Two Proxies Wars in the Old World and the Big Show in WESTPAC
A Practical WESTPAC Porcupine
The world will not let us pivot to the Pacific. It didn’t let the Obama Administration, it didn’t let the Trump Administration - and there was no chance for the Biden Administration.
Events and the simple fact that for the West, the USA remains the indispensable nation has left us with few options.
I’ve wanted to decouple as much as possible from Europe for the better part of two decades, but with Russia’s push west and the growing internal instability of Europe, that won’t be easy.
As much as we try to extract ourselves from the immortal strife that is the Middle East, any kind of peace drifted away from a quiet window of a few years ago.
Meanwhile, unbothered from a few decades of imperial policing in Central and Southwest Asia nor having to subsidize a stable of smaller allies - the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has continues on her long game towards taking what she sees as her rightful place as the new power in a new global system reconfigured to her needs.
How does this all play out? Good question, but from a national security standpoint, we have three distinct and competing short-term requirements we cannot step away from.
We are about to enter year three of Russia’s three-week war in Ukraine. UKR and the West are running out of Soviet/Russian ammunition and with each passing month become more reliant on NATO STANAG resources. Our post-1990s lean-six-sigma military industrial complex in Europe and North America is designed for peacetime profits and not wartime performance and still is not out of second gear.
History regressed to the mean in Israel, and she is facing perhaps a two, if not a three front war against Iran and her proxies. Do you see an European carrier or surface group in the Eastern Mediterranean in support of Israel? No, no you don’t. Keeping Israel armed will be an almost exclusive American responsibility - as will conventional deterrence against Iran and her proxies from the Persian Gulf, to the Arabian Sea, up and through the Red Sea to Suez. No allied navies there either. Global default; the US Navy will do that.
While the PRC has global ambitions, she has a lot of cleanup work in her near abroad that is always closest in her scan. The crown jewel in her near abroad ambitions is Taiwan. Each month the PRC gains more and more capabilities to force the issue should Xi decide now is the time. How do we mess up that plan or make it seem too hard to do? Make the Taiwanese Porcupine as spiney as possible.
So, here we are in the first third of the Terrible 20s, soaked in debt, swimming through the Davidson Window, heading in to an election year in divided government with a weak and limited chief executive … what can we do to mitigate risk and optimize our available funds in the short term?
Over at Federal Times, Mark Montgomery, RADM USN (Ret.) has a few ideas well worth our time to look over;
The White House submitted a $105 billion supplemental spending package to Congress on Friday. The proposal seeks to help three beleaguered democracies — Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan — confronting adversaries that seek to destroy or subsume them. Understandably, given the hot wars they are in, Ukraine and Israel will receive most of the attention. But deterring or at least delaying aggression in the Taiwan Strait depends largely on whether Washington devotes sufficient funds to that goal and allocates the investments wisely. By that standard, the administration’s proposal related to Taiwan falls short, and Congress should act to correct the shortcomings.
A quick note about Taiwan that should be a helpful reminder to the American mind where most of my readers come from.
Let’s compare Taiwan to the State of Florida.
Size: Taiwan is only 21% the physical size of Florida. Another reference, she is just 12% more than the size of Maryland’s landmass if you squished out all the water out, more or less the combined size of Corsica and Sardinia.
Taiwan: $791 billion
Per capita GDP: $32,750
Florida: $1.4 trillion
Per capita GDP: $44,000
Taiwan: 23.5 million
Florida: 21.8 million
Benchmarks in place, where is that money going if the threat is sooner more than later?
When it comes to the Indo-Pacific region, the administration is requesting $7.4 billion in roughly three areas: $3.4 billion for improving the submarine-industrial base, $2 billion in Foreign Military Financing program funds for allies and partners in the region, and $2 billion for Treasury Department actions to compete with Chinese coercive financing efforts worldwide.
While both the submarine-industrial base and Treasury Department proposals are laudable, neither will substantially strengthen deterrence in the Indo-Pacific in the next five years. This leaves only the $2 billion in FMF funding, and that is not nearly enough.
As small as she is, what is Taiwan doing to defend herself?
…Taiwan spends about 2.4% of its gross domestic product on defense — a significant amount for a democracy — and Taipei is working each year to increase that level of spending. To put Taiwan’s defense spending in perspective, however, the People’s Republic of China’s economy is roughly 20 times larger than Taiwan’s. Beijing’s official military budget is about 12 times larger than Taiwan’s, according to the Pentagon, and the real numbers may be even worse.
That is more than your average NATO ally does, but she needs to do more. She should be at least at 4%.
It is amazing we are still in the “problem appreciation” stage coming up on second anniversary of the start of the Russo-Ukrainian War,
The final $1 billion should be used to improve the U.S. defense-industrial base’s production capacity for vital munitions. That means not just ensuring maximum current production but increasing that production capacity as quickly as possible with targeted investments. In addition to ongoing efforts related to the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile and the Standard Missile-6, Congress should prioritize the Harpoon, Joint Strike Missile, Naval Strike Missile, air-to-air missiles, Patriot weaponry, and Mark 48 and Mark 54 torpedo production lines.
Thankfully we are not currently witnessing a major military conflict in the Indo-Pacific involving China. For that reason, most of the supplemental funding should indeed focus on Ukraine and Israel because of the current wars they confront. But the administration’s request for the Indo-Pacific did very little to address the challenges China presents in this decade, and it needs to be augmented by Congress.
Where should it go? Yes, to the weapons above, but to sustain a serious fight west of the international date line we need increased maintenance, logistics, and expeditionary basing capability … that does not sound as sexy, but they are what will make the difference after D+3.
If we don’t invest wisely now in the Indo-Pacific, deterrence will fail in the Taiwan Strait, and the consequences would be dire.
Or as we’ve called it in the Long Game series; the PRC’s coming out party.
We need more of this conversation. I’m not in alignment with some of Montgomery’s thoughts, but I’ll support and welcome the 80%.