The US Military Is Woefully Unprepared To Fight The Next War

We are at a pivotal moment in history as the consequences of a global pandemic have created turbulent waters in a wide variety of areas from international trade to socio-economic concerns. China’s increasingly assertive nature has been regarded as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past eighteen months. However, the fact of the matter is that China’s emergence was preordained by two decades of inconsistent and short-sighted US policies and actions. As I mentioned over the past weekend, China has reached a point now where it confidently views itself to be an ascendant superpower, while regarding the United States as a declining power. This new ethos, whether an accurate assessment of the global picture or not, raises the prospect of the People’s Republic of China resorting to military force in to achieve its expansionist-minded ambitions.

The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. For the United States military, the prospect of having to square off against China is hardly new, whether Washington is keen to admit it or not. Unfortunately, the current condition of the US military leaves much to be desired. On the surface, its branches make up the most powerful military force that the world has ever known. With a potential war with China on the horizon, the Pentagon’s priorities are out of order. Rather than concentrating on repairing readiness issues and preparing for the next war, the current Joint Chiefs of Staff, and their civilian leaders in the Defense Department are fixated with implementing ‘woke’ and socially popular policies upon the troops. Even more damning is the fact that every effort to construct and implement a sound doctrine for conducting a future war in the Western Pacific region against the People’s Republic of China has been stillborn or developed into a half-baked abortion of failed past tactics and amateurish concepts on the future of warfare that its growth was stunted.

The failed efforts of the Pentagon, and the dangers of the US entering into a conflict against a near-peer opponent without a plan to win will be discussed at length through 2-3 entries next week. I have not forgotten about North Korea and will return to it by Christmas. But for now, exploring the troubles facing US military efforts to develop both a doctrine and the forces necessary to defeat Chinese forces in a future war seems a more pertinent research topic for November.

A Smaller RIMPAC 2020 Kicks Off

Monday marked the start of the world’s largest international naval exercise off the coast of Hawaii. RIMPAC 2020 is a large multi-national biennial exercise hosted by the United States. The US Navy, are joined in the exercise by warships, aircraft, and submarines from the Pacific Rim nations. RIMPAC promotes regional stability, and interoperability among the navies. The COVID-19 pandemic is having an effect on the exercise this year. All of the exercise will be held at sea. All visiting ships needing to make logistical stopovers at Pearl Harbor prior to the exercise have done so. No personnel were permitted to leave their respective ships.

 The number of nations sending warships to attend is less than fifty percent than in 2018. Predictably China is not taking part this year, and Taiwan was not extended an invite. Many close US allies in the region, and around the world are participating though. South Korea, Canada, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, New Zealand, Brunei and France have all sent ships to Hawaii for RIMPAC 2020.

Current world events will keep the attention off of RIMPAC this year, which is somewhat ironic given the growing Sino-US tensions in the Western Pacific, and the continuing importance of the entire Pacific region. And although this year’s exercise is not as large as normal, it will focus primarily on warfighting. “This year we will focus solely on warfighting in the maritime domain, to include anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and maritime interdiction operations, as well as some robust live-fire events,” said Vice Adm. Scott Conn, commander of U.S. Navy 3rd Fleet.

Friday 22 September, 2017 Update: Brinkmanship With a Dangerous Twist

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With President Trump essentially calling him out in front of the UN earlier this week, and the sanction noose tightening even more so, it was only a matter of time before the world heard from Kim Jong Un. In a recalcitrant personal statement released Thursday, Kim resorted to a creative blend of name calling. He referred to Trump as a ‘mentally deranged US dotard’ and claimed he was greatly insulted by the president’s speech to the UN General Assembly. Responding to Trump’s promise to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea should it launch a nuclear missile at the US, Kim vowed to take the ‘highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.’

Not long after Kim’s statement, North Korea’s foreign minister Ri Yong-ho delivered prepared remarks from his hotel in New York City. He hinted that North Korea might possibly conduct the ‘biggest ever hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific.’ It is not likely that the North has perfected a hydrogen device yet. Even if North Korea had a hydrogen weapon in its possession staging an atmospheric nuclear test is far beyond that nation’s current and future projected capabilities. The threat itself, though, remains significant as it marks an escalation in the current deadlock with the United States. By issuing a personal statement in his own name, Kim Jong Un transformed the crisis into an affair of honor between himself and President Trump.

He has now staked his reputation on confronting Trump and the United States, making Kim more unlikely to back down. Kim will probably now use the escalating rhetoric as reason to conduct more ballistic missile and nuclear tests. These will be seen by the US as proof of the continued progress of the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Further, additional tests at this point will portray Pyongyang as being indifferent to the economic and diplomatic penalties that have been placed on North Korea. That is where the true danger is right now. If sanctions and diplomatic pressure are not working effectively, it only brings the military option closer to being put in play.

This is brinkmanship combined with the cult of personality surrounding the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Nothing good can come of this. Right now, the chances of a peaceful resolution to the North Korean crisis are just below fifty percent and dropping.

 

 

Living On Borrowed Time: Five Questions About A Possible North Korean Collapse

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One of the core arguments in International Relations is that an abrupt shift in power can lead to war. This argument is present in explanations for the Peloponnesian War and World War I, to name a pair of examples. In the first case, as Thucydides wrote in History of the Peloponnesian War, “The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Lacedaemon, made war inevitable.” For World War I, Germany’s perception that it was losing the arms race in 1914 moved its leaders to take a risk and declare war before Germany fell too far behind.

Now, take the current state of North Korea and consider the argument in a more unconventional manner. It is a state in terminal decline while neighboring states are moving in the opposite direction. With its power and influence draining away, Pyongyang is forced to resort to saber-rattling as its primary means of interaction with the outside world. The frequency and intensity of North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric is concealing significant domestic issues. This strategy will not last indefinitely. No states have the ability to effectively influence events in North Korea in a positive way, with the exception of China to an extent. Incentives have been given in the hopes of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program and adopt a less aggressive platform. Long term, the goal was to get North Korea to realize that its self-induced isolation in everything from politics to economic matters was permanently retarding its ability to become a productive, respected member of the world community. These efforts have failed. Sooner or later the dam will burst, and North Korea will no longer be a viable nation-state.

If the regime in Pyongyang collapses, there will assuredly be a power shift in the region. What cannot be predicted with a degree of accuracy is the path that will lead to the redistribution of power in East Asia. It will be dependent upon the way that nations like South Korea, Japan, the United States and, most importantly, China react to a rudderless North Korea. Regional war, a humanitarian disaster the likes of which the world has never seen before, and a global war involving North Korean weapons of mass destruction are but three of the possibilities.

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It is just a matter of time before North Korea collapses. It could be years or it might happen tomorrow. Think of the nation as a terminally ill patient. Pyongyang is mustering every available fiber of resolve and strength to remain alive for as long as possible. As North Korea’s breathing becomes more labored, the world must be prepared for its imminent death. The long-term consequences of the event have to be given an appropriate amount of consideration and planning now.

Below, are five questions that should be pondered by politicians, diplomats and military leaders in the US, ROK (South Korea) Japan, and People’s Republic of China. Admittedly, these are only five questions of many that exist on the subject, but it is a start.

 

How will the North Korean military react to a government collapse, and how will it behave in the aftermath?

This is contingent on what role the military would play in a government collapse. If the regime is toppled as the result of a military-backed coup, the plotters will have firm control on at least a sizeable portion of North Korea’s military for a period of time. In the aftermath, if forces loyal to the toppled regime resist, there’s a high probability of a full scale civil war erupting. Factions will face off and contend for power, dragging the entire nation-state to the edge of the abyss. Given the rabid enthusiasm that a great number of North Koreans have for Kim Jong Un, the fight will be long and costly. North Korea itself will be little more than a burned out wasteland once the shooting stops.

Should the military itself be responsible for launching a successful coup, the aftermath could be more orderly. The nation’s armed forces would remain ready to deter moves by outside powers while the new government makes overtures for assistance from the outside. Most likely from the PRC. The ROK and US will still be viewed as adversaries not to be trusted. The end result would be a North Korea now firmly aligned as a Chinese satellite, still hostile to the US, ROK, Japan and the West, but more even-tempered since Beijing will be calling the shots instead of a reckless Kim Jong Un.

How much, if any, advance warning will the US, ROK and China have prior to a North Korean collapse?

It could be a month or as little as an hour. If conditions in North Korea deteriorate to a point where collapse is imminent, the states that would be most active in a post-collapse North Korea will be prepared to move rapidly when the moment comes. A faction of the government, covertly supported by one of the external nation-state players, might be prepared to move and seize power in the event of the regime collapsing. This would give at least one nation ample warning and an opportunity to be prepared. On the other end of the spectrum, if collapse comes like a bolt out of the blue, nobody will be prepared to respond initially.

With the second possibility in mind, the nation-state that arrives in post-collapse North Korea firstest with the mostest is going to have the most influence in shaping the future. Barring a confrontation, of course. There’s always the possibility that two nation-states could move simultaneously and with similar motives in mind. Specifically, the ROK and China come to mind.

 

In the event of a collapse what will become of North Korea’s WMD stockpiles? Who will have control of them?

It is assumed that the present regime has a firm hold on North Korea’s nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. In the event of a collapse, will the safeguards in place come undone? And if they do, what becomes of the weapons? I leave this question open because I’m working on a larger article addressing it and will post in the near future.

Obedience to the state is a cornerstone of life in North Korea. Given this, how will the North Korean populace respond to a collapse of the government they have been conditioned to follow for their entire lives?

For one moment put yourself in the shoes of the average North Korean. You have been conditioned for your entire life to regard the regime as nothing short of god-like. The regime controls every aspect of your life. You and your family’s health, wealth, material goods, education, etc is because of the regime’s benevolence. And then one morning you wake up to find that the regime is no longer there. How do you respond?

The situation would be similar to a world in which all of the parents and adults have suddenly vanished, leaving ill-prepared children in control of themselves. Unless an authority figure takes the reins of control quickly, chaos will erupt. North Korea is already in a precarious position socially. While the elites and supporters of the regime enjoy the benefits, large numbers of ‘undesirables’ rot in prison camps, and legions more starve in rural areas.

North Korea might degenerate into a thousand small communities struggling to survive in a Lord of the Flies writ large type of environment.

 

If the ROK responds instantly and unilaterally to a North Korean collapse with the objective of reunifying the peninsula under Seoul’s leadership it could potentially lead to war with China. What steps can the US take to prevent its ally from moving down that dangerous path?

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The most effective action that the United States could take in this scenario is absolutely nothing. Provide no support to South Korea should it embark on a military expedition to reunite both Koreas under its leadership. Close the door entirely. A unilateral South Korean move into North Korea is borderline reckless. China will not stand by and allow the ROK to assume complete control of the peninsula. Beijing will respond militarily and from there the situation will only go from bad to worse. The United States will have no choice but to come to the aid of its ally and once again US and Chinese soldiers will be killing each other on Korean soil.

It’s unclear whether the ROK would move into North Korea without at least the tacit blessing of Washington. The US-ROK alliance remains strong, but if the South Koreans sense a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, all bets are off.

 

 

Weekend Update Sept.19-20, 2015 Part 1: An Expanding Role For Japan’s Military

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After a passionate, and at times contentious debate, Japan’s parliament, the Diet, has passed a law expanding the role of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces abroad. The law allows Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since the end of World War II. The change is dramatic for a nation with a constitution based on the premise of pacifism.

The Self-Defense Forces will be permitted to provide limited defense capabilities for allies in conflicts outside of Japanese territory. An example would be intercepting a missile launched from North Korea that is bound for US territory in the Pacific, or for the US mainland. North Korea does not have the ability to hit CONUS right now, however, some of the missiles in their inventory can reach US bases on Guam. Another situation could be providing logistical support for US forces in Korea in the event of a Second Korean War. Japan would be unable to commit troops to a conflict in Korea, its constitution still prohibits that.

The national debate on expanding Japan’s military is bringing large numbers of students out to opposition demonstrations. Student protests are not common in Japan. Unlike their counterparts in South Korea, most Japanese students have remained detached from politics. This issue is so big, though, it is drawing in people from every facet of Japanese society. One fear the opposition has is that the new law will draw Japanese forces into US led wars in other areas of the world. This was not the point of crafting the bill.

Supporters of the change argue that the era of a hands-off, isolationist Japan is over and the role of the Self-Defense Forces has to be modified. The rise of China’s military power and its assertive attitude in the Asia-Pacific region are two primary reasons for concern. The US is firmly behind Japan’s new role. It adds a new dimension of cooperation to the US-Japan military relationship and serves as an reminder that US concerns about China’s recent actions and behavior are not unilateral. The Obama administration has struggled to put together a cohesive response in Asia. Japan’s move will help bring one about.

Tomorrow, Part Two of the Week in Review will cover new happenings in the European humanitarian crisis as well as Syria. I hope everyone is enjoying the weekend.