Defense, National Security, military science, and naval science, all with a China twist

Time for a Sino-US Reset

English: President and Mrs. Ford, Vice Premier...
English: President and Mrs. Ford, Vice Premier Deng Xiao Ping, and Deng’s interpreter have a cordial chat during an informal meeting in Beijing, China. ID #A7598-20A. Français : Gerald Ford, sa femme, Deng Xiaoping et une traductrice lors d’une réunion à Pékin en Chine (1975). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watching the Sino-US relationship evolve, and then not evolve, since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, I have to confess some disappointment. Let me qualify what follows by noting that I am not a fan of POTUS 45. I not only crossed party lines to vote against him, I left the GOP outright and joined a tiny third party when he was selected as the Republican nominee.

So all of that said, we have reached a point in the relationship between the US and China such that a reset is in order. It has been 44 years since Nixon went to China, and nearly 40 years since Jimmy Carter and Deng Xiaoping recalibrated the US-China relationship.

That relationship was formed when the United States was entering the fourth decade of its Cold War with the Soviet Union and the Sino-US tie-up promised to subtly but importantly shift the balance of power in favor of the West. It was formed when China was crawling out the wreckage of the Cultural Revolution, and out from under the long shadow of Mao Zedong.

That relationship was framed between a large and slightly desperate third-world country that constituted absolutely zero threat the world order and a developed nation that boasted the most prosperous economy in history, the most powerful military on Earth, and leadership of an international system that it had forged with its allies a mere three decades before.

Four decades hence, China has changed, the United States has changed, and the world has changed. Yet we have been conducting this bi-lateral relationship on terms that are increasingly irrelevant and unrealistic. Let me put that another way: the US continues to conduct its side of the relationship on that basis. China has made clear to us for a long time – without ever actually saying it – that it will conduct its relationship with us on terms dictated at least as much by immediate expediency as decades-old agreements.

So it is time for a strategic reset in our relationship that accurately reflects what China is and wishes to become, who we are and what we wish to become, and the fluid state of the global order.

The call that Trump placed to President Tsai of Taiwan, representing as it did a break from diplomatic tradition if not international accords, once appeared to be Trump’s opening gambit in his version of that reset in the Sino-US relationship, and a possible change in the rules that govern that relationship.

That no longer seems the case, and one can hope that the change in tone from the White House reflects a practical desire to compel a resolution to the North Korea question rather than acquiescence to a Chinese view of international affairs. Putting off a reset in Sino-US relations for too long will only make the necessary changes all the more disruptive.

Happy July 4th!

The Best of the Peking Review, January 2011

From our free-book-fixated sister blog The Peking Review, here is a list from among the January reviews that Silicon Hutong readers might find interesting:

Affairs of State: The Interagency and National Security

Communist China’s Policy Toward Laos: A Case Study 1954-1967

Contemporary Chinese Views of Europe

Current Studies in Japanese Law

Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism

India as a New Global Leader

Managing a Changing Relationship (China and Japan)

Pacific Currents

Whither Strategic Communications?

Why Russian Policy is Failing in Asia

Matching the Dragon

In the Hutong
Watching the Skies
1512 hrs.

Robert Gates, a longstanding opponent to big-budget weapons systems like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a man who has made it his mission (rightly, in my opinion) to bring to heel the Fighter/Bomber mafia that has been running the U.S. Air Force since 1947, is singing a very different tune this week, all thanks to our friends in Chinese Aerospace. From Elizabeth Bumiller’s piece in The New York Times:

The American weapons that Mr. Gates was referring to included investments in a new long-range nuclear-capable bomber aircraft, which the Pentagon had stopped developing in 2009, as well as a new generation of electronic jammers for the Navy that are designed to thwart a missile from finding and hitting a target. At a Pentagon briefing on Thursday, Mr. Gates said that the jammers would improve the Navy’s ability to “fight and survive” in waters where it is challenged.

Mr. Gates was also referring to continued investment in the Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s newest radar-evading fighter jet.

The Pentagon provided no estimate on Saturday of the total cost of the three programs or others meant to counter the Chinese buildup in the Pacific.

If a skeptic like Bob Gates is changing his mind about these programs, China may well have pushed the U.S. past a critical tipping point in the nation’s perceptions of China’s intentions. Despite protests to the contrary today (“no, really, Mr. Gates, this is not about YOU. We just want to feel safe,”) these seem to be systems designed if not to defeat the U.S. military in actual combat, then to carve out a sphere of influence into which the U.S. could no longer comfortably project its influence.

What is Beijing Thinking?

In which case, you have to wonder what the Chinese were thinking by showing off two disruptive weapons systems in the space of three months. One school of thought would say that they are doing this for domestic reasons that have nothing to do with the U.S. That’s possible.

Another school would say that the Chinese wanted to give the Americans pause, but gave no consideration to the fact that doing so would fundamentally alter the way the PLA is perceived by fence-sitters in the U.S.

But a third school would suggest that the Chinese new precisely what they were doing, that they knew this would provoke some instant anti-Chinese sentiment on Capital Hill, bolster the Panda-Sluggers in the Pentagon, and cause America to start pumping cash into weapons systems designed to combat a “near-peer” power. In this case, the theory goes, the Chinese want to provoke the U.S. into an orgy of weapons acquisitions that effectively derail the U.S. economic recovery (or at least slash the investments the Obama administration wants to make into rebuilding infrastructure), undermining long-term competitiveness and leaving  the country even more dependent on Chinese financial support.

The last one seems a tad far-fetched. But the more I think about it, the more it seems like a stratagem straight out of Sun Tzu. After all, isn’t this how America ostensibly won the Cold War? By making the Soviets spend way more than they could afford on matching NATO all while having to pour more money into Afghanistan?

Four Strategic Directions

The ball is now in America’s court. China and the world will be looking to see how the U.S. responds. And the smart thing to do is nothing…yet.

It would be foolhardy to be provoked into a spasm of military spending, especially if the grand strategy behind China’s hardware ante-upping may not be about goading America and its allies into a confrontation, but to drive us into a costly and ineffective military buildup that the Security Council powers can no longer afford. What greater triumph could the West hand China than an America doubly weakened by profligacy in consumer credit and arms procurement, lessened in stature, and compelled by domestic politics to retreat behind the dubious security of its coastlines?

Reverting to the postures and strategies of the Cold War would not bring the result America desires. No, this deserves a better, wiser response, one more suited to the strengths, weaknesses, desires, and vanities of a would-be challenger.

1. Calculate – Think Grand Strategy, Don’t React

Time to go back into the planning rooms and devise a grand strategy for addressing a rising Chinese military power, one that does not presume unlimited defense budgets, and one that takes the growth of four rival powers on the Eurasian content as a given (those being China, India, Russia, and the EU.) How does America’s perception of threats evolve? And what, precisely, are China’s true aims? Not the aims they claim, or those Fox News gives them, but what they really seek, what they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve those aims, and how and why those aims might change.

Until the leaders of the services have a better grasp on China’s strategic calculus, they cannot respond with any effect.

2. Educate – Admit America is China-Ignorant, and Start Doing Something About It

It is time to accept that the Chinese know a lot more about America than America knows about them. And that’s not a matter of bad intelligence, but a matter of misplaced priorities. It is time to change that, starting with the Pentagon. As Commander Tom Henderschedt and Lt. Colonel Chad Sbragia wrote in the Armed Forces Journal last September:

Conversely, while many U.S. maritime services personnel are dedicated to China, few currently on the “China account” have visited China, fewer still speak Chinese and nearly none have enjoyed direct, day-to-day experience with the PLAN and PLAN strategic initiatives. Disappointingly, no experts are placed to affect critical Navy Department planning and policy efforts. The deep understanding by the PLAN allows its officers to be extremely predictive on how the U.S. will act, react and negotiate. The inverse is also true — our superficial approach does not allow deep, predictive analysis of PLAN strategic initiatives.

I would venture that, while Henderschedt and Sbragia contain their comments to members of the maritime (i.e., Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard) services, their comments apply to the Army and Air Force with equal or greater veracity. They counsel:

The most important near-term task is not establishing whether the PLAN is or is not a threat, but truly establishing a deep understanding of the PLA Navy, one that would rival the PLAN’s understanding of the U.S. Navy. Then, with clear penetration of Chinese maritime strategic thought, U.S. Navy “China hands” will be prepared to answer any call — from a PLAN threat or a PLAN partner.

China expertise can no longer reside solely among the China specialists in the U.S. armed forces. That knowledge needs to be disseminated, absorbed, debated, studied, and applied. Responding to a “Chinese threat” before truly understanding whether it is even a threat or whether it is something else entirely serves neither America nor China.

3. Rennovate – Don’t Prepare for Cold War II, Rebuild for The World As It Is.

Mr. Gates needs to make some radical changes to service leadership in the same way he took a fire hose to the Air Force. A few more warriors and fewer careerists atop the Pentagon would be a good start. But what really needs fixing is the military’s procurement system.

A list of prescriptions would be book-length, but it is clearly time to burn the old book, because things aren’t working. The focus has to return to a) superb research and development to keep the most recent innovations on tap, b) taking care of the people in uniform, getting them systems that enhance and protect them, and c) disrupting the capabilities of challengers in the most cost-effective way possible. Our challengers have learned to think asymmetrically about us. We need to start doing the same in return, rather than just buying more and bigger gold-plated systems.

We can argue about specifics, but America’s sword is not only tarnished, it is no longer the right weapon. Time for a rethink.

4. Communicate – The Future Lies With Bloodless Victors

Not everything as about knowledge and armaments. The Chinese know better than we that the best victories are won without fighting. And that means good communications. Elucidating America’s intentions around the world in a way designed to promote support for our goals, rather than have the US branded a loose cannon or worse, would be a good way to start. Mr. Obama began his administration that way, and the State Department is doing its part, but the military are, like it or not, diplomats in uniform, and they need to do more.

First, as Hendereschedt and Sbragia urge, there need to be more interactions between U.S. and Chinese military personnel, not to try to “win them over,” as that is unrealistic, but simply to know them better and to open more channels of communication.

Second, the military needs to craft a peacetime psychological operations capability that can work alongside (but separate from) an enhanced U.S. public diplomacy effort. Deterring a challenger without resorting to violence or coming close does not happen by accident: it is the result of a concerted effort to make clear the fruitlessness of a challenge. For too long the U.S. armed forces have shunted psychological operations into the reserve, calling upon its capability tactically and only in time of armed conflict. In this day and age, if you wait for the war to start psyops, you’ve waited too long. And it needs to be strategic, not tactical.

Finally, it is time to answer loudly the public criticism of small-team U.S. military engagement around the world. The oft-repeated wails of academics like Stephen Walt of Harvard that U.S. deployment in 140 countries is ridiculous only demonstrates their misunderstanding of the costs and benefits of such missions. Argue Iraq and Afghanistan all you want, but ignore the benefits of small-footprint presence at your peril. It is just those sorts of missions that are helping the U.S. military make it more challenging for China to achieve low-cost victories in the region. That’s communications, that’s asymmetric.

Again we can argue specifics, but these are the four strategic directions that the U.S. military should take in response to China today. To do less would be foolhardy, but to do more would be premature at best, and at worst could put us on a path to an avoidable and unnecessary conflict.

China and American Military Procurement

Hutong West
Marvelling at American cable TV
1441 hrs

Editorial: China’s Naval Ambitions: “Beijing’s drive to extend its military and territorial reach is raising legitimate questions about American diplomacy and future military procurement.”

This is an excellent article, but it only scratches the surface. The U.S. military’s procurement system, which has been broken for at least four decades, is now starting to crumble into a compost heap of careerism, mismanagement, wastage and bloat that is leaving the nation’s armed forces all but unarmed.

As China practices cost-effective means like missiles and gunboats to offset U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups, the Navy cannot seem to build the small warships it needs and wanted to build destroyers that were costlier than aircraft carriers; the Marines are flying one white elephant (the OV-22 Osprey) and about to buy another (the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which at $20 million costs as much as an overpriced jet fighter); the Army can’t seem to build a rapidly-deployable fighting vehicle or a new artillery piece, and was discouragingly slow on procurement mine-resistant vehicles; the Coast Guard is buying deep water ships that leak; and the Air Force…don’t get me started on the F-22 Raptor or the F-35.

China’s procurement system is not perfect, and I would argue that the PLA is hogtied by the politicization of the officer corps, outdated doctrine, a weak NCO corps, and a lack of experienced commanders. But China’s peaceful rise is guaranteed as much by a capable and operationally sound U.S. military as it is by the benign intentions of the leaders in Zhongnanhai.

There are huge cracks in the Pentagon, which is being trapped by inertia, crushed under the weight of gold-plated weapons systems, and hobbled by waste. It is time to fix them before they are exploited by others.

China’s Maritime Militia: The Fish Story

In the Hutong
Spongebob is not Kosher
1752 hrs.

Appropos of the recently cooled dispute over Japan’s imprisonment of a Chinese fishing boat captain, The New York Times‘ Edward Wong wrote a thought-provoking piece laying out how the People’s Liberation Army may be extending the doctrine of “People’s War” into the maritime domain.

As for relying on fishermen, military exercises off the coast of Fujian Province and comments by Chinese officials show that the Chinese Navy has been trying to “more effectively organize China’s maritime militia, based on various fishing fleets,” Mr. Cole said. “The maritime militia in 2010 is quite active.”

This is no surprise – China’s naval forces have been (by comparison, anyway) neglected in China’s effort to upgrade the PLA (which includes China’s Navy.) The logical interim step would be to deputize the fishing fleet to serve as an extension of the fleet until the Navy can put more hulls in the water.

But this also means that, outside of the Diaoyutai dispute, there are implications for the territorial waters of countries well beyond East Asia. Chinese fishing vessels, their home waters either overcrowded with competition or plundered to exhaustion, will venture even further from China’s shores to harvest the bounty available in the waters of other nations.

Many of these craft will be caught in violation of international maritime law, thus increasing the likelihood of an international event, even an unintentional one. In the event that a fishing vessel is actively operating as a Chinese government auxiliary, other nations may find themselves bitten by the same Chinese nationalism the Japanese experienced in September.

Free-Book-of-the-Week Club: Advice for Advisors in China

Outside Tower 2, China World Beijing

Waiting for the air to clear

1139 hrs.

Much of the work that we foreign-born and foreign-educated types do here in China is of a consulting or mentoring nature. Indeed, if foreigners have any long-term value in corporate China beyond serving as trans-cultural connective tissue , much of it lies in our ability to serve as conduits for soft skills like leadership, creativity, quality control, project management, and the like to the nation’s growing ranks of executives and professionals.

A View to a Skill

Success in these roles means mastering an important but poorly-understood skill set. Whether serving as an advisor to the localized operations of a foreign multinational, as a quality inspector in a factory, a consultant to a Chinese firm expanding overseas, or as a mentor to talented young professionals, the way we deliver our counsel is as important – and in some cases, more important – than the information we deliver.

Sadly, the set of skills one requires to be an effective counselor, mentor or consultant is taught in only a tiny number of the world’s business schools. It is as if these institutions – training grounds, as it were, for ranks of future consultants – assume that as long as the fundamental business knowledge is duly inculcated into their students, they will somehow magically graduate with the ability to appropriately, tactfully, and effectively passing on their acquired wisdom.

Worse, a discouraging number of professional advisory firms – not just management consultants, but law firms, advertising agencies, accounting firms, I.T. consultancies, and public relations agencies – also give short shrift to teaching advisory skills to their new hires. Off go their consultants, filled with knowledge and wisdom and no idea how to deliver it with the skill and grace to ensure its effectiveness.

The Missing Manual

The prolific professional-services guru David Meister has begun the effort to fill this vast gap, most notably with his work The Trusted Advisor (co-authored with Charles Green and Robert Galford), a book that should be required reading in any advice-giving firm. While providing an incomparable framework for building trust and selling yourself as an advisor, the book falls somewhat short on how to deliver good advice effectively.

Especially missing in Maister’s work and that of others is how do deal with the challenge of giving such advice across a cultural divide – a particularly thorny problem here in China.

The good news is that there is a corpus of literature available to help, from the people who have been advising across cultures for decades: the military.

The U.S. military has been sending trained officers and senior non-commissioned officers into the field around the world as advisors to local military leaders since well before World War II. The British have been doing it for even longer than that.

And keep in mind that when these people give advice, it is serious business. When we provide advice, money and companies are at stake. When the military provides advice to senior officers of another country, the stakes are far higher.

Wisdom from the GWOT

Recently, the Yanks began pulling together the collected learning of a century of that experience into a form the rest of us can use. Most notably are two volumes of the U.S. Army’s Combat Studies Institute Press’ Occasional Paper series on the Long War: Advising Indigenous Forces: American Advisors in Korea, Vietnam, and El Salvador; and Advice for Advisors: Suggestions and Observations from Lawrence to the Present, the first authored and the second edited by Robert Ramsey, a retired US Army officer. (Both books are available as free downloads from the CSI Press website.)

Despite the ungainly titles, these are easy and fast reads. The first volume, Advising Indigenous Forces, is largely an exploration of the American experience in advising since Korea. Before you start, set aside whatever political issues you might have with these conflicts or America’s role in them – they will only get in the way of you learning from the tactical, on the ground experience of people sent to advise strangers from a foreign culture.

The first two-thirds of the book will recount the experiences in detail so as to set up the last third of the book, which uses the conflicts as a means of deriving some extremely helpful lessons. It is worth slogging through – the insights and advice are poignant.

The second book, Advice for Advisors, is meant as a companion volume to the first, with fourteen supplementary articles from men who had been advisors in the field, starting with World War I and moving through Iraq. The first article, for example, is “Twenty-Seven Articles” by T.E. Lawrence, more widely known as “Lawrence of Arabia.” For reasons that don’t bear going into here, I am not a fan of Lawrence, despite having read his book, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Nonetheless, his simple list of dos and don’ts elegantly encapsulates his learnings from years of field experience.

Another notable article in this volume is Edward Stewart’s “American Advisors Overseas.” From his position on the faculty of George Washington University, Dr. Stewart was one of the pioneers in cross-cultural communications and wrote one of the continuing classic texts in the field, and his article underscores how important it is to know your own prejudices and cultural issues before embarking on an advisory effort.

If you are in an advisory or mentoring position – or want to be – these are both worthy additions to your reading list. The price is certainly right (and much cheaper than one of my training courses on the same topic.)


Scott Emigh points out that the links to the two books published at CSI may be broken – the updated links (to CSI’s non-military site) are:

Dissecting the National People’s Congress: The PLA and Independent Innovation

In the Hutong

Looking for the burnout cream

1641 hrs

Even the most focused minds and incisive bladders must collapse under the weight of a 15,000 word address, and apart from our hyperlinked and multitasked MTV attention-spans, we in the West lack the tolerance for protracted oratory. We think, my Lord, if Lincoln could move a nation with 272 words in the Gettysburg address, what possible good could come of much more?

By now, China’s leaders know this, and I’ve developed a theory that they intentionally structure their speeches to hide the good stuff in the back half. So when I got the text of Wen Jiabao’s 2009 Report on the Work of the Government (i.e., The State of the Nation with Chinese Characteristics) I went straight to the back.

And I was not disappointed.

The Army’s Buried Lede

Hidden there, not far from the end, was an interesting little piece that grew in significance over the past week.

“In the coming year, we need to make our army more revolutionary, modern and standardized, focusing on enabling it to fully carry out its historic missions in the new stage and in the new century. We will strengthen ideological and political work in the army. We will effectively transform our military training based on mechanized warfare to military training for warfare under conditions of greater IT application, and continue to enhance the army’s ability to respond to multiple security threats and accomplish a diverse array of military tasks. We will modernize weapons, equipment and logistics support across the board. We will improve defense-related research, the weapons and equipment production system, the military personnel training system, and the army’s logistics support system that integrate civilian with military purposes and combine military efforts with civilian support.

[Emphasis mine]

There are two points of interest in this brief but important paragraph that are worth noting which, when related, speak to the future of China’s technology industries.

Information Warfare by Any Other Name

First is China’s plan bring the PLA into the 21st century, easing the emphasis on mechanized forces that has guided global military thinking for the past 90 years, shifting instead to an approach with a greater emphasis on information technology. The details of what exactly this means is unclear. There are few aspects of modern warfare that are not suffused with chips and networks, and “greater IT application” can mean anything from computers in tanks, to the ability to disrupt the information infrastructure of other militaries and nations, to the emerging concept of “network-centric warfare.”

I’m betting that China will dive into all of the above.

Mind you, the change will not happen overnight. Even if it seeks to leapfrog the U.S. and other military powers, the PLA like most armies is led by men and women who think of war in terms of infantry assaults, tank battles, and missile attacks. These folks will not be anxious to surrender the more visible (and intimidating) proofs of military strength: after all, armies (and navies, and air forces, and space forces) will always need to bear a nation’s credible threat of physical destruction.

Premier Wen’s statements are, however, a clear message to the leaders of the PLA that while they will get upgraded toys in the near term, the PLA’s destiny is to become a force capable of winning battles without firing a shot.

Getting to the PLA of Tomorrow

The implications for China’s technology industry should be obvious in that first bolded sentence, but that’s not enough for Wen. Two sentences later he hints further at his vision for a new Chinese military industrial-complex, noting that defense related R&D, manufacturing, and “the integration of military and civilian purposes” are also at the core of China’s vision for its military.

Now, I emphasized that last bit because by itself this is an important policy statement, but in combination with the IT-led direction of China’s military, it points to more than just military procurement policy but the future of China’s technology industries.

Bear with me.

When it comes to modernizing the PLA, China has a choice of developing its own technology or buying from others. That choice is going to go away. In most cases, China will be largely left with having to develop its own.

First, the number of nations willing to sell military technology to China will decline, with countries ratcheting back sales either because they see China as a rival in the defense business (Russia, maybe France), they see China as a potential threat to themselves or an ally (United States, Japan, India), because Washington doesn’t want them to (Germany, Britain, and Israel), or because they don’t have anything to offer Beijing (most of everyone else.)

Second, the Central Military Commission (China’s combined equivalent of America’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council) will be unwilling to leave control over critical national defense systems in the hands of foreign nations or foreign companies. This is understandable: the United States, Russia, and a dozen other countries operate under the same principles.

Third, some intelligent and opportunistic policy makers in Beijing will realize that if the country invests in developing its own technologies, the entire exercise strengthens the country’s civilian commercial sector. And this is where Wen’s throwaway comment about “the integration of military and civilian purposes” gets interesting.

It is no secret that the United States’ much-vaunted technology industries were founded on innovations that came from projects funded by the Department of Defense. In effect, America’s aviation, aerospace, computer, electronics, software, wireless communications, and the Internet sectors owe much of their global success to the breakthroughs and profits brought by defense contracts.

By all indications, the Premier seems to be pointing China in a direction where it, too, will pursue defense spending with a twin agenda – a more secure China, and a technology industry heavily fertilized with profitable defense projects. And China would not only be wise to follow America’s lead, they would be within their rights – the WTO makes wide provision for protectionist practices in industries deemed vital to national security and defense.

The World is Theirs

There is a qualitative difference between dumping a lot of money onto Chinese tech researchers and imploring them to go forth and innovate, versus giving them a contract to fix a specific problem or develop a specific system. At the very least you get a product out the back end. If you are lucky, you get something that works for the military, and if you are really lucky, you wind up with a development that has huge civilian potential.

Just one example of many: Boeing’s entire commercial jet airliner business owes its existence to a set of technologies created to build the largely-forgotten B-47 bomber. That one project begat the prototype for the Boeing 707, which begat the hugely popular 727 and 737, and the rest is history.

It is easy to see how the path from a few high-tech defense projects to the creation of global tech powerhouses may not be a smooth one for China. But one only need look at companies like Huawei to appreciate that the more robust China’s defense industries become, the more of these sorts of international competitors will emerge from the murk of military work with competitive – and perhaps innovative – products.

Caveat Inventor

I have said elsewhere that China will try to forge its own path as it seeks to create an economy based on innovation. I expect that part of that model will involve the peaceful application of technologies created for the purpose of national defense.

But I also know that I would be naive if I believed that China would steadfastly insist on creating its own military innovations when it would be easier, faster, and cheaper to “borrow” those created elsewhere. The pressure for results and the urgency of the goal will cause many companies to take what could be politely called “R&D shortcuts.” This is to be expected – history has proven that an uptick in industrial espionage is a natural side-effect of the emergence of a new world power, particularly in the case of one still wrestling with the concept of intellectual property rights.

An pound of prevention is in order. Those companies with technology to protect would be doing themselves – and ultimately China – a great service by recognizing the potential for industrial espionage and taking aggressive measures. You get to keep your technology, and China enjoys the deeper benefits of doing the basic spadework that genuine independent innovation would require.

Why I Study War (And Why You Should, Too)

Starbucks Lido

Blogging on the BlackBerry

0921 hrs.

In the midst of a discussion about business in China, a friend of mine and I had reached that point in the conversation where the talk was either on the verge of becoming profound or it was about to descend into arcana.

The discourse paused for a moment while the waitress brought our drinks. There was a relaxed pause as we each caught our mental breath.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you a question for a long time,” he said. “Why do you read so much about war?”

Yes, why?

It was one of those questions that slams your brain into a hard left turn, not just because it was a hefty change in the direction of the conversation, but because it cut right into me. With all the books, blogs, papers, webcasts, magazine and newspaper articles on China, business, marketing, strategy, and communications out there, what the hell am I doing studying military science, military history, and international security?

I gave a flippant answer: “I enjoy it,” and quickly returned to the previous topic. But there is more to it than just the recreational value.
Truth is, after three decades studying the martial sciences and two decades in business, I have discovered that not only does “studying war” enrich the development of business leaders, but also that a lot of businesspeople and companies desperately need a mental dose of modern military thinking.

Swords into pruning hooks

Let’s address the question of morality first, as I am painfully aware that many people equate the study of war with the dangerous propigation of man’s warlike instinct.

What is gained from the study of a subject depends entirely on the intent of the student. You can study anthrax with a view to using it to kill others, or you can study it so as to develop a cure, or to eliminate it and other infectuous diseases. In the same way, you can study war to help you plan an insurrection, organize a terrorist network, or invade a country. You can also study war to end an insurgency and what drives it, or defend a country from external threats.

Or you can study war as I do: to gain insights that can be intelligently applied in more peaceful endeavors. In fact, I think studying studying war is a moral imperative, even if the very idea of killing people and breaking things nauseates you – especially if killing people and breaking things nauseates you.

War’s immense cost to mankind in blood and treasure through history is staggering. For us to waste any opportunity to derive whatever benefit possible that can be derived from that experience is unconscionable. A moral person may recoil from the ravages of war, yet acknowledge that we are ethically bound to extract from its study any lessons, innovations, models, or giudance that can be put to peaceful, productice, positive use.

Business and war

Of all fields that martial endeavors have influenced, perhaps the most compelling – and controversial – is how it influences business.

Drawing equivalence between war and business is an imperfect comparison at best. You may not buy the idea that “business is the moral equivalent of war,” but like war business is fundamentally conflict and competition between groups for tangible ends. War is usually kinetic (the military’s way of saying that it involves killing people and breaking things), and business is rarely kinetic, but there are enough parallels that key lessons can be shared between the two fields.

War and commerce are both conducted in the face of great uncertainty where the participants usually have a lot – or everything – at stake. Freedom of action is restricted – or enabled – by a series of factors outside the control of the individual. Time is insufficient, resources limited, and stress is high. The cost of failure, while not quite as severe in business as combat, is nonetheless high and very real.

Creating the business strategos

The first and most obvious way a study of war can enrich a business mind is in strategy, or, more specifically, helping a businessperson become a strategist – or at least a strategic thinker. In no field is strategy as important – nor the strategic art as well understood – than in the military, and the warrior-scholars (no, that is not an oxymoron) of history have added more good thinking to the field than all of the business thinkers put together.

For example, you probably know people who have read (or who have claimed to read) Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Long before Michael Douglas quoted Lao Sun while playing Gordon Gecko in the film “Wall Street,” businessmen were tapping the ancient wisdom to inform their thinking. (Just a thought – anyone who actually did read Sun Tzu and took it to heart would never be caught quoting him. Why, after all let your opponent know how you think?)

The point is that Sun Tzu – a military scientist, after all – probably wrote the capstone text in business strategy, yet he was never even thinking about business. The reason his thinking is accepted in commerce is because generations of businesspeople had the foresight to recognize that good thinking, regardless of its origin, is what you need to succeed in business.

But wait…there’s more…

So why stop at strategy? (For that matter, I wonder why most businesspeople go no further into the martial realm than Sun Tzu for their strategy, but that’s a subject for another post.) There are a host of other areas where the military experience can enrich business thinking.

Take marketing, for example. Jay Conrad Levinson has made a career taking the simple ideas of guerrilla warfare – fighting larger rivals with unlimited resources when you have almost none – and applying them to marketing. Less known (for now) but equally wise Mike Smock has taken the theories of Sun Tzu and strategic visionary John Boyd and incorporated them into his Attack Marketing approach.

Just as marketing can benefit from a little martial thinking, so can consulting, managing global and dispersed enterprises, communications (internal and external), event management, and a host of specialty areas like medicine, telecommunications, and network theory.

There are entire spheres of business operations where the armed forces – especially those of the west – continue to match if not lead enterprise in the development of new thinking and approaches. Logistics and supply chain management, recruiting, training, intelligence, staff functions, career management, and creating and optimizing teams are areas where business owes much to the constant developments in these fields being driven by the armed forces.

Still not convinced?

You may be thinking “hey, aren’t military types the thick-headed dudes we saw in ROTC who went into the armed forces because they couldn’t get into grad school?” While I can’t speak for your experience, understand that it’s easy to be opinionated when your opinions aren’t going to get people killed. The looming specter of death, defeat, and dishonor can turn a rigid thinker into an open-minded scholar awfully quickly.

Warriors become thinkers by necessity, not by preference. It is fair to say that the United States Marine Corps, for example, is a superb example of The Learning Organization. (Does your company produce a recommended professional reading list that covers each level of the organization? No? The Marines do, and the program has been so effective that all of the rest of the US armed services have picked up the practice.)

Even if you don’t buy the whole business-war parallel, I urge you to pick up the book The Medici Effect. Frans Johansson describes how incorporating ideas from fields unrelated to your own with issues in your own area are a tested and accessible path to innovation. The application of, say, a new history of the Battle of Midway to your day-to-day work may seem counterintuitive, but I’m 100 pages into the book and I’ve gained insights into Japanese institutional dynamics that for me opened a whole new vista on Asian management. That’s “The Medici Effect” at work.

All the help we can get

Globalization and the tempo it forces on us has made doing business insanely complex. You especially feel this in China, where the pace is brutal and the conditions in constant flux. Against that context, and particularly as we pause at the edge of what look to be even harder times ahead, we are foolish to ignore any rich vein of insights and approaches to difficult problems.

Worst Places to be a Terrorist

Starbucks Guomao 1

I should get a bronze plaque on this table
1334 hrs.
Foreign Policy magazine (not to be confused with Foreign Affairs, the much-esteemed journal of the Council on Foreign Relations) is a source that is fun to turn to on global topics, taking as it does an approach somewhere between journalism and the deep-thought analysis you find in the weightier Foreign Affairs.
(Interestingly, their editor-in-chief did an op-ed in December suggesting that there would be an all-out street battle between activists and police this summer during the Olympics. I, for one, hope FP winds up with an omelet facial.)
This month they offer a little tidbit: the magazine has rated the worst countries in the world to be a terrorist. The magazine lists five countries whose fight against transnational terrorism involves making “unsavory choices between protecting civil rights and providing security” and who routinely choose the latter over the former.
France, Egypt, Singapore, Russia, and Jordan rank at the top of the list. China doesn’t make the cut. France, apparently, is far more prepared to toss out the time-honored ideals of “liberte, fraternite, et egalite” to stomp on terror than is the PRC.
On the one hand, I find that a comforting confirmation of China’s political progress; on another, a possible indictment of how the nation has reacted after 9/11.

The Real Way to Stop Terrorism

All You Need is Love” by Bruce Hoffman in The Atlantic Monthly, December 2001

In all of the global discussion among defense specialists about how to stop terrorism, digging deep into the history of counterinsurgency, a clue on one highly effective tactic comes from a highly unexpected source.

At one point, the PLO apparently needed to shut down their own fanatical terrorist unit, Black September.

How did they do it?

They set it up so each of the bloodthirsty, testosterone-fuelled and demagogue-gueded young men got married, help starting a new life, kids, and steady, rewarding jobs.

In other words, Tom Barnett is right. You give the terrorists something to live for through connectivity and hope for a better future, and you will eliminate the problem far more quickly and effectively than you will with brute force alone.

All of which brings up another point: Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have at their disposal the means to end terrorism now. After all, the Palestinians wrote the book on domesticating wild dogs. The fact that there are still people running around the region with outerwear made from plastic explosives means that they still find these tactics useful.

For more, read Hoffman’s book Inside Terrorism, and Barnett’s books The Pentagon’s New Map and A Blueprint for Action.

Graduate Level Blogger: Stephen DeAngelis

Enterprise Resilience Management Blog, Stephen F. DeAngelis, Principal, Enterra Solutions

Stephen DeAngelis is an extraordinarily bright guy, working as he does with some very interesting clients to help figure out how to use well thought-out, well-packaged economic development as the principal weapon in the war on terrorism. Stephen is dedicated to making the world (and, more important, our policymakers) understand that the only way to end the river of homicide bombers is to give them all a better future to live for.

His blog posts read like lectures – not in the sense of them being esoteric and pedantic, but in terms of being so filled with insight that you want kill all the lights in the room, close the blinds, and turn off your iTunes just so DeAngelis’ words go straight into your cortex. DeAngelis one more proof of the value of reading some of the better blogs out there.

Stephen has inspired me to create a list of what I will call “Graduate Level Bloggers,” people who write blogs that are themselves like master classes. Read them and forget about having to go back and get your degree from Hopkins. You’ll get more staying in your current job and reading these guys – and what they read.


Stephen has written an excellent post comparing and contrasting articles from recent editions of The Economist (subscription required) and BusinessWeek on the challenges India faces competing with it’s trans-Himalayan neighbor and rival.

Despite a lot of sunshine that pundits have been pumping out about the sub-continent lately, the ugly truth is that India’s leaders are having a hard time mustering the political cojones required to make the unpopular trade-offs that will buy India her future. Now, to an extent, I can’t criticize, especially when America’s leaders – in both the White House and on Capitol Hill, similarly lack the testicular fortitude to risk their own political careers in the name of vision.

America, however, does not face the same kind of challenges that India does.

We should all be rooting for India. If she succeeds in addressing the challenges that face her, it would give deep credibility to the argument that democracy can bring underdeveloped countries – and their peoples – out of destitution and into global-level prosperity.

If she fails, however, or becomes a laggard in a dynamic region, she will only give more credibility to those who say that only authoritarian regimes can assemble the necessary preconditions of national wealth.

They’re Breathing Easier in the Pentagon Tonight

Why China’s Generals Know Wine Better than War

Ted Haoquan Chu, the Shanghai-born Senior Manager of Economic and Industry Analysis for crippled General Motors, spoke at a recent conference on China sponsored by the Global Interdependence Center at the University of Pennsylvania about how China is looking overseas for ideas in a really big way:

“China has been importing ideas on a scale that is unprecedented since the Meiji Restoration in Japan in the mid-19th century.

For example, China is studying international accounting standards and looks to Britain, the United States and Hong Kong for securities laws. China is borrowing ideas about military systems from France, developing a Central Bank along the lines of the United States Federal Reserve system and looking to Singapore for exchange-rate policies.”

Borrowing ideas about military systems from France? Hello? A country whose sole meaningful contributions to modern armed forces are limited to the beret and the Foreign Legion? A country who got stomped by modern armies in 1871, 1914, and 1940 and by guerrillas in Vietnam and Algeria?

Mon dieu!

Look, if you want countries from whom to learn about military systems, study countries whose doctrine has actually been formed based on lessons learned (not ignored) in modern combat. Study the Israelis, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Special Operations Command. Study the South Koreans, hell, even study the JSDF and the Bundeswehr. But the French?

If there is any credibility at all to Chu’s assertion, that the Chinese look to France for military ideas, this more than anything else should put the rest of Asia at ease that China’s rise will be a peaceful one, because the PLA will certainly lack the wherewithal for anything else.

The Beijing Terror Alert: What is there to Learn?

Trying on my new wool/kevlar blend power suit
2317 hours

So we’ve all been told – in not quite so many words – that luxury hotels in China are suspected targets for Islamic suicide bombers in the coming days. As we all rush to reschedule our lunch meetings away from such venues, an awful reality begins to take shape. Our years of feeling safe from the Global War On Terror in our comfy homes behind the Bamboo Curtain have now officially ended.

Which brings us to the more critical subject.

The China hawks on Capitol Hill and in the Pentagon continue to do all they can to make China the big global security boogeyman that it isn’t and probably won’t be for several decades in order to justify some very pricey weapons systems. The F-22 Raptor, coming in at around $100 million per plane. A water-skimming amphibious APC for the Marines costing $7 million each. New super-destroyers for the Navy that the Pentagon hopes will wind up costing only $750 million each by the time the fifth one gets built. Indeed, the need for a convincing, large, scary enemy is pretty clear, and big bad old China gets drafted.

Meanwhile, the Chinese defense establishment, taking more than a page or two out of the US book, are using up the procurement-based paranoia that is building up inside the Beltway (and its resulting ham-handed diplomacy) as justification for creating its own brand of anti-US paranoia inside Third Ring Road.

As all this posturing and procuring is taking place, both groups are missing the point. The real threats are not each other, but the ones that threaten both countries.

> The growth of global terrorism that threatens to engulf just about every country in the world, Islamic, non-Islamic, western, and eastern;
> Piracy in the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca that threaten the world’s supply lines of petroleum;
> Nuclear proliferation;
> The growing threat that rogue states represent to the international system that both China and the U.S. rely upon for their own continued prosperity.

The threat against China should be recognized for what it is – a wake up call to the U.S. and China that the real enemies are the threats to the system. There are two levels of response to that threat – tactical (find the bad guys and take them out) and strategic (attack the root cause of terror, piracy, proliferation and rogue statehood.) Until the U.S. and China set aside their mutual issues and jealousies and recognize that the problem will only be beaten if they’re both on the same team together, we are all going to live in a world where you cannot run from the danger.

The China Israel Defense Connection – Shutdown, or Change in Direction

Silicon Hutong Operations Center

The U.S. Government has successfully demonstrated their power to manipulate Israel’s export relationships by shutting down a deal whereby Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) was to upgrade a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) purchased a decade ago. (Given the horrible reputation the PLA has for line maintenance of weapons systems, the lot of them are probably stuck on the ground at the moment.)

The Neocon Neanderthals at the Jamestown Foundation are running a somewhat triumphalist article by an apparently like-minded prof at the University of Haifa, suggesting that this means the end of military sales from Israel to China. The thinking is that this, in combination with the Pentagon’s veto of Israel’s sale of an airborne early warning (AEW) system to China several years ago, will effectively end Israel’s military sales to China.

This may well true. But there’s one problem.

As good as Israel’s military technology is, it’s not their most valuable military resource for China. China’s real military problems, after all, are not in the weapons systems: it’s in doctrine and training. And as anyone who has bothered to read a newspaper since 1948 knows, Israel’s doctrine and training have allowed that country to prevail in nearly every conflict it has fought, against enemies superior in numbers and armaments.

That is the true prize. And if Israel wants to build a closer relationship with China based on something other than agricultural technology, the only military coin it has left it its bag is its most valuable. Just try to regulate the conveyance of training and doctrine. How can you regulate the flow of advisors?

The U.S. has blundered. Better to let China have a few toys than the real prize.

And now, the PLA will be a stronger, smaller, more appropriately armed force because of it.

Spooky Moment

Hangover Recovery Unit
Silicon Hutong Clinic

Watching The Devil’s Own on HBO Asia. There’s this one spooky moment when the Irish terrorist arrives in New York, and his U.S. sympathizer is driving him over the Brooklyn Bridge. He looks at the World Trade Center towers and says “and there it is.”

Hair rises on back of neck.