Tag Archives: Asia-Pacific

French Maritime Strategic Thought On the Indo-Pacific

Maritime Security Topic Week

By David Scott 

Introduction

In Europe, France is distinctive in claiming that its boundaries actually extend outside Europe into the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean, i.e. the ‘Indo-Pacific,’ through its overseas departments (département d’outre-mer), and overseas territories (territoire d’outre-mer), which are considered integral parts of France, and indeed thereby of the European Union. These Indo-Pacific possessions also have large Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). These give France important maritime interests to be maintained, and if need be defended, by the French Navy. French maritime strategy is two-fold. Firstly, locally-based naval ships patrol in the Indian and Pacific oceans. Secondly, regular deployments from metropolitan waters of the Jeanne d’Arc Group; the battle group centered around the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle and amphibious helicopter carrier Mistral, along with supporting destroyers, frigates, nuclear attack submarines, and air surveillance. As the current Chief of Staff Admiral Prazuck noted “our commitment to freedom of navigation calls for deployments to the Asia-Pacific zone several times each year.” Jeanne D’Arc 2017 consisted of a four-month deployment from March-June 2017 in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific, described by France as “Indo-Pacific space … which is admittedly a long way from [metropolitan] France, but not from our territories.”

In the Indian Ocean, France’s possessions of Mayotte (population around 227,000) and Reunion (population around 840,000) in the southwest quadrant, are both considered as an “overseas department” (département d’outre-mer). They operate as “interlocking military stations” (Rogers), together with military facilities in Djibouti. In the southern (Terres Australes) quadrant are the uninhabited Kerguelen, St. Paul & Amsterdam and the Crozet islands which operate as “overseas territories” (territoire d’outre-mer) administered from Reunion. This residency status is why France was a founding member of the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) established in 2008. France keeps a permanent naval presence at Reunion. This is further strengthened by regular deployment into the region of the Jeanne d’Arc carrier battle group; eight times during 2001-2017, which has included regular biannual joint exercises with India (Varuna since 1993) and the U.S. (Operation Bois Bellau in 2013).

In the Pacific, France is to be found in New Caledonia (population 270,000), Wallis & Futuna (population 12,000), and French Polynesia (population 270,000). Both New Caledonia and French Polynesia were admitted as full members of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) in September 2016. French “maritime naval zones” and local naval units are centered on New Caledonia and French Polynesia. It is from New Caledonia that France hosts the biannual Croix du Sud humanitarian and relief exercises. France has participated in a range of Pacific security mechanisms since their foundation; namely the Western Pacific Naval Symposium (1988 onward), with Australia and New Zealand in the FRANZ mechanism (1992 onwards), with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand in the Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (1998 onwards), and the South Pacific Defence Ministers mechanism (2013 onward.

Five key documents provide the strategic background to this Indo-Pacific maritime role:

Each of these can be looked at to see the development of this Indo-Pacific maritime role for France.

A national strategy for the sea and for the oceans (2008)

December 2008 witnessed the release by the Prime Minister’s Office of a Blue Paper titled A national strategy for the sea and for the oceans. This represented a call for future action. François Fillon’s ‘Preface’ as Prime Minister, was clear, “France has decided to return to its historic maritime role.” The 2008 Blue Book emphasized France’s overseas possessions and their EEZs:

“France, with its overseas départements and territories, is present in every ocean […] The creation of an economic zone has given France jurisdiction over nearly 11 million square kilometres of maritime space (of which more than 96% surround the overseas possessions), second only to the United States.” (p. 12)

These Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) were of significance for their resources, “many of France’s maritime assets are thus associated with these large overseas economic zones where this country has exclusive rights to resource exploitation” (p. 46), and “most of these zones are in the Pacific (around French Polynesia and New Caledonia) and the Indian Ocean (around the Kerguelen Islands)” (p. 46).

French naval power was stressed; “the French Navy’s wide range of capabilities maintain its [France’s] rank and presence throughout the world’s seas” (p.14). However, French naval assets remained a matter for French sovereignty:

“At the present stage of construction of the European Union, France does not intend to permanently allocate any of its sea-borne capabilities to an EU body or agency. France will continue to provide support for action coordinated by the EU or one of its agencies, by seconding the capabilities it chooses for specific periods of time or tasks” (p. 68).

Within the Indo-Pacific, the Indian Ocean was of immediate maritime importance for France, “the Indian Ocean is consequently well placed for the expression of France’s maritime policy, whether in our regional policy or in the action we promote with Europe, for example, against piracy” (pp. 72-73).

Maritimisation: La France face à la nouvelle géopolitique des océans (2012)

A maritime emphasis was fed into French deliberations by the Information Report from the Senate in July 2012 titled Maritimisation: La France face à la nouvelle géopolitique des océans (‘Maritimisation: France faces new geopolitics of the oceans’).

Continuing structural shifts towards the Indo-Pacific were noted, “the centre of geopolitical gravity is moving eastwards, highlighting the riparian nations of the Indian Ocean and Pacific(p. 205). Given French possessions, “as a result there cannot be a maritime strategy without an overseas strategy (tr. p. 133), and that “the control of the maritime spaces is one of the keys of French power and influence on the international scene (p. 140). Sea lane security across the Western Pacific, South China Sea and Indian Ocean was identified as of first rate importance for France, “more than ever, control of this maritime route between Europe and Asia becomes a major strategic issue” (p. 36)

In part this was a question of criminal activities and piracy, but what was also significant in this document was its repeated noting of Chinese naval growth (pp. 79-81,86,178) in which China’s naval assertiveness in the East China Sea, South China Sea and Indian Ocean (described as China’s ‘string of pearls’) was noted as a growing challenge to French interests, “what is at stake are our interests throughout the Indian Ocean and Pacific (tr. p. 206).

Conversely, what the Senate report critiqued was French reductions of overall naval strength, including reductions in planned building of one aircraft carrier rather than two, and eight rather than seventeen Aquitaine-class anti-submarine frigates; which meant that “in other words we have reduced [naval] assets while the threats increased” (tr. p. 209). Consequently, the Senate report observed a future weakening of France’s maritime assets in the southern Indian Ocean (“a sharp deterioration in surveillance and intervention capacities on the high seas, tr. p. 166) and in the southwest Pacific (“major capability disruption, with a strong impact on sovereignty and assistance missions in the national maritime areas […] with the withdrawal from active service of the Guardians of the Pacific in 2015. Years 2015 to 2019 appear to be particularly critical” (tr. pp. 166-167).

Defence and national security (2013)

In April 2013 a White Paper was published titled Defence and national security. The highest defense priority listed by it was simple “protect the national territory and French nationals abroad” (p. 47). While it painted a rosy picture of security in Europe (coming before Russia’s incorporation of the Crimea in 2014), France’s “national territory” of course extended outside Europe into the overseas departments and overseas territories. The 2013 White Paper made a point of highlighting (p. 14) that most of the overseas possessions were in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and came complete with around 1.5 million French nationals and resource-rich EEZs. Consequently it reiterated “France’s commitment as a sovereign power and a player in the security of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific (p. 29).

French Indian Ocean interests were highlighted, in particular the threat to them posed by piracy:

“The security of the Indian Ocean, a maritime access to Asia, is a priority for France and for Europe from this point of view […] The fact that the European Union’s first large-scale naval operation was the Atalanta operation against piracy clearly illustrates the importance of the Indian Ocean, not only for France but for Europe as a whole” (p. 56).

In those waters, a significant developing strategic partnership was highlighted whereby “as a neighbour[hood] power in the Indian Ocean, France plays a particular role here, reinforced by the development of privileged relations with India” (p. 56).

In the 2013 White Paper, China was now appearing as a concern (which it had not been in the 2008 White Paper) for France, given that “the equilibrium of East Asia has been radically transformed by the growing might of China” (p. 57). Conversely, the strategic partnership announced with Australia in 2012 was welcomed as showing their convergence on “regional matters relative to the Pacific and the Indian Ocean,” and more widely “it also confirms a renewed interest in a French presence on the part of countries in the region” (pp. 57-58).

National strategy for security of maritime areas (2015)

In October 2015 the inter-ministerial sea committee approved the National strategy for security of maritime areas. In this document, France’s position as a maritime power was reaffirmed:

“Present in all seas and oceans around the world […] France thus has considerable assets which constitute coveted wealth and help to assert its position as a great maritime power. They give us rights, particularly to preserve our sovereignty and our sovereign economic rights […] our maritime area contributes to our rank as a major world power […] confirming its [France’s] rank as a major maritime power and its intention for economic development through sea” (p. 3).

Maritime threats came explicitly from piracy, but also implicitly from China:

Certain powers […] from East Asia […] are developing significant naval capabilities which could be able to counter our freedom of action at sea, pursue territorial ambitions in disputed maritime areas and thus threaten freedom of navigation in international waters” (pp. 4-5).

The multi-missions destroyer (FREMM) Aquitaine (Marine nationale)

French strategic remedies were internal balancing through “maintenance of a good level of ocean-going projection capacity, mainly provided by the resources of the French navy” (p. 49); and partly external balancing to “strengthen maritime cooperation with third-party States” (p. 42). 

France and security in the Asia-Pacific (2014, 2016)

The Ministry of Defence document France and security in the Asia-Pacific was first released in April 2014 and then updated in June 2016. Whereas the 2014 document referred nowhere to the ‘Indo-Pacific’ as a geographic (and geo-strategic/geopolitical) term, the June 2016 version referred to it repeatedly, three times in Le Drian’s ‘Forward’ and five times in the main text.

Internal and external balancing was apparent in Le Drian’s ‘Forward,’ with strategic partners identified in the region:

“As a state of the Indian and of the Pacific Oceans, owing to its territories and its population, France permanently maintains sovereignty and presence forces there in order to defend its interests and to contribute to the stability of the region alongside its partners, primarily Australia, India, Japan and the United States. The long-existing links with the latter are tightening and France will continue to be committed in all aspects of regional security” (2016: p. 1).

The absence of China as a ‘partner’ was noticeable. Conversely, in a shot across the bow for Chinese restrictions in the South China Sea, an item unmentioned in the 2014 profile, Le Drian pledged that “responding to tensions in the South China Sea, France, as a first-rank maritime and naval Power, will continue to uphold freedom of navigation, to contribute to the security of maritime areas” (2016: p. 1).

In the main text, clear maritime priorities were flagged up. In a new comment, the 2016 paper stated:

“France has started to rebalance its strategic centre of gravity towards the Indo-Pacific, where it is a neighbour[hood] power […] Our armed forces stationed overseas and our permanent military basing in the Indian and the Pacific oceans confer to France a presence which is unique among European countries” (2016: p. 2)

Both the 2014 and 2016 papers stressed France’s maritime presence in the same wordage:

“France is present in all of the world’s oceans, owing to its overseas territories […] and thanks to its blue-water navy […] France’s primary obligation is to protect its territories and population (500,000 in the Pacific and over one million in the Indian Ocean)” (2016: p. 6).

Both papers used identical wording with regard to the geoeconomic significance (“extensive fishing, mineral and energy resources”) of France’s Exclusive Economic Zones, “located mainly in the Pacific (62%) and Indian Oceans (24%),” for which “France performs its protective mission thanks to its defence and security forces stationed in the region” (2016: p. 6).

A new issue, Chinese “reclamation works and the militarization of contested archipelagos” in the South China Sea were seen to “threaten the security of navigation and overflight,” on which France already “regularly exercises its right of maritime and air navigation in the area” (2016: p. 2). 

Looking Forward

On the domestic front, the envisaged spending cuts of 7 percent for the 2016-2019 period were instead replaced in April 2015 by a 4 percent increase of 3.9 billion euros to underpin stronger oceanic maritime strength and with it a strengthened Indo-Pacific profile. Forward planning (Actualisation de la programme militaire 2014/2019) envisages that France “ will therefore consolidate its political commitment in Asia, the Indian Ocean, the Pacific … through its defense cooperation, an active military presence, [and] the development of strategic partnerships” (p. 6). France’s reassertion of its maritime position was completed with the ratification in February 2017 of the ordinance Espaces maritimes de la République Française (‘Maritime spaces of the French Republic’), which emphasized France’s intention to maintain, and defend its position in both the Indian and Pacific oceans. March 2017 witnessed a $4 billion frigate program being launched by the French defense ministry.

Meanwhile, France is actively pursuing Indo-Pacific maritime avenues. Le Drian remarked on conflict potential in the “Indo-Pacific region” at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2016; such that “France will therefore play its part in our collective responsibility to preserve and strengthen the stability and security of this region,” working with “our partners, in particular India, Australia, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia and even Japan,” with China absent from the listing.

In such a vein, the trip to India by Le Drian in September 2016 was the occasion for him to assert that “France confirms here that it is a credible actor of the Indo-Pacific zone, where – as I have been saying ceaselessly we have a prominent role to play” in the future. France’s strengthening links with India were on show in January 2017 at their Dialogue on maritime cooperation, explained by France as a “significant strengthening of cooperation between our respective navies for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”

France’s strengthening links with Australia were on show in March 2017. The Joint Statement drawn up by Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development, with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop, emphasized defense and security cooperation, especially naval, bilaterally and with third countries – “particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.” Given France’s strengthening links with India and Australia it is no surprise to find Le Drian in September 2016 arguing for a France-India-Australia trilateral framework; “we need to think of a three-way partnership that includes India if we want security in the Indo-Pacific region.”

The Third Japan-France Foreign and Defense Ministers Meeting in 2017. (F. De la Mure / MAEDI)

France’s strengthening links with Japan were on show in the Franco-Japanese Joint Statement of January 2017 which talked of common Indo-Pacific concerns (“strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific ocean”), and French naval presence (“a regular and visible naval presence in all maritime areas, including in the Indian and Pacific Oceans”). The visit of the Japanese leader to France in March 2017 was the occasion for France to pledge further military cooperation, “especially on the naval plane in the Pacific.” One sign of this will be France’s powerful Mistral amphibious helicopter carrier leading U.S. and Japanese troops in exercises at Tinian in the West Pacific in May 2017 in an implicit message to China. 

Conclusion

Three Indo-Pacific maritime issues await French attention. In April 2016 at the Shangri-La Dialogue the French Defence Minister Le Drian argued since “the situation in the China seas, for example, directly affects the European Union,” so shouldn’t “the European navies, therefore, coordinate to ensure a presence that is as regular and visible as possible” in those waters?” EU responses remain unclear.

Two Indian Ocean related issues remain for French maritime strategy. Firstly, how far will French naval forces based in the Gulf continue operating against Daesh/ISIS forces in the Middle East, and how far there will be wider jihadist backlash in the Indo-Pacific? Secondly, the EU’s anti-piracy ATALANTA operation in the Gulf of Aden, currently renewed until 2018 and to which France has been contributing naval assets, has so far been run from Northwood in the UK. Given that the UK is due to leave the EU by April 2019, it would be logical for France as a resident power in the region and significant naval power to take over the coordination of the ATALANTA operation, if it continues.

Finally, Chinese maritime cooperation with Russia is of some concern to France. China-Russia joint naval exercises carried out in the Western Pacific and South China Sea help China’s maritime assertiveness in Indo-Pacific waters; but conversely the China-Russia joint naval exercises carried out in the Mediterranean and Black Sea help Russian maritime assertiveness in those European-related waters.

What this study has shown is that French maritime discussions have explicitly rediscovered the geo-economic and geopolitical significance of France’s possessions and strategic interests in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. France has become more active in deploying maritime assets and developing maritime partnerships in the region. This represents a structural shift in France’s maritime focus. Any change of administration, following the French Presidential Elections in April-May 2017, is likely to maintain this self proclaimed “rebalance” to the Indo-Pacific.

David Scott is an independent analyst on Asia-Pacific international relations and maritime geopolitics, a prolific writer, a regular presenter at the NATO Defence College in Rome since 2006 and the Baltic Defence College in Tallinn in 2017, and the Managing Editor of European Geostrategy. He can be contacted at davidscott366@outlook.com.

Featured Image: France’s Mistral amphibious helicopter carrier ship docks on the Neva River in St. Petersburg November 23, 2009. (Reuters/Alexander Demianchuk)

The Asia Pacific and Europe’s Maritime Security Strategy

European Maritime Security Topic Week

By Dave Andre

In the aftermath of the July 2016 ruling by the United Nation’s Permanent Court of Arbitration that broadly found China’s demarcation claims in the South China Sea to be without legal merit, it became apparent that legal decisions alone would do little to influence the status quo. Considering The Hague’s ruling against the strategic backdrop of power politics in the Asia Pacific, the need for a global maritime presence became clear. This presence connotes a significant maritime challenge for the European Union (EU), which remains a peripheral actor in the maritime security of the Asia-Pacific as several major powers oversee the geopolitical reordering of this critical region. The importance of the region for European trade and business, global economic stability, and international maritime security necessitates that the EU maintain more than just an economic and diplomatic presence in the region. Adding a dedicated maritime presence to the region will involve a balancing act between the competing interests of individual EU members while advancing a comprehensive and unified stance—this goes beyond simple matters of naval capability and capacity. As such, it is important that the international maritime community not treat this presence as a fait accompli, merely awaiting an executable maritime framework.

As the European Council on Foreign Relations summed up in 2013 in reference to Asia, the EU “does not have an automatic seat at the table and therefore must work all the harder to secure its own self-interests.”1 Since then little has changed, as China has increasingly expanded its territorial footprint, the EU has executed an uneven approach to maritime security in the Asia-Pacific region. This ineffectual response leaves Europe open to maritime security threats from afar.

The European Union’s Maritime Domain: A Unique Challenge

Given Europe’s long maritime history it is no surprise that the legal principle for freedom of the seas originated with a European—a Dutch lawyer to be specific—by the name of Hugo Grotius, who in the early seventeenth century wrote, ”Navigation was free to all and no one country could lay claim to the seas on the basis that their navigators were the first to sail on it.”2 Today, that principle exists within the United Nations Convention Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which details provisions for navigation, archipelagic status and transit regimes, EEZs, territorial waters, and settlement of disputes. Today, the European Union faces a dynamic maritime environment with challenges ranging from border security to renewable resources and combating piracy. Of the EUs 28 member states, 22 have a combined coastline that extends 65,993 km encompassing the Mediterranean Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean.3 The length and breadth of this dynamic maritime environment, when coupled with the competing priorities of member states and coordination with non-member states, makes the EU’s maritime security strategy a unique challenge amongst maritime powers.

The EU addresses this complexity in the European Union’s Maritime Security Strategy (EUMSS), which recognizes the importance of protecting maritime interests worldwide while simultaneously recognizing that success depends on the ability to collaborate across regional and national levels.4 However, since the 2014 adoption of EUMSS, the EU has struggled to balance the myriad regional maritime issues with international maritime issues, showing that a unified maritime strategy for the global maritime domain is still far off. The unfolding situation in the South China Sea is perhaps the best example of the fissures and shortfalls inherent with the EU’s maritime strategy. The EU has so far remained outside the fray, issuing a tepid statement after the UN tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines in July 2016.5 While many see this strategy as a case of prioritizing domestic issues over international issues, the issue is far more complex. The ever-evolving transatlantic relationship between the United States and Europe, the economic influence of China on Europe via initiatives like the One-Belt-One Road framework, and the declining naval power of European navies, all factor into Europe’s support of the maritime order in the Asia-Pacific.

Europe and Asia: A Complex Relationship

As a region, the Asia-Pacific is as dynamic as they come. Militarily, disputed islands, paramilitary forces, and militarization characterize the operating environment. Politically, Chinese realpolitik clashes with liberalism, pitting international governance against the rise of a regional hegemon. Meanwhile, from an economic standpoint the region is home to three of the world’s biggest economies, while over $5 trillion in global trade passes through the seas each year. This geo-political environment, coupled with the complex maritime geography of straits, archipelagic waters, and overlapping maritime claims means that international law is critical to maintaining an orderly system.6 Within this complex milieu lays the maritime challenge—protecting the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) critical to global economic prosperity.

This region holds significant interest for the European Union, but exactly what those interests are differs from member to member. These differences present difficulties for the EU’s development of a unified and actionable strategy in the South China Sea and the Southeast Asia region. China is the EU’s second largest trading partner, as a region ASEAN is the EU’s third largest trading partner, and South Korea, Japan, and India all place within the top ten. Collectively, this trade amounts to almost a trillion euros annually. Furthermore, there are more than 10,000 European companies operating within the Southeast Asia region.

The economic considerations are not solely defined by Europe looking east of the Suez; they are also largely influenced by China’s Eurasian ambitions. China’s One-Belt-One-Road initiative promises significant investment in Europe, especially the struggling economies of the South and East. Likewise, investments by companies such as the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO), which is upgrading the port in Piraeus, Greece, illustrate that this economic influence extends past mere business ventures.7 While the One-Belt-One-Road initiative is unlikely to radically alter the geography of trade routes and investment in port upgrades will not alter Greece’s naval posture, these activities do have the potential of altering and influencing the economic interdependence of EU member states. This creates scenarios where Europe needs to tread lightly as they balance economic and diplomatic interests against security interests, while simultaneously recognizing that the preferred balance will be different depending on the individual country.

European Diplomatic Efforts in the Asia-Pacific Maritime Domain

The divisions are not limited to economics. Politically, the EU has struggled to speak with one voice regarding issues within the Asia-Pacific. The EU’s presence in the Asia-Pacific is a complex web of arrangements, policies, dialogues, and statements that seek to balance the competing interests of individual members while advancing a comprehensive and unified stance. Starting in 2007, there have been a number of policy developments pertaining to the EU’s development of a comprehensive maritime strategy. In 2007, the adoption of the Blue Book, an Integrated Maritime Policy laid the groundwork for operational cooperation among member states. While not specifically addressing security concerns, the focus on trade and fisheries provided a template for future maritime security initiatives.A series of initiatives followed—Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008) and the Limassol Declaration (2012)—that recognized the significance of dialogue and cooperation within the regional and international maritime realm as well as the importance of the legal framework laid out by UNCLOS. These policy trends expanded and in 2012, the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia proffered guidelines for resolving disputes within the framework of UNCLOS and stresses the importance of freedom of navigation.9 The policy also notes the economic interdependence between the EU and East Asia, the potentially negative impact of competitive nationalism represented by the South China Sea issues, and the complexity of trans-Atlantic relations with the United States and extra-regional partners like Russia, Australia, New Zealand, and India.10 Furthermore, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), which the EU signed in July 2012, provides the framework for peaceful interactions in the region. Taken together these policies clearly articulate that EU interests are closely tied to those of the Asia-Pacific and the international maritime legal framework.

May 31, 2015 – 14th Asia Security Summit, Singapore– High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini gives a speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue. ( Frédérick Moulin 2015 – EU2015 – EEAS)

Beyond policies, the EU maintains a public dialogue—albeit uneven—that further emphasizes and recognizes the importance of the Asia-Pacific and an international maritime framework. It was at the 2013 Shangri-La dialogue in Singapore that the EU was represented as a whole for the first time by High Representative Catherine Ashton. During the dialogues, she referred to the EU’s long-term security plans and comprehensive approach in Asia. Missing from the 2014 dialogues, the EU’s message was one that prioritized concerns in Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Africa over those in far off Asia. While this prioritization of time and resources is notable, even wise, it did little to assuage Asian nations that may be looking to the EU as a model of multilateralism and an alternative to the United States. A notably different tone was struck in the 2015 dialogues, as EU High Representative Federica Mogherini discussed the EU’s, “strong interest in global security.”11 Representative Mogherini made specific mention of freedom of navigation, SLOCs, international law and the importance of promoting cooperation of confrontation and the need for “everyone to play by the same rules.”12

In addition to the Shangri-La dialogues, the EU, France, Germany, Italy, and U.K. signed the G-7 Foreign Ministers’ Declaration on Maritime Security which declares their commitment to “freedoms of navigation and over flight” and to an “international maritime order based upon the principles of international law, in particular as reflected in UNCLOS.”13 At the 2016 G7 Summit in Japan, members reiterated concern “about the situation in the East and South China Seas” and emphasized “the fundamental importance of peaceful management and settlement of disputes.”14 Unsurprisingly, the 2016 Shangri-La dialogues a month later discussed “China’s continued land reclamation and military build-up in the strategic maritime area” at length.i Within this context, the French Defense Minister made clear that joint EU patrols were forthcoming.15 However, a month later, the UN tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines saw the EU struggle to issue a joint statement. And to say the resulting statement was benign is an understatement; among other things it failed to make any mention of sovereignty. Since then, the EU has been notably silent regarding the South China Sea despite growing evidence of China’s continued militarization of a number of islands.

European Presence in the Asia Pacific

Despite the attempts at providing a unified response under a common defense policy, the most active aspects of Europe’s involvement in the Asia Pacific come in bilateral terms. France has made numerous overtures toward supporting FONOPs in the South China Sea. The UK’s Royal Navy has perhaps the largest and most codified presence in the Asia-Pacific, though it is a shadow of the presence that it was until the waning years of the last century. The Five Power Defense Arrangement, the most notable European-Asian arrangement, is a multilateral agreement between the Commonwealth counties of U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia whereby all powers will consult one another in the event of an attack (actual or threatened) against Malaysia or Singapore. This consultation brings no promise of military action or support, but nonetheless is pertinent for its formal acknowledgement of European-Asian mutual interests. Furthermore, four European countries—Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, and the U.K.—are members of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).16 ReCAAP, a multilateral counter-piracy operation that stretches from the Gulf of Aden to the East China Sea illustrates the naval capability of some European powers.17 Additionally, in 2016 Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, and the U.K. participated in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime warfare exercise, signaling their support for Asian maritime security.18 Additionally, there are multilateral examples of EU maritime involvement: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004, the Fukushima tsunami that occurred in 2010, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2014 all saw EU involvement.

In Conclusion: It’s Time to Grab a Seat at the Table

Despite policies, dialogues, and statements, the EU lacks a consistent presence in the region, which undermines their ability to influence political and economic events as they unfold. Alongside the 2016 UN tribunal ruling and discussions for a South China Sea Code of Conduct, the EU is losing its seat at the table as the maritime picture takes shape. If the EU expects to maintain influence in the Asia-Pacific it must accept that the geopolitical instability that defines the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific region requires a naval presence to manage risk, promote international order, and decrease the chances of armed conflict.

Setting aside EU institutional politics, there are a number of EU members who have navies capable of global power projection—France, Germany, Italy, the U.K., and Spain. While some members may need to operate in a coalition due to refueling limitations, the capability remains. Overall, the European picture reveals a maritime mindset more focused on the near than the far. This is shortsighted in terms of politics, economics, and military capabilities. Not least because any significant rebalance toward Asia without a corresponding increase in shipbuilding would require a considerable shift in resource allocation. Reversing the current decline in shipbuilding across Europe will take significant and immediate initiative. The EU should take advantage of their long-standing relationship with the U.S. concerning maritime security and their experience working alongside global partners to engender a workable maritime strategy in the South China Sea and the Asia Pacific. With the U.S. increasing its presence in the Europe, there is opportunity for Europe to reinvigorate the Transatlantic Partnership that has defined U.S.-European relations for decades.

Politically, no entity is better poised than the EU to understand the power dynamics and challenges that a regional organization faces when countering the influence of a rising—or in the case of Russia—resurgent hegemonic power. There are relevant lessons to be drawn from the territorial aggression that Russia exhibited in the annexation of the Ukraine. Most notably, that a nation that feels compelled to assume power in a region that they historically view as theirs will not be thwarted by politics alone. Reactionary policies are no substitute for proactive plans. The European Union’s hodgepodge of arrangements, policies, dialogues, and statements regarding the South China Sea, coupled with Chinese economic influence, declining naval power, and an inability to speak and act with one voice are eroding European influence at a time when a new regional order is taking shape in the Asia-Pacific region. To counter this erosion of influence the EU needs a strategy that moves past mere statements that support international norms and the rules laid out in UNCLOS and establish a maritime presence that protects SLOCs throughout the Asia-Pacific.

LT David M. Andre is a former Intelligence Specialist, and has served as an Intelligence Officer and Liaison Officer assigned to AFRICOM. He is currently serving as N2 for COMDESRON SEVEN in Singapore. He can be reached at dma.usn@gmail.com.

The views expressed above are the authors’ alone and do not reflect the official views and are not endorsed by the United States Navy, the Department of the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any other body of the United States Government.

References

1. “What is Europe’s role in Asia-Pacific?” European Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_what_is_europes_role_in_asia_pacific

2. Bruce Farthing, Farthing on International Shipping, Business of Shipping Series, LLP, London Hong Kong, 1997, p. 7.

3. In comparison, the United States has 19,924 km of coastline, while Russia has 37,653 km.

4. European Commission, “European Union Maritime Security Strategy: Responding Together to Global Challenges,” https://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/policy/maritime-security_en

5. “Declaration by the High Representative on behalf of the EU on the Award rendered in the Arbitration between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China,” European Council, http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/07/15-south-china-sea-arbitration/

6. S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Policy paper. Good Order at Sea. https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/PR090427_Good_Order_at_Sea_in_SEA.pdf

7. Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael Policy Paper. China’s Maritime Silk Roadhttps://www.clingendael.nl/sites/default/files/China_Maritime_Silk_Road.pdf.

8. Internaitonal Maritime Security Law by James Kraska, Raul Pedrozo, p. 62.

9. EU-Asia Centre, “South China Sea: Background Note,” http://www.eu-asiacentre.eu/documents/uploads/pub_112_south_china_sea_background_note.pdf.

10. “Guidelines on the EU’S Foreign and Security Policy in East Asia”, Council of European Unionhttp://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/asia/docs/guidelines_eu_foreign_sec_pol_east_asia_en.pdf

11. Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue 2015 https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/6254_en

12. Ibid.

13. G7 Foreign Ministers’ Declaration on Maritime Security in Lübeck, 15 April 2015, Federal Foreign Office, http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2015/150415_G7_Maritime_Security.html?nn=479796.

14. Whitehouse, “G7 Ise-Shima Leaders’ Declaration,” https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/05/27/g7-ise-shima-leaders-declaration.

15. Kelvin Wong: Reflections on the 2016 Shangri-La Dialogue, https://www.iiss.org/en/shangri-la%20voices/blogsections/2016-588c/kelvin-wong—reflections-on-the-2016-shangri-la-dialogue-2789.

16. Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP), http://www.recaap.org/AboutReCAAPISC.aspx.

17. “Bridging Asia and Europe Through Maritime Connectivity China’s Maritime Silk Road and Indonesia’s Maritime Axis” European Institute for Asian Studies. March 2015. http://www.eias.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Bridging_Asia_Europe_2015.pdf

Featured Image: Members of the welcoming ceremony band play as British Royal Navy destroyer HMS Daring arrives at a port area of Huangpu River in Shanghai December 10, 2013. (Photo by Yang Yi/Asianewsphoto)

Sea Control 130 – Stephen Biddle on Future Warfare in the Western Pacific

By Matt Merighi

Join the latest episode of Sea Control for an interview with Professor Steve Biddle of George Washington University. Hosted by Mina Pollmann, the conversation examines the competition between A2/AD technology and the Air-Sea Battle concept in the Western Pacific. The conversation draws on an article Prof. Biddle coauthored with Ivan Oelrich, “Future Warfare in the Western Pacific Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of the Commons in East Asia.” Listen to the audio or read the transcript below.

Download Sea Control 130-Steve Biddle

MP: Dear CIMSEC listeners, my name is Mina Pollmann, and as Director of External Relations for CIMSEC it is my honor today to be interviewing Professor Steve Biddle at George Washington University at the Elliot School of International Affairs. Professor Biddle, thank you for joining us today.

SB: Thanks for having me.

MP: Our first question is about anti-access area-denial (A2/AD) which has become a popular concept when discussing China’s maritime strategy in the Western Pacific. What is the political and strategic motivation for China to pursue A2/AD and what are the greatest technical limitations of A2/AD? How limiting will a fully mature Chinese A2/AD capability be  for U.S. operations in the Western Pacific?

SB: Denial strategies of this kind are very common historically for either weak maritime powers or rising maritime powers that are still at a disadvantage relative to a stronger foe. For example the Soviet Union during the Cold War began with an effort to protect its coast and inland waters from the U.S. Navy and only as it got stronger over time did it make any effort to project power further from its shores than that. So it’s a natural beginning point for any emerging maritime power. What makes A2/AD unique is that the particular technologies that have been emerging for the last two decades or more have the potential to take this philosophy of defending the coast and inland waters from a superior power projection capability and to push it out way beyond what would normally be considered the extent of a coastal defense strategy. If you look at the reach of modern reconnaissance, surveillance, and target acquisition (RTSA) technologies and the range of the missiles targeted by these technologies, then in fact you could imagine a Chinese A2/AD zone extending all the way out to or beyond the second island chain, a long, long way from the Chinese coast and far enough to threaten all of the U.S. major allies in the Pacific rim. If that capability were fully realized by the Chinese, it would be a major change in the geopolitical situation in the Western Pacific.

You mention the issue of potential vulnerabilities in A2/AD, as I mentioned RTSA is part of the whole concept. If you can’t find it, you can’t destroy it. The heart of this is one of A2/AD’s greatest vulnerabilities. To get the kind of all-weather, day-night, 24/7 surveillance coverage to make the most of what precision-guided missiles could do at these kinds of ranges largely requires radar. And radar is an active emitter, and as an active emitter gives away its location and makes it vulnerable to counter-attack. Many of the technologies that create A2/AD threaten A2/AD. As long-range precision guided weapons proliferate, it’s particularly easy to target transmitting, emitting radars. And if you destroy the radar you then make it much harder for the Chinese to extend the reach of these kinds of technologies to anything like the distances people talk about when they talk about the second island chain.

MP: Is the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JCAM-GC), previously and more commonly known as AirSea Battle, a meaningful way to deal with the A2/AD challenge? And how cost-effective is this concept compared to A2/AD?

SB: The concept formerly known as AirSea Battle, and the new concept whose name no one uses because it’s so awkward, is a natural response very much in the tradition of the way the U.S. military responds to these kinds of capabilities if you’re worried about Chinese A2/AD getting out to the second island chain: preemptively destroy it. Rather than tolerating this, the basic idea behind the concept is that we are going to reach into the Chinese mainland and destroy before they can be used the radars, the logistical infrastructure, and the mobile missile launchers that are required for A2/AD to actually reach out very far at all beyond the Chinese coast. It involves a lot more than just that idea, the bygone name of AirSea Battle was meant to harken back to the Cold War concept of AirLand Battle which was all about the Army and the Air Force combining their activities in two different domains, the land and the sky, to be more effective against Soviet forces in a potential invasion of Western Europe. The concept of AirSea Battle would similarly combine multiple domains with the Navy and the Air Force cooperating to make it easier to deal with what would be an extremely difficult problem in penetrating hundreds of miles inland to the Chinese mainland to destroy mobile targets that can hide amidst the complex background of the earth’s surface. Not withstanding all the advantages of multi-domain operations in this respect, it is still an immensely difficult project.

It seems to me that the right way to think about this project, AirSea Battle versus Chinese A2/AD, is that you have to look out beyond the immediate military balance into the fairly distant future because the technologies we are talking about won’t mature to the point where they are a serious threat to the second island chain until you get out into the more distant future.

But when you decide that to evaluate this fairly we have to look out beyond 2017, beyond 2020, the paper I wrote recently looks out to 2040, then you have to assume that both the U.S. and China are going to be engaged in a rather energetic, two-sided, adaptive competition in which they each try to thwart the other’s capabilities and where both of them are plausible economic peers after a decade or two of this competition. If you think of the competition between A2/AD and AirSea Battle as a long-term, mutually adaptive competition between economic peers, then the cost-exchange ratio becomes decisive. If the way the U.S. is going to deal with the A2/AD threat to the second island chain is to spend China into the ground, which we did successfully against the Soviet Union in the Cold-War, we are going to spend ourselves into the ground.

Where the Soviet Union was a declining economic power that you could beat in an all-out economically exhausting arms race, we are not going to be able to do that with China unless the economic projections are way wrong. So what that means in turn is if one side or the other has the cost advantage, it means that they are going to win the race if it’s fought to extremis. When you look at the details of how AirSea Battle operates against A2/AD, there is a systematic cost advantage in creating and maintaining area denial as opposed to battering it down in a preemptive strike as AirSea Battle would do.

MP: In your paper you give several concrete suggestions for the U.S. going forward, such as investing in larger, heavier missiles and an anti-ship missile with a range of at least 600km, deploying long-range mobile surface-to-surface missiles to the region, and making policy decisions to reduce U.S. reliance on space and restrict Chinese access to space. What are the greatest limitations for implementing these recommendations politically and operationally?

SB: Before I discuss the challenges let me explain very briefly why these things are important. They emerged naturally from the problem of RTSA and countering RTSA in a long-term competition. Radar is a central technology in all of this, that means defending radar and limiting the range of the opponent’s radar is critical, and much of what the paper does is talk about a long-term competition between an attempt to push radar coverage further out and an attempt by its opponents to keep it from getting further out. The modernization and acquisition agenda is driven largely by the requirements of the competition. In space, the easiest way to extend radar coverage over an arbitrarily great distance is to put a radar in space. The Soviets did something like this during the Cold War, this isn’t a particularly exotic capability. If in fact the U.S. grants military sanctuary to space what we are doing is enabling China, through space-based radar, to establish RSTA that could threaten any U.S. ally in the Western Pacific. The capability produced by the range of the missiles and the ability of terminal guidance to take advantage of that range, given surveillance that can localize targets, is very impressive.

It seems that unless the U.S. is prepared to blind Chinese space-based radar then A2/AD could undermine the entire U.S. alliance system in the Pacific. Therefore, it’s important the U.S. seriously consider both the technologies and programmatic capabilities to develop anti-satellite weapons to remove this threat, but also to think very hard about the policy issues about whether we want to wage war in space, whether we want to pursue weapons bans in orbit. The conventional wisdom of the U.S. for a long time is that space is a unilateral U.S. advantage and if we could somehow make space a demilitarized zone that this could benefit the U.S. In the emerging world of potentially very-long reach Chinese A2/AD, that older assumption that space is a unilateral U.S.-advantage is subject to serious challenge. If China has military access to space, the military prognosis in the Western Pacific could be radically different.

If you then say let’s at least take seriously the idea that the U.S. might want to deny military sanctuary in space to the Chinese, what would be involved in that is the Chinese won’t grant us sanctuary either. Anti-satellite weapons have massive cost advantages over satellites. If sanctuary is denied in space either side is going to be able to destroy satellites vastly more cheaply than either side can replace them, but that means the U.S. would have to be prepared to make war without access to space.

There’s no reason in principle why we can’t do this. All of the things that we do with space could be done with airborne alternatives such as communications relays and airborne radars for surveillance. We could, if we chose to do it, develop the capacity for redundancy where we can make war without these capabilities, but we have not expected to do that for a very long time, so it seems to me that one important acquisition priority and planning priority is to recover the ability to wage war in the Pacific without space-based assets.

This is not a popular agenda. The general thrust of U.S. force design and modernization for at least a generation, maybe two, has been to rely more heavily on space-based assets to enable smaller, more widely distributed maritime and terrestrial force structure to survive. It’s time to seriously rethink that but that’s subversive of very longstanding tradition of thinking about force design.

Also as important as acquisition and modernization issues, if you think about the military problem in the Western Pacific, you need to develop capabilities with the range needed to keep Chinese radars from venturing too far beyond China’s shores and extending A2/AD beyond what we argue in our paper is a natural limit in the neighborhood of 400-600km from the coastline. If we deploy things like long-range radiation-homing missiles that can take advantage of the range you would need to force Chinese radars back over the mainland. Similarly, A2/AD in the long-term, two-sided mutually adaptive competition is something both sides will be able to employ and should want to employ. Just as, in our view, the impracticality and the cost disadvantage of preempting Chinese A2/AD should prevent us from doing it, so China would have a cost disadvantage in trying to preempt an American A2/AD capability, and the capacity to close much of the Western Pacific to Chinese maritime traffic is an important military capability the U.S. would want to have. To do that, we need anti-ship missiles of a range for exploiting a 400-600km U.S. A2/AD bubble beyond friendly homeland masses and that will require anti-ship missiles of substantially greater range than today’s Harpoon.

MP: What really struck me was the space part of this, but as you put it this is a debate we should be having more actively and publicly. It’s going to have implications across all of U.S. security policy. To quote from your book Military Power, “In continental warfare, many great powers failed to master complicated modern-system force employment, and variations in such behavior have been more important that technology per se for observed outcomes” (43). Could you elaborate on this central finding of Military Power? How do you weigh the relative importance of technological change versus force employment?

SB: Arguably, the most important trends in land warfare or continental warfare since about 1900 has been the discovery by most great power militaries very early in the 20th century, before the end of the first world war actually, that the complexity of the earth’s surface offers enough cover and concealment to substantially shield land forces from the increasing potential lethality of modern weaponry. However, to operate a mass military of potentially millions of soldiers in a way that can exploit the natural complexity of the earth’s surface for cover and concealment means accepting tremendous complexity in tactics and operational art. Relative to, for example, Napoleonic tactics where armies could be lined up in shoulder-to-shoulder linear formations and simply marched towards an objective, if you’re going to use the complexity of the earth’s surface to provide cover in ways those massed shoulder-to-shoulder formations couldn’t do, then you’re going to have to break down those massed formations into small handfuls of soldiers few enough in number that they can fit into the folds in the earth that create what militaries ironically call dead ground, where dead ground is of course where you can live (I didn’t coin the term).

But that means you’ve got thousands upon thousands of small formations of independently maneuvering soldiers working their way through the terrain trying to find their way forward by the path that provides the most cover and the least exposure, to do that and not get caught by surprise in the open requires thousands of junior officers to have the professional training to use their own eyes, judgment, and ability to size up the terrain and ascertain likely fields of fire of enemy weapons to be able to wind through complicated terrain and find the right way forward.

Moreover, even if they do that, they are going to occasionally get caught in the open. If you are going to advance any significant distance toward a meaningful objective, sooner or later you’re going to get caught in the open. To cross those open patches of ground require suppressive fire. The weapon types best suited for suppressive fires are machine guns and artillery with access to enough ammunition to keep the enemies’ heads down as you sprint from one patch of cover to another. Access to that kind of ammunition requires location in the rear where you can safely amass that quantity of ammunition, that in turns means that not only do we have thousands of small formations lead by junior officers winding their way through complex terrain toward an objective, they are depending on coordinated activity from fire support systems that they can’t see. And they’re firing over their head or across their frontage at targets in front of them that the gunners can’t see. And if they get this just a little bit wrong, the result is catastrophe if the gunners fire a bit short they slaughter their own forces. If the gunners fire a bit long they fail to suppress the enemy and you get slaughtered when you get caught in the open. So the sheer complexity of all these moving parts and all of this communications demand and coordination requirement is a daunting undertaking for mass militaries consisting often of people who just recently were drafted into military services and have not had a 40-year military career to learn how to do this.

The net result of all that is, in principle, that the complexity of your surface can in fact substantially mitigate the nominal technical lethality of improving weapons. But only if the military is capable of carrying out very complicated techniques on the battlefield and some militaries have and others have not. And in fact the book argues that much of the variants in military outcomes in continental warfare since 1900 is attributable to variations in how well or badly any given mass military masters this very complex set of tasks, much more so than whether their weaponry was more lethal than the other side’s weaponry.

But all of that is driven at its base by the complexity of the earth’s surface and how that impacts the military environment. Now let’s transfer this picture to maritime warfare and air warfare and now the background and environment is much simpler. Obviously maritime environments aren’t as simple as the brown wooden tabletop on which the recording device is for this interview sits. There are thermoclines in the oceans, sea states can create background clutter, there are clouds in the skies, so it’s not literally transparent. On the other hand, it’s a lot more transparent than the Fulda gap in West Germany or than the Ardennes forest from the 1940 campaign.

What that means is that whereas maritime warfare can be extremely complex and A2/AD in the way we are talking about it now requires very rapid coordination among a significant range of very different pieces of equipment located in very different places–not a trivial enterprise–but by comparison with the kind of complexity we are talking about on land this is a lower order of difficulty. What that suggests is that probably in the maritime and air domain the relative contribution of technological variations to combat outcomes is likely to be greater relative to skill and mastery of the earth’s complexity by comparison with the picture on land. None of that is to suggest that tech is irrelevant on land or that skill is irrelevant at sea and in the air – certainly that is not true. But given that they both matter in both domains, the interesting question is the relative importance of these two things that both matter and I think there is very good reason to argue that the relative importance of tech is lower on land and the relative importance of tech is higher at sea and in the air above the sea.

MP: This definitely highlights the importance of innovation and tech in the maritime domain. Moving on, what strategic and operational advantages are offered by blockade versus other acts of war and how can a blockade compliment both Chinese and U.S. strategies in a Pacific conflict?

SB: Blockade has played a big role in the debate over the military balance in the Western Pacific, usually people assume that it’s something the U.S. is going to do to China, especially distant blockade at maritime straits that the Chinese would use to import oil. And it seems to my coauthor and I when we were writing the paper that, yes, that’s an important capability but that it’s too narrow a way of thinking about blockade. In particular, A2/AD is a natural blockade weapon. If you assume a two-sided long-term competition in which both sides are doing this sort of thing then the capacity of the Chinese to invade Taiwan, Japan, or other U.S. allies in the region will be very limited because our ability to exclude the logistical shipping the Chinese would need to sustain an amphibious invasion ashore would be very powerful. We think it is very unlikely that China would be able to master what is at best an extremely demanding logistical challenge, an amphibious invasion in this kind of environment.

By contrast, even if you have mutual A2/AD exclusion over an area of water, that sets up a very impressive blockade potential. Perhaps Chinese surface shipping couldn’t get access to Taiwan, but if Taiwanese surface shipping can’t get access to Taiwan, then Taiwan is looking at a potential economic catastrophe. Not only does the country’s economy depend on trade, but keeping the population fed depends on trade. In fact, many of the U.S. major allies in the region are island nations that are dependent for their very survival on seaborne commerce. If A2/AD is used to deny access to commercial shipping bound for these ports, that is potentially a very impressive coercive lever that China could use to contest control of the various territorial stakes that constitute the normal casius belli in conversations about a potential war. So we tend to focus more attention than most on the prospect of not just the U.S. blockading China but on the prospect of China blockading U.S. allies, because that looks to us like a more viable threat than amphibious invasion. It is also more viable in a variety of ways than missile-based strategic bombing.

The same tech that created A2/AD can also destroy power plants, they can destroy bridges and comms systems, and can be used to do what Americans have traditionally used airplanes to do – essentially a form of coercive strategic bombing. Whereas this hits targets that are ashore and often in close proximity to populated areas, and therefore is very likely to involve large scales of collateral damage not just to the civilian economy but also to lives, blockade need not. Blockade takes place at sea against container ships that in the modern world have remarkably small crews – it would in principle be possible for a coercive Chinese campaign aimed at the interdiction of maritime shipping to impose a truly impressive level of economic pain on U.S. allies while killing very few civilians and physically destroying very little civilian property – therefore posing substantially lower escalatory perils in a potential conflict with a nuclear armed superpower like the U.S. We think that a two-sided consideration of blockade in an A2/AD environment is an increasingly necessary part of the strategic debate.

MP: Seems politically less costly as well–the escalatory dynamics and risk of retaliation if you’re pursuing a strategy where your own troops aren’t at the front lines. The U.S. DoD is pursuing a third offset strategy to restore conventional deterrence against peer competitors with an emphasis on battle networks and human-machine teaming. In this vein, what sorts of OPCONs and capabilities do you see offsetting a mature Chinese A2/AD capability and establishing a credible deterrent in the mid- to long-term?

SB: Third offset is the flavor of the moment in the U.S. defense debate, I find it a difficult thing to evaluate in part because it’s so hard to pin down exactly what it is. Now that we have offset language floating around, the first offset was pretty easy to identity – nuclear weapons – you can analyze their effects. The second offset, precision guidance, similarly is a relatively discrete set of things that you can talk about – you can talk bout their effects in an integrated way and build out some analysis. The third offset is a pretty amorphous collection of things we think we’re going to be good at, the connection between, for example, big data and robotics, is kind of hard to pin down, so, given that it has this kind of scattered amorphous quality to it, it’s hard to produce a coherent assessment of it as a thing.

What one can do though is talk about the underlying physics of the problem when you’re looking at this long-term, mutually adaptive, two-sided A2/AD competition. And ask, what would you have to ask of AI or big data or of robotics or miniaturization, all the various bins that make up the third offset in an environment where you can reasonably expect the Chinese will be doing the same thing. At the end of the day, I don’t think any of these things overturn what we see as the central asymmetry at the heart of A2/AD versus its assailants, which is the complexity of the earth’s surface as a military environment as opposed to the water and the air. So in an environment which both sides are going to be getting better at big data, both sides will deploy AI, both sides are going to be looking at robotics with ultimately seekers and searchers in the air penetrating the Chinese mainland looking down into this complex environment to try to find things like air defense, mobile missile launchers, and logistics bases. They are looking at a background that poses a much more complicated targeting problem than they have looking up at you – you’re silhouetted against an open sky, you’re burning fuel at a prodigious rate in order to stay airborne which means you’re producing a tremendous amount of heat and you’re moving very rapidly which simplifies Doppler processing.

You look at all these things and it’s a profound and systematic asymmetry between the survivability of things that can operate on the land in the midst of this complicated environment and things that cannot. Nothing that I see in the third offset will affect that underlying asymmetry in any profound way – it may very well improve both sides ability to find each other, but it’s the difference between the two that determines the outcome of the campaign and the only source of fundamental asymmetry in this long-term, two-sided mutually adaptive competitive is the asymmetry in the military environment that one is operating in. I don’t see the third offset overturning that.

MP: What would be the strategic effect of China launching a first strike on U.S. Pacific allies and forward-deployed forces in the region in a 2040 timeframe and what could such a strike entail?

SB: The long-range precision-guided missile technologies we’re talking about may or may not have any easy time finding mobile targets. But, fixed targets are going to be increasingly vulnerable, and especially things like runways. If the U.S. deploys in peacetime large air forces or naval assets in fixed forward bases, a preemptive strike would be able to destroy whatever we choose to deploy there and it’s going to be very difficult to provide terminal defenses that will protect those kinds of targets given their static nature and the increasing capacity of long range missiles to destroy especially fixed targets.

That does not however mean that China will have the ability to destroy the U.S. military in the Pacific. If for example the U.S. responds to a crisis by dispersing aircraft, some of which will be beyond the range of Chinese A2/AD, or if the U.S. in peacetimes simply deploys the majority of its military beyond the 400-600 km plausible reach of Chinese A2/AD, China will have very limited ability to preemptively destroy any asset that we don’t deliver to them with gift wrapping on by predploying them on fixed bases within reach of Chinese missiles. Mobile targets will become very difficult to find once radar and satellites are destroyed and once airborne radars are restricted to a 400-600 km reach from the Chinese mainland. And that means that dispersed air bases for example, or aircraft carriers for sea basing, operating beyond the reach of Chinese A2/AD, will be able to provide basing assets that China will then have a very difficult time destroying. This is especially true if you posit an environment in the future in which modern airborne radar will be less relevant, a very important technology for A2/AD which was designed in an era in which the processing technology and the human crew needed to do that processing had to be carried in the airframe. In the future, improvements in microelectronic tech and high bandwidth secure comms will allow more and more of that to be offloaded to mobile ground stations, which in turn enables the airplane to be made substantially smaller and therefore able to operate from smaller and less elaborate basing structure. In fact, it’s plausible to imagine airborne radars with range comparable to that of today’s JSTARS will in the future be put on airplanes that can operate off unimproved highways. In an environment in which you can, if necessary, operate from an unimproved highway or operate from small regional airports, and in which runways repair continues to mature in the way that it has in the last two generations, it becomes harder and harder to imagine that a cost effective competition between basing attack and basing repair and basing dispersal can be won by the attacker. Assets forward deployed in peacetime and struck preemptively will be very vulnerable. Their replacements, once long-range surveillance is taken down, will be vastly more survivable.

MP: What strategic and operational benefits and limitations do Chinese naval forces incur by operating under an A2/AD envelope in the Western Pacific?

SB: We tend to believe that naval assets that venture within range of an American A2/AD zone are going to be extremely vulnerable in the same way that an American naval asset would be if they sailed into the teeth of the Chinese A2/AD system. If the competition unfolds in the way that we expect, we’re going to be looking at an environment in which surface maritime operations that reach the enemy’s A2/AD zone are simply going to be too vulnerable. What that means, however, is that naval assets can be viable if either a) they’re operating more than 400-600 km away from enemy-held land areas or b) if they’re operating in close inland waters where they’re within reach of protection by anti-missile systems that are deployed in a mobile basing mode on land that emits the complexity that I talked about earlier.

That suggests in turn though that if the way China is going to think about a future war with the U.S. is by building a seagoing blue water navy, it’s going to sally forth and extend the reach of Chinese A2/AD beyond 400-600 km which cannot threaten U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea. Instead, they may use naval assets to extend that bubble further out, but they’re going to have a great deal of difficulty enabling those surface naval platforms to survive because they’re going to have to move within reach of U.S.-friendly A2/AD capabilities deployed on allies like South Korea, the Philippines, or Taiwan.

MP: How do you envision deception operations factoring into the strategy for both those forces seeking to deny access and secure it?

In a sense, the whole analysis I just presented is premised on an argument about deception. It’s premised on the argument that the complexity of the earth’s surfaces makes things harder to find. Cleverer forms of deception, causing the corpses of convicts to wash ashore with phony orders in their pockets and so on, to take an analogy from an earlier era, have incredibly difficulty in an environment in which RSTA technologies are as good as they’re going to be. Certainly there are all sorts of forms of electronic deception that are part and parcel to these technologies, but at the end of the day, we tend to think that the power of searchers, if the environment is conducive, is going to make it harder and harder to hide unless the environment is conducive. The two-sided searcher/hider competition where the hider is embedded in the complexity of the earth’s surface is a situation in which the hider can use deception. When using deception to win if you’re a stealth bomber trying to penetrate into a heavily defended airspace silhouetted against a blank sky burning huge amounts of fuel moving at very high speed into the teeth of very powerful, mobile land based radars isn’t a deception strategy we think has much potential.

MP: Thank you so much, this was a really fantastic conversation Professor Biddle and I am excited to share this with our listeners.

SB: My pleasure.

Dr. Stephen Biddle is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University, and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. Before joining the GW faculty in fall 2012 he was the Roger Hertog Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and previously held the Elihu Root chair in military studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute (SSI). Dr. Biddle served on General Stanley McChrystal’s Initial Strategic Assessment Team in Kabul in 2009, on General David Petraeus’ Joint Strategic Assessment Team in Baghdad in 2007, and as a Senior Advisor to General Petraeus’ Central Command Assessment Team in Washington in 2008-9. He has served as a member of the Defense Department’s Defense Policy Board, and has presented testimony before congressional committees on issues relating to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; force planning; conventional net assessment; and European arms control. His book Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle (Princeton University Press, 2004) won four prizes, including the Council on Foreign Relations Arthur Ross Award Silver Medal for 2005, and the 2005 Huntington Prize from the Harvard University Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. His other publications include articles in Foreign Affairs, International Security, Survival, The Journal of Politics, Security Studies, The Journal of Strategic Studies, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Studies Quarterly, The New Republic, The American Interest, The National Interest, Orbis, The Washington Quarterly, Contemporary Security Policy, Defense Analysis, Joint Force Quarterly, and Military Operations Research; shorter pieces on military topics in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and other news outlets; various chapters in edited volumes; and 31 SSI, IDA, and NATO reports. He co-directs the Columbia University Summer Workshop on the Analysis of Military Operations and Strategy (SWAMOS), and has held teaching and research positions at Columbia, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), and Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (BCSIA). His research has won Barchi, Rist, and Impact Prizes from the Military Operations Research Society. He was awarded the U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Medal in 2003 and again in 2006, and was presented with the US Army Commander’s Award for Public Service in Baghdad in 2007. He holds AB (1981), MPP (1985), and Ph.D. (Public Policy, 1992) degrees, all from Harvard University.

Mina Pollmann is CIMSEC’s Director of External Relations.

Matthew Merighi is the Senior Producer for Sea Control and the Host of Sea Control: North America. He works as Assistant Director of Maritime Studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Contact him at seacontrol@cimsec.org.

Sea Control 128 – Bonnie Glaser On FONOPS and U.S.-China Relations under Trump

By Mina Pollmann

CIMSEC spoke with Asia-Pacific expert Bonnie Glaser to better understand freedom of navigation, U.S.-China relations under the Trump administration, and recent maritime operations in the region. Listen to the audio or read the transcript below.

Mina Pollmann: Hello, CIMSEC listeners. My name is Mina Pollmann, and as CIMSEC’s Director of External Relations, I have the honor of hosting Bonnie Glaser as our guest for this episode. Bonnie is a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where she works on issues related to Chinese foreign and security policy.

Bonnie, thank you so much for joining us.

Bonnie Glaser: Thanks for having me.

Mina: I’d like to focus today on potential areas of conflict between the U.S. and China, specifically in the maritime domain. To lay the groundwork for that conversation, I wanted to ask a couple questions first about your take on the Trump administration and how China is reacting to the new president.

Early speculation of Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy emphasized that it will be “transactional.” Based on the signs so far, such as his meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, the call with Taiwan’s President Tsai before his inauguration, and the call with Australia’s Prime Minister Turnbull last week, would you agree with this characterization? Is Trump’s approach really that calculated?

Bonnie: Well, as a businessman, it does appear that President Trump is looking to make some “deals” with other countries. We don’t know yet what kinds of “deals” that would be. He has indicated, for example, that the One China policy, which the United States has held for almost 40 years, might be reconsidered unless the Chinese make some concessions in the area of trade. But as far as I know, we haven’t started a dialogue with the Chinese yet. Maybe the Chinese will try to offer some things up in advance, but the Chinese have also told the United States, and they have said so publicly, that the One China policy is nonnegotiable.

I think the premise of the Trump administration is that the Chinese can be influenced. That if the United States pushes back, stands firm in some areas, the Chinese will simply have to accept it. They’ll have to adjust. That is a hypothesis that hasn’t really been tested. Whether we look at the South China Sea or Taiwan or other areas, we don’t yet know whether an effort to try and establish new “redlines” – for example, Secretary of State Tillerson’s suggestion during his confirmation hearings that we might seek to deny China’s access to some of its islands in the South China Sea – will influence China. We don’t know where decisions are going to be made to try to force the Chinese to change their position, or where the Trump administration is going to bargain. We’re still in the very early days of the new administration, and we just don’t know.

Mina: It’s safe to say that unpredictability will be a defining feature of the Trump administration’s foreign policy. In light of this, how can China craft a sustained and constructive foreign policy towards the U.S.?

Bonnie: I think that every country has to deal with a degree of unpredictability when they are talking to the Trump administration and making their own policy decisions. There is not a lot of certainty yet. And it may be that the Trump administration decides to maintain a large degree of unpredictability if it believes that ambiguity serves its interest.

I think as far as the Chinese are concerned, they are trying to convince the Trump administration to limit the ambiguity to areas that do not affect China’s “core interests.” At the top of that list of core interests is sovereignty and territorial integrity – which is why the issue of the One China policy is so sensitive to the Chinese. I think that Beijing is trying to establish the opportunity to have an early, in-depth conversation with President Trump. I think they believe that a Sunnylands-type conversation where they can lay out their interests and try to engage in a one-on-one conversation between Xi Jinping and Donald Trump may help establish some understandings early on. I don’t know whether they will be able to achieve that goal.

Right now, the first potential opportunity for Xi Jinping to talk to Donald Trump is likely to be at the G20 in the first week of July, unless something is arranged before then. But we are seeing phone calls taking place. China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi spoke with National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. We don’t know what took place in that conversation, but I think that the Chinese are looking for greater certainty in trying to narrow this area of uncertainty and unpredictability.

Mina: Moving on to questions more directly related to the maritime domain – in your commentary with Zack Cooper and Peter Dutton, “Mischief Reef: President Trump’s First FONOP?” last November, you and your co-authors explain how regional observers will judge the Trump administration’s willingness – or unwillingness – to accept risk in response to China’s recent assertiveness based on where and when it conducts its first freedom of navigation operation in Asia. What message would conducting a naval operation that goes beyond “innocent passage” within 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef send to China?

Bonnie: To introduce some background here, the Obama administration started conducting freedom of navigation operations around the Spratlys and the Paracels in October 2015 – but this was not the first time. Apparently, as early as 1997, there were some freedom of navigation operations in the Paracels. And it’s important to make the point that the U.S. freedom of navigation program is, in fact, a global one. It goes back to the 1970s, and it is intended to enforce freedom of navigation for all countries in the world, to protect high seas freedoms that all seafaring nations have under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

When the Obama administration resumed these operations, there had been a hiatus for a couple years where they had not been carried out in the South China Sea. They were conducted two times in the Paracels, and two times in the Spratlys. And in all of these cases, with the exception of the last one that was conducted in October 2016, they were what we call “innocent passage.” That means, simply sailing in, in an expeditious and continuous manner, through waters that are 12 nautical miles around a particular feature.

Now, this is complicated by the fact that in the Paracels, the Chinese drew base points and baselines in 1996. They drew what’s called “straight baselines,” connecting these 28 base points. Under UNCLOS, only an archipelagic state that is composed of islands can draw these straight lines legally. China is a continental state. And it illegally drew straight baselines, and inside these baselines essentially claimed an “internal sea.” Under UNCLOS, if you have a legal internal sea, another country cannot sail inside those waters without getting permission first. The Chinese, contending that they have this legal right, demanded that the United States and other countries ask for permission before entering this internal sea. And the Chinese believe that they have a right under UNCLOS to demand that every country sailing in their territorial sea – whether it be coastal or around one of their land features – get prior permission. The United States has a different interpretation, and some countries require notification but not permission, so there are different interpretations of what the provisions are under UNCLOS.

So, with that background, in the last freedom of navigation operation in October of 2016, the USS Decatur crossed these illegal straight lines, and they conducted a maneuvering drill for the first time out of the four FONOPs publicized during the Obama administration. This is an exercise that is demonstrating high seas freedoms, and of course the Chinese objected to that. This was not “innocent passage” – simply sailing in a continuous and expeditious manner. Why is this important? If the United States simply sailed through these straight baselines through the Paracels and conducted innocent passage, that would signal an acceptance of China’s unlawful straight baselines.

Facilities on Mischief Reeef as of January 2016. (CSIS AMTI)

The reason why Peter Dutton, Zach Cooper and I are advocating conducting a FONOP around Mischief Reef is because the July 2016 ruling by the Arbitral Tribunal under UNCLOS found that Mischief Reef is a low-tide elevation. That essentially means its part of the seabed – so no country can have sovereignty over it, and it exists inside the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. So indeed it belongs to the Philippines.

Mischief Reef is one of the three land features that the Chinese have built out into a massive island, creating military installations, including a 10,000-foot runway, hardened aircraft shelters, anti-aircraft missiles, and other capabilities. So if the United States were to conduct freedom of navigation around Mischief Reef – because Mischief Reef is not within 12 nautical miles of any other feature which would affect how the FONOP be legally conducted – simply conducting innocent passage around these 12 nautical miles of Mischief Reef would once again lend credibility and legality to China’s claims. And of course China has illegally occupied the feature to begin with. This means the United States, with any FONOP around Mischief Reef, would have to conduct some military activity to not lend credibility and legality to China’s claims. The U.S. could fly a helicopter, conduct an exercise of another kind, circumnavigate the feature, loiter within – those are the kinds of options the U.S. has.

The risks here are that the Chinese might respond. Perhaps the Obama administration did not conduct this particular FONOP because they were worried the Chinese might respond or interfere with that kind of freedom of navigation operation. The Chinese could interfere by sending fighter aircraft and flying very low and dangerously, or they could use maritime militia or even naval vessels to try and interfere and block the United States or force the United States to leave the area. This could potentially lead to a confrontation or even an accident. And it appears, based on the nature of the FONOPs the Obama administration did conduct, one of the factors in the decision making process was that the Obama administration wanted to minimize any potential for confrontation with China. I think they were risk-averse.

And I think the Trump administration will approach this issue a little differently. They might be willing to incur more risk. And by demonstrating to China they are less risk-averse, they hope to strengthen deterrence. Now, this is still a logic that is yet to be played out – as to what the Trump administration’s approach will be, and how the Chinese will respond. But this will be, from the Chinese perspective, a test of U.S. intentions and operations in the South China Sea. They will be looking to see whether the Trump administration is going to act differently than the Obama administration did. And the Trump administration will be looking to see how the Chinese respond to what they do. This is a critical test of where the U.S.-China relationship will go going forward.

Mina: Moving to a different part within the same region, on January 11, China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier sailed north through the Taiwan Strait after completing exercises in the South China Sea. Is this meant as a signal? If so, what specifically was it a response to? What message is it meant to convey?

Bonnie: Well, first we should note that the Liaoning aircraft carrier first went through the Taiwan Strait as part of an exercise in 2013, so this was not the first time. And preparing to conduct an exercise with an aircraft carrier – given the fact that the Chinese do not have much experience – a lot of work and preparation went into that. And the Liaoning was operating in the South China Sea, there were flight operations that were going on – the Chinese were trying to build their capabilities.

My guess is that the preparations were underway maybe five, six months in advance. So it’s doubtful that this exercise was substantially modified in reaction to anything that was happening in international politics at the time. That’s my view. But nevertheless it is a useful signal and can be played that way.

The Liaoning, heading back to Hainan Island from its exercises, really had three options to head back to China, if they did in fact consider changing routes. They could have gone through straits in Japan, or in the Philippines, or through the Taiwan Strait. They may or may not have decided initially to go through the Taiwan Strait, but my guess is that they simply were exploiting the opportunity to present it as a signal to Taiwan. The reason would be that the Chinese are more concerned about Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen. She had a conversation with Donald Trump when he was just elected, on the phone. That was the first time ever a Taiwanese president has spoken on the phone with an American president-elect and that was made very public. And then President Tsai traveled through the United States. In fact, when this transit took place, President Tsai was in Central America and she passed through the U.S. and the Chinese are concerned about the potential for more cooperation between the U.S. and Taiwan, the possibility that President Trump could be emboldening Taiwan to challenge China’s claim to sovereignty. That would be a reason why they might have done that.

Chinese J-15 fighter jets wait on the deck of the Liaoning aircraft carrier during military drills in December. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

I should note, however, that the Liaoning sailed on the Chinese side of the midline between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland and did not cross that centerline. As I understand it there were no flight operations that were conducted as it was transiting the Taiwan Strait. If that had happened it would have been seen as far more provocative. And finally, I would add that, three times prior to that transit through the Taiwan Strait, bomber flights took place around the South China Sea and also circumventing Taiwan. In my view, those bomber flights, combined in some cases with other aircraft, were probably intended to send a very direct warning signal to Tsai Ing-wen. And I view those with greater concern than the transit by the Liaoning through that Strait. 

Mina: Historically, China has tested incoming U.S. administrations with assertive operations. Do you think an assertive operation in the maritime domain – looking beyond the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, considering possible contingencies even in the East China Sea – is likely? If so, what form might this take and is there anything the U.S. can do to deter it? How could the U.S. respond?

Bonnie: It has been suggested, and I believe, many observers believe that China has tested incoming administrations. In 2001, in the early days of the George W. Bush administration, there were aggressive intercepts that were being conducted by a Chinese pilot that ultimately resulted in a collision with an EP3 aircraft and led to a forced landing on Hainan Island. And in 2009, there was an early incident with a U.S. oceanographic vessel called the Impeccable, with various types of Chinese vessels harassing the Impeccable, and tried to convince the United States to reduce the intelligence, surveillance ,and reconnaissance operations around China and to move those operations further away from China’s coast.

So, one possibility is that the Chinese do try to test the Trump administration. My guess is that given the fact that the Trump administration has signaled early on that it is going to get tough against China, and the fact that they have tried to introduce a lot of unpredictability into future U.S. policy towards China, the Chinese likely see that there is a very high risk in testing the Trump administration – because they could force this new administration to become even tougher. They could even cause an early confrontation.

So far, it is remarkable how restrained, how disciplined the Chinese have been not just in their behavior, but in their rhetoric as well. There have been very carefully worded statements from the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Chinese Defense Ministry reiterating China’s principled positions on various issues. But there have not been very strong threatening statements or actions form the Chinese. I think that they recognize that if President Trump is potentially seen as weak, he may overreact, and this could create an outcome that the Chinese don’t want to see.

There’s also the potential that in the past, some of these “tests” that took place in the George W. Bush administration and the Obama administration, took place at a time pre-Xi Jinping, when the Chinese civilian control over all of the activities of the military were probably not as firm as they are today. That’s not to say the military might not do things in some areas that are not completely decided by the civilian leadership. There are still some issues in civil-military relations in China. But, it is clear that the coordination between the civilians and the military, and the instructions by Xi Jinping to operators in the aircraft and military vessels – particularly the instruction to avoid an incident with the United States – is quite clear. In the past, where some of these incidents have taken place, there was speculation that maybe the top Chinese leaders did not endorse that particular action at that particular time – I think that is less likely to take place.

Mina: Thank you so much for your time today, and I’m really excited to get this out to all of our listeners. This was such an insightful conversation. Thank you, Bonnie.

Bonnie: Thanks for having me.

Bonnie S. Glaser is a senior adviser for Asia and the director of the China Power Project at CSIS, where she works on issues related to Chinese foreign and security policy. She is concomitantly a non-resident fellow with the Lowy Institute in Sydney, a senior associate with CSIS Pacific Forum, and a consultant for the U.S. government on East Asia.

Mina Pollmann is CIMSEC’s Director of External Relations.