Sunday, January 31, 2016

Fait Accompli

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 China’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 US boats and their crews were seized by Iran with no consequences.  There are many other examples.

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 New York City – he 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.

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 China’s intimidating actions towards its neighbors.

If we want to halt Russia’s expansionist trend then we need lots more military force in a position to act.

Note:  I am not necessarily advocating any particular course of action – just laying out the logic of deterrence and its failure.

Taiwan – No discussion of deterrence would be complete without a mention of the Taiwan situation.  We could wake up tomorrow and find that our deterrence has failed and China has seized Taiwan.  We have one carrier forward based in Japan and a few escort ships.  Not enough force to even begin to contemplate taking Taiwan back.  It would take months (or years) to build up the force necessary for such an operation.  As stated earlier, if our deterrence fails then, almost by definition, our ability to rectify the failure is probably non-existent in any relevant time frame.  Every day that would pass with Taiwan in Chinese hands would make it that much more difficult to retake. 

Now, consider deterrence from the Chinese perspective.  China 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 Taiwan 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.

Probably the only thing stopping China from a Taiwan fait accompli is the fact that they’re accomplishing pretty much everything they want without having to take more extreme measures!

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.


  1. Please stop writing about the long, long outdated "China Might Invade Taiwan!" possibility. This would require an invasion force larger than Normandy that must cross 100 miles of water. Taiwan only has three landing beaches, all heavily fortified and China doesn't even have half the ships needed. It wouldn't need any American help to defeat a landing!

    Moreover, China has nothing to gain by invading its largest trading partner, which would ruin relations with the rest of the world. If we have a conflict with China, both Taiwan and South Korea would opt out and declare neutrality in a senseless World War III.

    Luckily, even our crazed Pentagon leaders don't think World War III is needed over some useless rocks in the Pacific. As you often note, our navy is so broke we should do everything possible to avoid war with a peer. Sometimes I read insane ideas that our Marines may land on China's shores. Really, and then what, 50,000 Marines will conquer a billion Chinese? Let's choose something more in our league, Yemen looks like fun, and it lacks anti-ship missiles.

  2. Ive mentioned it before but this needs clarification-
    ".. An example is President Obama’s infamous red line regarding chemical weapons. He established it. It was crossed. Nothing happened."
    You mean NO military action as we know an agreement was reached for Assad to give up his chemical weapons and production plants. If war is just diplomacy by other means, then diplomacy 'won' this one. The world is better place for resolution of conflicts, as you remember Korea and Vietnam had the US finally discovering it couldnt win them all.

    1. You need to review your history of the event. The US established a red line, it was crossed, and we did nothing. Later, Putin came onto the scene and arranged his own deal with Assad. Russia acted. The US did not.

    2. Short sighted nonsensical reply.
      There were no consequences. Trade already didn't exist, so there was no financial stick/carrot available. Military threat was explicitly made and not carried out on.
      The post chicken out agreement, proposed by Israel, enacted by Russia, as a bail out our large imbecile uncle, did nothing. It removed the veneer of chemical weapons, but that was for the mass media watching yokels. To wit, chemical weapons have been used numerous times since by the dowager govt against its own civilian populace.
      This is the primary loss of deterrence this article is referencing. And, as author stated, this is the biggest.

      Lets be honest, despite all the neigh sayers, an arleigh burke has more firepower on its own then fully half the sovereigns on earth. A carrier battle group has a larger more effective airforce than 80% of sovereigns on its own moxie, criticism aside, there is already sufficient force nascent in the current US navy. Its the lack of credibility of your leaders that is your biggest lack of deterrence.

      Lets face it, if your leader was completely credible, all you needed for deterrence would be a dozen ICBM's.

    3. Keep it respectful. Be sure to argue the merits, not the person.

    4. You failed to follow that story. The UN investigated that incident and found chlorine gas was used, which is dangerous industrial gas, but not an official chemical munition. Moreover, it was traced to Turkey, and witnesses said the terrorist/rebels had employed it to kill civilians.

      This should surprise no one. Obama said the USA will only intervene if Syria used chemical weapons, so Syria would never use them, but of course the "rebels" did.

    5. The actual timeline of events doesnt agree with your memory..."Putin came onto the scene and arranged his own deal with Assad. Russia acted. The US did not"
      Russia and the United States, in their third day of talks in Switzerland, said Saturday they have reached a groundbreaking deal on a framework to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.
      Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stood side by side in Geneva as they set out a series of steps the Syrian government must follow.
      United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 imposed on Syria responsibilities and a timeline for the destruction of its chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities.

      So Thats Kerry and the UN involved then theres the destruction.
      " The destruction of the most dangerous chemical weapons began at sea aboard the Maritime Administration Ready Reserve Force vessel CAPE RAY crewed with U.S. civilian merchant mariners. It took 42 days aboard ship to destroy 600 metric tons of chemical agents that would have been used to make deadly Sarin and Mustard Gas"

      And why did all this come about?
      " U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — asked by a reporter if there was anything Assad could do avert attack — replied, "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons" in the next week. "But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done".

      "Hours after Kerry's statement, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia had suggested to Syria that it relinquish its chemical weapons,and Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem immediately welcomed the proposal.

      The countries of Norway and Denmark agreed to transport the chemical weapons from Syria to Italy where they were to be handed over to a United States Navy ship for destruction in international waters. The Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate Helge Ingstad will take part in the operation, as will the Norwegian marine corps unit Kystjegerkommandoen"

      No doubt that Assad was following Putins instructions and had the threat of US and French airstrikes hanging over him.

      Honestly I cant see where you got the idea that the US, The UN and OPCW plus the Scandinavian countries werent involved.

      Kerry said the only way to avoid an air attack was if agreement could be reached for weapons to be turned over - and thats whats happened.
      Actual destruction was done by US and with nato countries involved.

      This is not ancient history where the details are blurred. None of the above is in doubt and was covered extensively at the time.
      No one could possibly believe based on the evidence that a 'red line was crossed and nothing happened'

    6. Im sorry thats just not how it happened.
      There were persistent reports stretching back months and months of chemical attacks on civilians, from early in the war. There were threats of red lines being made by various strata of US govt officialdom, and constant muddying of waters about, who really launched the chemical weapons attacks, was it govt, was it rebels. Despite the very obvious, only rebel held areas were being hit.
      The red line was crossed numerous times without consequences, it was only when proof started coming out that was neigh on irrefutable, (not even the modern day russian propaganda machine could quell it) that things really heated up. After months of feet dragging and becoming increasingly obvious that US bluster was just that and they had no intention of intervening, that the bail US govt initiative came to the fore.
      Then the Russians came in, chemical weapon destruction occurred etc.

      Delivering ultimatums is very poor policy, foreign or domestic, and is seldom a wise thing to do. It forces your hand to act, when you may not want to, or when acting is the wrong thing to do. The only thing worse than not acting when you should post ultimatum, is actually not following through on it.

      Much US prestige was lost that day.

      Hence, Segway to late 2015. Syrian chemical weapon manufacturing is alive and well, not hard to do, considering stockpiles were surrendered, not know how. US ultimatums being what they are, Syrian govt once again bombed its own citizens.

      If you deliver an ultimatum, no matter how stupid it was initially, you better sure as #### follow through on it.

    7. AS you know for historical reasons connected to Iraqs lack of chemical weapons mere reports and so on werent werent enough until more concrete evidence was produced.
      I had the direct quote from CNN which had Kerry saying an attack was imminent.
      So hardly 'nothing was done', diplomacy with a credible partner Russia offered a last minute way out- as diplomacy often does. A major program located stocks and production facilities, the US Russia UN and many others cooperated to nuetralise them. Is it 110% or 98%, maybe closer to the last number ?
      Was it perfect ? of course not but once a war is started you have a fresh lot of hell to go through to end it all. viz Korean war and Vietnam.
      That Syrian chemical weapons is 'alive and well, thats not what your own link says.
      "OPCW investigators who looked at 11 incidents of alleged use of toxic chemicals in Syria came across one instance of blood samples indicating "that individuals were at some point exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance."

      Blood samples? Could be from anywhere ! But they are looking further into this.
      Could people on both sides in Syria be lying? Highly likely but does this mean US should be bombing in Syria.
      Well that path has been crossed and intell isnt strong enough to pick out this or that stockpile in a war torn country.
      As we can see from the Gulf Iran US patrol boat incident, the facts and the truth arent necessarily what we read in newspapers.

    8. Please dont do that. You sound like a politician. Not meaning to be offensive, but we're discussing what little we know. 11 Villages in the space of a month suffering chemical attacks. Is it really all 11? Maybe not. Have they all been investigated diligently? Well, no, how could they? By whom? Who's got a modicum of credibility that could verify anything, yay or neigh?

      The point I'm pushing is that US president promised that if Syria's President used chemical weapons on his own citizens the US would bomb the Syrian nascent govt/army.
      After months of lying through their blackened teeth, US officials finally admitted that yes, proof, proof that not even we can't debunk exists that Assad has been gassing his own citizens. And no, we wont punish him for it, like we promised. We'll INSTEAD nut out some kind of nonsensical agreement with our biggest foe and Assad's biggest ally, that along with some neutrals, we'll take away Assad's nastiest toys.
      AS for the rest? No, no, dont be silly, we'll let him continue the whole sale slaughter of his own citizens, while he chases half his population out of his own country, but hey! there were consequences, he crossed THE RED LINE! So we took away his sarin gas.

      Im putting it into simplistic terms but sometimes reality is what you see in front of you. US president has allowed another dictator in the M.E. to kill 300,000 people and chase 11 million more out of his country. Go back to every president all the way back to F.D.R. Aside from Jimbo Carter, any others you think would have allowed this to happen?

    9. I think you have misunderstood your own reference. They looked into 11 reported instances and only came up with one that had evidence ( a test tube of blood?)
      As lots of people would say war is terrible and people do terrible things, is getting any sort of agreement during a brutal conflict going to be prefect ? You do these things via achievable steps.

      But back to the stategic and military overview, whos idea was it for the US to support ( via the supply of arms covertly via Turkey) the opposition to Assad which has allowed the ISIS/Daesh to flourish in Syria and subsequently extend its reach to Iraq ?
      What sort of batshit crazy result is that !
      Is it really in the US and Natos interest that Assaad crumbles, and Isis takes a big chunk of two countries. Do you think that!

      As a minor consideration small use of chemical weapons is one aspect of a terrible war involving civilians but stategically removing the facilities and stockpiles stops proliferation in its tracks- which is the far more dangerous circumstance in western countries.
      I think you should brush up on what the US interests are in this region. It certainly isnt preferring one dictator over another or even one side in a civil war

  3. I'd have to disagree with this post.

    1. Starting war with China would be a very unwise move on the America's part ... and the way things are going, there is no assurance that there will be a victory either.

    2. In the case of Iran, whatever else (and this whole incident appears to be a case of gross incompetence), the Iranians did release the captured sailors without harm, much to their credit.

    I don't see raising tensions as being the solution to the problems right now.

    That said, I agree that the USN is losing credibility with the direction its going, but that is more due to internal mismanagement and corruption then anything else.

    I think that for China, as they've noted, it is far cheaper to simply buy Taiwan (ex: dominate economically) than it is to wage WWIII.

    If anything, the US needs to get its own house in order, both militarily, and economically. For most Americans, there has been a very real decline in the economic prospects over the past few decades.

    1. What post are you commenting on? I never suggested starting a war with China! Where'd you get that?

      Credit to Iran?! Their actions at the least violated international norms on assisting ships in distress (if you want to believe the US story about becoming disabled and lost) and probably violated UNCLOS and other international laws (acknowledging that Iran is not a signatory to UNCLOS). I'm not an international law expert so I'll leave that judgement to others.

      Seriously, though, giving Iran credit is like giving a kidnapper credit because they returned the hostage unharmed when the ransom was paid.

      As far as raising tensions, Russia, China, Iran, and NKorea are on a rampage of tension-raising but you want us to exhibit all the restraint? There's a word for one-sided restraint and it's "appeasement". If that's your position, you're welcome to it but history has repeatedly shown that to be a bankrupt concept. Chamberlain urged the same restraint you're advocating and we know how that turned out.

    2. US is not a signatory to UNCLOS either in the full legal sense as it wasnt ratified by Senate
      Then you have to consider the US and Israeli drones shot down over Iran territory.
      In reality the US and Israel are in a sort of 'cold war' with Iran and are violating their sea and air territory.
      They have their national interests to defend as they see fit, but please lets not invoke legal concepts that apply

    3. The problem today with the US is that there is no resolve to exercise power by the present administration. Deterrent is only effective when there is a willingness to consider all options. For example, the FONOP last year in the SCS was so painful to watch unfold because it was obvious that the WH wasn't keen to confront the Chinese. The FONOP was simply form over substance. Senator McCain had to write a letter to the Sec of Defence asking "what just happened?" It is obvious to the Chinese that this present administration will do nothing in the face of assertiveness.

    4. "In reality the US and Israel are in a sort of 'cold war' with Iran and are violating their sea and air territory."

      That is a completely one-sided view. This blog is based on facts and I expect my readers/commenters to be a cut above the general Internet level of discourse. I expect balanced comments based on facts and logic.

      Yes, the US and other countries are attempting to influence Iran's behavior and MAY be conducting surveillance overflights (do you have any proof other than Iran's claims?). On the other hand, Iran is sponsoring international terrorism, has seized RN boats and crews in international waters on a couple of occasions, flouts international laws and norms, hides their nuclear work, etc.

      So, it's a very much two-sided scenario and Iran brings its problems on itself. Iran is a pariah in the international community and the US and others exhibit a remarkable degree of restraint in their dealings with Iran, all things considered.

      You don't see America's leaders and people standing in the streets shouting "Death to Iran" and vowing extermination of other cultures.

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    6. And another mistake by the US. The ownership of the island in question is in dispute. China does not have legal ownership and, therefore, no claim to territoriality. Thus, the Innocent Passage exercise, like the previous one, served only to reinforce China's claim to the island. What we should have done is sailed up to the island, stopped, and conducted military exercises. That would have sent the clear message that we do not recognize anyone's claim to the island. Instead, we implicitly recognized China's claim.

      The US could not be handling the Chinese first island issue in a worse way if we tried.

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    8. We have a long history of making things worse in the Middle East. Doesn't mean we should keep doing it.

      Bad policy that's consistent with historical bad policy does not make good policy.

    9. Mr. Smitty

      This assertion....
      We have a long history of not intervening in territorial disputes.

      I refute it thus:

      Isolationism comes and goes to U.S. foreign policy. But to say that the U.S. has a long history of not intervening in territorial disputes, is ignoring historical facts.

    10. There is a pretty difference between diplomacy and appeasement.

      The US is not going to get everything it wants. Neither will China, Russia, etc. Not saying any side is an angel (far from it), but at the end of the day, we are far better off on the diplomacy table rather than trying to start a WWIII like scenario. If they do so, then in the case of China, they've lost a big advantage - the idea (already in question) of China's growth being relatively benign. It's the moral aspect they will lose.

      The biggest problem right now facing the US is not Russia or China, but America's only internal problems. The economy remains weak and ultimately, it's the economic challenges that are the real problem.

      Living standards for the majority of Americans remains in serious decline. That I think is the biggest challenge by far.

      The other is that if even if the military spending is vastly boosted, which seems to be what the political conservatives want, it will come at the expense of other priorities. The US could in many ways repeat the USSR's problems.


      Erm... What?

  4. Sigh, where are the human replys, as opposed to the paid for nonsensical propaganda posts.

    Corruption within USN..... Amazing. Really? Sounds more an eastern problem than a western one....
    Economically? US economy has turned, growth is around 3%. Say what you will about Obama on foreign policy, his classic american isolationism is working wonders to revive US economy.

    Starting war with China.... Is a concept no one has mentioned anywhere. MAD, since 1948, has ensured no major power has gone toe to toe for nearly 70 years now. Barring a fanatically religious theocrat coming to power in one of the major powers on earth thats very unlikely to change any time soon.

    Can we have serious replys on topic?

  5. Navy leadership is more concerned about fielding gender neutral titles than fielding a competent and fearsome fighting force.

    1. That is simply a political correctness agenda driven by the present administration. Every one that voted for Obama has a hand in the present mess. Don't blame the Navy.

    2. I absolutely blame the Navy for not taking a stand based on military necessities. It is the job of the military to make it painfully clear what is needed to be the best warfighting force possible. Whether that involves refusing to cave in to ridiculous gender quotas or purchasing the right aircraft or ship, it is the Navy's responsibility to the nation and to the sailors to forcefully take the right stands. If the political administration overrules the Navy, then Navy leaders should have the courage to resign in protest. Look up the "Revolt of the Admirals" for an example of Navy leadership and courage.

    3. I'm very, very frustrated with the Navy right now. I'm not sure where they plan on going in support of their pacific pivot.

      But hey, we have the great green fleet and new politically correct terms.

      NAVAIR: As I see it there is a high chance that the F-35 fails out right, or worse, is simply accepted in numbers of compromised capabilities because 'that's all we have'. On top of that add that the SuperHornets are getting clapped out, and we have our maintanance bays filled with C/D Hornets. The F-35 may give us better range.... but that's about it. And that's if that requirement isn't changed. We'll have a couple of 12 billion dollar nuclear carriers and tired, poorly performing air wings.

      LCS... dead horse beaten. Nearly 1/4 of the fleet has a small manually aimed gun, poor range, and mission modules that don't work. But it can carry a helo.

      'Burkes: Nice ships. new ones don't carry offensive weaponry. Old ones are beaten up and heavily used.
      How will their numbers hold up into the 20's?

      Subs: Numbers are going to continue to fall for a long time. Have they ever fixed the issue with the anechoic tiling on the Virginia's? SSBN(X) is vapor ware.

      Missiles: AMRAAM D is supposedly susceptible to jamming. Harpoon is ancient. Tomahawk is ancient. LRASM is at least on the horizon. Not perfect, but at least do-able.

      Personnel: I've read we risk an aviator crisis. And even a sailor crisis. Are we still burning the candle at both ends?

      I'm not sure I see where the current vision of the Navy leaves us strong in the Pacific for the next 20-30 years.

    4. In principle I agree if you decouple the issue as with the "Navy leadership" rather than the general Navy. It is highly problematic if the leadership is complicit in agreeing to politically correct policies that actually endanger lives. Having said that, it needs to balance against not undermining civilian authority and the security of the nation by a general revolt. Retired admirals should step in to voice such concerns rather than active service personnel. Ultimately it still rest with the general population to effect changes at the voting booth.

    5. The report on gender neutral jobs was about the civilian Navy department not the military US Navy.

      Its a storm in a teacup thats not even in a teacup.
      A quick check shows that The United States Department of the Navy (DoN) was established by an Act of Congress on April 30, 1798 to provide a government organizational structure to the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps (from 1834 onward)

    6. No, the Navy has been directed to make its military job titles gender neutral. Here's a quote from a Navy Times article,

      "The Navy secretary has ordered the service to review all job titles and consider removing any reference to "man" in them, a move that could force name-changes to nearly two dozen specialties, from airman to yeoman. "

      Here's the link,

  6. " Ultimately it still rest with the general population to effect changes at the voting booth."

    Many of these problems span two administrations. The voting booth itself isn't the problem.

    I agree, the military shouldn't affect the course of the nation. Its not up to the Navy to decide whether we fight in the Persian Gulf or not.

    It *IS* up to the Navy to decide what tools it needs to perform the tasks Congress gives it. They need to advocate for that, like an employee should tell their boss what they need to do for their job.


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