Monday, February 28, 2022

You want a Cyber World War? This is How You Get One

Events in the Second Russo-Ukrainian War (or whatever it is being called, this is what I call it with the 1st being in 2014), are moving fast. It seems anything you write will be OBE in a few hours, but write one must.

Case in point; going in to the weekend Germany was stuck in, "We are pausing NS2..." and we find our way to Monday where she is giving the nod for artillery, fighter jets, anti-aircraft, and anti-armor weapons to Ukraine as fast as they can get there and announcing an unprecedented increase in defense spending.

So, today let's focus on something that isn't quite as sexy as air superiority or logistics convoys, but may be the most important news of the day; financial sanctions. 

Let's go back to Chris Morris at the BBC five days ago;

Notably only about 16% of Russia's foreign exchange is now actually held in dollars, down from 40% five years ago. About 13% is now held in Chinese renminbi.

All of this is designed to protect Russia as much as possible from American-led sanctions.

Over time it has reduced its reliance on foreign loans and investments, and has been actively seeking new trade opportunities away from Western markets.

China is a big part of that strategy.

The government in Moscow has also taken initial steps to create its own system of international payments, in case it gets cut off from Swift - a global financial messaging service which is overseen by the major Western central banks.

And it has been cutting the size of its budget - prioritising stability over growth.

That has meant the Russian economy has grown at an average of less than 1% a year over the past decade. But it may have become more self-reliant in the process.


There's no question that sanctions can have an impact, but a package as broad as this has never been imposed on an economy as large as Russia.

And to make it effective, the West would have to be in it for the long haul.

This was all theory last week, now we come to a very different reality this last day of February...and Russia gets a vote. We can't assume she won't react. 

Also from the BBC, as of this AM US Eastern time;

Western nations are imposing increasingly severe sanctions on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine.

The measures are designed to cripple Russia's economy and punish its government for taking military action.

As you read the above and what is to follow, there is a word as old as war that should come to mind; blockade.

There are benchmarks about how nations can interpret blockades, and this is but one example in living memory;

A casus belli played a prominent role during the Six-Day War of 1967. The Israeli government had a short list of casūs bellorum, acts that it would consider provocations justifying armed retaliation. The most important was a blockade of the Straits of Tiran leading into Eilat, Israel's only port to the Red Sea, through which Israel received much of its oil. After several border incidents between Israel and Egypt's allies Syria and Jordan, Egypt expelled UNEF peacekeepers from the Sinai Peninsula, established a military presence at Sharm el-Sheikh, and announced a blockade of the straits, prompting Israel to cite its casus belli in opening hostilities against Egypt.

We can't forget this from the edge of living memory either;

In 1939 the United States terminated the 1911 commercial treaty with Japan. “On July 2, 1940, Roosevelt signed the Export Control Act, authorizing the President to license or prohibit the export of essential defense materials.” Under this authority, “[o]n July 31, exports of aviation motor fuels and lubricants and No. 1 heavy melting iron and steel scrap were restricted.” Next, in a move aimed at Japan, Roosevelt slapped an embargo, effective October 16, “on all exports of scrap iron and steel to destinations other than Britain and the nations of the Western Hemisphere.” Finally, on July 26, 1941, Roosevelt “froze Japanese assets in the United States, thus bringing commercial relations between the nations to an effective end. One week later Roosevelt embargoed the export of such grades of oil as still were in commercial flow to Japan.” The British and the Dutch followed suit, embargoing exports to Japan from their colonies in southeast Asia.

In today's global financial system that unlike the last world war where nations held physical assets like gold that could be loaded on cruisers as payment, much of nations' "wealth" is stuck in the cyber-world's 1s and 0s.

They are among the toughest measures nations can use, short of going to war.

As we go down this route - even with the Swiss of all people - we need to be clear-headed about how this can be seen by the Russians.

The action is aimed at cutting Russia off from the international financial system and to "harm their ability to operate globally".
A ban from Swift will delay the payments Russia gets for exports of oil and gas.

Cutting off a nation from its access to funds not just to fight but to feed, house, and employ its people - if we now consider "cyber" to be a domain like land, sea, and air - is keeping a nation from accessing resources in the cyber domain - AKA a blockade - any different than a ground, sea, or air blockade with the same goal?

Western leaders have agreed to freeze the assets of Russia's central bank, to limit its ability to access its $630bn international dollar reserves.


Targeting a central bank of a G20 nation is unprecedented and designed to "push the whole of Russia in to as deep a recession as possible, with the added chaos of bank runs", says BBC economics editor Faisal Islam.


The UK, EU, US and other countries have announced curbs on products that can be sent to Russia. These include dual-use goods, which are items that could have both a civilian and military use, like high-tech items, chemicals or lasers.

Are Russian "elite" motivated by the same things Western "elites" are? That seems to be the bet;

The EU, UK, US and Canada have launched a transatlantic task force to identify and freeze the assets of sanctioned individuals and companies, targeting more "officials and elites close to the Russian government, as well as their families".

Maybe...but maybe not. Either way, we have to expect some blowback - directly or indirectly;

Russia supplies 26% of the EU's crude oil and 38% of its gas. Even a brief cut in gas supply would raise energy prices.


Russia's foreign ministry has threatened sanctions of its own against the West. This may include reducing or shutting off gas supplies to Europe.


Hitting the Russian banking sector is likely to damage firms which do business in Russia, or have assets in its banks, and the export ban on high-tech goods will hit many Western manufacturers.

There is an important thread from Georgetown political scientist Professor Abraham Newman that you need to read in full on the topic. Here are a few consolidated pull quotes from his thread;

In a world of interdependent fiat currencies central banks have to live in a world where they depend on foreign buys and holders of their money. What does this mean and how does it relate to the sanctions regime? As the @FT explains, much of the reserves are held in securities i.e. assets that need to be sold to be used. To do that, Russian central bank needs intermediaries to conduct the transactions. Most international banks are now a no go so hard to sell. But the other problem is that the Russian Central Bank doesnt actually sit on the money it has. The money is in accounts in other central banks/international bodies. Russia has to access these ledgers to use its funds. Western sanctions black this. Aside from their gold reserves, the Russian self-insurance strategy is comprised of made up stuff which lives in a financial imaginary. Their ability to use and access is interdependent on the West. Russia, then, is confronting the reality of what @henryfarrell and I have termed Weaponized Interdependence. And the consequences for the Russian economy are going to be quite severe.

As I've stated before, I cannot think like a Russian - much less Putin - so I won't even try, but I can look at their capabilities, history, and what they could do.

Let me put on my red hat.

If I were RUS COMCYBERCOM, I would have three Courses of Action of increasing severity ready to present President Putin today to take down the entire Western financial system. It would be along the historically established, "If I can't use this, then I am damn sure going to guarantee that no one else can either."  You want a cyber world war? That is how you get one. Shut down the global online financial system. What do the Russians have to lose?

I hoped some smart people have wargamed this out. Again, if we are blockading, with the EU & Switzerland, Russian access to her money that they need to not just fight, but to feed and employ the people of Russia, is it beyond reason to consider that a belligerent act - especially when we are arming and giving aid to the Ukrainians?  We have invaded other nations for less.

Things are moving fast - and Putin has no off ramp outside complete victory.

Good luck everyone.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

Russo-Ukrainian War Black Sea SITREP Panel with Berube, Cavas, & Mercogliano - on Midrats

From the Sea of Azov to the Danube Delta, the maritime component of the Russian invasion of Ukraine's is bringing to the front universal constants; treaties, neutral shipping, amphibious operations, blockades, choke points, sea lines of communication, and an expanded environment where conflict can expand in unexpected ways.

While much of the focus has been ashore, significant developments - and lessons - can be found in the developments in the Black Sea. That will be the focus on today's Midrats with a panel discussion with Claude Berube, Chris Cavas, and Sal Mercogliano.

Dr Claude Berube has taught at the US Naval Academy since 2005 and has worked for two US Senators. He is a Commander in the Navy Reserve.  His latest book is “On Wide Seas: The US Navy in the Jacksonian Era” and his third novel, “The Philippine Pact” will be released this fall.

Chris Cavas is a long-time naval journalist who has reported on navies and maritime issues in the United States and around the world. He’s also the co-host of the weekly CavasShips podcast focusing on naval matters.

Dr. Sal Mercogliano is a Maritime Historian at Campbell University. A former merchant mariner and Host of the What's Going On With Shipping YouTube Channel.

Join us live if you can, but it not, you can get the show later by subscribing to the podcast. 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. You can find us on almost all your most popular podcast aggregators as well.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Fullbore Friday

As with all conflicts, just a few days in to the Second Russo-Ukraine War you have stories that start to break out in to the public. Some seem like rumor, urban legends, propaganda, or just embellishments of real stories or hopeful desires.

Two have come up over the last few days. One that seems closer to the urban legend and hopeful desires area is the heroic fighter pilot, "The Ghost of Kyiv," putting up an amazing fight against all odds in his plucky MiG-29.

The second seems to be from the same area but with time we have found is actually a true story.

13 Ukrainian border guards were stationed in an isolated, barren and what would appear to be generally ignorable island off their southwest coast on the Black Sea. 

These were not the elite of their nation. They were not special forces. They weren’t even regular army. They were border guards guarding a small rock far isolated from the front lines.

Then one beautiful winter day, over the horizon comes a Russian warship.

What is their duty? What do they do? 

What would you do?

In a spirit Americans should fully understand from The Alamo to Bastogne, they had a simple answer.

The Russian Navy had their response.

Truth is often more inspiring than fiction.

Ukraine's State Border Guard Service confirmed guards had been attacked by Russian ships that fired on the island. A Russian Defense Ministry spokesman said on Friday that Russia had taken control of the island. 

"Eighty-two Ukrainian soldiers in Zmiinyi Island area lay down their arms and capitulated to Russian soldiers," the Russian spokesman said, according to the Reuters news agency. "Now they must sign a statement that they refuse to participate in military actions. Soon they will be returned to their families."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky commended the group of guards who were killed during a late-night address to the nation on Thursday, as he reported that 137 people were killed during the first day of Russia's invasion. 

"Defending the Zmiinyi Island, all our border guards died a heroic death. But they have not surrendered," Zelensky said, adding that the servicemembers killed would be posthumously honored as heroes of Ukraine.

"Let those who gave their lives for Ukraine be remembered forever." 

Fullbore gentlemen. 


A question to the Front Porch here. I pride myself in my RECCE skills, but for the life of me I cannot identify this ship class. The stack aft is throwing me out as is the livery and bow shape.

Any idea?

UPDATE: PCrudy on twitter got it first and frankly, I'm embarrassed: it's a Slava Cruiser. I should have known that instinctively but I was bore focused looking at frigates and corvettes. 

Twin 130mm will do it.

Even more fullbore.

UPDATE II - Electric Boogaloo: It appears these Chads may be alive.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Second Russo-Ukraine War D+0 Quicklook

It appears that the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN was correct last night – the Russians have declared war on Ukraine.

As we are still inside the first 12-hrs of the invasion, there is a lot we simply do not know, but things are clear that this will not be a focused invasion simply to secure all the territory of the breakaway parts of eastern Ukraine. No, this is something much larger.

There is a lot of bad and confusing OSNIT going on, but one thing is clear, northwest of the capital Kyiv, Russian airmobile forces coming from Belorussia have seized and are attempting to maintain control of Hostomel and the Antonov International Airport (GML) there. That is a clear signal they are planning to take Kiev and the entire country.

Now the question is how well the Ukrainians will hold up under the assault. That will determine if this will be a short or a long war.

To speculate more than that right now would be silly – there simply is not enough in open source to get a firm picture.

There are a few things I am willing to put on the table this AM.

1. The remaining delusions about the post-Cold War security arrangements in Europe should be firmly buried. History is back and she has her Festivus pole front and center. She has some issues with us, and we’re going to hear about it.

2. NATO has a German problem. While all the “right people” will not shut up about how wonderful former Chancellor Angela Merkle was, people need to be very clear eyed about what a complete disaster she and the German political class have been over the last two decades. They have starved what should be continental European NATO’s most potent military into irrelevance. Her disastrous feel-good, ethno-masochistic immigration policy weakened European cohesion and fed the worst parts of European political subcultures. Yes, she made a lot of well meaning Germans feel good about themselves, but it was a sugar-high that rotted the teeth and poisoned the national metabolism. While willing to defend Europe to the last Pole and Germany to the last American, she decided to preen in her neo-pagan EuroGreen superiority onomastic politics by ditching clean nuclear power and through the complete corruption of her elite, shacked herself to Russian energy oligarchs and thus the Kremlin. Germany needs to fix herself, and NATO needs to work around her and punish her until she starts to behave like a constructive 21st Century security partner.

3. As our friend Jerry Hendrix pointed out yesterday, the moral leaders in NATO right now are the Baltic Republics and I would add Visegrad nations. You can throw Romania in there too. France will go hot and cold as she fights her desire to do the right thing for European security while at the same time nurse her 1,000 year old drive to be the premier leader of Western Europe. Serious but weaker nations will lean on a reluctant USA and limited United Kingdom … simply because - to be frank - much of the rest of the alliance is not that capable.

4. In line with #1 above, it is time for Finland at least, and probably Sweden, to join NATO. They both have a long and bloody history with the Russians and should see clearly what time it is.

5. Ukraine waited too long to rearm. Weakened and distracted by a corrupt elite, the good parts of her nation could not get ready fast enough. After the first Russo-Ukraine war of 2014 she should have modeled the armed neutrality of Switzerland with a civilian populace trained and armed to the teeth. As we’ve discussed here before with the former Soviet republics and Warsaw Pact nations, every village needs a few ATGM militia teams trained to slow any advance through their patch of land. If Ukraine can, in whole or part, survive without vassalhood, perhaps they could get there. They can only get there if they build a nation people are willing to fight and die for.

6. Remember, the Russians hold the Presidency of the UN Security Council. The UN is a joke. OSCE is a joke. The EU is little more than a nest of rent-seeking, clock-watching grift-fest. NATO is, well, dysfunctional but better than nothing. Nations must take ownership of their own security. Yes, Taiwan and Japan I am talking to you. Study history. Be ready.

7. Is everyone clear what Russia is now? She has a small GDP and apocalyptic demographics, but she is taking what she has and is invading her neighbors, killing people, and taking land. If your nation, company, or neighbor is buying anything from them – they are paying for this military adventurism. If the press wants to do its job, start pulling that string.

Well, that’s my quicklook this AM during my 10am coffee break – now I’ve got to get back to the paying gig.

Pray for the Ukrainians. Pray that nothing stupid happens that makes this a wider war. 

Remember – weakness encourages aggression.  

You don't want to wake up like the residents of Kyiv ... to air raid sirens. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

For Navalists, it is Time to Get off the Bench

The wrong people with the wrong ideas talking to important people with little experience of the real world have got us here - why do we think they will get us out of the problems we are in?

We no longer are the largest Navy, and we no longer act as a competent, reliable, or well led Navy.

What to do?

Our friend Kori Schake has some ideas, and I'm pondering them over at USNIBlog.

Come on by and bring your amens

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Putin: First Person Spoken Word

If you are only reading commentary about Russian President Putin's speech of 21 Feb 2022 or watching short clips, you are doing yourself a disservice. 

While some reporting is good, there is a lot of spin, narrative shaping, and just plain lazy reporting. 

If you want to try to understand if not what is in Putin's head, but what he wants the Russian people to think is in his head, you need to read and watch the speech yourself.

When someone tells you what they're thinking, listen to them.

Putin isn't trying to bring back the Soviet Union, he's focused on something much deeper and meaningful, the Russian back better, as it were.

You can clearly see that he is playing a very long game. Just like he did in Georgia and Crimea last decade. He will take a bite, let the short term outrage burn itself out, let the rest of Europe and the international community regress to the mean, and then take another bite...etc...etc.

As long as this process works, why change it?

If you don't have time for a full read but want to get a boildown of foundation of the argument for all that follows, here is what got my attention. 

I would like to emphasise again that Ukraine is not just a neighbouring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space. These are our comrades, those dearest to us – not only colleagues, friends and people who once served together, but also relatives, people bound by blood, by family ties.

Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians and Orthodox Christians. This was the case before the 17th century, when a portion of this territory rejoined the Russian state, and after.

... modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia. This process started practically right after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in a way that was extremely harsh on Russia – by separating, severing what is historically Russian land. Nobody asked the millions of people living there what they thought.

Then, both before and after the Great Patriotic War, Stalin incorporated in the USSR and transferred to Ukraine some lands that previously belonged to Poland, Romania and Hungary. In the process, he gave Poland part of what was traditionally German land as compensation, and in 1954, Khrushchev took Crimea away from Russia for some reason and also gave it to Ukraine. In effect, this is how the territory of modern Ukraine was formed.


When it comes to the historical destiny of Russia and its peoples, Lenin’s principles of state development were not just a mistake; they were worse than a mistake, as the saying goes. This became patently clear after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.


It is a historical fact. Actually, as I have already said, Soviet Ukraine is the result of the Bolsheviks’ policy and can be rightfully called “Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine.” He was its creator and architect. This is fully and comprehensively corroborated by archival documents, including Lenin’s harsh instructions regarding Donbass, which was actually shoved into Ukraine. And today the “grateful progeny” has overturned monuments to Lenin in Ukraine. They call it decommunization.

You want decommunization? Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunizations would mean for Ukraine.

... it is a great pity that the fundamental and formally legal foundations of our state were not promptly cleansed of the odious and utopian fantasies inspired by the revolution, which are absolutely destructive for any normal state. As it often happened in our country before, nobody gave any thought to the future.


It should be noted that Ukraine actually never had stable traditions of real statehood. And, therefore, in 1991 it opted for mindlessly emulating foreign models, which have no relation to history or Ukrainian realities. Political government institutions were readjusted many times to the rapidly growing clans and their self-serving interests, which had nothing to do with the interests of the Ukrainian people.

Essentially, the so-called pro-Western civilisational choice made by the oligarchic Ukrainian authorities was not and is not aimed at creating better conditions in the interests of people’s well-being but at keeping the billions of dollars that the oligarchs have stolen from the Ukrainians and are holding in their accounts in Western banks, while reverently accommodating the geopolitical rivals of Russia.


A stable statehood has never developed in Ukraine; its electoral and other political procedures just serve as a cover, a screen for the redistribution of power and property between various oligarchic clans.

Corruption, which is certainly a challenge and a problem for many countries, including Russia, has gone beyond the usual scope in Ukraine. It has literally permeated and corroded Ukrainian statehood, the entire system, and all branches of power.


In 2021, the Black Sea Shipyard in Nikolayev went out of business. Its first docks date back to Catherine the Great. Antonov, the famous manufacturer, has not made a single commercial aircraft since 2016, while Yuzhmash, a factory specialising in missile and space equipment, is nearly bankrupt. The Kremenchug Steel Plant is in a similar situation. This sad list goes on and on.

As for the gas transportation system, it was built in its entirety by the Soviet Union, and it has now deteriorated to an extent that using it creates major risks and comes at a high cost for the environment.

This situation begs the question: poverty, lack of opportunity, and lost industrial and technological potential – is this the pro-Western civilisational choice they have been using for many years to fool millions of people with promises of heavenly pastures?

It all came down to a Ukrainian economy in tatters and an outright pillage of the country’s citizens, while Ukraine itself was placed under external control, directed not only from the Western capitals, but also on the ground, as the saying goes, through an entire network of foreign advisors, NGOs and other institutions present in Ukraine. They have a direct bearing on all the key appointments and dismissals and on all branches of power at all levels, from the central government down to municipalities, as well as on state-owned companies and corporations, including Naftogaz, Ukrenergo, Ukrainian Railways, Ukroboronprom, Ukrposhta, and the Ukrainian Sea Ports Authority.

There is no independent judiciary in Ukraine. The Kiev authorities, at the West’s demand, delegated the priority right to select members of the supreme judicial bodies, the Council of Justice and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges, to international organisations.

In addition, the United States directly controls the National Agency on Corruption Prevention, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office and the High Anti-Corruption Court. All this is done under the noble pretext of invigorating efforts against corruption. All right, but where are the results? Corruption is flourishing like never before.

Via The Kremlin Actual, you can get the official English transcript here, or you can watch the video with the live translation below.

Monday, February 21, 2022

What Does a Decaying Empire Look Like?

There reaches a point where having a ship put to sea in peacetime, regardless of her mission short of directly saving human lives, is a net negative to its nation.

Of all places, yesterday in broad daylight, the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) passed through the Singapore Strait.

After our national humiliation in Afghanistan roughly half a year ago, and in the face of a serious challenge from China, in a part of the world where the powerful must maintain appearances less they lose face...behold what an organization that bills itself as the world's premier superpower has showing its flag.

Piet over at has a whole series of high-res pics of her passage yesterday.


Our Admiralty continues to send such ships forward to show the flag, and they seem to be content to send the message of a poor, decrepit empire run by distracted and disengaged leaders who lack self-awareness of their decline.

I'll be blunt; this disgraces the Sailors, the ship, the Navy, and our nation.

There are no excuses.

Congress allocated to the Navy the money from the American taxpayer to buy this ship, and this is the level of stewardship we demonstrate.

Sure, the CNO stated we needed a 500 ship Navy, but I'm sorry Admiral - until we can prove we can properly take care of the ships we have, we have not earned a single additional hull.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Fullbore Friday


Have you ever heard of Admiral Yi of the Royal Korean Navy?

Shame ... he was a complete stud ... and completely Fullbore.

This is also instructive for those who think the whole Korea vs Japan thingy just has to do with WWII. No ... a lot deeper than that.

It is hard to find good articles online about him outside Wikipedia - so I at least have to use their description of him for the uninitiated - it really is good;
Yi Sun-shin (Hangul: 이순신; hanja: 李舜臣; April 28, 1545 – December 16, 1598) was a Korean naval commander, famed for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Dynasty, and is well-respected for his exemplary conduct on and off the battlefield not only by Koreans, but by Japanese Admirals as well.[1] Military historians have compared his naval genius to that of Admiral Horatio Nelson.[2] His title of Samdo Sugun Tongjesa (삼도 수군 통제사 ; 三道水軍統制使), literally meaning "Naval Commander of the Three Provinces," was the title for the commander of the Korean navy until 1896.

Perhaps his most remarkable military achievement occurred at the Battle of Myeongnyang. Outnumbered 133 warships to 13, and forced into a last stand with only his minimal fleet standing between the Japanese Army and Seoul, he still managed to destroy 33 of 133 Japanese warships in one of the most astonishing battles in military history.

Despite never having received naval training or participating in naval combat prior to the war, and constantly being outnumbered and outsupplied, he went to his grave as one of few admirals in world history who remained undefeated after commanding as many naval battles as he did (at least 23).

Yi died at the Battle of Noryang on December 16, 1598. With the Japanese army on the verge of being completely expelled from the Korean Peninsula, he was mortally wounded by a single bullet. His famous dying words were, "The battle is at its height...beat my war not announce my death."
Nelson would understand.

As a result of the difficulty I am having finding high-brow non-wikipedia, I'm going to steal from the a great tribute to him from the irreplacable website, badassoftheweek. Standard Kristen warning about pottymouth (BTW, whatever happened to her hotness? DB will do, I guess ... but still). Sailors should be OK about it though;
Throughout 1592 Admiral Yi Soon Shin won numerous other small-scale battle against the Japanese Navy, sinking hundreds of enemy vessels during the course of two campaigns while suffering only eleven wounded sailors, no KIAs and no ships lost. Now it should be noted that the Korean ships were superior to the Japanese ships in terms of firepower and hull strength, but still holy shit that's a fucking hell of a record. Yi was a brilliant naval strategist, carefully planning and coordinating all of his attacks and personally leading his navy into combat, issuing them directions on the fly. He received intelligence from local fishermen and villagers and planned his battles accordingly, striking enemy supply ships that were bringing food, supplies and munitions to the Japanese Army and severly hindering their war effort. In ship-to-ship combat on a tactical level, Yi relied on the firepower of his ships' cannons and ordered his men to avoid hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese navy at all costs. You see, the Japanese had tons of badass samurai so their strategy was to board the Korean ships and start chopping motherfuckers up Mifune-style and there wasn't a whole lot of shit that the Koreans could do about it except die painfully. Yi knew that his men didn't stand a chance against goddamned samurai so he did his best to set fire to the Japanese vessels before they even got close and burn those jerks to death before they could start impaling people on their magical katanas. His men were down with this strategy.

He also built something called "Turtle Ships" which sound kind of stupid and fruity but were actually awesome. Turtle Ships were large, fast-moving warships with reinforced metal plating completely covering the top deck to protect the sailors from enemy arrows and gunfire. The plates also had big-ass steel spikes sticking out of them so if any ninjas tried to fly on board they'd get impaled like when you knock Scorpion or Sub-Zero off the bridge level in Mortal Kombat. It carried about 30 guns, and the front of it was shaped like a badass dragon that shot a cannon out of it's mouth, had a smokescreen that came out of it's nose, and could be used as a battering ram to smash enemy ships into driftwood. Yi used the Turtle Ships to barrel through the enemy lines, blast everything they came across on either side and then ram the shit out of the enemy flagship, sinking it and drowning the Japanese commanders. Plus it looked fucking badass and intimidated the shit out of people:
Later in 1592 Yi Soon Shin took a force of 56 vessels and went up against a fleet of 73 Japanese battleships near Hansan Island, a fortress that pretty much served as party central for the Japanese invasion forces. Yi staged a fake retreat to draw the Japanese out of their fortified harbor and then caught them in a trap that sank 59 enemy ships and essentially crippled what was left of the Japanese Navy. Yi followed up this asskicking by capturing the enemy naval fortress at Pusan, sinking several hundred Japanese ships as they sat in port, crushing the enemy morale, seizing control of all the major supply routes to Northern Korea and choking off all Japanese reinforcements to the battlefront. Toyotomi Hideyoshi ordered his Admirals not to face the Korean Navy again because they were getting their fucking asses reamed up and down the coast, and an armistice was signed between Korea and Japan.

However, the peace didn't last long and before you know it the Japanese were ready to have more of their ships reduced to firewood by Admiral Yi. Unfortunately for the Koreans, in the time between the fighting the Japanese had managed to put a double agent into the Korean Court, and he convinced the King to order Admiral Yi to move his armada to a dangerous area known as the Chilchon Straits. When Yi received the order he immediately saw through the bullshit and refused it, reportedly giving the messenger the finger and then slapping him full in the face like a little bitch. So once again Yi Soon Shin was stripped of his rank, imprisioned and tortured within an inch of his life. Command was given to some jackass named Won Gyun, who was fucking incompetent. Won moved Admiral Yi's combined force of 169 battleships and 30,000 sailors to the Chilchon Straits, directly into the trap that was laid for him by the Japanese. In the span of only a few hours Japanese Commando Samurai Ninja Marines annihilated the entire armada and chopped Won Gyun up into shark chum. Only thirteen ships and two hundred men were able to escape the carnage by bravely running away at top speed as soon as the Japanese started fucking everything up. The King then decided to get his shit together and put Yi back in charge because at this point it was pretty motherfucking obvious that not just any idiot could lead the Korean Navy to victory against the Japanese war machine. When Yi retook command of his navy and saw the dire situation before him, he is reported to have said the following:

"I still have thirteen ships. As long as I am alive, the enemies will never gain the Western Sea."

So in 1597 Admiral Yi and his thirteen ships found themselves on the run, hunted by the entire Japanese Navy. At the Battle of Myeongnyang, Yi Soon Shin came face-to-face with a fleet of three hundred Japanese warships, all bearing down on him and filled to the brim with angry, screaming katana-wielding samurai warriors. Yi wisely positioned his tiny force to block a narrow strait Thermopylae-style in an effort to deny the Japanese the chance of completely enveloping him. The Japanese poured into the strait at top speed and ran head-on into a strong current that slowed them down considerably, leaving them exposed to fire from the Korean ships. During the course of the battle, Yi constantly repositioned his fleet in an effort to keep the Japanese marines at a distance and prevent them from boarding his ships. His cannons bombarded the enemy, and when the smoke cleared he had sunk 123 Japanese ships and killed over 12,000 enemy sailors, including the Admiral in command of the Japanese Navy. Yi's losses totaled three wounded and two killed.

This insane victory broke the back of Japanese morale and marked a turning point in the war. At the Battle of Noryang, over 150 Korean and Chinese vessels finished the job on the Japanese Navy, defeating an armada of 500 enemy ships as they attempted to retreat back to Japan. While giving pursuit, Yi was shot in the chest and died. His last words were, "The battle is at it's height. Do not announce my death." The remnants of the Japanese fleet would limp back to its homeland and her leaders would sue for peace - the war was over.
Read the whole thing. If I could only write that way....

To end it off, have some really bad East Asian FX;

First posted July 2014

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Diversity Thursday

So, if the People's Republic of China is our main opponent on the world stage, and so many in the USA believe that race if the first and most important consideration in all things ... what about China and its view of race?

Evidently the result of some FOIA, DOD released a report from  07 January 2013 to Andrew Marshall at the Office of Net Assessment.

You have probably heard of this issue mentioned now and then as a side-note, but this goes in to incredible detail - not just about the Chinese view on race and racism, but how that informs their views of the United States.

From page 134, this bit caught my eye;
The rise of multiculturalism in the United States, and the West more broadly, has destroyed, or “decentered” in the language of the multiculturalists, the American Creed, in favor of an explicitly multiracial, multicultural society that celebrates differences rather than requiring assimilation. Huntington’s American Creed has been replaced by an ideology that rejects its core principles and beliefs in favor of promoting any culture, so long as it is not Western.

From the perspective of the Chinese, it is hard what to make of this. In their view, the United States is explicitly rejecting the principles that made the country great, and united it. It is fair to say that the Chinese have not fully thought through the impact of multiculturalism on the West. According to Sinologist John Copper, the Chinese see multiculturalism as a sickness that has overtaken the United States, and a component of U.S. decline. Their belief is that it is bad for the United States, weakening it at a time when the

United States is already weakened due to its alien political ideology and different cultural values, with too strong a focus on individualism. From the Chinese viewpoint, all of this conspires to cause the breakdown of American society and the lack of purpose in life for most Americans. Yet, at the same time, they embrace American popular culture.

In essence, they think the American people are good but the American government and dominant beliefs are bad. One major implication of this is that the Chinese government may have less of a desire to confront the U.S. due to the expectation that it will collapse of its own internal discord.

You really need to put this on your read list. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Soviet Navy's Last Picture Show

Did you notice that every Russian big-missile cruiser that can go to sea, is at sea? 

The old veterans of the Soviet Red Banner Fleet are making what is probably their thunder run.

Glorious designs of an era that is about at its end.

I'm pondering the beasts over at USNIBlog.

Come by and tip a hat at the glorified PASSEX ... unless war kicks off.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Indo-Pacific Strategy Quicklook

If you didn't already read Bryan's more cerebral challenge and reply review of The Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States yesterday, please read it now.

I've decided to take a slightly different take on the reading. Though there are some good points made and to reference in follow-on documents, my primary thought is one of frustration. Yes, this is not a military strategy document, but - as is correct - an all of government strategy where rightfully the military is in a supporting role. I went in hoping and expecting such an approach ... but I should be careful what I asked for. Too many good idea fairies had a role in promoting their petty agenda vice the nation's larger agenda.

There is my TL;DR summary, but if you're still with me, let's dive in.

On page two;

"The future of each of our nations - and indeed the world - depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead."

- President Joe Biden, Quad Leaders Summit, September 24, 2021

Free and open. Yes. That begs the question based on this observation: the Indo-Pacific is defined by its name - the two great Pacific and Indian Oceans. Throughout human history there is only one way you can keep oceans "free and open" and that is through a large and capable navy that enforces this state on the global commons that is the high seas.

Words mean things. 

The word "navy" is only mentioned once, and that was for the Royal Australian Navy. "Naval" not once. We do have a few different variations on "maritime" however; "maritime domain"(4); "maritime security"(3); "maritime space" (1); "maritime capacity" (1); and "maritime challenges" (1).

At least the U.S. Coast Guard got mentioned twice, which is good for them ... but this isn't the U.S. Coastal Waters strategy. Their inclusion does fit a pattern of the USCG being pulled away from its primary responsibilities.  Additionally, it is more politically acceptable to some in the present administration. If everyone has not realized it quite yet, the US Navy is not in possession of many advocates in the Executive Branch, and it shows. 

There are other priorities in play.

"Climate" was mentioned 16 times. The nations of the Pacific? 

- India=12

- Japan=10

- Taiwan=8

- Australia=7

- China=5

- Korea (any)=4

- Philippines=3

- Vietnam, France, United Kingdom=1 each

- Russia, Canada, Mexico, any Central or South American nation or region=0 (NB: as an all-of-government document, this is a mistake. The Western Hemispheric nations are in NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM as you can see in the pic above ... but that only a military concern. The rest of the government should not be so constrained).

Besides "Climate" getting 16 mentions;

- Democratic/Democracy=8

- Human Rights=2

- Gender equity=1

If you were looking for any new thinking, you're going to be sadly disappointed. If you were hoping to see domestic politics kept out, you will be even more disappointed.

It does start out strong;

The United States is an Indo-Pacific power. The region, stretching from our Pacific coastline to the Indian Ocean, is home to more than half of the world’s people, nearly two-thirds of the world’s economy, and seven of the world’s largest militaries. More members of the U.S. military are based in the region than in any other outside the United States. It supports more than three million American jobs and is the source of nearly $900 billion in foreign direct investment in the United States. In the years ahead, as the region drives as much as two-thirds of global economic growth, its influence will only grow—as will its importance to the United States.

It outlines our allies and close friends;

...ironclad treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), the Philippines, and Thailand, laying the foundation of security that allowed regional democracies to flourish. Those ties expanded as the United States supported the region’s premier organizations, particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN);

Though the post-Cold War efforts of the Bush 41 and Clinton Administration get snubbed, they do make the point that in broad terms this is a national, bi-partisan is proper;

The George W. Bush Administration understood Asia’s growing importance and engaged closely with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Japan, and India. The Obama Administration significantly accelerated American prioritization of Asia, investing new diplomatic, economic, and military resources there. And the Trump Administration also recognized the Indo-Pacific as the world’s center of gravity.

Credit is due for clearly identifying the central player in this story;

This intensifying American focus is due in part to the fact that the Indo-Pacific faces mounting challenges, particularly from the PRC. The PRC is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power. The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific. From the economic coercion of Australia to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India to the growing pressure on Taiwan and bullying of neighbors in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behavior. In the process, the PRC is also undermining human rights and international law, including freedom of navigation, as well as other principles that have brought stability and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific. 
This opening was clearly where the adults were in charge. Things start to wobble a bit when the people from the cheap seats start to get a say. 

This one paragraph is just strange, as was the almost spoof-worthy constant bringing in of the neo-pagan climate change agenda ... but really, DPRK deserves a bit more than being clumped in to the weather;

The Indo-Pacific faces other major challenges. Climate change is growing ever-more severe as South Asia’s glaciers melt and the Pacific Islands battle existential rises in sea levels. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to inflict a painful human and economic toll across the region. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to expand its illicit nuclear weapons and missile programs. Indo-Pacific governments grapple with natural disasters, resource scarcity, internal conflict, and governance challenges. Left unchecked, these forces threaten to destabilize the region. 

At this point, we discover - besides proper fealty to the Cult of Gaia - what appears to be a Biden Administration buzzword that needs to in the middle square of all our BINGO cards; "resilience." They mention is a whopping 14 times. Here's just a sample of the context;

Our strategy, therefore, begins with building resilience within countries, as we have done in the United States. 

There's a whiff of "White Man's Burden" here (along with other neo-imperialist patronizing sprinkled throughout), but let's look at the definition of "resilience;" 




1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

"the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions"

2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

"nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience"

Huh. They keep using that word, but I don't think they know what it means. The United States cannot do that across a swath of the planet with multitudes more population than we have. We are overselling here. Sure, sounds all Kennedy School of Government and McKinsey Consultingesque to make The Smartest People in the Room™ nod their heads, but no. Stop. Not here.  

Mixed in the growing clouds of chaff, there remain some good things. Nothing new, but that's OK. The fundamentals need repeating;

The United States will pursue five objectives in the Indo-Pacific—each in concert with our allies and partners, as well as with regional institutions. We will:






This paragraph from the second bullet and all the "wills" to generate action and name dropping The Quad is solid. If we work on just this, everyone's security would strengthen;

Those efforts begin with our closest alliances and partnerships, which we are renewing in innovative ways. We are deepening our five regional treaty alliances—with Australia, Japan, the ROK, the Philippines, and Thailand—and strengthening relationships with leading regional partners, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands. We will also encourage our allies and partners to strengthen their ties with one another, particularly Japan and the ROK. We will support and empower allies and partners as they take on regional leadership roles themselves, and we will work in flexible groupings that pool our collective strength to face up to the defining issues of our time, particularly through the Quad. We will continue to strengthen Quad cooperation on global health, climate change, critical and emerging technology, infrastructure, cyber, education, and clean energy, as we work together and with other partners toward a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Whoever snuck Mongolia in, I owe you a beer. Well done and exactly correct.

As for the people responsible for this but;

...we will deepen long-standing cooperation with ASEAN while launching new high-level engagements on health, climate and environment, energy, transportation, and gender equity and equality.  

I'm sorry, but whatever gaggle who clearly has zero experience in the world outside meetings at Davos, the lounge at a Sheraton somewhere, or musings in DC salons or Acela academic lounges - they need to be kept away from policy and go work at some Vermont liberal arts boarding school to teach Dadaism.

Domestic political fetishes exported to interfere with foreign policy and security requirements has brought more trouble to America abroad than any value it brought to people not holding an American passport. Feel good cultural imperialism - and that is what it is - that runs against the norms and deeply held beliefs of many nations we are trying to work on more fundamental issues with is a vanity that gets people killed. This is counter productive to the extreme.

Then we have another strange paragraph that seems wedged in. 

Allies and partners outside of the region are increasingly committing new attention to the Indo-Pacific, particularly the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). We will harness this opportunity to align our approaches and will implement our initiatives in coordination to multiply our effectiveness. We will partner to build regional connectivity with an emphasis on the digital domain, as well as to uphold international law, particularly in the maritime space. Along the way, we will build bridges between the Indo-Pacific and the Euro-Atlantic, and, increasingly, with other regions, by leading on shared agendas that drive collective action. We will also advance our common vision through close coordination at the United Nations.

Evidently someone has a pet theory of trying to spot-weld European security entities on to the Indo-Pacific. I'm sympathetic to that theory, but it is tertiary at the moment. I'm sorry, we can't get the Germans and French to focus on events a day's drive from Berlin. We can bring them in deeper in to Quad issues at a later date. Yes, France has a lot of waterspace in the area and it is nice for others to visit now and then, but let's not lose focus on ... oh, I don't know...Indonesia.

Focus people. Focus.

Speaking of trashy domestic vanity politics. I'm still giggling at this;

Through our Build Back Better World initiative with G7 partners,...

It's just embarrassing.

Of the five bullets, only #4 has a military focus. It dilutes that with the whole "integrated deterrence" that it says will be the "cornerstone of our approach."

As defined last year, it is word salad;

Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, fleshed out the concept ... "In terms of integrated … we mean, integrated across domains, so conventional, nuclear, cyber, space, informational," he said. "[It is also] integrated across theaters of competition and potential conflict [and] integrated across the spectrum of conflict from high intensity warfare to the gray zone."
Feel free to do something with that. Mortals can't.

Don't expect anything new about Taiwan or the NORKs. Most of what is said is either legalistic hedging or the status quo;

We will also work with partners inside and outside of the region to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, including by supporting Taiwan’s self-defense capabilities, to ensure an environment in which Taiwan’s future is determined peacefully in accordance with the wishes and best interests of Taiwan’s people. As we do so, our approach remains consistent with our One China policy and our longstanding commitments under the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiqués, and the Six Assurances.


As the DPRK continues to develop destabilizing nuclear and missile programs, we will continue to seek serious and sustained dialogue, with the goal of complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and addressing its ongoing human-rights violations and improving the lives and livelihoods of the North Korean people. At the same time, we are strengthening extended deterrence and coordination with the ROK and Japan to respond to DPRK provocations, remaining prepared to deter—and, if necessary, defeat—any aggression to the United States and our allies, while bolstering counter-proliferation efforts throughout the region. While reinforcing extended deterrence against nuclear- and ballistic-missile systems and other emerging threats to strategic stability, the United States will seek to work with a wide set of actors, including our rivals, to prevent and manage crises. 

If you thought bullet #5 about transnational threats would be terrorism, well, no. It appears that Gaia is mad and that makes her the transnational threat.

The Indo-Pacific is the epicenter of the climate crisis, but it is also essential to climate solutions. Achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement will require the major economies in the region to align their targets with the Agreement’s temperature goals. This includes urging the PRC to commit to and implement actions in line with the level of ambition required to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Our shared responses to the climate crisis are both a political imperative and an economic opportunity in the Indo-Pacific, home to 70% of the world’s natural disasters. The United States will work with partners to develop 2030 and 2050 targets, strategies, plans, and policies consistent with limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and will seek to serve as the preferred partner as the region transitions to a net-zero future. Through initiatives like Clean EDGE, we will incentivize clean-energy technology investment and deployment, seek to drive energy-sector decarbonization, and foster climate-aligned infrastructure investment. The United States will work with partners to reduce their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation and will support critical-infrastructure resilience and address energy security. We will also work to safeguard the health and sustainable use of the region’s vast oceans, including through the legal use of their resources, enhanced research cooperation, and the promotion of beneficial commerce and transportation.

We will partner with the region to help end the COVID-19 pandemic and build resilience against common threats. We will work closely with partners to strengthen their health systems to withstand future shocks, drive investments in global health security, and expand regional platforms to prevent, detect, and respond to emergencies, including biological threats. We will also work through the World Health Organization (WHO), the G7, the G20, and other multilateral fora to strengthen preparedness and response. We will advance our resilience efforts in close coordination with ASEAN, APEC, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and other organizations. 

It appears that the adults were allowed to kick off the action plan. Some solid stuff here;


We will launch, in early 2022, a new partnership that will promote and facilitate high-standards trade, govern the digital economy, improve supply-chain resiliency and security, catalyze investment in transparent, high-standards infrastructure, and build digital connectivity—doubling down on our economic ties to the region while contributing to broadly shared Indo-Pacific opportunity.


The United States will defend our interests, deter military aggression against our own country and our allies and partners—including across the Taiwan Strait—and promote regional security by developing new capabilities, concepts of operation, military activities, defense industrial initiatives, and a more resilient force posture. We will work with Congress to fund the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and the Maritime Security Initiative. Through the AUKUS partnership, we will identify the optimal pathway to deliver nuclear powered submarines to the Royal Australian Navy at the earliest achievable date; in addition, we will deepen cooperation and enhance interoperability through a concrete program of work on advanced capabilities, including cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, and undersea capabilities.

I'm all about giving interns a chance to contribute, but who let the Model UN kid go unsupervised?

The Quad Fellowship will formally launch in 2022, recruiting its first class of 100 students from all four countries to pursue graduate degrees in STEM fields in the United States beginning in 2023.

OK. "The Quad" is Australia, India, and Japan in addition to the USA. Let's look at the numbers;

- 167,582 Indians are studying in the USA already.

- 11,785 Japanese. 

- Australian numbers are hard to find, perhaps a bit over 5,000

100 students won't make a ripple unless they all become CIA assets.

So, in the end, I kind of understand why this was dropped on Friday. We can now say we have a strategy, but there simply is nothing here we didn't already know.

In the end from 'ole Sal, there are five places we need to focus on to build our relationships in the Indo-Pacific. Don't worry about the details, they will reveal themselves.

- Security.

- Economic growth.

- Standard of living.

- Good governance and rule of law.

- Respect for local cultural norms.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Summary Thoughts on the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the United States

From lay observers to professionals in the national security arena, for the last year most have been waiting to see what our Indo-Pacific Strategy would be.

Words matter, especially in national strategy where those words drive funding, effort, and the attentions of industry and the national security apparatus.

For reasons best known to those who made the decision, it was delivered last Friday, buried in a general Friday news dump before the Super Bowl weekend and Russia on the brink of invading Ukraine.

You would be hard pressed to pick a worse time, but it is what it is. 

The timing does not take away our responsibility to read and comment, and this week we are going to spend the next two days doing just that.

To start out we have returning guest poster, our friend Bryan McGrath. I'll follow with my thoughts tomorrow.

You can get your own copy of the strategy at this link if you don't have it yet.

As always, we are grateful to have Bryan guest posting. On this topic especially, he's the right guy to give it a once over.

Bryan, over to you. 

 Non-Specific/General Comments

  • These thoughts were rather quickly put down in reaction to an important document that could be lost amid other world events threatening to take center stage. As a Seapower advocate, attentive readers will note my obvious biases. 
  • This is strategy at the “grand” level, in that it attempts to align and apply U.S. national power within itself, and with friends and allies. This needs to be remembered, even as I criticize it for its vagueness and generality. It is a stab at laying out a comprehensive strategy for competing with China, particularized to this region. 
  • One can reasonably be expected to look at how this was framed and what it is considered to be important when anticipating what a Biden National Security Strategy will look like. And that worries me. 
  • That “Bolster(ing) Indo-Pacific Security” is the fourth of five objectives of this strategy, is unfortunate, and it sends an unfortunate message of prioritization (or lack of, mainly) of building up our military power and encouraging our friends and allies likewise. 
  • There is a great deal of this document upon which I do not comment. This is because whatever is not commented upon is unobjectionable or not important enough to bring up. 
  • The document was released late on a Friday afternoon when there is war boiling on front burner in Europe. I realize it was timed to the Quad meeting, but I wonder if putting this aside for a bit might not have been a better move. 


Note: Bold text references are direct quotations from the document, with page numbers noted. 

(4) Since then, administrations of both political parties have shared a commitment to the region. The George W. Bush Administration understood Asia’s growing importance and engaged closely with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Japan, and India. The Obama Administration significantly accelerated American prioritization of Asia, investing new diplomatic, economic, and military resources there. And the Trump Administration also recognized the Indo-Pacific as the world’s center of gravity.

This is excellent. Pointing to continuity over time is worthwhile.

(5) The PRC’s coercion and aggression spans the globe, but it is most acute in the Indo-Pacific.

This is useful and important, as there is sometimes a tendency to look at the PLA-Navy buildup and think that it is all about Taiwan or Western Pacific hegemony. It isn’t. China is building a global Navy and will operate it as such. We will rub up against them across the seven seas in the years and decades to come.

(5) From the economic coercion of Australia to the conflict along the Line of Actual Control with India to the growing pressure on Taiwan and bullying of neighbors in the East and South China Seas, our allies and partners in the region bear much of the cost of the PRC’s harmful behavior. In the process, the PRC is also undermining human rights and international law, including freedom of navigation, as well as other principles that have brought stability and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific. 

Excellent shorthand description of what this strategy is designed to contest. 

(5) Our objective is not to change the PRC but to shape the strategic environment in which it operates, building a balance of influence in the world that is maximally favorable to the United States, our allies and partners, and the interests and values we share.

There is laudable humility in this statement, and it leverages our “killer app”—which is our network of friends and allies around the world. 


(7) For centuries, the United States and much of the world have viewed Asia too narrowly—as an arena of geopolitical competition. 

Too narrowly? As opposed to what? Geopolitical competition is the natural order of things, and we ought to recognize that fact, not lament it. 

1. Advance a Free and Open Pacific

(8) through investments in democratic institutions, a free press, and a vibrant civil society. The United States will bolster freedom of information and expression and combat foreign interference by supporting investigative journalism, promoting media literacy and pluralistic and independent media, and increasing collaboration to address threats from information manipulation.

This is good stuff, and it gets at the heart of this being a strategy written on the “grand” level rather than something derivative. It also is a group of activities and functions that in our republic, are not terribly well-synchronized. We don’t have a place where the making of grand strategy fits nicely, or a competent process for birthing it.

(8) work closely with like-minded partners to ensure that the region remains open and accessible and that the region’s seas and skies are governed and used according to international law.

I realize that I am being a bit of a noodge and a pedant, but the overwhelming majority of the region’s (and the world’s) seas are not only ungoverned, but they are also ungovernable. By design, at least, seas are ungovernable if “free seas” are what you actually desire. I think I get what the authors are aiming at here, but the language is inartful.

2. Build Connections Within and Beyond the Region

(9) We will pursue this through a latticework of strong and mutually reinforcing coalitions.

This is an interesting and strategically significant statement. It occurs to me that a single strong coalition would be the best approach to the reason but given several factors (fear of China, historical enmity, alignment preferences), that is unlikely to occur. So, this “latticework” of coalitions takes the world as it is and doubles down on our main strategic advantage (more and better friends).  

(9) We will continue to strengthen Quad cooperation on global health, climate change, critical and emerging technology, infrastructure, cyber, education, and clean energy, as we work together and with other partners toward a free and open Indo-Pacific.

All very much the purview of grand strategy. Somewhat disheartening to have read several references already to climate change and not a single word about military power or capacity. 

3. Drive Indo-Pacific Prosperity

(11) The prosperity of everyday Americans is linked to the Indo-Pacific.

Yes, and that prosperity is underwritten by forward deployed and stationed naval forces who work closely with friends and allies to maintain the freedom of the seas. Would have LOVED to see that tie made clear within this document. But it isn’t. We are either supposed to already know it, or it isn’t important. 

(11) The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear the need for a recovery that promotes broad-based economic growth. That requires investments to encourage innovation, strengthen economic competitiveness, produce good-paying jobs, rebuild supply chains, and expand economic opportunities for middle-class families: 1.5 billion people in the Indo-Pacific will join the global middle class in this decade.

As I read this, I thought “holy smokes, the Biden team is trying to shoehorn its domestic agenda into this”.  And then I read:

(11) Through our Build Back Better World initiative with G7 partners

Silly me for not knowing that they’d already done so. 

4. Bolster Indo-Pacific Security

(12) Integrated deterrence will be the cornerstone of our approach. We will more tightly integrate our efforts across warfighting domains and the spectrum of conflict to ensure that the United States, alongside our allies and partners, can dissuade or defeat aggression in any form or domain. We will drive initiatives that reinforce deterrence and counter coercion, such as opposing efforts to alter territorial boundaries or undermine the rights of sovereign nations at sea.

Integrated deterrence is posited here as if it is well-understood and a clear term that means something to the national security community. This is not the case. What is befuddling is that its use here, in a section that is very much (or should be) devoted to military matters, makes it sound as if “integrated deterrence” is a creature of the Department of Defense. And while it has generally been DoD types who use the phrase to explain why the rest of us should be happy with insufficient resources being applied to defense, the Department already had a lexicon to describe how “integrated deterrence” works within the department. That word is “Jointness”. Integrated deterrence—at least to the extent that I understand what it is—means applying national power in a more integrated manner to the question of deterrence. And because of this clever application of national power, the Biden Team believes that we could and should more efficiently apply the military instrument to conventional deterrence. By efficiently I mean “economically”. Because the defense portion of the discretionary budget is a fat target for Building Back Better funds, getting defense spending under control is and has been a fundamental tenet of the Biden Team’s approach. There is a whiff of smokescreen in the whole concept of integrated deterrence, in that it provides cover for diminishing the hard power contribution to deterrence while building up other elements of national power that are more popular with domestic political constituencies.

(13)  build the defense capacity of partners in South and Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I am unable to find even a passing reference anywhere in this document to building our own defense capacity. This omission is the greatest weakness of this document.

(13) expanding U.S. Coast Guard presence,

I remain hostile to the Coast Guard performing naval functions forward, as it legitimizes Chinese blurring of lines in its own maritime power by playing the same game. I realize that this is a minority view, but it has implications in both how we approach Chinese maritime power and how we resource that approach. 


Drive New Resources to the Indo-Pacific

(15) Building shared capacity requires the United States to make new regional investments. We will open new embassies and consulates, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, and increase our strength in existing ones, intensifying our climate, health, security, and development work. We will expand U.S. Coast Guard presence and cooperation in Southeast and South Asia and the Pacific Islands, with a focus on advising, training, deployment, and capacity-building. We will refocus security assistance on the Indo-Pacific, including to build maritime capacity and maritime-domain awareness. We will also expand the role of people-to-people exchange, including the Peace Corps. Within the U.S. government, we will ensure we have the necessary capacity and expertise to meet the region’s challenges. Throughout, we will work with Congress to ensure that our policy and resourcing have the bipartisan backing necessary to support our strong and steady regional role.

The failure to mention properly resourcing hard power and strengthening our conventional deterrence posture is breath-taking.

Reinforce Deterrence

(15) developing new capabilities, concepts of operation, military activities, defense industrial initiatives, and a more resilient force posture. 

But not capacity. Not lethality. Words matter.

Support India’s Continued Rise and Regional Leadership

(16) We will continue to build a strategic partnership in which the United States and India work together and through regional groupings to promote stability in South Asia; collaborate in new domains, such as health, space, and cyber space; deepen our economic and technology cooperation; and contribute to a free and open Indo-Pacific. We recognize that India is a like-minded partner and leader in South Asia and the Indian Ocean, active in and connected to Southeast Asia, a driving force of the Quad and other regional fora, and an engine for regional growth and development.

Absolutely. Bravo.

Deliver on the Quad

(16) We will strengthen the Quad as a premier regional grouping and ensure it delivers on issues that matter to the Indo-Pacific.

We need to do more to emphasize military cooperation and exercises as a part of the everyday business of “The Quad.”

Bryan McGrath is the Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group. These views are his and do not represent any client.