Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

Engage…or Isolate?

by Robert A. Newson Tuesday, February 17, 2015
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan (R) listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters, prior to their meeting in Beijing April 8, 2014.  (Alex Wong/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) and his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan (R) listen to the Chinese national anthem during a welcoming ceremony at the Chinese Defense Ministry headquarters, prior to their meeting in Beijing April 8, 2014. (Alex Wong/Courtesy Reuters)

Engage or isolate? This is the national security question that will drive the United States’ response to near-peer competitors like China and Russia, destabilizing middle powers like Iran and North Korea, and even the relatively powerless Cuba. Consistent engagement, even with adversary states, is beneficial. It can help avoid miscalculations, improve U.S. ability to clarify intentions, and decipher ambiguous signals. It also can increase understanding of adversary motivations and interests, which facilitates negotiation and potential development of conflict off-ramps. Conversely, isolation can limit adversaries’ options, negatively feed their fears, and wound their pride—obstructing alternative, preferred paths. When it comes to China, some in Congress appear to be wary of engagement. Recently, Senator John McCain urged the Department of Defense not to send an aircraft carrier to China. He is concerned that a high profile port call would raise doubts among our Pacific allies, show excess respect to China and its navy, and send a mixed message about China’s continued aggressive actions in the South China Sea. Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA 4) sent a letter in December to then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel raising concerns about U.S.–China military-to-military engagement. Representative Forbes expressed displeasure that past and current engagements were not successful in modifying China’s aggressive behavior and were focused on operational rather than strategic issues. Congressman Forbes wisely requested a comprehensive engagement strategy review and a more explicit policy framework. However, his desire to focus on the most challenging aspects of the U.S.–China relationship (nuclear forces, offensive cyber, escalation control, etc.) appears to minimize more foundational aspects of mil-mil engagement. These are establishing personal credibility, developing relationships, and establishing lines of communication between the two militaries that can prove valuable in avoiding inadvertent escalation. Throughout the Cold War, despite significant periods of strain between the Soviet Union and the United States, U.S.–Soviet military-to-military engagement remained surprisingly consistent and healthy. It is doubtful that any of this engagement altered the world view, actions, or intent of the Soviet Union. However, it did build long-term relationships and increased personal credibility. This contributed to a combined ability to avoid miscalculation and clarify intentions during periods of international strain. Additionally, when the Soviet Union collapsed, these personal relationships were leveraged to help both militaries transition into the post-Cold War world. That was a low-cost, long-term investment that paid big returns. The Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy are advocating for a similar consistency in U.S.–China military-to-military engagement. This is a wide-eyed approach that combines persistent engagement with focused and strengthened alliances and preparation for the most challenging threats. Through investment, communication, and collaboration with our Pacific allies, they will not see U.S.–China military-to-military engagement as a concerning mixed message. Rather, they will see it as a balanced and beneficial approach, just as NATO understood Cold War engagement with the Soviet Union. Additionally, as the U.S. Navy deploys 60 percent of the fleet to the Pacific and places the majority of its newest and most advanced ships in the region, the Pacific rebalance will bolster our allies and could affect the calculations of regional aggressors. Furthermore, the Navy’s focus on addressing the challenges of Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) through both concept development and capital investment is preparing to counter challenges that threaten access to the global commons. It is not an either/or choice; the U.S. can chose persistent engagement along with deterrence and preparation to fight should deterrence fail. It is concerning that our national security decisions appear to be presented in an increasingly binary fashion—on or off; “good nation” or “bad nation;” with us or against us. It is largely true that belligerence should be met with deterrence and strength, and that there should be a cost imposed for international aggression. However, when other nations make bad decisions, take aggressive actions, or head down a dark path—when things go wrong—do our national security decisions and actions help them go right or increase path dependence in the wrong direction? While strength and deterrence are useful and necessary, used as the only means of influence they can contribute to escalation and spiraling conflict. Off-ramps are created through dialogue buttressed by relationships and credibility. While there has been recent emphasis on the credibility of our threats and our strength of arms and will—which are important—the credibility or our intentions for stability and peace must also be established in the minds of those we hope to persuade to choose a better path. Thucydides, the Greek historian of the Peloponnesian Wars, offered three reasons why nations go to war: interest, fear, and pride. While strength and deterrence affect the cost-benefit calculus of national interests they also can feed the motivations of fear and pride that often fuel international aggression and belligerence. Engagement, on any and every front, can help the United States better understand the motivations of fear and pride that might be driving China and Russia and offer insight into U.S. and allied actions that create off-ramps to their current destabilizing paths. Just as during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, consistent military-to-military (and nonmilitary) engagement will not equate to endorsement of belligerent actions or acquiescence to their grand strategy. It will, however, offer in-roads to avoid miscalculation, increase understanding, and build off-ramps from places none of us wants to go. Whenever possible, the United States should maintain military-to-military engagement with potential adversaries. Insight gained through engagement may help prevent conflict and—if conflict is unavoidable—it will serve to help us better understand our adversaries. Captain Robert A. Newson is a Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) officer who spent twenty-two months in command of Special Operations Command (SOC)—Forward Yemen. He recently led strategy and concept development for the Naval Special Warfare Command. Previously, he  served as director of the Joint Interagency Task Force—Counter Terrorism. Newson is a graduate of the University of Kansas and the Naval Postgraduate School (with distinction.) He is a PhD candidate at the University of San Diego. The conclusions and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government.

Admiral Greenert Speaks: What Should the U.S. Navy’s New Maritime Strategy Look Like?

by Janine Davidson and Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson Monday, November 17, 2014
U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert inspects an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the PLA Navy headquarters outside of Beijing July 15, 2014. (Stephen Shave/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert inspects an honor guard during a welcoming ceremony at the PLA Navy headquarters outside of Beijing July 15, 2014. (Stephen Shave/Courtesy Reuters)

By Janine Davidson and Sam Ehrlich

Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations,visited the Brookings Institution earlier this month to discuss future Navy strategy. Greenert, who has held the position of CNO for three years, touched on issues pertaining to Asia and the Pacific, sequestration, U.S. Naval arms and technology developments, and strategy for Navy’s assured access around the world. Greenert remained hopeful that the official Maritime Strategy would be decided by the end of this calendar year, and his remarks offered a preview as to what that strategy might include.

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Bob Work Speaks: Out of the Spotlight, The Asia-Pacific Rebalance Continues on Course

by Janine Davidson Wednesday, October 1, 2014
U.S. And Philippine soldiers pose for photos in front of a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft during an Air Operations and Aircraft Static Display as part of the BALIKATAN 2013 (shoulder-to-shoulder) combined U.S.-Philippines military exercise at the formerly U.S. bases, Clark Air Base, Pampanga province, north of Manila April 13, 2013. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters) U.S. And Philippine soldiers pose for photos in front of a U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey aircraft during an Air Operations and Aircraft Static Display as part of the BALIKATAN 2013 (shoulder-to-shoulder) combined U.S.-Philippines military exercise at the formerly U.S. bases, Clark Air Base, Pampanga province, north of Manila April 13, 2013. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters)

The Council on Foreign Relations hosted Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work on September 30 for one of his first public events since his confirmation five months ago. Work, an experienced hand in maritime strategy and force disposition, explained the quiet steps by which the military rebalance to the Asia-Pacific has continued on course. Amid the loud headlines out of Iraq, Syria, and Ukraine, it is easy to forget that much of U.S. foreign policy is still being developed in anticipation of a “Pacific Century.” While unexpected contingencies like ISIS have dictated the tempo and focus of deployed troops, they have, according to Deputy Secretary Work, not hindered the overall rebalance, which largely continues apace.

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Taiwan Wants to Buy U.S. Subs; This Would Be a Bad Deal for Both Countries

by Guest Blogger for Janine Davidson Monday, September 15, 2014
A Dutch-made submarine docks in a military port in Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung, November 7, 2005. Taiwan has long sought to buy additional diesel submarines to supplement its aging fleet. (Jameson Wu/Courtesy Reuters) A Dutch-made submarine docks in a military port in Taiwan's southern city of Kaohsiung, November 7, 2005. Taiwan has long sought to buy additional diesel submarines to supplement its aging fleet. (Jameson Wu/Courtesy Reuters)

By Lauren Dickey

This commentary comes courtesy of Lauren Dickey, research associate for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. She discusses the new push by Taiwan’s Ma Ying-jeou government to expand and reinvigorate the island’s submarine program by acquiring U.S. technology and platforms. She argues that doing so would serve the strategic interests of neither Taiwan nor the United States.

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Interview with KQED Radio: the Afghanistan Drawdown and the Strength of Enduring Alliances

by Janine Davidson Wednesday, June 4, 2014
us allies U.S. marines participate in a U.S.-South Korea joint landing operation drill in Pohang, March 31, 2014. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters)

I was recently interviewed by KQED Radio’s “Forum with Michael Krasny,” alongside Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Barry Pavel, vice president and director of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with many of the themes discussed. Among my observations: Read more »

The Obama Doctrine

by Janine Davidson Thursday, May 29, 2014
obama doctrine U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for a commencement ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, May 28, 2014. Obama's commencement address was the first in a series of speeches that he and top advisers will use to explain U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and lay out a broad vision for the rest of his presidency. (Kevin Lamarque/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama’s May 28 speech at West Point was long overdue. Chatter about America’s decline, the Pentagon’s budget crunch, deteriorating crises in Syria and Ukraine, and confusion over Obama’s signature foreign policy initiative—the Asia Rebalance—has left many questioning America’s ability or willingness to engage, much less lead, in the world.

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What Hawks and Doves Both Miss on the Military Rebalance to Asia

by Janine Davidson Friday, April 25, 2014
aircraft carrier philippines A Philippine Navy patrol boat drives past the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier George Washington (L) docked after its arrival at a Manila bay October 24, 2012. (Romeo Ranoco/Courtesy Reuters)

President Obama’s long awaited trip to Asia has highlighted the ongoing debate about the military part of the “rebalance.”   Criticism comes from all sides.  Those who claim the Obama administration has not matched its verbal commitment to the region with real action or military investment are countered by others who worry that the policy is overly militaristic and provocative.  Depending on the perspective, China is either going unchecked or being provoked, both of which would lead to instability if not corrected.

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Three Nagging Myths About the U.S. “Pivot” to Asia

by Janine Davidson Friday, April 4, 2014
Chuck Hagel ASEAN U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speaks during a meeting of defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Honolulu, April 3, 2014 (Alex Wong/Courtesy Reuters).

Since President Obama announced his intention to “rebalance” foreign policy attention toward the Asia-Pacific region, there has been much debate – and much misunderstanding – about the purpose and function of this shift.  As elements of the rebalance begin to fall into place, this conversation will only grow louder.

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Introducing Defense in Depth

by Janine Davidson Thursday, March 6, 2014
A view of the Pentagon and Washington, DC. A view of the Pentagon and Washington, DC (Courtesy U.S. Department of Defense).

Defense in Depth is a new blog about the art, politics, and business of American military power. I will track the big issues facing policymakers as they grapple with downshifting in Afghanistan, rebalancing to Asia, and maintaining a ready and capable force structure amidst sustained fiscal pressures.

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