Archive for April, 2010

“The Good Soldiers” Author David Finkel at the Pritzker Military Library

April 28, 2010

Pritzker posterOn Wednesday, April 28, 2010, tune in to the Pritzker Military Library to see author David Finkel talk about his outstanding 2009 book about an Army battalion inside Baghdad as a part of “the surge” in 2007.  I wrote about Finkel’s book, The Good Soldiers, here at Facing China back in February after I finished it and I stand by my unqualified recommendation – you should read the book. (See also the short review I wrote at Goodreads.) I am planning to roll out of the sack VERY early tomorrow morning to watch his live webcast that will start at 4AM on Thursday in Taiwan, but like the Craig Mullaney talk I watched a while back, I’m certain it will be worth it.  In my opinion, these two books (Mullaney’s 2008 book The Unforgiving Minute and Finkel’s The Good Soldiers) are the finest accounts of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to date. (Currently I am reading another highlytouted Iraq War book, Kaboom, by Matt Gallagher, but it is of a different vein than these two books – clearly the author takes a less serious approach to telling about his experiences, which is comically funny in places and works very well in his book, but makes it qualitatively different from either Mullaney’s or Finkel’s books.) I encourage you to point your chosen web browser to http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2010/04-28-david-finkel.jsp at 3PM Central time (US) to see what the author has to say about this fantastic book and his long embed with the 2-16 Rangers that provided the basis for his reporting in the Washington Post and later the book itself.

I don’t know if it will come up in the talk (my guess would be yes), but one recently popular issue in the media that you can gain insight into by reading The Good Soldiers is the 2007 Apache helicopter shooting of Reuters reporters that WikiLeaks made such a spectacle of in releasing video footage of the event earlier this month.  I haven’t viewed the video footage because once I heard what it was all about, I knew that I already had a good idea of what happened from reading chapter 5 in Finkel’s book. (In conjunction with this, the Washington Post printed an excerpt of the relevant book section earlier this month, which you can read here.)

If you enjoy the live webcast or read the book and enjoy it, I encourage you to “like” David Finkel’s Facebook fan page for the book here.

[Photo: Pritzker Military Library]

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Asahi Shimbun interview with former U.S. Pacific Command commander

April 23, 2010
ADM Keating

ADM Timothy J. Keating, USN (Ret.)

The Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, today ran a long and long-ranging interview with retired Admiral Timothy J. Keating, U.S. Navy, the former commander of the United States Pacific Command.

Keating’s remarks ran the gamut of topics this blog likes to deal with, from China – U.S. relation, U.S – Japan relations, the U.S. military buildup on Guam, Taiwan Strait security, the situation on Okinawa related to the relocation of the Futenma Marine air station, and more.  It’s worth reading in its entirety, reproduced for you here in whole after the jump.  But first, a few highlights:

  • On China’s naval modernization:  “They’ll never get better than we are. We’re going to work hard to ensure that that’s the case.”
  • Why it is preferable to have U.S. Marines forward-deployed in Okinawa: “Because they’re there now. And neither one of our countries can afford to, in my opinion, undertake the cost attendant to moving those 18,000 Marines from Okinawa to some other location in Japan.”
  • On a “rising China” as a strategic threat to the U.S. and American allies in the Asia-Pacific: “I’d be careful focusing entirely on China. There have been a couple of opportunities, in similar engagements today, where folks tried to concentrate the conversation on the growing Chinese threat and the likelihood of fighting China. I don’t see it that way.  We have to remain strong, the alliance, the forces of our two countries, and those of our two allies and partners in the region. It is not exclusively to counter Chinese military growth.  If China is less forthcoming than we want them to be, if they develop tactics, techniques, procedures or capabilities that could threaten access or deny area access, then we would have to be prepared to respond. But I do not see a situation in the near term that would require specific focus on China.

(more…)

Taiwan’s Nuclear Ambitions

April 12, 2010

The Generalissimo and the Father of the Republic

With the recent release of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), the signing of the “New START” nuclear arms reduction treaty between the U.S. and Russia, and the huge nuclear talks in Washington starting today that dozens of world leaders* are attending, nukes are all over the news and the blogosphere. (For a nice run-down of all three of these things, see this post from The Daily Kos‘s Page van der Linden.)  On the same theme, the National Security Archive‘s UNREDACTED blog recently posted about a document, formerly classified and obtained with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, that discusses aspiring nuclear powers.  Entitled “Prospects for Further Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” the report is from 1974, and does include Taiwan as a potential nuclear “up-and-comer.” (UNREDACTED posted the document not because it includes Taiwan, but instead because it includes still undeclared nuclear power Israel.  My interest, though, lies with Taiwan.) I thought it would be interesting to look at what the report said about Taiwan’s pursuit of nuclear weapons back in the 1970s.

With regard to Taipei’s perceived nuclear capabilities, the report stated

In connection with an ambitious program for procurement and operation of nuclear power facilities on Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC) is gradually developing a potential for the production of nuclear weapons.

Sound a little bit like modern-day Iran?  Not really.  The report goes on to discuss the main location for Taiwan’s nuclear research efforts (a place called Lungtan, in northeastern Taiwan) and how, understandably, military efforts related to developing nuclear weapons in Taiwan were kick-started by Beijing’s first nuclear test (October 16, 1964).

There were still several technical roadblocks to a Taiwanese bomb, though.  Difficulties remained in acquiring the proper technology for chemical separation (no mention of centrifuges here, though) and heavy water processing equipment.  Most importantly, Taiwan was far from being able to deliver a nuclear device:

At this stage, there is no evidence of ROC progress toward development of a nuclear delivery system which would pose a credible threat to Mainland China targets.

This is in stark contrast to modern-day rogue states Iran and North Korea, both of whom have conducted successful ballistic missile tests.  The bottom line on Taiwan’s nuclear weapons capabilities, circa 1974:

…[W]e think it would take a decision [to begin production of nuclear weapons] in the immediate future and considerable foreign assistance from sources such as Israel or France for the ROC to be able to construct a device by 1980.

I want to talk a bit more about Taiwan’s nuclear power facilities.  According to a recent article in the Global Post, despite a long reluctance to expand Taiwan’s reliance on nuclear power, the “nuclear-friendly” KMT has begun to take another look at resuming expansion of Taiwan’s nuclear power industry, partially for “green” purposes – reduction of carbon output. (You can see the locations of Taiwan’s three currently active nuclear power stations in this document from Taipower, Taiwan’s state power company, and read about “The Burden-Laden Fourth Nuclear Project” – the controversial new nuclear station that has been delayed over much of the last decade.) The “raw materials” to build a bomb remain, but there are some significant reasons why Taiwan probably wouldn’t try it.

The biggest of these is that were that the PRC to catch wind of it, it would probably be grounds for an immediate attack.  Most people agree that the military balance in the Taiwan Strait has decidedly tipped towards China over the past decade, and 9 out of 10 of these folks further concede that China has lots of ways to make life in Taiwan pretty unpleasant while at the same time frustrating American efforts to intervene. (For a concise example of this thinking, see RAND Senior International Policy Analyst Mr. David A. Shlapak’s recent testimony (PDF) before the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission.)

At the time this report was written, the U.S. and Taiwan still had a mutual defense treaty, and the possibility of jeopardizing that blanket of protection if the U.S. discovered a clandestine attempt to build a bomb must have also entered Taiwan’s calculus.  As a final word on intention, the report surmises that

Taipei probably sees a capability to design and produce a nuclear weapon as a potentially useful hedge against the unknown exigencies of the future, when it may be alone and facing great risks.

Yes, the writing was on the wall, was it not?  With the beginning of normalization of ties between the U.S. and the PRC in the early 1970s ultimately resulting in American official “de-recognition” of Taipei before the end of the decade in favor of official recognition for Beijing, it had to have been a very uncertain time for Taiwan when this report was written.  Fortunately, through the vagaries of 1979’s Taiwan Relations Act, the U.S. was able to continue to provide Taiwan defensive weapons to help keep back the Communist hordes, the most recent iteration of arms sales under these auspices I discussed here and here.

More recently, in 2008 the U.S. accidentally shipped some nuclear parts – four nuclear triggers –  to Taiwan.  This episode was part of a larger pattern of “laxness” with regard to stewardship of the U.S. nuclear stockpile that ultimately resulted in a reshuffling of top U.S. Air Force leadership. (This post from Arms Control Wonk tells about one of the other nuclear “slip-ups” at that time – it’s worth a read.)  I guess that answers the question of whether Taipei, when filling out their order blank for U.S. arms, can just check the box that says “nuclear device” – not usually.

*Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, decided at the last minute that the prospects of being called out at the conference by Middle Eastern neighbors like Egypt and Turkey about its undeclared but relatively universally accepted nuclear status was something he wanted to pass off on his deputy, Dan Meridor, instead.

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HBO’s “The Pacific” Premieres Tonight in Taiwan (April 3)

April 3, 2010

For those readers in the US, this is not going to seem like anything new – HBO’s miniseries The Pacific premiered a few weeks ago.  But in Taiwan, today’s the day!  There will be a double feature on tonight (episodes one and two), and I plan to see it!

With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
In preparation for viewing the series, I took it upon myself to brush up on my World War II Pacific theater history by reading Eugene Sledge’s classic account of Marines taking Peleliu and Okinawa, With The Old Breed.  I wrote a short review of it here.  After reading Sledge’s account of the brutal fighting, I am left wondering to what degree Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg are going to be able to capture the experience in this ten-part series.

Since as I mentioned at the outset The Pacific has been out in the US for several weeks, there have been many reviews of the series in the mainstream media and the reviews that I read from this category all seemed to be highly laudatory (NYT, LAT).  Not everyone in the “blogosphere” was drinking the Kool Aid, though.  Historian Eric Hammel, writing on Tom Ricks’s award-winning blog The Best Defense had this to say about it:

Why should I be surprised a “docudrama” like The Pacific is shit? The whole effort behind the docu part is invested in toys such as gunner’s gloves. I long ago boycotted documentary filmmakers who want my brand to legitimize their sorry little TV vignettes. Their objective is entertainment centered on the dramatic visual, not the intellectual, and not quite the historical. If self-professed documentarians can’t get it right because they edit the talking heads to accommodate their thin film libraries, why should self-professed entertainers make a better effort, show greater concern?

Ouch.  So it’s not a documentary, it’s entertainment, got it.  I guess my standards just aren’t as high as someone like Hammel’s.  I fully anticipate having the same reaction to it that Tom Ricks initially did: “hooked instantly.” (He later took on a more critical stance about the series.)  Let’s put it this way: I really enjoyed watching the Hanks/Spielberg/HBO series that preceded and set the standard for this one, Band of Brothers, and when I finished watching that series, I said to myself, what about a series like that for the Pacific theater and the Marines? (Band of Brothers, for those who haven’t seen the series, focuses on U.S. Army soldiers in the European theater of war during WWII – Marines do not play a role.) The series I had hoped for is now here.  As a U.S. Marine, I am naturally going to be partial to something telling “our” story, and I think that the desire by parties involved in making The Pacific to “get… it right” is a noble one.  The Pacific would have to be pretty crappy for me not to like it.  But I don’t think that a series that cost some $200 million and took nearly a year to film is going to be crappy.  If I feel differently after watching tonight’s episodes, I will write about it later.  Otherwise, it’s time for me to make sure my Saturday nights for the next 2 months are clear.

I would be interested to hear what anyone who has already seen one of the first three episodes aired in the US has to say about them.  The comments section awaits your input.

Here are a couple links:

http://www.hbo.com/the-pacific/index.html (US official homepage)

http://www.hboasia.com/pacific/ (HBO Asia official homepage)

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A Few Shout-outs

April 1, 2010

Xie xieI’d like to take a minute to acknowledge a few people who have recently taken it upon themselves to help promote this blog or have linked to it.  First is the US-Taiwan Defense Command blog, who did a whole post about Facing China as a new Taiwan-related blog.  The View From Taiwan put up a link to my post about the Americans in Southern Taiwan exhibit at the Kaohsiung Museum of History, which has generated a tremendous amount of traffic on the blog, and finally Dr. Andrew S. Erickson posted an excerpt of my post about Chinese ASBM on his website.  He also updated a post of his own on the same topic to include as a resource my paper about China’s asymmetric capabilities.  Thanks to everyone for all your help!  More and more people are visiting the blog, which is good.  Please tell your friends about the blog, and visit often!

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Military Power of the PRC in 2010

April 1, 2010
2009 report cover page

2009 report

I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the latest version of the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military strength.  Typically, this report is issued about this time of year (last year’s report came out in late March).  This report is required annually from the Department of Defense pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act of fiscal year (FY) 2000 (FY2000 NDAA), which stated

the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000, Public Law 106-65, provides that the Secretary of Defense shall submit a report “in both classified and unclassified form, on the current and future military strategy of the People’s Republic of China. The report shall address the current and probable future course of military-technological development on the People’s Liberation Army and the tenets and probable development of Chinese grand strategy, security strategy, and military strategy, and of the military organizations and operational concepts, through the next 20 years.

Taking into account the post-Cold War, pre-9/11 context in which this legislation was enacted, as well as China’s annual military spending increases that surpassed 10% annually for most years between 1997 and now (see Fig. 10, p. 34, in the 2009 report), it’s not that hard to imagine why China’s increasing military power would have been a topic of some concern to the lawmakers who drafted the FY2000 NDAA and included this annual report as a requirement for the DoD.  Indeed, with the PLA’s military modernization having continued unabated in the ensuing decade, the decision to “statutize” the requirement for this report looks to me to have been a pretty good call.  I have read that the release of this year’s report has been delayed for strategic reasons, e.g. the U.S. doesn’t want to tick off the Chinese any more while they are still simmering about Taiwan weapons sales and President Obama’s decision to allow a visit with the Dalai Lama at the White House in February, which makes sense.  One “milestone” that reportedly was part of the calculus about the release date of the report was whether or not China’s President Hu Jintao would attend a meeting on nuclear security in Washington later this month…looks like you can count him in.   The conference dates are April 12 – 13, and afterwards Hu will visit a few South American countries, including Brazil, Venezuela and Chile.  Therefore, I would wager that it’s pretty firm that the Pentagon report won’t be released until after Hu’s visit to Washington.  One news report I read even said that the PRC military power report might be delayed until May.

Why do I want to read this report so badly?  It’s a veritable goldmine of information about China’s military capabilities and modernization, and although as a public document, it won’t contain any of the really juicy sensitive information that might be contained in a classified version, it still is a good yardstick to see what “Big Pentagon” thinks about China’s military and I would like to see what has changed in the Pentagon’s assessment in the course of a year, if anything.  Based on last year’s report, which gave prominent attention to China’s growing asymmetric and anti-access capabilities, I would imagine there will be even more about these issues, including anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM), and computer network operations (CNO), which I mentioned in my last post as things that interest me with regard to Taiwan Strait security and the regional balance of power.

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