’s hard work, education and experience had paid off. ‘Nuff said.
Anecdote Number Two:
One of my classmates at the University of Strasbourg was a budding young graduate student with a new wife and family named Mario Ayelou. Mario was quite an engaging young man and a native of the island of Mauritius. He was fluent in French and well educated, as was his young wife Genevieve. We were both a little older than the other students at the Institute and we enjoyed one another’s company as foreigners in the French graduate education system. Mario had a small stipend from his government and hoped to go back to Mauritius and work his way up the chain in public administration. Neither of us realized how successful he would be.
Twenty-eight years later, I would find myself at 6th Fleet Headquarters as the sponsor of Exercise Cutlass Express—our signature series exercise involving partners in East Africa and the Indian Ocean. For political reasons beyond our control, the lead nation for Cutlass Express 2015 dropped out at the last minute. The island of Mauritius agreed to step in and take on the responsibility for lead nation duties—no small task.
Since the little island of Mauritius had agreed to play such a significant role at the last minute, I wanted to reach out and thank them. I had lost touch with Mario Ayelou over the years, but I assumed his affable personality and his education had taken him far and I was not disappointed. Mario had worked in many agencies of government, from environment to law and he had served in the cabinet of the Prime Minister. When I reached him in Mauritius, he was thrilled to hear that the U.S. Navy was coming to Mauritius and that we would put a ship in port with my Vice Commander, RDML Tom Reck on board to show our appreciation. I asked Mario to stir up some interest on the island and invited him and other key leaders to the ship for a reception. Mario came through and delivered the President of Mauritius, Mr. Kailash Purryag, along with about 100 other distinguished guests. It was the least we could do to say thank you to this small island nation for their big contribution to Cutlass Express. All made possible by relationships that began a quarter of a century ago in graduate school.
It is my sincere hope that the Olmsted Scholar Class of 2017 will establish like-minded relationships and foster common interests with allies and friends that may last over a career or a lifetime. When crises arise, it is much easier to pick up the phone and talk to someone with whom you have an established relationship than with someone you’ve never talked to before. Trust me on this.
Accordingly, populating the Olmsted Scholar program with our best and brightest in uniform is one small way of achieving LOE #4 of the Design– Expand and strengthen our network of partners!
For more information on the program, consult NAVADMIN 034/16.
Good luck shipmates! I’ll be looking for your name next year!
Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS) have gained considerable attention in the press recently. After a hiatus, the U.S. Navy again began challenging China’s excessive maritime claims in the South China Sea in 2015. This renewed effort commenced with USS LASSEN’s operation at Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands on October 27, 2015 and most recently featured USS CURTIS D. WILBUR’S operation at Triton Island in the Paracel Islands on January 30, 2016. Both occurring in the South China Sea, the latter demonstrated U.S. commitment to challenging China’s excessive claims outside the Spratly Islands as well. While these operations can contribute to a larger deterrence strategy, we should not rely on FONOPS exclusively for strategic signaling.
The U.S. Navy has maintained a formal FONOPS program globally since 1979. Specifically, this program is designed to prevent excessive claims from becoming customary international law. A nation can argue that its excessive claims are in fact legal if it can show that other states have acquiesced. Customary international law, in effect, validates the negative. If no nation challenges the claim over time, it can be judged as internationally accepted. The FONOPS program prevents this outcome by sending ships through excessively claimed areas to demonstrate positive non-acquiescence. In the operations listed above, China requires foreign warships to obtain permission before entering “adjacent waters,” so LASSEN and CURTIS D. WILBUR sailed within 12nm of Subi Reef and Triton Island without China’s permission to demonstrate non-acquiescence.
As a Navy, presence is the foundation of our deterrence mission, but we should be careful not to conflate FONOPS presence with comprehensive deterrence. While these operations have gained more media attention than any other regional operations, Pacific Command maintains a more persistent presence through efforts such as Pacific Presence Operations and the Continuous Bomber Program. We do gain some deterrence side-effects any time that U.S. forces are present, but leaning on FONOPS as a primary deterrence option is a strategic pitfall.
Credible deterrence is composed of three elements: capability, capacity and resolve. While not a linear relationship, an adversary’s doubt in any individual element will sharply reduce deterrence effects. The error in considering FONOPS as a deterrence operation is that policymakers will expect more effects from these transits than FONOPS can offer. This mistake is particularly evident when treating FONOPS as Flexible Deterrence Options (FDOs).
When designing a deterrence strategy against an adversary, FDOs can prove useful in controlling security dilemma effects — a phenomenon where actions intended to increase one’s own security can in fact reduce it, because those actions instill fear in the adversary, which responds with similar security improvements. FDOs help control this outcome by allowing policymakers to apply the minimum show of force necessary to achieve the desired effect. Should the adversary appear unresponsive, the intensity of FDOs can be increased like a rheostat. Of the three elements of deterrence — capability, capacity and resolve — FDOs have the largest impact on resolve. The adversary has likely already calculated the capability and capacity of opposing armed forces; employing forces through more assertive FDOs signals firm resolve.
FONOPS is a fairly straightforward legal program, which is why it falls short in an FDO approach. When facing excessive maritime claims, states either demonstrate non-acquiescence or not. There is no practical difference between non-acquiesce and strenuous non-acquiescence, so these operations are far less “flexible” than some might hope. This is also true when a state asserts multiple excessive claims around the same land feature. For example, if a state requires foreign-warships to obtain permission before transiting within 12nm of an illegally drawn straight baseline, two excessive claims exist: (1) the requirement for permission and (2) an illegally drawn straight baseline. Transiting within 12nm of the straight baseline without permission demonstrates non-acquiescence against the first, but unless the straight baseline is crossed, that state can show acquiescence to the second. Reserving the second as a way to “escalate” in an FDO approach is a fool’s errand. Just as there is no practical difference between non-acquiesce and strenuous non-acquiescence, there is similarly no difference between acquiescence and reserved non-acquiescence. Altogether, you can neither non-acquiesce more nor acquiesce less.
Given these limitations, FONOPS still play an important role in strategically signaling allies and partners. In the case of the South China Sea, the United States seeks to prevent Beijing from coercing smaller regional powers into accepting its excessive claims. Thomas Schelling famously observed, “There is a difference between taking something and making someone give it to you.” To be sure, China has taken the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal, but the larger strategic victory for China would be making these smaller powers accept de facto Chinese control over the South China Sea. Beijing can set the conditions for this outcome if it effectively conveys to regional neighbors that resisting Chinese excessive claims is pointless. Asserting these claims, and backing them with overwhelming and credible force such that smaller states cannot oppose them, will secure de facto control. If the U.S. Navy is not there demonstrating non-acquiescence, these states will likely be coerced into acquiescing.
This effect highlights the strategic importance of FONOPS in the South China Sea. FONOPS cannot deter China from reclaiming islands and militarizing them into bases, but these operations play an important role in signaling smaller regional states. U.S. Navy demonstrations of non-acquiescence assuage fears in these states that they are alone in opposing China’s excessive claims, assuring these governments that international rule of law takes precedence over China’s strategic aspirations. While FONOPS is not a deterrence program, these operations allay concerns that Chinese control over the South China Sea is a fait accompli.
Please join us on 28 Feb 2016 at 5pm EST, for Midrats Episode 321: The Year of the Monkey in the South China Sea w/Toshi Yoshihara:
Claims hundreds of year old in the South China Sea are being acted on today. Ethnic tensions that date back to recorded time are returning to the surface with renewed importance.
Regardless of what may be happening in the Middle East or Europe, China and the nations that border the South China Sea have their own set of priorities they will pursue this year.
To discuss the present state of play in the area and the events to look for as the year unfolds will be returning guest of the show, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara from the Naval War College.
Professor Toshi Yoshihara holds the John A. van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies and is an affiliate member of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College. Before joining the College faculty, he was a visiting professor in the Strategy Department at the Air War College. Dr. Yoshihara has also served as an analyst at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, RAND, and the American Enterprise Institute. He holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, an M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and a B.S.F.S. from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He is co-author of Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy and other books related to maritime concerns in national defense policy.
Yesterday, Richard Fontaine over at WarOnTheRocks provided one of the better summaries I have read about what was floating around in the ether at this year’s Munich Security Conference.
As a result of the discussions, a mood of frustration, even somberness, settled on the Munich participants this year. There have been difficult conferences before: in 2003, during the white-hot transatlantic fight over the looming war in Iraq, and in 2007, when Vladimir Putin denounced a “unipolar” world and previewed a more aggressive and anti-Western Russian line. Perhaps Munich 2017 will be sunnier and more hopeful, with many of this year’s challenges having faded into mere annoyances. Yet there is a good chance that many of the problems that so bedeviled the transatlantic partners this past weekend will remain on the crowded agenda for time to come.
A good chance? Yes, a very good chance.
He had five major take-aways:
1. Russian confidence.
2. European disarray.
3. Pleas for U.S. leadership.
4. Sense of American irrelevance.
5. Little hope for Syrian peace.
I’ll let you read his full post for how he outlines the five, but I think his five are about spot on – mostly because it is what has been groaning out of Europe all year.
You can batch these in to three groupings, though all five are interrelated, but not in the way most people think. We’ll get to that in a moment, but for now let’s stick in order.
Russian confidence and European disarray: For the entire period I wore the uniform and now over a half a decade since my retirements, people who respect history have been warning the Europeans and Canada that they need to take national defense seriously. In recent history, there have been those who thought they could move the needle from within, only to lash out once their turn on the rowing bench was done (Gen. Craddock, USA and SECDEF Gates just two examples).
Some of the cry had been out of a proper sense of fairness and shared sacrifice, but others like myself did it out of affection knowing that my nation was only an election or two away from the American public not willing to defend those who won’t defend themselves.
The Russians are confident as they have seen the Europeans’ failure to rise to the occasion after the slow but steady American decoupling from Europe. The Russians are confident because they perceive that they are winning. They respect strength and have contempt for weakness. The only stiffening of spines they have seen recently have been from the Poles and a little more concern from the Americans – but for the balance of Europe? No.
In the diplomatic and informational domains, they have probed with success. In economics, they are the weakest – but with what they respect the most, their military efforts continue to be a plus from them from the eastern borders of Ukraine, Crimea, and even to the point that the once great Royal Navy cannot even defend its coastal waters;
Britain had to rely on the US, Canada, France and Germany aircraft to protect its territorial waters more than 20 times last year, with the Royal Navy’s reliance on its Nato allies far greater than previously thought.
Defence experts say Russian submarine activity off Britain is returning toward Cold War levels.
Pleas for U.S. leadership & sense of American irrelevance: for almost all of living memory, the Western European nations have lived and prospered under the American military umbrella and have become too used to not carrying their load. Ukraine, Syria, and the migrant crisis is an order of magnitude greater European issue than North American. America isn’t irrelevant, it is just that in elections over the past eight years, the American people have decided that they no longer wish to unequally take on the West’s burdens, to only then be pilloried, insulted, and blamed for the effort. America decided that we will help others who help themselves – so Europe will have to re-learn how to keep their own house in order and we’ll help where we can, if it is in our national interest. Selfish and irresponsible? Not really, just traditional statecraft.
This mood is from both sides of the political spectrum in the USA as well. Where there was once a bi-partisan consensus for American to lead in all significant European security issues – that consensus is long gone. There is now a bi-partisan consensus for just the opposite.
The numbers back up the general vibe. As derived from the CIA factbook, let’s review the top-line numbers.
Until these numbers come more in line, there is only so much any elected American official can do to convince the American people that, once again, the American must do what the Europeans can, but won’t.
Now let’s shift to the last – little hope for Syrian peace: define “peace.” Is peace a frozen conflict? No. If nothing else, we have proven that over time. Why is Western Europe at peace right now? Simple. There was a sound military and political defeat of fascism in Western Europe. There were boundaries made and then for the most part there was massive and merciless ethnic cleansing that created relatively ethnically homogeneous nations inside agreed borders. Where there is conflict today is where in places like eastern Estonia, eastern Ukraine, and spots of bother in the Balkans where significant minority groups were left. That is an uncomfortable truth, but a truth nonetheless.
Syria and northern Iraq is the Balkans of the Arab World. If militant Sunni Islam is your greatest enemy, then you have one option in the Game of Thrones-ish war going on now in Syria; let Assad win and play the strongman over a subjugated people, come to some accommodation with the Kurds, and move to destroy ISIS with the Russians before Turkey gets involved. There is really no other realistic option. If we will not back the Russian play, if we cannot offer a better way to end the conflict, then we should just get out of the way. At other earlier points in time, there were perhaps other more attractive options, but 1QCY16, this is where we are.
There are a lot of places where people seemed to believe because we should do something, we will/can do something. To get from “should” to “will/can” there has to be a critical bridging function known as leadership from the POLMIL level.
Shifting to the original failure in the Arab Spring, the Libyan theater of operations; listen to the following from our friend Admiral Stavridis, USN (Ret.)
The clock is ticking for Western powers to intervene militarily against ISIS in Libya — and Canada has a responsibility to join a potential mission there, says NATO’s former supreme allied commander.
“If we’re going to have an impact in Libya, now is the time to get involved, over the next six months,” retired U.S. navy admiral James Stavridis said on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.
“We have to act before the Islamic State becomes even stronger … otherwise we’re going to have another massively failed state on the periphery of Europe.”
Is he correct? Is this something the international community “should” do? Yes and of course. What is missing then?
Let’s go back to the fundamentals. Is there a popular will in Europe to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Polish, and British forces and money? No. Is there a popular will in North America to conduct peace enforcement operations in Libya with Canadian and USA forces and money? No.
Is there leadership in place at the levers of power in Europe and North America that has the desire to bring the popular will to a national will to take action? No.
As such, as much as the theory is sound in early 2016 – as sound as the theory of the invasion of Iraq was in 2003 – will there be any such action in Libya or Syria? No.
As a result, what should one do? Think and plan for consequence management. Wargame Most Likely and Most Dangerous COA and then clearly identify Decision Points for Branch Plans. Do it twice; once with pro-active leaders, one with passive/dithering leaders. If that has not already been done, then we will just have to make it up as we go along when, as our politicians like to say on occasions, we find out about events on the news.
This is the world that was asked for at the end of the last decade, especially in Western Europe. It is what we have. Tomorrow will have to do the best it can with its inheritance.
Please join us at 5pm EST on 31 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 317: “Naval Presence and National Strategy,” with Jerry Hendrix :
From the same school as “If you want peace, prepare for war,” a global maritime power must maintain a presence at sea. It must design a national strategy in line with its economic capability and political will, and make sure it mans, trains, and equips its navy in line with the design.
If presence is a critical function of a navy, how is it best accomplished, what are the tradeoffs, and how does it impact friends, competitors, and those sitting on the fence?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Henry J. Hendrix, Jr, CAPT USN (Ret).
Jerry is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security.
When on active duty, his staff assignments include tours with the Chief of Naval Operation’s Executive Panel (N00K), and the OSD Office of Net Assessment From 2011-2012 he served as the Director and Designated Federal Officer of the Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Panel. He also contributed to the 2012 Department Posture Statement to the Congress. Following the fall, 2011 Navy Inspector General’s Report on the state of the Naval History and Heritage Command, he was verbally ordered by the Secretary to assume the position of Director of Naval History.
Hendrix previously served as the Navy Fellow to the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He has been awarded a Bachelor Degree in Political Science from Purdue University, Masters Degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School (National Security Affairs) and Harvard University (History) and received his doctorate from King’s College, London (War Studies).
Nothing is written.
What everyone is planning to happen may, in a very short time, seem like a paranoid fever dream.
We need to be humble as we try to think about what China will be in the coming decades. Japan stretches, The Philippines decides that they like us again, and all of a sudden Vietnam is one of the most welcoming places in Southeast Asia for an American.
The 2nd decade of the 21st Century is an interesting place, but what about China in the next couple of decades?
Will the South China Sea be full of PLAN CSG, or awash in a pathetic mix of warlord weapon smugglers and refugees? China the hegemon, or China the bloodbath of tens of millions fighting each other for scraps? Something in between?
If you lean towards some natural rise of China to displace the USA and stand astride the globe, Daniel C. Lynch over at FA has an article that demands your attention;
Over the past three months, uncertainty over the course of Chinese development has intensified, with a steady flow of mostly bad economic news: yet another plunge in the stock market, which was already crumbling and kept afloat only by massive state intervention ; mounting corporate debt; and a hemorrhaging of foreign exchange reserves, to name a few. The reality is that China is staring economic stagnation in the face, and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is panicking. The party appeared to have acknowledged the seriousness of its economic woes, which can only be worsened by a declining and aging labor force …
No country in history has relied as heavily on investment to both fuel GDP growth and maintain the existing structure of GDP as China.
Even though China’s rise seems to be on the verge of setting, outsiders should exercise caution in how they interpret this dramatic shift. It need not, for example, lead to China’s “collapse.” Some who predict a Chinese collapse  point to the dissolution of the Soviet Union: another half-reformed communist superpower. A more appropriate comparison would be to Japan and its “lost decade” … The end of China’s rise will most likely hurt the CCP far more than Japan’s did its elites.
Even so, saying that China’s rise is ending is not the same as saying the country will collapse. Poor, authoritarian countries can stagnate for decades and yet never face political collapse.
Bingo. China has a history of this kind of behavior. That would be my most likely COA inside the “China staggers” construct.
There is some evidence to suggest that younger Chinese are, like their counterparts in other societies, becoming increasingly “postmodern” in their political and cultural outlooks: more tolerant of diversity, exploratory in their studies and careers, and spiritually rather than materially focused. In particular, they have become strongly conscious of an imperative need to preserve and nurture the environment. As the CCP increasingly finds itself beholden to this segment of society, it may be compelled to accept a gradual transformation in the party itself, one that results in a more open and enlightened institution. This is a long-term vision. It may not even be realized in the next ten to 20 years, but it is an outcome for which everyone with an interest in the situation should, at the very least, hope.
Hope isn’t a plan, but if it is, a plan must have Assumptions. With each Assumption should be a Branch Plan in case that Assumption is found to be false. The prudence of caution and hedge should be our guide so we don’t invest precious resources in things that are a little too based on what we think China could be.
For our Navy, the service that needs the longest lead time, multi-mission flexibility should be the cornerstone of everything we invest in training, manning and equipping our forces.
History will deliver to the future the China it wants to. Odds are, it won’t be what the majority of the people in the national security nomenclatura are briefing.
Ask for three Red COA … and then a 4th.
Maybe I just haven’t adjusted yet to being back in the U.S. after 5 years overseas.
The partisan vitriol over the Farsi Island incident involving U.S. Navy Riverine boats in the Persian Gulf surprises me. This event has become a lightning rod of polarization, a litmus test of opposing camps of foreign policy. There is excessive emotion from both sides of the foreign policy question with neither acknowledging that their opposition also has some truth on the other side of the issue.
First and foremost, to paraphrase former SECDEF Hagel’s remarks (starting at the 7:36 mark of this video) as the event was unfolding Wednesday: we don’t know yet all the facts of what happened; we will find out more as crew debriefs, tactical reconstruction, and a full investigation ensue. I would add that until then, a lot of the asssumptions and outrage are unfounded. My own hope is that the full investigation will release what needn’t be classified for public knowledge and Congressional oversight; more importantly we need to ensure that lessons learned are subsequently applied from tactical to political levels.
So what do we think we know? This LA Times article – attention grabbing headline aside – appears to be a solid rundown of what we think we know now. I expect that a full investigation will show a typical “mishap chain”: communications or navigation gear failure, human judgment or error, and Murphy’s law in action cascading to a negative event. Bottom line, our small boats inadvertently entered Iranian waters. Despite that, we achieved a positive resolution – the personnel and vessels were pretty quickly released – due almost wholly to the existing relationships between Presidents Obama and Rouhani and Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Zarif. This, in turn, is due to having achieved their nuclear agreement. If a strategic leader has to interact with a counterpart, the first phone conversation better not be after the crisis has started.
Barring substantial revelations from investigation, I don’t see how this event justifies calls for heads to roll from SECDEF and SECNAV down. Obviously, Murphy and the mishap chain were in effect. However, more confrontational actions in another sovereign state’s territorial waters would almost certainly have had a negative outcome – in the tactical situation and in larger national interests.
The taped, and now widely distributed, apology of the officer-in-charge has also been roundly criticized. I would submit that this was quite possibly his best course of action: this is not/not a POW situation for name, rank, and serial number only. This is not a code of conduct situation, and that apology does not amount to confessing to be an American air pirate. The Department of Defense “Isolated Personnel Guidance” speaks to detention of uniformed personnel. While it refers to the code of conduct, it sets a different bar: “U.S. military personnel will maintain their military bearing, regardless of the type of detention…they should make every effort to remain calm, courteous, and project personal dignity.” So far, so good. The guidance also says, “A detainee should make every effort to avoid providing propaganda for the detaining government.” Maybe not so good. Overall, though, that guidance refers to detention by “hostile governments,” and whether that condition applies is debatable. My own initial response was that if the boats were indeed inappropriately in territorial waters, it is more akin to dealing with the local gendarmerie when you and your sailors have inadvertently ended up somewhere you shouldn’t be in a liberty port. Defuse the situation, and get back ship.
By no means was the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) right in its apparent initial treatment of the crew and propagandizing of the apology video. Captain Sean Liedman provided US News and World Report a great rundown of the ways in which the IRGCN was at odds with USN sovereign immunity, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, the time to protest that and call for accountability is not when the personnel are still on foreign soil, nor in the State of the Union address. One hopes that that diplomatic discussion is ongoing now.
Another thing to understand is that this is more complex and nuanced than a monolithic Iran behaving badly. Everyone who has steamed or flown in the Persian Gulf already knows that the IRGCN and Islamic Republic of Iran Navy will respond differently to a given situation. IRGCN actions may have been exacerbated or exaggerated by domestic political maneuvering between the Rouhani/Zarif camp of (relative) moderates and “hardliners” which could be exemplified by General Soleimani and the IRGC. It may initially seem counter-intuitive, but diplomatic success by the moderates in the administration increases the possibility of hardliners reacting more strongly when they seize an opportunity.
We can be dismayed at the treatment of our sailors, and even question the apology while still being thankful for the overall outcome and larger diplomatic success. I look forward to finding ground truth on the events, and also on learning some lessons – from tactical up to national level. Unfortunately, though, the whole incident has fueled some of the worst behaviors of our polarized body politic.