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Revealed: The Lethal Master Plan to Crush ISIS

The Buzz

As Iraqi government forces struggle to hold their own against the self-declared Islamic State, the limitations of the current U.S. strategy have become clear. Our side is losing both individual battles and the larger war. Although the fight against the Islamic State will not be won by ground combat alone—Vietnam taught us too well the gap between tactical success and strategic victory—we must begin by winning on the battlefield. In turn, this will require a reexamination of how U.S. forces in the region operate, as well as what level of risk senior leaders are able to accept.

To address the Islamic State’s tactical successes, there are increasing calls to embed U.S. combat advisers with Iraqi government-aligned forces, removing restrictions that keep U.S. expertise far from the front lines. However, as Marcus Weisberger in Defense One points out, one does not simply embed U.S. troops in Iraq. Calls to allow U.S. troops to accompany Iraqi military units on offensive missions generally ignore support requirements. If we apply the risk-to-force calculus we have become accustomed to during the past fourteen years, the logistics and support tail required to support embedded advisers in Iraq would include medical evacuation, personnel recovery, combat search-and-rescue, quick reaction forces, and compounding logistics.

However, there is another approach. Recall the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, when teams of Special Forces embedded as combat advisers with the the Afghan Northern Alliance. Those forces had no access to medical evacuation support, combat search and rescue assets, or a quick reaction force to provide backup. There were only small teams embedded with their come-as-you-are partners, backed up, of course, with devastating and well-coordinated airpower. There was no training program that took months or years to turn the Northern Alliance into a faint reflection of the U.S. military. We came to fight—fight light—and in doing so, enabled our partners to accomplish their own objectives.

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As we’ve seen in Afghanistan, tactical victory does not ensure strategic success, but it should be apparent from Iraq that strategic success is a pipe-dream if you can’t defeat the enemy on the ground. Some of our habits and assumptions developed over the last fourteen years also make it harder to win the tactical fight. The long, mostly static wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have accustomed the U.S. military to robust defensive force protection at forward operating bases, with layers of perimeter defense, an extensive guard force, and massive logistics support to supply and sustain these bases. In a drive to buy down risk, layers of support are stacked above and behind our frontline combat troops. Every American forward operating base becomes Fort Apache, a defensive oasis in “Indian country.”

This conventional approach to basing, sustainment, force protection, and fighting contrasts sharply with the light fighting ethos maintained by those Special Forces teams riding horseback with the Northern Alliance in the early days in Afghanistan. That wasn’t Fort Apache—it was just Apache.

In Iraq today—and in the hybrid and irregular small wars that will be thrust upon the United States in the future—operating concepts, as well as assumptions and expectations about force protection, must be reassessed. If we default to traditional, robust force protection for small teams of combat advisers, we will dramatically increase our manpower and logistics requirements. In this calculus, every addition of 500 troops requires twice that number or more to sustain and protect it. Not only is this calculus cost prohibitive, but it also ignores the current imbalance between offense and defense.

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Strike, through both complex asymmetric attack and precision weapons, has the upper hand over defense. The Islamic State has shattered Iraqi government bases with complex attacks using Vehicle-Borne IEDs (VBIEDs) and forces disguised as Iraqi army elements. The same has been shown in Ukraine, as tactical Russian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) guiding precision Russian artillery and rockets have been employed to devastating effect against Ukrainian forces.

While our forces will perform much better than our Iraqi partners, complex asymmetric attacks remain a grave threat to our forward operating bases. Mobility, not fortification, should be considered the primary force protection tactic when the United States is fighting with small teams of advisers or strike teams. Once again, think Apache, not Fort Apache.

For example, U.S. attack and support helicopters should not operate from Iraqi air bases in urban areas that suffer from channelized lines of communication that make them prone to IED attack and result in the constriction of supply lines. These bases would require significant force protection measures and would become a magnet for attacks on the enemy’s terms and timetable. Instead, our helicopter and tactical UAV assets should operate from short-term, mobile, and constantly shifting forward arming and refueling points (FARPs) in the western deserts of Iraq, protected from attack by the expanse of the empty desert. Larger logistics and maintenance bases further away from the enemy could support these “lily pads.”

Carrying this concept further, U.S. (or coalition) mobile strike teams—operating from the desert expanse—should be used to disrupt the Islamic State’s extended and vulnerable lines of communication and take the fight to the enemy on our terms and at a time of our choosing in places where they are least prepared. These mobile strike teams would not be intended to take and hold territory, but rather to impose a cost on the Islamic State for holding territory. Iraqi government-aligned forces should take and hold territory; U.S. forces should harass, soften, and attrite these Islamic State militants in advance of Iraqi operations to regain lost ground.

Initiative is critical in warfare. We’ve come to expect that we need the Death Star hovering above us with endless logistics capabilities along with combat search-and-rescue assets, medical evacuation units, and quick reaction forces to do anything involving U.S. troops in combat. Static, fortified bases cede the initiative to the enemy. In modern warfare, being static means being vulnerable to both precision and asymmetric attack. Unconventional and light is the better approach—even if it carries a higher degree of tactical risk.

Ironically, of course, our attempts to “buy down” tactical risk through heavy combat support, fortified bases, and massive logistics trains increases operational risk through static forces and channelized, brittle logistics lines. Instead of reducing risk through mass, we should find creative ways to buy down the risk that don’t involve an enormous conventional overhead.

Combat support, for instance, needs to take on an expeditionary capability and approach. One example is to invest in the rapid development and fielding of an unmanned medical evacuation capability able to operate in austere environments. Light, mobile combat and service support can change our calculus about what it takes to fight in small teams on the modern battlefield.

The United States must find ways to reduce the logistics and support tail not only for our own fighting force, but also for our partners. “Small is beautiful”—and absolutely necessary. This applies far beyond current operations against the Islamic State. We must either adapt or remain ill-prepared for the fast-moving, offensive, chaotic and non-linear fights of the future.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog Defense in Depth here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

The Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan: Joining TPP?

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After the Obama administration’s victories in Congress the past two weeks, it appears far more likely that the United States will become part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bilateral negotiations are still taking place between some of the countries negotiating the TPP—the United States and Japan still have major issues to resolve—but the chances of these bilateral hurdles being resolved, and the final agreement being negotiated, have risen substantially now that President Obama has gained fast track authority.

As the TPP’s chances rise, more countries in Asia appear ready to join the negotiations, most likely as members of the second round of nations joining the deal.

The Philippines’ trade secretary last week indicated that the country wants to join the TPP. “I want to state clearly and irrevocably that we want to join TPP,” Philippine trade secretary Gregory Domingo told a conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. But the Aquino administration faces significant hurdles to joining. The Philippines’ state enterprises, while not as much of a challenge to trade talks as the state firms in Malaysia and Vietnam, are still likely to wield their influence in an attempt to prevent the Aquino administration from moving forward with TPP negotiations and possibly being forced to liberalize sectors of the economy dominated by state companies and other monopolies.

In addition, the Philippines—unlike Vietnam, Brunei, or Malaysia—is a democracy, and one in which the public generally does not have a favorable view of trade deals. Although President Aquino, like all presidents of the Philippines (the executive only gets one term in office), is a lame duck, he still wants to use his influence to support his party’s preferred successor—which now appears to be Senator Grace Poe—in winning the presidency. Negotiating to join a trade deal likely to be unpopular with the public and with key segments of elite opinion—church leaders, many NGO leaders—is not going to help Aquino pass on whatever popularity he has left.

Thailand has repeatedly expressed interest, in theory, in joining the TPP, though the Thai government has been assessing the costs and benefits of the TPP for Bangkok for at least three years. In theory, Thailand is better equipped to join the TPP than the Philippines. The country is likely to remain under authoritarian or pseudo-authoritarian rule for several years, so public sentiment about a trade deal would matter less, and the Thai economy is slightly more open than that of the Philippines. But Thailand’s contentious domestic politics have made it difficult for the Thai government to focus on anything other than drafting the new constitution, suppressing dissent, and ensuring the military’s sustained influence. With Thai politics in such turmoil, it is hard to imagine Bangkok focusing its energies on the TPP.

South Korea has repeatedly expressed interest in joining the TPP but has not formally committed to joining negotiations. Although some in Congress are wary of South Korea joining the TPP, because they view the United States-South Korea bilateral deal as having not delivered enough benefits to the United States, South Korea is in a far stronger position to join the TPP than Thailand or the Philippines. A recent survey by the Korea International Trade Association shows that South Korean companies strongly support Seoul joining the TPP. Notably, small and medium-sized Korean firms, as well as large companies, expressed support for entering the TPP.

Taiwan also reportedly has expressed interest in joining the TPP, after the current parties to the negotiations agree on terms and launch the free trade area. Taiwan is solidly positioned to join the TPP, though the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei recently noted that the Taiwan government would have to modify some regulations on sectors including medical devices and some areas of e-commerce to harmonize these regulations with the standards likely to be adopted in the TPP. However, even though Taiwan relies on trade, and President Ma Ying-jeou has called for an “all-out effort” to make the island ready to join the TPP, presidential elections loom early next year. It remains unclear whether the opposition, if it wins the presidency, will be as committed to joining the TPP.

This piece first appeared courtesy of CFR’s Asia Unbound and Forbes.

Image: Creative Commons 2.0. 

TopicsTrade RegionsAsia

Asia Beware: China Unveils New Island Storming Warships

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China’s Navy is steadily improving its power projection capabilities by building new amphibious assault ships.

According to new photos, Huangpu Wenchong shipyards recently unveiled the Chinese equivalent of America’s Mobile-Landing Platforms. According to Jeffrey Lin and Peter Singer, authors of the excellent Eastern Arsenal blog, the new MLP, named the H1183, “is a 50,000 ton displacement cargo ship with a giant staging platform installed at its waterline, which can accommodate a wide variety of hovercraft, helicopters, fast craft and armored fighting vehicles.”

They also note that the H1183 has a deck area of around 4,000 square meters, and “its 33 meter by 120 meter submergible platform is large enough to carry up to three Type 726 hovercraft, which can transport one main battle tank from sea to land.”

Jane’s and other sources also reported on the commissioning of the new MLP, although they had much different measurements of the ship.

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The concept of a MLP was first designed by the U.S. Navy as a cost-effective means of having a forward presence. The U.S. Navy has said of the concept: “The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) is a highly flexible ship that provides logistics movement from sea to shore supporting a broad range of military operations…. These ships will operate within Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadrons as mobile sea bases providing the U.S. Navy Fleet with a critical access infrastructure that supports the flexible deployment of forces and supplies.”

Want China Times usefully points out that “The ship's main roles are to transport heavy weaponry and combat supplies as well as act as a transfer point between large ships and small landing craft.”

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In other words, the ships enable militaries to project power and enhance amphibious assault capabilities. In China’s case, this would be useful in a number of different scenarios, including an invasion of Taiwan and its dispute with Japan in the East China Sea. However, the MLP would be most useful in China’s disputes with several ASEAN countries in the South China Sea as many of the disputed islands and reefs are far from the Chinese mainland.

Already, China’s new MLP has been spotted carrying a Zubr class heavy amphibious assault hovercraft, which China has purchased from both Ukraine and, more recently, Greece. According to Tyler Rogoway of Foxtrot Alpha:

Compared to the already gargantuan U.S. Navy LCAC, the Zubr Class just dwarfs it. Fully loaded the US Navy LCAC displaces about 180 tons, while the Zubr Class displaces three times that amount. This hovering fortress can hit speeds up to 60kts in sea-state four and below, and can handle 5 degree grades and up to three and a half foot obstacles with relative ease.

The Jane's report also noted that, "other recent photographs show a logistics support ship under construction for the PLA. This is the second vessel with a roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) design, bow and stern ramps, and an estimated full load displacement of around 3,500 tons."

Earlier this month, China also issued new regulations to civilian shipbuilders mandating that five types of civilian vessels—container, roll-on/roll-off, multipurpose, bulk carrier and break bulk ships— meet certain guidelines so they can be used by the military during national emergencies.

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In announcing the new regulations, China’s state-owned media said the new measures “will enable China to convert the considerable potential of its civilian fleet into military strength and will greatly enhance the PLA's strategic projection and maritime support capabilities.” China reportedly has some 172,000 civilian vessels, many of which the People’s Liberation Army Navy could now use during a conflict to complement its already growing capabilities.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.


TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

What the U.S. Congress Fails to Realize When it Comes to TPP

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President Barack Obama finally has authority from the U.S. Congress for advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a signature foreign policy of his final term in office. The TPP aims to establish a free trade zone around the Pacific Rim covering 40% of the global economy, while excluding China.

The future of the agreement had been left in doubt after the President's own party initially voted against granting him trade promotion authority, with some members now vowing to defeat the TPP itself. For Australia, the episode is thus not a story of success, but of the ongoing obstacles Congress poses to coherent American leadership in the Asia-Pacific.

U.S. officials focusing on the region repeatedly proclaim a 'rules-based order' as the necessary bulwark against China's rising power. For Obama, “strong and sustained American leadership is essential to a rules-based international order.” Australia has followed suit, with Defense Minister Kevin Andrews declaring that: “Notwithstanding China's growth, the United States will remain the single most important country in enforcing a rules-based order.”

In his 2015 State of the Union address Obama directly linked passage of the TPP with halting China's desire “to write the rules for the world's fastest-growing region.” His recognition that “we should write those rules” is nevertheless being frustrated by Congress, which has proven itself either unconvinced of the importance of the task, or unable to recognize that U.S.-centred rules are founded on a half-century of American primacy in the Asia-Pacific that is now being challenged by China.

The precarious future of the TPP follows the creation of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in the face of U.S. opposition. The AIIB was established in part as a response to Congressional refusal to grant China more representative rights in global financial institutions. Likewise, the U.S. Senate continues to obstruct the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even as America now seeks to enforce freedom of navigation rules in the South China Sea.

China's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea is perhaps the most prominent example of the way power is being contested at the level of international legal rules. Under UNCLOS, artificial islands do not attract the same rights as a natural land feature, which would include the right to control sea and airspace out to 12 nautical miles. China has nevertheless attempted to enforce these rights against American 'freedom of navigation' operations in which US aircraft deliberately challenge purported Chinese airspace.

The American claim to be acting in defense of impartial maritime rules is weakened as long as the U.S. itself refuses to ratify UNCLOS. For Obama it is clear that “ongoing failure to ratify this Treaty undermines our national interest in a rules-based international order.” Defenders of U.S. policy claim that the U.S. already accepts rules pertinent to the South China Sea as established customary international law, while the treaty improperly creates additional obligations in relation to resource exploitation. Yet the legitimacy of taking action under a rules-based order derives from the clear acceptance of legal constraints, rather than the selective application of rules that constrain others.

Responsibility lies with Congress, with every president from George HW Bush onward supporting ratification as consistent with American global interests. Likewise, the most recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs' survey of American leaders confirmed not only universal support among Democrats but solid majority support among Republican leaders. As such, the incoherence in U.S. regional leadership can be traced back to failings specific to the U.S. Senate.

China's artificial islands have been described as 'unsinkable aircraft carriers' that allow the projection of military power far from China's mainland. It is therefore telling that U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has argued that “passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.” Carter's phrasing was a reminder that the TPP remains necessary in geo-strategic terms if the US is to “promote a global order that reflects both our interests and our values.”

The U.S. Congress remains an unreliable partner in this strategy, beholden to competing ideological and institutional concerns. Some reservations about the TPP may well have a legitimate domestic basis, while resistance to UNCLOS probably owes more to populist fears about guarding U.S. sovereignty. In either case the alternative is increasingly conspicuous reliance on brute force to sustain the status quo. Conversely the Chinese are steadily increasing their capacity to promote interests through rules.

A future U.S. Congress may ratify UNCLOS, but possibly not until the motivation of containing China is so transparent as to destroy the benefits of doing so. Likewise, faltering on the TPP has increased incentives for China to establish its own financial order – Australia formally joined the AIIB this week.

The objective of establishing a rules-based regional order is a worthy one capable of delivering greater security and prosperity to all. But American allies can take nothing for granted while Congress acts as if setting regional rules is divorced from the underlying contest for regional power.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: White House Flickr. 

TopicsTrade RegionsAsia

Congress Wants the Pentagon to Empower Taiwan

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The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016 (H.R. 1735) was passed in the House and the Senate on June 18, and now awaits approval of Senate-made changes. The most recent version of the bill includes several provisions and clauses that express support for greater U.S.-Taiwan military cooperation in the interest of maintaining security, expanding prosperity, and supporting common values.

Taiwan is one of several countries in the Asia-Pacific that will receive assistance in maintaining peace and security under the bill’s South China Sea Initiative. The initiative will cost the Department of Defense $50 million in operational and maintenance expenses in 2016, an amount that will increase to $75 million in 2017 before settling at $100 million from 2018 through 2020. 

The bill also supports Taiwan’s participation in joint military training activities to maintain “resolute defense and credible deterrence” in the face of China’s military modernization and aggressive posturing. U.S.-Taiwan defense relations have taken a backseat to U.S.-China relations during the current administration, with infrequent talks and oft-neglected arms-sales requests. This provision and the related proposal for the creation of a U.S.-Taiwan military exchange program would reaffirm the U.S. commitment to enabling Taiwan’s self-defense under the Taiwan Relations Act.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the United States has expressed the government’s appreciation of Congressional efforts to “strengthen bilateral relations and security cooperation with Taiwan.”

In a statement sent to TNI, TECRO said:

“Bilateral relations between Taiwan and the United States always involve multi-faceted engagement at various levels. Our two sides have been maintaining smooth communications … The bill, when implemented, will be helpful in further enhancing the effectiveness of ROC military training and strengthening its self-defense capability, thus conducive to safeguarding regional peace and stability.”

An earlier House version of the bill, which was removed by the Senate, included an amendment calling for Taiwan to be invited to the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercises in the event that China is again invited to participate.

China’s participation in the 2014 RIMPAC exercise as an observer was marked with controversy and distrust. Some speculate that the proposal to invite Taiwan to the next RIMPAC was more of a strategic move to stop the Pentagon from inviting China, as some members of the House have said they oppose Beijing’s participation. China continues to maintain its resolute opposition to Taiwan developing independent military relations with foreign nations.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said that a final version of the NDAA may be available as early as July.

Claire Chu is pursuing a BA at American University’s School of Int’l Service, with a focus on Asia-Pacific security. She is an intern for the U.S.-China Program at the Center for the National Interest.

Image: Wikimedia/Chang-Song Wang

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

To Save NATO, Don't Enlarge It

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U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter embarked on a weeklong European tour on June 21 to reaffirm America’s commitment to the NATO alliance. The critical transatlantic security relationship currently faces strains from within and without, ranging from increased Russian military activity in Eastern Europe to intra-alliance disputes over burden sharing and debates over arming non-member Ukraine. Secretary Carter’s visit confirmed Washington’s support for its European treaty allies, including increasing support to the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and pre-positioning equipment in Eastern Europe. It also highlighted the need to revitalize NATO and adapt the organization to the present transatlantic security alliance.

In order to further cement this relationship, the United States must make a clear statement about the future of the alliance, and resist the temptation to overextend its legal obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty.

The Ukraine crisis revived significant criticism over NATO expansion in the 1990s and 2000s. Critics allege that NATO’s growth violated a promise made by President George H.W. Bush to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO after the Cold War. This is a rumor that refuses to die. President Bush made no such commitment, but the myth has consistently reappeared since the 1990s, despite Gorbachev himself denouncing it. Russian officials are now giving this fabrication new life because it converges with their narrative of Western aggression in the ongoing Ukraine conflict.

Granting new NATO members like Poland and the Baltics states anything short of the same mutual defense commitment older allies enjoy would undermine European stability and damage the transatlantic relationship. This being said, reasonable people may debate the wisdom of NATO enlargement as a matter of history, and these discussions can inform future alliance policy.

NATO has limits, and officials must recognize these constraints. In particular, the United States and its allies should take a measured approach to post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus that aspire to NATO membership. As the organization’s de facto leader, Washington must articulate that, in the present security environment, countries like Ukraine and Georgia should continue to participate in affiliate programs like the Partnership for Peace. However, the United States should be equally clear that while it supports international norms on territorial integrity and national sovereignty, full alliance membership for these countries is not currently conducive to regional stability. This message is critical to NATO’s long-term viability.

Such a statement will confirm what is already tacitly accepted in Western capitals. At the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, France and Germany promised to veto membership for Georgia and Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued that Tbilisi could not be an appropriate candidate for alliance membership so long as its territorial disputes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia persisted. In other words, Georgia would be a liability for the alliance. If Tbilisi were admitted and attacked, a non-response by the organization would undermine the North Atlantic Treaty in the same way failing to protect any other member would, even though Georgia is far less defensible than existing allies. Because NATO operates by consensus and requires unanimity for action, these concerns shaped organization-wide policy despite then-President George W. Bush’s support for NATO enlargement. In any case, the August 2008 Russo-Georgia War vindicated the position Paris and Berlin advanced at the Bucharest summit.

Georgia’s internal (and external) conflicts effectively eliminated that country’s potential for NATO entry. The ongoing insurgency in Eastern Ukraine similarly disqualifies Kiev, whose candidacy was already blocked in 2008. Accordingly, Washington should stress that limiting alliance participation for post-Soviet states (excluding the Baltics) to structures like the Partnership for Peace is consistent with existing (albeit unstated) NATO policy. The United States can deflect Kremlin paranoia over Western encroachment in its so-called “near abroad,” which Russia uses to justify military action in the former U.S.S.R. At the same time, the United States and its partners need not simply acknowledge Russian invasions and occupation of non-NATO member territory.

It is worth noting that even under this strategy, individual NATO member states can still engage non-NATO post-Soviet republics on a bilateral level. Turkey does this with both Georgia and Azerbaijan in pursuit of defense coordination. In theory, nothing prevents the United States or its allies from using force to protect a non-NATO state. Of course, it remains highly unlikely that Washington would undertake such action in places like Ukraine and the South Caucasus, even in the context of present tensions with Russia. The United States must be straightforward and honest with aspiring NATO participants about their prospects for full alliance membership. These countries can then better negotiate their relationships with Russia and the West based on a more accurate assessment of their futures.

NATO enlargement is not the only path to overstretch. Currently, officials in Washington and some European states are debating providing weapons for the Ukrainian government in its battle with Russia and Kremlin-backed insurgents.  The United States should respect the concerns of its treaty allies when exploring other external policies in addition to alliance expansion. The Ukraine conflict is significant to the liberal international order crafted by the United States in the wake of World War II. However, the dispute bears more immediate and practical importance to European countries, some of which object to supplying Ukraine with weapons, owing to their geographic proximity to the conflict zone and extensive economic ties with Russia.

Why do all of these reforms matter? Why should the United States and its allies endeavor to rescue an organization like NATO?

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of its network of satellite states in Eastern Europe removed the most obvious reason for NATO’s existence. However, one factor ensures that the alliance will continue to serve a purpose, regardless of whether or not threats emerge from external actors like Russia or foreign terrorism: Europe’s own violent history.

For nearly seven decades, NATO has held much European continent in a state of suspended animation, as far as security issues are concerned. Lord Ismay, the alliance’s inaugural secretary general famously quipped that NATO existed, “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

As this suggests, NATO emerged as much because of lasting memories as from future external threats. By embedding almost all of Europe in a unified security architecture, powers that warred for centuries like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom have no incentive to fight one another. Turkey, the perennial Muslim bogeyman at the gates of Christian Europe, is now tied to the continent’s security as a NATO member. This relationship (save a month-long spat with Greece over non-member Cyprus in 1974) continues to defy historic animosities, surviving political instability in Turkey and turmoil on the country’s frontiers.

Failure on the part of the United States and its allies failed to defend a fellow NATO member from outside attack would discredit the alliance as a collective defense apparatus. Not only would this invite outside actors to future (apparently consequence-free) incursions, countries might also leave NATO. In the organization’s absence, former member states would be subjected to new security pressures and might form new coalitions. Within a generation or two, Europe could be home to an array of hostile alliances, as exist in other regions like the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, and in Europe itself at other points in history. As a bloc, the European Union (whose membership largely overlaps with NATO) is the world’s largest economy and China’s largest export market. This means that any major conflict in Europe would reverberate far beyond the continent and impact Western and non-Western states alike.

Viewing NATO solely as a Cold War era-relic used by a Russophobic Europe to extort U.S. support, as many critics do, implies a very narrow reading of history. After all, the only member state to ever invoke the North Atlantic Treaty’s collective security clause was not European and the move was not directed against Moscow: the country was the United States, and the impetus was the September 11 terrorist attacks.

NATO will not outlive its purpose: relations with Russia, nearby Middle Eastern countries, and relevant non-state actors may evolve, but peace and security are timeless values. However, the staying power of NATO’s founding principles is no guarantee that the alliance will endure. The United States must live up to its treaty obligations and ensure the integrity of the NATO alliance before it looks beyond the organization’s boundaries. Only in this way can NATO survive to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Evan Gottesman is an editorial intern at The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter at @EvanGottesman.

Image: Wikimedia/Cornellrockey

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

Imagining World War III: Lethal Drone Swarms, F-35s and Total Chaos

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If a major war broke out on Earth below, what would happen aboard the International Space Station?

This and a dozen other wild “what ifs” are answered in the opening pages of P.W. Singer and August Cole’s Ghost Fleet. The novel follows a spiraling cast of characters as they are engulfed by a near-future conflict in the Asia-Pacific—the one that real-life U.S. defense planners spend so much time thinking about.

A hyper-aggressive, technocratic China (“The Directorate”) and a revanchist Russia join forces to attack U.S. assets in the Pacific, decimating the U.S. economy and marking an abrupt end to America’s “Pacific Century.” As the United States struggles to regroup, it must use every tool at its disposal. This includes the U.S. Navy’s “Ghost Fleet,” an armada of outmoded warships that will quickly become the core of the U.S. counteroffensive. At its head is the stealthy USS Zumwalt—and a powerful, untested new weapons system.

Written in the style of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and Max Brooks’ World War Z, Ghost Fleet is a whirlwind tour of more than a dozen intersecting storylines, set on all sides of the conflict. Alongside sweeping battles by land, sea, and air, a new kind of war unfolds in cyberspace as the best and brightest of Silicon Valley rally to the nation’s defense. Chinese generals and politicians vie for advantage in dark-lit boardrooms; U.S. Marines fight a bitter insurgency in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone; a wily Russian colonel hunts an insatiable serial killer.

There’s even an American billionaire, cut from the same cloth as Sir Richard Branson, who assembles and proudly captains the first-ever crew of space pirates.

Space pirates!

What sets Ghost Fleet apart—and what will be of particular interest to the community reading this review—is the research that has gone into it. Every vehicle, weapon, and gadget is grounded in current or near-future technology. This covers predictable military hardware: the colossal Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, the powerful F-35 Lighting II, and nearly a dozen variations of flying, swimming, slinking, and scuttling drones. It also includes special multitools, anti-ship missiles, electrical systems, and even small-unit tactics. Yes, even the zero-g training of those aforementioned space pirates can be traced to a real-life counterpart.

Beyond fast and fun reading, Ghost Fleet’s biggest draw is its unified, multi-domain vision of future warfare. In this fight, information is the most important weapon of all. Military might is a direct function of pinpoint GPS targeting and secure communications. If a nation’s satellites are blinded, its systems compromised by cyber-attacks, it doesn’t matter how advanced its military hardware is. Aircraft become a liability. Carriers become coffins.

In Ghost Fleet, some assets are better than others. Swarms of cheap, expendable drones often turn the tide of battle. By comparison, the more “exquisite” platforms find themselves in deep trouble. In a scenario that reflects the real-life headaches of many acquisitions professionals, Singer and Cole explore what happens when the F-35’s complex supply chain intersects with the motivations of a Chinese government-owned microchip producer. The result is exactly what you’d expect: a lot of unlucky pilots and a trillion-dollar paperweight.

With so much focus on the fighting, Ghost Fleet has little room left to explore its politics. There is vague talk of a disaster in the Middle East; the quiet dissolution of NATO; a U.S. president who sternly rules out nuclear escalation in a limited war. Readers are spared the months of frustrated cabinet meetings, angry congressional hearings, and endless hang-wringing within the defense bureaucracy. For a fast-paced, tech-centric, summer popcorn-thriller, this is for the best.

Ultimately, Ghost Fleet is Tom Clancy for a new generation, written by authors who know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t glorify the war it describes, but it does wonders in its illustration. The result is a vibrant vision of conflict in the information age—and hopefully the closest we’ll get to the real thing.

Ghost Fleet releases on June 30.

Emerson Brooking is a research associate for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2013, he was an intern at the Brookings Institution’s Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, at which time P.W. Singer served as the center’s director.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Imagining a Future U.S.-China War

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This is a bit of a departure from my usual writing, but I would like to recommend and discuss a book written by a friend and former colleague of mine, Peter Singer, entitled: Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War (co-authored with August Cole). I do so with admiration for the book—and also a firm conviction that many will find it important on the substance but also highly entertaining and a great summer read.

The book is to some extent in the Tom Clancy genre, but it looks a little further into the future, positing a war pitting the United States against a "Directorate" created by China and Russia in the 2020s. Beyond that basic fact, I will hereby commit to avoid discussing the plot any further, because it is fun and engaging and suspenseful.

It is also scary. It's scary because the whole thing is not implausible. One can debate just how likely, but not implausible. In fact, one of the best things about this book is that, while quite clever and extremely well informed, it does not try to be too clever. The plot line is not like something from left field, and the use of the future as well as futuristic technologies is not like fantastical science fiction.

This last point is quite important. Singer, an award-winning bestselling author of several books, including most recently Wired for War (about drones and robotics) and Cybersecurity and Cyberwarfare, has become one of the most technologically sophisticated American defense writers of his day. And in recent months, he has taken to writing a blog about trends in the technological capacities of the PRC as well. All of this sets him up very well to write a book that depends on key trends in technology that are already underway or incipient. By looking about a decade into the future, Singer is just giving himself time to imagine weapons systems and technologies that are now in R&D or laboratory stages to be fully developed, procured, and deployed.

There are perhaps one or two technological leaps Singer postulates that seem less credible. But they are few and far enough between to count as poetic license, not mistakes, in his analysis. And moreover, who knows just what the future may hold? Surprises do occur.

Most of what is in the book, though, is well within reach today. Miniaturized robotics, weaponized drones, high-performance unmanned aerial vehicles, cyberattacks on key military systems, exoskeletons, personalized computer gadgetry that can be worn as eyeglasses or implanted in one's skin, stimulants to enhance personal performance in crunch moments, neurosensors that effectively help read a person's mind—these are among the areas of technology where Singer knows the literature and lets his own creative thinking take things out another 10 years to imagine how they could all work together in a future conflict. One only hopes U.S. military planners are letting their hair down half as much when being creative about plausible scenarios!

There are other nice twists, too. Americans playing the role of insurgents within a certain phase of the future conflict is perhaps my favorite. One little comment on a specific character, just so you know that the book is engaging as a work of fiction and is more than just dry futuristic defense analysis—watch out for Carrie Shin! The black widow is quite something, and Singer's depictions of her role in the future war left me turning pages quickly for mention of her next key act!

And perhaps most importantly of all—without saying anything more about the war scenario, let me comment that not only was it credible enough to make the book a good read, it was and is credible enough that we should not assume economic interdependence with China (or mutual nuclear vulnerability, either) will guarantee that we avoid war. Nor is the only plausible catalyst to conflict one of the standard issues in the relationship, like Taiwan or Tibet or the Senkakus. Singer is most convincing, and most useful, in helping dramatize the dangers of such a conflict. He is careful to depict the book as a work of fiction, not prediction. But to be sure that remains the case, policymakers will have to take seriously the kind of scenario he develops in this fine book, and take steps to make such a conflict less likely than it may be in coming years.

Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and coauthor with Jim Steinberg of Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century.

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Watch Out, India: China Just Sent First-Ever Submarine to Pakistan

The Buzz

A Chinese submarine docked in Pakistan for the first time ever last month.

According to numerous Indian media outlets, a People’s Liberation Army Navy conventional Yuan-class 335 submarine docked in Karachi, Pakistan on May 22. The reports said that the ship received replenishments for about a week inside the port. The submarine had a crew of about 65 sailors, according to the reports.

The news was first reported by India Today.

India Today also noted that the Yuan-class submarine is “equipped with torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and an air-independent propulsion that dramatically enhances its underwater endurance.”

This is not the first time that Chinese submarine deployments have rattled India in recent months. A Song-class diesel-electric attack docked in Colombo, Sri Lanka last September, greatly irking New Delhi. Just a few weeks later, a second Chinese submarine docked in Sri Lanka as well.

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Around the same time, China reportedly informed India that its Type-093 Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarines would begin patrolling the Indian Ocean. This raised fears in New Delhi that China could try to blockade the Indian coastline using nuclear-powered submarines.

Besides Chinese submarines patrolling the Indian Ocean, which Delhi sees as its natural domain, China has also angered India by potentially selling Pakistan advanced submarines. As The National Interest previously reported, China has allegedly promised to sell Pakistan eight submarines over the next few years.

Indian media reports this week indicate that Beijing may be trying to sell Islamabad Yuan-class submarines, the same kind that docked in Karachi port last month. This raises the possibility that the submarine replenished in Karachi in order to give the Pakistani Navy a chance to inspect the submarines they may someday operate.

(Recommended: India to Test First Homegrown Aircraft Carrier)

Still, its undeniable that Chinese submarines are conducting longer patrols as of late, including throughout the Indian Ocean. In doing so, they seem to be following what many outside observers have defined as China’s “String of Pearls” strategy. This strategy uses Chinese built ports throughout the greater Indian Ocean in order to expand the Chinese Navy’s forward presence. A good example is the Colombo port, which Chinese companies invested in and helped build.

India has been scrambling to try to thwart this strategy. Indeed, likely caving to Indian pressure, the Sri Lankan government appeared to rule out future Chinese submarine visits to its country. Speaking in Beijing this spring, Mangala Samaraweera, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, said:

“I really don’t know under which sort of circumstances that led to some submarines… to [visit] the port of Colombo on the very day the Japanese Prime Minister was visiting Sri Lanka. But we will ensure that such incidents, from whatever quarter, do not happen during our tenure.”

(Recommended: Can China's Nuclear Submarines Blockade India?)

Still, India is unlikely to pressure Pakistan to forbid Chinese submarines from docking in its ports as Islamabad and Beijing have long maintained strong ties at the expense of Delhi.

It’s worth noting that the Chinese submarine docked in Karachi just after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited China for the first time since taking his current position. Chinese provocations, usually along India and China’s disputed land borders, have often coincided with high-profile visits between their leaders.

Meanwhile, India’s undersea fleet has been in a state of disarray in recent years following a number of catastrophes, including one submarine sinking in 2013, killing many crew members on board.

However, in a rare bout of good news, India launched its first indigenously-built (French designed) attack submarine earlier this year. Ultimately, India hopes to produce six Scorpene-class diesel electric submarines.

India is also looking abroad for help with resurrecting its undersea fleet in the face of the growing Chinese submarine threat. In that regard, Japan and Germany have both indicated they’d help, among others.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

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South China Sea Boils: China Sends Oil Rig Near Vietnam Again

The Buzz

China has moved an oil rig that was at the heart of a dispute with Vietnam last year to waters near Vietnam again, according to multiple news report.

Yesterday, Vietnamese newspapers began reporting, citing the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration (MSA), that China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD-981) oil rig was being moved to waters where China and Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) overlap. According to the news reports, the platform is now located 17°03'75’' North latitude and 109°59’05’’ East longitude.

In the statement, MSA warned that all ships must stay 2,000 meters away from the rig. The HD-981 will explore for oil and gas in the region between now and August 20, according to the MSA statement.

Last year, the HD-981 was sent deep inside Vietnam’s EEZ, which plunged Chinese-Vietnamese relations to their lowest level in years. Vietnamese ships tried to challenge the oil rig’s deployment, and China sent upwards of 100 vessels to protect the HD-981. Ultimately, after a bitter falling out, Beijing removed the oil rig ahead of schedule.

The oil rig’s current location is not as close to Vietnam as it was last year, which might temper Vietnam’s response to the new provocation. In addition, China is likely to claim the oil rig is within Hainan Island’s EEZ, rather than one of the Paracel Islands, which both Hanoi and Beijing claim.

Still, the new deployment comes amid increasing concerns over Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea. In recent months, China has undertaken a massive reclamation project on reefs and rocks in the South China Sea, which it is transforming into civilian and military bases. These new islands will enhance China’s ability to project power in the region. China has also been increasing the frequency and sophistication of its military exercises in the region.

Before this latest development, there had been signs that China was engaging in a charm offensive in an attempt to reduce tensions ahead of important bilateral and multilateral meetings, including the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which took place in Washington earlier this week. For example, China’s Foreign Ministry recently announced that its land reclamations were being wrapped up, although this was partly because the most important ones had already been completed.
As Reuters notes, the oil rig’s deployment comes just weeks before the chief of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, is set to visit the United States for the first time. Washington and Hanoi have grown closer in recent years as China’s growing power and aggression in the South China Sea have given the two countries’ common cause.

This new development will only further strengthen Vietnam’s desire to strengthen ties with the United States as a way to balance its more powerful neighbor.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikicommons.

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