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Wednesday, 11 December 2013


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I hope the Americans don't base their strategy on whizzo inventions: any such invention will be in the hands of China PDQ.

Ha, ha (from Worstall).

The greatest deterrent to war these days is trade and greatest threat to peace is access to resources. This must be plainly obvious to anyone with half a brain which world leaders do not appear to have. Trade is doing it's bit nicely and does not need any more attention to it than already is being done. However the resources access problem needs to be urgently addressed but how when politicians have domestic problems that sabre rattling helps to appease and act only out of self interest. In this day and age and with all the past and present lessons about the horrors of war it would not be unreasonable to think that politicians are grown up enough to recognise the dangers and to find peaceful solutions to them before they escalate out of control.

Whether such thinking penetrates the Pentagon, let alone the White House remains a moot point.

In response David, to your "Whether thinking penetrates."

I spent the morning in company with a goodly number of those who Frank Hoffman refers to as "the prophets and disciples of Seapower" at the Naval Institute's 2013 Defense Forum Washington. ... There was a discernible sense ... no one is listening. That those who on the Hill we most count on to "get it" sometimes don't really seem to get it. That we can conduct as many of these "choir practices" as we want, and we will make no headway. I had several conversations with people I admire greatly, some of whom are in positions today of great responsibility, who wondered aloud whether anyone cared about questions of great power conflict, a rising China, a declining U.S., and so on. Whether we as a people, have simply reached a point in which we no longer care about the things that made our country great, that we may be headed for a period of isolationism, that the present instantiation of our system of government is simply not up to the task.

Yes, Antis, access to resources is a driving factor but I think it goes deeper than that. It's that 'old devil Man', especially when they are dressed up in uniforms and trained and trained to make war, and led by politicians with a driving desire for fame helped by a sense of inferiority. All you can do is hope for the best - but plan for the worst!

JK, I'm not unsympathetic but I worry about phrases like "the things that made our country great". Most of the inhabitants of every country in the world think they are 'great' but that sort of emoting gets you nowhere, or worse, it gets you somewhere you should never have gone to in the first place! The strategic intellectuals and the serving brass just must stick to deep thinking and come up with a rational strategy and then, as your writer says, keep bending the ear of the pols - and the public.

I jes' places the quotes David, I don't utter the nonsense nor "design" the blogposts.

David, I'm not really sure the real issue is ASB vs A2/D2, which to my way of thinking is rather little picture bickering while missing the entire scope of the big picture. China operates on a global grand strategic scale, while we're arguing about what to do in case of the worst case scenario regional shooting war or open hostilities erupt. China does long range planning - they came into our hemisphere decades ago and started making moves to be in a position to deny us territory and we're just now getting around to considering a plan to do the same to them. Hutchinson Whampoa has a 50 year contract to control the Panama Canal and after a decade or so in they're thinking about building their own canal. They've moved around South and Central America making strategic inroads too. In addition, they've engaged in active covert operations to destabilize America from within, to include setting up front companies to aggressively buy up American property and businesses, encourage reckless American spending, etc.

The problem with American strategic planning is our strategic experts waste a lot of time arguing over these sorts of catchphrase issues disguised as strategy and then they convince politicians to buy in and next thing you know our forces get restructured and realigned without ever having a grand strategic vision. If someone comes along and upsets their apple cart - (, they whine rather than learn. We need more strategists like General Riper and far fewer "top general of his generation" types who fixate on COIN or ASB or A2/D2. I wonder how more comprehensive the Chinese versions of ASB and A2/D2 are, since they're already decades ahead of us on the grand strategic planning and actually made moves in our hemisphere, which our military leaders seem to be oblivious about.

I think, LB, that we are in danger of confusing two things perhaps because we are confusing terminology. In *my* opinion (and, of course, that comes with the full weight of my experience as a, er, ex-corporal!) Grand Strategy covers the decisions taken at the highest level of government as to how and when to apply the full resources of a country, not just military but diplomatic, economic, financial, etc, in order to achieve certain ends. Strategy, on the other hand, covers the decisions of the *military*, bearing in mind the Grand Strategy, as to how they would apply their military assets in the best way if called upon.

I think you are right in suggesting that very few presidents (or prime ministers, come to that!) do much in the way of thinking about Grand Strategy, preferring on the whole to just 'muddle through'! That, I suspect, is in the nature of democracy and is part of the reason we suffer in competition with autocracy. However, I would add a rider which repeats some comments I made a few days ago that we should not assume that somehow, in some way, those devilish clever oriental chaps are more clever than us. They, too, have their fair share of dunces.

Today, the Chinese are simply emulating what the Brits did in the 19th century and the Americans did in the 20th, that is, use their power to advantage. It's tiresome, and it's dangerous, and it will require careful handling. Can our leaders do that? Probably not! So our military chiefs need to think very hard about how they will handle any given situation - which I think some of them are doing with the A2/D2 vs. ASB debate.

David, Excellent points you've made, especially the one about our willingness to assign "devilish cleverness" to the oriental approach. Many of their weaknesses, that come quickly to mind, stem from their internal policies geared toward coping with their social woes, which could quickly turn into or be used to advantage to create internal problems, in the event of open hostilities with China. And where I always wonder if they'll be able to compete is that although they've become experts at reverse engineering, they don't seem as focused on "quality control" as Western engineers.

My concern with the current debate you brought to the table in this post topic comes from being a cheap seat observer to how our military and government approach these debates - it quickly becomes a new magic bullet whereby with a little realignment here, cuts to our forces there and a few rewrites of our doctrine, voilà, suddenly we're in the midst of another complete about face at the top, but a sizable portion of our leaders in the ranks end up confused, with many still marching to the beat of the old drum.

LB, the potential for confusion in armed services so large and potentially unwieldy as those of America is easy to understand. I am just re-reading a history of the old Prussian (and then German) General Staff, arguably the greatest collection of military expertise ever assembled . . . and yet . . . and yet . . . not once but twice they allowed, and even aided, their masters to lead them into disaster.

Today the **rate** of change is speeding up and I do have some sympathy with strategic and operational thinkers who must attempt to cope with this. Who, twenty years ago when the general was a lieutenant, was worrying about how, say, drones and robots would effect the battlefield. I suppose that all we can do is cling to the thought that in the 20th century we both lost our opening battles - but won the final ones!


If I understand the issue correctly (JK will surely correct me if I don't) it is a tactical or operational issue not a strategic issue.

ASB is how a navel force will operate within a few hundred miles of a hostile coast. China is defiantly the "worst case" but the technologies that make it necessary are possessed or can be purchased by a number of counties. If we have any policy grand strategy or a simple strategy that involves going near a potential hostile coast we will need to be doing something very close to an ALB.

I would not be surmised if some of the poetical support for A2/D2 comes for budgetary reasons and they will not vote to buy the submarines it requires.


The last post was me. Darn that security thing.

You are right, Hank, to suppose that the debate is over *operational* strategy and in so far as China is concerned I think it can be summed up as either a)combine your forces in order to strike at the heart of their C3, or b)ignore inland areas and simply deny access to the ocean. - somewhat similarly to the British blockade of Napoleonic Europe. In a nuclear age the latter has some attractions!

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