Friday, August 7, 2015

The Death of Military Strategy

USNI News website has posted one of the best articles ComNavOps has read in a while.  The author discusses the “Death of Military Strategy”, as he puts it (1).  He lays the blame on the 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review’s (2) adoption of capabilities-based planning in lieu of actual strategy.

As the author describes it,

“Because of an “uncertain” global environment in which the Soviets no longer acted as a global counterweight, no more would DOD plan to fight an actual enemy. Instead, it would plan to deal with a collection of enemy capabilities.”

And there you have it:  neatly summed up and tied together, the author has identified the root of today’s failures in acquisition, training, doctrine, planning, tactics, force structure, and pretty much everything else.  We’ve stopped acting according to the guidance of a coherent strategy and, instead, gone off in pursuit of technology for its own sake.  Whether any given piece of technology will actually help us against a specific enemy or in a specific scenario has become irrelevant. 

Will the LCS help us in the Pacific?  Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.

Will the F-35 support our military needs?  Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.

Will the laser or rail gun actually support our doctrine (to the degree we have any) and tactics?  Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.

Will the Zumwalt’s gun actually be useful in amphibious assaults?  Who cares – it’s new technology and that’s what’s important.

What does the author think of capabilities-based defense planning?

“As a defense procurement strategy, it was intellectually lazy and simple to execute—instead of studying an adversary and dealing with the unique challenges inherent in fighting a specific enemy, it would instead ignore the necessity of accounting for cultural, geographic and strategy aspects of any given opponent and concentrate on technology instead. Capabilities-based planning (CBP) was in. A strategy oriented on a potential enemy was out.”

Well, that’s putting it nicer than I would.

Now, is any of this new?  Of course not.  ComNavOps has been preaching the lack of, need for, and problems inherent with the lack of a coherent military strategy for a long time.  Still, it’s nice to see someone else jump on the bandwagon.

To support his argument, the author documents the best known example of actual military strategic planning which was the Soviet threat in Europe.

“This [capabilities-based planning] was in striking contrast to the approach taken 20 years earlier. In 1981, The U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) unveiled a radical revamping of Army doctrine, by then in development for four years. Titled AirLand Battle, the concept was developed to deal with the preeminent military challenge of the time: how to fight the Red Army and the Warsaw Pact in Central Europe, where NATO faced a combined arms challenge backed with large numbers. This strategy was successfully sold to the Army, the DOD, Congress and the American public and became the concept that drove acquisition, training and force posture and led directly to the combined arms force that fought in Desert Storm.”

“AirLand Battle was not designed in a vacuum or against a generic adversary, and while it relied heavily on technology, the concept never lost sight of the context. Any direct conflict with the Soviets would have Europe as the central battlefield, if for no other reason than Europe was the only place with opposing NATO and Warsaw Pact forces in proximity. The terrain, the approaches, and the doctrine, equipment, logistical tail and support structure of the Soviet war machine was well characterized, exhaustively researched, and continually updated. The Army knew who it was going to fight and where, and set about answering how the joint force was going to accomplish that task.”

Consider the two key statements in the preceding paragraphs.

1. “…while it relied heavily on technology, the concept never lost sight of the context.

2. “The Army knew who it was going to fight and where, and set about answering how the joint force was going to accomplish that task.”

The first recognizes that technology does not drive acquisition, planning, doctrine, etc. – strategy does.  Technology is useful and important to the extent that it supports the strategy and only to that extent.  Technology that doesn’t support the strategy is useless (and a costly waste!).

The second sums up everything right about a strategy-based approach.  You know who you’ll fight, where you’ll fight and, therefore, you’ll know exactly what you need in order to fight and win.  This ensures that you don’t wind up with technology that isn’t particularly useful such as the F-35 in the Pacific.

I’m running the risk of simply repeating the author’s article but it’s worth quoting one more passage.

“In embracing CBP, we have become focused on a fog bank—the nameless, faceless adversary who may be technologically advanced and may even be a “near peer” in a similarly undefined way. But that adversary has no connections to any geography, culture, alliance structure or fighting methodology. That adversary has no objectives, no systemic vulnerabilities, and no preferred way of fighting. Instead, the enemy is a collection of weapons systems that we will fight with a (presumably) more advanced set of similar systems, in a symmetrical widget-on-widget battlefield on a flat, featureless Earth.”

Can the author paint a picture, or what?!  This is exactly what happened with the LCS.  We developed a technology to deal with the vague threat of the “littoral” without ever defining who that littoral enemy was, where he was, and what specific threats he presented.  As a result, we wound up with a vessel that was of no specific use in any specific scenario.  We simply hoped that the LCS would, at some time, prove useful after we got the ship into the hands of the sailors so that they could tell us what it could do (remember that infamous line from Navy leadership?).

I’ll end it here, rather than continue to repeat the author’s article.  Please follow the link and read it.  It’s well worth it.

(1)USNI, “Essay: Capability-Based Planning and the Death of Military Strategy”, Col. Michael W. Pietrucha, USAF, August 5, 2015,

(2)Quadrennial Defense Review Report, 30-Sep-2001,


  1. I've been thinking about this after some of the things I've read on the LCS modules thread...

    My memory, as a youngster, was that the transition of the military in the mid to late 70's was remarkable;

    The Army boot strapped itself manpower wise after Vietnam and dealt with its personnel issues. Then it came up with a strategy and equipment to fit that strategy. Ditto the Air Force with the Hi-Lo mix of the F-15/F-16 and AWACS upgrades.

    The Abrams was started in the wreckage of the MBT-70 around '71 and started production in '79.

    The Blackhawk competition started in '71, it won in '76, and went into service in '79.

    The Eagle was selected in '67 and entered service in '76.

    It seems that having an clear enemy and a clear place to fight clarified our strategy, which clarified our acquisition and production.

    To be fair, the defense environment of today is far more complicated. But I wonder if we could go back to the old idea of the rainbow war plans?

  2. I think there are 2 problems:

    1. The excessive careerism in the DoD
    2. The power of corporate America and in particular, the defense industry

    I don't think that every contingency could be planned for, but some things are "relatively" predictable:

    1. ISIS and other Islamic Fundamentalist groups
    2. A crisis on the North Korean Peninsula
    3. Dispute with China (possibly over Taiwan)
    4. Worsening relations with Russia
    5. You could make a case that US-Iranian relations could worsen

    Those are "known" and "probable areas" to focus on. The question is which of those 5 deserves the lion's share of resources?

  3. Alt, I'll take your thought a step further. Some things are utterly predictable. We will have a military conflict with Iran. It's just a question of when. We will have a war with China but not for some time yet. There will be a mini-conflict with NKorea but it will be a crisis rather than a full scale war.

    Russia is a bit of an unknown. I'm unsure just how far Putin wants to push things.

    The question is less about allocating resources and more about developing strategies to deal with these predictable areas. The strategies will tell us how to allocate resources. Everything flows from having a strategy. If we have a strategy, the rest is straightforward.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. MAD has nothing to do with a war with China. China has flatly stated that they will re-annex Taiwan. It's just a matter of when. If we opt to oppose that move then war is inevitable.

      That issue aside, China's expansionist movement shows no limits. They're internally discussing the second island chain which includes countries we are strong allies with. That expansionist movement will inevitably lead to war.

      Could all the Pacific countries come together in a giant hug of happiness? They could, but it's not likely. War is far more likely.

      The most likely scenario is a sudden seizure of Taiwan and a US effort to retake it (if we opt to stand by Taiwan - not a given under the current admin). There is no necessary reason such a war would go nuclear. China would be happy to wage a conventional war in another ten years or so when they will have gained military parity or superiority.

      We can wish for world peace but wishes make for poor strategy.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. CNO, China has refused to rule out the use of force against Taiwan, that is somewhat different to China.

      In the Chinese military watching community, it is generally accepted that the use of force will occur if Taiwan moves to declare formal independence. Other situations such as if Taiwan (for some reason) decides to pursue nuclear weapons or attack China (like I said, it's not going to happen) in which case China reserves the right to use military force.

      It does not mean China is seeking to use force to forcibly annex Taiwan without prior provocation.

    5. *somewhat different to China seeking to use force to unify Taiwan without Taiwan first crossing a red line.

    6. The key thing to understand about the Taiwan scenario, is that there are a large number of political mechanisms to prevent the likelihood of war occurring.
      If the US wants to solve the Taiwan crisis at its core, it needs to either change China's stance towards Taiwan (specifically to try and cause China to either relinquish its sovereignty claim over Taiwan or less extreme measures such as asking China to relinquish the use of force if Taiwan declares independence), or the US can consider changing its own stance towards Taiwan (such as renouncing its commitment to the defense of Taiwan if Taiwan declares formal independence, or at least acknowledging that China has the right to use military force against if Taiwan makes moves towards formal independence).

      I think it is also worth seeing the Taiwan question from China's perspective -- the natural goal is eventual peaceful reunification, driven by increasing economic and technological advancements of the mainland which acts as the carrot for enticing reunification, while China's increasing military force acts as the deterrent against Taiwan declaring independence.
      It makes little sense for China to attack Taiwan and seize it if Taiwan makes no moves towards formal independence, given such an operation will be very costly in terms of resources, lives, and not to mention will make any "annexation" of Taiwan seem illegitimate in the eyes of the Taiwanese populace. The goal of reunifying Taiwan is much more about culture and history than it is about politics, military capability and resources.
      Putting it another way, a Chinese military operation against Taiwan would almost definitely be considered the last resort, only used in rare situations that necessitate it.

      Also, CNO, I'm not sure where you've read that China is expansionist regarding the second island chain? Are you misreading China's intention to be able to project military power beyond the second island chain? Because I certainly have not seen anything suggesting that China is claiming any territory in that region as theirs.

    7. RealTalk, Chinese geopolitical strategy rests on the assumption that China must control all land (and sea) formations that could provide an enemy a means of threatening China. Thus, the first island chain is being slowly but surely annexed, occupied, and fortified regardless of the lack of legitimate claims over the territories. Chinese writings also address the need to control the second island chain, though, admittedly, in the longer term. There are some Chinese writings referring to Hawaii as part of a third island chain.

      China conducts state sponsored emigration to countries in both the first and second chains as a prelude or excuse for eventual military occupation. China has already "warned" Philippines and others that if their citizens are in danger, the Chinese military will intervene. On a less militaristic basis, the flood of emigrants will, eventually, simply become the dominant voting and business controlling faction, if allowed to continue unchecked.

      If you are, indeed, carefully watching Chinese intentions you need to broaden your view, consider more information, and re-evaluate your position.

    8. "... the use of force will occur if Taiwan moves to declare formal independence..."

      "It makes little sense for China to attack Taiwan and seize it if Taiwan makes no moves towards formal independence ..."

      This view overlooks the remaining possibility and that is that China becomes so overwhelmingly strong, militarily, that it feels free to resolve the issue unilaterally.

    9. CNO, state sponsored emigration is also a loaded term, as it suggests that the immigrants are immigrating with as part of a larger Chinese state strategy, which I haven't read anything about in serious literature, and I don't think there's enough precedent in history to suggest that China would be willing to invade a country on the pretext of them having a population there. For instance, Myanmar's Kokang rebels are all ethnically Chinese and some have outright asked for China to support them on their behalf against the Myanmar government, but China has ignored them.

      If an overseas Chinese population eventually do become representative in their adopted nation's governments, there is also no reason to believe that they would necessarily align themselves with China in all its policies.

      Now, I acknowledge that some Chinese military writings have suggested that China should seek to project power to the second island chain and beyond, but I've not read anything about seeking to control/occupy islands in the second island chain like you're claiming. If you have any writings from Chinese sources on this matter then I'd be happy to consider it.

      Also, I ultimately think that it's dangerous to assume that all suggestions made by lone authors from Chinese think tanks even military universities equates to the idea that China as a country and a military is intending on adopting such a policy.

      I'm a true believer in "prepare for the worst, hope for the best," but I also think in this line of analysis we need to also consider a realistic path based off evidence, and I sincerely do not think there is sufficient evidence to suggest China is seeking to occupy islands in the second island chain, on your suggested basis of state sponsored emigration, or others.

      As for Taiwan... (I'm Rick Joe btw, just using a new account)... again, even if China were so overwhelmingly strong the adverse effects of a unilateral, unprovoked military invasion of Taiwan still remain as I said in my last reply: "costly in terms of resources, lives, and not to mention will make any "annexation" of Taiwan seem illegitimate in the eyes of the Taiwanese populace".

      That is to say, IMO if China did have such an overwhelming strong military, the likelihood that China would seek to actually conduct an unprovoked military invasion of Taiwan should be even more unlikely than if they had a weaker military -- as a stronger military would be a vastly more capable deterrent/stick to indicate to Taiwan's leaders the direction they should be moving in.


      Personally I think the most likely cause of war between China and the US is a US ally such as the Philippines or Japan getting into an accident, say a Chinese coast guard ship and Japanese coast guard ship getting a bit too antsy and sinking each other, with loss of life, and miscommunication leading to an accidental shooting war that eventually ropes in the US.

      In the short term I cannot see a war over Taiwan occurring, and certainly not a Chinese invasion of the second island chain(!)

    10. PLA, rather than repeat myself and write a mini-blog post, check out these previous posts,War with China - Part 1 and War with China - Part 2

    11. "... I haven't read anything about in serious literature"

      A bank robber isn't going to send a note to the police that he's planning to rob the bank. However, if you monitor him and see him buy a mask, obtain a gun, and get a building plan for the bank, you can draw a pretty reasonable conclusion about his intentions.

      China isn't going to put in writing that they're planning to take over the entire first island chain followed by the second and, eventually, the world. However, by observing their actions, their intentions become pretty clear. There is not doubt that they intend to seize the first island chain - they're already doing it. Their various writings have discussed the dangers inherent in warmongering countries (that would be the US!) controlling the second island chain. Given what they're doing with the first chain and the dangers they see in someone else controlling the second, it's not much of a leap to see their longer range plans.

      If you want to be a serious follower of China's geopolitical and military intentions (they're one and the same), you need to do more than just read what's written and accept it at face value. You need to collate all of their actions and writings and see the patterns - patterns which they won't put into writing. Assemble all their actions into a coherent picture and you'll know their intentions. Good luck!

    12. Consider China's intentions towards Japan. There is a deep, deep ingrained hatred towards Japan (not entirely without reason). Consider the actions of China. Domination of the first chain is just the first step. China is going to try to isolate Japan, dominate them economically, and, eventually, subjugate them. Again, they don't put their plans in writing but the pieces are there for anyone who cares to assemble them into a complete picture.

    13. CNO, the premises which you state are all true.

      There is much hatred of Japan, and China absolutely does want to have the ability to control the first and possibly second island chains.

      However, those premises do not equate to China wanting to invade and occupy the islands in the first and second island chains nor does it mean they want to attack and subjugate Japan through war.

      China can achieve those aims via various other means which are more peaceful and of lower risk. They can increase their economic and political clout to increase their influence in the region, they can fund their military to make it increasingly preferable for other countries to ally with China rather than to work against China, with the long term goal of effective Finlandizing all the nations in the region without firing a shot.
      It's not hard to envision, given China is currently the biggest trading partner of virtually all its neighbours, not to mention the biggest trading nation in the world.

      I think it is dangerous to assume that just because a nation has certain interests or goals, that they will necessarily use the most violent and aggressive means to achieve it.

    14. PLA, you're quite correct. Unlike the US, China considers all actions to be a part of war. As I've stated, China is currently at war with us and is using economic domination as the preferred means to wage the war (and quite successfully, so far). All actions, be they economic, emigration, or military are part of the war they are waging (and not just against the US). They take the long view of history. The main problem for the US is that we're engaged in a war and don't realize it!

  4. The line I kept hearing is to train and equip for the highest intensity conflict possible (Iran, China, Russia) and adapt ourselves to lower intensity (NK, ISIS).

  5. ComNavOps, consider this facet of the situation: China by itself as a potential adversary has the diversity of economic wealth, the diversity of industrial capacity, the diversity of technical knowledge and skills, the diversity of population, and the diversity of geographic position on land and on the sea to pursue any and every combination of military technology, military doctrine, and military strategy one could possibly think of in a potential adversary -- meaning that if you can cope with China as an emerging peer competitor, you can by definition cope with anyone else who might emerge as a military threat, as long they aren't all working together at once.

  6. Scott, that's a generically fair assessment, however, the strategy of how to defeat China (which, of course, assumes that we have formulated a definition of what constitutes victory - and we haven't) may differ widely from how to defeat Iran, for example. Thus, being able to defeat China may not see us with the tools necessary to defeat Iran (or, at least not optimally).

    So, I agree with your statement in a generic sense but that does not relieve us of the need for multiple, independent strategies, each with their own requirements.

    1. Sure, why not. But as far as specifying requirements for purposes of adopting a technology management strategy and a force architecture strategy, if you put all those multiple requirements extracted from all those multiple independent strategies together into one grand comprehensive requirements list, is not reasonable to suspect you would end up with a list which is a totally-contained subset of the list of requirements needed for dealing with China by itself?

    2. As I said, generically speaking, you're probably correct. The risk in such an approach is that we won't bother producing a viable strategy and, instead, will depend on overwhelming firepower. We'll depend on brawn over brains, as it were. That's exactly what we're doing now. We have no viable strategy for any specific enemy or scenario. Instead, we simply assume that our technology will allow us to win. As the link's author says, that's intellectually lazy and will get many more people killed than necessary.

    3. With respect to the Chian- Taiwan situation, success would be measured by preventing China from invading militarily. I think the US needs to be seen to seen to be backing Taiwan politically, economically and militarily.

      Military support could be in the form of planning and joint exercises aimed at preventing an invasion or repelling a Chinese force on the ground.

      I see Taiwan's best defence lying in assymetric warfare while the USN provides fire-power from a task force.

  7. I wouldn't say war is assured against China. I'd say that relations are tense, but neither side wants a war.

    Victory as defined by the US would be:
    1. The continuation of American scientific and technological leadership
    2. Very high living standards for the average American
    3. America's soft power remaining influential
    4. The US economy staying on top (and perhaps reserve currency)
    5. You could argue that Taiwan remaining autonomous as well

    Victory for China would be:
    1. China gaining manufacturing, scientific, and technological leadership
    2. China overtaking the US economically and staying there
    3. Addressing domestic problems such as water shortages and environmental damage
    4. The end of conflicts on terms favorable to China (ex: the CCP remains and has an iron grip)
    5. Perhaps Taiwan integrated like Hong Kong

    Not all of these goals are mutually exclusive. However, China has economically made very rapid relative gains (as I have noted before) in terms of manufacturing, science, and technology. It's economy has been growing rapidly, although it may be slowing down as of late somewhat, but still growing quite fast. Hundreds of millions of people have escaped the desperate poverty and are now enjoying a higher living standard (comparatively, although short of Western standards).

    I think it would be prudent to discuss what a good strategy might be in a war, but to do everything possible to avoid an actual shooting war.

    1. Alt, those are good long term geopolitical goals but I'm talking about a military victory from an actual war. What is military victory in an actual war with China?

      Complete occupation of the country?
      Blockade and "starvation of raw materials" until China negotiates for peace?

      Return to pre-war boundaries?

      Destruction of Chinese military capabilities?

      Something else? A combination?

      The definition of victory also leads to a pretty straightforward idea of the required force structure.

      I've given it much though and I have my own definition of victory (nothing I've listed) but that's not a productive line of discussion in this forum.

    2. There's no easy answer to that.

      It would depend on the nature of the dispute I am afraid. Taiwan may be an obvious one, but in the future, we don't know what else could someday raise a dispute.

      As far as victory goes, I'd say a return to pre-war boundaries. You could argue for democratic reforms as well.

      I think that resource blockade would be the best strategy. Remember at the rate the Chinese economy is growing, even if there is a slowdown, it's only a matter of time before China becomes the leading economy by GDP (It already passed the US in PPP in 2014 by the way, by some estimates). So China would always be at an advantage in numbers.

      Blockade seems like the best option.

    3. Alt, I'll give you one thought for your consideration. If we opt for blockade to force China to stop fighting and then come up with some kind of settlement, we leave China fully intact and we will have to fight them again, down the road, and they will have learned a lot of lessons militarily and will be even stronger. For that reason, I don't see the blockade approach as being wise. I'll leave it at that.

    4. The answer I guess is, it depends.

      If the terms of the peace agreement do lead to democratic reform, the end result could be like Germany and Japan post-WWII. Both nations saw very rapid economic growth, but have remained peaceful. I'd be far more worried about the fact that economically, they have in some ways surpassed the US.

      The other question is, can the US win? The question is, worth considering because the US will have:

      - A fleet of Ford/Nimitz carriers (and F-35/F-18s)
      - Whatever drones the USN and USAF have, although operations may be restricted, particularly if the airfields islands around China are cratered. Seaplanes I think are worthy of exploration here.
      - The surface navy, which will consist of ABC Flt3s, LCS, and perhaps a new class of ship
      - The nuclear submarine fleet (probably a mixture of Virgina and whatever 688i ships are left)
      - A few misc classes (Zumwalt, Seawolf submarines), that probably are not in large numbers
      - I suppose you could list satellite and ASATs here

      The question is, can the US win? It will have to sail across the world more or less and close to shore, it will be contested.

    5. The surrender agreements with Germany and Japan were possible only because those countries had been beaten into submission to such a degree that they had no choice but to accept those terms.

      Unless we beat China to that same degree their leaders will not accept democratic reforms of any sort.

      Whether we want to beat them to that degree is the question. What end state will constitute our victory. Again, I leave it to you to ponder.

      Also, consider this - the only thing worse than war with China would be war with China followed by another war with China. In other words, the only acceptable and sane end result of war with China must be China's total inability to wage war in any future, foreseeable time frame. How to achieve that is, again, the question.

    6. @CNO, I think it is dangerous to assume that a democratic China would necessarily be more amenable to the US's interests. Many of the cultural, historical and strategic issues between a democratic China and the US may still remain.
      Hell, one could say that the US victory over Japan hasn't fully changed their cultural foundations given the presence of far right-wingers in government who still believe their country did nothing wrong in WWII. Their navy still uses the flag of the old IJN, which is also a little alarming, especially for some US allies such as South Korea.

      I think what the US really needs, before it can start to define a strategy for itself, is to draw some red lines that they cannot accept -- i.e.: if a red line is crossed, then it would mean a military response.

      China's red lines are fairly well known; if Taiwan declares independence, there will be war. Excessively provocative moves in territorial disputes (say, if Japan landed troops onto the disputed islands tomorrow) would also likely result in a military response to some degree.
      And other red lines are more similar to other countries -- basically if nation A attacks nation B, nation B has the right to respond.

      Over the years, I've tried to seriously consider where the US should draw its red lines, and I'm honestly drawing a blank.

      Obviously if the US's treaty allies become involved in a conflict with China, then the US will be obliged to respond, but is that current red line far enough (for instance, should the US also seek to prevent China from attaining a certain degree of military capability -- say, if China gets three aircraft carriers then it's too much to accept and the US should declare war?), or is it too far (I say too far, because the US needs to consider whether its allies may end up becoming more confident against China if they believe they have US military support, and end up antagonizing China which makes a military conflict inevitable)?

    7. The big question about China which no one is addressing, either here or in military circles (that I have read), is about how much of a decline in "relative power" the US is willing to stomach in the forseeable future.

      Even if we assume a Chinese economic "slowdown" to 6% and pretend the US is able to somehow achieve a growth rate of 4% (which the US hasn't been able to do since the 60s), that will still result in China overtaking the US GDP in nominal terms by the mid 2020s. The shift in political power on the world stage which has already begun will begin to tilt even more in China's favour, and increased economic size will eventually translate to technological and industrial growth and improved military capabilities.
      While China might not overtake the US in absolute military power until later in the century, there is a very real danger that they can field a military capability in the western pacific which is able to fight the US's westpac forces to a standstill if not win such a confrontation, by 2030.
      This is all ignoring the effects that a more economically influential China will have on the geopolitics of the western pacific nations as well.

      The options for the US are simple -- option one: they can either accept that they will have markedly less influence in global affairs post 2020, or option two: they can use means to try and limit China's future power.
      I'm a dove myself, I hope that both countries can come to an amicable version of option one.
      But if the US takes option two, there are a variety of means to achieve it -- and all of them have sacrifice:

      -withdraw US forces from the rest of the world and concentrate them around China's periphery/westpac. This will leave US interests in the rest of the world weaker but means they will be able to maintain military superiority over China for longer.

      -the US can seek to create a military and economic alliance against China. This is already occurring in a sense, given the US's string of allies in the western pacific and in agreements such as the TPP. However, the difficulty with this approach is that China is still a driver of global growth and is the biggest trading partner to almost all its neighbours and likely to remain so for decades to come, and asking countries to avoid the benefits of trading and interacting with China without a reason that is enticing or beneficial to them would be hard to pull off.

      -the US can actively seek to destabilize China in a political and economic way, with the ultimate goal of impeding its economic growth which is the prerequisite of future Chinese power.

      -the most dangerous option but the one most likely to succeed, is for the US to start a war with China sooner rather than later, to completely destroy present day China in the same way that they destroyed Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Of course, such a conflict would most likely go nuclear, and it would also mean the US is effectively "choosing" to go to war from no other provocation apart from fear.

      Thoughts, CNO?

    8. "... I think it is dangerous to assume that a democratic China would necessarily be more amenable to the US's interests."

      When did I assume or advocate that?

    9. Your red lines are another way of saying that we need a coherent geopolitical strategy. We need to define how we will interact with China. Everything flows logically from that.

      I'm reluctant to delve too much deeper into this as this is not a political blog. I'll say that, personally, the thought of China controlling the first island chain and beyond is unacceptable to me. That is a government that shares none of our core beliefs (the value of human life, for instance) and would be a continual threat to our existence. I'll leave it at that.

    10. @PLA RealTalk

      If the US really wanted to try to match China, I'd say the easiest option would be to invest in itself.

      This would entail standing up to corporate America. By that I mean, a massive surge in R&D, infrastructure, and education investments. Also demand that all American companies resource back a large part of their manufacturing.

      Likewise, there would have be drastic increases in taxes for the wealthiest to pay for the costs of education, research, and other areas. It might create a trade dispute, but not a military dispute. It would also involve some very tough political decisions.

      To be honest, it would seem that American institutions are their own worst enemy in a way. The US Navy's internal problems, documented extensively are almost entirely self-inflicted in nature. Poor maintenance, lack of free form training, rampant careerism, focus on technology that may or may not work, the death spirals of expensive equipment, etc, are self-inflicted.

      So too are most of the problems of economic decline. Corporate greed and the very wealthy unwillingness to pay their share of taxes is a very serious problem.

      As far as a "red line", I'd say, if there is a military attack on any major US ally or an attack on US assets, that would be the red line. I could care less about the small islands that are just a few rocks that are not valuable, save for their strategic location.

      Beyond that I very firmly believe in the dove approach as well. I don't think deliberately provoking a war is a good idea, nor is actively trying to destabilize a nation internally.

    11. @CNO:
      Regarding the democratic China thing, it was just an offhand comment, because there are many commentators who believe that a democratic China would not compete with the US.

      As for red lines, yes it essentially is asking for a geopolitical strategy.

      If you do not accept a China that can control the first island chain, then I suspect China and the US will eventually come to conflict. I believe that China intends to impose a sort of its own "Monroe Doctrine" upon the western pacific, where they will not accept excess interference by another power in their own sphere of interest. This is very much continuous with their view of a multipolar world, where several superpowers all have dominion over their own part of the globe. This of course suggests that there will be a decline of relative US power where the US cedes its power over the middle east, europe and the west pacific to essentially only hold indisputable influence and power in north america, the west atlantic and east pacific.

      Yes, there are obviously many ways in which the US can attempt to try and compete with China economically.

      I agree with your red line, but the issue I see is if China does conduct a military attack on a major US ally or US assets, it will likely be due to what China perceives as provocations or aggressive moves from either a US ally or from the US moving naval vessels or assets into the region during a time of high crisis. In other words, the US needs to clearly define the conditions under which a red line is "crossed".
      E.g.: if a Philippines Navy frigate attacks a Chinese Coast Guard vessel unprovoked, and sinks it, and if the Chinese Navy end up responding and sinking that frigate, will the US stand by the side of the Philippines?

    12. The problem with the US pulling back and ceding control of the S/E China Seas, first chain, and second chain is that such a policy borders dangerously close to appeasement. As we know, appeasement has never worked and has likely contributed to wars by encouraging the aggressor to take more or to believe that they will be unopposed if they take further actions.

      Chamberlain's now infamous "Peace for our time" quote sounds eerily like the talk from so many regarding relations with China. In fact, I view China as quite similar to pre-war Germany: expansionistic, whipping up nationalistic fervor, encouraging cultural hatreds, using military force to achieve political goals, etc.

      I'm violating my self-imposed, non-political rule for this blog so I'll leave at that.

    13. @PLA RealTalk

      I'd say the correct approach would be only if China launches its own unprovoked attack should the US respond.

      You do raise an interesting point though:
      - If a small nation engages in an act of aggression that was not provoked, then what?
      - If Taiwan declares independence on its own accord
      - If Japan attacks on its own accord, then what? The US does have an assurance with Japan, but one serious issue is that nationalism has been growing in Japan as of late and if the trends continue, then what?

      I would argue that the US should opt for the diplomatic approach. First because, in the immediate aftermath, all the facts are not known, and second because there's a very rapid risk of escalation. It should also work to discourage its allies from contemplating a preemptive strike.

      It's only if China itself attacks and does so in a large scale unprovoked deliberate manner that it should be full scale response.

    14. Alt, so you're OK with China unilaterally seizing islands that have disputed claims, ignoring international law, establishing illegal large aviation exclusion zones, ordering the US military out of the S/E China Seas, ramming Vietnamese fishing boats, forcing down and seizing US military aircraft, etc? How big of an attack do you need to see before you would take action? I ask just to prompt your thought process a bit. You've made a generic statement but I'd like you to consider the real world "attacks" that China has made and is constantly making.

      Suppose China non-violently landed troops in the Philippines just to provide protection for Chinese civilian emigrants to that country? China has already seized disputed islands. Suppose they claim that the Philippines are actually theirs - and there have been some claims circulated that all of the Pacific was once visited by early Chinese explorers and, thus, belong to them?

      Suppose they don't commit an all-out military invasion but simply continue "peacefully" seizing islands and extending their reach and their claims. Do you allow that or do you respond?

    15. Landing troops on core territory like the Phillipines would constitute an act of war. That's a clear act of aggression.

      How big an attack? If it comes down to something like a Pearl Harbor attack or landing troops, it will likely quickly escalate to war.

      As far as the Senkakus and similar disputes go, I'd stick to diplomacy. I wouldn't recommend recognizing such claims (nor should the US recognize the "9 dash line"), but it would not constitute WW III.

    16. OK, you say that you wouldn't contest the disputed islands. That means that you're simply ceding them to China on whatever time frame they want. That's a big concession as it grants China ownership of the South and East China Seas. Of course, they'll then extend their aviation exclusion zone (which we also haven't contested) beyond the first chain and begin making claims on second chain lands.

      What will you do when they "claim" the Philippines are really theirs? The claim will have just as much legitimacy as the disputed first chain islands, which is to say none, but you didn't dispute those. Will you contest a disputed claim to the Philippines?

      Are you willing to grant China not just control and influence but actual territorial ownership of so many of the major waterways of that region?

      By not challenging them, you're conceding an awful lot! The line between appeasement and diplomacy is thin and you're leaning well towards the appeasement side!

    17. I said the US should not start WWIII over them.

      I did not say the US would recognize the claims. There's a huge difference.

      As far as who the islands belong too, I think that there are going to have be negotiations. Probably a third party should mediate them. I'm not appeasing, at all. Appeasement means recognizing the islands as theirs (which the UK did in the case of Austria and parts of then Czechoslovakia in 1939), which I oppose doing. It's a dispute. The other is I do support a moderate build up.

      The thing is, both sides should try as best as they can to avoid a war - especially considering both sides have nuclear weapons.

  8. I think there isn't a recognition of even larger strategic questions. For example, Stratfor had done an article some years ago in which they stated what they viewed as the US's strategic positions. As I recall, the top three of these were: Maintain the political union in the CONUS; keep open the sea lanes around the US, in particular the Gulf which leads to the Port of Southern Louisiana from which the majority of US goods are shipped; and prevent the control of the Eur-Asian continent by a single power. If these are indeed the bottom line, and I haven't seen any strategic document by the DoD or Administration that reflects this, then such considerations should be the starting point even before one recognizes potential enemies.

    1. L, if you're new to the blog, welcome! If you're not, then you've heard me repeatedly call for a comprehensive geopolitical strategy which, I think, is what you're describing. Without it, we can't formulate a viable military strategy.

      That said, the strategic positions you cite are not really strategic. Rather, they're conditions that we'd like to maintain. I'm splitting hairs to some extent but a valid geopolitical strategy doesn't address political union in the US or sea lanes. Instead, it should address our relationships with the rest of the world. How do we want to interact in the MidEast? How do we want to respond to China? Russia? And so on.

  9. What seems bizarre to me is the step from "We don't have an obvious opponent to make strategy about" to "We abandon strategic planning as an activity". That seems to have happened: as early as 2005 I was trying to discover what the grand-strategic objective was in Iraq and only finding War College papers saying that there didn't seem to be one.

    Doesn't the US have organisations that are supposed to develop and maintain the science and art of creating and developing strategy? Or is everything throughout the large and complex military supposed to be focussed on the idea of the hour? If so, it's very hard to blame individuals for being careerist: the system is enforcing that.

    1. John, ignoring the geopolitical strategy level (or lack thereof), CNO Greenert and, more broadly, the Joint Chiefs are responsible for formulating military strategy. Greenert and his delegates should be developing the Navy's strategy. There are any number of people and groups that could and should assist in this effort. Why Greenert has abdicated his responsibility in this matter is unknown to me. My personal opinion is that he is the worst CNO in my lifetime for this and many other reasons.

    2. Please list more reasons. I mean this sincerely.

    3. John, this blog is full of posts that document the decline of the Navy under the leadership of CNO Greenert. Consider the INSURV fiasco, fleetwide Aegis degradation, the choice to push ahead with the LCS despite all evidence that this was a badly flawed program, minimal manning which has been a major contributor to our maintenance problems, early retirement of perfectly good ships, abandonment of MCM and MIW capabilities, focus on diversity and gender at the expense of tactics, decline in readiness, and so on. Honestly, I could go on with hundreds of reasons. Read the archives and you'll see plenty of reasons.

      Greenert is presiding over the hollowing of our fleet to a degree not seen in decades.

  10. When it comes to strategy we have a second problem: lack of belief in a threat. I get the impression from both civilian and military leadership that no one honestly thinks of a full scale war as an actual possibility, at least not against a serious opponent like Russia or China. Even the supposed shift to the East isn't a strategy but rather a simplistic show of force. The "strategy" is to look big and bad in the hopes of driving them to the negotiating table or some half-enforced sanction in the UN.
    In the case of China, I think some of this is simple fear. I am not saying cowardice but rather a reasonable feat of what a nation of 1 billion people and a huge industrial capacity and a nuclear arsenal can do. Rather than genuinely come up with a strategy, we bluster and hope for the best because we really don't expect to win; just hold them off long enough to get them to the negotiating table.
    Sadly, we aren't even really doing that--how intimidating is a navy based on gunboats (LCS) and short-legged barely maneuverable F-35s flying off carriers we can't afford to buy?
    Instead we should be thinking like we did in WW2: What are their goals? How extended will their supply lines be? What are their vulnerabilities?
    Chinese aggression is very similar to WW2 Japan: resources. Can we make those resources too expensive in terms of lives and equipment lost to discourage them? Is our anti-capabilities not only enough to defend our ships but perhaps to deny airspace over contested areas? Could the USAF heavy bombers take down the 3 Gorges Dam thereby flooding the Yangtze, destroying industries, and taking out power production?
    But these and better questions (I'm not a strategist) wont be asked unless we are serious about dealing with potential enemies.

    1. Very nice comment. I believe you are correct about the fear, at least to a degree. The fear stems not only from military comparisons but also economic. China is currently waging economic war on us and winning.

      We still won't even name China as an enemy. The most we've done is publicly note that some of China's actions might contribute to somewhat elevated tensions through lack of understanding. You're absolutely correct that we need to get serious about dealing with our enemies and it starts with naming them flat out.

    2. @milspecmusings -- I'm not sure if comparisons between China today and the Empire of Japan are accurate. While China does have a great thirst for resources, it can quite happily attain them through global trade in a way which is acceptable to them. Globalization has benefited China as much as the rest of the world, and it's far cheaper for China to buy them off the market instead of fighting wars to attain them.
      IMO the main point of conflict between China and the US, revolves around China's fear of forward deployed military assets in what it perceives as its backyard, and also revolves around US mistrust and paranoia of a country which is not their definition of a democracy.

      Also, if the US did seriously consider attacking civilian targets such as the Three Gorges Dam, I'm fairly certain the conflict would have already reached the nuclear threshold in which case we can kiss civilisation goodbye.

    3. "China is currently waging economic war on us and winning."

      It's called "competition", and the US regards that as just fine when it's winning. However, many of the large businesses of the US were happy to cooperate with the Chinese agenda in search of short-term profit. It's too late to legislate against that now.

      Reconstructing the US economy doesn't have to be done from the ground up, but is going to require using a new generation of production technologies, some of which still need inventing. It's also going to involve US businesses revising their thinking.

    4. Of course it's called competition. War is competition, too, just on a more violent scale. There's nothing wrong with that. The problem from the US perspective is that we aren't competing. We're conceding. We need to get into the fight and fight like our future depends on it because it does. We need to address tariffs, trade deficits, movement of manufacturing to China, and a host of other issues that China is killing us on.

      If the economic trends continue, China won't need to fight us militarily, they'll simply own us at some point!

  11. way back before , the weapons systems and doctrine were designed to counter russian weapons and doctrine.. that much we can all agreed on , and after the break up of soviet union , the US become restless and have to find their new nemesis .. after 9-11 , majority of US effort seems to focus on fighting insurgents / low tech enemies..

    and this impacts not only weapon procurement / research but also in training.. how much time AH64 pilots devote their training to standard anti armor Nap of the Earth flying instead of flying at high altitude in safety because the enemy have no MANPADS / A2AD ? How often naval aviators practice strikes against enemy fleet instead of focusing on bombing / CAS only ?

    in the next war , this foolish focus on low tech enemies will be a nasty suprise for american forces.. considering they never even once face a real peer enemy since WW2..

    the comfortable slumber will be shaken and the delusions will be shattered when enemy's cruise missiles and TBM rain destruction on america's supposedly safe bases like Guam or Diego Garcia or even bases on american soil..


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