The Navy exists to deter evildoers, according to one common school of thought. Failing that, it exists to rectify the evil done.
ComNavOps would disagree with that school of thought but let’s accept it for the moment and for the sake of discussion since it can be used to illustrate a relevant point.
We all understand the concept of deterrence: a force in waiting, a threat so powerful that those contemplating evil doings will hesitate and, ultimately, refrain from executing their plans due to the consequences and cost.
Thus, the world remains a safe and peaceful place because our deterrent force is always present.
That’s the theory, anyway, but what happens when our deterrent force falls below a level sufficient to deter an enemy’s undesirable actions? Well, before we answer that, let’s understand why our deterrent force might fail. In other words, how do we lose our deterrent power? Here’s a few ways.
Loss of credibility. This one may be the most important. If the enemy no longer believes we’ll use force then all the ships and aircraft in the world won’t deter them. An example is President Obama’s infamous red line regarding chemical weapons. He established it. It was crossed. Nothing happened. Another example is
’s forcedown and seizure of our P-3 aircraft. Whether you believe the incident was planned
or an accident, the end result is that the Chinese seized an American plane and
kept it until they had all the information they wanted from it. Nothing happened. Just recently, two China boats and their crews were seized by US with no consequences. There are many other examples. Iran
Insufficient numbers. This is self evident. If we have insufficient numbers of troops, aircraft, and ships then we aren’t going to deter anyone. This is analogous to having one policeman patrolling all of
won’t deter criminal activity.
Similarly, when we have only one deployed carrier operating at any given
moment, we aren’t going to deter much. New
Lack of power. We may have credibility and numbers but if those numbers lack combat power they won’t deter anyone. An example is basing several LCS in the
Far East. No one believes the LCS has the
combat power to deter anything.
So far, this is straightforward and obvious. Now, let’s answer the question about what happens when we lose our deterrent power.
If we fail to deter then the evildoer can act. An island can be seized. A country invaded. Whatever ……. And now we have to act to rectify the evil that was done. But can we?
Think about it. If we failed to deter then we probably had a lack of willpower (credibility), numbers, or power. Lacking one or more of those, does it seem likely that we can quickly turn around and rectify (meaning combat) the evil?
Lacking one or more of the deterrent factors, we are unlikely to have the means and/or will to take effective action. In other words, we’ll be faced with a fait accompli. The enemy will have gotten what they wanted and we will be powerless to stop them. Sure, we could muster up the willpower, stir the population to garner support, build up adequate forces, and beef up our combat power but that’s unlikely. The time lapse between act and reaction will become too great and people will come to accept the act. Don’t believe it? We’re coming to accept the Chinese artificial islands and, ultimately, their claims of sovereignty. We’ve come to accept the Russian seizure of
Crimea and part of . Ukraine
If we don’t instantly take back that island then we probably won’t ever do it. If we don’t instantly sever the supply lines of that invasion then we probably never will.
It’s the prospect of a fait accompli that we have to worry about – the sudden action that we can’t quickly reverse and, thus, becomes an accomplished fact.
If we’re serious about a Pacific Pivot (we’re clearly not since we aren’t contesting anything the Chinese are doing) then we need lots more ships, planes, and aircraft in the region and by “in the region” I mean crawling all over those artificial islands and disrupting all of
’s intimidating actions towards its neighbors. China
If we want to halt
’s expansionist trend then we need lots more military
force in a position to act. Russia
Note: I am not necessarily advocating any particular course of action – just laying out the logic of deterrence and its failure.
Now, consider deterrence from the Chinese perspective.
is applying some pretty effective deterrence against
us. They’re building several artificial
island air and naval bases that are going to provide some pretty significant
deterrence against us. When China is seized, we’ll have to fight through layers of
defenses just to reach it. That’s
effective deterrence. The Chinese have
already demonstrated an unflinching willingness to ignore international laws
and norms, use military force to intimidate neighbors, and harass and seize US
military assets. Do we have any doubt
that they would use their island bases to interdict our response? No. Their
credibility is intact and believable. That’s
effective deterrence. Taiwan
Probably the only thing stopping
from a China fait accompli is the fact that they’re accomplishing
pretty much everything they want without having to take more extreme measures! Taiwan
If the Navy wants to be serious about deterrence then they need more numbers, more combat power, and LOTS more willpower (admittedly as much of a civilian political issue as a Navy one). Our deterrence capability is currently at about its lowest level in a long, long time. We need to either get serious about deterrence or abandon the pretense and bring our ships and personnel home.
What is one carrier with a shrunken air wing and no credibility accomplishing in Japan? Not much.