October 31, 2014

Maritime Strategy Project Workshop #2, pt. 2

By Alexander Sullivan

Any strategy that seeks to maintain peace and stability of the East China Sea – or any of Asia’s important waterways – will unfold in a phased manner, with critical attention paid to both short- and long-term facets. This point was driven home at the recent meeting of CNAS’ Maritime Strategy Project, including on the second panel, which was moderated by LTG David Barno, USA (Ret.), and featured LtGen Chip Gregson, USMC (Ret.) and Col Ryoji Shirai, JASDF as speakers, and Dean Cheng, Bryan McGrath and Ely Ratner as discussants. In addition, a third distinguished panel featured Amb. Yoshiji Nogami, President of JIIA, moderating speakers Tetsuo Kotani and Grant Newsham, with discussion from Tomoko Kiyota, Dr. Sheila Smith, and yours truly.  (A link to the agenda is in part one here.)

Long-term, peace and stability must involve an element of continuity in strategic stability, which is undergirded first and foremost by the balance of military. The rapid accumulation of power by China has some in Japan worried about how rapidly the military balance is tilting away from Tokyo’s favor. The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) are attempting to redress this deterioration so as to preserve strategic stability. While a long-term challenge, decisions taken today will materially affect the future disposition of the East China Sea.

The Japanese strategic community and the JSDF are primarily pursuing four reinforcing lines of effort: military modernization, which in the case of the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) means procurement of the F-35, improved airborne early warning and control and other capabilities; improving resilience, including through hardening of the defense infrastructure and ideas for dispersing forces; greater jointness between services and multi-domain operations; and strengthening the alliance, including through the defense cooperation guidelines review presently underway. Also under consideration is how to leverage deepened partnerships with other friendly nations such as Australia or India. Nevertheless, absent exogenous technological change, relative levels of military power are unlikely to return to the extreme imbalance of the 1990s or before.

On the other hand, however, it was pointed out that the rise of gray-zone scenarios, to use the Japanese term, or coercive pressure tailored to fall short of military aggression, proves that strategic deterrence still obtains today. Dean Cheng noted the interesting linguistic note that coercion and deterrence are intimately linked in Chinese parlance: weishe 威慑 can carry  both meanings.

The short-term challenge for Japan and the United States is in simultaneously mitigating the risks inherent in tailored coercion while protecting material interests and the normative underpinnings of the international system from bite-size predations. Our distinguished panels offered a number of concrete policy ideas for doing so; stay tuned for the next post to read some of them.