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Manea Interviews Colby on Air-Sea Battle

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Octavian Manea branches out from COIN to the realm of power projection:

The Role of an Air Sea Battle-Centric Posture in Strategic Reassurance: SWJ Interview with Elbridge Colby 

SWJ: In a time when the PLA is intensively investing in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, how would you characterize the Chinese way of war? What are they preparing for?

EC: My understanding of what the Chinese are trying to accomplish is the ability to effectively counter a third party intervention. If you look at the strategic landscape in the Western Pacific, more or less starting from 1945, the US dominated the aerial and maritime spheres. Obviously, we had less success on the Eurasian landmass, but the whole system was predicated on the ability of the US fleet and airpower to dominate the Pacific.

The particular contingency for which this was most relevant was Taiwan. Now, the US continues to have a policy guided by the Taiwan Act which, at the very least, suggests that we might intervene militarily. This is something that the Chinese are not comfortable with. It [the claim to Taiwan] is a core element of their regime’s legitimacy. This issue became more salient after the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1995/1996. That was a wakeup call for the Chinese, and in its aftermath they decided to build up the ability to try to effectively push back the US military. The trajectory of Chinese military development has therefore been to build forces that would potentially enable them to prevent the US from operating effectively in the areas that we need to be able to dominate if we decide to defend Taiwan in the event of Chinese military attack or attempted coercion. In this context they have spent a lot of time and resources on more accurate ballistic and cruise missiles, aerial forces and naval forces, basically with the overarching idea of creating an A2/AD bubble in order to deny the US the ability to exercise its power in the Western Pacific. That challenge to our power projection ability has been compounded because of the centralization of the US military posture following the Cold War, becoming increasingly focused on Guam and a few other nodes in the Pacific region.

SWJ: What are the implications of China’s military build-up for the United States?

EC:  As we go forward and the Chinese economy likely continues to grow, they will presumably continue to put significant resources into these military capabilities. If we think about the basic military problem, the US is trying to project its power across the greatest expense of water on the globe, very far from our shores, using naval and airpower, all while the Chinese are operating from their mainland. The Chinese basically are trying to frustrate our ability to enter, while we are trying to get there and accomplish our objectives. As the Chinese military become more sophisticated, it will become a great problem for us.

SWJ: Are the Chinese A2/AD capabilities a long-term threat to the credibility of the deterrence capital that the US is providing to the region?

EC: Absolutely. We can see this in the case of Japan, where we see a lot more interest, focus, and essentially need for a stronger military posture. Publicly the Japanese are talking about North Korea, but what they are really worried about is China. The Senkaku Islands are the tip of the iceberg. A few months ago the Chinese state-affiliated press started to talk about the Chinese claims on the Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa is a part. It is a classic example of the downside of accommodation or appeasement in that the potential adversary can get hungrier rather than sated due to accommodation. And Taiwan’s closer relationship with mainland China is, in part, a result of the shifting regional military balance. More broadly, in these kinds of strategic competitions, perceptions of capability and resolve are crucial. If everyone thinks we are growing weaker, then they are likely to behave accordingly. 

A lengthy interview – read the rest here.

4 Responses to “Manea Interviews Colby on Air-Sea Battle”

  1. Grurray Says:

    “Abandoning Taiwan would be unwise for political, strategic, and military reasons. One of the reasons why it would be a bad idea to leave Taiwan high and dry is that it would send a very clear signal about the staying power of the United States, with negative potential repercussions for our relationships throughout the world.”
    How many times over the years have we heard that circular logic –
    we have to stay with this plan because to change would make us appear weak.
    If we appear weak then we wouldn’t be able to implement plans like this.
    The map becomes the territory. Pretty soon we end up defending plans instead of our real interests.
    We’ve already conceded Taiwan now that we’re pulling out Marines from Okinawa to Guam. Until we can get lasers accurate enough to shoot down Chinese missiles, we’re in the fall back strategy around the Western Pacific outer chain islands.
    Which pushes us farther and farther from where we need to be which is in the Indian Ocean

  2. T. Greer Says:

    “Which one is better suited for providing strategic reassurance to US regional allies – offshore control or ASB?”

    This would be an interesting poll for the ZP readership. In the event of escalating tensions, is it better to use offshore control or ASB type campaign? I stand petty firmly in one camp…. but I am curious where other ZP readers find themselves.
    (If such a discussion has already happened feel free to drop the link. I remember plenty of links to other people discussing the question, but that doesn’t count, does it? ^_~ )

  3. Grurray Says:

    Blockade for sure
    In addition to the string of outer islands, we can establish a presence in a large containment ring stretching through NW Australia – Cocos Islands – Diego Garcia – Djibouti.
    We’re already now forcing the Chinese to finding supply routes through the Eurasian interior just by talking about it.
    How well do you think the settled coastal Chinese will get along with their nomadic barbarian neighbors?

  4. J.ScottShipman Says:

    Isn’t the whole point of a strategy “control?” This interview had the look and feel of advocating more reliance on technology and/or ASB, with fewer answers on “how” that control would be realized. We’ve reached a point where technology and reliance therein has become in the minds of many defense thinkers an end unto itself. 
    His comment about the Western Pacific being turned into a free-fire zone made me chuckle; that’s what war looks like—the “free-fire” part. I’m more concerned we won’t possess the will nor the platforms to inflict “suffering” if necessary—so speculating on the will and corporate memory of the Chinese people doesn’t do a lot for the essence of his argument. 

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