Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Black Swan Tuesday: China's Cataclysm

There are little black swans, and then there are the big ones.

The unexpected always comes around. With all the talk of rising China, island chains, neo-Middle Kingdomism, and the Amerocentric Pacific Pivot - one must wonder? Is this just one of history's head fakes?

Peter Mattis over at TheNationalInterest sketches it out for us;
A couple of weeks ago, AEI scholar Michael Auslin published a column for the Wall Street Journal about a quiet dinner in Washington where a senior China scholar declared the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had reached the final stage before collapse. The political collapse of the world’s second-largest economy and a nuclear power is no small thing. What should Washington do?
I don't know if we should really do anything. We stumbled through the fall of the Soviet Union and didn't get that right. In a way, that isn't too bad of a model. Back up, stay out of the frag pattern, and let the internal forces "work it out."

Watch, plan, contain, adjust. That is the smart thing to do. The only thing worse than getting involved in a land war in Asia, it to involve yourself in a civil war in Asia. If you do too much directly or indirectly in such a xenophobic nation such as China, soon they will forget their internal conflict and will make you the issue.

Harris talks around a concept that the USA should have a plan to help nudge the collapse in a direction we desire. An admirable goal, but one I don't think is realistic.
If Washington is concerned that the CCP is approaching its twilight, then asserting a moral stake in China’s development requires nothing less than a substantial effort to understand China’s political landscape beyond day-to-day policy-making concerns and to influence Chinese leaders before they pull the trigger on their citizens again. Without advance preparation, U.S. and other international leaders will find the prospects of an unstable China distressing, possibly with the view that it is “too big to fail.” They may even watch from the sidelines as in 1989, not knowing the best course of action or how to influence the decisions of Chinese leaders. This may not be wrong, but such a momentous decision should not be left to ignorance, preexisting mental images or scattered information collected as a crisis breaks.
We simply do not have the track record in this area that gives one confidence, but it wouldn't hurt to put some intellectual heft around various courses of action - hopefully that has already been done.

A huge mercantile nation being run by a Communist Party can't go on forever under the stresses that are already in place. Change is coming; the question is how, to what extent, and when.

Before you get all excited about a rising China collapsing under the weight of its own internal structural defects, the second and third order effects will hit our nation nation hard. 

All those Chinese with the anchor babies and 2nd homes in South Florida and the West Coast? They're coming here.

All that USA debt held in China? It's getting sold.

All those repressed minority groups inside China? They're going to war.

So yea, interesting times ... and at a time we have plenty of our own problems to deal with.

Monday, March 02, 2015

The Hard Science of Harder Truths

There are two parallel universes of people who think about what the next few decades hold in the national security arena. 

The people in one universe are as smart and as well educated as those in the other. They have solid, reasoned expectations about the national security challenges we face in the near to medium term. They can discuss probable and possible technology "game changers" that will impact how we can project national will on a global scale, and other of the "sexier" topics that are fun to talk about nonetheless.

They have an admirable understanding of how nations work together with their friends and competitors. Internally, they have a good diversity of ideas on how to create the right mix of manpower, training and equipment now to set the stage for preparing our nation to be able to address the future's challenges as they come up.

In that first universe, as there is in the second, there is much conflict between national security confessions; they have their own think tanks, preferred authors, opinion leaders, and theorists. They can have dramatically different approaches to things as diverse as diplomatic priorities, strategic communications, and military force structure.

In that first universe they do have one thing in common - a common variable that separates them from the second universe. 

They base their ideas on the recent past (except for the futurists who in both universes are the over-caffeinated 11-yr old boy at the dinner party, but that is a topic addressed in other posts) and the metrics that dominated it; demographics, growth models, business cycles, but their time-relative bias is off; the metrics of 30 years ago are given the same weight as those of 10 years ago. 

They are doing the right thing - benchmarking the past to help understand the future - but as if in some strange state of denial, they seem blind to what will actually shape this century the most - the facts on demographics, economics, budgets, and plain hard math - that show in the near-mist shapes that are unfamiliar and intimidating. With each passing year the shapes get clearer and clearer, yet in the first universe they try to look other the other direction, and ignore the gathering clarity in the hope it will drift away or simply not be that bad once it comes in to full view. It is on that point that our universe splits and becomes parallel.

In the second universe, at the inflection point where they look in to the future, the people in the second universe do not look away. When that shadow appears in the mist, they focus on it. They stare unblinking at the emerging shape and, as opposed to wishing away any nasty bits coming forward, they instead outline exactly what possible dangers exist, regardless of the discomfort it causes. They want to make sure that they are fully prepared to do what needs to be done to deal with what is coming - because coming it is. 

If you were to pull up a chair next to one of the people in that second universe cleaning his glasses so he could see the edge of the mist as clearly as possible, you would be sitting next to our friend Jerry Hendrix.

You need to read it all, as I'm only going to pull a small bit - but here is the scene he sets in the opening to his latest work from CNAS, Avoiding Trivia: A Strategy for Sustainment and Fiscal Security.

Gird your loins and lean in with him; he sees it clearer than most.
If the goal were a strategy to undermine the power and influence of the United States and bring its era of global leadership to an end, a Bismarckian grand strategist could not have designed a series of events as debilitating as those of the past fourteen years. For the United States to reverse current trends and sustain its position in the world, it will need to move from reactive policies to a posture of proactivity. It will also have to examine the extent of its interests and reconnect with the basic, cultural fundamentals of grand strategy.

Grand Strategy has never resided purely within the military realm; it is rather an expression of national goals in totality. To express strategy purely in military terms would neglect the logistics line that stretches from the front to the factories that produce armaments and to the economy that supports the overall effort. The military function cannot be separated from the economic: Clausewitz and Mahan cannot be considered with out Keynes and Friedman. Deficit spending and growing debt, along with a weakening economy and crumbling national infrastructure, present a growing threat to the United States that may far exceed traditional security threats, especially when we consider that the national security complex is dependent upon these components of national life: the economy and national infrastructure form the foundation for U.S. actions in the world.
Americans, sadly, too often do not see anything that does not have a USA stamp on it. As a result, there is the assumption that the challenges they see in the USA are in isolation and don't exist elsewhere - a thought that "we" are having trouble, but as "we" don't make the effort to study the rest of the world, we assume that everyone else is doing well. That warps our thinking and planning.

Yes, we have problems - and the one represented in the graph above is at the top of my list both directly and in the secondary effects it will have for me in my dotage, and my children's entire life. But what about the condition of other power centers?

One of the more valuable aspects of Hendrix's article is that he gives the reader a thumbnail view of the three other power centers of the world and the challenges they face. We don't come off all that bad in comparison.

...When industrialization, urbanization, cultural maturation, and the decline of religion in daily life led to a reduction in the size of the family, and hence of the working population, policy makers attempted to reverse the shortfall by expanding immigration to bring in additional workers ... exacerbated Europe’s overarching handicap: its fractured sense of self. Despite efforts to form a collective whole within the European Union and bind themselves together economically with the Euro as a common currency, the states of Europe still consider themselves sovereign entities. ... Without an amalgamation of effort and resources, it is difficult to envision how Europe could emerge as a serious global competitor in the near future.
Ultimately Putin’s Russia faces the same challenges as his strongman predecessors: how to control a small population scattered across a vast territory, vulnerable to the threat of outside invaders, with scarce resources. With all of its historic, economic, and demographic challenges, as well as the results of the current sanctions regimes and, no doubt, lingering distrust of Russia in Europe following its aggressive actions, Russia will not reemerge as a significant world power for a number of decades.
Given its centrally planned, mercantilist approach to economics, China is not and cannot be considered a “responsible actor” within the current global economic system. It cannot regain its historic central position in Asia, the “Middle Kingdom” within the current system. Thus, it must be understood that China is actively working to time its rise to coincide with the United States’ decline so as to create both a soft landing and an alternative for the current global system.

However, it cannot accomplish these goals on its own. It is not strong enough economically or militarily to take over the system, and its culture and diplomacy are not similar enough to entice others outside of Asia to voluntarily join their destinies with China. For China to accomplish a peaceful transfer of power, it would need a willing partner in the United States. This is not outside the realm of possibility at the moment, given that America has its own historic and cultural issues to deal with.
Some may make the charge that Hendrix is simply dismissing and assuming away challengers, yet those are mostly the same people who ignore challengers' problems and instead like to point to our challenges alone. That simply is no way to get a clear view of the future; to disregard your strengths and amplify your weakness, while at the same time disregarding your competitors' weaknesses and emphasizing their strengths. That way of thinking is to make a dedicated effort to avoid looking clearly at the problem.

We are not alone in having challenges, but we have a great gift. Our greatest challenges are internal. They are our problems to solve - and in comparison to others, arguable simpler problems. All it takes is will, maturity, and leadership.
The largest single threat to the U.S. position in the world arises within the United States itself. Seeking to focus on the competition of ideas, it has lost sight of the state of its own economy and the very real sources of friction – on land and predominantly at sea – that characterize the global arena.

Its natural tendency to confuse “American exceptionalism” with its real economic and military interests has resulted in a confused and disjointed national strategy. If it is to maintain its position of global leadership, the United States needs to refocus on its economic health and on its maritime roots.
Still, there are those who will point out America’s advantages, despite its debt. The United States still has the world’s largest economy, for a time, and it still has the world’s largest military, for a time.

In addition, the global economic system remains tilted in America’s favor: the laws remain Western and are premised on free trade and self-determination, for now. Lastly, the global exchange and reserve currency remains the dollar, which has been strengthening following the Federal Reserve’s 2014 decision to cease quantitative easing. The United States still has time on the clock; the question is how to use it?

This is not a problem of the military side of the national budget alone - though some will act as if it is. That is just not in line with the facts. There is also the danger of what we have seen in the past - the military takes the hit, and everyone else demurs. That won't work anymore - we have used that trick one time too many.

Hendrix has made an honest proposal from the military side of the argument. There should be parallel efforts to address these hard truths by others in the Beltway whose specialties are welfare, federal employee management, health care, regulation, and taxes. They cannot have as their answer, "more money; more taxes" as that simply is not a solution by serious people with a focus beyond the next election cycle. 

To keep this momentum going, those in other policy areas must join with equally bold ideas that are willing to take their "bite of the sandwich." For the Hendrix's specifics, difficult to summarize here, I point you to his article. Invest the time and read it all.

We are long overdue for serious, adult conversations about the position we have put ourselves in to. We should do it as the Germans did two decades ago. By doing so, we can avoid becoming what Greece is now.

In a work both broad in scope, but surprisingly narrowly focused in areas, Hendrix's work is a great entering point of discussion for what needs to be an iterative debate to get a view on the challenge, accept it as it is, and put this nation back on a track that will leave our children and grandchildren a nation at least as strong, united, and wealthy than the one we inherited.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

National Strategy and the Navy's Proper Role in it, with Barney Rubel - on Midrats

The role of the Navy and Marine Corps should be to provide ready and capable forces to the joint commanders. Outside of that, what is the proper role of the sea services in designing a more national strategy?

What is the state of a national and a maritime strategy, who are the different players in the discussion, and what is the proper way forward?

Our guest Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern to discuss and more  will be Captain Robert C. "Barney" Rubel USN, (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel, now retired, was previously the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College from 2006 to 2014. Prior to arriving at NWC, he was a thirty-year Navy veteran, with experience as e a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet, commanded VFA-131, and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

He is a graduate of the Spanish Naval War College in Madrid and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI., and has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board and is active in local American Legion activities.

Join us live if you can with the usual suspects in the chat room and offer up your questions for our guest, but if you miss the show you can always listen to the archive at blogtalkradio

If you use iTunes, you can add Midrats to your podcast list simply by clicking the iTunes button at the main showpage - or you can just click here.

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that you should also get BJ's first book if you have not already, 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Fullbore Friday

The Victoria Cross is their Medal of Honor.
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey, 27, of the Parachute Regiment, who has been awarded the Victoria Cross, the premier award for gallantry in the presence of the enemy.

On the 22 August 2013, Lance Corporal Leakey, deployed on a combined UK/US assault led by the United States Marine Corp into a Taliban stronghold to disrupt a key insurgent group.

On leaving their helicopters, the force came under machine gun and rocket propelled grenade fire, pinning down the command group on the exposed forward slope of a hill. For an hour the team attempted to extract from the killing zone; a Marine Corp Captain was shot and wounded and their communications were put out of action.

Lance Corporal Leakey said:

When you hear there’s a man down, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Clearly then your plans change.

Realising the seriousness of the situation - and with complete disregard for his own safety he dashed across a large area of barren hillside being raked with machine gun fire. As he crested the hill, the full severity of the situation became apparent: approximately twenty enemy had surrounded two friendly machine gun teams and a mortar section, rendering their critical fire support ineffective.

Under fire yet undeterred by the very clear and present danger, Lance Corporal Leakey ran across the exposed slope of the hill three times to initiate casualty evacuation, re-site machine guns and return fire. His actions proved the turning point, inspiring his comrades to fight back with renewed ferocity. Displaying gritty leadership well above that expected of his rank, Lance Corporal Leakey’s actions singlehandedly regained the initiative and prevented considerable loss of life.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Hard Career Truth in One Slide

This is a USAF slide, but sadly, there is roughly 90% overlap with the Navy's officer career progression.

If you don't understand this by the LCDR level, then you are already lost. Don't keep your idealism too long. Don't let the exception make you think it is the rule. It isn't.

Know this truth; performance will not get you where you want to be. You can have the most sea duty, most operational experience, most success at war - but if you do not have the right "sponsorship" (AKA mentor) or you roll snake eyes on the selection board composition (i.e. your sponsors aren't heavy in that cycle, they retire, or you picked poor sponsors) then 87% odds are that you are done.

No, it isn't right, it isn't just ... it just is. And yes, I am posting this on a Thursday for a reason ... as under that rock ... you really don't want to know what is under that rock.

Blogger note: Rumor has it, this was part of brief by Mike Hornitschek, Colonel, USAF, who is now retired. If anyone knows him and how to get in touch with him, let me know.

Hat tip John Q. Public.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

So, that's what that Iranian carrier was for ...

Personally, I thought it was going to be a cheap movie prop ... but they were even less imaginative than that.

Really kids.
Iran’s armed forces launched a speedboat attack on a giant model of a US aircraft carrier on Wednesday as the Revolutionary Guard staged military exercises in the Gulf.
The aim of the drill was to practise how to sink an American carrier, at least two of which patrol the Gulf at any given time.

Trolling Russia; Advanced Level 1

Whoever put this in the POAM gets a free Salamander coffee cup with matching thong.
U.S. military combat vehicles paraded Wednesday through an Estonian city that juts into Russia, a symbolic act that highlighted the stakes for both sides amid the worst tensions between the West and Russia since the Cold War.

The armored personnel carriers and other U.S. Army vehicles that rolled through the streets of Narva, a border city separated by a narrow frontier from Russia, were a dramatic reminder of the new military confrontation in Eastern Europe.

Yeh, that Narva.