Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

"Memorial Day is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country's armed forces."

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Prelude to Memorial Day: The Civil War

The American Civil War was as bloody as they come:
Roughly 2% of the population, an estimated 620,000 men, lost their lives in the line of duty. Taken as a percentage of today's population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.
It is fitting that as we ponder the meaning of this long weekend that we begin with a look back to the war that first prompted honoring those who fell in the service of their country.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Friday, May 22, 2015

China's Interest is China's Interest

Kick off the Memorial Day Weekend - mindful that many Americans died fighting helping to free China during WWII - by suggesting a couple of reads on China.

First is Jeff Smith's Foreign Affairs piece, Beware China's Grand Strategy
Ask ten China scholars to define Chinese grand strategy and you will get ten answers. In a formal sense, it does not exist. Yet observers can discern coherent strategic priorities that, in aggregate, resemble the elements of a grand strategy. Today, the first priority is arguably driven by the Communist Party’s preoccupation with mitigating key vulnerabilities in pursuit of stability and growth.
Ah, those "key vulnerabilities" - which support China's need for economic growth:
Externally, Beijing is keenly sensitive regarding the vulnerability of the energy imports that sustain China’s economy, the bulk of which must traverse thousands of miles of open sea patrolled by the U.S. Navy and through the narrow naval chokepoint at the Strait of Malacca. The naked vulnerability of these imports (particularly in war time) is intolerable to Chinese strategists.
China's Port and Canal Developments

The goals of Chinese grand strategy can therefore be assumed to be attaining diverse and defensible sources of energy and rapid economic growth bolstered by a healthy supply of export markets in an increasingly connected Asia.

The AIIB [Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank] has the virtue of advancing both agendas, but it represents just one finger in a Chinese hand grasping Asia in an ever-tighter embrace. China’s “String of Pearls” investments in port facilities along the Indian Ocean rim represent another. Just this past February, a Chinese state-owned enterprise assumed control of the “crown pearl,” Pakistan’s Gwadar Port. Another finger is the web of new oil and gas pipelines from Myanmar (also called Burma) to Kazakhstan, and new industrial and commercial rail links spanning from Western China to Europe. Last year a Chinese cargo train made the longest continuous train ride in history, a 21-day, 8,000-mile round trip from China’s Zheijang province to Spain and back. Meanwhile, Russia and China are currently negotiating the details of a largest-ever gas pipeline and supply contract worth up to $40 billion. Finally, Beijing is still unveiling the details of a “One Belt, One Road” New Silk Road Initiative, an ambitious vision for an interconnected Asia with each spoke linking back to the hub of the Chinese economy.
As the article notes, China has a nationalist movement that is unhappy with things that happened during China's weak years and that anger leads directly to efforts to "get back" that which this movement feels was "stolen." One symbol of this effort is the infamous 9- or 10-dashed line which China uses to justify its actions in the South China Sea.

As far as strategy goes, China is not straying too far from a Mahanian approach (see Mahan’s Naval Strategy: China Learned It. Will America Forget It?).

The other big read is from the Council on Foreign Relations, Robert Blackwill and Ashley Tellis authors, Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China , which is downloadable as a pdf:
"Because the American effort to 'integrate' China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia—and could result in a consequential challenge to American power globally—Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that centers on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy."
Is China a boogie man or just a major country asserting its will in a world where other major powers have risen and fallen? Does China's ascendance require confrontation? What is "international law" but the will of the strongest glossed over as "proper behavior?" Will the behavior of past "western" empires come back to haunt their descendants?

It also might be a good idea to read Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations (book available here) as well as critics of that work (see e.g. here). Another approach to ponder, John Mearsheimer's The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. There's also, perhaps more directly on point, Henry Kissinger's On China.

Friday Fun Film: "Deep Sea Diving: The Technique of Diving" (1943)

Profiles the role of the U.S. Navy's hardhat divers, and shows the various systems used to support their operations. This film includes footage of re-compression chambers and diver support equipment. The special men of honor who served as the Navy's hardhat divers during WWII salvaged lost equipment, repaired ships at sea and in the harbor, and served in many other important capacities.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fun in the South China Sea: Islands in the Stream

In the South China Sea (SCS) China is rushing to present the world with a fait accompli by hurrying to place runways and port facilities on what were, a couple of years ago, mere high spots in the water constituting hazards to ship navigation.

This has been behind my re-tweeting a number of James Kraska's tweets on the legal aspects of China's aggressive activity in the South China Sea in "developing" islands in contested waters.

How do we know their intent? As have many others, I have watched the CNN footage here. China is being very assertive. None of the local countries affected by this aggression are strong enough to muster any sort of response to this bully-boy tactics.

Now comes this Reuters piece, written by William Johnson, "Why a forceful U.S. response to China’s artificial island-building won’t float" which questions whether the downsized U.S. Navy (and by extension, the U.S. government) has the "wherewithal" to do anything except rely on "diplomacy" to deal with this Chinese strategy.
China's dotted line claim in the SCS
The question then becomes how best to deal with this possibility. Today the United States doesn’t have the resources in place for a major effort in the area unless it is willing to take some very great risks.
Well, you can bet the Chinese have counted on that as they have moved forward.

More irksome (at least to me) is this analysis:
In order to justify an aggressive approach, the United States must determine that the creation of these islands is threatening some vital U.S. interest. The claim that the new islands are disrupting the United States’ freedom of navigation is a red herring. To date, China has done nothing in the South China Sea to disrupt shipping. It has countered activities by other countries who assert their ownership and control in the region, notably Vietnam and the Philippines, and has asserted its own ownership and control by intercepting fishing vessels and placing oil rigs in the area. Yet none of these actions have disrupted shipping in the region. It is disingenuous for the United States to claim that by using military force to counter the island-building, it is asserting the freedom of international shipping to sail close to rocks and submerged reefs — an action no merchant vessel is likely to take.

Another flawed justification for U.S. military involvement is to defend peace and stability in the region. There have so far been no major military confrontations in the disputes between the five other countries that lay claims to the South China Sea. Journalists as well as President Obama argue that this is simply because the smaller countries are afraid to confront China due to an imbalance in military might. While this imbalance exists, it isn’t a reason for the United States to step in. The United States has taken no position on any of the territorial claims, and has urged the parties to settle their disagreements peacefully. As long as the disputing countries are not coming to blows, the United States would be rash to risk a fight with a nuclear-armed China over China’s pursuit of its claims.

A final hollow justification for military action is that the United States needs to reassure its partners and allies in the region.***
So, If I understand Mr. Johnson correctly then, there is no threat until China finishes its new "island wall" with bases that it will assert extend its national waters and then begins to exercise its new "right" to keep those waters free and clear of unwelcome guests - like the U.S. Navy.

Well, then, wow. Just wow.

I've been involved in some "freedom of navigation" actions like that shown in the CNN video. In this case, I would consider them to be the absolute minimum activity that the U.S. needs to undertake to keep the air/sea/subsea areas that these new islands might threaten from becoming something more than just a verbal threat.

Some nice analysis by Dr. Kraska in his "How China Exploits a Loophole In International Law in Pursuit of Hegemony in East Asia".

China's playing the long game for all it is worth. The U.S. needs to step up its response.

UPDATE: Another ally in the area has concerns in the SCS as set out by Bonnie Glaser in "High stakes for Australia in limiting China's South China Sea incursions":
China is seeking to exercise greater control over the waters and airspace in ways that pose threats to all nations that have interests in preserving freedom of navigation, international law and norms, unimpeded lawful commerce, and peace and stability in the South China Sea.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Disaster Prep Wednesday: What about money?

Normally in these Disaster Prep posts, I talk about the need to have water, food and other necessities of life on hand or nearby. Today we need to take a different tack and discuss having cash (or as is often said "cash money") on hand "just in case."

First, we are not talking about those "end of world" scenarios in which all the power goes off forever or space aliens and/or zombies take to the streets. Somehow I don't think a few $20s will solve a zombie problem. On the other hand, most hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes will only impact small regions or locations - and areas outside those impact zones that are not affected may take your debit or credit cards in the best case. Worst case, you might need cold hard cash.

What kind of cash? There are a lot of folks who seem to think gold of almost any type will work and are stocking up on it. Well, let me ask you this, then - how comfortable would you be if someone came to your garage sale or to buy a used car from you if they took out a couple of ounces of golden flakes to pay? Could you recognize real gold if someone tossed you a poke full of it like you see in those old Westerns?

Based on your reaction, do think some grocer in a non-impacted area is going to be thrilled to try and guess whether those golden coins you are pushing across the counter are real? Also, doesn't it defeat the purpose of using a gold coin weighing an ounce (worth $1200 or so) if you have to get change in something other than gold? Or are you planning to cut that coin into smaller pieces?

So, if you want some gold, that might be okay but it may not solve all your problems. You might be better off with your usual debit/credit cards and some cash money. Folding money. Dollars.

How much? Enough for some food, a tank of gas and a motel room? For a week?
Whatever you are comfortable with and can afford to set aside.

Interesting thoughts over at this post on Modern Survival Blog Survival Cash For After The Disaster, including in the comments.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Youth Must Be Served

Blogging has been a little slow as I have been the duty grandparent for the new son of my older son.

Cute little fella.

Dad ought to home from deployment soon.

New mom is doing well.

This grandparent thing is sorta fun, too.