Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I May Have Misjudged You

It is the American way to bend over backward in the peaceful direction.  We continually accept provocations, insults, humiliations, and even acts of war without significant response.  We naively assume that if we humble ourselves then our enemies will respond in a peaceful and reasonable manner.  Most Americans see nothing wrong with that approach, even as we recognize that it rarely works.  We’re comfortable with it because we know that while others may push us around, there’s a point beyond which we won’t submit.  We will strike back, and violently, if pushed far enough.

Unfortunately, the rest of the world misinterprets our actions as a lack of resolve.  For example, the Japanese badly misread US resolve prior to WWII and paid the price.  Iraq’s Hussein and Libya’s Gaddaffi (or whatever spelling you care to use) misread US resolve and paid the price.  And so on… 

The tragic aspect of this is that enemies, emboldened by a misread of our resolve, initiate actions which we ultimately have to counter with force.  If our resolve were clearer, fewer forceful actions would be required.  In other words, a small show of force early can prevent a much larger use of force later.  We had many opportunities to prevent the original Gulf War by responding emphatically and forcefully to numerous provocations.  The follow up invasion of Iraq would not have been necessary if we had acted more decisively in concluding the original conflict.  I can go on and on with examples but this is not a history lesson beyond establishing the premise.

Currently, N. Korea, China, and Russia are misreading our actions and are setting the stage for future conflicts.  This is not a political blog so I won’t go any further with this.  Instead, I’ll tie this premise back to the Navy.

The Navy, in its search for missions and justifications for the LCS, has latched onto the “presence” mission.  For example, the Navy plans to operate several LCS’s in the Pacific region.  ComNavOps has already made clear his opinion of that and this is the underlying reason.  The LCS is incapable of providing a forceful response.  Flooding the Pacific with LCS’s sends the (incorrect) message that the US lacks the will to forcefully confront N. Korea and China.  China is building modern, highly capable warships at an accelerating pace.  The US is countering with the LCS (and soon, the LCS 2.0).  China is not reading that as resolve – it’s reading that as weakness. 

The Navy claims that deterrence (see, "Deterrence and Bluff") is a vital mission but is failing to provide the force necessary to establish that deterrence.  Building the LCS is not accomplishing the presence/deterrence mission and the follow-on LCS is not going to either.  The Navy needs to get back to building credible warships if it wants to deter future conflicts.  To do otherwise is simply setting the stage for a future war.


  1. A comment has been removed. Feel free to debate any point but not at my expense. Discuss the ideas, not the person.

  2. I'll agree in part and defer in part. :-)

    In the LCS, I totally agree. But I think (If I interpret you correctly) that you are spot on in that the LCS is basically the product of a Navy that doesn't have a strategic mission or goal. So its just boiled down to 'being there'.

    I have to admit, I don't get the LCS at all. Its a 3000 ton 400ft vessel armed just a little heavier than a gunboat. Being there is going to get sailors killed if 'There' turns violent.

    Now, to the part where I disagree...

    If I understand you correctly, you think that being more forceful would be better. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. It might be interpreted as resolve. It might be interpreted as escalation that needs counter escalation. I'm reading a book on WWI (and listening to several podcasts) now and it seems that the points at which that tragedy could have been avoided had someone just backed down, or sent a sternly worded telegram rather than mobilizing were many.

    And the multi-polar world we find ourselves in now has all sorts of scary scenarios. Suppose we'd brought Ukraine into NATO. When Russia annexed the Crimea it could have been a clear place where article 5 would be invoked... and bam. We're in a war with Russia. In the Ukraine. With an Oh My God supply line after 10 years of war abroad elsewhere. Thats not an easy thing to do, and very destabilizing.

    As I've stated many times, I'm just a programmer, not a poli-sci major, a naval strategist, or former military. In the end I'm just a guy from the midwest who reads and votes, but doesn't have alot of formal education or experience in this stuff. So take my opinions with that caveat.

    I'd love to have very clear lines about what we'd do, but also flexibility. I'd love to have an extremely strong and capable military, but like TR, I'd rather speak softly.

    When it comes down to it, you always can go to war. But its very difficult to unring that bell.

    1. Jim, please don't misunderstand. I'm not for a moment advocating instant military response to the slightest provocation. I'm suggesting that a forceful response, when warranted, is far better than a passive one. The "force" doesn't have to be military, either. It can be tougher sanctions or any of a host of diplomatic and economic responses. There does, however, come a point where a more forceful response is necessary. When that point arrives, a lesser response just sets the stage for an even more dangerous and costly response down the road.

      History demonstrates that appeasement encourages aggression. Can you think of an example of appeasement working? It wasn't Hitler and WWII. Maybe there is an example but, if so, I can't think of one.

      Let's look at more modern times. Is it possible that the US' muted response to Libya encouraged Syria to ignore our "red line" and that, in turn, our passive response to Syria encouraged Russia to move ahead with the seizure of Crimea and that, in turn, we're unintentionally encouraging China to act more aggressively in its South/East China Sea land grabs?

      Or, take the examples in isolation. Our passive response to Syria crossing the "red line" has resulted in many thousands of more deaths. Would a more forceful response have stopped the killing?

      If Ukraine had become part of NATO, would Putin still have invaded or would he decide that it wasn't worth the risk of conflict with NATO and the US?

      I'm going to deep down the political hole in a non-political blog so I'll leave it there!

  3. CNO, I think appeasement is an emotionally loaded word if we are using it in context of Nazi Germany and chamberlain, it suggests that any appeasement will inherently result in the other side wanting more, whether it is territory or whatever, and lead to a disastrous conflict.

    But "appeasement" has also worked. The Camp David Accords would never have been possible had Israel and Egypt not have been willing to appease the other. The removal process of Syrian chemical weapons would not have been possible if Assad and Russia were willing to appease the US's demands for punishment of use of those weapons and if the US hadn't moved tomahawk loaded warships in place. Every mutual agreement ever made involves the appeasement of one side with an acknowledging other, and WWII was arguably the exception to the rule and infamous because of the utterly repulsive inhumanity shown by the sides who were "appeased". But drawing a causal link is tenuous at best, IMHO.

    On the other examples:
    Had Ukraine joined NATO, Europe would be at Cold War 2.0. I don't think any realistic geopolitical strategist would believe that losing Ukraine from its sphere of influence would make Russia more docile. It would only end up racketing tensions higher for the long term.
    As for Syria, I think given how successful the bombing campaign of Libya was, not removing the government and leaving a power vacuum for a dozen rebel groups to squabble over (many of whom are terrorist groups themselves) was probably a wise choice.

    Instead of advocating a more forceful response, maybe it would be better to examine the various interests of the respective players and look at how many of those interests are reasonable, when seen on the macro scale.

    In that sense, it may be worth noting that perceptions of US appeasement may not be a result of lack of spine, but more about the geopolitical and economic realities of the times and how much each group is willing to sacrifice for their interests. So putting it bluntly; the relative decline of US power vis a vis its competitors. The US can afford to be more forceful by either reversing its economic and political decline, or trying to reverse the economic or political ascendence of its competitors — or by throwing the dice and seeking a conflict against competitors when US conventional power can still overcome the other and allow the US to dictate terms (this may work for china but not Russia given the latter's far more potent nuclear arsenal. But once china gets a dozen reliable SSBNs and land based ICBMs with MIRVed missiles that can reach CONTUS from chinese waters then things will be equally bleak for the US). The clock is ticking.

    1. You've missed the definition of appeasement! When both sides make concessions it's called co-operation or compromise. When only side makes concessions it's appeasement. By definition, every mutual agreement ever made is co-operation or compromise, not appeasement. There's no such thing as mutual appeasement.

    2. I believe that considering whether something is appeasement must also look at the previous, larger power balance between two parties.

      Hypothetically, say, if NATO decides to let Russia have Crimea without making Russia "give up" anything, would that be considered appeasement? Because in the larger scheme of things, Russia is still neighboured/surrounded to the west by a host of allied nations whose combined conventional military quantity and quality far outstrips its own.
      Furthermore, Russia has lost so many of its former client buffer states, and is far more vulnerable to attack than during the Cold War, and I think most realists would agree that the gradual ebbing eastward movement of NATO is seen as a massive threat by Russia, and losing Crimea (and Ukraine by extension) would be a few steps too far.
      In that sense, it is almost like throwing a starving man a few scraps of a meal.

      Individual crises and flash points (whether they be Crimea, the South China Sea, or the disputed islands with Japan) do not exist in a vacuum, so I think it is worth considering the larger stage of power relations between the US and Russia or China. If we consider "appeasement" in that sense, we may be able to recognize whether those nations will be enticed to more aggressively pursue other claims or interests they have.

    3. There are folks thinking that plain old LSDs or smaller yet amphib-types would serve best in the role of 'being there' and being able to project onboard built-in systems and mobile semi-autonomous well-deck based systems.

      The latter would be endlessly reconfigurable to whatever mix of capabilities and readily integratable into the given mission-profile with 'float-in/float-out' high-seas exchangeable suits of systems of current technologies and those in 25 years not yet dreamt of now.

      Likely around DDG-bulk, but with FFG-type systems and a half-
      width well-deck and mid-20kts diesel-powered speed.

      Hard and Soft Power can thus be readily exerted to address the broadest range of challenges with one base-line hull to yield the maximum of economies of scale.

      The fact that this boosts amphibious capability of USN overall would not hurt, as yet another expression of THEE CNO's payload-driven approach (ADM Greenert !). And nothing beats the eased of 'float-in/float-out' payload into a widely deployed standard hull-type to globally 'on-the-fly' match the given need.

      These mission-suites could be self-deployed, or carried and then 'splashed for shorter-distance transfer to their new 'mother-ship'.

      No really anything new here.
      LSD and LPD are now 70 years old as an idea expressed in many hulls, across many conflicts and across the broadest range of missions.

      LCS however is a 'dead-branch' of evolution.

      If you want mine-warfare, let's float in two autonomous suites of between 140-200tons net systems-weight incl. robots etc. plus the 'barge' or LCU-type it would be carried by.

      Those autonomously-operating mine-hunter and sweeper systems thus would not have to risk the ship but only themselves, readily replaceable or exchangeable for the next mission, such as anti-submarine warfare.

      CNO, I'd propose a deeper exploration of the broad range of opportunities of Well-Deck Centric Thinking, based on the least number of hulls, acquisition-programs, training and spare-parts drama, but supported by a global pre-positioned network of float-in-float-out mission-suites to match the ever-changing needs.

      Fiscally austere times require conceptual and thus operational innovation.

    4. Major correction to make in this post in its last paragraph.
      It should read...
      (...) "based on the least number of USN hull-CLASSES, acquisition-programs, training, and spare-parts drama."(...)

      To elaborate:
      - 8000+-tons FFG amphib for global 'presence' with half LSD-41 drivetrain perhaps (?) as the USN/USMC 'utility' type present 'everywhere',
      - 16,000tons LSD-41/49,
      - 24,000tons LPD-17,
      - 40,000tons LHD/LHA.

      This fleet number of amphib-hulls would grow particularly via the 8000-tons USN/USMC 'Utility' -type, at the expense of too specialized or too precious LCS, DDG, CG etc.

    5. TT, if several previous posts on the subject haven't convinced you of the weakness inherent in a modular (or float-in, float-out) approach to combat then nothing I say now will so I won't further debate the issue. You're welcome to your views and I do, sincerely, thank you for sharing them!

    6. CNO,
      point at the Threads, and I shall study your perspective.

    7. By extension, would you then also dismiss LCU/LCAC/SSC/AAV-7/LCM/LPD/Higgins boats ?

      What would be the arguments against the float-in/float-out mission-packages work done since LSD-1 "Ashland" 1943 ?

    8. TT, what?!?!!??!!! Are you telling me that you don't print every post and bind them into a handy book that you carry around for instant reference? All the wiser ComNavOps followers do that!

      OK, fine. Try this one to start: "Payloads Over Platforms"

      If that doesn't give you pause to reconsider then there's no point reading anything else.

    9. TT: "By extension, would you then also dismiss LCU/LCAC/SSC/AAV-7/LCM/LPD/Higgins boats ?"

      Huh? What do those have to do with mission modules? Are we discussing two entirely different concepts? You've lost me.

    10. They are 'mission-modules'.
      Old theme - broader newer opportunities.

      E.g. LCU can carry all sort of 'suites'. Remember someone planting an M-109 155mm howitzer on her deck and 'yanked the chord'. Of course without a stabilized barrel... But good thinking anyway to make a vital point. Now with cheap stabilization this becomes interesting. Some European 155mm land-system do 30nm of range. Just one option for inshore fire support for USMC.

      Of course, some discuss 'land-attack ships' instead which then though have to stay so far offshore as to near neutralize any barrel-gun's effectiveness.

      Float-In/Float-Out mission-modules will grow in utility, effectiveness and affordability - quite in contrast with dedicated specialty-items not likely affordable by any recent indications.

      Looking at your reference offered "Payloads..." I do not see any discussion of float-in/float-out options.

      If you let the term defined by the LCS-folks, that would be too narrow indeed.

      As my references going back e.g. to LSD-1 suggest, FI/FO has been done in limited and rudimentary fashion but in broad numbers moving war-winning tonnage of very diverse functions. Then there were LASH options, SEABEE flavors of the theme.

      Today a 140-ton LCS module will fit on a 200-ton LCU-type to weigh a combined 340 tons. And with a local wireless 'bubble' you can separate dangerous functions from the 'mother-ship'.

      Any LCS-type 'mission-modules' that require a dedicated CONUS facility to exchange are obviously not particularly useful in changing challenges.

      Hence the FI/FO option for certain tasks - not all, but quite a few.


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