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The Chinese Dream and Beijing’s Grand Strategy

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By Tuan N. Pham

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

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

Grand Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maritime Strategy

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

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

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

Space Strategy

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

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

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

Cyberspace Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Connected Strategic Themes

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

China Looks Seaward to Become a Global Power

China’s Defense & Foreign Policy Topic Week

By Theodore Bazinis


President Xi Jinping in his opening speech before the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China stated that “It’s time for our nation to transform into a mighty force that could lead the world on political, economic, military and environmental issues.” In other parts of his speech he stated that “No country alone can address the challenges facing mankind,’’ and that “China is going to be a responsible global power.” These statements reveal an expansive strategic ambition for China’s rise as a global leader.

But it’s not only about statements, the building of a mighty naval force and the emergence of China as a first-class maritime power can be identified as a fundamental indication of her attempts to implement such ambitions. A mighty naval force (a blue water navy) that can provide homeland security, ensure sovereign rights, contest national claims, and secure Chinese interests worldwide (including safeguarding the interests of her allies) constitutes a necessary condition for a world leader.

The first thing that comes to mind when considering that only until now a historically continental power like China is now emerging as a leading naval power is the fallacious approach that asserted the maritime character of the U.S. and the continental character of China would combine to result in the establishment of a new balance between them. But now since China has broken with its continental strategic tradition, the next thought that comes to mind is a saying of the greatest naval theorist Mahan who proffered, “Now that we created a powerful navy what are we going to do with it?’’ In other words, what is China’s vision that motivates her decision to be transformed into a global sea power? Furthermore, how will this potential be used?

What Maritime Superiority Entails

There are two possible strategies that first-class naval power enables. The first would be to challenge the hegemony of the U.S., either at the regional (Southeast Asia and West Pacific) or/and global levels. In such case a global rivalry would be imminent (including the extreme contingency of a hegemonic war). The second would be to participate in the international system as a responsible leading stakeholder that simultaneously secures one’s own interests while actively contributing to collective security challenges. But pursuing either strategy involves numerous prerequisites in order to turn maritime power into strategic options of global import.

Considering the globalized character of the contemporary world, the capability and ability to control neighboring littorals and the global commons constitutes a fundamental prerequisite for a state with the ambition to become leading power. Maritime supremacy includes the key missions of commanding neighboring littoral seas, controlling regional SLOCs or SLOCs of vital interest, promoting security in the global commons, establishing trade networks via maritime routes, and projecting power from the sea to apply force and gain access. All are seen as valuable capabilities in developing the potential to achieve greater strategic objectives.

In this vein, Chinese actions to solidify maritime dominance are occurring along multiple lines of effort and work within a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach. These actions include expressing extensive claims (Nine-Dash Line), attempting to establish an ADIZ, building artificial islands, installing defense facilities on these islands, elevating Sansha to a province-level city with jurisdiction over disputed maritime features, developing high-end warfighting capabilities, maintaining regular coast guard law enforcement presence, and sustaining paramilitary activity. These can all be assessed as elements of China’s multifaceted plan to dominate the South and East China Seas and establish maritime superiority in its immediate locale.

A comprehensive effort is also taking place on a global scale. China’s strategy includes efforts to control critical SLOCs by establishing distant naval bases (Hambantota-Sri Lanka, Gwadar-Pakistan, and Djibouti), implementing the One Belt One Road Initiative to include planning to reduce dependence on SLOCs, exercising in distant maritime zones such as the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas, and safeguarding the global commons such as by participating in counter-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.

All of the above are signs of extensive intentions, but is it safe to interpret this as a harbinger of a new hegemonic rivalry? Recall the fundamentals of U.S. maritime strategy in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which implemented principles based on the Monroe doctrine and on Mahan’s theory about sea power and its role in obtaining global hegemony. Earning initial American maritime superiority included establishing regional dominance in the Caribbean Sea and reducing European influence in the region to prevent European states from becoming geopolitical players in the North American locale, such as accomplished in part by the Spanish-American War. The U.S. acquired control over the Panama Canal to promote security for chokepoints that were vital for her trade networks. The U.S. also occupied distant island colonies and established naval bases (Cuba, Hawaii, Philippines, Midway, Guam, Haiti, Samoa, etc.). The Great White Fleet sailed the world to announce blue water capability and exemplify American geopolitical preeminence.

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) transits through the Panama Canal in 1945. (Wikimedia Commons)

Even if the similarities between the two strategies are noteworthy, other facts have to be taken into account. Many states rose to become global powers throughout history, and in many cases hegemony or great power status in international affairs was accomplished with maritime superiority. Remember the historic paradigms of Athens, the Roman Empire, East Roman Empire, Venice and Genoa, Netherlands, Great Britain, and the U.S. However, the contemporary global system is unique when compared with preceding periods. This is primarily due to globalization which has been readily facilitated by the world’s oceans and been manifested in ever-rising volumes of international seaborne trade. Interdependency has grown between states and this shapes relations and rivalries. Today a conventional war between great powers is equivalent with the MAD (mutually assured destruction) of the Cold War. This time instead of nuclear weapons the deterrent/stabilizing factor is economic interdependency (MED – Mutual Economic Destruction), especially when the vast majority of trade is seaborne and where high-end naval warfare in one region alone could disrupt global supply chains.


China’s activity in the maritime domain reveals extensive strategic ambition. Furthermore, her seaward turn after millennia of continental focus and the building of a first-class global navy within a single generation is just a necessary stepping stone in her attempt to acquire a leading world role. Although offensive approaches, extensive claims, and limited (in space and duration) tensions between China and other states can’t be excluded, the elements of Chinese strategic culture would rather shape strategy characterized by patience and a well-estimated approach.

Theodore Bazinis has an MA in International Relations and Strategic Studies and is a Research Fellow at the Institute of International Relations Athens, in the Maritime Strategy and Security Department.

Featured Image: CSCL Star (Wikimedia Commons)

Deglobalization Will Change the Mission of Naval Forces

The following article is adapted from a report for the Institute for International Strategic Studies at the National Defense University, International Studies, Will Technological Convergence Reverse Globalization?

By T. X. Hammes

Since the end of World War II, the United States has consistently supported greater global integration. U.S. leaders saw this as the route to both prosperity and security. After the shock of Korea, the United States consistently forward deployed its armed forces to support this policy. The following decades of increasing global trade seem to validate this strategy. However from 2011 to 2014, manufacturing trade as a percentage of GDP actually flattened and then declined from 2011 to 2014. Services and financial flows followed the same pattern. In its 2016 report, Mackenzie Global Institute reported, “After 20 years of rapid growth, traditional flows of goods, services, and finance have declined relative to GDP.”

hammes figure 1

Figure 11

Figure 2 Hammes

Figure 3 Hammes

Many analysts contend these are short term trends and soon trade will resume growing. In contrast, this article will argue that the convergence of new technologies is dramatically changing how we make things, what we make, and where we make them. These technologies plus trends in energy production, agriculture, politics, and internet governance will result in the localization of manufacturing, services, energy, and food production. This shift will significantly change the international security environment and in particular the role of the U.S. naval forces.

How We Make Things

The cost advantages derived from the combination of robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing is driving production to automated factories. According to Boston Consulting Group, about 10 percent of all manufacturing is currently automated, but this will rise to 25 percent by 2025. This is only the very front end of the shift of labor to automation. A Price Waterhouse Cooper survey showed 94 percent of CEOs who had robots say the robots increased productivity.

Even as robots are changing traditional manufacturing, 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is creating entirely new ways to manufacture a rapidly expanding range of products – from medical devices to aircraft parts to buildings. In April 2016, Carbon3D released the first commercial version of a machine that prints 100 times faster than its predecessors.

Commercial firms are exploiting these advances. United Parcel Service established a fully-automated facility with 100 3D printers to manufacture one-off parts or mass produce thousands of the same part. “UPS can see a major change coming. The concept is simple, local production of a vast number of components will hit the international shipping market hard.”

In fact, Price Waterhouse Cooper surveyed over 100 industrial manufacturers and reported that fifty-two percent of the CEOs surveyed expect 3D printing to be used for high volume production in the next 3-5 years. 

What We Will Make

3D printing will have two other major impacts — mass customization and design for purpose. Rather than stocking the wide variety of parts in the spectrum of colors and finishes they use, a range of industries are looking to maintain only digital files and print on demand. More revolutionary, designers can now design an object to optimally fulfill its purpose rather than to meet manufacturing limitations. General Electric replaced jet engine fuel nozzles made from 18 smaller parts with a single, lighter, stronger, longer lasting, and cheaper 3D printed part.

3D printing can also increase the strength of a product through honeycomb construction, like that of bird bones. Very difficult to make with traditional manufacturing, 3D printing can make them with relative ease. Further, 3D printing can create gradient alloys which expand the material properties of the product. 3D printing can actually improve the performance of existing materials. 3D printed ceramics can have 10 times the compressive strength of commercially available ceramics, tolerate higher temperatures, and be printed in complex lattices, further increasing the strength to weight ratio.

Where We Make Things

The combination of robotics, artificial intelligence, and 3D printing means “on-shoring,” returning manufacturing to the home market, is increasing rapidly. In 2015 survey of CEOs, Boston Consulting Group noted

            –a 17 percent increase in the number that report they are actively reshoring now, which is 2.5 times the number actively reshoring in 2012.

            –31 percent would put new capacity to serve the U.S. in the U.S. versus 20 percent who would choose China.  A reversal from 2 years ago when China was favored 30 percent to 20 percent.

            –71 percent believe that advanced manufacturing technologies will improve the economics of localized production.

The trends noted in Boston Consulting Group’s survey are reflected in the reversal of manufacturing job trends over the past two decades. The United States lost manufacturing jobs every year from 1998 to 2009 — a total of 8 million jobs. But in the last six years, it regained about 1 million of them.

Co-location reduces shipping and inventory costs. It also allows closer interaction between design and manufacturing which speeds the design, test, build, employ, and improve cycle. General Electric just finished building an Advanced Manufacturing Works right next to a large manufacturing plant to both take advantage of proximity and learn more about how to maximize that benefit.

Hal Sirkin, an analyst with Boston Consulting, predicts “you’re going to see more localization rather than more scale… I can put up a plant, change the software and manufacture all sorts of things, not in the hundreds of millions but runs of five million or ten million.” The bottom line is that more and more products will be produced locally, which will steadily reduce the need for international trade in manufactured goods.

Service Industries Are Coming Home Too

Service industries are following suit as artificial intelligence takes over more high order tasks. Pairing AI with humans has resulted in lower costs (fewer humans) and higher customer satisfaction for United Services Automobile Association’s call center.

Nor is artificial intelligence limited to routine call center tasks. This year the Georgia Institute of Technology employed a software program named “Jill Watson” as a teaching assistant for an online course without telling the students. All of the students rated Ms. Watson as a very effective teaching assistant. None guessed she wasn’t human. Baker & Hostetler, a law firm, announced it has hired her ‘brother,’ Ross, also based on Watson, as a lawyer for its bankruptcy practice.

Artificial intelligence is already handling tasks formerly assigned to associate lawyers, new accountants, new reporters, new radiologists, and many other specialties. In short, non-routine tasks – whether manual or cognitive – will still be done by humans while routine tasks – even cognitive ones – will be done by machines.  And this is not a new phenomenon, computer technology has been eating jobs since 1990. 

Figure 4 Hammes

With labor costs much less of an issue, better communications links, better infrastructure, more attractive business conditions, and effective intellectual properly enforcement, services are returning to developed nations. The few, more complex questions that require human operators are better handled by native language speakers intimately familiar with the culture. 

Only the First Step?

The changes in manufacturing and services may be only the first step in de-globalization. Electric/hybrid vehicles, alternative energy technologies, and increased energy efficiency are reducing the global movement of coal and oil. While starting from a small base, renewable energy — wind, solar, thermal — is growing very rapidly.  In 2014, 58.5 percent of all new additions to global power systems were renewables. In 2015, 68 percent of the new capacity installed in the United States was renewable. As vehicle fuel efficiency, hybrids, and all-electric vehicles improve, Wood Mackenzie suggests that U.S. gasoline demand could fall from 9.3 million barrels/day to 6.5 million barrels/day by 2035. Fracking, alternative energy, and new efficiencies have already dramatically reduced the U.S. need for imported energy. If other nations can make similar advances in these areas, it will slow and then reduce the global trade in gas and oil.

Agriculture is another area that has seen increased global trade over the last few decades. High value fruits, vegetables, and flowers move from nations with favorable growing conditions to those without. However, indoor farming has begun to undercut this trade by providing locally produced, fresher, organic products. Depending on the product, such farms can produce 11-15 crop cycles per year. A facility in Tokyo produces 30,000 heads of lettuce per day and plans a second plant to produce 500,000 head of lettuce daily within 5 years. Now that the concept has been proven, Japanese firms are putting 211 unused factories into food production.

The industry is not restricted to Japan. A firm in the United States is planning to establish 75 indoor factory farms. Similar urban farms are being built across Europe and Russia. These indoor farms do not require herbicides or pesticides, use 97 percent less water, waste 50 percent less food, use 40 percent less power, reduce fertilizer use, reduce shipping costs, and are not subject to weather irregularities. Scaled-up, these processes will seriously reduce the market for long-range shipping of high value agricultural products. Japanese firms are even experimenting with growing rice in a number of their facilities. 

All of the factors listed above are being reinforced by social pressures to “buy local” to reduce the environmental impact of production. Local production both creates jobs near the consumer and dramatically reduces transportation energy and packaging waste. Indoor farming can almost eliminate the environmental impact of farming on land and waterways.   

A further driver of global fragmentation is the effort by authoritarian governments to segment the internet.  Initially considered an impossible goal, China has steadily improved its ability to control what people can access inside its territory. Totalitarian nations have decided the costs of connectivity exceed the benefits of globalization. Restricted access to the internet will inevitably reduce these nations’ participation in the global economy.

Cumulative Effects

The key question is how much will the sum of shifts in manufacturing, automation of services, localization of power, and food production reduce globalization. Localizing production will dramatically reduce traffic in components and finished manufactured products thus disrupting established trade patterns. Currently we ship raw materials to one country. It puts together the sub-assemblies, packs them, and ships them to another country for assembly. There they complete the assembly and packaging, then ship the packaged product onward to the consuming country. With the emergence of 3D manufacturing, we will ship smaller quantities of raw materials to a point near the consumer, produce them, and then ship them short distances for consumption. Thus reducing international trade. The localization of energy production and return of high value agriculture to developed nations will further reduce global trade.

Other factors are slowing globalization. First, protectionism is growing. Since 2008, more than 3,500 protectionist measures and administrative requirements have been instituted globally. As technology eliminates jobs, the political pressure for protectionism will rise. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Its Atlantic counterpart, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, is still being negotiated but faces growing political opposition on both sides of the Atlantic. Brexit probably has killed it.

American policy makers and economists still believe global trade is essential. But according to a recent Pew poll, only 17 percent of Americans thought it leads to higher wages, only 20 percent believed it created new jobs. 

Implications for National Security

Since 1945, the United States has pursued globalization for both economic and security reasons. Today, the economic premise of globalization is being challenged by a wide range of political actors. Thus, whichever party wins the next election will likely encourage each of the trends discussed in this paper with tax breaks, trade policy, and administrative actions. The cumulative effect will be to discourage and undermine the case for globalization while potentially strengthening the U.S.-Canada-Mexico trading bloc. Similar pressures may drive nations across the globe to regional trade blocks.

In turn, if globalization no longer has major economic benefits for the United States, then employing U.S. power in an effort to maintain global security will be seen purely as a cost. This will create a very different domestic environment for the practice of U.S. foreign policy. Deglobalization will reduce the American people’s interest in propping up global stability at exactly the time the widespread dissemination of smart, cheap weapons will significantly increase the costs of doing so. Faced with growing social and infrastructure needs, Americans may no longer be willing to underwrite international security with their blood and treasure.

Turning isolationist would reverse over 60 years of American foreign and security policy and radically alter the international security picture. Europeans, already struggling with the implications of Brexit, will have to determine which threat – mass migration or Russian expansion – is the greater one and how they will reach agreement on allocation of security resources. 

Asian nations will also face a very different environment. American presence in Asia has been seen as the major provider of stability and peace for the region. Given China’s recent assertiveness in the South China Sea, the biggest question for Asian nations will be how to prevent Chinese domination. In a region with no history of military security alliances, the challenges will be extensive. Some Asian states have the capability to rapidly develop nuclear weapons and may choose to do so to provide nuclear deterrence. 

Role of Seaborne Trade in a Regionalized World

Deglobalization will take a decade or two and while it will result in major decreases in international trade, it will not eliminate it entirely. From the U.S. point of view, the import of raw materials and the export of bulk energy, food, and manufactured goods will remain economically important. However, maritime strategists should understand the relatively low percentage of U.S. GDP this represents. In 2014, the United States exported over $1.5 trillion of its $18 trillion GDP. Canada and Mexico accounted for about 35 percent of the total, with most of it shipped overland. The other 65 percent was broadly distributed globally. While 75 percent of those exports by weight were seaborne only 33 percent of exports by value were. This means just under 2 percent of the GDP of the United States was exported by sea and just over 3 percent by air. While mariners faithfully repeat the mantra that 90% of U.S. goods travel by sea, we fail to see the relatively low value to our economy. Thus sustaining support for a global Navy in times of reduced budgets and isolationist sentiment will be a real challenge. Nor will the fact that we import $2.2 trillion per year be a useful argument if isolationist tendencies continue to dominate the political sphere.

So What For The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps

A couple of decades may seem adequate time to prepare if isolationism does come about. It is in fact a very short time for the Department of the Navy. Most of the procurement budgets for the next two decades are effectively obligated to existing and planned programs such as the Ford class, the F-35, and the SSBN replacement. Thus the services must think through how their roles and missions may change in such a future.

Maintaining nuclear deterrence will remain the highest defense priority. However, the combined cost of replacing the triad may force the United States to reconsider whether it needs all three legs. The Navy must be prepared to articulate why the submarine leg of the triad remains important – and deal with the concerns about increasing transparency of the oceans.

In an isolationist America, the next highest priority is likely to be defense of the hemisphere or at least the North American trading block (U.S.-Canada-Mexico). This will require an integrated air, sea, and sub-surface defense of the territory and waters of the region. It will also include protection of undersea fiber optic networks. 

A secondary mission will remain the protection of U.S. trade. Even with these increases in manufacturing and energy exports, U.S. exports will likely remain well less than 10 percent of our national economy. Further, these exports will be focused on developed nations in Asia and Europe perhaps reducing the need for naval forces in other regions. Thus the current emphasis on intensive and extensive engagement with navies around the world will be significantly reduced. However, as always, naval forces will often be the force of choice for protection of U.S. facilities or evacuation of U.S. citizens overseas and this will require forward deployed forces.

In an isolationist future, America will not conduct major land campaigns overseas unless absolutely forced to by strategic need. If America chooses to do so, Navy and Marine forces may be the force of choice for initial deployment. The continuance of the small, smart and many revolution means naval forces will have to rethink how they fight. As Professor and retired U.S. Navy Captain Robert C. Rubel noted in 2013,

“Given the increasing sophistication of defenses and the growing expensiveness (and thus smaller numbers) of traditional strike platforms, such as tactical aircraft, the answer to this problem will increasingly involve new kinds of missiles and other unmanned systems. If the Navy, along with the other services, can evolve to a predominantly missile-based, aggression-disruption posture, U.S. influence may be manifested in the inability of unwillingness of dissatisfied power to try to overturn the international order, either regionally or globally, via military means.”

Thus rather than projecting power to dissuade, enemy naval forces might turn to disrupting the opponent’s ability to project power. The convergence of technologies – artificial intelligence, robotics, 3D manufacturing, and drones – will provide thousands of autonomous weapons able to reach out hundreds of miles and even a few that will range thousands of miles. In short, A2/AD will become much more effective and powerful. Fortunately, it can work both ways; strategic geography heavily favors the United States in any contest with China.

A new, old mission may also evolve – Marine Defense Battalions. Developed prior to WWII, they were formed to rapidly establish anti-air and coastal artillery on critical islands. With the exponential increase in range of drones, ASCMs, cruise and ballistic missiles as well as self-deploying sea mines, such forces could create sea denial areas reaching hundreds of miles into the surrounding waters or close maritime chokepoints. These units could be employed in the first island chain to force the Chinese to fight hard if they want to exit the South or East China Seas. Further, they can be used as models for partner and allied nations that wish to build a relatively inexpensive A2/AD capability to raise the cost to China if it attempts to bully them.


Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum writes, “The speed of the current breakthroughs has no historical precedent. When compared with previous industrial revolutions, the Fourth is evolving at an exponential rather than a linear pace. Moreover, it is disrupting almost every industry in every country. And the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance.”

The 4th Industrial Revolution will unfold over the next couple of decades, bringing amazing advances in manufacturing and services. There is no doubt the global economy will change in many ways. Manufacturing, services, energy, and agriculture all seem to be moving to localized production. The net effect is slowing and may be reversing globalization. Obviously, this is not a certainty but it is a strong possibility supported by technical, social, and political trends. If this is happening, the basic assumptions undergirding sixty years of post-World War II prosperity and security will change too. Thus the fundamental assumptions about the role of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps must also change. As part of their continuing efforts to understand the future, the services must add this possible future and explore what it means.

Dr. T. X. Hammes is a Distinguished Research Fellow at the U. S. National Defense University. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. government. An extended version of this article is available here


1. World Bank, “Trade ( percent of GDP), http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NE.TRD.GNFS.ZS/countries/1W-CN-US?display=graph, accessed Mar 29, 2016.

2. World Bank, “Merchandise trade ( percent of GDP), http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/TG.VAL.TOTL.GD.ZS/countries?display=graph, accessed Mar 29, 2016. 

3. Matthieu Bussiere, Julia Schmidt, Natacha Valla,  International Financial Flows in the New Normal: Key Patterns (and Why We Should Care), CEPII, Mar 2016, p.5,  http://www.cepii.fr/PDF_PUB/pb/2016/pb2016-10.pdf, accessed May 26, 2016.

4. Maximiliano Dvorkin, “Job Involving Routine Tasks Aren’t Growing,” St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, https://www.stlouisfed.org/on-the-economy/2016/january/jobs-involving-routine-tasks-arent-growing, accessed May 25, 2016.

Featured Image: Mariners aboard MSC-chartered cargo ships MV BBC Seattle and MV Marstan conduct cargo operations in Talamone Bay, Italy. (U.S. Navy photo by Matthew Sweeney)

The Unnamed Protagonist in China’s Maritime Objectives

Guest post for Chinese Military Strategy Week by Amanda Conklin

China’s ability to exercise its power in the maritime domain is essential to advancing its economic interests and ensuring its security. Attention to safeguarding maritime rights and interests was documented in China’s 2012 National Defense white paper, and the 2015 Chinese Military Strategy white paper has expanded the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) area of operations from offshore defense to include open seas protection. As the PLAN moves into the open ocean, the responsibility for offshore defense and protection of China’s interests in its near seas will fall to the China Coast Guard (CCG). Changes in the organizational and operational mandates of the CCG are paving the way for it to become a more important actor in the achievement of the PLA’s traditional and non-traditional security objectives.

Liu Huaqing in March 1996. Associated Press, Greg Baker

Since the 1980s, China’s changing threat perceptions and growing economic interests have catalyzed a shift in the strategic orientation and the perceived utility of naval forces. By 1987, PLAN Commander Admiral Liu Huaqing established a strategy referred to as offshore defense, expanding the bounds of China’s maritime defenses beyond coastal waters to deter, delay, and if necessary, degrade potential intervention in a regional conflict. Offshore defense is associated with operations in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, and South China Sea (China’s near seas), covering 875,000 square nautical miles. The Philippine Sea, a key interdiction area in the event of a conflict over Taiwan or in the South China Sea, expands the battlespace by another 1.5 million. In this vast space, navies and coast guards from seven regional countries and several forward-deployed nations combine with tens of thousands of fishing boats, cargo ships, oil tankers, and other commercial vessels in an area often referred to as “China’s 3 million square km of blue territory.”

From the founding of the PRC in 1949 until the mid-1980s, China’s strategic concept of naval operations was limited to coastal defense (the inherent mission of any coast guard), with an emphasis on defending China’s coast from amphibious invasion. As the PLAN shifts away from patrolling the near seas and expands its area of operations, the CCG will need to meet demands to operate well off China’s coast. Many in the U.S. view the CCG’s activities in the East and South China Seas as a product of a coordinated national strategy. The goal is quiet expansion — as opposed to a loud invasion and occupation by the PLA.

Evidence of a strategy can be traced to possible visions guiding procurement decisions made years in advance, such as the State Council’s approval of plans to purchase dozens of rights protection cutters in 2010. Protecting China’s expanding coastlines, as well as fishermen and maritime companies, requires the CCG to conduct operations further from their home ports and for longer periods of time. For example, a 2012 standoff between China Maritime Surveillance (former CCG) vessels and the Philippines Coast Guard at the disputed Scarborough Shoal lasted for ten weeks, and since then the CCG has maintained a continuous presence there to preempt a recurrence of that event. This could put the CCG in an uncomfortable and unsustainable operating scheme unless it procures large ships, recruits enough officers for numerous and simultaneous rotations at sea, and coordinates communications and collaboration across 3 million square km of blue territory.

In 2013, China consolidated its maritime law enforcement (MLE) agencies to better protect China’s sovereignty and safeguard its maritime interests. During the March 2013 National People’s Congress, the Chinese government announced a new State Oceanic Administration (SOA) that would essentially form a “fist out of fingers” by combining the organizations and the responsibilities of the existing SOA and four MLE agencies into the China Coast Guard (CCG), which maintained a purely civilian status. The consolidation allows the CCG to more flexibly deploy patrol ships from its larger fleet in response to sovereignty challenges and maintain its presence in hotspots.

Additionally, during the last decade, China’s MLE forces have increased both the sizes of their ships and overall capability. As of March 2015, China had 95 large patrol ships (over 1,000 tons) and 100 patrol combatants between (500-1,000 tons). The current phase of the construction program, which began in 2012, will add over 30 large patrol ships and over 20 patrol combatants to the force by the end of 2015. This will increase the overall CCG force level by 25 percent — faster growth than any other coast guard in the world.

Map of territorial disputes in South China Sea.

Although the CCG has taken an increased role in asserting China’s maritime sovereignty over disputed areas, PLAN vessels still share the responsibility for patrols in China’s territorial waters, contiguous zones, and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The PLAN’s close relationship with the CCG certainly helps deter counter actions by other claimants. When the CCG responds to an incident, the PLAN will likely also deploy destroyers and frigates several dozen miles behind to provide an indirect, over-the-horizon presence. This approach intimidates smaller claimants and contains larger ones, but also limits the potential for confrontations to escalate since most CCG ships are not heavily armed (though some are refitted navy vessels with permanent torpedo tubs and gun turrets that add a factor of intimidation to the CCG’s presence). Given the recurrence of confrontations, China is wise in not using armed ships, but arguably, deploying the CCG allows China to be more aggressive against foreign civilian ships than it could be with the PLAN. Instead, while CCG activities assume a militarized connotation, PLAN ships make friendly port calls to China’s neighbors.

China’s controversial use of the CCG to assert its sovereignty in maritime disputes and expand China’s presence in disputed areas gives it the unique privilege of being the world’s only maritime law enforcement (MLE) agency to regularly make international headlines for activities other than botching rescue missions. The CCG’s press coverage, however, has been overwhelmingly negative for causing conflagrations with China’s neighbors, and the fallout of its activities has reinforced China’s need for its sustained presence. China must reconcile that the CCG’s activities to advance its interests in the South China Sea have inspired Southeast Asian nations to strengthen their own MLE organizations. The Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia have already turned to the U.S. and Japan for help increasing their capacity.

China’s use of the CCG has created a conundrum for the U.S. Navy, but it does not want to risk a conflict by using the 7th Fleet to check China’s white hull advance. Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) does not have a dedicated presence in the area (its closest port is at Guam), and funding troubles have already stretched its capacity for traditional missions. Even though the USCG has 42,190 active duty service members compared to the new CCG’s 16,296 billets, the USCG is not concentrated in a single region. It has a global mission ranging from the Arctic to NATO countries to the Pacific. Thus, the USCG, like other branches of the U.S. military, has placed emphasis on utilizing and building the capacity of its partners in the region – an asset the U.S. has more of than China (the new military strategy only named Russia as a partner).

The growing possibility of clashes at sea is troubling. If the CCG is able to easily coerce smaller actors in China’s various maritime disputes, especially in the South China Sea, and institute a new status quo to safeguard China’s interests, this would have serious implications for freedom of sea navigation and safety of passage, as well regional stability and peace. If the U.S. and its partners believe this is the goal of a comprehensive strategy, building more capable maritime law enforcement and coast guard organizations in Southeast Asia could deter Beijing from maritime expansion. However, China’s approach to its maritime interests goes beyond the CCG’s veiled offensive, or active defense, maneuvers. China’s hybrid strategy also involves legal, economic, high-tech, and cyber elements that are less likely to provoke a large-scale war and do not fit neatly into challenges addressed by traditional military strategies. Adequately addressing the role of CCG as an increasingly capable civilian implementer of China’s foreign policy and unique tool in China’s military missions will require the U.S. and its partners to consider new, comprehensive policy options in the Asia-Pacific.

Amanda Conklin was a Fulbright in Macau from 2012-13 and is currently working on Asia policy issues in the field of international affairs. The views presented in this article are her own.

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