Air Power Key to U.S. Asia Goals
Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

Air Power Key to U.S. Asia Goals

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The United States has refocused its strategic priorities in an oft-talked about  “Pivot to Asia”  and has made a deliberate decision in new defense strategic guidance not to size the military for large scale counter-insurgency operations, but instead to posture to deter conflict in Asia where there is a clear anti-access, area-denial threat. Such a shift has implications and raises questions about the appropriateness of retaining force structure and concepts developed for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan across all the military services.

Since fiscal reality dictates that the United States must downsize its military and focus on a more limited set of priorities, is it appropriate for the United States Air Force to create and sustain an institutional irregular warfare capability?

If the key strategic pre-occupation of the United States in the forthcoming decades is maintaining a force posture credible to defeating aggression on the high-end of the spectrum in Asia, what is the place of irregular warfare?

And what are the changes required to make the fundamental components of Air Force irregular warfare – air advising, air diplomacy and aviation enterprise development – more aligned with larger U.S. strategies?

An institutional Air Force irregular warfare capability directly supports U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Asia-Pacific and represents an asymmetric strength the envy of our competitors.  Institutionalization of USAF irregular warfare capability is important, because it supplies exactly the sort of “low-cost, innovative” strategies called for in the defense strategic guidance and provides a tool to address the larger deeper problem: shaping the conditions for continued advantage.

America’s problem in Asia is more than just maintaining a favorable balance of military power.  Such a balance is certainly critical to regional stability and global security. Asia is, after all, the heart of the global economic engine of growth, and it is U.S. military strength that ensures customary freedom of navigation in the global commons and deters newly powerful states from using force to settle conflicting claims. Asian states appreciate the positive historic role the United States has played over the past 50 years, but some hand wring about the ability of the U.S. to continue to play that role. While the importance of maintaining military balance is undeniable, the larger challenge is a competition for leadership, legitimacy and influence.  Legitimacy is dependent on the actions available to the U.S. to continue to be perceived as present, committed and the security partner of choice.

The great military theorist Carl von Clausewitz enjoined that “war is politics by other means.”  But the strategic competition in Asia, if well managed, is likely to be one of posture and deterrence rather than war. Rather, the United States might instead consider the rejoinder of China’s first premier, Zhou Enlai, that “All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means,” and realize that the strategic competition between great powers takes place against a backdrop where competing interests struggle for influence and legitimacy within their own states; the realm of irregular warfare.

According to Joint Publication 1, Doctrine of the Armed Forces of the United States, irregular warfare is a “struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant population(s). IW favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capacities in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence, and will.”

And Asia – Southeast Asia, South Asia, North Asia, and Central Asia – all feature non-state actors who seek to erode the legitimacy of various states. Each of those should be considered dangers and opportunities to U.S. and global security. Any such conflict could flare into a crisis, triggering instability that undermines the global economic system or presenting the threat of a failed state with all its attendant costs to blood and treasure. Such internal conflicts can be used by one power against another to distract, entangle and undermine the stability of their partners.  Each internal conflict creates an opportunity for a “preferred security partner” to fill a vacuum, and provide critical opportunities that build sympathy and lay the groundwork for access.

All the great powers seem to understand that the game in Asia is about more than just deterrence, but influence. Take for example the recent piece by Yan Xuetong titled “How China Can Defeat America” where he the author states:

“To shape a friendly international environment for its rise, Beijing needs to develop more high-quality diplomatic and military relationships than Washington. No leading power is able to have friendly relations with every country in the world, thus the core of competition between China and the United States will be to see who has more high-quality friends. And in order to achieve that goal, China has to provide higher-quality moral leadership than the United States. China must also recognize that it is a rising power and assume the responsibilities that come with that status. For example, when it comes to providing protection for weaker powers, as the United States has done in Europe and the Persian Gulf, China needs to create additional regional security arrangements.”

Comments
20
Hao Tran
May 24, 2012 at 20:15

You’re right. but the casualties number is wrong. Arcording to my uncle, who fought that 1979 “border conflict” as our goverment said, there was atlest 50000 people was killed by chinese troops and artillery. Most of the casualties was civilians because my uncle’s divison was fighting the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and when they returned, it was too late!

Hao Tran
May 24, 2012 at 20:00

@John Chan
How can you so sure about a war you have never been though? I have 4 of my family’s member killed by Pol Pots (on my own homeland, Viet Nam), non of my relatives was killed by the Americans even we live in the VietCong’s occupied zone. And please notice that Vietnamese people are no friends to Chinese goverment! Chinese Goverment are full of murderers!

Cambe
May 22, 2012 at 14:34

@ John Chan

‘China was the one always on the Vietnamese side to fight against those murderers’

John Chan, of the selective memory, are you forgetting (the many times through history) when China invaded Vietnam? Most recently in 1979, 10 000 Vietnamese casualties in a border spat started by a Chinese invasion based on dubious grounds and followed by ongoing skirmishing around the border up until 1989. Not what I would think of as a very friendly neighbour or ally.

John Chan
May 22, 2012 at 10:25

@thanh dang,
Nobody is invading Vietnam, therefore it is puzzling why you are accusing China has any desire of Vietnam territories.

Please remember it is the French, the American, Japanese, S. Korean, Australian, ASEAN and NATO nations who had bombed and killed the Vietnamese by the millions in the last 200 years, as well as it is the French committed culture genocide again the Vietnamese people; China was the one always on the Vietnamese side to fight against those murderers.

John Chan
May 22, 2012 at 05:18

@p John,
This is a site to debate with reasons, not for you to huff and puff controllably. You need to realize when truth does not match imperialist Westpac’s manufactured consent, it is not a lie, it is reminding you that it is fallacy for the imperialist Westpac to expect everybody has to take their words as given truth.

thanh dang
May 22, 2012 at 02:00

after a-thousand-year continuously failed efforts to invade and occupy Vietnam ,China still shamefully can not hide its desire of Vietnamese territories, namely Hoang Sa and Truong Sa in the East Sea.

The Vietnamese people would never forget the facts that, without our consistent resistances, she might have been a mere Chinese province as of Tibet today .

ballance is good
May 21, 2012 at 19:30

Russian state will shut total O-shaped ring by the U.S. after China had dropped by the Americans, as well as to confine India in the form of a ring C while Americans had occupied China, and the world will be controlled by a dominant power to push other countries one by one to defecate in his pants.
make the best move that this world is not unipolar power but bipolar power, so there is night and day (that day continue to be able to damage your eyes, if the night continues, you can not see), there are up there sleeping (if you can keep up continue to be tired and night continue to be weak), there are men there are women (if only men is bad , if only women is bad too ), the best is balanced , because that form a defense pact with russia, china, india to offset American pact, NATO, ANZUS etc. , so that the world is balanced, once there is a balance there will be a lasting peace for all human life on earth and there will be no war maybe only cold war
If America and its allies in alliance with China is also not good because it is not balanced for fellowship russia india
If America and its allies in alliance with India is also not good because it is not balanced by china russia alliance
If America and its allies in alliance with Russia is also not good because it is not balanced by china india alliance
This world needs a balance of two forces power for the sake of peace, most also kind of cold war era Soviet Union and Warsawa alliance versus NATO and united states , if only one power, just get ready to push the country one by one until the stools by the dominant power

Doast
May 21, 2012 at 18:27

America is better at PR. One of the main points the Russians made after the cold war was won by the America is that for them it was very personal but for the Americans, it was Tuesday. IE, the Americans have very short memories–or better they were acting hostile to encourage hostility.

I think you will find that letting everybody else overplay your card is going to cost China in the long run. They are effectively being sanctioned without outright saying it.

discount Labor for America in-turn for access to naval trade lanes is not equality or freedom. 21st century slavery.

vec
May 21, 2012 at 12:27

@venkat,
India is the biggest threat to itself.Please read below.
“Tibetans are much better off than these people: Telangana, Assam (Independence), AFSPA in India’s North East States, South Indians States, Kashmir, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram (Independence), Manipur, Maharashtra & Nagaland; Khalistan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Shimla & Punjab (Sikhs Independence); Hyderabad and Pundicherry (Pakistan),; Jammu and Kashmir, Darjeeling’s Gorkhaland movement, Sikkim, Goa, Naxals & the plight of the Dalits. Dowry deaths, the burning of young Indian brides, one every hour (TOI 1/27/12); 6,400 sub-Caste groups struggling in India (WSJ 12/9/11) Most dangerous place in the World for baby girls is India (TOI 2/1/12), 600 million Indians defecate in the open (TOI 2/7/12).. ”

Please start with building more clean toilets and settling with the naxalites to provide more social equality instead of dreams of grandeur?

papa john
May 21, 2012 at 11:38

@my little john chan,
“After 200 years of mistreatment in the hands of the imperialist Westpac, China knows it is wrong to behave like the imperialist Westpac. Therefore China follows the principle of non-interference, it treats nations large and small as equal and with respect.”

Oh boy! you are a shameless liar! Just look at what China is bullying the Phil right now. It is happening in front of the world.

John Chan
May 21, 2012 at 10:39

@Anjaan,
After 200 years of mistreatment in the hands of the imperialist Westpac, China knows it is wrong to behave like the imperialist Westpac. Therefore China follows the principle of non-interference, it treats nations large and small as equal and with respect.

China would not sell out its principle in order to make deals with the USA, therefore USA is viewing China as virus, and it doing all it can to contain China with the aim to crash China, even though China has been supporting USA financially and subsidizing American living standard with all possible good nature.

Oro Invictus
May 21, 2012 at 03:36

@ Bierstadt

Ian Bremmer actually wrote a fairly good piece along those lines just recently:

http://blogs.reuters.com/ian-bremmer/2012/05/09/an-unstable-world-doesnt-necessarily-mean-a-declining-america/

Generally, Dr. Bremmer is quite accurate in his various predictive analysis, though I find his pieces to be too simplistic at times (in that, I mean he focuses primarily on economic matters rather than sociological ones, not that his pieces lack thought).

In any case, I’d caution becoming defensive when others claim your nation is in decline, both out of a desire to prevent malice and out of what such aspersions really indicate; such exhortations are far more indicative of fears on said others’ parts for their own futures (or, in the case of the more raving individuals, frustration that their basal and childish desire to see others “fall” is not coming to pass). That’s not to say that America will not face hardships nor that it is immune to perdition by some inherent virtue (indeed, the course of history demands it will end though, barring some cataclysmic event, I suspect this will be the result of “evolution” and/or incorporation into a superior model rather than outright collapse), but the US needs worry about decline and/or collapse far less than most other nations, including all of the other “major players” at this time.

Bierstadt
May 21, 2012 at 01:00

This is a good plug for the USAF’s strengthening relevance in US outreach goals. To those who imagine that this article is some sort of representation of America in decline: it isn’t, and we’re not. I leave a more detailed correction of such nonsense to those with more time to spend on correcting foolishness.

Anjaan
May 21, 2012 at 00:58

@ Bharayeeya,

The point raised by John Chan is quite clear and relevant. If you do not get it, just don’t bother.

@ John Chan,

There is no doubt, the Americans would like to see a large scale war in Asia in order to save their sagging economy. But the Asian nations realize this American design and would avoid being the canon fodder. China, on the other hand would not mind settling for the second position behind the US, as long as they are allowed to remain unchallenged in Asia. So, it come down to US-China deal making in the future.

Bharateeya
May 20, 2012 at 22:46

What exactly is your point?

venkat s kanakamedala
May 20, 2012 at 11:41

I PERSONALLY FEEL THAT CHINA IS A THREAT TO INDIA AND FREE NATIONS IN ASIA.IT IS ALSO THREAT TO AMERICA AND NATO.CHINA IS HAVING NEXUS WITH PAKISTAN,NORTH KOREA,IRAN AND TO CERTAIN EXTENT WITH RUSSIA.IT HAS BEEN VIOLATING WITH INDIAN BORDER .CHINA IS HAVING AGGRESSIVE NATURE.THIS NATURE CAN BE A THREAT TO SOUTH KOREA,TAIWAN,JAPAN,INDIA AND FEW SOUTH EAST ASIAN COUNTRIES.I WANT TO SEE THAT AMERICA AND NATO TO DISCUSS THIS ISSUE AT CHICAGO SUMMIT.AMERICA AND NATO SHOULD HAVE A DETERRENCE FORCE IN PACIFIC AND IN ASIA.INDIA AND AMERICA WITH NATO SHOULD ENTER IN TO A STRATEGIC ALLIANCE TO COUNTER THE CHINA.BETTER AMERICA AND NATO SHOULD ESTABLISH A BIGGEST BASE IN INDIA BORDERING WITH CHINA.THERE SHOULD BE A REINFORCEMENT OF PACIFIC FLEET.THE THEATER MISSILE SYSTEM WITH 5000 MX NUKES AND DEFENSE MISSILE SYSTEM SHOULD BE INSTALLED IN INDIA TO COUNTER THE CHINA AND TO PROTECT INDIA AND INDIANS.THERE SHOULD BE MODERNIZATION OF ARMED FORCES OF INDIA.AMERICA AND NATO SHOULD DECLARE IN CHICAGO SUMMIT THAT AMERICA AND NATO WILL BACK ALL FREE NATIONS IN ASIA AND IT WILL RETALIATE IF THERE IS ANY VIOLATION OF TERRITORY OF ANY NATION LIKE INDIA ,SOUTH KOREA,JAPAN AND TAIWAN.NATO SUMMIT SHOULD GIVE A CLEAR MESSAGE THAT PEACE IN ASIA IS IMPORTANT.THIS WILL COME BY TOLERANCE AND CONTAINMENT OF CHINA CURTAILING ITS MILITARY MUSCLE POWER AND AND GIVING UP ITS AGGRESSIVE NATURE AGAINST ITS NEIGHBORS.THERE SHOULD BE MORE NATO FLEETS IN PACIFIC OCEAN AND ALSO MORE LAND BASES FOR ARMY AND AIR FORCE IN ASIA. 10,000 ADVANCED JET FIGHTERS AND A TEN MILLION ARMY IS REQUIRED TO COUNTER CHINA WITH A REQUIRED FIRE POWER.CHINA CAN TRANSFORM TO A RESPONSIBLE FREE NATION WITH OUT ANY EVIL THOUGHTS.IT IS ANNEXED WITH PAKISTAN,IRAN,NORTH KOREA AND RUSSIA FOR ITS FUTURE STRATEGIES.

vec
May 20, 2012 at 11:31

Excuses and rationalisaion for a declining and debtor america.The bullying of the world and Asia is going to be over soon.Get use to being a regional power.Air power will not soothe your delusion to mantain credible power even with the unmanned drones.Hallucination and delusion from declining Pax Americana is the last stage of decline.
300 years of genocide and dominance starting with the natives of America whose remaining survivors are packed into reservations now is over.
Having lost the will and/or unable to fight on the ground it propounds air and naval power when its technological base is also declining.

John Chan
May 20, 2012 at 10:45

American did not practise aerial genocide in Vietnam alone, it practised aerial genocide over Cambodia and Laos as well, two of the totally innocent and hapless nations. About one million of Cambodians and Laotians were killed by the American aerial genocide, but the American counted that body count as Pol Pot’s atrocity; the American and its western partners said Pol Pot killed two millions of Cambodians, actually half of them was the result of American serial genocide.

The bomblets dropped by the American cluster bombs half century ago in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are still killing and maiming the Indochina young, adults and olds, but American and its westerner partners have never shown remorse about the war crimes they committed against innocent civilians in Cambodia, Lao and Vietnam.

Mark Thomason
May 20, 2012 at 03:20

We have heard this argument many times before. We were going to defend the Philippines and its area against Japan with some B-17 bombers at Clark Air Base. Victory Through Air Power. There was a book too, with that title, for winning all of WW2 by bombing. That didn’t work out either. Boots on the ground always becomes necessary.

Charles Norrie
May 18, 2012 at 14:07

It is late imperial delusion that air power, which the US is already not deficient in will enable the US to keep that role alone.

You’ve got to win the heart and minds battle as well.

In the run down of the old British Empire, HM Government thought it has a perfect answer, air technology. It was the usual pattern of wayward hill tribes in the Afghan border area, the Pathans want to engage in their traditional pastimes in the dry season of cattle raiding, woman stealing and causing mayhem to settled agricultural tribes. The British argued that the RAF could easily drop a few bombs as punishment on a tribe thaat broke the Pax Imperia, which if not sanctioned by God was by Delhi, the British Indian capital, Whitehall and Westminster.

So the planes went out, an offending tribe identified and bombed, all without the use of GPS and drones. And the effect practically nil the hillsmen simply coming straight back wit temporary alliances, treaties of kinship support.

The Pathans area were never conquered and the British never attempted the sort of aerial genocide the Americans practised in Vietnam, which incidentally also failed.

So India gots its independence and Paksitan the old NW frontier and is still ineffectively fighting those wars.

Generl Westmoreland said once a year in the Redaers’ Digest that “the enemy is beaten” in Vietnam but he was long gone when the last helicopter left the US Embassy roof in Saigon, a war the they could have won if only they that Ho Chi Minh did not at first hate them, but the French, and he wanted independence from France which tended to impose a culturally superior system (or at least they thought so), and was resented by a minority of patriots, many of whom received their education and radicalisation in France.

The Afghan War will do the same way and the whipped cur of America will pull out and go into one of periodic isolationist sulks and this time it is to be hoped for good.

Meanwhile the people of the Republican Right will try to think about new war dreams.

Why not go and bring liberation, democracy and th American dream to the Antarctic tribes sitting on those barren icy-shelfs suppressed by the wicked Icebergs

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