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America’s Air-Sea Battle Concept: An Attempt to Weaken China’s A2/AD Strategy

The Buzz

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the recent China Policy Institute Report - America’s Air-Sea Battle Concept: An Attempt to Weaken China’s A2/AD Strategy. You can read the full report here.

Significance:

Over the last several years, American military planners have begun the complex task of reorienting U.S. military capabilities towards presumed challenges of the future. While such planning may be slowed thanks to U.S. and allied operations against the “Islamic State”, strategists from both political parties recognize long-term trends in military technology along with the diffusion of advanced, precision strike weapons guarantee that fundamental changes in U.S. military planning, procurement, and overall grand strategy are needed to preserve existing military dominance.

What We Need To Know:

Beginning in roughly 2007 under the George W. Bush administration with a new U.S. Navy maritime strategy, a shift away from counterinsurgency operations began. Indeed, U.S. defensive planners since the early 2000’s have become increasingly concerned over the emergence of what China calls “counter-intervention operations” or what many in the West refer to as Anti-Access-Area Denial (A2/AD) military challenges. Such a strategy, broadly stated, attempts to slow, limit, deny or deter a superior technologically advanced foe from conducting threatening military operations. Using a combination of various military platforms such as ultra-quiet diesel submarines, over 80,000 sea mines, various types of cyber warfare, anti-satellite weapons and swarm attacks by ballistic and cruise missiles Chinese military planners are constructing what various scholars have referred to as an “assassin’s mace” of A2/AD capabilities. Chinese strategists in most scenarios assume United States military forces and their allies would be the intended target in scenarios ranging from military action over the East and South China Seas, operations concerning Taiwan, and increasingly over any and all areas in and around the first island chain.

Just as past experiences—events like the 1995-1996 Taiwan Crisis and the 2001 Hainan Island Crisis—have pushed China towards an A2/AD-based strategy, America’s own history will guide its response to future challenges with A2/AD being a major part of Washington’s post “war on terror” strategic outlook. American military planners have long considered A2/AD challenges an area of priority stretching back at least as far a  1992, when the first reference of the term “anti-access” was used in a largely forgotten RAND study. Since then, specifically since 2007 onward, U.S. strategic thinkers have considered a number of options that could negate the impact of A2/AD tactics and weapons platforms, with heavy focus squarely aimed at specific Chinese A2/AD military capabilities.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

A Perfect Solution to Nuclear Talks with Iran: A Deal Deemed Imperfect by All

The Buzz

In today’s Middle East, dysfunction is a bigger enemy than hostile states. The United States needs as many partners as possible in this part of the world to tackle the current chaos. Relations between Iran, a dominant state in the region, and the West are today at a vital crossroads. Reaching a deal with Tehran will not only constrain its nuclear program, but potentially pave the way for engagement on regional security issues.

The rise of ISIS and the instability left behind by the Arab Spring has cemented dysfunction in the Middle East. While hostile states are undesirable, deterring or defeating them is still within the realm of possibilities for a country like the United States. But no one has a solution to utter chaos.

Strong regional partners are vital to managing the current disorder. States like Turkey and Saudi Arabia partially fulfill that role. But Iran is a dominant state in the region. It is large, resource rich and a potentially powerful partner in an unstable region. It is the largest country in the Middle East with the capacity to pursue a serious international agenda. A nonhostile relationship with a Tehran who could be convinced not to want nuclear weapons would be worth its weight in gold.

The future course of the West’s relationship with Iran hangs on reaching a nuclear deal. For better or worst, meaningful dialogue with Iran is predicated on resolving this issue—all other problems have taken a back seat over the past two decades. If the negotiators aren’t able to bridge their differences, then there will be little future dialogue with Iran.

Aside from constraining Iran’s nuclear activities, a deal would boost President Rouhani’s more moderate agenda domestically. While a strong, liberal and independent Iran will naturally pursue its own interests, it will be more sympathetic to Western goals if it develops ties with the EU and the United States. Iran could be coaxed into a role as part of the international community, not in opposition to it. Dialogue could become the norm, rather than the exception.

In Iraq, both sides are conscious of the role the other can take in effectively tackling ISIS. Washington and Tehran share the same goals: avoid Iraq’s partition and defeat ISIS. Iran is more committed to Iraq than any other regional player. Last time Iraq’s interests were fundamentally opposed to Iran’s there was a devastating, eight-year-long war. Not only does ISIS threaten Iran’s interests in Iraq, but it poses a direct threat to Iran’s borders—something Iran hasn’t seen in a long time.

ISIS can’t be defeated with just U.S.-led airstrikes. The coalition needs local and regional support. Of course, it’s politically impossible for either side to openly cooperate with one another. No one envisages joint combat roles, but instead separate and complementary tactical approaches and coordination between the coalition and Iran to effectively tackle ISIS. But very little can be done until the nuclear file has been dealt with.

If there is no deal, the hardliners in Tehran will be strengthened. The failure of the talks will be attributed to the West and their “excessive demands.” Tehran will turn away from the United States and the EU towards countries that are less selective in their foreign relations, such as China and Russia. Iran will continue its often-obstructive foreign policy, because it will have little interest in contributing to Western foreign-policy goals in the region.

It’s imperative that both sides explore all avenues for overlap in the nuclear talks. Tehran believes the P5+1’s demands are “excessive.” For Iran, the key issue is to avoid the reality or appearance of coercion. What would happen to President Obama if he appeared to give in to bullying by a foreign power? The same goes for Tehran—it can’t accept a deal that makes it look like it said “yes” with its tail between its legs.

But the P5+1 seems to have a more flexible negotiating position than the Iranians give it credit for. If the P5+1 can effectively communicate this to Iran, then a settlement is plausibly within reach.

By definition, a successful agreement will be one where neither side feels it has achieved a perfect deal. But if the P5+1 and Iran reach a comprehensive deal, it will constrain Iran’s nuclear program, boost Rouhani’s liberalism in Iran and pave the way for a new era where the West can more comfortably coordinate with Iran on regional crises. Everyone will be better off. 

TopicsDiplomacyNonproliferationNuclear Weapons RegionsIranUnited StatesEurope

The Biggest Threat to U.S. Jobs: The "Contestability" Nightmare

The Buzz

The Federal Reserve’s mandate has never been well defined, and there are no concrete definitions to adhere to. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has begun to deviate from the traditional characterization of full employment to something far more nebulous. Recognizing this shift is critical to understanding the Fed, and its new relationship with the two esoteric mandates of stable prices and full employment. 

At a conference in Boston, Yellen stated that she was concerned about rising inequality. Before listing off a blistering round of statistics that show the US has become more unequal over the past few decades, Yellen succinctly articulates why the Great Recession was responsible for widening the gap further: “But widening inequality resumed in the recovery, as the stock market rebounded, wage growth and the healing of the labor market have been slow, and the increase in home prices has not fully restored the housing wealth lost by the large majority of households for which it is their primary asset.”

One piece in particular of the above statement stands out—and has broad implications for the understanding the Fed mandate. A normal recovery would see wage growth and the labor market move together in a lagged fashion—the labor market heals and tightens, followed by wage increases as labor becomes increasingly scarce. But this has not happened during the current recovery, and it has not occurred economy wide in quite some time.

The new target for the Fed may be best described as not simply “full employment” but "full wages". At first glance, it seems unreasonable for the Chair of the Federal Reserve to be concerned with how the income of the country gets dispersed. However, in many ways, “full wages” are at the intersection of the fed mandates. In essence, Yellen is admitting that the past few decades were not kind to a significant swath of the US, and that this endangers future economic growth.

Many of the jobs US middle skilled workers once took for granted can now easily be outsourced or contested—even some previously thought untouchable. This “contestability” is increasing as more jobs become relocateable or replaceable with computing power due to advances in communications technology. Contestability is fundamental to Yellen’s concern. If a US job is contestable internationally, then US workers are competing with cheap labor around the world. This limits the bargaining power of the US worker, and keeps a lid on wage inflation in the US. The cheap-but-educated global labor force is becoming an increasing threat to the US worker.

Yellen sees this middle skilled squeeze phenomenon in the data, but also sees the lack of deflationary wage pressure on the top of the income ladder. The highest paying jobs tend to have little competition from outside—requiring creativity and high levels of education. The question to ask is why this has occurred, and whether the factors underlying it are dangerous to the US economy.

And in many ways—they are dangerous. If ignored long enough, the disintermediation of the middle class is at best disinflationary and may be deflationary. With stagnant wages across the economy, the middle cannot increase consumption—one can only borrow so much. If contestability continues to erode the wages of US middle skilled workers, wages could be pressured or even decrease toward more internationally competitive levels. This would be disastrous for consumption and inflation expectations, especially in a service oriented economy where many of the jobs could be at risk. 

If the U.S. continues to see this type of wage pressure, there may be enough jobs (for people who want them), but the ability to consume at previous levels will not be there. Deflation—generally—is bad for an economy, and wage deflation might be the worst kind. Deflation puts pressure on prices, making it more difficult to consume on the aggregate as the economy previously did. The standard of living declines. Further, the potential for wage pressures, in the current recovery, is low. The jobs created during the recovery disproportionately skew towards part-time relative to previous recoveries, and part-time jobs do not yield much bargaining power. There are few reassurances about the labor market.

This puts the Fed in a particularly odd place. Its mandate is supposed to be two separate pieces of a puzzle, but Yellen appears to have identified an intersection. The Fed runs the risk of missing both its “full employment” and “stable price” mandates without pursuing—either explicitly or implicitly—a “full wage” target.

Yellen’s statement has little to do with fairness or equality. It is directly connected to ensuring the US has created enough uncontestable jobs for the Fed to step away, and these jobs are the type that will lead to—or at least allow for—future wage pressures. Prime examples are the jobs created by the current shale oil boom and housing construction during the boom through 2006. Many of the jobs created for the oil patch require the presence of the worker—and cannot be done without a significant amount of education. These characteristics make them difficult to offshore or relocate. As quantitative easing begins to roll-off, the ability of the US shale revolution to stand on its own will be tested, and the jobs engine of Texas may suffer. This would be a tremendous hit to a sector where wage pressures exist, and the contestability is low. The Fed should be watching this closely.

Yellen's wage war is a battle the US does not know it must win. For the Fed, it ties together both pieces of its mandate, and gives them a reasonable basis for stimulus when observers feel it unnecessary. The Fed is muddling the mandate to fight a wage war, but the Fed will struggle to justify its continuous actions to counteract those forces. The middle skills squeeze is not a swiftly passing phenomenon. It may mean that extraordinary monetary policy and unconventional intervention are increasingly normal.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsUnited States

The Next Ebola? Beware of Marburg

The Buzz

Ebola and Marburg are both hemorrhagic fevers and belong to the same family of viruses. The hosts for both are identified as animals, especially fruit bats—both diseases crossover from animals to humans. Incubation periods are around twenty-one days. The two diseases have similar symptoms and similarly high mortality rates. Both diseases spread through contact with bodily fluids, making family members and health care workers especially vulnerable. There is no pharmaceutical that cures either disease, and patients are treated in much the same way. The ill are isolated and medically supported until they recover or die. Efforts must be made to trace all those who came into contact with the ill.

Ebola at present is centered in west Africa, but it was first publicized in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Marburg is also found in the Congo, where between 1998 and 2000 it is reported that there were 154 cases and 128 deaths attributed to the disease. In Angola in 2005, there were 374 cases of Marburg, and 329 deaths. In 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2014, in Uganda there were cases of Marburg in the single digits with very high mortality rates, ranging from 50 to 100 percent. When Ebola first appeared in west Africa, it was an unfamiliar disease, one reason among many why the response to it was slow. In east Africa, however, there is greater familiarity with Marburg, and officials move quickly to respond to the threat of an outbreak.

Accordingly, officials in Rwanda and Uganda are closely monitoring their common border for a possible outbreak of Marburg after a confirmed case in Kampala, Uganda. As a safety precaution the Ugandan government has isolated ninety-nine people, none of whom have tested positive.

The World Health Organization is saying that Ebola is now “entrenched” in Conakry, Monrovia, and Freetown – it has become an “urban” disease. Marburg, however, appears to remain primarily in rural areas. West Africa’s high rate of urbanization has helped facilitate the rapid spread of Ebola, especially in urban slums. Urbanization in east Africa could have a similar impact.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s Blog Africa in Transition here.

TopicsEbolaMarburg RegionsAfrica

When Congress Should Assert Itself, and When It Shouldn't

Paul Pillar

David Sanger's article in the New York Times about how the Obama administration is seeking a nuclear accord with Iran that would not require any early votes in Congress has garnered a lot of attention. Naturally, the administration in response has offered assurances that Congress has a role to play and no one is trying to shove it out of the picture. Just as naturally, opponents of the administration accuse it of such shoving.

We all know what's going on and what's at stake here. The more of a role Congress does play in the immediate aftermath of signing a deal, the greater the chance that elements opposed to anyone reaching any agreement with Iran on anything will be able to torpedo the deal. This is reflected in the substantial record Congress has already compiled, as cataloged by Navid Hassibi's review of that record, of past attempts that would impede the negotiations. It also is reflected in the fact that some of those quickest to complain about a supposed offense to Congressional prerogatives on this matter are those who have been most determined all along to sabotage any agreement with Iran. So for anyone who realizes the advantages of having a deal to restrict Iran's nuclear program versus not having a deal, the less Congressional involvement right now the better.

A major caveat to this conclusion is that any lack of confidence on the part of the Iranians in the staying power of a deal in which the the United States fulfills its part of the bargain only through executive action may also make it harder to complete the negotiations. If the Iranians believe all they are getting in the way of sanctions relief is tentative and reversible, in an accord that can be undone by Congress or a later president, they understandably will be reluctant to offer anything other than tentative and reversible things in return. This is why the assertion that has routinely accompanied past efforts to slap more sanctions on Iran during negotiations—that this supposedly would increase U.S. bargaining power—is fallacious (and if it really did increase, why wouldn't any president want to have the added power?) Instead, the effect would be to make negotiations more difficult by increasing Iranian doubts about the administration's ability to fulfill U.S. commitments. Probably the best way to deal with all this is to rely, as Hassibi suggests, on the combination of a couple of years of compliance with an agreement and confirmation of its terms in a United Nations Security Council resolution to make the saboteurs' task harder.

None of this appears to be really about high constitutional principles concerning the relative powers of branches of the U.S. government. It is about whether the United States is going to seize or to blow the best opportunity to preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon and to do it in a way that will have other benefits for U.S. interests in the Middle East. There are, nonetheless, some more principled things to say about the role of Congress on different types of national security matters.

Consider the issue of the Iranian negotiations alongside another subject on which relative powers of the legislative and executive branches have received considerable attention: the use of military force. One legislator whose stance is worth looking at is Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Kaine has taken a responsible position regarding the Iran negotiations, opposing any Congressional interference with them in the form of new sanctions. He also has become quite an activist in asserting a Congressional prerogative to approve or disapprove the use of military force. In fact, he has broken openly with the president of his own party by arguing that the current use of force in Syria and Iraq should have first obtained Congressional authorization. Kaine's positions should be emulated, and here's why.

There is good reason that the Constitution placed the power to declare war with the people's representatives in Congress. It is a major and potentially highly costly departure. Expending blood and treasure in warfare is one of the riskiest and most consequential things the nation can do. As has been demonstrated painfully and recently, going to war has a way of dragging the nation into even costlier and longer-lasting commitments.

An agreement of the sort being negotiated with Iran is none of those things. The agreement would impose no new costs on the nation; in fact, it would involve reducing the cost that sanctions inflict on the United States. It does not create, as warfare does, any new exceptions to normal peacetime relations with other states; instead, it would be a move toward restoring normality. It does not, as do some other matters that are appropriately codified in treaties subject to Senate confirmation, impose any new legal obligations on U.S. persons; instead it is a step toward reducing the costly and cumbersome restrictions on U.S. business that the sanctions involve. It does not mark a departure in national goals and objectives, because it is an almost unanimously shared objective that Iran not acquire a nuclear weapon. The issue instead is what is the best way of executing policy to achieve that objective; that is part of what the executive branch is supposed to do.

Recognition of that last point is reflected in the laws about sanctions that give the president waiver authority and thus the flexibility needed to achieve the objectives that the sanctions were supposed to be all about. Those were laws that the U.S. Congress enacted. That is why it is ridiculous for Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen—one of the most consistently Iranophobic hardliners in Congress—to say, as she does in a “dear colleague” letter she is circulating, that the president is “circumventing” Congress by making use of waiver authority that is written into sanctions legislation that she sponsored.

There is a time and place for Congress to assert itself, and different times and places for it to defer to the executive branch in execution of its proper functions.             

TopicsIran RegionsMiddle East

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