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The Chinese Navy and the Quest for Access

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In a quiet but undoubtedly significant event, Admiral Wu Shengli (吴胜利), commander of the People’s Liberation Army Navy and a member of the PRC’s Central Military Commission recently visited Malaysia with an entourage of 10 senior officials. During his visit, Admiral Wu secured agreement from the Malaysian Navy for the ships of the PLA Navy to use the port of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo as a "stopover location" to "strengthen defence ties between the two countries."

What’s remarkable is the environment in which this agreement has been reached. China’s military vessels have been active in Malaysia’s territorial waters off Borneo from 2011. Since 2013, the number of Chinese naval and coast guard vessels patrolling and anchoring around Malaysia’s Luconia Shoals and James Shoal, both of which are within Malaysia’s exclusive economic zone, has increased greatly, and PRC territory markers have been erected on the latter.

In June, National Security Minister Shahidan Kassim said that Malaysia would protest to China about the PRC Coast Guard ship long anchored in Malaysian waters at Luconia Shoals, while legislators voiced their unhappiness with the situation. The Malaysian Foreign Ministry has more recently been lodging weekly protests with Beijing over the presence of the Chinese ship in the area. While the anchored PRC ship is being monitored, there have been reports that Malaysian fishermen are still being driven away from the shoals by Chinese threats to facilitate Chinese fishing boats’ exploitation of the area.

Further, only a day after Admiral Wu left Malaysia, the Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, visited Sabah and started berating ‘a regional superpower’ which has built facilities on three atolls just 155km from Sabah and "3,218km from its mainland.' "To claim this part of the South China Sea as theirs due to historical narrative is invalid," the Deputy Prime Minister Zahid noted.

Why then do we have this agreement now by the Malaysian Navy for Chinese navy port access to Sabah? And which part of the Malaysian administration was responsible for approving it?

Access to a northern Borneo port has long been an ambition of the PLA Navy in its efforts to expand control in the South China Sea. Two years ago, in a Strategist posting entitled Xi Jinping and the Sabah enigma, I noted how Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Sabah (subsequently aborted) reflected PRC efforts to increase links with that key region of northern Borneo. Chinese naval personnel first visited Kota Kinabalu in August 2013.

Later that year, direct contact between Malaysia’s Naval Region Command 2 (Mawilla 2) and China’s Southern Sea Fleet Command was initiated and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein invited China’s Defence Minister, General Chang Wanquan (常万全), to visit the Royal Malaysian Navy base in Teluk Sepanggar, Sabah, to jointly launch the tie-up. At the same time, Malaysia and China announced joint military exercises for 2014, eventually held in 2015 in the Strait of Malacca. A PRC consulate was established in Kota Kinabalu in April 2015 and the new consul-general began by urging that Chinese-language signs be erected across Sabah.

But back to Admiral Wu’s journey. During his current peregrination, Admiral Wu is visiting Malaysia, Indonesia and the Maldives, undoubtedly reflecting Chinese naval access aspirations in those three regions. This is one of three trips to neighbouring countries by senior PRC military officials this month. Admiral Sun Jianguo (孙建国), Deputy Chief of the PLA General Staff Department, accompanied Xi Jinping on his visit to Vietnam in early November. General Fan Changlong (范长龙), Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, is also currently leading a military delegation to Pakistan and India. A Global Times commentary suggests that all three trips are related to expanding China’s maritime interests.

In the light of these visits and increasing PRC maritime assertiveness, only the most innocent would, on observing the location of Darwin between the South China Sea and the Indian and South Pacific Oceans, conclude that the PLA Navy would not likewise be interested in securing access to and facilities in the port of Darwin. Particularly if it was under the control of a Chinese enterprise for the coming century.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

Image: Creative Commons. 

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France's Charles De Gaulle Aircraft Carrier: The Good, the Bad and the Nuclear

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The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle (R91) is the centerpiece of the French navy. The 42,500-ton ship is set to play a key role in Paris’ war on the Daesh terrorist network in Syria and Iraq following Friday’s deadly attack on the French capital.

Though the ship is proving to be a capable warship with its relatively powerful air wing, which consists of a maximum of forty Dassault Rafale M strike fighters, Super Étendards Modernisé strike aircraft, Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes and a host of helicopters, Charles De Gaulle has faced a difficult path to realizing its full potential. During construct, the ship ran into huge cost overruns totaling roughly eighteen percent and several major delays. In fact, work had to be stopped on four separate occasions.

But Charles De Gaulle faced difficulties even once the ship was completed. The ship had to be fitted with better radiation shielding after inspectors found higher than expected radioactivity onboard—the ship had been in construction so long that safety standards had changed. Moreover, the ship’s flight deck had to be extended by about fourteen feet to accommodate the Hawkeye. The vessel had originally been designed to launch and recover the Super Étendards Modernisé, the Rafale and the US. Navy’s F/A-18C/D—the requirement to operate the Hawkeye was only added in 1992, which necessitated the refit.

The carrier also faced tremendous problems with its propulsion system initially. The ship had issues with vibration, and indeed during one well-publicized incident, the propellers literally snapped. The problem was traced to faulty manufacturing—there were air pockets in the cast copper-aluminum alloy. Worse, the blueprints for the propellers had been lost in a fire, which meant that the ship had to be refitted with hand-me down screws from Foch and Clemenceau. That cut her speed down from twenty-seven knots to about twenty-four knots—which was unfortunate since she is already considerably slower than her predecessors which steamed at thirty-two knots.

Charles De Gaulle was eventually refitted with new propellers in 2007 during her first refueling. The Charles De Gaulle’s advantage over conventional carriers is that she doesn’t need as much logistical support compared to her predecessors due to her nuclear propulsion. However, the French opted for a reactor that needs to be refueled every seven years. By comparison, an American carrier is only refueled once during its fifty-year lifespan. The refit also added a host of improvements that allowed the French to finally exploit its full potential. But even then, Charles De Gaulle suffered another embarrassing electrical fault in the propulsion system in 2010 that cut her deployment short—literally to one day.  At this point, however, most of the bugs seem to have been ironed out.

Charles De Gaulle is not the equivalent of a Nimitz or Ford-class carrier. The ship is less than half the size and it doesn’t have the deck space to accommodate as many aircraft or launch and recover those jets at the same rate, but it is a relatively capable vessel. The flight deck is not long enough to conduct simultaneous launch and recovery operations, but at maximum capacity, it can carry forty aircraft and launch 100 sorties in a single day. But that’s at maximum capacity; in reality Charles De Gaulle doesn’t carry nearly that many planes at any one time. What she does do is give France an independent strategic power projection capability—which is Paris’ first and foremost defense policy objective.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Creative Commons. 


Payback: Some of Russia's Most Lethal Weapons of War Just Struck ISIS

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The Kremlin has launched a massive barrage of air and sea launched cruise missiles against Daesh targets in Syria in retaliation for the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt last month.

Russia launched the missiles from Tupolev Tu-22M3 Backfire, Tu-95MS Bear and Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers, according to the Russian Ministry of Defense. Additionally, the Russian navy launched its own barrage of the cruise missiles against the self-styled Islamic State according to some reports.

“In accordance to the task assigned by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces concerning enhancing combat air operations in the Syrian Arab Republic, crews of Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 long-range aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces carried out strikes with air-based cruise missiles at the ISIS terrorist objects within the air operation,” reads a statement from the Russian defense ministry.

During the first wave of the Russian raids, a dozen Tu-22M3 bombers struck Daesh targets in Syria’s Raqqah and Deir-ez-Zor provinces. Later, a force of massive Mach 2.0-capable Tu-160 supersonic bombers and quad-turboprop Tu-95MS Bears launched a salvo of thirty-four air-launched cruise missiles against the terrorists in Aleppo and Idlib. “Today as a result of the first massive airstrike 14 terrorist facilities of special importance were destroyed with 34 cruise missiles,” reads the Russian government statement. It’s the first time Russian strategic bombers—particular the Blackjack—has conducted combat operations in recent memory.

There are no details available about the Russian naval cruise missile strikes against Syrian targets. But presumably, the Russians followed a similar game plan as their last series of sea-based cruise missile strikes that were launched from the Caspian Sea. Russia could have once again launched missiles from the Caspian Sea, but it could also have launched those weapons from the Mediterranean.

The Russian air attack consisted of twenty-five bombers backed by eight Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft and four Su-30SM multirole fighters. The Fullback strike aircraft hit a number of targets—including Daesh’s fuel supply. “Su-34 aircraft destroyed two columns of fuel bowsers and about 50 vehicles. As a result, taking into consideration previous airstrikes aimed at oil supply transports (410 fuellers in total) and several infrastructure elements, the illegal fuel export capabilities of the terrorists have been significantly cut,” the Russian defense ministry states.

In total, the Russian expeditionary force in Latakia flew a total of sixty-five combat sorties, according to the Russian defense ministry. The Russians planned to fly 127 combat sorties against 206 Daesh targets‑including the strategic bomber raids. The Russians also apparently provided advanced notice to the United States of their impending operation. “The Russian Defence Ministry had informed the US Air Force Command and other coalition countries’ Commands about the airstrikes in advance,” the Russian statement reads.

Pentagon officials confirmed that Russia had given them prior notice of the operation. “We are aware that over the past several hours Russia conducted a significant number of strikes in Raqqah, some of which may have included sea-launched cruise missiles and long-range bombers,” a senior U.S. defense official told Agency France Presse. “While we do not coordinate or collaborate in any way with Russia on its activities in Syria, I can confirm that the Russians did provide us notice prior to conducting these strikes, via the Coalition Combined Air Operations Center in Qatar, in accordance with the safety protocols agreed to in October.”

Meanwhile, Russian president Vladimir Putin has ordered the Slava-class missile cruiser Moskva—which is the Russian flagship in the Mediterranean—and her task force to cooperate with French forces in the region.

France has stepped up its operations in the region following a barbaric terrorist attack on Paris on Friday.  The French carrier Charles de Gaulle is set to arrive in the region within days to start bombarding the Daesh forces. According to Putin, Moskva will “cooperate with them as with allies.” While Paris and Moscow are not currently coordinating, French president Francois Hollande is set to meet with Putin on Nov. 26.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

Job Posting: Executive Editor

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Job Description: Executive Editor

The National Interest (TNI), a well-respected international affairs publication, is seeking a new Executive Editor to manage the day-to-day operations of its award winning website This position offers the opportunity to work directly with the editor of TNI in soliciting and publishing essays and blogs from premier academics, journalists and think-tank scholars on vital international developments.

The following include the main duties of this challenging yet exciting position:

- Along with a team of editors, selecting all of TNI’s website content. This includes feature length pieces, blog posts and video content for publication.

- Copyedit, fact check and properly position all editorial content for maximum exposure.

- Ensure TNI meets or exceeds unique user and page view goals on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

- Working with established contributors as well as reaching out to new authors for the purposes of filling out an editorial calendar on diverse topics such as US foreign policy, national security, US domestic politics, defense issues and more.

- Running the day-to-day social media accounts of TNI including, but not limited to, Facebook (over 1 million likes) and Twitter.

- Working with TNI’s technical staff to ensure the proper maintenance and operation of the TNI website, including search engine optimization (SEO).

- Work with national and international media outlets to promote TNI authors and content. 

To apply please submit a cover letter, resume and at least one writing sample of at least 500 words to [email protected]

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Does France Have Enough Bombs to Smash ISIS?

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The Armée de l'air will carry much of the burden as France goes to war with the Daesh terrorist group in Syria and Iraq following Friday’s attack on Paris.

In many ways, the Armée de l'air—the French air force—is probably the most capable air arm in Europe. Only the British Royal Air Force comes close to matching the overall capabilities of the Ad’A. It maintains a robust force of indigenous combat aircraft including the Dassault Rafafe and several versions of the Mirage 2000—including a variant dedicated to nuclear strike. Perhaps more importantly, the Ad’A also maintains a fleet of tankers, AWACS, various intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms and strategic airlifters. Thus it is a full service air force that is capable of autonomous operations.

Indeed, autonomy lies at the heart of French military strategy with Paris’ nuclear forces always taking first priority. “Preservation of our strategic autonomy, which guarantees freedom of decision and action, is the first principle of our strategy,” reads the French government’s 2013 white paper on defense. “This strategic autonomy must allow France to take the initiative in operations that it may deem necessary to preserve its security interests.”

As such, the French air force places a very high priority on its nuclear forces, one senior U.S. Air Force officer who has flown with French told me. The French air force relies on a combination of tankers, excellent command and control links and stand-off nuclear weapons for that mission. In fact, the French forces flying the two-seat Mirage 2000N dedicated nuclear strike version of that venerable jet routinely practice for that role flying out Djibouti, but without the actual nuclear warhead. The key to French airborne nuclear deterrence is the Mach 3.0 capable Air-Sol Moyenne Portée missile with its TN-81 300KT warhead. “Their nuclear capability is the best part their power projection,” said the U.S. Air Force office.  “They have a fantastic stand-off nuclear missile.”

There is also a dedicated two-seat Mirage 2000D strike version of the jet that flies conventional strike missions. France has roughly 61 of the Mirage 2000D bomber variants according to a French defense ministry document . The French air force also flies forty multirole versions of the Mirage 2000, according to the document. The jet can be armed with a host of laser and GPS-guided bombs as well as stand-off missiles.

But the most capable jet in the French air force inventory is the Dassault Rafale multirole fighter. The aircraft is very capable; it has good avionics and sensors. Particularly, the jet’s SPECTRA electronic warfare suite is excellent—which theoretically allows the Rafale to performance strike missions without the help of a jamming platform like the U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler. The Rafale was originally fitted with a RBE2 passive scanned array radar, but a new active array set is slowly being retrofitted. The service currently has about 91 jets in service.

While France has the necessary aircraft, there are questions if Paris has enough advanced targeting pods and precision-guided weapons in its inventory. During the 2011 campaign against Libya, there was a severe shortage of precision-guided munitions. Indeed, French precision-guided munitions stock were only restored to pre-Libya levels in 2013. It’s not clear if France has bulked up its stockpiles since that time in preparation for an intervention into Syria.

Moreover, during the Libya campaign, many U.S. Air Force aviators from the F-15E Strike Eagle community in particular were not very impressed with the accuracy of the French air strikes. But then the Thales Damocles targeting pods are known to have less than stellar performance compared to the latest generation of pods. France is currently developing a new pod called the TALIOS, but that system has yet to be fielded.

But there is the question if France has enough of the current Damocles pod in its inventory—certainly it didn’t in 2011. “They had to do a lot of buddy lasing with their old Mirages,” recalled the U.S. Air Force official. Specifically, Mirages were paired with Rafales—which is similar to how the French operated during their recent strikes against Raqqah. But the Air Force official noted that the French only dropped twenty bombs—or two per aircraft during Sunday’s sorties. “Twenty bombs isn't a whole lot.”

Overall, the French have very good capabilities, but they need to invest more on sensor pods and their inventory of weapons. France has always had good technical know how, but it needs to field those capabilities in sufficient quantity. The problem is that nationally produced hardware tends to be expensive—the Rafale, for example, is an expensive jet.

Nonetheless, the Armee de l’Air is a very capable force that should be able to pulverize Daesh—assuming it has enough bombs on hand.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

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After the Panic, Patience: The Paris Investigation Has to Run Its Course

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There has been an understandable rush to make sense of Friday’s tragic events in Paris. But in our search to place the attack in a familiar context, there is a danger that we do so using inaccurate or unsubstantiated information.

It is in this context that we should interpret ‘off-the-record’ statements and leaks from French and international authorities. Despite the desire for immediate answers, this will be a complex and lengthy investigation.

There are some things we know for certain. ISIS priorities have changed. Or perhaps more accurately, ISIS has reprioritized its resources to include a focus on attacks against Western targets.

As many have noted, this type of attack — coordinated, complex and mass casualty — is the opposite to the type of attack most believed the West was facing.

But over the last two to three months, we have seen public statements warning of mass casualty attacks and ISIS networks arrested across Europe. This may represent the first successful ISIS mass casualty attack against the West, not the first attempt. In which case, why did the attackers succeed this time?

The first thing to point out is there a difference between specific, actionable threat intelligence, and intelligence indicating intent. Yes, ISIS rhetoric pointed towards attacks in the West. And ISIS clearly had the capability and manpower to attempt these type of attacks. But without specific intelligence, the threat remains latent.

So does the attack constitute an intelligence failure? In the most general sense, yes. France and her partner intelligence agencies, including in the UK and U.S., are specifically looking for this type of intelligence. Internally, they will all regard their inability to prevent the attack as a failure.

The key question is why. There are a number of scenarios. Authorities may have been looking in the right place but unable to access the intelligence they needed, perhaps due to use of encrypted communications or lack of human source access. Equally, they may not have been looking at the group of attackers at all (‘known to authorities’ is a very vague term). Perhaps key pieces of intelligence were collected but not shared with those who needed them. Some or all of these factors could have been in play

The reality is, we don’t know yet. Discussing the impact of the Snowden leaks, or the ineffectiveness of mass surveillance is speculative at best. Until the nature of the failure is known, we shouldn’t suggest a solution.

Common-sense suggests that an increased threat might necessitate increased resources and staffing, as the UK has already announced. But money and resources are not a panacea. After all, France created 2,000 new posts in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. As with any business, additional people and resources take time to make an impact. The challenges of IT, desks, parking spaces, and up-skilling new staff are the same in intelligence agencies as in any other business. In the short-term, more staff can reduce capability.

Identifying what this means in an Australian counter-terrorism context will also take time. The change in threat posed by ISIS may require yet more resources for the intelligence and importantly, border protection agencies. But as with the Parramatta shooting, we should first wait.

We need more information about who planned and directed the attack, the travel routes used by the attackers, what counter-intelligence techniques (if any) were used to evade the authorities, and how they sourced weapons and explosives.

And any response should also recognize the clear differences between Australia and Europe, particularly in availability of weaponry and ease of international travel. ISIS is strategic but also opportunistic. Would it be a smart use of its rapidly reducing resources to target Australia when there are softer, more readily available targets?

So it is right that we re-assess our ability to counter the threat of ISIS in light of the Paris attacks. And ensure that law enforcement and emergency services are prepared for such an attack. But unless there is a very real, short-term public safety issue, these terrible events should not prompt a wholesale change in our approach, until the evidence demands it. 

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Creative Commons. 

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As ISIS Strikes, China Rises (And America's Pivot Seems on Hold...Again)

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The Crouching Tiger Project: Terrorism Once Again Hits the Pause Button on America’s Pivot to Asia from Peter Navarro on Vimeo.

As our hearts go out to Paris, Washington’s collective head will once again pivot away from Asia and focus singularly on the war on terrorism.  As this spectacle of angst unfolds, cable news shows will see ratings spike.  The Situation Room will turn off the lights on every map but those of Syria, Iraq, and Europe.  Presidential candidates will thump their chests – even as debate moderators toss Rising China questions in the trash. And as fear reigns over the West, a revisionist Beijing will quietly continue its expansionism in the East.

In truth, no country has benefited more from the rise of terrorism than a Rising China.  Since 9/11, and under the cover of Al Qaeda and now ISIS, China has steadily assembled one of the finest militaries in the world – even has Beijing has accelerated its aggression in the East and South China Seas.

On the eve of 9/11, Washington had already begun its first pivot to Asia as seasoned hands within the fledgling Bush Administration clearly understood China posed the greatest long-term threat.  However, a handful of suicide bombers commandeering several passenger jets changed all that, and off U.S. forces went to the hills of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq.  

Over time, the seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and now Syria have bled our treasury dry even as we have left untold blood and treasure in the region.  To the delight of Beijing, both the length and inconclusiveness of these wars have left an America public war-weary and without the stomach to handle yet another challenge in Asia. 

The high cost of America’s war on terrorism has also contributed to a policy of budget sequestration – the poster child of partisan dysfunctional.  Severe, across-the-board military budget cuts, in turn, are now calling our readiness into question. Today in Asia, we may talk more loudly at times but with each passing day, we carry a smaller and smaller stick and fleet.

There is also the matter of Bush’s Grand Distraction itself.  The Bush legacy here – embraced seamlessly by Barack Obama – is one of simply not paying enough attention either to China’s salami-slicing in the South China Sea nor a rapid Chinese military buildup obsessively focused on sinking U.S. aircraft carriers and driving America out of the Western Pacific.

Most subtly, the land wars that we have fought in the Middle East have prevented a long overdue transition to a more naval-oriented force better suited to the Asian theater. The biggest strategic casualty – one that makes a mockery of Hillary Clinton’s well-intentioned but poorly executed pivot – has been an America fleet that has steadily shrunk from a high of 600 ships during the Reagan years to under 300 ships today.

In fact, America’s singular focus on the Middle East has played right into a strategic opportunism that goes to the very heart of Chinese strategy.  As The Hundred Year Marathon author Michael Pillsbury has framed it:

"In Chinese philosophy, forces shape things. Humans, if they want to be smart, understand the forces, and either nudge them or go with the flow, align themselves with those forces, and then history unfolds."

Beijing over the decades has indeed sought to “nudge” history in its favor as America has been distracted.  In 1962, during the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, China invaded India and firmly secured possession of Aksai Chin – even as Kennedy’s pre-occupied White House ignored repeated entreaties from a beleaguered Nehru to come to India’s rescue.  In 1974, China nudged again – or more aptly salami-sliced – with its taking of the Paracel Islands from a South Vietnam that Nixon and Kissinger had all but abandoned and the U.S. no longer wished to defend.

In 1988, China nudged yet again when it built an illegal observation post on Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea. When Vietnam responded by landing troops on nearby Johnson South Reef, Chinese warships slaughtered them – and then took control of six more of these disputed Spratly Islands.  At the time, a disinterested U.S. did nothing.  Today, these are the very same reefs and rocks Chinese and U.S. warships are now jockeying over as China has transformed these “rocks in the sea” into fortress garrisons – Fiery Cross Reef alone is home to a 10,000 foot, military grade Chinese runway.

And speaking of rocks in the sea that U.S. and Chinese warships are now circling around, there is also Mischief Reef. This is a cautionary tale of what happens when America withdraws its Navy from Asia: When the monsoon season kept the Philippine Navy from its normal administrative patrols around Mischief Reef – and with the U.S. Navy evicted from Subic Bay naval base by the Philippines itself – Chinese naval forces surreptitiously slipped into this administrative void and erected several structures. 

At that point, the Philippines could have attempted to intervene militarily to stop what its political leaders angrily denounced as a “creeping invasion.” However, having seen what China had violently done to Vietnamese sailors and soldiers in the Battle of the Paracels in 1974 and again in the Johnson South Reef Massacre of 1988 – and without the U.S. to have its back – the out-gunned Philippines navy refused to engage with Chinese forces.  In this way, the taking of Mischief Reef quickly became a fait accompli.

Lest anyone think this kind of revanchist behavior is ancient history, Beijing pulled off a similar salami slice with its taking of Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012.  Here’s the kicker: After this taking, the U.S. thought it had successfully mediated a resolution that required both China and the Philippines to withdraw from the area and peaceably negotiate.  However, while the Philippines kept its part of the deal and withdrew its forces, China never left – a stunning example of bad faith bargaining that will certainly make it more difficult to resolve future disputes with Beijing through peaceful negotiations.

Here’s the broader point of this sweep of Beijing’s opportunistic history: While America has vacillated between distraction and disinterest when it comes to Asia, a Rising China has quietly seized the opportunity to seize territory and expand its influence and power – and thereby nudge history in its favor.  The Asia-Pacific is, however, home to 50% of the world’s population and likely more than 70% of future economic growth – and therefore a part of the world where America’s economic and strategic future ultimately lays. As we prosecute the war on terrorism and do what we must to extinguish Al Qaeda and ISIS, this nation – and the presidential candidates that hope to lead it –must never lose sight of this essential truth.

Peter Navarro is a business professor at the University of California-Irvine and author of Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (Prometheus Books). 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

This Is How The U.S. Military Sees the Future of War

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The U.S. military is certainly going through some changes these days. It is considering opening historically unavailable roles for women. Despite the recent NDAA agreement, it is dealing with a new reality of fewer troops and a continued uncertain budget future, affecting the Department of Defense’s ability to prioritize and plan. Add to that the military modernization of Russia (despite having budget issues of its own), the greater assertiveness of China, as well as the rising instability caused by ISIS and the recent

attack in Paris.

With that alone, America’s armed forces would have their hands full. But that’s only the near- to medium-term. What about the long term?

Luckily, despite all other issues, our military services—the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force—released documents outlining their vision for how they can be most efficient and effective in the future. While there are differences among them, their similarities reveal what our defense establishment believes is the role of the military going forward. Indeed, they unanimously believe that the world of the future will be more complex than it is today, requiring America’s armed forces to be more agile, austere, intelligent, and capable of working among themselves, with allies, and with partners. While these ways are correct, they are being used toward the wrong ends (and the means continue to be in flux). Thus, a strategic realignment that places a greater emphasis on stability and security over outright defeat should animate our armed forces.

First, to the more difficult environment. The future military (and, in a sense, the current one) will deal with non-state actors that can carry out strategically significant actions; state actors challenging the status quo; urbanization and megacity conflict; the proliferation of under-governed areas; a new global middle class that will demand energy and other resources, further straining certain societies; climate change; the improvement in new tools of statecraft like cyber; emerging disruptive technologies; and crises simultaneously popping up in multiple areas. (Sadly, that is not an exhaustive list.) As the Army admits, “our exclusive use of previous paradigms is insufficient for the task ahead,” thereby “requir[ing] a bold an innovative approach,” the Navy believes. So what is the new approach that gets our services away from past ways of operating?

The services differ, but they agree that the military needs to change. Our troops should be more agile, not only in their ability to get from place to place, but also in “breaking paradigms and leveraging technology,” as the Air Force puts it. They should be able to operate in austere environments and without many resources. In essence, they should literally get the biggest bang for their buck. To do this, more responsibility will go to younger officers, behooving the military to ensure these officers are well trained and educated early on in their careers. Finally, the services need to be more interoperable, not only with allies and partners but also among themselves. This is a function of lower budgets and the reality that with events moving quickly, any complications among militaries will slow down a crucial military response.

At base, there is nothing really wrong with any of these. But to what ends? As the National Military Strategy describes it, when America is confronted with a state actor, the military should be used to “deter, deny, and defeat.” And, when the main adversary is a non-state actor, the strategy should be to “disrupt, degrade, and defeat.” However, these harken back to the “previous paradigms” the Army lamented, meant to achieve warring goals of previous eras. To be sure, right now “about 90 percent of conflicts are civil wars.” As Dominic Tierney explains, “the shift from conflicts between countries to conflicts within countries triggered an era of American military failure” where its “military campaigns [are] ugly at best and unwinnable at worst” (italics in original). The focus on “win[ning] in a complex world,” then, should be changed. Instead, I offer a new three-worded approach: stabilize, secure, and set (similar to a previous argument made by the Defense Department in 2006).

The military must recall that it is but one tool in the American national security and foreign policy toolbox, albeit the largest one. With instability likely to be the norm within states, and with that instability likely to spread, it is imperative that the military be used to stabilize situations. But military means will not be enough. The military will have to work even closer with the State Department, the Agency for International Development, and others that can help with governance. The military will provide the space for governance to arise; it will not bring about governance simply by military defeat. Further, the military can be used to stabilize certain areas that are starting to become unstable. Using force wisely and judiciously in certain situations to stop certain problems from getting worse will likely be the main task of the American military in the near- to medium-term.

Securing the area where the military is deployed will also be vital. Like stabilization, securing the area will allow life to go on somewhat normally, ultimately leading to a more peaceful situation. Of course, security does not only mean physical security to the person, but also security in life of the individual. Here, other U.S. agencies, along with allies, partners, and friends, will take the lead. But troops will be needed to ensure a stable situation turns into a secure one. Finally, when things get back to normal, the military along with other parts of the U.S. government and agencies from other actors—state and non-state alike—will ensure the area is set so all can leave. If the area still remains slightly unstable or slightly insecure, it is not set. Being “set” could mean ensuring that an effective government is in place; that the actors involved have had their interests met and no longer use warring methods to get them; that the American interest is not threatened to a point that the costs outweigh the benefits of staying; etc. Since defeat of an outright adversary is less likely in the short- to medium-term, aiming to set a situation, and beforehand stabilizing and securing it, make more sense than aiming for “defeat.”

All that said, our military should still be able to beat an adversary. After all, having the ability to defeat other actors not only deters, but is also among the ultimate guarantors of the preservation of the nation. But, if defeating adversaries will not be required in many future missions requiring the military, then it should not strategically be set up that way. Instead, it should focus more on ensuring that bad actors do not want to test it; that bad situations do not get worse; and that bad times do not arise after the military leaves.

To do all this, the services should continue their approach of being more agile, austere, intelligent, and interoperable. These new attributes should serve a new purpose, not an old paradigm—and civilian leadership should recognize this. America’s military should still be the best and ensure that any fight it enters is not a fair one. At the same time, the services—and the military writ-large—must realize that these attributes should serve a new end. If they do not, then all the power America has vanishes, and ultimately it may lead to our own defeat.

Image: U.S. Army Flickr. 


Get Ready, ISIS: France's Armed Forces Pack a Lethal Punch

The Buzz

Here’s how to put the scale of Islamic State’s attacks into perspective. Within a span of few weeks, the radical Islamist group carried out the deadliest terror attack in modern French history, killing 129 people, and the deadliest attack in modern Turkish history — the Oct. 10 Ankara bombing, which killed 102.

Between the two, I.S. blew up a Russian passenger jet over the Sinai, killing 224. Another 44 people died in suicide blasts in a Hezbollah-controlled Beirut neighborhood, the worst terror attack in the city since the end of the Lebanese civil war. A drumbeat of suicide bombings in Baghdad killed dozens.

In other words, Islamic State has launched a war on the civilian populations of all its major adversaries — NATO, Russia, Iraq and an Iranian ally.

A day after the Paris bloodbath, French Pres. François Hollande called the murders “an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army, Daesh, against France.” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls vowed to “annihilate the enemies of the republic.”

All of Islamic State’s enemies will likely strike back hard. But don’t underestimate France. Its military has been one of the most aggressive in battling Islamist groups from Mali to Afghanistan.

France has been at war with Islamic State since September 2014 under the name Operation Chammal. Paris can call on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle — due to arrive Nov. 18 near the Middle East to support the war — and her assortment of Rafale and Super Etendard strike aircraft. A French two-star general is also attached to U.S. Central Command.

The French war in Iraq and Syria — the latter which France began bombing in September 2015 — includes six Rafales flying from the United Arab Emirates, and three Mirage 2000Ds and three Mirage 2000Ns based in Jordan,according to IHS Jane’s.

Charles de Gaulle served a previous combat deployment near Iraq in February, March and April.

But we should expect any French response to be limited as the French military is relatively resource-poor. At the same time, its highly-skilled expeditionary units are “general-purpose forces with a long-standing expeditionary mission and outlook” derived from France’s colonial history, according to Michael Shurkin in a 2014 RAND study.

All combined, this means French officers learn to do more with less — though they would like to have more resources — and accept a higher level of risk than their American counterparts. The French army, for example, often has to make do without satellites, drones or advanced surveillance aircraft.

In fact, the old-fashioned French military has tried to deliberately unlearn tactics handed down by the Americans in Afghanistan, where French combat troops fought until 2012. Kurdish troops in Iraq have also praised French air strikes for their accuracy to War Is Boring.

If we shouldn’t underestimate France, we also shouldn’t overestimate the country’s ability to defeat Islamic State. The war in Iraq and Syria is the world’s bloodiest ongoing conflict — and there’s little appetite or capability for France to expand far beyond the current advise-and-assist mission.

But it could expand behind the scenes. French troops have quietly deployed to Iraq in the past year to conduct advising and training programs for Iraqi and Kurdish soldiers. It could send weapons to allies — such as more U.S.-made but French-donated M-2 machine guns in service with the Kurdish peshmerga. Paris could bolster its land-based warplanes in the region, but this would stretch a tight defense budget.

More air strikes may not be necessary. Coalition air strikes have been on an upward trend, with 2,670 “weapons released” in October, according to U.S. Central Command. This number has not dropped below 2,000 since July.

At the same time, there are fewer targets to bomb as Islamic State has abandoned fixed positions and takes to operating mainly at night. Then there’s the ever-present problem of how to correctly identify targets in the first place. And that’s something the United States with all its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance hardware struggles with in Iraq and Syria.

In other words, France may escalate its role — more air strikes, more weapons supplied to friendly troops — but is unlikely to fundamentally change the war’s characteristics. That’s something no country can do on its own.

Instead, the most significant changes may be at home. And this was underway before the terror attacks in Paris. In January, Islamist gunmen murdered people in the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and at a Jewish grocery store.

Which is to show Islamic State is not just a regional threat in Iraq and Syria — but an international one. The identities of the terrorists who gunned down handicapped concertgoers is still unclear, but they appear to be a mix of French citizens and militants from the Middle East.

After those attacks, the French government announced an increase to its military budget by $4.2 billion over the next several years, with the bulk of the spending directed into homeland security. The French government will “permanently dedicate 7,000 soldiers to homeland security to counter the threat of terrorist attacks,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

This piece first appeared in WarIsBoring here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

French Air Power Goes to War Against ISIS

The Buzz

After a string of barbaric attacks on Paris that left 129 people dead on Friday, France has started to strike back at Daesh—the self styled Islamic State—terrorist organization. As part of the initial French response, the Armée de l'air hit targets in al-Raqqah, which Daesh claims as its capital.

Some twelve warplanes—a total of ten Dassault Rafales and Mirage 2000s—dropped twenty bombs on two targets according to the French Ministry of Defense. The first target was a Daesh facility, which the Islamic terrorist group was using as a command post, recruiting center and armory. The second target was a terrorist training camp.  “Operation Chammal hit operational structures held by Daesh in Raqqah, Syria,” reads a French Ministry of Defense statement. “The two targets of the strikes were destroyed.”

According to the French defense ministry, the aircraft took-off from bases in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. France is coordinating its operations with the United States, which is sharing intelligence with Paris. However, while the French air raid was coordinated with American forces, the French defense ministry said that French forces had previously identified the targets during reconnaissance over flights.

Meanwhile, France’s sole aircraft carrier—the nuclear-powered Charles De Gaulle—is set to deploy to the region when it leaves from Toulon on Wednesday. The 42,000-carrier, though less than half the size of the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz or Ford-class supercarriers, still packs a punch with an air wing consisting of Rafale Ms, Super Étendard strike aircraft and E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.

The vessel can carry about forty aircraft onboard including roughly twenty strike aircraft. Normally, Charles de Gaulle carries two fighter squadrons—one equipped with the Rafale M and another with the Super Étendard Modernisé—also referred to as the SEM. The Marine nationale—which is still colloquially referred to as La Royale— is expected retire the SEM in 2016 once there are enough Rafale Ms in service. The ship also carries a pair of Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes. The carrier is certified to launch and recover even larger aircraft like Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet—and cross-deck operations have been practiced many times in the past.

During previous deployments, Charles de Gaulle sustained between ten and fifteen sorties per day for two months flying against Daesh. However, given the France’s rage over the recent attacks in Paris, the carrier might hit more targets per day but at the cost of endurance. Charles de Gaulle—with a full complement of aircraft—could generate up to 100 sorties per day, but the ship does not normally carry as many jets as it could (roughly a maximum of forty) nor enough weapons and jet fuel to sustain that pace for long.

It remains to be seen just how much France will pick up the pace of its operations against Daesh post the Paris attack. French president Francois Hollande vowed to destroy the Islamic terrorist movement in a speech before the both houses of the French Parliament earlier today at the Palace of Versailles. “France is at war,” Hollande said. “I want us to respond with the cold determination that is appropriate to this appalling attack. Our democracy has triumphed over far worse adversaries than these cowardly assassins, these appalling killers.”

Meanwhile, the United States is promising to intensify its so-far piddling air strikes. But U.S. president Barack Obama said that he would maintain his strategy because it’s working. “We always understood that this will be a long term campaign. We are concentrating on intensifying our air strikes against ISIS, of which there have been 8,000 to date, and on taking out ISIL leaders and killers, “ he said.

That might be true, but during Operation Desert Storm, U.S. forces averaged 1200 per day—right now the Pentagon is averaging four per day. Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Mitchell Institute, criticized the slow, politically micro-managed and overly restrictive American air campaign as “pathetic.”

“We have it within our capacity to destroy the Islamic State leading to the elimination of their sanctuary for terror,” Deptula wrote in USA Today. However, to do so will require moving beyond the current anemic, pinprick air strikes, to a robust, comprehensive use of airpower — not simply in support of indigenous allied ground forces, but as the key force in taking down the Islamic State. It will require focusing on the Islamic State as a government, not an insurgency, and for Central Command and their subordinate task force to stop fighting the last war, and start the serious use of airpower.”

The question is not if the Pentagon has military might to annihilate Daesh. It’s a question of if the United States has the political will to wipe the Daesh scourge from the face of the Earth.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East