Category Archives: Indo-Asia-Pacific

China’s Bid for Maritime Primacy in an Era of Total Competition

By Dr. Patrick M. Cronin

In this decade, the United States Navy may be displaced as the most formidable maritime presence in the Pacific Ocean. China is determined to challenge America’s ability to project military power forward into the Western Pacific. It seeks to undermine the U.S. capability of standing with its allies and deterring China from using military force to coerce small nations into making concessions on their sovereignty and the enforcement of binding treaty commitments. Denying Beijing’s quest to become the region’s dominant land and sea power will require more than traditional naval strength. A comprehensive strategy that understands the unfolding fourth industrial revolution and the Chinese government’s problematic activities will be necessary to deny China’s bid for maritime primacy.1

The PLA Navy Challenge

China’s emerging blue-water navy, backed by comprehensive national and maritime power, is “tipping the balance in the Pacific.” In the span of 35 years, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been transformed from a coastal defense force into a serious peer competitor for the U.S. Navy and its allies in the Western Pacific. The balance of naval power is particularly favorable to China in its near seas where shore-based missiles and aircraft can support the PLAN fleet. Together, China’s shore-based weapon systems and its fleet of small combatants are likely now sufficient to defend China’s near seas, which frees up the PLA Navy’s growing inventory of large vessels for power projection.

While the U.S. still fields more large combatants than the PLAN, the pace of China’s large combatant shipbuilding is accelerating. China is continuing to expand and modernize its shipyards so that they can build more large combatants simultaneously. Meanwhile, China is converting existing facilities for making small combatants into facilities to produce large warships. Retired Rear Admiral Michael McDevitt predicts that by 2035 China’s major surface fleet could add as many as 140 new large combatants and approach numerical parity with the U.S. Navy. If that occurs, China would not only pose a threat within a radius of its shore-based assets but anywhere its fleet sails.

Without an effective counterweight, China may well come to militarily dominate the majority of the maritime Indo-Pacific in the near future. While Beijing already enjoys a global maritime reach, the sharpest impact of its ascending naval power affects potential contingencies involving Taiwan, the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, and disputes in the South China Sea. The PLAN and its auxiliary forces intend to keep this trend going in the decade ahead, making the 2020s a “Decade of Concern.”

The PLAN’s surface ship prowess is improving in both quantity and quality. During the decade beginning in December 2008, the PLAN deployed 100 ships in 31 naval task forces to the Gulf of Aden, thereby using a nominally counterpiracy mission to build a truly blue-water navy capability. In December 2019, the PLA Navy commissioned its first indigenously produced aircraft carrier, the Type 001A Shandong, with a 70,000-ton displacement and a short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) system similar to that of its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, a 1985 Soviet platform later purchased, overhauled, and eventually commissioned by the PLAN in 2012. Another four aircraft carriers are planned, and these may include nuclear-powered engines and a catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) system.

For now, however, China’s aircraft carriers convey greater prestige than combat power, and the PLAN surface fleet remains focused on a growing number of modern destroyers, frigates, and corvettes. These surface ships include the new Type 055 large destroyer armed with 112 vertical launch system cells. China’s destroyers have fewer VLS cells than their U.S. counterparts. Still, when operating within range of short-based missile defense systems, they can dedicate a larger percentage of their missile inventory to attack rather than self-defense. As experts like Bryan Clark have noted, the missiles on China’s combatants can also out-range U.S. missiles, meaning PLAN vessels can target U.S. Navy ships before they can return fire. So far, China has launched six Type 055 destroyers and 24 Type 052D destroyers, dubbed the “Chinese Aegis.” The pace of shipbuilding surpasses that of any other navy today. For instance, in December 2019 alone, China launched two Type 056A missile corvettes, two Type 052D guided-missile destroyers, and one Type 055 guided-missile destroyer, as well as having commissioned into service the Shandong aircraft carrier.

More worrisome for a potential Taiwan or East or South China Sea scenario, however, is the expansion of China’s amphibious force. Last year, the PLAN began construction on its first big-deck amphibious assault ship, the Type 075 landing helicopter dock (LHD). Adding the rough equivalent of the USS Wasp to other Chinese capabilities, including some 37 large amphibious landing ships and 22 medium landing ships, it appears that the PLAN is replicating the combined U.S. Marine and Navy amphibious task forces—Marine Expedition Unit/Amphibious Ready Group (MEU/ARG) – that currently deploy throughout the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. The combined air-sea-ground capability represented by the 31st MEU based in Japan, for instance, conducts joint training with partners, delivers timely humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR), and otherwise signals U.S. interests and influence. China appears to be on the cusp of replicating this amphibious capability and with it an ability to conduct the same range of influence operations, exercises and training, noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs), and HA/DR missions. Moreover, China’s quantitative advantage in ships, backed by a massive shipbuilding industry and para-naval forces, conveys a message throughout the Indo-Pacific that Beijing is becoming more capable of coercing regional neighbors into abiding by China’s rules and claims.

Meanwhile, undersea capabilities remain a vital part of the PLA’s naval capabilities. The PLA is steadily modernizing its mostly non-nuclear-powered submarines and investing in unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) and seabed research and survey vehicles. One notable development has been the creation of “a deep sea base for unmanned submarine science and defense operations in the South China Sea, a center that might become the first artificial intelligence colony on Earth.”

The PLAN remains focused on its near seas, a fact attested to by its relatively small inventory of replenishment ships. However, China is developing a replenishment system designed to be used on existing civilian ships. Moreover, given China’s shipbuilding capabilities, on top of building a base in Djibouti and constructing various ports that could in the future accommodate naval vessels, Beijing is not as hamstrung by logistical shortfalls as some might think. 

China can backstop its naval presence with not only advanced land-based airpower but especially with its array of anti-ship and land-attack cruise and ballistic missiles. Two land-based, road-mobile anti-ship ballistic missiles pose a direct threat to U.S. Navy combatants. The DF-21D has a range of more than 1,000 miles and is the first ASBM designed to hit ships at sea. The DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile boasts a range of about 2,500 miles, and it can carry either a conventional or nuclear warhead. Both missiles can achieve much greater range if delivered by air on the PLA’s new H-6N bomber, which is also designed to carry supersonic cruise missiles and UAVs, among other weapons. As if to emphasize the psychological warfare element of Beijing’s total competition, these missiles are often referred to as the “carrier-killer” and “Guam express” weapons designed to push the U.S. military out beyond the second island chain. Meanwhile, China is reportedly developing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) that would be much harder to intercept.

Beyond all of these capabilities, China augments its naval power in the Pacific by exploiting information across all dimensions of policy, including its advances into the new domains of cyberspace, outer space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. The PLA’s quest to master the new domains is being realized through massive investment and reorganization to include a Strategic Support Force that integrates “PLA space, cyber, electronic, and psychological warfare capabilities.”

Also worth noting is that China essentially has two additional navies, each of which is the largest of its kind in the world. The China Coast Guard (CCG) inventory includes at least 142 lightly armed oceangoing vessels. If added to the PLA Navy’s force of over 335 commissioned combat submarines and surface combatants, China’s maritime force numbers 477 combat vessels—more than twice the number of comparable U.S. Navy combat vessels and nearly four times the number of U.S. Navy combat vessels assigned to the Pacific Fleet. A vast People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) and an organized civilian fishing fleet also give the PLAN and CCG vessels a major para-naval auxiliary force. Together, these so-called “three navies” constitute a gray-, white-, and blue-hulled force with nothing comparable in the U.S. alliance network.

Leadership in an Era of Total Competition

A more powerful China flexing its muscle at sea and in new domains is casting longstanding U.S. regional leadership and commitment in a harsher light in East Asia and the Pacific. Despite formidable headwinds, the Chinese economy is still seen as the dominant driver of the regional economy. Nearly four of five Southeast Asians polled view China as the dominant economic power, and twice as many (52 vice 26 percent) see China rather than the United States as the dominant political and strategic power in the region.

Meanwhile, the United States has shown signs of retrenchment from Asia. The Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy could well serve as a basis for rallying like-minded countries to stand up to unilateral changes to the status quo and threatening to settle disputes through military force. However, as with the efforts of the Obama administration before it, and the George W. Bush administration before that, a real pivot to Asia requires a sustained focus on the region, backed by an ability to find sufficient resources to preserve a favorable balance of power. As elites in Asia increasingly see China as supplanting U.S. power, the U.S. Navy faces a welter of challenges to maintain current readiness for increasingly contested environments while simultaneously investing in future capabilities.

As the United States struggles to maintain and adapt a legacy naval force, China is closing the qualitative gap in its major combat ships and aircraft. China is gaining sea denial and sea control through a formidable array of missiles that threaten America’s aircraft carrier strike groups and critical bases throughout the region. China is also leveraging the world’s best-armed coast guard and largest paramilitary force to achieve its expansive goals through gray-zone operations.

Importantly, the erosion of U.S. military and naval supremacy is also being accelerated by China’s successful political warfare strategy and America’s sluggish response. Beijing is waging a whole-of-society “total competition.” The techno-nationalist approach seeks to achieve economic preeminence on the back of emerging information-centric technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D manufacturing, and quantum computing. All these technologies have both civilian and military value.

While naval competition is vital, there is another competition worth considering. Political and irregular warfare is making a resurgence. Major and regional powers bent on revising the post-World War II global order, in whole or in part, are seeking to achieve their aims without triggering major conflict. Through shadow and covert warfare, as well as a variety of means designed to achieve success with little or no use of kinetic force, revisionist powers are eroding rules, coercing states, and weaponizing information.

In a new report, Total Competition: China’s Challenge in the South China Sea, Ryan Neuhard and I have attempted to outline Beijing’s variant of political warfare, especially as it applies to a critical regional flashpoint: the South China Sea. Understanding China’s total competition approach is essential to thinking about the naval balance in the Pacific. “Total competition” is in contrast to the concept of “total warfare,” and it is better than “political warfare” because all wars are political, and the main idea is an indirect approach of winning without fighting.  The CCP is interested more in what H. R. McMaster calls “cooption, coercion, and concealment,” than it is in “lethality” (to pick a term central to DoD strategy). Total competition comprises five dimensions: economic, legal, psychological, military (especially maritime), and informational. But information cuts across all the aspects of the strategy and all activities. The growing importance of big data, narrative, cyber warfare, A.I., quantum, and other issues explains why Beijing’s total competition is, at its core, a desire for information dominance.

Augmenting the U.S. Response

In short, the United States does not merely face a rising competitor for primacy in the Pacific; it does so at a time when it is also having difficulty finding strategic coherence and adequate resources. It does so at a time when it is crucial to place conventional military power in a broader context of political warfare in the digital age, or total competition. With that in mind, the United States should consider making several strategic priorities and adjustments.

First, the United States and its allies and partners must prepare for a range of contingencies. Beyond a possible North Korean missile attack, the principal concerns are a possible Taiwan invasion, and maritime coercion or naval conflict in the East or South China Seas. In short, more must be done to shore up deterrence by denial, counter maritime coercion, and prepare for a possible, short, sharp “informationized” clash.

Second, the United States needs to strengthen rather than weaken its alliance network, building out a broader and more capable constellation of security partners.

Third, the U.S. needs to reinforce and defend the rules-based order, rather than calling into question the basic multilateral framework of regional cooperation.

Fourth, the United States needs to push back on China’s total competition, adding military means that help to preserve deterrence by denial, but at a sustainable cost.

Fifth, in the context of the Pacific naval balance, the United States needs to garner more resources and spend it far more wisely to protect the desired balance of current and future capabilities. The administration’s latest proposed budget would cut shipbuilding but invest more in the competition over future information-based technologies and capabilities. A balance is needed.

Three crucial questions require further deliberation and research. For one thing, how can the United States and allies maintain deterrence, prevent it from slipping, or restore it? Presumably, conventional deterrence by denial capabilities and networked security with partners are essential, but policymakers should consider the full toolkit.

Next, how can the United States reassure allies and partners while bolstering deterrence against major power adversaries? For instance, the U.S. Navy has begun its first submarine patrol with low-yield nuclear weapons designed to preserve deterrence. Similarly, the interest in deploying mobile, long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles is also sincere, even though the process of trying to deploy them will create an inevitable political backlash from some quarters.

Finally, how can the United States and its allies and partners win the total competition with China, given that winning means avoiding major war while denying China or any single power exclusive control over the Western Pacific and maritime Asia? A winning approach requires the adoption of a similar total competition strategy, albeit one suited to democracies. It also requires a positive slate of activities to bolster the prevailing rules, institutions, and partnerships to preserve a sustainable Indo-Pacific order for all.

Dr. Patrick M. Cronin is Senior Fellow and Chair for Asia-Pacific Security at Hudson Institute and is available at pcronin@hudson.org.

Endnotes

1. This essay is based on a longer paper presented in Paris on February 12, 2020, at a closed workshop entitled, “East Asia Security in Flux: What Regional Order Ahead?”, sponsored by the IFRI Center for Asian Studies and the Research Institute for Peace and Security (RIPS).

Featured Image: Sailors of the People’s Liberation Army Navy march past the USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19), at the time the United States Seventh Fleet flagship homeported in Yokosuka, Japan. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Raisina Dialogues: Naval Convergence in the Indo-Pacific

By David Scott

The annual Raisina Dialogue, hosted by India since 2016, is useful for highlighting the process of maritime strategic convergence between Australia, France, India, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S. The Raisina Dialogue was initially set up by India as a high-level forum for international discussion. Tellingly, Chinese officials have never been invited. For the last three years, from 2018 to 2020, there were panels specifically dealing with the Indo-Pacific that brought together naval leaders from various China-concerned countries. This built on the 2016 and 2017 iterations which brought keynote speeches and warnings from the U.S. naval leadership, alongside a maritime focus from Japan, India, and the U.K. What follows is a review of each year of the Raisina Dialogues, with a focus on the growing scope of collaboration between nations increasingly concerned about China’s Indo-Pacific push.

2016: Opening Talks

This was the first Raisina Dialogue, held from 1–3 March, with a focus on Asian connectivity. One of the participants was Admiral Harry Harris, chief of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), complete with his emphasis that:

“The United States is conducting our strategic Rebalance west to the Indo-Asia-Pacific. You need look no further than last October’s Malabar maritime exercise between India, Japan and the United States to see the security inter-connectedness of the Indian Ocean, Asia, and the Pacific Ocean regions.”

It was significant that he highlighted the strategic unity of both oceans, that he pinpointed America’s own transfer of resources across to the Indo-Pacific, and that he further pinpointed the emergent trilateral maritime partnership between India, Japan, and the U.S. The Malabar exercises had been bilateral India-U.S. affairs since 1992, but Japan was invited as a permanent participant in the October 2015 iteration and thereafter.

Two contextual programs starting in 2015 were China’s creation of artificial islands in the South China Sea (running through the next few years), and PACOM’s initiation of Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) around such artificial militarized creations of China, the tempo of which have been increased since 2017 under the Trump administration.

2017: Marine Geography of the Indo-Pacific

In 2017, no specific maritime panel was held at the Raisina Dialogue held on 17–19 January. Nevertheless strong maritime messages were prominent. Prime Minister Modi’s formal address pinpointed that with India “being a maritime nation, in all directions, our maritime interests are strategic and significant”; for which “we believe that respecting freedom of navigation and adhering to international norms is essential for peace and economic growth in the larger and inter-linked marine geography of the Indo-Pacific.” India’s chief of the Western Naval Command Vice Admiral Girish Luthra in a panel on “Evolving Politics of the Asia-Pacific” noted that “the regional order in Indo-Pacific is in transition, particularly in East Asia,” with veiled comments about the “economic blandishments” posed by China’s Maritime Silk Route (MSR) propositions announced by President Xi Jinping in October 2016.

Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Shunsuke Takei, pinpointed further maritime issues at the 2017 Raisina Dialogue:

“In recent years, we have been witnessing scenes of increasing tensions between States, in the seas of Asia… Absence of the rule of law means giving way to dominance by force. To ensure open and stable seas and freedom of navigation and overflight, Japan underscores the importance of the observation of international law, including United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is the ‘constitution of the oceans.’ Concrete actions and cooperation based on such a universal law are needed.”

Concrete actions and concrete cooperation, particularly to uphold freedom of navigation, was aimed at China in the South China Sea, and was a call for essentially naval cooperation. The reiteration of the importance of UNCLOS was aimed at China’s rejection of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling against it in various South China Sea UNCLOS issues in July 2016.

Finally, Admiral Harry Harris, PACOM chief, in a keynote speech welcomed the developing maritime cooperation between India and the U.S, witnessed in the ever strengthening Malabar exercises. He looked forward to ongoing trilateral India-Japan-U.S. maritime cooperation. China was discernible in his analysis:

“No matter how many bases are built on artificial features in the South China Sea, I say this often but it’s worth repeating: we will cooperate where we can, and be ready to confront where we must… There are those who question the motives for the increasingly cooperative relationship between the U.S. and India. They say that it’s to balance against and contain China. That’s just simply not true. Our relationship stands on its own merits.”

The first point was a direct denunciation of China’s artificial islands created in the South China Sea (the “Great Wall of Sand”) process of pouring sand and concrete onto semi-submerged reefs and atolls, and their subsequent militarization of harbors, airstrips, and missile batteries. The second point was diplomatic to the point of masking. The U.S. and India had various shared interests (democracy, economics, anti-terrorism) but rising concern about China was one important factor in their strategic convergence, even if unstated.

The then-U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was able to announce at the 2017 Raisina Dialogue that “we have just decided to restore our military presence east of Suez,” where “as our naval strength increases in the next ten years, including two new aircraft carriers, we will be able to make a bigger contribution,” including “in the Indian Ocean, we have a joint U.K.-U.S. facility on Diego Garcia – an asset that is vital for our operations in the region” and that “we oppose the militarisation of the South China Sea and we urge all parties to respect freedom of navigation and settle their disputes peacefully in accordance with international law.”

2018: Uncharted Waters: In Search of Order in the Indo-Pacific

The 2018 Raisina Dialogue, held on 14–16 January, witnessed new developments: (a) a formal Indo-Pacific panel titled “Uncharted Waters: In search of Order in the Indo-Pacific”; (b) made up of naval chiefs from the U.S. (PACOM chief, Admiral Harry Harris), India (Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Sunil Lanba), Australia (Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, Chief of Navy), and Japan (Chief of Joint Staff, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano). Harris, having given relatively muted warnings in 2016 and 2017 at the Raisina Dialogue, was more explicit at the 2018 Dialogue, arguing that “the reality is that China is a disruptive transitional force in the Indo-Pacific. They are the owners of trust deficit.” Kawano was equally pointed, that “China’s military power is becoming more powerful and is expanding. In the East and South China Seas, China has been ignoring international law. In order to deter Chinese provocations, India, the U.S., Australia and Japan have to cooperate with one another.” Lanba focused on Chinese appearance in the Indian Ocean, particularly at Djibouti and Sri Lanka. Chinese state media was dismissive of the process, with the Global Times (25 January) running articles headlined “New Delhi forum props up ‘Quad’ stance, refuses to listen to China voice.”

2019: Indo-Pacific – Ancient Waters and Emerging Geometries

The 2019 Raisina Dialogue, held from 8–10 January, reflected another twist on strategic geometries as France joined the Quad partners. Consequently, military leaders from Australia (General Angus Campbell, Chief of the Defence Force), France (Admiral Christophe Prazuk, Chief of Naval Staff), India (Admiral Sunil Lamba, Chief of Naval Staff), Japan (Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, Chief of Staff, Joint Staff), and the U.S. (Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson) in the Panel entitled “Indo-Pacific: Ancient Waters and Emerging Geometries.” The official report on their discussion was that it “was all about China’s growing naval profile in the Indo-Pacific region.” Davidson made a point of noting how “the United States was working with Japan, France, New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom and others in the South China Sea”; and in a nod to fellow panelists noted that that the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific had been “been underwritten in many respects, by the combat credibility of not only the United States forces, but the forces represented here on the panel. I think that’s incredibly important to sustain as we move forward.” Lanba noted that the Quad between Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. was “a growing relationship, which is robust. It will only grow as time goes by.”

March 2019 witnessed trilateral exercises between Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. in the West Pacific. April witnessed quadrilateral exercising between Australia, France, Japan and the U.S. in the Bay of Bengal; and May witnessed exercising between Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S. in the South China Sea.

During 2018, Australian vessels, HMAS Anzac, HMAS Toowoomba and HMAS Success had been challenged by the Chinese Navy in April 2018 when sailing through the South China Sea, i.e. across China’s 9-dash line. Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull reiterated that Australia would keep deploying under its “right of freedom of navigation.” Similarly the French Defence Minister Florence Parly at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018 had noted continued pressure by China on French ships sailing into Chinese-claimed territorial waters, which France considered international waters. In September the UK’s HMS Albion was in some confrontation with the Chinese navy over its freedom of navigation operation around the Paracels. Macron’s visit to Australia and the Pacific had brought his invocation of an “Indo-Pacific axis” (axe Indo-Pacifique) involving France, Australia, Japan, and India. 

2020: Fluid Fleets: Navigating Tides of Revision in the Indo-Pacific

The 2020 Raisina Dialogue, held on 14–16 January included a panel titled “Fluid Fleets: Navigating Tides of Revision in the Indo-Pacific.” The panel discussion drew together five military leaders from India (Chief of Naval Staff, Karambir Singh), Australia (Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Vice Admiral David Johnston), Japan (Chief of Staff, General Koji Yamazaki), France (Deputy Director of Strategy at the French Ministry of the Armed Forces, Luc de Rancourt) and the UK (Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Tony Radakin). This represented a clear example of what the conference booklet described as “new strategic geographies from the Indo-Pacific.”

A China shadow was palpably present at the 2020 Raisina Dialogue, with China “looming large” according to the South China Morning Post; and where the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy as a divisive U.S. plot to “contain China.” The panel subtitle title “tides of revision” would seem perhaps implicitly coined with China in mind.

At the 2020 panel discussion, India’s Admiral Singh noted of China that “they have 7 –8 warships in the Indian Ocean at any given time […] We are watching. If anything impinges on us, we will act”; to which he gave the example of the Indian Navy escorting Chinese ships out of their sensitive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around the Andaman and Nicobar islands in December 2019. France’s Luc de Rancourt stated “we see China rising. We are seeing what it can do in South China Sea,” and reiterated French readiness to conduct freedom of navigation exercising there. Rancourt also spoke about “the importance of working together to promote a free, secure and open Indo-Pacific with our partners from the region with whom we share common values.” Japan’s Admiral Yamazaki admitted that “we are closely watching the situation” with regard to possible war between China and Japan. The U.K.’s Radakin announced a “greater role” for the U.K. in the Indo-Pacific, specifically including greater use of Diego Garcia. This was the notionally joint base between the U.K. and U.S., but mostly used by the U.S.; facing increasing U.N. pressure in 2019 with the advisory vote by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in February and the non-binding General Assembly vote in May calling for U.K. decolonization.

The context for the “fluid fleets” was three-fold, China’s aircraft carrier program, and local responses by Japan, at a time of re-emerging U.K. capability. All three states will have doubled their aircraft carrier capability in short order. This will put them into the elite class (or rather for the U.K., re-enter her into the class) of countries able to field aircraft carriers.

With regard to China, the key event was the commissioning of China’s second aircraft carrier, the Shandong, in December 2019 – an event attended by President Xi Jinping. This is a medium-sized aircraft carrier, displacing around 55,000 tons, and set to carry around 36 J-15 fighter jets. Homeported at Yulin Naval Base on Hainan island, the Shandong gives Chinese extra naval reach into the South China Sea and beyond. Commentary at the Peoples Daily was pointed, in that “the main strategic focus of the Shandong will be on waters around the South China Sea”; because “recently, military vessels and aircraft from some nations have been carrying out so-called freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, stirring up trouble and challenging China’s national sovereignty”; and that “the aircraft strike group headed by the Shandong will be deployed to the South China Sea. It is very likely that it will have face-to-face encounters with foreign military vessels.” Further deployment into the Indian Ocean will be more easily facilitated by this southern orientation. 

Chinese diplomats argued that “the Shandong aircraft carrier service illustrated not only the achievements of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the cause of [a] its modernization, but also [b] the firm stand in safeguarding China’s security and unity and [c] promoting world peace.” These points may have been true enough to China, but whether it represented a step in promoting world peace is questionable.

The Chinese military was exultant, “the commissioning of the new carrier marks a new height in China’s carrier development and is a major milestone in China’s warship construction history”; and that “deploying the new carrier in Sanya means it will play a critical role in safeguarding national maritime interests, as well as peace and stability in the South China Sea.” The Chinese state media argued that “this shows China’s comprehensive national strength, with a very high level of naval equipment and technologies applied.”

Nevertheless, some commentators were not impressed; the new aircraft carrier was a “paper tiger” according to David Axe; being little more than a copied version of the Soviet period design of China’s first aircraft carrier the Liaoning, brought from the Ukraine and commissioned in 2017 for training purposes. Indeed China may now be pulling back its planned aircraft carrier program. In December 2019, citing technical issues and a slowing economy, China reportedly put on hold plans for a fifth and possibly sixth carrier. Instead of speeding ahead with the development of a six-carrier fleet – two each for the northern, eastern and southern fleets – the Chinese Navy could stop after acquiring its fourth flattop. Here, while the envisaged third and fourth carriers reportedly will have catapults, allowing them to launch heavier planes, Beijing’s long-term ambition to develop nuclear-powered flattops seems on hold. While China may have ongoing problems catching up with U.S. aircraft carrier strength (11 nuclear flat-top carriers and nine usable further carriers), at the local level China’s naval program threatens to overshadow Japan and India.

With regard to Japan, on 30 December 2019 the Japanese Ministry of Defense approved the 2020 budget that will finance the refurbishment, i.e. the conversion, of the Izumo-class helicopter carriers for fixed wing F-35B stealth fighter operations; for which 42 are being purchased. The context is of course China’s push for aircraft carrier capability; where Japan’s two carriers are on the smaller side at 27,000 tons, but will have more powerful aircraft capabilities of fifth generation F-35Bs versus fourth generation J-15s. The decision in principle had been taken in December 2018, and now is being implemented. Deployment areas will include the South China Sea and Indian Ocean where the two carriers have already deployed, including JDS Kaga in 2018 and JDS Izumo 2019.

Finally with regard to the U.K., it commissioned its second aircraft carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, in December 2019. It has a displacement of 72,000 tons, and is due to carry 24 F-35Bs by 2024. Simultaneously her sister ship the HMS Queen Elizabeth, commissioned in December 2017 with similar specifications, left Portsmouth for air trials with UK fighters in January 2020. What these two events show is that the gap in U.K. carrier capability is being filled. With full operational capability being completed in 2020, the way is becoming clear for aircraft carrier group deployment centered around the Queen Elizabeth in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific in early 2021, with much speculation over whether this will include a U.K. deployment into the South China Sea.

During 2019 there was renewed determination by these countries to operate in the South China Sea. As the French Defence Minister Florence Parly noted at the Shangri-La Dialogue in July 2019, “we will continue to sail more than twice a year in the South China Sea. There will be objections, there will be dubious manoeuvres at sea” from China; “but we will not be intimidated into accepting any fait accompli, because what international law condemns, how could we condone? We will also call for all those who share this view to join in.” The “emerging geometries” noted in January at the 2019 Raisina Dialogue had been manifest during 2019 in various joint exercising.

Conclusion

The Raisina process has moved from bilateral U.S.-India maritime cooperation, to trilateral India-Japan-U.S. cooperation, to still wider Australia-India-France-Japan-U.K.-U.S. focus on maritime cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. Throughout this process, there remained a tangible rising concern about China’s growing challenge to the region. The Raisina process reflects this maritime strategic convergence, but also affects the process through reinforcing and strengthening a convergence of views. Such flexible patterns of Indo-Pacific naval cooperation mirror the political cooperation between these like-minded Indo-Pacific maritime actors.

David Scott is an Indo-Pacific analyst for the NATO Defense College Foundation, and a regular lecturer at the NATO Defense College. A prolific writer on maritime geopolitics, he can be contacted at davidscott366@outlook.com.

Featured Image: Commander, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) Adm. Phil Davidson, answers questions during a panel discussion, 9 Jan. 2018, at the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi.  (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Robin Pe)

Working with Dulles: An Insider’s Account of the Taiwan Straits Crisis

This article originally featured in The Foreign Service Journal and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Marshall Green

Diplomatic biographer Sir Harold Nicolson once wrote that the worst kind of diplomatists are zealots, lawyers, and missionaries; the best kind are humane skeptics. In his first years as secretary of state, John Foster Dulles seemed to fall clearly in the first category. He was a dyed-in-the-wool lawyer with Cold War missionary zeal. For him, Soviet aggressive moves toward the West invited “massive retaliation”; neutrals were “immoral”; and his policies and acts gave rise to a new term in diplomacy: “brinkmanship.” He was also associated in the minds of many Foreign Service officers with Senator McCarthy and his ilk, who pilloried the Foreign Service and hounded out of office several of our best China specialists whose only “crime” was the accuracy of their reports out of China during World War II, predicting the decline of the Chinese Nationalists under Generalissimo Chiang and the rise of Mao’s Communists.

I came to see a rather different Dulles when I was his working-level action officer during the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1958. My involvement in China policy dates back to 1956, when I was assigned as regional planning adviser in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, which was then headed by Walter Robertson. Robertson was the quintessential Virginia gentleman, a banker by profession, who had powerful connections in the administration and Congress. His overriding interest in world affairs was to uphold the position of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek as president of all of China, even though the “Gimo” and his forces had fled the mainland in 1949 to take refuge on Taiwan, China’s island province. For several months in 1958, I had chaired a small working-level interagency task force (State, Defense, and CIA) established by the White House to examine U.S. capabilities to cope with two or more simultaneous military crises in various parts of the world. One of the task force scenarios related to a Chinese Communist (Chicom) aerial or artillery interdiction of the Quemoy island group, held by one-third of the Nationalist forces, though located just a few miles off the shore of mainland China.

When, in fact, an artillery interdiction was launched against the Quemoy and Matsu islands on August 23, 1958, I was able that same day to have on Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Parson’s desk our agreed task force recommendations on U.S. countermeasures. These recommendations called for a cautious escalation of U.S. naval and air support operations, as necessary, to protect Taiwan from a Communist takeover. Parson and Robertson approved the recommendations, which were forwarded to Dulles. However, Robertson commented to me, the United States would, of course, never make first use of nuclear weapons. I found this remark rather astonishing, coming from one of our leading hawks.

Dulles, flying down from his vacation retreat on Duck Island in the St. Lawrence River, immediately called a meeting in his office. He had read our recommendations, but his first concern was legal. What were U.S. defense obligations toward Quemoy and Matsu? What restrictions applied to the involvement of U.S. forces in their defense?

These small offshore islands were not included in the U.S.-Republic of China Mutual Defense Treaty’s definition of the treaty area, but a subsequent joint resolution of Congress in January 1955, at the time of the first Taiwan Straits crisis, had authorized the president to employ U.S. armed forces in the protection of not just Taiwan and the Pescadores but also “related positions and territories in that area.”

Dulles had no difficulty in making a legal case that the joint resolution covered the offshore islands in this crisis, since Peking, in attacking them, announced that its objective was Taiwan. The president and congressional leaders agreed. Establishing rules for the engagement of U.S. forces was more difficult. The Quemoy group was so close to mainland shore batteries that they could be blanketed with enemy shells, although there was no evidence of any impending Chicom landing operation against the islands. In fact, the shelling occurred immediately before the typhoon season, when amphibious operations would have been most precarious. It was fairly clear that Peking did not want to take the islands unless, in doing so, it brought down the government in Taiwan.

Peking’s evident intent was interdiction of the offshore islands: to prevent provisions, including food and ammunition, from reaching the defenders, thereby wearing them down to the point of surrender which in turn would precipitate a collapse of morale on Taiwan and a takeover from within by the Communists. The problem therefore came down to one of resupplying the embattled Quemoy group, a task that was beyond the capability of the Nationalist navy, which was not only poorly led at that time but had to contend with incessant bombardment, rough seas, and alleged 27-foot waves in landing supplies on the islands. Thus it was arranged that the U.S. Navy would escort Chinese resupply convoys to a point three miles offshore from Quemoy but would not enter Quemoy’s territorial waters. Nationalist vessels had to cover the last three miles on their own, loaded with supplies including shells for Quemoy’s howitzers.

Dulles, acting under President Eisenhower’s instructions, decided against U.S. air operations in the Taiwan Straits and reached agreement with Taipei that U.S. and Nationalist planes would not overfly mainland China, thereby ruling out air attacks on Chicom shore batteries. One important reason for this decision was that there was no way of silencing these batteries short of nuclear weapons or extensive air-drops of napalm bombs, actions President Eisenhower strongly opposed, as did Dulles. It was also increasingly apparent that Chicom air capability was being used with great restraint, there being no bombing of any Nationalist-held territories.

Our limited rules of engagement also reflected awareness of the lack of support in the United States for getting involved in a war over distant islands that “weren’t worth the life of a single American boy.” Nor did we have international support beyond that of the Republic of China on Taiwan, South Korea, and South Vietnam. Governments of key nations allied to the United States, such as Great Britain and Japan, were correctly restrained in their criticisms, but public opinion in these countries was highly averse to U.S. involvement.

Secretary Dulles accordingly was bent on finding some diplomatic course of action to bring the fighting to a halt. He set little store by what the periodic U.S.-People’s Republic of China ambassadorial-level talks in Warsaw could achieve on this issue, though he appreciated that public awareness of these talks forestalled criticisms that the United States was out of diplomatic contact with the Peking government on this and other issues.

Very early on the morning of September 7, I received a phone call from Dulles, who had evidently had a restless night. He suggested that it might be best for the United States to take the issue to the United Nations, since the General Assembly would be reconvening the following week. Dulles mentioned the possibility of having the British and French introduce a resolution in the UN Security Council calling for a UN-supervised cease-fire and neutralization of the offshore islands. I was strongly opposed to this suggestion, which both Peking and Taipei would reject out of hand. It would impose great strains on our relations with Taipei, which in turn might strengthen the case for Peking occupying China’s seat in the UN.

However, I said nothing about all this to Dulles over the phone but replied that he would have our bureau’s reactions as soon as possible. I immediately prepared a memorandum, approved by Jeff Parsons and signed by Robertson, pointing out the negative factors entailed in the secretary’s suggestion and alternatively recommending that we ask the British and French to introduce a UN resolution welcoming Washington’s and Peking’s discussions of this issue at Warsaw and urging that Peking and Taipei resolve this issue without further resort to force. Also included in Robertson’s memorandum was a suggestion that our side might at some point in the near future take unilateral and unannounced moves, such as shifting our regular Taiwan Straits patrols farther away from Chicom territorial waters, with the Nationalists suspending artillery fire from Quemoy, to see whether this invited any reciprocal moves from the Communist side.

However, before any of these strategies could be pursued, our attention focused on the immediate, urgent issue of Quemoy running out of supplies. The daily consumption of supplies by the 80,000 troops and 45,000 civilians on Quemoy was estimated at 700 tons and yet, since August 23, only 125 tons had been delivered. This appalling record was ascribed to all the usual reasons—bad weather, tidal conditions, heavy shelling—but it also occurred to some in Washington that Taipei was deliberately holding back, or providing us with false figures, in an effort to get the United States more involved in the islands’ defense.

Our Joint Chiefs of Staff could see no reason why, with the exercise of guts and ingenuity, the Nationalists, under existing rules of engagement, could not off-load up to 1,000 tons of supplies a day under favorable weather conditions. Admiral Burke recommended new ways of delivering supplies, including floating them ashore. Over the next two weeks there was some improvement in deliveries but not enough to prevent an alarming diminution of food and ammunition on the Quemoys. By September 28, Taipei reported that only a few days of supplies remained. Cables from the U.S. embassy in Taipei were full of dire warnings.

At this point Secretary Dulles decided to go to New York to take the issue to the UN along the lines he had suggested over the phone on September 7. However, the very day he left for New York, I received word from the CIA that a reliable report had just been received from Quemoy stating that its supply situation was nowhere near as desperate as we had been led to believe. There were several weeks of supplies on hand in the extensive network of tunnels on Quemoy.

Robertson asked me to deliver this information in person to Acting Secretary Christian Herter, who immediately called a meeting in his office. There it was decided that I should go to New York to bring these developments to the attention of Dulles, with a recommendation from Herter that the secretary might wish to postpone any UN initiative.

I was met in New York by UN Ambassador Philip Crowe, who took me early the following day to the secretary’s suite in the Waldorf. When Dulles heard our reports, he canceled scheduled meetings with the British and French ambassadors to the UN, returned to Washington, and called a meeting that evening at his house. There, Admiral Burke was very upbeat on prospects for resupplying the Quemoys, mentioning for the first time in my hearing the fact that two of the Navy’s huge landing ship docks (LSDs) were about to arrive in the Taiwan Straits. These could contain dozens of amphibious landing craft, manned by trained Nationalist crews, which would run up on the shores of Quemoy with supplies.

Meanwhile, spirits on Taiwan had been lifted by the deadly effectiveness of several Nationalist fighter aircraft on patrol, whose U.S.-provided Sidewinders downed five MIG-17s. It was against this background that Peking radio announced on October 6 that it was temporarily suspending its bombardment of the offshores, emphasizing that its action was taken to spare the lives of Chinese compatriots inhabiting those islands. Our side immediately reciprocated by suspending U.S. convoy activities and modifying our naval patrol routes in the Taiwan Straits.

The outlook remained unclear. When Dulles departed on October 20 for Taipei, via Italy and England, Peking announced the end of its cease-fire on the alleged grounds that one of our LSDs had intruded into the territorial waters of Quemoy. On October 25, following the issuance of a joint U.S.-ROC communique at the conclusion of Dulles’s visit to Taipei, Peking announced its intention to observe a cease-fire on the offshore islands on odd-numbered days. Taipei retaliated by firing on Chicom vessels from batteries on Quemoy.

This curious arrangement left each of the Chinese governments with the satisfaction that it was master of the situation, but we had no idea of how long this arrangement would continue. Thus, when Dulles returned from Taipei, his first concern was to preserve the relative calm, while doing everything he could to get the bulk of Chiang’s forces off the offshore islands. But we felt we had to be careful in handling this effort, lest sharp open differences between Washington and Taipei tempt Peking to renew bombardment.

I well recall Secretary Dulles’s comments on his return to Washington: “If nothing is done now, and then a year or so hence the Chicoms again attack the offshores, it will be extremely difficult for us to give the ROC any military support. Already we have had to strain our relations with Congress and foreign governments to the breaking point. Our experience with the offshores was agonizing enough in 1955. It is worse today. We can’t go through this a third time.”

Our efforts to effect a drastic reduction in the garrisons on the offshore islands never succeeded. Eventually, there was a reduction, but meanwhile we came to appreciate that the Chinese in their own particular way had found a solution by turning their hot war into an endless propaganda battle—of propaganda shells, blaring loud speakers, and balloon-delivered leaflets. Peking also issued a long series of “serious warnings” to the United States every time one of our naval patrols in the Taiwan Straits came within Chinese mainland territorial waters, as defined by Peking but not by Washington. The serious warnings had reached the thousand mark by the time President Nixon’s trip to China was announced. Thereafter the warnings ceased.

In retrospect, I have often wondered whether Moscow had any hand in Peking’s decision to halt the heavy bombardment of Quemoy. We know that almost all of the 580,000 shells fired on the islands were produced in the Soviet Union, and that the first signs of serious Moscow-Peking differences appeared soon after the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, about a year before the 1958 Taiwan Straits crisis. However, we assumed during that crisis that Peking had Moscow’s unqualified support. Moscow said nothing to suggest otherwise. In fact, Khrushchev warned on several occasions that any use of nuclear weapons would not go unanswered by the USSR. (Peking exploded its first nuclear weapon in 1964.)

Finally, a few comments about Secretary Dulles’s handling of the crisis. I was deeply impressed by his excellent working relations with President Eisenhower as well as with his associates in State, Defense, and CIA (headed by his brother, Allen). On several occasions, near the conclusion of meetings in his office, Dulles would pick up the secure phone and tell the president of our conclusions and solicit his comments or, where relevant, his approval. Dulles thus made it clear to all present that he was acting under Eisenhower’s orders. That, in turn, strengthened Dulles’s position with all his associates.

I was also impressed by the way Dulles took charge of the problem, making it his personal responsibility to work out a peaceful solution, losing many hours of sleep in the process. Yet he sought advice from his associates. I recall how Gerard Smith, at that time director of the Policy Planning Staff, used to argue almost instinctively against the emerging consensus of several of our meetings. Dulles seemed to welcome the ensuing debate, which helped to fine-hone the final decisions. John Foster Dulles may be remembered by history as one of our most zealous, hardline secretaries of state, especially in his dealings with Moscow and Peking, but, from my vantage point during the last year of his life, he appeared as a man of moderation and reason, an able practitioner of diplomacy as well as of law.

Marshall Green served as ambassador to Indonesia and Australia and as assistant secretary for East Asia and the Pacific. This account, based on diary and other personal material, commemorated the 30th anniversary of Secretary Dulles’s death in May 1959.

Featured Image: A Chinese propaganda poster depicting warships, warplanes, and guns, and referring to the metal needed for the war effort with a depiction of a vat of molten metal being poured onto the island of Taiwan, during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958. (Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Competing with China for a Free and Open Indo-Pacific

This article originally featured in the September-October 2019 edition of Military Review and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.

By Gen. Robert B. Brown, U.S. Army, Lt. Col. R. Blake Lackey, U.S. Army, and Maj. Brian G. Forester, U.S. Army

As China continues its economic and military ascendance, asserting power through an all-of-nation long-term strategy, it will continue to pursue a military modernization program that seeks Indo-Pacific regional hegemony in the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.

Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy

We are at a strategic inflection point. A hypercompetitive global environment coupled with accelerating technological, economic, and social change has resulted in an incredibly challenging and complex twenty-first-century operating environment. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Indo-Pacific as the People’s Republic of China (PRC), under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), seeks to undermine the rules-based international order that has benefitted all nations for over seventy years. The PRC’s intentions are clear: to shape a strategic environment favorable to its own national interests at the expense of other nations. Recognizing the growing global challenges emanating from the region, our national leaders have offered a contrasting vision: a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”1 Since the end of World War II, the substance of that vision has benefitted all nations and none more than China. As an integral part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s joint and combined approach to realize that vision and maintain the advantage against the PRC, Army forces are actively competing for influence in the region. Maintaining an Indo-Pacific that is free and open will require us to continue competing with Beijing by forward posturing combat-credible forces, strengthening our regional alliances and partnerships, and tightly integrating with the combined joint force to succeed in multi-domain operations.

A Revanchist China

The CCP’s unabashed vision for the future is the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”2 Beyond just words, this blueprint has manifested itself in actions such as China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, wherein the CCP promises loans for infrastructure development across the Asia-Pacific region and, increasingly, the globe. In 2018, China expanded One Belt, One Road to include arctic regions as the “Polar Silk Road” and emphasized its growing status as a “Near-Arctic State.”3 Exploiting the resources of other nations for China’s benefit, One Belt, One Road development agreements often come with harmful, mercantilist terms that result in host-nation corruption, crippling debt, and Chinese takeover of critical infrastructure. For example, Chinese loans to Sri Lanka for a port project in Hambantota ultimately resulted in political turmoil and debt default. In 2015, Sri Lanka was forced to hand the port over to China along with fifteen thousand acres of coastline.4 This and other examples represent the type of “debt-trap diplomacy” that typifies the predatory economic practices under China’s One Belt, One Road.5

Beyond simple regional influence, the CCP has a long-term vision for global preeminence.6 President Xi Jinping has offered a plan to guide China through domestic transformation and realize the “Chinese dream.”7 This plan includes “two 100s,” a symbolic representation of the CCP’s and the PRC’s one hundred-year anniversaries (2021 and 2049, respectively). By 2021, the CCP aims to achieve status as a “moderately prosperous society,” doubling its 2010 per capita gross domestic product and raising the standard of living for all Chinese citizens.8 By the PRC’s one hundredth anniversary in 2049, the CCP envisions the nation as “fully developed, rich and powerful,” with an economy three times the size of the United States backed up by the world’s premier military power.9 Collectively, the “two 100s”—with 2035 as an interim benchmark year—outline China’s self-described path to revitalization as a superpower. This future vision is evident in the rhetoric and views of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) leaders. Command level engagements with PLA officers indicate that they no longer fear the United States. Twenty, or even ten, years ago, it was evident that the PLA viewed the United States with a healthy dose of both respect and fear. That view has noticeably changed in recent years. While the PLA still respects our military capability, it no longer fears us, which is reflective of its confidence in its growing relative military power.

China has been utilizing the current peaceful interlude in international relations to aggressively modernize its military force. From 2000 to 2016, the CCP increased the PLA’s budget by 10 percent annually.10 And while the CCP has voiced its intentions to achieve a fully modernized force by 2035, its actions indicate a far earlier target.11 Capitalizing on the research-and-development efforts of other nations, frequently through underhanded means, the PLA is rapidly expanding its arsenal, focusing less on conventional forces and more on nuclear, space, cyberspace, and long-range fires capabilities that enable layered standoff and global reach. The PLA’s updated doctrinal approach to warfighting envisages war as a confrontation between opposing systems waged under high-technology conditions—what the PLA refers to as informatized warfare.12 In short, this is using information to PLA advantage in joint military operations across the domains of land, sea, air, space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Additionally, recognizing the need to carry out joint operations in a high-tech operating environment, the PLA is in the process of reforming its command-and-control structure to resemble our own theater and joint construct.13 In sum, the CCP characterizes the PLA’s military modernization and recent reforms as essential to achieving great power status and, ultimately, realizing the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”14

Our Competing Vision

It is against this backdrop that U.S. Indo-Pacific Command is implementing a strategy toward our national vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”15 As stated by Adm. Phil Davidson, commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command:

We mean ‘free’ both in terms of security—being free from coercion by other nations—and in terms of values and political systems … Free societies adhere to the shared values of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, respecting individual liberties.16

By “open,” we mean that “all nations should enjoy unfettered access to the seas and airways upon which our nations and economies depend.” This includes “open investment environments, transparent agreements between nations, protection of intellectual property rights, fair and reciprocal trade—all of which are essential for people, goods, and capital to move across borders for the shared benefit of all.”17The substance of this vision is not new; “free and open” have buttressed our regional approach for over seventy years. As an enduring Pacific power, we aim to preserve and protect the rules-based international order that benefits all nations, and it is this objective that underpins our long-term strategy for Indo-Pacific competition.18

Despite our conflicting visions, we must not overlook areas of common interest with China. As noted by then Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan at the recent IISS (International Institute for Strategic Studies) Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, “We cooperate with China where we have an alignment of interests.”19 We have strands of commonality—especially in the military realm—notably related to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. U.S. Army Pacific annually participates in the largest exercise with the PLA that focuses on disaster response. We can and should find common ground to build trust and stability between our two nations. But, as Shanahan went on to say, “We compete with China where we must,” and though “competition does not mean conflict,” our overarching goal is to deter revisionist behavior that erodes a free and open Indo-Pacific and, ultimately, win before fighting.20 Land forces play a key role in competing to deter the PRC. Deterrence is the product of capability, resolve, and signaling, and there is no greater signal of resolve than boots on the ground. Forward-postured Army forces, alongside a constellation of like-minded allies and partners, provide a competitive advantage and a strong signal of strength to potential adversaries. Should deterrence fail, forward-postured land forces support a rapid transition to conflict, providing the Indo-Pacific commander additional options in support of the combined joint fight. In an environment where anti-access aerial denial systems provide layered standoff, forward-postured land forces can enable operations in the maritime and air domains if competition escalates to crisis or conflict, which we have demonstrated in tabletop exercises, simulations, and operational deployments.

Naval-missile-launch
A Naval Strike Missile fires from an Army Palletized Load System truck 12 July 2018 before hitting a decommissioned ship at sea during the world’s largest international maritime exercise, Rim of the Pacific, at the Pacific Missile Range near Kekaha, Hawaii. This was the first land-based launch of the missile. (Photo by David Hogan, U. S. Army Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center Weapons Development and Integration Directorate)

Competition with the PRC is happening now, and the twenty-five thousand islands in the Indo-Pacific will be a key factor in any crisis scenario we may encounter. U.S. Army Pacific delivers several advantages to the combined joint force as America’s Theater Army in the Indo-Pacific. This summer, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command completed the first ever certification of U.S. Army Pacific as a four-star combined joint task force (CJTF). This historic certification not only signifies the integral role of land forces in the Indo-Pacific, but it also provides the combatant commander the option of a land-based CJTF. Additionally, Army forces contribute to an agile and responsive force posture that ultimately strengthens the joint force’s capacity for deterrence.

Now in its seventh year, the Pacific Pathways Program is evolving to meet the demands of increased competition. Under Pathways 2.0, U.S. Army Pacific forces are now west of the international dateline ten months of the year, and the Pathways Task Force, which is growing from under 1,000 to approximately 2,500 troops, will remain static in key partner nations—especially in the first island chain—for longer periods.21 Doing so benefits the partner forces by increasing the depth of training and relationships, enhances the combat readiness of the deployed task force, and allows the dynamic force employment of smaller units to outlying countries. For example, in May of this year, we operationally deployed a rifle company from the Pathways Task Force based in the Philippines to Palau for combined training with the local security forces—the first time in thirty-seven years Army forces have been in Palau. Pathways 2.0 and other Army force-posture initiatives are expanding the competitive space, providing opportunities to compete with the PRC for influence in previously uncontested regions of the Indo-Pacific.

Operating among the people, our land forces are especially suited to strengthening the alliances and partnerships in a complex region containing over half of the world’s population. Everything we do in the region militarily is combined; we will never be without our allies, partners, and friends. Relationships must be built before—not during—a crisis. We strive every day to form our team in the Indo-Pacific so that when a crisis occurs, we are ready. During U.S. Army Pacific’s recent certification as a CJTF, key allies and partners provided critical capabilities that made the entire team better. The exercise exemplified the importance of forming the team prior to crisis, strengthening our capacity for deterrence to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. Because fear and coercion are central to the PRC’s regional approach, mutually beneficial and purposeful engagements build trust among our partners and enable us to cooperatively counter China’s intimidation. During this fiscal year alone, U.S. Army Pacific conducted over two hundred senior leader engagements, seventy subject-matter expert exchanges, and over thirty bilateral and multilateral training exercises involving thousands of soldiers. These partner engagements reinforce the message that nothing we do in the theater will be by ourselves; it is only by working together that we can achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific.

Army forces also strengthen regional partnerships by enhancing interoperability among militaries. We often focus interoperability discussions on technical systems (communications, fires, logistics, etc.). The hard reality is that our systems will always have challenges with communication, and though we should not stop pursuing perfection, we must not forget the other dimensions of interoperability: procedures and relationships. Procedural interoperability involves agreed upon terminology, tactics, techniques, and procedures that minimize doctrinal differences. While we will always remain frustrated by—and often focused on—systems interoperability, procedural interoperability should not be overlooked as a way to enhance our cooperative effectiveness. The most important dimension of interoperability is personal relationships. Strong relationships among partners can overcome the friction inherent in today’s complex operating environment, especially at the outset of crisis, and they are a critical component of long-term strategic competition with China.

Finally, our strategic approach to the Indo-Pacific embraces the reality that current and future operations will be multi-domain. In competition and conflict, all domains—land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace—will be contested. The combined joint force will have to seize temporary windows of opportunity to gain positions of relative advantage. Considering the geographic complexity of the Indo-Pacific across twenty-five thousand islands, land forces will play a pivotal role in supporting operations in other domains whether during competition, crisis, or conflict. Exercises and simulations have demonstrated the value of land-based systems—integrated with cyber and space capabilities—in enabling air and maritime maneuver. For over two years, U.S. Army Pacific has been leading the Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF) Pilot Program; through exercises and experimentation in the Indo-Pacific, we are driving the development of multi-domain operations (MDO) doctrine and force structure. Earlier this year, we activated the first Intelligence, Information, Cyber, Electronic Warfare, and Space (I2CEWS) Detachment, which serves as the core of the MDTF’s forward-deployed capability to strengthen our capacity for deterrence.

US-China-exercise
Soldiers from Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command and the U.S. Army Pacific carry an injured man 18 November 2016 as they conduct a search-and-rescue operation at a simulated earthquake-collapsed building during the U.S.-China Disaster Management Exchange drill at a PLA training base in Kunming in southwestern China’s Yunnan Province. (Photo by Andy Wong, Associated Press)

Succeeding in multi-domain competition with China will require an unprecedented level of U.S. joint force integration. In the past, we have waited for conflict to begin for jointness to take hold, but we cannot afford to do so now. And while we are well practiced at joint interdependence in conflict—notable examples include Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom—MDO will require the “rapid and continuous integration of all domains of warfare to deter and prevail as we compete short of armed conflict.”22 Accomplishing this level of joint integration will require us to break down existing service stovepipes, overcome our tendency to seek service-centric solutions, and integrate doctrine, training, and modernization efforts to mature MDO into a joint warfighting approach. The Indo-Pacific is truly a combined and joint theater, and we must seek combined and joint solutions to the problem of competition with China.

Our Advantage

We should be clear-eyed about the PRC’s demonstrated intentions to undermine the rules-based international order and shape a strategic environment favorable to its interests at the expense of other nations. No one seeks conflict, but as George Washington once said, “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.”23 U.S. Army Pacific, as part of a lethal combined joint team, contributes to deterrence through the forward posture of combat-credible forces, the strengthening of our regional alliances and partnerships, and a joint approach to MDO. We will cooperate with China where we can but will also compete where we must to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific and preserve the rules-based order that has been at the heart of the region’s stability and prosperity for over seventy years.

Strategic competition with China is a long-term challenge, exacerbated by the accelerating complexity of the global security environment. Within this challenge, though, is the opportunity to leverage our greatest long-term advantages: our partnerships and our people. Everything we do in the Indo-Pacific is in partnership with other nations. We must maintain strong alliances and partnerships, leveraging our combined forces to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific. And as Gen. George Patton said, “The soldier is the Army. No army is better than its soldiers.”24 Though our combined joint force is the envy of the world, we have “no preordained right to victory on the battlefield.”25 We must actively invest in the development of our people now in order to retain the advantage in MDO. Leaders who can thrive—as opposed to just survive—in ambiguity and chaos are essential if we are to maintain a combat-credible force that can succeed in a complex, multi-domain operating environment. We are confident in our greatest assets—our people, in cooperation with our great allies and partners. Investing in our advantage today will ensure we can compete, deter, and, if necessary, win as part of a lethal combined joint team.

Gen. Robert B. Brown, U.S. Army, is the commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC). He has served over fourteen years with units focused on the Indo-Pacific region, including as commanding general, I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McCord; deputy commanding general, 25th Infantry Division; director of training and exercises, United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) J7 (now J37); executive assistant to the commander, USINDOPACOM; plans officer, USARPAC; and commander, 1st Brigade Combat Team (Stryker), 25th Infantry Division. Assignments in the generating force include commanding general, U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, and commanding general, Maneuver Center of Excellence.

Lt. Col. R. Blake Lackey, U.S. Army, is executive officer to the commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific. He has served in Stryker and light infantry formations in the Indo-Pacific, most recently commanding 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Maj. Brian G. Forester, U.S. Army, is speechwriter to the commanding general, U.S. Army Pacific. He most recently served as the operations officer for 1st Brigade Combat Team (Stryker), 25th Infantry Division at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

Notes

  1. Alex N. Wong, “Briefing on the Indo-Pacific Strategy,” U.S. Department of State, 2 April 2018, accessed 5 July 2019, https://www.state.gov/briefing-on-the-indo-pacific-strategy/.
  2. Rush Doshi, “Xi Jinping Just Made It Clear Where China’s Foreign Policy is Headed,” Washington Post (website), 25 October 2017, accessed 5 July 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/10/25/xi-jinping-just-made-it-clear-where-chinas-foreign-policy-is-headed/.
  3. Jack Durkee, “China: The New ‘Near-Arctic’ State,” Wilson Center, 6 February 2018, accessed 5 July 2019, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/china-the-new-near-arctic-state.
  4. Maria Abi-Habib, “How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough up a Port,” New York Times (website), 25 June 2018, accessed 5 July 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/world/asia/china-sri-lanka-port.html.
  5. “The Perils of China’s ‘Debt-Trap Diplomacy,’” The Economist (website), 6 September 2018, accessed 5 July 2019,https://www.economist.com/asia/2018/09/06/the-perils-of-chinas-debt-trap-diplomacy.
  6. Michael Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015), 28.
  7. Robert Kuhn, “Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream,” New York Times (website), 4 June 2013, accessed 5 July 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/05/opinion/global/xi-jinpings-chinese-dream.html.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon, 28.
  10. Defense Intelligence Agency, China Military Power: Modernizing a Force to Fight and Win (Washington, DC: Defense Intelligence Agency, 3 January 2019), 20, accessed 5 July 2019, http://www.dia.mil/Military-Power-Publications.
  11. Ibid., 6.
  12. Ibid., 24.
  13. Ibid., 25.
  14. Ibid., V.
  15. The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, December, 2017), 46, accessed 5 July 2019, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf.
  16. Philip Davidson, “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (speech, Halifax International Security Forum, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 17 November 2018), accessed 5 July 2019, https://www.pacom.mil/Media/Speeches-Testimony/Article/1693325/halifax-international-security-forum-2018-introduction-to-indo-pacific-security/.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Patrick M. Shanahan, preface to Indo-Pacific Strategy Report: Preparedness, Partnerships, and Promoting a Networked Region (Washington, DC: Department of Defense, 1 June 2019), accessed 5 July 2019, https://media.defense.gov/2019/Jul/01/2002152311/-1/-1/1/DEPARTMENT-OF-DEFENSE-INDO-PACIFIC-STRATEGY-REPORT-2019.PDF.
  19. Patrick M. Shanahan, “Acting Secretary Shanahan’s Remarks at the IISS [International Institute for Strategic Studies] Shangri-La Dialogue 2019” (speech, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore, 1 June 2019), accessed 5 July 2019, https://dod.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1871584/acting-secretary-shanahans-remarks-at-the-iiss-shangri-la-dialogue-2019/.
  20. Ibid.
  21. The “first island chain” is a term used to describe the chain of archipelagos that run closest to the East Asian coast.
  22. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (Fort Eustis, VA: TRADOC, 6 December 2018), accessed 5 July 2019, https://adminpubs.tradoc.army.mil/pamphlets/TP525-3-1.pdf.
  23. George Washington, “First Annual Address to Both Houses of Congress” (speech, New York, 8 January 1790), transcript available at “January 8, 1790: First Annual Message to Congress,” University of Virginia Miller Center, accessed 5 July 2019, https://millercenter.org/the-presidency/presidential-speeches/january-8-1790-first-annual-message-congress.
  24. George S. Patton Jr., “Reflections and Suggestions, Or, In a Lighter Vein, Helpful Hints to Hopeful Heroes” (15 January 1946), quoted in “Past Times,” Infantry 78, no. 6 (November-December 1988): 29.
  25. Summary of the National Defense Strategy, 1.

Featured Image: Chinese troops on parade 13 September 2018 during the Vostok 2018 military exercise on Tsugol training ground in Eastern Siberia, Russia. The exercise involved Russian, Chinese, and Mongolian service members. Chinese participation included three thousand troops, nine hundred tanks and military vehicles, and thirty aircraft. (Photo by Sergei Grits, Associated Press)