Everybody’s Suddenly Talking About Deterring China At Sea

The Long March
SOUTH CHINA SEA (Feb. 23, 2018) Lt. Eric Wickens performs pre-flight checks on an F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Golden Dragons” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 192 on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).
U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Matthew Granito

Years ago, Andrew Krepinevich, one of the best defense thinkers in the business, wrote a good article about how to deter China.

Now the rest of the world is catching up. In a “Proceedings’” interview with retired Navy Capt. Wayne Hughes, the master tactician makes this hawkish recommendation on China strategy:

. . . . in the China seas we probably can keep the peace if we demonstrate the ability to deny movement of their trade at sea, and that means taking the offense. We can take the offense with a sea denial strategy. Offense is less expensive and sea denial is easier to do than sea control, because sea control requires you to be ever ready for an attack at a time of the enemy’s choosing. We just have to intimidate the Chinese by a sea denial strategy so they can’t conduct their trade, and they are a lot more vulnerable to the loss of trade than the Soviet Union ever was. So I’m fascinated by the idea of keeping the peace by showing the Chinese that we can execute a sea denial strategy in their home seas.

I am not so sure that being openly confrontational is the right way for the United States to go. We do best in the region when we back up others. Remember when we fought a war in Vietnam to prevent communist expansion? That didn’t go so well. But when we left, the new government in Vietnam promptly fought a war with China. Southeast Asia generally got its act together. ASEAN was formed—and eventually even Vietnam joined it.

I favor a more restrained approach. It rests on the views that China’s historic vulnerability is cultural and ethnic arrogance, which leads to overreach. China has fought many of its neighbors, especially the stronger ones—India, Vietnam, Russia, Korea. So I think we should “Let China Be China”—that is, step on the toes of its neighbors. Meantime, we quietly reassure those neighbors, do frequent exercises with them, conduct multi-nation maritime patrols, offer training and equipment, exchange officers, and ensure interoperability at least in some secure forms of communication.

To that end, I am more impressed with an article in the new issue of “Parameters” by Tommy Ross, a former Hill aide and Pentagon official. “Key to a more effective regional military engagement will be a more sophisticated and robust approach to security assistance,” he writes. He is right that Pacific Command should be all about interoperability, coalitions and exercises. (Call it the “Tropical ICE” program.)

Interestingly, Ross also calls for the U.S. Army to develop a more powerful land-based anti-ship capability. If I were a missile guy (or a defense contractor) I’d be all over this like white on rice.

There was only one thing I disliked in his article, and that was his call for “seamless” integration with allies. This is not only a chimera, it is a dangerous thought, because if it is taken seriously, it can create a vulnerability. The reason is that you always will have seams in your operations. The enemy’s job is to find and exploit them. If you pretend you don’t have seams, you can’t protect them. I know I am over-reacting here, but I take words seriously. So I think it is time to ban “seamless” from the military vocabulary, except in reference to stockings.

Meantime, I was reading Tate Nurkin’s recent testimony before the U.S. commission on Chinese economic and security issues, and was struck to learn a provocative new acronym: “INEW.” It stands for “integrated network electronic warfare.” And it is scary.


Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

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The former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs thinks that the VA needs to start researching medical marijuana. Not in a bit. Not soon. Right goddamn now.

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Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney takes questions during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2019. (Reuters/Leah Millis)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump's withholding of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim — debunked as a conspiracy theory — about the 2016 U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a "quid pro quo" - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid — already approved by Congress — was held up partly over Trump's concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

"I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy," Mulvaney said.

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CEYLANPINAR, Turkey (Reuters) - Shelling could be heard at the Syrian-Turkish border on Friday morning despite a five-day ceasefire agreed between Turkey and the United States, and Washington said the deal covered only a small part of the territory Ankara aims to seize.

Reuters journalists at the border heard machine-gun fire and shelling and saw smoke rising from the Syrian border battlefield city of Ras al Ain, although the sounds of fighting had subsided by mid-morning.

The truce, announced on Thursday by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, sets out a five-day pause to let the Kurdish-led SDF militia withdraw from an area controlled by Turkish forces.

The SDF said air and artillery attacks continued to target its positions and civilian targets in Ral al Ain.

"Turkey is violating the ceasefire agreement by continuing to attack the town since last night," SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali tweeted.

The Kurdish-led administration in the area said Turkish truce violations in Ras al Ain had caused casualties, without giving details.

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Editor's note: This story contains graphic images of children burned in the Turkish-led offensive.

The United Nations is investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict in northeastern Syria, according to The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh. The Kurdish Red Crescent has raised concerns about Turkish forces and Turkish-supported opposition forces using chemical weapons.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) told The Guardian that it was "aware of the situation and is collecting information with regard to possible use of chemical weapons," but cautioned that it has "not yet determined the credibility of these allegations."

The allegations were first reported by Lara Seligman in Foreign Policy.

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