Canary In The Coal Mine: The US Navy’s Dilemmas As An Indication Of A Culminating Point In National Grand Strategy

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2020

By Captain Robert C. Rubel USN (Ret)


June 20, 2000 – The U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln Battle Group and ships from Australia, Chile, Japan, Canada, and Korea steam alongside one another for a Carrier Battle Group Photo during RIMPAC 2000. US Navy.

From a resource point of view, the US Navy has not been doing well lately, its program to expand fleet size to 355 ships, a number that seems to be accepted by the Administration and Congress, has been suffering a series of setbacks.  Whether being raided for money to build a border wall, forced to fund the replacement ballistic missile submarine program or constricted due to the need to bolster current readiness, the Navy’s shipbuilding budget is under tremendous pressure, and Congress, despite a desire for a bigger fleet, has not increased the Navy’s top line sufficiently to accelerate ship construction.  Moreover, and perhaps worse, the Navy has been unable to produce a fleet structure assessment (FSA) that passes muster with the Secretary of Defense, who doubts the validity of a key assumption that underpins the study.[1]

Many, including a number of my colleagues, feel that the answer is a significantly increased Navy budget, as if the only problem is money.  While there is no doubt that a bigger budget would lubricate shipbuilding, it would not necessarily solve the bigger problem of fleet structure analysis and fleet design; how many of what kinds of ships should the Navy have in the future and the uses of each kind.  But more money does not seem to be in the cards, and correcting assumptions about the effectiveness of the Navy’s principal force generation process, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) does not bode well for what an adjusted FSA would reveal.  The Navy is facing a no-win situation, and to find a way out, we have to engage in a deeper strategic diagnosis of the problem. Continue reading

Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2020

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. China’s authoritarian system, most recently, allowed the COVID-19 virus to become a pandemic. By the time it is controlled, it may have killed up to millions of people.

Compared to Xi Jinping, political leaders in democracies have comparatively little economic power. U.S. President Donald Trump, for example, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity when compared to China) U.S. economy, and must be reelected in 2020 to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion. Europe and Japan are similarly militarily weak when compared with their near competitors, Russia and China respectively. [3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influencing our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incentivize allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Holding Beijing Accountable For The Coronavirus Is Not Racist

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 3, March 2020

By Ho-fung Hung, Johns Hopkins University

Digital generated image of macro view of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Getty Images/Andriy Onufriyenko

As the coronavirus global pandemic is unfolding and deteriorating, an age-old racial stereotype that associates contagious diseases with Asian/Chinese people reemerged. Reports about Asians being beaten up and accused of bringing the disease to the community are disheartening. The use of the phrase “sick man of Asia” in connection to the outbreak and calling the disease “Wuhan pneumonia” or “Chinese virus” invoked accusations of racism. We in higher education kept hearing episodes of Asian students harassed by comments from fellow students or faculty that associate them with the virus.

This racial association of contagious diseases often surfaces with epidemics in history. During the SARS epidemics of 2003, Western media was full of articles, images, and cartoons that explicitly characterized the diseases as an Asian one, as my research documented. In medieval Europe, the spread of epidemics like bubonic plagues often triggered harassment or even massacre of ethnic minorities such as Jewish people. Perennial as it is, this racial association is not only harmful but is also counterproductive to the effective containment of the disease. Epidemics know no ethnic boundary. They always spread beyond ethnic lines very quickly. The racial association of disease makes us overlook carriers who happen to be not among the stereotyped groups. We have to combat xenophobic racism at the time of an epidemic as hard as we can. Continue reading

Time To Bring Taiwan In From The Cold: Start Working Towards A Normalization Of Relations

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2020

By Gerrit van der Wees

Taiwan into the UN rally held in front of the PRC Mission to the UN in New York City, September 22, 2018. Photo: Gerrit van der Wees.

A recent episode in Prague illustrates in two important ways that China’s relations with the West are changing fast.  It shows the need for the US and Western Europe to reimagine relations with Taiwan, bring Taiwan in from the cold of political isolation, start working towards a normalization of relations, and find a rightful place for that democratic country in the international family of nations.

A Prague Spring in the offing?

First, consider that policymakers in the Czech Republic are increasingly pushing back against the way China has been attempting to isolate Taiwan internationally. Led by the new mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib, elected in November 2018, and his up-and-coming Pirate Party, the city last year broke off sister-city ties with Beijing – which had imposed unacceptable “One China” conditions on the arrangement – and established ties with Taiwan’s capital Taipei.

To be sure, at the national level, key policymakers like President Miloš Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, both associated with the right of center business community, are still very much in Beijing’s pocket. But observers in Prague indicate that a new Prague Spring is in the offing. Continue reading

Plutocrats Are Only Part Of A Larger Problem

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2020

By William R. Hawkins

BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 18: Apple CEO Tim Cook (R) attends China Development Forum 2017 – Economic Summit at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on March 18, 2017 in Beijing, China. The forum sponsored by Development Research Center of the State Council centers on “China and the World: Economic Transformation through Structural Reforms”. Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images.

I ran across a review of the Plutocratic Insurgency Reader in an unusual place. Not in the usual left media outlets, like Jacobin, Dissent or The New Republic as its title would seem to fit, but in Parameters, the quarterly journal of the U.S. Army War College (AWC). This is because the book is not edited by the usual “progessive” activists, but by Robert J. Bunker, adjunct research professor at the AWC Strategic Studies Institute and his wife, Pamela Ligouri Bunker, a specialist in counter-terrorism. And the book is published under the auspices of the Small Wars Journal (SWJ), not known for leaning left.

The book collects 31 short essays by 15 authors, six of whom have ties to either the AWC or the SWJ, thus giving a high expectation that national security would be its primary concern. Its self-avowed purpose is to present the core of a scholarly movement that originated in 2012 from correspondence between Robert Bunker and Nils Gilman of the Bergguen Institute concerning how the wealthy “opt out of participation in the collective institutions that make up society.” The Bergguen Institute was founded in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and Gilman’s interest is apparently reshaping the relationship between globalized capitalism and national sovereignty. As one reads through the essays, there is a tension that undermines the national security side of the discussion in favor of a domestic policy focus on income inequality and a radical desire to transform property rights that leaves the welfare state in the dust. Gilman is not an editor, but I would argue, his is the stronger voice.

The Parameters book reviewer, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, is another AWC adjunct professor attracted by the insurgency part of the title. He argues, “The end of the Cold War and the ‘end of history’ have led to a more interconnected and globalized world in the twenty-first century. At the same time, the democratization of technology has created a new environment in which previously suppressed actors can exercise greater power via the internet in a dark, deviant globalization. When corrupt politicians join forces with plutocratic insurgents, nation-states pay the price because corruption threatens national and global security.”

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