Category Archives: Jack Zhang

Reflections on the SITC Summer Workshop

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Summer Training Workshop on the Relationship Between National Security and Technology in China (August 4-8) and the 5th Annual Chinese Defense Industry Conference (August 9-10), both organized by IGCC SITC. The workshop and subsequent conference collected participants from a wide array of fields (government, military, industry, academia etc), with a diverse set of backgrounds (engineering, political science, physics, computer science etc), to UCSD to discuss the latest developments in Chinese science and technology. Speakers included Tai Ming Cheung (UCSD), Barry Naughton (IRPS), David Finkelstein (CNA), Andrew Erickson (USNWC), and Kevin Pollpeter (IGCC), and Jon Lindsay (UCSD). The diversity of participant backgrounds as well as the multidisciplinary approach used to explore the subject were notable strengths of the program. The workshop also introduced participants to an array of sources and databases for further inquiry into Chinese S&T that are available at UCSD through SITC such as Chinese language databases available through East View: CNKI, Wanfang. We had the opportunity to play around with an alpha version of the China-Minerva Database which promises to be a very useful tool for China researchers everywhere. Overall, the workshop did an excellent job of weaving a narrative of how technology, security, and innovation interact with each other in China’s rise as a world power.

The SITC workshop and conference provided me with a wealth of contextual information on Chinese defense modernization but also gave me a few insights that are relevant to our exploration of Cross Domain Deterrence (CDD). Classical deterrence is about achieving a particular end (preventing war) through the use of strategy. The means used are unspecified, though traditionally concerned with nuclear force. But CDD is concerned about means as well as ends. If we treat the means available as given and fixed (such as the force structure available at a particular point in time), then CDD would resemble combined arms warfare at the operational level.  And if we allow the means available to vary (such as developing new capabilities in new domains) then CDD begins to look more like ultimate reconciliation of means and ends at the national level. At this level CDD would be primarily concerned about economizing over means, how to maximize the effectiveness of your own capabilities at minimum cost.

The case of China’s defense modernization since the 1990s offers an example of CDD at the grand strategic level. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the stunning success of the First Gulf War shaping the international strategic context coupled with democratic elections in Taiwan and the threat of Taiwan independence close to home, China’s security outlook fundamentally shifted in the early 1990s. After years of demilitarization under Deng’s Opening and Reform policies, the defense apparatus was in shambles. A new generation of Chinese leaders suddenly realized that China did not have the means to achieve even limited ends (prevent Taiwan independence). Under Jiang, China prioritized defense modernization with the goal of creating a new PLA capable of winning modern wars under informatized conditions. China also resolved to develop ‘assassin’s mace’ capabilities after 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The idea of the assassin’s mace, weapons to overcome much more power adversary, bears a strong resemblance to CDD, gaining advantage through the use of unlike capabilities. As far as we know, the assassin’s mace program is not a single weapons system. But over the past twenty years, China has modernized its C4ISR, ballistic & cruise missiles, submarines, strategic forces, anti-satellite and electronic warfare capabilities. Since A2/AD is now a beltway bogyman, these developments in China’s defense modernization illustrate an effective use of CDD.

The above example illustrates that it takes a long time for a military to develop new capabilities: the PLA of today is a product of reforms initiated in 1993. Conversely, investing in the wrong capabilities today carries a high opportunity cost tomorrow. Weapons systems also have life-cycle costs that are too rarely considered in grand strategic analysis. A potential contribution of CDD is to fill the middle ground on the spectrum of combined-arms warfare to grand strategy, to shed light on which means to invest in today to achieve tomorrow’s ends. Analytically, we have made the analogy between CDD and rock, paper, and scissors (RPS). If the means are fixed (each player can throw rock, paper, or scissors) then the winning RPS strategy (randomize) is banal and does not a policy prescription make. But RPS becomes a much more interesting game if players had to purchase means under conditions of incomplete information. A player that only invested in rock would find itself vulnerable to a player that invested in paper. A promising application for CDD is thus in the strategy and political economy of means acquisition.

Pacific Echoes of the Guns of August

2014 marks the centennial of the most catastrophic breakdowns of deterrence in modern history, sparking a conflagration that would consume 16 million lives and three ancient empires. At Davos this year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe drew a highly publicized comparison between present day tensions between Japan and China to the Anglo-German rivalry that culminated in the July Crisis of 1914. Though such alarmist analogies to World War I are premature, the prospects for successful deterrence in Asia stand out as a critical question for the 21st century. Developments in Asia appear set to reawaken more traditional topics in international security (deterrence, alliances, interdependence, etc) in distinctly non-traditional ways.

East Asia today presents a puzzling combination of high degrees of economic interdependence and escalating tensions. The economic rise of China and its naval modernization has triggered regional anxieties. Though China is Japan’s largest trading partner and Japan largest foreign investor in China, they seem to be edging closer to war over specks of rock in the East China Sea. The risk of escalation in the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands is very real and both China and Japan have been ramping up their military capabilities despite their close economic relations. Additionally, China’s growing capabilities in cyber, space, and nuclear, in addition to conventional domains, create new challenges for deterrence.

Despite initial appearances, closer examination reveals that the mainstream view of World War I as a repudiation of economic interdependence is overly simplistic. Gartzke and Lupu note that the war didn’t break out among the most economically interdependent countries in Western Europe but in the Balkans (between Serbia and Austria-Hungary) and that prior to 1914 the wars in Europe occurred not among the highly interdependent subsystem countries (Germany, France, Britain) but between weakly interdependent subsystem countries (Russia, Turkey, Austria-Hungary). According to this logic, direct deterrence failure between China and Japan (or China and the United States) is improbable. But extended deterrence may prove to be more problematic when economically isolated states like North Korea (the modern day Serbia) provoke a wider regional crisis, especially if Asia’s security architecture evolves beyond the Post-Cold War status quo.

It is also important to remember that France, not Germany, was the revisionist power in World War I (following her defeat in the Franco-Prussian War). Japan’s regional position, shaped by its defeat during World War II and its relative economic decline vis-à-vis China echoes the history of 19th century France more than it does Britain. If China today resembles the Wilhelm’s Germany, then Japan is Poincaré’s France. Indeed, Abe’s campaign to revise Japan’s pacifist constitution and play a more active role in regional security could prove to be a major source of instability.

The United States today plays a role similar to Grey’s Britain as the hegemon and ultimate arbiter of regional disputes. But the advancement of technology and the proliferation of operational domains make the British position in 1914 looks enviable from the perspective of deterrence. The aim of this Minerva project is to make sense of this complexity. While previous scholarship in classical deterrence concerned ends only, cross-domain deterrence must also address means. Understanding of deterrence between actors with unlike capabilities promises to offer insight for how to prevent another tragedy (likely to be even greater than that of World War I) from occurring in Asia.