Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Forward Presence - Deterrent or Provocation?

One of the tenets of US naval policy is forward presence which, the Navy believes, has a deterrent effect on potential enemies.  ComNavOps has repeatedly stated that forward presence, at least as practiced today, has zero deterrent effect.  However, for the sake of this discussion, let’s set my misgivings aside, accept the Navy’s premise, and examine it a bit closer.

To repeat, the premise is that forward presence equals deterrence.

However, what if the reverse is actually true – that forward presence not only fails to provide deterrence but actively encourages war?  Huh?  Well that can’t be right.  I mean, sure, maybe forward presence is debatable as far as accomplishing deterrence but it surely can’t encourage war … can it?

Well, where is the first place we always turn for answers?  That’s right, history!  What does history tell us about forward presence?  Let’s look at some examples.

Pearl Harbor – The Pearl Harbor naval base was developed during the 1920’s and ‘30s and became the home of the US Pacific fleet in 1939 and beyond.  It was hoped that the forward presence of the Pacific Fleet would temper Japanese encroachments on China and the surrounding region.  Many US analysts believed that the Japanese, if they initiated hostilities, would strike the Dutch East Indies, Singapore or Indochina.  Instead, as we know, the Japanese took advantage of the concentration of US naval and air power to deal what they hoped was a crippling blow.

It seems almost certain that the Japanese viewed the concentration of vulnerable US military power as too good an opportunity to pass up.  Instead of acting as a deterrent, the Pearl Harbor forward base acted as a stimulus for the Japanese who believed that destroying that much of the US Pacific forces would ensure their successful occupation of the various South Pacific islands and facilities that were their ultimate objectives. 

We see, then, that far from deterring Japan, the forward base of Pearl Harbor encouraged and hastened the onset of war by presenting a target too good for Japan to pass up.

Admittedly, this is pure speculation, though well reasoned.  We have no documents or contemporaneous statements to the effect that Pearl Harbor’s concentration of military might encouraged the war.  On the other hand, we have no statements to the contrary and many documented writings and statements about the attractiveness of Pearl Harbor as a target so the conclusion that the forward base encouraged war is eminently logical.

Falklands – The Falkland Islands (and South Georgia) provided forward presence and served as a forward base of sorts for UK interests in the Antarctic  region and minor trade activities.  The islands were the subject of disputed territorial claims by the UK and Argentina.  Argentina, which was suffering from domestic unrest and economic troubles, seized on the opportunity to use the Falklands to deflect internal political criticism and create a rallying point for the population.  With the UK’s main military forces far away and having witnessed the UK initiate territorial transfer discussions, Argentina believed that the UK would not respond to a seizure of the islands.  As we know, the British did respond and the Falklands War resulted.

While not a forward base in the classic military sense, the islands were still a forward base for UK interests and presented a convenient and irresistible target for Argentina.  The British forward presence encouraged the conflict.

United States Colonies – The forward presence represented by the British colonies in America in the early to mid 1700’s were a trigger for numerous conflicts between the French and British, including the well known French and Indian War of 1754-1763.  Just a little later, the American Revolution resulted in the formation of the United States.  Clearly, the British forward presence, in the form of colonies and military forces, acted as a trigger for multiple conflicts.

Poland – Germany began WWII by invading Poland.  While Poland was not a forward base/presence in the strict definition of such, it did, by aligning itself with the UK (1939 Agreement of Mutual Assistance, for example), become a de facto UK forward base/presence for hostilities and operations against Germany.  While there were multiple reasons for Germany’s selection of Poland as the initial strike of WWII (Lebensraum, for example), did Poland’s forward location (adjacent to Germany) and vulnerability make it too good a target for Hitler’s Germany to pass up and thus encouraged the start of war?

To be fair, this example is a bit of a reach and may be a case of attempting a bit of tortured reasoning to support the premise.

Guam – Although a war has not yet occurred, the US forward base at Guam offers the Chinese the same type of overwhelmingly enticing target that Pearl Harbor offered the Japanese.  Elimination of Guam as a forward base would severely impair US military operations in a war and the Chinese obviously recognize this.  Will a strike on Guam prove to be a temptation to good to pass up for the Chinese and encourage them to initiate a war?

US Middle East and Pacific Fleets – While not forward bases in and of themselves (though they are forward based in the respective regions), it is clear that the forward presence of the US Middle East and Pacific Fleets is stimulating aggressive acts, some meeting the definition of acts of war, by Iran and China – acts that would not occur if not for the presence of US naval assets.  Thus, forward presence is encouraging aggressive, war-tending acts.

Spanish-American War of 1898 – The Spanish forward presence/base in Cuba ignited various United States economic, strategic, and humanitarian interests.  The sinking of the USS Maine provided the trigger that allowed the US to justify the initiation of war but it was a war that was stimulated by the Spanish forward presence and was likely to happen with or without the Maine incident.

It seems clear that forward presence has the inherent tendency to encourage conflict rather than deter it.  That makes the US geopolitical strategic policy linking forward presence and deterrence highly suspect.  Thus, the entire rationale for the US Navy’s global forward presence is founded on an untrue premise that forward presence equals deterrence when, in fact, history suggests the exact opposite effect. 

While forward presence has a clear antagonistic effect, it is important to recognize that forward presence also accomplishes beneficial objectives and that an accelerated movement to war may be a ‘good’ and necessary step to those ends.  While the reverse case, meaning no forward presence, might have prevented many conflicts it would also have allowed many undesirable situations to arise.  For example, without the forward base of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese would have been able to achieve their Indo-China goals and might have been able to prevail in any subsequent conflict.  Had the British refrained from establishing forward bases in colonial America, the territory might well have been completely occupied by the French.  If the US naval presence were absent from the Middle East and South/East China Seas, Iran and China would likely have established a militant and military presence (China has annexed the South China Sea even with our presence!).  And so on.

Thus, the mere fact that forward presence encourages conflict is not, in and of itself, reason to avoid it.  Instead, the use of forward presence should be entered into with careful forethought as to the repercussions and should be balanced against the desired gains and benefits.

One final thought is that forward presence, when combined with a policy of appeasement, which is how the US implements its forward presence, promotes all the negatives of aggressive behavior with none of the benefits.  It is the worst of both worlds.


Comment note:  The examples offered have varying degrees of validity and none are absolute, clear cut, indisputable proof of the premise.  Any one example could be argued.  Further, the reverse of the premise which would be that forward presence prevents war and, if true, would disprove the post premise, is impossible to prove, absent statements from foreign leaders stating that they wanted to initiate war but were discouraged from doing so by the forward presence of their enemy and, of course, there are no such statements on record.  Thus, the way to read this post is to consider the totality of the examples and logic and consider the pattern described herein.  I am specifically NOT going to entertain individual arguments about the examples.  If you wish to comment, do so about the overall premise rather than individual examples.  Fair warning.

Finally, regarding forward presence and deterrence, someone is inevitably going to claim that our forward presence in, say, Europe, has resulted in no Soviet/Russian war and, therefore, must be true.  This is a case of correlation versus causation.  Just because there is a correlation (presence and no war) does not mean there is a causation.  One could just as logically argue that our implementation and use of fluoride in our water supply in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s correlates to no wars with the Soviets/Russia.  Therefore, fluoride must prevent wars as well as cavities!  Well, obviously fluoride doesn’t prevent wars – that’s correlation without causation.


  1. Dont forget the Asiatic fleet. How to lose the bulk of a fleet with forward basing/deployment.

    1. You can expand that to include the entire force in the Philippines.

      Which brings up a good point CNO is making. Planners knew that they could not support the Philippines in the event of a war. Yet they could not accept the logic of either abandoning the base or that they were in fact abandoning the forces there.

      Forward presence only makes sense if it is part of an overall strategy to a specific geopolitical threat. It also requires reassessment and adjustment based on changes made by the geopolitical threat. Both of these are chronic weaknesses in US strategic thinking.

    2. "Asiatic fleet"

      Those were examples of forces lost due to being too far forward and unsupported. However, the premise of the post was that forward presence encourages war rather than deters it so those are not relevant examples.

      That said, you both cite excellent examples of the dangers of unsupportable forward presence. We have a carrier that is forward positioned in Japan in an unsupportable position depending on whether Japan opts to get involved in a China war with us and whether they would make its support a priority. Guam, currently, is undefendable and unsupportable (we need to abandon it or greatly enhance its defenses).

      So, we have some significant forces potentially exposed due to forward basing.

  2. Forward presence can provide deterrence. However, to do that, the ships providing the forward presence need to be intimidating. That works fine when you have a serious technological advantage, and you understand the psychology of the people you're trying to intimidate.

    Unfortunately, the USN no longer has a major technological advantage over Russia and China, and doesn't understand the psychology of the Iranians or the North Koreans. Hence the current situation.

    1. "Forward presence can provide deterrence."

      This is an appealing idea that we'd like to believe is true. However, by your own analysis, it doesn't work!

      Can you think of any examples throughout history where it demonstrably worked?

    2. Deterrence exists only in the minds of the deterred. It is an inherently psychological phenomenon.

      It is difficult to categorically "prove" that deterrence worked because its difficult to prove why something "didn't" happen.

      For example, were the Soviets deterred from starting WWIII in Europe due to the US conventional and nuclear presence? Or did they never really seriously consider invading Western Europe in first place? Hard to know without getting into the minds of their leadership.

      Circumstantially, they certainly had the where-with-all to do it after WWII, and were belligerent enough towards the West during the Cold War to expect they were a real threat. They outnumbered conventional NATO forces by several times. Was this build up necessary just for defense?

      Developing a strategy of deterrence is also difficult for similar reasons. It's not easy to know for sure what will deter the mind of one's opponent. One has to assume they are a rational actor, and that you can assume their motivations and limits. Given these assumptions, you can develop a strategy that would deter you, assuming you were operating under said assumptions.

      It's all a big mind game.

      Now, forward presence can be used for missions other than deterrence. So presence and deterrence are not the same thing.

    3. "Deterrence exists only in the minds of the deterred."

      Well, no, deterrence exists in the mind of the ?deterrers?, also. As I've laid out and discussed many times, the US government and military clearly believe in a strategy of deterrence and believe that deterrence is real and works.

      That bit of disagreement with what you said (or, maybe, expansion on what you said?) aside, you've nicely described at least one side of the psychological aspect of deterrence. Unfortunately, you left it there without offering any practical considerations for the use of deterrence, assuming you believe there are any.

      When can we use deterrence with a hope of success? Under what circumstances?

      How can we tell, on a real time basis whether our deterrence is working? And, if we can't tell, what would lead us to believe it IS working?

      Can you think of any historical example where deterrence is believed to have worked?

      You wrote a very nice comment. Now, I'd love to see you expand on it and discuss some of the practical aspects, as I've noted.

      "Now, forward presence can be used for missions other than deterrence."

      Yes, it can. However, the premise of the post was that forward presence leads to conflict. I presented evidence to the extent possible (this is where your notes about the difficulty in proving/disproving the concept enter in) to support my contention. With that in mind ...

      Do you agree or disagree?

      If forward presence does lead to conflict, how do we justify the forward presence missions?

      What are some examples of forward presence missions that you would deem worth the consequence of increased likelihood of conflict?

      Is there any circumstance(s) that justifies forward presence?

      As I said, you've offered a very nice comment. Keep going with it!

  3. Concerning the Falklands, the British didn't have a contingency plan for a possible invasion by Argentina. And, at the time, only a token force consisting of about 60 Royal Marines (plus some civilian volunteers) and a few patrol boats protected the island. A larger force, one that included more troops and ships plus fighters and SAMs, might have deterred Argentina from launching an invasion.

    1. One of the nearly inherent characteristics of forward presence is that it's limited in military force. By definition, a forward presence will be at the furthest edge of one's reach and maintaining a large military presence will be difficult and, inevitably, deemed not worth it.

      Sure, we could speculate that a larger force in the Falklands might have deterred Argentina but that's pure make-believe. The reality is that the UK had very limited military forces and stationed all the force they could and all they believed necessary. Force doesn't just magically appear. If the UK had stationed more forces then some other location would have been shorted by the same amount.

      Finally, the UK didn't believe that the Falklands needed defending. They did not believe any attack was imminent so why would additional forces be needed? The point of the post was that the mere forward UK presence, weakly defended, invited attack and encouraged the war - which is exactly what happened.

    2. "Finally, the UK didn't believe that the Falklands needed defending. They did not believe any attack was imminent so why would additional forces be needed?"

      And, that was their mistake. But, as you said, there were other causes as well.

      And, arguably, you can say the same about the US and the attack on Pearl Harbor too. While we had some notions that Japan might attack Pearl Harbor, we didn't consider such an attack likely.

      But, forward presence will always have limitations as to how many forces they have and control. You can't put 10,000 troops in the middle of nowhere without significant logistical support.

      And, what about China's artificial islands in the South China Sea? That's forward presence too. Is that an inducement for us to attack China? While its a provocative move by China, I don't see it as such since we're not likely to initiate hostilities against China.

    3. "While we had some notions that Japan might attack Pearl Harbor, we didn't consider such an attack likely. "

      You need to review your history. We completely anticipated an attack on Pearl Harbor although there was a belief that the Philippines would be attacked first and then Pearl Harbor. We actually practiced a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in a couple of our Fleet Problems. I don't know how much more definitive an expectation you can have than that!

      "And, what about China's artificial islands in the South China Sea? That's forward presence too. Is that an inducement for us to attack China?"

      For starters, those islands are not forward presence relative to the US. They're about as far away from any US territorial interests as you can get! So, no, they're unlikely to trigger a war.

      On the other hand, those islands have caused the US to increase Freedom of Navigation exercises which are raising tensions in the region. Those islands have caused the US to formulate a Pacific Pivot and reorientation towards China which has increased tensions and triggered a bit of an arms race. Those islands have caused the US to increase military operations in the region. Those islands have triggered a trade war, tariffs, economic sanctions, and the like. Those islands … stop me when this sounds suspiciously like the run up to a war.

    4. USN strategic planners might have anticipated the possibility of a Pearl strike, but the situation on the ground was far too lax. Aircraft were parked wing-to-wing instead of in underground/concrete shelters, moored battleships didn't have torpedo nets, and radar contacts were not investigated. Only blind luck saved the nucleus of the carrier fleet.
      The Japanese were definitely aware how vulnerable Pearl compared to how well defended it could have been, which could have been a contributing factor to their decision to hit it. If you're going to have a forwards presence, you better harden it to the best of your ability.

    5. "but the situation on the ground was far too lax."

      Yep. We knew an attack was likely and we knew within a few weeks when (witness Halsey's Battle Order #1) and yet, bafflingly, we did nothing to improve our defense of Pearl Harbor! Intel is good but you have to act and act correctly on it.

  4. Cold war - containment. When taken seriously it eventually achieved the policy objective which was based on a correct assumption. Communism couldn't support itself as an economic system. Yes, deterrence as just placing some guys out on the map is useless. As a tool of a cohesive grand strategy its the most successful and certainly most preferential tactic employed since the advent of nuclear weapons. I'd also point out that the defense of the Philippines tied up 130k Japanese troops and over 500 aircraft for 5 months. We had 31k troops at the end of November 41 of which 12k were Filipino. We then mobilized the Filipino army to the tune of another 100K+. As a U.S. Commonwealth on its way to independence at the time. You could view that as America and therefore we are obligated to defend it, or you could view it as providing a small force in aid of enhancing the larger force of an ally. The result creating a needed delay to allow our own mobilization to take hold.

    1. With respect, your comment had nothing to do with the premise of the post. Perhaps you are offering 'containment' as an alternative to forward presence? If so, please elaborate and explain how such a strategy could be applied to China.

    2. There would have been no containment without us putting some skin in the game. Saying you will be there and already being there make all the difference to an ally. Again, forward presence is a useless strategy if it isn't just one tool being used in a greater strategy. In that I'd say we agree.

  5. I think AndyM was suggesting that the Phillipines during WW2 is an example where US forward presence didn't necessarily deter or provoke conflict, but it significantly aided the US war effort by serving as something of a distraction/bastion that had to be dealt with by the Imperial Japanese. Today, I'm not sure anything past Guam can be kept operational during high end conflict... and even that needs serious investments in hardening as CNOps recently wrote about. If modern forward-based "tar pits" are feasible as suggested in some of the comments on that post, this is an example of how provably privacative bases could be worthwhile despite not contributing a large amount of offensive power.

    As for the bit about containment; I think in that case he was suggesting that it is basically a strategy of encirclement using forward presence. That analogy/equivalence is pushing it though; encirclement is as much about soft power, economics, geopolitics, diplomacy, etc. as it is about actual military strategy.

    1. "Phillipines ... significantly aided the US war effort "

      Nothing in the post suggested that a forward presence wouldn't/couldn't be helpful once war begins.

      Philippines certainly didn't deter Japan since war actually occurred. A case can be made, in line with the post, that it provoked war by being a threat to the Japanese plans for seizing oil resources, territory, and facilities in the Indo-China region. It, alone, may not have provoked the entire war but it almost certainly was a factor in the Japanese calculation that war was necessary to achieve their ends. Thus, it likely supports the post premise.

      Had the US not had forward presence at Philippines, Pearl Harbor, and other locations, the Japanese might well have not felt the need to go to war with the US. Of course, they would then have been able to seize the entire Indo-China region, possibly China, and whatever else they wanted. So, while the US forward presence may have helped provoke war, it also prevented a very undesirable situation. I noted this duality in the post. The fact that forward presence increases the chance for conflict does not necessarily mean that it shouldn't be done - only that it should be entered into with due consideration. Right now, the US believes that forward presence is a one-dimensional action: the positive of deterrence (a false belief!) and no negatives. The reality is that forward presence is two-dimensional with both positives and negatives. We need to be considering the negatives and we're not doing that, currently.

  6. The Brits did not have anything close to a force capable of stopping an Argentine invasion of the Falklands in 1982. Had the Argentines merely waited six months to invade, they would be the Malvinas today, because the British operation to retake the islands would have been impossible.

    Since WWII, the Royal Navy had transitioned from a power projection force to its NATO role as an ASW force to patrol the GIUK gap. To that end, within six months after the Falklands war, four of the ships that were absolutely essential to the British operation--amphibs Fearless and Intrepid and carriers Hermes and Invincible--would have been gone, the first two to the ship breakers, Hermes to India, and Invincible to Australia. Intrepid had actually been decommissioned and was far enough along that all its communications gear had been removed, and it got only a very hasty refit that left it unable to communicate with troops on the beach.

    After retaking the Falklands, the Brits established RAF Mount Pleasant in about the middle of East Falkland, with about 2,000 military personnel and a couple of RAF squadrons. I've been there, and it's a reasonably impressive facility. They think that it will be adequate to keep the Argentines at bay, a concern which has been heightened in recent years as the Royal Navy got out of the carrier business. Now, with two carriers on the way and amphibs Albion and Bulwark, the UK will soon be able to perform a similar operation if they had to retake the islands again.

  7. I understand this is a military blog, but China's main challenge to us is first and foremost economic. Therefore, US forward presence in E.Asia serves a geopolitical deterrence- not primarily deterring the Chinese, but to deter E.Asia littoral nations from falling into China's camp.

    The minute US-mil presence leaves Rok or Japan, China will start full press $woo$ them, for however long, until they are 'compromised' from US point of view.

    1. "China's main challenge to us is first and foremost economic."

      Not really. Or, not unless we allow it.

      China has relatively few and low volume trading partners. The US has many and high volume. If the US chose to cut China off completely, China's economy would collapse while the US economy would adjust and pick up the slack with other trading partners. Also, the return of all the manufacturing jobs from China would create a jobs boom in the US and enhance our economy, in that respect. So, economy is a threat/challenge only if we foolishly allow it to be.

      We're seeing this play out to a very limited extent with Trump and Xi's mini-tariff war. China is hurting much more than the US which has not even noticed any impact.

      The far more serious non-military threat/challenge from China is academic. China is robbing us blind of intellectual property (patents), education, and technological expertise. We need to ban all Chinese students from the US.

    2. The US makes up 19% of China's export business. The total export business is only 20% of Chinese GDP.

      What everyone seems to forget is that China has an ENORMOUS internal market and while trade is important, it isn't everything.

      The biggest threat to China isn't losing sales to the US, that can be recouped in a couple of years. The big deal is losing access to the US high-tech supply chain.

      Conversely, the US economy would be completely toast if the US lost access to Chinese components, as pretty much everything and it's pet dog has critical bits and pieces made in China, and more importantly not made anywhere else.

      Jobs will not be coming back to the US. A few will go to Vietnam and the Philippines, but most will have to stay in China because China is the only country in the world the supply chain capable of manufacturing many of these items, not to mention the skills needed.

      I was was watching a documentary a couple of weeks ago that was showing one of the big electronics assembly lines that normally have 70 people. 69 of them were being replaced by machines and one person left for final inspection. And this particular manufacturer actually built the automation systems themselves.

      So I would be very wary about who is going to win the economic disruption that is fast approaching if we don't get some adults in the room,

    3. "the economic disruption that is fast approaching if we don't get some adults in the room,"

      As you noted, the US has some dangerous dependencies on China, at the moment. We desperately need to wean ourselves off them, develop alternate markets, and establish alternate raw material sources. With a bit of effort, we can make anything in the US that China currently supplies us.

      The economic disruption that you fear and lament, absent adults in the room, may actually be beneficial for the US in the long run. It may be that the adults see this and are willing to risk some short term disruption to loosen China's economic grip on us. It may be that the people who want to maintain the status quo are the naïve children rather than the adults. Something to consider.

    4. I got a chuckle out of "short term disruption". The great depression would be a stroll in the park compared to China shutting down exports to the US. And I rather suspect the Chinese are willing to put up with more pain than the US is, but perhaps we will see.

      I don't see it as being a US problem only btw. It will affect the entire world as global supply chains are so intertwined.

      As we've talked about on this blog for years, it would be nice to see the US develop some kind of coherent foreign policy, which has largely been missing for at least the last couple of decades regardless of the party in power.

    5. We're already in the process of weaning off of China. Trump's tariffs are bringing back industry from overseas and not just from China. Trump has initiated studies and is beginning to take steps to develop alternate critical raw material sources to end our dependence on China.

      You can agree or disagree with the actions but Trump has at least the inkling of a coherent foreign policy (America First, sums it up fairly well) and is implementing it. The effectiveness is evident by China's willingness to negotiate. If they weren't being hurt by it, they wouldn't negotiate at all.

      Of course, the next President may well completely reverse the gains we've made. Such is the curse of a democracy!

    6. "We're already in the process of weaning off of China. Trump's tariffs are bringing back industry from overseas and not just from China."

      Really? I would love to see an authoritative cite on that as everything I've read suggests there is no real change.

      My understanding is that tariffs are doing very little so far, and that the Chinese internal business cycle is the major factor in their policies.

      Kind of difficult to know the truth as I trust Chinese statistics and reports even less than the usual government offerings.

      I suspect the October negotiations are going to be the decider on whether anything will be done before the election next year. Hopefully something good comes out of it.

      I do agree that change needs to happen. I'm not in favor of a big shock as its going to be too disruptive.

    7. "I do agree that change needs to happen. I'm not in favor of a big shock as its going to be too disruptive."

      China takes the long view of history and change, as in a hundred or a thousand years. We should, too. I'm not advocating a total ban on all things China starting tomorrow but I am advocating STARTING a total ban on all things China tomorrow. We need to wean ourselves off of China and develop alternate markets and raw material sources and phase that in so as to spread out the impact on our own economy. If it takes us ten years or hundred, that's fine.

      As I said, we have access to many and large alternate markets around the world. China has alienated so many countries that its only potential alternate trading markets are Russia (not much trust between the two!), NKorea (they don't have anything to trade and no money to buy), Iran (they don't have anything to trade and no money to buy), and some third world countries (they don't have anything to trade and no money to buy). Basically, China has only its internal market whereas we have the world to work with.

      As far as proof of tariffs and trade pressures working, we've renegotiated more favorable trade deals (NAFTA, PPP, etc.), tariffs have brought China to the negotiating table, and jobs are coming back to America. For proof of the returning jobs, Google "How Many Jobs Have Come Back To The US" and you'll get dozens of hits on stories about manufacturing jobs returning. The steel industry is being re-established due to the effects of tariffs.

      You can like Trump or not but his trade policies have significantly improved the economy in general and, more importantly, have begun improving the foundations of the economy by bringing back industry (steel, for example) and manufacturing jobs. The flight of jobs overseas was one of the major weaknesses/vulnerabilities of our economy and Trump's policies are reversing that.

      This is not a political discussion, just an objective and factual recognition of the positive impact of his trade and economic policies as they relate to our overall defense issues and our dependence on China.

    8. "I do agree that change needs to happen. I'm not in favor of a big shock as its going to be too disruptive."

      While I don't completely agree with your views, I don't think we're that far apart - more a matter of degree than direction. Regardless, your discussion is excellent and offers an alternate view that readers can consider and enjoy. This is the kind of discussion I value and that enhances the blog. Thanks for contributing.

    9. 'Weaning off from China' presents another geopolitical problem for us in E.Asia and the rest of the world.

      Suppose we become self-sufficient and not rely on China anymore, where does 'RoK and Japan' find export markets for their global supply chain dependent goods. Unless we 'forced' Japan/Rok/EU,etc. to pull themselves out of existing global-supply-chain dependent market for their products, are we not just isolating ourselves as one big north-America island and leave the rest to an EuroAsia(&Belt Road) trading sphere?

    10. "where does 'RoK and Japan' find export markets for their global supply chain dependent goods."

      The US, Europe, Africa, South America, and Australia. The answer seems pretty obvious.

      Give me a specific example of some product you believe can't be obtained/sold other than China.

    11. You're only focusing on China as a supplier. China is more than that. China is already world's biggest retail market along with being the world's factory. You asked 'what China produced that's irreplaceable?" My answer: I don't know, because everything in the big box stores, from Costco to Home Depot, are still MIC even with the tariff war.

      As for 'RoK and Japan', China is both RoK's and Japan's largest trading partner (about 22-23 % of their foreign trade). First off, we can't just 'force' both to ditch their largest trading partner. 2nd, suppose we do and they comply, how are they going to fill that void, about 1/4 of their foreign trade when our (or 1st world) econ.growth is about 1-2%. 3rd, aren't you talking about production inshoring- that means, Korean and Japanese products (finding replacement market) will find tougher sell here. 4th, if they ditch China, they are probably going to have harder time competing against China in the incipient (and China sponsored) belt&road markets. 5th, this is Japan-specific, we whacked them with the Plaza accord (fool them once, shame on me; fool them twice, shame on them), I don't think Japanese are that.

      Anyway, back to the original point: Forward Presence - Deterrent or Provocation? Perhaps Presence is just as important as Deterrent or Provocation in E.Asia geopolitical calculation.

    12. "First off, we can't just 'force' both to ditch their largest trading partner."

      Of course not. What we do is adjust conditions (regulations, tariffs, tax law, etc.) so as to make China less attractive and the US and other markets more attractive. If we do that, Japan will leave China willingly (likely more than willingly given their history of animosity!). There are alternate markets everywhere for Japan to develop.

      I can't think of anything that China makes that couldn't be replaced, given some time to develop, by the US or Japan or whoever. Those replacements would represent new markets for the US, Japan, or whoever.

    13. "Give me a specific example of some product you believe can't be obtained/sold other than China."

      China now produces more than half of the world's semi conductors, to the point where a good number are now sourced only from China.

      A number of rare earths have China as a sole source currently.

      All this is fixable, but the US government is going to have to act, rather than just giving it lip service.

      To go back to a previous discussion, US manufacturing was well up in 2018 and manufacturing job creation did really well. 2019 not so much as there is understandable reluctance to invest with the current uncertainty surrounding tariffs.

  8. So, it's looking like the Houthi rebels may have made a successful drone strike on the Saudi refinery at Abqaiq. Depending on how bad it is, this could put a major crimp on world (and in particular China's) oil supply. So ow do we respond?

    1. A couple thoughts come to mind.

      -With friends like Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?

      -The US is energy independent for all practical purposes so we should be insulated from any oil disruptions or it should enhance our export sales of oil and fuel.

      -Perhaps we should form our own OPEC and offer to sell Saudi Arabia oil products at artificially elevated prices?

    2. Something we can completely agree on. The faster the US disentangles itself from Saudi the better.

      The energy situation that needed a close relationship is gone now the US is energy independent.

      Personally, I live in oil and gas country here and I hope we see a bump in the oil price. The industry needs it. The rig count in the US is way down too, so a boost to the industry there would be helpful as well.

    3. I haven't been to Abqaiq since the late 70s when I worked for Halliburton on the aftermath of two big fires.

      I did learn that once a fire gets going its really hard to put out, and that the aftermath takes months to a year to fix as a huge amount of piping has to be replaced due to heat damage.

      I do find it interesting that no one seems to know where the attack came from exactly, with some saying it was cruise missiles from southern Iran. With the amount of air defense the Saudis have purchased that seems surprising.

    4. "Personally, I live in oil and gas country here and I hope we see a bump in the oil price. "

      Ah, so you're in favor of short term disruptions for long term gains?

    5. Nice try! I'm in favor of a volatile commodity rising higher within its normal trading range. Perspective is everything.

    6. Big fire. This is going to take a long time to fix.

    7. "Nice try!"

      Heh, heh! Just havin' some fun!


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