Get Ready, North Korea: America's Lethal B-2 Bomber Is Watching

The Buzz

While the “the actual deployment timing is all classified”, America’s B-2 Spirit stealth bomber will soon be much closer to hot spots in the Asia-Pacific—and the timing could not be more perfect, considering recent troubles on the Korean Peninsula.

In an August 24 U.S. Department of Defense Press Briefing conducted by Secretary James and Gen. Welsh on the State of the Air Force, it was revealed that the U.S. military was “in the process right now deploying three B-2s on a scheduled rotation to Andersen Air Base in Guam.”

Welsh also noted that “we continue to have airmen stationed on the Korean peninsula who are there full time who are ready for whatever might happen, and they're ready every day.”

While tensions on the Korean peninsula have eased in the last twenty-four hours, thanks to an agreement between Seoul and Pyongyang, the deployment of America’s most advanced bomber should give North Korea some pause, in case it was considering any other escalatory actions in the future.

Why China Should Also Worry:

While the B-2 is certainly the cream of the crop when it comes to American long-range strike power, it would certainly not be able to win a war against Pyongyang by itself. However, anytime North Korea rattles the saber, it is likely to get American strategic planners thinking about deploying additional weapons platforms to the Asia-Pacific region—something China very much wants to avoid.

Indeed, if America viewed North Korea’s latest provocations as a serious long-term challenge, Washington must just start deploying weapons platforms that would act as a powerful deterrent, a deterrent that could also weaken China’s much discussed anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) technologies and strategies.

As I noted in The Diplomat a few years ago during the last major North Korea crisis, Pyongyang might “just provide the strategic rationale the United States needs to drop the veiled nature of the military and geostrategic components of its pivot to Asia” and begin a much bigger deployment of advanced weapons systems and defensive platforms along with a change in stance by U.S. allies. At the time, I explained that:

“American military planners may decide to keep ever increasing amounts of ballistic missile defense systems forward deployed in East Asia for the next time North Korea threatens the region.

U.S. allies could also follow suit. For example, with Tokyo already actively considering moving away from its more defensive military posture, the North Korea threat may provide the final impetus Tokyo needs to justify sustaining higher defense budgets beyond this year’s increase. Tokyo could also decide Pyongyang’s missile capabilities require it to further bolster its cooperation with the U.S. on missile defense.  Just as important, the clear and present danger North Korea poses to South Korea could lead the latter to more actively participate in triangular security arrangements with the U.S. and Japan.

All of this has ramifications for Beijing. Ever increasing amounts of missile defense systems will certainly erode China’s growing anti-access capabilities. While it is hard to make solid predictions, it is clear that missile defenses utilized for the protection of U.S. bases and allies in the region also have the potential of being used and/or enhanced to defend against Chinese missiles in the event – however remote – of some sort of conflict. While no one knows for certain how effective China’s new capabilities would be in a crisis, nor how effectively American and allied missile defenses would prove against such missiles, there is certainly the potential that the potency of China’s asymmetric capabilities would be degraded.”

So how would China respond?

“It’s unclear how Chinese military planners would seek to regain the advantage—maybe by increasing the amount of missiles they have in their arsenal or by building new, more-advanced systems. What is clear is that North Korea’s threats and bluster will have a long-term impact on East Asia’s military balance for years to come, and it’s unlikely to be to the advantage of North Korea’s longtime ally in Beijing.”

So, Beijing, it might be time to have a chat with your allies in North Korea. Their actions could come back to haunt you.

Harry J. Kazianis serves as Executive Editor of The National Interest and a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest. He is the co-author and editor of the recent Center for the National Interest report:Tackling Asia’s Greatest Challenges - A U.S. Japan-Vietnam Trilateral Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @grecianformula.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Be Afraid: Why America Will Never 'Destroy' ISIS

The Buzz

On July 22, after months of negotiations, Turkey finally agreed to allow the United States to use its bases, most importantly Incirlik Air Base, for manned and unmanned strike sorties against the self-declared Islamic State. Prior to this, Turkey had only permitted that its sovereign territory be used for unarmed surveillance drone flights and (apparently) a combat search and rescue element. This latest development was characterized as a “game-changer” by a senior Obama administration official, in particular for more intensive bombing of the Islamic State in northern Syria. Rather than flying from carriers or Persian Gulf bases, flying out of Incirlik significantly increases the time that coalition strike aircraft can loiter above Islamic State-controlled territories and, potentially, provide close air support for coalition-backed opposition forces on the ground, including the Pentagon-trained rebels that entered Syria on July 12.

On August 5, the United States began conducting armed Reaper strikes from Incirlik into Syria. Four days later, six F-16s and three hundred support personnel were deployed from Aviano, Italy to Incirlik; there are also an unknown number of aerial refuelers. On August 12, the United States began flying those F-16s out of Incirlik to attack Islamic State militants, fighting positions, and equipment in Syria. Late last week, Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Killea, chief of staff of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, described access to Incirlik as “a fantastic, strategic location for us to fly from to support anti-ISIL efforts in Syria and Iraq,” adding “the broader use of Incirlik for air operations in Syria is already proving to be a great effects multiplier on the battlefield. Armed [remotely piloted aircraft], strike fighters and aerial refueling tankers originating from Turkey have combined to produce devastating effects against ISIL targets.”

In the limited time since the United States has had expanded access to Incirlik, the devastating effects against the Islamic State have not been apparent. Turkey may be placing restrictions on which opposition force ground units the United States can support: the Turkish Foreign Minister spokesperson has said, “Support to People’s Protection Units (YPG) is not one of the elements of the agreement,” while the State Department spokesperson said the opposite two days earlier: “[YPG] have already benefited from coalition air support.” There also might be fewer readily available Islamic State targets that the F-16s and Reapers have been authorized to strike. Finally, after an initial limited number of strikes on July 23, Turkey itself has apparently not conducted any additional strikes against the Islamic State in Syria.

Whatever the reasons, the data shows that—like other purported incremental and tactical enhancements to the war against the Islamic State—access to Incirlik has not been a “game-changer.” For the anti-Islamic State airpower coalition, including the United States, there have been fewer airstrikes in Syria in the thirteen days after Incirlik was made available, than in the thirteen days before. The wholly unrealistic strategic objective of “destroying” the Islamic State is no closer to fruition.

This piece was first published in CFR’s blog Politics, Power and Preventative Action here

Image: U.S. Army/Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

The Fed's Disturbing Monetary Policy Options

The Buzz

All eyes were on a September rate hike (and some still are). But the minutes from their latest meeting suggest that the Federal Open Market Committee has not made up its mind. The Fed’s ambivalence was not surprising, but some of the nondomestic reasons for it—China, oil and the strong dollar—were.

Of course, the minutes also cited stubbornly low domestic inflation and a general lack of wage pressures as concerns for raising rates too early. The Fed is tasked only with achieving targets in the United States. Not globally.

When topics concerning the global economy are raised, they are carefully grounded in their particular interaction with the U.S. economy. Take one comment on how participants are thinking about the evolution of the dollar as they begin to hike rates:

“Some participants also discussed the risk that a possible divergence in interest rates in the United States and abroad might lead to further appreciation of the dollar, extending the downward pressure on commodity prices and the weakness in net exports.”

No mention is made of the capital flight from the emerging world in the face of a rising dollar, or the slowdown in commodity producing countries due to lower prices for their exports.

This begs the question: Was the Fed simply making an attempt to placate other central banks that fear Fed actions could destroy their domestic economies? Or was it trying to become independent of its previous targets?

The answer is probably a bit of both. Given its dual mandate targets, the Fed could and still may take action in September. But, for a variety of reasons, the Fed may want to wait, and global macro concerns give it a viable, nebulous reason to do so. It may also allow the Fed to pursue easing until wage pressures and inflation reemerge. But there is also a bit of a friendly warning embedded in there. In diverging from the global easing policies of other central banks, the Fed is aware of what damage it will cause to the emerging world. Eventually, the Fed will act anyway.

In choosing to debate the effects of Fed policy on the global economy, however, the Fed has invited speculation into whether its guideposts for policy tightening have moved, and put itself into an impossible spot. If the Fed does begin to use more of a “global macro prudential” policy to guide markets, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain credibility in policy decisions. (There is usually a reason to ease—risks are abundant, and there are frequently reasons to tighten policy—there is a bubble everywhere.) It would also raise the question of whether the Fed should be concerned about anything outside of its dual mandate (oil prices and net exports have a direct effect on their dual mandate through inflation and employment).

If all the guideposts are the same and the Fed does not raise interest rates, it risks signaling a weak domestic economic background—something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Not raising rates would place downward pressure on the dollar and upward pressure on commodity prices. This would be ideal for the United States—the U.S. dollar has strengthened drastically over the past year, and declines in oil capital expenditures and employment have been holding back U.S. growth.

But this scenario would not be ideal for much of the world. Central banks in Japan and Europe have been easing policy significantly, and a shift away from tightening in the United States would lower the efficacy of their policies. Even China’s central bank has liberalized its currency regime, presumably in part to avoid getting caught in a Fed tightening cycle and give itself the ability to devalue against the dollar. By paying attention to global stability and the effects of a stronger dollar, the Fed may cause other central banks to increase their stimulus policies, thereby making it even more difficult for the Fed to move. If the Fed were to simply increase rates, those banks’ policies would require less ammunition in the form of easing. Conversely, a continued easing by other countries would strengthen the dollar, damaging the U.S. economy.

The Fed wants to appear prudent in its monetary policies—and avoid blame for another bubble. So much so, that its guideposts for an initial rate hike—previously a mixture of employment and inflation indicators—now seem to include global macro variables that are outside the direct purview of monetary policy. Being concerned with the global economy makes the Fed’s task, which is already difficult, impossible. And, in the case of lifting off its zero interest rate policy, there do not appear to be any good choices.

Samuel Rines is an economist with Chilton Capital Management in Houston, TX. Follow him on Twitter @samuelrines.

Image: Flickr/tom_bullock

TopicsEconomics RegionsUnited States

This Is How Scott Walker Wants to Take a Stand Against China

The Buzz

In a few weeks’ time, Chinese president Xi Jinping will arrive at the White House for a state visit. He will be immediately greeted by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and other VIPs. The American president will then escort his Chinese counterpart up a red carpet, where Xi will be feted with a 21-gun salute. American servicemen and women in full dress garb will stand for inspection.

One can only imagine what Xi will be thinking as he is honored in this way. Perhaps a subtle smirk will cross his face, revealing a sense of bemusement as he considers that even stealing the personnel information of 20 million federal employees didn’t deter the American president from playing the flattering host.

But now, it seems, next month’s state visit may become an issue in presidential election politics. Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and running for the Republican nomination, has issued a statement calling for the visit’s cancellation. Here’s the kicker:

"Given China’s massive cyberattacks against America, its militarization of the South China Sea, continued state interference with its economy, and persistent persecution of Christians and human rights activists, President Obama needs to cancel the state visit. There’s serious work to be done rather than pomp and circumstance." 

Canceling the visit would make for a significant response to China’s recent transgressions, and one that Beijing would take seriously. Importantly, cancellation of the visit would be in accord with American interests and American values. When you catch a burglar in the act, you don’t serve him a hot meal and then send him on his way, loot in tow. And when a dictator comes to town, you don’t toast his health and good fortune. Yet this is precisely the reception Xi Jinping can expect.

State visits, of course, have their place. They can signal to allies and partners that America values their friendship; they signal to adversaries that those friends are not to be trifled with. Over the past seven years, President Obama has hosted eight such visits (Xi will be the ninth), mostly with countries with which we share values and interests:

- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India - November 2009

- President Felipe Calderon, Mexico – May 2010

- President Hu Jintao, China – January 2011

- Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany – June 2011

- President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea – October 2011

- Prime Minister David Cameron, United Kingdom – March 2012

- President Francois Hollande, France - February 2014

- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japan – April 2015

- President Xi Jinping, China – September 2015

That’s seven democracies, five long-time treaty allies, and two successors to Mao Zedong. Only one of these countries (hint: it’s not Mexico) is engaged in a long-term effort to challenge America’s global leadership and upend the U.S.-shaped liberal international order upon which peace and prosperity have long depended. Oddly, that country is the only country represented twice on the list.

China, perhaps the greatest long-term foreign policy challenge facing the United States, has largely been absent from the presidential campaigns to date. The Walker statement may change that. The country needs and deserves a real debate on the future of U.S.-China relations and on how best to deal with China going forward.

That is not a debate that the Obama administration has welcomed. Hopefully, the other presidential aspirants will engage in that conversation, one from which a better China policy should emerge.

Michael Mazza is a research fellow in foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where he analyzes U.S. defense policy in the Asia-Pacific region, Chinese military modernization, cross–Taiwan Strait relations, and Korean Peninsula security. 

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Compromise Found: Korea Walks Back from the Brink of Disaster

The Buzz

Senior representatives of the two Koreas completed three days of marathon negotiations to avert further escalation of military tensions on August 25 at 12:55 a.m. local time. Despite hours spent at the negotiating table, the agreement itself is relatively short and straightforward. However, the fact that it took so long to reach the agreement underscores the difficulty both sides had in allowing each other to save face despite high tensions.

The main trade-off in the agreement involves North Korea’s expression of regret regarding South Korean soldiers injured in an August 4 land mine explosion at a South Korean guard post adjacent to the DMZ. The statement constitutes an indirect admission of responsibility for the incident, which North Korea had denied prior to talks. In return, South Korea agreed to cut off propaganda loudspeakers from noon on Tuesday absent any surprises at which time North Korea demobilizes its troops from the current war footing.

Longer-term, the two sides agreed to hold Red Cross meetings in early September to plan for family reunions later that month during fall harvest holidays, and both sides agreed to promote civilian-level exchanges. In addition, both sides pledge to continue high-level talks in Pyongyang or Seoul.

The implementation of these steps should shift the focal point of the relationship from military tensions to exchanges and cooperation. However, inter-Korean pledges to engage in exchanges or to hold family reunions are historically breached as often as they are honored.

The main lesson learned from the rising tensions and negotiations is that both sides are vulnerable to each other. (South Korea refuses to bear the costs of North Korean provocations and its economy is vulnerable to spikes in military tensions while North Korea fears its polity is increasingly vulnerable to South Korean propaganda dissemination.) But admission of vulnerability may lead either to closer inter-Korean relations or to the possibility of exploitation of the weakness of one side by the other.

With this modest agreement, both sides have also shown that they have the wherewithal to negotiate their way out of a crisis. For this reason, the test of whether this agreement marks a real turning point in inter-Korean relations will lie in the ability of both sides to keep their agreements and to institutionalize future dialogue and cooperation in such a way as to minimize their respective points of vulnerability.

This piece comes courtesy of CFR and Forbes. 

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