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Revealed: How to Avoid a U.S.-China War

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In book one of The History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides provided his explanation for why the Spartans (or Lacedaemonians) broke the thirty years’ truce treaty with the Athenians after just fourteen years: “I consider the truest cause the one least openly expressed, that increasing Athenian greatness and the resulting fear among the Lacedaemonians made going to war inevitable.”  Thucydides reiterates later how the Spartans assembly voted “that the treaty had been broken and that they must go to war not so much because they were persuaded by the arguments of their allies as because they feared further increase in the power of the Athenians, seeing the greater part of Hellas under their control.”

Historians and political scientists have remained focused on the hypothesis offered by the Athenian historian two and a half millennia ago: shifts in the relative balance of power between competing states or alliances can—intentionally or unintentionally—culminate in the most consequential outcome in international relations, great power war. Rising powers often hide their grand strategic objectives (assuming there are coherent preferences among that country’s leadership)—such as whether they accept the status quo or seek to change the international system. In the face of such uncertainty during power transitions, there may be incentives for declining powers to undertake preventive, aggressive actions against the rising power—the “better now than later” thinking.

These historical precedents and social science findings are directly applicable to the relative rise of Chinese power and influence in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. I have written a short essay, “The A Word: An Accommodationist strategy for US-China relations,” that attempts to provide some framework for how U.S. officials and policymakers could think about the “rise of China” challenge. Below are some of the issues discussed:

-Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, aptly warned, “We shouldn’t talk ourselves into [a conflict].” The antagonistic language used to describe China as an adversary could needlessly limit cooperation and harm relations. In order to avoid talking itself into a conflict with China, the United States should take a more accommodating approach.

-The United States and China, as well as other countries, will have to continue to learn to live with each other in open seas, international airspace, outer space, and cyber domains. In the absence of clarifying information from Beijing about its operations in these domains, it is easy to misperceive objectives and unnecessarily inflate threats.

-China’s expanding military must be put into perspective. It is reflective of most rising powers throughout history that seek some ability to shape outcomes in their neighborhoods, and is rationale and even predictable.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog Politics, Power, and Preventative Action here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Next Great War: America vs. China?

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The Sino-American relationship may be in decent shape. It's other countries we should be worried about.

Last year, the centenary of World War I's outbreak, was a bonanza for history fans. The prior benchmark The Guns of August, published 50 years ago, was comfortably eclipsed by several authors with access to new archives.

Still, World War I continues to vex, even as we unearth deeper clues to its causes. One of 2014's more thoughtful books – actually a collection of essays from some seriously heavyweight contributors – The Next Great War?, directly tackles the question at the back of everyone's mind today: what parallels between now and then?

The causes of World War I were so numerous and profound that “they are undetermining individually and overdetermining collectively.”

In other words, no single factor caused the war, but together all were irresistible: entangling alliances of approximate parity, a “security dilemma” of mutual fear, “the cult of the offensive,” “militaries gone rogue,” nationalistic domestic coalitions, the belief in “pre-emptive mobilization” (first strike advantage), a failure to understand the defense-dominance of new technologies, the “indivisibility problem” (eg. control of Turkish Straits), domestic paralysis and lack of legitimacy, “bounded rationality” (imperfect information), complacency, fatalism, credibility, mediocre statesmanship and outright lunacy.

In sum, World War I was caused by the “tyranny of small things...the accumulation of contingencies.”

Do these factors exist today? Overall the book concludes that “there are many more differences than similarities. Arguing that China in 2014 is Germany in 1914 is neither precise nor helpful.” It goes on to say that “It is inaccurate to describe the prevailing climate in either country as bellicose or complacent...the US has more time to manage its relationship with a rising power than Britain did a century ago, and China has more incentive for restraint.” The book's editors conclude hopefully that “the US-China relationship looks easier to manage than the multipolar system that led to 1914.”

But the multipolarity angle is an historical argument worth exploring.

The world in 1914 certainly wasn't a German-British duopoly. The Anglosphere tends to over-emphasize this rivalry. We rarely hear, say, French or Turkish accounts of the war, though they were as deeply affected. It is true that Britain and Germany represented “anchors” of two alliance systems, but their direct antagonism had probably peaked already. As late as July 1914, Royal Navy ships were paying friendly visits to Kiel. By then Germany was more worried about Russia: “The problem that the German General Staff and many among the civilian leaders thought truly dangerous was the growth of Russian power. If Germany was Britain's naval nightmare, Russia was Germany's army nightmare.” It was the very absence of a clear hegemonic order that created the multipolar mess the Great War became. Between Pax Britannica and Pax Americana, as Lamont Colucci has recently noted “the medium and lesser powers attempted to use the great powers for their own reasons.”

And the willingness of smaller nations to fight was striking. In his impressive concluding essay, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cites predecessor Sir George Reid defiantly addressing the German Reichstag in 1912: “Peace is our supreme aim, it is the one thing we must have even if we have to fight for it.”

Rudd, who has warned of “a maritime Balkans” in Asia, notes that Australia would go on to suffer a 64% casualty rate in World War I, the highest of any nation. The Balkans was the “tinderbox” in which several dysfunctional, aggrieved, proud little states eventually set all Europe ablaze. As always “the costs of war are knowable only in retrospect” but even Russia, resurgent and feared, knew how internally destructive war would be. The famous Durnovo memorandum makes this clear. The editor of The Next Great War?, Richard Rosencrance, argues 1914 was the “worst of all possible worlds” where great powers “committed their support to a particular ally (Serbia and Austria) whose role in the war would be less than decisive.”

The reason why the Balkan morass quickly coalesced into a conflict between two great alliances is easily understood by the logic of “my enemy's enemy is my friend.” Bipolarity “solves” an equilibrium problem. Some argue it is actually stabilizing. The US has built a network of Asian allies, any of whom could act irresponsibly. The World War I parallel would become more compelling if China itself purposefully cultivated its own alliances: North Korea? Pakistan? Iran? Russia? “Usually hegemonic great powers have the greatest number of allied responsibilities and the most extensive periphery of interests. It is hardest for them to back down,” Rosencrance notes.

Thus an American scholar of European history puzzles about contemporary Asia: “The US has played a great power role in the western Pacific since at least 1898. Indeed its unwillingness to cede to the Japanese exclusive control over the region helped to preserve the Chinese polity in the early 1940s. Now these ambitions appear inappropriate to the Chinese.” How hard will they push? Another contributor remarks: “imputations of encirclement, naval expenditures, propaganda, self-consuming nationalism...it is hard to imagine that China's leaders are not sensitive to Germany's history.” Lee Kwan Yew's prediction, that “not until China has overtaken the US in the development and application of technology can they envisage confronting the US militarily,” is less than reassuring.

Kevin Rudd notes “the perception of some in the US policy establishment that China is simply buying time, taking the strategic temperature down at a declaratory level, while operationally continuing its long-term project of maximizing its national power, against that day in the future when China is able to begin to act unilaterally.”

Though a multilateralist, even he sees the difficulty of a grand bargain. “A new concert of power would seem to require more cooperation and even constitutional change than China or the US is ready to accept. Beijing has insisted on dealing separately with each regional counter-claimant to East Asian real estate, ruling out a more general settlement. This means the US must provide backup for each ally.”

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Watch Out America: North Korea's Military Practices Sinking US Aircraft Carriers

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North Korea’s Navy and Air Force recently conducted a drill simulating “mercilessly striking” U.S. Aircraft Carriers using “guerrillas-style combat,” according to official media outlets.

On Saturday the Korean Central News Agency reported that Kim Jong-un had recent personally overseen a recent joint naval and air force drill that practiced sinking U.S. Aircraft carriers.

“The drill was conducted with main emphasis on rounding off the war method of mounting surprise air and naval attacks on the U.S. imperialists' carrier which sailed into the operation waters in the southern half to make military strikes at strategic targets of the DPRK,’ the report said, using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

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According to KCNA, the drills began with North Korea’s fighter aircraft “bolding breaking” through the carrier strike group’s “dense network of anti-air defense” to launch close-range “zooming attacks” on the carrier itself. After these sorties, “combined submarine units made torpedo attacks in succession from ambushed waters on the enemy forces hit hard by air strikes.”

After the drills were complete, Kim Jong-un directed the armed forces to intensify their efforts against U.S. carrier strike groups, because if the military “steadily studies and rounds off the war methods of mercilessly striking the enemy's backbone by the guerrillas-style combat method… it is quite possible to send even a carrier to the bottom of the sea.”

Kim also told the military not to fear America and its allies’ superior technology because “the fight with the enemies is not only the confrontation between arms and equipment and physical strength but the confrontation of mental power and ideology of people.” Kim argued that North Korea holds advantages over its adversaries in these latter qualities.

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It is not the first time that North Korea has discussed sinking a U.S. aircraft carrier. In October 2013, the U.S., South Korea and Japan held trilateral naval drills off the Korean Peninsula that included the USS George Washington nuclear aircraft carrier, along with supported weaponry like guided-missile ships, anti-submarine helicopters and early warning aircraft. In response, North Korea released a statement via KCNA that threatened to mount a counterattack that would “bury” the “provocateurs in the sea together with the carrier.” During the drills North Korea’s general staff said deploying the aircraft carrier for the drills was “very dangerous, reckless behavior,” and claimed it was armed “with at least 100 nuclear bombs aboard, many guided-missile destroyers, cruisers, submarines and escort warships, etc.”

Similarly, when the USS George Washington participated in drills in South Korea in July of last year, North Korea claimed charged the U.S. with “reckless hostility and confrontation," although it didn’t specifically threaten to sink the carrier itself. KIm Jong-un did visit frontline troops during the drill and directed them to send their enemies “to the bottom of the sea, to the last man.”

It is unclear if the North Korean military has previously practiced sinking U.S. aircraft carriers.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Chris Cavagnaro.

(Recommended: Sorry, America: China Can't Solve Your North Korea Problem)​

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China Beware: India Tests Nuclear Missile That Can Reach Beijing

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India has successfully tested a nuclear-capable long range ballistic missile that can reach all major Chinese cities.

As expected, India conducted the first canister test launch of its Agni-V nuclear-capable ballistic missile on Wheeler's Island in the Bay of Bengal. The test was a complete success, the government said in a press release.

“India’s ICBM Agni 5 was successfully test fired from a canister today 31 Jan 2015 at 0809 hrs.” the statement said. “The missile hit the designated target point accurately, meeting all mission objectives.”

The Agni-V is a three-stage solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a range of about 5,000 km while carrying a 1.1 ton payload. When inducted into India’s Strategic Forces Command, it will give India the ability to threaten all of China’s major cities with nuclear weapons, a capability that Delhi currently lacks. China has long boasted ICBMs capable of reaching all of India.

This was the third test of the Agni-V following ones in 2012 and 2013. However, the test on Saturday was the first time that India tested the Agni-V from a mobile launcher mounted on top of a truck. A canister launched missile has greatly survivability and can be launched much more quickly than ones at a fixed launch site.

As the press release explained:

“The earlier two flights of Agni 5… were in open configuration and had already proved the missile. Today’s launch from a canister integrated with a mobile sophisticated launcher, was in its deliverable configuration that enables launch of the missile with a very short preparation time as compared to an open launch. It also has advantages of higher reliability, longer shelf life, less maintenance and enhanced mobility.”

Avinash Chander, the outgoing chief of India’s defense technology agency, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, which designed the Agni-V, underscored the importance of the canister launch. “This is a momentous occasion. It is India’s first ever ICBM launch from a canister and is a giant leap in country’s deterrence capability.” Chander, who left office following the test on Saturday, said that the launch was the “best farewell gift.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also praised the successful launch on Twitter. “Successful test-firing of Agni V from a canister makes the missile a prized asset for our forces. I salute our scientists for their efforts,” the Indian leader tweeted.

Indian media outlets reported that DRDO will conduct a few more tests of the Agni-V before it will be officially inducted into India’s Strategic Forces Command.

Image: DRDO

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Destination Beijing: India to Test 'China-Killer' Nuke Missile

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India is readying the first canister test of its so-called “China killer” long-range ballistic missile.

This week the New Indian Express reported that on Saturday the Defense Research Development Organization (DRDO), India’s top defense technology agency, will conduct the first canister test of its Agni-V at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) on Wheeler Island.

According to the newspaper, over three hundred scientists from various government agencies are currently preparing for the test. The report said that “During the test, Agni-V will be fired from a sealed canister mounted on a launcher truck. With a dummy payload, the missile will be pushed out of the canister by a gas generator after which the actual stage separations will occur as per the coordination.” 

The test has been postponed twice since December owing to President Obama’s India trip and a scheduling conflict with Prime Minister Modi, who had expressed interest in watching the test in person. It’s unclear if Modi will attend the test on Saturday, however, the test is expected to proceed as scheduled in honor of outgoing DRDO chief Avinash Chander, who is widely regarded as the architect of the Agni missile class. Chander was fired earlier this month over scandals regarding Indian defense contracts.

The Agni-V is a three-stage, solid-fueled missile that can travel 5,000 km while carrying a 1,000 km payload, making it India’s longest range missile. It is often referred to as India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in local media. Although it demonstrates mastery of all the necessary ICBM technologies, technically it is only an intermediate ballistic missile as ICBMs have ranges of at least 5,500 km.

It was quickly dubbed the “China killer” by Indian media outlets when it was first tested in 2012 because it is the first Indian ballistic missile capable of holding most of China— including major cities like Beijing— under nuclear threat. China has long had the ability to reach all of India with nuclear-armed missiles, putting Delhi at a relative disadvantage.
This will be the third time India has tested the Agni-V following the first test in 2012 and another one in 2013. A month before the second test, Tessy Thomas, the director of the Agni Missile Project at DRDO, said that the Agni-V would be tested two or three more times before being inducted into the Indian armed forces.

This raises the possibility that the Indian military will receive the missile following Saturday’s test, should it prove successful. This is especially true given that this will be a full canister test of the missile, which is one of the most highly touted advances the Agni-V makes over its predecessors. As Times of India explained following the first test, “Unlike the earlier largely rail-mobile missiles, Agni-V can be easily stored in hermetically sealed canisters and swiftly transported atop launcher trucks by road. This will give the armed forces the required operational flexibility to pick and choose from where to launch the missiles.” TOI also noted that the Agni-V boasts “a ‘highly accurate’ inertial navigation system.

Once inducted into the armed forces, DRDO will go to work on equipping future Agni-V missiles with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), which will allow each missile to carry between three and ten nuclear warheads, each of one of which can be aimed at a different target. As The National Interest has noted in the past, China is also building MIRVed missiles, setting the stage for a dangerous arms race that could destabilize nuclear Asia.

Image: Wikimedia

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The Ultimate Nightmare: Why Invading North Korea Is a Really Bad Idea

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Earlier this month, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry argued for a US invasion of North Korea.

Thankfully, the general response has been quite negative (here, here and here). Invading North Korea is a terrible idea, and it is worth laying out why in some detail. I do not intend this as a particular shot against Gobry – I do not know him personally – but rather against this general idea, as it does come up now and then.

In 1994, the Clinton Administration came close to launching a massive air campaign against the North (well-discussed here). Then in the first term of President George W Bush, regime change was the watchword and North Korea was on the “axis of evil.” If the Iraq invasion had worked out, it appears other states were on the Bush hit list. Neoconservatives (neocons) love to loathe North Korea.

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I should note, however, that in my seven years working in Korea on Korean security issues, I have never heard a reputable Korean analyst argue for preemptive attack in an op-ed, at a conference, on TV, and so on. Nor have any of my hundreds of students over the years argued for this. This is a Western debate that has little resonance with the people who would mostly carry the costs – already a big problem for Gobry's argument.

1. Moral Revulsion Is Not Enough:

Gobry, and President Bush who placed North Korea on the axis of evil, both share an admirably strong moral revulsion towards North Korea which motivates their hawkishness.

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Certainly that revulsion is warranted. There is little dispute that North Korea is the worst country on earth, although perhaps the emerging ISIS 'state' is giving it a run for its money. The moral argument against North Korea became clear as early as the 1950s, when Kim Il-sung solidified control of the North and turned it into a cult of personality so servile and vicious scholars began using the neologism “Kimilsungism” to describe it.

But there are of course many nasty, awful dictatorships. Perhaps none as awful as North Korea, but certainly huge numbers of people have suffered in many other states, both powerful and weak. Mao's China comes to mind, as does Cambodia under Pol Pot, or Zimbabwe and Syria-ISIS today.

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For a brief moment under George W Bush, after his second inaugural address, it looked as if “promoting freedom around the world” might actually become US foreign policy, thereby justifying widespread global military pre-emption. But that was always wildly impractical, and the American public rejected it immediately. And if there is anything we have learned from regime change in places like Iraq and Libya it is that the unintended consequences and bloodletting can be extreme.

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2. South Koreans really, really don't want to invade North Korea:

Much of the Western debate on North Korea assumes that South Korea will simply go along with whatever decisions emerge from Washington.

I thought the same before I moved to Korea. Like many, I figured that the ROK was a democratic ally standing “shoulder to shoulder” with the US for freedom, democracy, and so on. But South Korean foreign policy is far more realist. I have been arguing for a long time that South Koreans are not neocons and that they really don't want to up-end the status quo if it is likely to be costly.

Polls have shown for years that South Koreans fear the cost of unification, increasingly don't see North Koreans as a fellow people (for whom they should make a huge sacrifice), and don't think North Korea is a huge threat. The polls also show they dislike Japan almost as much as, if not more than, North Korea, they dislike conscription, and worry a lot that the US might do something rash and provoke a war.

Neocons like Gobry may see this as a moral failing – South Koreans slacking on the defense of democracy and their historic responsibility to end the world's worst tyranny. I will admit myself that I think South Koreans need to step up more on this. But that is ultimately for South Koreans to decide.

Far more South Koreans would like to see the two Koreas slowly grow together after North Korea has changed on its own (for example, by a coup, by Chinese pressure, or by internal breakdown). There are lots of hawks in South Korea (try here and here), but not even the most extreme argue for a preemptive invasion.

3. North Korea has Nuclear Weapons:

If the first two reasons are a little soft, this one strikes me as a show-stopper. The US has never fought a sustained conflict against a nuclear power.

Indeed, the very reason North Korea built nuclear weapons was to deter US offensive action. It is hardly a leap of logic to think that the North would launch once US ground forces arrived on its territory. Gobry assumes, far too blithely, that the US could find all the missiles and hit them before they launch. That is a helluva gamble, and certainly not one South Korea or Japan, the likely targets, want to make. At the very least, we cannot go over the heads of Seoul and Tokyo if we choose to seriously strike the North.

4. The (North) Korean People's Army Would Probably Fight:

This is a tricky debate, because we have no good opinion data on KPA morale. We guess at readiness based on drills and the ferocious-looking marches through Kim Il-sung Square and so on. But we don't know.

The neocon position in such situations is to again assume the best – that rogue state armies are paper tigers and would collapse quickly. Certainly the Iraqis did in 1991 and 2003. And I would agree that KPA would suffer revolts if pushed into an offensive against the South. But a US invasion would justify all the propaganda Northern soldiers have heard for decades. Overnight they would go from a conscript army used primarily as slave labor on construction projects to defenders of the nation against a long-foretold invasion.

Do we have any sense that the US military would be “greeted as liberators”? That is yet another huge gamble, because if we are wrong, it is a war against a state where almost every able-bodied male has extensive military training. Even in Iraq, the insurgency showed how tenacious third-world nationalism is and how easy it is for such feelings to ignite when faced with armed foreigners, however noble their intentions.

5. The People's Liberation Army Might Fight Too:

A US invasion would also set US-Chinese relations back by decades, and almost certainly push the US and China into a larger, violent, heavily militarized cold war throughout Asia.

Neocons who loathe China's repressive oligarchy might not care, but post-Iraq, that frightening insouciance about the world's second largest economy would almost certainly be a minority opinion in the West, and definitely would be among America's Asian allies who would carry most of the costs of militarized Sino-US competition.

Indeed, if the US invasion spun out of control – which is easy to envision given the North's nuclear weapons and the size of the KPA – China (and Japan) could easily get chain-ganged in. China went to war in 1950 to keep the Americans off the Yalu River, and that was a war the North started. If the US were to invade, America would suddenly look like an aggressive, aggrandizing power. It would be easy to see the PLA fight once again for essentially the same reasons.

6. Reconstruction would fall to the US:

Here is yet another Iraq lesson neocons seem blind to. When regimes like Libya or North Korea are decapitated, something new needs to be put in place.

Gobry's assumption is simply that South Korea would absorb ex-North Korea. And it probably would in more traditional collapse scenarios. But if the US were to proactively invade North Korea, it would be easy to see Southern and global opinion arguing that this is yet another mess made by belligerent Washington that it should clean up. And there is also the potential for a nasty insurgency by Kimist dead-enders, a point Gobry does not even consider.

Neocons really need to learn a few lessons from Iraq and the war on terror about the use of American force.

This piece was first posted on the Lowy Interpreter here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsNorth Korea

China's Worst Nightmare? Japan May Sell India Six Stealth Submarines

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For years China has excelled at antagonizing Japan. Now Tokyo may have the chance to extract some revenge.

According to Indian news outlets, the Narendra Modi government has approached Japan about building it six stealth submarines.

“New Delhi has forwarded ‘a proposal’ to Tokyo to ‘consider the possibility’ of making its latest diesel-electric Soryu-class submarines in India,” Times of India reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources.

New Delhi’s Project-75-India to acquire six advanced diesel-electric submarines will be worth more than Rs 50,000 crore ($8 billion), and likely much more. France’s DCNS, Germany’s HDW, Russia’s Rosoboronexport and Spain’s Navantia are all expected to compete for the contract. Since the submarines will be built in India, foreign companies that wish to compete for the contract are expected to form a joint venture with an Indian shipyard.

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India’s proposal comes at a time when New Delhi and Tokyo have been steadily strengthening ties under the leadership of Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Modi and Abe, both nationalistic leaders seeking to expand their respective countries’ regional profiles, are seen as enjoying a close relationship, which could help Tokyo’s chances in the competition. That being said, France, Germany and Russia have all built submarines for India in the past, TOI noted.

The proposal also comes at a time when Japan is seeking to break into the global arms market following the lifting of a decades-old, self-imposed ban on selling weaponry abroad. Since the ban was rescinded, Japan has already discussed selling India ShinMaywa US-2i sea-and-rescue amphibious planes.

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Tokyo is especially keen on breaking into the global submarine market, which is currently dominated by countries like Russia, France and Germany. Defense analysts believe Tokyo’s Soryu-class submarines will be a highly competitive alternative to their Russian, French and German counterparts. As frequent TNI contributor Robert Farley noted last September:

“At 4,200 tons submerged, the Soryu-class is considerably larger than either the [German] Type 214, [French] Scorpene, or improved [Russian] Kilo, and can carry a much heavier weapons load. This size also makes them quieter and longer-ranged than the other boats on the market. At current price expectations of around $500 million, the Soryus are not wildly more expensive than the other boats.”

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Already, Japan has been engaged in intense discussions with Australia over the latter’s program to purchase 12 diesel-electric submarines. Winning the Project-75-India contract would be a further boon to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which manufacture the Soryu-class subs.

Still, don’t expect to see India’s Navy operating Japanese subs anytime soon. India isn’t expected to tender a winner for two years, and it will be at least another 7-8 years after that before the first subs start rolling off the assembly line. Given India’s notoriously cumbersome defense acquisition bureaucracy, these timetables should be viewed as the best case scenario.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jeffrey Jay Price.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Japan's Record Defense Budget: Should Asia Be Concerned?

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Much has been made in the media (for instance, here and here) about the Japanese government’s “record” defense budget request for Fiscal Year 2015. With ¥4.98 trillion (roughly US$42 billion), it’d be the “largest budget ever,” according to a Defence Ministry official. Yet, while such statements imply a shift in Japan’s defence policy, the increase is much less radical and doesn’t indicate a more assertive strategic approach.

True, defense spending is increasing for the third consecutive year, meeting Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s promise to reverse the decade of declining expenditure.

But defense spending will remain below 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). And the Abe government’s also increasing spending in other portfolios—it’s requested a record-high general budget of ¥96.34 trillion. So the higher defence spending doesn’t indicate Japan’s ‘remilitarisation’ as has been alleged by some of its neighbours, most notably China. Rather, the increase will allow the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) to continue working towards turning into a ‘Dynamic Joint Defense Force’—that is, a more mobile, networked JSDF investing in air-maritime denial capabilities in order to defend Japan’s archipelago whilst increasing interoperability with its US ally.

Consequently, the 2015 defense budget request provides funding for key capabilities already announced in the “National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) for FY2014 and beyond.” Big ticket items include the procurement of up to 20 P-1 maritime patrol aircraft; beginning work on a third Atago-class destroyer fitted with the Aegis combat-system for ballistic missile defence; and the acquisition of six additional F-35A Joint Strike Fighters. It also contains funding to enhance the JSDF’s mobility, ISR, and amphibious capabilities. That includes the acquisition of five tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey helicopters (17 planned in total) and the first of three RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs. The MoD also announced its intention to buy up to 30 AAV-7 assault vehicles (also used by the US Marines) for its emerging amphibious brigade. Further, Japan will continue upgrading its F-15 and F-2 fighters, as well as adding another Sōryū-class submarine to its inventory (including work to improve the propulsion system).

Some critics have argued that the defence budget increase is still insufficient to meet the reform goals. But implementation of those goals is a long-term process and Japan’s defence spending needs to be understood within the current domestic political and economic context. Despite the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) victory in December’s ‘snap election’, Abe’s political mandate for major increases in defence spending remains limited. Importantly, the election strengthened the position of the LDP’s coalition partner, the pacifist Komeito party which opposes more robust defence spending as a basis for a more active defense posture.

As well, while Japan still spends below 1% of GDP on defence, the total amount has to be seen in comparative perspective. Behind the US, China and Russia, Japan is the fourth largest spender in the Asia–Pacific region, and ranks seventh in the world in 2013 (above powers such as Germany and India).

Current spending on defense provides Japan with a significant capacity to maintain a modern, high technology force. Indeed, should Tokyo decide to increase its defence spending if the strategic environment deteriorates dramatically to, say, between 1.5% and 2.0% of GDP, it’d quickly climb up the global rankings. And contrary to conventional wisdom, Japan’s enormous government debt of around 240% of GDP isn’t such a problem for the country’s strategic solvency. Japan’s latent capacity to increase defense spending significantly in the future shouldn’t be underestimated.

Yet, at this point such a development is neither desirable nor necessary for Japan. A major defense spending increase would rattle the nerves of its Asian neighbors. The moderate increase in defense expenditure combined with targeted investments in air-sea denial capabilities aims to send a signal that Japan’s military modernization isn’t about upsetting the regional security order. The goal isn’t to compete with China’s military in terms of platform numbers and spending. Rather, by investing in a smaller, but highly sophisticated JSDF focused on the defense of Japanese islands, the aim is to pose significant challenges to Chinese military planners contemplating offensive operations to seize Japanese islands. Indeed, at present the JSDF would probably be able to defeat such an attempt even without support from the US.

Lastly, while JSDF modernization strengthens Japan’s leg within its US alliance by improving interoperability and boosting its islands defence capability, it can continue to rely on US’ offensive firepower as a means of deterring foreign aggression. That’s not “free-riding” as often implied but an arrangement that’s in the best interest of both parties, and indeed the region. In the absence of a radical shift in those domestic and external parameters, Japan’s defense spending won’t increase dramatically any time soon.

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

TopicsSecurity RegionsJapan

Sorry, China: You Can’t Have It Both Ways on North Korea

The Buzz

Chen Dingding’s recent article, “Sorry, America: China Can't Solve Your North Korea Problem,” argues unconvincingly that China is unable to change North Korea’s behavior—he leaves that job to Washington—but influential enough to shape the orientation of a unified Korea.    

Chen’s article is useful in its summary of the debate in China over how to deal with Pyongyang. He asserts that although some Chinese call for continuing to support the North Korean government and others call for abandoning it, the position that holds sway within the Chinese government is that China should “pressure” Pyongyang to stop nuclear testing, return to disarmament talks, reform the North Korean economy, and eventually dismantle its nuclear weapons. Chinese efforts in this direction would be welcome.

When Chen moves beyond reporting the atmosphere in Beijing to policy analysis, however, he is less insightful. 

The central thrust of his argument is the familiar Chinese line that the United States must do more. Based on his own assessment, however, China has decided to get tougher on the Kim regime during the same period that U.S. policy toward North Korea has been stagnant. More vigorous Chinese intervention has long been a U.S. goal. Therefore the United States is winning by doing nothing, seemingly successfully passing the buck to China to do the dirty job of “pressuring” the DPRK. 

Chen recommends that both China and the United States offer North Korea a “security guarantee plus economic assistance.” From the U.S. standpoint, this recommendation is a total throwaway. Washington has repeatedly stated it has no intention to invade Pyongyang, and this is believable since it has passed on many opportunities. There is zero support in America for economic assistance prior to progress in de-nuclearization. At the same time Chen calls for China to do the exact opposite of offering a security guarantee, saying China should also threaten the Kim regime with a “reform or collapse” ultimatum.

Chen claims that solving the North Korea problem “lies in the hands of the U.S.” because North Korean leaders worry relatively little about a deterioration of relations with China, but worry a lot that “America’s perceived malign intentions could threaten their survival.” This analysis does not jibe with Pyongyang’s repeated use of hyper-bellicose (even nuclear) threats against the United States and its South Korean ally as a tactic to get attention that the Kim regime hopes will lead to negotiations and handouts. A policy of extortion exhibits not fear, but rather confidence on Pyongyang’s part that the wealthy democracies will not opt for war.

Finally, while arguing that China lacks the leverage to discipline North Korea, Chen simultaneously displays disturbing hubris in asserting that a united Korea will not be a U.S. ally because “China has adequate capabilities to influence the eventual unification process.” The Chinese are unwise if they underestimate Korean anxiety about Chinese domination, and overconfident if they assume they can control a reunification process that might happen suddenly and would likely unleash the powerful force of pan-Korean nationalism.  

Denny Roy is a Senior Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu.  He specializes in Asia-Pacific security issues.  His latest book is Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security (Columbia University Press, 2013).

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Could Future Submarines Act as Underwater Aircraft Carriers?

The Buzz

After reading Peter Briggs’ excellent posts on why Australia should build its own submarines (here and here), it occurred to me that we may be missing a more important element of the discussion. Recently, I was involved in considering the nature and implications of disruptive or game-changing technologies in warfare. A common theme was the unpredictable interplay of various and sometimes unrelated technologies in creating a capability leap. Often, the technologies driving a leap had existed or been in development for a long time prior to their convergence.

The discourse here in Washington is that we’re on the verge of a tectonic shift in the way military operations are conducted, and that there are important lessons from history that we should heed. Failure to do so risks our platforms becoming prematurely redundant or having to make costly design changes throughout the process.

Major military platforms are getting more expensive and taking longer to develop than ever before. In his article, Peter assumes initial sea trials in 2025 and full replacement of Collins by 2028. To give some perspective on how the world might have changed by then, consider that the kids graduating from college at that point will likely have been born after the release of the first iPhone. Assuming a traditional life cycle of major platforms, the subs will then need to meet Australia’s operational needs until sometime around 2050. In other words, over 100 years after the end of World War II.

Advances in a range of technologies could change the nature of submarine warfare in a number of critical ways. These technologies aren’t yet operational, but neither are they far off and we can be assured that significant resources are being poured into their development.

We’re starting to see the deployment of a range of military capabilities long consigned to science fiction. We can’t, and shouldn’t, define the requirements for our future military capabilities on idle speculation of what we might need in the future. But we should be considering, debating and analyzing the possible operational future environment and its implications for our requirements.

The potential value of the F-35 isn’t the strengths of the plane itself, but the way it networks with other combatants, sharing and coordinating targeting and other data. The design philosophy that underpins it allows for a new air concept that integrates manned and unmanned platforms, leveraging the inherent advantages of each.

Just as new detection technologies threaten submarines’ traditional advantages, developments in unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) create new opportunities. Consider, for instance a networked fleet of smaller manned submarines, optimized for stand-off passive intelligence processing, communications and targeting. They could be supplemented by a variety of unmanned UUVs that could safely penetrate deeper into denied areas and act as active intelligence gatherers and weapons platforms.

The manned platform could stay in an operational theater for longer, but at a safer distance from a target while the unmanned systems put themselves in harm’s way. The design philosophy and technical requirements for such a sub would be very different to the current generation. In some wargames I’ve participated in, it has been proposed that future submarines could act as underwater aircraft carriers for drones—not that it’s a new concept, or necessarily what Australia would be looking for.

No one can say exactly how any of a range of technologies could impact the operational requirements of future submarines, and we’re not alone in facing those challenges. If the operational lifecycle of the Collins fell in a different timeframe, we could try to extend its service life and wait to see how warfare evolves in the coming years. But our window for action falls on the precipice of change, burdening us with the need to apply even greater rigour to the process.

As we debate the best location and approach to manufacturing our next-generation submarines, we should be investing equal intellectual resources into considering alternative submarine operational concepts and design philosophies. Otherwise, we risk building a state-of-the-art, homegrown fleet of cutting-edge obsolescence.

John Watts is a senior consultant with Noetic Group, Washington DC, and is currently engaged in work on future warfare for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. This piece first appeared in ASPI’s Strategist blog here.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

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