Shaping a Pacific Strategy II


Taking Another Look

10/09/2011 – The Pacific is a big place.  As the Father of the American Navy John Paul Jones said about the quality of a Naval Officer —“It is by no means enough that an officer of the Navy should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of course, but also a great deal more. He should be as well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.”

Being a capable mariner is thus a given by any Naval Force to simply survive to fight in the Pacific

The Pacific is nothing like the name  –“Pacificum” or peaceful in Latin.   It is a violent and expansive Ocean. Rounding the tip of South America. Ferdinand Magellan, in perhaps one of the more significant “name branding” mistakes in history pronounced the body of water he saw as peaceful

The answer to the question how large is the Pacific is very simple — it is huge.

“The Size of the Pacific Ocean is Massive; it covers more than one-third of the earth’s surface, which is approximately 165 million square kilometers (about 65 million square miles). It extends about 15,000 kilometers (9,600 miles)”

The question of how dangerous and violent is the Pacific was answered by Sir Francis Beaufort in the 19th Century in his code measuring storms at sea “The Beaufort Scale.”

After being wounded several times and commanding a Royal Navy ship of war Beaufort became Hydrographer of the Royal Navy for twenty-five years. In fact some of his charts are still used to this day.  Sir Francis was a visionary who specifically recognized the strategic importance of the entire Pacific and he also focused on the strategic importance of the Arctic.

His  “Beaufort Scale” runs from 1 to 12 with a Force 12 being “Hurricane Winds.” –“Huge waves and sea is completely white with foam and driving spray greatly reduces visibility”.

However, in 2006 the Peoples Republic of China adopted a scale that goes to a high of 17 to acknowledge what they saw as the power of a tropical cyclone off their shore known as a “Chinese Typhoon.”

Consequently, all ocean going mariners, from early explores on war canoes, to Chinese Junks, to European sailing vessels to modern battle fleets must have a very healthy respect for the pure raw power and also extremely significant distances involved with the Pacific Ocean.

It is still very true that even a 21st Century maritime force can only venture forth with ships and planes that are rugged, survivable and have the range to go up against both nature and in combat against a reactive enemy — it is not as easy as the US Navy makes it look.

A famous World War Pacific Typhoon makes that startling point. Historians have debated the number of USN Ships sunk by Japanese Kamikaze attacks during all of WW II in the Pacific. Their counts vary from a low of 34 to a high of 47.

Compare that Kamikaze fight against a reactive enemy over a almost a four year war with a US Task Force caught in a Pacific Typhoon in one 24 hour period.

In the Pacific Typhoon of December 18, 1944 three Destroyers capsized; the USS Spence, USS Hull, USS Monaghan, with the loss of most of their crew–over 700 hundred sailors perished. Additionally, 146 aircraft on Fleet Carriers were struck from the rolls because of damage. So yes being capable mariners along with rugged ships and planes makes a huge difference.

The Pacific from the Arctic to Australia Credit Image: Bigstock

Now let us look at the Pacific from the perspective of the Pacific seen from the American perspective.  This Pacific begins in the Arctic and arcs down through Australia.  The 50th state – Hawaii – is in the middle of this perspective.  And as the senior Senator from Hawaii often reminds folks who come to testify about missile defense in the Pacific: “Is Hawaii a state in the United States?”

If one looks at the Pacific from this perspective and builds from an understanding of economic interests and protection of sovereignty, several brush strokes can be placed on this canvas.

The first brush stroke would start at the right of the picture.  From Seattle to San Diego, the US has many key cities in the Pacific Basin.  And the economic impact of the Asian relationship is evident everywhere in the region.  The impact of maritime trade is central.  And these cities and their ports are part of the conveyer belt of goods transferred from Asia to the United States and beyond.

The conveyer belt underscores the key role, which the West Coast container ports play in the US economy.  As the 11th District USCG Commander has noted:

Another key challenge, which the Rear Admiral discussed, was managing the conveyer belt of goods coming into the United States. Rear Admiral Castillon noted that: Almost half of all US containerized cargo comes through the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach. And if something were to shut that port down, the remaining ports on the west coast would not be able to handle the volume that one port complex handles.  We work very closely with all of our partners in LA/LB, and in all our ports, to ensure the safety, security and efficiency of the port complex. And the process currently in place throughout the country requiring an Advance Notice of Arrival 96 hours prior to entering a U.S. port is critical to our efficient management of this “conveyer belt”.

You never know for certain what’s in a given container, and you’ve got to be able to reach back overseas, and make sure that they’ve got the security in place where that container’s first getting loaded on a vessel. To enhance the probability that a container will not be a Trojan Horse you need to work with foreign authorities to reduce the risk inherent in the conveyer belt of global trade.

With the establishment of international standards, being able to be confidently determine what’s getting loaded onto vessels in foreign ports, and securing the cargo that’s being brought into our port long before it gets here, that’s a big part of risk management and defense in depth.

With next stroke of the brush, one would highlight the trade routes for the conveyer belt, which follow the Great Circle Route from the Asian ports south of Alaska and then down the West Coast of the United States.

With the next stroke of the brush, one would highlight the Arctic and its growing impact on the global economy.  As Prime Minister Putin has put it, in addition to the vast resources in the Arctic, the coming Arctic trade route will one day rival that of Suez.

Unfortunately, the US is a very reluctant Arctic power, and not crafting the capabilities to be a player, but the Arctic is drawing the 5 signatory powers to the Arctic as well as others like China, who are building icebreakers. (See,, and

With the next stroke of the brush, one would highlight Hawaii at the center of the Pacific.  Here is the base for much of US maritime power projection, coupled with that of Alaska.  Ironically, the 49th and 50th states are the anchors for forward deployment of US forces in the Pacific.  Last in, but now of front-line significance to the future of the US economy and protection of sovereignty in the Pacific.  In the debate on missile defense, many miss the point of why protecting the US through Alaska and Hawaii is foundational.

With the next stroke of the pen, one would highlight core allies of the US, ranging from Japan, to the Philippines, to South Korea, to Singapore, to Australia, etc.  These major Asian players are building forces and shaping their interests in the competition with China.  One could call it co-opetition which would underline the need for a power balance in order to work with China in a strategic direction acceptable to the US and its allies.

With the next stroke, one could paint the key states along the global trade choke points that are clearly areas of concern in the counter-terrorism business.  Indonesia and Malaysia certainly come to mind as well as the Malaccan straits.

The final brush stroke might highlight Australia all by itself.  Australia is at the heart of China engagement, deterrence of China and deflection of pressure upon a central US ally.  The growing concern, which the Aussies have expressed in many forums, notably their most recent defense white paper, about US capabilities and intentions, is an anchor point of the entire sweep of the US pacific strategy.

The White Paper notes about China that

China will also be the strongest Asian military power, by a considerable margin. Its military modernization will be increasingly characterized by the development of power projection capabilities. A major power of China’s stature can be expected to develop a globally significant military capability befitting its size.

But the pace, scope and structure of China’s military modernization have the potential to give its neighbors cause for concern if not carefully explained, and if China does not reach out to others to build confidence regarding its military plans.

China has begun to do this in recent years, but needs to do more. If it does not, there is likely to be a question in the minds of regional states about the long-term strategic purpose of its force development plans, particularly as the modernization appears potentially to be beyond the scope of what would be required for a conflict over Taiwan (page 34).

The White Paper comments as well on Aussie concerns about the US role in the Pacific:

Will the United States continue to play over the very long term the strategic role that it has undertaken since the end of World War II? It remains the case that no other power will have the military, economic or strategic capacity to challenge US global primacy over the period covered by this White Paper.

But the United States might find itself preoccupied and stretched in some parts of the world such that its ability to shift attention and project power into other regions, when it needs to, is constrained. This is likely to cause the United States to seek active assistance from regional allies and partners, including Australia, in crises, or more generally in the maintenance of stable regional security arrangements (page 32).

In the next contribution to a proposed Pacific strategy, we will look at how one might work with this canvas and to shape credible capabilities in order to craft effective security and defense regimes able to protect US economic interests and sovereignty.

This is a contribution to the strategic whiteboard.