Friday, January 10, 2020



Over the last twenty years China has transformed its military from a local limited force into a true expeditionary force, able to project power anywhere in the World.  The Dragon does not fear conflict with the United States and her allies per se. The dragon does fear protracted combat with the Eagle and her allies. 

 In the China Seas where the Dragon is attempting to create a Chinese lake out of the exclusive economic zones and in some cases parts of the territorial sea of their neighbors; there are many opportunities for short clear armed contests. In the China Seas we find a number of strategic maritime choke holds.  In this region of strategic maritime choke holds, the Chinese Navy and Coast Guard  have the over whelming armed vessel numbers. The dragon's forces are up for fights that are “short, intense, and decisive.” If the Dragon can hold the choke points they expect to control the China Seas. 

 The Dragon hopes to keep the conflict local and naval in character. They are not ready for a declared all out war with the Eagle and a swarm of their angry neighbors. So the dragon proceeds on many fronts. One is "law fare" the constant argument that what they are doing in seizing reefs and tiny islands far from the limits of their own territorial seas, or exclusive economic zones is lawful under international law. The Dragon didn't show up to defend itself in the World Court when the Philippines filed suite. The Chinese are well aware of the provisions of the UN's Law of the Sea Convention which they signed and which prohibits the type of activities they are carrying out to wrest away maritime territories of their neighbors, The dragon position , though they didn't show to defend it, was solidly rejected by the Court in favor of the Philippines whose claims and complaint reflected present codified international law that China had formally accepted. File:PLAN sailors.jpg
Photo Credit USN
 The Dragon goes back to the law fare drawing board. Two of the strongest arguments for territorial sovereignty under international law are "effective settlement" and "effective administration". The dragon is attempting to develop hard evidence of one or more of these legal arguments over the areas they would most like to seize.
Where they can they are building light houses and other aids to navigation structures (unmanned, may be considered evidence of "effective administration") and actually populating "fishing stations" on some of the areas suitable for building storm resistant structures (evidence of "effective settlement"). Unfortunately for the Dragon neither argument will hold water against the codified and formally adopted UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Signatory or compliant nations are not obligated to settle or construct something on all of the small islands or reefs within their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ). The EEZ is theirs by international multilateral treaty ("Convention") without any requirement for specific actions for continuing to hold small islands and reefs, especially before it is economical to build on or otherwise physically mark or protect such offshore features. The at sea structures and extensive patrol and "escort services" of the Dragon's navy and coast guard are not economically sensible at this time. But there may be oil near these features and they want to improve their future claims. 

The United States must  be ready for continued conflict of all types and all fronts up to and including a war with the Dragon where their goal is to push the Eagle back to Pearl Harbor. The key to maintaining serious advantage over the Dragon; better law fare, public relations (diplomatic surge); and   intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting, commonly referred to in naval circles as as ISRT, 

Photo Credit USN
 In all of these areas we have been deficient except for convincing China's affected neighbors that the Dragon means them harm. Many of China's neighbors have armed and expanded their navies and coast guards and sought formal alliances with their neighboring affected states and / or the United States. One could say we won the initial battle for hearts and minds in the region despite ourselves. On the rest of the battle front, intelligence, surveillance , reconnaissance, and targeting (ISTR)  the United State is not performing well . These areas are conventionally military or naval in character and thus dependent on Congress for funding. They are under funded today with no quick fix on the immediate event horizon..

 The 2018 National Defense Strategy still in effect relies heavily on one particular strategy and related tactics. That strategy  is to move U.S. naval forces deployment from one of deterrence to to deterrence by denial of use of strategic points. The tactics include plans which require our naval forces to "compete more effectively below the level of armed conflict" (a duty the US Navy should share with the US State Department on a coordinated basis). If armed conflict should occur the US Navy must be prepared to fight and win in actions designed to delay, degrade enemy forces, or deny enemy aggression. Denial and deterrence both require that our forces be sufficiently lethal to keep the Dragon from wanting to engage, The people of the United States prefer real deterrence and view it as real "peace keeping". Unfortunately the Congress of the United States doesn't seem to understand the concept of naval or military deterrence. ISTR is under funded as are the ship building programs that would give us the lethal forces needed in the Pacific without having to abandon strategic positions elsewhere around the globe. A little well timed trouble from the Bear and we will discover that shifting a sufficient portion of the Atlantic fleet to the Pacific is not a winning option.

The decision to change our naval posture by the Trump Administration was necessary and astute. Unfortunately it is a "poor man's strategy". The Trump strategy is all about doing more with less, a fact of life given the present congress. The real solution is an expanded naval budget for a fleet and crews of at least 360 combatant ships and serious funding for ISTR in the China Seas region. 

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