Thursday, August 25, 2016

Looking Down the Precipice

Crispin Rovere's critique of RAND's new analysis of a possible US-China war has at least one big no-shitter Washington should consider:
The authors all but exclude the possibility of nuclear use from either side, especially if the US avoids targets that would threaten China’s nuclear deterrent. In reality, China would have significant incentives for nuclear use if it was greatly disadvantaged in a conventional conflict. For instance, China could use nukes as counterforce weapons against US staging areas in the Western Pacific, calculating the US won’t respond at the strategic level. In extremis, China could even detonate a strategic warhead over a civilian population of a non-nuclear US ally (such as Japan) as a direct challenge to US nuclear assurances and to demonstrate absolute resolve, without forcing America’s hand by attacking the homeland directly. Indeed, I would argue that these outcomes are far more likely than what RAND assumes: China accepting total military defeat.  
In other words, the fact that America enjoys overall nuclear superiority appears to have led to dubious assumptions about US-China nuclear dynamics. It would have been better for RAND to simply assume a high-intensity conflict that does not escalate to the nuclear level, without attempting to justify that assumption. After all, it is just as dangerous for US decision-makers to be presented with an unrealistic appraisal of nuclear risk as it is for Chinese leaders having unjustified confidence in their conventional forces.
A reassessment of the temperament of China's princeling class and their willingness to use certain measures to save face, something often miscalculated by Americans, may be in order.

Lowy Interpreter

The best insurance against such a nightmare scenario may be waging a looking glass war over domain awareness in areas of interest. Brendan Thomas-Noone:

...It’s plausible that we’ll see a scenario developing that has US EW assets focusing on China’s radar infrastructure across the South China Sea, with the PLA’s burgeoning electronic attack and defence capability attempting to defend these new electronic capabilities. More EW capabilities could be poured into the region in an effort to control or disrupt domain awareness, a critical aspect of coordinating military forces across the region for both sides. Increased EW capabilities may also be a less obvious and less aggressive way for US forces to support Southeast Asian allies in the region.

Meanwhile, Central Asia may become the venue for the first modern war over water security unless the grandiose plans and necks of certain leaders aren't pulled back in. David Trilling:
...But since the dissolution of the Soviet Union over a quarter century ago, that system has collapsed. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan now face constant blackouts and hope to build giant dams to provide for their energy needs. Kyrgyzstan completed its Kambarata-2 power station in 2010 and is building a second one, Kambarata-1, with the help of Russia. Although he doesn’t have the funds, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon often speaks zealously about his mission to build a 335-meter dam, Rogun, which has the potential to turn his impoverished statelet into a powerbroker. But there is one glaring issue: the region’s glaciers, the source of huge and once predictable water supplies, are melting at record rates. Every year, it loses about as much water as consumed by a country the size of Switzerland. And the dams stand to limit water supply even further for the downstream countries. This has set them on edge. 
Along the disputed frontiers of the Fergana Valley, which is spread out over three of the countries, locals bicker with their neighbors over irrigation water. These small spats quickly escalate. In 2014, Kyrgyz and Tajik conscripts exchanged fire over a strategic sluice in Ak-Sai.

Finally, Robert Cutler on why rumors of a Russo-Turkish alliance (and resultant consequence for Central Asia) remain greatly exaggerated:
The big question (is) to what degree a “Eurasian” orientation on Turkey’s part would entail a “de-Westernization” of its society and its foreign-policy line, which could draw Turkey away from the Atlantic world embodied in NATO and the EU. This is unlikely even with the resumption of Russian tourism to Turkey and Turkish construction projects in Russia. Not even China could really offer a substitute for existing Turkish dependence on Western capital and Western markets. The European Union, for example, accounts for 75 per cent of foreign direct investment in Turkey.
Prince Arthur Herald

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