Archive for May, 2010

A few more conferences…

May 26, 2010

It’s too bad I missed Willy Lam’s talk in Taipei a couple of weeks ago…

Willy Lam flyer

…but yesterday I didn’t have to do a thing and a good opportunity fell into my lap.  As a guest speaker in my Tuesday afternoon course on Cross-

Michael Ying-mao Kau

Michael Ying-mao Kau

Strait Relations and Asia-Pacific Security, Ambassador Michael Ying-mao Kau, PhD, Taiwan’s former representative to the European Union and Belgium (also former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, and so forth), spoke on some salient issues related to the EU and contrasted them with the current situation in Asia.  It was an interesting talk.  He is very hopeful about the EU’s integration and sensitive to challenges it faces, including issues facing Turkey’s possible accession to the union and the near-trillion US dollar bailout for Greece.  Asia, by contrast, remains firmly entrenched in the throes of nationalism and nowhere near as robust a level of integration, consisting mainly of a very loose economic regime in ASEAN.  The unilateral use of force or the threat of force is still often times the preferred way to solve problems in Asia, something that Europe has moved beyond, at least in terms of relations internal to the Continent.

But that’s not all!  Also this week I saw a couple other flyers up announcing some upcoming events that look like they might be worth checking out.  These events are both in Taipei, put on by National Chengchi University.

Kau event poster

Kau event poster

The first one is next week, June 1 – 2 (Tuesday and Wednesday).  Here’s the full scoop:

Welcome to IDAS international conference on 6/1

◆Title: Stronger Nations. Stronger Relations: New Prospects for Asia-Pacific Regional Integration

◆Time: 08:30-17:30,2010/06/01(Tue),06/02(Wed)

◆Venue: 5F, International Conference Hall, General Building of Colleges, National Chengchi University

◆International scholars: Dr.TJ Pempel from UC Santa Barbara University, Dr. Benjamin Cohen from Berkeley University, etc.

◆The conference focuses on the following issues:

*Frontiers in Public Administration Governance: Leadership for the Modern World
*New IPE Challenges for Asia- Pacific Region
*Rediscovery of social and cultural development
*Evolution of Asia-Pacific Security and New Security Focus

◆Language: English

◆P.S.: We welcome all professors and students. Registration Required. Please register through the registration system before 05/28. Please see the agenda as the link below.

Acdemics .posted by IDAS.中文 列印

The second conference, on June 12 (Saturday), looks even better.  It’s the 3rd annual conference of the Republic of China Institute of International Relations and the event, which runs all day, is entitled, “Theory and Practice of Dialogue.”  The keynote speaker will be Dr. Richard Bush, former director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and current director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.  I haven’t been able to locate an English version of the conference’s program, but here’s the program in Chinese (it’s essentially a larger version of the photo just below this paragraph).  Lack of English publicity materials makes me suspect this event will be in Chinese, as opposed to the two-day conference next week, which explicitly indicates that it will be held in English (see above).

June 12 event poster

"Theory and Practice of Dialogue" International Conference Agenda

Finally, for those folks a bit west of here in a few weeks (DC-area), I would recommend trying to catch an event at the National Defense University on June 16.  The symposium’s title is “China’s Naval Modernization: Cause for Storm Warnings?” and it looks almost as if the entire faculty of the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) of the U.S. Naval War College will be occupying the place to put on the event.  They’ve gone as far as preparing a nice list of “read-ahead”-type items (PDF)for folks who are interested in attending.  Related to the Naval War College’s CMSI, just today Dr. Andrew Erickson, an assistant professor at the Naval War College, founding member of CMSI, and fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, released the first edition of a newsletter (PDF) written by him and another researcher called China Signpost.  The aim of the newsletter is to provide “high-quality China analysis in a concise, accessible form for people whose lives are being profoundly affected by China’s political, economic, and security development.”  That pretty much describes anybody in Taiwan!  The first issue concerns China’s reliance on petroleum and the authors’ conviction that China will continue to disproportionately rely on seaborne means of transportation to keep their oil supply flowing (despite what you might hear about China’s efforts to build pipelines to reduce their reliance on seaborne oil transport).  The authors go on to explore the naval security implications that arise from China’s continuing dependence on maritime transport for energy needs.  It’s certainly worth a read – as is everything else posted over at Dr. Erickson’s webpage, www.andrewerickson.com.  (See also the top of the blogroll on the right-hand margin of this page.)

See you at the conferences!

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Willy Lam in Taipei May 11, 2010

May 4, 2010

Wish I could go, but I have class all day.  Lam’s writings are often featured in the Jamestown’s Foundation‘s bi-weekly China Brief publication that Michael Turton writes about now and then at The View from Taiwan. (Incidentally, that is where I first saw that Lam would be in Taipei next week.) Here is one of Lam’s latest articles about Chinese Communist Party “sixth generation” leaders, from December 2009.  His presentation looks to be interesting and timely, about the pending power succession process in China that will culminate at the 18th Party Congress in 2012.  The CCP power struggle attendant to the 2012 Party Congress was actually mentioned today in one of my classes.  The signal to watch for – see who is appointed vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in the next year or two.  This person will probably be Hu Jintao’s successor.

http://www.ios.sinica.edu.tw/ios/E/?pid=255#2010.05.11

Topic:A Closer Look at China’s Elite Politics and Foreign Power Projection 【In English】
Speaker:Dr. Willy Lam (Akita International University, Japan)
Coordinator:Director Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao (Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica)
Time:May 11, 2010(Tuesday)2:30 PM – 4:30 PM
Location:Room 802, 8F, Institute of Sociology, Academia Sinica.

Profile :
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has started preparations for transition of power from the the Fourth to the Fifth Generation, which will take place at the 18th Party Congress of 2012. Will the younger corps of leaders be able to tackle growing contradictions within the socio-political fabric – and uphold the CCP’s “perennial ruling-party status” – in the absence of genuine reforms? Have corruption and bureaucratic malaise precipitated a crisis of governance? Can the Fifth- and Sixth-Generation leadership inject new ideas to arrest the decline in the party’s legitimacy and efficacy? For how long can the party rely on its control and security apparatus to bolster its somewhat tattered mandate of heaven? Or is it just that the party-state apparatus has become too big to fail?

Partly due to the fact that nationalism has become the most effective agent of cohesiveness in China, the CCP leadership has been projecting both hard and soft power to strengthen the country’s worldwide clout. What are the traits of China’s quasi-superpower diplomacy? Are the People’s Liberation Army generals getting more say over foreign and security policies? Will the PRC’s growing economic and military prowess feed the “China threat” theory? Will the increasingly adverse competition with the United States in areas including resources, trade – and outer space – affect regional and world stability? These and other questions will be discussed at the lecture and Q&A session.

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“Too Big to Fail,” U.S. Marines Version: The V-22 Osprey

May 1, 2010

MV-22 Osprey in Afghanistan

A USMC V-22 flying in Afghanistan [From http://www.flickr.com/photos/marine_corps/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]

I first saw the V-22 in person in the summer of 2005 while stationed in Quantico, Virginia.  I was at an event at the officer’s club there, and just as we were walking out to the parking lot to head home, we saw them across the road, two of them, using the nearby parade grounds as a landing zone.  At that time, most of us had never seen them in person before, so we stood slack-jawed, watching as they prepared to take off, and then, improbably, leapt forth into the sky vertically and transitioned their propellers from helicopter mode to “go fast” mode, rocketing off to the horizon at an impossibly fast speed for a “helicopter.”  It was quite remarkable, I remember thinking at the time – they don’t look like they should even be able to fly, yet there they went up, up and away.

I was no stranger to the V-22 – probably no Marine was.  Full-page glossy photos of the machine had been adorning defense contractor advertisements in the Marine Corps Gazette and other defense periodicals since before I had first taken an interest in the Marine Corps in the early 1990s.  The V-22 had been “hyped” so hard for so long, I figured it was little more than a pipe dream.  Lo and behold, a decade hence, there it was!

The Dream MachineBut it was gained at no small cost, as two reviews of a new book about the V-22 assert: 25 years of development, $22 billion, and over two dozen lives.  Influential defense blog Danger Room recently interviewed Richard Whittle, author of the new book The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey and the May 2010 edition of the Marine Corps Gazette also features a review of the book.  Taken in concert, they’ve got me hooked on wanting to read the book.

From the Gazette:

The major credit for the Osprey’s repeated leases on life can be traced to many familiar names in our current and recent Marine Corps. From majors and lieutenant colonels who believed in the dream to general officers who recognized its potential, there is no shortage of Marines who literally staked their careers and reputations on the success of the program. Just as important are the members of Congress and industry who shared the vision and continually resurrected what appeared to be a dead program by providing support and, most importantly, money to keep the dream alive.

I worked in close proximity to Marine general officers in 2007 – 08, and I recall that at the time of the first Osprey deployment to Iraq in September 2007 the “pucker factor” was high – there was simply no way that the Iraq deployment could fail.  Too much money, too much time, and too many lives had gone into the development of the airframe and its revolutionary capabilities; it had to be a success.

I’ve discussed the V-22 with Marine rotary wing pilots who fly other airframes and who served in Iraq at the same time the initial deployment was made, and they were of the opinion that the V-22 deployment was successful in no small part because the missions assigned to it were “cherry picked” to maximize the chances it would not be put in an ambiguous situation where failure would likely result, i.e. a V-22 crash or shoot-down.  If this is the case, then the strategy was a success – no Marine V-22’s crashed or were lost in Iraq.  Here’s what Whittle had to say about the Marine V-22’s in Iraq:

Riding in [the V-22] in Iraq wasn’t much different from flying in it elsewhere, except that a crew chief fired some rounds from the machine gun on the back ramp to test it after we took off. In theory, there was a chance somebody would shoot at us, but peace had broken out in Al Anbar province at the time – this was December 2007. Besides, while helicopters usually fly low in combat zones, the Marines cruise their Ospreys at 8,000 feet or more, well above the range of AK-47s and RPGs. The Osprey gets to that altitude quickly enough that getting shot at wasn’t a great worry when I flew in Iraq. It also gets you where you’re going a lot faster than a helicopter can, and it doesn’t shake and rattle you the way many military helicopters do.

Recently a U.S. Air Force V-22 variant crashed in Afghanistan and several servicemen were killed.  When I saw the headline talking about a V-22 crash in Afghanistan, I automatically assumed it was a USMC aircraft and that after such a long development and fielding process followed by an extremely careful method of making the initial combat deployments that the inevitable had happened and that a “knee jerk” reaction would be forthcoming, removing all V-22’s from the Afghan theater.  Thankfully, this has not been the case.

It takes a certain amount of risk to even develop an aircraft like this.  Its unique design gives it capabilities that far surpass any other rotary wing aircraft in the U.S. inventory (along with certain drawbacks that are also unique to it).  In his interview with Danger Room, author Richard Whittle had this to say about Marines, risk, and the V-22:

The Marines are risk-takers by nature, but as I explain in the book, they’ve been in love with vertical-lift aircraft since the helicopter and the atomic bomb emerged during World War II. They saw very quickly that in the atomic age, it might be impossible to do amphibious assaults — their trademark mission — from ships anchored close to a hostile shore, the way they did them in World War II. They fell in love with the tiltrotor because it offered a faster and better way to take Marines to a fight from ships at sea. Their passion for it, though, stems from their unique culture. Unlike the other armed services, the Marines are also a tribe or even a cult, and one of their tribal beliefs is that they have to be different to continue as a separate branch of the military.

Amen, brother!  I am glad that the Marine Corps stuck with the V-22, despite the costs in lives and treasure, for it has the capability to change the way that we are able to move around the battlespace.  Indeed, the combat radius of a V-22 compared to the aircraft it is designed to replace, the Vietnam War-vintage CH-46E is almost funny:

combat radius comparison

Combat radius comparison

For an example of what could be done with the V-22 a little bit closer to home (I live in Taiwan), if you took off in a combat-loaded CH-46E from Kaohsiung, you probably would not be able to make it to China and back. (The CH-46’s advertised combat radius is 184 miles, which is pretty close to the approximately 190 miles that Google Earth tells me it is from Kaohsiung to the Xiamen / Zhangzhou area in China’s Fujian province.) Contrast that with the V-22’s combat radius of 426 miles.  You would not only be able to reach China, you would be able to make it all the way to Hong Kong, 407 miles away.  And then after dropping off its cargo, the V-22 could then return to Kaohsiung, without refueling.  Let’s take a look at the graphic, courtesy of PowerPoint and Google Maps:

Distances from Kaohsiung to selected Chinese cities

(Or, if you’d prefer to see the actual PowerPoint slide, it’s here (.pptx): KHH – HKK)

Not bad.  Nice capability.  This is only a hypothetical situation, though – I don’t think the V-22 will be among approved weapons sales to Taiwan anytime soon. (Better luck with the F-16s that have been promised since the George H. W. Bush administration.)

Marine load cargo on Osprey

Loading an Osprey in Afghanistan [From http://www.flickr.com/photos/marine_corps/ / CC BY-NC 2.0]
In summary, Richard Whittle’s new book about the V-22 looks pretty darn interesting to me and I plan to add it to my “to read” stack.  Maybe you should check it out, too.

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Halfway through “The Pacific”

May 1, 2010
Guadalcanal map

Guadalcanal campaign map

Episode 5 of HBO’s The Pacific aired here in Taiwan last Saturday night.  I’ve seen all five episodes thus far and want to offer my impressions of the series halfway through.  I think it is useful to tie in some related reading I have been doing.

In a previous post I talked about reading E.B. Sledge’s account of the fantastically terrible fighting on Peleliu and Okinawa as preparation for the series.  Selection of Sledge’s book, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa was in fact a matter of convenience; it had been setting on my shelf, begging to be read for nearly a year since I found a very affordable paperback copy used at a bookstore in Monterey, California.  My latest tie-in selection, William Manchester’s Goodbye, Darkness: A Memoir of the Pacific War was also one of convenience – during a “fire sale” on Audible.com in September 2009, I picked up the unabridged audiobook for cheap.  It had been waiting in my audiobook queue, also beckoning – “Listen to me!”  The time had come.

First of all, my full review of the book, which I finished yesterday, is here at Goodreads.  However, there are a few things I would like to mention about it here in contrast with what I read in Sledge’s book.  Not that  really creates any disputes in the descriptions of the fighting – far from it.  Rather, it is a matter of scope.  Sledge’s book takes an almost “soda straw” view of the fighting he personally engaged in on two islands in the Pacific during World War II.  Much has been written about how successful he was in describing the undeniably brutal combat in both places.  Manchester’s book contains some of the same intense accounts of personal battle, but to it he adds a great deal of context, both from at the time the Pacific campaign was taking place, but also, and very uniquely, from the future – looking back at the battles and their aftermath from the vantage point provided by over three decades of hindsight and perspective.  Writing in the late 1970s, Manchester was critical of the return of the Japanese in commercial and consumer roles to many of the same places that so many U.S. servicemen died in securing during the war, for instance Guam.  I have spent some time on Guam, first in late 1996 and most recently in early 2008.  If he though the place was overcommercialized and had too many Japanese tourists in the late 1970s, I shudder to think what he would make of it today.  The main drag along Tumon Bay compares not unfavorably in terms of commercial development with Waikiki and is now studded with high-rise hotels and fancy boutiques.  Yet only a few miles away in little villages life is completely different, lacking in basic needs like fresh water.  As a legacy of the war, the island is already has a large U.S. military presence, but that will increase by a large margin when in the coming decade nearly 10,000 Marines and their families will most likely move from Okinawa to a new installation on Guam.  Guam’s sons and daughters serve and give their lives in a disproportionately high percentage in today’s U.S. military forces, yet the people there cannot vote in the American presidential elections.  Conditions in Guam today, faced with the impending U.S. military buildup, have many residents feeling like they are colonial subjects of the U.S.  This situation bodes not well for the stability of the island in the future and is even more important as Guam takes a more central role in American strategy in the Pacific as traditional basing locations like Okinawa become less palatable, as the recent protests about the relocation of the Futenma Marine air base in Ginowan, Okinawa and the ongoing friction between the government of Japan and the Americans about what the plan is for the relocation of U.S. forces.

View of Guam from the air, 2008

Manchester also visited Okinawa during his return to the Pacific, and was appalled by what he saw there as well.  He called the base exchange he saw at Camp Foster, the largest of the Marine bases on Okinawa, bigger than any department store he had seen in the U.S.  His return to the Philippines was a bit less shocking, if only because it seemed a bit less “Americanized.”  I’ve also been to Manila and other places in the Philippines and what shocks the most is the contrast between rich and poor.  Manila has no shortage of high-end Western hotels, shopping malls (the Mall of Asia there is the one of the largest in Asia), restaurants, and so forth, but oftentimes just a block or two away are people living in some of the most grinding conditions imaginable.  Panhandling is epidemic.  And then there is the Manila American Cemetery, where many of America’s battle dead from World War II are buried.  When I visited it in 2007, I felt almost as if I had stepped into Arlington National Cemetery, with the rolling expanses of white cross-studded greenery.  It was spacious and peaceful, a stark contrast to the teeming metropolis that surrounded it.

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Even with Manchester’s and Sledge’s lucid descriptions of the combat all across the Pacific, it’s hard for me to imagine fighting in some of these places.  Conditions on Guadalcanal sounded absolutely oppressive.  It’s no wonder the 1st Marine Division emblem still boasts of their fortitude there.

1st MarDiv insignia

1st Marine Division insignia

Finally, specifically about The Pacific, I am enjoying each week’s episode.  I prefer the installments that are more heavy on combat, less so the ones that are about “chasing tail” (i.e. episode 3 about Marines resting and refitting in Australia between the battle on Guadalcanal and the Cape Gloucester landing).  In this respect I agree with critics who say that the series tries to hard to make a “love story.”  Perhaps the second half of the series will be able to tie it all together.  All in all, I would say that halfway through the ten-part series, I prefer Band of Brothers, though it left some seriously big shoes to fill.

Episode 6 of The Pacific airs tonight in Taiwan.  Tune it to HBO to watch.

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