Archive for the 'Hard Power' Category
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.
“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able to adapt and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”
— Attributed to Charles Darwin.
The Rate of Change
We live in exponential times. Does anyone still own an old-fashioned, original iPhone? New products hardly hit the street before they are superseded by something newer and better. Technology seems to change daily, before our eyes. In fact, the rate of technological change is increasing, as the internet, computing power, and insatiable market demand combine to throw the research aperture wide open. In the language of the calculus, a positive second derivative means, simply, that change is accelerating. The long-term success of future defense programs will depend more than ever before on their ability to adapt continuously to this change, rather than our ability to produce exquisite point solutions.
Cutting-edge technology, once the property of governments, and especially defense departments, is now driven increasingly by market demand. Defense requirements are no longer driving the technology train. In fact, in many cases, they are not even a major passenger. A look at National Science Foundation data showing U.S. research & development (R&D) funding by source for the 45-year span between 1963 and 2008 shows that, in the 1960s, government funding dominated R&D as we developed Cold War weapons and chose to go to the moon. In such an environment, the research establishment is responsive to government needs, so integration is relatively straightforward and technology tends to flow from government development to civilian application. Radar, for example, was adapted for microwave cooking, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) changed almost everything we do. By the early 2000s, however, funding roles between industry and government had reversed. This is a good news story for a free-market economy. However, it presents a very different challenge for those who build and maintain complex defense systems, as the military is forced to become the agile adapter.
Build with Change in Mind
In a rapidly changing environment, the long-term viability of programs will depend largely on our ability to infuse evolving technologies in stride, affordably. The image at left shows the Ticonderoga-class cruiser ex-Valley Forge (CG-50) being sunk as a target after just 17½ years in service. This $1B Aegis cruiser was a technological marvel in her day, but she was not built with change in mind. Because it was too costly to backfit the open MK41 Vertical Launch System into the first five ships of her class, they were all decommissioned early—an expensive lesson in adaptability. The U.S. Navy’s Aegis cruisers and destroyers are magnificent machines, but it’s worth noting that many of the missions they perform today, including land attack and ballistic missile defense, were not on the chalkboard when they were designed in the 1970s to protect carrier battle groups from Soviet airborne saturation attacks.
We need to build systems, especially those concentrated on complex, multi-mission warships, for existing threats as well as those yet to emerge. Combat systems need to be open, modular, and flexible enough to evolve, incorporate the all-but-certain march to autonomy and machine teaming, and keep up with advances in computing and communications that are beyond military developmental control. In fact, current trends suggest the commercial-military gap will widen. Alphabet/Google, for example, consistently reinvests approximately 30% of every dollar of sales back into R&D and capital expenses (CapEX), compared with just 2% – 3.5% for top defense contractors.
Affordability, Autonomy, and the Third Offset
It has been said the United States is losing its technological edge, but technology isn’t the primary obstacle. While research in many other countries certainly is improving, the pace of innovation, invention and technology development in the United States is breathtaking, and shows no signs of slowing down. The United States still produces many of the world’s most impactful and exciting technologies; however, integrating them into our defense systems and tactics is hard and getting harder.
A close look at the Navy’s and Air Force’s investment dollars (R&D plus Procurement) compared with force structure, measured in ships and aircraft, shows that in the past, as budgets inevitably cycled up and down, force structure tended to follow. When budgets declined, services financed downturns by reducing force structure and harvesting manpower dollars. When budgets increased, generally, we bought new or improved force structure. This pattern changed in 2003. For the first time, as budgets increased significantly, force structure continued to decline, even as service chiefs maintained they did not have enough assets to satisfy demand. Now, as we again face decreased defense budgets, there is no force structure to mortgage, and the implications for unit cost point to a future we can’t afford on the current trajectory. As with the first two “offset” strategies, the recently released Third Offset is driven by affordability, and an economic need to increase capability without increasing expensive capital assets.
There are only two top-level metrics in defense procurement: capability and cost. Every new program seeks to increase capability, reduce cost, or both. Yet, while capability across all services certainly has increased by many measures, so has cost, while quantities continue to shrink. New technologies like autonomy can help increase capability, but only if they can be integrated continuously, affordably, and in stride. The modular mission package approach pioneered by the Littoral Combat Ship program, with its innovative use of networked, unmanned systems, was an important step in the right direction.
With years of effort and millions of dollars invested to start each new Program of Record, it’s no wonder the services are reluctant to change programs, or take risk and add cost by infusing new technologies. Our acquisition workforce is professional and dedicated, but they are measured on their ability to deliver programs based on “cost, schedule and performance,” and programmatic rudders don’t swing easily. How then, can we expect emerging technologies, like autonomy, to develop into a potent element of our force structure, and provide the affordable leap in capability envisioned by Secretary Work’s Third Offset strategy?
Despite general acceptance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) as well as airborne tanking missions, our current approach to most autonomous systems has been focused on one experiment at a time. The Navy’s X-47B demonstrated that UAVs could operate safely from an aircraft carrier, and even refuel in flight. There were valuable lessons learned but, after $2B, the program has essentially reached a dead end.
Now is the time to develop a future force architecture that will guide an orderly migration to a mix of autonomous and manned systems across all domains and, more importantly, provide the underpinnings for reprogamming funds to make it happen. The Analysis of Alternatives for the Navy’s BAMS/P8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft program informed just this kind of tradeoff, producing an optimized, combined purchase of manned and unmanned aircraft. New unmanned systems like DARPA’s autonomous “ACTUV” surface vessel, and a family of future underwater vehicles, including the Large Diameter Unmanned Underwater Vehicle, can increase fleet numbers and total capability in the same way. By increasing capacity, they can also help distribute sensors and firepower.
Consistent with the Third Offset strategy, networked, autonomous systems will perform important missions in places larger manned ships can’t, or needn’t, go. Like Garry Kasparov’s centaur chess model, they’ll fit into an overall fleet architecture in ways that optimize the whole man-machine team. As autonomous systems become increasingly capable in the future, they will share burdens and shoulder more and more of the warfighting load, while open architecture and modularity will help us pace evolving technology without the need to build new ship classes from scratch.
The “relevance horizon” for combat capabilities has always been a moving target. This is nothing new, but the pace of technology change is increasing, and is driven by forces that are beyond government control. Future Defense programs must be built with change in mind, to adapt to emerging technologies that evolve faster than today’s acquisition cycle.
As long as we continue to approach autonomous systems in isolation, they will be slow to realize their full potential. Now is the time, within the new Force Structure Assessment, to look 10 to 25 years into the future and devise a comprehensive fleet architecture, based on rigorous analysis and modeling, that optimizes the mix between manned and unmanned programs envisioned in the Third Offset strategy, and helps compensate for declining force structure numbers. Like the first two offset strategies, the Third Offset is driven by economic necessity.
Finally, many of the world’s brightest minds are still right here in the United States, producing the world’s best technologies. Our challenge is to keep those technologies flowing into the hands of our warfighters.
 Personal communication, James McAleese, McAleese & Associates, 29 January 2016.
Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 3 April 2016 for Midrats Episode 326: Undersea Lawfare with RADM Johnson, USN (Ret) and CAPT Palmer, USN
Since its ascendency to the premier maritime power, the US Navy – especially in the area of undersea warfare – has been at the leading edge of using technology to get a military edge.
During the Cold War, significant and steady progress in the first two steps of the kill chain against submarines, location and tracking, made the prospect of engaging superior numbers of Soviet submarine forces manageable.
We continue that tradition today, but to keep ahead of growing challenges, we have test. Build a little, test a little, learn a lot will stop dead in its tracks without testing in the real world. Computer simulation is only so good.
When it comes to submarines especially, you have to get in the water with them.
Knowing our technological track record an operating a generation or two ahead of some potential adversaries – are there ways they can negate our edge – or at least buy time while they catch up?
Are we vulnerable to potential challengers using national and international law against us? Undersea Lawfare?
Our guests for the full hour to discuss will be Rear Admiral J. Michael “Carlos” Johnson, USN (Ret.) and Captain Michael T. Palmer, USN.
As a stepping off point, we will be using their article in the latest Naval War College Review: UNDERSEA LAWFARE – Can the US Navy Fall Victim to This Asymmetrical Warfare Threat?
RADM Johnson retired after 33 years of service as a naval aviator that included combat in Vietnam, Libya, the Balkans, and the Persian Gulf. He commanded the John F. Kennedy Battle Group, CVW-8, and VFA-86. Ashore he served on the staffs of the CNO as Director of Aviation Plans and Requirements) and the J3 of EUCOM.
Captain Palmer is an active-duty JAG and an adjunct assistant professor at ODU. Her has served as environmental counsel to the CNO; U.S. Fleet Forces Command; and Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic.
Everyone has their own name for the series of conflicts spinning off from the waxing of the most radical interpretation of Sunni Islamic Extremism, but with each passing incident, I become more and more comfortable with “The Long War.”
At its core, this is a religious war, and those wars last the longest time as you are not fighting primarily for land, resources, power, or ego – but for ideas and the pursuit of a home for your immortal soul. Many are not comfortable with that concept, but they need to get over it. Regardless of what your motivations are, if any; if you are being attacked by someone motivated by a religion, then you are part of a religious war.
The latest attack on Brussels is just that, a tactical action in this phase of a war that pre-dates 11 September 2001. Others can argue the start date, but it is older than those fresh faces showing up at boot camp this summer.
Why Brussels this time? Simple, Brussels isn’t just the capital of the small nation of 10-million souls, Belgium – it is the capital of Europe. In the mind of the Islamic State, Europe is the heart of the West. The West is the home of secularism, Christianity, and tolerance of Jews. It also happens to be a place where there are sanctuaries near targets where, relatively unmolested by authorities and under the protection of cowed co-religionists, they can plan, support, and if needed, hide after their operations.
There is ease of mobility and an ability to blend in that makes the most difficult part of any operation is gathering the weapons and explosives to do the killing. Basic OPSEC is all that is needed. Money is of little issue, nor is finding willing fighters.
After a half-century of an uninterrupted and failed experiment in multi-culturalism, Belgium and other Western nations now have a critical mass of unassimilated native born radicals. Even better, they have been recently reinforced by well over a million unaccompanied military aged males born and raised in even more radicalized cultures. The direction unaccompanied, unemployable, and alienated young men usually head points to one thing – there will be more and more attacks like we saw in Brussels. An attack, by the way, that is just another iteration of what has been seen in the USA, UK, France, Spain, Russia and other nations over the course of the last few decades. There is nothing new here, except that a few more people are noticing.
Besides the self-inflicted demographic foolishness Western Europe beclowned itself with over the last half-century, in Europe’s near abroad forces are continuing that will drive more and more radicals their way to join the cells that are planning additional attacks.
From sectarian Iraq to the Madmaxistan that followed the Arab Spring from Libya to Syria, reality has hopefully put to bed any fevered dreams of democracy in North Africa through to the Middle East’s Arab states. The least radical nations, and our best allies, are those who have a strong monarchy like Jordan, or that have a military strong man keeping a lid on the bubbling Islamists that are woven through their society, like Egypt. The best we can hope for is something like Tunisia where the political elite are doing their best, but as the graphic shows, they do not have a benign populous that can be relied on to create a civil society in mass for at least a generation – if then.
Even inside the Western umbrella, there are huge problems. Turkey continues to drift out of the Western orbit, by design. Their leadership’s increasingly authoritarianism, handmaiden to the refugee crisis, and open flirtations with Islamism sends another clear signal that the once sick man of Europe is drifting to something not seen in the modern period. It isn’t pleasant, but the facts are right there for all to see. The modern, secular West has lost the war of ideas in Turkey. That leaves them one way to go – and they are half-way there already.
The Gulf States are small, but important and fickle allies. Their security is balanced on their benefactor against Shia and Persian ascendency in the East – Saudi Arabia.
Lower oil prices has emphasized that the House of Saud’s nation is held together with bailing wire and duct tape. They are rightfully focused on the problem in Yemen – a challenge that is beyond the scope of this post, but is more important than the press it gets.
OK. That is a lot of “what” and “so what;” what about “what’s next?”
Two things. First, we need to look very seriously about which nations we allow visa free travel from. The UK, Belgium, Sweden, and Germany among others already have a significant critical mass of native born radical Islamists – and their numbers are about to increase dramatically.
Second; the Islamic State must be destroyed. If not, well … let’s use as a planning assumption that it will be. Syria and her allies will push from the west. The Kurds will clean up their lines and serve as an anvil in the north. The Shia-led Iraqi forces with American help will squeeze the Islamic Forces out of Sunni Iraq. As that happens leading up to the inevitable fall of Raqqa, many of the thousands of Western passport holding Islamic State militants will return home. Some will try to just get back to a normal life, but many will not. They will be tasked to either move to other ungoverned areas of the world to continue the work of the Caliphate there, or will return home to attack from within with their fellow radicals who stayed home to build the logistics, intelligence and HUMINT needed to get the best effect from attacks inside the belly of the Western beast.
What about the USA and her navy? Regardless of the results of this year’s election, this war will continue to come to us. As we have back away, it has followed us – and will continue to. As we saw in Brussels where Mormon missionaries and a USAF officer’s family were wounded – they can kill American anywhere. Also know this; we will be attacked again here just like we were in Boston, San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, and Chattanooga. As you read this, there are multiple cells working on the next mass casualty attack in the USA.
There will be ungoverned areas in the world, or poorly governed areas, that will be sanctuaries and areas of expansion for radical Islamists. We will have to work with local forces where we can, and take independent action where we must. Though many want to re-focus on some imaginary possible future great power conflict on the high seas – and we must – or want to keep rejustifying the results of the CONOPS playsets of the 1990s with LCS/FF, but we must also man, train, and equip for what we have now and will have as an ongoing engagement – The Long War.
From high-volume, high-accuracy naval gunfire, to special operations, to land attack cruise missiles, to TACAIR, we will need to be able to project national will ashore from waters, airspace, and property that we alone control. We must be able to do it with no notice, or with great fanfare. A light footprint with as little risk to casualties as possible, or lighting punitive expeditions ashore that accepts losses.
That is the reminder from Brussels. This enemy gets a vote, and it is voting for war. To paraphrase Trotsky; we may not be interested in a religious war, but a religious war is interested in us.
Please join us at 5pm (remember Eastern Daylight Time) on 13 March 2016 for Midrats Episode 323: Building a Navy in Peace That Wins at War
The wartime record of the US Navy in under four years of combat from late 1941’s low point to the September 1945 anchoring in Tokyo Bay did not happen by chance. It did not happen through luck, or through quick thinking. It happened through a process of dedicated, deliberate, disciplined and driven effort over two decades in the intra-war period.
What were the mindset, process, leadership, and framework of the 1920s and 1930s that was used to build the fleet and the concepts that brought it to victory in the 1940s?
This week we are going to dive deep in this subject for the full hour with Captain C.C. Felker, USN, Professor of History at the US Naval Academy and author of, Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923–1940.
Building off a comment during the last Midrats by our guest, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, I took time this week to read Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper. Follow the link and give it a read, what an superior bit of work by our fellow Anglosphere brothers on the other side of the world.
As outlined in a great summary video by the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe, the White Paper is a clear eyed view of the world coming up in the next decade; a world that has dark shadows that demands a free people to have the ability to project hard power. Australia is well aware that defense spending in Asia is now above that of Europe. They are a continent sized nation blessed with resources, a high standard of living and with a thin population – surrounded by nations that are not.
I think this is just more than a paper, e should expect follow through;
Dr Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said he believed Australia is likely to join the US in conducting formal exercises.”There is a strong possibility we’ll become more involved in the South China Sea, particularly through freedom and navigation exercises alongside the Americans or other regional partner.
Professor Medcalf said the paper “reinforced the view that Australia sees the South China Sea tensions as a legitimate Australian security concern”.
“The paper underscored that Australia is a US ally and Australia is building security partnerships with a range of countries in the region; it mentioned Indonesia, India and Japan in particular as countries Australia would want to build stronger security partnerships with.
“The paper highlighted that Australia’s security environment is becoming more complex and uncertain and much of this is related to Chinese power and the way China’s using that power,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
A big part of this buildup will be the Royal Australian Navy … with a bit of a bone it its teeth it seems;
Professor Mohan Malik at Honolulu’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies points out that China’s strategic thinkers are counting on the countries of the region going through three phases in response to China’s new assertiveness.
He points out that leading Chinese analysts such as Yan Xuetong, Shen Dingli and Shi Yinhong believe that regional countries will soon abandon resistance and move to accommodation of China and then, finally, reconciliation on China’s terms.
With the US presidential campaign giving the world a deeply unsettling premonition of a President Trump, it’s a key moment for other responsible powers to demonstrate commitment to the rule of law rather than the law of the jungle.
Australia, through Turnbull’s white paper, is saying that it will step up. The naval build up would not be big enough for Australia to win a standalone war against China.
But it does increase Australia’s heft, complicate the plans of any enemy, and mark Australia out as an important ally in any common defence of the Asia-Pacific peace.
On China’s current trajectory of increasingly using brute force against its neighbours, every country will have to make the hard choice to decide its stance. When the Soviet Union challenged Europe, Finland yielded its sovereignty to Moscow on vital matters while Britain stood staunchly opposed.
The real significance of last week’s defence white paper is Australia has chosen not to be a feeble Finland but to be a resolute Britain.
This resolve should encourage Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines and others in the area.
Of interest has been China’s reaction. A sample of quotes;
“China is seriously concerned about the contents in the white paper that touches upon the issue of South China Sea and is firmly opposed to the accusations against China ” said Wu Qian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), at a press conference on February 25, adding that the South China Sea issue isn’t one between China and Australia, and the freedom of navigation in that region has never been and will never be affected for all countries, including Australia.
“These remarks are negative and we are dissatisfied about this.”
Reading the document, you quickly determine that it does not take much to get the Chinese excited. Here are the quotes that got everyone turning their heads;
Territorial disputes between claimants in the East China and South China Seas have created uncertainty and tension in our region.
While major conflict between the United States and China is unlikely, there are a number of points of friction in the region in which differences between the United States and China could generate rising tensions. These points of friction include the East China and South China Seas, the airspace above those seas, and in the rules that govern international behaviour, particularly in the cyber and space domains.
Australia also has deep economic security interests in South East Asia. The region’s growth presents significant opportunities for Australia’s economy and prosperity. Two-way trade with ASEAN countries was worth over $100 billion in 2014. The waters of South East Asia carry the great majority of Australia’s international trade including to our three largest export markets in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Nearly two thirds of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea, including our major coal, iron ore and liquefied natural gas exports
Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity by claimants raises tensions in the region. Australia opposes the use of artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes. Australia also opposes the assertion of associated territorial claims and maritime rights which are not in accordance with international law,
Australia has called on all South China Sea claimants to halt land reclamation and construction activities…
The absence of an agreed framework for managing the competing claims in the South China Sea highlights the importance of ASEAN and China agreeing to a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea as soon as possible.
Our third Strategic Defence Interest is in a stable Indo-Pacific region and rules-based global order which supports Australia’s interests. The Indo-Pacific includes North Asia, the South China Sea and the extensive sea lines of communication in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that support Australian trade.
There are more cards to play and elections to play out over the next decade, but there is one card that will be fun to watch. The Japan card;
Australia’s submarine industry has been given a much needed boost, with confirmation in the Defence White Paper that the Government will order 12 new vessels as part of its future submarine program.
Government yet to announce who will build submarines and where Japan, Germany and France vie for contract Government pledges to keep as much work as possible in Adelaide
But the much-delayed decision on who will build the subs, and where, will not be made until the middle of the year.
Japan is seen as the front-runner to win the $50 billion contract and the Turnbull Government has pledged to keep as much work in Adelaide as it can.
Japan. That would be interesting to watch.
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.
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 24 Jan 16 for Midrats Episode 316: “Getting Female Combat Integration Right With LtCol Kate Germano”
How do we get combat integration of women right? The quest has moved well away from “if” and in to “how.”
With an apparent broad disconnect between biological realities, cultural norms, and political desires, what is the right way for military leaders to carry out their orders while ensuring that combat effectiveness is maintained.
Our guest to discuss this and related issues for the full hour will be Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, USMC.
Commissioned in August 1996, LtCol Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she additionally participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments. Ashore, her duties including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy.
She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, where she majored in History with a pre-law emphasis. In 2011, she graduated with distinction from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earning her Masters of Military Science degree. She is actively engaged in the struggle to end gender bias in the military, and is a vocal proponent for equal rights and the elimination of double standards and lowered expectations for female conduct and performance.
Please join us at 5pm (EST) on 17 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 315: “Where Next for our Ground Forces?” with Paul Scharre:
With a decade and a half of ongoing ground combat under our belt, what are the hard-won lessons we need to keep, and what should be left behind? Looking forward, what are the challenges our ground forces need to make sure they are prepared to meet?
From growing conventional strength from nations who desire to challenge our nation’s global position, to the unending requirements for Counter Insurgency excellence, what is the balance?
Our guest to discuss this and more will be Paul Scharre, senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former Army Ranger with service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
You can download a copy of his CNAS report, “Uncertain Ground: Emerging Challenges in Land Warfare,” from the CNAS site here.