China: Ignoring UNCLOS, ordering a U.S. Navy cruiser to stop

Post-Pax blues.

If you were wondering whether it’s bad that the Chinese navy maneuvered aggressively near a U.S. Navy ship last week, ordering the ship to stop and then driving a Chinese ship right in front of it, dangerously close, the answer is yes.  It’s bad – bad from two standpoints: naval professionalism, and China’s posture in the South China Sea.  We’ll look at both here.

Briefly, the backstory is that China’s new aircraft carrier, the former-Soviet carrier refitted by China and named the Liaoning, transited in November from a northern port to the South China Sea for her first operations in southerly waters.  In late November, Liaoning got underway with an escort of two destroyers and two frigates to conduct operations in the South China Sea.

These are Liaoning’s first naval activities outside of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea, which are close to her northern home port of Qingdao.  Liaoning recovered her first jet aircraft in an arrested landing in November 2012, operating in the north, and has conducted carrier flight operations on several occasions since then, although the extent of her capabilities and that of her carrier jets is limited and remains at a crude level of skill.

China overview; Qingdao naval base is Liaoning's home port. (Google map; author annotation)
China overview; Qingdao naval base is Liaoning’s home port. (Google map; author annotation)

But the deployment to the South China Sea represents a potential benchmark in her readiness to take on a role of her own in China’s most contentious maritime space.  From all military planning standpoints – strategic, operational, and tactical – what Liaoning does during this deployment is of exceptional interest to other nations and their navies.  It’s a given that the U.S. Navy will station assets to observe Liaoning’s operations in international waters.

Conventional analysis: naval professionalism

USS Cowpens (CG-63), a Ticonderoga-class Aegis cruiser, was in the area where Liaoning was operating on 5 December.  As other reports have pointed out, the U.S. also uses military aircraft to perform surveillance of Chinese activity in the region.  (Readers may remember the incident early in the Bush 43 administration when a Chinese fighter jet collided with a U.S. Navy EP-3E intelligence aircraft near Hainan Island in the South China Sea.)  But Cowpens has collection capabilities of her own; observation from the maritime surface level provides unique insights, and so does surveillance of air activity around Liaoning using Cowpens’s Aegis radar.

The incident on 5 December suggests the Chinese may not be “down with” the expectation that, at this stage, their new naval toy will be the object of intensive foreign surveillance.  It’s not clear from the particulars of the incident whether the main Chinese concern was with the surveillance of the carrier, or with the larger issue of the Cowpens’s operations in a location China has declared to fall within her maritime claims area.*  The answer may be “both,” but it’s worth pointing out that the concerns can be broken out separately.

China's excessive maritime claims (UNCLOS-based EEZ claims in blue)
China’s excessive maritime claims (UNCLOS-based EEZ claims in blue)

A sophisticated seagoing navy understands that foreign surveillance is inevitable.  No one likes it (although knowing it will happen can generate opportunities for creative “information shaping”), but the conventions of freedom of action in international waters and airspace mean that it’s to be expected.  China’s reaction would be a crude overreaction, whatever the concern behind it.  (We can speculate, for example, beyond Beijing’s insistence on her excessive maritime claims, that China doesn’t want foreign navies watching her carrier operations too closely while they are still in a basic and unimpressive stage.)

There are ways to try and shape international maritime space favorably for your navy’s operations, such as issuing hazard warnings in geographically defined operating areas, through standard instruments like notices to mariners (NTMs).  Warnings about general maritime navigational hazards are issued frequently – e.g., because of drilling rigs, ships towing cables for seismic profiling, etc – and militaries issue their share of such warnings for things like gunnery exercises.

If China wanted to warn foreign ships away from an area in the South China Sea, that would have been one option.  It wouldn’t necessarily cause a U.S. warship to remain clear of the area, but it would create a decision point for U.S. authorities, effectively putting the ball in our court by requiring our navy to ignore a warning.  I don’t find evidence that the Chinese did that.  It’s possible that they did and the warning wasn’t recorded in any place one can find it online (e.g., in China’s civil notices to mariners for the South China Sea, or the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s clearinghouse website for global navigational warnings).

On the other hand, China doesn’t necessarily want to start a precedent by issuing navigation warnings when she sends her carrier to sea.  It would be odd to do that, for one thing, but it’s not China’s style anyway.  She doesn’t try to enforce her maritime claims by asserting them through internationally recognized instruments, so much as by trying to create conventions in practice, with a series of ad hoc confrontations.  Whatever the other nations claim to hold as principles, if China can get them to observe her restrictions in practice, she has won her point.

Is China going through a phase, from less experience and sophistication to more?  I think that’s how the U.S. Navy would articulate what’s going on, especially considering the careful phrasing of the Pacific Fleet press release on the event.

Post Pax-Americana analysis: China’s assertion of power

But analysis of that kind tends to presuppose that China precipitated the 5 December incident on the understanding that her carrier was in international waters.  Looking for Chinese motivations from that standpoint is a faulty approach.  If we look at the incident from China’s perspective – that it occurred in Chinese waters – then the event suggests China is deliberate and worrisomely aggressive, as opposed to lurching and uncalibrated.

Consider, for example, the aspect of the event that seemed to stump one of the unnamed military officials consulted for the Stars and Stripes story:

It is unclear why the Chinese vessel wanted the Cowpens to stop.

“I don’t know the intent of the guy driving that PLA ship,” one of the officials said. “I just know that he was moving to impede and harass the Cowpens. I mean, from my perspective, having him stop in the middle of the South China Sea is kind of dumb … [The Chinese saying] ‘Go away, get out of here’ [would make more sense]. But ‘stop’ doesn’t really do anything because all that does is just maintain the status quo.”

The official’s reflections are adequate if China’s perspective in the incident was that she didn’t want Cowpens in the area.  But if her perspective was that she wanted to assert rights, and assert them over the area where the event happened, then what China did wasn’t “dumb.”  She took, rather, the action calculated to be the most stick-in-the-eye provocative – or even belligerent.

There’s no checklist by which nations are maneuvered by provocations into armed confrontation, and it would be armchair sea-lawyering to conclude that this incident must be a casus belli.  I’m stating that up front, so it’s clear that I’m not calling it one.  It falls into an exotic gray area, where the U.S. would be justified in having more than mild concern.  It’s our choice how to react to it.  That understood, there are two important points to make about the Chinese order to Cowpens to stop.

One is that Cowpens is a warship, and as such is held under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to have sovereign immunity at all times on the high seas (i.e., international waters).  That means China can’t properly order Cowpens to stop in international waters.

The second point, however, is that the convention on foreign warships, in a nation’s own territorial waters, is that they can be ordered to leave those territorial waters.  Inside its own territorial waters, a nation exercises the highest degree of discretion over maritime traffic, but there is no convention by which foreign warships can be ordered, in another nation’s waters, to stop.** 

So regardless of whether we assume our national perspective (and the rest of the world’s) that Cowpens was in international waters, or adopt China’s perspective that she was in Chinese waters, it was over the top – beyond the recognized rights of national sovereignty – for China to order Cowpens to stop.  That should worry us, because it means China was prepared to show an extraordinary degree of provocation, beyond what she might have done within the bounds of convention to assert her claimed sovereign rights.  It’s not just the geographic area of the claim that’s at issue; it’s the scope of what China seems to assert as a right.

The Chinese aren’t stupid children.  They know perfectly well what maritime conventions are, even if they aren’t in sympathy with some commonly held expectations, such as the expectation that a nation with a new aircraft carrier will come in for a whole lot of foreign surveillance.  The emerging proposition is that China’s leadership doesn’t see China as bound by even such basic UN conventions as the definition of national rights in territorial waters.

People's Selfies: Chinese reportedly go gaga over Liaoning's deck crew "shooters" (Twitter photo from Global Post report)
People’s Selfies: Chinese reportedly go gaga over Liaoning’s deck crew “shooters” (Twitter photo from Global Post report)

It’s quite possible that China was pushing the envelope to assert the right she wants to have acknowledged by other nations: the right of a comprehensive veto over other nations’ maritime activities in her claimed areas of the South China Sea.  In fact, it’s more than possible; given China’s history, it’s likely.

A right to this level of veto is beyond anything conferred by UNCLOS, even if the zone China claims inside the “nine- or ten-dashed line” (see map and note one) were to be recognized as being under Chinese sovereignty. The right suggested by China’s action on the 5th would render UNCLOS meaningless as the reference point for settling the maritime disputes in the South China Sea.  And that would strike at the very heart of the global status quo.

Bring a gun to a knife fight

The danger in this situation is frankly not that the U.S. will overreact but that we will under-react.  Reacting at the correct level of concern doesn’t mean bustling around in the South China Sea with a militarily provocative posture.  What it does mean is pursuing a policy with two clear aims: enforcing existing conventions as a reliable status quo – one that smaller, weaker nations are protected by – and firmly countering China’s campaign to establish, through confrontations and usage, a veto over activities in the South China Sea.

China picked this fight, but she was encouraged to do so by the U.S. acceptance of her ADIZ declaration, which we conveyed with our admission that we expect our civilian airliners to respect the ADIZ.  China’s emerging campaign to extend her de facto control of international and foreign-claimed geography is spreading quickly.  Now, and not a day later, is the time to nip it in the bud.

Some observers will no doubt suggest that there should be negotiation with China over all this.  But history offers no positive examples of rewarding bad behavior.  China would of course like to negotiate on her preferred terms, but she should not achieve her aim by making highly provocative moves against U.S. warships.  Basically, rushing to negotiate would make us chumps.

Only one response has a hope of maintaining the peace, bolstering the status quo, and reassuring the other nations, and that is keeping our ships on station, visibly operating, undeterred, wherever U.S. policy and UNCLOS say we have a right to.  Our ships have the right to warn off a foreign vessel that maneuvers around them in a dangerous manner – and to warn that they will use force if necessary to prevent such endangerment.

It need not come to force, if our purpose is clear and credibly conveyed.  China doesn’t want to start a war with America.  She wants to bleed air out of the status quo, with a string of seemingly minor incidents that will alarm and discourage weaker third parties.


Liaoning in 2012 (AP photo)
Liaoning in 2012 (AP photo)

The longer she is allowed to pursue that course, the harder it will be to reestablish the perception that the status quo is a reliable reality.  Facts will start to change on the ground, unless we show an unmistakable determination to enforce our policies on freedom of the seas and the negotiated settlement of maritime disputes.  In the case of this latest incident, the way to do that is to bring a gun to a knife fight – which is usually the best way to avoid having to use either a knife or the gun.

Is the Obama administration capable of doing this credibly?  Almost certainly not.  But in the days ahead, we will have to keep in mind that such pushback would be both possible and preferable, if we had the right leadership.  There are, in fact, feasible things to do: ways to prevent the collapse of the status quo, without having to turn everything into a shooting war.

Obama has relied for several years now on the cultivated perception that he has continued on the ordinary paths of national security policy.  But he hasn’t, and that’s why things are beginning to go so badly for American interests abroad.  Everything could be handled differently from the way the Obama administration handles it:  handled more conventionally, and more successfully.

From one perspective, that’s a positive reflection for the long run.  In the short run, unfortunately, it means we will keep getting daily object lessons in the axiomatic truth that military power is a tool of national will, not a substitute for it.


* China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea are a somewhat ambiguous set of claims, in that they are not couched in the accepted terms of UNCLOS, but have to be divined by other interested parties through assertions made through Chinese national law.  There is no doubt, however, given the maritime area encompassed by China’s “nine-dashed (or now “ten-dashed”) line,” that the area over which China claims to exert national rights is excessive, and infringes on what would normally be the recognized EEZs and even contiguous zones of her neighbors in the South China Sea.

The bottom line on the area of the 5 December incident is that it was outside the 12-nautical mile limit of the territorial waters nations are entitled to claim under UNCLOS, and which the U.S. in practice respects, although we have not ratified the UNCLOS treaty.  The incident thus took place in international waters, where China had no recognized justification for attempting to interfere with Cowpens.  If a similar incident occurred in international waters close to the coast of the United States – a Chinese destroyer operated near one of our aircraft carriers, performing surveillance – the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard would have responded quite differently.

** When sanctions are being applied to a nation’s shipping, as they were to Iraq’s, and sometimes Serbia’s, in the 1990s, the justifying mechanism for stopping and searching ships is always separate from any one nation’s sovereign territorial rights.  Typically, the sanctions are agreed to by the UN and enforced on the high seas by member states, such as the U.S. and other nations in NATO. 

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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24 thoughts on “China: Ignoring UNCLOS, ordering a U.S. Navy cruiser to stop”

  1. Stop feeding the Dragon with cash. Dragon starves. End of story.

    There are at least twenty other economies (other than our own) that can supply the goods China now does on the world market.

    Supposed “free trade” is what the Dragon is feeding on. China prospers by us following our notion of free trade, while she implements state capitalism and mercantilism. We’ve turned the notion of free trade into a religion. Turn off the damn tap to China. Then, we will see how she’ll be able to maintain a coast guard, let alone a blue water navy..

    But, I guess that would mean some of the high and mighty in the ponzi scheme we refer to as the “global economy” would be forced to take a hit on some of their interests. We couldn’t allow that to happen now, could we?

    1. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of ‘turning off the tap’ to the Dragon extend far beyond simply ‘the high and mighty’ taking a hit on some of their interests. Hundreds of millions of Americans depend upon cheap goods to keep their household budgets above water. Pension funds, small investors, 401k plans, etc. are heavily invested in American companies, such as Apple, who depend upon Chinese factories to remain competitive.

      Yet there is no doubt that China is using state capitalism to rise to first regional and then global dominance.

      Many of us remember the bet that Nixon made and the argument as to whether opening China to the West was a smart move or ultimately a self-defeating move for the West. That argument appears to have been settled.

      Our trade imbalance with China is a symptom of far deeper domestic dysfunctions, which are certain to remain unaddressed for the foreseeable future.

    2. I’m largely in agreement with GB, jgets. It’s always tempting to think you can “starve the beast” as you suggest. But there’s only one way to do that effectively and also avoid bad consequences to yourself. That way is not to “restrain trade,” but to open it up.

      The proper example is Reagan’s deregulation of oil and gas in the early 1980s. Deregulation sent supply soaring and prices plummeting. The effects were widely beneficial, yielding cheaper energy for American businesses and households, diversifying energy sources for all customers globally, and taking a very deep bite out of oil and gas profits for the USSR, which had been relying on them to fund military procurement and wars abroad, both in Afghanistan and in proxy-insurgency situations.

      The Soviets had no way to enforce high prices when supply expanded so rapidly. The OPEC nations encountered the same dynamic, and have never recovered from it. They don’t have the power to impose the price hikes they could force in the 1970s. There are too many producers who’ve been added outside of OPEC now.

      The point is not that China can enforce high prices today, but that she finds it easy to maintain relative advantages in production costs because the West is trying to commit economic suicide with regulation and taxes that distort all our markets. The best way to “starve” China is to get government off the back of American small business. Lift the regulatory burden — first and most important — and second, lighten the tax load. This would have the effect of making our situation comparatively advantageous across the board, from energy to labor to adaptability.

      1. Well then GB, Optcon, I guess we had better make room for the Dragon and learn to like it. Cause there ain’t no way to stop China’s well calculated periodic increases in the projection of her power other than confronting them, or, denying her economy the ability to sustain them.

        Unless of course we still believe that free trade will somehow magically transform China into a western liberal democracy that will then subordinate her national interests to some vague notion of the greater good.

        I’m all for deregulation. We don’t have time for that to kick in. By the time reforms get passed and implemented, (that’s a big if, it could take decades judging by the current political climate),China’s next generation carriers and other military hardware will be coming on line. Then, the only remaining options will be bad.

        Yes, I realize there will be a cost to our economy and regular folks. But, some temporary economic turmoil is a cheaper price to pay than 1) future megadeaths in an inevitable war with China, or 2) our total economic subservience to her. If, the current direction of events is allowed to be played out.

        Smack the Dragon or starve the Dragon. Do either one, but do it now.

        1. You are correct, in principle, there is “no way to stop China’s well calculated periodic increases in the projection of her power other than confronting them, or, denying her economy the ability to sustain them”. In reality, the Obama administration will pursue neither of those paths. If the democrats take the Presidency in 2016, the same liberal/left policies will continue until the US is another UK. That is intentional.

          Many of us (including liberals like myself back then) never for a moment accepted the Nixon/Kissinger supposition “that free trade would somehow magically transform China into a western liberal democracy, that would then subordinate her national interests to some vague notion of the greater good”…communists don’t change their spots.

          However, it is a moot point that “some temporary economic turmoil is a cheaper price to pay than 1) future megadeaths in an inevitable war with China, or 2) our total economic subservience to her” because that is the unavoidable consequence that pacifistic appeasement by liberals of the criminally inclined State always leads to. It is as predictable as a kabuki play and the reason that pacifistic liberals never learn the lesson is because their behavior is motivated by moral cowardice. Cowardice always chooses flight over fight and when flight is no longer possible, appeasement and surrender always follow.

          The great English philosopher John Stuart Mill nailed it long ago;
          “War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings, which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse.  A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing that is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”

  2. “The emerging proposition is that China’s leadership doesn’t see China as bound by even such basic UN conventions as the definition of national rights in territorial waters.

    It’s quite possible that China was pushing the envelope to assert the right she wants to have acknowledged by other nations: the right of a comprehensive veto over other nations’ maritime activities in her claimed areas of the South China Sea. In fact, it’s more than possible; given China’s history, it’s likely.

    A right to this level of veto is beyond anything conferred by UNCLOS, even if the zone China claims inside the “nine- or ten-dashed line” (see map and note one) were to be recognized as being under Chinese sovereignty. The right suggested by China’s action on the 5th would render UNCLOS meaningless as the reference point for settling the maritime disputes in the South China Sea. And that would strike at the very heart of the global status quo.”

    China’s leadership are communists, by definition that means the only principle they recognize is that might makes right. She will seek to dominate accordingly. Nationalistic resentment at historical wrongs makes the “global status quo” intolerable for China’s leadership. The not merely excessive but wildly aggressive maritime claims by China are highly indicative of the Chinese leadership’s mind-set. Further confrontation isn’t merely probable, its predictable.

  3. I fear you’re right, GB, although I don’t see just communism in China’s posture. Other communists have long had a devious history of invoking international conventions to their advantage, while not feeling bound by them. That’s not what China does.

    Rather, China appears to operate on an idea of exceptionalism, which unlike America’s seeks to secure special advantages solely for China. The US proposes to prevent special advantage, and to be bound by all the restraints and constraints we advocate as international conventions. We then actually adhere to them. China doesn’t. She proposes to dismiss and ignore international conventions, and force recognition from others of special privileges for China.

    The fact that China requires pushback doesn’t mean there can be no working with China. Americans can tend to take a sentimental view of these things, imagining that you can’t have productive, peaceful relations with nations that will behave like jerks if you let them. The reality is that most nations are like that, and you can still have net positive relations with them. Of course, communism makes that harder in all cases. But merely removing communism doesn’t fix all problems.

    Walking softly and carrying a big stick remains the excellent axiom it has been since Theodore Roosevelt uttered it.

    1. I agree and didn’t mean to imply that communism alone is responsible for China’s belligerent attitude. That’s what I meant by “nationalistic resentment at historical wrongs”. Chinese arrogance would remain as a cultural ‘overlay’ regardless of the form of governance. That cultural arrogance, given its xenophobic historical roots stems from fear and insecurity at the historically constant ‘barbarian threat’ that China has historically faced. I believe its important to understanding, to realize that the Chinese see America as a barbaric society. So from their POV, we represent a subconscious threat. And because China’s arrogance and belligerence arises out of insecurity, it is not entirely amenable to reason. Throw in the essential misunderstanding between a collective-based and an individual-based society and you have all the psychological and sociological factors necessary for ‘inadvertent’ conflict.

      I agree with “The fact that China requires pushback doesn’t mean there can be no working with China.” we both know however that the Obama administration will not strike the right balance and is certain to exacerbate (which it already has done) the situation.

      Given all of this, IMO there is great potential for future conflict and little reason to hope that wiser heads will prevail. It’s becoming a powder keg.

      1. No CV, but since you mention it, If McCain’s “success” in Syria with the “freedom fighters” is any indication of how events will turn out in the Ukraine…

        The site of Lenin’s toppled statute may prove suitable for erecting another one to Vladimir the Reconstituter 🙂

      2. “Statute” of Lenin”??? Been writing too much on legal topics. Sounds like the Statute of Frauds. Maybe I can blame Microsoft’s spell checker.

  4. on topic

    We really, really should do everything we can to prevent this sale from happening…

    If Bubba had the foresight to have someone put up the $20m (the cost of twenty of the five hundred tomahawk cruise missiles launched at Serbia) back in ’98 to buy the then Varyag at auction,… we wouldn’t have a Liaoning problem today.

    Unfortunately, he was too busy with other matters….

    1. There will be no attempt by the Obama administration to prevent this sale from happening. Tactical initiatives require and operate within a strategic context and the Obama administration’s strategic context of non-confrontational appeasement precludes any tactical initiative to derail this sale.

    2. Yeah, there’s no preventing this one. Japan, however, will reserve the right to arm up as she sees fit to counter China. That will be a net positive, in part because it’s a somewhat inevitable development. The delicate post-1945 state of suspended animation was never destined to last forever anyway.

      One thing America will turn out to have done very right, 70 years ago, is make the world safe for a strong Germany and Japan. The cornerstones of our Pax Americana security are in tatters right now: the special relationship with Britain, the special relationship with Israel, the meaning and purpose of NATO, the emphasis on US supremacy on the seas, the continuity of national strategic thinking in the White House. At a vulnerable and unstable time, it is a great blessing to have a Germany and Japan that will insist on their independence.

      I would give Britain props for fostering a modernizing and increasingly strong India as well, with a prickly determination to maintain independence. The hinterlands of Russia, China, and Iran would be pretty squishy without these counterweights.

      1. There are ways to prevent this.

        You mentioned something that was on the right track in your last post on Ukraine. You said, start funny an offer a stake in Nabucco to the Russkies.

        Take it a step further. Offer some form of joint- development/production of this or other weapons systems to make it worthwhile for the Russians not to go through with the sale, or other sales, to China. Of course there are also retaliatory steps along the lines of deployment(or not) of certain of our own systems, in areas the Russians would deem provocative, if the sale does go through, etc. Someone in the administration must be thinking of them.

        A joint venture would have the added effect of locking the Russians (and other key actors that shall go unnamed) into some additional forms of cooperation. But, more importantly it would lock China out of a source of military technologies she current does not possess domestically. At the very least, we will have bought more time.

  5. jgets, GB — (and this is really for jgets; I suspect GB would largely agree with me) — The proposition that we can starve China effectively enough to shut down her military surge is invalid in se. Regardless of what pain we are willing to absorb for ourselves, we can’t do it. No one can do it. It’s isn’t possible.

    It is always wrong to approach the problem of an aspiring enemy arming himself by simply, and linearly, trying to prevent him from arming himself. It doesn’t work and cannot work. It’s a fallacy that human thinking seems to fall into, but it’s just not true.

    (This is the fallacy of logic that lies behind the falsely named “gun control” idea, incidentally. On a macro scale, as a matter of nations watching each others’ arsenals, our historical experience with the idea is actually very brief. It’s only been in the last 200 years that we’ve had a meaningful ability to “know” what we imagine is relevant to the problem; before that, man’s experience was more with a growing sense of uneasiness about a nation-state predator, than with a sense that we knew exactly what he was doing, and could target his activities, without being in a state of war.)

    Our only effective option is to strengthen ourselves. Under Obama, of course, that’s not the option we wish it were.

    That being said: at any given time, if we are not yet in our graves, we will have the option of fighting, and fighting to win. I hold out no false hope that Obama will refrain from continuing to erode our national security position. But he himself is tearing down his own position by doing that. Whatever happens, it won’t be Obama handing America over to slavery in a peaceful transition that allows him to retain power, honor, or perks.

    Wherever we are a year from now, or two, three, or four, that will be where we are, and there will be strategic conditions to guide our plans. We can curl up in a corner and cry, or we can think like Nimitz. What do I have, what mistakes has the enemy made, and what do I need to do to win?

    1. This is gonna be response ‘lite’ Optcon. Family responsibilities beckon.

      I’m not going to touch upon the use of alliance systems to counter Chinese ascendancy. Too complicated for Sunday night.

      That said, I strongly disagree. Debilitating the Chinese economy is key to long-term Western security concerns.

      We need look no further than to our own current condition. A prime example of military decline as a product of economic dysfunction.

      The Chinese won’t even be be able to feed themselves at anything lower than @4% annual economic growth rate. They’ll turn into cannibals. Everything they invested in armaments will then be put to good use… by ruthless putting down the civil unrest, incountry.

      Our only way to strengthen ourselves is to weaken them. They are never going to allow free access to their market. They are guided by what happened to them last time foreigners had unfettered access to their market. They will never allow what occurred to them at the hands of the West and the Japanese in the 19th and 20th centuries to happen to them again If they can help it, that is. And, the only way they can insure that, is by doing to us, what was done to them . Patiently and systematically

      Invoking Nimitz is playin’ dirty pool. He had the Jap code beat 🙂

      What beat the Japs was overwhelming mobilization of American industrial production, and a homeland whose production facilities were invulnerable to enemy strategic bombing.. We didn’t win by maneuver. We won by attrition. Obviously today, you have to HAVE an industrial base in order to mobilize it. Whether our remaining industrial base is sufficient or invulnerable is debatable.
      And no talk of wonder weapons and nukes please. If it comes to that, most of us are toast anyway.

      China ain’t Russia and she’s certainly not Iran. You don’t want her getting the upper hand. Even Obama must be concerned (I hope).


      “May the Great God Mota be with you.” – from R. Heinlein’s novel, ‘Sixth Column”

      1. Several thoughts;
        “Debilitating the Chinese economy is key to long-term Western security concerns.”
        I somewhat agree but it is a very long term project to debilitate the Chinese economy and without consistent policy (good luck with that) problematic at best.

        However, the Chinese economy is entirely dependent upon cheap labor and within at most 50 years and quite probably much sooner, robotics and rudimentary artificial intelligence will eliminate that advantage. That BTW is going to force a massive paradigm change upon the industrialized nations.

        “The Chinese won’t even be be able to feed themselves at anything lower than @4% annual economic growth rate.”

        I suspect you greatly underestimate both the resilience of Chinese society and its willingness to endure privation. They are not Westerners.

        “Our only way to strengthen ourselves is to weaken them.”

        Not true. China could NOT compete with an America that freed herself from the restrictions of its left. Genius is not collective but individual and the Chinese have always been, remain and may always be a ‘collective’ society.

        “They are never going to allow free access to their market.”
        Agreed but fortunately, we don’t need their market.

        “What beat the Japs was overwhelming mobilization of American industrial production, and a homeland whose production facilities were invulnerable to enemy strategic bombing.. We didn’t win by maneuver. We won by attrition.”

        Nimitz would disagree and so do the historians. We beat the Japanese with strategically applied mobilization of America’s overwhelming industrial production. Nimitz’s strategy of ‘leapfrogging’ Japanese island military bases, enabled by the decisive Midway victory that gave America its critical Naval advantage and, cutting those island bases off from resupply is how we beat the Japanese. That and the atomic bomb.

        My “talk of wonder weapons and nukes” is strategically purposeful. Nukes are the deterrence that Chinese territorial ambitions cannot ignore, a naval war with China would be inescapable if nukes weren’t on the table. ‘Wonder weapons’ are how we retain a competitive technological advantage over China’s industrial might. They are a critical component of deterrence as well. China is NOT going to pick a fight that she believes she cannot win. Retaining our superior technological prowess is how we keep her from getting the ‘upper hand’, when our economy is in the crapper.

        1. I agree on most counts especially on technology and robotics. Let me clear a few things up.

          On the technological edge. I certainly agree, although that is narrowing and we are overly reliant (IMHO) on Chinese manufacturers for the production of components in order to maintain that edge. For example, China still maintains the world’s fastest supercomputer.

          The point on the Chinese feeding themselves was more about forcing them to be occupied with domestic affairs and allocating their resources to that problem, instead of applying them to meddling abroad.

          On Nimitz, you could make a case that we were lucky. We all know the carriers weren’t sunk at Pearl that day. If the carriers were taken out and the Japanese had the capacity to bomb our shipyards, it would have been a whole new ballgame. But, obviously I’m glad things turned out the way they did. Nuff said on Nimitz if it’s ok with you GB. I didn’t mean to suggest that his strategy wasn’t instrumental in the victory over Japan. Only to suggest that he had the necessary tools to pull it off.

  6. Opticon,

    Slightly off-topic question. What reductions, if any, in military research are occurring under the Obama administration? We know that the military budget is being greatly reduced and that the military is effectively being downsized and you’ve written of the failure of support in the maintenance of the US nuclear arsenal. You’ve also written of the potential consequences of a reduced Navy. But I can’t recall reading mention of military research into the next, ‘next’ generation of weapons technology.

    The only positive articles I’ve read are; U.S. successfully tests airborne laser on missile>/a> and America’s Secret Weapon Against Iran.

    Can you address the overall state of our weapons research?

  7. GB — the current state is not particularly good. We’ve been cutting funds for design, planning, and procurement for quite a while now, not just under Obama but in the last two years under Bush as well (with the Democratic Congress that took over in 2007).

    A particular challenge under Obama has been an extreme level of ambiguity and indecision about the national military strategy (NMS), which is a policy document required under the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986. The NMS firms up planning factors for the fiscal years defense plan (FYDP), quadrennial defense review, and other mechanisms in which priorities are set for force design, R&D, and procurement.

    But an equal challenge has been the lack of a federal budget since 2009. DOD has been navigating blindly from continuing resolution to continuing resolution. This is death on long-term force planning, which is the necessary precondition for an effective R&D posture. Things really are just a mess right now, from the perspective of overarching policy.

    The services have all had to give up major weapon systems in the last 18 months in order to operate down to the inadequate funds they’ve had available. Keep in mind that Obama promised to cut $500 billion from aggregate defense budgets through 2020, and that’s what he has been doing, with the collusion of the Senate in each successive CR. R&D associated with those systems has basically dropped off the face of the earth.

    There’s some R&D that keeps rolling along because of our commitments to allies. The biggest and most visible category is missile defense R&D, for which we are on the hook in cooperative projects with NATO, Israel, and Japan.

    There’s also very boresighted R&D on a few exotic technologies under DARPA/DPA auspices. It has weapons applications although it’s mostly related to developing materials, rather than weapon systems or mechanisms. Here is the DPA Title III site with its list of projects:

    Industry funded, private and individual-company R&D is declining rapidly, because defense contractors foresee less and less opportunity to recover their investments in it over the next 10-20 years. For a flavor of how the administration is basically just whining at industry to do more, without acknowledging its need for an incentive, see here:

    I was a mid-grade officer in the 1990s, when we were RIFing the force and cutting procurement in order to enjoy the “peace dividend” after the USSR collapsed. The services did what they could to protect the R&D programs they could keep under the radar then, and I imagine they’re doing some of that now. Small-scale R&D can sometimes be protected, and still yield a good payoff in capabilities down the road.

    That said, the starvation diet DOD is on today is the worst anyone can remember, and there’s no relief in sight, from either a reduced operating profile or a reliable increase in funding. Every new penny has to go into bringing current readiness up, and that won’t change for the foreseeable future. In fact, the future holds nothing but more cuts to procurement and R&D.

    1. That’s what I feared was the case. I suspect this cyclic downsizing is due to an aspect of human nature and thus inherent to democracies. The most basic categorization of response to danger; if immediate is fight or flight, or if potential, preparation for war to secure peace through deterrence or willful denial. Arguably, one’s choice of fight or flight determines whether you vote conservative or liberal.

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