Tag Archives: Strategy

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)

Thoughts on Grand Strategy

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

By LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN and Professor Richard J. Harknett

The United States has been operating without a Grand Strategy for nearly 25 years. First, it was essentially on auto-pilot in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union (the grand strategic endstate of containment) and then post-9/11 it became tactically oriented in reacting to global terrorism. Over the past 16 years, a flux in the distribution of power internationally has begun as the United States has relied on coercive force in an attempt to manage terrorist capacity and its gap in power is not guaranteed to be sustained without a strategy to do so. Great powers rise and fall because, over time, they tend to choose policies which accelerate the balancing dynamic of other competing states. Today, while the United States remains the leading state in an imbalanced global system, traditional realist theory suggests that international systems tend toward balance and we should expect a turn to a multipolar world. The National Intelligence Council’s January 9th released quadrennial Global Trends Report suggests a similar conclusion.

This is not preordained, however, if U.S. policymakers were to return to leveraging true American strength. The United States is still a relatively young Great Power and can choose policies that can stretch its advantages. Thus, while actors will balance against it, the United States can remain preponderant for some period of time. This is because it enjoys its position as a foundational power, rather than a coercive power. The majority of the world benefits from the foundations that have been laid in the aftermath of the Second World War and, therefore, there is significant incentive to buy-in and work within the current American-led incentive structure–most states are rewarded by the imbalance and thus it is not the driving force that traditional analysis suggests. This gap in power is tolerable to a majority of state and non-state actors because it is leveragable by them.

However, perpetuating an imbalanced system where the U.S. remains the foundational power will not sit well with actors like China, Russia, Iran and a few other revisionist actors. Indeed they are all working hard to challenge the current system to make their own rules and pursue their own interests. 

Yet the incoming administration may have an opportunity to fundamentally reorient the pieces on the grand strategic chessboard, and perhaps retain a position of strength that has been ebbing over the past few years. It appears that the President and his team are open to a different view of Russia as a great power. They seem amenable to Mr. Putin’s realist view of the world, and his naked pursuit of Russian interests.

At the same time, Mr. Trump’s comments about Communist China, and his apparent willingness to rethink America’s “one-China” policy seem to indicate that on some instinctual level, Mr. Trump considers the PRC to be a greater threat than Russia. On that matter, he is probably correct. Russia is essentially a vulnerable great power heading in the wrong direction. Communist China, on the other hand, while facing its own internal inconsistencies, has the capacity to challenge the United States in terms of economic, military and political power.

Quite simply then, the new Administration may be in a position to reverse the realignment of the Nixon era (but in Nixonian fashion) and enter into a tacit alignment with Russia as a geopolitical balance against Communist China, thereby sustaining the imbalanced system. There are a number of reasons why this might be advantageous to both the United States and Russia, but we should acknowledge up front that it will not come without significant cost. And this is not the mere “reset” that was recently attempted. In geopolitical terms, this is effectively bringing Russia into the western orbit.

The core unknown is whether Russia can be a satisfied great power in an imbalanced system? The answer is possibly yes, if its status is based on seats at the table of global governance, it is convinced that it is not susceptible to outside aggression or collapse, and that its particular form of domestic governance can persist.

Russia is a weakening great power on its current course demographically and economically. A new relationship would have to emphasize that there is a fundamental benefit to Russia of leveraging U.S. foundational power, rather than risking the cost of opposing U.S. coercive power. Russia should understand that challenging that coercive power would lead to its swifter demise. It lost the first Cold War and the U.S. can actively isolate it again and turn the energy (oil price) weapon against it if the Russians want to challenge the U.S. This is not a containment for containment sake argument, but rather an invitation to Russia to become a western power coupled with a hard power argument of the consequences that would follow from not accepting the invitation. What needs to be made clear is that the Russian hope of undermining western institutional legitimacy will not be tolerated anymore, but that there is an alternative to competition. This is a “tough love” message, but one in which Mr. Trump and his Secretary of State designee Rex Tillerson may be uniquely qualified to deliver.

In order for this to happen, Mr. Trump will have to convince Mr. Putin that Russia has a “losing hand” as it were, and that Communist China is a greater long term threat to Russia than the United States or the west. Russia is currently under severe economic sanctions from the west due to its invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea, and while Mr. Putin remains popular for now, even he knows that the Russian people will not tolerate for long growing economic depravity. Mr. Trump can effectively say, “I can get you out of this mess.”

And indeed there is growing concern even within Russia of China’s overt interest in the sparsely populated, but resource rich Siberian expanse. The Russian people are intimately familiar with several thousand years of history, to include numerous invasions from the Asian steppe hordes. Of course in recent history, Communist China attacked the Soviet Union in 1969. Russia is beginning to note the frequency with which Communist China now talks of reclaiming the territory lost during its “Century of Humiliation” – much of that territory being taken by Imperial Russia. (This includes the city of Vladivostok which was ceded to Russia by Imperial China in 1858.)

Can a Trump Administration conduct a strategic realignment with Russia? While the West will be under pressure to “negotiate a deal” likely involving forswearing further NATO expansion or the integration of former Soviet states into the EU, it should resist this temptation. Remember, Russia has a losing hand in this relationship, and is contracting both demographically and economically. Rather, Mr. Trump has to convince Mr. Putin that any lifting of sanctions will be followed by American investment which would effectively “stop the bleeding” in Russia. However, there would be no rollback on NATO – the Baltics and Eastern Europe are not going to be discarded. One clear question is the motivations of Mr. Putin: does he want Russia to retain global recognition as a great power and will cut a deal to do so, or is he too much a product of his KGB legacy and sees the “West” as an unremitting enemy with which no deal is safe? He will recall promises of the 1990s that were not kept, so trust building will be essential. The choice of Mr. Tillerson as Secretary of State could be critical in establishing that trust. 

For the United States, bringing Russia into a Western orbit could provide significant advantages. First, it diverts the PRC’s attention back to its 2,600 mile long border with Russia. This will require the PRC to reconsider its reorganization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), perhaps away from building a power projection force back to a land-oriented border protection. And the PLA still relies largely upon Russian designed and supplied military equipment, which would hopefully be curtailed or stopped.

Second, it advances the goals of the United States relative to India and Vietnam, who also maintain a friendly relationship with Russia and heavily relies on Russia as a military supplier. India has historically been non-aligned, though friendly to the former Soviet Union/Russia. A rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia relieves a source of tension with Vietnam and India, and opens the door for an alignment between the world’s two most populous democracies and a former war enemy of China.

Third, it does permit the U.S. and Russia to resume and enhance counter-terrorism relationships. It may even open opportunities for the United States and Russia to conduct joint operations in the Middle East against ISIS. To be clear, Russian insistence that the Assad regime remain in power would have to be dropped. However, the U.S. and Russia can probably find a mutually acceptable third party to rule in Syria over time

As of yet, there is no evidence that the incoming Administration is thinking along these lines. It would require a deft bit of diplomacy and “deal making” to convince Russia to throw its lot in with the United States as opposed to remaining the junior partner to the PRC (whether or not Russia realizes it is the junior partner is an open question). However, the warm words exchanged between the incoming Trump team and the Kremlin may be an opportunity. How unsubstantiated reports of deeper campaign Trump-Kremlin ties will impact moving forward is unknown, but in a world in which perception is reality, a President Trump would now have to pursue such a realignment strategy more openly than Nixon did with China. If they could pull it off, future relations with Communist China could look very different than the current trajectory it is on right now.

To quote Star Trek VI, there is an old Vulcan proverb that “Only Nixon could go to China.” Well, perhaps “only Trump could go to Russia.” We shall see if he can seize this opportunity.

LT Robert “Jake” Bebber USN is a Cryptologic Warfare Officer assigned to the staff of U.S. Cyber Command. He holds a Ph.D. in public policy from the University of Central Florida and welcomes your comments at jbebber@gmail.com.

Professor Richard J. Harknett is the former Scholar-in-Residence at U.S. Cyber Command and currently an inaugural Fulbright Scholar in Cyber studies at University of Oxford, United Kingdom. He can be reached at richard.harknett@uc.edu.

The opinions expressed here do not reflect those of the Department of Defense or U.S. Cyber Command. The authors offer an academic-based explanation for possible policy change, rather than personal advocacy or rejection of any possible policies.

A Discussion on Grand Strategy and International Order with Barry Posen

By Mina Pollmann

Barry Posen is Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Security Studies Program, and serves on the Executive Committee of Seminar XXI. Currently on leave, he is presently serving as the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center for the 2016-2017 term. In his most recent book, Restraint: A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy (2015), Dr. Posen critiques Liberal Hegemony, the intellectual foundation of current U.S. grand strategy. He presents a bold new vision, a Grand Strategy of Restraint, as an alternative to Liberal Hegemony, and argues that the U.S. ought to focus on pursuing its security through an emphasis on command of the commons, a strategy with a considerable maritime component. CIMSEC spoke with Dr. Posen to get his take on how his arguments can be applied to the world’s emerging strategic defense dilemmas.

Q: Many have suggested that the U.S. is lacking a coherent strategy, including incoming Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who has testified that the U.S. is suffering from “strategic atrophy.” To what extent do you agree with such statements? Is it that the U.S. lacks strategic vision, or that the chaotic nature of the world makes the pursuit of any set strategic goals a fruitless exercise?

A: The United States has had the same strategy since the end of the Cold War. That strategy is Liberal Hegemony. It has two purposes: preserve to the extent possible the immediate post Cold War U.S. power and influence advantage relative to other nation states (dubbed the “unipolar moment”) and promote the spread of democratic forms of governance, market economies, and the rule of law—both within societies and at the level of the international system. This is a revolutionary strategy: it is meant to ensure U.S. security by transforming international politics.

These goals are very ambitious, and confront many moving targets. First, the economic and technological bases for power are diffusing to other countries and to groups, making it inherently difficult to preserve U.S. power and influence relative to them. Second, other peoples may not wish to emulate our forms of governance and economic organization. Nationalism is a strong force, making societies resistant to external tutelage. In some places, there simply is no obvious path to a liberal future. The Middle East is perhaps the most obvious example. There is a strong tension between the preservation of U.S. interests, power, and the spread of democracy. Indeed, there is not even sufficient cause-effect understandings about how to construct democracies.

Q: The U.S. identifies its adversaries in a 4+1 construct: revisionist regional powers such as China and Russia, rogue states that make wild threats and are pursuing or have pursued weapons of mass destruction such as Iran and North Korea, and the condition of widespread extremism and insurgent conflict. Under a Grand Strategy of Restraint, what would be the priorities among these threats?

A: The U.S. needs to think about what are the main threats to its safety, sovereignty, territorial integrity, and to its ability to generate sufficient power to defend these.  If China or Russia were to establish hegemony in their regions, that would be a problem for the U.S. Russia is not powerful enough to do so in Europe. China may grow to be powerful enough to do so in Asia. So China is the main problem, though a full court press of containment seems premature.

“Rogue” states are not major problems for U.S. security; they may be problems for U.S. allies and if those allies lack the power to deal with them, then the U.S. can lend a hand. Extremism can be a problem, when it manifests itself in terrorist organizations with global ambitions. But this threat cannot be addressed as we have tried to address it, by reforming societies at the source. Instead the best the U.S. can do is keep pressure on such groups to divert their energies to their own defense, and to put defensive barriers between them and the U.S. This will not stop every problem, but efforts to go to the source, as attempted in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to create new terrorists as fast as the U.S. eliminates old ones.

Q: What is the force structure that a Strategy of Restraint recommends?

A: Restraint focuses U.S. security efforts on the most important threats to U.S. security. And it chooses military forces that are most appropriate to address those threats. Though ‘terrorists of global reach’ are a threat to U.S. safety, the chosen remedy of the last fifteen years—sending large numbers of ground forces to democratize and reform riven societies at gunpoint has proven wildly expensive and largely ineffective. Restraint cuts the ground forces that have been employed for this purpose. Restraint does oppose other great powers who might try to establish hegemony in Eurasia. To maintain the capability to act in Asia, the U.S. must retain command of the sea, and of course sufficient command of air and of space to be able to move forces across the ocean, should that become necessary.

At this time, the most survivable warship in the U.S. inventory is the nuclear attack submarine. When forward deployed, it makes a critical contribution to blocking other great powers access to the open oceans. The aircraft carrier provides a mobile, strategic reserve, to assist threatened allies, and to help sustain command of the air over the open oceans. That said, the carrier is increasingly vulnerable to a range of weapon systems deployed ashore. Thus, in wars with peer competitors, carrier forces must be used in strength and also with care. Except against much weaker states, they can no longer be viewed as airfields that can simply linger offshore for extended periods. U.S. strategic decision makers—civilian and military—must confront the strong possibility that in a serious conflict, some carriers will be lost. The U.S. began WW2 with six carriers; by the end of 1942 four were sunk; and two were badly damaged. Command of the sea does not come cheap.

Q: How important is it for the U.S. to assert itself in the South China Sea? What strategic interests and precedents are at stake? What is the value of freedom of navigation operations there and what other means can the U.S. employ to shape the environment?

A: The U.S. relies on the sea to access the rest of the world, not just for trade, but more importantly to ensure against the rise of a continental hegemon. Thus the U.S. should protect freedom of the seas. States are tempted to bootstrap historical claims and the fine print of the Convention on the Law of the Sea to assert control over quite a lot of sea space. The U.S. should ratify the Convention and continue to assert its right to sail in those waters where others’ claims seem beyond what the Convention allows.

Q: You severely criticize “buck-passing diplomacy” by U.S. allies in your book. Yet there are partners who have been working well with the U.S. (e.g. Singapore) or that the U.S. could be doing more with (e.g. Australia). How can the U.S. better leverage security relationships with such prospective partners? Are there any lessons the U.S. can learn from these relationships that can be applied to the U.S.’s relationships with less forthcoming partners?

A: Most U.S. allies invest much smaller shares of GDP in defense than does the U.S.  This arises from their confidence that the U.S. will defend them, and perhaps also their true doubts about the imminence of security threats. They may complain about those threats, but they may not be as concerned as they pretend to be. Australia is one of the allies that under-invests. To the extent that some allies do more than others, this arises from either their proximity to threats, or their history of having been abandoned, or nearly abandoned by past protectors. 

There are three lessons for the U.S. First, when your allies tell you they are frightened, ask them what they intend to do about it before offering to solve the problem for them.  If the answer is not much, then do not rush to address the problem. Second, make burden sharing a central issue of alliance diplomacy. Third, remind allies that the U.S. is inherently a very secure country. And the U.S. retains command of the sea. We have more options than they do. They need to earn our support.

Q: Donald Trump, on the campaign trail, suggested that the U.S. provide less security to allies unless they paid more, and hinted that Japan, South Korea, and other countries, should acquire nuclear weapons. If Donald Trump sustains pressure on U.S. allies to increase burden sharing, how may these alliances evolve?

A: Eliciting a more equitable sharing of defense burdens requires a strategy. If the President simply sends an irate tweet every now and then, he will accomplish very little.

There are two ways this can go. First, the President can complain and at the same time unilaterally reduce U.S. military contributions to the alliance. If the U.S. simply disengages, my prediction is that U.S. allies, who are quite rich, will learn to defend themselves. But the process could be rocky. This could include getting nuclear weapons. We may wish for prudential reasons to attempt serious reform first. Or, the U.S. can make burden sharing a central issue in the alliances, hinting that our contributions depend on theirs.

The President and U.S. cabinet officials and diplomats must communicate regularly and publicly with allies on this issue. The alliances must set actual concrete military goals. Many of these should be public. The performance of allies must be assessed in public. The Congress must hold hearings on the matter. The press needs to be induced to cover the issue. The allies need to be made to believe that this is very, very serious. If they value U.S. help, they must show that they care about their own defense. They must be made to believe that without evidence to this effect, the alliances will fray, and they will find themselves on their own. Few people remember that this is what the U.S. did with NATO in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It did not work perfectly, but it worked better than anything attempted in recent years.

Q: In the conclusion of your book, you remark that change can happen through one of three ways. The Strategy of Restraint could be adopted through astute politicians listening to proponents of the Strategy of Restraint and having a “eureka” moment; through crisis; or through incremental changes. Is Trump’s election more like a “eureka” moment, or just the first step in a longer process of redirecting U.S. security policy?

A: It is very difficult to read the actual foreign policy orientation of the Trump administration. It does not look to me as if this is a ‘eureka’ moment for the “Restraint” strategy. Instead, this looks a bit like hegemony without liberalism. President-elect Trump has promised to increase U.S. military spending. This is not consistent with Restraint. His appointees seem to be people who wish to militarily confront those states and groups who challenge the U.S. in any way. China and Iran seem to be at the head of the list. Some of his appointees seem hostile to Russia as well. The President-elect seems to wish to do something more aggressive vis-a-vis Al Qaeda and ISIL than the outgoing administration. It is hard to see how this many military confrontations would be consistent with Restraint. With this many under-thought confrontations underway, it is likely that one or more will go awry. The costs will mount, and future administrations will find they have even less public support for a forward grand strategy. This is how I imagine the U.S. could ultimately shift to a more restrained grand strategy.

Barry Posen is Ford International Professor of Political Science at MIT, Director of the MIT Security Studies Program, and serves on the Executive Committee of Seminar XXI. He is presently serving as the Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress John W. Kluge Center.

Mina Pollmann is CIMSEC’s Director of External Relations.

Featured Image: CAMP FUJI, Japan (Nov. 4, 2016) MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft return after a long-range raid from Combined Arms Training Center, Camp Fuji, Japan to Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa as part of Blue Chromite 2017, Nov. 4, 2016. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sergeant Major Michael Cato/released)

China Seizes U.S. Navy Underwater Drone

By Armando J. Heredia

Grpahic by CIMSEC Member Louis MV

On December 15th 2016, the Chinese Navy seized an American unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) operating in international waters off the Western coast of the Philippines. The USNS Bowditch, an unarmed T-AGS class hydro-graphic survey ship, was being shadowed by a People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) salvage vessel identified as a Dalang-III class (ASR-510).

The UUV had surfaced as part of a pre-programmed instruction, and sent  a radio signal marking it’s position for pick-up. As the Bowditch was preparing to recover the drone from the water, a small boat crew from the Dalang III raced in and plucked the unmanned vessel. The incident occurred approximately 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic, Luzon.

While the exact type of drone is unknown, there have been several instances of U.S. Navy Slocum Gliders snagged in local fishermens’ nets or washed ashore on beaches in the Philippines. This type of drone is not weaponized, and is used to collect a variety of environmental readings such as water temperature and salinity, to improve forecasting accuracy of extreme weather such as typhoons. The UUV uses wave movement to propel itself without any on-board engines, with an endurance time of months. The Department of Defense estimates the seized drone’s value to be around $150,000.

The crew of the Bowditch immediately contacted the PLAN vessel on bridge-to-bridge radio asking for the return of the drone. The PLAN vessel reportedly acknowledged the message, but then stopped responding and sailed away with the UUV. On Friday the 16th, the U.S. State Department issued a formal protest, or demarche, with the Chinese Department of Foreign Affairs, demanding an immediate return of the drone. At the time of this article’s publication, the Chinese government has not responded.

Purpose

Motivations behind the seizure are unclear, but tensions between the two nations have recently increased over President-Elect Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in what Beijing considers a blatant disregard of the standing One-China Policy. It could also have been a quick riposte to undermine Head of Pacific Command U.S. Navy Admiral Harry Harris’ recent comments that the US is “ready to confront [China] when we must.”

Notably, the Philippines has chosen to remain silent over the incident. While traditionally a U.S. ally, the election of President Rodrigo Duterte has brought a deterioration of relations between Manila and Washington. Thanks in no small part to Duterte’s bloody prosecution of an Anti-Drug war punctuated by high civilian casualties and accusations of extra-judicial killings, a large multi-million dollar U.S aid package was just withdrawn this week – prompting the volatile President to threaten abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The Philippine Department of National Defense indicates they had no idea that the incident was ongoing; highlighting the enormous capability gap the Philippines has regarding Maritime Domain Awareness. The Philippine government became aware via communications from the U.S. State Department to their embassy in Washington D.C.

Coupled with Duterte’s increasingly close orbit of China following last month’s visit to Beijing, the United States could potentially find itself without bases that would ease the mission of maintaining a robust presence in the South China Sea. Recent analysis shows China has expanded militarization of their Spratly Island outposts by placing what appear to be defensive anti-aircraft and close-in weapon systems on Hughes and Gaven reefs, while fortifications have sprouted on Fiery Cross, Mischief and Subi reefs; the latter group are in close proximity to other claimant outposts in the region.

Taken together, China appears to be using it’s famous “Salami-slicing” techniques to slowly ratchet up its presence and capabilities within the region without crossing any significant “bright lines” leading to a military confrontation. The UUV seizure is consistent with opportunistic interference of U. .Navy operations while striking propoganda points with regional states. Notably, the unresponsiveness of Philippines to an international incident within their EEZ tells a tale that the U.S. cannot count upon its traditional ally going forward to assist in the presence mission.

Armando J. Heredia is a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner, with a background in the defense and financial services industries.  The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, any particular nation’s government or related agency.

Featured Image: Slocum Ocean Glider. (University of South Florida)