America and Asia


Over five years ago, in his speech delivered to the Australian Parliament on November 17, 2011, then-U.S. President Barack Obama made the first official announcement of a change in U.S. security policy. He said:

Our new focus on this region reflects a fundamental truth–the United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation …Here, we see the future. With most of the world’s nuclear power and some half of humanity, Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.

Since then, as I’ve reported on this website several times (see, for example)…

…and have written about in various national and international publications (here):

Few would argue that the point President Obama made in his speech, “The United States has been, and always will be, a Pacific nation,” is true, but it wasn’t until I read a book review by Gordon Chang, “Bibles and Ginseng,” in the New York Times that I understand not just why this is true, but also how it happened.

Read this short – and clarifying – review here.

Existential Threat


Few national security issues have dominated the news this year than the threat of ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Opposition to missile defense has persisted since the 1980s, but the politics may be changing with technological progress and the rising threat from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons. Congress has an opportunity this summer to notch a rare bipartisan deal that enhances U.S. security.

Kim has already overseen more nuclear and missile tests than his father and grandfather combined, and the Defense Intelligence Agency warns that “if left on its current trajectory” Pyongyang will develop a capacity to hit Japan, Alaska, Hawaii or even the U.S. West Coast. The Trump Administration is pleading with China to stop the North, but Chinese leaders never seem to act and they’re even trying to block regional missile defenses in South Korea.

Opponents say missile defenses are too expensive given that interception might fail, so better to trust arms control and the deterrence of mutual-assured destruction. But arms talks with North Korea have been a fool’s errand since negotiator Robert Gallucci and Bill Clinton bought its promises in 1994.

Even a 50% chance of interception might increase deterrence by making the success of an enemy first strike more doubtful. North Koreans or other rogues also may not be rational actors who fear their own annihilation. U.S. leaders have a moral obligation to do more than let Kim Jong Un hold American cities hostage, and without defenses a pre-emptive military strike might be the only alternative.

To read more on this subject, see this link from the U.S. Naval Institute.

West to East


Few topics are more timely than the relationship between the United States and China and that relationship is likely to dominate geopolitics throughout the 21st Century.

Perhaps because it is “topical,” a sea of commentators hold forth with theories about this relationship and there is often more heat than light on this subject.

That is why I found Thomas Christensen’s review of “Easterniation” so fascinating: it put the power balance between not just between the United States and China, but west and east into refreshing perspective. Here is part of what he had to say:

“Easternization” navigates the recent migration of economic, military and political power from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern. Rachman repeatedly returns to that migration’s main engine — the rise of China — but his thesis is broader. He considers the rise of Asia as a whole, including the growing clout of India and the continuing importance of Japan, a nation that is not currently rising but remains wealthy, technologically sophisticated and economically linked to all continents. Rachman also explores the decreasing ability of Americans and Europeans to shape to their liking outcomes around the world. Relentlessly fair, he resists blaming Asia’s successes for Western problems and recognizes the West’s self-inflicted wounds.

Rachman’s wisdom about global history precludes cartoonish characterizations of “East” versus “West.” Western nations spent more blood and treasure fighting one another, especially in two massive world wars, than they did colluding to dominate others. Similarly, mistrust among Asian states today outstrips mistrust among them and the United States or Europe. Nor do political ideas provide a clear border between East and West. Europe has had more than its share of authoritarian regimes, so it is a stretch to consider the recent rise of illiberal nationalism in Europe as somehow a move “eastward.” Mainland Chinese propagandists rail against the “Western values” of multiparty democracy, a free press and independent courts, but some of the nation’s largest and most successful Asian neighbors — South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia and India — are no less Eastern for enjoying all of those institutions. No one, including Rachman, really knows how to categorize Russia. Moscow has tried with limited success to cobble together a Eurasian union with former Soviet republics in Central Asia, but it sees itself as the European part of such a union. Russia’s recent diplomatic lean toward China has more to do with energy markets and the two authoritarian regimes’ shared aversion to American support for color revolutions and regime change than it does with either realpolitik alliance formation or Sino-Russian cultural affinity.

You can read the entire article here

Life Imitates Art

AFCEA Singer1-1

I recently participated in a military-industry professional conference focused on future threats to national security. As part of that event, I was asked to be on a panel that explored how “life imitates art” and how the military and industry can (and do!) mine fiction to explore how warfighting will evolve in the future.

Fellow panelists included Mr. Peter Singer and Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kirchner. Our goal was to help the conference delegates think outside the box.

Mr. Peter Singer is the author of many books about the military and technology (for example, Wired for War), and more recently, with August Cole, wrote the enormously popular novel Ghost Fleet.

Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Kirchner works for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab in Quantico, Virginia. The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab sponsors a Science Fiction Writing Contest and publishes these works in a compendium. Why – to stimulate military men and women to have a view of the future they won’t get anywhere else.

Life DOES imitate art, and today we are using it to help ensure our warfighters – and those who support them – are never in a fair fight – but one they will always win.

Missile Defense

SFTM-01 Flight Test

Earlier this month, we posted a blog about the only existential threat to the United States – ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. Few national security issues have dominated the headlines as much as the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

Americans have the right to ask – what are we doing to address that threat? Few know of the responsibility for defense against these weapons rests with the United States Missile Defense Agency. The Missile Defense Agency’s (MDA) mission is to develop, test, and field an integrated, layered, ballistic missile defense system (BMDS) to defend the United States, its deployed forces, allies, and friends against all ranges of enemy ballistic missiles in all phases of flight.

Recently, the professional journal, U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, posted an excellent article with an interview with MDA’s leader, Vice Admiral James Syring. Here is part of what he said:

“We must assume that North Korea can reach us with a ballistic missile,” and must do everything possible to meet that threat.”

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) remains one of the most important missions for the United States’ military – and especially for the U.S. Navy – and it is one that is growing in importance – with rouge nations such as North Korea and Iran possessing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

You can read the entire U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article here.

The Existential Threat


Few national security issues have dominated the headlines as much as the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The reason why is compelling: Ballistic missiles armed with WMD represent the primary existential threat to the United States as well as other nations.

This is what the New York Times Helene Cooper and David Sanger had to say in a recent article about the American response to the threat of ballistic missiles armed with WMD:

A re-engineered American interceptor rocket collided with a mock intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday afternoon in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said, in the first successful test of whether it could shoot down a warhead from North Korea racing toward the continental United States at speeds approaching true battle conditions.

At a time when tensions with North Korea are running high, a successful test was vital for the Defense Department’s beleaguered missile defense program. It enabled the Pentagon to argue that it is making strides in protecting the United States from a North Korean nuclear warhead.

Not long ago, in an article in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, we addressed the U.S. Navy’s contribution to the nation’s missile defense capability. This is part of what we said:

Ballistic missile defense (BMD) is one of the most important missions for the United States’ military – and it is one that is growing in importance – with rouge nations such as North Korea and Iran possessing ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.

The U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD is based on the Aegis weapon system and has been on patrol in guided-missile cruisers and destroyers since 2004. Aegis BMD has grown in importance based on its proven performance as well as its long-term potential.

For years, the U.S. Navy’s contribution to U.S. BMD was secondary to many other systems. Today, the U.S. Navy is “in the van” as we describe in our article in the US Naval Institute Proceedings.

Want more? Read the full New York Times article by Helene Cooper and David Sanger here.

And here is our article talking about ballistic missile defense in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.


The Battle of Midway


Seventy-five years ago this month, the course of World War II changed forever. The Battle of Midway represented the turning point of the war.

Volumes have been written about this epic battle, so it is difficult to write a pithy summary. This anniversary spurred an avalanche of articles and new books.

One article stood out for me, that by historian Victor Davis Hanson. Here is how he began his short piece:

Seventy-five years ago (June 4-7, 1942), the astonishing American victory at the Battle of Midway changed the course of the Pacific War.

Just six months after the catastrophic Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. crushed the Imperial Japanese Navy off Midway Island (about 1,300 miles northwest of Honolulu), sinking four of its aircraft carriers.

“Midway” referred to the small atoll roughly halfway between North America and Asia. But to Americans, “Midway” became a barometer of military progress. Just half a year after being surprised at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy had already destroyed almost half of Japan’s existing carrier strength (after achieving a standoff at the Battle of the Coral Sea a month earlier).

The odds at the June 1942 battle favored the Japanese. The imperial fleet had four carriers to the Americans’ three, backed up by scores of battleships, cruisers and light carriers as part of the largest armada that had ever steamed from Japan.

No military had ever won more territory in six months than had Japan. Its Pacific Empire ranged from the Indian Ocean to the coast of the Aleutian Islands, and from the Russian-Manchurian border to Wake Island in the Pacific.

Yet the Japanese Navy was roundly defeated by an outnumbered and inexperienced American fleet at Midway. Why and how?

You can read the entire article here.

Forging Coalitions


The decline in the size of the United States Navy (now under 280 ships – a dramatic decrease of the Reagan-era U.S. Navy of almost 600 ships has given the United States more impetus to partner with other navies to secure the global commons. But while the intent is there, many wonder just how this can occur.

In my article in the May 2017 issue of the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, “Can We Make the Global Network of Navies Work?” I address this issue head on, and suggest that the United States would be well served to, as the article’s subtitle suggests: Start at the “High End” with Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense.” Here is part of what I shared:

“More than a decade has passed since then-Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Michael Mullen unveiled the concept of a 1,000-ship navy at the International Seapower Symposium in Newport, Rhode Island. In introducing his idea, Admiral Mullen stated, “As we combine our advantages, I envision a 1,000-ship navy—a fleet-in-being, if you will—made up of the best capabilities of all freedom-loving navies of the world.” 2 Later renamed the Global Maritime Partnership, the concept caught on as other nations also came to realize that no single state had the assets to ensure security on the seas or even to respond adequately to lesser threats, from piracy, to criminal activities at sea, to natural disasters.”

“While globalization has had extensive beneficial effects, one of its most serious downsides has been the worldwide proliferation of ballistic missile technology, and the concomitant spread of the means to produce weapons of mass destruction (WMD). More than 30 countries deploy ballistic missiles today, compared with only nine just a few decades ago. Potential enemies possess both ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction, and today’s rogue leaders view WMD as weapons of choice, not of last resort.”

“There is no more propitious time for the U.S. Navy to lead the way in stitching together a robust Aegis BMD global enterprise to protect our nation, our forces forward, and our allies and partners from the threat of ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction. With U.S. Navy leadership, this opportunity to shape a “high-end” partnership under the auspices of a global network of navies may well be the sine qua non of international defense cooperation to address the challenges brought on by globalization.”

Want more? Read the full article here.

The Islamic State Threat


Earlier this spring, I posted a blog that talked about our new national security paradigm, focused specifically on the “4+1 construct,” revealed by then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Reagan National Defense Forum in November 2015. This new way of looking at threats to our nation focuses on “four contingencies and one condition.” The Islamic State (ISIL) is the “condition.”

There are longstanding challenges that the Islamic State pose to the West, among them:

  • Dedicated to establishing a caliphate across the Middle East and North Africa
  • Unlike other terrorist groups, takes and holds territory
  • Intent on conducting attacks in the West as well as Middle East and North Africa
  • Demonstrated ability to reappear after territory is taken

But It’s fair to ask, since the “4+1 construct” was posited a year-and-a-half ago, have things gotten better or worse vis-à-vis our ability to contain the Islamic State? I fell it’s worse, because:

  • Coalition fissures hamper coordinated military action against ISIL
  • Demonstrated willingness to hold civilian population hostage
  • Losing territory in Iraq and Syria has not ended violent extremism
  • More troops are being requested for both Iraq and Afghanistan
  • ISIL continues to hold on to portions of Mosul, Iraq
  • Difficulty marshaling coalition support to oust ISIL from Raqqa, Iraq
  • Mastered the use of social media for propaganda and recruiting

When we came up with the high-concept for our third Tom Clancy Op-Center novel (Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Scorched Earth), some thought ISIL would be long-gone by the time the book was published in mid-2016. That hasn’t been the case. Here is part of what we said in our Author’s Introduction:

Few would argue against the statement that ISIS (or ISIL—the preferred term used by U.S. national security officials—the “L” standing for Levant,) presents a profound threat to the West. As President Obama said in a widely-watched speech in September 2014, “Our objective is clear:  We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.”

Almost two years later, U.S. national security officials remain perplexed as to how to deal with ISIS. No one is talking today, in 2017, about defeating ISIS, only containing them. What is happening in the greater Mideast in areas where ISIS roams freely will not resolve itself in the next several years. For Western nations, and especially for the United States, today’s headlines are looming as tomorrow’s nightmare.

ISIS will remain a threat to the West—and especially to the United States—years into the future because America has not come to grips with how to deal with this threat. As Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger describe in their best-selling book, ISIS: The State of Terror, and as Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan describe in their best-seller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, the very nature of ISIS makes attempts to deal with it by employing the conventional instruments of national power all-but futile. Here is how Michiko Kakutani framed the challenge ISIS presents in his Books of the Times review of these two books:

The Islamic State and its atrocities—beheadings, mass executions, the enslavement of women and children, and the destruction of cultural antiquities—are in the headlines every day now. The terror group not only continues to roll through the Middle East, expanding from Iraq and Syria into Libya and Yemen, but has also gained dangerous new affiliates in Egypt and Nigeria and continues to recruit foreign fighters through its sophisticated use of social media. Given the ascendance of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL), it’s startling to recall that in January 2014, President Obama referred to it as a “J.V. team,” suggesting that it did not pose anywhere near the sort of threat that Al Qaeda did.

Life imitates art, and these are worrisome signs. Stay tuned to this blog over the next several weeks to learn more about other threats to our national security.


Big Enough?


The recent news has been dominated by military crises around the globe: North Korea, Syria, Russia, ISIS and others.

The present administration has proposed a military budget $54B higher than last year. That raises the question. How big a military does America need?

A short piece in a recent New York Times entitled, “Is the Military Big Enough,” offers some keen insights and a pictorial view of the size of our military. It begins:

President Trump has proposed a $54 billion increase in defense spending, which he said would be “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” Past administrations have increased military spending, but typically to fulfill a specific mission. Jimmy Carter expanded operations in the Persian Gulf. Ronald Reagan pursued an arms race with the Soviet Union, and George W. Bush waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The United States has higher military spending than any other country partly because its foreign policy goals are more ambitious: defending its borders, upholding international order and promoting American interests abroad.

“Our current strategy is based around us being a superpower in Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific,” said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “We’ve sized our military to be able to fight more than one conflict at a time in those regions.”

You can read this important article and enjoy the great pictures here.