Archive for April, 2013


The US Navy’s challenging future: balancing kinetic, electronic and cyber capabilities

April 30, 2013

Terrific article from AOL Defense on the future of the US Navy.  The Navy needs to replace aging platforms and add new capabilities at the same time, a challenging tandem in the best of time and even more so in the current financial reality.  But it has to be done.  Personally, I would beggar the Army and even (to a lesser degree) the Air Force if that is what was needed to enhance the Navy’s capability and reach.   In a globalized world, the nation with the most effective and far reaching navy will dominate.  Today, that is still the US (and our lead is large), but the game is changing and it is an open question whether we are keeping pace with that change.


Turkey reshuffles the Eurasian coalitioning deck

April 29, 2013

In Modelski’s version of Long Cycle Theory, coalitioning is the final phase before the final conflict between the existing hegemonic order and its challengers.  The coalitioning phase sees shifts in alliance structures, sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic.  EnerGeoPolitics has been watching the coalitioning efforts of the United States, Russia and China in Eurasia from its inception.  Early in this century, the US tried (and failed) to form an alliance of Caspian Sea states under the name of the Caspian Guard.  It has has better – though limited – success in expanding NATO to Eurasian states through its Partnership for Peace program.   China and Russia came together to create the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with several Central Asian nations.  Russia has organized several of the former Soviet Republics into the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has been the most successful effort – success which has led Russia to de-emphasize its participation in the SCO.

Late last week, there was an upheaval in the coalitioning field as charter NATO member – a lynchpin of US efforts in Eurasia – officially became a “dialogue partner” of the SCO.  This is not full membership, and Turkey has not left NATO, but it has been drifting away from the Atlantic alliance and toward the Heartland for a decade.  Atlanticism, it seems, is in retreat, and Eurasianism is on the march.  The good news (from this American’s perspective) is that the competing versions of Eurasianism (Russian, Chinese and don’t forget pan-Islamic) will have to settle things out among themselves before they can look outward.


US will build down, then up to a 306 ship navy

April 26, 2013

For nearly a decade, naval planners had said they required 313 ships to meet mission requirements through the end of this century’s third decade.  In its most recent statement, the navy has adjusted that number down to 306 ships.  To meet that goal, the Navy plans to retire dozens of active ships then slowly replace them with modern platforms.  The navy will shrink to a size of 270 ships in 2015 – the lowest total since before World War One.  While many of these new ships will have enhanced capabilities and be armed with better (directed energy) and cheaper (swarms of drones) weapons, the Navy will still be covering as much area with fewer ships.  Also, the fleets will continue to be built around Super Carriers, which many believe will be an outdated platform by the end of the 2020s (and some even believe they are outdated already).  With China focused on a naval strategy and rapidly building up its own naval forces, one wonders whether 300 ships – even 300 advanced ships – will be enough.  Of course, if we share enough of our advanced technologies with local partners, we can revive something like the “thousand ship navy” concept in the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.


China, India and the Geopolitics of Water

April 25, 2013

Supplies of freshwater – for drinking, for irrigation, and for hydropower – are as pressing a need for growing China as are supplies of oil, gas and minerals.  For most of the latter three, China can simply compete on the worldwide market for its needs and avoid any direct conflicts with other powers (although concerns about future supplies have them behaving aggressively in the South China and East China Seas).

Water, however, is another matter.  China contains the headwaters of many rivers on which neighboring nations are also dependent.  Unlike most nations, however, China rejects the notion of water-sharing treaties.  I have written several times in the past about China and the Geopolitics of Water, but their behavior has grown aggressive even by their own historical tendencies.  This has raised hackles in India, the nation most effected by Chinese water policies, leading a geostrategic thinker to pen a column in the Times of India calling China’s most recent actions “a covert water war.”    China and India have fought small wars in the past, and it is not inconceivable that a much larger clash between the Dragon and the Elephant could arise over water rights.


China’s Growing Naval Prowess

April 24, 2013

This month’s edition of Proceedings (the journal of the US Naval Institute) focuses on the growth and development of the Chinese Navy, or the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) as it is known there.    China is aggressively adding capability to its naval forces in order to meet three goals of increased scope and difficulty.

First, to secure their anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy, which is designed to upend the near 70 year US  naval domination of their waters.   This is the “first island chain” strategy, outlined in the infamous “nine-dash line” map.  China first seeks to achieve hegemony within the waters bounded by the first chain of islands off her eastern shore.

Second, to extend their own naval hegemony beyond their near waters and out to the “second island chain,” a series of small atolls farther out into the Pacific, then sweeping down to include the Indonesian archipelago.  Dominating this chain was the same strategic goal that the Imperial Japanese Navy pursued in World War Two; controlling this chain would fully isolate the US from East Asia and force its allies to seek accommodation with China.  Achieving this goal would probably require open war with the US, as it would necessitate seizing control of US territories Guam and the Marianas Islands.

second island chain

The third goal of Chinese naval strategists would be complete domination of the Western Pacific and Indian Oceans.  This would seem to be relatively easy, as the US would have been defeated in the completion of the second goal.  Only India, which is also building up a formidable naval force, would be left to compete with the PLAN.

Of course, parts 2 and 3 are long term goals, and the successful completion of even stage 1 is far from a sure thing.  Especially given that the US navy is taking Chinese developments seriously.  This issue of Proceedings has a number of articles that examine Chinese seamanship, their growing blue water capabilities, their submarine forces, and other factors.  It is a must-read issue for anyone interested in the potential Sino-American naval competition in the coming years and decades.


How renewable energy policies endanger power generation

April 23, 2013

Davis Swan writing at Energy Pulse points out the developing crisis in base electrical power generation that is caused by preferences for renewable energy sources.   Swan notes that “The reliability of the system depends upon a rather delicate balance of supply and demand that varies throughout the day and throughout the year.”  The economics of large scale base supply plants requires a predictable demand, which allows management to amortize building costs over a long period and maintain profitability.  Political policies which give increasing preference to renewable sources like wind and solar – which cannot provide base power because of their inconstancy – place that predictability at risk.  The result is that, as older base power plants go offline, fewer are being built to replace them, and a power crisis is inevitable.    Swan identifies some early warnings of a system in stress:

Beyond supply and reserve issues the economic disruption caused by renewables is producing some very strange consequences; in “green” Germany coal-fired plants are being used in preference to cleaner, more efficient gas-fired plants due to costs; in Ontario they are spilling water at “green and renewable” hydro dams in order to make room for “green and renewable” wind generation; the Danes end up using Swedish nuclear-generated electricity when the winds are calm even though they banned nuclear power generation; in Texas they are selling wind energy at negative prices almost 10% of the time because Production Tax Credits provide a profit.

Swan worries that the political push behind renewables is too strong, and resistance against them too weak and scattered, to forestall the looming crisis.  The system, he fears, must fail before we can be motivated to save it.

Read the whole thing.


China: An Arctic Power? UPDATE

April 22, 2013

about a year and a half ago I posted a story about China’s desire to join the Arctic Council and its aggressive pursuit of a large fleet of icebreakers.  This is the second update on that story (the first was last August, on the completion of the first Chinese transpolar navigation of the Northern Sea Route).  By the end of the decade, the Arctic is expected to become regularly ice free for summer navigation, and the shipping routes from Asia to Europe and the East Coast of North America would be much shorter (and safer, due to the increase in piracy in the southern chokepoints).  Strategically, a seasonally ice free Arctic changes geostrategic calculations that have been in place since Mackinder, explaining China’s interest.

Recently, we read that some other other important Asian nations might join alongside China, as India and Singapore are both mentioned as observer candidates as well.   This is a good thing, as together they would help to weaken Chinese influence (India will be a strategic rival of China for the rest of the century, and Singapore is a deep and trusted ally of the United States).   Naval power will be critical in the 21st century, as the Indian and Arctic Oceans join the Atlantic and Pacific as theaters of power politics.