Monday, December 23, 2013

Who is Air Power's Great Theorist

James Holmes has a blog post today that asks a good question:  why hasn't air power had a theorist comparable to Clausewitz or Mahan.  As he notes, air power theorist often rely on sea power theory for guidance, which  iv valid only to a point:

For all that, air power is an intriguing beast. It’s interesting in part because — with apologies to Giulio Douhet and Billy Mitchell — there’s no master theorist of aerial endeavors. Clausewitz and Sun Tzu are men for all seasons, supplying insights that span all domains — earth, sea, sky — where warriors vie for supremacy. Sea power has Corbett and Mahan. While there’s no shortage of treatises about aircraft, no thinker of that stature explains how air forces ought to prosecute operations and strategy. Tactics and gadgetry rule.
Absent a theorist of their own, airmen commonly look to sea-power theory for guidance. And for good reason. The two domains share certain traits. Away from land, oceans are a featureless plain where vector mechanics — course, speed — rather than topographic features govern movement. Aviators use similar methods to navigate from point A to point B, except that they add a z-axis. Altitude constitutes that third dimension. Nor must they obey terrain so long as they stay high enough not to clip a mountain. Mahan’s depiction of the sea as a “wide common” traversed by ships in all directions thus maps to the wild blue yonder.
So do his six determinants of sea power — to a point. A society and its government clearly must be predisposed to take to the skies, and amass the skills to do so. Industry must be capable of manufacturing aircraft or, at a minimum, keeping up those purchased abroad. But the relationship starts to fray even on this basic level. For instance, air-power proponents like to contend that air power renders geography moot. No geographic barriers block air forces the way shorelines block fleets. And yet discounting geography would be alien to Mahan, one of history’s foremost geopolitical thinkers. This is something for writers to sort out.
The likeness between air and sea power is even more inexact when you descend to the operational level. For example, Mahan believed concentrated fleets of capital ships were the arbiters of maritime command. Smaller craft were there to act as eyes of the fleet and perform miscellaneous support functions. But the line-of-battle ship was where the fleet’s combat punch, and thus its destiny, resided. What’s the capital ship of the skies? The bomber? Hardly. Can you imagine bombers fighting other bombers? Rather, the smaller craft — the fighters — strive for air superiority and supremacy. Once they’ve scoured important airspace of enemy fighters, then bombers can go in under relatively permissive conditions to project power.

Read it all here.   Holmes ends his post with the suggestion that it high time for an aviator or scholar to set down the principles of air combat at the theoretical level.

As an answer in part to Holmes, I would suggest that the real challenge has been that the rapid technological progress in aviation has required a similarly rapid change in how air power is viewed and thought about.  I would argue that even a great work of air power written in 1945 would have only limited application today because of such advances as precision munitions, stealth, and the capabilities provided by space.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

In Defense of the Strategic Bomber

With Robert Farley calling for an end to the Air Force (and with it, a reliance solely on submarines for nuclear deterrence), Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas Kirkham has a very timely post at The Diplomat explaining the unique value of strategic bombers in the nuclear triad.  It is well worth reading the entire post, but here is a highlight:

To the extent that an attack against an adversary is a function of politics, the military tools employed to support it must be responsive to the president and his need for flexible attack options. Strategic bombers can fly airborne alert, ready to proceed to any target at a moment’s notice, or deploy forward as a coercive measure as the president seeks to deescalate a conflict, which has occurred twice in East Asia during 2013. Although SSBNs and ICBMs are also responsive, their application in a crisis is very limited and offers the president very few options in an escalation/de-escalation scenario.
is exceedingly difficult.
.  .  .
 The final characteristic of the bomber force that makes it the nation’s single best nuclear weapons delivery platform is its ability to signal adversaries of American intent, a particularly important characteristic in the current dispute with China. For deterrence to be effective, it is imperative that a nation be able to send a clear message to the country that is about to be on the receiving end of an American attack. Nothing demonstrates American resolve better than putting fully loaded strategic bombers on alert or deploying them to a forward base as the spy satellites of a target nation pass overhead. The ability to signal in a nuclear crisis is a characteristic found only in the bomber force.

By their very nature, SSBNs and ICBMs are designed to be stealthy and hidden from view. Consequently, their utility in an escalation/de-escalation scenario is extremely limited. In fact, the range of missions in which either could be employed and the kinds of attacks and weapons effects they could create are very limited. Although initially flushing submarines from port or increasing the alert posture of the ICBM force could signal American concern during a crisis, little more can be done with these weapons systems after that to send a clear message to an adversary.

In terms of signaling, strategic bombers also enhance the effectiveness of coercive threats. Absent the ability to clearly communicate both the will and the capability to carry out an attack, coercion does not work. Therefore, to be an effective tool in crisis management, strike assets need to be employable in ways that visibly communicate one’s capability, resolve, and restraint. Only nuclear capable bombers can effectively perform this function.

Thus, it is strange to see organizations that claim to understand how best to maintain an effective nuclear deterrent, while also expressing concern about Chinese aggression, advocating a nuclear force composed of ballistic missile submarines alone. It is simply poor strategic logic.
Read it all here. This final point is worth emphasizing.  Our nuclear deterrent serves two major missions--deterring an attack on the United States and deterring attacks on our allies.  While adversaries have little doubt of our willingness to respond to a nuclear attack on the United States, there is often doubt, both by adversaries and allies, of our willingness to respond to a nuclear attack on our allies.  Strategic bombers have been very useful to express our will, for example, when North Korea threatened war against South Korea. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

China: The Best Thing Going for U.S. Power in Asia?

Robert Manning has an interesting post at the Atlantic Council blog that argues that China's recent belligerence and assertiveness in the last few weeks has done more for U.S. power and influence in Asia than anything the U.S. could have done alone:

At a moment when few give the Obama administration much credit for either competence or strategy, a cascade of events in East Asia in recent days, not least John Kerry’s trip to Southeast Asia, point to important gains for the stabilizing and offshore-balancing role of US policy toward the Asia-Pacific.

The driving force behind all these developments is none other than China, specifically its assertive, irredentist behavior in regard to disputed island territories in the East and South China Seas.  China’s recent imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that extended into territory in the East China Sea claimed by Japan, South Korea and Taiwan has already generated a swift and angry response, with the US flying B-52s over it, Seoul expanding its own ADIZ, and Tokyo boosting its air presence.

Beijing’s impertinent behavior is proving more effective than anything the State Department could ever dream at mobilizing an Asia-Pacific coalition centered on the United States. Concerns that Beijing will, for an encore, impose a similar ADIZ over disputed territories in the South China Sea are a factor animating current efforts by the United States and its allies and security partners in Southeast Asia to bolster their respective maritime capabilities. During his visit to the Philippines, Secretary Kerry reemphasized that the United States opposed the Chinese ADIZ and urged China to “refrain from taking similar unilateral actions elsewhere in the region, and particularly over the South China Sea.”
.  .  .
 Why Beijing thinks its assertive efforts at creating new facts that alter the status quo serve its long-term interests is an intriguing question. It is clearly the opposite of just about everything the ancient sage strategist Sun Tzu advised. For the moment, however, China has galvanized the entire Indo-Pacific region to rise in opposition and bolster their respective defenses. Indeed, it is doing wonders for the administration’s rebalance in Asia as well as resulting in more capable security partners. Three cheers for China.
Read it all here.   Its hard to argue with Manning conclusion. Just look at that China has wrought: its anemic and pitiful response to the Philippines typhoon disaster (especially when compared to the U.S. response) has been noticed throughout the region.  Its ADIZ imposition has stopped its growing ties with South Korea, and has caused a miracle--South Korea and Japan agree on something!

Jack Goldsmith On The President's Review Group Report on NSA

Former Bush Administration attorney Jack Goldsmith offers his reactions to the President's Review Group recommendation.  His bottomline is that while he doesn't agree with all of the recommendations, he thinks that President Obama should embrace most of them:

Pre-Snowden, the USG faced few constraints in its collection and analysis other than what the law imposed and what its large budget permitted.  Within these constraints, the USG could focus almost solely on the national security benefit side of communications surveillance, for there were few costs to it.  However, after Snowden’s revelation of the NSA’s extraordinarily broad, robust and varied methods for collection and analysis of communications information, both at home and abroad, NSA collection programs are now very costly along many dimensions, and the USG faces many tradeoffs.  Once revealed, the government must balance the security benefits of NSA activities against credible and vociferous privacy concerns at home, against diplomatic protests abroad, and against significant potential economic fallout for U.S. firms’ global business.  Relatedly, the government must credibly address the extraordinary reputational and trust damage done to the United States and the NSA, so that it can find the support, at home and abroad, to continue its core national security mission.
.  .  .
 That basic approach is (1) to seek whenever possible to ensure transparency and proportionality in what NSA does, (2) to guarantee that NSA’s methods are cost-justified from the perspective of security gains and privacy intrusions and business harm, and, relatedly, (3) to ensure that the NSA (and USG) deploy the least privacy-intrusive means of collection and analysis.  Sometimes this approach yields recommendations for significant substantive reform.  More often, the proposed reforms are jurisdictional, procedural, and accountability-enhancing, and are designed to promote the legitimacy of USG collection and analysis without making radical changes in the type of intelligence analyses the USG can undertake.  If implemented, the way the USG collects and analyzes data will change, and will be subject to even more forms of review and scrutiny, and greater transparency and proportionality restraints.  But the substance of collection and analysis – including in the most controversial context, bulk meta-data collection and analysis – need not change significantly in light of these proposals.

As a result, and especially because many of the recommendations are highly caveated and couched at a high level of generality, I think the President would be wise to embrace most of them, especially most of the ones pertaining to homeland collection and analysis, and then fight for any objections at the level of detail that the Report leaves untouched or ambiguous.  The proposed reforms will have costs in terms of the speed and stealth of collection, and in terms of money and manpower spent per unit of collection and analysis, and perhaps – though this is far from clear – in terms of national security effectiveness.  These are indeed tradeoffs.  But in a post-Snowden world, the NSA and the USG must now face and bow to tradeoffs far beyond what its budgets impose.  The main goal now is to maintain maximum U.S. security while accommodating these tradeoffs.
Read it all here.  I agree with Jack.  Continuation of the status qua is unacceptable, and the proposed reforms will still allow for a highly effective intelligence community--albeit, perhaps not as effective in some areas.  I also think that the legal underpinning of some of the collection methods--the rule that third party disclosure of data means no reasonable expectation of privacy--is becoming untenable given today's technology.

What do you think?

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Implications of a Russia/China Axis

At The Diplomat, J. Michael Cole has a post that argues that increased Chinese and Russian aggressiveness, together with greater cooperation, is effectively countering U.S. military power:

A substantial amount of attention has been paid to China’s Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, with the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) serving as one of its principal components, and to which we can now perhaps add the ADIZ. Less, however, has been said of Russia’s ongoing efforts to keep the U.S. out of its backyard. It is interesting to note that two weeks after China’s ADIZ announcement, Russian President Vladimir Putin, meeting top military officers, stated that Russia would bolster its presence in the potentially resource-rich Arctic. Earlier that month and a little more than a week after China sprung its ADIZ surprise, the Russian navy announced that the Arctic would be its priority in 2014. As The Diplomat reported earlier this month, Russia is currently deploying aerospace defense and electronic warfare units to the area, and is now building a comprehensive early-warning missile radar system near Vorkuta in the extreme north, among other developments.
.  .  . 

There are questions over whether Washington can afford to substantially increase defense spending without bankrupting the country. It will find itself unable to counter both a resurgent China in East and Southeast Asia, where it has been speculated that China could eventually announce a second ADIZ, and a more muscular Russian presence in the Arctic and near the Baltic states. Either the U.S. will focus on one, or it will attempt to meet all contingencies, but do so with less-than optimal resources. With Washington feeling it has little choice but to choose the latter course of action, China and Russia will both benefit by confronting a diffuse and distracted opponent or succeed in breaking the U.S.’s back by forcing it to overspend — unless other countries like Japan and NATO members agree to greatly expand their defense spending, which appears unlikely. Furthermore, there are also doubts about whether the Japanese would agree to constitutional changes of the sort that would allow for military burden sharing of the type envisaged here.

Whether the U.S. has a “right” to be an actor in what Russia and China consider as their backyard is a question we’d better seek to answer elsewhere. But what is clear is that a weakened U.S., whose ability to meet the challenge of China’s “rise” is already very much in doubt, now seems on the brink of facing a multi-pronged challenge from a Sino-Russian axis that, if it is to be countered effectively, will require a number of “pivots.”
Read it all here.  Given that the U.S. spent a greater percentage of its GDP on military spending during the Cold War, the notion that the U.S. would be bankrupt from the China-Russia access seems far-fetched.  Even more fundamentally, Cole ignores the fact that the U.S. has, for decades, been a global power responding to threats across the globe.  There is really nothing new here.

What is true, however, is this--the current focus in defeating China's Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy (and that of Russia and other countries as well) can be very expensive ands perhaps unaffordable.  The problem demands new creative thinking on how best to address a strategy for engaging conflict against a foe with a A2/AD strategy.  Do we assert pain by other means, such as a blockade?  Is it sufficient to play defense in such a conflict?

Any deep thinkers out there?

Saban Center on Syria and Rising Sectarian Violence

Elizabeth Dickinson, Gulf Correspondent for The National, has just written a Saban Center analysis paper that argues that  private financing by Gulf donors to Syria's extremist rebels may ignite sectarian conflict in those countries.  The Brookings summary explains:

Although the fighting is thousands of miles away, explains Dickinson, Kuwaiti involvement in the Syrian conflict is risky for Kuwait itself—a small country of just over three million, a third of which are Shi’a. Many of Kuwait’s highest-profile Sunni and tribal opposition figures have been involved in fundraising; supporting the mujahedeen (military fighters) has become an important political gesture. Shi’ite figures allegedly involved are also high profile businessmen and politicians. But both Sunni and Shi’ite campaigns increasingly employ sectarian rhetoric, and residents of all sects report feeling increased communal tensions.

Western countries, including the United States, argues Dickinson, could do a great deal to assist Kuwait in controlling private donations to extremist elements and/or figures linked to the Syrian regime. Perhaps the simplest way is messaging. The U.S. State Department said Washington is and will “stress the need to—for Kuwait to have a robust anti-money laundering/counter terrorism financing regime.” A high-level conversation could have the effect of accelerating work to implement new financial regulations. Kuwait’s new Financial Investigation's Unit could also benefit from further international expertise and intelligence sharing.

Read it here.  The full report is available here.

This paper raises a larger issue:  to what extent is the current conflict between the Gulf States (especially Saudi Arabia) and Iran a reflection of a larger struggle between Shia and Sunni?  Is Saudi Arabia's anger over our willingness to engage with Iran rooted in its fear that the U.S. will not remain loyal to the Sunni team?  How much of Iran's covert activities in the region a reflection of its desire to act as the protector of Shia minorities (or in the case of Bahrain, majorities)?   Is it in the long term interests of the United States to appear to be taking sides in this sectarian conflict?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Amitai Etzioni on Approaching the China ADIZ Conflict

George Washington University professor Amitai Etzioni has an interesting post at The Diplomat suggesting an  approach to China's announcement of its new  Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ):

Several suggestions have been made as to what might next be done. Some hold that dispute could be submitted to a review by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea or the International Court of Justice. Such a review has been suggested by Professor Jerome Cohen, an internationally renowned China law scholar at New York University. The review is likely to take several years and, during that time, all parties involved would have strong incentives to engage in serious negotiations before a decision is reached.
Another approach calls for a joint administration of resources in and around the islands could be established and the issue of sovereignty shelved. In effect, informal proposals in the 1970s for the joint development of oil and gas resources in the disputed areas were made by Japanese and Chinese officials in the past, but never implemented. An agreement between China and Japan to jointly develop gas fields in the East China Sea was signed in 2008, but has yet to be carried out. Alternatively, sovereignty over the territory could be awarded to one state, but resource-related rights could be assigned to all claimants. Both of these recommendations have been put forward by the Carter Center.
 .  .  .
Beyond the specific disputes lies a more general question that the U.S. has not yet adequately addressed. What is the U.S. position toward China’s rising power? Will the U.S. go so far as to allow China its own version of the Monroe Doctrine, as some have suggested? Or will it allow China to expand as long as this expansion is limited to economic and cultural means but does not involve use of force? Follow a new strategy of mutually assured restraint? Or, will the U.S. insist on opposing any and all changes to the status quo – including existing rules governing maritime navigation, territorial claims, and so forth? In other words, will it follow the course taken by many other established powers that did not yield a quarter to rising powers and fell into what is has been called the Thucydides Trap, leading to a new world war?
Read it all here.

China Ascendent

There has been a great deal of discussion about whether the rising power of china means an inevitable conflict with the United States and its neighbors.  In a very interesting article in The National Interest, Rajan Menon,  the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Professor of Political Science at the City College of New York/City University of New York, suggests that China's ascendancy could very well cause conflict, but it is hardly inevitable:

There are two trends that bear on China’s role in the world and that therefore have consequences for America and its allies and friends. The first is that, over the past two decades in particular, China has raised the risks that Washington will have to assume to protect, or even reassure, states that have relied on preponderant American power for protection. Russian arms sales to China, which cover just about every category (including surface ships, submarines, fighter jets, air defense and anti-ship missiles, surveillance and fire control radars, and helicopters) and have amounted to $31 billion between 1992-2012. They have played a pivotal part bringing about this change, and the projected sale of the Su-35 multirole fighter will extend Beijing’s capacity to patrol the vast South China Sea and to project power with greater effect. Washington’s allies and friends still believe that America can be relied upon to defend them in an-all out war with China. But when it comes to skirmishes, the controlled application of force, and displays of power designed to intimidate, the value of the American connection as a counterbalance to China is diminishing. States in the region understand that the United States will risk confronting China only under exceptional circumstances and so the cumulative effect of carefully calibrated displays of strength, and the accompanying disregard for American power, will inevitably have psychological repercussion across East Asia that work to China’s advantage.

. . . .

The second trend, still only dimly discernible, is closely connected to the first. It has to do with the strategies that the states that feel most exposed to Chinese power will adopt to adjust to the eastern power transition. Through its still-nascent “Look East” policy India, whose security depends on China not having free rein in East Asia, has begun to beef up strategic cooperation with states in that region that are adjusting to China’s surging power. New Delhi formed a “strategic partnership” with Indonesia and bilateral ties have grown, including in the military sphere. India has been intensifying security consultations with Japan and Australia, deepening defense cooperation with Vietnam, and participating in naval exercises with the United States, Japan and Australia. And it has revamped its relationship with the United States: the suspicion and intermittent hostility that marked the Cold War era have given way to a gradual strategic convergence. No matter what the two proclaim publicly their new course is in large part a reaction to China’s rise.

. . . .

The power shift that occurred between Athens and Sparta culminated in a devastating war. The one now unfolding between China and the United States in East Asia will not. China’s focus is on economic development and its post-1978 economic reforms—call them the Deng Xiaoping Revolution—has enmeshed in the global economy, giving it a big stake in stability making it averse to crises and conflicts that rattle markets and unnerve investors. Still, there are other impulses than those that motivate homo economicus: pride, passion, the quest for respect and standing, the desire for revenge. Thucydides’ masterpiece is chock-full of examples of how powerfully these sentiments shape political decisions, particularly in times of uncertainty and apprehension. The challenge in East Asia—for China and for others in the region—will be to manage the consequences of the power transition so that it produces a new and stable equilibrium.

Read it all here.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Oil Dependence Ain't Nothing Compared To Our Dependence on Rare Metals

Brad Plummer offers a really outstanding discussion of a national security issue that we rarely hear much about--our dependence on over 60 different metals that we have come to depend on for our modern economy.  The challenge, according to a  recent paper in The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science is that there are very few good substitutes for these metals.  A shortage in any could cause great economic damage.  Plummer explores the implications:
The study notes that there's plenty of ongoing research into things like advanced composite materials. But substitution can be a slow process and performance can suffer in the meantime.
That's troubling, they note, because the risks of materials disruptions are real — even if they're only temporary. "No country or region, in fact, has substantial deposits of everything; platinum comes largely from South Africa and Russia, copper from Chile and the United States, strontium from China and Spain, and so on." Case in point: China now dominates the supply of "rare earth" metals — when it throttled exports, other countries had to scramble to adjust.
"The consequence," the authors conclude, "is that modern technology is dependent on resources from every continent other than Antarctica, a situation that increases the potential for geopolitical machinations as far as resources."
Read it all here.    The full report of the Proceedings study is worth reviewing for those really interested in the problem.  You should also check out Plummer's previous discussions of China's stranglehold over rare metals here as well as his post on how nations responded when China started to limit exports of these here.

So what do we do about this?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Some Initial Thoughts on Klaymon v. Obama

Today, Judge Leon of the U.S. District Court for District of Columbia ruled that the plaintiffs in that case have a substantial likelihood of success in their argument that the NSA telephone metadata collection violates the Fourth Amendment.  While my initial review of the decision has been cursory, my initial views are that (1) Judge Leon is over reading the Supreme Court's recent decision in United States v. Jones in finding the plaintiffs had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the meta data, but (2) the entire NSA metadata program demands a new framework to judge Fourth Amendment cases.

In arguing for the program, the government put great weight on the 1979 Supreme Court decision in Smith v. Maryland, which held that a defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers dialed from his phone because he voluntarily transmitted them to the telephone company.  The Court concluded that giving such information to a third party eliminated any reasonable expectation of privacy.  This was a pretty extraordinary holding because it meant that Fourth Amendment protections did not even apply to request for telephone numbers called.  And, it was this case that the FISA Court relied on--heavily--in upholding the NSA metadata collection.  In an effort to get around this pretty unforgiving precedent, Judge Leon relied on the Supreme Court's 2012 decision in United States v. Jones.

In Jones, the Supreme Court held that the placement of a GPS tracking device on a car for the purpose of observing a defendants movements over a long length of time violated the Fourth Amendment.  Judge Leon argued that this decision shows that the Court take a more narrow view of its Fourth Amendment precedents.  While a short-term use of a beeping device might be permissible, its longer use is not.  Similarly, Judge Leon argued, a short term use of a pen register does not permit the wholesale collection of all telephone  metadata.

The problem, however, is that in making this argument, Judge Leon relies only on the concurrences of Justices Alioto and Sotomayor.  The actual court decision by Justice Scalia does not even address the issue of reasonable expectation of privacy at all.  And it certainly did not challenge the rule that information given to a third party is not protected by the Fourth Amendment because of the absence of a reasonable expectation of privacy.  Instead, the Court's opinion relied solely on the fact that unlike the instances in which beeping devices had been allowed in the past, in this instance law enforcement officials committed a trespass in the placement of the GPS device itself.  It was this trespass--and not the absence of any reasonable expectation of privacy--that was the basis of the majority decision.

While I think both that Judge Leon went too far in his reliance on Jones and that the holding in Smith strongly supports the NSA position, there is also cause for concern that the "third party" rule of Smith could be the exception that all but eliminates any "reasonable expectation of privacy" in light of modern technology.  As Justice Sotomayor expressed well in her concurrence:

More fundamentally, it may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties. E.g., Smith, 442 U. S., at 742; United States v. Miller, 425 U. S. 435, 443 (1976). This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks. People disclose the phone numbers that they dial or text to their cellular providers; the URLs that they visit and the e-mail addresses with which they correspond to their Internet service providers; and the books, groceries, and medications they purchase to online retailers. Perhaps . . .some people may find the "tradeoff" of privacy for convenience "worthwhile," or come to accept this "diminution of privacy" as "inevitable," . . . and perhaps not. I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every Web site they had visited in the last week, or month, or year. But whatever the societal expectations, they can attain constitutionally protected status only if our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence ceases to treat secrecy as a prerequisite for privacy.
In short, Judge Leon was likely wrong under the law as it now stands, but the case itself may be the very vehicle for the Supreme  Court to do what Justice Sotomayor suggests--revisit the third party disclosure exception articulated in Smith.