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A Time for Deterrence

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American politician and poet Eugene McCarthy once said that the media are like blackbirds on a telegraph pole. Once the impulse goes through, they all jump in the same direction. Fortunately for McCarthy, the Washington punditocracy was not as developed then as it is now.

No sooner did Washington and the European Union announce that they were considering new sanctions on Russia for its war in Ukraine then the Beltway cognoscenti sprang into action with a new line. Unfortunately, it is the same line echoed by Moscow, consisting of the following arguments: First, the new sanctions will not work or really hurt Russia, but will push Moscow and Putin into a corner from where Putin might lash out and stage an even bigger invasion of Ukraine than has hitherto been the case. Second, and related, is that we therefore have to negotiate with Russia over the future of its role in the lands of the former Soviet Union.

Moscow has added to this line of reasoning through its own arguments. Not only do Russian spokesmen breathe defiance and dismiss Western sanctions as ineffectual, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has complained disingenuously that Moscow does not know what Washington wants of it. He has further added that even if there had been no Ukrainian crisis, NATO would, in any case, have found new ways to commit aggression against Russia.

The fallacies of these arguments are obvious. First, they do not square with the facts. It is quite clear what the West wants: namely, an end to the invasion of Ukraine, the withdrawal of Russian troops, the cessation of all acts of belligerency against Ukraine and neighboring states, and the recognition of the new Ukrainian government.

As well, in the wake of mounting sanctions, Russian President Vladimir Putin has doubled down, sending more weapons to Ukraine, evidence suggesting the shelling of Ukraine from Russia, and dispatching more of Moscow’s “specialists”, including Vladimir Antufeyev.

As a result, there is nothing to talk about. It is abundantly clear that Moscow does not accept existing borders or respect the sovereignty of the countries of the “post-Soviet space,” despite a host of treaties that it has signed to that effect. Offering negotiations that might reward its aggression only strengthens Putin’s belief that he is dealing with weak, corrupt governments lacking in the courage to defend their interests openly.

Classical deterrence theory teaches us that it is necessary to make the deterrent threat to an aggressor sufficiently credible and palpable so that he can readily see that that his costs will escalate out of control unless he reverses course. Having bet his future and that of Russia in a struggle over Ukraine, Putin can be stopped only by a deterrent threat of sufficient magnitude—such as providing Ukraine with the military weapons and financial assistance it needs to expel the invaders and begin to set its house in order. Only such a step will register in Moscow as a sign of unmistakable resolve on the part of the United States and Europe.

It is the collective fault of Western governments that to date they have been too timorous and concerned for their investments to grasp this state of affairs. Their hesitation has allowed Putin to bring us to this point, at which the threat of a wider war in Europe now lurks in the wings. But it is not too late for us to regain the policy initiative and take the steps necessary to not only sustain Ukraine, but also preserve Europe and bolster international security in the process.

Stephen Blank is Senior Fellow for Russia at the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.

Image: White House Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

Should Asia be Afraid? China's Strategy in the South China Sea Emerges

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China continues to play a long game in asserting its territorial claims and hegemonic ambitions in the South China Sea (SCS). After its confrontation with Vietnam over the Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig in May this year, Beijing has recently announced that it intends to build lighthouses on five islands in the SCS, two of which appear to be in waters also claimed by Vietnam. Indeed, China’s traditional position of “strategic ambiguity” regarding its willingness to compromise on its territorial claims within what it calls the ‘nine-dash line’ looks increasingly obsolete.

Its assertiveness in the SCS needs to be seen as part of a new framework of Chinese foreign policy emerging under President Xi Xinping. China watchers point out that the new leadership appears to have conducted a reassessment of China’s security environment, its relative position and policy responses. Predecessor Hu Jintao’s description of the international environment as a “harmonious world” has disappeared. So too has Deng Xiaoping’s guideline to “hide our capabilities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile and never claim leadership.” Instead, the security environment is assessed to be “under a new situation” and according to Xi, China “needs to protect and make the best use of the strategic opportunity period to safeguard China’s national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

From a Chinese perspective, the “new situation,” characterized by the U.S. strategic shift to Asia and growing tensions over maritime territorial disputes, requires “proactive assertiveness” in the SCS. And the leadership is optimistic about winning a decade-long game for hegemony there. Bonnie Glaser and Deep Pal succinctly outline the thinking behind that approach:

“Beijing’s proactive economic diplomacy [in Southeast Asia] is part of a larger strategy aimed at binding its neighbors in a web of incentives that increase their reliance on China and raise the cost to them of adopting a confrontational policy towards Beijing on territorial disputes. At the same time, China continues to engage in a steady progression of small steps, none of which by itself is a casus belli, to gradually change the status quo in its favor. In the near term, China’s leaders anticipate some resistance. Over time, however, they calculate that their growing leverage will be sufficient to persuade weaker and vulnerable neighbors to accede to Chinese territorial demands.”

Can this strategy succeed? If regional and external players display a lack of political will and coordination to raise the costs for China, it well may. It’s difficult, for instance, to counter Beijing’s tactic of using swarms of fishing vessels backed by heavily-armed coast guard vessels to intimidate weaker neighbors.

But that outcome isn’t inevitable. So far, China hasn’t attempted to use military force to occupy disputed islands, which would be a dramatic escalation. It’s reasonable to assume that Beijing is aware of the significant reputational damage it would incur through such a move. There’s also the risk of unwanted escalation. Contrary to conventional wisdom, states do go to war over territorial disputes that seem devoid of strategic value. The end of strategic ambiguity in the SCS provides China’s neighbors with a clear understanding about its intentions and the need to respond strategically. That response should include both investments in military capabilities (such as maritime domain awareness and asymmetric denial assets), as well as paramilitary, civilian and political tools to raise China’s reputational costs in the event of a major crisis.

It has also encouraged Southeast Asian countries to develop (or revitalize) stronger defense ties with external actors. More than ever, the region looks to the U.S. for strategic support. Sensing the broader challenge to its leadership in the Asia-Pacific, the U.S. has stepped up its rhetoric against China’s ‘nine dash line’ and has intensified its Southeast Asian defense engagement as part of its “rebalance.” China can’t exclude the possibility that attempts to settle the territorial disputes by military force could well draw in the U.S. Moreover, major external Asian powers such as Japan and South Korea now engage in regional defense capacity building, aware that what happens in the South China Sea will matter for maritime Northeast Asia.

Thus, China’s strategic success in the SCS is far from a done deal. Somewhat paradoxically, the end of China’s strategic ambiguity might increase regional stability by forcing all players to signal their intentions more clearly. Greater strategic competition isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it helps to define the parameters of mutual restraint in conflict situations.

What does that all mean for Australia? The Abbott government is on the same page as the U.S. and Southeast Asian nations about the need to manage maritime disputes peacefully. Australia also has a major interest in strengthening Southeast Asia’s strategic resilience against coercion by outside powers. Whilst that doesn’t mean sending warships or fighter aircraft into the region, the ADF should, for instance, offer its expertise in maritime-domain awareness to countries such as the Philippines. Moreover, it should seek to utilize the U.S. alliance more actively as a vehicle for multilateral regional defense engagement. Careful playing of the long game in Southeast Asia must become a priority for Australian strategic and defense policy.

Benjamin Schreer is a senior analyst at ASPI. This article first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist website here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Coming to the South China Sea: Asia’s Big Energy Mistake?

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Editor's Note: Please see Stewart Taggart's previous articles: A Plan to Save the South China Sea from Disaster as well as A Plan to Save the East China Sea from Disaster.

Planned Floating Liquid Natural Gas(FLNG) projects in Asia raise hard questions about the technology’s suitability.These include unproven durability,  questionable efficiencies and
“Tragedy of the Commons” resource exploitation. Regionally-interconnected gas pipelines look like a much better long-term deal.

To date, the largest FLNG project planned for Asia is Shell’s US$12 billion Prelude project off Northwest Australia. Further north, Malaysia’s state-owned Petronas  has approved a two billion cubic meter per year FLNG project for the shallow waters off Malaysian Borneo. Australia’s Woodside Petroleum is studying FLNG for Northwest Australia’s offshore Browse Field. Japan’s Inpex is considering FLNG for its Abadi project in offshore Indonesia. China National Overseas Oil Company (CNOOC) is considering FLNG to develop gas supplies in disputed waters of the South China Sea.

The costs of offshore pipelines and FLNG can be compared by adjusting each for distance to market (in kilometers) and annual capacity (in billion cubic meters). The result is a pipeline or LNG project’s US dollar (US$) cost per billion cubic meters of capacity per year (bcm/yr) per kilometer (km) -- or US$/bcm/km/yr. This allows pipelines and LNG project costs to be compared on a common basis. It excludes inflation.

Shell’s $12 billion, 5 billon cubic meter per year Prelude project will export natural gas compressed into LNG to markets in Japan and South Korea 9,000 kilometers away. That results in an investment cost of roughly US$300,000 bcm/km/yr. By contrast, subsea sections of the proposed Trans-ASEAN Gas Pipeline (TAGP) network range from $100,000-$160,000 bcm/km/yr for the biggest capacity (18 bcm/year) segments of the network, according to the ASEAN Centre for Energy. Smaller capacity (1-3 bcm/year), shorter-distance (100-200 km) subsea segments of the TAGP range from $250,00-500,000 bcm/km/yr. This suggests powerful economies of scale,  a suggestion supported by costs of other gas pipeline projects.

The 2007 North Sea Langeled gas pipeline between Norway and the UK (1,200 kms, 25 bcm/yr) cost roughly $100,000 bcm/km/year while the 2011 Nordstream pipeline connecting Russia to Germany (1,200 kms, 54 bcm/yr) cost roughly $170,000 bcm/km/yr.

In addition to apparent cost advantages, pipeline networks also deliver gas to multiple destinations and can also handle multiple fuels. By contrast, FLNG can only carry natural gas between fixed locations using single-purpose infrastructure -- a huge technological rigidity.

This flexibility of pipelines will become increasingly apparent over time as Asia adopts policies to limit climate change, reduce geopolitical tension and enhance long-term economic growth through deepening regional market integration.

Opposition to FLNG is beginning to emerge. For instance, the use of FLNG to develop Northwest Australia’s offshore gas resources is being opposed by Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett. Barnett believes FLNG short-changes host regions by reducing land-based investment.

China’s CNOOC  is studying FLNG  for developing gas fields in the South China Sea’s disputed waters for just that reason. CNOOC says FLNG avoids any need for regional land-based facilities. Any move by China to deploy FLNG in disputed waters  is certain to raise geopolitical tension, particularly with  the Philippines and Vietnam. These two countries also claim areas of the South China Sea likely to be targeted CNOOC.

The result is that FLNG could create a “Tragedy of the Commons.”

This occurs when unsettled resource property rights lead to conflict because ambiguous property rights favor “first movers” who, in turn, have no incentive to develop the resource sustainably. Instead, “first movers” have every incentive to develop the resource rapaciously, since waiting may require sharing it.   

A first step in this direction occurred earlier this year when China placed an exploratory rig in waters claimed by Vietnam, a move that sparked violent anti-Chinese protests in Vietnam.

In both the South China Sea and Australia’s Northwest Shelf, large new gas supplies will be developed in coming decades. These are going to require large capital investment better directed to multi-purpose pipelines. In Australia’s Northwest Shelf a gas pipeline would enable aggregration of onshore and offshore natural gas supplies for delivery to Northeast Asia. This would create economies of scale for construction of a large, common-carrier, open-access natural gas pipeline system. This pipeline system could later offer a route to market for Timor Sea and Eastern Indonesian gas supplies. In the South China Sea, meanwhile, Joint Development Areas shared by China and her Southeast Asian neighbors could link into this larger, regional common-carrier, open-access gas delivery network. Both China and her neighbors already voiced support for Joint Development Areas as one way to peacefully manage conflicting territorial claims.

In coming years, Asia and the world must make a transition to cleaner forms of energy. This requires long-term thinking and investment of trillions of dollars in new infrastructure. Subsea pipelines represent a long-term solution. FLNG, by contrast, looks like an example of short-term thinking that costs more in the long run.

Stewart Taggart is principal of Grenatec, a research organization studying the viability of a Pan-Asian Energy Infrastructure of high-capacity power lines, natural gas pipelines and fiber optic cables stretching from Australia to China, Japan and South Korea.

TopicsEnergy RegionsChina

What China and America Are Wondering: Is "Major War" Obsolete?

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August has seen a wave of reflection on major war. It’s a question we seem to revisit every time the key anniversaries of WWI and WWII roll around, but given special significance this year by the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of WWI. Some pundits are keen to draw parallels between 1914 and 2014—though on its face it’s not apparent to me why 2014 should be more like 1914 than 2013.

Academic strategists familiar with their disciplinary history will know that the issue of whether major war is obsolete received a detailed coverage back in Survival magazine in the late 1990s. To save readers the trouble of digging through their archives, one contributor, John Mueller, argued that it was obsolete—gone the way of slavery and dueling—while others wrestled partly over how to define obsolescence and even more over how to define major war. Was the Vietnam War "major"? Was the Cold War a "war"? Michael Mandelbaum argued that perhaps major war was just a poor policy option nowadays—because of the steep rise in the costs and the thin rewards for success.

It’s intriguing that the question about the obsolescence of war is typically qualified by the adjective "major." No one seems particularly keen to claim that nasty little wars—in particular, nasty little wars in faraway places—are obsolete, perhaps because they patently aren’t. From memory, Mueller didn’t want to call those conflicts ‘wars’, though; he saw those more as “opportunistic predation.” (That’s the reason the cover of his book, The Remnants of War, features an image—from the Balkan conflict in 1991—of a thug swigging from a bottle.)

9/11 came along and sideswiped that whole debate. The nasty little wars of the 1990s didn’t stay in faraway places. A superpower got up and marched off to war—albeit a war against al Qaeda, its supporters, and all its works. Somewhere along the line the mission became conflated with a host of other problems, and Washington ended up obsessing about the Global War on Terror for longer than it probably should have done. But Washington’s behavior at least answered one question related to the Big One: did great powers still go to war? Yes. Now, the question still unanswered—unanswered since 1945 if you think major war has to be hot; unanswered since 1991, if you think major war can be cold—is whether or not major powers still go to war with each other.

Psychologist Steven Pinker has recently argued that the better angels of our nature are making us turn away from violence. I’m not wholly convinced by his argument—the better angels of our nature seem pretty militant to me, and always have been. (See Ephesians, 6:12.) But academic research from a few decades back suggests that great-power wars against each other aren’t common. Jack Levy in his research on war in the international system between 1495 and 1975 found only nine of what he would call “world wars”—wars where almost all great powers were involved. Much more commonly, he found “interstate wars”—113 of which engaged a great power. I cite those figures to underline two points. First, if world wars are rare, maybe we don’t need special explanations to say why there hasn’t been one since 1945 (hot) or 1991 (cold). Second, that definition of major war is still a problem.

Let’s put aside the academic arguments and look straight at the case that most worries. Is a great-power war between US and China possible? I think we could answer that question directly:possible, yeslikely, no. Great powers, especially nuclear-armed ones, don’t go to war with each other lightly. But sometimes wars happen. And they aren’t accidents. They’re about international order. They’re about, as Raymond Aron said, the life and death of states. And the principal reason for fighting them is that not doing so looks like a worse alternative.

Moreover, the paths to war—including rare major-power war—are not reserved solely for conventionally-armed states. Where both powers are nuclear-armed we should expect a conflict, even one at the lower rungs of the escalation ladder, to be fought with a high degree of political control, and an understanding that the objectives of the conflict are limited. Naturally, it would help if both sides shared a common understanding of where the firebreaks were between conventional and nuclear conflict, and already had in place a set of crisis-management procedures, but it’s possible that neither of those conditions might exist. (Neither would prevent a war, but both would provide a better sense of the likely escalation dynamics of a particular conflict.) Indeed, it’s because major war is possible that we retain such a keen interest in war termination. Unconstrained escalation doesn’t lead to a happy place.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist where this first appeared

Image: U.S. Air Force Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Moving Past "Potential": Can America and India Become Real Partners?

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The US-India strategic partnership is either the most under-performing bilateral relationship in the world or its most overrated.

As a new chapter in this relationship is written with the ascent of a center-right government in New Delhi (whose earlier incarnation in the late-1990s had in fact proclaimed the US and India to be 'natural allies'), the aura of hyperbole that permeates ties needs to be shed. Equally, with John Kerry and Chuck Hagel having journeyed through New Delhi over the past fortnight with proposals to deepen defense cooperation, and with Prime Minister Narendra Modi due at the White House in late-September, the conceptual gap in value systems and national interests that has provoked this under-performance needs to be internalized. Another decade-and-a-half of inflated expectations and modest delivery in terms of strategic congruence would be a tragic waste. It would also detract from both countries' pursuit of a fundamental interest that aligns their purposes in the Indo-Pacific: the maintenance of a stable geopolitical equilibrium.  

With the passing of the bipolar international order and India's own shift toward market economics, it was assumed that the traditional commonality of democratic values, complemented by an increasingly robust set of inter-societal ties, would accentuate a dramatic convergence of national interests between the two countries. Washington and New Delhi were to be bound by a common interest in preventing Asia from being dominated by China, eliminating threats posed by international terrorism as well as by state sponsors of terrorism, arresting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, promoting the spread of liberal democracy, deepening expansion of the international economic and trading order, and securing the global commons, especially the sea lines of communication.

Aside from a growing convergence on proliferation-related interests, little of this bold agenda has come to pass or is set to materialize in the years ahead. China-India ties have witnessed more top-level political and defense ministerial exchanges over the past couple of years than between the US and India; the road to AfPak stabilization and troop drawdown runs unchanged through Rawalpindi; Washington, DC and New Delhi occupy opposite poles at practically every multilateral trade, economic, and environment negotiation; India's non-prescriptive practice of democracy enlargement and non bloc-based approach to securing the commons contrasts with America's more advocacy-based and a la carte prone model. If anything, the gap between the two countries' worldviews and policies on international and regional matters has widened.

In the afterglow of the US-India civil nuclear agreement, a narrower but seemingly more congruent set of geo-strategic and defense objectives was also envisioned. First, New Delhi would assist Washington in curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions. Second, New Delhi would align with the major maritime democracies of the Indo-Pacific and countervail Chinese power. The veiled possibility of interdicting Chinese sea-bound commerce in the narrow Andaman Sea during an East Asian contingency was a closely-held card. Third, India would cooperate in HA/DR missions and post-conflict reconstruction efforts, including those not mandated or commanded under a UN flag, on both sides of the Indian Ocean. And, fourth, India would provide access at strategic locations across its territory to US military forces - perhaps even 'over-the-horizon' rotational bases, down the line, to deter or manage contingencies in West and East Asia.

Again, aside from gradual cooperation on Iran oil sanctions, little of this ambition has come to pass. Far from growing into its designated role as the US deputy sheriff in the Indian Ocean region (and perhaps someday as a co-partner across the Indo-Pacific region), New Delhi has double downed on its autonomist leanings. It has resisted participating in major multi-service combined exercises that prepare for high-end operational missions, stayed away from stationing personnel at US combatant command headquarters, turned down a series of foundational pacts that would have enhanced logistics and battle-group networking, opted for Russian rather than US high-precision, military-grade navigation signals, opted to strip out tactical interoperability aids (high-end electronics and avionics suites) while purchasing US-origin platforms (P8I and C-130J aircraft), and even allegedly passed up the opportunity to buy a to-be decommissioned supercarrier - the USS Kitty Hawk - for free! (so long as New Delhi agreed to purchase five dozen or so Super Hornet fighters to be operated off the carrier). Defense ties with Japan and Australia too have been limited to the odd naval exercise, with little scope for logistics sharing or information exchange envisaged.

Some $15 billion of US defense hardware sales - not doctrine-sharing exchanges, harmonized force postures or command and control systems integration - has been the sole deliverable for all the exertions. The failure has not been one of effort (or will); rather it has been one of conception.

The disappointments have not tempered the belief of the faithful. Undaunted, it is argued that with the departure of the previous government and its long-serving, proto-socialist defense minister, US and India defense - and particularly mil-mil ties - stand poised to once again break out of policy stagnation.

Washington and New Delhi, it is counseled, should reauthorize and update their 2005 Defense Framework agreement (which they indeed must) to enable collaboration in multinational operations of common interest. The Indian Navy has possessed this latitude to participate in such muscular activities, yet chose to operate its anti-piracy missions in the Indian Ocean region independent of the US-organized Combined Maritime Forces command. Washington should place military intelligence exchanges on the front-burner and formalize institutional links to share classified information on the region. Navy-to-navy intelligence exchange was a key accomplishment of the 2005 Defense Framework agreement, yet the channel lapsed by the end of the decade due to disclosure policy guidelines that limited sharing of actionable or desirable information.

Washington should deepen service-to-service engagements and incorporate service chiefs and regional commanders within institutionalized policy mechanisms, given the military's visibly friendlier interest in such ties. While civilian masters in the Indian Defense Ministry's planning and international cooperation wing have been a rotten impediment, the roots of New Delhi's civil-military dysfunction in fact stem from the unwillingness of senior uniformed folks to shed their operational command profile and assume a policy advisory role. A unified services command and an integrated civil-military MoD is nowhere in sight. Finally, Washington should use the recent DTI initiative (defense trade initiative in the US, defense technology initiative for New Delhi) to graduate the defense sales relationship beyond the buyer-seller model to one of co-development and co-production. Again, while unimpeachable in intent, New Delhi's expansive definition of technology sharing tends to be confined not just to technology itself but the entire know-how behind how a technology is produced, including systems integration and the overall intellectual capital development. The Initiative also risks being oversold in both capitals: it elevates India to one among three-dozen defense partners in terms of preferential categorization - not one among a half-dozen or so such countries as has been advertised.

At bottom, operating in denial of past lessons risks repeating those errors.

In important respects, the questions that went unanswered 15 years ago remain valid today: what is the template by which one operationalizes a defense and strategic partnership with a critically important country that will never be a treaty ally (and is the primary antagonist of a 'non-NATO ally' - Pakistan), yet is more than just a friendly, non-hostile state? Can enhanced defense cooperation and technology handouts infuse a strategic congruence or must the causality run the other way? If technology sharing boosts India's autonomous defense capability, then does it not detract from the fundamental purpose of deepening 'jointness'? If New Delhi, of its own accord, bears a larger share of the region's security burden, what is its imperative to simultaneously tighten its roles and missions 'jointness' with US forces in the region?  

The bestowal of an incredibly generous civil nuclear deal as well as the mainstreaming of New Delhi within the international technology-sharing regime, at a moment of US primacy, did not furnish the desired answer to these questions. In the more constrained age ahead, it is not clear why New Delhi's strategic calculation vis-à-vis the US will be any more favorable now. Although China's rise and behavior could supply this rationale, Beijing is a key pivot in India's multi-aligned foreign policy strategy and successive governments in New Delhi have seen greater wisdom in operating in the slipstream of Beijing's meteoric rise than by aligning against it. New Delhi appears to defer to the core interests, principles, and (economic) content laid out in the Xi Jinping government's 'new type of great power relations' and periphery diplomacy initiatives than most other governments in the Indo-Pacific. That most observers continue to implicitly - and lazily - base the 'natural' convergence of US and Indian interest in Asia on the belief that China and India are irrevocably locked in strategic competition may, to the contrary, provide a hint as to why Washington's relationship with New Delhi has serially fallen short of expectations.

The future of US-India strategic ties is too important to be constructed solely or even primarily through a China-management lens. The defense cooperation elements within this relationship - joint exercises, intelligence exchange, arms deals, technology-sharing, weapons co-development and co-production, etc. - should be constructed rather on more modest but firmer foundations that are geared to nudging the Indo-Pacific region's multilateral security relations toward a more consociational model of international relations where power is shared and balanced within. Embracing and working through the balance between autonomy and alignment in the US-India strategic partnership will also lock the two countries in a strategic embrace that will favor freedom in the long run.

Sourabh Gupta is a senior research associate at Samuels International Associates, Inc. This article first appeared in CSIS:PACNET newsletter here

Image: U.S. State Department Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsIndia

Guess Where This Hawkish Group Thinks Iran's Nuclear Sites Are

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It’s probably the most famous attack ad in American history. A little girl stands in a meadow, plucking the petals off a daisy, counting each one—getting a few numbers wrong on the way—up to ten. Then the piercing tannoy voice comes in, counts down. Zero. Flash. Mushroom cloud. “These are the stakes!” proclaims the voiceover. “To make a world in which all of God's children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die. Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”

The ad was part of a broader effort by the Johnson campaign to paint Republican challenger Barry Goldwater as a reckless hawk who would lead America into a horrific confrontation with the Soviets. Johnson went on to hammer Goldwater—the Arizona senator would only capture six states and less than 40 percent of the national vote.

Now LBJ’s ad is getting a reprise. Secure America Now, a Washington-based 501(c)(4) advocacy outfit. The ad, “Daisy 2,” targets the Obama administration’s handling of Iran’s nuclear program. The new voiceover: “These are the stakes. We either stand up to supporters of terrorism, or we and our allies risk losing the freedom we cherish. We must not let the jihadist government of Iran get a nuclear bomb. President Obama has an opportunity to stop it. But he is failing. Join with us. Let's secure America—now.”

The video directs viewers into a net of “microsites,” including TruthAboutIran.com and IransIllegalNuclearProgram.com, in addition to Secure America Now’s homepage. TruthAboutIran.com focuses on the Iranian government’s support for terrorism and the not-cuddliness of President Hassan Rouhani; Secure America Now’s site offers an animated GIF-listicle of “Thirteen Reasons to Impeach Barack Obama.” But it’s the Iran’s Illegal Nuclear Program page that takes the cake, thanks to this map of Iran’s nuclear sites:

The map offers an interesting interpretation of Iran’s geography. The seminary-city of Qom, normally south of Tehran, is taking a vacation north of Tehran in the mountains near the Caspian; the massive underground enrichment halls at Natanz have wandered off into the deserts to their northeast. We find Arak, home to a heavy-water reactor under construction, and Isfahan, with its uranium conversion facility, close to where we left them, but the pressurized-water reactor at Bushehr, having been foolishly constructed on a fault line, has shifted inland and to the southeast. (This has likely caused an environmental disaster.) The uranium mine north of Yazd, once in an area due west of the Saghand mine, is now southwest of it, possibly inside Yazd itself.

This is a bold alternative to the mainstream media’s rigid narrative of where all those places are:

IransIllegalNuclearProgram.com offers other revelations, too. The ongoing nuclear negotiations, which conventional sources suggest will end on November 24, actually ended on July 20, according to the site:

And Russia’s ten-year agreement to fuel the Bushehr reactor becomes “unsettling,” though most would agree that guaranteeing Iran’s fuel supply from Russia would weaken Iran’s claim that it needs to conduct enrichment on its own and strengthen America’s case for zero enrichment—and thus actually make America more secure.

It’s not surprising, then, that this group would revive an attack ad that sought to portray a presidential contender as dangerously eager for confrontation to attack a president for being too soft. Secure America Now’s ad hints that Obama “has an opportunity to stop” Iran’s nuclear efforts. But they say that his current approach “is failing.” So what alternative policy would they have us pursue? Perhaps they would like us to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. If that’s so, our pilots should use different maps to find their targets.

TopicsNuclear WeaponsNuclear ProliferationDomestic Politics RegionsIran

Tensions in Asia are Rising: How Strong is the U.S.- Australia Relationship?

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With the annual Australia–US Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN) recently concluded in Sydney, it’s a good time to reassess the broader Australian–US strategic relationship. I want to frame that assessment here by employing a SWOT analysis. The methodology is clunky but simple enough to allow a set of insights about the relationship’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. I’ve allowed myself three of each, as follows.

Three strengths: familial closeness, shared grand strategies, and a solid foundation. First, closeness. The Anglosphere’s our international family, and while it’s easy to mock the importance of belonging to an international family, states that don’t belong to one (like Japan) would beg to differ. Ties of blood and culture run deep. Second, grand strategy: the best long-term allies are those who essentially want the same thing. In grand strategy, Washington and Canberra both want a stable, liberal, prosperous global order. And that’s a good basis for long-term cooperation—because the tie isn’t just of blood but of interest. Third, the foundation: we both enjoy an alliance that’s over 60 years old and is as close today as it’s ever been. Both allies are still looking for new ways to cooperate in order to make the alliance more relevant to the 21st century.

Three weaknesses: time, place, and strategic personalities. After the Global War on Terror the U.S. is a weary Titan. That effect might last another five to ten years, but—over the longer haul—U.S. vigor will wax as well as wane. There’s a second, longer-term “time” factor, and that relates to the broader pattern of regional transformation: while the US rebalance to Asia is good, Washington’s rebalancing at a time when Western influence in the region is slipping because of the rise of regional great powers. Second is geography. At the best of times, Australia’s not Washington’s top priority—geographically we sit too far back from a strategic order essentially built along the Eurasian rim lands. True, the shift of strategic weight in Asia is changing that, to some degree—but we’re never going to be as relevant as front-line U.S. partners. Finally, personalities: the U.S. and Australia are two different strategic personality types: Americans are Extroverted, Intuitive and Feeling; Australians are Extroverted, Sensing and Thinking. In short, we‘re British empiricists, they’re the City on the Hill. There’s a messianic core to U.S. strategic policy that isn’t replicated in ours.

Three opportunities: a more receptive Asia, a U.S. more interested in Southeast Asia, a treaty with an in-built capacity to engage. Evidence of the more receptive Asia abounds. Regional countries want to do more with both the US and Australia. Japan’s the obvious example, but others aren’t as far behind as some think. It wasn’t always thus: remember, we couldn’t do much more with Japan before Abe, nor much more with Indonesia before SBY. A second opportunity, a shifting U.S. perception of Southeast Asia. Washington has traditionally seen that sub region as a set of sea-lanes, and after 9/11 as a possible second front in the War on Terror, but it’s finally coming to see it as a set of influential players at the intersection of two key oceans. Third, both the U.S. and Australia are classic networkers. And the ANZUS treaty already gives them scope (in the unused Article 8) to do more networking together in the regional context. I’m amazed we aren’t doing it.

Three threats: complacency, category mistake, and distraction. Let’s start with complacency, because that’s the most insidious threat to the relationship. There’s something of a danger on both sides of the Pacific that capitals will treat the relationship as “business-as-usual.” Oddly, the simple regularity of AUSMIN actually increases that danger, reducing high-level political commitment to the alliance to an annual ministerial meeting. We need to work to sustain a broader base of political engagement. Second, the threat of the category mistake: that we come to see ANZUS as a barrier to our closer engagement with Asia, rather than an enabler of such engagement. It’s a simple mistake to slip into, and it typically follows from seeing ANZUS as a strategic hangover from a different era. And finally, there’s the threat of distraction. Distraction can come to both capitals from a range of sources. Washington can easily be distracted by more urgent priorities, both domestic and international; but so too can Canberra. Despite the excitable tones in which the future of our strategic partnership with the U.S. is sometimes debated, the real threat isn’t that our relationship will be ruined by disastrous war, nor even that it’ll be traded away to accommodate China: it’s that the relationship will be eaten out from the inside, leaving a hollow, reactive partnership in the place of a substantive, proactive one.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist, where this article first appeared here

Image: U.S. Sec. of State (Flickr) 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

The U.S. Military's Ultimate Fear: Are Aircraft Carriers Too Big To Fail?

The Buzz

Various defense pundits, scholars, and journalists have spent a considerable amount of digital ink debating the various threats to America’s carrier fleet while avoiding a more central question. In the cliché phrase of our time: Are carriers too big to fail? Clausewitz tells us, “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” Is there any political situation of such gravity that losing a carrier would be deemed an acceptable risk? In other words, how expendable are carriers? The answer to this question has large implications for the tactical and strategic options available to U.S. policymakers.

Total security from all risk is impossible. The aircraft carrier is not invulnerable to attack. The new U.S. Ford-class aircraft carrier will be a floating home to over 4,000 sailors and comes in at the hefty price tag of around $12 billion dollars. In light of the development and proliferation of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) weaponry, does this enormous investment of human resources narrow U.S. tactical and strategic options? What are the implications of the sinking of a U.S. carrier?

Political Implications:

Over 4,000 American soldiers died during the recent eight and a half year Iraq war. These casualties played a large role in the extensive domestic opposition to the conflict. Imagine for a moment that a similar number of sailors perish in less than an hour. Such an event would be a national catastrophe and would likely create enormous political pressure to end combat operations. Such a catastrophic scenario is characteristic of naval warfare. In his book Seapower, Naval strategist Geoffrey Till tells us that:

“The nature of forces engaged in maritime operations…are expensive, hard to replace, and even the smallest units represent a sizeable investment in human resources, whose loss can be sudden and instantaneous and very hard for publics and governments to bear.”

The U.S. public is not conditioned to enduring high amounts of casualties. The last time commensurate numbers of U.S. troops died in a single military engagement was in 1950 during the Korean War. Knowing that, what would be the reaction if a U.S. carrier were attacked and sunk?

How it Could Happen:

To those who doubt such a scenario will ever unfold, consider this: Nothing is ever truly invulnerable. The sinking of the Titanic and the Bismarck as well as the passing of the “Battleship” era can all attest to that. Consider the various threats from Beijing’s A2/AD missile arsenal, specifically the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and YJ-12 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM). The International Institute for Strategic Studies’ 2013 global defense assessment, The Military Balance, states that the DF-21D has gone through limited testing and has been deployed to the Second Artillery, the branch of China’s military that controls its nuclear and conventional missile arsenal. Managing Editor for The National Interest Harry Kazianis brings up the point that simple math weights in the favor of the attacker when it comes to anti-ship weapons like the DF-21D. The U.S. Navy has a total of 30 ships equipped with the state-of-the-art Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) system. Even if Washington utilized every Aegis BMD-equipped ship from across the globe, there is a limited amount of interceptors America could bring to the fight. American ships would be sitting ducks once they ran out. Worse, thousands of such missiles can be expended and not even come close to approaching the cost required to field a fleet capable of taking on the U.S. Navy

Strategic Implications:

The threat of a full carrier-strike group anchoring offshore has always been a cornerstone of U.S. deterrence. The sinking of a U.S. aircraft carrier--possibly by A2/AD style weapons--would likely be the defining moment where the era of perceived U.S. global military dominance would come to an end. Such an event--greatly magnified by a 24-hour global news cycle and the rise of social media--would alter the entire globe’s political and strategic balance. Any regime seeking to carve out local spheres of interest would scramble to seek the means to fend off the U.S. Navy. After all, the U.S. Navy is the single most important force providing security for the globalized economic system. Clearly American security assurances wouldn’t carry as much weight with a carrier sitting at the bottom of the sea.

If the Navy’s worst nightmare came true and U.S. adversaries strengthen their ability to threaten aircraft carriers, how does the Navy reorganize itself to project power?  The entire concept of a carrier strike group (CSG) is based on putting bombs on target by primarily carrier-based planes. This is a large part of the Navy’s new operational concept, Air-Sea Battle. Air-Sea Battle (ASB) integrates forces from all domains: space, air, land, sea, and cyber, in order to defeat “adversaries equipped with sophisticated anti-access and area denial capabilities.” An asymmetric weapon that can bypass a carrier’s layered defenses and have even a remote chance at hitting a carrier would throw a wrench in a plan that may be costing U.S. taxpayers around half a trillion dollars.

Too Many Eggs in One Basket?

While the chances of a U.S.-China conflict are remote, Beijing is investing heavily in A2/AD weapons. More importantly, in our current age of breakneck technological development and cyber espionage, nobody can predict what military technologies U.S. rivals may have in five or ten years. Those who believe in the invincibility of the U.S. carrier strike group are tempting fate. The U.S. Navy may be limiting its options by putting too many of its eggs--or shrinking defense dollars--in one basket.

Captain Henry Hendrix sums up this fear in a Center for New American Security paper, stating that aircraft carriers are:

“Big, expensive, vulnerable – and surprisingly irrelevant to the conflicts of the time…The national security establishment, the White House, the Department of Defense and Congress persist despite clear evidence that the carrier equipped with manned strike aircraft is an increasingly expensive way to deliver firepower and that carriers themselves may not be able to move close enough to targets to operate effectively or survive in an era of satellite imagery and long-range precision strike missiles.”

There is a considerable amount of inertia behind the carrier program in the United States. In a recent article about China’s DF-21D Time magazine quoted retired Navy Captain naval-strategist Bernard Cole explaining how our Navy, domestic industry, and politicians all have a deep-rooted interest in keeping carriers as the centerpiece of our naval strategy. Indeed, these behemoths have accompanied us during the entirety of our rise to military preeminence. However, our close relationship with the carrier has its drawbacks. Historically, one advantage that developing militaries have is that they get to base their doctrine and fighting methods on current technology in the relative absence of entrenched interests. Conversely, consider the damage that obsolete ideas of warfare wrought during the beginning of World War One. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died before the major European militaries were able to shed themselves of their dogmatic doctrine and antiquated leadership. If aircraft carriers are being eclipsed by various A2/AD weapons systems and asymmetric strategies, the military-industrial inertia behind the carrier program is a strategic disadvantage to the United States.

Carriers Have Been Threatened Before:

Despite very real dangers to U.S. carriers there are very legitimate arguments that caution against overstating potential threats.  According to Chairman of National Security at the U.S. Naval War College and Johns Hopkins SAIS professor Dr. Thomas Mahnken, China’s growing A2/AD abilities and precision munitions are causing the military balance to:

“Go back to a situation in terms of risk that much more resembles the Cold War than the past two decades. So risk will go up, but we’ve dealt with risk before. We are just unused to deal with that type of risk in recent experience. It will be a learning process on our side to develop the appropriate ways to respond.”

Conclusion:

Are carriers too big to fail? If so, U.S. policymakers need to break themselves from the assumption that carriers are the end product of the evolution of naval technology. The United States must maintain its leadership role in military innovation; not fall into the age-old trap of other great powers by absconding modernization and relying instead on time-tested dogma and tradition. In the future our carriers and Navy servicemen may pay the ultimate price due to our complacency and failure to innovate. 

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

The Ebola Effect: A Long Shadow on a Successful Africa Summit

The Buzz

Last week’s unprecedented US Africa Summit brought dozens of African presidents and hundreds of officials and business leaders to Washington. What could have turned into a diplomatic disaster was a solid success, with announcements of new projects and investments. Thirty-three billion dollars in projects and a new group of corporate ambassadors for African opportunities is a definite step forward in changing the perception of Africa in the United States. Yet this forward progress has unfortunately been eclipsed by the Ebola crisis in the eyes of the public, demanding new effort from the US government to reassure investors that African opportunities are worth it.

While President Obama and Jeff Immelt of GE were touting Africa’s fastest growing markets, the majority of Americans were hearing about the hundreds dead in West Africa from the horrific hemorrhagic fever. Though the disease’s spread is more of a function of a lacking health care system than its virological nature, many are just associating it with Africa and Africans in general.

It is against a backdrop of this perception that the United States needs to redouble its efforts to help US companies recognize and develop the dynamic opportunities in markets as diverse as Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, and Ethiopia. The United States must bridge this persistent perception gap. Ernst & Young’s Attractiveness Survey for Africa revealed a stark difference in views of the region between companies with established operations in African markets and those waiting on the sidelines. The ones operating on the ground in African markets are twice as likely to be positive about the economies’ progress and prospects.

The Summit was a significant step in the right direction in bridging this gap. Blackstone partnered with Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, to finance $5 billion in infrastructure deals. Coca-Cola, IBM, GE, Walmart, and Marriott all expanded their investment plans for the region. The United States certainly wants the $1 trillion that Africans will be spending by 2020 to be spent on US goods and services; it wants US companies to ride the wave of 7-10 percent growth rates to offset the stagnation of the major developed economies; and it wants US companies waiting on the sidelines to jump into the game.  

The juxtaposition of 250 CEOs meeting to discuss African business with an unfolding World Health Organization-declared emergency reflects the complexity that is modern Africa. It is complex in its diversity: fifty-four countries of rich cultures and different economic trajectories. It is complex in its contradictions: many African countries—including Kenya and Nigeria—have grown and continue to grow despite the drag of lingering insecurity and instability, persistent poverty, and pernicious politics. It is complex in its uneven development: while some countries reach middle income status and converge with developed economies, others diverge and slip further behind on all socio-economic indicators. In the coming years, it will very much matter if you are born in a village in Ghana or across the border in neighboring Burkina Faso. The International Monetary Fund expects Ghana to reach full middle income status by the end of next year.  

When US companies look to do business in African markets, they have to appreciate this complexity just as they have learned to do in Mexico, Indonesia, India, and Brazil. President Obama expressed this in an op-ed on the US Africa Summit: “as Africa is changing, we need to change the way we think about the continent.” Extremely rapid economic growth is neither linear nor smooth and firms will make good returns amidst and in spite of insecurity, growing economic disparity, and large scale unemployment. US companies that figure out how to succeed in African markets will benefit and those that do not will be bought by those that do. Those vested in US businesses thriving in Africa must work harder to highlight the opportunities and mark the path forward.

Future US-Africa Business Summits will help, in addition to the day-to-day support given by the US Commercial Service, Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Export-Import Bank, and the US Trade and Development Agency. Sustaining the positive buzz around Africa over the long-term will be as hard or harder than creating it. Misperception can be more contagious than Ebola and we all need to work toward a cure.

Aubrey Hruby is a visiting fellow at the Atlantic Council Africa Center. She has spent ten years helping companies successfully conduct business and invest in African markets.

Image: U.S. State Department Flickr. 

TopicsEbola RegionsAfrica

The Great Battle for Asia: China vs. America

The Buzz

Editor’s Note: The Australian Policy Institute (ASPI) has recently been debating the future of the Asian security order. We present the final part of this debate:

Well, this has been an interesting exchange and I thank Peter Jennings for launching it, the team on The Strategist for hosting it, and distinguished colleagues for taking the time to contribute. The exchange has helped to clarify the most important underlying points of difference between us about Australia’s interests in the Asian order. And I’m grateful for the chance to offer some brief concluding thoughts.

In fact Nick Bisley put his finger on it: the key difference between my view and many others’ lies in our different ideas about the future of the regional order. I think the strategic status quo in Asia will not last, while others believe it will.

Let me recap why I think the order is going to change—indeed, is already changing. It’s simple. Asia has been stable since 1972 because China has accepted U.S. primacy as the foundation of the Asian order. China did so because it believed it was too weak to contest it effectively. Now China believes it’s strong enough to contest U.S. primacy, and it’s doing so.

Asia’s post-Vietnam order, based on uncontested U.S. primacy, has therefore passed into history. The question now is what kind of new order will take its place. There are several possibilities. None of them would be as good for Australia as the order we have known since 1972, but some would be much better for us than others. We should be trying to nudge the region towards a new order that would work well for us, and away from ones that would be bad for us.

Most of the posts in our debate differ from my position by arguing, or implying, that we should aim to preserve the status quo instead. That case is made in several different ways.

Rod Lyon rightly draws attention to the risks of moving to a new order that concedes a bigger role to China. But those risks must be balanced against the risks of trying and failing to preserve the status quo. If we refuse to accommodate China to some extent, the most likely result is escalating strategic rivalry.

So the choice we face isn’t the one Rod weighs, between accommodating China and preserving the status quo. It’s between accommodating China and confronting it as a rival. I think Rod, like others, tends to underestimate that risk because he assumes that when faced with our resolve to preserve the status quo China will simply back off.

That isn’t a confidence I share. Bob O’Neill gives an important insight into why China is so serious about changing the status quo when he traces the Senkaku dispute back to the Treaty of Shimonoseki, thereby connecting it to the century of humiliation which the Chinese feel so deeply. Bob has reminded us that we won’t understand what’s happening in Asia if we don’t see how things appear from what Liddell Hart called (quoting the Duke of Wellington) “the other side of the hill.”

True, that only matters if China is strong enough to fulfill its ambitions. Andrew Phillips doesn’t thinks so, and neither does Bill Tow. Andrew thinks the current order is too strong for China. Bill suggests that China isn’t really focused on competing with America for influence in East Asia because its attention is drawn more to Central Asia and it can’t afford to do both.

I’m not sure that’s so. There are limits to China’s power, of course, but I think it’s possible that China can significantly undermine U.S. leadership in Asia quite cheaply by undermining the credibility of U.S. regional alliances, and I have argued elsewhere that’s exactly what they’re trying to do.

Andrew O’Neil thinks we can’t be sure what will happen, and it’s easy to agree with him about that. It’s much harder to agree with the implication that we can and should do nothing until we are sure. If we want to have any chance of acting before it’s too late, we have no choice but to act before the outcome is certain, so we have to be willing to back our judgment.

And there are some things we do already know on which we can base those judgments—like China’s economy is already almost as big as America’s, and China’s already showing that it wants a new model of great-power relations. What new evidence is Andrew waiting for that China has the weight and the will to challenge the status quo?

Finally, Peter Jennings (in his second post) is sure that I’m urging Australia to choose between America and China, despite my claims to the contrary. I think I can see where he’s coming from. On the one hand, Peter assumes there could be no new order in Asia in which Australia didn’t have to choose between America and China. On the other, he assumes that we won’t have to choose between them as long as we hold fast to the current order. So according to Peter, arguing for a change in the order, as I do, is arguing to make a choice. And arguing to preserve the old order, as he does, is arguing against a choice.

But I think both his assumptions are wrong. On the one hand, it’s possible for a new order to emerge in Asia in which escalating rivalry between the two great powers is avoided, and in which Australia can therefore maintain close relations with both. That’s why a new order in which they share power would be best for Australia.

On the other hand, it seems to me likely indeed that resisting any accommodation of China in a new order will lead to escalating rivalry, and it seems equally clear that the more rivalry escalates the starker the choices we face between Washington and Beijing. And the closer they come to war, the closer we come to the starkest possible binary choice.

That’s why I think we’re more likely to be compelled to choose between America and China if we try to preserve the status quo than if we encourage a new order based on accommodation. And so, precisely to avoid that choice, we should argue for change. Like a true conservative, I argue for the minimum changes needed to preserve what’s most important.

Hugh White is professor of strategic studies at ANU and author of The China Choice. You can find the original posting of this article over at ASPI’s The Strategist here

Image: U.S. State Department Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

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