Monday, September 12, 2005

Power and Interest News Report takes a look at the much debated rise of Chinese naval might and comes away...not terribly impressed:

"The submarine fleet will have the same duties as surface vessels, but is also expected to be assigned the hard task of facing the "traditional" Taiwanese adversary and, supposedly, coping with U.S. battle groups. In fact, it appears that Beijing discarded the possibility of deploying a limited number of aircraft carriers (which would appear excessive in relation to other regional navies) since they would have little hope of prevailing in an engagement with U.S. naval forces. This explains why China's aircraft carrier planning and construction is slowing in pace. Indeed, Beijing now prefers a well-stocked fleet of diesel submarines and nuclear powered submarines to have the difficult role of exerting some deterrence against American ships in case of a crisis.

Following this path, China will rise to a respectable level of underwater power, partially repeating the Soviet strategy during the Cold War. However, unlike the past Soviet submarine fleet (essentially dedicated to attacking N.A.T.O. forces and protecting bastions full of SSBNs), Chinese submarine forces seem to be assigned the role of supporting surface forces -- in their attempts to control sea lines of communication, with the additional mission of trying to exert some form of counter-power against U.S. forces."

What would be a feasible and economical naval deterrent to American intervention in the Taiwan Strait in the eyes of China's Politburo ? My guess, is the ability to sink the smaller PACOM ships and inflict multithousand casualties before going down ( literally) to defeat. Nailing a destroyer or carrier would be key to Beijing's internal political calculus- to do enough damage to claim "victory" the way the Egyptians parlayed their better than expected military performance in the Yom Kippur War into a " win". Ideally, the Chinese would like to leverage land based assets in combination with their upgraded fleet to maximize the force they could bring to bear against the Navy but they will settle for simply causing any American president to think twice before engaging China over Taiwan.

In reality, these new ships are simply political chips for raising stakes. Should the status of Taiwan get pushed to the point of war then China has lost the game and its leadership will be trying desperately to save enough face to ride out the crisis without a revolution breaking out. Not that we should cheer because even a brief, low-casualty, Sino-American war will rock the global economy like nothing we have seen since 1929
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Indeed, great post.

But 1929 markes the end of globalization. While a Sino-American War would probably cause a world recession, and a deep depression for China, wouldn't a likely outcome be the ghettoization of China in a still globalizing world?
Hey Dan,

The end game scenario depends on too many contingencies - I'm certain there would be a significant negative economic impact. The intensity and duration would be up for debate.

The possible outcomes would depend heavily on the internal politics of Chinese leaders losing a war over Taiwan and how the Chinese ppl perceived that defeat.

Argentina's right-wing junta under General Galtieri did not survive their Falklands adventure. China's Communist Party might not either. Uphevals could cause disaffected provinces like Tibet and Xinjiang to try to oportunistically secede regardless of whether Beijing's leadership survived or not.

Or China's population might react with anti-American fury. Or some combination. I can see an enraged populace dumping the CCP and replacing it with an anti-American nationalist dictatorship as easily as a pro-western liberal democratic regime.
I can see an enraged populace dumping the CCP and replacing it with an anti-American nationalist dictatorship as easily as a pro-western liberal democratic regime.

This is prescient, Mark. China is developing a healthy/unhealthy sense of national pride, thanks to its growing economy, the perceptions of its own greatness coming from international quarters, and a latent sense of its long history and size.

Depending on when a move against Taiwan would occur -- probably after 2008 -- other factors would surely play into events. I wouldn't put it past Hugo Chavez to make a move if China and the U.S. went to war; and, depending on the outcome of the Mexican elections, Mexico might facilitate Chavez's ambitions.

I'm not as certain that China would lose quickly and decisively to the U.S. Today, I've been thinking of the hostilities between the Montagues and the Capulets, and the roles played by the Nurse and Mercutio: other nations would affect the beginning and outcome of a clash between the U.S. and America.

I'm also not as certain that China would ever make the move unless it had an ace up its sleeve. They are too cautious for us to consider otherwise.
I personally would never go to a knife fight with a knife, when a bazooka would do much better.
To think China would not use nukes is ridiculous. They have even said they would use them. To me the only reason they might not use them if they were not sure of the technology.
In a country that thinks the best war is one that isn’t fought, why would they fight a war they can’t win? Wouldn’t it be smarter to fight when they can win? Like start a war when they believe we can’t respond (remember the 7 minutes on 9/11 and Katrina, maybe we will elect a president that isn’t such a take charge guy next time) or when we become so poor that we will give them Taiwan? Or maybe they could wait until Taiwan wants to rejoin the mainland.
It doesn’t seem to me they are in any hurry, unless the people of China revolt. And why would they revolt, it's not like China is incorporating or anything like that?
er..."between the U.S. and China" in my last comment (sloppiness alert!!)
We've been over this before, but I shall ask again. Why would the U.S. ever go to war over an island that we have publicly stated is,has been, and always shall be, part of China? It is not in our national interest to defend Taiwan. Direct military conflict between the U.S. and China would probably have large consequences that we can't imagine, even if the casualties were low. Economic dislocations would be large.

Hey Curtis, Larry and Barnabus,

I don't think the Chinese are going to launch an incredibly bloody invasion of Taiwan out of the blue. My hypothesis is that the CCP believes that Taiwan defiantly declaring independence could provoke a reaction inside China that will bring down their regime and/or cause China to break apart; and that backed into that corner the CCP leaders will definitely roll the dice and fight, hoping for the best.

In the case of Taiwan deliberately provoking China that way I don't see a U.S. obligation to support Taiwan. In fact we should actively discourage such a move so that Taipei won't even think to gamble on us pulling their chestnuts out of the fire.

An unprovoked attack on Taiwan by China is another matter because if we were to allow that to pass unopposed we might as well pack up and go home. No ally would trust us and they would all rush then to cut deals with China which would insist on our economic exclusion from the Asian-Pacific region.
For China focusing on subs serves a dual purpose we in the Navy are all too aware of, they're relatively cheap (compared to aircraft carriers) so they can build many of them while also exploiting a damning weakness of the Navy of today; anti-submarine warfare. That's why Kaplan's much-maligned article about "How We Would Fight China" is actually quite important, in realizing our weaknesses and trying to address them, we can hopefully take away this key Chinese advantage, and that's what he was getting at ("to avoid tragedy you must think tragically")
While the report you link to and address is quite useful and informative, it seems to be too preoccupied with the supposed "gap" between the US and PLA navies. I don't think there really is one; they have a trump card against our most significant weakness. They could easily sink my aircraft carrier and a number of the other boats in 7th Fleet.

Would the American people (especially in this time and day) support a war that cost the lives of 5-7,000 sailors in one day? Over an island?

By the way, does anyone have any idea (i sure as hell don't) why the US Navy won't build diesel subs? After all, the best defense against subs is more subs.
The US Navy won't build deisel subs because of the legacy of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Rickover was the driving force behind the nuclear sub force and a major part of his plan was to systematically eliminate the "less capable" deisel subs. Given the US Navy's blue water focus during the Cold War, this made sense because nuclear subs were much more capable than deisels. They had vastly superior endurance, they could spend an entire patrol submerged and they had top speeds fast enough to keep up with surface targets - all characteristics one needs if one is going to project force into the open ocean.

The current geostrategic climate and recent advances in air independant propulsion (AIP) have completely changed things. In the confined waters of the Taiwan straight or the Persian Gulf, the endurance of nuclear subs isn't necessary. In such settings, a nuclear sub's need to have cooling pumps constantly running (an inherently noisy activity) can place it at a distinct disadvantage against a modern and quiet deisel or AIP sub. Furthermore, in such close-quarters and shallow-water environments, the big SSNs we designed for the open ocean the arctic are dangerously unmaneuverable.

I would love to see the navy invest some money in some (comparatively) cheap and small deisel or AIP subs. The biggest obstacle is Navy culture and technology know-how. Since we stopped operating deisel subs decades ago, we have lost the specialized industrial and engineering base necessary to make modern non-nuclear subs. But I don't know if anyone is pushing for that.
Thanks for the info Jacob!

Is it possible we could request technical help from the Swedes (who we are now conducting undersea warfare training with in the Pacific for the next year)?
You are most welcome, Eddie!

As far as collaboration with the Swedes, that is exactly the sort of approach we would have to take at first. Germany, Australia, the Netherlands and Sweden have all been building some extremely capable deisel subs for the past few decades. For that matter, so has Russia. Political considerations (both domestic and international) would obviously enter in and complicate this, but the alternative would be to reinvent the wheel.

I hadn't known we were collaborating with the Swedes on undersea warfare; good to hear we're continuing to cast the net wide.
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