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Naval Strategy
China Crashes America’s Party

The U.S. Navy is conducting annual exercises with India and Japan in the Western Pacific this week, a display of force meant to send a signal about the three powers’ commitment to freedom of the seas. But the events have been complicated by the presence of an uninvited Chinese spy ship. Reuters has more:

A Chinese observation ship shadowed the powerful US aircraft carrier, John C. Stennis, in the Western Pacific on Wednesday, a Japanese official said.

The Stennis, which has been followed by the Chinese ship since patrolling in the South China Sea, will sail apart from the other ships, acting as a “decoy” to draw it away from the eight-day naval exercise, a Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force officer said, declining to be identified because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The 100,000 ton Stennis, which carries F-18 fighter jets, joined nine other naval ships including a Japanese helicopter carrier and Indian frigates in seas off the Japanese Okinawan island chain. Sub-hunting patrol planes launched from bases in Japan are also participating in the joint annual exercise dubbed Malabar.

China’s intrusion into the Malabar exercises is just the latest in a series of naval events which have posed a direct challenged to Washington. High-profile anti-submarine exercises, freedom of navigation operations by air and sea, strengthening alliances with Vietnam and Myanmar: none of this has caused China to back down at all. In the face of continued Chinese misbehavior, where will the Obama Administration draw the line? And how will the Pentagon enforce it?

With everyone focused on Brexit and Orlando, not enough attention is being paid to rising tensions in Asia. A Chinese ship shadowing a U.S. aircraft carrier isn’t a huge event on its own, but these things add up, and each additional confrontation raises the stakes higher and makes the risks of a crisis developing even greater.

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  • Andrew Allison

    China, like Russia and much of the rest of the world, has take the measure of Chamberlain redux.

    • f1b0nacc1

      That is unfair, and an unreasonable insult.
      Neville Chamberlain loved his country and served it as best he understood. When he was removed as PM, he served the new government loyally and ably until his death. To connect him with a peevish narcissist like Obama is an insult to a good and honorable man.

      • Andrew Allison

        Chamberlain was certainly not a peevish narcissist like Obama, but he is best known for his appeasement foreign policy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neville_Chamberlain), and it was that to which I was alluding. As an aside, you might enjoy the novels of Alan Furst, who does an amazing job of describing the ambiance in Europe in the lead-up to WW-II.

        • Jim__L

          Don’t forget that the declaration of war against Germany was issued by none other than Neville Chamberlain.

          I doubt Obama is capable of a similar level of altering his policies based on reality.

          • f1b0nacc1

            To do that, Obama would first have to acknowledge a reality beyond his own solipsistic view of the world….not very likely…

          • Andrew Allison

            Chamberlain didn’t alter his policies; he had pledged Britain to defend Poland’s independence if the latter were attacked, an alliance that brought Britain into war when Germany attacked Poland in 1939. It’s possible that Chamberlain’s appeasement at Munich led Hitler to believe that Chamberlain would renege on his promise to Poland. China appears to think that Obama hasn’t found a line he won’t walk back from. History informs us that this will not end well.

        • f1b0nacc1

          I will look up Furst….thank you!
          Regarding Chamberlain, I am not defending his policies, which were wrong and ultimately terribly destructive. He richly earned his reputation as an appeaser, and history has rendered its judgement upon him. I was commenting on Chamberlain the main, who was decent and honorable, even in service of very bad policy. His behavior AFTER he was forced out as PM, while it can never was away the stain of his foolishness as PM, should e remembered as an exemplar of how a man of character, how a patriot responds to his fall.
          About 20 years ago I was in London on a business matter and through a series of rather odd coincidences has the opportunity to meet John Profumo. How he handled his fall from power, and the way he chose to spend his life after it humbled me, and made him one of my heroes. I have done many stupid things in my life, and it is only through the grace of God that I haven’t managed to screw up on that scale. I will always admire how both of these men, who can never erase the mistakes that they made, at least attempted to make amends.

          • Andrew Allison

            There are few, if any, who have not done incredibly stupid things (my list is embarrassingly long) and, as you suggest, it’s more about what else you do. I think that perhaps, as you argue in the case of Chamberlain, it’s more about mistakes versus contributions than making amends. I think we are in agreement as to the contributions of self-proclaimed “smartest man in the room”. I wonder if there has ever been a President as self-delusional as this one. History will, I suspect, be even more unkind to him than to Chamberlain.

  • CaliforniaStark

    Its time to look at imposing a tariff on imported Chinese goods to help pay for the additional defense measures required by China’s increasing belligerence. Maybe the proceeds could also be used to encourage manufacturers to relocate to the U.S. from China.

    • Andrew Allison

      There are a couple of difficulties with your suggestion. First, the effects of the sanctions on Russia vis-a-vis Ukraine have been negligible at best. More importantly do you really think that the proceeds of such tariffs would be spent on additional defense measures. Last but not least,t the Chinese themselves are doing a terrific job of encouraging manufacturers to relocate.

  • Nevis07

    I’d put the odds of a conflict at above 50% over the next 12 months. A US official (I think it was Sec. Def. Carter, or perhaps it was a US Navy Admiral) warned in comments a couple weeks back at a regional conference that if China moved to try and start dredging Scarborough Shoals that it would provoke a “strong reply” from the US. When I heard that, the first thing that comes to mind is boarding and detaining of crews – but that’s just my opinion. At any rate, I’m surprised this comment didn’t get more time in the media. I don’t think people appreciate how dangerous this scenario is becoming. Obama might make such “red line” like comments freely, but people in the defense department can’t afford to be having their bluff called and there is evidence that China appears to be preparing to send out a fleet of dredgers to Scarborough.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/timdaiss/2016/06/17/south-china-sea-mission-advanced-u-s-attack-jets-arrive-in-philippines/#39e131ee7a97

    http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/06/16/at-scarborough-shoal-china-is-playing-with-fire-retired-admiral/

    • f1b0nacc1

      Obama remains the CinC, nothing will happen.
      Just out of curiosity though, what would you do if YOU were in charge? The time to have taken a strong stand was literally years ago when the Chinese began making these absurd statements and demands, not now when they are taken strong steps to establish ‘facts on the ground’.

      • Nevis07

        While Obama may do nothing, I’m guessing Clinton would. And I don’t see Trump getting elected.

        Yes, we should have nipped this in the bud back in 2008 when China started all of this.

        What would I do if I were prez? Don’t know, I suppose that would depend on what the intelligence and national security council could tell me. But would I act? Probably (but then again, I would have also acted long ago so as not to get to this point).

        Keep in mind what is at stake. For the US, alliances around the world would be seriously damaged and potentially broken. And what do you think Putin will do in the Baltics if we back down and do nothing to follow up our language. If he takes the Baltics, you can kiss NATO goodbye. In effect, not risking a confrontation could actually CAUSE more wars. Believe me, I don’t want war anymore than the next guy. I suppose the other option is to simply back down, but what that world looks like is a much darker place.

        • f1b0nacc1

          I don’t agree that Clinton (should she be elected) would do anything. Remember the Chinese have had the Clintons in their pockets for a very long time…
          You are absolutely right that the consequences of doing nothing right now would be significant, but I am not sure that there are any options. The costs of action are high, the risks higher, and our political class always seems to believe that kicking the can down the road is a good idea. Your last sentence is spot on….I wish that it were not….

      • Kevin

        What would I do? Tariffs.

        • f1b0nacc1

          An option, and not a bad one, but remember that the people who are paying for those tariffs are Americans (in the form of higher prices), not the Chinese. The Chinese supply huge quantities of consumer goods to the US, and there is very little alternative to doing business with them right now. If there were competition that would benefit from higher Chinese prices, you would have an excellent point, but that isn’t the case at this time. In addition to this, the various business lobbies that are heavily involved in Chinese investment will certainly oppose such actions, which means that domestic support will be weak.
          Going after firms offshoring in China, and H-1B visas, on the other hand? Perhaps aggressively selling arms to India, the ASEAN nations (and Taiwan) and encouraging nuclear programs in South Korea and Japan (and Taiwan) might be interesting alternatives. Give China something to think about other than expansion.

      • Nevis07

        Specifically, Fib, assuming the court rules in favor of the PH, I think I’d massively build up a few fleets at the edges of the SCS as well as a few wings of F-22’s, etc. and then intercept and detain any Chinese ships attempting to dredge or fish in those waters as defined by the court. I would want serious numbers built up doing this, but if China were to risk a kinetic fight, well then…

        • f1b0nacc1

          That would require resources we simply don’t have to spare (‘a few wings’ of F-22s, for example, would be just about our entire operational reserve), and require basing that doesn’t exist. We would be openly inviting a fight with a near-peer force in their own backyard, openly ceding them the option of striking first and at their own option. Tactically that would be dangerous at best, and strategically it would be reckless. I agree with you that the Chinese might not wish to start that sort of fight, but it is a very dangerous bet to make.
          A history of the run-up to WWI might be instructive here….

      • Andrew Allison

        History, most recently in Syria, tells us the inevitable outcome of appeasement. We will have to take action eventually, and the sooner the better. The apparent Chinese plans to dredge harbors in disputed territory is as good a time as any.

        • f1b0nacc1

          No, the time to do something was years ago, but the administration dithered and did nothing…no big surprise…
          Now, however, the tactical situation is very different, and the costs for action (and hence the disincentive to take it) are much greater. I suspect that the administration will do nothing, while lecturing us about its moral high ground….

          • Andrew Allison

            Well of course the administration will do nothing, but the costs for action will only continue to increase. I suppose withdrawing from the world into Fortress America is an option, but would China and/or Russia be satisfied with that?

          • f1b0nacc1

            See my suggestion (above) to Kevin….there are things that we can do, though none of them are without cost, and none would have been necessary if we hadn’t spent so long doing nothing.

          • Andrew Allison

            Agreed, but my point is that the longer we do nothing the higher the cost will be.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I don’t dispute that, but if I had to guess, I would argue that we likely have gotten to the point where future delay will only increase the cost of real action by a marginal amount. The situation is that bad….

          • Andrew Allison

            The cost will increase very significantly once the Chinese have deep-water harbors on these shoals.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Why? The shoals aren’t that far from existing bases, most of the forces that the Chinese will use to hold them are air and missile-based (with some subs for variety), and the cost/logistical requirements involved in supporting deep water harbors is excessive. This isn’t WWII, and we aren’t talking about a long campaign of conquest, but rather a defensive barrier operation. Light naval forces (including their militarized coast guard and the so-called ‘naval militia’ of fishing boats) will do quite nicely when backed up with the AA/AD forces that are already in place.

          • Andrew Allison

            What makes you think it’s a defensive barrier? It’s pretty clear that China’s objective is to control the South China Sea, and the Spratly’s are smack dab in the middle of it (and 500 miles closer to any action there than the mainland).

          • f1b0nacc1

            Let us assume that it is….what advantage is there to put a deep water port there? The facilities to support an offensive force (notably airfields and radar sites) are already being built, and unless you believe that you can base troops in quantity in the Spratlys (good luck to that), there is little value to a deep water port. The US discovered how to handle sustained offensive arrangements without deep water ports in WWII, and I suspect that the Chinese are clever enough to copy that.

      • Frank Natoli

        what would you do if YOU were in charge?
        Send ships within three miles of the islands. Send planes directly overhead. Both are acts not compatible with internationally recognized sovereignty. China will then have two choices: stop enlarging and over a protracted time leave, or act as if sovereign territory had been violated.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Given that the PLAN has been aggressively building an integrated air defense network in the region, and is placing high performance fighters (not the usual short-range trash), that is asking for trouble, and trouble that you might not be able to handle. Does the US really want to risk a war?

          And let us assume that the Chinese use other methods to retaliate, such as letting some hackers loose with day zero exploits, or simply leaking lots of stolen information that would be seriously damaging. They don’t have to retaliate with guns and bombs, they can use plausibly deniable methods or even openly retaliate in ways we cannot symmetrically respond to.

          Perhaps WE might be the ones left with no clear method to respond…

  • disquiet

    If the author expects any amount of US posturing in the Western Pacific to force a China “back down” I’d suggest preparing for further disappointment. Oh and in what way is the shadowing of a military exercise thousands of miles from US shores a direct challenge to Washington – really?

    This is the 21st century, China is a rising power and will not accept US naval hegemony in what it considers it’s ‘back yard’. Are we really willing to go to war over Nine-dash line territories, I’m sure as hell the Chinese are..

    • f1b0nacc1

      I am not as sure as you are about the Chinese resolve (lets see what they do when the arbitration court renders its verdict), but overall your analysis is a good one. The US is doing the minimum possible to maintain its claims on freedom of navigation, but the Chinese are doing a fine job of establishing facts on the ground to render the discussion moot.

      • Andrew Allison

        I think that the Chinese have already made clear that they intend not only to ignore the verdict but to escalate. I also think that they will continue to escalate until there is some actual, as opposed to rhetorical, resistance.

        • f1b0nacc1

          They may get their wish rather soon. The EUnicks have argued that the Chinese cannot expect to defy the ruling with impunity, and they DO have a fairly useful response that they could possibly implement, i.e. trade sanctions. As a major exporter, the Chinese could conceivably be quite vulnerable to that approach, and numerous European states (as well as the US) are itching to find a pretext to implement sanctions against what they believe to be unfair Chinese trade practices (notably steel and machine parts). This would provide a delightful excuse, and kill two birds with one stone.

          • Andrew Allison

            You expect the EU to stop Chinese expansionism? Did you catch the news that Germany is warning NATO about making moves to defend Europe against Russia?

          • f1b0nacc1

            I expect that the EU will pursue their own economic interests, and those are definitively served by screwing the Chinese. Germany’s position vis a vis NATO and the Russians shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and is an excellent argument for disbanding the organization and replacing it with some bilateral treaties that come with reciprocal obligations. But Russia and China are very different animals to the EU, and while they can be expected to grovel before Putin, standing tall(ish) in front of the Chinese actually serves their immediate interests.

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