Back from Patrol

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Geography and National Strategy: Russia and China

If you listened to our discussion on Baltic Security with Dan Lynch and Bruce Acker (embedded below), you heard a great deal of talk about geography and the challenges faced by countries in confronting the realities that geography forces on them, especially in terms of national strategy and employment of forces.

In that vein, it seems useful to review some geographic challenges faced by some major countries. Dr. George Friedman had a nice article up on the Forbes website, back in February 2016, 10 Maps That Explain Russia's Strategy, which I commend to your reading.
Many people think of maps in terms of their basic purpose: showing a country’s geography and topography. But maps can speak to all dimensions—political, military, and economic.

Dr. Friedman uses maps to discuss Russia's issues:
  1.  Russia Is Almost Landlocked;
  2.  Europe Controls Russia’s Access to the Oceans;
  3.  The Western Border is Critical to Russia’s Infrastructure;
  4.  Russia Has Lost Its Buffer Against the West;
  5.  Now Russia Has Nothing to Lose;
  6.  Difficulties Unite the Russians;
Dr. Friedman compare Russia to Sparta and Athens comes down on the side that declares Russia is more akin to Sparta:
Therefore, Russia can’t be Athens. It must be Sparta, and that means it must be a land power and assume the cultural character of a Spartan nation. Russia must have tough if not sophisticated troops fighting ground wars. It must also be able to produce enough wealth to sustain its military as well as provide a reasonable standard of living for its people—but Russia will not be able to match Europe in this regard.

So it isn’t prosperity that binds the country together, but a shared idealized vision of and loyalty toward Mother Russia. And in this sense, there is a deep chasm between both Europe and the United States (which use prosperity as a justification for loyalty) and Russia (for whom loyalty derives from the power of the state and the inherent definition of being Russian).
All of this gives the Russians an opportunity. However bad their economy is at the moment, the simplicity of their geographic position in all respects gives them capabilities that can surprise their opponents and perhaps even make the Russians more dangerous.

Dr. Friedman also penned another Forbes piece, 5 Maps That Explain China's Strategy, in which he undertakes a review of China's geographic challenges:
In effect, China is an island in Eurasia. It can move money around and sometimes technology, but not large modern armies. Therefore, China is not a threat to its neighbors, nor are they a threat to China. China’s primary strategic interest is maintaining the territorial integrity of China from internal threats. If it lost control of Tibet or Xinjiang, the PRC’s borders would move far east, the buffer for Han China would disappear, and then China would face a strategic crisis. Therefore, its goal is to prevent that crisis by suppressing any independence movement in Tibet or Xinjiang.
The core strategy of China is internal. It has only one external strategic interest—the seas to the east.
China has vital maritime interests built around global trade. The problem is the sea lanes are not under its control, but rather under American control. In addition, China has a geographic problem. Its coastal seas are the South China Sea, south of Taiwan, and the East China Sea, to its north. Both seas are surrounded by archipelagos of island states ranging from Japan to Singapore with narrow passages between them. These passages could be closed at will by the US Navy. The US could, if it chose, blockade China. In national strategy, the question of intent is secondary to the question of capability. Since the US is capable of this, China is looking for a counter.

One counter would be to establish naval bases elsewhere in Asia. However, isolated by a US blockade from these bases, this would be of little use besides shaping regional psychology. Ultimately, the Chinese must create a force that would make it impossible to block access to the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
China’s stop-gap measure is its large number of anti-ship missiles. These missiles are designed to push the United States back from crucial choke points in the seas surrounding China. The problem with these missiles is that the US can destroy them. The US can’t close the choke points while the missiles are there, but the US has the capability to map China’s anti-ship network and attack it before moving into the choke points. China then must control at least some of these strategic passages from air, sea, and land on the islands of the archipelago. And the key island, Taiwan, is beyond China’s ability to seize.
China, therefore, has three strategic imperatives, two of them internal and one unattainable in any meaningful time frame. First, it must maintain control over Xinjiang and Tibet. Second, it must preserve the regime and prevent regionalism through repressive actions and purges. Third, it must find a solution to its enclosure in the East and South China Seas. In the meantime, it must assert a naval capability in the region without triggering an American response that the Chinese are not ready to deal with.

The Chinese geopolitical reality is that it is an isolated country that is also deeply divided internally. Its strategic priority, therefore, is internal stability. Isolation amidst internal disorder has been China’s worst case scenario. The government of President Jinping Xi is working aggressively to avert this instability, and this issue defines everything else China does. The historical precedent is that China will regionalize and become internally unstable. Therefore, Xi is trying to avert historical precedent.
You should read the whole thing.

You may disagree with Dr. Friedman's assessments, but the underlying discussion of geography and its relation to national strategies is invaluable.

UPDATE: Nice reminder of the need for strategists (or would-be strategists) to revisit geography, in David Hansen's The Immutable Importance of Geography from 1997:
Misunderstanding or misusing geography can confuse our thinking and thwart our best efforts at developing effective national security strategy. Knowledgeably and sensibly applied, however, geography is a discipline that can clarify strategic issues and increase the chances of success in any political, economic, or military endeavor.

Monday, August 29, 2016

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Worldwide Threat to Shipping (WTS) Report 26 July - 24 August 2016

A look at such crimes for 2016 from the excellent ICC Commercial Crimes Services International Maritime Bureau's Live Piracy Map:


Hotspots -
 Gulf of Guinea:

Southeast Asia:

The good news is that the IMB reports Sea piracy drops to 21-year low:
Piracy and armed robbery at sea has fallen to its lowest levels since 1995, despite a surge in kidnappings off West Africa, according to a new report from the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

IMB's global piracy report shows 98 incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 134 for the same period in 2015. When piracy was at its highest, in 2010 and 2003, IMB recorded 445 attacks a year.

In the first half of 2016, IMB recorded 72 vessels boarded, five hijackings, and a further 12 attempted attacks. Nine ships were fired upon. Sixty-four crew were taken hostage onboard, down from 250 in the same period last year.

"This drop in world piracy is encouraging news. Two main factors are recent improvements around Indonesia, and the continued deterrence of Somali pirates off East Africa," said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, whose global Piracy Reporting Centre has supported the shipping industry, authorities and navies for 25 years.

"But ships need to stay vigilant, maintain security and report all attacks, as the threat of piracy remains, particularly off Somalia and in the Gulf of Guinea," he said.
Despite global improvements, kidnappings are on the rise, with 44 crew captured for ransom in 2016, 24 of them in Nigeria, up from 10 in the first half of 2015.

"In the Gulf of Guinea, rather than oil tankers being hijacked for their cargo, there is an increasing number of incidents of crew being kidnapped for ransom," said Captain Mukundan.
Kidnapping off the Philippines is on-going, too, as a means of funding self-identified ISIS affiliate Abu Sayyaf.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

On Midrats 28 August 2016 - Epsiode 347: Baltic Security with Bruce Acker and Dan Lynch

Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 347: Baltic Security with Bruce Acker and Dan Lynch
With a resurgent Russia, the security environment from former Soviet Republics to the traditionally neutral nations of Finland and Sweden has changed dramatically.

What are those changes and how are they changing how these nations see their place in the larger Western security infrastructure? We’re going to look at how thing are changing in how they work and see each other, NATO, and what they need to do to provide for both their and collective defense.

Our guests for the full hour will be Colonel Bruce Acker, USAF (ret) and Captain Dan Lynch, USN (Ret).

Bruce is currently a Defense Strategy Consultant in Stockholm Sweden. He spent 30 years on active duty starting as a Air Defense Weapons flight test engineer upon graduation from the Air Force Academy, and subsequently served in Space, Missile Warning, and Missile Launch operations culminating as a Minuteman ICBM squadron Commander. Following staff tours managing future Air Force and Defense Space systems programs, he broadened to political military assignments as the US Air Attaché to Malaysia and as the US Defense Attaché and Senior Defense Official in Stockholm. Col Acker has published articles on regional security issues in the Swedish Royal Academy of War Sciences journal as well as leading National daily newspapers.

Dan is currently beginning his fifth year on the maritime faculty of the Swedish Defense University in Stockholm. He spent over 35 years on active duty starting as an enlisted Marine and upon graduation from the Naval Academy selected Naval Aviation where he commanded a VP squadron and a patrol and reconnaissance wing. Following major command, he served on the staff of the US ambassador to NATO in Brussels and retired after his last tour as the Naval Attache to Stockholm.
Due to the location of our guests, the show was recorded earlier today. Listen to the show to at 5pm or pick it up later by clicking here. You can also get the show later from our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: Adventure Ahead! "The Biscuit Eater" (1944)

Honoring National Dog Day, here's a tale of a boy and his dog from the series Adventure Ahead!, which seems to have specialized in tales meant to inspire the youth of the day:

More on the series here:
Adventure Ahead! was a brilliant Summer feature for 1944. Comprised of fourteen stirring adventure novels and stories from among America's greatest fiction writers, its somewhat more masculine orientation may have kept some of the young females of the era listening to Frank Sinatra that summer instead of Adventure Ahead!.
That having been said, each of these literary choices did have a uniting theme--defending Freedom, domestically and abroad. To be fair to NBC's programmers, there were several jingoistic, over the top, almost fascist 'public service programs' geared toward every facet of the domestic population at one time or another during the World War II years and the Cold War Years that followed....

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday Film: "Saga of USS Franklin"

Aircraft carrier pummeled but . . .

UPDATE: Yes, it's a rerun here, but it's a great story.

UPDATE2: Here's fresh meat (from 1943), an Army/Chuck Jones/Mel Blanc cartoon about spies. This was before people just hacked into unsecure servers . . .

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Iran's Fingers in the Many Middle East Puppets

Interesting insight into Iran's proxies in the various Middle East messes from Amir Toumaj at The Long War Journal's IRGC commander discusses Afghan militia, ‘Shia liberation army,’ and Syria:
Discussing Iran’s military commitments, Falaki noted that Iran’s proxies are fighting on three major fronts: Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

“One front of this army is in Syria, the other in Iraq, and another in Yemen,” he stated.

The first two are well known, though the claim about Yemen reflects the IRGC’s ultimate goal more than facts on the ground. The Houthis are known to be militarily and politically supported by the IRGC, though the Guard may not exercise full control over the Houthis. The IRGC’s objective is to use the Houthis as a foothold in the Arabian Peninsula, on Saudi Arabia’s southern border. The suspicion of the Houthis being a full Iranian proxy is precisely the reason the Saudis and allies have launched a war in Yemen.

The Houthis, however, are not IRGC proxies like the Fatemiyoun and Iraqi militias. Houthi leaders have publicly complained about IRGC claims of full support. A senior Houthi official in March lashed out at a senior IRGC commander who claimed that the Guard would support the Houthis anyway it could, criticizing Tehran for “exploiting” the Yemeni file.

The Houthis exercise some measure of independence, and do not presently appear to be inclined to serve as the IRGC’s proxy in a perpetual fight against Saudi Arabia, as noted by Yemen scholars.

What is clear is the IRGC’s strategy to exploit the war in Yemen, primarily to be a thorn in Saudi Arabia’s side. They want to perpetuate the perception that Houthis are full Iranian proxies to elicit harsher Saudi reactions. The IRGC hopes that the continuation of conflict will leave the Houthis no choice but to fight and fully embrace the IRGC in order to survive.
Recommended reading, just like Long War Journal always is.

Good thing we have paid so much money to Iran to advance their peaceful intentions.

Sometime it seems we forget how relatively small an area we are dealing with in the Middle East. Here's a nice U.S. government map I liberated from here that might help put things in some perspective:

A Musical Interlude

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

North Korea Threatens Preemptive Suicide If It Doesn't Get Its Way

Well, it's not so much what the headlines say (as in "DPRK warns of preemptive strikes as U.S.-South Korea war games kick off" or "Pyongyang threatens pre-emptive nuclear strike on US-South Korea military drill",) but more what the effect of such strikes would be on the brutal dictatorship of the current Kim-in-Power (KIP).

As the International Business Times reports here:
North Korea has yet again threatened to mount a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US-South Korea joint military exercise, which is set to kick off on 22 August. Tens of thousands of South Korean and American troops are already in the Korean peninsula to take part in the two-week-long annual drill.

Pyongyang views the military exercise termed Ulchi Freedom Guardian as a rehearsal for an actual attack on the North. It said that a nuclear war may "break out any moment" given the volatility in the Korean peninsula.

"They should properly know that from this moment the first-strike combined units of the KPA keep themselves fully ready to mount a preemptive retaliatory strike at all enemy attack groups involved in Ulchi Freedom Guardian," Pyongyang's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KNCA) said in its latest dispatch.

It added that Washington and Seoul "should bear in mind that if they show the slightest sign of aggression on (DPRK's) inviolable land, seas and air ..., it would turn the stronghold of provocation into a heap of ashes through Korean-style preemptive nuclear strike".
Perhaps Kim is looking for more aid to feed his ever hungry population and is, once again, resorting to nuclear blackmail. Whatever his reasons, he undoubtedly knows any act on his part will spell the doom of both his country and, more to the point, of him and all his minions.

Gotta love KIP in the cockpit trying to pretend like he has any idea of what he's looking at. Sort of an analogy . . .

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Worldwide Threat to Shipping (WTS) Report 19 July - 17 August 2016