Normalizing Military Operations in the South China Sea

By Brandon D. Hughes

Introduction

On December 22, 2016 Hainan Airlines flew its first chartered flight to Woody Island (Ying Xing Dao), one of the many disputed islands in the Paracel Island Chain claimed by China in the South China Sea. For a mere 1200 Yuan (roughly $173 USD), a patriotic Chinese tourist could purchase a one-way ticket to visit the controversial island outpost.1 Less than a week later, China sailed its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, around Taiwan, accompanied by an escort of five People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) warships, amid vocal protests from the Taiwan and Japanese governments.2 Though decades behind the more advance U.S. Nimitz and Gerald R. Ford class carriers, the deployment of China’s newest power projection platform sends a clear strategic message. The series of moves by Beijing are not only tactical decision points, but part of a broader strategic narrative aimed at regional competitors, periphery countries, and the United States. Beijing is sidestepping concerns over its militarization in the region by simply continuing on its own agenda. By downplaying controversial decisions and promoting “standard” and “scheduled” actions or exercises, Beijing is shaping the narrative to its benefit. Additionally, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is pursuing multiple avenues to promote mutual interests with its neighbors and shift attention away militarization efforts.

China’s militarization is as much a domestic issue as it is a blunt approach to international diplomacy. The ever-growing military prowess of Beijing is steamrolling weaker countries and brushing off critics. The CCP does subscribe to the age-old analogy using both the carrot and the stick in global diplomacy. For example, in the Philippines case, Beijing has had an on again off again charm offensive, supporting President Rodrigo Duterte, and sidestepping disputes over the Scarborough Shoal.3 The remarkable policy shift in the Duterte administration has allowed Beijing to continue development of the Shoal without widespread pushback. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims nearly all of the South China Sea and therefore has ongoing disputes with nearly every Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member. Officially, the United States declines to take sides in the territorial disputes, and continues to support United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and continues overflight surveillance and Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPS).  Leadership in Beijing does not seem to possess a sense of urgency to resolve the South China Sea disputes, nor does it have enough external pressure to do so. In fact, the first U.S. FONOP patrol since President Trump took office was only conducted on May 24, 2017, passing within 12 miles of Mischief Reef in the Spratly Island China near the Philippines.4

Since 1949, China has settled disputes with nearly every country along its borders. These have not always been in Beijing’s ultimate favor, but were instrumental in allowing the CCP and PLA to refocus time and resources towards Taiwan and other core interests. The South China Sea may be seen as a flash point by many, but there remains plenty of room to negotiate. The South China Sea is one of the last disputed “borders” that Beijing has to contend with, and given the sheer volume of untapped natural resources, centrality of international trade, and over-fished Chinese littorals, it is in Beijing’s interest to maintain its position and continue to expand its footprint in the region.

Capabilities and Possibilities

By further wielding this defiant attitude and increased military aptitude, Beijing hopes to grow its footprint farther from its borders. Emplacement of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island and the likelihood of increased air defense and intelligence capabilities in the region are small moves towards a tactical asymmetric proficiency.5 Additionally, a recent article quoted U.S. military officials as having assessed that China’s Hainan Island harbors a robust system of air defense missile systems, including the SA-21 system with a 400km range.6 Once these emplacements are finalized, the accompanied C4ISR infrastructure refined, and defenses fully hardened, these small outposts will most certainly be incorporated into a notional South China Sea air defense identification zone.7

In the event of a Taiwan or South China Sea contingency, the possibility for China to declare a no-fly zone over the disputed islands is a near certainty, albeit one that will present significant difficulties in execution. A functioning aircraft carrier forward deployed into the South China Sea, active patrols by Chinese attack submarines, and Chinese fighters launching and recovering from the Paracel Island Chains, increase the possibility for China to blockade, inhibit, or force the hand of its Asia-Pacific neighbors if a crisis emerges. Emplacing Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Electronic Warfare (EW), and SAM assets on these islands sets conditions for China to be able to enforce stronger coercive options. Granted, these systems function perfectly in theory, and in the absence of outside interference, but will be stressed by the offensive capabilities of the U.S. and their allies in the event of an escalating conflict. A blockade or any sort of crisis places in jeopardy trillions of dollars in trade that pass through the South China Sea each year. The likelihood of a large-scale action is unlikely; however, smaller disputes have the potential to erupt if gone unchecked.

Conclusion

The Chinese strategy is to probe, test, and normalize its economic and military efforts while reinforcing a strategic message characterizing these operations and policies as normal part of statecraft. Actions by the U.S. and other regional stakeholders have been unsuccessful in bringing about significant changes to the current dynamic. FONOPs by the U.S. Navy are met with stern rebuttals from Beijing, but do little to change Chinese policy. The continued Chinese development of artificial islands in the South China Sea will offer a jumping off point for both civil maritime and military operations. This also adds a geographic buffer zone against western influence. So far, none of the artificial islands are assessed to be capable of handling a deep-water port limiting the amount of force projection capability the islands can provide.  However, Beijing has more options should the deployment of its submarine fleet from the Sanya base in Hainan require additional coverage. The buildup of the island and the capability does not greatly increase China’s force projection capability, but it does offer something more valuable at this time, a permanent foothold in South China Sea. The U.S. has few options which may alter Beijing’s path but the longer this policy goes unchecked the more dug in reality becomes. Countering the Beijing narrative is crucial but concrete steps must be taken by the U.S. and the ASEAN countries before these small outposts become bigger militarized stepping stones.

Brandon Hughes is a Senior Regional Analyst-Asia for Planet Risk and has previously worked with the U.S. Army, the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, and Asia Society. He is a combat veteran and has conducted research on a wide variety of regional conflicts. Brandon holds a Masters of Law in International Relations from Tsinghua University, Beijing and has extensive overseas experience focused on international security.

References

1. “China to Philippines: ‘We’ll go to war’ over South China Sea,” L. Todd Wood, Washington, Times, May 23, 2017, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/may/23/china-philippines-well-go-war-over-south-china-sea/

2. “U.S. Warship Sails Near Island Claimed by Beijing in South China Sea,” Jane Perlez, May 24, 2017, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/24/world/asia/south-china-sea-us-navy-warship-spratly-islands.html?_r=0

3. “三沙永兴岛民航公务包机成功首航每天往返海口(图),” http://mil.news.sina.com.cn/2016-12-22,/docifxyxury8051270.shtml , 2016年12月22日 17:38 央视 AND “China Begins Daily Civil Charter Flights to South China Sea Outpost,” 22 December, 2016, Reuters, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-china-idUSKBN14B0UJ

4. “Chinese warships enter South China Sea near Taiwan in show of force,” 26 December, 2016, Reuters, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/27/chinese-warships-enter-south-china-sea-near-taiwan-in-show- of-force

5. “Beijing’s missile move in South China Sea could make US think twice about getting too close,” https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/beijings-missile-move-in-south-china-sea-could-make-us-think-twice-about-getting-too-close, Euan Graham, Wednesday 17 February 2016 00.43 EST AND “China’s New Spratly Island Defenses”, PUBLISHED: DECEMBER 13, 2016, https://amti.csis.org/chinas-new-spratly-island-defenses/

6. “China is mobilising hundreds of missiles to disputed islands, US officials claim,” December 27, 201611:21am, http://www.news.com.au/finance/economy/world-economy/china-is-mobilising-hundreds-of-missiles-to- disputed-islands-us-officials-claim/news-story/4f375e33d1ef2404bef156c7c3f329df

7. “China Says It Could Set Up Air Defense Zone in South China Sea,” By EDWARD WONGMAY 31, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/01/world/asia/china-says-it-could-set-up-air-defense-zone-in-south-china- sea.html?_r=0

Featured Image: Subi Reef in the South China Sea. (CSIS AMTI/DigitalGlobe)

U.S. Options for the People’s Republic of China’s Maritime Militias

This article originally featured on Divergent Options and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Blake Herzinger


National Security Situation:  People’s Republic of China (PRC) Maritime Militias operating in the East China Sea (ECS) and South China Sea (SCS).

Date Originally Written:  February 21, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  April 6, 2017.

Author and/or Article Point of View: Author believes in freedom of navigation and maintenance of good order at sea in accordance with customary and written law of the sea. The article is written from the point of view of U.S. sea services leadership toward countering PRC maritime irregulars at sea.

Background:  The PRC employs irregular militia forces at sea alongside naval and maritime law enforcement units.  By deploying these so-called “blue hulls” manned by un-uniformed (or selectively-uniformed) militiamen, the PRC presses its maritime claims and confronts foreign sea services within a “gray zone[1].”  In keeping with national traditions of People’s War, PRC Maritime Militias seek advantage through asymmetry, while opposing competitors whose rules of engagement are based on international law.  The PRC Maritime Militia participated in several of the most provocative PRC acts in the SCS, including the 2009 USNS Impeccable incident, the seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and the 2014 China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) 981 confrontation with Vietnam that also involved the smaller Vietnam Maritime Militia[2].

Significance:  On its surface, employing irregular forces may be an attractive option for a state facing a more powerful opponent, or for a state interested in “a less provocative means of promoting its strategic goal of regional hegemony” such as the PRC[3].  However, incorporating these irregular forces into a hybrid national strategy has deleterious impacts on the structure of the international legal system, particularly in maritime law and the laws of naval warfare[4].  PRC Maritime Militias’ use of “civilian” fishing vessels to support, and conduct, military operations distorts this legal structure by obfuscating the force’s identity and flaunting established international legal boundaries.

Option #1:  U.S. political and military leaders engage the PRC/People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLAN) directly and publicly on the existence and operations of the Maritime Militia, insist upon adherence to internationally-accepted legal identification of vessels and personnel[6], and convey what costs will be imposed on the PRC/PLAN if they do not change their behavior.

As an example, the Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift, has voiced his frustration with PLAN unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of the PRC Maritime Militia and its relationships with state law enforcement and military forces[5]. In the event that the PRC declines to engage in dialogue regarding the Maritime Militia, discontinuing PLAN participation in the Rim of the Pacific exercise is the suggested response.

Risk:  Without clearly attaching costs to continued use of militia forces in operations against the USN, Option #1 is unlikely to affect PRC behavior.  Conveying possible imposed costs carries risk of further-degrading relations between the U.S. and PRC, but it is precisely PRC perceptions of their behavior as costless that encourages the behaviors exhibited by the PRC’s Maritime Militia[7].

Gain:  Option #1 is an excellent opportunity for the U.S. to underline its commitment to good order at sea and a rules-based maritime order.  By encouraging the PRC to acknowledge the Maritime Militia and its associated command structure, the U.S. can cut through the ambiguity and civilian camouflage under which the Maritime Militia has operated unchallenged.  In the event that the PRC declines to engage, conveying the possible imposition of costs may serve as a warning that behavior negatively affecting good order at sea will not be tolerated indefinitely.

Option #2:  U.S. Pacific Command’s Joint Interagency Task Force West (JIATF-W) assists the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in developing and implementing an organic maritime domain awareness (MDA) capability with domestic, and international, interagency sharing and response capability.  For the purposes of this article, MDA will be understood to be a host-nation’s ability to “collect, fuse, analyze and disseminate maritime data, information and intelligence relating to potential threats to [its] security, safety, economy or environment[8].”

Risk:  Close to a score of abandoned information portals and sharing infrastructures have been tried and failed in Southeast Asia, a cautionary tale regarding the risk of wasted resources.  Building upon over 20 years of JIATF-W’s experience should help to mitigate this risk, so long as an MDA solution is developed cooperatively and not simply imposed upon ASEAN.

Gain:  By providing focused and long-term support to an ASEAN-led solution, the U.S. can make progress in an area where MDA has been plagued by reticence, and occasionally inability to share vital information across interagency and national borders.  Shared awareness and cooperation at sea will combat the ability of the PRC Maritime Militia to operate uncontested in the SCS by enabling more effective law enforcement and naval response by affected countries.  Working through existing regional institutions such as Singapore’s Information Fusion Centre would add increased value to Option #2.

Option #3:  Utilize U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to provide law enforcement and maritime safety training support to states bordering the ECS/SCS interested in creating their own maritime militias.

Risk:  Expanding a concept that is damaging the rules-based order may increase the rate of disintegration of good order at sea.  Any observable indication that the U.S. is encouraging the creation of irregular maritime forces would likely be viewed negatively by the PRC.  Option #3 carries risk of engendering diplomatic or military conflict between the U.S. and PRC, or between the PRC and U.S. partners.

Gain:  Option #3 might provide some level of parity for states facing PRC militia vessels.  Vietnam has already made the decision to pursue development of a maritime militia and others may follow in hopes of countering the PRC’s irregular capability.  USCG involvement in the organizational development and training of militias might provide some limited opportunities to shape their behavior and encourage responsible employment of militia forces.

Other Comments:  Encouragement for the expansion of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) is not addressed.  The CUES  was adopted during the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium (WPNS) and provides a basis for communications, maritime safety, and maneuvering guidelines for use by ships and aircraft in unplanned encounters at sea.  CUES is not a legally binding document, but an agreed-upon protocol for managing potentially escalatory encounters in the Pacific[9].  This author believes coast guards adjoining the contested areas of the ECS and SCS will continue to resist CUES adoption in order to maintain operational latitude.  Given the reticence of coast guards to accede to the agreement, drawing PRC Maritime Militia into CUES seems an unrealistic possibility.

Recommendation:  None.

Blake Herzinger served in the United States Navy in Singapore, Japan, Italy, and exotic Jacksonville, Florida. He is presently employed by Booz Allen Hamilton and assists the U.S. Pacific Fleet in implementation and execution of the Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative. His writing has appeared in Proceedings and The Diplomat. He can be found on Twitter @BDHerzinger. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of any official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group. 


Endnotes:

[1]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea, Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[2]  Conor M. Kennedy and Andrew S. Erickson, “Model Maritime Militia: Tanmen’s Leading Role in the April 2012 Scarborough Shoal Incident,” CIMSEC, 21 April 2016, http://cimsec.org/model-maritime-militia-tanmens-leading-role-april-2012-scarborough-shoal-incident/24573

[3]  James Kraska and Michael Monti, “The Law of Naval Warfare and China’s Maritime Militia,” International Law Studies 91.450 (2015): 465, http://stockton.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi

[4]  Ibid.

[5]  Christopher Cavas, “China’s Maritime Militia a Growing Concern,” DefenseNews, November 21, 2016,  http://www.defensenews.com/articles/new-website-will-allow-marines-to-share-training-videos

[6]  The South China Sea’s Third Force: Understanding and Countering China’s Maritime Militia, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of Andrew S. Erickson, U.S. Naval War College). http://docs.house.gov/meetings/AS/AS28/20160921/105309/HHRG-114-AS28-Wstate-EricksonPhDA-20160921.pdf

[7]  The Struggle for Law in the South China Sea, Hearings on Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea Before the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, 114th Cong., 1 (2016)(Statement of James Kraska, U.S. Naval War College).

[8]  Secretary of the Navy Approves Strategic Plan for Maritime Domain Awareness, U.S. Navy, Last updated 8 October 2015, http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp? story_id=91417

[9]  Document: Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, USNI News, Last updated 22 August 2016, https://news.usni.org/2014/06/17/document-conduct-unplanned-encounters-sea

Featured Image: Reuters video journalist Peter Blaza (C), with assistant Oscar Abunyawan (R), films a Chinese fishing vessel docked on the mouth of Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, April 6, 2017. Picture taken April 6, 2017. (Erik De Castro, Reuters)

Sea Control 137 – Security Cooperation with Derek Reveron

By Matthew Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for a conversation with Professor Derek Reveron from the U.S. Naval War College to talk about how the United States military conducts its security cooperation mission and his book on the subject, Exporting Security.

Download Sea Control 137 – Security Cooperation with Derek Reveron

The transcript of the conversation between Professor Derek Reveron (DR) and Senior Producer Matthew Merighi (MM) begins below. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. Special thanks to Associate Producer Ryan Uljua for helping produce this episode.

DR: Great to be here. And just as the standard disclaimer I am speaking my own personal views and I don’t represent the Navy, the War College, or the Department of Defense.

MM: So, as is Sea Control tradition, please introduce yourself. Tell us a little bit about your background and what were the major things you did which got you to where you are today.

DR: I have a PhD in Public Policy Analysis from the University of Illinois in Chicago and the book represents a fusion of the two parts of my professional life. On the one hand, I’ve been a Navy Reservist for almost 27 years and in that role my career has been marked by the conflicts in the Balkans, Bosnia and Kosovo, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

And then there is the other side of my life which is my academic career that examines U.S. foreign policy and defense strategy. Where the two came together came when I was serving at the NATO headquarters in Kosovo in 1998/99 and I witnessed how the Supreme Allied Commander, Wesley Clark at the time, was both a military leader and, in the academic sense, a policy entrepreneur. He was a senior diplomat working closely with foreign heads of state and the U.S. Secretary of State as well. When I came back from that, I examined others in a similar vein: General Zinni in the late 1990s at CENTCOM and then I got to work with Admiral [William] Crowe a little bit when he was teaching at the Naval Academy and talked to him a little bit about his time at PACOM. What I learned is Combatant Commanders are as much policy entrepreneurs as they are warfighters. They have to be national security leaders, not just military leaders. 

MM: You said that’s what prompted you to write your book Exporting Security. Tell us a bit about it. Why specifically write this book? Also, there is a second edition which came out just last year. What prompted you to write not only the first version but the second version as well?

DR: The first edition I wrote during the height of the [Second] Iraq War. It was very clear what the military was doing in a combat zone but when we started looking at the U.S. exit path and strategy success was based on building the Iraqi forces to take over for U.S. forces. I looked more broadly outside of combat zones to see what else the U.S. military was doing and, partly being as a professor, I was able to work with other security cooperation offices primarily in Latin America and East Africa to see what they were doing and the ways they were helping their countries address what I call security deficits.

The second edition was nice to revisit because I found with the first edition that I tilted too much towards weak states and failed states while ignoring developed states. The second edition takes a couple of things into account. One, I got to serve for a year in Afghanistan working at the main NATO training command for the Afghan security forces where we did industrial-scale security cooperation. And then second, looking at the things the U.S. was doing to help developed countries, such as Japan deal with its security concerns on China, Saudi Arabia as it relates to Iran, and then European countries as it relates to Russia. So the second edition takes into account how the U.S. helps developed countries take care of their security deficits.

MM: What are the ways the U.S. addresses security deficits? What are the different levers to pull, methods, and TTPs you end up using for that kind of work?

DR: The simple approach is through Foreign Military Sales. Some of the most important exports from the United States are weapons and training. If you take a particular example of a C-130 transport plane, I think more are flying on other countries’ flags than flying the U.S. flag. As a professor I am deeply involved in the education of foreign military leaders. At the Naval War College we have about 70 countries that send officers and these are top performers.

At any one time, 15 percent of the world’s navies are led by Naval War College graduates. There is a leader development dimension in addition to that. Finally, through exercises is where it all comes together because coalition warfare is the norm. When I was in Afghanistan we had 50 countries that we were working with. Interoperability is key and you get it by operating common platforms through defense exports, from common training and doctrine through education and training, and then you practice that through exercises.

MM: You’ve talked a little bit about some of the reasons embedded in this; not just how we do it but also why. I want you to expand on that a bit more. You mentioned both operational but also strategic reasons why this mission is important. Walk us through what the U.S. gets out of this security cooperation arrangement.

DR: So there’s two sides of it. There’s what we get out of it but also American generosity and political culture explain a lot. There was an officer from Chad who captured the political culture side: “if your neighbor’s house is burning, you should put it out so it doesn’t jump to your own house.” But there is an effort by the U.S. to help other countries be better because if they help them be stronger to deal with their own security challenges than the U.S. will not have to intervene.

Additionally, in combat zones, for the U.S. to redeploy, it needs to hand off the security situation to some other military. In the Balkans we look to NATO to do those missions and we still have KFOR running in Kosovo. In Afghanistan and Iraq it was all about handing it off to the Afghans and the Iraqis. But I think the overall goal is to stabilize the region. So in South Korea, where North Korea is in the news daily now, this is probably one of the best security cooperation success stories because the Koreans were able to use U.S. training and equipment to create a very capable military. So now you have a 700,000-person South Korean force supported by a 30,000 U.S. force.

MM: You also mentioned some of the economic aspects of these relationships and what they can do for the defense industry and industrial base which underpins some of our security advantages. Walk us through some of the political economy aspects of security cooperation too.

DR: From a U.S. domestic perspective, defense weapons are a huge export for the United States. That has multiple aspects: employs Americans, keep lines open, and lowers unit cost. Could you imagine how much an F-35 would be if we didn’t also have international partners buying into that system and bringing that cost down? I haven’t been able to confirm but, informally, someone told me that  international buyers of the P-8 caused the purchase price for the U.S. to drop by 10 percent. And then on the other end of why security even matters is economic opportunity. Admiral Stavridis when he was the Commander of SOUTCOM said “money is a coward.” Countries that lack security aren’t going to get investment or trading partners.

MM: So those are the benefits. What are some of the drawbacks of or pushback against the security cooperation mission? This reflects some of the things I saw in the Air Force, and I should put in the caveat that my views do not reflect those of the United States Air Force. There is pushback from some and, if not hostility, skepticism about the security cooperation mission. Walk us through why security cooperation can be a controversial topic in some military circles.

DR: There’s a lot of pushback on the idea and a lot of it has to do with our performance in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. Without a doubt we could use the “f”-word, failure, in some of these places. I think there are three million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, so their impressions of building partner capacity is based on their personal experience. We all know it is dissatisfying. At this point, the Iraqis should have had the capability to deal with the emergence of ISIS and bringing regional stability. The Afghans today are taking greater casualties than they were five years ago in spite of a hundred billion dollar effort to build their force.

So we have those experiences and then some positive experiences. If we want to compare industrial scale efforts, I would also raise South Korea because that was a rebuild effort from scratch in the 1950s and their military today is fantastic. If we look at another more recent small-scale effort, Plan Colombia began in the early 2000s with a modest amount of U.S personnel, training, and equipment like helicopters to build an air mobility command. Using that, the Colombian military brought their government from the brink of failure back to a great, strong, democratic, capitalist country.

But if we look more broadly one of the reasons why failure is going to be more common is that we are non-exclusive. That over the last 15 years we’ve tripled the number of Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) from 40 to 120. If we look at funding for International Military Education and Training (IMET) it’s doubled. Foreign Military Financing, where you can use U.S. grants to buy equipment, has more than doubled. We’re extremely non-exclusive and any time you take the non-exclusive approach and plant seeds everywhere, you’re not always going to get flowers. So there are probably going to be more failures than successes.

My answer to critics on this point is that it’s a foreign policy program. I know we want to measure outcomes based on what we think we’re doing and there’s always an effort to make armies, navies, and air forces better, but there is a foreign policy dimension to this that we cannot overlook. Sometimes what that means is we get a better relationship or the U.S. gets base access. There are clear cooperative benefits such as working with Japan and Israel on missile defense. That’s security cooperation too. It’s not just Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

MM: You’ve outlined why security cooperation is important and answered some of the skepticism about the mission. But how do you answer the broader question which came up during the last presidential election about the role of the military. I think there was a quote, at one point, that the military’s job is to “break stuff” and it should only be doing kinetic missions. How does the military, which is already overstretched with its current obligations, balance the kinetic mission with the security cooperation mission?

DR: This is an old idea. One of the inspirations for me was Marine General [Charles] Krulak and his experience in Somalia in the early 1990s. He talked about the three-block war where, at any one time, a Marine unit could be fighting, conducting peacekeeping, and conducting humanitarian assistance all at the same time. This is an important debate. I get pushback from both sides: the humanitarian community says “you’re militarizing foreign policy; this should be the work of NGOs, not military personnel.” My response is usually “I agree entirely and that is the preferred outcome” but in certain spaces where it is to dangerous for NGOs to operate, like Iraq and Afghanistan, you do find that the military is operating in those spaces.

From the military, I get the same sort of criticism that the U.S. military’s role is to fight and win the nation’s wars, kill people, and break things. And then I’ll usually highlight that the military is largely a logistics force. I think in the Army there is a 1:6 ratio of lethal trigger-puller to support. How I see security cooperation is: what are those six people doing when they’re not fighting war? The U.S. military has the largest logistics capability in the world. The U.S. military has the largest deployable medical capability in the world. So when President Obama wanted to respond to the Ebola crisis, he looked to the U.S. military because it could bring its own logistics and medical capability to help countries overcome the security deficit created by the disease.

Without a doubt it is controversial but it also goes into how do you conceptualize war. The kind of work I’ve been doing is really about how to prevent conflict. I think how you do that is through strength and partnership. My refrain is “even Switzerland flies the F-18.” It has more fighter aircraft than Nigeria does. Countries need a minimum level of national security both from a defense perspective, such as protecting their airspace, but also the internal perspective which deals more with policing.

MM: Walk us through a couple of other examples beyond Ebola, Iraq, and Afghanistan of how the U.S. has used its robust logistics capability for the security cooperation mission.

DR: Let me try to navalize this a bit.

MM: We are a maritime security podcast after all.

DR: I’m a Navy reservist but the irony is the two times I’ve been mobilized for deployments I’ve worked for the Army. So I probably have more insights there. The Navy is extremely embedded in the concept of security cooperation. For example, in the book I reference how in 2005 two thinkers, Admiral [John] Morgan and Admiral [Charles] Martoglio proposed the idea of the 1,000 ship Navy. It wasn’t 1,000 U.S.-flagged warships but it was the idea that the oceans are too big and too much maritime insecurity for one country to deal with it alone. The U.S. would instead use its logistics and intelligence capabilities to organize maritime coalitions. We see this today where three maritime coalitions are operating out of Bahrain that patrol the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Gulf, and those important waterways and chokepoints. That’s security cooperation: countries that are working together to reduce security deficits at sea.

We saw it pay off about a year ago when the U.S. had an aircraft carrier gap in the region, so France assumed command of CTF-50 and used the Charles DeGaulle, its aircraft carrier, as the lead strike element. That was possible because the U.S. and France and other navies in the region had already been exercising together and promoting interoperability. That’s something where the U.S. benefits along those lines. You look at bilateral relationships in Northeast Asia: for every F-35 South Korea or Japan buys, that’s one more in-theater the U.S. could have in a time of crisis or one less the U.S. would need to provide. Coalition warfare is the norm and we need to promote that through interoperability and information sharing.

MM: I’m glad we’re getting to the maritime dimension of this. In the maritime chapter of your book, you talk about some issues which most people don’t think about they think about the sea services. You talk about illegal fishing, piracy, trafficking, and pollution. What makes the maritime domain different for conducting security cooperation versus on the land and in the air? How do those issues you identify play into the Navy’s and the Coast Guard’s capabilities for dealing with these challenges?

DR: In general, I’m united about the idea of security deficits. Regardless of where it is, a security deficit is when a country lacks the ability to protect its national security without others’ help. And in this case other tends to be the United States because we are the largest military dollar-wise and very professional. The U.S. has no shortage of soft power; almost every country in the world wants U.S. attention. The source of the deficits change though. In Latin America on the ground, its transnational gangs and trafficking organizations. At sea in East Africa, it was maritime piracy but the deficit was on the land. The Somali government couldn’t control its water space and that created the deficit at sea which allowed the pirates to challenge commercial shipping.

Same thing with airspace. We take for granted in the U.S. that we have a good idea of what is happening in our airspace. That’s not true in many parts of the world, so the U.S. will promote air understanding through exporting radars and building command and control networks. At sea, we have to recognize that the U.S. Navy is focused on sea control and naval warfare but the other 100 or more navies and coast guards in the world aren’t. They are more concerned about migrant flow, illegal fishing, and maritime piracy. When the U.S. Navy wants to work with these countries, that’s where it has to meet them. They have to focus on what concerns them, not what concerns us. But I will also argue that, if we work together on how to combat maritime piracy, we can bring the same interoperability to a combat scenario.

MM: As you mentioned, a lot of the world’s navies are more like coast guards. What do you see as the proper balance between the roles of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard for doing the security cooperation mission? Should the Navy be more adept at dealing with law enforcement issues even though it’s not allowed to do them in the U.S.? Do you see the Coast Guard as having a larger role in the security cooperation mission despite its smaller size?

DR: I don’t want to upset some of your listeners by using the Grey Zone concept because I know it’s controversial but, by U.S. law, we want to separate war from police very cleanly. In general I agree that the Navy should lead in issues of war and the Coast Guard should lead in issues of law enforcement. What I have found in my reading of military history and personal military experience is that war and peace do not separate so neatly on the battlefield. What about when a drug trafficking organization uses a semi-submersible vehicle? Is that really a police problem or is it a Navy problem? In general, the Coast Guard does not practice anti-submarine warfare (ASW); the Navy does. It really depends. Would I want the Coast Guard to develop an anti-submarine warfare capability? I would say no because it’s time-consuming and expensive. But would it make sense for the Navy to do ASW during some of its build-ups? I’m more open-minded to that. Is there a shortage of vessels whether they are grey-hull [Navy] or white-hull [Coast Guard]? Absolutely. Is there any amount of vessels the U.S. can deploy to solve the gaps on its own? Absolutely not. That is why I think the global initiatives are important for U.S. national security.

MM: One of the ideas you discuss is the Global Fleet Station concept. Walk us through that. What is the concept, how does it work, and how has it been utilized so far?

DR: This is a small-scale attempt for the U.S. Navy to work with partners around the world. In Africa it’s called the Africa Partnership Station. In the Western Hemisphere, there’s a version called Southern Partnership Station. The Pacific has Pacific Partnership Station. It’s a mobile training platform, the Navy will go from port to port doing short courses. In many cases, you aren’t going to be able to solve the long-term security problems these nations have with a week’s worth of training. But it’s not intended to do that. It’s one way to supplement other security cooperation programs.

As a professor, I believe one learns best when teaching others. So the sailors, marines, and coast guardsmen who embark on these programs are teaching but they’re also learning. There’s been good efforts on the part of the Ghanaian and Nigerian navies to combat armed robbery at sea activity which has come through these training programs. I would start with being realistic on what the U.S. can actually do. I’ve got a good friend at Tulane who takes a more isolationist view of U.S. foreign policy. To him, we’re at a great point in our history: we’ve got a strong military and a strong economy, oceans to protect us, and safe neighbors, so we should pull back. If I could quote former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, he said “we can give them training, we can give them equipment, but we obviously can’t give them the will to fight. But if we give them training, we give them equipment, give them support, and give them some time, I hope they will have the will to fight.” I would say that’s broadly true. We can train and equip but we can’t give the will to fight. An outside actor like the United States can only have so much influence.

MM: Throughout the course of your research, you’ve given a great and detailed description of how the U.S. does the security cooperation mission. You also mentioned that the United States, for the most part, is the international partner of choice whether because we are a superpower or because we can be in more places due to our mastery of logistics. In your research, have you come across other ways of doing the security cooperation mission used by other countries, say what Japan is starting to do in Southeast Asia, the French support mission in Mali, or the nations operating under the NATO banner in Afghanistan? Are there other security cooperation models which you found interesting or noteworthy for our audience?

DR: I think in general other countries follow the U.S. model but, really, the U.S. doesn’t have a model. This is one of the criticisms: there is no one-size-fits-all approach where you can measure things. To me, that’s the right approach. I understand why people want to see performance measurements. But it’s a foreign policy program and not every project is going to be successful.

For example, the Chinese have replicated U.S. hospital ships that are doing medical diplomacy missions. They’ve replicated the idea of war colleges and staff colleges bringing foreign personnel to study. Let me use another successful example of Canada. Canada had been training Jamaican helicopter pilots for decades. They’d fly them up to Canada for training and it would be very expensive. So at one point they said they’d like the Jamaicans to be self-sufficient in this. So Canada helped stand up a helicopter training program so it could train its own pilots. But now what happened is that Jamaica became a regional center to train pilots from throughout the Caribbean and central america. And that to me is a great idea: put a training base in another country. That’s a lesson I think we could learn. We’ve done that with peacekeeping center. The other one with Plan Colombia.

The question you ask is ‘what do these countries look like when they graduate? Do these countries ever graduate?’ It is a foreign policy program so, for example, I don’t envision Israel ever graduating from the U.S. foreign assistance program. It’s an important relationship and in some ways it’s a two-way relationship such as through missile defense. But it’s also a U.S. foreign policy priority for Israel to have the strongest military in the region. In Colombia, their graduation is that they’re now training militaries from other parts of the hemisphere against drug traffickers and insurgents. To me that’s great news. It’s great that we have a long-term relationship with them but also that they are spreading out to train others to improve hemispheric security.

MM: So if you were president for a day and could move those bureaucratic levers, what would you do if you could make changes to how the U.S. security cooperation mission works? Would there be personnel changes, would you invest in certain technologies, would you put more resources or attention into certain regions? What would be your wish list for what you would like the U.S. to do to improve its security cooperation mission?

DR: The first thing would be to preserve and strengthen the dual-key approach. One of the concerns people have is militarizing foreign policy. Beginning with Secretary Clinton and Secretary Gates, they put in a dual-key approach that any program would need to be approved by both State and Defense. What I found working with different embassies around the world is ambassadors look at these programs as deliverables to their host government. All countries have national security challenges; even Switzerland buys the F-18. So we need to make sure we preserve that foreign policy dimension.

The second would be to look long term. We’re on annual budgets if we’re lucky but these programs take a long time to develop. As we know with our military it takes a decade or longer to get a senior NCO or mid-grade officers. So we need to be in less of a hurry. Finally, we need to embrace the idea that our partners’ failure is not our failure. I had to embrace this idea a bit when I was in Afghanistan. One of the problems with U.S. military culture is that can-do attitude which works wonders most of the time, but with security cooperation and assistance programs, we need to make sure the U.S. is not doing the work for others. That success is when they can stand on their own.

This strikes me as there is a little more patience today in Iraq, as you can see in General [Joseph] Votel’s testimony to Congress in the last few weeks. We’re moving at an Iraqi pace. I’m sure that’s frustrating for some who’d say that, if it was the U.S., we’d be done by now. But the point is what happens after ISIS is defeated. It’s the Iraqis are still there. They need to be the ones with the skill and investment in their national security.

MM: That’s a good point to start wrapping up. So, as is Sea Control tradition, what are you reading? What would you recommend to people who are interested in learning more about security cooperation or otherwise?

DR: I recently picked up Nadia Schadlow’s book War and the Art of Governance. I didn’t intend to read it fully because I had grading to do but I really liked her book. I thought it was sort of a bookend for my work. I look at phase zero, before combat activities, while Nadia looks at post-conflict and the important role that stability operations play in building foreign forces after conflict. Her work looks at how stability ops are a critical part of U.S. Army history and her bigger conclusion, which I find compelling, is that we suffer from a denial syndrome. That we still have this notion that wars look like what we see on the History Channel with victory in the Pacific or D-Day invasion and we don’t have documentaries on post-conflict reconstruction in Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the Balkans.

Beyond that, I’ve got a couple of my own book projects I’m working on including looking at the other side of this coin: what generates human insecurity. If you look at conflict data, the event where countries which invade other countries is pretty rare right now. Obviously you have examples like Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. and Iraq, Israel, and Lebanon. But there’s a lot of conflict in the world, at security below the state level with transnational actors. So I’ll be looking at that and how it generates U.S. foreign policy responses.

MM: I’ll take this opportunity to plug Exporting Security again on your behalf. I’m personally a big fan of the security cooperation mission and there’s not a whole lot of scholarship on it and I appreciate you writing about this mission which normally flies under the radar. Thank you for being on Sea Control, good luck with your book projects, and hopefully we can get you on another time to talk about your new research.

DR: Thank you for your time, Matt, and thank you for all of the work you guys are doing with CIMSEC. Keep promoting the importance of maritime security and promoting the role that navies play and making sure we can drink coffee in the morning.

Derek Reveron is a professor of national security affairs and the EMC Informationist Chair at the U.S. Naval War College and author of Exporting Security: International Engagement, Security Cooperation, and the Changing Face of the U.S. Military. These views are his own.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control. 

China’s Aircraft Carrier: ‘Dreadnought’ or ‘Doctrinal Dilemma’?

This post first appeared on the National Maritime Foundation and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here

By Captain Gurpreet S. Khurana, PhD

Less than five years after the China commissioned its first Soviet-origin aircraft carrier Liaoning in September 2012, it launched its first-ever domestic carrier – the Type 001A – on 26 April 2017. The new carrier is likely to be commissioned in 2020 as Shadong. Even though the Liaoning and the Type 001A are medium-sized conventionally powered (non-nuclear) vessels equipped with aircraft ski-jumps (not catapults), and thus far less capable than the super-carriers operated by the United States, the occasion was celebrated in China as a major achievement symbolic of China’s ‘great power’ status. A report indicates that a larger, next generation Type 002 carrier equipped with a steam catapult has been under construction since March 2015, and its follow-on carriers may be nuclear powered.  

The launch of the Type 001A is, indeed, a milestone in the development of China as a major naval power. It reminds us of the famous battleship HMS Dreadnought commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1906. The Dreadnought was a highly successful warship induction marking the dawn of the 20th century warfare at sea. It became iconic of a transformative naval capability in a manner that the older existing warships of the world began to fade into obsolescence as pre-Dreadnoughts. The celebration in Beijing similarly justified, given the achievement of China’s defense-technological endeavor within a relatively short period of time. It stands out rather conspicuously in comparison to India, which has been operating aircraft carriers since 1961, but is yet to commission its first indigenous carrier named Vikrant.

Moving from ‘symbolism’ to ‘substance,’ such ‘flat-tops’ are indeed valuable platforms for maritime force-projection, which, for centuries, has been an important naval mission of all major power navies. However, given China’s maritime geography and the kind of insecurities it encounters today from vastly superior adversarial navies of the United States and Japan operating in the western Pacific Rim, the PLA Navy’s growing doctrinal reliance on carriers seems to be an aberration. It may have been more prudent for China to focus on bolstering its existing Anti-Access/ Area-Denial (A2AD) operational doctrine with the naval doctrine of ‘sea-denial’ – particularly given the PLA Navy’s traditional strengths in submarine, sea-mine and missile warfare – rather than diluting its naval doctrine by adding the carrier-based ‘sea-control’ doctrine.

Chinese carriers will also be highly vulnerable in the western Pacific Rim, not only to the advanced navies, but also to the many unfriendly airbases and submarine bases of the littoral countries dotting the periphery of the East and South China Seas. It is well known that even the smaller countries in the region are building potent sea-denial capabilities against China. The recent induction of the six advanced Russian Kilo-class submarines into the Vietnamese Navy is a case in point. If a maritime conflict breaks out in the area, the PLA Navy carrier would surely be a prime target and any such successful targeting would be a major symbolic blow to China’s morale, and thus its war effort.

The Chinese believe that ‘sea-control’ is necessary to assert its maritime-territorial claims in the China Seas. This could have been achieved effectively – and at reduced risk – by optimally using the air-bases in the Chinese mainland and the occupied islands, which China is expanding through reclamation. Ironically, China’s island-building activity in the South China Sea has caused a major damage to China’s claim to its ‘peaceful rise’ theory, which is now being aggravated by its own carrier-building program. Furthermore, the program lacks operational credibility, much into the foreseeable future. It would take the PLA Navy many years to operationalize a full-fledged Carrier Task Force, and possibly decades to make it effective enough to achieve sea-control against advanced navies. Meanwhile, the process could cause an indelible dent in China’s objective to propagate a ‘benign’ and ‘constructive’ image in the Indo-Pacific region, including through its ‘One-Belt-One-Road’ (OBOR) initiative.

Chinese strategists also believe that carrier-based sea-control is necessary to protect their Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) in the Indian Ocean, as indicated by China’s recently articulated strategy of “open-seas protection” in its 2014 Defense White Paper. However, this could have been achieved – again effectively, and at reduced risk – by deploying its warships in its naval bases at strategic locations such as Djibouti and Gwadar.

China is likely to have at least three aircraft carriers in commission at any given time in the future. The Chinese have clearly gone too far ahead for any reappraisal of its aircraft-carrier program, possibly lured into the ‘command of the seas’ gambit of the major western naval powers, without factoring their own geostrategic conditions and circumstances. One may therefore, expect that the PLA Navy’s ‘doctrinal duality’ in terms of primacy to both ‘sea control’ and ‘sea denial’ may become its dilemma in the coming years.

Captain Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD, is Executive Director at the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy, or the Government of India. He can be reached at gurpreet.bulbul@gmail.com.

Featured Image: In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a newly-built aircraft carrier is transferred from dry dock into the water at a launch ceremony at a shipyard in Dalian in northeastern China’s Liaoning Province, Wednesday, April 26, 2017. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP)

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