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Peter Myers: Who Authorized Preparations for War with China? - Amitai Etzioni, on 'Air-Sea Battle' Pentagon PlanIntro by Paul de Burgh-Day for Salem-News.com
One of the more disturbing elements of all this is that has been inspired by The Pentagon. It has not it seems been done with USG consultation.
(TASMANIA, Aust.) - My friend Peter Myers picked up item 1 on my posting on the subject line above. He has done some research and put out much more information on this profoundly important matter.
Item 2 is the Amitai Etzioni report behind what Paul Craig Roberts had to say. If you take this seriously, you would do well to read through it - you will be very well informed.
Peter's item 10 is another of my postings
One of the more disturbing elements of all this is that has been inspired by The Pentagon. It has not it seems been done with USG consultation.
Did you need more evidence about who is really in charge?
Well, it is yet another wild card in the pack that could destroy us all!
No peace of mind here!
Who Authorized Preparations for War with China? - Amitai Etzioni, on "Air-Sea Battle" Pentagon plan
by Paul Craig Roberts
Foreign Policy Journal
July 25, 2013
Amitai Etzioni has raised an important question: “Who authorized preparations for war with China?”
Etzioni says that the war plan is not the sort of contingency plan that might be on hand for an improbable event. Etzioni also reports that the Pentagon’s war plan was not ordered by, and has not been reviewed by, US civilian authorities.
We are confronted with a neoconized US military out of control, endangering Americans and the rest of the world.
Etzioni is correct that this is a momentous decision made by a neoconized military. China is obviously aware that Washington is preparing for war with China. If the Yale Journal knows it, China knows it. If the Chinese government is realistic, the government is aware that Washington is planning a preemptive nuclear attack against China. No other kind of war makes any sense from Washington’s standpoint. The “superpower” was never able to occupy Baghdad, and after 11 years of war has been defeated in Afghanistan by a few thousand lightly armed Taliban. It would be curtains for Washington to get into a conventional war with China.
When China was a primitive third world country, it fought the US military to a stalemate in Korea. Today China has the world’s second largest economy and is rapidly overtaking the failing US economy destroyed by jobs offshoring, bankster fraud, and corporate and congressional treason.
The Pentagon’s war plan for China is called “AirSea Battle.” The plan describes itself as “interoperable air and naval forces that can execute networked, integrated attacks-in-depth to disrupt, destroy, and defeat enemy anti-access area denial capabilities.”
Yes, what does that mean? It means many billions of dollars of more profits for the military/security complex while the 99 percent are ground under the boot. It is also clear that this nonsensical jargon cannot defeat a Chinese army. But this kind of saber-rattling can lead to war, and if the Washington morons get a war going, the only way Washington can prevail is with nuclear weapons. The radiation, of course, will kill Americans as well.
Nuclear war is on Washington’s agenda. The rise of the Neocon Nazis has negated the nuclear disarmament agreements that Reagan and Gorbachev made. The extraordinary, mainly truthful 2012 book, The Untold History of the United States by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, describes the post-Reagan breakout of preemptive nuclear attack as Washington’s first option.
During the Cold War nuclear weapons had a defensive purpose. The purpose was to prevent nuclear war by the US and USSR each having sufficient retaliatory power to ensure “mutually assured destruction.” MAD, as it was known, meant that nuclear weapons had no offensive advantage for either side.
The Soviet collapse and China’s focus on its economy instead of its military have resulted in Washington’s advantage in nuclear weaponry that, according to two US Dr. Strangelove characters, Keir Lieber and Daryl Press, gives Washington first-strike capability. Lieber and Press write that the “precipitous decline of Russia’s arsenal, and the glacial pace of modernization of China’s nuclear forces,” have created a situation in which neither Russia nor China could retaliate to Washington’s first strike.
The Pentagon’s “AirSea Battle” and Lieber and Press’ article in Foreign Affairs have informed China and Russia that Washington is contemplating a preemptive nuclear attack on both countries. To ensure Russia’s inability to retaliate, Washington is placing anti-ballistic missiles on Russia’s borders in violation of the US-USSR agreement.
Because the American press is a corrupt government propaganda ministry, the American people have no idea that neoconized Washington is planning nuclear war. Americans are no more aware of this than they are of former President Jimmy Carter’s recent statement, reported only in Germany, that the United States no longer has a functioning democracy.
The possibility that the United States would initiate nuclear war was given reality eleven years ago when President George W. Bush, at the urging of Dick Cheney and the neocons that dominated his regime, signed off on the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review.
This neocon document, signed off on by America’s most moronic president, resulted in consternation and condemnation from the rest of the world and launched a new arms race. Russian President Putin immediately announced that Russia would spend all necessary sums to maintain Russia’s retaliatory nuclear capability. The Chinese displayed their prowess by knocking a satellite out of space with a missile. The mayor of Hiroshima, recipient city of a vast American war crime, stated: “The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the central international agreement guiding the elimination of nuclear weapons, is on the verge of collapse. The chief cause is US nuclear policy that, by openly declaring the possibility of a preemptive nuclear first strike and calling for resumed research into mini-nukes and other so-called ‘useable nuclear weapons,’ appears to worship nuclear weapons as God.”
Polls from all over the world consistently show that Israel and the US are regarded as the two greatest threats to peace and to life on earth. Yet, these two utterly lawless governments prance around pretending to be the “world’s greatest democracies.” Neither government accepts any accountability whatsoever to international law, to human rights, to the Geneva Conventions, or to their own statutory law. The US and Israel are rogue governments, throwbacks to the Hitler and Stalin era.
The post World War II wars originate in Washington and Israel. No other country has imperial expansionary ambitions. The Chinese government has not seized Taiwan, which China could do at will. The Russian government has not seized former constituent parts of Russia, such as Georgia, which, provoked by Washington to launch an attack, was instantly overwhelmed by the Russian Army. Putin could have hanged Washington’s Georgian puppet and reincorporated Georgia into Russia, where it resided for several centuries and where many believe it belongs.
For the past 68 years, most military aggression can be sourced to the US and Israel. Yet, these two originators of wars pretend to be the victims of aggression. It is Israel that has a nuclear arsenal that is illegal, unacknowledged, and unaccountable. It is Washington that has drafted a war plan based on nuclear first strike. The rest of the world is correct to view these two rogue unaccountable governments as direct threats to life on earth.
Copyright © 2013 Paul Craig Roberts
Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. His latest book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is now available.
By Amitai Etzioni*
Yale Journal of International Affairs
June 12, 2013
Abstract—The Pentagon has concluded that the time has come to prepare for war with China, and in a manner well beyond crafting the sort of contingency plans that are expected for wide a range of possible confrontations. It is a momentous conclusion that will shape the United States’ defense systems, force posture, and overall strategy for dealing with the economically and militarily resurgent China. Thus far, however, the military’s assessment of and preparations for the threat posed by China have not received the high level of review from elected civilian officials that such developments require. The start of a second Obama administration provides an opportunity for civilian authorities to live up to their obligations in this matter and to conduct a proper review of the United States’ China strategy and the military’s role in it.
The U.S. Military /Civilian Relationships in Facing China
The United States is preparing for a war with China, a momentous decision that so far has failed to receive a thorough review from elected officials, namely the White House and Congress. This important change in the United States’ posture toward China has largely been driven by the Pentagon. There have been other occasions in which the Pentagon has framed key strategic decisions so as to elicit the preferred response from the Commander in Chief and elected representatives. A recent case in point was when the Pentagon led President Obama to order a high level surge in Afghanistan in 2009, against the advice of the Vice President and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. The decision at hand stands out even more prominently because (a) the change in military posture may well lead to an arms race with China, which could culminate in a nuclear war; and (b) the economic condition of the United States requires a reduction in military spending, not a new arms race. The start of a new term, and with it the appointment of new secretaries of State and Defense, provide an opportunity to review the United States’ China strategy and the military’s role in it. This review is particularly important before the new preparations for war move from an operational concept to a militarization program that includes ordering high-cost weapons systems and forced restructuring. History shows that once these thresholds are crossed, it is exceedingly difficult to change course.
In the following pages I first outline recent developments in the Pentagon’s approach to dealing with the rise of China; I then focus on the deliberations of the highest civilian authorities. These two sides seemed to operate in parallel universes, at least until November 2011 when the pivot to Asia was announced by the White House—though we shall see their paths hardly converged even after that date. I conclude with an outline of what the much-needed civilian review ought to cover.
I write about the “Pentagon” and the “highest civilian authorities” (or our political representatives) rather than contrast the view of the military and that of the civilian authorities, because the Pentagon includes civilians, who actively participated in developing the plans under discussion. It is of course fully legitimate for the Pentagon to identify and prepare for new threats. The question that this article raises is whether the next level of government, which reviews such threats while taking into account the input of the intelligence community and other agencies (especially the State Department), has adequately fulfilled its duties. Have the White House and Congress properly reviewed the Pentagon’s approach—and found its threat assessment of China convincing and approved the chosen response? And if not, what are the United States’ overarching short- and long-term political strategies for dealing with an economically and militarily rising China?
In the Pentagon
Since the Second World War the United States has maintained a power-projection military, built upon forward deployed forces with uninhibited access to the global commons—air, sea, and space. For over six decades the maritime security of the Western Pacific has been underwritten by the unrivaled naval and air power of the United States. Starting in the early 1990s, however, Chinese investments in sophisticated, but low-cost, weapons—including anti-ship missiles, short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, stealth submarines, and cyber and space arms—began to challenge the military superiority of the United States, especially in China’s littoral waters. These “asymmetric arms” threaten two key elements of the United States’ force projection strategy: its fixed bases (such as those in Japan and Guam) and aircraft carriers. Often referred to as anti-access/anti-denial capabilities (A2/AD), these Chinese arms are viewed by some in the Pentagon as raising the human and economic cost of the United States’ military role in the region to prohibitive levels. To demonstrate what this new environment means for regional security, military officials point out that, in 1996, when China conducted a series of missile tests and military exercises in the Strait of Taiwan, the United States responded by sending two aircraft carriers to the South China Sea, a credible display of force that reminded all parties of its commitment to maintaining the status quo in the region.1 However, these analysts point out, if in the near future China decided to forcefully integrate Taiwan, the same U.S. aircraft carriers that are said to have once deterred Chinese aggression could be denied access to the sea by PLA anti-ship missiles. Thus, the U.S.’s interests in the region, to the extent that they are undergirded by superior military force, are increasingly vulnerable.
Two influential American military strategists, Andrew Marshall and his protégé Andrew Krepinevich, have been raising the alarm about China’s new capabilities and aggressive designs since the early 1990s. Building on hundreds of war games played out over the past two decades, they gained a renewed hearing for their concerns following Pacific Vision, a war game conducted by the U.S. Air Force in October 2008. The game was financed in part by Marshall’s Office of Net Assessment, a division of the Pentagon focused on identifying emerging security threats to the United States. Air Force Magazine reported at the time that the simulation convinced others in the Pentagon of the need to face up to China, and “[w]hen it was over, the PACAF [Pacific Air Force Command] staff set about drawing up its conclusions and fashioning a framework for AirSea Battle”—a plan to develop the new weapons and operation capabilities needed to overcome the challenges posed by A2/AD.2
With Marshall’s guidance, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates instructed the Chiefs of Staff to begin work on the AirSea Battle (ASB) project and, in September of 2009, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead signed a classified Memorandum of Agreement endorsing the plan.3 ASB received Gates’ official imprimatur in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review which directed the U.S. military to “develop a joint Air-Sea Battle concept ... [to] address how air and naval forces will integrate capabilities across all operational domains—air, sea, land, space, and cyberspace—to counter growing challenges to U.S. freedom of action.”4 In late 2011 Gates’ successor, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, also signed off on the ASB and formed the new Multi-Service Office to Advance AirSea Battle. Thus, ASB was conceived, born, and began to grow.
AirSea Battle calls for “interoperable air and naval forces that can execute networked, integrated attacks-in-depth to disrupt, destroy, and defeat enemy anti-access area denial capabilities.”5 The hypothetical battle begins with a campaign to reestablish power projection capabilities by launching a “blinding attack” against Chinese anti-access facilities, including land and sea-based missile launchers, surveillance and communica-tion platforms, satellite and anti-satellite weapons, and command and control nodes. U.S. forces could then enter contested zones and conclude the conflict by bringing to bear the full force of their material military advantage. One defense think tank report, “AirSea Battle: A Point-of-Departure Operational Concept,” acknowledges that “[t]he scope and intensity of U.S. stand-off and penetrating strikes against tar-gets in mainland China clearly has escalation implications,” because China is likely to respond to what is effectively a major direct attack on its mainland with all the military means at its disposal—including its stockpile of nuclear arms.6 The authors make the critical assumption that mutual nuclear deterrence would hold in a war with China. However, after suggesting that the United States might benefit from an early attack on Chinese space systems, they concede in a footnote that “[a]ttacks on each side’s space early warning systems would have an immediate effect on strategic nuclear and escalation issues.” “However,” they continue, “this issue lies beyond the scope of this paper and is therefore not addressed here.”7 Addressing the risk of nuclear war might be beyond the scope of that paper, but not of a proper review of ASB. Although the Chinese nuclear force is much smaller than that of the United States, China nonetheless has the capacity to destroy American cities. According to leading Australian military strategist Hugh White, “We can be sure that China will place a very high priority indeed on maintaining its capacity to strike the United States, and that it will succeed in this.”8 Given this, the United States’ development of ASB will likely accelerate China’s expansion of both its conventional forces and its nuclear, cyber, and space weapons programs. Joshua Rovner of the U.S. Naval War College notes that deep inland strikes could be mistakenly perceived by the Chinese as preemptive attempts to take out its nuclear weapons, thus cornering them into “a terrible use-it-or-lose-it dilemma.” That is, ASB is prone to lead to nuclear war.9
As current U.S. technologies and force structures are unable to carry out this hypothetical campaign, its architects urge investments in penetrating, long-endurance ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) and strike capabilities; aerial tankers; and forward base hardening. Strategists have also encouraged the Navy to “develop and field long-range/endurance UUVs [Unmanned Undersea Vehicles] for multiple missions germane to intelligence preparation of the undersea battle space” and recommended that the Air Force and Navy stockpile precision-guided munitions (PGM) “in sufficient quantities to execute an ASB campaign.”10 ASB also involves a considerable shift of budgetary priorities from the Army and Marines to the Navy and Air Force. A review of the FY 2013 Defense budget finds that “[t]he new budget also shifts the balance of funding among the Services according to the new strategic guidance, which calls for a greater reliance on air and sea power as part of the pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.”11 While all branches face spending cuts, the Army will experience the steepest reduction (8.9 percent); the budgets of the Air Force and Navy/ Marines shrink by 5.8 and 4.3 percent respectively. Although this force restructuring initially led to strong protests from the Army, in late 2012 it began carving out its role in the ASB plan.12
AirSea Battle is already beginning to shape acquisition decisions. General Schwartz writes that, “The first steps to implement Air-Sea Battle are already underway here at the Pentagon. In our FY 2012 and FY 2013 budgets we increased investment in the systems and capabilities we need to defeat access threats.” 13 Admiral Greenert points to the investments in anti-submarine warfare, electronic warfare, air and missile de-fense, and information sharing, that were included in the President’s 2012 budget as one aspect of ASB’s implementation and notes that the 2013 budget “sustains these investments and really provides more resilient C4ISR [Command, Control, Commu-nications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] investments.”14 The New York Times reported that the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which is able to deftly navigate shallow coastal seas, is “central to President Obama’s strategy of projecting American power in the Pacific.”15 So far, two of the planned fifty-five LCSs have been completed, and the first will be deployed in Singapore in 2013. A press report in August 2012 stated that “the Air-Sea Battle concept has prompted Navy officials to make significant shifts in the service’s FY2014-FY2018 budget plan, including new investments in ASW, electronic attack and electronic warfare, cyber warfare, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), the P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, and the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV [Unmanned Aerial Vehicle].”16 Some point out that many of these weapons would have been ordered even if there was no ASB, and that some purchases merely constitute technology updates. However, it is also true that a smaller defense budget means making choices about the allocation of resources, and evidence suggests that the Pentagon has made the hardware of ASB a high priority.
In addition, a 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service on the implications of Chinese naval modernization disclosed that there has been a “redeployment of various advanced U.S. nuclear submarines and Aegis SM-3-based missile defense vessels to the Pacific in close cruising distance to China and North Korea. Other vessels in the Pacific were recently moved to Guam and Hawaii to presumably cut transit time to areas of possible conflict. All of this would be helpful if AirSea concepts are employed.”17
Some argue that ASB is merely a limited ‘operational concept.’ However, insofar as it is influencing the Pentagon’s ‘hardware’ purchases and is transforming force structure, ASB is moving beyond its conceptual stage. Moreover, even if it is merely a highly influential concept, it still merits high-level review.
One should note that several officials also maintain that ASB is not aimed at China. At a background briefing on ASB one Pentagon official stated, “It is not about a specific actor. It is not about a specific actor or regime.”18 General Norton Schwartz has said that questions about China’s place in the concept are “unhelpful.”19 However, the consensus of most observers is that “Air-Sea Battle is billed as the answer to growing anti-access/area-denial capabilities generically, but as everyone knows, specifically China,” as former Marine Corps officer J. Noel Williams put it.20 And according to a senior Navy official overseeing the forces modernization efforts, “Air-Sea Battle is all about convincing the Chinese that we will win this competition.”21
Indeed, as far as one can determine, the Pentagon decided to embrace the ASB concept over alternative ways for sustaining U.S. military power in the region that are far less likely to lead to escalation. One such is the “war-at-sea” option, a strategy proposed by Jeffrey Kline and Wayne Hughes of the Naval Postgraduate School, which would deny China use of the sea within the first island chain (which stretches from Japan to Taiwan and through the Philippines) by means of a distant blockade, the use of submarine and flotilla attacks at sea, and the positioning of expeditionary forces to hold at-risk islands in the South China Sea. By foregoing a mainland attack, the authors argue that the war-at-sea strategy gives “opportunities for negotiation in which both sides can back away from escalation to a long-lasting, economically disastrous war involving full mobilization and commitment to some kind of decisive victory.”22 In the same vein, the “Offshore Control Strategy” put forward by National Defense University’s T. X. Hammes, “seeks to use a war of economic attrition to bring about a stalemate and cessation of conflict” by establishing a distant blockade and a maritime exclusion zone within the first island chain, while dominating the sur-rounding waters “to ensure the continued flow of trade to our allies while tightening the blockade against China.”23 This would not bring a decisive victory, but would allow the United States to achieve its objectives of protecting its allies and maintaining free access to sea lanes, while giving China space to back down.
Several defense analysts in the United States and abroad, not least in China, see ASB as being highly provocative. Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright stated in 2012 that, “AirSea Battle is demonizing China. That’s not in anybody’s interest.”24 An internal assessment of ASB by the Marine Corps commandant cautions that “an Air-Sea Battle-focused Navy and Air Force would be preposterously expensive to build in peace time” and if used in a war against China would cause “in-calculable human and economic destruction.”25
Several critics point out that ASB is inherently escalatory and is likely to accelerate the arms race in the Asia-Pacific. China must be expected to respond to the imple-mentation of ASB by accelerating its own military buildup. Chinese Colonel Gauyue Fan stated that, “If the U.S. military develops AirSea Battle to deal with the [People’s Liberation Army], the PLA will be forced to develop anti-AirSea Battle.”26 Moreover, Raoul Heinrichs, from the Australian National University, points out that “by creating the need for a continued visible presence and more intrusive forms of surveillance in the Western Pacific, AirSea Battle will greatly increase the range of circumstances for maritime brinkmanship and dangerous naval incidents.”27
Other critics argue that ASB operates in a strategic vacuum. Hammes maintains that “ASB is the antithesis of strategy. It focuses on the tactical employment of weapons systems with no theory of victory or concept linking the Air-Sea approach to favorable conflict resolution.”28 Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institutes agrees that, “ASB is an operational concept detached from a strategy… As a result, the U.S. is both making commitments to Asia that it may not be able to afford and articulating a high-risk operational doctrine that does not answer basic strategic questions.”29
As I see it, the implied strategy is clear: ASB planners aim to make the United States so clearly powerful that not only would China lose if it engaged militarily, but it would not consider engaging because the United States would be sure to win. Krepinevich holds that ASB achieves both deterrence through denial, “designed to convince a would-be aggressor that he cannot achieve his objective, so there is no point in trying,” as well as deterrence through punishing, “designed to persuade him that even though he may be able to achieve his objective, he will suffer so much as a result that his anticipated costs will outweigh his gains.”30 The imagined result of ASB is the ability to end a conflict with China in much the same way the United States ended WWII: The U.S. military defeats China and dictates the surrender terms.
This military strategy, which involves threatening to defeat China as a military power, is a long cry from containment or any other strategies that were seriously considered in the context of confronting the USSR after it acquired nuclear arms. The essence of the Cold War was mutual deterrence, and the conflict was structured around red lines that not only the Warsaw Pact forces were not to cross (e.g., by moving into the NATO controlled areas) but that the NATO forces were also committed to respect by not crossing into the Soviet realm that included Eastern Europe and East Germany. (This is the reason the United States did not help the freedom fighters who rose against the Communist regimes in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.) First strike (nuclear) strategies were foresworn and steps were taken to avoid a war precipitated by miscommunications, accidents, or miscalculations. In contrast, ASB requires that the United States be able to take the war to the mainland with the goal of defeating China, which quite likely would require striking first. Such a strategy is nothing short of a hegemonic intervention.
When Andrew Krepinevich suggested that ASB is simply seeking to maintain stability in the Asia-Pacific, he was asked if this “stability” really meant continued U.S. hegemony in the area. He chuckled and responded, “well, the nations in the area have a choice: either we are number one or China [is]—and they prefer us.”31 Actually, most of the nations in the area prefer playing the big powers against each other rather than joining a particular camp. They greatly benefit from trade and investment from China and, at the same time, most are quite keen to receive security backing from the United States. And they realize that in a case of conflict between the United States and China, they stand to lose a great deal. (A common saying in the area: “When the elephant and tiger rumble, the grass gets trampled.”) Most important, one must ask if there are other strategies that do not operate on the assumption that our dealings with China represent a zero-sum game. For instance, one should consider if there are strategies in which the superpower pursues its interests by accommodating a rising power—especially when this power is mainly a regional one—by allowing it an increased sphere of influence. This is the way Britain, once a superpower that relied greatly on naval power, accommodated a rising upstart—the United States.
The White House and Congress
To judge by several published reports which will be discussed in greater detail below, including those by government “insiders,” there is no indication—not a passing hint— that the White House has ever considered earnestly preparing the nation for a war with China. Nor is there any evidence that the White House has compared such a strategy to alternatives, and—having concluded that the hegemonic intervention implied by ASB is the course the United States should follow—then instructed the Pentagon to prepare for such a military showdown. Indeed, as far as one can determine at this stage, the White House and State Department have engaged in largely ad hoc debates over particular tactical maneuvers, never giving much attention to the development of a clear underlying China strategy. True, some individuals in the State Department and White House pursued engagement and cooperation, and others advocated ‘tougher’ moves that seem to reflect a vague preference for containment. However, neither approach was embraced as an overarching strategy. The November 2011 presidential announcement that the United States was beginning a “pivot” from the Near to the Far East may at first seem to suggest that a coherent stance on China had coalesced within the administration. We will see shortly that this is not the case.
One major source of information regarding the development of China policy in the Obama White House is an insider’s report fully dedicated to the subject at hand, Obama and China’s Rise by Jeffrey A. Bader. Having served as senior director for East Asian affairs on the National Security Council from January 2009 to April 2011, Bader reports in great detail on how the Obama administration approached China policy. When Obama was still a Senator campaigning in the 2008 election—the same time the Pentagon was launching the ASB mission—his philosophy was to engage the nations of the world rather than confront them; to rely on diplomacy rather than on aggressive, let alone coercive, measures; and to draw on multilateralism rather than on unilateral moves. Following his election, the President’s key staffers report that, with regard to China, containment was “not an option,” nor was the realpolitik of power balancing embraced. Instead, the administration pursued a vague three-pronged policy based on: “(1) a welcoming approach to China’s emergence, influence, and legitimate expanded role; (2) a resolve that a coherent stance on China eventually coalesced to see that its rise is consistent with international norms and law; and (3) an endeavor to shape the Asia-Pacific environment to ensure that China’s rise is stabilizing rather than disruptive.”32
Once in office, the administration’s main China-related policy questions involved economic concerns (especially the trade imbalance, currency manipulation, and the dependence on China for the financing of U.S. debt), North Korea’s development of nuclear arms and missiles, sanctions on Iran, Tibet and human rights, and counterter-rorism. The fact that China was somewhat modernizing its very-backward military is barely mentioned in the book-length report. There is no reference to ASB or to the strategy it implies as being considered, questioned, embraced, or rejected—let alone how it fits into an overarching China strategy, which the Obama administration did not formulate in the first term. Moreover, Bader’s account leaves little doubt that neither the Obama White House nor State Department ever developed a coherent China strategy. In effect, key staff members scoffed at the very idea that such overarching conceptions were of merit or possible (as opposed to reactive responses to ongoing developments). The Obama team, Bader notes, “fine-tun[ed] an approach” that avoided the extremes of, on the one hand, relying “solely on military muscle, economic blandishments, and pressure and sanctions of human rights,” and on the other, pursuing “a policy of indulgence and accommodation of assertive Chinese conduct.”33 Not too hot, not too cold makes for good porridge, but is not a clear guideline for foreign policy. In May 2013, The Economist summarized the administration’s China policy, or lack thereof, reporting, “First dubbed a ‘Pacific pivot,’ the strategy was later rebranded as a ‘rebalancing.’ Vague references in speeches by Mr. Obama’s administration have not been fleshed out by any document (indeed [ ... ] the Pentagon has more detail on China’s strategy than its own).”
A closer reading of these lines, as well as similar statements issued by the administration that were often fashioned as strategic positions, reveals them to be vague and open to rather different interpretations. They seem more like public rationales than guidelines capable of coordinating policies across the various government agencies, let alone reigning in the Pentagon. The overarching ambiguity is captured by Bader, who first reports that, “[f]or China to directly challenge America’s security interest, it would have to acquire ambitions and habits that it does not at present display. The Unites States should not behave in a way that encourages the Chinese to move in that direction.” Then, just pages later, he concludes that “the United States needs to maintain its forward deployment, superior military forces and technological edge, its economic strength and engagement with the region, its alliances, and its enhanced relationships with other emerging powers. Chinese analysts are likely to consider all these traits to be hostile to China.”34
Another book describing the same period, The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Refine American Power, by James Mann, reveals that although President Obama sought to engage China, his administration was increasingly ‘irked’ by various Chinese moves, from its assertive declarations about the South China Sea to the cyber-attacks assumed to originate from within its borders. In response, the Obama Administration is reported to have ‘stiffened’ both its rhetoric and diplomatic stance towards China. For example, in response to Beijing’s pronouncement that the South China Sea represented one of China’s ‘core interests,’ Secretary of State Clinton told an audience at the 2010 ASEAN meeting that freedom of navigation in the seas was a ‘national interest’ of the United States. She also delivered a speech criticizing China’s abuse of Internet freedom and argued that such nations “should face consequences and international condemnation.” It is reported that State Department officials, who generally sought to avoid conflict with China, “absolutely hated” the speech.35 If such a speech caused tensions to flare up in the department, it is not hard to imagine the outcry that would have followed had the administration approved ASB—that is, if it was considered in the first place. Yet in Mann’s account of the period under study there is no reference to either ASB or the strategy it implies—or to what a former Pentagon official called a White House “buy in.”36
A third book covering the same era, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy, confirms with much nuance what the other two books report. It discusses the White House ‘toughening,’ its reaction to what were viewed by many as assertive moves by the Chinese, such as its aggressive action in the South China Sea in 2010, and President Hu Jintao’s refusal to condemn North Korea’s torpedo attack on a South Korean warship.37 Here again, it is reported that the White House and State Department reacted by chang-ing the tone of the speeches. For instance, in a thinly veiled criticism of China, Obama stated in 2011 that “prosperity without freedom is just another form of poverty.”38 The administration also intensified the United States’ participation in ASEAN and the East Asia Summit (EAS) and encouraged—but only indirectly and cautiously—countries in the region to deal with China on a multilateral rather than bilateral basis in resolving territorial disputes. The Obama administration also ramped up U.S. participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, a free trade agreement that at least initially would exclude China, and is thought by many to be a counterbalance to China’s ex-tensive bilateral trade relationships in the region. Furthermore, the president paid of-ficial visits to both Burma and Cambodia—two nations that have distanced themselves from China in recent years. All these are typical diplomatic moves, some of which have economic implications, but not part of a preparation of the kinds of confrontational relationship ASB presumes.
In his book Confront and Conceal, David E. Sanger confirms what these three accounts suggest: the Obama administration never formulated a coherent, consistent, proactive China strategy and its policies were primarily reactive.39 And, this well-placed source also lacks any mention of a review of AirSea Battle and the military strategy it implies.
Congress held a considerable number of hearings about China in 2008 and in the years that followed. However, the main focus of these hearings was on economic issues such as trade, job losses due to com-panies moving them overseas, the U.S. dependency on China for financing the debt, Chinese currency controls, and Chinese violations of intellectual prop-erty and human rights. In his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2012, Admiral Robert F. Willard spoke of the potential challenges posed by China’s A2/AD capabilities, but made no sional China Caucus, wrote to Secretary of Defense Panetta in November 2011 that “[d]espite reports throughout 2011 AirSea Battle had been completed in an executive summary form, to my knowledge Members of Congress have yet to be briefed on its conclusions or in any way made a part of the process.”40 In the same month, Sen. Lieberman (I–CT) co-sponsored an amendment to the Fiscal 2012 Defense Authorization Bill that required a report on the implementation of and costs associated with the AirSea Battle Concept. It passed unanimously, but as of April 2013, such a report has yet to be released.41
In the public sphere there was no debate—led by either think tanks or public intel-lectuals—like that which is ongoing over whether or not to use the military option against Iran’s nuclear program, or the debate surrounding the 2009 surge of troops in Afghanistan. ASB did receive a modicum of critical examination from a small number of military analysts. However, most observers who can spell the ins-and-outs of using drones or bombing Iran—have no position on ASB or its implications for U.S.-China relations and the world order, simply because they do not know about it. A December 11, 2012 search of Google brings up 15,800,000 hits for “U.S. drone strikes”; a search for “AirSea Battle”: less than 200,000. In Googlish, this amounts to being unknown, and suggests this significant military shift is simply not on the wider public’s radar.
The Pivot: An Exception that Proves the Rule
In November 2011, President Obama announced that, with the wars in the Middle East coming to a close, his national security team was to make the U.S. “presence and mission in the Asia-Pacific a top priority.”42 At first blush it might seem that this dramatic change in strategic focus was very much in line with the one the Pentagon has been developing intensely since 2008. In reality, this rebalancing can be interpreted in several ways—none of which support the conclusion that the pivot amounted to an endorsement of ASB.
One possible view of the pivot is that it was very much in line with the President’s long-standing view—one he expressed even before he was elected—that Asia, as the heart of the global economy, was of growing importance to the United States. Hence, as he was freeing the United States from its engagement in Iraq and from Afghanistan, the time had come to shift priorities. Moreover, immediately after declaring the Asia-Pacific a top priority, Obama assured that “reductions in U.S. defense spending will not—I repeat, will not—come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific ... we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.”43 At the same time, the United States secured an agreement with Australia which provided for the rotation of 2,500 Marines through the northern port city of Darwin and announced that 60 percent of the Navy would be positioned in the Pacific by 2020—up from 50 percent moves highlighting that there were indeed a few military accouterments to the pivot.
Critics attacked this take on the pivot from two vantage points. Some saw it as hollow, “all hat and no cattle” as one Texan military officer put it in a private conversation with the author. Sending some 2,500 Marines adds little to overall U.S. forces in the area, which already amount to some 320,000 troops. Some of those Marines are actually being moved away from Okinawa to Australia—some 2,600 miles from China. The re-berthing of a few ships does not display a significant power shift. All the rest of the pivot was—to parrot a criticism often raised against Obama—eloquent talk with little follow-through.
Others see the pivot as merely political maneuvering during an intense election campaign, undertaken to fend off the GOP’s repeated charge that the Democrats are soft on defense. The Obama administration removed U.S. troops from Iraq, but the unstable Iraqi regime—tilting toward Iran and refusing to allow the United States to keep bases in Iraq—made it difficult to present the withdrawal as a victory. The great difficulties the administration encountered in Afghanistan and Pakistan also did not make for a compelling election picture either. Furthermore, the Arab Awakening was looking more and more like a loss for the United States at least in the short run. Nations that used to be reliable allies, in particular Egypt, were (and continue to be) in a state of disarray, and the turmoil in Syria presented the war-weary United States with only poor options. In this context, shifting attention from the Near to the Far East, in which the United States could throw its weight around—at least in the short term—was a safe bet, as long as it involved only a few new outlays and mainly the repositioning of assets already in hand let alone the implementation of the AirSea Battle concept.
Moreover, in November 2012 during the only presidential election debate dedicated to foreign policy, no reference was made to preparations for a war with China. Governor Romney repeatedly stated that he was going to be tougher on China than President Obama by declaring it a currency manipulator on his first day in office—a hard line stance but one focused exclusively on economic matters. President Obama cited the increased trade sanctions bought against China by his administration and said that his “pivot” policy sent a “very clear signal” to China that the United States is and will remain a Pacific power.44 But no more.
In short, however one interprets the “pivot” to Asia, it clearly does not constitute an endorsement, let alone the implementation of the AirSea Battle concept, and the strategy it implies.
I am not arguing that the U.S. military is seeking out war or intentionally usurping the role of the highest civilian authorities. Information about the rise of China as an economic and military power is open to a range of interpretations. And the Pentagon is discharging its duties when it identifies new threats and suggests ways to respond to them. Moreover, civilians—including two Secretaries of Defense—have endorsed ASB and arguably the strategy it implies. But while ASB should not be dismissed on the grounds that it is merely an attempt to secure a mission and funds for the military, there is room to question whether the threats have been overstated and to ask if the Pentagon-favored response is the right strategy. The time has come for the White House and Congress to reassess both the threat and the suggested response.
Four areas ought to be considered in such a review process: (i) While the economy of China does not by itself determine its military strength, it does constrain its options. One would be wise to take into account that China’s per capita GDP is far below that of the United States, and that to maintain support, the Communist Party needs to house, feed, clothe, and otherwise serve four times more people than the United States—on top of dealing with major environmental strains, an aging population, a high level of corruption, and growing social unrest.45 (ii) The military modernization of China often provokes concerns that it is ‘catching up.’ Although it is true that China has increased military spending, the budget for the PLA started well behind that of the U.S. military and China’s defense spending is still dwarfed by that of the United States. (iii) Moreover, whatever its capabilities, China’s intentions are rele-vant. China shows little interest in managing global affairs or imposing its ideology on other nations. Instead, China has shown a strong interest in secur-ing the flow of raw materials and energy on which is economy depends. However, the United States can accommodate this core interest without endan-gering its security by facilitating China’s efforts to secure energy deals in the global marketplace and pathways for the flow of resources (by constructing pipelines, railways, and new ports in places such as Pakistan)—rather than seeking to block them. (iv) Finally, it is widely agreed that the United States can no longer afford to fight two major wars. Hence, one must note that the most urgent threats to U.S. security are—almost all of which can be found in the Near and Middle—not Far—East.46
It is up to the serious media, think tanks, public intellectuals and leaders of social political movements to urge for such a comprehensive review, and to counter the gradual slide toward war that the Pentagon is effecting—even if its intention may well be to promote peace through strength.
– Daniel Tam Claiborne served as Lead Editor for this article.
*Amitai Etzioni is University Professor and Professor of International Affairs at The George Washington University. He is the author of Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human Rights World, Security First, and From Empire to Community. He has served as a Senior Advisor to the White House and as President of the American Sociological Association. He has taught at Columbia, Harvard and Berkeley.
Preserving the American Deterrent
Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press
November/December 2009 Article Summary and Author Biography
The success of nuclear deterrence may turn out to be its own undoing. Nuclear weapons helped keep the peace in Europe throughout the Cold War, preventing the bitter dispute from engulfing the continent in another catastrophic conflict. But after nearly 65 years without a major war or a nuclear attack, many prominent statesmen, scholars, and analysts have begun to take deterrence for granted. They are now calling for a major drawdown of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and a new commitment to pursue a world without these weapons.
Unfortunately, deterrence in the twenty-first century may be far more difficult for the United States than it was in the past, and having the right mix of nuclear capabilities to deal with the new challenges will be crucial. The United States leads a global network of alliances, a position that commits Washington to protecting countries all over the world. Many of its potential adversaries have acquired, or appear to be seeking, nuclear weapons. Unless the world's major disputes are resolved -- for example, on the Korean Peninsula, across the Taiwan Strait, and around the Persian Gulf -- or the U.S. military pulls back from these regions, the United States will sooner or later find itself embroiled in conventional wars with nuclear-armed adversaries.
Preventing escalation in those circumstances will be far more difficult than peacetime deterrence during the Cold War. In a conventional war, U.S. adversaries would have powerful incentives to brandish or use nuclear weapons because their lives, their families, and the survival of their regimes would be at stake. Therefore, as the United States considers the future of its nuclear arsenal, it should judge its force not against the relatively easy mission of peacetime deterrence but against the demanding mission of deterring escalation during a conventional conflict, when U.S. enemies are fighting for their lives...
(4) Senator Joseph Lieberman endorses AirSeaBattle
Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) today delivered the following speech at the Heritage Foundation about U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific:
***As prepared for delivery***
B.C. Lee Lecture on International Affairs Heritage Foundation
November 2, 2011
Thank you, Ed, for that kind introduction, and for your distinguished leadership of the Heritage Foundation over many years. It is always a pleasure to come over to Heritage.
From the Hart Office Building where my Senate office is, I can see the American flag that flies over this building -- a constant reminder to me of the principled, patriotic, and important work that I know is being done every day at Heritage.
I am grateful for the invitation to deliver the B.C. Lee Lecture on International Affairs. Some of our country's most distinguished national security leaders have participated in this lecture series, and I am honored to have the opportunity to follow in their footsteps. I also want to recognize Walter Lohman, the director of the Asian studies program at Heritage, for all his work in organizing today's event.
Over the past decade, the region of the world that has most visibly occupied the attention of American foreign policy has been the greater Middle East. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a day in the life of either President Bush or President Obama during the past ten years in which the Middle East did not play a prominent role -- whether because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Iranian nuclear program, or now the Arab Spring. The Middle East is a part of the world that has been, and remains, the source of some of the most direct and potent threats to our national security. It has also been the subject of some of the most polarizing and partisan debates in our domestic politics.
The Asia-Pacific region, by contrast, has not occupied nearly so prominent a place in our public discourse. But as the old expression goes, still waters run deep.
In fact, for the past several years, under both Presidents Bush and Obama, the U.S. has been pursuing a variety of initiatives that have deepened and strengthened America's presence and engagement across the Asia-Pacific region.
Among the most significant of these measures have been efforts to modernize and expand our historic alliances and partnerships in the region; establish new strategic partnerships with rising powers like India; foster greater trilateral security cooperation -- for instance, among the U.S., Japan and South Korea; conduct enhanced dialogue with China on a range of issues; and embed the U.S. in the evolving multilateral security and economic architecture of the region.
These collective efforts to deepen our presence and engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the past decade have been driven by several real and powerful factors. Most broadly and fundamentally, they reflect a longstanding, bipartisan recognition that America's own security, freedom, and prosperity are inseparably intertwined with the future of the Asia-Pacific region. This is a consensus that has tied together not only the Bush and Obama presidencies, but multiple administrations of both parties since the late 1940s.
As former Defense Secretary Bob Gates rightly put it during his final appearance at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore in June, "The commitment and presence of the United States as a Pacific nation has been one of relatively few constants amidst the furious changes in the region over the past half-century."
America's deepening engagement also reflects the recognition that as countries in the Asia-Pacific region have experienced extraordinary economic growth over the past several decades, there have opened new opportunities for us to work together to build a freer, safer, and more prosperous world that will benefit them and us. Having reaped the rewards of an international system that has enabled their rise, the successful countries of the Asia-Pacific region now have both a self-interest and a responsibility to help reinforce and sustain that system.
Indeed, when it comes to dealing with a host of global challenges -- whether supporting democratic transitions in the Middle East, managing the global economy, responding to large-scale natural disasters, or putting pressure on rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea -- the contributions and cooperation of countries in the Asia-Pacific region have been, and increasingly will be, absolutely indispensable.
But America's deepening engagement and presence in Asia is also driven by another factor -- the shifting geopolitics within the Asia-Pacific region itself.
It's useful here to take a step back. As I noted, the extraordinary economic growth that has characterized the Asia-Pacific region in recent decades did not happen by accident. It was made possible because of a particular set of international conditions. These include a worldwide system of free and open commerce, access to the global commons by all, freedom of navigation, and the principle that disputes among nations should be resolved without coercion or use of force. What has underwritten and guaranteed these rules and principles in the Asia-Pacific region is not simply mutual goodwill among nations, but a very specific balance of military power there.
The fact is that it has been the predominance of American military power in the Asia-Pacific that has been the ultimate guarantor of the international rules and conditions that have facilitated the explosive economic growth of countries in this region, which in turn has enabled literally hundreds of millions of people to emerge from poverty. By providing a climate of international security and assured access to the global commons, the U.S. military has tempered destabilizing regional rivalries and allowed countries to focus instead on building their economies and expanding trade -- good for them and good for us.
This was precisely the hope and intention of the wise men who, at the dawn of the Cold War, established the American security architecture for this region. As President Harry Truman said in 1951: "In the Pacific, as in other parts of the world, social and economic progress is impossible unless there is a shield which protects men from the paralysis of fear." For six decades, the U.S. military -- through its constellation of bases, forward-deployed assets, and close cooperation with key counterparts -- has provided that shield.
The result has been one of the great success stories of American foreign policy and of human history. As a consequence, the Asia-Pacific region today is more prosperous, more secure, and more free than ever before.
The balance of power in the region, however, is also under growing strain. Paradoxically, it has been the miraculous economic growth made possible by this balance of power that has facilitated the rise of one country -- China -- whose government many in the Asia-Pacific region now fear is prepared to use its economic wealth to challenge this regional balance of power.
Let me be clear. I do not think that a destabilizing security competition with China is inevitable. On the contrary, the emergence of a strong and prosperous China can be a real plus for the entire world; reinforcing the international system that China, as much as any other country, has benefited from. Already China's extraordinary economic growth has allowed hundreds of millions of its own people to escape poverty while simultaneously creating opportunities for millions more around the world. We also should note, with appreciation and encouragement, the contributions China has made in recent years to international efforts to address problems like piracy off the coast of Africa, and we should seek to engage China in more cooperative activities of that kind.
At the same time, it is impossible to overlook the fact that -- in comparison to just a few years ago -- there is markedly greater anxiety today among virtually all of China's neighbors about Beijing's conduct, capabilities, and intentions. In my personal experience, China has now become issue number one that political and policy leaders around the Asia-Pacific region want to discuss. That was not the case a decade ago.
Much of this uneasiness is traceable to China's continuing military build-up -- in particular, the development of so-called anti-access and area-denial capabilities. These are sophisticated weapons systems -- including precision-guided cruise and ballistic missiles, submarines, anti-satellite weapons, and cyber-capabilities -- that directly challenge the ability of the U.S. military to carry out its traditional role as a security guarantor in the Western Pacific and thereby unsettle the established military balance there.
Sometimes it is said that China's military spending is an inevitable consequence of its rise, but the experience of other countries in the Asia-Pacific region suggests otherwise. India, for instance, is another Asian great power that has experienced spectacular economic growth over the past two decades and lies outside the U.S. treaty system. But while India is modernizing its military, it has notably not chosen to invest in the kind of anti-access, area-denial capabilities that China has prioritized. That is perhaps one reason why India's rise has not provoked the sort of anxieties in the region that have become associated with China.
These concerns have been further exacerbated over the past three years by what has been characterized as China's "new assertiveness." While for many years Chinese foreign policy followed Deng Xiaoping's admonition to "bide time," "keep a low profile," and "hide one's capabilities," Beijing has adopted a very different approach as of late; employing heavy-handed tactics in territorial disputes with a broad swath of its neighbors -- from the South China Sea to Arunchal Pradesh. These actions have raised worrying questions, not just in Asia, but around the world about how China will exercise its influence as it grows more powerful in the years ahead.
It is especially striking that these tensions between China and its neighbors have ratcheted up at the same time that cross-strait relations with Taiwan have settled down. This strongly suggests that the argument, once quite popular in Washington, that China's rise will be free of turbulence unless there is a flare-up over Taiwan is far too simplistic.
Now, what does all of this mean for U.S. policy?
First and foremost, it means that uneasiness about China is causing unprecedented demand for American engagement, presence, and leadership across the Asia-Pacific. Rather than pushing the United States out of the region, as some predicted, China's rise is for the moment opening new doors for Washington, militarily and economically, as countries along Beijing's broad periphery look for U.S. help in shoring up the regional balance of power.
In my opinion, this is a window of strategic opportunity that will not remain open indefinitely. If the U.S. is not responsive to the voices we hear in the region calling for greater engagement, some countries may conclude that Washington is no longer a credible partner and either seek accommodation with China, or pursue their own alternative balancing strategies, which could be strategically destabilizing for the region.
To be clear, I am not talking about a Soviet-style containment strategy of China. No one in the Asia-Pacific region wants that, including the United States.
Nor am I advocating that we scale back our engagement with China. On the contrary, we must continue to seek every opportunity to pursue dialogue and interaction with Beijing; so that we can try to eliminate sources of misunderstanding, reduce the risks of miscalculation, and offer China the opportunity to join other responsible stakeholders in upholding and strengthening the regional and international order that has made possible its rise. That would include expanding on our current naval cooperation with China against piracy and exploring joint patrols of sea lanes.
In our engagement with China, however, we must work with and through our allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific -- putting to rest any notion that the United States would consider a so-called "G-2" arrangement with Beijing.
We must also make absolutely clear that the U.S. is committed to the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific and to our friends and partners there, and that we will never be pushed out of the region or into a secondary or transient role. Indeed, this was the message delivered last week by Defense Secretary Panetta during his inaugural visit to the region. As he put it while in South Korea: "The United States of America is a Pacific power... We will not only remain a Pacific power, but we will strengthen our presence in this area. We are here to stay."
In order to make this commitment both clear and credible, I strongly believe additional actions are necessary.
First, American power is clearly inseparable from the strength of the American economy, and this is especially true in Asia. That is why our friends and allies in the Asia-Pacific look upon our current federal government's current fiscal mess with such deep concern. Indeed, it was also lost on no one in Asia that China's new foreign policy "assertiveness" started soon after the 2008 American financial meltdown.
Consequently, it is vital both for our own economic future and our national security that we start tackling the structural problems that threaten our country's long-term fiscal health, including the difficult entitlement and tax reforms we need.
Second, hard power matters in Asia. There is no better illustration of the potentially catastrophic consequences of deep cuts to the Pentagon budget than the dynamic security environment in the Western Pacific, where Ronald Reagan's dictum of peace through strength remains very much true today.
Even under the most optimistic scenarios, however, it is also clear that our military is going to be required to do more, with less, over the next several years. As we weigh trade-offs and assign priorities, ensuring that our military is able to continue to project power in the Western Pacific and maintain the ability to deter China from acts of aggression or coercion in that region must be at the very top of our priority list.
In this respect, it is important to recognize that preserving a stable, favorable military balance in the Asia-Pacific ultimately is going to require more than just protecting investments in particular capabilities and weapons systems -- although that is certainly important. Rather, it will require the development of new concepts of operations, doctrine, and strategy that tie these systems into a coherent whole.
One promising framework for doing this is a new concept being developed by the U.S. Navy and Air Force, called "Air Sea Battle." Although still in its infancy, Air Sea Battle has the potential to drive innovations in our military's planning, operations, and procurement to neutralize the anti-access, area-denial capabilities being fielded by the Chinese military.
Maintaining the military balance in Asia also demands that we find ways to deepen, broaden, and harden our force posture across the region. That means keeping U.S. forces in Japan and South Korea as long as the democratically-elected governments in Tokyo and Seoul want us there. It also means looking for new arrangements -- not necessarily permanent American bases, but long-term access to joint facilities, more port calls and exercises... in short, more American presence on the seas, in the skies, and on the ground.
Finally, this is a moment to take our defense and security cooperation with our Asian friends to whole new levels, helping to build greater capacity and interoperability among both longstanding allies like Japan, South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines, as well as with new partners like India, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
In addition to these military measures, the U.S. also needs an ambitious, forward-looking, and strategically-minded trade policy for the Asia-Pacific region. While countries in the region are eager to enjoy the opportunities created by China's growth, they also worry about growing overly-dependent on Beijing. In this respect, the strategic balance they seek is not only military, but also economic. As CNAS scholar Richard Fontaine recently observed, "In Asia, where the business of the region is quite often business, Washington's trade posture is a key sign of its presence and continued commitment to the region."
In this respect, it is to the credit of President Obama that he abandoned his initial opposition to the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement after coming to office, and worked hard to secure its passage. This was a very significant accomplishment, but the fact remains that the U.S. has not yet signed a single new FTA during the Obama Administration. According to one recent analysis, more than 300 trade agreements have either been concluded or being negotiated in the Asia-Pacific, but none of which include the United States.
It is not, however, too late. The Obama Administration has pledged to push forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which would liberalize trade with eight Pacific Rim countries. This is a promising American initiative and must be treated as nothing less than a national security priority, but more is also required. In particular, it is past time for Washington to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with Taiwan, whose commerce with mainland China is arguably now more free than its trade with the U.S. In addition, we must redouble our efforts to conclude a Bilateral Investment Treaty with India, with the clearly stated goal of concluding a full FTA with New Delhi before the decade is out.
And while we are thinking of bold new steps, we should also actively explore the possibility of an FTA with Japan, which would be a true game changer for the region.
In our foreign policy in the Asian Pacific, the United States also must never shy from standing by our values. The fact is, America's leadership in the world is guided by more than the pursuit of alignments of commercial or security interests. It is rooted in our national values and principles like democracy, rule of law, and human rights that we believe are universal -- an assessment that is shared by many of our friends in Asia.
Indeed, India's prime minister has called liberal democracy "the natural order of social and political organization in today's world." He is absolutely right. Consider that, sixty-five years ago, there were only two Asia-Pacific democracies: Australia and New Zealand. Today, more people live under democratic government in the Asia-Pacific region than in any other part of the world. From South Korea to the Philippines, and from Taiwan to Indonesia, the past three decades have witnessed an extraordinary expansion of freedom's reach and rule.
On the one hand, this creates enormous opportunities to pursue values-based diplomacy with our Asia-Pacific partners, working to promote democracy, rule of law, and human rights, both in this region and around the world.
On the other hand, we also should not hesitate to challenge governments that violate these principles, including China, where human rights conditions have notably worsened over the past two years in what appears to be a heightened crackdown on dissent. When journalists, civil society activists, and artists are imprisoned for exercising universally-recognized rights, when religious and ethnic minorities are oppressed for upholding their beliefs and culture, when rule of law is flouted -- the United States and our partners must speak out.
Let me conclude my remarks today by returning to the place I began -- namely, the greater Middle East.
It has recently become fashionable in some quarters to argue that, in order for the U.S. to succeed in the coming "Pacific century," we must turn away from the Middle East, where we have spent so much blood and treasure over the course of the past decade.
In my opinion, this is a false choice -- and a dangerous one.
To be sure, a greater share of U.S. resources and attention will be shifting eastward in the years ahead. But as that occurs, we must acknowledge that both of these great regions are critical for our national security. We must be cognizant of the deep and profound linkages that tie the future of the Middle East with that of the rest of the Asian continent.
These linkages are not always apparent in Washington, but consider, for instance, the view from New Delhi, where the Indian government has a vital national interest in the outcome of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan and the related effort to end Pakistan's sponsorship of Islamist terrorist groups. The notion that the U.S. might disengage from Afghanistan and Pakistan in order to "pivot" towards Asia would be viewed by India, one of our most important Asian partners, very threatening.
Likewise, consider the view from Beijing, where authorities earlier this year made the sale of the jasmine flower contraband, after Tunisia's democratic revolutionaries adopted it as the emblem of their uprising against an autocratic regime. This illustrates the way in which the Chinese government very much sees a connection between the cause of democratic self-government in the Middle East and in China -- and they are right to do so.
Finally, consider the view from any country in the Asia-Pacific region that counts itself an ally of the United States, and whose security therefore ultimately rests on America's pledge to come to its defense against aggression. For these countries and their governments, America's abandonment of an ally anywhere in the world, in the face of a tough fight, cannot help but be a source of grave and destabilizing alarm, raising questions about America's reliability and staying power in the Asia-Pacific as well.
The simple truth of the matter is that American power and leadership in the world is ultimately indivisible. That is why we cannot hope to be effective in the Asia-Pacific if we retreat or disengage from the Middle East. Success on one side of Asia will reinforce success on the other; the same is true of failure. It is only by matching our principles to our power in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific alike that we can secure the future of freedom and prosperity that our people and the people of Asia deserve and demand. That is the opportunity, and the responsibility, we face as we begin the second decade of the 21st century. We can and must seize it.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
# # # 1:10 AM 385 Views
Like the Holy Trinity or the designated hitter rule, the concept known as AirSea Battle has been much discussed but little understood. The Defense Department released an official and unclassified summary of the concept for the first time this evening on a Navy website . (BreakingDefense got the document before it was made public). AirSea Battle would break down longstanding barriers: barriers to cooperation among the four armed services, barriers separating domains of conflict like submarine warfare and cyberspace, and, most problematically, barriers that have kept past crises from escalating to greater destruction and even, ultimately, to nuclear war.
Over a decade ago, Chinese military theorists started talking about “unrestricted warfare.” AirSea Battle is unrestricted warfare, American style. It’s central to a Pacific nightmare scenario with China, to reopening the Persian Gulf if it were blockaded by Iran, and to waging interservice budget battles in Washington. It’s been dissected by thinktanks, criticized by Sinophile strategists, and alternately envied and imitated by the Army. Yet unlike its acknowledged inspiration, the Army-Air Force concept of AirLand Battle against the Soviet Union, AirSea Battle remains more vague than vivid. Part of the problem is so much of it is classified, part is that the idea is still evolving, but some of the blame must fall on the Air Force and Navy, the concept’s chief proponents, who have never articulated it all that well in public – that is, until now:
Back in September, Rep. Randy Forbes, an advocate of AirSea Battle and chairman of the House armed Services seapower and emerging forces subcommittee, wrote an op-ed for us urging the services to come out with “an unclassified version of the AirSea Battle concept.” Nine months after Forbes’s entreaty and almost four years after then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates officially tasked the Air Force and Navy – joined belatedly by the Army and Marines – to develop the AirSea Battle idea, we finally have an unclassified explanation of what it actually is. Better yet, with some context and a little parsing of military jargon (which we’ll try to do here), this summary is remarkably lucid.
Start with the basics. AirSea Battle began as, and remains, an attempt to solve the operational problem known in clunky Pentagon jargon as Anti-Access/Area Denial or (even worse) A2/AD. In essence, anti-access is how an enemy keeps US forces out of a region altogether, area denial is how they bog us down once we get there, but the two inevitably overlap.
Adversaries have obviously tried to keep us out and bog us down before. The new danger, however, is that technologies that were once an American monopoly are now proliferating to China and then onwards to anyone who can buy weapons from China, which is basically anybody who’s got the cash. So after decades of US forces being able to fly, sail, and drive more or less anywhere they wanted (even roadside bombs, for all the casualties they inflict, never actually stopped us moving around Afghanistan or Iraq), we increasingly have to worry about sophisticated weapons that can reach out and touch us at long range, from “a new generation of cruise, ballistic, air-to-air, and surface-to-air missiles” (in the summary’s words) to anti-satellite and cyber attacks.
That said, the summary goes on, “even low-technology capabilities, such as rudimentary sea mines, fast-attack small craft, or shorter range artillery and missile systems” can keep us from stopping aggression “in certain scenarios” which they decline to name. (One much-discussed example, though, would be an Iranian attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz to oil shipping). But it’s the high-tech threats, especially ballistic missiles and cyberattacks, that worry strategists most, not only because they could keep the US from intervening in a regional crisis but because they could enable an enemy to strike the United States itself. As the summary warns, “even the U.S. homeland cannot be considered a sanctuary.”
What the new document makes clear, in a way it has not been clear before (at least to me), is how the US military intends to respond. In essence, if an enemy can now reach out and touch us in ways and at distances they never could before, we’re going to find all sorts of ways to reach out and touch them back.
The document describes this as a “cross-domain” “attack in depth” using “both kinetic and non-kinetic means.” In plain English, this means we won’t just sit back and defend ourselves. We won’t just try to shoot down enemy missiles after they launch, block cyberattacks once they’re already underway, or jam sensors that are already scanning us, although all those defensive activities are certainly necessary. Nor will we just respond tit-for-tat, with our airplanes shooting down the airplanes that attack us, our ships shooting at their ships, our cyberwarriors hacking theirs, although such “symmetrical” forms of fighting remain important, too.
Instead, we’ll throw all sorts of wrenches into the enemy war machine at every possible point, what the top officers of the Air Force and Navy, Gen. Mark Welsh and Adm. Jonathan Greenert, called in an article they co-wrote “breaking the kill chain.” Of course you should try to shoot down the enemy missile once it’s launched. But it’s much better to blow up the launcher before it actually launches, or to blind the radar that’s trying to find you, or, best of all, crash the enemy communications network that is orchestrating the attack in the first place, whether by blowing up their headquarters, jamming their wireless datalinks, or hacking their computers. Instead of trying to shoot down an enemy satellite, just bomb the ground control station to which it’s transmitting data, or better yet hack into that data stream to feed the enemy false information.
Instead of fighting fire with fire, in other words, throw water on it, or sand. As the summary puts it, “cyber or undersea operations can be used to defeat air defense systems, air forces can be used to eliminate submarine or mine maritime threats, or space assets can be used to disrupt adversary command and control.”
Here’s where it gets difficult, of course. All these capabilities answer to different commanders in the theater. Back home, they are all organized, trained, and equipped by four different armed services, each one further subdivided into its own stovepiped fiefdoms.
Overcoming these barriers even partially has been a decades-long struggle for what the military calls jointness. It took 20 years, for example, just to get Air Force and Navy aircraft to work properly together. Back in the 1991 Gulf War couriers had to fly the strike plans between airbases ashore and carriers at sea because the two services’ transmission systems were not compatible. Since the 1980s debacles of Desert One and Grenada, which prompted Congress to pass the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act over the objections of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Navy Secretary John Lehman, there has been tremendous progress.
In the current conflict, Army and Marine ground troops have worked together closely in Afghanistan, and Air Force and Navy planes provided close air support to both. But that’s still a long way from, for example, a Navy pilot over the West Pacific needing an enemy radar shut down in a hurry and getting an Army signals officer at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland to hack into it for him, on demand in a life or death situation. Yet that seems to be precisely the kind of thing that AirSea Battle envisions.
“The purpose of ASB is not to simply conduct operations more jointly,” the summary says sweepingly. “Commanders, whether defending or attacking, must have ready access to capabilities, no matter what domain they reside in or which commander owns them.” (The staggeringly infelicitous term the document uses to describe this concept is “networked, integrated forces capable of attack-in-depth to disrupt, destroy and defeat adversary forces (NIA/D3).” Let’s all pray that one never catches on; anti-access/area denial is bad enough).
That kind of intimate cooperation can’t be imposed by the joint theater commanders on their own, and it needs more than just better communications networks. It requires, instead, new “procedures [and] authorities” to let those operational commanders reach across traditional lines of jurisdiction and bring in capabilities they need. (The document doesn’t say, but such changes would require new Pentagon policies and perhaps new laws, developments we’ll be watching for and writing about).
This new jointness also must reach all the way back into the core of the armed services’ jurisdictions, into how troops are trained, units organized, and equipment developed and procured. The services need “mutually developed capability gaps” – i.e. a shared official analysis of the problem – and “integrated solution sets” – i.e. a shared official program to solve it. That kind of coordination would require require changes in how the services train to fight and could affect every defense contract for items more complex than combat boots.
As awe-inspiring as the ensuing turf wars will be, however, they’re not nearly as scary as the real wars. Tit-for-tat, unimaginative “symmetrical” combat – my planes dogfight your planes, my subs hunt your subs – is not a particularly effective way of winning conflicts. But it is at least modestly effective at controlling escalation. Both sides know, more or less, what to expect: If we do X, the other guy will probably do Y or Z, and Z is pretty bad, so maybe we don’t want to do X, after all.
Predictable, symmetrical responses are a big part of why the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example, did not lead to war. The Soviets put missiles in Cuba, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff advised bombing the missile sites, but Kennedy realized Russians would strike back. So instead we used our ships to stop their ships that were trying to bring more missiles in. It was a near-run thing, but it worked, and no one got blown up. Conversely, using new weapons and tactics can provoke people to retaliate in ways you don’t expect. The Germans thought a proportionate response to the Royal Navy’s blockade of German ports would be for U-boats to sink every ship bound for Britain, including neutral ones, but Woodrow Wilson disagreed, which is why the US ended up entering World War I.
In the future AirSea Battle, that “cross-domain attack in depth using both kinetic and non-kinetic means” makes the old rulebook irrelevant. If, during some crisis over Taiwan or the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands, for example, missile launchers on the Chinese coast threaten our ships in the Western Pacific, the Chinese would certainly expect us to try to shoot down any missiles when and if they’re actually launched. But if a missile launcher is about to fire on our ships and we preemptively bomb it, is that proportional use of force or irresponsible escalation? If we strike a missile site on the Chinese mainland to protect our ships, should we expect the Chinese to retaliate against our Pacific Fleet or against Los Angeles?
Or what if, instead, we neutralize the missile threat before it ever launches, let’s say by hacking the Chinese satellite in orbit that spots our ships or the Chinese computers in Beijing that coordinate the attack? Does such a cyber-offensive count as an escalatory, inflammatory threat against the core of their national command-and-control system? Or, since nobody got hurt and nothing blew up, is it not even an act of war? If you want a chance of keeping a conflict from escalating, each side had better understand what the other considers escalation – and the fight for cyberspace has, by some measures, already begun.
It is unnervingly unclear how thoroughly the people working on AirSea Battle have thought this out. Admittedly, they’re only four years into it, and it took us much longer to work out nuclear deterrence in the Cold War.
“The argument goes both ways,” wrote one Navy officer, who’s read the classified version of the concept, in an email exchange with me today. “[You can argue either] because we are more capable (with ASB), we have a better deterrent and can avoid conflicts, or, because we are more capable, the adversary is forced to resort to nuclear weapons sooner.”
“The ASB concept assumes nuclear deterrence holds (which I know some think is a poor assumption),” the officer acknowledged. That means hard thinking about the risks of escalation “may not be as prominent in ASB discussions as some would like.”
None of this is to say that AirSea Battle is a bad idea, or inherently escalatory, or even primarily about fighting China. “The Concept is not an operational plan or strategy for a specific region or adversary,” the summary insists, as Pentagon officials have for years. When I asked Rep. Forbes and his staff about escalation, they agreed: “Air-Sea Battle is a limited operational concept; it is not a doctrine, a military strategy, or a warfighting plan” against any particular country, Forbes responded in an emailed statement.
While people may laugh behind their hands at these denials, there is some truth in them. We do need to think about fighting China, because the People’s Liberation Army is the forcing function, the cutting-edge example of an anti-access/area denial threat. But while it is unlikely we will ever go to war with China, it is very likely we will have to fight someone, somewhere who has imitated China and even bought their equipment and learned from Hezbollah’s battles with Israel. It’s similar to how we fought Soviet-equipped armies in Iraq and Vietnam without ever fighting the Soviets themselves. We put tanks and planes and missiles in Western Europe, organized according to the AirLand Battle doctrine, not to provoke the Soviet Union into attacking but to deter it.
The ideal for AirSea Battle would likewise be to deter conflict, not to escalate it. “As for escalation, the potential is there in any conflict, but I don’t see the ASB concept as directly affecting the chances either way,” the officer went on. “The sensitive game of ‘know your enemy,’ strategic posturing and messaging, and calculated risk-taking still apply as always.”
To play that game, of course, it helps for both sides to know the rules, which is precisely why official documents like this one matter. They don’t just lay out AirSea Battle for the benefit of Washington pundits. A key audience for this document is the Chinese political and military leaders. It helps inform Iranian, North Korean, and other foreign policymakers as well.
“The ongoing confusion about the actual scope of ASB is exactly why it is so important for DoD to carefully articulate the limited nature of this concept,” Rep. Forbes told me. “I have consistently argued that the success of ASB will depend not just on its implementation within the Department of Defense, but also our ability to effectively communicate its true intent to both allies and adversaries alike.”
By Harry Kazianis
With the AirSea Battle Office's recent document laying out in greater detail this important operational concept, one would think most would have a good grasp on this important topic.
For the last several years, debate has raged in a variety of national security circles. Various pundits have argued against the concept as highly escalatory risking even greater tensions in the U.S.-China relationship. Despite ample disclosures from the U.S. military and the scholarly community, there still seems to be confusion concerning what AirSea Battle (ASB) is, what it is not, and its possible effects on the future of modern warfare.
First, let's clearly state what ASB is: an operational concept (as pointed out by M. Scott Weaver), not a battle plan or a blueprint to fight a war or even conduct a military campaign. According to Milan Vego, an operational concept "is used to refer to the application of military power within a certain framework, regardless of the objective to be accomplished. It does not pertain to a specific level of war, and is generic or universal in nature." So while ASB would predominately be a guiding operational concept targeting the Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) capabilities of states like China and Iran, it certainly would never be a fully conceptualized battle plan. AirSea Battle would be used in various scenarios to gain and maintain access to a contested combat zone or theatre of operations. Other military objectives as part of a larger battle plan would call for other tactics, fighting likely across multiple domains (land, air, sea, cyber and space), utilizing various plans or strategies. Simply stated: ASB is only one piece of a larger puzzle when it comes to 21st century warfare.
Second, ASB must be understood as a reaction to a unique military problem -- but not all problems U.S. forces may need to confront in the future. Just as the revolution in military affairs (RMA) brought about the age of smart bombs, stealth fighters, network-centric warfare and combat forces that can communicate and wage battle with an ever increasing level of "jointness," a counter-revolution has also been building. Nations who find themselves at odds with the U.S. have looked for ways to compete asymmetrically with Washington's impressive military power. Many have come to the conclusion that denying access or creating a challenging environment for U.S. forces to operate in across multiple domains thanks to the proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles, ultra-quiet conventional submarines, sea mines, and cyber warfare is the only way to compete with the arsenal of a superpower. This is the challenge that ASB seeks to negate.
Cleary though, A2/AD is not the only challenge America will face in the years to come. Domestic and international terrorism, climate change challenges, natural disasters, and hostile non-state actors must all be part of U.S. military contingency planning.
Third, since we do not have access to the classified version of ASB, we will never know for sure how this operational concept will be rolled into a battle plan. However, one of the main critiques of ASB, that it could allow for airstrikes on mainland China with the possible threat of a conflict going nuclear, must be looked at through the prism of modern war. Yes, there is a possibility that American planners in various scenarios could advocate for such strikes. However, equally frightening, many scholars who study China's A2/AD strategy see the possibility of Beijing launching massive conventional ballistic and cruise missile strikes against U.S. and allied bases in Okinawa, the home islands of Japan, and possibly Guam and others in a first strike in various scenarios. Simply stated: any conflict between China and the United States where A2/AD and ASB go head to head would be a frightening affair -- with ghastly consequences globally that should not be taken lightly.
Fourth, and perhaps most important of all, cyber will eventually become the most important domain of modern warfare, and an area where ASB must link all domains together to create the ultimate advantage over asymmetrical competitors. With the modern battlefield interlinked together like never before, losing control over cyberspace on any level could create a situation where a would be aggressor puts in play all other domains of the modern battlefield. If an opponent were able to strike U.S. command and control (C2) with malware or a virus that cripples the ability to communicate between combatant commanders and their superiors or took away the ability to track enemy movements, the damage to combat operations and lives lost would be incalculable. In the years to come, cyber will be the most important domain for competing forces to control as it will have vast influence over all others. For ASB to be an effective strategy, the proper resources, training, and staffing must be ensured so cyber does not become a domain of doom for U.S. war fighters. Thankfully, the latest ASB document clearly makes cyber a top priority.
Truthfully, an operational concept cannot cover all contingencies and is never perfect. Yet, ASB's goal is to solve the problem posed by A2/AD allowing battlefield commanders to gain and maintain access and achieve wider military goals. There is no gentle way to solve such a challenge as nations crafting anti-access strategies have developed strategies that attempt to keep parties away from contested areas. Fighting the U.S. symmetrically would be suicide. A2/AD is an attempt to level the playing field -- but we must remember what ASB is and its limited scope of operations. ASB is a response to a unique challenge that is already before us that is not going away, like it or not.
Harry J. Kazianis is a non-resident WSD Handa Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, PACNET. He has previously served as Editor-In-Chief for The Diplomat.
PENTAGON: In intellectual terms, Air-Sea Battle is the biggest of the military’s big ideas for its post-Afghanistan future. But what is it, really? It’s a constantly evolving concept for high-tech, high-intensity conflict that touches on everything from cyberwar to nuclear escalation to the rise of China. In practical terms, however, the beating heart of AirSea Battle is eleven overworked officers working in windowless Pentagon meeting rooms, and the issues they can’t get to are at least as important as the ones they can.
“It’s like being a start-up inside a great, big, rigid corporation,” one Air-Sea Battle representative told me in an exclusive briefing last month. The Air-Sea Battle Office (ASBO) has just 17 staff: those eleven uniformed officers, drawn from all four services, plus six civilian contractors. None of them ranks higher than colonel or Navy captain. Even these personnel are technically “on loan,” seconded from other organizations and paid for out of other budgets. But those 17 people sit at the hub of a sprawling network of formal liaisons and informal contacts across the four armed services and the joint combatant commands.
“Air-Sea Battle has left the building,” said a second officer at the briefing. “We’ve reached the grass roots, and we’re getting ideas from the grass roots.”
So the good news is that the Air-Sea Battle Office isn’t just another big Pentagon bureaucracy, let alone the anti-China cabal it’s sometimes of accused of being. Instead, in essence, it is an effort to develop compatible technologies and tactics across all four services for a new kind of conflict: not the Army and Marine-led land war against low-tech guerrillas we have seen since 9/11, but an Air Force and Navy-led campaign against “anti-access/area denial” forces that could fry our networks, jam GPS, and hit our planes, ships, bases, and even satellites with long-range missiles. China is the worst case scenario here, but not the only one.
The bad news is, precisely because ASBO is not a big bureaucracy, the smart, earnest, small staff of the “start-up” can only really focus on existing weapons and organizations. They are deluged by the near-term nitty gritty of getting existing organizations and weapons programs to work together in a future war. That leaves little time to explore potentially revolutionary new technologies not already embedded in the Pentagon’s seven-year plan, the Program Objective Memorandum (POM). That also leaves them little time to think through the often scary strategic implications of how the next war will be waged.
In fact, the ASBO was very carefully set up not to handle war planning, strategy, or high-level policy. By design, it is only a collaboration between the four armed services – originally just the Air Force and Navy, but now joined by the Army and Marines. It is deliberately distinct from the Joint Staff and the joint combatant commands. “That’s not to say we’re divorced from the Joint Staff, [let alone] fighting against each other,” said one officer, but “the benefit for the service chiefs is they can reach right down to us,” without going through joint intermediaries.
That leaves the Air-Sea Battle Office to focus on the services’ Title X responsibilities to “train, organize, and equip” the force, while leaving how, when, and why to use the force up to the joint world. “We’re working on making sure that a rifle has interchangeable magazines and ammunition,” another officer said, as an analogy. “We’re not worried about how it’s going to be used. Those policy decisions are not really what this office considers.”
It’s not that they’re blind to those bigger issues. Originally, “when the concept was written, we put a boundary on it and we said, ‘hey, we’re not going to address nuclear weapons,’” said another officer. “Since then we’ve realized, ‘hey, we do need to deal with nuclear operations.’”
Most military officers are as reluctant as the rest of us to contemplate nuclear war, and since the Berlin Wall came down, they’ve largely been able to ignore it as we fought relatively low-tech foes. But Air-Sea Battle is driven – though few will say so on the record – by threats from Iran, which may soon have the bomb, from North Korea, which has had it since 2006 and is working on fitting nuclear warheads into an ICBM, and from China, which has had nukes since 1964 and already has a sizable arsenal of nuclear missiles. Air-Sea Battle envisions a clean campaign of precision non-nuclear strikes, but, paradoxically, the more effective such conventional operations become, the more likely a hard-pressed adversary is to resort to nuclear weapons in response.
China, Iran, and the US itself are also all increasingly aggressive in cyberspace, a brave new war whose ramifications are as little understood today as nuclear radiation was in the early 1950s. Unlike nukes, cyber operations – both offensive and defensive – have been at the heart of Air-Sea Battle from the beginning, since it envisions future warfare as a clash not just between missiles, ships, and aircraft but between the computer networks linking them. Why shoot down planes or satellites one at a time when frying the enemy’s network can neutralize all his hardware at once?
Even here, however, the Air-Sea Battle Office keeps its approach carefully and consciously constrained. Wargames have explored what kinds of cyber capabilities might be useful in what scenarios and how quickly military decision makers need to be able to react. But there remain huge unanswered questions about who has the legal authority to do what in a cyber conflict. ASBO makes recommendations, said one officer, but “who makes the decision, ultimately, to authorize the release [of a cyber weapon such as a virus] is not in this office’s wheelhouse.”
Nor has anyone worked out what counts as escalation or provocation in cyberspace. In the nuclear and espionage arenas of the Cold War, the equivalent questions took academics, strategists, and diplomats decades to work out. Cyber conflict is at least as complicated, but if anyone’s working out the game theory, it isn’t the Air-Sea Battle Office.
“We’re providing the capabilities for the combatant commanders so the president has options,” said one officer. “Escalation is a policy decision.”
What ASBO does deal with is scary enough. Air-Sea Battle is typically depicted as a doctrine for long-range exchange of missiles with China in the troubled Western Pacific or with Iran in and around the Persian Gulf: US air and sea forces try to push their way in while battling enemy “anti-access/area denial” (A2/AD) forces trying to keep us out. But that’s just part of it.
To start with, it’s nigh impossible to keep such conflicts safely contained “over there,” in some distant war zone. Any enemy that wants to defeat US forces at its front door must attack the global networks that support them, especially the worldwide “Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance” (C4ISR) system, whose backbone is satellites in orbit.
“There’s no range associated with cyber and space effects,” said one officer, “and the longer and longer range of the sophisticated technologies drives you to be ready when you deploy.” That’s actually an understatement, however. An enemy savvy enough to hack our global computer networks – or just send a suicide bomber to, say, the Navy base in San Diego – can bring our forces under attack before they deploy.
Even in the foreign war zone, US forces won’t start outside the reach of enemy weapons and work their way in, as they did in the Pacific and European campaigns of World War II. Modern cruise and ballistic missiles are so long-ranged that our forward forces may well be inside the enemy’s A2/AD defense zone when the bad guys turn it on.
So even if Iran can’t hack our global networks, our ships in the Gulf and our ground bases in Kuwait, Bahrain, and Qatar may be in missile range as soon as the shooting starts. They’ll be under threat and quite possibly cut off. The same holds for US ships in the Western Pacific and for forces based in South Korea and Japan in a conflict with China. So the opening phases of an Air-Sea Battle may look a lot less like Douglas MacArthur’s island-hopping campaign, with US forces advancing across the Pacific, and much more like MacArthur’s doomed defense of the Philippines, with US forces unprepared, under siege, and fighting for their lives.
This, incidentally, is where the ground forces come in to Air-Sea Battle, not just as targets but as the first line of defense. The Army is responsible for land-based missile defense, so Patriot and THAAD batteries will play a crucial role in defending the Air Force’s forward bases. Even Navy ships at sea may well find it advisable to fall back towards friendly shores so they can augment their own Aegis anti-missile systems with the Army’s land-based defenses. Just getting all these systems to work together is a major technical challenge.
(There’s also a significant minority that wants the Army to revive the offensive intermediate-range ballistic missile capability that it had during the Cold War, albeit this time with non-nuclear warheads, to give missile-shooting enemies a taste of their own medicine).
The Marines don’t do missile defense, but they do provide short-ranged airpower, especially airpower that doesn’t depend on long runways or full-sized aircraft carriers. V-22 Osprey tilt-rotors might rescue downed Air Force and Navy pilots, while F-35B jump jets can operate from roads, parking lots, and other ad hoc airfields too numerous and low-profile for the enemy to easily target, offered one officer.
Both Army and Marine ground troops may also be essential to defending forward bases and missile-defense batteries against terrorist-style strikes, seaborne raiders, or even conventional ground attack. US ground troops may stage their own amphibious strikes to seize sites for new forward bases, which was their main role in the Pacific in World War II. Special operators may slip ashore to pinpoint targets for long-range strikes and to inflict damage and confusion behind the enemy’s front lines.
So while Air-Sea Battle may be mostly about the air and sea, one officer said, “it’s going to interlink with land throughout. You can’t think of a place where you’re going to fight where there isn’t going to be a single atoll, peninsula, or some form of a land mass” that can serve as a forward base for one side or the other.
The trick, of course, will be surviving. Big US bases in Afghanistan and Iraq were immune to anything but harassing fire from the insurgents, but being a large, stationary target in range of sophisticated missiles is another matter. “In Gulf War I [in 1991], we had the SCUD… a land-attack ballistic missile,” said one officer. “We were worried about those, but we weren’t very worried because they weren’t too accurate.” (That said, a single lucky SCUD strike on a US barracks in Dhahran killed 27 soldiers). “With the advances in technology, these systems are now becoming more precise and more lethal.”
As a result, there’s real anxiety among some allies who live inside the range of, for example, Chinese missiles that the US will simply pull back and fight from a safer distance. “One of the questions you commonly get from the Japanese [about Air-Sea Battle is] they wonder if it’s about moving back to a defensible perimeter, withdrawing from the Japanese islands, withdrawing from forward positions,” one officer said. “We’ve told them actually it’s quite the opposite, it’s about being able to maintain forces forward deployed under a threat.”
If we get Air-Sea Battle right, it will reassure friends and deter adversaries. If we get it wrong, though, it will unnerve friends and provoke adversaries instead. The problem is that getting it right depends on much more than tactics and technology – and it’s not clear who, if anyone, is answering the crucial strategic questions.
Edited 6:45 pm
In recent years, U.S. defense experts have focused on the growing "Anti-Access/Area Denial" (A2/AD) challenge from the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). China has developed and deployed military capabilities that undermine the U.S. capacity to project power into China's littoral areas. These include advanced ballistic and cruise missiles, quiet modern submarines, extensive air defenses, and potentially decisive offensive cyber-warfare applications. In a potential worst-case scenario, a highly-coordinated first-strike by China could essentially disarm Taiwan, and also knock U.S. forward bases in the Western Pacific off-line. Because U.S. naval vessels would also be at risk within a contested zone extending off China's coastline, the United States response would be severely limited.
To address this challenge, thinking within some quarters of the Pentagon has seemingly centered on a new operational concept called Air-Sea Battle (ASB). Analogous to the Air-Land Battle concept that envisioned close coordination between U.S. airpower and ground forces to defeat numerically superior Soviet armored forces in Western Europe during the 1980s, ASB would integrate elements of U.S. air and naval power to maintain and expand the capacity of the United States to project power around Taiwan and in China's littoral regions. The Pentagon is quick to assert ASB is an operational concept; not a specific strategy or battle plan focused on any specific nation. However, it is expected to shape and inform the way the Pentagon invests in research and development, procures and deploys new weapons systems, and reconfigures force structures and manpower requirements over the longer-term. As a component of larger U.S. approaches to executing critical missions that address threats to U.S. security interests, ASB would maintain access in contested zones in important regions. It is asserted that this capacity would deter China from future provocation, reassure Taiwan and America's allies in the region, and enhance stability in the event of a political crisis.
As it is presented, Air-Sea Battle is not without potential problems. First, in reality it may be difficult to develop cost-effective technological solutions to overcome China's geographic "home field" advantage vis-à-vis Taiwan. Certain ideas, like ringing China's periphery with new conventional ballistic missiles would seem highly provocative, potentially destabilizing in the event of crisis (both sides may have incentives to strike first), and both excessively costly and diplomatically controversial. The United States is currently prohibited from developing or deploying these types of missiles under the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia, which is similarly constrained. Other programs like a next-generation penetrating bomber to replace the B-2 would also be costly, but may provide the United States with more flexible capabilities and contribute to a wider-range of missions.
Second (and closely related) is that almost any alternative operational approach that seeks to improve U.S. deterrent capabilities is predicated on destroying targets on the Chinese mainland. This, in and of itself, is highly problematic and fraught with danger. Once targets on Chinese soil are hit, the potential for escalation would increase significantly. Under conflict conditions, it may be difficult for Beijing to know what the United States may be targeting and why. If Chinese leaders thought that its own nuclear forces might be at risk or that the United States was committed to regime change, there could be strong incentives to escalate, even to nuclear weapons.
Third, at a fundamental level, China values Taiwan more highly than the United States does. Even if the Pentagon was completely unconstrained in terms of resources and could acquire and deploy all of the components of an Air-Sea Battle approach, neither the expectation of significant punishment nor the potential failure to achieve its maximum political objectives would realistically deter China from launching a punitive campaign against Taiwan in the event that Taipei unilaterally declares independence. The nature of deterrence in the event of a cross-Straits crisis is thus quite different from the challenge confronting the United States and NATO forces in Europe during the Cold War. Air-Sea Battle may be an important starting point in the development of a clearer, more comprehensive understanding of what the United States may require to deter China from attempting to impose its preferred resolution to the status of Taiwan. However, it seems to be a "maximal" approach which is likely to be costly, risky in terms of escalation, and perceived as highly threatening and provocative by Beijing. The United States must develop alternatives to enhance its abilities to deter China while also reassuring Taiwan and U.S. regional allies, and avoiding the dangers of provocation and escalation in the event of a crisis.
2,010 No. 882,010
A new operational concept looks to prepare the US and its allies to deter or defeat Chinese power.
By Richard Halloran
After three Air Force C-130 pilots and crews from Yokota Air Base in Japan finished an exercise called Cope West 10 in Indonesia in April, they wrote up evaluations of Halim Air Base and other airfields from which they had operated, assessing the condition of runways, reliability of electrical supply, safety of fuel storage, and adequacy of parking ramps.
Until now, that would have been a routine report to prepare for the next time American airmen might use Indonesian air bases. With the emergence of a joint Air Force-Navy operational concept called AirSea Battle, however, intelligence on airfields has taken on new significance.
A critical element in the concept is to identify alternate airfields all over Asia that Air Force and Navy aircraft might operate from one day. US aircraft can be dispersed there, making life hard for a potential enemy such as China to select targets. Dispersed bases simultaneously would make it easier for an American pilot needing an emergency landing site to find one if his home base had been bombed.
AirSea Battle looks to prepare the US and its allies to deter or defeat China’s rising military power. It envisions operations of USAF fighters, bombers, and missiles coordinated with Navy aircraft flown from carriers and land bases—plus missiles launched from submarines and surface ships. Nuclear war plans will also be folded into the AirSea Battle operation.
A question, however, has arisen over who will control the joint war. USAF expects the 613th Air and Space Operations Center of 13th Air Force at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, to be assigned that task, but the Navy has traditionally been loath to give up control of its carrier air wings.
Moreover, the Navy has organized Maritime Operations Centers that would need to be meshed with USAF’s AOCs, and Air Force and Navy sensors and communications gear that are not now compatible need to be made so.
At US air and naval bases in Japan, South Korea, and Guam, the evolving AirSea concept calls for hardening command centers, communication nodes, hangars and repair facilities, fuel tanks, electrical generators, warehouses, shipyard machine shops, and just about anything else that can be protected from missile attack. For runways and ramps that can’t be protected, RED HORSE engineers are to be posted in protective shelters nearby from which they can swiftly emerge to repair damaged areas.
The plan even calls for developing new materials that will harden in far less time than ordinary concrete to make a damaged runway operational again.
Further, AirSea Battle will incorporate an "active" defense, employing a variety of measures to destroy enemy aircraft and missiles or to reduce the damage of such attacks. Active defense relies on aircraft, air defense weapons, electronic warfare, and cyber operations. In particular, AirSea Battle calls for greater emphasis on the development of ballistic missile defenses.
The purpose of AirSea Battle is clearly to deter China, with its rapidly expanding and improving military power, from seeking to drive the US out of East Asia and the Western Pacific. If deterrence fails, AirSea Battle’s objective will be to defeat the People’s Liberation Army, which comprises all of China’s armed forces. The Obama Administration and the Pentagon contend that war with China is not inevitable, which may be so, but a memo outlining the purpose of a previous AirSea Battle wargame left no doubt that the US is preparing for that possibility.
"The game will position US air, naval, space, and special operations forces against a rising military competitor in the East Asian littoral with a range of disruptive capabilities, including multidimensional ‘anti-access’ networks, offensive and defensive space control capabilities, an extensive inventory of ballistic and cruise missiles, and a modernized attack submarine fleet," the memo read. "The scenario will take place in a notional 2028."
There is only one "rising military competitor in the East Asia littoral," and that is China. Long term, China offers the only real potential threat to US national security, far more than Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, or North Korea.
In perhaps the most remarkable expansion of military power since the US geared up for World War II, China has relied on its surging economy to provide double-digit annual increases in military budgets. The Chinese are fielding an array of advanced jet aircraft, anti-aircraft missiles, radar, anti-air and anti-submarine ships, and minelayers intended to deny US air and naval forces access to Chinese skies and nearby waters. They are building a blue-water Navy to project power eastward toward Alaska, Guam, and even Hawaii and south into the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
AirSea Battle is not conceived as a "go-it-alone" initiative but one that will rely on allies in the Pacific and Asia, notably Japan and Australia, as US forces seek to overcome what is known in this region as the tyranny of distance. Americans who haven’t traveled the Pacific often have no notion of how far apart things are. For example, it is twice as far from Tokyo to Sydney, Australia (4,921 miles), as from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco (2,442 miles).
In addition to Japan continuing to host American forces, AirSea Battle calls for greater integration of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces with US forces stationed in that country, particularly in intelligence and warning systems. Japan would be asked to continue contributing to the development of ballistic missile defenses and to increase its own air defenses. AirSea Battle would call on Japan to expand its anti-submarine barriers down through the Ryukyu Islands in southwestern Japan and into the Sea of Japan. Political turmoil in Tokyo today will make that coordination difficult, to say the least.
In contrast, the alliance between Australia and the US, resting on a foundation laid down during World War II and continuing ever since, is less likely to be affected by political changes in the government. Thus, AirSea Battle would have the Australians develop anti-ship cruise missiles and to erect long-range radar that would improve coverage in the southern hemisphere. The Australians take a special interest in the Southwest Pacific region that can be helpful to the US. Overall, Australia provides the alliance with strategic depth.
AirSea Battle calls on the Air Force and Navy to devise a division of labor to eliminate duplication in resources and equipment. The two services, for instance, have begun planning for a new joint air launched cruise missile to replace the aging AGM-86 and BGM-109 Tomahawk. So far, only relatively small change has been spent for wargames and research. Those engaged in AirSea Battle say that coordinated requests will go forward in the Fiscal 2012 budget. A good portion of that will go into joint training and robust wargames.
Even as the Pentagon is contemplating AirSea Battle to deter or defeat China, the US has been seeking stable, working military relations with the PLA. At the annual Shangri-La gathering of Asian and Pacific military leaders in Singapore in June, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates said the US wanted "sustained and reliable military-to-military contacts at all levels that reduce miscommunication, misunderstanding, and miscalculation. There is a real cost to the absence of military-to-military relations. I believe they are essential to regional security—and essential to developing a broad, resilient US-China relationship that is positive in tone, cooperative in nature, and comprehensive in scope."
At the same time, Gates has been publicly supportive of the AirSea Battle venture. In the Quadrennial Defense Review published in February, he said the Pentagon was directing "more focus and investment in a new Air-Sea Battle concept, long-range strike, space and cyberspace, among other conventional and strategic modernization programs."
The precedent for AirSea Battle was AirLand Battle, an Army-Air Force effort in the 1980s to dissuade the Soviet Union from striking through the Fulda Gap in Germany and seeking to drive to the English Channel. Gen. Colin L. Powell, onetime corps commander in Germany and later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had said the US might resort to nuclear arms if NATO could not stop the first two waves of the Soviet force.
No Fait Accompli
The concept of AirSea Battle is being forged in a collaborative effort of Pacific Air Forces, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and the Pentagon’s influential Office of Net Assessment.
AirSea Battle was begun under the former PACAF commander, Gen. Carrol H. Chandler, now vice chief of staff of the Air Force. CSBA is a Washington think tank with close ties to the Pentagon, two of its chief researchers, Jan M. van Tol and Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., having worked in the Office of Net Assessment, while Mark A. Gunzinger was engaged in drafting the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance and Jim Thomas toiled on the Quadrennial Defense Review. The Office of Net Assessment, often labeled the Defense Department’s internal think tank, has been led for nearly 40 years by Andrew W. Marshall, considered to be among the nation’s foremost strategic thinkers.
Over the last three years, the collaborators have staged a half-dozen wargames to scope the tasks of AirSea Battle and have sent their findings to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, and the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Gary Roughead. Schwartz and Roughead signed a memorandum of understanding in September to proceed on AirSea Battle. Each appointed a team of four O-6s to draft tentative doctrine to govern AirSea Battle.
The draft doctrine will undoubtedly be sandpapered for many months before an agreement is reached.
Based on PLA writings, researchers at CSBA have discerned a likely Chinese strategy for seeking to drive US forces out of the western Pacific, a strategy they say "mimics the Imperial Japanese strategy of 1941-1942."
The Japanese mounted the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, intending to destroy the US Pacific Fleet. Simultaneously, the Japanese Army invaded the Philippines and broke out of northern Vietnam to transit across Thailand into what is now Malaysia and on to Singapore. They took what is now Indonesia, critical islands in the South Pacific, and threatened Australia, then marched to the Gates of India. Japan intended to present the Western powers with a fait accompli and sue for peace. That strategy, however, failed.
China, say the researchers, may be planning a pre-emptive missile strike intended to destroy US air bases at Osan and Kunsan in South Korea; Misawa, Yokota, MCAS Iwakuni, and Kadena in Japan; and bases on the US island of Guam, plus US naval bases at Yokosuka and Sasebo in Japan. South Korean and Japanese forces would be attacked. Chinese missile, naval, and air forces would try to keep other US forces out of range, to disrupt US command lines, and to block logistic resupply.
"The overall strategy may be to inflict substantial losses on US forces, lengthen US operational timelines, and highlight the United States’ inability to defend its allies," the CSBA analysts wrote. "Once this is accomplished, the PLA could assume the strategic defense and deny reinforcing US forces access to the theater until the US determines that it would be too costly to undo what would, in effect, be a fait accompli."
If the Chinese attack, AirSea Battle would have US forces begin an active defense, disperse aircraft and ships, and rely on hardening and resilience to ride out and to recover from the assault.
The US and its allies would initiate a "blinding campaign" to knock out Chinese reconnaissance aircraft, surveillance satellites, and long-range, over-the-horizon radar. B-52 bombers and Ohio-class submarines, both armed with conventional cruise missiles, would seek to suppress further Chinese missile salvos and aerial assaults.
Gradually, the US would gain the initiative in the air, on the sea’s surface, and in the undersea domain, relying on the better quality of US aircraft, ships, and submarines and the superior training of airmen, sailors, and submariners.
American forces from the continental US would begin to flow into the Pacific to enter a protracted campaign. A "distant blockade" against Chinese shipping would be started in the East and South China Seas and the Strait of Malacca and other passages, as Chinese industry is heavily dependent on imports. That would be easier than a close blockade just outside Chinese ports.
Basing Options Abound
A sustained logistic flow from the US into the Pacific would be built up, and industrial production of weapons, equipment, and especially precision guided munitions would be stepped up.
A complicated aspect of AirSea Battle will be identifying alternate air bases such as the one the C-130 crews operated from in Indonesia and then gaining long-term access to them. For many bases, the State Department may be required to negotiate agreements permitting US aircraft to fly in on short notice. That may stir diplomatic trouble as some nations worry that the Chinese will object.
In addition, funds may be required to bring the condition of some airfields up to snuff.
High on the list of basing possibilities are air bases the US has used in the past, such as Clark Air Base in the Philippines, dating back to 1903. The Philippine government and the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo caused the US to leave Clark in 1991, but the base’s runways have been scraped off, and the airfield is occasionally used by US forces passing through the Philippines.
In the Northern Marianas, airfields on Saipan and Tinian were built by naval construction battalions (Seabees) during World War II. Airfields at U Tapao and Korat in Thailand were built by the Thais but upgraded and expanded by the US during the war in Vietnam.
Air bases in northern Australia have been used for joint exercises.
An intriguing possibility might be Tan Son Nhut, the airport near Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam, built by French colonials in the 1930s and expanded by the US during the war in Vietnam. It is now the major civilian airport in southern Vietnam.
Similarly, the Vietnamese port at Cam Ranh Bay, the finest in Southeast Asia, was a stopping place for a Russian fleet on the way to disaster at the hands of the Japanese in the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. Japan used it to prepare for its drive into Southeast Asia during World War II, and the US enlarged it during the Vietnam War. Whether the Vietnamese, who don’t much like the Chinese but see no need to anger them, would allow US warships to use the port is open to question.
US military leaders have been cultivating Indian military leaders for several years and might ask for access to the many airfields there. In Pakistan next door, the US used a military airfield at Peshawar, in the Northwest Frontier province, as a base for U-2 intelligence flights over the Soviet Union for three years until Francis Gary Powers got shot down in 1960.
Although AirSea Battle has China in mind, American political leaders have publicly maintained that the US is not seeking to contain China.
An American aviator, however, pointed to a map marking air bases from Osan in South Korea, to Korat in Thailand, to Peshawar in Pakistan, and asked: "It does sort of look like a picket line, doesn’t it?"
Who Controls AirSea Battle?
A key player in executing AirSea Battle would be Adm. Robert F. Willard, who leads US Pacific Command from his headquarters in Honolulu. After taking command last fall, Willard set up five focus group to examine PACOM’s strategy toward China, India, and North Korea, treaty partners and friends from Japan to Singapore, and transnational issues such as terror, piracy, drug smuggling, and human trafficking.
"This is what combatant commanders across the globe should be attending to," Willard said in an interview. Most American military leaders are comfortable with day-to-day operations, he said, but needed "more of a focus on alignment with our national strategies and policies and more of a focus on understanding the strategies and policies of our regional counterparts."
Elaborating later, Willard seemed cautious about how AirSea Battle would fit into his vision for PACOM. He said he had been briefed on the concept, and "I expressed some issues with what I heard, especially with regard to their ability to adapt whatever their concept derives to the ground forces." Willard contended that "the AirSea Battle construct will unquestionably need to integrate with what our Marine forces bring to the game," and because the battlespace "includes the littorals, what the Army brings to the game is important, too. So there is a great deal of work yet to do to see if this concept really reveals something that will be useful."
Willard, a naval aviator (as is the Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Patrick M. Walsh), was asked who controls AirSea Battle. "It’s presumptive to get into the command relations debate now when the concept is in fledgling development," he said.
"I need to see where and how it’s intended to be adapted, and then we can talk about the command relations," he added.
Richard Halloran, formerly a New York Times foreign correspondent in Asia and military correspondent in Washington, D.C., is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. His most recent article for
Air Force Magazine, "China Turns Up the Heat," appeared in the April issue.
July 25, 2013
Seated on a stool before an audience packed with spooks, lawmakers, lawyers and mercenaries, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer introduced recently retired CENTCOM chief General James Mattis. “I’ve worked with him and I’ve worked with his predecessors,” Blitzer said of Mattis. “I know how hard it is to run an operation like this.”
Reminding the crowd that CENTCOM is “really, really important,” Blitzer urged them to celebrate Mattis: “Let’s give the general a round of applause.”
Following the gales of cheering that resounded from the room, Mattis, the gruff 40-year Marine veteran who once volunteered his opinion that “it’s fun to shoot some people,” outlined the challenge ahead. The “war on terror” that began on 9/11 has no discernable end, he said, likening it to the “the constant skirmishing between [the US cavalry] and the Indians” during the genocidal Indian Wars of the 19th century.
“The skirmishing will go on likely for a generation,” Mattis declared.
Mattis’ remarks, made beside a cable news personality who acted more like a sidekick than a journalist, set the tone for the entire 2013 Aspen Security Forum this July. A project of the Aspen Institute, the Security Forum brought together the key figures behind America’s vast national security state, from military chieftains like Mattis to embattled National Security Agency Chief General Keith Alexander to top FBI and CIA officials, along with the bookish functionaries attempting to establish legal groundwork for expanding the war on terror.
Partisan lines and ideological disagreements faded away inside the darkened conference hall, as a parade of American securitocrats from administrations both past and present appeared on stage to defend endless global warfare and total information awareness while uniting in a single voice of condemnation against a single whistleblower bunkered inside the waiting room of Moscow International Airport: Edward Snowden.
With perhaps one notable exception, none of the high-flying reporters junketed to Aspen to act as interlocutors seemed terribly interested in interrogating the logic of the war on terror. The spectacle was a perfect window into the world of access journalism, with media professionals brown-nosing national security elites committed to secrecy and surveillance, avoiding overly adversarial questions but making sure to ask the requisite question about how much Snowden has caused terrorists to change their behavior.
Jeff Harris, the communications director for the Aspen Institute, did not respond to questions I submitted about whether the journalists who participated in the Security Forum accepted fees. (It is likely that all relied on Aspen to at least cover lodging and travel costs). CNN sponsored the forum through a special new website called CNN Security Clearance, promoting the event through Twitter and specially commissioned op-eds from participating national security figures like former CIA director John McLaughlin.
Another forum sponsor was Academi, the private mercenary corporation formerly known as Blackwater. In fact, Academi is Blackwater’s third incarnation (it was first renamed “Xe”) since revelations of widespread human rights abuses and possible war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan threw the mercenary firm into full damage control mode. The Aspen Institute did not respond to my questions about whether accepting sponsorship from such an unsavory entity fit within its ethical guidelines.
John Ashcroft, the former Attorney General who prosecuted the war on terror under the administration of George W. Bush, appeared at Aspen as a board member of Academi. Responding to a question about U.S. over-reliance on the “kinetic” approach of drone strikes and special forces, Ashcroft reminded the audience that the U.S. also likes to torture terror suspects, not just “exterminate” them.
“It's not true that we have relied solely on the kinetic option,” Ashcroft insisted. “We wouldn't have so many detainees if we'd relied on the ability to exterminate people…We've had a blended and nuanced approach and for the guy who's on the other end of a Hellfire missile he doesn't see that as a nuance.”
Hearty laughs erupted from the crowd and fellow panelists. With a broad smile on her face, moderator Catherine Herridge of Fox News joked to Ashcroft, “You have a way with words.”
But Ashcroft was not done. He proceeded to boast about the pain inflicted on detainees during long CIA torture sessions: “And maybe there are people who wish they were on the end of one of those missiles.”
Competing with Ashcroft for the High Authoritarian prize was former NSA chief Michael Hayden, who emphasized the importance of Obama’s drone assassinations, at least in countries the U.S. has deemed to be Al Qaeda havens. “Here's the strategic question,” Hayden said. “People in Pakistan? I think that's very clear. Kill 'em. People in Yemen? The same. Kill 'em.”
“We don’t smoke [drug] cartel leaders but personally I’d support it,” remarked Philip Mudd, the former deputy director of Bush’s Counterterrorism Center, earning more guffaws from his fellow panelists and from Herridge. Ironically, Mudd was attempting to argue that counter-terror should no longer be a top U.S. security priority because it poses less of a threat to Americans than synthetic drugs and child obesity.
Reflection was not on the agenda for most of the Security Forum’s participants. When asked by a former US ambassador to Denmark the seminal question “This is a great country, why are we always the bad guy?,” Mudd replied, “They think that anything the U.S. does [in the Middle East], even though we helped Muslim communities in Bosnia and Kuwait, everything is rewritten to make us the bad guys.”
The clamoring about U.S. invasions, drone strikes, bankrolling of Israel’s occupation, and general political meddling, could all be written off as fevered anti-Americanism borne from the desert canyons of the paranoid Arab mind.
And the wars could go on.
Delusions of Empire
Throughout the three days of the Security Forum, the almost uniformly white cast of speakers were called on to discuss recent geopolitical developments, from "Eye-rak" and "Eye-ran" to Egypt, where a military coup had just toppled the first elected government in the country’s history.
Mattis carefully toed the line of the Obama administration, describing the overthrow of Egypt’s government not as a coup, but as “military muscle saddled on top of this popular uprising.”
Warning that using terms like “coup” could lead to a reduction in U.S. aid to Egypt, where the military controls about one-third of the country’s economy, Mattis warned, “We have to be very careful about passing laws with certain words when the reality of the world won’t allow you to.”
Wolf Blitzer mentioned that Egypt’s new military-imposed foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, had been a fixture in Washington during the Mubarak days. “These are people the West knows, the U.S. knows,” he said of the new cabinet in Cairo. “I assume from the U.S. perspective, the United States is so much more happy with this.”
Later, one of the few Arab participants in the forum, Al Jazeera DC bureau chief Abderrahim Foukara, claimed that the Arab revolts were inspired by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “The iconic image of Saddam being pulled out of a hole did something to the dynamic between ruler and ruled in the Arab world,” Foukara claimed.
With the revolts blurring the old boundaries imposed on the Arab world during the late colonial era, former CIA director John McLaughlin rose from the audience to call for the U.S. to form a secret, Sikes-Picot-style commission to draw up a new set of borders.
“The American government should now have such a group asking how we should manage those lines and what should those lines be,” McLaughlin told the panelists, who dismissed the idea of a new Great Game even as they discussed tactics for preserving U.S. dominance in the Middle East.
ABC’s Chris Isham asked Jim Jeffrey, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, why, with a recession on its hands and Middle Eastern societies spiraling out of control, should the U.S. remain militarily involved in the region. Without hesitation, Jeffrey rattled off the reasons: Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel, and “world oil markets.”
“What could we have done better?” Isham asked the ambassador.
“Probably not too much.”
NSA Heroes, Saving Lives of Potential Consumers
While participants in the Security Forum expressed total confidence in American empire, they could not contain their panic, outrage, and fear at the mere mention of Snowden.
“Make no mistake about it: These are great people who we’re slamming and tarnishing and it’s wrong. They’re the heroes, not this other and these leakers!” NSA chief General Keith Alexander proclaimed, earning raucous applause from the crowd.
Snowden’s leaks had prompted a rare public appearance from Alexander, forcing the normally imperious spy chief into the spotlight to defend his agency’s Panopticon-style programs and its dubious mechanisms of legal review. Fortunately for him, NBC’s Pete Williams offered him the opportunity to lash out at Snowden and the media that reported the leaks, asking whether the "terrorists” (who presumably already knew they were being spied on) had changed their behavior as a result of the leaks.
“We have concrete proof that terrorists are taking action, making changes, and it’s gonna make our job harder,” Alexander declared, offering nothing to support his claim.
Alexander appeared in full military regalia, with colorful decorations and medallions covering his left breast. Casting himself as a stern but caring father who has the best interests of all Americans at heart, even if he can't fully disclose his methods, he turned to the crowd and explained, “The bad guys…hide amongst us to kill our people. Our job is to stop them without impacting your civil liberties and privacy and these programs are set up to do that.”
“The reason we use secrecy is not to hide it from the American people, but to hide it from the people who walk among you and are trying to kill you,” Alexander insisted.
Corporations like AT&T, Google and Microsoft that had been compelled to hand over customer data to the NSA “know that we’re saving lives,” the general claimed. With a straight face, he continued, “And that’s good for business because there’s more people out there who can buy their products.”
So who were the "bad guys” who “walk among us,” and how could Americans be sure they had not been ensnared by the NSA’s all-encompassing spying regime, either inadvertently or intentionally? Nearly all the Security Forum participants involved in domestic surveillance responded to this question by insisting that the NSA had the world’s most rigorous program of oversight, pointing to Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts as the best and only means of ensuring that “mistakes” are corrected.
“We have more oversight on this [PRISM] program than any other program in any government that I’m aware of,” Alexander proclaimed, ramming home a talking point repeated throughout the forum.
“I can assure these are some of the judges who are renowned for holding the government to a very high standard,” John Carlin, the Assistant US Attorney General for National Security, stated.
But in the last year, FISA courts received 1,856 applications for surveillance from the government. In 100 percent of cases, they were approved. As for Congress, only two senators, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, demanded the NSA explain why PRISM was necessary or questioned its legality. Despite the fact that the entire regime of oversight was a rubber stamp, or perhaps because of it, none of those who appeared at the Security Forum to defend it were willing to consider any forum of independent civilian review.
“You have to do [domestic surveillance] within a closed bubble in order to do it effectively,” Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence conceded under sustained grilling from the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, one of the reporters who broke Snowden’s leaks and perhaps the only journalist at the Security Forum who subjected participants to tough scrutiny.
When Gellman reminded Alexander that none of the oversight mechanisms currently in place could determine if the NSA had improperly targeted American citizens with no involvement in terror-related activity, the general declared, “we self-report those mistakes.”
“It can't be, let's just stop doing it, cause we know, that doesn't work,” Alexander maintained. “We've got to have some program like [PRISM].”
The wars would go on, and so would the spying.
Reinstituting Public Confidence
During a panel on inter-agency coordination of counter-terror efforts, Mike Leiter, the former director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), suggested that one of the best means of preserving America’s vast and constantly expanding spying apparatus was “by reinstituting faith among the public in our oversight.”
Even as current NCC director Matthew Olsen conceded, “There really are limits in how transparent we can be,” Leiter demanded that the government “give the public confidence that there’s oversight.
Since leaving the NCC, Leiter has become the senior counsel of Palantir Technologies, a private security contractor that conducts espionage on behalf of the FBI, CIA, financial institutions, the LAPD and the NYPD, among others. In 2011, Palantir spearheaded a dirty tricks campaign against critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, compiling electronic dossiers intended to smear them. Palantir’s target list included progressive groups like Think Progress, SEIU and U.S. Chamber Watch.
In the friendly confines of the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum, Leiter did his best to burnish his company’s tarnished image, and do some damage control on behalf of the national security apparatus it depends on for contracts. Like most other participants, Leiter appeared in smart casual dress, with an open collar, loafers, a loose-fitting jacket and slacks.
“Just seeing us here,” he said, “that inspires [public] confidence, because we’re not a bunch of ogres.”
Max Blumenthal is the author of Republican Gomorrah (Basic/Nation Books, 2009). Twitter at @MaxBlumenthal.
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