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Monday, July 21, 2014

The Rebalance - Deterrence in the Asia-Pacific

Image 1: US-Japan joint exercise with USS George Washington, 2010. 

Deterrence within the context of the rebalance can be examined in two respects: preventing a conventional high-intensity conflict and dissuading Chinese attempts to alter the territorial status quo through low-intensity disputes and paramilitary operations. In both respects the rebalance has encountered major shortcomings. A comprehensive examination of Chinese open source literature, ranging from academia to official PLA military publications, indicates a growing confidence within the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in its ability to defeat the United States in a regional conflict. In his testimony before Congress, Lee Fuell - Technical Director for Force Modernization and Employment with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, commented on the growing confidence of the PLA:  

"Recent Chinese operational literature describes a more nuanced approach to counter-intervention that seeks to strike a balance between supporting the main campaign and deterring the powerful enemy - that usually means us in the literature - and striking at them if necessary with the need to avoid an expansion of the conflict...This newer literature reflects a departure from past PLA writings which placed more emphasis on preemptive attacks to counter a U.S. intervention. We feel that this demonstrates to some degree a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more readily withstand an initial U.S. involvement than in years past...This isn’t to say the PRC might not still feel compelled to conduct preemptive actions against U.S. intervention, particularly in the cyber domain or other less 'kinetic' ways; however, the PLA appears to be developing a more mature viewpoint on the broad application of military operations against the U.S." 

The following excerpt is from The Science of the Second Artillery Campaigns, the most authoritative Chinese open source publication with respect to China's strategic rocket forces which corroborates Mr. Fuell's testimony: 

"When the powerful enemy uses allied military bases in our periphery and aircraft carriers as aircraft launch platforms to implement various forms of military intervention; and when the powerful enemy's allied military bases around our periphery are beyond our air arm's firing range...conventional missiles can be used to implement harassment strikes against military bases of the enemy's allies around our periphery as well as the carrier battle groups" - Yoshinhara, 2014

Image 2: DF-21 launch site within the 810 Brigade's base near Dalian. DF-21C missiles launched from Dalian would have coverage of US bases in both Korea and Japan. Image credit: Federation of American Scientists 

In addition to preparing for a high-intensity conflict with the United States, China has been proactively changing the status quo in the South China Seas (SCS) through oil rig deployments, island reclamation efforts, establishing a coast guard, and declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) all within the past two years. While significant US resources have been invested in acquiring platforms and capabilities relevant to a US-China high-intensity conflict such as 2 Virginia-class attack submarines per year or the development of the F-35 fifth generation fighter aircraft, both Congress and the Obama Administration have undertaken minimal efforts to address China's low-intensity efforts to change the status quo:

"China is pursuing in Asia what the United States has in Latin America: regional hegemony. In pursuit of that goal, China keeps trying to take territory, bit by bit, in the East and South China Seas. And the United States doesn't know what to do about it. This practice, known as salami-slicing, involves the slow accumulation of small changes, none of which in isolation amounts to a casus belli, but which add up over time to a substantial change in the strategic picture. By using salami-slicing tactics in the East and South China Seas, China does not have to choose between trade with the rest of the world and the achievement of an expanded security perimeter in the Western Pacific at the expense of China’s neighbors." - Robert Haddick, 2014 

Clearly current US efforts to deter China are insufficient as exemplified by the growing confidence of the PLA and the relative success of China's efforts to claim the SCS. Statements by both the Obama Administration and senior Navy officials such as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jonathan Greenert have been carefully calibrated as to not antagonize Beijing. Admiral Greenert recently refused to discuss probable US tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) with regards to China at a Naval War College event as, "If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize”. As the status quo power who partly derives acceptance among regional powers by policing the maritime commons and promoting stability, it does not behoove the United States to act belligerent but statements such as CNO Greenert's do not promote effective deterrence.  

James Holmes recently wrote Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief , in which he argues the US shouldn't arbitrarily antagonize Beijing but the US must underscore its capability and resolve to promote an effective military deterrence:  

"Henry Kissinger supplies the best definition of deterrence, depicting it as a product of our capability, our resolve, and — here’s Kissinger’s special ingredient – the opponent’s belief in our capability and our resolve to use it...Teddy Roosevelt sums it up with a pithy frontier maxim: 'don’t bluster, don’t flourish your revolver, and never draw unless you intend to shoot'. In Kissinger’s terms, that’s a statement about communicating one’s intentions frankly but without needlessly giving offense, about clearly outlining the conditions that warrant reaching for the gun, and about actually following through should the opponent defy our terms. Capability, resolve, belief." 

Striking a balance between needlessly antagonizing Beijing and protecting long-held US strategic interests is difficult in and of itself but gets even more troublesome when accounting for the varying interests between the US and its Pacific allies. In broad terms, many US Pacific allies want the US to act as an insurance policy toward their security in a time of national crisis (Zakaria, 2014). Many US pacific allies such as Australia would like a peaceful and stable status quo without a Cold War type military escalation between the United States and China due to extensive trade relations. Stephen Walt recently underscored the logic behind Australia maintaining its robust alliance with the United States despite its extensive trade relations with China. Walt's reasoning applies not only to Australia but also to several countries in South East Asia: 

"You know when states get into trouble, there is no 911 number to call…You can’t call Ban Ki-Moon and get any help. You will get his sympathy, he will put you on the agenda at the Security Council but he’s got nothing else he can do for you. Therefore, nations who think at some point they might face some significant challenge of one form or another, it’s good to have friends…Having the United States as an ally would be a really nice insurance policy”.  

In conclusion, an appropriate US deterrence must address Chinese provocations by underscoring US resolve, US capabilities, and working in consultation with Pacific allies. The US must strike a balance between being minimally aggressive to assuage the concerns of US allies, but the US must also actively deter China and protect key US interests. Preventative measures such as establishing a robust military deterrence in the Asia-Pacific are much less costly than an open war with China over the long-term even if a robust deterrence sours US-China relations. Part II will examine a host of minimally bellicose measures to deter China at the low-intensity level, all of which underscore US resolve through joint Congressional-Presidential action. 


  1. China and America: Dancing Around the Containment Question, Joseph A. Bosco, 2014.
  2. America can make Friends in Asia through Trade, Fareed Zakaria, 2014.
  3. Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief, James Holmes, 2014.
  4. History's Warning: A U.S.-China War Is Terrifyingly Possible, Michael Vlahos, 2014.
  5. America has no Answer to China's Salami Slicing, Robert Haddick, 2014.
  6. The perils of a foreign policy that leans forward, Fareed Zakaria, 2014.
  7. Rebalancing U.S. Forces - Japanese Bases and Chinese Missiles, Toshi Yoshihara, 2014. 
  8. China's Military Modernization and its Implications for the United States, 2014. 
  9. The rise of China and America's Asian allies, Stephen M. Walt, 2014.


  1. Always a good read Matt.

    I put in the coordinates on google maps and it came up straight away. Scare how good they have become.

    China and the USA will have to take a back foot for the next 3-4 yrs, as there are more pressing issues for the USA. Like:::
    Iraq, (which now is broken into 3 parts, it's lost) Thanks for the great policy from the USA
    Syria, (ISIS being a strong hold and losing the battle, also what groups have the USA been backing) Another Great policy form the USA
    Iran, (Russia/EU is leading the talks in nuclear sanction being lifted)
    Libya, where most of the country has no government nor law and order,
    South Africa, where new terror groups are pooping up everywhere
    and lets not forget Ukraine/Russia small issue there, with very little action going to be taken from most EU country where the USA is not popular with the general public in EU countries.
    Lets not forget, Israel, just another invasion, (that will come an go)

    US needs to reevaluate they way they conducted their policy's and action when contending with China.

    I do believe country's will not act until the rockets start flying, but then it's 2 late. Japan and Aus are growing closer, a lot of country's are not happy at all by japans new military ambitions in the region. SK, Twain, Malaysia and Indonesia all have issues with it. Also China and Russia as well, without saying.

    My point is the situation is getting more complicated, as more and more USA policy are failing across the middle east, and EU are not wiling to back the USA hawk action against Russia.

    As a minster from Indonesia said, "Japan is looking to becoming the Super Power in the Region, Independent of the USA"

    Weather that is good or bad I don't know. But Japan dose have that capability to become one easily. Think 15-20yrs time.

    Always good to have a chat Matt. :-)

    1. Hey Stone, great to hear from you! I apologize for the belated response, I've had to do a lot of work as of late.

      My general foreign policy vision for the United States with respect to what you mentioned is:

      (1) Containment of terrorism e.g. funding and training proxies to fight terrorists on their own soil to prevent the formation of a safe haven which could be used to strike the homeland NOT nation building or promoting democracy. Essentially an offshore balancing approach that would free up US resources while still dealing with terrorism.

      (2) An Iranian nuclear deal - A political solution is really the only plausible means to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. The testimony from intelligence officials I've read says an all out US strike would set back their program for up to 10 years but probably only 5. We'd have to consistently strike targets as they try to rebuild which would consume tremendous time and energy which could be focused elsewhere e.g. the Asia-Pacific.

      (3) Russia - We need to have a clear marginal cost - marginal benefit discussion with Europe as frankly the situation in Ukraine is not a core US interest. Russia has threatened to withdraw of its commitment to continue to impose sanctions on Iran which would hurt us a great deal more than current US sanctions on Russia. Getting tied down in Europe now would hamper the Rebalance which is frankly more important. NATO is almost irrelevant but clearly protecting Europe is important (often cited as part of the key to US hegemony is European backing).

      (4) China - The "hub and spoke" alliance system in the Asia Pacific must be improved to include multilateral relationships. The developments between Australia and Japan have been very promising from the US perspective. Vietnam and the Philippines are also expanding ties which is beneficial for the US. I don't know if you've read about Abbot's most recent visit to the US in June but I was very satisfied from what I've read. We have new agreements in terms of basing agreements and BMD collaboration. I would like to see further collaboration between joint US-Australia defense R&D (with sequestration we could use additional help and in general 5 eyes countries are a good place to collaborate with from the US perspective.

    2. Agree with all of that.

      The point is, (as an example)

      You have John McCain coming out a telling that EU should stop buying gas from Russia. A motive to weaken the Russian economy and country. Issue with that is German buys about 63% of it's gas from Russia, and have a major infrastructure that would require 10-15 years to redesign to even cut off the gas. It would hurt Germany more than Russia. (that's just Germany)

      Lets look at China, Asia Pivot, no matter how you look at it is Containment of China,
      Key steps, (IMO, i might be wrong)

      -Grow an international force in Asia, consisting of Japan, SK, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia and Australia.

      Now this sound good on paper and as a policy. But this country have some pretty large issue between them-selves. The Ideology off let's make china the "enemy" has worked so far in weapon sales. These country are fighting on a daily bases over Islands and Water Territory. Then put china in the mix as well.

      US policy, when it fails it fails big, ie: Iraq. Pivot to Asia policy that was Iraq on steroids. We are not talking about small city's here we are talking about country's with there own views.

      I don't confuse Business dealing with military alliances, that's where i think the USA has over valued there internal relationships between the country's. Just because you do business, dose not mean you like them.

      When you have John, Ted,and the rest of the GOP calling for War with Russia, China, Iran, Syria. Then you have to ask yourself what is the real policy of the USA.

      An aggressive stand needs to be taken with China. I agree with close ties with the USA/AUS. But I also believe Australia need a much larger and capable force. Buying sub's for Japan, more troops, better equipment. Not linking us with Japan. I would prefer to have much stronger ties with SK.

      But what the US policy writes on paper, and what the GOP and some Democrats action are a very concerning. Could you Imagine if the Vic president of China, say's we are preparing for an invasion of the USA.

      What would be the USA, response to that? I ask you matt :-)

      Gee, we could discuss these for days.


    3. From the Russian perspective, they know John McCain is a hawk and they also aware of his comparatively limited influence when compared to more moderate voices such as President Obama. Its similar to when the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia tells the US we aught to use a trampoline to go to space after the sanctions :D Deputy PM Shuvalov has a history of somewhat incendiary remarks and the US leadership knows it and any future remarks made by Shuvalov will similarly be put through a filter of sorts to actually determine how worried we aught to be. If a senior influential Chinese official who is normally reserved were to make such a remark, then I'd be worried. Modern Democrats and Republicans can learn a great deal from Theodore Roosevelt's lessons on deterrence. If you constantly advocate for action and then do nothing, you will not create effective deterrence. We should speak with moderate overtones while demonstrating US resolve with substantive action when key US interests are threatened.

      I agree we must be more assertive with respect to China but we have a lot of support in Asia for being the stable status quo power. For example, after the Philippines kicked us out of Subic bay in 1991, Singapore took it upon themselves to build a huge network of supporting infrastructure so that US carriers and ships could continue to operate. The logic was, Singapore values US policing of the maritime commons and the stability the US brings from an economic perspective and their support for the US is still based on the premise that we provide stability to the region. Any position of assertiveness must also be measured such that we are not perceived as sowing instability, China's bellicose actions continue to play right into the hands of the US by driving countries to shore up ties with the US. Most countries just want to do business and develop economically without being dragged into a conflict which inherently favors supporting a power which will keep order e.g. the US.

      Out of curiosity, why would you or Australia prefer SK ties to Japan? From the US perspective, I think South Korea is of limited use as far as the pivot is concerned. South Korea has been very insistent that they reserve the right to deny the United States access to its basing if it gets into a conflict with a power that is not North Korea with the mutual understanding being they are really taking about a China conflict. China has much more influence in SK than in Japan. Furthermore, South Korea continues to consider Japan a threat at some level which is categorically absurd. Its certainly the case that Abe and his deputies have not helped by visiting Yasukuni Shrine and not being as apologetic on the comfort women issue but the US would never allow Japan to lay a finger on South Korea. Japan is much more open to cooperating with SK than vice versa. Its time to put old grudges to rest, we can no longer afford them.

  2. "Its time to put old grudges to rest, we can no longer afford them." this is a major issue with Japan and SK. not so simple.

    As for Japan, we should have close ties, but not on the same level as USA and AU. If Japans starts something we will not get automatically get drawn in. If the USA starts something then that's a different story.

    SK over Japan is more my view. But it's also a general view, that we keep the same military coopation between the 2, not more Japan nor SK. But SK seems more needing AUS help then Japan.

    Japan can quiet easy become a super power in the region and become a projected force. Short term that looks good, from the USA prospective, but long term what happens when USA and Japan do not see eye to eye? Japans no SK, it can make some serious capability on it own.

    Don't forget Japan have Godzilla on there side.


  3. Ha, have a look at this

    1. By and large, I the US and Japan have similar objectives for the Pacific: ensure stability for economic development, enforcement of international laws, and prevent the formation of a Chinese hegemony in Asia. Aside from Australia, I think Japan is the closest and most strategically relevant Pacific ally to the US. Haha yeah, Oliver is pretty great. I watch a lot of Stephen Colbert, he recently had an interview with Elon Musk that you may find interesting.

      On a more serious note, the minimal attention and resources diverted to the nation's nuclear arsenal is alarming. To me its astounding that we are keeping these relics from the Cold War in service without designing a replacement (will serve for 50 years). However, the USAF's components of the nuclear triad: bombers and land based missiles, have always been the weakest, only sea based warheads are nearly guaranteed to grant the US second strike capability. And It would be hard not to believe the Russian subs don't trail US nuclear submarines like we trail theirs. Long story short: despite more than 4,000 warheads in stockpile "only" 300-400 or so would be guaranteed for second strike in a worst case scenario given a deterrence patrol of 4-5 submarines at any one time out of the 14 within the fleet armed with Tridents and that's assuming the Russian's or the Chinese in the future don't destroy them at the start of the war.

    2. Nice new set up matt.

      Might want to read this.

      gee the engine had alot of Issues.

    3. Thanks, I figured it was about time for a change. If you have any other thoughts, I'm always interested to know :) The Defense procurement process for India is a nightmare. The Su-30MKI fleet is a mess not only about the engines but just about everything else:

      "The key is the contract, which mandates that all raw materials must be sourced from Russia...Those plates, castings, and forgings are a source of considerable waste: 'For example, a 486 kg titanium bar supplied by Russia is whittled down to a 15.9 kg tail component. The titanium shaved off is wasted. Similarly a wing bracket that weighs just 3.1 kg has to be fashioned from a titanium forging that weighs 27 kg…. manufacturing sophisticated raw materials like titanium extrusions in India is not economically viable for the tiny quantities needed for Su-30MKI fighters...Compared with India’s older Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 fleets, whose readiness rates hover near 75%, fully 50% of the SU-30MKIs are considered unfit for operational flying. That’s a strategic-class issue for a country like India"

      From what I've read only GE, Pratt and Whitney, and Rolls Royce produce reliable high performance turbofan engines. So given how unreliable the Russian engines are, the Chinese equivalents are likely not going to be too much better if at all.

  4. When I saw the big floppy disk, i thought it was a photo from WarGames for a sec. But no it was from the actual US base it self.

    You only need about 50-60 nukes, to kill the plant and all human life. You should know that:-)
    For example, you set off 50 nukes, the cloud that remains will, destroy all live stock, contaminate water supplies, in all major cities, contaminate corn fields and radiation posing dose the rest. Anything more will is just over kill. That cloud will do the rest.

    He tied it all up nicely in the clip. I tend to watch a lot off TYT and John Stewart, lately.

    Israel is sure dropping a lot of bombs at the moment.

  5. I think the recent reveal of the ATD-X is exciting. Do you think Japan is doing it simply to gain more development share in the next American fighter?

    1. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, the Japanese defense industry is incapable of mass production in areospace projects. The Japanese F-2, a modified F-16, cost between three to four times as much as the US produced F-16 with minimal performance improvements. Similarly, license built AH-64's cost Fuji Heavy Industries $85 million per copy instead of the Boeing $30 million dollar price. With a 1% of GDP to defense, with only marginal increases in the upcoming years, the F-3 project is doomed unless Japan wants to produce no more than two dozen aircraft.

      That doesn't mean Abe will not approve the project to go further, given how bullish he is on domestic defense but it is the inferior option when compared to the alternatives. In defense, one must always be cognizant of the opportunity costs of expensive programs, what you could buy with the same sum of money e.g. new AEGIS destroyers, F-35's, etc. They would be better off buying other high-end items in meaningful numbers. Also by the time the F-3 would reach IOC, American 6th generation fighters would make them somewhat obsolete in a few years. But I think given the commitment to the domestic defense industry, they will continue to fund the ATD-X demonstrator and approve the project for full production even with limited numbers.

      I'd like to write a full article about the F-3 project, but College starts up for me in a few days, I've been studying for the GRE, and looking into Grad school so I haven't been able to write much :( Hopefully that will change soon!

    2. Thanks for the answer, I learned a couple things but I think you missed the second part of my question. ;D

      I meant: Is Japan doing all of this so that its industry is capable of taking part in the R&D (and more production) for the next international American fighter?

    3. My apologies, I do not believe Japan is conducting its own R&D in hopes of participating in the development of the next 6th generation US aircraft (I'm assuming that is what you mean by "next international American aircraft?). Japan is trying to preserve its domestic aerospace industrial base which is not fully preserved through participation in the F-35 program. Even if Japan had the technology, the United States would likely not allow it. R&D is something the US has been very hesitant to cooperate with other states with the only notable exceptions being the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

      I could see eventual license built production of the 6th generation aircraft but not co-development.