The Department of Defense has released its Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy (APMSS) document. We just recently reviewed the DoD’s National Military Strategy (NMS) document and decided that it was an utter waste of time and effort, contained absolutely nothing of value, totally failed to even meet the definition of a strategy, and was an embarrassment to our so-called professional military leaders. Now, let’s take a look at this strategy document.
Let me give you the broad view right up front. This document is a vast improvement over the NMS. It contains most of the elements of an actual strategy and, largely, refrains from the PR marketing that was the hallmark of the NMS. It describes the problems in a succinct and yet thorough manner, lays out some fairly clear and definite goals though still a bit generic, and then lists methods for achieving the goals. The flip side of this is that the goals and methods are still a bit on the generic side, are extremely passive, and some are what I would consider political rather than military.
So, while I disagree with the goals and methods the document does, at least, meet the minimal definition of an actual strategy.
That said, let’s get into a bit of the details.
First, a strategy should lay out the problem and this is probably the strength of this document. With a bit of tiptoeing around the
issue, it still does a very nice job of describing
the problems and challenges we face in the Asia-Pacific (AP) region. The document is worth a read for this section
if no other. It clearly and concisely
describes the challenges in the region related to the multitude of conflicting
territorial claims. I wish it would have
tied the region’s challenges into the China national and strategic interests a bit more. The US dependence on regional commercial shipping and the
related rights of passage are pointed out but not much more. Why does it matter to the US who claims which islands? That’s the key question and it went largely
unanswered. I suspect this is part of
the tiptoeing around US aspect. China
Second, a strategy should lay out the goals and objectives. The document lists three main objectives:
- safeguard the freedom of the seas
- deter conflict and coercion
- promote adherence to international law and standards.
Those are still a bit generic but do offer at least some degree of usefulness. Their main failing is that they are supposed to be a means to solving the described problems and they don’t. At best, they can be said to preserve the peace while doing nothing to actually solve the problems in a manner beneficial to US interests.
Third, a strategy must lay out the methods to accomplish the goals and objectives. This is the weakest part of the document.
- Strengthening our military capacity
- Working with allied and partner nations to build their maritime capabilities
- Leveraging military capacity to reduce risk of conflict
- Working to build regional security organizations
These are fairly generic and the specifics that are described as pertaining to these are non-specific and have little demonstrable connection to, or impact on, the stated method. Some of these, such as building regional security organizations, are more political methods than military.
Now for my biggest criticism ... The overall theme of the strategy is one of conflict avoidance at almost all costs. The strategy notes but does nothing specific and effective to address China’s creeping land (and air/sea) grab efforts which have, thus far, proven highly successful and are inexorably solidifying China’s claims (possession being nine tenths of the law). This borders on appeasement and that’s an approach that has failed every time throughout history that it’s ever been used. As I stated in the previous post, a better goal would have been,
expansionist activities and prevent any Chinese territorial gains in the South
and China using
military confrontation to augment diplomatic efforts.” East China Seas
The very passive nature of this strategy calls into question the degree of need for the military and its many new weapon systems and associated huge expenditures. We could accomplish all that’s called for in the strategy with nothing more than an ocean-going coast guard. See? That’s the problem (and strength) of having a strategy. The strategy will tell you what military needs you really have and this is saying that we already have far more than enough. If the DoD really believes this strategy, as written, they should be making major, across the board cuts (some would say they are, I guess).
Also, the very concept of deterrence is indirectly called into question by this strategy. We’ve been engaged in deterrence for years and if this is the result of our efforts (China slowly annexing the entire South Pacific) then deterrence has failed miserably as a policy and that should be acknowledged and addressed in the strategy with an alternate approach spelled out (see my previous offering of a better objective). Instead, the strategy essentially calls for more of the same failed deterrence and, thereby, implicitly cedes the entire South and
to East China Seas . China
Let me sum up by saying that the document is head and shoulders above the NMS in terms of laying out an actual strategy and is well worth the time to read. I urge you to do so. It’s readily available on the Internet. The goals and methods are suspect and unwise but at least they’re spelled out.
Let me close by offering the absolute standout statement in the document.
“China’s actions are having the effect of increasing uncertainty about its intentions, and this is shrinking space for diplomatic solutions to emerge.” [emphasis added]
Now, if the DoD would read their own statement and take heed …