Saturday, August 22, 2015

Hertog Parting Thoughts

After ten days of briefings, war gaming and few late nights of discussion, what did I end up learning out of the Hertog Summer Study?  Quite a lot actually.

1. Nuclear weapons matter, and we need to reconsider our strategy. 

The U.S. light aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVL-22) afire aft, soon after the "Able Day" atomic bomb air burst test at Bikini on 1 July 1946. From Wikipedia
Nuclear weapons are absolutely devastating.  The blast alone will destroy most things, but the radiation causes long term biologic damage and the EMP pulse can wipe out radars and communications for miles.  If you have nuclear weapons and strike first, there might not be much of the enemy left to strike back.  While we keep getting rid of weapons, Russia and China are increasing their arsenal, including tactical nuclear weapons.

Navy officers don't often think of tactical nuclear weapons.  We hide behind the thought that mutually assured destruction (MAD) will prevent our enemies from risking nuclear weapon use.  Used at sea, tactical nuclear weapons are frightening...they could knock out ships even in the absence of good targeting data.  Plus, the more I learned about Chinese thinking though, the more I realized that the so-called "No First Use" policy only applied to non-nuclear countries and seemed to be flexible in what was considered "first use."
Operation Crossroads, courtesy of Wikipedia
In short, we're fooling ourselves thinking that the future of warfare won't involve the use of tactical nuclear weapons.  It's a distinct possibility we need to beginning preparing for.

2. Engagement early matters a lot to small countries. 

Playing Indonesia, I didn't have a lot of weight to throw around militarily.  Almost any country around me could have mustered up the strength to take at least one of my islands, if not two.  When someone comes in and offers help, it's fairly hard to turn down, and if you get ignored by others, you cozy up quickly to those that offer you help right away.  You can't surge needs to happen every day or else your influence will be replaced by others.

3. The Army will pay for a war in the Pacific.  

In both games the USA player cut the Army significantly to pay for new ships, aircraft and rapidly deployable marine units.  The army had niche capabilities like PATRIOT that were used, but infantry, medium and heavy units were just not useful in a theater dominated by naval, missile and air warfare.  Given this, we should be investing the Army in capabilities like anti-ship missiles, similar to what the Japanese are doing.

4. Taiwan needs engagement or it will become a province of China.  
Courtesy of
 Taiwan's in a nasty place, stuck between a USA that doesn't always seem to care about it and a China that wants to gobble it up.  Although as time goes on Taiwan sees itself as a separate country more and more, if the US continues to hold it at arms length it will likely see a willingness to peacefully reunite with China.  If reunification happens, China has broken the first island chain.  Given that, the Philippine Sea is quickly a China lake, and you can bet China will attempt to force the US and Japan out of it.

5. The most dangerous thing China can do is be nice. 

Seriously.  In the game where China basically threw down the gauntlet and said "The South China Sea is ours!", every single South-East Asian nation went to the USA for help.  It quickly became a PRC vs. everyone scenario.

When China instead talked "Asia for Asians" and actually followed through on the rhetoric with technology transfer, joint military drills and a lack of aggressive actions, Vietnam and Indonesia were quick to jump on board.  And why not?  With the USA not caring, you need friends and equipment to solve your own problems.  In that game, I particularly didn't want the USA to destabilize the region late game since I had already accomplished my objectives.

Sound familiar?  It should.  That's been China's line this whole time.  Being able to persuade other countries to toe it is easy if the US disengages.

Given the newly released Asia-Pacific Maritime Strategy, I'm hoping this doesn't become the case.