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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 23-Feb-2016
23-Feb-16 World View -- China's military buildup neutralizes America's aircraft carriers

Web Log - February, 2016

23-Feb-16 World View -- China's military buildup neutralizes America's aircraft carriers

John Kerry and Russia announce a new Syria peace plan

This morning's key headlines from

China building powerful new radar system in South China Sea

Aircraft carrier USS George Washington (2008).  China's military buildup is neutralizing aircraft carriers.
Aircraft carrier USS George Washington (2008). China's military buildup is neutralizing aircraft carriers.

Just days after satellite imagery showed that China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) is rapidly militarizing the South China Sea by deploying advanced surface-to-air missile systems, new imagery shows that China appears to be building a an advanced radar system potentially giving China control of the entire South China Sea.

China has been annexing regions in the South China Sea that have historically belonged to other countries, and continues to use belligerent military operations to enforce its seizures. China has claimed the entire South China Sea, including regions historically belonging to Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines. China's claims are rejected by almost everyone outside of China, and China refuses to submit them to the United Nations court deciding such matters, apparently knowing their claims are groundless and that they would lose.

The imagery is of Cuarteron Reef in the Spratly island chain. This reef is one of those that China has expanded into an artificial island using land reclamation, for the apparent purpose of building military bases. The advanced missile and radar systems would broaden China's control over the entire region, according to an analyst:

"If it is an HF [high-frequency or over-the-horizon] radar, then it would enormously boost China’s capacity to monitor ships and aircraft in the South China Sea. Cuarteron is the logical place for such an installation because it is the southernmost of China’s features in the Spratlys, meaning that it would be the best place if you wanted early warning radar to give notice of ships or planes coming up from the Strait of Malacca and other areas to the south such as Singapore.

This would be very important in a Chinese anti-access area denial strategy that sought to reduce the ability of the U.S. to operate freely in the South China Sea, including bringing forces up through the South China Sea in case of any future crisis in Northeast Asia."

The US Navy has been challenging China in the South China Sea by conducting "freedom of navigation" air and sea patrols throughout the region, including within 12 miles of China's artificial islands. This has infuriated the Chinese, but US Navy officials argue that to do nothing would be to allow China to prevent any foreign naval vessel from traveling through the South China Sea, which is one of the biggest commercial routes in the world.

US Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin is suggesting that it would be "valuable" if Australia and other nations could join the US in these freedom of navigation patrols. According to Aucoin:

"What we're trying to ensure is that all countries, no matter size or strength, can pursue their interests based on the law of the sea and not have that endangered by some of these actions.

It's up to those countries, but I think it's in our best interests to make sure that those sea lines remain open, I'll leave it at that."

Washington Post and Reuters

Report: China's military buildup neutralizes America's aircraft carriers

Countries such as China, Iran and Russia have spent years and a great deal of money developing integrated systems of surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, submarines, surface ships and aircraft whose purpose is to prevent US aircraft carriers from having freedom of movement, whether in the Persian Gulf, the eastern Mediterranean, or the South China Sea.

According to the report from the Center for a New American Security:

"Operating the [aircraft] carrier in the face of increasingly lethal and precise munitions will thus require the United States to expose a multi-billion dollar asset to high levels of risk in the event of a conflict. An adversary with A2/AD [anti-access/area denial] capabilities would likely launch a saturation attack against the carrier from a variety of platforms and directions. Such an attack would be difficult – if not impossible – to defend against."

In order to avoid risk, a carrier would have to operate so far away from the battlefield that the battlefield would be out of range that the aircraft could travel without refueling. The report concludes that the United States can either "operate its carriers at ever-increasing ranges ... or assume high levels of risk in both blood and treasure," and suggests that the days of the aircraft carrier may be ending. Center for a New American Security and Washington Post

John Kerry and Russia announce a new Syria peace plan

I have to admit I'm totally baffled by what's going on here. Two weeks ago, US Secretary of Defense John Kerry announced a new Syria peace plan, after conferring with the Russians. ( "12-Feb-16 World View -- US and Russia agree to a farcical 'cessation of hostilities' in Syria")

The peace plan made absolutely no sense whatsoever for reasons I gave at the time -- Russia and Syria will continue bombing what they claim are terrorist groups, which are pretty much all Sunnis in Syria, and the plan would not apply to the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) and the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front). And sure enough, the "cessation of hostilities" collapsed in less than a week. In fact, the peace plan actually worsened the hostilities, since it provided cover for substantially increased bombing and fighting from all groups.

Well, on Monday John Kerry consulted with the Russians and announced a new peace plan -- and it contained exactly the same elements as the old peace plan. What the hell do these people think they're doing?

I listened to the analysts, and I heard only two things mentioned that make this different from the previous peace plan:

A spokesman for the opposition rebels says that they won't stop fighting unless Russia and Syria completely stop bombing. Well, they said that they're going to continue bombing.

In fact, Syria's president Bashar al-Assad responded to Monday's peace announcement by saying that he would respect the truce, except that he reserved the right to attack "terrorists":

"It's about stopping the fire ... but also about preventing the terrorists from using the ceasefire or the cessation of hostilities to improve their position. It's about preventing other countries, especially Turkey, from sending more recruits, more terrorists, more armaments."

In other words, al-Assad has no intention at all of respecting the truce, since he considers all Sunnis to be terrorists, including women and children.

And then there are the YPG Kurds fighting Sunnis north of Aleppo, driving tens of thousands to flee from their homes and head for the border with Turkey. Turkey considers the YPG Kurds, who are allies of al-Assad, to be linked to the PKK Kurds, who are internationally recognized terrorists, and therefore also terrorists. Turkey has been shelling YPG Kurd positions for over a week now, but wasn't a part of Monday's peace agreement announcement. So who's going to be the first to stop fighting: Turkey or the YPG Kurds? The answer is: Neither.

So we have a "cessation of hostilities" which is almost identical to the last one, with the same effect: No one is going to cease hostilities. I have little respect for John Kerry and these politicians, but I can understand how they could do this dance once. But a second time? I'm baffled. CNN and NPR and Foreign Policy

(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the 23-Feb-16 World View -- China's military buildup neutralizes America's aircraft carriers thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (23-Feb-2016) Permanent Link
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