Deterring Chinese Aggression

Deterring Chinese Aggression

Nathan Jennings

Tensions between China and nations across the South China Sea have simmered for the past decade as competing states contest territorial waters and economic exclusion zones. As the leading power in the Asia-Pacific region since World War II, the United States, and its peerless military in particular, should begin deploying diverse and scalable elements of national power to promote coalitions to deter Chinese aggression. This would fulfil the 2015 National Security Strategy’s imperative to, “manage competition from a position of strength while insisting that China uphold international rules and norms.”[1] While objectives should both limit and accommodate Chinese ambitions, the judicious application of diplomatic, military, economic, and informational capabilities in the South China Sea and across the Pacific basin—in concert with empowering coalitions—offers the best hope for achieving a peaceful balance of power.

Any effort to form coalitions to deter Chinese belligerence begins with American diplomatic leadership. As the traditional guarantor of international freedom of navigation and commerce in the region, the United States is uniquely positioned to sponsor and guide any emerging multinational partnerships. It alone possesses the national power and influence and lead combinations of conciliatory and provocative diplomacy. This would include both bi-lateral and multi-lateral economic arrangements and broader military coalitions with long-standing allies like Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Australia, and newer partnerships with modernizing powers like India, Vietnam, and Burma.

The reemergence of a 21st century version of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization—similar to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Europe—would be offer a possible diplomatic objective. While the President and State Department officials would lead these efforts, senior military leaders would play a pivotal role in securing agreements by adding martial credibility. The commander of U.S. Pacific Command, in particular, would emerge as an important figure in any security cooperatives and provide multinational and joint leadership as the lead flag officer. As a final and important task, American diplomats and senior officers could mediate disputes over coveted islands, both natural and artificial, to prevent hostilities between China, South Korea, and Japan.

The U.S. military itself, as a second and decisive element of national power, would provide the foundation of any multi-national security agreement. As recently argued by the commander of U.S. Pacific Command before the U.S. Senate, American strategy in the region must include “the forward presence of military forces to engage allies and partners and deter aggression.”[2] With the ongoing build-up of the Chinese armed forces, the formation of a robust and vigorous military coalition would be necessary to provide credibility to diplomatic initiatives. Though American naval and aerial forces would remain central to any attempts to project national power, the U.S. Army, as the premier landpower institution in the Free World, would also remain crucial to multi-national efforts with increased rotational presence by combined arms forces across islands and the main-land continent. 

This military coalition, perhaps arriving as a reimagined SEATO, would include multiple lines of effort to create multiple and simultaneous dilemmas to confound Chinese responses. Beginning with large-scale, multinational exercises, American joint forces could lead numerous small-scale naval, land, and air training events that could culminate in an annual coalition-wide exercise designed to demonstrate ability to conduct major campaigns. Similar to REFORGER exercises by NATO in Europe in decades past, this kind of cooperation would solidify the alliance and communicate resolve. In addition to multi-lateral engagements, the U.S. military could provide assistance and training to partnered navies, armies, and air forces. With the assurance of American presence and technical expertise, the armed forces of nations like Japan and South Korea would continue to benefit from long-standing partnerships while others like India, Australia, and Vietnam would gain confidence against Chinese intimidation.

A third opportunity for deterring Chinese aggression in the South China Sea centers on economic agreements and partnerships designed to incentivize coalition members. According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, America remains “committed to ensuring free and open maritime access to protect the stable economic order that has served all Asia-Pacific nations so well for so long.”[3] This interest could be furthered by lucrative trade deals with both established and emerging economies like Australia and India, in addition to numerous smaller states, to encourage meaningful participation. The current Association of Southeast Asian Nations, though historically lacking capacity to coerce, may provide a forum to both incentivize and counter Chinese economic behavior. Taking economic initiatives further, the U.S. could sponsor targeted loans and grants for emerging partnered economies from international financial institutions.

While increased trade with coalition members would prove strategically beneficial—with the U.S. military playing a significant role with its local purchasing power and mandate to protect sea and air lanes for commerce—continuing trade with China would be equally important for maintaining a peaceful equilibrium. Seeking to both accommodate and limit Chinese expansionist interests, America could use its massive imports from Chinese manufacturing as incentive and leverage to attain desirable behavior in the South China Sea. Should the world’s oldest nation choose volatile courses of action, the U.S. could simply shift vital economic relationships to other nations with massive and inexpensive labor reserves like India and Vietnam.

The final, and most pervasive, element of American power is informational capabilities. Similar to the role of information operations in U.S. Joint military doctrine, the broader, national ability to message, counter-message, network, and construct wining narratives ties together and empowers all other elements of national and international power. The U.S. military, in particular, possesses the world’s most robust and capable network of platforms and communications technologies. The American 7th Fleet, as the traditional lead force in the East Asia, enjoys vast communications potential with mobile platforms while the U.S. Army’s Pacific-oriented I Corps wields significant psychological means from land-based facilities to enable national messaging.

While the United States’ armed forces possess much of its means for networking, impactful narrative construction would have to be multi-faceted while synergizing cultural, economic, and diplomatic initiatives. Any attempt to deter Chinese aggression with trade partnerships and military coalitions would require a ‘comprehensive’ and ‘whole of government’ approaches with emphasis on unifying diverse means towards common ends. Even though informational superiority would be crucial for binding regional alliances under American leadership, it would also prove necessary in creating narratives to win global approval and potentially, if need be, internationally isolate the Chinese and North Korean position.

The ongoing contention over the South China Sea is a problem that must be addressed lest tensions rise and competing powers move to seize territorial primacy. While America seeks to avoid conflict and preserve stability in the region, it should form dynamic coalitions to limit Chinese aggrandizement of vital commerce lanes. Though economic cooperation could incentivize favorable regional behavior, expanded military partnerships would ensure, as promoted by the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, preservation of the United States “as the security partner of choice for most nations in the region.”[4] As an important factor in the projection of national power—including diplomacy, force, economic strength, and informational superiority—the U.S. military would serve as a central implementing agent for coalition efforts. Though the United States desires commerce and peace in East Asia, it must achieve this equilibrium through a nuanced strategy of deterrence and accommodation.

End Notes

[1] National Security Strategy, February 2015, pg. 24.

[2] Admiral Harry Harris, Statement to Senate Armed Service Committee on Maritime Security Strategy in the Asia-Pacific Region, September 17, 2015.

[3] The Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy: Achieving U.S. National Security Objectives in a Changing Environment, July 27, 2015, pg. 2.

[4] General Joseph F. Dunford to U.S. Senate Advanced, Questions for July 9, 2015 Confirmation Hearing.

 

0
Your rating: None

Comments

When we talk about "deterring" China we need to ask what exactly we are trying to deter... what behavior we wish to prevent. There is nothing to suggest that the Chinese have any intention to actually invade a neighboring country or engage in outright military aggression. The current strategy follows the cabbage method: incremental non-violent steps aimed at making Chinese domination of the South China Sea a fait accomplii. Sailing ships past islands and flying aircraft over them do not deter or disrupt this strategy: they simply carry on and build more.

Simply sailing and flying around these outposts does not deter, this is already clear... but what would? What penalty could be imposed that would mak the Chinese reassess this course? The US obviously has no desire to kick off a shooting confrontation by trying to eject the Chinese from their island bases, trying to prevent resupply of an island, etc. So what would make the Chinese reconsider? The only real option I can see would be economic sanctions, but they would have to be fairly significant ones.

The discussion below around exploiting Chinese instability is interesting, but such a course could be risky. Certainly the potential for internal instability is high, but we'd want to be careful what we wish for: an internal challenge is likely to make the regime more internationally aggressive, not less. One of the few things today's Chinese like about their government is that it has made them internationally competitive and gained respect. As internal dissent rises, the likelihood of "wag the dog" fights designed to rally support for the government and distract from internal issues gets higher... already a pattern of exploiting jingoist patriotism to distract from domestic issues is evident.

If the existing regime does face serious internal conflict or even collapse, democracy is not a likely outcome. The most probable outcome, in fact, would be the PLA emerging on top of the pile... and that's not exactly a strategic gain. Counterintuitive though it may seem, the status quo might be our preferred option when the most likely alternatives are considered.

From Kennan's 1948 "Political Warfare" memo:

"In broadest definition, political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives."

The long-running, overarching and primary/principal political objective of the United States/the West has been, and still is, to:

a. Gain greater power, influence and control throughout the world and to, thereby,

b. Gain greater access to, and greater utilization of, the human and other resources contained therein. All this to be achieved by

c. Transforming outlying states and societies (such as China) more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

Given this overriding/overarching political objective, then do we believe that threatening to -- and/or actually undermining/overthrowing (by whatever means) the present Chinese regime -- this is a proper and viable way for us to achieve our political objective outlined above?

(The recent "failure"/"reversal" cases of Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc. -- wherein [a] such "undermine/overthrow" approaches were applied to [b] achieve our such political objective -- these such cases suggest that the answer here is a resounding "NO!")

Herein to suggest that:

a. The means/methods for deterring Chinese (et. al) aggression cannot, therefore and logically one might suggest,

b. Include such tried and horribly failed "undermining/overthrowing the standing regime" concepts as we are discussing here.

Other ways and other means, it would seem, would need to be found to deal with this problem.

This, unless we wish to include, in our new and recently developed "quiver" of US-caused failed states, such great and WMD-capable powers as China, Russia and Iran.

Bottom Line:

"Aggression" -- as ISIS, etc. indicates -- is often not reduced via the threat of and/or actual undermining of a standing regime.

Rather, it (aggression) is likely to -- via this approach -- adversely change, morph and actually increase exponentially; as it becomes larger/broader, more (or less) organized and, thus, becomes more-uncontrollable.

In this regard to consider, for example, how our such "threatening to undermine/overthrow the regime" approaches might actually backfire and cause the Chinese, the Russian and/or the Iranian people -- seeing their rulers thus attacked -- to rally around their regimes and these regimes' causes.

Thus, to court/create -- via a misguided "undermining/overthrowing threat/approach" -- the monster known as "nationalism"/"hypernationalism?"

We have all the tools we need within our diplomacy, informational, military, and economic elements of national power to deter undesired Chinese behavior in the South China Sea. That could change over time as China increases its capabilities, but we have a decisive advantage currently. However, it isn't clear at all what behavior we are trying to deter.

I recognize that deterrence theories are complex, but we need to start with the simple. Successful deterrence generally rests upon three pillars: capability (we pass), commitment (we fail), and credibility (we fail). The pass and fail reference is for the South China Sea only. We have capabilities, those capabilities need to be known, and our potential adversary needs to know our threat to use them is credible (we mean it, a red line is a red line). What is the red line in the South China Sea? Whatever it is, it must be communicated as a red line. That would be our commitment, and the commitment must be communicated clearly so potential adversaries know that we will respond if they cross it. At that point we will impacted their strategic calculus in a significant way. We are not doing that now, and often the ambiguity in the gray zone is of our making, because our adversaries don't know where we stand. That ambiguity creates freedom of movement for our adversaries and frustrates us because we don't when, if, or how to respond.

My argument summed up is that before we carried away with developing new concepts, we must identify what we are committed to deterring. What red line are we trying to prevent an adversary from crossing? Then we can propose new concepts as needed to make that threat credible. If they do cross that line we have to act. Obviously policy makers must think this through thoroughly. It is dangerous to carelessly draw red line, then fail to enforce it like we did in Syria. It has global implications on our credibility with both friends and foes. If the U.S. loses its deterrence credibility, the risk to our national interests may increase exponentially. We need to get this right, but first things first.

Second smartest Marine Col.T.X.Hammes on how to deter China. Clip is from Crouching tiger website which also has a lot of other good interview clips.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4TDqI2LNCQ

This reads more like an advertisement for USPACOM and the Army than an actual strategy. It makes the dangerous assumption that the history of the past 60 years represent a natural and enduring order ("As the traditional guarantor of international freedom of navigation and commerce in the region, the United States is uniquely positioned....")

Applying the NATO collective security model to the region also ignores far more diverse geography and national interests across the Pacific and southeastern/southern Asia. Europe basically broke down into a two-sided security issue, to the extent that even non-NATO and non-Warsaw Pact countries were tacitly assumed to be siding with one group or the other. PACOM has no less than five major "centers of interest" -- in no particular order, India and the Indian Ocean littoral, China and the south China littoral, the Koreas, Japan (NOT to be lumped in with the Koreas!), and Australia and the New Guinea/Indonesian archipelago above it. Each of those interacts differently with the U.S., and more importantly, with each other. They may all have their issues with China, but expecting a unified response to Chinese actions in the South China Sea is a stretch.

To achieve a deterrent effect with China the US must put something the Chinese both fear and value at risk, and do so in a manner that does not overly encumber the US taxpayer in the process, or create an equal and opposite risk to something of our own that we too both fear and value.

There is not much margin for this deterrent effect in nuclear, economic or conventional military approaches. Nor in Cyber, as our vulnerability is far greater than China's in that regard. Maintain these blue chip investments, but this is not where we will find growth.

The obvious focus for the growth in deterrence we need is the brittle character of Chinese internal stability and their tenuous control over many powerful and distinct population groups that are increasingly dissatisfied with the status quo of governance. This is one area where the US has a significant advantage. In an era of populations that are increasingly empowered and connected, the US (for all our faults) is blessed with a mature and tested system of governance where the population controls the government. China (and our other major state challengers) are encumbered by systems of governance ill-suited to the emerging strategic environment, as their populations are attempted to be kept in control by the government. To not maximize this relative advantage defies logic, but reflects our comfort with investing in what we know, and ignoring that which we do not understand.

This is unconventional deterrence. A credible threat of Unconventional Warfare.

So all we need to do is elect Donald Trump and China will be deterred unconventionaly.

As we have learned recently -- in such places as Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, etc. -- it is the United States/the West/the global economy that has as much, or more, to lose when we, via unconventional warfare, or via other means:

a. Cause a standing government (however organized, oriented and ordered) to

b. Lose internal stability and

c. Lose control over the powerful and distinct populations groups that are nested within such countries' borders.

Thus to suggest -- and especially in consideration of our and the world's significant dependence upon China's stability and its economic engine thereby achieved and sustained (by a non-western government no less) -- that:

a. The United States/the West would not undertake such a "blowing one's own foot off" approach as you describe above? And that

b. The Chinese (also the Russian, the Iranian, etc.) people and government -- understanding this -- would not take your described threat seriously? This,

c. Rendering the "unconventional warfare"/"threat to internal stability" approach -- that you and others describe -- as non-viable/useless/counterproductive?

Thus to suggest that, in a globally interconnected world, a threat to render (via UW or via other means) another incredibly important, interconnected and/or highly depended-upon country "unstable;" this such threat is seen as "hollow"/not going to happen. Or, in the context offered here, it is seen as madness.

(Or is this just the "Bill Clinton" coming out of me again :-)

Bill Clinton is the one who authorized the sale of advanced missile technology to China which is how they became capable of shooting down our satellites.

Bill Clinton has also publicly declared he believes in the Carrol Quigley plan of asset stripping the USA and placing these assets in enemy countries as a way to deter war. Hasn't worked out so well just like NAFTA and the repeal of Glass-Steagall some more Clinton catastrophes.

And before I forget he is also good buddies with the little Korean nut job who worships drug addicted, has been, NBA basketball players.

To intentionally destabilize a society with high latent energy for revolution toward their existing government is (relatively) easy and low risk.

It is when one has the hubris to believe that due to some fiction of "American Exceptionalism" that we are somehow exempt from the laws of human nature that generate powerful revolutionary energy against any government formed or sustained by a foreign power against the will of the populations they govern; or resistance energy against the presence of the agents of that foreign power in their efforts to sustain the Humpty Dumpty government they have created.

What I am talking about is the threat of a strategic drive by shooting; not the promise of converting China into a Western democracy.

With respect, it is not the (non-RCJ) idea -- that we would/should convert China into a Western democracy -- that makes your suggested UW-to-threaten-internal-stability approach implausible.

Rather, what makes your such suggestion implausible, I believe, is that you appear to fail to see, that in today's massively interconnected world, rendering another exceptionally important and highly depended-upon state (such as China, Russia, Iran) as "internally unstable" is considered madness. And that, accordingly:

a. We should not expect to see our allies join us in such a "let's blow your own foot off" endeavor. And that:

b. We should not expect to see our enemies consider our such threats/approaches/endeavors as credible. (Which, if successful [to wit: if "internal instability" was achieved] would tend to do us more harm than good.)

This such understanding, in my mind, takes "threatening/damaging/destroying internal stability" -- and the use UW to achieve same -- off the table; this, especially as relates to the important/heavily relied upon states and societies of the so-called international community and global economy.

To wage conventional war with China is madness. But will happen if deterrence fails.

To wage nuclear war with China is extreme madness. But could happen if deterrence fails.

To destabilize them internally is only slightly crazy, and just crazy enough that they believe we might actually do it. Thus, the deterrent effect that helps ward off the greater madness that we are marching toward.

RCJ wrote:

'To destabilize them internally is only slightly crazy, and just crazy enough that they believe we might actually do it. Thus, the deterrent effect that helps ward off the greater madness that we are marching toward.'

I'm curious, do you accept the Chinese right to wage UW inside the United States as a Ways/Means to avoid the madness you referred to above?

RC

Look RC, ALL deterrence is provocative brinksmanship.

So, do I recognize China's "right" to conduct UW in the US? Sure, as much as I recognize their "right" to invade, nuke, or cyber the US. Actions have consequences. Also, some actions are more likely to achieve one's desired effects than others.

China is unlikely to achieve their desired effects with the US by threatening to conduct UW with some segment of the US population.

The US is equally unlikely to achieve our desired effects with China by buying another several billion dollars worth of high end Navy or Air Force assets. If China is not deterred by 10 carrier battle groups or our current nuclear arsenal - will they be deterred if we add another group, or buy the next generation of missile? Not likely.

We need to add something new to our play book. The threat of UW is a smart play. The fact that they won't like that threat is a metric that it is an effective one.

Bob is exactly right and something we as Americans fall to realize and exploit. (despite our conspiracy theorists) The US is not vulnerable to an externally supported internal insurgency (by Russia or China or ISIS or north Korea, etc). But totalitarian dictatorships such as Russian, China, north Korea, Syria, ISIS are all dependent on strict population and resources control and suppression (oppression) of all resistance. This is a vulnerability that we fail to exploit because of our risk averseness (and of course the paradox suppression - we do not think we can be effective at supporting resistance because of the government suppression mechanisms) But the other "paradox" is that in today's global information environment despite controls (even in north Korea) populations are more exposed to outside information and therefore it is more possible for resistance to develop. And we do not need to necessarily conduct UW in the "traditional" sense of developing and exploiting guerrilla forces (though auxiliaries and undergrounds are critical to any UW operation - but US forces do not necessarily have to be on the ground to support them. They can be supported virtually and sometimes there only needs to be the PERCEPTION that they are being supported - and in fact one course of action is to create resistance threats without there even be a physically established resistance).

And the real paradox (apologies for using paradox a third time) is that despite our unwillingness to use UW as a deterrent (and remember our definition of UW includes supporting a resistance COERCE, DISRUPT, or overthrow a government of occupying power) our adversaries absolutely believe we are trying to foment resistance to their regimes. Deterrence can be implied in coercion but we have never effectively employed UW in such a manner because we only think about the Shah in the 1950's, Bay of Pigs, Guatemala, Chile, etc and we do not think of the opportunities for doing something other than conventional and nuclear deterrence. UW can play a role in deterrence but we have been unwilling to incorporate it into our strategic options.

I would also add the deterrence includes being able to hold something of value at risk. The risk of domestic political instability is a great risk to countries and proto-or pseudo-states such as Russia, China, Iran, Sryia, North Korea, and ISIS. The ability to hold this at risk through myriad means from economic action to psychological operations to support to a resistance (real or through deception) can contribute to deterrence and influence decision making and behavior. This was well described by George Kennan in his political warfare memo in 1948. In essence what we are talking about is using statecraft and ALL the instruments of national power as appropriate to protect our interests and achieve our objectives. UW can be one of many supporting elements.

I agree that what you say is true BUT the globalist philosophy of no borders, no people controls and no capital controls greatly undermines that type of statecraft. I don't think America is the same kind of country it was during the time period of Kennan.

Yes of course we are not the same America as we were in Kennan's time. When I use historical analogies I do not advocate acting in the same way as that time but instead understanding and applying what might be relavent.

I also think that your comment about no borders, no people controls, and no capital controls is exactly what countries like Russia, China, Iran, Syria, north Korea , and even ISIS fear. While they exploit globalization and the global information network for their own objectives paradoxically those same techniques are a threat to them if someone would just exploit those vulnerabilities. And that can be done through modern statecraft emptying all the instruments of power to include the military one exploiting UW as one way/means)

I get that it was an analogy, I didn't explain myself very well. What I should have said was Kennan worked against Russian Commies but it want work against China Commies. Same reason NATO worked against Russia but SEATO originally failed against China(but may work now). Both were Commies but still very different and require different approaches and they will need to be unconventional in all aspects or they want work.

As for open borders the only people who believe this will work is us (USA) none of the other countries you listed would have any problem closing borders or pulling passports if need be in order to win! They understand invasion by immagration or worry about being called racists or xenophobes. No other country but us (USA) would pass laws giving tax breaks for closing factories and putting it's citizens out of making a livelihood and say we need more low education workers with visas to stay forever......that is national suicide.

There is one analogy that I think applies very well and that is this is a new Cold War. We are in a deadly competition not a sporting event!!!but we need to make sure it never becomes a Hot War! We need to spend our DIME unconventionally!

Does your version of UW include some type of economic warfare?

Absolutely it does include economic measures.

double post. apologies.

In threatening to or actually destabilizing internally (via UW or via other means) such nuclear and economic powers as China and Russia, we court nuclear war (if we fail), "loose nukes" (if we succeed) and self-destruction and the world's economic collapse in either case.

This potential for achieving -- via your and others' suggestions -- our own self-destruction/the world's economic collapse, this suggests that your recommended approaches (to use UW to threaten internal stability of nuclear and economically powerful states); these approaches must be considered within the category of "extreme madness" -- or at least within the category of "potential extreme consequences."

(This, rather than in category of "only slightly crazy"/only smaller consequences as you appear to suggest/advise.)

The value of deterrence and of, thereby, attempting to prevent/preventing Russia and China from getting what they actually want (to wit: a "buffer zone?"); this, likewise, must be viewed within this more-consequential -- rather than in a less-consequential -- light?

Thus, the question would seem to be (as per COL Maxwell below) -- not whether we "have the stomach for it" -- but, rather -- whether it is worth it/whether it is wise?

Well said. I may have to cite your quote.

But the real (rhetorical) question is do we have the stomach for it? And the irony is that if we do not we then may have to make sure we have the stomach for the first two COAs you outline.

Thanks, feel free to use. Sometimes the words write themselves.

Perhaps more problematic than our lack of stomach, is the relative lack of multi-billion dollar programs necessary to begin creating a credible threat of UW. And as you well know "UW" has an odd fear-factor associated with it, so stomach is indeed a factor. STRATCOM is in the nuclear warfare business, but packages and sells nuclear deterrence. I have felt for a while that SOCOM should borrow a page from their book as we look at various ways SOF can contribute to deterrence in the current strategic environment, and package UW as UD and focus on that aspect of the mission.

Small, smart and inexpensive does not sell nearly as well a big, dumb and expensive on the hill; and we do tend to live up to our reputation of always doing the right thing - but only after we have tried everything else.

Well at least Congress has embraced UW and although it did not make it into the final bill the early markup language mentioned Russia and Iran Congressman Thornberry has mentioned China. The question is will UW gain any traction. There does not seem to be much interest in the Pentagon among the leadership, even ASD SO/LIC.