Carriers in the Crosshairs

by Daniel Blumenthal

China/Taiwan expert Mark Stokes, a retired Air Force officer (and my former supervisor at DOD ) has once again broken new ground in his new study of the People’s Liberation Army’s nascent conventional precision strike capability.

In many ways this study is a follow-on to the path-breaking work Stokes did in 1999 on China’s aerospace industries. In the 1999 study, Stokes was one of the few China watchers to recognize a shift in PLA doctrine. At the time, the conventional wisdom among China analysts was that the PLA was a “paper tiger,” in Mao’s words–an attack on Taiwan by the PLA would be a “million man swim;” China’s military was “hollow,” and not worth worrying about.

In analyzing the great leaps that the PLA aerospace industry had made, Stokes identified the priority that the CCP had given to the use of ballistic missiles as a coercive instrument of statecraft.  Stokes’s study changed the nature of the Washington debate about the PLA.  Maybe the PLA wasn’t thinking about a traditional D-Day style invasion of Taiwan, after all. Instead, Stokes argued, PLA leaders had internalized lessons from the US/NATO war in Kosovo, and believed that they could conduct a coercive air and missile campaign against Taiwan without landing any troops on the island.

In his new study, done for the Project 2049 Institute (where he is executive director), Stokes focuses on both China’s anti-ship ballistic missile program and its plans for developing a long-range global precision strike capability.

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Lowering Expectations

by Tom Donnelly

This is not a good omen.

Undersecretary of defense Michele Flournoy is the dictionary definition of a hawkish Democrat.  While it’s true that there are increasing contradictions in the very term–we’re not really talking Harry Truman anymore–the strategic implications of a faltering commitment to Afghanistan would be obvious to her.  So when she’s lowering expectations, I sit up and take notice.  And the fact that Flournoy would give an extended, on-the-record interview on the subject is itself noteworthy
We have to take the administration at its word. Apparently, they are indeed reevaluating the most fundamental questions: Why are we in Afghanistan?  What do we hope to achieve?  Is it worth the price?  All good things to know before putting more soldiers’ live at risk, spending more defense dollars, or laying the prestige of the nation on the line.

But this begins to look more and more disingenuous.  “The outcome is uncertain”–when, in war, is it not?  “You have some new challenges”–when, for example, was Hamid Karzai a leader of unquestioned legitimacy?  “There are issues of…capacity across the board in Afghanistan”–this is not news.  “Everybody seems to be talking about growing the [Afghan security forces]”–they have, for several years now.

If, in the end, the president does choose to fill Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s force request, this temporizing may seem like a tempest inside a Beltway teapot.  On the other hand, anything less than the 40,000 additional troops the commander thinks are necessary will continue to raise questions about the administration’s resolve. The delay is not defusing the situation, but making it worse. Flournoy says the process will play out “over the coming weeks;” Obama won’t be rushed.

Finally, Flournoy asserts that the ultimate decision will be “strategy-driven” and that “political” assessments–one can only assume American domestic political assessments–will be taken into account. Yet one of the hallmarks of a sound strategy is that it changes slowly, not in response to every shift of events.  The administration’s AfPak plan–the basis for McChrystal’s assessment–begins to look less like strategy and more like tactics.

Tom Donnelly is the director of the Center for Defense Studies.


Kagan Troop-to-Task Report

by Tim Sullivan

AEI resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan and Institute for the Study of War president Kimberly Kagan have released a study titled “A Comprehensive Strategy for Afghanistan: Afghanistan Force Requirements,”  which “illustrates where US, NATO, and Afghan forces are now and where additional forces are needed to accomplish the mission” in Afghanistan. Download the report HERE.


What’s Left Unsaid

by Tom Donnelly

Close readers of Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s Afghanistan assessment will no doubt be intrigued by the many redactions: what’s been left out is in some ways more interesting and more likely contains what’s new about the general’s approach.  Indeed, the assessment as presented is really a consensus of well informed opinion on the subject; where it begins to blaze new ground is most often where the trail disappears into…REDACTION.

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The Clock is Ticking

by Tom Donnelly

It used to be the rule in Afghanistan that Americans had all the watches but Afghans had all the time.  That was before Barack Obama became president.

Bob Woodward’s story in today’s Washington Post summarizes the Afghanistan “assessment” of Gen. Stanely McChrystal.  It’s a good get by the dean of Washington insiders, but the report has been ripening in the Indian summer sun since August 30 and its main points–including the need for more troops–are hardly news.  What is remarkable is how long it’s taking for the president to make up his mind.

As my CDS colleague Tim Sullivan points out, this past spring’s “AfPak” policy review was supposed to have sorted this out; the original line was that the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were compelled to replace former International Security Assistance Force commander Gen. David McKiernan with McChrystal because they needed someone to flesh out and execute the new strategy. (In hindsight, it’s becoming plainer that one of McKiernan’s fatal mistakes was to ask for more a larger troop increase–30,000 for 2009 versus the 17,000, plus-4,000 trainers–than the administration wanted to commit; is McChrystal making the same mistake?)

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And by “strategy,” we meant…

by Tim Sullivan

After waiting with anticipation, then carefully parsing the administration’s new, much-publicized Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy released in March, many observers are now justifiably confused by the administration’s apparent return to a discussion of the first principles of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan–what many assumed was a matter of settled law. The strategy described by the president and his advisers in the spring was thorough and fully explicated. As undersecretary of defense for policy Michele Flournoy explained at the time,

“what we’re doing is stepping up to more fully resource a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan that is designed to first reverse Taliban gains and secure the population, particularly in the most contested areas of the south and east; second, provide the Afghan national security forces with the training and the mentoring they need to expand rapidly and to take–ultimately take the lead in providing security for their nation; and finally, to provide a secure environment that will enable governance and development efforts to take root and grow.”

The administration’s metrics for Afghanistan leaked last week highlighted the same goals: “defeat the extremist insurgency, secure the Afghan populace, and develop increasingly self-reliant Afghan security forces.”  And the theater assessment conducted by Gen. Stanley McChrystal over the summer, the results of which were described today in the Washington Post, was an effort to map-out and articulate potential operational courses of action to achieve the president’s strategic objectives. In it, Gen. McChrystal seems very much on the same page as Ms. Flournoy: “Success demands a comprehensive counterinsurgency campaign.”

Nevertheless, echoing a point he made repeatedly in the course of his weekend media blitz, the president noted on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “Until I’m satisfied that we’ve got the right strategy, I’m not going to be sending some young man or woman over there–beyond what we already have.”

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by Tim Sullivan

On Wednesday, September 16, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered remarks at the inaugural reception of the Center for Defense Studies. The chairman commented on a range of current and emerging international security challenges, focusing in particular on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The war in Afghanistan isn’t simply under-resourced in terms of troops, he explained. Until recently, “it has not been focused on intellectually; it hadn’t been focused on strategically.” Read the full text of Admiral Mullen’s remarks HERE.

Photo by Peter Holden Photography

China Eyes Our Electrical Grid

by Kara Flook

While we’re waiting for President Obama to name the new cybersecurity coordinator, cyber threats continue to proliferate. Two Chinese researchers, Jian-Wei Wang and Li-Li Rong, recently published an article in the journal Safety Science detailing how to create a cascading failure in the U.S.’s west-coast electrical grid. Using publically available data, Wang and Rong discovered that under certain conditions, taking out a light subnetwork first would cause a chain reaction, knocking out a significant portion of the grid. They recommend that in order to prevent this, grid operators should alter the power capacity in order to prevent those conditions from arising. Paul Marks asked the Department of Homeland Security’s technology spokesman about the article and was told that DHS is “reviewing the research” and their engineers are already working on countermeasures that would prevent such cascades.

Jeffrey Carr digs in deeper in his IntelFusion: FLASH Traffic brief. Carr and his contributors found that Wang and Rong, who are both affiliated with Dalian University of Technology in the People’s Republic of China, received funding from the Natural Science Foundation of China, a government organization. Carr points out that one of the NSFC’s funding guidelines calls for “a new mechanism to coordinate the military and civilian basic research and integrate the research and development forces for high technology.” In addition, Dalian University of Technology is controlled by the State Ministry of Education and is thought to be connected to the PRC’s missile program. In short-Wang and Rong’s research into attacking the U.S. power grid was approved and funded by the PRC.

But why publish a paper telling the U.S. exactly what the PRC can do? Carr’s take: Beijing is sending the U.S. a signal about how far they have penetrated our electrical grid.

Kara Flook is a research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.

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Berlusconi: Limp Noodle

by Gary Schmitt

Any time a country loses men or women in the service of the nation, it is of course a sad day–sad for their families, friends, and allies in arms.  But it is an equally sad day when the leader of that country immediately responds to those deaths by suggesting he would like to cut and run from the conflict at hand–as Silvo Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister, suggested yesterday after six Italian soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in Kabul.  Berlusconi, in Brussels for an EU summit, said, “We are all anxious and hopeful to bring our boys home as soon as possible. We are all convinced that it is better for everyone to leave Afghanistan soon.”

Given how little the Italian contingent in western Afghanistan is actually doing, some might suggest that their departure would hardly be any great loss.  Nevertheless, as a matter of alliance relations, it is serious.  First, it’s a concern because Italy’s nearly 2,800 troops will need to be replaced.  Regardless of how little Italy’s contingent is doing, if it does leave, there will be a hole that will need to be plugged.  Coming at a time when everyone is struggling to build up forces in Afghanistan, Berlusconi’s comments are decidedly unwelcome.  Second, and more broadly, what are we to make of a military alliance when the leader of a founding member-state decides to let coffin-counts define his country’s alliance commitments?

Gary Schmitt is the director of advanced strategic studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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