Is Cooperation With China Still Possible?

David Parmer / Tokyo

Times have changed, and the US has switched from the engagement model of diplomacy promoted by Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to a competition model rolled out by the administration of President Joe Biden. 

Before becoming president, Biden made it clear that his first priority would be to mend alliances with traditional US allies, and then get all the allies on the same page regarding China. Biden has pretty much done this, and the Europeans and NATO are behind his move, as are the Japanese. The saying goes that there is strength in numbers and Biden has the numbers. (Trump’s “America First!” and “going it alone” went out the window on day #1 of Biden’s presidency when the US immediately re-joined the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.)

So the US and its allies face off against China in a competition that is political, strategic, and military. Some areas of competition and disagreement like trade and human rights are important and ongoing, but some like the South China Sea and Taiwan have the potential to heat up and boil over, turning into deadly conflict.

If Dr. Kissinger’s policy of engaging China is fading, does this mean that there are no areas where China and the West can meet and interact? Fortunately it doesn’t. There are several areas where the US, China, EU, NATO, and countries around the globe can cooperate.

Some of these are:

Terrorism: All countries around the world face the threat of terrorism from true believers and bad actors of all stripes and colors. No one is immune from the threat of terrorism. Cooperation and intelligence sharing across countries boosts the security of all countries involved. Information shared can save lives and prevent deadly incidents from happening. China and the US are no more immune to the threat of terrorism than any other country and cooperation makes good sense and saves lives.

Climate: Global warming affects everyone on the planet, and in addition to it not being denied, it must be dealt with by all countries in a cooperative manner. The 2021 Glasgow meeting, COP26 will bring together 97 countries in addition to the US, UK and EU. These countries, including China, have pledged to go carbon neutral by mid century. In addition to prevention and preservation countries must work together to assist countries and victims impacted by climate-related disasters.

Trade: Global trade has been valued at around $20 trillion. With the COVID pandemic in full swing trade was expected to decline sharply, but this did not occur. Trade remained robust during the pandemic. Keeping this system intact and running smoothly is in everyone’s interest, and tariffs and sanctions rendered on a tit-for-tat basis do nothing to promote the common good. Fair trade and a level playing field are essential for the smooth flow of goods worldwide. China, with its vast manufacturing capacity can engage the world and benefit all parties concerned.

Health: After 2020 and the COVID pandemic it is impossible to deny that human health is a planetary issue affecting every living person. Sharing scientific and medical information and technology are vital to keeping the world safe and healthy. No country or region can withhold information or horde supplies of materials or medicines from less affluent countries because the purely arbitrary geographical borders cannot halt the spread of disease and pandemics.

From just these examples we can see that while nations might compete strategically or ideologically, in the long run it is also vitally important that they cooperate with other nations in the areas mentioned here for the good of humanity and for the good of the planet.

Photo: World Ecconomic Forum via flickr







Iran Relies on Asymmetric Strategy For Defense.

                       by David Parmer / Tokyo

Tensions between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran have continued to escalate during 2019, and while both countries say they do not want war there have been no talks and no detente. Much has been written about what a war between the US and Iran would look like, and what the consequences would be. One concept that is repeated in almost all writing on this topic is asymmetric (al) warfare.

The concept is quite simple. When two sides face off in a conflict situation, if one side is much stronger or more technologically advanced than the other side, then the weaker side might consider it necessary to resort to asymmetric warfare to even things up. Asymmetric warfare can be broadly considered to be any strategy, tactics, or technology to undermine the stronger adversary’s numerical and/or technological advantages.

Traditional guerrilla warfare is usually considered a form of asymmetric warfare, as is certain forms of terrorism. Often it is a question of non-state actors against state actors, for example, the ANC against the government of South Africa, or the Taliban against the government of Afghanistan.

If we compare conventional military resources available to both the US and Iran, we can clearly see a huge imbalance in favor of the US. In terms of manpower and technology the US is far superior to Iran. Iran’s air force is still flying some aircraft that are now museum pieces in the US–the F4 Phantom and the French Mirage fighters for example.

Considering these factors, it would seem that any US vs. Iran conflict would be over very quickly as the US would bring the power of its massive military machine (with help from its allies) to bear in a swift and lethal strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, its military forces and their bases, and the infrastructure of Iran itself. And Iran would be finished militarily–or would it?

In fact, Iran already has asymmetric capabilities in place to counter such a strike. Iran’s naval forces, in addition to some traditional naval assets, consist of small boats, many of them with anti-ship missiles on board which could attack and harass US and allied naval forces. More importantly, Iran has a developed missile program that includes short, medium, and long-range missiles. Many of these missiles would be on mobile launchers that would be hard to detect and eliminate. An example of this capability is the NOOR missile shown above. It is an anti-ship missile with an effective range of 170km. The NOOR is just one of a series of sophisticated anti-ship missiles in Iran’s arsenal.

Missiles like the NOOR can bring a real advantage to Iranian forces and enable it to enforce its own Anti Access Area Denial  (A2AD) zone of influence and control. Denying a potential adversary from operating in its territorial waters and littoral areas is also a big part of China’s strategy, and it too has powerful anti-ship missiles ready to prevent any third party interference should there be a military confrontation with Taiwan.

Missiles and fast boats are only one part of Iran’s asymmetric capabilities. Equally lethal and troubling to the US would be Iran’s proxy partners.

While the US has its own allies in the region including some Arab states, Saudi Arabia and Israel, Iran has its own collection of potential allies. And while Iran’s allies are mostly non-state actors, they nonetheless pose a very lethal and robust threat to the US and its potential coalition partners.

These include, but are not limited to:

Yemen: Houti rebels

Afghanistan: Shia population

Iraq: Shia militia

Lebanon: Hezbollah

Gaza Strip: Hamas

Should a war break out between the US and Iran, a call to arms would go out to these various groups for support, one that would be readily answered. These groups could engage in all sorts of asymmetrical attacks (Improvised Explosive Devices, suicide bombing, truck bombing) to undermine and damage the US and its coalition partners.

The deployment of a US aircraft carrier and B52 bombers might send a strong message to Iran and to potential coalition partners, but such massive force may only succeed in winning Round #1 of any potential armed conflict.

The US needs to know that an attack on Iran would not be like earlier expeditions against Panama or Grenada in the 1980s, it would be more like Vietnam or occupied Iraq or Afghanistan. Such an adventure would be long, costly, and bloody, with destabilizing waves going out throughout the Middle East and around the world.

Asymmetric War: A Conceptual Understanding M R Sudhir

Photo: Iran NOOR anti-ship missile via wikipedia

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U.S. General Mark Milley: “China is not an Enemy”

                          by David Parmer/Tokyo

At an event at the National Press Club on July 27, in Washington, Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Milley laid out US global policy in a direct and concise manner. The general touched on three main areas and explained current US Army and US government thinking on them:

  • Security Challenges
  • Army readiness
  • Myths about the military 

Security Challenges

Milley said the US faces four nation states:

  • Russia
  • North Korea
  • China
  • Iran

And one non-state actor:

  • Terrorists

He said that an adversary must have “capability and will” to engage in or start a conflict. He said Russia is a “purely rational actor” and that despite differences we share areas of common interest.

As for China, he called China a “significant rising power” and that China had made the most significant shift in Global economic power in the last five centuries.”

He said that China also has capability and will, and has laid out its plans for the “China Dream” very clearly. It will proceed peacefully but has a capable military force to back up its interests.

He added, “China is not an enemy. Neither is Russia for that matter.” What is possible is “competition without conflict.”   And “China is also a rational actor.”

Iran tries to undermine U.S. national security interests in the Middle East.

North Korea is “the single most dangerous threat” at the present time.

“Time is running out.”

Terrorism, he said, will be “A long struggle.”

 Army readiness

The general said that the real question about your army is “What do you want it to do?” Since 1945 at the Breton Woods Conference the US has fielded a global military in support of the World Order. The U.S. now has 180,000 soldiers under arms. The General said that he believes we need a bigger Army. He also said that he believes that there has been a change in the character of war, and that future wars will be urban combat following the world trend for urbanization. He citied the battle of Mosul as an example of this trend manifesting in the present.

5 Myths of War

The general listed five myths of war and gave their corollaries in his estimation.

  • Wars will be short–they will not, they will take time
  • You can win wars from afar–you can’t there must be boots on the ground
  • Special Forces can do it all–they can’t and shouldn’t be asked to
  • Armies are easy to create–they aren’t, it takes time and training
  • Armies fight wars–nations fight wars

In closing General Milley took prepared questions. Two significant answers that he gave were regarding the situation on the Korean peninsula.

“No good options”

” It’s not going to be a pretty picture.” (A possible war in Korea)

Video: CSPAN

Photo: CSPAN

Russia’s Syria Gamble

                             by David Parmer

The question is not why are the Russians in Syria now; they have been there since the 1970s. Russia’s last naval base outside its homeland is in Tartus, Syria. And Syria buys Russian weapons, and has done so for a long time. No, the question is why has Russia stepped up in the autumn of 2015, deployed more than 50 aircraft of all types and put 4,000 pairs of boots on the ground, and started a massive bombing campaign in support of the Assad regime that reportedly has exceeded 1,000 sorties? Why?

The simplest reason is probably that Russia sees intervention in the Syrian conflict as being in its self-interest. Putting aside Russia’s natural support for its main Middle East client, which is a “no-brainer”, there are two likely reasons for Russia’s current Syria policy:

1) Foreign Fighters: There are an estimated 7,000 Russian fighters who have joined ISIS in Syria as well as 1700 of Russian origin in Iraq. It is likely that Russia would rather take on and destroy these fighters here (Syria) and now than have them become battle hardened and bring their extremism back to Mother Russia.

2) To Prevent a Failed-State Vacuum: Russia’s (and everybody except ISIS’s) worst nightmare would be Syria turning into another Somalia. A lawless, wild west in Russia’s back yard is simply not an option. So Russia has decided to prop up its client Assad and keep him in the game deciding that the alternative (a failed state and a power vacuum) would be unthinkable. One way of looking at this would be to consider that even though Russia is keeping the house of cards upright for its own purposes, it is doing the region and the world a service, since, in our inner-connected world, there is no more “over there”—in our digi-sphere we are all in it together.

Is Russia’s ploy going to work? Is the Russian variable the one that will stabilize things in this conflict? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but Mr. Putin has put his chips on the table and the wheel is spinning.

Foreign Fighters In Syria:

Putin on Foreign Fighters

Photo: Russian Federation MOD