Category Archives: Asia-Pacific

Analysis relating to USPACOM.

Déjà Vu at the 2018 Shangri-La Dialogue?

By Tuan N. Pham

Introduction

Last year, CIMSEC published an article analyzing Beijing’s decision to send an unusually low-ranking delegation head, Lieutenant General (LTG) He Lei who serves as the Vice President of the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) Academy of Military Science (AMS), to the 2017 Shangri-La Dialogue (SLD). The selection was a sharp departure from general past practice. In 2011, Beijing dispatched its Defense Minister (the highest-ranked representative to date) followed by the Vice President of the PLA AMS (lowest-ranked representative so far) the following year. From 2013 to 2016, the Chinese delegation was led by a deputy chief-level PLA general officer, closer in rank to the other attending defense ministers. This year, Beijing chose once again to send LTG He to the premier security forum in the Indo-Pacific region, despite last year’s pledge to send a delegation led by a four-star officer of Central Military Committee rank.

It was speculated that Beijing’s decision was a subtle refutation of last year’s stated agenda of “upholding the rules-based regional order, practical measures to avoid conflict at sea, and nuclear dangers in the Asia-Pacific” and pointed to a deeper problem that China has with the annual dialogue itself. Beijing chooses not to discuss its maritime disputes in any multilateral forum, asserting that bilateral negotiations are the appropriate mechanism to deliberate such contentious issues. The South China Sea (SCS) is a recurrent SLD topic – and China, much to its chagrin, has little influence over the non-friendly and as the Chinese might suggest, hostile agenda. There’s a growing sense within Beijing’s political elites that the SLD has become nothing more than an international forum to highlight (and shame) China’s perceived rule-breaking behavior in the region.

It was also suggested that Beijing may have been short-sighted. By downgrading its presence at the SLD, China ceded the strategic narrative and initiative to the United States and its allies. China yielded another highly visible international platform where its competitors could stake out their strategic positions, counter Chinese strategic messaging, and further challenge and encourage Beijing to become a more responsible global stakeholder that contributes positively to the international system.

The following analysis compares and contrasts the 2017 and 2018 dialogues in terms of Chinese themes, narratives, responses, and outcomes while trying to answer questions such as why did Beijing again send LTG He, what message is Beijing trying to convey, and what does it portend for the region in the near future?

2017 SLD Highlights

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull delivered the keynote speech, averring that Asia’s future peace and prosperity depend on preserving the rules-based regional order that has worked so well for so long. He suggested that China can only expand its strategic influence to match its economic might within the bounds set by the same rules-based regional order. The message implied that Beijing was undermining the rules-based order in Asia and warned that a coercive China would drive its regional neighbors to bolster alliances and partnerships between themselves and the United States. Prime Minister Turnbull also exhorted his regional neighbors to assume greater responsibility for their own security and prosperity.

During the first plenary session (United States and Asia-Pacific Security), U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis called out China for disregarding other nations’ interests and international law, militarizing the SCS, and undermining regional stability. He reiterated that the United States would continue “to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and demonstrate resolve through operational presence in the SCS and beyond.” Secretary Mattis urged China to recognize that North Korea has become a strategic liability and cautioned Beijing that seeking cooperation on Pyongyang did not mean Washington would not challenge Chinese activities in the SCS. Secretary Mattis also restated America’s steadfast commitment to the defense of Taiwan as outlined in the Taiwan Relations Act. 

During the second plenary session (Upholding the Rules-based Regional Order), then-Japanese Minister of Defense Tomomi Inada leveled similar criticism against China in her speech. She implied that Beijing bore most of the responsibility for the extant regional instability and criticized China for “unilaterally” altering the status quo in the East China Sea and SCS. Minister Inada also urged Beijing to follow international law and respect the prior year’s tribunal ruling on the SCS and expressed support for U.S. freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in the SCS.

Chinese diplomatic and media responses were expectedly swift and coordinated, but ultimately uninspiring. The PLA delegation held a media briefing on the summit’s sidelines at the end of the second day, defending China’s position as a rising power that abides by international law and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The delegation repeated longstanding policy positions on Taiwan, North Korea, and the SCS while expressing frustration that Beijing is unfairly singled out for criticism. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs followed the tepid response the next day and called out Mattis and Inada’s statements on the SCS and Taiwan as “irresponsible.”  

During the second special session (New Patterns for Security Cooperation), LTG He presented a self-serving speech underscoring the need for a new Asia-Pacific security framework featuring “common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security.” LTG He emphasized China’s peaceful and benevolent rise that contributes to global peace and prosperity and promoted the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) while promising to advance within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations the adoption of a Code of Conduct framework for the SCS.

2018 SLD Highlights

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered the keynote speech. Although the tone of his speech was largely conciliatory and deferential to Beijing, Prime Minister Modi repeatedly used the term “Indo-Pacific,” highlighting the critical role that America plays in the regional (and global) order, and underscored the imperative for a common rules-based system based on the consent of all.   

IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2018 – Keynote Address by Narendra Modi (Photo by IISS)

During the first plenary session (U.S. Leadership and the Challenges of Indo-Pacific Security), U.S. Secretary of Defense Mattis rebuked China for “intimidation and coercion” in the Indo-Pacific and declared that America does not plan to abandon its leading role in the region. He also specifically called out Beijing’s destabilizing militarization of the SCS, while further encouraging and challenging China to act responsibly in accordance with established global rules and norms.

During the third plenary session (Shaping Asia’s Evolving Security Order), the Vietnamese Minister of National Defense General Ngo Xuan Lich made the emphatic point that “under no circumstances could we excuse militarization by deploying weapons and military hardware over disputed areas against regional commitments.” Two weeks later, Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry denounced China’s recent redeployment of missiles to Woody Island as a serious violation of its sovereignty in the SCS (Vietnam also has its claims) and that this has threatened freedom of navigation and overflight in the SCS. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry also “requests that China immediately put an end to these wrongful activities and withdraw the military equipments it had illegally deployed on Vietnams Hoang Sa Islands (Paracel) Islands.”

During the fifth plenary session (Raising the Bar for Regional Security Cooperation), the French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and British Secretary of State for Defense Gavin Williamson largely echoed Secretary Mattis’ sentiments with the former making the bold statement on the SCS…“fait accompli is not a fate accepted” (referring to Chinese attempts to deny international access to the disputed waters). Both announced their intent to jointly sail their deployed naval vessels across the SCS to demonstrate their nations’ inherent right to traverse international waters and to send the “strongest of signals” on the importance of freedom of navigation.

Chinese diplomatic and media responses were again expectedly swift and coordinated, but much sharper and more assertive (and perhaps even better prepared) than last year. The PLA delegation forcefully defended Beijing’s military activities in the SCS and sharply criticized Secretary Mattis’ “irresponsible remarks” on the issue and for his unhelpful “hyping” of the situation. LTG He also took advantage of the public forum to reiterate Taiwan as a Chinese “core interest” and a “red line that cannot be challenged.” This is part of its deliberate campaign to push back hard against the Taiwan Travel Act, approval of marketing licenses to sell U.S. technology to Taipei that would allow for building of advanced Taiwanese submarines, a U.S.-Taiwan agreement to share defense research, and the dispatch of formal U.S. officials to the opening ceremony of a new office building to house the American Institute in Taiwan (the defacto U.S. Embassy).   

During the fifth special session (Strategic Implications of Military Capability Development in Asia-Pacific), LTG He vigorously defended Beijing’s actions and activities in the SCS to include the recent deployments of weapon systems to its military outposts. He re-asserted the Chinese strategic narrative that the islands belonged to China, Beijing was only acting to defend the country’s indisputable sovereignty, and that U.S. FONOPs were the “real militarization of the SCS.” He also reiterated the point that China has not obstructed any military vessels following international laws and was open to discussions on the interpretation of FON. The rest of his speech characterized the ongoing PLA reforms and modernization efforts as benign and largely defensive in nature, praised Beijing for its constructive role in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and repeated last year’s talking points on the need for a new Asia-Pacific security framework and the BRI.   

So What’s Next

At the end of the day, the scope, nature, and extent of China’s present participation in the SLD can best be summed up as taking the middle road (hedging). Beijing wants to respond to any policy criticism and challenge any narrative counter to their own at the forum, but does not want to openly endorse or promote the SLD. It seems content for now to limit its role in the special session, and reserve the right to speak at the higher-visibility plenary session when warranted (only individuals of full ministerial rank can speak in plenary).

That said, Beijing may one day conclude that the juice may not be worth the squeeze. Why bother with the biased and fading SLD, when it can focus instead on building up its own Xiangshan Forum? This regional forum is already widely seen in Beijing as a growing counter to the SLD and an important part of a strategic agenda to displace the extant Western-oriented world order with one without dominant U.S. influence. If so, one can expect a re-emerged, revitalized, and restructured Xiangshan Forum after an unexpected and self-induced one-year hiatus.

The BRI (with its hidden nationalist agenda and subdued geo-strategic implications) ultimately needs an accompanying and complementary security framework with Chinese characteristics that the forum can help foster and promote under Beijing’s terms.

The new Chinese strategic approach calls for the balanced integration of interests – both long-term economic development with concomitant security reforms intended to restructure and realign global political and security order. This will be pursued in tandem with safeguarding and enhancing the internal apparatuses of China’s socialist and authoritarian system until it can be the center of that new Beijing-oriented global order. 

Conclusion

Beijing clearly views the SLD as an adversarial international forum used by its perceived strategic rival – Washington – and its allies to unfairly criticize (and contain) China. But despite the critiques, Beijing may also see some value (but not necessarily the overwhelming need) to participate in these multilateral dialogues and perhaps begrudgingly accept the criticism of China as a natural outgrowth of its rise as a global power.

Tuan Pham is widely published in national security affairs and international relations. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: SINGAPORE (June 1, 2018) Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis delivers remarks during the first plenary session of the Shangri-La Dialogue 2018 June 2. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua Fulton/Released)

A Sign of the Times: China’s Recent Actions and the Undermining of Global Rules

By Tuan N. Pham

More Chinese assertiveness and unilateralism are coming. In January, this author’s article in a separate publication assessed strategic actions that Beijing will probably undertake in 2018; and forecasted that China will likely further expand its global power and influence through the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), expansive military build-up and modernization, assertive foreign policy, and forceful public diplomacy. Recently, three worrying developments have emerged that oblige the United States to further challenge China to become a more responsible global stakeholder that contributes positively to the international system. Otherwise, passivity and acquiescence undermine the new U.S. National Security Strategy; reinforce Beijing’s growing belief that Washington is a declining power; and may further embolden China – a self-perceived rising power – to execute unchallenged and unhindered its strategic roadmap (grand strategy) for national rejuvenation (the Chinese Dream). 

Near-Arctic State

On January 26, Beijing followed up last year’s policy paper “Vision for Maritime Cooperation Under the BRI” that outlined its ambitious plan to advance its developing global sea corridors (blue economic passages connected to the greater Belt and Road network) – with its first white paper on the Arctic. The white paper boldly proclaimed China’s strategic intent to actively partake in Arctic activities as a “near-Arctic state.” Activities include but are not limited to the development of Arctic shipping routes (Polar Silk Road); exploration for and exploitation of oil, gas, mineral, and other material resources; utilization and conservation of fisheries; and promotion of Arctic tourism.     

Beijing rationalizes and justifies this expansive political, economic, and legal stance as “the natural conditions of the Arctic and their changes have a direct impact on China’s climate system and ecological environment, and, in turn, on its economic interests in agriculture, forestry, fishery, marine industry, and other sectors.” In other words, China stakes its tenuous Arctic claims on geographic proximity; effects of climate change on the country; expanding cross-regional diplomacy with extant Arctic states; and the broad legal position that although non-Arctic countries are not in a position to claim “territorial sovereignty”, they do have the right to engage in scientific research, navigation, and economic activities. And while vaguely underscoring that it will respect and comply with international law like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in a “lawful and rational matter”, Beijing was quite explicit and emphatic in the white paper that it will use Arctic resources to “pursue its own national interests.”

There is no legal or international definition of “near-Arctic state.” China is the sole originator of the term. Beijing is clearly attempting to inject itself into the substance of Arctic dialogue and convince others to accept the self-aggrandizing and self-serving term. Furthermore, as noted by Grant Newsham, the phrase itself is a representative exemplification of how China incrementally and quietly builds concepts, principles, vocabulary, and finally justification for pursuing its national interests and global ambitions. Consider the following evolution that is typical of how key elements of China’s strategic lexicon come to the fore like “near-Artic state and the South China Sea (SCS) has been part of China since ancient times”:

Step 1 – Term appears in an obscure Chinese academic journal
Step 2 – Term appears in a regional Chinese newspaper
Step 3 – Term is used at a Chinese national conference or seminar
Step 4 – Term is used in Chinese authoritative media
Step 5 – Term is used at international conferences and academic exchanges held in China
Step 6 – China frequently refers to the term in foreign media and at international conferences
Step 7 – China issues a policy white paper stating its positions, implied rights, and an implied threat to defend those rights
Step 8 – China maintains that this has always been Beijing’s policy

 Beijing’s official policy positions on Antarctica are less clear and coherent, and appear to be still evolving. The closest sort of policy statement was made last year by China’s State Oceanic Administration when it issued a report (pseudo white paper) entitled “China’s Antarctic Activities (Antarctic Business in China).” The report detailed many of Beijing’s scientific activities in the southernmost continent, and vaguely outlined China’s Antarctic strategy and agenda with few specifics. All in all, Beijing doesn’t have a formal claim over Antarctic territory (and the Antarctic Treaty forbids any new claims), but nonetheless, China has incrementally expanded its presence and operations over the years. The Chinese government currently spends more than any other Antarctic state on new infrastructure such as bases, planes, and icebreakers. The expanding presence in Antarctica is embraced by Beijing as a way and means to build the necessary physical fundamentals for China’s Antarctic resource and governance rights.  

South “China” Sea

On February 5, released imagery of the Spratly archipelago suggests that China has almost completely transformed their seven occupied reefs – disputed by the other claimants – into substantial Chinese military outposts, in a bid to dominate the contested waters and despite a 2002 agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) not to change any geographic features in the SCS. At the same time, Beijing has softened the provocative edges of its aggressive militarization with generous pledges of investments to the other claimants and promising talks of an ASEAN framework for negotiating a code of conduct (CoC) for the management of contested claims in the strategic waterway. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that China is determined to finish its militarization and then present the other claimants with a fait d’accompli before sitting down to negotiate the CoC.

The photographs show that Beijing has developed 72 acres in the SCS in 2017 and over 3200 acres in the past four years; and redirected its efforts from dredging and reclaiming land to building infrastructure (airstrips, helipads, radar and communications facilities, control towers, hangars, etc.) necessary for future deployment of aircraft to project Chinese power across the shipping routes through which trillions of dollars of global trade flows each year. On February 8, China’s Ministry of Defense announced that it recently sent advanced Su-35 fighter aircraft to take part in a joint combat patrol over the SCS.

An aerial view of the Fiery Cross Reef, now a 2.8 sq km artificial island. (Photo: CCTV)

At the end of the day, these latest images will not change Beijing’s agenda and plans for the SCS. They do however provide a revealing glimpse of what is happening now and what may happen in the near future on these disputed and contested geographic features (rocks and reefs) – and it sure does not look benign and benevolent as China claims.     

At the 54th Munich Security Conference from February 16-18, the Chinese delegation participated in an open panel discussion on the SCS and took the opportunity to publicly refute the prevailing conventional interpretation of international maritime law. They troublingly stated for the first known time in an international forum that “the problem now is that some countries unilaterally and wrongly interpreted the freedom of navigation of UNCLOS as the freedom of military operations, which is not the principle set by the UNCLOS.” This may be that long-anticipated policy outgrowth from the brazen militarization of the SCS and the latest regression of the previous legal and diplomatic position that “all countries have unimpeded access to navigation and flight activities in the SCS.” Now that China has the supposed ways and means to secure the strategic lines of communication, Beijing may start incrementally restricting military ships and aircraft operating in its perceived backyard, and then slowly and quietly expand to commercial ships and aircraft transiting the strategic waterway. If so, this will be increasingly problematic as the People’s Liberation Army Navy continues to operate in distant waters and in proximity to other nations’ coastlines. China will then have no choice but to eventually address the legal and diplomatic inconsistency between policy and operations – and either pragmatically adjust its policy or continue to assert its untenable authority to regulate military activities in its claimed exclusive economic zones, in effect a policy of “do as I say, not do as I do.”

In the public diplomacy domain, Beijing is advancing the narrative that Washington no longer dominates the SCS, is to blame for Chinese militarization of the SCS, and is destabilizing the SCS with more provocative moves. On January 22, the Global Times (subsidiary of the People’s Liberation Army’s Daily) published an op-ed article cautioning American policymakers to not be too confident about the U.S. role in the SCS nor too idealistic about how much ASEAN nations will support U.S. policy. Consider the following passage: “For ASEAN countries, it’s much more important to avoid conflicts with Beijing than obtain small favors from Washington. Times are gone when the United States played a predominant role in the SCS. China has exercised restraint against U.S. provocations in the SCS, but there are limits. If the U.S. doesn’t stop its provocations, China will militarize the islands sooner or later. Then Washington will be left with no countermeasure options and suffer complete humiliation.” On February 25, the same state-owned media outlet wrote that “China should install more military facilities, such as radar, aircraft, and more coastguard vessels in the SCS to cope with provocative moves by the United States”; and predicted that the “Sino-U.S. relations will see more disputes this year which will not be limited to SCS, as the United States tries to deal with a rising China.”

On January 17, USS Hopper (DDG-70) conducted a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) during which it passed within 12nm of Scarborough Shoal. This was the fifth U.S. naval operation in the last six months to challenge China’s excessive maritime claims in the SCS. The Chinese media largely portrayed the operation as the latest in a series of recent U.S. actions intended to signal a new policy shift consistent with the new muscular U.S. National Security Strategy and U.S. National Defense Strategy and reflective of growing U.S. misgivings over China’s rise. The Chinese media is also increasingly depicting Beijing as having the upper hand in the SCS at the expense of rival Washington; and that U.S. FONOPs are now pointless since China has multiple options to effectively respond and there’s very little the United States can do about it.

Sharp Power (Influence Operations) Growing Sharper

In late-January, African Union (AU) officials accused Beijing of electronically bugging its Chinese-built headquarters building, hacking the computer systems, downloading confidential information, and sending the data back to servers in China. A claim that Beijing vehemently denies, calling the investigative report by the Le Monde “ridiculous, preposterous, and groundless…intended to put pressure on relations between Beijing and the African continent.” The fact that the alleged hack remained undisclosed for a year after discovery and the AU publicly refuted the allegation as Western propaganda speaks to China’s dominant relationships with the African states. During an official visit to Beijing shortly after the report’s release, the Chairman of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat stated “AU is an international political organization that doesn’t process secret defense dossiers…AU is an administration and I don’t see what interest there is to China to offer up a building of this type and then to spy.” Not surprisingly, Fakit received assurances from his Chinese counterpart afterwards on five key areas of future AU-China cooperation – capacity building, infrastructure construction, peace and security, public health and disease prevention, and tourism and aviation.

African Union Conference Center (Andrew Moore via Wikimedia Commons)

The suspected hack underscores the high risk that African nations take in allowing Chinese information technology companies such prominent roles in developing their nascent telecommunications backbones. The AU has since put new cybersecurity measures in place, and predictably declined Beijing’s offer to configure its new servers. Additionally, if the report is true, more than just the AU may have been compromised. Other government buildings were constructed by China throughout the African continent. Beijing signed lucrative contracts to build government buildings in Zimbabwe, Republic of Congo, Egypt, Malawi, Seychelles, Guinea-Bissau, Lesotho, and Sierra Leone.

On January 23, President Xi Jinping presided over a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leading group meeting to discuss how better to deepen the overall reform of the central government. He emphasized that 2018 will be the first year to implement the spirit of last year’s 19th National Party Congress and the 40th anniversary of China’s opening up to the West and integration into the global economy. The meeting reviewed and approved several resolutions (policy documents) to include the “Guiding Opinions on Promoting the Reform and Development of Confucius Institute.” The new policy synchronized the promotion of reform and development of the Confucius Institute; and directed both to focus on the “building of a powerful socialist country with Chinese characteristics, serving Beijing’s major powers diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, deepening the reform and innovation, improving the institutional mechanisms, optimizing the distribution structure, strengthening the building efforts, and improving the quality of education” – so as to let the latter (Confucius Institute) become an important force of communication between China and foreign countries.

The seemingly benign and benevolent Confucius Institute is quite controversial, and is now receiving greater scrutiny within the various host countries for covertly influencing public opinions in advancement of Chinese national interests. In the United States, FBI Director Christopher Wray announced on February 23 that his agency is taking “investigative steps” regarding the Confucius Institutes, which operate at more than 100 American colleges and universities. These Chinese government-funded centers allegedly teach a whitewashed version of China, and serve as outposts of Beijing’s overseas intelligence network.

On February 17, Xi issued a directive to cultivate greater support amongst the estimated 60 million-strong Chinese diaspora. He called for “closely uniting” with overseas Chinese in support of the Chinese Dream, as part of the greater efforts and activities of the United Front – a CCP organization designed to build broad-based domestic and international political coalitions to achieve party objectives. He stressed that “to realize the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, we must work together with our sons and daughters at home and abroad…It is an important task for the party and the state to unite the vast number of overseas Chinese and returned overseas Chinese and their families in the country and play their positive role in the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Ultimately, he hopes these overseas Chinese will collectively cooperate to counter political foes of the CCP, advance the party’s political agenda, and help realize broader Chinese geo-economic ambitions such as the BRI.

Conclusion

The aforementioned troubling and destabilizing developments egregiously challenge the rules-based global order and U.S. global influence. Like China’s illegal seizure of Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and Beijing’s blatant disregard for the landmark ruling by the International Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016, they further erode the trust and confidence in the international rule of law (and norms) and undermine America’s traditional role as the guarantor of the global economy and provider of regional security, stability, and leadership. If the international community and the United States do not push back now, Beijing may become even more emboldened and accelerate the pace of its deliberate march toward regional and global preeminence unchallenged and unhindered. 

Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Pacific, and is widely published in national security affairs and international relations. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses the annual high-level general debate of the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the UN headquarters in New York, the United States, Sept. 28, 2015. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei)

The Chinese Dream and Beijing’s Grand Strategy

By Tuan N. Pham

At the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), President Xi Jinping opened the assembly by delivering a seminal report to its members. The three hour-long speech emphatically reaffirmed a strategic roadmap for national rejuvenation and officially heralded a new era in Chinese national development. Beijing now seems, more than ever, determined to move forward from Mao Zedong’s revolutionary legacy and Deng Xiaoping’s iconic dictum (“observe calmly, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly, hide our capacities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile, and never claim leadership”). Beijing also appears poised to expand its global power and influence through the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, expansive build-up and modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), assertive foreign policy, and forceful public diplomacy. Underpinning these strategic activities are various ancillary strategies – maritime, space, and cyberspace – all interlinked with the grand strategy of the Chinese Dream.

Xi has irreversibly moved China away from the legacies of Mao and Deng, and resolutely set the country on the continued path of the Chinese Dream – a strategic roadmap for national rejuvenation (grand strategy) that interlinks all ancillary strategies. The following discourse will explore the cohesive alignment of these strategies and the connected strategic themes pervasive throughout them.

Grand Strategy

A closer examination of Xi’s remarks reveals Beijing’s true national ambitions. He spoke at great length about the “Four Greats – experience the great struggle in the new era, construct the great project of CCP building, and promote the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, in order to realize China’s great dream of national rejuvenation.” All in all, the speech outlined Chinese strategic intent in terms of “what” (national rejuvenation), “when” (by what date should national rejuvenation be achieved by), and “how” (ways and means to achieve national rejuvenation).

The “what” and “when” is articulated as: “By 2049, China’s comprehensive national power and international influence will be at the forefront.” In other words, restore the Middle Kingdom’s status as a leading world power and civilization thereby realizing a “modern and powerful China” by 2049.

The “how” consists of several goals. First, promote abroad “socialism with Chinese characteristics in a new era (Xi’s Thoughts).” Until now, Beijing did not actively export its ideology to the world. However, Xi views Western liberal democracy (at best) as an obstruction to China’s rise and (at worst) as a threat to the Chinese Dream. He believes Chinese socialism is philosophically and practically superior to the diametrically opposed modern occidental thought as evidenced by China’s meteoric national development and economic growth; and as a way to catch up with the developed nations and prevent the regression to humiliating colonialism.

The second major goal is to displace the extant Western-oriented world order with one without dominant U.S. influence. This includes offering developing countries a strategic economic and political choice of Chinese “benevolent” governance involving mutual friendship but not encumbering alliances – economic development with political independence. In essence, take note of China, a rising power and growing economic juggernaut that does not have to make political accommodations, an appealing case to developing states, particularly those under authoritarian rule.

The third goal is to further develop the PLA to enable and safeguard national rejuvenation. Xi charges the PLA to realize military modernization by 2035 and become a world-class military by 2049, which means the PLA must attain regional preeminence by 2035 and global parity with the long-dominant U.S. military by 2049.

The fourth goal is to exercise a more assertive foreign policy to promote and advance the Chinese Dream. National security is now just as important as economic development. The new strategic approach calls for the balanced integration of both interests – long-term economic development with concomitant economic reforms intended to restructure and realign the global political and security order and safeguard and enhance the internal apparatuses of China’s socialist system until it can be the center of that new global order.

Maritime Strategy

Chinese maritime strategists have long called for a maritime strategy– top-level guidance and direction to better integrate and synchronize the multiple maritime lines of effort in furtherance of national goals and objectives (the Chinese Dream). For Beijing, last year’s historic and sweeping award on maritime entitlements in the South China Sea by the International Tribunal of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague – overwhelmingly favoring the Philippines over China – makes this strategic imperative even more urgent and pressing. Shortly after the ruling, the CCP’s Central Committee, State Council, and Central Military Commission signaled their intent to draft a maritime strategy in support of China’s strategic ambitions for regional preeminence and eventual global preeminence. The developing and evolving strategy proposes coordinating Beijing’s maritime development with efforts to safeguard maritime rights and interests.

China’s maritime activities are influenced by Mahanian and Corbettian principles and driven by its strategic vision of the ocean as “blue economic space and blue territory” – crucial for its national development, security, and status. Beijing is on a determined quest to build maritime power, and naval and security issues are only part of that strategic vision. The forthcoming maritime strategy will encompass more than just the PLA Navy, Coast Guard, and Maritime Militia. Also at play is China’s wide-ranging approach to maritime economic, diplomatic, environmental, and legal affairs. Therefore, the new strategy will need to balance two competing national priorities – building the maritime economy (economic development) and defending maritime rights and interests (national security).

A key component of the emerging maritime strategy is Chinese efforts to shape maritime laws to support national rejuvenation. Beijing will try to fill international and domestic legal gaps that it sees as hindering its ability to justify and defend current maritime territorial claims (East and South China Seas) and future maritime interests (possibly in the Indian Ocean, Arctic, and Antarctica) – part of a continuing effort to set the terms for international legal disputes it expects will grow as its maritime reach expands. These developing maritime laws bear watching as a public expression of Beijing’s strategic intent in the maritime domain and a possible harbinger for the other contested domains as well.

Space Strategy

Last December, China’s Information Office of the State Council published its fourth white paper on space titled “China’s Space Activities in 2016.” Since the white paper was the first one issued under Xi, it is not surprising that the purpose, vision, and principles therein are expressed in terms of his worldview and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream. Therefore, one should read beyond the altruistic language and examine the paper through the realpolitik lens of the purpose and role of space to the Chinese Dream; the vision of space as it relates to the Chinese Dream; and the principles through which space will play a part in fulfilling the Chinese Dream.

Although the white paper is largely framed in terms of China’s civilian space program, the PLA is subtly present throughout the paper in the euphemism of “national security.” The references in the purpose, vision, and major tasks deliberately understate (or obfuscate) Beijing’s strategic intent to use its rapidly growing space program (largely military space) to transform itself into a military, economic, and technological power.

The white paper also highlights concerted efforts to examine extant international laws and develop accompanying national laws to better govern its expanding space program and better regulate its increasing space­-related activities. Beijing intends to review, and where necessary, update treaties and reframe international legal principles to accommodate the ever-changing strategic, operational, and tactical landscapes. By and large, China wants to leverage the international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to advance its national interests in space without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of space power may prove more favorable.

Cyberspace Strategy

On the same day as the issuance of the “China’s Space Activities in 2016” white paper, the Cyberspace Administration of China also released Beijing’s first cyberspace strategy titled “National Cyberspace Security Strategy” to endorse Chinese positions and proposals on cyberspace development and security and serve as a roadmap for future cyberspace security activity. The strategy aims to build China into a cyberspace power while promoting an orderly, secure, and open cyberspace, and more importantly, defending its national sovereignty in cyberspace. The strategy interestingly characterizes cybersecurity as the “nation’s new territory for sovereignty”; highlights as one of its key principles “no infringement of sovereignty in cyberspace will be tolerated”; and states intent to “resolutely defend sovereignty in cyberspace” as a strategic task. Since then, Beijing has steadily increased policy, legal, and technical measures to tighten its state controls of the Internet – limiting the information flow to the populace and curbing the unwanted foreign influence of Western liberal democracy.  

Both the space white paper and cyberspace security strategy reflect Xi’s worldview and aspiration to realize the Chinese Dream. The latter’s preamble calls out the strategy as an “important guarantee to realize the Two Centenaries struggle objective and realize the Chinese Dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Therefore, like the white paper, one should also read beyond the noble sentiments of global interests, global peace and development, and global security; and examine the strategy through the underlying context of the Chinese Dream. What is the purpose and role of cyberspace to national rejuvenation; the vision of cyberspace power as it relates to national rejuvenation; and through which principles will cyberspace play a role in fulfilling national rejuvenation?

The role of the PLA is likewise carefully understated (or obfuscated) throughout the strategy in the euphemism of “national security.” The references in the introduction, objectives, principles, and strategic tasks quietly underscore the PLA’s imperatives to protect itself (and the nation) against harmful cyberspace attacks and intrusions from state and non-state actors and to extend the law of armed conflict into cyberspace to manage the increasing international competition – both of which acknowledge cyberspace as a battlespace that must be contested and defended.   

The strategy also puts high importance on international and domestic legal structures, standards, and norms. Beijing wants to leverage the existing international legal framework and accepted norms of behavior to develop accompanying national laws to advance its national interests in cyberspace without constraining or hindering its own freedom of action in the future where the balance of cyberspace power may become more favorable.

Four months later in March, the Foreign Ministry and State Internet Information Office issued Beijing’s second cyberspace strategy titled “International Strategy for Cyberspace Cooperation.” The aim of the strategy is to build a community of shared future in cyberspace, notably one that is based on peace, sovereignty, shared governance, and shared benefits. The strategic goals of China’s participation in international cyberspace cooperation include safeguarding China’s national sovereignty, security, and interests in cyberspace; securing the orderly flow of information on the Internet; improving global connectivity; maintaining peace, security, and stability in cyberspace; enhancing the international rule of law in cyberspace; promoting the global development of the digital economy; and deepening cultural exchange and mutual learning.

The strategy builds on the previously released cyberspace security strategy and trumpets the familiar refrains of national rejuvenation; global interests, peace and development, and security; and development of national laws to advance China’s national interests in cyberspace. Special attention was again given to the contentious concept of cyberspace sovereignty in support of national security and social stability.

Connected Strategic Themes

Ends – Chinese Manifest Destiny. Chinese strategists have long called for a comprehensive and enduring set of strategies to better integrate and synchronize the multiple strategic lines of effort in furtherance of national goals and as part of a grand strategy for regional preeminence and ultimately global preeminence. National rejuvenation reflects their prevailing expansionist and revisionist sentiment, and is the answer to their calling. China is unquestionably a confident economic juggernaut and rising global power, now able to manifest its own national destiny – the Chinese Dream – and dictate increasing power and influence across the contested and interconnected global commons in support of national rejuvenation.

Ways – Global Commons Sovereignty (Economic Development and National Security). Beijing’s maritime activities are driven by its strategic vision of the ocean as “blue economic space and blue territory.” China seems to regard space and cyberspace very much in the same manner and context in terms of economic potential (value) and sovereign territory (land) that requires developing and defending respectively. For now, there appears more policy clarity, guidance, and direction for sovereignty in cyberspace, while space sovereignty seems more fluid and may still be evolving policy-wise. Nevertheless, Beijing still needs to balance the two competing national priorities – building the domain economy (economic development) and defending domain rights and interests (national security) – in all three contested and interconnected global commons.

Means – Laws to Support Strategy. Beijing seeks to shape international laws and norms and develop accompanying domestic laws to be more equitable and complementary to its national interests. The legal campaign is part of continuing efforts to set the terms for international legal disputes that Beijing expects will grow as its reach expands across domains. China wants to set the enabling conditions for future presence and operations (and perhaps preeminence) across the contested and interconnected global commons.

Risks – Western Liberal Democracy. Beijing largely sees Western liberal democracy (at best) as an impediment to China’s rise and (at worst) as a danger to national rejuvenation. Many Chinese view the United States as the embodiment of the diametrically opposed modern occidental thought that actively tries to contain their peaceful rise and prevent them from assuming their rightful place in the world. Therefore, they believe the Chinese Dream is not only a strategic roadmap for global preeminence, but also a strategic opportunity to right a perceived historical wrong (humiliating colonialism). China still feels disadvantaged by (and taken advantage of) a Western-dominated (and biased) system of international laws established when it was weak as a nation and had little say in its formulation.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, Beijing has a comprehensive and coherent grand strategy that guides, directs, and synchronizes its strategies. Washington would be prudent to take note and plan accordingly. Otherwise, America risks being outmaneuvered and outmatched across the contested and interconnected global commons and ceding U.S. regional and global preeminence to a more organized, flexible, and agile China. 

Tuan Pham has extensive experience in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, and is widely published in national security affairs and international relations. The views expressed therein are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: Chinese astronauts Jing Haipeng (L) and Chen Dong wave in front of a Chinese national flag before the launch of Shenzhou-11 manned spacecraft, in Jiuquan, China, October 17, 2016. (REUTERS/Stringer)

Giant Dragons Puffing Smoke: Understanding Japan’s Pacific War Strategy

By Lieutenant Commander Daniel T. Murphy, USN

Introduction

“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”1 – Bluto Blutarksy, Animal House, 1978.

Most Americans know that it was Japan, not Germany that treacherously attacked the U.S. Navy fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A smaller percentage of people are aware of the fact that it was the United States, not Japan that fired the first shots of the war on that day. The destroyer USS WARD was patrolling near the entrance to Pearl Harbor when the minesweeper USS CONDOR reported a periscope at 0342. A PBY patrol plane placed a smoke marker on the location. WARD conducted a surface attack with guns, followed up with depth charges, and reported the sub sunk. The midget sub sunk by WARD was discovered by a University of Hawaii research submersible on August 28, 2002.2 

It is true that WARD’s attack was a minor component in the bigger context of the Pearl Harbor attack. And, it does not materially change the fact that Japan was the belligerent on that day. But for sixty years, WARD’s story was de-emphasized in the historical commentary. Was WARD’s attack de-emphasized because it didn’t enhance the commentary of Japanese treachery?  Or, was it because we did not have material evidence of the attack until the sub was located in 2002?  Either way, it’s a minor detail, right?   

Perhaps. The problem is that some of the “less-minor” strategic components of the story of the Pacific War have been de-emphasized as well. Because we (the United States) were the victors in the war, we have owned the historic narrative of the war. Our version of the Pacific War became the version of the Pacific War. “Vae Victis” (Woe to the vanquished).3

Our convenient and succinct story of the Pacific War was that Japan was hell-bent on conquest in the South Pacific. The United States only wanted peace. They raped Nanking. We initiated an oil embargo. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto crossed the Pacific with his carrier fleet and treacherously destroyed our battle fleet at Pearl Harbor. It is a convenient and succinct story, repeated by millions of soldiers, sailors, and citizens during the war and in the years after the war. But it is an incomplete narrative. Here are some less simple and less convenient ingredients in the story:

  1. Tokyo was executing a grand strategy that the United States had suggested to them. Japan was an aggressive state because, for quite a few years, we had encouraged them to be aggressive.
  2. For Japan, their naval war against the U.S. was a sideshow in a much bigger conflict on the Asian continent. In today’s U.S. military nomenclature, Japan’s Pacific operations would be called “ancillary” operations.
  3. If Tokyo had stayed true to its original Mahanian-based naval doctrine, Japan could possibly have defeated the United States in the Pacific War. Or, they could have at least achieved their political objectives.

Giant Dragons Puffing Smoke

Contrary to their representation in war-era and post-war-era film and media, Japan was not hell-bent on conquest simply because they were evil. Japan was seeking to build an empire in Asia because that is what the United States had encouraged and trained them to do.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Japanese ports were closed to all but a few Dutch and Chinese traders. On July 8, 1853 Commodore Matthew Perry sailed into Tokyo Bay with a squadron of U.S. Navy vessels led by the USS POWHATAN. Perry’s “giant dragons puffing smoke” (steam ships) were intended to terrify. And in 1854, the United States and Japan signed a treaty agreeing that the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate would be opened to U.S. vessels to purchase coal and other supplies.4 For the U.S. it was a Mahanian play. The new coaling stations would enable our Navy to project seapower and protect our commercial sea lanes into the Asian continent. Japan would be America’s stepping stone to China, and the new ports would be especially useful for the American whaling fleet. In 1872, retired U.S. General Charles LeGendre traveled to Tokyo and first suggested to the Japanese that they should have their own Asian “Monroe Doctrine.” In the following years, LeGendre acted as a trusted advisor to Tokyo, encouraging the Japanese to take Taiwan and instigate the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895. When Japan defeated Russia in the 1904-1905 war to extend Tokyo’s territories on the mainland, American magazine articles explained “Why We Favour Japan in the Present War” and “Russia stands for reaction and Japan for progress.”  U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt felt an excited tingle for the Japanese victory. He told his friend Japanese Baron Kentaro Kaneko, “This is the greatest phenomenon the world has ever seen . . . I grew so excited that I myself became almost like a Japanese, and I could not attend to official duties.”5 

When Japan invaded and took over Korea in 1910, U.S. foreign minister to Korea Horace Allen cabled to Washington that Tokyo had become Korea’s “rightful and natural overlord.”6 Roosevelt wrote to Secretary of State John Hay, “The Japs have played our game because they have played the game of civilized mankind . . . We may be of genuine service . . . in preventing interference to rob her of the fruits of her victory.”7 And in a letter to Vice President Taft he wrote, “I heartily agree with the Japanese terms of peace, insofar as they include Japan having control of Korea.”8

LeGendre’s Monroe Doctrine conversation with Tokyo continued thirty years later by Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft in 1905. Taft travelled to Tokyo to push the Monroe Doctrine idea with the Meiji emperor. Roosevelt pushed the idea with Japanese envoy Baron Kaneko Kentaro in Washington – “Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization . . . All the Asiatic nations are now faced with the urgent necessity of adjusting themselves to the present age. Japan should be their natural leader in that process, and their protector during the transition stage, much as the United States assumed the leadership of the American continent many years ago, and by means of the Monroe Doctrine, preserved the Latin American nations from European interference, while they were maturing their independence.”The American president had invited Tokyo to dominate her Asian neighbors. The U.S. had awakened a sleeping dragon to guard America’s open door to the Chinese continent. The dragon went on a fifteen-year fire-breathing shooting spree. And in 1940, Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka argued, “If the United States could rely upon the Monroe Doctrine to support its preeminent position in the Western Hemisphere in order to sustain American economic stability and prosperity, why could not Japan do the same with an Asian Monroe Doctrine?”10

Ancillary Lines

In the years leading up to 1941, while Japan certainly recognized the United States as a potential enemy, Tokyo’s number one foreign policy priority was China. An American military analyst named Hector Bywater wrote a fascinating book in 1925 about a fictional war between Japan and the United States touched off by a land dispute in China. Bywater said Japan’s “capitalists and merchants enjoyed a virtual monopoly in Southern Manchuria, besides holding a controlling interest in the mines, railways, and industries of Eastern Inner Mongolia…Even the coal and iron mines of the Yangtse Valley were exploited to a large extent by Japanese nationals…Without Chinese minerals her industrial machine could not be kept going; it required to be fed with a constant supply of the coal, iron, copper and tin from the mines of Shansi, Shantung and Manchuria.” Thus, for Japan, it was “essential that China should remain disunited and impotent.”11 

Commodore Perry had gone to Tokyo with the idea of creating a stepping-stone to China. The assumption was that China would remain an “open door” to all nations. However, by the 1920s it was becoming clear that America had awakened a sleeping dragon. As Japan expanded her presence in Manchuria through 1932 and Mongolia through 1937, the U.S. and European governments worried that Tokyo was taking control of the open door. Without permission from Tokyo, the Japanese Army leaders initiated the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, which would eventually require thirty-six Japanese Army divisions. Stories of atrocities circulated around the globe, including the massacre of a quarter million Chinese civilians and disarmed soldiers in Nanking in 1937. The U.S. and Europe were running out of patience with Tokyo.

In the fight against the Japanese Army, Chinese forces imported arms and fuel through French Indochina, via the Sino-Vietnamese Railway. To sever China’s supply line, Japan invaded French Indochina in September 1940. In response, in 1940, the U.S. stopped selling oil to Japan. Japan had been reliant on the United States for more than eighty percent of its oil. The embargo would force Tokyo to decide between withdrawing from Indochina (a U.S. pre-condition) and negotiating or finding oil elsewhere. Ultimately, Japan determined to take the Dutch East Indies by force for its oil and rubber. The Netherlands had been defeated by Nazi Germany in May 1940, and was powerless to react. Tokyo expected the U.S. to respond with force, and therefore prepared for war.

Thus, to continue to fight their primary war over minerals, foodstuffs, and other natural resources on the Asian mainland, Japan was forced to initiate a secondary war (A series of secondary operations that today’s U.S. planners would call “ancillary lines” 12) against the U.S. to secure the new energy resources in the Dutch East Indies and the rest of its Asian conquests. China remained the primary adversary. The U.S fleet would become the secondary adversary. Protecting those ancillary lines meant denying the U.S.’s ability to stage operations against those lines. Thus, Tokyo adopted its perimeter defense strategy which required the invasion and fortification of island chains from the Kurile Islands in the north through the Philippines and all the way south to New Guinea.13 In other words, the strategy was to protect the new resource areas by occupying the islands adjacent to those areas and in the sea lines between those areas and the home islands. In the geometry of war, Japan would have the advantage of short, more easily re-enforceable lines of operations (LOOs), and the U.S. would have the disadvantage of longer, vulnerable LOOs. Ultimately however, the U.S. was able to negate that advantage through fleet size and sea control that consistently crept west.        

Map demonstrating the extent of Japanese occupation and axis of American attack in 1943. (The National WWII Museum)    

Mahan With a Dash of Clausewitz

The Russo-Japanese War ended in 1905 with Tokyo feeling slighted. Japan had defeated Russia on land and at sea, and had helped secure the open door for itself and for the West to the “teeming Yangtze Valley.”14 But while Roosevelt and other European leaders said positive things about the Japanese victory, they pressured Tokyo to accept a negotiated settlement with Russia that did not include a war indemnity. Roosevelt’s honorary Aryans15 felt humiliated. Relations between the U.S. and Japan would grow worse. In 1906, struggling to deal with a wave of Japanese immigration into San Francisco, the San Francisco school board segregated Japanese students. Tokyo cried foul. American journalists wrote about a “yellow peril.” And in 1907, Roosevelt sent Admiral Dewey and the Great White Fleet around the world to wave the big stick. Japan viewed Dewey’s cruise as a direct threat. California then passed an alien land law in 1913 prohibiting “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning agricultural land that caused the U.S.-Japanese relationship to degrade further. By 1916, Japan’s naval operations chief stated, “The nation with who a clash of arms is most likely in the near future is the United States.”16     

As the U.S. Navy became probable adversary number one, Tokyo began thinking in terms of Mahanian doctrine. From 1904 through 1930, naval strategist Ogasawara Naganari taught Mahanian concepts at Japan’s Naval War College. Akiyama Saneyuki, the “father of modern Japanese naval strategy” visited Mahan twice in New York, and incorporated his principles into Japan’s Naval Battle Instructions of 1910. Akiyama created Japan’s strategy of “interceptive operations” which would consist of the Japanese fleet lying in wait for the American fleet to reach Japan’s home waters and then “engaging in a Mahanian encounter.”17 Kato Kanji served as president of the Naval War College in 1920, Second Fleet Commander (1923-1924), Combined Fleet Commander (1926-1928), Chief of the Naval General Staff (1930) and Supreme Military Councilor (1930-1935). He used Mahanian doctrine as the basis to justify the naval budget and the expansion of the fleet.18

Japan embraced a Mahanian doctrine to counter the U.S. because they had proven the doctrine against Russia. At the Battle of Tsushima, on the 27th and 28th of May 1905, the Japanese Navy annihilated the Russian Navy, sinking thirty-five of thirty-eight ships, killing 5,000 sailors and taking more than 7,000 prisoners. Japan lost only 110 sailors.19 Between 1908 and 1911, the Japanese Navy conducted studies and war games focusing specifically on a conflict with the U.S. fleet as the adversary. Japan would capture Luzon Island in the Philippines, defeat U.S. forces there, and occupy Manila. They would lie in wait for the American battle fleet to cross the Pacific. When the U.S. fleet approached home waters, they would be annihilated in a decisive battle west of the Bonins, as the Russians had been annihilated at Tsushima. Japan would have the strategic advantage with their short interior lines of operation to their home islands. This was the interceptive operational strategy that the Japanese Navy would maintain through 1941 and beyond.20

After Germany was defeated in the First World War, Japan occupied Germany’s possessions in the South Pacific – the Marshalls, the Carolines, and the Marianas. Accordingly, Tokyo’s new General Plan for Strategy in 1918 pushed the planned decisive engagement with the U.S. fleet eastward. The Tsushima replay would now occur somewhere west of the Marshalls.21 But the greater challenge for Tokyo was the buildup of the U.S. fleet in the Pacific. It was an arms race that the U.S. did not really want, and that Japan could not really afford. In 1922, Japan signed the Five Power Naval Treaty at the Washington Conference and agreed to a 6:10 capital ship ratio with the United States.

The extended island possessions plus the 6:10 capital ship constraint caused Tokyo to add an additional ingredient to their interception operations strategy. The 6:10 ratio meant that the Japanese fleet could not take on the U.S. fleet equally in a Mahanian battle without first cutting the U.S. fleet down to a fightable size. In Bywater’s fictional tale, Japan detonated an explosive-laden merchant ship to collapse the Panama Canal so that America’s Atlantic and Pacific fleets could not join forces.22 In the real world, to create parity, Japan again looked back at the Battle of Tsushima, and opted to inject a Clausewitzian ingredient into the Mahanian recipe.

In April 1904, Rear Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky took a considerable portion of Russia’s Baltic fleet on an 18,000-mile journey to fight the Japanese Navy in the Pacific. Rozhestvensky’s passage was filled with what Clausewitz would call frictional events.23 Things went bad early when an intelligence failure in the North Sea caused the Russian fleet to mistakenly open fire on a British fishing fleet. In response, British, French, and Portuguese ports were closed to the Russian fleet for the majority of their passage. They were forced to re-coal in the open ocean or in anchorages along the way. The lack of supplies, lack of shore leave, irregular mail delivery, and the heat of the tropics took a further toll on the equipment and crews – “Malaria, dysentery, tuberculosis, boils, mental derangement, prickly heat, fungoid infections of the ear, wrought havoc”24 in the fleet. Like how Napoleon’s and Hitler’s land forces suffered the effects of attrition (Clausewitz’s friction) in their marches to the east, Rozhestvensky’s fleet suffered similar effects of attrition in its passage to the east. Rozhestvensky’s degraded fleet was then wiped out in the great Mahanian battle on 27-28 May 1905.

To make up for the 6:10 capital ship disadvantage against the United States, Tokyo opted to create similar conditions of friction for the U.S. fleet. Japan’s new attrition doctrine would focus on submarines, cruisers, destroyers, torpedoes, and land-based and ship-based aircraft that would gradually degrade the U.S. fleet as it transited west across the Pacific. After the American fleet had been cut down to a more equitable size, the Japanese battle fleet would come forth to deliver the Mahanian coup de grace.25 

Thus, after the Washington Conference, the Japanese Navy began building large, high-speed fleet submarines. By the early 1930s, Tokyo was building 2,200-ton 23-knot submarines. Admiral Suetsugo said, “The decisive battle would entirely depend on our attrition [submarine] strategy.”26 In addition to the submarine enhancements, light cruisers and destroyers were re-organized into torpedo squadrons and trained for night attacks.27 New cruiser and destroyer designs (Yubari, Furutaka, Myoko, Takao, Mogami and Fubuki) were introduced in the 1920s and 1930s along with a new Type 93 oxygen torpedo that had a range of 40,000 meters and a speed of 36 knots.28 Japan constructed the 30,000-ton (Akagi) and 38,200-ton (Kaga) carriers in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the carrier-based Type 94 “Susie” bomber and the land-based Type 96 “Nell” bomber. By December 1941, Japan’s navy had ten carriers and 3,300 aircraft, all intended to be used in the interception-attrition strategy against the U.S. fleet.29 The Mahanian coupe de grace would now be delivered by the new 64,000-ton Yamato-class battleships, which would use the greater range of their 18-inch guns to destroy the U.S. battle fleet from afar.30 

Mismanaging the Trinity

A Mahanian strategy with a dash of Clausewitz could possibly have worked. Naval War College professor Brad Lee explained Japan’s interception-attrition strategy in terms of Clausewitz’s trinity. First, a naval victory against the U.S. fleet would degrade the U.S.’s ability to project military power in the Asia-Pacific region. Second, the defeat would affect public option in the United States, and “cripple America’s will to keep fighting.”31 The American people would settle on isolationism, or at least demand a Europe-first strategy. Third, the defeat would drive a wedge between the American president (Roosevelt) and the Congress, and degrade government consensus for a war in the Pacific. In the end, Tokyo hoped to be left alone to consolidate its gains in Asia.32

The Trinitarian strategy made sense. However, in 1941, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto added a final ingredient to the mix that changed the equation. Yamamoto did not want to allow the United States to trade space for time. He knew that invading the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, and Singapore would draw an American naval response. But what if the U.S. opted to delay their response for a year or two until their fleet was sufficiently augmented by its new shipbuilding programs? Like Napoleon and Hitler, Yamamoto wanted to fight the decisive battle earlier, rather than later, while he held numerical superiority in the Pacific. Thus, in 1941, he added the Pearl Harbor operation to the operational mix.

In the end, the Pearl Harbor attack did temporarily degrade America’s ability to project power in the Pacific (the military dimension of Clausewitz’s trinity). But the attack had the opposite of Yamamoto’s intended effects on the people and governmental dimensions. On December 8th, the American people demanded war. The U.S. president asked for a declaration of war and demanded unconditional surrender. The House of Representatives voted 388 to 1, and the Senate voted 82 to 0 in favor of war against Japan.

Conclusion

“Were we better than the Japanese, or just luckier?”33 – Henry Fonda as Admiral Nimitz in Midway.

The historical narrative of a war is written by the war’s victor. And that narrative is too often kept simple and convenient. This is something we must keep in our minds as we seek to learn from past conflicts. To learn from the Pacific War, we must beware the cursory narratives of that conflict: That Japan was hell-bent on conquest in Asia for no apparent reason, while we only wanted peace; That the Japanese were sneaky, but we were honorable; That they were wrong and we were right.

Dig a bit deeper into the historical detail, and we see that, while it is true that Japan was an aggressive state hell-bent on conquest, we helped them formulate their strategy and encouraged their imperial designs. If Yamamoto had not added the Pearl Harbor attack to his operational mix, would the American people and the U.S. Congress have opted to fight a major war on faraway shores?

Understanding the wartime strategies of our past adversaries can help us better understand the strategies of today’s adversaries. Again, the challenge is to push beyond cursory. Do we reflect on things we have done in previous decades that could have caused an ally to become an adversary?  Do we consider the fact that an adversary might consider us to be their Priority Two, rather than their Priority One? Do we give our adversaries sufficient credit for employing whole-of-government strategies? How often do we think about how an adversary (or a so-called ally) will seek to inject conditions of friction into our operations?

The Pacific War became inevitable when the United States assumed Japan would come to the negotiating table, rather than choosing war. Japan’s disastrous end became inevitable when they assumed that an attack on U.S. soil would not awaken a giant force, or at least degrade it sufficiently to render it militarily impotent. If the U.S. and Japan had both dug deeper into the strategic landscape, the conflict may have been avoided or de-escalated. Perhaps the U.S. would have realized that there was no chance that Tokyo would negotiate for oil. Perhaps Tokyo would have realized that America’s pivot from isolationism would be fast and terrible.

Daniel T. Murphy is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy, currently serving in the Office of Naval Intelligence. In his civilian career he is a full-time professor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and an adjunct faculty member at Northeastern University. Lieutenant Commander Murphy earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts, and master’s degrees from Georgetown University and from the National Intelligence University.  

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or the U.S. Government.

References

[1] National Lampoon’s Animal House, directed by John Landis, Universal Pictures, 1978.

[2] “Researchers find 1941 Japanese midget sub off Pearl Harbor,” School of Ocean & Earth Science & Technology website, http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/SOEST_News/PressReleases/Japanese%20mini%20sub.htm, (accessed April 11, 2012).

[3] Said by Brennus the Gaul when he sacked Rome in 390 B.C., Livy, in Ab Urbe Condita (Book 5 Sections 34–49).

[4] “Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan,” U.S. Navy Museum website, http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/teach/ends/opening.htm (accessed April 29, 2012).

[5] James Bradley, The Imperial Cruise:  A Secret History of Empire and War New York: Little Brown and Company, 2009), 236.

[6] Bradley, 227.

[7] Bradley, 226.

[8] Bradley, 223.

[9] Bradley, 217.

[10] Bradley, 319.

[11]  Hector Bywater, The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931-1933 (Bedford, MA: Applewood Books, 1925), 2.

[12] Milan Vego, Joint Operational Warfare: Theory and Practice (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 2009), IV-64 and 65.

[13] James B. Wood, Japanese Military Strategy in the Pacific War: Was Defeat Inevitable? (Lahnam, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, 24-27.

[14] Sadao Asada, From Mahan to Pearl Harbor: The Imperial Japanese Navy and the United States (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2006), 15.

[15] Bradley 300-319.

[16] Asada, 52.

[17] Asada, 32.

[18] Asada, 52.

[19] Shannon R. Butler, “Voyage to Tsushima,” Naval History (Annapolis: United States Naval Institute), June 2012, 58.

[20] Asada, 50.

[21] Asada, 55.

[22] Bywater, 22.

[23] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. and eds. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967) 119.

[24] Butler, 63.

[25] Asada, 103.

[26] Asada, 180.

[27] Yoichi Hirama, “Japanese Naval Preparations for World War II,” Naval War College Review, Vol. 44, No. 2, Spring 1991, 66.

[28] Hirama, 68.

[29] Hirama, 69-70.

[30] Asada, 205.

[31] Asada, 182.

[32] Brad Lee Lecture.

[33] Midway, directed by Jack Smight, Columbia Pictures, 1976, Henry Fonda playing Admiral Chester Nimitz in the final scene.

Featured Image: (October 21, 1944) IJN battleship Nagato at anchor in Brunei. (colorized by Irootoko Jr.)