Archive for the ‘Asian Pivot’ Category


How the US Lost the Naval War of 2015

April 9, 2014

That is the title of a 2010 journal article by James Kraska:

By 2015, U.S. command of the global commons could no longer be taken for granted. The oceans and the airspace above them had been the exclusive domain of the U.S. Navy and the nation’s edifice of military power for seventy-five years. During the age of U.S. supremacy, the Navy used the oceans as the world’s largest maneuver space to outflank its enemies. Maritime mobility on the surface of the ocean, in the air and under the water was the cornerstone of U.S. military power. The United States was able to utilize its maritime dominance to envelop and topple rogue regimes, as it demonstrated in Grenada and Panama, and use the maritime commons to ferry huge ground armies to the other side of the world and sustain them indefinitely, as it did in Vietnam and twice in Iraq. The unique capability to project decisive power rapidly in any corner of the world gave the United States deterrent power and unrivalled military influence.

All that changed in 2015, when the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, sunk to the bottom of the East China Sea. More than 4,000 sailors and airmen died and the Navy lost eighty aircraft. A ship that would take seven years and $ 9 billion to replace slipped into the waves. The incident upset not just the balance of naval power in Asia, but ushered in a new epoch of international order in which Beijing emerged to displace the United States.

If you have never read Kraska’s article, read it now.  If you have, read it again.  And ponder it while listening to senior US and Chinese officials trade tough talk over maritime disputes in the Western Pacific.


US, S. Korea and Japan struggle to find common ground vs. China’s new ADIZ

December 4, 2013

China may have found a wedge issue to divide the three main parts of the maritime alliance to its east.  While the US, South Korea and Japan have thus far formed a common opposition to China’s newly released Air Defense Identification Zone, the Americans are seem to be offering a sort of concession, while the Koreans are prepared to challenge the Chinese in a way that would put them at odds with Japan.  Breaking Defense lays it all out here:

All three democracies have now flown military aircraft through China’s new ADIZ without complying with Beijing’s demand to file flight plans in advance and to communicate via radio once in the zone. The issue between the allies is whether commercial flights should follow China’s unilaterally declared rules (reprinted here on the FAA website).

The governments of Japan and, more quietly, South Korea have gotten their national airlines not to. The US State Department, however, just quietly reiterated the longstanding US policy that airlines should comply with all countries’ flight rules — which presumably would include the new ones put out by China, although State didn’t say so outright.

Meanwhile, South Korea is contemplating expanding its own long-standing ADIZ to challenge China’s — but it might do so in a way that would cause conflict between Seoul and Tokyo as well. So while the US, Japan, and South Korea have presented a united front so far; they may not be able to keep it up as the stand-off drags on.


Note:  this will be the last post of the week, as I will be traveling.  Posting will resume on Monday, Dec. 9.



US ditches Monroe Doctrine, while China appears to be construcing its West Pacific analog

November 25, 2013

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry proclaimed that the nearly 2 century old Monroe Doctrine, through which the US claimed hegemony over most of the Western Hemisphere, was “dead” (although it should be noted that Kerry either mischaracterized or misunderstands the Monroe Doctrine to begin with).

This week, China has added a new layer to what is essentially its own version of the Monroe Doctrine in the East and South China Seas, identifying areas in international space and even legally Japanese space as subject to China’s air defense rules.   This follows by just a few months China’s extending its controversial “9 dash map” with an even more expansive 10 dash map.

China does not have the military power – yet – to successfully challenge the US on these matters.  However, they are probably banking on the fact that the US in general and this president in particular are not positioned for a fight and will likely let these matters drop with nothing more than a protest.  This gives China its de facto claim over the waters, while at the same time diminishing US credibility as an effective counterbalance to her growing power.  This is a significant victory in the coalitioning phase of the current world power cycle and China has, in effect, won this round without firing a shot.

Read Andrew Erickson for updates on the ADIZ (air defense identification zone) controversy. 


China’s Continental End Run

October 21, 2013

Alexandros Peterson and Raffaello Pantucci write in this month’s National Interest about what they call “China’ s Inadvertent Empire” in Central Asia.  They detail the growing economic ties between China and the resource rich but (relatively) sparsely populated and poor nations of the Eurasian Heartland.  While Peterson and Pantucci correctly point out that this is a growing strategic threat – precisely the kind of single power dominance that Halford Mackinder first warned about over a century ago – I do believe that they are underplaying the central organizing role that Beijing policy makers are playing in this Chinese expansionism.  While it is undertaken on an ad hoc basis and has no formal strategic white paper guiding it., there is certainly more than economic opportunism behind it.  The admirals of the PLAN know that their A2/AD strategy designed to push US naval power away from their home waters has no real strategic capability – that the nation’s economic lifeblood courses through sea lines of communication that it will not be able to secure for at least a generation, if ever.  The pipelines, railways, and highways that they are building through the heart of Asia, on the other hand, serve as an end run around US naval power.  It makes obvious sense that, as the world’s most powerful naval force pivots toward Asia, Asia’s most powerful nation would pivot toward the Heartland.   So obvious that to call such a turn “inadvertent” seems naive.

international maritime route

Global Maritime Traffic Flows



US extends its position in the Western Pacific

October 10, 2013

First, news broke late last month that the South Korean government had re-thought its choice of the updated F-15 “Silent Eagle” for its next big fighter purchase, and instead will likely opt for the F-35.   This means the F-35 will operate among all of the major US allies in the region – Australia, Singapore, Japan and now South Korea.  The uniformity would offer a bonus in the event of a region-wide conflict, with spare parts and trained maintenance personnel available from north to south.

The US is also broadening its presence in Japan, stationing the largest array of advanced weaponry on the islands in years.   Both the Air Force and Marine Corp variants of the F-35 will be stationed there, along with squadrons of V-22 Ospreys and unmanned Global Hawk surveillance craft.  The Navy will station their most advanced anti-submarine planes, the P-8 Orion, on Japanese soil as well.  This upgrade in Japanese postings will be augmented by an array of “temporary” bases across the region, including “Tinian and Saipan to Australia, Singapore, Thailand, India, and possibly sites in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.



Taiwan Ministry of Defense: PLA will have capability for successful invasion by 2020

October 8, 2013

A Taiwan Ministry of Defense Report leaked to the Want China Times spells out the race against time that the Republic of China seems to be losing:

China plans to enhance its combat capabilities to a level sufficient to mount a full attack against Taiwan by 2020, showing that its military threat to Taiwan has not diminished, the Ministry of National Defense has concluded in a report.

First published in 1992, the 12th National Defense Report says that China has developed and deployed various types of new high-end weapons and has developed cyber attack and defense technologies.

It also has plans to ramp up its combat capabilities needed to launch an all-out attack on Taiwan by 2020, the report says.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force “has stationed a large number of advanced aircraft within unrefueled range of Taiwan, providing them with a significant capability to conduct air superiority and ground operations against Taiwan,” the report says.

Taiwan’s military currently has the capability to defeat a PLA cross-straits attack, but the PRC is gaining numbers and capability faster than Taiwan can keep up.  At the same time, the US Navy, while technologically superior and with many new weapons systems under design, is hindered by national politics and finances and is seeing its ability to intervene slowly diminish, regardless of the vaunted “Asian Pivot.”  At some point, the two lines will cross.  Will it be 2020, 2025?  At this rate, it looks like sooner rather than later.


The century old contest for the Heartland continues

July 16, 2013

Yesterday, I posted about the US pivot to Asia and the matching British and French geostrategic turns to the Indo-Pacific region.    I wrote that this was all understandable and even predictable in classical geopolitical terms laid out a century ago by Halford Mackinder.  However, while the pivot to Asia is understandable and necessary, the traditional Western powers should not ignore their front yards.

Mackinder’s theories were directly applicable to Eurasia, not East Asia.  He was concerned primarily with Germany and the threat that German Imperialism could dominate the Eurasian Heartland and therefore threaten world domination.  In later years, Russia would come to supplant Germany in those fears and in the geostrategic planning of the West, but the theory was basically the same.  And, while the West is increasingly preoccupied with the rise of China, the struggle for the Heartland continues.

Last week, the Charlemagne blog at The Economist highlighted the ongoing tension between Russia and the European Union as the two struggle for ascendancy in the former states of the Soviet Union (the ‘Near Abroad’ as the Russians see it).  The piece is interesting in its detail of the maneuvering at the margins, but it misses the central activity:  the growing relationship between Russia and Germany.  Though it remains the central driver of the European Union and a dedicated member of NATO, Germany is increasingly finding its own path on geostrategic and, more importantly, geo-economic matters – and that path runs inescapably to Moscow.    German industry is heavily dependent on Russian energy, and German foreign policy has recently (see Libya and Syria) been more in line with the Russians than with the Americans, British or French.  Victor Waldemar Jensen examined the German/Russian relationship in a long paper published last week by the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.  While Jensen concludes that there is little chance of Germany leaving either the EU or NATO in the near future, it is certainly a relationship that the Atlanticists should not take their eyes off while they pivot to the Far East.