Thursday, October 17, 2013

Warning Shot: Why the time May be Right for another U.S. Arms Sale Package to Taiwan

During last week's APEC Summit in Indonesia, Chinese President Xi Jinping stated to the Taiwanese envoy that Beijing and Taipei must begin taking steps to close the political divide between them.  While such statements could have been taken in an attempt to garner and maintain support from the leadership of the People's Liberation Army, it is equally as likely that the absence of American President Barack Obama emboldened Xi to take an increasingly assertive tone towards Taipei.  If the Obama Administration is serious about  security commitments to its Asian allies,  the time may be optimal for it to fire a "diplomatic  warning shot" across the bow of the PRC in the form publicly declaring its willingness to be open to new military platform requests from its longtime ally Taiwan.

Sorry President Ma, you're not winning the Nobel Peace Prize 

Taiwan's President Ma has been doing everything but taking out space in the People's Daily , in an attempt to angle himself to be in a position to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in next year's APEC summit in China. Now that China has smacked down that idea, the President with the 9.5% approval rating in Taiwan does not have to take Beijing's feelings into as much consideration if he wished to ponder the possibility of reengaging with the United States regarding long-stalled military platform purchases.  The President could also look to regain some credibility within his country among those who feel that he has given China far too many concessions in the economic arena, which has placed Taiwan's already fragile sovereignty at great risk. New platform purchases could also boost the morale of Taiwan's military, which has suffered greatly due to the scandal that plagued the army earlier this year.

Mr. President, show us something

There are also a number of reasons why arms sales to Taiwan could be of interest to the United States as well.  One of the great fears among American allies in the region is that the United States could elect to reduce its military presence in the region, forcing them to take more accommodating positions with China that would rather not take. Earlier this year, the United States looked to show the new leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un (as well as the DPRK's powerful generals) that the United States stood strong with South Korea, and would stand with them and fight if necessary.  This message was delivered loud and clear.  While joint military operation exercises between the United States and Taiwan would be far too politically sensitive at this time, the resumption of talks regarding arms sales to Taiwan would not.  The administration could state its willingness to discuss the sale of platforms long desired by Taiwan's forces, such as the F-16 C/D, AEGIS capable naval vessels, and missiles for Taiwan's air force fleet. Additionally, Randy Schriver of Project 2049 has stated on multiple occasions that there is data that supports the notion that whenever major arms sales have taken place between the United States and Taiwan, diplomatic breakthroughs between Taiwan and China have soon followed.  The administration would also be showing its support for Taiwan by showing that it will not allow China to pressure or coerce Taiwan into political talks that it does not want to enter at this time, something that China in the past has promised not to do. Such a sale, or at least the willingness to talk about one, could be effective at countering China's attempt to back Taiwan into a corner, and showing its citizens that they still have a reliable ally who does not plan on leaving the Pacific anytime soon.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Truths (and Myths) of Air/Sea Battle

 On Thursday, the House Armed Service Subcommittee on Sea Power and Projection Forces conducted a hearing on the lengthy topic of "USAF, USN and USMC Development and Integration of Air/Sea Battle Strategy, Governance and Policy into the Services' Annual Program, Planning, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) Process."   The hearings allowed leadership from the branches of the armed forces that are most involved in the Air-Sea Battle Concept (ASB) to express their respective objectives in the process, as well as clarify realities and dispel myths that accompany the concept.

The focus of this article is not to explain the basic tenets that make up the foundation of ASB, ( click here for a more thorough introduction of the Air-Sea Battle Concept) but rather to highlight the primary talking points from the military leadership that was present at the subcommittee meeting (the major points that were said by the military during the meeting will be bold and in italics, and the opinions of this author will precede them-but  these are not direct quotations from the witnesses, but rather a summary of their comments during the meeting).

It IS NOT an Overhaul of Current American Military Doctrine 
Air-Sea Battle is not a strategy but an approach or framework 
Not a strategy but a concept--a method to obtain specific capabilities 

There seems to be some misconception among those who follow the Air-Sea Battle concept, as many believe that it is to eventually be the guiding principle of a new unified American military doctrine.  This does not appear to be the case.  Specific geographic areas were repeated among the witnesses as likely areas in which the ASB concept could be utilized: Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Pacific Rim, and the Eastern Mediterranean.  This hardly encompasses the entire globe. While ASB does have a potentially wide range in which it could be used by American forces, it is not without limitations.

It IS in the Early Stages of Development
Air-Sea Battle is still developing and we are unsure what is needed 
Air-Sea Battle mission focus areas are still being developed 

Perhaps  the most surprising response that came from the military witnesses was in an answer to Chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA) question, in which he asked quite simply: "What more do you need from us?" Forbes is known to be one of ASB's core Congressional supporters, and his potential voice of support for military platforms that would be requested by military brass would hold some serious weight.  Yet ASB is still such a new concept that there is a great deal of uncertainty of what is needed, as well as what a definitive concept will entail. It should be of no surprise that the answers to Congressman Forbes questions were answered with a high level of uncertainty. The phrase Air-Sea Battle exercises allow all the branches to look through a prism to see what future needs may be was uttered more than once.

The Army DOES Have a Role to Play in ASB 

While the primary focus of ASB is to integrate the capabilities  of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines into a layered network that will allow for enhanced cohesion during military operations, the army will likely a niche role in the concept.  Witnesses from the army spoke about exercises that have taken place  with the navy in which army apache  helicopters were positioned on navy carriers and used naval radar capabilities to track down small fast moving maritime targets in exercises.  While it seems likely that the marine corps is being counted on to bear the majority of "boots on the ground" responsibilities under the current ASB framework, the army will likely have an increased role to play as the concept develops further.

The Air-Sea Battle Concept IS NOT Based on Platform Procurement (...Yet) 
Strategy is not based on procurement 

Military witnesses stressed that platform procurement was not a requirement for ASB to be developed and integrated into the military lexicon.  There was, however, an emphasis by the branches on the need to maintain the F-35 joint fighter, the development of a new long-range strike bomber (LRSB), and the KC-46 refueling air tanker.  The first two platforms, especially, are of high importance.  One of the primary tenets of ASB is the need to counter potential threats by means of enhanced stealth capabilities.  If such capabilities are slow to come online, it could prevent ASB from reaching its full potential.

Air-Sea Battle COULD Involve Varying Levels of Preemptive Maneuvering and Strikes
The Primary Focus of Phase 0 in Air-Sea Battle is the attempt to shape the battle space

One witness stated that there could be scenarios in which the US military would need to rely on stealth capabilities in order to place assets inside a potential area of conflict in order to shape a potential battle space.  From the American perspective, this mindset is encouraging in that it shows a proactive mindset that may be favored  in circumstances in lieu of a reactive approach that the US military has had the luxury of undertaking in recent decades following the Cold War.

"Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted"
-Sun Tzu 
(More on Mr. Sun's country of origin later)

Air-Sea Battle WILL Rely Increasingly on the Dispersion of US Military Assets 
Air-Sea Battle requires rapid and tight coordination 
A2AD Ranges have expanded 
There is a need to build sustained operations 
One of the primary ASB was deemed necessary by the US military was that new military capabilities by potential enemies: cruise and ballistic missiles with enhanced range, quiet diesel submarines and stealth aircraft, and the uncertainty within the realms of cyber and space, could leave assets that were concentrated into limited areas vulnerable to attack.  Since the ASB concept requires not only "breakthrough" ability in terms of pushing through an enemies defense; but also a need to sustain control over choke points and vital areas within the conflict, the US has looked to diversify its military real estate  portfolio in recent years--in particular the Eastern and South Pacific. The following has taken place within the past 2 years.
* Hardening of bases in Guam
* Increased rotations or Marines and Air Force assets into Australia
*Refurbishing of World War II airfields in Tinian and Saipan
* Negotiations with the Maldives about a large scale naval presence on multiple locations within the country
* Negotiations with the Philippines regarding a resumption of an American presence
* Invitation from Palau to resume a US military presence

In addition, the US Air Force is currently splitting its 40 F-22 fighters into a highly elusive, four plane "Rapid Raptor Packages".  It also should be noted that the Marine Corps is planning to do the same with its F-35B joint fighters. With military assets spread among such a wide array of locations,  ASB development will be critical in order for join force communication and actions to maintain optimum levels.

Air-Sea Battle IS Directed Towards the People's Liberation Army 
Air-Sea Battle is not focused on a particular adversary or region but towards accessing area challenges 

China. The elephant (or perhaps more geographically accurate, the obese panda) in the room.  While the country was only mentioned once by name (and not at all by members of the military), the primary focus of ASB is undoubtedly focused on the capabilities of the People's Liberation Army (PLA).  While there can be some focus on regional actors such as Iran and North Korea, an entire military concept is not being developed simply because these countries have some enhanced range on new ballistic missiles.  When speaking about ASB,   nearly all academics and analysts look to its potential strengths and pitfalls by measuring it against the capabilities of China.

There is virtually no conflict scenario in which the ideas of a developed Air-Sea Battle concept would not be of use against a conflict vs. the PLA in the East Asian region.  Although there are undoubtedly regions and maritime choke points in which ASB could be utilized, the necessity of such a complex and expensive undertaking of creating Air-Sea Battle  would not be necessary if the military did not believe that a clear threat existed, or would in relatively short time--As was the primary reason AirLand Battle was developed by the United States, which was to counter the Soviet military threat in Europe.

American Allies WILL BE a Major Part of the Air-Sea Battle Concept 
A US Marine General who was a witness to the hearing stated that "One of the most asymmetric advantages that the United States has is our allies". Although in very early stages, the United States has begun to reach out to its allies to inform them of how ASB is developing, and the respective role that they could choose to have.  One example of this is the sale of the F-35 to allied countries.  Once brought online, these countries will be implemented into the United States joint communication network.  There will likely be further moves made to implement allies into ASB in the areas of naval vessels, satellite communication, cyber security, and infantry.

While there is still a great deal of speculation of what ASB will become, there at least can be some understanding of what it is not--which is small thinking.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Northeast Project: What China's "Study" of Ancient History Says about Beijing's Strategy of Pursuing Territorial Claims

     Since  taking control of the country in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party has sought to solidify its claims on disputed territories (i.e. the "autonomous regions" of Xinjiang and Tibet) by claiming that such regions have been a part of China "since ancient times".  Additionally, regions that are not currently under the jurisdiction of the PRC (Taiwan, wide swaths of maritime areas in the East and South China Sea, and Okinawa) have been claimed by Chinese  government officials and scholars alike-- pointing to historical "knick-knacks" such as tribute payments, parched maps drawn over a thousand years ago by Chinese Imperial officials, and poems written by sailors as justification for Chinese claims over territory.

     Even though Chinese territorial claims that are based on  historical merit  have little or no value under the pretext of international law, such claims warrant attention due to the fact that these claims are being made by a state that has the world's second largest economy, as well as an increasingly assertive military.  The continuing "research" that is being done by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) with its   Northeast Project, is a look inside the mindset of Beijing's territorial strategy towards Korea, as well as its method of contorting history in order to help achieve multiple foreign and domestic policy objectives.

What is the Northeast Project? 
  According to Yoon Hwy-tak, a Professor of Chinese History in South Korea, the project was begun by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) in 2002. Coined  the Northeast Project, the endeavor  was an extension of the Ancient Civilization Research Center, created to conduct studies in the Chinese provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, with the premise that such studies were to "research and organize the culture, society, and social system of the Chinese mythic era of the Five Mythical Emperors, and the origin and formation of the Chinese nation and its relation to ancient civilization." The primary purpose of the study, however, was to show that the ancient Korean Kingdom of Koguryo was in fact part of "China".  The most recent research that has been conducted by the project (as late as July of this year)  has been deemed "closed" by Beijing and the findings not released to the public.

What is the Korean Kingdom of Koguryo? 
     The Kingdom of Koguryo was the largest of the three kingdoms that divided Korea until 668 AD. The Kingdom was said to have been founded around 37 BCE in the Tongge River Basin of present day North Korea.  As shown by the image below, the Koguro Kingdom extended well into Manchuria, which is situated in modern day China.


In 2003, The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that on June 24th, the CCP journal Guangming Ribao stated that "Koguryo was an ancient nation established by a Chinese minority tribe",  a notion that was repeated by the PLA Foreign Minister on multiple occasions following the publication.  Later "findings" of the Northeast Project stated that the Korean Kingdoms that later followed the Koguryo: The Gija Chosun, Puyo, and Barhae--were also part of Chinese history and even stated that China's realm extended as far as Korea's Han River.

As noted by the image, the Han River lies deep within South Korea's borders, passing through Seoul.

Why does Beijing Rely so Heavily on "Historical Claims"? 

 The heavy reliance of  history for contemporary Chinese territorial claims serves a number of purposes for Beijing.  First, China's attempt to increasingly incorporate the Xia and Shang Dynasties into historical territorial claims is a savvy one due to the fact that neither has a clear beginning and end date, so therefore China's history is without a clear starting point,  so it is able to expand deeper into history without constraints .  Secondly, China uses its historical claims to serve a political purpose, which is to defend itself against a separate ethnic history developing within China among its multitude of minority ethnic groups.  The PRC considers China to be a multi-ethnic state, and therefore all ethnic groups that are or have been part of the current territory that comprises the PRC are "Chinese" and therefore all people of the ancient Korean empires should be considered "Chinese".  This rationale also extends to the ethnic groups within Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, Yunnan, and other provinces throughout China, as well as territories outside its current jurisdiction--allowing for  historical "discoveries" from Chinese historians to be used in justifying future PRC territorial claims.

What are China's Concern's Regarding North Korean Territory? Isn't North Korea China's Most Reliable Ally? 

Of the myriad territorial disputes that China is currently involved in, the PRC-DPRK border is an area that is most likely to directly involve China either politically, militarily, or both in the near future.  The 880 mile (1,416 KM) border that China shares with the DPRK is important to China for a number of reasons.

 Carla Freeman of John Hopkins University points out, "as a result of territorial losses in the 19th century, Chinese territory falls about 11 miles (17km) short of the sea, leaving China's Tuman Delta region landlocked."  Freeman also points out that a railway bridge between Russia and North Korea at the mouth of the river acts as an effective block to any shipping at all on the river.  As a result, China signed a thirty year lease with the DPRK for use of its port facilities in Chongjin.

China also has legitimate concerns about the stability of the current regime in the DPRK, and the fallout that could result in its collapse.  A Recent RAND Corporation study regarding potential scenarios following a DPRK collapse theorized that most outcomes would involve the PRC on at least some level.  In recent years the PLA has conducted exercises in which it has simulated the crossing of the Yalu river with the objective of rapidly securing territory inside the DPRK in the event of its collapse.  If China were to have its military cross over into North Korea, it is likely to justify the action by citing the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed by China and North Korea in 1961.   It is entirely plausible that Beijing is looking to use the "findings" of the Northeast Project in order to justify any future occupation or annexation of Korean territory, by claiming that such territory has been an "inseparable part of China since ancient times".  Sound familiar?

Perhaps the issue of most concern to the leadership in Beijing is one of a domestic nature.  Chinese thinking about security has always linked the management of frontier affairs to its domestic security, and within the past 5 years, the PRC has placed the Yanbian autonomous prefecture on its watch list of regional security concerns as a "sensitive area".  The prefecture borders North Korea, and for centuries has been home for a sizable ethnically Korean population.  Much in the same way that  similar methods that have been used in provinces that have traditionally had the han Chinese ethnic group (the group that comprises 95% of the population of the PRC) in the minority, Yanbian has seen an influx of han migrants in recent years. The percentage of ethnic Koreans living in Yanbian has fallen from 60% in 1953 to 36% in 2000, and is expected to drop to 25% by 2015 in an effort to weaken Korean territorial claims.  In the event of a unified Korea, the issue of Yanbian belonging to Korea  would be one issue in which all Korean citizens could rally around---potentially a political nightmare for China to deal with. A number of nationalistic Koreans have called for the invalidation of the 1909 Gando Convention between Imperial Japan and the Qing Dynasty, in which Japan recognized China's claims to Jiandao, and Japan received railroad concessions in Northeast China.

The Gando Convention could also be a geo-political landmine for the PRC to negotiate, as the PRC has stated that other treaties signed during  the Qing Dynasty period are invalid (including the treaty of Shimonoseki, which granted Japan sovereignty over Taiwan), due to such treaties being signed by the Qing while under duress.

In conclusion, China's constant practice of revisionist history needs to be understood in its proper context by international actors if Beijing's actions are to be understood and countered.  Otherwise, Mongolia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bhutan, and Thailand could someday be considered a vital part of China.