Posts Tagged ‘military’

My 2011 Master’s Thesis Now Available: Looking at China’s A2/AD Capabilities and U.S. Perceptions of the Challenge

April 24, 2012

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally been cleared to post my 2011 master’s thesis, entitled “AMERICAN PERCEPTIONS OF CHINA‘S ANTI-ACCESS AND AREA-DENIAL CAPABILITIES: IMPLICATIONS FOR U.S. MILITARY OPERATIONS IN THE WESTERN PACIFIC.” I completed the research on it in May 2011, defended it in June in front of a thesis committee featuring a pair of highly-regarded defense and security experts in Taiwan (Dr. Wen-cheng Lin of National Sun Yat-sen University, who served as my thesis advisor, and Dr. Andrew N. D. Yang, Taiwan’s currently serving Deputy Minister of National Defense), and then made my post-defense revisions throughout the summer, finally completing the work in September. It’s basically been in various states of review for release since then. I suppose it is only fitting that I am finally able to release it on the occasion of the joint Chinese and Russian naval drills taking place in the Yellow Sea and the anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Enjoy!

Abstract:

The post-Cold War world has created a number of important new challenges to the United States‘ power projection capabilities. The worldwide network of bases and stations that enabled the U.S. to contain the Soviet Union have, in many cases, been made into liabilities. U.S. dependence on fixed, vulnerable ports and airfields for the buildup of combat power, as seen in the 1990-91 Gulf War and 2003 Iraq War, have shown potential foes like China and Iran that it doesn‘t pay to allow penalty-free access and freedom of action in maritime, air, and space commons. In the Western Pacific, China has pursued an anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) strategy, developing capabilities designed to deny U.S. freedom of movement in the region.

This study examines U.S. perceptions of China‘s growing A2/AD capabilities and their implications for U.S. military operations in the Western Pacific through the analysis of authoritative official and unofficial U.S. documents and studies. This work establishes a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of Chinese A2/AD capabilities through American eyes, updating previous comprehensive works in key areas such as the status of China‘s anti-ship ballistic missile, conventional ballistic and cruise missile capabilities and their implications for key U.S. facilities in the region, and new technology and platforms like China‘s first aircraft carrier and stealth aircraft.

The thesis concludes that the U.S. has been slow in reacting to Chinese A2/AD developments and that it is unlikely that continued Chinese military modernization (including the refinement and development of additional A2/AD capabilities) will end in the near future. For the U.S., this means that development and implementation of a truly joint concept for counter-A2/AD operations, as well as the right mix of military capabilities to carry out such operations, cannot be delayed any longer.

View this document on Scribd

On national service

January 3, 2011

We interrupt the regularly scheduled broadcast… to bring you this worthwhile (but not exactly related to the mainstay of this blog’s focus) video of Matt Pottinger, formerly a reporter for the Wall Street Journal in China, formerly a U.S. Marine Corps officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, now the Edwin R. Murrow Press Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations delivering an address to his high school last Veteran’s Day.

Pottinger graduated from the Milton Academy in 1991 and was invited back to speak nearly 20 years later.  It’s funny and a little bit interesting to see the emphasis he puts on how he was less than totally dedicated to his studies while a student there, particularly in light of his subsequent professional success both as a reporter for one of the world’s premier newspapers and as a military officer.

It’s an interesting speech to me on a number of levels – first, it’s clear that his story is not typical.  Rarely in the modern day do you see people leave behind rewarding positions like the one Matt had with the WSJ in Beijing to do selfless things like join the Marine Corps to fight, though Matt’s story is not the only one like this – even more well-known was pro-footballer turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman; and there are many more who are relatively more obscure, like the investment banker from San Francisco I personally know who, like Matt, joined the Corps for a single tour in wartime, but in his case it was as a “conscience-clearing” to justify in his own mind the ridiculous amounts of money he was making (he has since returned to investment banking after four years of honorable service that included a tour in Iraq).  We need more people like Matt and my investment banker friend who are willing to step up and serve their countries.

It is also interesting because of the outsize success that Matt enjoyed during his time in the Corps.  He served only 5 years, but accomplished more during that time than many officers can claim in a whole career.  For instance, he innovated the first Marine Corps female engagement teams (FET) in Afghanistan that took advantage of local perceptions about women that allowed female Marines greater access and trust in the local society than the male Marines they served with.  Unlike the male Marines, the female Marines were seen as OK to enter local households without necessitating revenge in the Pashtun honor society system.  Since the FETs were able to get inside the homes of locals, they could better collect information and also tell the locals about what the coalition forces were trying to accomplish, an information operations (IO) bonanza of the first order. (For more on FETs and IO, this recent piece in The Nation discusses the difficulties the Marines and now the Army are having in sourcing personnel for the FETs and more importantly discusses some of the limitations and problems in their use.  This master’s thesis (PDF) from a student at Marine Corps University discusses the need for improved intelligence support to information operations in the types of fighting and nation-building that the US is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Probably largely on the strength of innovating the FETs he was named the 2009 Marine Corps Intelligence Officer of the Year.  He followed that up by deploying to Afghanistan for a second time, and this time around he co-authored (with two high-level intelligence officials also serving in Afghanistan at the time) an influential critique of American intelligence efforts there.  Entitled Fixing Intel: A Blueprint for Making Intelligence Relevant in Afghanistan (recommended reading here at Facing China about a year ago) that advocated, among other things, establishing positions for officers whose jobs would be not unlike that of a newspaper reporter – traveling widely around Afghanistan to speak face-to-face with people on the ground, then taking the information they gleaned at the tactical level back to the headquarters to fuse it together to provide the “real” picture that was getting lost in all the layers of bureaucracy and in the overdependence on technical intelligence collection (no doubt his background as a reporter in China informed this recommendation).

I think Matt makes a good argument for the importance and value of performing national service of some nature – it by no means has to be in the military.  I wonder if through his appearance at his alma mater Matt was able to convince any young Americans of the significance and virtue of seeking service to the point that they resolve to take action.  Only time will tell.

As he says in the speech, Matt has now completed his service and is back at his first love – writing.  I know I am looking forward to what I am sure will be relevant and insightful contributions from him at CFR.

The video is about 40 minutes long, so if that’s too long, you can at least read the “Cliffs Notes” version of it here, in a news release from the Milton Academy.

The Pacific: Endgame

December 31, 2010
Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Image via Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this post in May 2010 after viewing the final episode of HBO’sThe Pacific” miniseries.  I think I meant to work on it more and then post it a bit later, but since it’s now the end of the year and I am just now posting it, clearly it fell by the wayside.  Previous posts on the series can be found here and here.

The final episode of HBO’s original miniseries “The Pacific” aired last night in Taiwan.  As I have written about a couple of times previously here at Facing China, I’ve been doing some reading related to the series and the World War II in the Pacific.  My final selection related to HBO’s The Pacific was the new book about the survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back. But before I get into the book at all, let’s discuss The Pacific, shall we?

I enjoyed the series.  It had big shoes to fill, though.  I would say that if The Pacific had come out 10 years ago in place of Band of Brothers, people would be gushing about it, me included.  But since it had so much to live up to, I must reluctantly admit (I already admitted that as a U.S. Marine myself, I am biased) that in my opinion Band of Brothers is the superior series.  Why?  I am not completely sure…perhaps it was because Band of Brothers focused on a smaller “scene” in the European theater of war, as compared to the far-ranging American effort across virtually the entire vastness of the Pacific Ocean.  I think that as a result The Pacific was a bit disjointed, it didn’t flow as smoothly as Band of Brothers did.  Then there was the characters – none of the actors in The Pacific really excelled and stuck with me the way certain characters did in Band of Brothers, like the crazy-legs lieutenant that seemed invincible running across many a battlefield, inspiring the troops to greater accomplishments.  Or Dick Winters, the ultra-charismatic officer who Band of Brothers followed throughout the war.  His equivalent, Sledge’s company commander at Peleliu, “Ack Ack,” did not survive that island’s fighting.

I asked at the outset whether or not the producers of The Pacific would be able to do justice to the baseness and ferocity of the fighting in places like Peleliu and Okinawa as described in Eugene Sledge‘s book.  I think they did a fair job in showing the incredibly demanding conditions the fighting took place in, like the never-ending rains in Okinawa that turned everything to a sea of mud.  In his book, Sledge described one Okinawan vista this way:

It was the most ghastly corner of hell I had ever witnessed.  As far as I could see, an area that previously had been a low grassy valley with a picturesque stream meandering through it was a middy, repulsive, open sore on the land.  The place was choked with the putrefaction of death, decay, and destruction.  In a shallow defilade to our right, between my gun pit and the railroad, lay about twenty dead Marines, each on a stretcher and covered to his ankles with a poncho – a commonplace, albeit tragic, scene to every veteran.  Those bodies had been placed there to await transport to the rear for burial.  At least those dead were covered from the torrents of rain that had made them miserable in life and from the swarms of flies that sought to hasten their decay.  But as I looked about, I saw that other Marine dead couldn’t be tended properly.  The whole area was pocked with shell craters and churned up by explosions.  Every crater was half full of water, and many of them held a Marine corpse.  The bodies lay pathetically just as they had been killed, half submerged in muck and water, rusting weapons still in hand.  Swarms of big flies hovered about them.

In the end, it’s back to the old cliché – read the book.  At one point in The Pacific, a Marine on Okinawa slips down the side of a hill of mud while trying simply to get from one place to another.  He ends up in a deep puddle of maggotty mud-water along with a rotting corpse or two.  While it is disgusting by any measure on the screen, here’s how he described the same events in the book:

My buddy rose, took one step down the ridge, slipped, and fell.  He slid on his belly all the way to the bottom, like a turtle sliding off a log.  I reached the bottom to see him stand erect with his arms partially extended and look down at his chest and belt with an mixed expression of horror, revulsion, and disbelief.  He was, of course, muddy from the slide.  But that was the least of it.  White, fat maggots tumbled and rolled off his cartridge belt, pockets, and folds of his dungaree jacket and trousers.  I picked up a stick and handed him another.  Together we scraped the vile insect larvae off his reeking dungarees.

I’d certainly recommend The Pacific as a good series to watch about World War II in the Pacific from the U.S. point of view.  It doesn’t tell the whole story, but how could it?  Four years of fighting can hardly be compressed into under 10 hours of television.  Nice effort – 4 of 5 stars.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I also wanted to talk about the book The Last Train from Hiroshima.  First, it’s important to note at the outset that the book is controversial because of problems with key sources of information the author used in researching the book.  In fact, because of these source problems, the publisher pulled the book from further sales earlier this year and the author is re-writing the book without the tainted sources.  Oh yeah, the sources scandal also raised questions about the author’s academic credentials, and it turns out that the PhD he claimed wasn’t real.  Due to all these problems, Last Train may not have been the best book to choose in retrospect, but in my own defense, I bought it soon after it was released, prior to all these skeletons coming out of the closet.  I decided to read it to tie in with World War II‘s “endgame” – nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and a few days later, Japanese capitulation.

The nuclear attacks on Japan are not a major event in The Pacific – they occur at the end of the 9th episode, and are not shown, only alluded to in a conversation about some fancy, new “super bombs” wiping out a couple Japanese cities.  This is not to downplay their significance; it is simply because the attacks themselves are beyond the scope of the story.  It is because of the atomic bombs used on Japan that the story ends as it does, with a U.S. victory on Okinawa, with no need to chance the estimated 1 million U.S. casualties that would be necessitated by a breach on mainland Japan itself.

Last Train talks about some of the poor souls who managed to survive the bombing in Hiroshima and thought that fleeing would be a good idea, to get out of the area.  I agree, but a few who fled Hiroshima went to join family in Nagasaki and were there a few days hence when the second, more powerful nuclear bomb was detonated.  This could called “really, really bad luck.”  The book also asserts that the Hiroshima bomb was a “dud.”  The yield was only about 10 kilotons (KT), even though it was supposed to be between 20 – 30KT. (The Nagasaki bomb‘s yield was in this latter range.) One Japanese survivor, a medical doctor who wore glasses to correct his eyesight, had his vision corrected by the blast.  In what might be the ultimate deadpan, he said that he does not recommend weathering a nuclear attack as an alternative corrective vision surgery. (!!!)

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this year.  I wanted to see both of the bombing sites and see what the cities that still exist there are like now.  It’s remarkable, really – what I took away most from the visits was the resilience of mankind.  To see the photos of the destruction the bombs caused and to stand at the hypocenter today and take a look around, to see all the bustle and urban metropolis still surrounding you there, is quite a testament to being able to bounce back from a really, really big setback.

A related book I also recently completed was John Lewis Gaddis’s newest book of history related to the aftermath of World War II, called The Cold War: A New History.  I found the book to be quite interesting in how it ties so many different themes together, from the evolution of containment, detente, the creation of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War in Asia, the opening of China, and on and on.  It was a nice way to bring me pretty much right back to the modern day, tracing out the results of World War II to (near) the present.  Excellent book.

The new Korean War and Taiwan

December 20, 2010

Chinese Military Involvement in a Future Korean War

Capt Jacquelyn Schneider, USAF

Strategic Studies Quarterly, 2010 (4), 50 – 67.

I came across a timely article in a not-too-well-known journal last week that discusses the likelihood of China intervening in the next edition of the Korean War (which, based on contemporary news accounts, seems like it could start any day now).

It’s fairly well-known that the beginning of the original Korean War (1950 – 1953) in June 1950 had the side-effect of placing the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Strait to keep another conflict from erupting in East Asia at the same time.  The author of this piece, Jacquelyn Schneider, argues that ever since that time, Korea and Taiwan have been linked, which raises some vexing issues for the present:

However loathe the United States is to link actions on the Korean peninsula with Taiwan, it is historically impossible to completely separate the two issues. As mentioned previously, China’s attempts to initially reunify Taiwan with the PRC were stymied by the Korean War. Would it be possible for China to capitalize on the US focus on Korea to launch a simultaneous amphibious operation to conquer Taiwan?

Her question is an interesting one.  She answers it by looking at military capability to take Taiwan and willingness to do so.  Her take – the capability exists, but it is too difficult for non-Chinese to understand the Taiwan issue fully, for there is no equivalent in the American experience, and thus impossible to make a willingness judgment.

In my mind, if China would decide to enter a new Korean War, assuming that it was initiated by the North, then I think that there would be little additional loss in terms of international standing, economic losses, etc. from also initiating a move against Taiwan.  China would already be branded an outlaw and condemned in places like the UN for backing North Korea’s aggression, so why not settle up when it comes to Taiwan at the same time?  After all, why else would the PRC have in excess of 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles stationed opposite Taiwan, a burgeoning fleet of attack submarines, and a rapidly modernizing air arm?  It’s not to offset any equivalent military buildup taking place in Taiwan, that’s for sure.

Back to Korea, though, Schneider surmises that modern China as a largely integrated stakeholder in the international order has too much to lose, and thus chiefly for this reason (though also including the absence of a Mao-like leader, fear of domestic repercussions in term of refugee flows out of North Korea, and the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in Northeast China to U.S. attack) would not enter a new Korean War.  That’s all well and good, but I think there is more to it than that – what about treaty obligations?  My understanding of the PRC – DPRK treaty of friendship, etc. is that it makes security guarantees that specifically exclude those of the nuclear umbrella-type, but that it also states that the PRC is under no obligation to assist if the DPRK initiates the aggression.  How about this – the DPRK attacks South Korea (as we’ve seen them do twice this year so far), who then counterattacks into North Korea, and then the attacks escalate, from initial artillery and air strikes on mainly military facilities of both sides to more and more areas populated mainly by civilians, at which point U.S. forces become involved in a range of military operations, including troop movements (with the South Koreans) across the DMZ.  What now, China?  I think that in such a case, the PRC joins in – I don’t think they are going to sit idly by if U.S. forces are being actively involved, just as I think U.S. forces would be automatically committed if PRC forces were involved.  It’s like each side on the Korean peninsula has their “big brother” there waiting to jump in if the other side’s back-up decides to get feisty.

And, if that all happens, then who knows if China would decide to try to capitalize on the opportunity to move on Taiwan?  It’s certainly a possibility I hope the planners at U.S. Pacific Command have taken into account…

Schneider goes on to introduce some very sensible “rules of engagement” that would help prevent a rapidly escalating conflict in Korea between the primarily interested non-territorial powers, including the establishment of buffer zones and assignment of responsibility over refugees in particular locations.  I agree that measures such as these would be essential to keep from quickly moving down the road to a greatly expanded war in Korea. (Ah, but could the U.S. trust China to live up to their parts in the rules?  She talks about this as well…read the article.)

She returns to the Taiwan issue at the end:

The change [North Korea’s defeat and the reunification of the Korean peninsula] could prove advantageous for decoupling the Taiwan situation from the Korean peninsula. By demonstrating the will to use force, openness in military planning, and gracious collaboration in victory, the United States would demonstrate its inherent trust in China to participate in the region as a stabilizer.

…and then the closer:

In a game of multiple iterations, a Korean conflict could help the United States and China more advantageously perceive utility and value of each nation’s interests and actions in Asia. By building trust between the two players in the Asian region, the probability of provoking conflict becomes less likely. Perversely, if executed properly, a conflict on the Korean peninsula could serve as a stabilizing event in the Pacific region.

I’m not buying it.  It’s just too optimistic.  I can only see negative and ill effects on the Asia-Pacific region from a new Korean War – heaps of dead bodies in Seoul, a shattered former North Korea hollowed out from refugee outflows, and an even greater tension between China and the United States, if not outright war.  I think she’s right about decoupling Korea and Taiwan, but only because there would no longer be troops facing off over the 38th Parallel.  If China refrained from invading Taiwan at the same time, then cross-Strait tensions would be vaulted to new highs.  Let’s hope Korea doesn’t kick off anytime soon – the U.S. is militarily still too preoccupied with exiting Iraq and searching for the door in Afghanistan.

Still in business

December 17, 2010

R.O.C. Marine band members

Since my last post, I’ve been busy pursuing my hobby (triathlons / triathlon training), made a quick trip back to the U.S., and as of late, been burdened quite heavily writing papers and presenting on them at grad school.  First, I’d like to talk a little bit about this last point, sharing a little bit of what I’ve been researching, writing about, and presenting on.  I’ll also share what remains “in the hopper” – requirements left to be satisfied before the end of the semester about a month from now.  Be warned: there will also be a fair amount of miscellany tossed in for good measure!

  1. I wrote a paper and made a presentation this week entitled “China’s Rise and the South China Sea.”  I find China’s recent aggressiveness over its claims in the South China Sea to be part of their overall trend toward consolidation of territorial claims, both maritime and land-based (for example, the September 2010 row with Japan over the Chinese fishing boat which rammed Japanese patrol vessels near the Senkaku / Diaoyutai Islands not far from Taiwan in the East China Sea is another example of aggressive behavior over a disputed maritime claim).  While China’s claim of “indisputable sovereignty” over the South China Sea made just after the July ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi made headlines, in fact China has been making the same types of claims about the South China Sea for decades, going back to not long after the establishment of the People’s Republic.  What was significant in China’s rhetoric about the South China Sea this year was the elevation of the area to “core national interest” status, something that heretofore only long-standing PRC irredentist claims such as those involving Taiwan or Tibet were assigned.  Looks to me like China is positioning itself to be more aggressive about the South China Sea, not less.   There is a chance that the paper might be accepted for publication next year in an edited book on topics related to China’s foreign policy produced by my school, National Sun Yat-sen University (NSYSU), so I will refrain from posting it until that situation is sorted out.
  2. I also participated in the creation and delivery of a presentation this week about Japan’s national security strategy under Koizumi (2001 – 2006).  There was no paper for this project, just the presentation.  It was interesting to me to learn about how much the U.S. has pressured Japan to assume a greater and greater security role as the decades passed after World War II, and to see how changes in Japan’s laws governing overseas deployment of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) marching in lock-step with U.S. overseas wars since 1990.  Today, Japan is assuming more and more of a “normal” role in terms of its own security, though a there is still a long way to go until the process is complete.  It will be interesting to see how far the process goes, and whether or not at some point perhaps in the next decade Japan’s people reach enough of a consensus to make changes to or perhaps eliminate altogether Article 9 of their American-authored post-WWII constitution that currently outlaws Japan from possessing “military” forces and bans aggression as a policy choice.  You can see the presentation here. (Google Docs)
  3. Papers I am still working on this semester include an examination of the continuing utility of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that established the current non-official relationship between the United States and Taiwan when the U.S. decided to switch official recognition to the PRC, another on non-traditional security issues in Southeast Asia (probably focusing on pandemic disease threats and response preparation, since this [East Asia]  is the region that suffered the most in the SARS outbreak back in the early 2000s and has also been subject to not a few bird flu scares).  The final paper will deal in with national security / crisis management, and will likely revolve around a case study of one or both of the Quemoy crises in the 1950s.
  4. I talked in a recent post about deliberations over selecting a thesis topic.  I decided that the anti-access/area denial (A2AD) realm is the one I am truly interested in with regard to China’s military modernization, so that will be what my thesis will be on – the effect of China’s development of A2AD capabilities like the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) and associated systems on Taiwan Strait security.  At the very least, the Navy guys should be interested in it.
  5. We continue to benefit from NSYSU professors “mining their Rolodexes” when they will be unable to give classes due to international travel or other conflicts.  This week Ambassador Feng Tai (酆邰), formerly Taiwan’s ambassador in Tuvalu and 37-year veteran of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delivered a talk on crisis management and negotiating skills.  By far the best parts of the talk were when he leavened it with personal anecdotes from some of his own experiences, from hosting the Saudis here in Taiwan in 1990 when the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was weighing switching its recognition of Taiwan to the PRC (it ultimately did so) to stories about preparing to negotiate with meticulous and well-prepared Japanese and Chinese delegations on various issues.  Ambassador Feng mentioned that he is weighing retiring from the MOFA next year and going into academia, teaching foreign affairs at a university in Taipei.
  6. Not really related to academic affairs as the rest of this post has been, but interesting nonetheless: last month I traveled to Taipei to attend the U.S. Marine Corps birthday celebration.  The U.S. Marine Corps was established 10 November 1775, and every year about that time Marines pause to remember fondly those who have gone before us.  The interesting part about this year’s celebration here in Taiwan was that it was the first official celebration of any size since the late 1970s when the above-mentioned Taiwan Relations Act was passed.  For decades after the TRA, there were no active-duty U.S. military officers stationed as attaché with AIT.  It was only in 2005 that the first active-duty military folks returned to AIT.  A couple years later, the first post-TRA U.S. Marine attaché came to Taiwan.  Since that time, every year the celebration of the Marine birthday grew a little bit, and now, in 2010, the celebration of the U.S. Marine birthday here in Taiwan (235 years young!) was on par with celebrations held at places with very robust U.S. Marine presences (like Marine bases in the U.S. or Okinawa).  There was one key difference, though – here we were able to celebrate hand-in-hand with out R.O.C. Marine counterparts, who attended in force this year, led by their Commandant, Lieutenant General Hsia Fu-Hwa.  The Taiwan Marines were even gracious enough to offer up their band’s jazz ensemble to provide the music for the event – that’s them in the photo at the top of this post. (Good thing, because we couldn’t make much of a U.S. Marine band here with the two of us, no matter how talented we are!)  I have no doubt that in the future these birthday celebrations will only become more and more like the finer Marine Corps Birthday Balls put on by embassies and equivalent worldwide each November.
  7. Blogroll update: I’m adding the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank that put out a fine report on the future of security in Asia this year, and also China SignPost, an effort by Dr. Andrew Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Gabe Collins.  They publish periodic analytical briefs on various aspects of China and the world.  I’ve found especially their report on how China’s dependence on oil imported by sea will only continue to increase, despite efforts at developing overland pipelines.

Matterhorn

September 22, 2010

Long-time followers of this blog (all two of you) will already know that I like the programs the Pritzker Military Library has from time to time.  Located in Chicago, Illinois, the Library hosts authors of military-related books for talks about their works.  The most recent program I caught featured Matt Gallagher, author of Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War, one of the truest memoirs of the Iraq War I have read. (Side note: go check out Matt’s latest post on his new blog, Kerplunk, about an academic conference he recently attended – good stuff!)  I caught the podcast for that one, but on other previous occasions I have endured the often-painfully early wake-up calls required to watch the streaming video live as the event happens.  This time around, to watch author Karl Marlantes talk about his brilliant novel of the Vietnam War Matterhorn, I won’t have to get up early at all – thanks PML!

I read Matterhorn after seeing the high praise heaped upon it from various sources, including James Fallows of The Atlantic.  While I had little doubt that the book would be interesting to me – it’s about Marines and war, a couple of topics near and dear to my heart – I wasn’t as certain that the book would be able to live up to the hype.  Well, it did, and then some.  It’s been a while since I have read a book that I literally didn’t want to put down (especially when considering that some of my academic pursuits of late have included political economy and philosophy), but that’s how Marlantes’ novel was.  Marlantes himself was a Marine who served in Vietnam and started writing the novel soon after his service there ended.  More than 30 years later, the product is worth your attention.  Read the book, and if you haven’t yet, still tune in (or get the podcast) to see him talk about the book on Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 6PM Central (US) time (7AM on Friday morning here in Taiwan – no problem tuning in for me!).  Read on for all the details.

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org/events/2010/09-23-karl-marlantes.jsp

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pritzker Military Library

610 N. Fairbanks Court, 2nd Floor
Chicago, IL 60611
312-587-0234
Make a reservation

Member reception: 5:00pm
Presentation and Live Webcast: 6:00pm

Books are available for purchase at author events courtesy of The Book Stall at Chestnut Court. Library members receive a 10% discount.
As a young man, returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam, he began writing an epic novel about the war he experienced and the way that combat changes people. More than thirty years later, his work is done.

Matterhorn draws from Karl Marlantes’ experience as an officer with the Marine Corps in Vietnam. The year is 1969, and 2nd Lt. Waino Mellas has been assigned to lead a rifle platoon of forty Marines as their company builds a fire support base in the mountains near the border of Laos. His platoon is full of young men who have been at war for years; Mellas, fresh out of college, is overwhelmed by his responsibilities as a leader and the dense jungle landscape that surrounds them.

As casualties mount, Mellas and his platoon fight through a series of conflicting missions – they are ordered to abandon their newly built base, the ordered to take it back from the North Vietnamese Army, and then ordered to abandon it again. While their commanding officers fight the war from a distance, little aware of how their decisions affect men on the ground, Mellas and his platoon endure sweltering heat, monsoon rains, and a growing sense of futility; they struggle to understand and trust each other, and they forge powerful bonds that will overcome fear, doubt, and loss.

Karl Marlantes was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals for his service in Vietnam. Matterhorn is his first novel. A graduate of Yale and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he lives in rural Washington.

On the 2010 China Military Power Report, Part I

August 18, 2010
National emblem of the People's Republic of China

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I spent part of my day today reading through the opening section of the new Pentagon report on China‘s military power.  Quite frankly, I wasn’t all that impressed by chapter 1, the “annual update”  where significant developments related to questions raised by Congress in the fiscal year 2010 National Defense Authorization Act are discussed.  Perhaps it is because I have been studying China for the entire time frame this report covers (2009) – there really wasn’t much here that was new to me; or perhaps it was because when I read the previous version (2009) of the China Military Power report in the spring of 2009 I was a fairly new “China watcher”; now most of this seems like old hat.  Or maybe it was because every time I read the report talking about things happening in whatever month (say for instance, June), I had to remind myself that since the report is so late in being released this year, they aren’t talking about the month of June that recently ended, but instead the June that is nearly 15 months ago now.  So a lot of what is discussed seems a bit stale and out of date.  Note to DoD: release the report on time, and this last beef won’t be nearly such an issue.

There aren’t a lot of surprises in chapter 1.  That said, here are a few nuggets I found to be interesting.  The PRC continues its military buildup unabated, regardless of thawing relations across the Taiwan Strait.  (You don’t say.)  The PRC continues to add to its arsenal of short range ballistic missiles (SRBM) and cruise missiles aimed at Taiwan.  (It was nice to see that the DoD estimate of the number of SRBMs opposite Taiwan in December 2009 to be 1,050 to 1,150; many of the scare-mongering pieces I see currently talk about more like 1,500 SRBMs.)  China is developing a host of anti-access, area-denial weapons systems, one of which is the anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), designed to be a U.S. “carrier killer.”  In conjunction with developing anti-access technologies, the PRC is also beefing up its over-the-horizon skywave and surface wave radars.  These radars are used to help target ships at sea that continue to move after a ballistic missile is launched in their general direction and are used to supplement surveillance satellites.  There is a (very) short section in chapter 1 (a single paragraph on page 7) that discusses the PRC’s cyberwarfare capabilities.  I hope there is more on this topic later in the report, for otherwise this is a pretty big topic of interest for me that was hardly mentioned in chapter 1.

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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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