16 April 2013
The Ministry of National Defense of the People’s Republic of China has just released a white paper on China’s military posture, which can be read in its entirety online: The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces. This document is remarkable not for its insights into Chinese strategic thinking or its application of Sun Tzu’s philosophy of war or even “strategy with Chinese characteristics” but only for its resemblance to military white papers from western nation-states, which idiom (and acronyms) it has thoroughly adopted.
This use of the idiom of contemporary western military professionalism is doubly interesting, since public statements of the Chinese government often continue to be jargon-laden pieces of communist theory — sometimes to the point of impenetrability. Some time ago in What is Strategic Trust? I mentioned an article in Foreign Policy by Isaac Stone Fish, Hu Jintao on China losing the culture wars, which very effectively poked fun at the irony of the Chinese leader’s formulaic use of communist nostrums in the attempt to urge his fellow Chinese to improve the quality of their cultural production.
It is precisely this absurd communist jargon that is missing from the just released report The Diversified Employment of China’s Armed Forces. Instead, the report indulges in the western parallel to this: the absurd jargon of western bureaucratic military jargon and acronyms. There is a pattern here of rigidly formulaic thinking. Of course, such patterns are to be found in the official documents of all nation-states, but the question is whether it is believed by those who use this language, or whether such language is used merely out of a misplaced sense of bureaucratic necessity.
It was interesting to note that the report mentions the “three evil forces” which have been a talking point for the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and I recall when I last wrote about this I remarked on how the press releases of the SCO read like those of any western military exercise. And while the report mentions the three evil forces of “terrorism, separatism and extremism,” Tibet and Xinjiang, where the Chinese are most likely to encounter these forces, are only mentioned peripherally in this report (in relation to rivers and schools in the section titled “Participating in National Development”), as the Diaoyu Islands (which Japan calls the Senkaku Islands) are mentioned only once.
At the same time that the Chinese were releasing their official version of China’s military posture, Focus Taiwan published a short piece, China yet to deploy 094 sub, JL-2 & DF-41 missiles: security head, mostly about China’s failures to fulfill its military ambitions for weapons systems commensurate with the technologically advanced weapons systems of western nation-states. The article was concerned with the trouble China continues to have with their latest submarines and ICBMs.
It is easy to focus on Chinese ambitions to join the club of nation-states operating aircraft carriers or fifth generation fighters, but it is also important to recall that China has had difficulty in tooling its industries to design and build world-class weapons systems. The Chinese have long had difficulty building missile boats (as with the above-noted difficulties with the 094 Jin-Class submarine and the JL-2 ballistic missile), for example.
The Chinese still buy the jet engines for the most sophisticated fighter jets from Russia, which despite its decrepit communist economy was able to create and sustain an industrial plant nearly equal to that of western powers during the Cold War (including supersonic jet turbines and missile boats). This came at a price for the Soviet Union, of course, and it would come at a price for China. So is it the case that the Chinese are unwilling to pay the price for a world-class defense industry, or that they would be willing be to pay the price, but are simply unable, as yet, to design and build the hardware? It would take a China specialist to give a definitive answer to this question, but it is a crucial question, because to answer this question would be to determine whether China’s military posture is voluntary or involuntary.
If China’s present military posture really is voluntary, that means that China’s leadership really does believe in their own “peaceful rise” and in “strategic trust.” If, however, China’s present military posture is involuntary, forced upon it by circumstances beyond the control of China’s leadership, then that means that “peaceful rise” and “strategic trust” really are the formulaic platitudes that they appear to be. We must be prepared to entertain either of these hypotheses, as, at present, they are empirically equivalent theories.
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20 August 2012
In several posts I have attempted to understand autocratic regimes “from the inside,” as it were, seeking to grasp the reasoning of those who take a principled stance in the denial of freedom to entire peoples and populations. I gave one formulation of this in Modeling the Other, and offered a practical interpretation of this in Mullah Mohammed Omar’s Eid al-Fitr Address for 2012. Moreover, I suggested that these formulations of autocracy cannot be dismissed as being merely amoral, since there is even an utilitarian moral justification for this, as I described in The Chinese Conception of Human Rights.
The moral defense of autocratic governance is that autocratic institutions are necessary to secure the greatest good for the greatest number, which is an unambiguously utilitarian conception. While this would be laughable in relation to the Taliban, were it not for the miserable condition of the Afghan people — one could even argue that the Taliban while in power secured rather the greatest harm to the greatest number, constituting the pure inversion of a utilitarian morality — but this argument is deadly serious when it comes to the Chinese, who both preach and practise it. More importantly, the Chinese have their admirers even among Westerners. While I am quite certain that these Western admirers of Chinese utilitarianism would be loathe to surrender their own individuality to the good of the masses, they seem quite content to argue that the Chinese should accept the surrender of their individuality to the state. Some of the worst hypocrites in this respect even imply that such political models should be brought to Western countries, though, again, their own personal autonomy is not to be infringed, but it is fine to infringe the autonomy of others who they take to be much less important than themselves.
However, I am not interested in exposing the hypocrisy of China admirers — Tom Friedman is often cited as an admirer of the efficiency of Chinese autocracy, though for my money Robert Kaplan is the more dangerous China admirer, since he makes the moral case for autocratic utilitarianism — who are today the useful idiots of autocracy as others once played the role of serving as the useful idiots of communism. Rather, today I am interested in extrapolating the principle of autocracy, understood in its full moral, social, political, and diplomatic dimensions, which brings us to the consideration of a perennial feature of the politics of power: spheres of influence.
The central principle of autocracy is the inviolability of autocratic rule. In geographical terms, this means the inviolability of the autocratically ruled geographical territory, and, if the legitimacy of neighboring regimes is recognized, the inviolability of the neighboring regime’s territory. This was concisely expressed by Mullah Mohammed Omar such that, “The Islamic Emirate does not intend to interfere in the internal affairs of others nor allow others to interfere in its internal affairs.” The same idea has been repeatedly expressed by every nation-state that resists political “interference” in “internal” matters. The idea here is that the autocratic regime possesses absolute autonomy within its own territory, including the power of life and death over its citizens, and acknowledges a parallel autonomy to hold for other regimes in other territories.
Every nation-state recognizes a limited form of this principle, out of the pragmatic realities of power projection even if not out of an intrinsic respect for the boundaries of another nation-state, but there are implicit limitations upon this principle, and we have seen these limitations tested repeatedly since the Second World War and its aftermath up to the present day. When a regime’s depredations upon its own people reaches a level which is considered genocidal, even those who recognize a limited form of territorial inviolability will countenance a violation of territorial integrity in the interest of ending a genocidal campaign against a people internal to a given nation-state.
However, since there is no universally recognized application of the idea of genocide to actual historical circumstances, there is always disagreement about the threshold of intervention on humanitarian grounds. We can agree, after the fact, there there was a genocidal program in progress in Nazi-occupied Europe, and we can agree that the Khmer Rouge were engaged in a genocidal program in Cambodia, but beyond these paradigm cases there is little agreement, and therefore thresholds of intervention vary for different political entities.
The autocrat often must involve himself in moral contortions to excuse, explain, and justify his depredations upon neighbors, and this often takes the form of denying the legitimacy of neighboring regimes (putatively the objects of mutual respect and mutual non-interference), much as the advocate of slavery must deny the common humanity of those subject to enslavement even while celebrating the humanity of those other individuals who fall within the charmed circle of the free who are presumably beyond enslavement. Similarly, the autocrat who invades his neighbors denies that neighboring regimes constitute legitimate forms of power and therefore are exempt from his principled respect for other regimes’ internal affairs.
While depredations upon neighboring regimes are precisely parallel to depredations upon one’s own population — the former is external while the latter is internal, so that these actions represent the external expression and power and the internal expression of power, respectively — the principle of autocracy as defined by power’s own inviolability is an infinitely flexible pretext for action characterized as an attempt to defend this inviolability. We know that one of the most common rhetorical tropes of autocracy is to blame internal dissent on agents provocateurs under the control of external actors; this immediately de-legitimizes dissent as not being an authentic expression of internally subject peoples and therefore constitutes a violation of the autocrat’s autonomy. Exactly this pretext is then naturally extended to the external powers claimed to be underwriting internal dissent. There is no quarter of the globe that lies beyond the reach of an autocrat convinced that he is being “attacked.”
The supposed inviolability of internal state security thus is not limited to internal security, but naturally is projected outward and externally. An autocrat, once having consolidated an internal security regime, immediately perceives the possibility of danger from abroad, and so seeks to extend this internal power as far as possible beyond his borders. The ability to project power with impunity beyond the geographical territory defined by state boundaries is a sphere of influence (in the geopolitical sense). Autocratic regimes of expanding influence eventually collide on the far boundaries of their spheres of influence.
History is rich in examples of powers mutually dividing the world between their respective spheres of influence. The Spanish and Portuguese division of the New World along the Tordesillas Meridian meant that European discoveries in the Western hemisphere would be divided between Spanish and Portuguese spheres of influence. This division continues to the present day, although the English did not recognize the legitimacy of the Papal decree on spheres of influence in the New World and consequently created their own sphere of influence by fiat through the establishment of colonies.
The European colonial divisions of Africa and Asia are now notoriously cited as examples of spheres of political influence and domination, and indeed the very idea of a “sphere of influence” carries with it a certain taint of colonialism, but since the political world cannot really get past the idea of a sphere of influence, it persists, even if it is called by other names and practised most grievously by those who have been the loudest in their condemnation of colonialism.
Spheres of influence can be carefully for formally defined, as in the British, US, French, and Soviet occupation areas of Berlin following the Second World War. Berlin proved to be a microcosm of Cold War spheres of influence, which were not nearly so well defined, due to shifting alliances and the ideological opportunism of potential client states. As the Cold War developed and its paradigmatic divisions emerged across the planet, the reality of spheres of influence were felt in every aspect of life. The Cold War was a Total War the transformed the lives of all peoples inducted into the struggle; the global division between US and Soviet spheres of influence defined the boundaries of the Cold War.
There is a fundamental asymmetry between autocracies and non-autocratic regimes, and that asymmetry is that non-autocratic regimes recognize some form of popular sovereignty and have some form of democratic institutions, which limit the depredations of a regime upon its own people, whereas the autocratic regimes of the world have no such limitations upon their depredations. Thus the “internal” affairs of a non-autocratic regime are not likely to involve mass atrocities, whereas autocratic regimes may pragmatically choose to limit their depredations, but there is no restraint in principle on an autocratic regime’s depredations. And while autocracy begins its justifications at home, in terms of its internal security, we have seen that this internal security regime cannot in fact be limited within the borders of an autocratic nation-states. Therefore there is in principle no limitation on the depredations of a autocratic regime either upon its own people or upon neighboring regimes.
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16 July 2012
Last Valentine’s Day Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping made some remarks at the US State Department that were widely reported at the time as “defending China’s human rights record. There is a transcript of the Vice President’s remarks on the website of the US Embassy in Beijing, and from those remarks I will quote a couple of the crucial paragraphs in which Vice President Xi Jinping explicitly discussed human rights:
“…China has made tremendous and well-recognized achievements in the field of human rights over the past 30 plus years since reform and opening up. Of course, there is always room for improvement when it comes to human rights. Given China’s huge population, considerable regional diversity, and uneven development, we’re still faced with many challenges in improving people’s livelihood and advancing human rights.”
“The Chinese Government will always put people’s interests first and take seriously people’s aspirations and demands. We will, in the light of China’s national conditions, continue to take concrete and effective policies and measures to promote social fairness, justice and harmony, and push forward China’s course of human rights.”
Chinese leaders usually avoid explicit remarks on human rights, but there are a few times when I have read accounts of remarks made in Western countries by visiting Chinese officials who do their best to make a strong case for human rights with Chinese characteristics. After all, when Chinese officials come to Western nation-states they cannot avoid the protesters who would not be able to protest in China. But the official Chinese government line on human rights, though not often explicitly formulated, when it is articulated is unapologetic on those issues that most provoke international outcry.
I wrote above that the Chinese “do their best to make a strong case” for the Chinese conception of human right, and I realize that this could sound condescending or patronizing, but it is not intended as such. I think it would be fair to say that the Chinese have a very different conception of human rights than that which informs the thought and policy of Western peoples, and that many of the disagreements over human rights issues are individuals talking at cross purposes because they do not understand each other.
Moreover, and no less importantly, what I am here calling the Chinese conception of human rights is in no sense confined to China, and can often be found given forceful and eloquent expression by Western thinkers. …
What, then, is the Chinese conception of human rights? And if there is any such thing as a Chinese conception of human rights, how does it differ from Western conceptions of human rights? Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping formulated the Chinese conception of human rights in terms of “improving people’s livelihood” and promoting, “social fairness, justice and harmony.” This is a good summary. When I began to write this post I looked for a different speech with even more forceful formulations, but I wasn’t able to find exactly what I was looking for, since my memory preserved too little the that example to find it again.
In other speeches by PRC officials I have come across explicit contrasts between the Chinese effort to improve standards of living across the board for 1.3 billion people — which is, admittedly, a daunting task — with Western ideas of individual liberties and ensuring the rights of minorities. This is the crux of the issue: the individual vs. the social whole. The Chinese tendency is to prioritize the social whole over the individual; the Western tradition has been to ensure the inviolability of the individual, although this is a tradition that has been honored more in the breech than the observance.
Since the individual is a minority of one, the tradition of safeguarding minority rights can be folded into individual rights, though I know that many would disagree with me here. And I am sure that some will see what I have called the Chinese conception of human rights not as an alternative to the Western conception of human rights, but as a smokescreen behind which to hide their actual contempt for human rights. This is where Western formulations of the Chinese conception of human rights become important — important, at least, for Westerners to understand a point of view different than their own, because Western thinkers will argue for a non-individualistic conception of human rights according to Western norms of political and moral thought.
I recently found a good example of this in Robert Kaplan, who has lately been contributing to Strategic Forecasting. In a piece titled Defining Humanitarianism, Kaplan wrote:
“The very amoral and abstract reasoning behind the preservation of the balance of power in maritime Asia, through the deployment of warships and fighter jets, actually is as humanitarian as intervening in Bosnia or Libya was.”
“Nixon’s diplomacy gave China implicit security guarantees regarding the Soviet Union, Japan and Taiwan. Thus, when Deng Xiaoping came to power a few short years later, he had the option — because China was now externally secure for the first time in more than a century — to concentrate on internal capitalist-style development. China’s economic growth would dramatically lift the living standards and expand the personal freedoms of more than a billion people throughout East Asia. That’s humanitarianism!”
“…realism in the service of the American national interest is the most humanitarian approach possible.”
“…the issue is not idealism versus realism, for realism can sometimes save lives more than idealism.”
Kaplan isn’t explicitly stating the contrast between two conceptions of humanitarianism, but the distinction informs his essay throughout, and he argues strongly that foreign policy “realism” is more humanitarian because it saves a greater number of lives and improves standards of living to a greater degree for a greater number of people. This is a straight-forwardly utilitarian conception of humanitarianism: the greatest good for the greatest number — and this utilitarian conception of humanitarianism corresponds to a utilitarian conception of human rights: human rights under this conception is best defended by way of utilitarian humanitarianism.
So the Chinese conception of human rights is simply a utilitarian conception of human rights, and it can be contrasted to any number of non-utilitarian theories, such as consequentialism, deontology, or the Kantian kingdom of ends.
As I stated above, there are any number of Western defenders of utilitarian conceptions of humanitarianism and human rights. There are passionate defenders of communitarianism who essentially privilege the community over the individual, and while I don’t think many conscientious communitarians would want to explicitly defend China’s human rights record, on the level of principle they are advocating essentially the same thing as the leaders of China say when they claim to have improved the lives of more than a billion people.
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9 July 2012
The first jet-powered fighters and bombers became operational before the end of the Second World War. Under the pressure of war, the Germans developed the ME-262 fighter jet and the Arado Ar 234 bomber, while the British developed the Gloster Meteor fighter. The Germans adopted a more elegant and efficient engine design (an axial flow turbojet, in contrast to a centrifugal compressor), but the design required components that were at the very limits of the materials and manufacturing technology of the time. Some of these early jet engines had a service life of only 25-50 hours. The early British jet engines with a centrifugal compressor had a longer service life as the engine components were not subject to operating temperatures as high as that of axial flow engines.
The technology to design and produce cutting-edge fighter jet engines continues to this day to limit the ambitions of air forces and the industrial concerns that produce their jets. In a special Aerospace supplement to today’s Financial Times, a detailed article by Kathrin Hille, China: Doing it all yourself has its drawbacks, discusses China’s military aviation ambitions, which include not only the now well-known J-20 stealth fighter in development, but also a lighter weight stealth fighter, the J-60. Experts cited in the article emphasize that at least ten years of trials and testing were required for the F-22 to be put in the service, and still today the F-22 has problems. The less experienced Chinese air force will experience at least comparable development horizons for its fifth generation fighter.
Despite China’s obvious military aviation ambitions, which now must include carrier aviation as well, and despite all the accounts in the popular press of Chinese engineering prowess (presumably as revealed by new buildings and high speed trains), the Chinese cannot yet build the engines that power their most advanced fighter aircraft. According to the FT article cited above, the Chinese rely on Russian and Ukrainian sources for their engines. The Chinese J-10 and J-11 use the Russian-designed Salyut AL-31 FN engine. According to AIN Online, in Ukraine Wins Engine Contract for Chinese L-15 Jet Trainer Production, “China has ordered 250 AI-222-25F turbofans from the Ukraine to power production versions of the Hongdu L-15 advanced jet trainer.”
When one thinks of the public perception of the relative industrial plant of China and the Ukraine, one would not think that China needs to go to the Ukraine to purchase its most advanced jet engines, but this is the case in fact. The whole of China’s industrial plant is not yet capable of producing the materials and manufacturing technology necessary to the production of the kind of engine needed for the fifth generation stealth fighter (or even its training aircraft), and without the engine the jet is an empty shell.
In the long term I don’t think that there is any question that China will be able to tool its industrial plant up to the quality necessary to produce the engines that its jets require, but the fact that it is not yet at that level points both to the achievement of Soviet bloc manufacturing centers during the Cold War, as well as the extent to which China was more or less completely left out of the Cold War competition that drove military technological advances in the second half of the twentieth century. Russian-based industrial concerns are continuing to refine and improve the capacities they acquired during the Cold War, even if they lack the funds and the ambition to participate on the same level as China in global military arms procurement.
Of course, the Russians are developing the Sukhoi PAK-FA in cooperation with India, and this is certainly a global player in the fifth generation fighter competition, but I think that there is an accurate sense that Russia simply does not possess a sufficiently robust economy to follow up on its technological skills. It can produce the PAK-FA, but its ability to afford several squadrons seems questionable at best, whereas there isn’t much question that China can afford several fifth generation squadrons, but it doesn’t quite yet have the expertise to produce them on an exclusively domestic basis. This gives the Russians a certain power over China in the short term, even if the Russians choose not to use this lever. In fact, the Russians light well like the idea of a fifth generation fighter arms race between the US and China, because this occupies the US and leaves less strategic attention left over to focus on Russia’s near abroad. In the short term, again, the Russians may see it in their interest to facilitate Chinese military aviation ambitions, though it is unlikely that the Russians will see this as a long term strategic interest.
The Russians and the Chinese share a fairly long border, and even during the Cold War when the East was supposedly monolithically Red, they went to war over that border (cf. Sino-Soviet border conflict). This happened during my lifetime, and I am sure that it has not been forgotten either in China or Russia. That being said, former rivals sometimes become the best of allies, as was the case with NATO. While I do not think that this is at all likely, it is possible that the SCO could come to play a role in uniting former rivals and enemies in the face of the perception of a greater threat (presumptive US dominance over East Asian affairs).
Again, I do not think that this is at all likely, but it would certainly be strategically interesting if the SCO replaced NATO as the central strategic entity in the coming century. Since NATO no longer has a mission after the end of the Cold War, and the Western powers are essentially casting about either for a replacement role for NATO or for some alternative institution to give strategic focus and direction to Western interests, there is a kind of strategic void in the world today (and consequent strategic drift). In the West, we assume that this void will eventually be filled with a Western institution, but this is not necessarily the case. The SCO is an non-Western institution that could, in theory, fill this void.
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22 May 2012
The Pacific Ocean is the largest unified geographical area on the surface of the planet. Covering more than a quarter of the globe, it is, “almost equal to the total land area of the world” (according to the CIA Factbook), and is twice as large as the Atlantic Ocean. This vast realm of water has recently been the object of elevated strategic interest since a “strategic pivot” toward Asia was announced by the current US administration, perhaps heralding the first signs of a shift toward a Pacific-centered world order.
The strategic pivot to Asia has been accompanied by admirably clear strategic guidance for the current US Pacific Command (Pacom) commander. The admirably succinct (3 page) UNITED STATES PACIFIC COMMAND STRATEGIC GUIDANCE, authored (or at least signed by) outgoing Pacom Admiral Robert F. Willard, mirrors the January 2012 strategic planning document, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense (almost as succinct as the former at 16 pages, including several title pages and introductory material, which narrows the content to a mere 8 pages).
There was an interesting story on the DOD website from the American Forces Press Service about the United States Pacific Command incoming Pacom Commander Admiral Samuel J. Locklear III — Locklear: Pacom’s Priorities Reflect New Strategic Guidance (which I previously wrote about on Tumblr). Admiral Locklear was quoted as saying, “…the president and the secretary of defense have given me through their strategic guidance clear direction on what they want [and] what they expect to see.” Every commander should be so fortunate.
This strategy is as much a political strategy as a military strategy, though in the present case implemented by the military forces of the US (as no Clausewitzean would be surprised to hear, given the fungibility of political and the military exertion). Both the strategic guidance referenced above and Admiral Locklear himself (as quoted in the above-linked article) prominently discussed developing military-to-military cooperation between the US and Korea, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Australia, and Singapore. The Pacom website has an article and many pictures from recent joint Royal Thai Navy and US Navy exercises. China, of course, gets a section of its own in the strategic guidance. Here is what the UNITED STATES PACIFIC COMMAND STRATEGIC GUIDANCE says about China:
2. Mature the U.S.-China Military-to-Military Relationship
i. Sustain a consistent military-to-military relationship to prevent miscommunication and miscalculation.
ii. Pursue opportunities for increased military cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
iii. Monitor China’s military modernization program and prepare accordingly.
Some time ago on Tumblr I wrote in The Pacific Theater, Then and Now that, “It would be difficult to imagine the US and Japanese military forces gathering in the late 1930s for defense consultative talks.” The US and China, however, have held Defense Consultative Talks. Of the DCT gathering in Beijing in 2011 I wrote:
“One cannot but wonder at the feeling and atmosphere of the room at such meetings. It has become a parlor game among strategists to play off the US and China in a confrontation, with the US being the world’s only superpower and China being the superpower presumptive, however far it is from actual superpower status. Also, much can happen in the period of time that need to elapse for China to bring its military forces even roughly to par with those of the US.”
It is certainly a good thing that these two powers are at least talking to each other, however little comes from such meetings. These two powers — the two largest economies in the world — face each other across the North Pacific, and they are vulnerable to what the strategic guidance document diplomatically calls “miscommunication and miscalculation.”
As the two largest economies on the planet, and the two great powers on the Pacific, the US and China will have interests in common (“areas of mutual interest”) and interests in conflict. This is inevitable. Great powers have a bias to stability, and while China’s “peaceful rise” as a “responsible stakeholder” in the global community is actually a form of instability in the international system, it is an instability with a bias toward a future bi-polar world order with China and the US both desiring to preserve their status while not greatly disturbing the other through “miscommunication and miscalculation.” The Chinese are as eager as the US to keep the sea lanes open to international trade, as China’s burgeoning trade with the world is the lifeline of its resource-hungry, export-led economy.
But there is a fly in the ointment, and that fly is Taiwan. The US officially maintains a “One China” policy, but it also gives Taiwan security guarantees (though it remains coyly ambiguous about whether the nuclear umbrella covers Taiwan) and occasionally sells the Taiwanese advanced military hardware when it feels like poking a stick in the eye of the Beijing regime. For its part, China has floated its first aircraft carrier, rumored to be named the Shī Láng (施琅, formerly the Admiral Kuznetsov-class Varyag), and I do not think that it is merely coincidental that Shī Láng was a Ming-Qing Dynasty admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1681.
The Pacific Ocean has the distinction of being the only ocean on the globe to host the only major aircraft carrier engagements in planetary history. Aircraft carriers have been deployed in all the world’s oceans, but only the in the Pacific during the Second World War were there major military engagements between peer or near-peer fleets of multiple aircraft carriers. In The Pacific Theater, Then and Now I wrote, “Anyone who wants to understand carrier operations and carrier warfare studies Midway, Guadalcanal, and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. These are the only examples that we have.” I have moreover elsewhere stated that aircraft carriers are the premier instruments of force projection in the world today, and in light of this the entry of China into the lists of those nation-states operating aircraft carriers (a list about as short as the list of nation-states possessing nuclear weapons) suggests a re-run of historical naval arms races. Starting in 1922 with Hōshō (the first purpose-built aircraft carrier), the Japanese rapidly built a carrier fleet that was prepared to take on the US in the Pacific by 1941. That was a period of less than twenty years.
The Pacific Ocean is a relatively well-defined region that is not a nation-state. As such, it perfectly exemplifies that I recently wrote about in regard to regionalism. After posting my initial formulations of regionalism I realized that one way to define a region would be as a geographical area isolated from other geographical areas by choke points. The choke points of the Pacific Ocean are surprisingly few for a geographical region of this extent.
In the map above (if you click on it, it should get bigger) I have attempted to outline in red some of the obvious choke points that connect the Pacific Ocean to the rest of the world. The Bering Sea is the choke point for access to the Arctic Ocean; the Panama Canal and the Straight of Magellan are the choke points for access to the Atlantic Ocean. There is a particularly interesting buffer of southeast Asian islands interposed between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. One could regard this as a series of closely spaced choke points, or as something strategically distinct from a choke point, reticulate in nature, like a permeable barrier. Such an area would be difficult to transit in large capital ships or a fleet, but affords numerous hiding places (and re-supply opportunities) for small vessels that can safely negotiate the shallow seas and narrow straits of these islands.
Should the world begin to approximate a Pacific-centered world order, this world order would be at the mercy of the choke points noted above. In an A2/AD world, these choke points would dictate the dissemination of Pacific commerce to the rest of the world. Any power wishing to dictate terms to the world would seek to control these choke points, since by controlling the choke points, the entire Pacific Ocean becomes the subject of anti-access and area denial. One CSG per choke point would go a long way toward control of the Pacific. Whose carriers will it be?
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4 March 2012
If you ever had it in mind to see the pristine northern coast of Kenya, and especially Lamu island with its UNESCO world heritage site old town and the Lamu archipelago, you had better get there soon. Africa is changing. Industrialization and development is coming to East Africa on a scale heretofore unprecedented. Now the project has officially gotten underway (Lamu port project launched for South Sudan and Ethiopia) and it is likely that the way of life in the region will be changed forever.
It would be difficult to name all the ways in which the planned port and its associated infrastructure will impact East African economic development. You can see on a map of Kenya’s road network that Lamu has been off the beaten track. The main A109 road of Mombasa to Nairobi follows pretty much the same path as existing rail infrastructure. The Lamu Port and Lamu Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport Corridor (LAPSSET) will involve road, rail, and oil pipeline connections to Lamu (as well as a port at Manda Bay, an oil refinery at Bargoni, three airports, and three resort cities). The map above shows some existing infrastructure as well as regions of Kenya slated for petroleum exploration. You can read a fairly detailed sketch of the petroleum geology of the region at the Africa Oil Corporation website. The company appears to be based in Vancouver B.C. In the map below you can see the proposed development, with the road, rail, and pipeline network passing through the area to be explored and connecting South Sudan and Ethiopia to Africa’s newest Port.
While many of the businesses in Lamu no doubt welcome the development, many in Lamu are concerned for their future, and rightly so. (Cf. Audio slideshow: Kenya dhow captain fears new port, Kenyan town awaits port with trepidation, and Save Lamu) It is likely that nothing will ever be the same again. Even if the governments involved in the project are good their word in attempting to retain the character of Lamu’s tourist area and in protecting the environment, economic development on this scale cannot fail to alter the way of life in the region. Construction crews will arrive, and they will need places to eat and sleep. They will also take time off, and they will have money to spend. All the familiar camp followers and profiteers will seek to relieve these construction workers of their paychecks, and in so doing they will make their own contribution to the economy of the area.
After the facilities are built and operational, different economic forces will come into play. There will be regular jobs with regular salaries, and their will be foreign experts and consultants who come. The burgeoning economies of India and China, and indeed many growing economies around the Indian Ocean, will have a growing appetite for oil, and as oil both increases in cost and begins to flow from South Sudan through Kenya and from Lamu’s port into ships that will sail the world’s oceans, the sheer volume of money involved in such transactions will influence life in the region as well. With money come bankers and financial services industries. With trade connections through the region come international relations and the need to be involved in the affairs of other nation-states.
LAPSSET is being billed as the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken in Africa. It is not likely to be the last. Africa’s infrastructure has lagged substantially behind that of the industrialized world. This has retarded economic development. As Saudi oil money in the later twentieth century was re-lent out for infrastructure projects through the developing world, now in the twentieth century China’s capital generated from its rapid industrialization needs to find investment opportunities. Many of these are likely to be in Africa. There has been a steady stream of stories in the financial press of Chinese money and Chinese expertise employed in large development projects in Africa. I wrote about this in Unintended Consequences in Africa, and more recently the Chinese financed and Chinese built African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa was inaugurated by Chinese President Hu Jintao.
It is easy to read sinister implications into China’s involvement in Africa, as it was easy to read sinister implications in the disposition of Saudi oil money during the 1970s (think of what the term “petrodollars” means to most people). Money, like industrial development, takes on a life of its own. Both can be controlled (to a limited extent) and regulated (with more or less success), but neither can be wished away. Africa and China are today becoming locked into a “special relationship” because of historical contingencies that cannot be changed and must find some form of expression. It is in the interest of those nation-states that are already industrialized to contribute constructively to the development of Asia and Africa, rather than to respond with fear and apprehension.
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Note added 17 March 2012: There is an interesting article in the East African Standard, Lamu port deal leaves Khartoum feeling put out, describing Khartoum’s growing sense of isolation as a result of being denied membership in the East Africa Community (EAC) and the initiation of the Lamu port project, which includes a pipeline from Juba (in South Sudan) to Lamu. The Sudanese are even pursuing a case of “economic sabotage” at the African Union. Apparently, Sudanese officials haven’t read Hume’s argument about jealously of trade, or they would know that have a thriving East African Community on their border could only be good for the Sudanese economy.
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16 February 2012
We have all heard the slogans of contemporary diplomacy — “peaceful rise,” “responsible stakeholder,” and the rest — and now it seems that we have a new diplomatic euphemism: strategic trust. Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping gave a speech shortly after his arrival in the US for an official visit in which he prominently employed the phrase. I have not been able to find a reliable full text of the speech online, but here are some excerpts:
“For us, strategic trust is the foundation for mutually beneficial cooperation, and greater trust will lead to broader cooperation.”
“We in China hope to work with the U.S. side to maintain close high-level exchanges. We hope to increase dialogue and exchange of views with the United States by making full use of our channels of communication, including the Strategic and Economic Dialogues, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, and military-to-military exchanges…”
“By doing so, we can better appreciate each other’s strategic intentions and development goals, avoid misinterpretation and misjudgment, build up mutual understanding and strategic trust, and on that basis, fully tap our cooperation potential.”
And this from Chinese VP calls for deeper strategic mutual trust with U.S.:
“The development of cooperative partnership could be guaranteed only when the two sides view each other’s strategic intention and development path in a correct and objective way, respect each other’s core interests and accommodate each other’s major concerns, avoid making troubles for each other and do not cross over each other’s bottom lines…”
It might be unwise to read too much into these statements, since this was, after all, a highly publicized political speech. There was an interesting sketch of Xi Linping at Foreign Policy, Empty Suit: Xi Jinping is just another Communist Party hack by Yu Jie, that gives some context, and some weeks earlier, also on Foreign Policy, there was this highly entertaining piece, Hu Jintao on China losing the culture wars by Isaac Stone Fish, in which the author quotes this from Hu Jintao:
“Only if we resolutely follow the guidance of Marxism, and let the advanced culture of socialism guide the way, will we be able to lay the foundation for the cultural development of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
And then notes:
“Every year Chinese press wonders why their country can’t seem to win a Nobel Prize in literature or peace; ironically, in most cases banned from mentioning dissident writer Gao Xingjian, who won in 2000, or Liu Xiaobo, who won last year.”
We have, of course, seen this before. During the Cold War, the Soviet Bloc countries placed a great deal of emphasis upon winning medals at the Olympics, since this is politically non-controversial, even while the greatest writers and artists were harrassed, jailed, and sent to gulags. Every authoritarian state that seeks to control expression runs into this same difficulty.
Nevertheless, the idea of strategic trust is interesting on its own merits, whatever Xi Linping may have meant by it. Vice President Linping gave a fairly detailed sketch of how he would go about cultivating strategic trust, and I will certainly agree that maintaining both broad and deep communication over the long term will likely achieve something like this — although one may well wonder how broad and deep communication can be maintained with the Great Firewall of China intervening between the two countries, and with a vigorous Chinese censorship regime empowered to unilaterally delete content (sort of like Twitter has now empowered itself to act).
Some time ago, in On a Definition of Grand Strategy, I examined a conception of grand strategy has a certain amount of currency, and then went on to suggest that one of the functions of grand strategy is to make certain policies and practices thinkable or unthinkable:
Grand strategy, like ethics, not only both forbids and enjoins certain actions and classes of actions, but it also shapes our thinking, making certain options unthinkable while making other options possible. Alternative grand strategies may pick out different courses of action as unthinkable or possible. We recall that throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, all-out nuclear war was often simply referred to as “the unthinkable,” but there were people who did not see things that way at all. Castro is supposed to have urged Khrushchev to launch a nuclear strike, even if it meant the annihilation of Cuba, rather than back down in the Cuban missile crisis. For Castro, at this point in his life, nuclear war as in no sense unthinkable (I have read somewhere recently that he has since changed his mind).
With this sense of grand strategy in mind, we could characterize two distinct nation-states (or, more generally, political entities, whether state or non-state) as sharing a grand strategic vision if they share common conceptions of what is thinkable and that is unthinkable. Another way to put this would be to say that political entities share a grand strategic vision if they share political presuppositions.
Now, it is true that Xi Linping spoke in terms of strategy rather than grand strategy, so we need to take a step own in generality toward greater specificity to do justice to his remarks. I don’t think very many people would suppose that China and the US, representing profoundly different traditions of civilization, would ever substantially share a grand strategic vision on the level of common political presuppositions. Indeed, this is precisely what divides China and the US, and makes communication difficult — not impossible, but difficult, which means that an effort must be made, and even when an effort is made, misunderstanding will persist and can only be address by further communicative efforts.
It is, however, entirely possible (and, moreover, possible by the concrete means that Linping suggests) that China and the US could share substantial presuppositions on a strategic level short of grand strategy: mutual economic growth, rule of law, global political stability, avoidance of catastrophic military conflicts, the restriction of conflict to localized proxy wars conducted below the nuclear threshold, and so forth. All of these same elements were present during detente with the Soviet Union.
Such an arrangement is not only possible, but mutually beneficial. Strategic trust, then, would be a trust of each nation-state in the other that the other recognizes the mutually beneficial condition of shared strategic presuppositions, and will seek to perpetuate this arrangement.
What are the challenges to maintaining such strategic trust? Under the above-named conditions, there will always be a tension between strategy and grand strategy. Part of strategic trust would be trust in your strategic partner to remain focused on strategy and to allow grand strategy to take a distant second place. This is all about maintaining a mutually agreeable status quo, and maintaining a mutually agreeable status quo would be all about de-emphasizing, and perhaps even suppressing, revolutionary movements and macro-scopic social change that could upset the strategic apple cart.
Under these conditions, the US would continue to talk about Tibet and Taiwan, but would take no action beyond its existing commitments to Taiwan, while China would be careful not to use its growing economic influence to push the US out of its established positions of power. Like detente with the Soviet Union, all of this is doable, and perhaps it even represents the most like short- and medium-term future, but it leaves open certain difficult questions like, for example, the Pacific theater…
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The center of the Cold War was Europe, and, by extension, the North Atlantic, which latter geographical feature lent its name to NATO. The Age of Atlanticism extended from Columbus’ voyage in 1492 to the end of NATO’s relevance in 1991, or almost exactly five hundred years.
The Pacific was always a Cold War backwater. After the US defeated Japanese sea power in the Pacific, there was no force to rival US dominance of the Pacific, even though the USSR had ports on the Pacific. This is related to the fact that although the East was once Red, the Cold War with China was always different from the Cold War with the USSR. In fact, in the midst of the Cold War China and the USSR fought a war, the Sino–Soviet border conflict of 1969 (like many recent wars, it was not called a war), the underlined the bitter divisions within the so-called “communist bloc.”
Now there is a power rising in the East — several of them, in fact — and as the Atlantic-centered world order of the post-WWII era passes into history, we enter into a Pacific-Centered World Order. While this Pacific-centered world order will not be as closely wedded to the Cold War as events in the Atlantic theater, but will not be utterly divorced from Cold War antecedents either.
While the Cold War with China (if there was one) was never quite the Cold War that was fought with the Soviet Union, it was nevertheless serious business, as Chinese support for North Korea and North Vietnam (later to be Vietnam simpliciter) demonstrated. And while Chinese support for national liberation movements in Southeast Asia mirrored Soviet support for national liberation movements in Africa and Latin America, the US had leverage against China: not only Japan, transformed from an enemy into an ally and soon afterward sporting the second largest economy in the world (a status since ceded to China), but most especially Taiwan.
The island of Taiwan is the fly in China’s ointment. Taiwan has been an irritant to China not unlike the way in which communist Cuba was been a near-offshore irritant to the US. Through the late Cold War, moreover, Taiwan had become wealthy, with a growing economy that set it apart from the moribund command economies largely found throughout the region, and its economic dynamism coupled with its position as a trading hub in East Asia gave Taiwan connections throughout the industrialized world.
I bring up Taiwan as one of the major unresolved points of conflict from the Cold War in the Pacific (I have elsewhere called the divided Korean peninsula an ember of the Cold War that periodically flares up) because of the recent talk about the “strategic pivot” of the US in the direction of the Asia-Pacific Region. Hilary Clinton wrote in Foreign Policy magazine in “America’s Pacific Century”:
As the war in Iraq winds down and America begins to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the United States stands at a pivot point. Over the last 10 years, we have allocated immense resources to those two theaters. In the next 10 years, we need to be smart and systematic about where we invest time and energy, so that we put ourselves in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values. One of the most important tasks of American statecraft over the next decade will therefore be to lock in a substantially increased investment — diplomatic, economic, strategic, and otherwise — in the Asia-Pacific region.
Clinton used the word “pivot” three times in the piece, and although she never actually used the phrase “strategic pivot,” she did use the phrase “strategic turn” three times in this piece. More interesting yet is that Clinton did not once mention Taiwan in this article. China is mentioned throughout the article, and in very moderate if not conciliatory terms. China is called an “emerging power” and a “partner” and even an “ally.”
The President, presumably the architect of these strategic turn, and who has emphasized from the beginning of his Presidency that he would orient US strategic posture toward the Pacific, gave a speech is Australia in November 2011 that underscored this emphasis.
The President’s full speech in Australia can be viewed at Changing fortunes dictate another presidential pivot and can be read in full at Remarks By President Obama to the Australian Parliament. “China” is mentioned only three times in the President’s speech, and Taiwan, as in Clinton’s article for Foreign Policy, is not mentioned at all. Here are a few quotes from the speech:
Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth — the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation. Asian immigrants helped build America, and millions of American families, including my own, cherish our ties to this region. From the bombing of Darwin to the liberation of Pacific islands, from the rice paddies of Southeast Asia to a cold Korean Peninsula, generations of Americans have served here, and died here — so democracies could take root; so economic miracles could lift hundreds of millions to prosperity. Americans have bled with you for this progress, and we will not allow it — we will never allow it to be reversed.
Here, we see the future. As the world’s fastest-growing region — and home to more than half the global economy — the Asia Pacific is critical to achieving my highest priority, and that’s creating jobs and opportunity for the American people. With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.
As President, I have, therefore, made a deliberate and strategic decision — as a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future, by upholding core principles and in close partnership with our allies and friends.
The strategic turn to Asia and the Pacific has been the topic of much comment. Obama’s Pacific Pivot by Joseph Nye (of “soft power” fame) has been quite widely distributed. The “Strategic Pivot” to Asia Now Committed, Pentagon Can Float Allegedly Deep Cuts by Thomas P. M. Barnett is an interesting analysis that ends with the provocative line, “These are delusions stacked upon delusions.”
I find myself rather surprised that Taiwan has been nearly ignored in this discussion. The administration has had nothing to say about Taiwan in the process of executing this strategic turn. A year ago, the U.S. – China Joint Statement (released 19 January 2011) includes a short but explicit passage about Taiwan:
6. Both sides underscored the importance of the Taiwan issue in U.S. – China relations. The Chinese side emphasized that the Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and expressed the hope that the U.S. side will honor its relevant commitments and appreciate and support the Chinese side’s position on this issue. The U.S. side stated that the United States follows its one China policy and abides by the principles of the three U.S.-China Joint Communiqués. The United States applauded the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and welcomed the new lines of communications developing between them. The United States supports the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait and looks forward to efforts by both sides to increase dialogues and interactions in economic, political, and other fields, and to develop more positive and stable cross-Strait relations.
Since then, I haven’t been able to find anything. One must say that the strategic turn to the Pacific, where Taiwan was once a central issue, is deeply if not systematically ambiguous when it comes to Taiwan. The ambiguity is further driven home by on-again, off-again arms sales to Taiwan. Taiwan has been repeatedly rebuffed in its attempts to upgrade and update its fighters, as well as its attempt to acquire diesel-electric submarines from the US. More recently, however, it has been announced that Taiwan will purchase AH-64D Apache helicopters with Block III Longbow Fire Control Radar (FCR), becoming the first political entity outside the US with this particular hardware. This is what we call “mixed signals.” In other words, ambiguity.
In an interesting blog with a Taiwan defense focus, The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato, the author, J. Michael Cole, concludes his excellent essay, “Facing Reality in the Cross-Strait Balance of Power: What Can and What Can’t Be Done,” with this advice:
Rather than waste their time exploring the idea of waging a doomed guerrilla campaign against the PLA, thinkers should instead focus their energy on the means by which war in the Taiwan Strait can be rendered unthinkable. Unable to compete dollar-for-dollar with China, Taiwan has one option left: An asymmetrical deterrent backed by a modern Air Force.
This is a sober and sensible conclusion. The ambivalent of the US toward Taiwan in its strategic turn to the Pacific underlines the need for Taiwan to attend to its own interests, since those interests do not seem to figure prominently in US plans for Asia and the Pacific.
In its relative isolation and its need to pursue asymmetrical and nonconventional deterrence in the face of a powerful adversary, Taiwan’s strategic situation resembles the strategic situation of Iran, and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan. Recently in A Review of Iranian Capabilities I once again looked at a number of innovative and distinctive weapons systems that Iran has pursued in quest of backing up its threat of A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) in the Strait of Hormuz. Many of these possibilities would be open to Taiwan itself, even while A2/AD strategies are more commonly associated with China itself in the Taiwan Strait.
The obvious track for Taiwanese security would be to go nuclear, and given Taiwan’s relative wealth, advanced technology, and robust industrial plant this would be possible, but it would then lose whatever remaining goodwill it has with its sponsors at present. Ideally this would be done is utter secrecy until the deterrent was fully operational, at which time Taiwan could afford to alienate its sponsors, but the resulting damage to relations with the US would be so great that it is difficult to predict what the US would do in this circumstance. The more we consider the scenario, the more it looks like the above quote about a “doomed guerrilla campaign.”
The remaining strategy for Taiwan, then, is A2/AD in the Taiwan Strait. What happens when two A2/AD strategies collide? The answer to this question may determine the future of Taiwan.
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4 August 2011
While the Warsaw Pact vanished in a puff of smoke at the end of the Cold War, the center of gravity in Eurasia pulled up stakes and moved east, settling in China. Now this new center of gravity has its own official (albeit loose) organization to represent its interests, and this is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). And while the US has the “Axis of Evil” (composed, at one time at least, of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea), which, by extension, furnishes NATO and the West generally with its collective bogeyman, the loose unity of interests represented by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has its own diabolical trinity of “Three Evil Forces.” What is it about triads that so fascinates political oratory? Even Lincoln implicitly invoked a triadic mode of speech when he spoke of a nation “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
The SCO powers — Russia, China, Khazakstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan — have thrown themselves a party in Astana, Kazakhstan, celebrating ten years of the organization. All of this seems eminently reasonable to me, since the Western powers have a never-ending round of self-celebrations that virtually fill the calendar like medieval feasts on saints days: various NATO exercises, the G20, the Davos Koffeeklatsch, the secretive Bilderburg get-together, and who knows how many others.
All of this — i.e., the SCO’s self-celebration — is presented in the most politically reasonable terms imaginable. Just as NATO presents itself as the guarantor of security in the North Atlantic, so SCO presents itself as the guarantor of security in Eurasia, with a special focus on Central Asia. It is to be noted that several of the ‘Stans of Central Asia are full members of the SCO.
Even the military exercises that accompanied the SCO summit, and which have now become an annual event, are presented in terms that are unexceptional and anything but belligerent. The military exercises are called “Peace Mission” followed by the year of the exercise, as in “Peace Mission 2010″ and “Peace Mission 2011,” and so one. The rhetoric of the exercises is that of counter-terrorism, which fits in neatly the the “Three Evil Forces” mentioned above, since terrorism is one of these evils.
I found a particularly fascinating article on the recent SCO summit called The smart power of the SCO, dated 15 June 2011, which appears under the name of Nursultan Nazarbayev, none other than the President of Kazakhstan. Now, I don’t suppose that Nazarbayev actually wrote this (it was probably authored by one of his flunkies), but it is a nice piece for all that it encapsulates, and it is lent additional interest by fact that Kazakhstan simultaneously held the chairs both of the SCO and the OSCE. (This article is billed as having originally appeared in The Moscow Times, though I found it in the Russia and India Report).
This article was interesting both for its tone — perfectly evoking the “peaceful rise” theory of China’s growing influence — and for the comprehensiveness of its message, which touches on almost every theme that nervous Western think tanks have highlighted in relation to the SCO. The very rhetoric of the title — “smart power” — is precisely the sort of thing we would expect to hear from Western political leaders (in fact, it sounds a lot like “smart sanctions” and Joseph Nye’s “soft power”).
Nazarbayev (or his ghost writer) discusses counter-terrorism efforts, combating religious extremism (with the enlightened rhetoric of fighting, “the fundamental causes of radicalism and terrorism and not its consequences”), combating the global narcotics trade, and a possible role for the SCO in Afghanistan. Regarding the latter, Nazarbayev writes, “the prosperity of Central Asia and the surrounding states can only be achieved through a strong, independent and stable Afghanistan.” Who can disagree with that? And who is to say that the SCO would not be more successful at such “nation-building” in Afghanistan than NATO?
All in all, the public image of the SCO is that of a benevolent force working on behalf of peace, security and prosperity while working against terrorism, drug trafficking, and criminal enterprise. From this public image, which is not so far from the truth as to be strictly dishonest, it would not be immediately apparent that the SCO is in fact an organ of authoritarianism. In Doctrinaire and Inorganic Democracy I mentioned Robert Kagan’s book The Return of History and the End of Dreams. Of Kagan’s observations on authoritarianism I wrote, “I find a political analysis in terms of a distinction between authoritarianism and liberalism problematic, because I view authoritarianism not as an ideology, but as a fact of the exercise of power that has no true ideological content.”
Well, I see now that authoritarian regimes can give themselves the requisite ideological content, and in doing so in a sophisticated fashion (we are not, here, talking ham-handed Soviet-era propaganda) they present themselves as nothing more exceptional than stand-up citizens of the international community, interested in a law-and-order approach to the global situation.
As mentioned above, the chosen theme of the SCO ten year anniversary summit and the “Peace Mission 2011″ exercises is combating “Three Evil Forces,” which forces are terrorism, separatism, and extremism. Russia and China certainly have much to fear from these three evil forces. Both are geographically extensive land empires with restive minority populations that have little or no desire to be a part of the great project that is modern Russia or modern China. Despite the many advantages that flow from being part of an extensive politico-economic whole, many peoples, as recent history has shown, prefer to go it on their own rather than to enjoy the benefits of life under the benevolent tyranny of Putin or the Communist Party of China.
The Three Evil Forces that the SCO powers seek to suppress and combat are precisely those forces that would precipitate, and perhaps eventually consolidate, the fracture of these large nation-states (Kazakhstan is also very large, and for that reason probably includes peoples who have no interest in making common cause with the Kazakhs) into some rump entity ethnic-cultural entity sans its former extensive territorial holdings.
The nation-state is the geopolitical equivalent of the conglomerate. What is a conglomerate? Wikipedia defines a conglomerate as, “a combination of two or more corporations engaged in entirely different businesses that fall under one corporate structure (a corporate group), usually involving a parent company and several (or many) subsidiaries. Often, a conglomerate is a multi-industry company.”
Back in the day when corporations were under more stringent rules against market dominance, if a large, successful company had deep pockets and wanted to expand, it bought whatever companies were available. And so a conglomerate might have companies that manufacture toasters, sell raspberry jam, own a department store or two (but not too many), and maybe also have some textile interests in hosiery and men’s wear, with the occasional timber mill thrown into the mix. There was no talk of “core competencies” or focusing on what you do best, but, as opposed to the ideal acquisition, this was the possible acquisition (parallel to what I recently wrote about The Possible War).
It is this spirit of putting things together simply for the sake of “bigger is better” that is the spirit of the nation-state, and that is why nation-states are all about boundaries, territorial integrity, and the territorial principle in law. As with conglomerates, so too (mutatis mutandis) with the nation-state: a combination of two or more ethnicities engaged in entirely different histories that fall under one state structure.
The various southern Slav peoples of whom Churchill said they produce more history than they can consume, tried it for a while, but eventually decided that it wasn’t for them. The Czechs and the Slovaks tried it for awhile also, and they managed to part company on amiable terms, without bloodshed, as has been the remarkable custom of these peoples. But despite the many failures of the nation-state, and the record of peoples voluntarily contracting nation-state relationships and voluntarily leaving them, in contemporary political “science” the nation-state holds unquestioned sway, such that anything other than the nation-state is regarded as an intrinsically suspect and perhaps perverse form of political order.
The nation-state today faces the terrorism of non-state entities as its great challenge. During the Cold War there was no consensus among nation-states as to who was and who was not a terrorist. It was the Cold War that gave us the slogan, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” and this slogan was invoked (whether explicitly or implicitly) on both sides of the ideological divide that defined Cold War politicking. Yasser Arafat compared himself to George Washington (in his 1974 speech to the UN General Assembly), while Reagan compared the Nicaraguan Contras to the Founding Fathers (“the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers” was the quote).
This relativity of terrorism is less true now. NATO and SCO would probably agree on who is and who is not a terrorism much if not most of the time. In fact, NATO and SCO could agree on a good deal more than this. They are both interest groups of nation-states, tasked with the security of these nation-states. Such organizations are not going to call the nation-state into question. And so NATO and SCO have much in common in Afghanistan: they both want, “a strong, independent and stable Afghanistan.” So we should not be surprised to eventually, some day, see cooperation between NATO and SCO in attempting to shore up some kind of order and stability in Afghanistan.
Yet this apparent convergence of interests in the post-Cold War world is deception, however deep the shared loyalty to the security and continuity of the existing nation-states seems to run. Russia and China actively and routinely engage in the political and sometimes military repression of restive minorities. Both Russia and China routinely object to any violation of sovereignty or territorial integrity, since they are keenly aware that any such recognition of the legitimacy of opposing brutal and repressive regimes will open them to the same criticisms. China is not about to let its Uighers go their own way, any more than Russia is going to let Chechnya or Dagestan go their own way. These peoples, by and large, do not feel themselves to be full partners in the nation-states of which they are constituent parts, but they are also well aware that Russia and China have the military wherewithal to force their continued inclusion as part of the nation-state in question.
Moreover, while the Western powers are occasional sympathetic to the national aspiration of minorities in Russia, China, and Central Asia generally, it is rarely more than a lukewarm sympathy, because there is always the bias toward order, stability, continuity, and “the devil you know” being assumed to be better than some unknown evil. The fear is that if revolutions are “allowed” to occur, that widespread collapse of legitimate authority would lead to widespread terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and criminal enterprises. That these perennial problems might be as much caused by the nation-states as plaguing the nation-states is a thought too radical to be entertained either at NATO or the SCO.
And so the SCO members present themselves as international advocates of law and order, actively combating the “Three Evil Forces” of terrorism, separatism, and extremism, all the while knowing full well that extremism radicalizes, and that radicalized ethnic minorities will engage in terrorism in an attempt to secure the separate and equal station to which they believe nature and nature’s god to entitle them.
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7 January 2011
Beyond Proof of Concept…
New Horizons in Naval Viability and Vulnerability
The Aircraft Carrier, taken in the material and doctrinal context of its Carrier Battle Group (CVBG), is today the preeminent instrument of force projection in the world. There are a mere nine (9) nation-states in the world at this time who possess one or more operational aircraft carriers. The carrier has done the state some service, and they know it. Enough of that.
In several previous posts I have discussed the vulnerability of aircraft carriers, focusing on the unlikely possibility of an aircraft carrier being sunk by a torpedo from a speedboat. The posts concerned were Speedboat Diplomacy, The Political Context of Striking a Carrier, and Sinking a Carrier: Proof of Concept. Mike Burleson’s New Wars blog (sadly now no longer active; I hope Mr. Burleson returns) also addressed the same question in Can a speedboat sink a carrier? Part 1 and Can a speedboat sink a carrier? Part 2. Mike Burleson quoted my Speedboat Diplomacy piece in the second installment.
While the CVBG is a formidable weapons system, in Sinking a Carrier: Proof of Concept I argued that the fact that carriers were sunk during the naval engagements in the Pacific theater during World War Two proved that carriers can be sunk, and that developments in naval technology since that time have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary, meaning that change since that time has been a matter of degree rather than a matter of kind, meaning in turn that carriers today remain vulnerable despite their improved capabilities over the past sixty years. Proof of concept of sinking a carrier simply means this: it would be difficult, but also possible.
After proof of concept of carrier vulnerability, which I take be proved during World War Two, comes precisification of concept, that is to say, the making precise of the concept initially proved. The precisification of the concept of sinking (or simply striking) a carrier has no doubt been raised to the level of a highly refined science (or art, if you prefer) by those nation-states that see themselves in a potentially adversarial role in regard to the operators of carriers. We know, for example, that the Soviets developed hypersonic torpedoes (the VA-111 Shkval) and missiles (the P-270 Moskit) to counter NATO naval assets (the US, the UK, France, Italy, and Spain, all NATO member states, are among the nine nation-states operating carriers today). Torpedoes and missiles are cheap compared to carriers, and comparatively easy to field in large numbers. In so far as the missile/carrier confrontation is a mere numbers game, this remains a viable strategic counter to the CVBG today.
At the present time, the CVBG threat of greatest public concern is not the surface-skimming “Sunburn” (P270 Moskit, NATO reporting name SS-N-22, now superseded by the higher performance Yakhont P-800 Oniks, NATO reporting name SS-N-26) but the new and repeatedly heralded Chinese Dong Feng ballistic missile, specifically the DF21-D. Last week the DF21-D made headlines on several newspapers, since the US Navy made the announcement that the DF21-D was operational. The DF21-D takes the precisification of striking a carrier to a new level: it is, or is intended to be, a precision weapons system, and as such must be counted as part of a family of recently developed precision weapons systems. If the DF21-D is operational as claimed, and if it operates according to presumed specifications, then China has the capacity to sink capital ships (or other similarly large targets) within 2,000 km of their borders (though it is to be expected that the accuracy is inversely proportional to range).
While there are definite advantages to a supersonic torpedo or a surface-skimming missile, one of the most interesting things about the Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) is that its warhead comes almost straight down on its target. For this reason, among others, the DF21-D has been called a “game-changer” (On the Verge of a Game-Changer), and many of the superlatives once lavished on the Russian missiles, such as claims that the US Navy is “obsolete,” are now being applied to the DF21-D. A carrier has few defenses against an attack from a warhead coming straight down at supersonic (if not hypersonic) speeds, in comparison to the counter-measures it can bring to bear against incoming threats expected from other surface ships or aircraft. There are, to be sure, counter-measures, but not the kind of robust counter-measures that are available for other attack vectors.
Placing the potential of the DF21-D attack in historical perspective, it is interesting to note that during the Battle of Midway that none of the US torpedo bombers had any success against the Japanese carriers. It was the SBD Dauntless dive bombers that scored the hits that disabled the Japanese carriers. The ballistic missile warheads will come in many times faster than a bomb dropped by a dive bomber, and from much greater height, and existing counter-measures will of course be faster and more devastating than AAA, but the principle of vulnerability remains unchanged by improved technology. A carrier is by no means a sitting duck, but it is more vulnerable by some attack vectors than others, and it would be ridiculous not to expect an adversary to attempt to exploit what little vulnerability there remains.
The experience of a single battle is not decisive except in so far as its yields a proof of concept of some weapons system; the failure of a weapons system in a single battle must be taken in inductive context, which does not prove its inefficacy, though it certainly counts against it. Inductive evidence is always cumulative, and is not disproved by a single counter-example. For further historical background, it is interesting to note that it was an old biplane (a Fairey Swordfish) carrying a single torpedo, launched from the aging British carrier HMS Ark Royal (91), that disabled the rudder of the Bismark, thereby making it possible for the Bismark to be destroyed by the Royal Navy: the most hardened, high technology battleship of its day was disabled by an aging weapons system. Another engagement, another result. The torpedo bomber played an important role during the Second World War, but that role was not at Midway.
The Chinese DF21-D weapons system — and we must think of the DF21-D as a weapons system that integrates many elements into the system, which must operate as a whole or it cannot operate at all — has been in the news again because the Chinese are now believed to have a sufficient number of Beidou satellites (COMPASS-G2) in orbit to make precision tracking and targeting possible. While I noted just above that counter-measures for the weapons system are available, and more counter-measures will certainly be made available over time, these are not the robust counter-measures that one would like to see. However, since I have also pointed out that the weapons system must operate as a whole or not operate at all, it is most vulnerable to counter-measures that would not be based at the target. In other words, the weakest point of the weapons system is not the business end. A little hiccup in the software that allows communications between satellites, ground control, and the missile itself would be sufficient to spoil its aim, and if this hiccup could be supplied by a computer virus, a teenager with a laptop might be the most robust counter-measure available.
More than a year ago, back in December 2009, Craig Hooper of the Next Navy blog wrote about the Chinese ASBM threat in “With a conventional Trident within reach, why fear China’s anti-ship ballistic missile?” Dr. Hooper primarily made the point that US Trident missiles with a conventional warhead could quickly and stealthily complete a nuclear decapitation strike: “…while China’s ASBM-boosters might hope to target an aircraft carrier or two, we’ll have a stealthy conventional means to eliminate China’s tiny strategic nuclear strike capability.” Thus it would be China rather than the US that would be faced with a fait accompli of catastrophic strategic failure. Dr. Hooper writes that, “…the U.S. can convert Trident II D5′s into conventional missiles -– within two years. Maybe less.”
While China’s handful of missile boats might prove a little more difficult to eliminate than the rest of China’s “tiny strategic nuclear strike capability,” one suspects that the Chinese aren’t nearly at the level of submarine operations of the Soviet missile boat fleet during the Cold War, against which US submarines tested themselves, and were tested by, for almost fifty years. This points to one of the interesting characteristics of China’s ASBM program: it is almost a “pure physics” weapons system — in this regard, perhaps only nuclear weapons themselves are comparable. Physicists and technocrats can hand over “turn key” weapons systems like nuclear warheads or ASBM systems to the defense community, whose role is then reduced to target selection — if this latter function has not already been co-opted by civilian political authorities. Compared to the training, experience, and expertise that come with carrier operations or submarine operations or commando raids, turn key weapons systems require little or no training, and if they fail to perform, it is largely the fault of engineers and designers, not soldiers.
That China is able to create pure physics weapons systems is a credit to its educational system and the efforts of a few extraordinary men. Chinese primary education is a rigorous affair and involves drilling students in basic science. The Chinese educational system was devastated by the Cultural Revolution, during which the universities were closed, but the closure of the universities had a counter-intuitive, unintended consequence: when they were re-opened, competition for university enrollment was intense, and they had a population of about a billion from which to select the best and brightest. The first few classes that went through Chinese universities after they re-opened following the Cultural Revolution are still legendary. Furthermore, two Chinese physicists who received the Nobel Prize in 1957, Chen Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee, returned to China in the 1980s and toured the country giving speeches and attempting to put Chinese physics research on a world-class footing. These personal efforts by Nobel Prize winning physicists inspired a generation of China’s best and brightest — already a select group for the aforementioned reasons — to go into physics research. One consequence of these historical accidents is China’s recent rapid progress in physics, hence China’s ability to build pure physics weapons systems at a time when the PLA, PLAN, and PLAAF don’t have the kind of depth of experience in conventional weapons systems possessed by active Cold War belligerents.
So, back to the DF21-D. More than six months ago, when the issue was being discovered by the popular press, Nerve Agent of the Dreams of Empire blog posted “What are we going to do about those Dong Feng’ed missiles?” Nerve Agent has since updated his analysis just a few days ago with “Dong Feng’ing in the new year.” I urge the reader to peruse these posts, as well as the Next Navy post cited above. Both Nerve Agent and Dr. Hooper are at one in calling for a deescalation of the hype and hyperbole surrounding the possible operational status of the DF21-D.
Because the Chinese ASBM is a strategic weapons system, the interesting questions about its deployment and usefulness are mostly political questions. I find it interesting to note in this connection that while my post Sinking a Carrier: Proof of Concept is one of my most accessed pieces, the companion piece to this, The Political Context of Striking a Carrier, is almost unread. Yet to intelligently discuss the Chinese ASBM we need to discuss it in the full context of social, political, economic, and diplomatic circumstances that surround both the weapons system and its presumed targets.
Let us suppose that the Chinese ASBM system is operational, and that it has a reasonably good chance of taking out a carrier — for example, lets say that if they fire twenty missiles, one of them will hit their target. There are a lot of technical questions that immediately come up: How many missiles can be produced in what kind of time frame? How quickly can their crews be trained to a reliable degree of expertise? Where will the mobile units be stationed? How quickly can they be in position to fire? Would the Chinese let fly with a barrage of fifty or a hundred missiles to make sure that the target is taken out? How quickly could the Chinese replace a hundred DF21-Ds? What next?
That last question is the big question, and is only matched by one other question: what would trigger such a barrage? These are strategic, diplomatic, and political questions. Would China ever fire at a US or other NATO aircraft carrier with the intent to destroy it? What could prompt such a desperate action? If China took out a carrier in the Taiwan Strait in an escalating confrontation over Taiwan, what would it do next? The US and its allies have other carriers. Would China attempt to sink all US carriers all over the world? Would China attempt to sink all NATO carriers? Would China sink a carrier in drydock (if its future missiles have the range to do this)? Is there a naval decapitation strike in our future?
What kind of retaliation would China expect from such a strike? This could be a conventional strike, and Dr. Hooper (quoted above) has suggested that the US could without great difficulty eliminate China’s nuclear arsenal with a conventional counter-strike, demoting China from the “nuclear club” in one fell swoop. Would the US, in the wake of a Chinese carrier strike, choose instead to take out China’s limited naval assets, or some other military asset? Could the US eliminate the PLA-Navy in one fell swoop? One response seems utterly obvious: in an escalating confrontation over Taiwan that resulted in the sinking of a US carrier, the US would surge all available military assets into the theater. Whatever retaliation was taken, what would China do in response to the surged assets brought into the Taiwan Strait? Would not a predictable US surge in the region defeat any Chinese hopes in regard to Taiwan that it might seek to accomplish by sinking a carrier? And would this not prove sufficient deterrence to an initial strike?
These questions do not have right or wrong, true or false answers. Any attempted answers are made (to borrow a Rawlsian phrase) behind a veil of ignorance: we do not know the enemies plans, or indeed the enemy’s exact capabilities, and the enemy does not know our plans and capabilities. The only true test is a battle, and even battles can be inconclusive. However, battles can also be decisive. This seems to me to be the most interesting strategic question posed by the DF21-D: in a short, sharp engagement, would the result be decisive or indecisive? My guess is that, at present, such an engagement would be decisively settled against the DF21-D and in favor of the carriers. However, as the technology improves (and time always passes more quickly than we realize), accuracy and range of the DF21-D or successor weapons systems can probably eventually be improved to the point that an engagement would prove indecisive, and simply to approach the neutralization of the world’s premier platform of power projection would be a notable accomplishment. The answer to a strategic question today will not necessarily be the same answer to the same question tomorrow.
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