Friday, July 24, 2015

A Fatal Assumption and Fatal Implication

A war strategy against China that emphasizes one aspect of our war strategy against Japan in World War II has a couple fatal flaws.

This author rightly notes that China's anti-access/area denial strategy of making it costly for our Navy to operate close to China is a difficult challenge. But the idea he puts forward that we can avoid that challenge by standing off outside of the range of that capability and interdict Chinese energy imports to defeat China is dangerously wrong.

Mind you, the author assumes we have to penetrate the Chinese A2/AD screen to attack China's energy infrastructure on land and to wear down their blue water navy and aerial power projection assets. So right off the bat he really isn't lifting the burden of dealing with China's anti-access screen and operating close to China.

Yet his major emphasis is the distant blockade of energy imports that relieves us of the burden of operating within the A2/AD screen.

The fatal assumption of this strategy is that it assumes--as the war against Japan from 1941-1945 was--that we would wage total war against China. Is our response to a Chinese seizure of East China Sea islands a total naval energy blockade?

Doesn't a strategy that assumes that total war response to even a small conflict scare our allies as much as China?

And doesn't a strategy that puts the major emphasis on a a distant blockade condemn allies on the wrong side of that perimeter close to China to dealing with Chinese attacks without much American military support?

Doesn't that scare our allies, too?

Further, even if we completely cut off China's oil imports--which we can't because of overland pipelines from Russia and Kazakhstan that provide 13% of China's oil imports, China still produces oil. I suspect China will give their military priority on oil use and ramp up coal use for civilian needs.

Also, if Russia escorts their tankers which provide part of their exports to China (about half), will we really interfere with those ships? Could Russia expand those deliveries by sea?

China's stored oil will also buy time for China to adapt and cope by substituting energy, restricting energy use to critical sectors, and finding other energy import sources. They appear to have enough to completely replace just under three months of imports from government and civilian stored oil.

See here for lots of information on China's energy sector.

It is certainly a real problem to operate close to China. And a distant blockade is certainly a major approach to winning a general war with China.

But as long as our allies close to China can't move farther from China, we kind of have to work that problem.

Oh, and one more thing. In that long war with Japan, we easily outproduced Japan in shipbuilding.  Today China has a large shipbuilding industry and they may well be able to replace any losses we inflict on them better than we can replace losses.

There is no silver bullet to make a war with China easy.