Does your opponent respond the same - or to the same degree - to identical incentives and disincentives than you do?
Are you mirroring?
Do you want your opponent to think a certain way because it is convenient to you and your priors?
Are you doing your best to structure your actions such that they are conveniently aligned with your peacetime path of least resistance, or are they mindfully structured with your opponent’s view of warfighting?
That kept coming to mind yesterday during our conversation with our guest Toshi Yoshihara on Midrats discussing his new book Mao's Army Goes to Sea: The Island Campaigns and the Founding of China's Navy, and for the second half of the hour while we discussed related topics from his CSBA study, Chinese Lessons From the Pacific War: Implications for PLA Warfighting.
Two of the take aways from our discussion were the People's Republic of China's (PRC) institutional habits at war shaped by two predilections;
(1) A quick sneak attack to negate an opponent's military strength.
(2) Incremental attacks against a stronger opponent's isolated outposts where local superiority can be obtained at the moment of contact.
When they see these two opportunities, they are more predisposed to offensive action. If we want to deter the PRC from starting a new war in the Western Pacific, then we should not provide them tempting targets that feed their two preferred options.
While we may think many forward deployed bases - which this decade are now well inside the PRC's rocket artillery as in the above graphic - will deter the PRC from action against Taiwan, we may actually create conditions to encourage PRC aggression.
It would seem to me if we want to take the PRC's mindset and preferences in to account, a much greater way to deter them would be in two ways:
First, Taiwan and Japan cannot move, so they must be as strong as possible - long quilled porcupines - who are clearly positioned to thwart and survive any offensive action by the PRC in line with (1) and (2) above.
Second, the USA must maintain a strong, long ranged, and safely based offensive force well outside the range of a PRC quick strike - homeported/based at diverse locations - and supported by logistics capabilities in depth to reach and sustain at range combat operations. Both must be structured assuming not insignificant combat loss rates. We cannot be 2-ships away from being operationally defunct.
As part of my morning read, this article from Emma Helfrich came across as ... well ... worrisome;
The U.S. Marine Corps has activated a new base camp on the strategic island of Guam in the Pacific, and, at least according to the Marines, it will serve as the first newly constructed base for the service in 70 years. Named Camp Blaz, the installation’s location is not only steeped in Marine Corps history dating back decades, but the activation also reflects the U.S. military's evolving posture in the increasingly tense region over which China looms.
How many more assets can we really put on Guam that just encourages PRC targeting with existing conventional precision strike missiles? The island doesn't need to tip over for those densely packed capabilities to be taken off the board at D+1.
I keep coming back to our requirement to refocus on USA based, long ranged, robust logistically supported forces that demonstrate on a regular basis at peace substantial global reach in support of front-line allied nations.
Smarter move if we assume war is coming - and if robust enough, might prevent that war from coming at all.
Perhaps its time to reestablish a base in the Marshall Islands, specifically Majuro Atoll. It served well as the Fifth Fleet's anchorage in 1944.
Conventional deterrence by punishment as practiced by the modern USA means "save your shit for the war you can't deter".