The Naval War College Foundation has sponsored annual national security seminars in the San Francisco Bay Area for years. This past April 6 was the first seminar held in San Francisco proper. I attended for the first time because I liked the theme, "Economic and Maritime Security in the Western Pacific." I maintain my usual methodology for reporting these types of conferences; I paraphrase the speakers' major points and then offer my own comments in italics.
The introductory speaker noted Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule for PowerPoint briefings. That rule is aimed at startups pitching to VCs but I'll bet these policy analysts can figure it out. I wish more publicly traded small-cap stocks in the mining and energy sectors would use that format so their roadshow pitches wouldn't be so tedious. Anyway, the main topic headings for the conference are in bold text below, followed by the substance of what was said.
"Balancing the Rebalance: Political Economy of American Strategy in Asia" by Dr. Peter Dombrowski
You've probably heard a lot about the US foreign policy pivot to Asia and the emerging defense doctrine of Air-Sea Battle to back it up. Our speaker mentioned that the US Navy currently patrols the Indian Ocean but Americans have usually ignored this region. Not for long, folks, because China's sea lines of communication to whatever footholds it plans to occupy in Africa must extend across the Indian Ocean and are therefore susceptible to interdiction by the US and/or India. "Sustaining US Global Leadership" officially announced the Asia-Pacific pivot, and observers can expect further partnership with India and a continued drawdown in Europe. The shorthand for European observers IMHO is that they can expect reduced US funding for NATO and no serious land-based ballistic missile defense capability. This isn't the Cold War anymore and there are no Warsaw Pact armored columns poised at the Fulda Gap. NATO can't do much with two US Army brigade combat teams anyway.
The IMF reports rapid Asian GDP growth. Asian trade is still growing as a share of the percentage of world trade that moves by ship, which will increase their demand for maritime security. The great powers that meet that demand for security will determine the nature of trans-Pacific trade. The US Navy currently guarantees freedom of navigation through the Strait of Malacca. The US government's Energy Information Administration recognizes that strait and several other locales as choke points vital to world commerce. US naval strategy during the Cold War was to field enough aircraft carrier battle groups to control those choke points and prevent the Soviet Navy from achieving a strategic breakout. The strategy deserves a review in light of China's rise and its demonstrated anti-ship missile capability. I'll have a lot more to say about this in future blog articles.
China graduates 200,000 engineers each year. I'm reminded of the old saying that the US graduates more new lawyers each year than the rest of the world combined. With numbers like these, it's not hard to guess how far ahead China can push its developmental edge to win the future. Dr. Dombrowski notes that a common storyline in world capitals is the historical likelihood of conflict between rising empires (China) and declining empires (US). His thesis is that it doesn't have to be this simplistic, because China's dominance and the US's decline are not guaranteed.
The interpretation of how and why China builds its military strength is key to understanding its intentions. China's current procurement focus is on anti-access and area denial (A2AD) systems that negate US/allied naval power. US Navy procurement and force structure should account for this A2AD focus. Emerging joint doctrine calls for autonomously operating forces. I recall reading white papers in the mid-1990s that advocated disparate forces that could swarm and then scatter over wide areas. IMHO drone technology now gives us the chance to test such hardware in programmed combat formations. Air-Sea Battle notes that China's seaborne flows of imported hydrocarbons are vulnerable to maritime interdiction. This is why China plans pipelines from Siberia and Central Asia to make its energy supplies less vulnerable.
Public coverage of the US's Asia pivot assumes an inevitable conflict with China. There are other strategic frameworks besides military confrontation. Dr. Dombrowski argues for applying the NATO rationale of embedding the military containment of China within a broad strategy of regional engagement. The logical next step in such a policy would be the creation of a formal multinational alliance. The US's current web of bilateral alliances in Asia conveniently works around uncomfortable anomalies, such as the traditional animosity of Japan and South Korea. The containment of China provides a wonderful rationale for cajoling Asian democracies into leaving Japan's 20th century aggression behind. Creating a NATO-like containment structure also requires some diplomatic fail-safe mechanisms like a Washington-Beijing hotline and the periodic observer exchanges during NATO and Warsaw Pact field maneuvers. The hotline exists but Beijing has made it cumbersome to use. China wasn't invited to the U.S./allied RIMPAC naval exercise in 2012. That snub should be considered with Russian marine and naval participation in RIMPAC 2012 as part of a clear message to Beijing. Oh BTW, China missed its chance to see RIMPAC 2012 running on biofuel. Maybe RIMPAC 2014 will be different, but I don't expect China to be moderate its assertive claims to other countries' sovereign waters. That alone argues against their participation in RIMPAC, but China has accepted the US's invitation to participate in RIMPAC 2014 after all.
Dr. Dombrowski opened it up to Q&A. The aircraft carrier's fate is hotly contested inside the Navy but he thinks it will be useful for a long time. Other platforms may help extend its life even if it's less useful in an A2AD scenario against a major power. An amphibious carrier that can project an MEU into an austere theater is definitely useful in a Libya-type scenario where the strategic intent is confined to changing a weak regime.
The economic crisis impacts the US's ability to fund combat power. Maybe tolerating more risk in less-vital places is acceptable if we spend money on defending only vital US interests. The EIA's choke point report tells us exactly where our vital interests reside. Some combination of air-sea A2AD plus sufficient land power to breach and hold coastal defenses around the choke points is essential. Everything else - COIN, BMD, large support infrastructure for NATO and other unlikely land-based scenarios - is negotiable.
Pakistan's biggest patron is China, not the US. Pakistan is still the linchpin of our Afghanistan policy. Not for long, IMHO. India is also a big player in the region. The US-Pakistan relationship has become very problematic in the context of the US's Asia pivot. I can't elaborate on why the US has stood by Pakistan for so long given its destabilizing tendencies. Pakistan's A.Q. Khan helped North Korea's nuclear weapon program, doing more to destabilize Asia than anyone in living memory. Pakistan's fertilizer vendors provide the ignition material for almost all of the IEDs employed against US/NATO/ISAF forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan's third-party logistics providers pilfer US military cargo and help fund Taliban activities. I say Pakistan is one country the US can afford to eject from its orbit.
The Indian navy is a small player in that country's internal military/political dialogue, thus it has little independence in developing a relationship with the US Navy. That's true for now but the US can grow this relationship. The US Army has sent observer missions to Indian military exercises for several years. If China doesn't add value to the next RIMPAC, India should be welcome to play.
China's resource acquisition strategy is mostly driven by private Chinese companies with lots of cash and market power. State-controlled companies are a different concern. Hmm, that's interesting. I had always assumed China's private companies somehow got their marching orders from Beijing, with subsidized capital as the incentive for playing ball.
China is disingenuous about its cyberwar strategy. It is obvious that cyberwar attacks have hurt the US economy. "Cybrid" conflict addresses cyberwar as a hybrid component of conventional conflict. US policymakers and strategists need to read Unrestricted Warfare, in which two PLA colonels outline China's plan to defeat the US. China's veiled cyberwar turns theory into practice.
China's holdings of US Treasuries are a bigger problem for itself than the US. A hasty sale would backfire and crash the value of remaining bonds. I've noted on my Alfidi Capital Blog how China has gradually made bilateral currency agreements and has periodically reduced its new purchases of Treasuries.
"Vietnam: US Engagement Strategy" by Dr. Casey Lucius
Our next presenter had served at the US Embassy in Hanoi. She argued that Vietnam is of strategic interest to the US because its long coastline offers port access to the Taiwan Strait. I believe Vietnam's greater strategic value lies in its shared border with China. Ports have value if they are conduits for trade or waystations where friendly naval vessels can refuel. If Cam Ranh Bay and other ports can play these roles then the U.S. has reason to care. Dr. Lucius argued that Vietnam's diplomatic efforts qualify it as a regional leader and offer engagement opportunities for the US.
Vietnam's participation in the UN Security Council enabled it to engage world problems beyond its own borders. Vietnam now contributes troops to UN peacekeeping missions. ASEAN's Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea can help circumscribe China's aggressive maneuvers because saving face matters in Asia. I must disagree here. China's declared intent to absorb territories claimed by other nations does not respect international norms. China's signature on that ASEAN declaration means nothing. It is only useful in the event of China's eventual breach of agreements if ASEAN needs a rallying point to justify a united response. China's dispatch of eight vessels to the Senkakus shows how little respect it has for its neighbors' territorial waters.
Allow me to segue for a bit and wonder just what constitutes Vietnam's military capabilities. IMHO peacekeeping is nice but can they patrol their own maritime zones? Or would they need the US Navy's help in their own littorals if China challenged them? Can Vietnam defend its northern border from Chinese invasion? China's military performed poorly in its 1979 invasion of Vietnam, so any lessons the PLA learned deserve study in the West.
The US and Vietnam have a mutual interest in deterring China in the South China Sea, and US arms sales offer leverage. Vietnam wants to buy weapons from the US but the US has embargoed sales of lethal items Vietnam may use against its own people.
Epidemic outbreaks posed risks of deligitimization to the Vietnamese Communist Party. The government moved quickly to mitigate local SARS outbreaks and connected with global health organizations for help. The US worked with Vietnam on a comprehensive disease prevention campaign. Dr. Lucius believes this experience proves that the US can work productively with Vietnam on developing a comprehensive crisis management plan for the region.
The legacy of the Vietnam War persists. Every visiting US delegation gets an earful of complaints about unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange. Is there any validation for these complaints from independent non-Vietnamese sources? Vietnam reports that over 2000 casualties occur every year from UXO. They'll be dealing with this for a long time. Germany is still digging up Allied UXOs from WWII. The US Congress has appropriated money to remove Agent Orange dioxins from Vietnam's water, even though the correlation between Agent Orange exposure and health abnormalities isn't clear from statistics. This reminds me of the US Department of Veterans Affairs' designation of presumptive conditions arising from US troops' exposure to Agent Orange. Politics takes precedence over statistical validation. The American Cancer Society has a good rundown on ailments that have been linked to the small numbers of people who experienced concentrated exposure to Agent Orange. Good meta-studies on cancer research serve the public interest and cut through politically-motivated disinformation. Vietnam still suppresses political dissent and religious freedom. The country does want help with development, so perhaps the US can build trust there.
Dr. Lucius articulated several US options for addressing China's rise that were mutually exclusive, yet the US is pursuing all of them simultaneously. Asian relations really are all about China. China's dream is to surpass the US as the world's number one military power, so anything less than a determined US presence in Asia will undermine our partners in the region. Dr. Lucius advocates using "SMART" risk analysis for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, and Time-limited goals. The US should assess its strategic options within this rubric.
Then came the Q&A. Someone asked whether Russia and China have a naval presence in Vietnam. The official answer is "unknown," with occasional port visits but no likelihood of a permanent presence. One sharp observer asked how China deals with its neighbors on water use. Dr. Lucius said Vietnam, Cambodia, and China have land border disputes over water control. She does not see this as a source of conflict in the Mekong Delta. I must disagree. China has had longstanding plans to build hydroelectric plants along the stretch of the Mekong River it controls, Dams would clearly give China the upper hand in determining water allocation for its neighbors. Someone else asked about Vietnam's political-military relations. The Vietnamese military owns all textile factories and telecommunications. This policy ensures control of vital defense resources and provides jobs to Vietnamese military members when they're not in their training cycle. It's still a centrally planned economy.
"North Korea: Politics, Power and Nuclear Weapons," by Dr. Terrence Roehrig
Dr. Roehrig talked about the world's most reclusive kingdom after lunch. The military balance between the two Koreas is not in the North's favor and they know it. I remember my first tour of duty in South Korea in the 1990s. The Third ROK Army defending Seoul was then the largest "field army" (i.e., an integrated fighting force with a four-star commander) in the world. The South is not the undeveloped agrarian country it was in the 1950s. The last Kim-to-Kim dynastic transition was planned in advance and Kim Jong-Il as the designated successor had time to build credibility. Recall the funeral photo of Kim Jong-Un marching alongside his father's hearse. Civilian officials were arranged behind him, and Jang Song-Taek is related to him by marriage to Kim Jong-Il's sister, Kim Kyong-Hui (i.e., the guy is Kim J-U's uncle). The military officials on the other side of the hearse have since been removed from power. North Korea is shifting from military dominance to a military/civilian balance with the Workers' Party of Korea re-elevated.
Dr. Roehrig is skeptical that Kim Jong-Un is fully in control. There is no danger of a military coup. Kim's key position is First Secretary of the Party and Chairman of its Central Military Commission. It's worth noting that North Korea is the only country in the world where a deceased leader is officially recognized as the Eternal President. Let's see if Kim J-U times an official visit to China with the aftermath of whatever dramatic demonstration of military might he plans to hold. Ideology maintains the regime's legitimacy: "Son-gun" is the geopolitical policy of putting the military first and "juche" is the economic philosophy of self-reliance. Yeah, good luck with those great ideas. The military has to supplement its own meager rations by tending its own crops and North Korea is one of the poorest countries on the planet. Check out a night-time satellite photo of the two Koreas. The south is lit up with energy while the north is pitch dark. The contrast between prosperity and self-imposed isolation is clear.
Kim Jong-Un established his legitimacy by invoking Kim Il-Sung's name and legacy, but this young Kim has a much more public image than his father. He is remaking himself in his grandfather's charismatic image. His legitimacy is in part grounded on carrying on the ideology of his father and grandfather, and ideology is a crucial component for the legitimacy of this regime. Note that some news photos indicated he suddenly had a wife, supporting an image as a family man. It's embarrassing to note that Dennis Rodman may have more personal knowledge of Kim Jong-Un than our own State Department. When Dennis Rodman returned from his goodwill basketball trip to North Korea, he indicated that Kim's "wife" may have had a baby but this news was not reported in North Korea's own media. This implies the newborn may not be considered viable for public display as an heir to the regime. I would be disappointed if the US government has not fully debriefed Mr. Rodman and his entourage after their goodwill visit. I am not surprised that Mr. Rodman could not keep his mouth shut about such contact. This lack of discretion will limit his utility as a diplomat if he makes good on his promise to return to North Korea.
North Korea's nuclear weapons program is real but its capabilities deserve a big question mark. Their tests indicate some progress toward miniaturization of a warhead. The US government needs to speak with one voice on this subject. National strategy is dysfunctional when the Pentagon says North Korea has miniaturized a warhead while the White House expresses its doubts. This sends a clear message to America's adversaries that the President's top advisers cannot reach a consensus estimate of a threat. Disagreement is healthy behind closed doors, but it shouldn't leak into the public realm so readily China told North Korea not to conduct a nuclear test but they did it anyway. There is no risk of a rupture between these two countries despite China's frustration. The US estimates the DRPK has enough plutonium for four to ten warheads.
North Korea's Scud short-range missiles can range the entire Korean peninsula. Its Nodong mid-range ballistic missiles can range Japan and US bases there. The Musudan is an intermediate range missile that can reach Guam and the Taepodong, along with the KN-08 mobile ICBM, are the longer range missiles that might be able to reach the US. The Musudan, Taepodong and KN-08 have undergone various degrees of testing but are not believed to be operational. The Musudan is the missile that many believed would be tested in April. The Nodong can target Japan with conventional and probably chemical warheads but they are not believed to be terribly accurate. NK does not have a missile yet that can reach the US.
North Korea tends to tie its provocations to key dates in the history of its ruling dynasty. April 15 was Kim Il-Sung's 101st birthday. It came and went without incident. This regime may have trouble pulling off provocations according to the Kim traditional timetable if Kim Jong-Un isn't fully in control of the military.
Dr. Roehrig and others try to discern how much of North Korea's saber-rattling is real and how much is bluff. Their new rhetoric claims the ability to target Japan and the US but they have little demonstrated capability to do so. Most North Korean statements deliver a deterrent tone, i.e. "we will do this if you provoke us." It is clear that the ROK will respond strongly if North Korea makes a kinetic provocation (like shelling Yeonpyeong island). North Korea sees nukes as the ultimate deterrent and regime guarantor. They learned this from watching Iraq and Libya. The North Korean leadership also sees prestige in having nukes as something that grants big-power acceptance. They no longer see nuclear weapons as a bargaining chip to give away. Nukes are now a permanent part of North Korea's national security doctrine. This concurs with the open source assessment from KGS NightWatch that North Korea's rhetoric on nuclear weapons will not allow for compromise. North Korea is unlikely to use nukes offensively, because it knows that would bring regime-ending retaliation. The nature of that retaliation was left unsaid. I recall an interview President Clinton gave to CNN in the 1990s when tensions with North Korea were high. He stated clearly that North Korean use of nuclear weapons would bring the end of their country as they know it.
North Korea's nuclear program is an immediate problem for its neighbors. South Korea is now seriously thinking of developing its own nuclear weapons. Japan would then have to decide whether it should obtain nukes, which would be hard due to its WWII experience. The good news is that US/ROK ties are now better than ever. We should enjoy the good ties while they last. Incidents of indiscipline with US troops in South Korea are always fodder for left-leaning student organizations that are probably funded by North Korea. The US has no "Israel" in the region, i.e. a loyal ally willing to take out the North's nukes. I'm not so sure that South Korea is totally unwilling to play that role. I recall one of the old sayings from my first tour in the ROK: "The US isn't here to keep the North out of the South; it's to keep the South out of the North." Whatever. President Park Geun-Hye's "trustpolitik" has not shut off trust-building options despite recent tensions. I suspect that ROK politicians and geopolitical analysts are better at reading North Korean rhetoric and indicators than their American counterparts. Letting the ROK take the initiative in resolving tension is correct. The ROK is strong enough to engage North Korea without deferring to the US.
The audience questions for this round weren't always intelligible, but Dr. Roehrig answered them well, and that is why his answers will dominate the rest of this summary. The ROK announced its willingness to resume relief aid even amidst the current tension. Russia probably has the least leverage of the Six Party members. Hunger in the North is still a problem, with some chronic food shortages and much evidence of multi-generational health problems. Selling nuclear weapons materials to other countries would be a US/ROK "red line." I do not know whether that is officially announced policy or just a reflection of a consensus in Washington. A ROK pre-emptive strike on a DPRK launch site is unlikely. One out-of-the-box thinker in the audience asked if it would be possible to buy off the North Korean regime for some unknown price. I give the guy credit for original thinking. Dr. Roehrig said that's probably not realistic because you'd have to bribe and relocate tens of thousands of regime officials.
The State Department was irritated when Eric Schmidt visited North Korea with former Gov. Bill Richardson because it legitimized the regime. The North Korean media played it as a "US delegation." The ROK military thinks strategic deterrence works but it's harder to deter small-scale incidents like the Cheonan sinking. The ROK has now publicized very clear red lines that will prompt retaliation. North Korea's actions may not appear rational to us but they do have patterns of setting criteria for de-escalation. There is no short-term chance of revolution from below in North Korea. The good news is that smuggled cell phones and digital media introduce a slow leakage of modern information into North Korea. That's nothing without openness at the top. Ordinary Soviets had smuggled Western goods for years but the regime only fell after Mikhail Gorbachev introduced reforms. Defectors also introduce us to what's going on inside the country. The Daily NK keeps us apprised of news like executions for defacing pictures of the Kim dynasty.
I'll close out the North Korea part of this report by wondering out loud why Japan still tolerates the existence of Chongryon. Japanese law does not begrudge the right of ethnic Koreans to refuse to assimilate. This does not excuse the blatantly pro-North Korean activities of Chongryon from scrutiny by law enforcement and security agencies. The activities of this organization as a conduit for illicit transfers of funds and information to North Korea pose a clear security risk to Japan.
Panel Discussion: Alternative Perspectives
The speakers took their turns developing the US's next steps in Asia. The rest of this summary will be stream-of-consciousness, without individual attribution. Embed US strategy within international organizations. Talk doesn't solve problems but collaboration can bring some actors into a problem-solving process. China never follows through on any US request to exert leverage over North Korea; they have exerted some pressure on the DPRK but it has either been unsuccessful or not as strong as the US would think necessary. Why not talk to Vietnam instead? Hanoi has good relations with Pyongyang and can model a regime North Korea considers a "success."
Our well-informed audience had plenty of questions. Once again, stream-of-consciousness, without attribution.
Were the sanctions on North Korea effective? A large body of literature is pessimistic on sanctions causing changes in regime behavior. Sanctions have degraded North Korea's nuclear weapon and missile programs. North Korea has found back-channel ways around financial sanctions. Read my mention of Chongryon above for a hint as to how the DPRK gets around financial sanctions.
What is going on with Indonesia? The good news is that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore cooperate in maintaining the security of the Strait of Malacca. The key to understanding Indonesia's importance is that five of the seven main sea routes for transporting Middle East oil to China transit Indonesian waters.
What about the Burma / Myanmar opening? The US welcomes it. Well, obviously. China is Myanmar's biggest investor so any inroads the US can make will throw China off balance. China's oil pipeline through Myanmar opens for business very soon, reducing China's vulnerability to constricted sea lines. Asia really is all about China, and China really is all about resources.
Should the US send Dennis Rodman back to North Korea to gather more intelligence? Ha-ha, good one there. There's nothing wrong with private cultural exchanges as long as we're not hopeful they lead to short-term changes. The guy who calls himself "The Worm" plans a return trip to the Hermit Kingdom later this summer.
One panelist made the very interesting comment that former Doobie Brothers guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter has been a highly paid consultant to the defense and intelligence communities! I had no idea that a rock musician could hold a high-level security clearance. That means there's hope for me yet. Just think, some analyst could send my blog articles to a senior defense official and then - presto - I'm in the National Military Command Center with Skunk Baxter, Henry Kissinger, and whoever is running the Trilateral Commission and Illuminati these days. Man, sign me up for that stuff.
Should the US step back from inter-Korean problems and let the ROK lead? The ROK still values US tactical fighter superiority. US troop presence in South Korea has more political value than military utility. The US does not want South Korea to get nukes. The US willingness to commit strategic assets (B-52s, etc.) does much to deter ROK aggressiveness. I'm inclined to let the ROK take the lead so long as we keep them on a long leash to "keep the South out of the North." The US has always reserved the right to exercise operational control (OPCON) of South Korea's armed forces in the event of hostilities. This has long been a thorn in the side of South Korean military officers' nationalist sentiments. The US and ROK agreed to a transition to South Korean OPCON years ago; the transition is running late and one former US commander is now having second thoughts. This confusion is music to North Korea's ears. I say let the transition continue as planned. South Korea's national security architecture is mature enough to handle a war for national survival.
Why not ignore North Korean rhetoric? At the national level, not speaking also sends messages. North Korea may interpret that as preparation for a surprise attack. These are hard-won lessons from the Cold War. The US and Soviet Union established hot lines to ensure national leaders could dispel any misunderstandings on short notice and avoid a crisis. The NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances frequently exchanged military observer missions to monitor each other's announced exercises; this ensured that large-scale field maneuvers were not surprise attacks. I doubt that North Korea would ever want a hotline with the White House or agree to military observer exchanges with South Korea. The US POW/MIA recovery effort in North Korea has allowed for intermittent foreign military presence inside the Hermit Kingdom that the Kim regime found non-threatening. Large humanitarian aid promises were the price to pay.
Does North Korea have chemical and biological weapons? They do have chemical weapons and may have bio-weapons. They have operationalized their fairly large chemical arsenal.
What is next for China's development? Every great power strikes a balance between military power and economic development. Americans ask themselves legitimate questions when considering how much infrastructure investment is sufficient to remain powerful. Japan and South Korea have low birthrates and may not be able to fill their militaries with males. So how about females? Israel does that because its survival in a hostile neighborhood is at stake. China has a falling birthrate and a gender imbalance that will harm its development. Other countries think the US's openness to immigration is a strength that negates a low birthrate. Interesting. They think it adds to our stock of human capital. The foreign perspective is one we haven't heard in Washington's debate over immigration reform.
Why does the US periodically shift its strategic focus between Europe and Asia? The US never left Asia after World War II. The real anomaly is our huge presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans were unwilling to favor a large military presence overseas before WWII. The US presence in Asia has never been limited to the military; consider development aid. Look no further than the persistence of the "Ugly American" stereotype to see just how long we've been trying to make a difference in Asia, with varying degrees of success.
What is the current relationship between the US and the Philippines? Subic Bay is still useful but the Philippine people have little interest in a permanent US presence. The USS Guardian minesweeper grounded on the country's World Heritage Site coral reef. US willingness to spend money to dismantle the ship to save the reef sends a tremendous message about American values. The US should exploit this demonstration of its values with an information operations campaign via the Voice of America and social media.
Is there some future unidentified third party cyber threat to the US? There's plenty of evidence for non-state hacker attacks. The US is studying the usefulness of red lines prompting a cyber-response. The undeclared cyber-war between the US and unnamed actors has been running for over a decade.
Does Vietnam send officers to the Naval War College? ARVN officers attended until 1975 and a few Vietnamese officers have attended recently now that relations are better. Mainland China has never sent attendees to the Naval War college because Taiwan has sent a student every year since the 1950s. Vietnam is too suspicious of China to send its officers to the PLA's senior academies.
What about Australia? It's a strong US ally. The Australian army may have political limits to an extensive US permanent military presence. Resource exports to China are a factor in Australian policy, giving China leverage. US Army Pacific now has an Australian two-star army general as its deputy commander for operations. That is an extremely important development. Allied officers in the US armed forces are often assigned as liaisons to corps and theater headquarters, military school instructors, and exercise observers. They rarely assume roles within an American chain of command. More such arrangements will send a clear message to China and North Korea that an attack on an American ally is an attack on America itself.
There is one scenario that none of the panelists or audience members addressed, so I'll mention it here. Russia, China, and India are obviously the most important powers in Asia. Russia has largely settled its differences with its neighbors except for the frequent outbreaks of Islamic radicalism in the Caucasus. China and India have yet to settle any of their differences. They both have unresolved claims on parts of each others' territory. China's control of the headwaters of the Indus River will eventually pose problems for India's water need if China continues its hydroelectric building programs. India and China's demographics and development needs will inevitably bring them into direct competition for access to energy, water, and mineral resources. I take a potential conflict between China and India very seriously. I would very much like to contact other members of the US defense, diplomatic, and intelligence communities who have an interest in studying this scenario. Capt. James Fanell (US Navy) also takes the rise of China seriously, and as a Hoover Fellow he studied China's open source developments in his Red Star Rising column. He continues to discuss China in his Red Star Rising Google Group and in public appearances. Capt. Fanell performs a great service for our nation by discussing emerging security risks in frank terms.
I had a blast absorbing all of this knowledge from serious national security scholars. I spent several weeks preparing this article to ensure it reflected everything discussed, met my high editorial standards, and referenced only unclassified information found in open sources. I will definitely attend next year so I can keep scouting for an audience that will listen to my pet theories about security in Asia.
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
Friday, April 19, 2013
One of the alleged suspects of the Boston Marathon bombings is now in custody. Cooperation among multiple law enforcement agencies and some crowdsourced tips helped identify the likely perpetrators very quickly. The after-action reviews of the tactical effort should be interesting. The larger implications of this incident also deserve exploration.
Two amateur insurgents with no apparent formal military training assembled improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from common household items. Whether they had access to live networks of Al-Qaeda or Chechen bomb makers is likely irrelevant. Designs for explosive devices are within the reach of anyone with an Internet connection and knowledge of household chemistry. A trip to the local mall yields pressure cookers, circuit boards, nails, and other implements. Preventing the assembly of hardware is impossible. Deterring human actors is the more fruitful route.
These two amateurs generated a police response that shut down the economy of a major American city for more than a day. The city of Boston was under siege from an internal threat. A transportation network shutdown of more than three days would have seriously affected the city's ability to sustain itself, based on my hip-pocket guess of the days' of supply available at most major grocery stores.
The incident received national-level attention. The federal government's strategic decision cycle was tied directly to a tactical response for about five full days. This focus probably accelerated the final resolution but left the nation vulnerable to strategic surprises in other domains. The damage to the U.S. economy and infrastructure from the attack was nowhere near the level of the 9/11 attacks yet the national response was significant.
Aspiring terrorists will learn a great deal about the asymmetric effects of attacking a high-profile public event. Two IEDs launched a major response from the national security apparatus. Terrorists planning future incidents now have clear incentive to launch multiple simultaneous attacks in different locations. American policymakers must now model scenarios for multiple attacks in multiple locations that are sustained over time. That is one worst-case scenario around which America must build a resilient and flexible security architecture.
The good news is that national policy makers have shown an open interest in learning from other nations' experiences with high-profile urban terrorism. Washington is reaching out to Moscow. This is very good news. Russia has decades of experience dealing with Islamic militancy in Chechnya. The Russians have lessons to share with us in counterinsurgency and law enforcement if we are willing to learn. The dialogue can be a basis for restoring trust in other areas of the American-Russian relationship that have deteriorated since 9/11.
Speaking of Chechnya, it is high time for the U.S. intelligence community to review the transit patterns of Chechen nationals as they enter and depart the U.S. The details are properly left to the operators and analysts. Throw in Dagestan and Ingushetia too, you know, just in case. This is how we can help Moscow in return for their help.
In the week after 9/11, I recall speculating to a few of my colleagues that the most likely follow-on attacks would look like the car bombs the IRA used in Northern Ireland. I was too early with that prediction. We can credit the sharp work of the intelligence and law enforcement communities since 9/11 for the fact that follow-on attacks by Islamic radicals have taken so long to manifest. The good guys rounded up the most obvious bad guys early on. The new crop of bad guys is less obvious but just as deadly.