Commentary Magazine


Topic: United States Navy

Defense Spending and Defense Needs: Not in Sync

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

The Conservative party in Britain has pledged to adopt the American practice of carrying out a “strategic review” every four years. Based on the latest Quadrennial Defense Review, which came out today, I’m not sure why they would bother. The QDR is not terrible or wrong-headed; in fact, I think it’s fairly sensible on the whole. But it’s also not particularly interesting or surprising — which is pretty much what you would expect from a report produced by a large committee and overseen by the same defense secretary who has put into place many of the policies under review. I agree with Robert Haddick’s take in the Small Wars Journal:

Rather than reading a document about strategies for the future, I had the sense that I was reading a business corporation’s annual report covering the past fiscal year. I stopped counting how many times the QDR said, “the Department will continue to …” or something similar.

Haddick goes on to note that the QDR “hints at, but leaves unsaid, many necessary and sometimes painful changes the Pentagon will need to make. In this sense the QDR seems incomplete; it kicks several important cans down the road, leaving important decisions that should have been in the QDR for future reports.”

Some of the challenges left unaddressed by the QDR are spelled out in this study by Mackenzie Eaglen at the Heritage Foundation. She notes a number of disturbing long-term trends, including the fact that  “core” defense spending (excluding contingencies such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is already just 3.9 percent of GDP and set to decline under the Obama blueprint. Defense spending, even with a current budget of $690 billion, is less than 18 percent of federal spending and has been rapidly declining as a share of the federal budget over time, while entitlement spending (currently 35 percent of the budget) continues to grow.

Within the defense budget, an ever-growing share of the spending is being consumed by personnel expenditures and current operations, which leaves not enough money to recapitalize aging equipment (the U.S. Air Force continues to operate transport aircraft and tankers that are over 40 years old) and an ever-shrinking storehouse of advanced weapons systems (the U.S. Navy has the smallest number of ships since 1916). She might have mentioned, but didn’t, that the U.S. doesn’t have enough soldiers to meet all its commitments. The Army was 710,000 strong at the end of the Cold War in 1991; today it’s down 553,000 personnel.

In other words, there is a fundamental mismatch between ends and means — between what we’re willing to spend on defense and what we need to meet our global commitments. And that’s not even taking into account all the new challenges laid out in the QDR relating to areas such as cyberspace and “anti-access” threats (e.g., long-range cruise missiles that can pick off our naval ships in the Persian Gulf or the Taiwan Strait). This QDR, like the preceding QDRs, is better at laying out the challenges than it is at suggesting realistic ways they can be met. It might at least have sounded a warning about some of these looming problems. Instead, it is largely a ratification of the status quo.

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The Centuries-Old Bond Between America and the Jews

The essential new website Jewish Ideas Daily today features a link to an extraordinary document — a letter from the Founding Father Benjamin Rush to his wife describing his experience attending a Jewish wedding ceremony in Philadelphia. Not only is Rush’s description simple, plain, and accurate, then and now, it testifies to the wondrous imaginative sympathy that even these 18th-century Americans had toward the Jewish people, and offers (like George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Touro synagogue) a glimpse of the unparalleled freedom and friendship this nation would extend toward Jews, ever more generously, as the years went on.

As it turns out, the issue of that marriage, Uriah Levy, was, my friend Robert Frost tells me, “a major figure in the history of the US Navy. In addition to saving Monticello from ruin, he was the Commodore of the Sixth Fleet (Mediterranean) which was a major accomplishment given that he faced significant anti-semitism in the Navy (not quite Dreyfus, but not fun). The recently opened Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy is named after Levy.”

More on Levy’s astonishing life, including his six courts-martial and how his purchase of Monticello proved to be the salvation of Thomas Jefferson’s home, can be found here. It demonstrates that the course of true friendship between America and the Jews was not a simple upward arc.

The essential new website Jewish Ideas Daily today features a link to an extraordinary document — a letter from the Founding Father Benjamin Rush to his wife describing his experience attending a Jewish wedding ceremony in Philadelphia. Not only is Rush’s description simple, plain, and accurate, then and now, it testifies to the wondrous imaginative sympathy that even these 18th-century Americans had toward the Jewish people, and offers (like George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Touro synagogue) a glimpse of the unparalleled freedom and friendship this nation would extend toward Jews, ever more generously, as the years went on.

As it turns out, the issue of that marriage, Uriah Levy, was, my friend Robert Frost tells me, “a major figure in the history of the US Navy. In addition to saving Monticello from ruin, he was the Commodore of the Sixth Fleet (Mediterranean) which was a major accomplishment given that he faced significant anti-semitism in the Navy (not quite Dreyfus, but not fun). The recently opened Jewish Chapel at the Naval Academy is named after Levy.”

More on Levy’s astonishing life, including his six courts-martial and how his purchase of Monticello proved to be the salvation of Thomas Jefferson’s home, can be found here. It demonstrates that the course of true friendship between America and the Jews was not a simple upward arc.

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Good Riddance: Imad Mugniyeh

Great news from Syria. Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s worst terrorists, has been killed by a car bomb in Damascus. He is all but forgotten now, but Mughniyeh, a leader of Hezbollah, was the original Osama bin Laden—a terrorist kingpin who was responsible for hundreds of deaths, primarily Americans and Israelis. He had a $25 million American bounty on his head, the same size as the reward for bin Laden. It’s not hard to see why. This AP story sums up his reign of terror:

Mughniyeh, who had been in hiding for years, was among the fugitives indicted in the United States for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed. He was also suspected of masterminding attacks on the U.S. Embassy and the Marine base in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans in the 1980s when he was then the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s security chief.

Mughniyeh, 45, was also the reputed leader of a group that held Westerners hostage in Lebanon, among them journalist Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press chief Middle East correspondent who was held captive for six years.

Mughniyeh is also believed by Israel to have been involved in planning the 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in Argentina in which 29 people were killed and the blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish center two years later that killed 95.

Hezbollah predictably blamed Israel for his death. That’s quite possible, although it’s also possible that he was killed by Syria’s intelligence services (for whom car bombings are a favorite assassination technique) or by a competing faction of Islamist thugs.

I would like to think there is even a chance he was killed by American operatives from the CIA or Special Operations Command. But while possible that seems unlikely; car bombs aren’t a typical American touch, and our commandos are not known for operating in Syria—although they should be.

Frankly it’s a disgrace that our forces didn’t manage to kill Mugniyeh long ago, a problem that can be attributed largely to the excessive caution that numerous American administrations, from Reagan on, have displayed in fighting terrorists. Robert Baer’s book See No Evil provides some details.

Even if it occurred far too late, the civilized world should rejoice at the demise of this monster. But keep in mind that Hezbollah has plenty of other killers just as vicious and cruel waiting in the wings.

Great news from Syria. Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s worst terrorists, has been killed by a car bomb in Damascus. He is all but forgotten now, but Mughniyeh, a leader of Hezbollah, was the original Osama bin Laden—a terrorist kingpin who was responsible for hundreds of deaths, primarily Americans and Israelis. He had a $25 million American bounty on his head, the same size as the reward for bin Laden. It’s not hard to see why. This AP story sums up his reign of terror:

Mughniyeh, who had been in hiding for years, was among the fugitives indicted in the United States for the 1985 hijacking of a TWA airliner in which a U.S. Navy diver was killed. He was also suspected of masterminding attacks on the U.S. Embassy and the Marine base in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans in the 1980s when he was then the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s security chief.

Mughniyeh, 45, was also the reputed leader of a group that held Westerners hostage in Lebanon, among them journalist Terry Anderson, a former Associated Press chief Middle East correspondent who was held captive for six years.

Mughniyeh is also believed by Israel to have been involved in planning the 1992 bombing of Israel’s embassy in Argentina in which 29 people were killed and the blast at a Buenos Aires Jewish center two years later that killed 95.

Hezbollah predictably blamed Israel for his death. That’s quite possible, although it’s also possible that he was killed by Syria’s intelligence services (for whom car bombings are a favorite assassination technique) or by a competing faction of Islamist thugs.

I would like to think there is even a chance he was killed by American operatives from the CIA or Special Operations Command. But while possible that seems unlikely; car bombs aren’t a typical American touch, and our commandos are not known for operating in Syria—although they should be.

Frankly it’s a disgrace that our forces didn’t manage to kill Mugniyeh long ago, a problem that can be attributed largely to the excessive caution that numerous American administrations, from Reagan on, have displayed in fighting terrorists. Robert Baer’s book See No Evil provides some details.

Even if it occurred far too late, the civilized world should rejoice at the demise of this monster. But keep in mind that Hezbollah has plenty of other killers just as vicious and cruel waiting in the wings.

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Obama and Israel, continued

There has been an awakening in recent days to the presence of a disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel. Ed Lasky of the American Thinker has been doing serious work on the subject, and his two pieces — here and here — are must-reads. Caroline Glick adds to the discussion here.

But there is another Obama foreign policy adviser–a prominent one–who has so far escaped criticism. This is Samantha Power, a Harvard professor, journalist, and human rights specialist who of late has become a high-profile liberal critic of American foreign policy.

For one, Power is an advocate of the Walt-Mearsheimer view of the American relationship with Israel. In a recent interview published on the Harvard Kennedy School’s website, Power was asked to explain “long-standing structural and conceptual problems in U.S. foreign policy.” She gave a two-part answer: the first problem, she said, is “the US historic predisposition to go it alone.” A standard reply, of course. The second problem, though, should give us pause:

Another longstanding foreign policy flaw is the degree to which special interests dictate the way in which the “national interest” as a whole is defined and pursued . . . America’s important historic relationship with Israel has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics, which, as the war in Lebanon last summer demonstrated, can turn out to be counter-productive.

So greater regard for international institutions along with less automatic deference to special interests–especially when it comes to matters of life and death and war and peace–seem to be two take-aways from the war in Iraq.

Power is not just assenting to the Israel Lobby view of American foreign policy, but is also arguing that Israel had something to do with the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003–an appalling slander, and a telling one.

Also of note is a recent opinion piece Power wrote for TIME magazine, titled “Rethinking Iran,” the thrust of which rethinking involves the need to engage diplomatically the mullahs and pretend that the Iranian nuclear program is a figment of the paranoid imagination of the Bush administration. She writes:

The war scare that wasn’t [the recent incident between Iranian speedboats and the U.S. Navy in the Straight of Hormuz] stands as a metaphor for the incoherence of our policy toward Iran: the Bush Administration attempts to gin up international outrage by making a claim of imminent danger, only to be met with international eye rolling when the claim is disproved. Sound familiar? The speedboat episode bore an uncanny resemblance to the Administration’s allegations about the advanced state of Iran’s weapons program–allegations refuted in December by the National Intelligence Estimate.

Does Power actually believe that the NIE put to rest concerns about the Iranian nuclear program? If she actually thinks that — and it appears she does — she deserves voluminous ridicule from thinking people everywhere.

Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy? And here’s an even better question: Does Barack Obama have a single adviser who would tell him to do anything else?

There has been an awakening in recent days to the presence of a disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel. Ed Lasky of the American Thinker has been doing serious work on the subject, and his two pieces — here and here — are must-reads. Caroline Glick adds to the discussion here.

But there is another Obama foreign policy adviser–a prominent one–who has so far escaped criticism. This is Samantha Power, a Harvard professor, journalist, and human rights specialist who of late has become a high-profile liberal critic of American foreign policy.

For one, Power is an advocate of the Walt-Mearsheimer view of the American relationship with Israel. In a recent interview published on the Harvard Kennedy School’s website, Power was asked to explain “long-standing structural and conceptual problems in U.S. foreign policy.” She gave a two-part answer: the first problem, she said, is “the US historic predisposition to go it alone.” A standard reply, of course. The second problem, though, should give us pause:

Another longstanding foreign policy flaw is the degree to which special interests dictate the way in which the “national interest” as a whole is defined and pursued . . . America’s important historic relationship with Israel has often led foreign policy decision-makers to defer reflexively to Israeli security assessments, and to replicate Israeli tactics, which, as the war in Lebanon last summer demonstrated, can turn out to be counter-productive.

So greater regard for international institutions along with less automatic deference to special interests–especially when it comes to matters of life and death and war and peace–seem to be two take-aways from the war in Iraq.

Power is not just assenting to the Israel Lobby view of American foreign policy, but is also arguing that Israel had something to do with the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003–an appalling slander, and a telling one.

Also of note is a recent opinion piece Power wrote for TIME magazine, titled “Rethinking Iran,” the thrust of which rethinking involves the need to engage diplomatically the mullahs and pretend that the Iranian nuclear program is a figment of the paranoid imagination of the Bush administration. She writes:

The war scare that wasn’t [the recent incident between Iranian speedboats and the U.S. Navy in the Straight of Hormuz] stands as a metaphor for the incoherence of our policy toward Iran: the Bush Administration attempts to gin up international outrage by making a claim of imminent danger, only to be met with international eye rolling when the claim is disproved. Sound familiar? The speedboat episode bore an uncanny resemblance to the Administration’s allegations about the advanced state of Iran’s weapons program–allegations refuted in December by the National Intelligence Estimate.

Does Power actually believe that the NIE put to rest concerns about the Iranian nuclear program? If she actually thinks that — and it appears she does — she deserves voluminous ridicule from thinking people everywhere.

Does anyone think that if the time comes that Power has President Obama’s ear, she will advise him to do anything other than repudiate America’s greatest ally in the Middle East in favor of appeasing its greatest enemy? And here’s an even better question: Does Barack Obama have a single adviser who would tell him to do anything else?

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What Iran Truly Fears

Yesterday, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the “criminal regime” of Israel “would not dare attack Iran.” Why? “It knows that any attack on Iranian territories would prompt a fierce response.” Ahmadinejad also says he is not worried about the United States. Hostile talk, the fiery leader noted, is just campaign rhetoric “aimed at American domestic consumption as they need it in the upcoming presidential elections.”

Why are we hearing war talk from Tehran at this moment? After all, the United States is merely pursuing a peaceful course of action, pushing the Security Council to enact a third set of sanctions for Iran’s failure to stop the enrichment of uranium. Washington can count on Germany’s support, but it is meeting increasingly stiff resistance where it counts.

Russia, by giving the cold shoulder to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Moscow yesterday, signaled that it will not vote in favor of a new round of coercive measures. For its part, China hosted Americans and Iranians in Beijing in the last few days and ended up siding with the latter. Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “We hope that the international community will intensify diplomatic efforts to break the deadlock for an early resumption of talks so that the issue will be solved in a comprehensive, lasting and proper manner.” Today, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, was more direct. “On the Iranian nuclear issue, China and Iran have a similar stance,” he crowed after meeting with his Chinese counterparts.

On Tuesday, the five veto-wielding members will meet in Berlin to discuss new sanctions, but there will be no satisfactory outcome, especially because Chinese and Russian diplomats are repeating their almost word-for-word calls for more useless talks. These cynical pleas for additional negotiations, which would give the mullahs more time to develop their weapons, show that the Iranians have now neutralized the United Nations. Even if the Security Council should come up with new sanctions in the months ahead, we can be sure that they will be totally ineffective.

So let’s start connecting the dots, if I may borrow a phrase from Gabriel Schoenfeld. The Iranians are not worried about Washington’s diplomatic initiatives. They must realize that the only thing that can stop their nuclear program at this moment is military action. That’s why Iranian fast boats challenged the U.S. Navy earlier this month in the Strait of Hormuz—to remind Washington and the international community of the price of war. And that’s why Ahmadinejad said that neither Israel nor the United States would attack. The Iranians, I believe, wish to prevent the one thing they cannot control and truly fear.

Yesterday, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the “criminal regime” of Israel “would not dare attack Iran.” Why? “It knows that any attack on Iranian territories would prompt a fierce response.” Ahmadinejad also says he is not worried about the United States. Hostile talk, the fiery leader noted, is just campaign rhetoric “aimed at American domestic consumption as they need it in the upcoming presidential elections.”

Why are we hearing war talk from Tehran at this moment? After all, the United States is merely pursuing a peaceful course of action, pushing the Security Council to enact a third set of sanctions for Iran’s failure to stop the enrichment of uranium. Washington can count on Germany’s support, but it is meeting increasingly stiff resistance where it counts.

Russia, by giving the cold shoulder to Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Moscow yesterday, signaled that it will not vote in favor of a new round of coercive measures. For its part, China hosted Americans and Iranians in Beijing in the last few days and ended up siding with the latter. Yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, “We hope that the international community will intensify diplomatic efforts to break the deadlock for an early resumption of talks so that the issue will be solved in a comprehensive, lasting and proper manner.” Today, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, was more direct. “On the Iranian nuclear issue, China and Iran have a similar stance,” he crowed after meeting with his Chinese counterparts.

On Tuesday, the five veto-wielding members will meet in Berlin to discuss new sanctions, but there will be no satisfactory outcome, especially because Chinese and Russian diplomats are repeating their almost word-for-word calls for more useless talks. These cynical pleas for additional negotiations, which would give the mullahs more time to develop their weapons, show that the Iranians have now neutralized the United Nations. Even if the Security Council should come up with new sanctions in the months ahead, we can be sure that they will be totally ineffective.

So let’s start connecting the dots, if I may borrow a phrase from Gabriel Schoenfeld. The Iranians are not worried about Washington’s diplomatic initiatives. They must realize that the only thing that can stop their nuclear program at this moment is military action. That’s why Iranian fast boats challenged the U.S. Navy earlier this month in the Strait of Hormuz—to remind Washington and the international community of the price of war. And that’s why Ahmadinejad said that neither Israel nor the United States would attack. The Iranians, I believe, wish to prevent the one thing they cannot control and truly fear.

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How to Talk to Iran

This morning, the New York Times reacted to Iran’s recent naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. On Monday, U.S. officials reported that five Iranian speedboats threatened three Navy warships in international waters at the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf on Sunday. The small boats, probably operated by the Revolutionary Guard, closed within two hundred yards of the American vessels, communicated a threat to destroy them, and dropped boxes into the water in an apparent attempt to disrupt free passage in the waterway. Abe Greenwald reported and discussed this troubling development in this forum yesterday.

The Times, predictably, saw Saturday’s hostile act as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Tehran. “At a minimum, the administration should use this incident to engage Iran in formal talks on conduct in the strait,” the paper said in an editorial. Why? “It is not clear what game the Iranians were playing or even who was giving the orders. President Bush’s refusal to engage Iran diplomatically makes it even harder for American officials to deconstruct Iran’s motives and increases the risk of future miscalculation on both sides.”

The principal flaw in the Times’s argument is that Iran’s motives for its dangerous conduct are relevant. They are not. The fact that Iranians sought to disrupt traffic in the waterway carrying 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is all we need to know.

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This morning, the New York Times reacted to Iran’s recent naval maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz. On Monday, U.S. officials reported that five Iranian speedboats threatened three Navy warships in international waters at the narrow entrance to the Persian Gulf on Sunday. The small boats, probably operated by the Revolutionary Guard, closed within two hundred yards of the American vessels, communicated a threat to destroy them, and dropped boxes into the water in an apparent attempt to disrupt free passage in the waterway. Abe Greenwald reported and discussed this troubling development in this forum yesterday.

The Times, predictably, saw Saturday’s hostile act as an opportunity to begin a dialogue with Tehran. “At a minimum, the administration should use this incident to engage Iran in formal talks on conduct in the strait,” the paper said in an editorial. Why? “It is not clear what game the Iranians were playing or even who was giving the orders. President Bush’s refusal to engage Iran diplomatically makes it even harder for American officials to deconstruct Iran’s motives and increases the risk of future miscalculation on both sides.”

The principal flaw in the Times’s argument is that Iran’s motives for its dangerous conduct are relevant. They are not. The fact that Iranians sought to disrupt traffic in the waterway carrying 40 percent of the world’s traded oil is all we need to know.

At this time different elements are threatening free passage on international waters. Nations—most notably Russia and China—are claiming vast stretches of sea as their own. Moreover, we are experiencing a resurgence of pirate attacks, which rose 10 percent in 2007, the first increase in three years. The United States can either let bandits, rogues, and autocrats take over the world’s oceans, seas, and straits, or we can maintain safe passage for all nations. It is as simple as that.

The Iranians, over the weekend, were picking a fight with a vastly superior force. Why would they do that? They were undoubtedly seeking to learn about the U.S. Navy’s tactical reactions. More important, they were testing American resolve. The proper response is not meekly seeking an audience with the mullahs, as the Times suggests. A better way to safeguard shipping is employ force. On Saturday, the Iranians turned tail when the commander of one of the American ships, the Hopper, was about to open fire on the attackers.

The White House, responding to the incident, issued a series of formulaic statements from President Bush, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and spokesman Gordon Johndroe, all characterizing the incident as “provocative.” The Iranians, I suspect, already know that. What they need to hear is this: “The United States, acting either in conjunction with others or alone, will use overwhelming force on the high seas and on bases onshore against any party threatening to stop or restrict free passage on the world’s waterways.” Forget the Times’s proposed dialogue. This is the best way to talk to Iran.

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A Game of Chicken in the Persian Gulf

Jennifer Dyer, a Commander (Retired) U.S. Naval intelligence offers this analysis as a guest of Connecting the Dots:

How should we think about the incident in the southern Persian Gulf on Sunday in which Iranian speedboats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) acted in a threatening manner toward a task group of three U.S. Navy ships?

The ships in question were the USS Port Royal (CG-73), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; USS Hopper (DDG-70), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and USS Ingraham (FFG-61), an O.H. Perry-class frigate. Navy and press reporting on the event indicate that the U.S.N ships acted precisely in accordance with their rules of engagement, attempting to establish contact with the Iranian boats, and to deescalate the situation. Hopper, speaking for the task group, issued warnings to the speedboats, and the boats eventually broke off and departed the area. The AP summary also indicates Hopper came close to using her M240 deck-mounted machine gun, but did not. Hopper assuredly had her gun crew manning its station, which would have been easily observed from the Iranian speedboats, and probably influenced the IRGCN decision to leave the area.

Three significant things may be said about this incident. First, U.S. rules of engagement are intended to deescalate unplanned situations, if at all possible. The reason for this is not to prevent carnage at any cost, or to behave in a pusillanimous. manner, but to restore control of the initiative and tempo to U.S. forces. The principal obligation of any commander under his rules of engagement is self-defense. But long experience with operating under U.S. rules of engagement enables a good commander to preserve his option of effective self-defense, without being drawn into action on the opponent’s timeline. We always prefer exercising our own operational agenda, on our timetable, over letting the opponent dictate it to us. The assignment of this task group was to enter the Persian Gulf for operations as directed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander — and by deescalating the speedboat situation, the group stayed on task. It also avoided letting Iran provoke the U.S. into escalation at a higher level of command, either military or political.

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Jennifer Dyer, a Commander (Retired) U.S. Naval intelligence offers this analysis as a guest of Connecting the Dots:

How should we think about the incident in the southern Persian Gulf on Sunday in which Iranian speedboats operated by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy (IRGCN) acted in a threatening manner toward a task group of three U.S. Navy ships?

The ships in question were the USS Port Royal (CG-73), a Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser; USS Hopper (DDG-70), an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, and USS Ingraham (FFG-61), an O.H. Perry-class frigate. Navy and press reporting on the event indicate that the U.S.N ships acted precisely in accordance with their rules of engagement, attempting to establish contact with the Iranian boats, and to deescalate the situation. Hopper, speaking for the task group, issued warnings to the speedboats, and the boats eventually broke off and departed the area. The AP summary also indicates Hopper came close to using her M240 deck-mounted machine gun, but did not. Hopper assuredly had her gun crew manning its station, which would have been easily observed from the Iranian speedboats, and probably influenced the IRGCN decision to leave the area.

Three significant things may be said about this incident. First, U.S. rules of engagement are intended to deescalate unplanned situations, if at all possible. The reason for this is not to prevent carnage at any cost, or to behave in a pusillanimous. manner, but to restore control of the initiative and tempo to U.S. forces. The principal obligation of any commander under his rules of engagement is self-defense. But long experience with operating under U.S. rules of engagement enables a good commander to preserve his option of effective self-defense, without being drawn into action on the opponent’s timeline. We always prefer exercising our own operational agenda, on our timetable, over letting the opponent dictate it to us. The assignment of this task group was to enter the Persian Gulf for operations as directed by the U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander — and by deescalating the speedboat situation, the group stayed on task. It also avoided letting Iran provoke the U.S. into escalation at a higher level of command, either military or political.

Second, the unusual things about this situation were that the speedboat crews dumped boxes in the water, and made the provocative communication (“You will blow up”) to the U.S. Navy ships. It is, in fact, routine for our ships in the Gulf to encounter Iranian speedboats, 24/365. They very often maneuver — with zest and verve — around our ships, although rarely in a dangerous way (i.e., with bad seamanship). This incident was unusual because of the special provocation, but we have no good ways of knowing beforehand when such special provocations will erupt again. This is obviously a problem from the standpoint of warning. Which approach of Iranian speedboats might be an actual attack?

Third, small speedboats are the very devil to deal with through armed force. Hopper’s M240 (a mounted 7.62mm machine gun) was the best tool available to the three ships in question, but its range is not even 2,000 yards, and its accuracy outside 1,000 yards against a fast, maneuverable target will be iffy. The machine gun would produce suppressing fire — but if the attacker doesn’t care if he survives, and if he attacks in enough of a swarm, something will get through.

Our 5-inch naval guns would be worse than useless against such a target — in the dhow- and freighter-infested waters of the Persian Gulf, they would be bound to hit something, just not the IRGCN speedboats. A ship-launched helicopter (between them the three ships probably have at least two) is another option, but is also vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles and machine-gun fire from the speedboats themselves. This problem is difficult enough that a truly determined, suicidal speedboat attack is more likely than not to complete potential missions like launching a rocket at a U.S. warship, or detonating pre-deployed explosives with a radio remote.

The Iranian speedboats constitute, as they did in the Royal Marines incident last March, a type of problem that rules of engagement per se can’t adequately address. Moreover, it’s not possible to guarantee prior warning to our forces that the next speedboat formation is the one that’s going to actually attack. To take summarily effective precautions against a speedboat attack would require action at the political level. The relevant tools include a demarche by the U.S. to Iran (e.g., warning Iran against operating its speedboats under specified conditions), and a Notice to Mariners — the former being more pointed, and a ratcheting up of tensions between two nations; the latter potentially inviting the contumely of all the nations whose flagged ships ply the Gulf. These are considered drastic measures; we have normally only used them when we actually went to war (e.g., during Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom). The delineation of the conditions for breach of a demarche also becomes problematic for sound operations. If, for example, we tell Iran not to put its boats within five nautical miles of a U.S. warship, Iran will assuredly post boats at five nautical miles plus one inch off the port quarter of U.S. warships. All such delineations have the effect of standardizing what we prefer, for operational reasons, to retain unadvertised discretion over.

Of course, our national authorities can also promise Iran unspecified retaliations for any incidents of this kind in the future. If you’ve followed me this far, you will quickly deduce that announcing such triggers can cede Iran the initiative — in particular the initiative to mount ambiguous. incidents that cast doubt on our justification for responding. Retaliation warnings may or may not be appropriate here, but they work best for deterring behavior that is unmistakable.

The U.S. Navy is carrying out U.S. policy merely by being present in the Persian Gulf, and patrolling it for U.S. purposes. Our presence there every day is a neon sign to Iran that we will not tolerate Iran trying to close the Gulf, or to exercise an exclusionary hegemony over it. We tend to forget that being in Iran’s face every day IS policy, just as deliberately crossing Qaddhafi’s “Line of Death” was, in the 1980’s, and deliberately transiting the former Soviet Union’s excessively-claimed territorial waters. The U.S. Navy constantly monitors, and seeks to adjust and train to, the speedboat threat; in each of my deployments after the first Gulf war, such training and intelligence were high priorities. But it is inherently dangerous. to walk the tightwire of forward naval engagement. In a sense, this latest incident occurred not because U.S. policy isn’t working, but because it is. The Fifth Fleet Commander, and CENTCOM, will review this whole incident thoroughly and look for operational changes to make, but in the end, the policy of the United States has always been that we don’t need to suppress all other maritime activity, in order to maintain our own naval — and national — posture effectively.

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Iranian Face-Off

On Sunday, five armed Iranian speedboats threatened three U.S. Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Before turning back, the Revolutionary Guard boats dropped white boxes in the path of one of the U.S. ships, and broadcast the bridge-to-bridge message, “I am coming at you, and you will explode in a few minutes.” So, why aren’t today’s newspapers plastered with stories about five sunken terrorist boats in international waters?

In 2006, Revolutionary Guard commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said on Iranian television:

The Americans have many weaknesses. We have planned our strategy precisely on the basis of their strengths and weaknesses. When their commanders encounter a problem, they burst into tears. We did not see such spectacles in the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman treated the terrorist provocation as if he were a municipal magistrate passing out a fine for a seatbelt infraction. In no uncertain terms he let the Iranians know that they had acted in a “reckless and dangerous” manner.

Last March when eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Marines from the HMS Cornwall giggled and praised their Revolutionary Guard captors, many Americans imagined that this low point for the great Royal Navy would look rather different with American sailors. Incidents such as Sunday’s give little reason for hope. We don’t know if the encounter was an aborted attack or not. But it points, yet again, to the fact that Tehran is not the rational player talk-advocates (like Mike Huckabee) suggest. Iran’s goal is escalation.

On Sunday, five armed Iranian speedboats threatened three U.S. Navy warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Before turning back, the Revolutionary Guard boats dropped white boxes in the path of one of the U.S. ships, and broadcast the bridge-to-bridge message, “I am coming at you, and you will explode in a few minutes.” So, why aren’t today’s newspapers plastered with stories about five sunken terrorist boats in international waters?

In 2006, Revolutionary Guard commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said on Iranian television:

The Americans have many weaknesses. We have planned our strategy precisely on the basis of their strengths and weaknesses. When their commanders encounter a problem, they burst into tears. We did not see such spectacles in the eight years of the Iran-Iraq War.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman treated the terrorist provocation as if he were a municipal magistrate passing out a fine for a seatbelt infraction. In no uncertain terms he let the Iranians know that they had acted in a “reckless and dangerous” manner.

Last March when eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Marines from the HMS Cornwall giggled and praised their Revolutionary Guard captors, many Americans imagined that this low point for the great Royal Navy would look rather different with American sailors. Incidents such as Sunday’s give little reason for hope. We don’t know if the encounter was an aborted attack or not. But it points, yet again, to the fact that Tehran is not the rational player talk-advocates (like Mike Huckabee) suggest. Iran’s goal is escalation.

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Spillover

Whatever the reason for the Chinese refusal to let nine U.S. Navy ships dock in Hong Kong, one casualty of the “misunderstanding” has been U.S. credibility in Asia. Nations throughout the region watched the events closely, not least of all because the U.S. Navy, and the Kitty Hawk in particular, is the most visible symbol of America’s commitment to stability in the Pacific.

A number of my Asia-wonk acquaintances in Washington have expressed their concern that Washington is sending a signal of weakness by making no response to the Chinese provocations (sailing the fleet back through the Taiwan Straits doesn’t quite cut it)—even canceling some meetings would have been seen as something. Most concerning to them is that this seems to be part of a trend, as Washington has let go by in virtual silence the Chinese anti-satellite test in January, the surfacing of a Chinese sub near the Kitty Hawk earlier this year, and reports of Chinese hacking into Pentagon computers, all in the context of a massive Chinese military buildup this decade.

The White House may not want to roil the waters, so to speak, with China, and thinks that quiet diplomacy is the way to nudge the Chinese back to acceptable behavior. But our Asian allies see it at least partly in a different light. They worry that the U.S. is allowing China unilaterally to change the norms of accepted maritime behavior in the region, and since all of them depend on sea lanes of communication for their survival, any indication that the U.S. is losing its will is of potentially major strategic concern. It is of less interest to them whether the incidents arose from a clear Chinese policy or miscommunication between the PLA military and the political leadership in Beijing. Their focus was on our response, or lack thereof.

How many more “misunderstandings” have to occur before nations in the region consider it in their interests to begin thinking about band-wagoning with China? Push some knowledgeable people here in D.C. a bit and the response is unsettling.

Whatever the reason for the Chinese refusal to let nine U.S. Navy ships dock in Hong Kong, one casualty of the “misunderstanding” has been U.S. credibility in Asia. Nations throughout the region watched the events closely, not least of all because the U.S. Navy, and the Kitty Hawk in particular, is the most visible symbol of America’s commitment to stability in the Pacific.

A number of my Asia-wonk acquaintances in Washington have expressed their concern that Washington is sending a signal of weakness by making no response to the Chinese provocations (sailing the fleet back through the Taiwan Straits doesn’t quite cut it)—even canceling some meetings would have been seen as something. Most concerning to them is that this seems to be part of a trend, as Washington has let go by in virtual silence the Chinese anti-satellite test in January, the surfacing of a Chinese sub near the Kitty Hawk earlier this year, and reports of Chinese hacking into Pentagon computers, all in the context of a massive Chinese military buildup this decade.

The White House may not want to roil the waters, so to speak, with China, and thinks that quiet diplomacy is the way to nudge the Chinese back to acceptable behavior. But our Asian allies see it at least partly in a different light. They worry that the U.S. is allowing China unilaterally to change the norms of accepted maritime behavior in the region, and since all of them depend on sea lanes of communication for their survival, any indication that the U.S. is losing its will is of potentially major strategic concern. It is of less interest to them whether the incidents arose from a clear Chinese policy or miscommunication between the PLA military and the political leadership in Beijing. Their focus was on our response, or lack thereof.

How many more “misunderstandings” have to occur before nations in the region consider it in their interests to begin thinking about band-wagoning with China? Push some knowledgeable people here in D.C. a bit and the response is unsettling.

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A Thanksgiving Insult

Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry, reversing a previous decision, announced that it had given the U.S. Navy’s Kitty Hawk carrier group permission to dock in Hong Kong for a four-day Thanksgiving visit. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that China had, at the last moment, refused permission for the port call. The Navy had already flown hundreds of dependents to that city in anticipation of the long-planned visit, and the six ships of the carrier group had been idling in circles in the South China Sea pending Beijing’s expected approval. The Foreign Ministry gave no explanation for its earlier refusal. It said that its later approval was based on “humanitarian considerations.”

The 8,000 crewmembers of the Kitty Hawk and its fleet spent Thanksgiving steaming back to the carrier’s home port of Yokosuka in Japan. “The ships will not be coming back,” said a spokesman from the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. “They are 300 miles out to sea and there is a storm in the area.”

Storm or no storm, the Consulate should have announced that, after Beijing’s petty behavior, the Kitty Hawk would not be returning to Hong Kong—and that the Navy will no longer ask for permission to dock in Hong Kong or other Chinese ports. Why should we try to go where we are treated so poorly?

In 2006, American military personnel spent about $32 million in Hong Kong. Let’s support our friends in the region by calling at their ports, instead of those of petulant autocrats. How about, for instance, docking in Taiwan?

The Chinese were obviously trying to make some point with their insult. There has been speculation as to what they were upset about, but it really does not matter. It’s about time we stopped acting so magnanimously and started to make some points of our own.

Yesterday, China’s Foreign Ministry, reversing a previous decision, announced that it had given the U.S. Navy’s Kitty Hawk carrier group permission to dock in Hong Kong for a four-day Thanksgiving visit. On Wednesday, the State Department announced that China had, at the last moment, refused permission for the port call. The Navy had already flown hundreds of dependents to that city in anticipation of the long-planned visit, and the six ships of the carrier group had been idling in circles in the South China Sea pending Beijing’s expected approval. The Foreign Ministry gave no explanation for its earlier refusal. It said that its later approval was based on “humanitarian considerations.”

The 8,000 crewmembers of the Kitty Hawk and its fleet spent Thanksgiving steaming back to the carrier’s home port of Yokosuka in Japan. “The ships will not be coming back,” said a spokesman from the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong. “They are 300 miles out to sea and there is a storm in the area.”

Storm or no storm, the Consulate should have announced that, after Beijing’s petty behavior, the Kitty Hawk would not be returning to Hong Kong—and that the Navy will no longer ask for permission to dock in Hong Kong or other Chinese ports. Why should we try to go where we are treated so poorly?

In 2006, American military personnel spent about $32 million in Hong Kong. Let’s support our friends in the region by calling at their ports, instead of those of petulant autocrats. How about, for instance, docking in Taiwan?

The Chinese were obviously trying to make some point with their insult. There has been speculation as to what they were upset about, but it really does not matter. It’s about time we stopped acting so magnanimously and started to make some points of our own.

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Japan Leaves the War on Terror

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

Today, the vessels of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces are serving proudly in the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Operations, along with the navies of seven other nations. Tokyo’s role has been maintaining a “free gas station” in the Indian Ocean for American and other vessels involved in the war against terrorists on the high seas and in Afghanistan. “This mission is part of an international effort,” Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters recently. “What would the other countries think if Japan were to pull out?”

We will soon find out because the legislative authority for Tokyo’s refueling activities expires this coming Thursday. Moreover, the authorization will not be extended until sometime next year, if ever, so this week Japan will end the mission begun in 2001. Fukuda has submitted a watered-down reauthorization bill—which would not permit Japan to refuel vessels involved in military operations, including those in Afghanistan—in the lower house, controlled by his Liberal Democratic Party, of the Japanese legislature, the Diet. Yet this “antiterrorism” legislation will be blocked by the Democratic Party of Japan, which controls the upper house. The DPJ has vowed to stop the refueling mission on the grounds that the United Nations has not fully authorized coalition operations in Afghanistan, the mission violates Japan’s constitution, and oil supplied to the United States Navy has been used in the Iraqi war.

The Japanese public is closely split on the refueling mission, and the opposition DJP appears to be using the issue to unseat Fukuda’s LDP in the next elections for the lower house. Matters have been complicated by the Defense Ministry’s underreporting of the amount of fuel supplied and unrelated allegations of corruption—this time involving a former official accused of going on more than 200 golf junkets arranged by a contractor. The result is that the world’s second-largest economy, which obtains virtually all of its oil from the Middle East and depends on the United States for the safety of tankers bound for Japanese ports, will drop out of multinational efforts to secure the sea lanes.

The refueling mission is largely symbolic, so its ending will also be full of meaning. The one thing we can say with assurance is that Japan in the Fukuda era is about to take a large step backward as a member of the international community.

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The Asian Century?

Robert D. Kaplan, in a thoughtful piece in today’s New York Times, suggests that we are living in “the Asian Century.” His argument in “Lost at Sea” is that China, India, Japan, and South Korea are modernizing their militaries, especially building “big decks” and enlarging their fleets. The United States Navy, he notes, will have to share the sea’s lanes with ships from other nations. Writes Kaplan: “The military trend that is hiding in plain sight is the loss of the Pacific Ocean as an American lake after 60 years of near-total dominance.”

Kaplan is right to highlight the growing militarization of Asia. But he’s too hasty in arguing that the continent will, therefore, dominate the 21st century. If anything, Asian militarism probably will be the reason that historians will call this era “the Second American Century.”

In the twentieth century it took two all-encompassing wars and one decades-long struggle to resolve the most pressing matters in Europe. In Asia, Japan and Russia have yet to settle their differences resulting from World War II, and the Korean War still has not been concluded by peace treaty. More important, the animosity among the great powers of Asia—China and India, India and Pakistan, and China and Japan, just to mention the most prominent of them—continues to flare. And then there is always Taiwan, essentially the unfinished Chinese civil war.

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Robert D. Kaplan, in a thoughtful piece in today’s New York Times, suggests that we are living in “the Asian Century.” His argument in “Lost at Sea” is that China, India, Japan, and South Korea are modernizing their militaries, especially building “big decks” and enlarging their fleets. The United States Navy, he notes, will have to share the sea’s lanes with ships from other nations. Writes Kaplan: “The military trend that is hiding in plain sight is the loss of the Pacific Ocean as an American lake after 60 years of near-total dominance.”

Kaplan is right to highlight the growing militarization of Asia. But he’s too hasty in arguing that the continent will, therefore, dominate the 21st century. If anything, Asian militarism probably will be the reason that historians will call this era “the Second American Century.”

In the twentieth century it took two all-encompassing wars and one decades-long struggle to resolve the most pressing matters in Europe. In Asia, Japan and Russia have yet to settle their differences resulting from World War II, and the Korean War still has not been concluded by peace treaty. More important, the animosity among the great powers of Asia—China and India, India and Pakistan, and China and Japan, just to mention the most prominent of them—continues to flare. And then there is always Taiwan, essentially the unfinished Chinese civil war.

Kaplan does note a few of today’s territorial disputes, but he ignores the more important ones, and fails to convey the intensity of any of them. Moreover, he does not refer to the military clashes and confrontations that have threatened peace this decade. Asia is an area of rising giants, failing states, and unresolved disputes, some of which have gone on for centuries. In this context, it’s unlikely that the Chinese, Indians, Japanese, and South Koreans will spend hundreds of billions of dollars on new ships and not use them in another monumental clash. We can probably look forward to decades of Asian turbulence. In many respects, Asia today is the Europe of a hundred years ago. For this and other reasons, Asians will not dominate this century.

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Warships for China?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed optimism about our military relations with Beijing at the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue, the preeminent security conference in Asia. American efforts could be complimentary to, not competitive with, those of China, he said at the Singapore conclave. Gates listed the areas where China and America share security interests, such as terrorism, proliferation, and energy security. But he left one major issue off the list—the construction of large warships.

This is particularly disturbing in light of the remarks made by Admiral Timothy Keating in Beijing last month. Keating, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said he found his host country’s ambition to build an aircraft carrier “understandable.” After talks with China’s navy chief, Admiral Wu Shengli, Keating offered to help the Chinese build a carrier “to the degree that they seek and the degree that we’re capable.”

Will the Chinese seek to build a carrier? Without a doubt. They have been contemplating the prospect for decades, going so far as to purchase the hulks of one Australian and three Soviet carriers for purposes of reverse-engineering. Recently, Chinese military representatives have been touring international air shows to find strike planes that can be launched at sea. And the U.S. is, of course, capable of helping them build carriers. The only thing that prevents Keating from handing over the plans to the Nimitz is American legislation: a Tiananmen-era ban on military exports to China, as well as a strict limit, enacted later, on military exchanges.

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Defense Secretary Robert Gates expressed optimism about our military relations with Beijing at the recently concluded Shangri-La Dialogue, the preeminent security conference in Asia. American efforts could be complimentary to, not competitive with, those of China, he said at the Singapore conclave. Gates listed the areas where China and America share security interests, such as terrorism, proliferation, and energy security. But he left one major issue off the list—the construction of large warships.

This is particularly disturbing in light of the remarks made by Admiral Timothy Keating in Beijing last month. Keating, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said he found his host country’s ambition to build an aircraft carrier “understandable.” After talks with China’s navy chief, Admiral Wu Shengli, Keating offered to help the Chinese build a carrier “to the degree that they seek and the degree that we’re capable.”

Will the Chinese seek to build a carrier? Without a doubt. They have been contemplating the prospect for decades, going so far as to purchase the hulks of one Australian and three Soviet carriers for purposes of reverse-engineering. Recently, Chinese military representatives have been touring international air shows to find strike planes that can be launched at sea. And the U.S. is, of course, capable of helping them build carriers. The only thing that prevents Keating from handing over the plans to the Nimitz is American legislation: a Tiananmen-era ban on military exports to China, as well as a strict limit, enacted later, on military exchanges.

But why would the U.S. Navy offer to help the Chinese build a carrier? Keating put it very simply: the construction of warships is “not an area where we would want any tension to arise unnecessarily.” The prevailing theory at the highest levels of the Navy, apparently, is that America can avoid problems in the future by placating the Chinese today.

In the course of these discussions, Keating made no mention of the fact that the U.S. Navy has spent much of this decade ignoring a pattern of hostile Chinese conduct. In 2001, the United States reacted to China’s reckless downing of an EP-3 reconnaissance plane and its unjustifiable detention of the crew by apologizing to China—but even that did not satisfy Beijing. In 2002, a Chinese vessel attempted to ram the unarmed USNS Bowditch in international waters. Last October, a Chinese sub surfaced in the middle of the Kitty Hawk carrier group—an unambiguously threatening gesture. Keating, with his latest offers of assistance to Beijing, was merely continuing a failed policy of engagement—and, in doing so, was doubtless taking his cue from those higher up the chain of command.

“As we gain experience in dealing with each other,” Gates said of China in his Singapore speech, “relationships can be forged that will build trust over time.” Unfortunately, our defense secretary has got it all wrong. Our experience in dealing with China over the past decade indicates we should be forging a relationship built on less trust—and on a greater awareness of unavoidable military competition.

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