Return of the Dragon: Rising China and Regional Security
Denny Roy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. 288 pp. $35.
Reviewed by Captain Dale C. Rielage, U.S. Navy
Readers looking to make sense of China’s impact on global politics and security can choose from a growing array of excellent overviews of this complex topic. Most recent works, however, not only inform but advocate specific policy approaches that color their analysis and presentation.
In Return of the Dragon, Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, sets out to identify the security consequences of a stronger China, rather than suggest U.S. actions in response. This descriptive rather than proscriptive approach, combined with a measured writing style, has produced a tightly focused introduction to this complex, multifaceted strategic problem.
Roy self-identifies as an advocate of the neo-realist school of international relations, but keeps the book largely free of academic jargon. Rather than molding his narrative to fit theory, he places Chinese security concerns in a firm historical and cultural setting. Roy examines the “mixture of cooperation and contention” that marks the U.S.– China relationship, noting that security issues between the two nations can be mitigated, but that removing them is likely impossible. “The cost of avoiding the possibility of conflict with China,” he concludes, “would be the abdication of America’s position as a great power in Asia.”
The real strength of the book is its clear and cogent discussion of regional perceptions of China. Drawing from his earlier academic work on Taiwan politics and the political legacy of World War II in the Pacific, Roy avoids reducing China’s security impact to a bilateral issue between the United States and China. He captures the multi-decade ebb and flow of China-Japan relations. Examining the fate of Taiwan, he reminds readers that Beijing’s threat of force remains central to the cross-Strait relationship, even if short term tensions have decreased. He covers critical but little addressed questions such as Japan’s relationship with Taiwan and Chinese approaches toward India. Neatly capturing the somewhat patronizing Chinese attitude, he is bold enough to call Chinese strategy regarding India “containment.” In one of the best chapters in the book, Roy offers China’s limited cooperation in international efforts to constrain North Korea as an example of how a stronger China may pursue narrow national interests rather than strengthen the international order.
Roy identifies several mitigating factors that act to reduce the chances of conflict in the region. Nonetheless, he is troubled that real potential for conflict remains. While Chinese leaders repeatedly reject the idea that a more powerful China would seek hegemony, Roy is convinced that China’s view of its interests suggests the country seeks a sphere of influence that will reduce its neighbors’ security. Most Chinese firmly believe their nation is recovering its rightful place in world affairs after more than a century of external subjugation. This view, he observes, creates an uncompromising mindset and self-justification for firm assertion of China’s perceived rights, while distorting Chinese understanding of the aggressive appearance and destabilizing impact of its actions.
While not a work on maritime security, even the casual reader will be struck by the extent to which maritime issues are woven throughout the narrative. The discussion of economic security naturally becomes a discussion of China’s dependence on overseas trade and resources and its perceptions of vulnerability. Most of the regional security concerns Roy describes play out at sea. His summary and critique of Beijing’s maritime claims provide excellent background for the non-specialist reader.
Largely missing from Roy’s assessment are the real domestic challenges—institutional, demographic, environmental, and political—that threaten the spectacular economic growth that underpins both China’s growing power and continued Communist Party rule. This omission does not in itself invalidate Roy’s assessments, as a less prosperous China may still have the resources for a considerable military force, and a Communist Party that cannot deliver economic growth may find military assertiveness abroad a useful distraction for an increasingly nationalistic population. However, the question deserves an extended discussion.
In Return of the Dragon, Roy has succeeded in introducing a complex issue with nuance and clarity in a compact package. Naval professionals considering the implications of a more capable China on the global security environment will find it a helpful and readable overview.
The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army, and a War at the Ends of the Earth
Mark Mazetti. New York: The Penguin Press, 2013. 381 pp. Notes. Biblio. Index. $29.95.
Reviewed by 1st Lieutenant Michael E. Orzetti, U.S. Marine Corps
After the longest sustained period of combat operations in U.S. history, Mark Mazzetti’s first book, The Way of the Knife, probes and seeks to give shape to a nebulous third front of the Global War on Terrorism. A Pulitzer Prize-winning national security correspondent for The New York Times, Mazzetti maintains that in contrast to the well-established decade-plus of “big wars” in Iraq and Afghanistan, a far murkier front of the conflict has arisen, extending from East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan and the Philippines.
As the military and political costs of conventional military operations (what CIA Director John Brennan described as use of a “hammer”) mounted, the appeal to policymakers of a “scalpel”—targeted operations characterized by a light footprint and afforded by a unique blend of intelligence, special operations troops, and drones—is altogether unsurprising. Mazzetti maintains, however, that for all the benefits afforded by the “way of the knife,” many of the costs associated with this decade-long policy experiment of the post-9/11 era have only just begun to be realized.
The narrative starts with a national security complex rocked by the 2001 attacks, both in terms of its comparative inability to foresee the event and its inability to comprehensively respond to this new Protean enemy. A military force tactically focused on traditional operations and governed by restrictions optimally suited for waging war on well-defined nation states left policymakers searching for a way to fully respond to the global terrorist threat beyond Afghanistan and Iraq.
What emerged from this dilemma was an intermingling of intelligence and military operations, allowing military operators to employ kinetic force globally, beyond the purview of declared war zones, under the Title 50 provisions that govern intelligence operations. The inverse, of course, also held true, allowing intelligence entities to expand beyond the boundaries of mere intelligence gathering into the types of lethal kinetic action typically governed by Title 10 of the U.S. Code.
In a post-bin Laden world, it is clear that this meshing of national-level intelligence and military operations is a “knife” that cuts both ways. The immediate benefits of this weaponization of intelligence are undeniable: The Abbottabad raid, although conducted by members of SEAL Team 6, was technically executed under the command of then-CIA Director Leon Panetta, which allowed the SEALs to be “sheep-dipped” and classified as CIA operatives, freeing them of constraints normally placed on American troops. Under few other imaginable circumstances could American forces have executed such decisive and lethal action in an allied country without prior approval and outside the borders of a defined combat zone.
For all these benefits, however, a number of unintended consequences have arisen. One such repercussion is the anti-American sentiment stirred up as a result of direct-action missions carried out in the homelands of those beyond declared war zones. Another challenge raised by this interweaving of intelligence and military operations is the need for a newfound sensitivity to the very special relationships that afford policymakers the benefits of the “way of the knife.”
As this new way of waging war continues to evolve, policymakers must continue striving to strike the balance between collecting the intelligence necessary to drive operations but not conducting those operations in such a way that hampers the national ability to sustainably collect. As ever, the formlessness of our enemy precludes any clear-cut answers; such a balance will only be found through continued experience.
Stylistically, Mazzetti’s book often resembles a painting of the Flemish master Pieter Breughel the Younger, masterfully encompassing an untold number of seemingly disjointed but incredibly detailed individual scenes, which, when viewed in total, reinforce each other in support of the overall narrative. This quality, of course, reflects both the author’s background as a journalist and the intentionally obfuscated nature of these so-called “shadow wars.” Recounted stories include the arrest of American contractor Raymond Davis on charges of murder in Pakistan (and his subsequent acquittal in an impromptu sharia trial) and that of Michelle Ballarin, an heiress attempting to ignite a Sufi awakening in East Africa from her mansion in the horse country of Northern Virginia.
When viewed in total, Mazzetti, while avoiding any policy prescriptions, provides the reader with a thoroughly researched and thought-provoking portrait of what may ultimately prove to be the most lasting geopolitical legacy of the 9/11 attacks: the most consequential shift of the American national security complex since the Cold War.
Pacific Blitzkrieg: World War II in the Central Pacific
Sharon Tosi Lacey. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2013. 282 pp. Notes. Biblio. Index. Illus. Maps. $27.95.
Reviewed by Jonathan Parshall
You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the title, but this fine book is really about the development of joint amphibious and operational doctrine between the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army. Lacey, a retired Army officer of long experience, delivers a readable, cogent account of this often-overlooked aspect of the American drive across the Central Pacific during World War II.
At 70 years removed, it’s easy to believe that the Marines and Army innately operated together with seamless efficiency during the island-hopping campaign aimed at Tokyo. As Lacey points out, nothing could be further from the truth. Starting with the incredibly ad-hoc nature of the planning for Guadalcanal, the Army and Marines had to hammer out a workable joint doctrine—despite conflicting approaches to combat and often conflicting personalities. At the same time, beginning with the campaign in the Gilberts, one feature of the American drive across the Pacific was its very high operational tempo. Rapid-fire American invasions of chain after chain of islands never gave the Japanese the time needed to prepare an effective response. This tempo, however, cut both ways: American planners were also presented with myriad technical, planning, and training obstacles, and very little time in which to master them. That is the core of Lacey’s account—the quest to overcome these obstacles and thereby transform the U.S. military into the most capable amphibious force the world has ever seen.
One of the most useful aspects of the book is its well-defined structure. Five core chapters cover the joint operations on Guadalcanal, the Gilberts, the Marshalls, Saipan, and finally Okinawa. Each chapter is subdivided into a number of topics: unit histories, commanders, pre-battle training, operational planning, etc. These are followed by a short description of how the operation unfolded, and then wrapped up with an analysis of casualties, lessons learned, and their impact on future operations. This approach makes simpler the task of tracking the progress of the Marines and Army as they groped their way through the creation of a joint doctrine. At the same time, Lacey does a good job of outlining how the Japanese—who were both adaptable and increasingly desperate—reacted to each setback.
The author covers the topic of General Holland M. Smith’s “contributions” to joint warfare in an even-handed manner. Despite, or perhaps because of her background, she is careful to toe a neutral, non-partisan line regarding Smith’s relief of U.S. Army Major General Ralph Smith, commander of the 27th Infantry Division on Saipan. Lacey’s judicious treatment delivers the verdict any reader would expect—Holland Smith may have been the Father of Modern Amphibious Warfare, but his impact on the development of joint warfighting was decidedly negative. Lacey also points out, though, that on the whole Army and Marine commanders did cooperate effectively and pragmatically to get on with the job at hand.
The book is not without some minor shortcomings. Lacey has clearly read the more current scholarship regarding Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher’s performance at Guadalcanal (such as John Lundstrom’s Black Shoe Carrier Admiral). Yet it seems clear she is not necessarily convinced by it and thereby falls into the “Fletcher was too timid” crowd, which is slightly disappointing. Then again, Lacey’s focus is rightly on matters ashore, rather than the latest happenings in the naval literature regarding Guadalcanal.
Likewise, this reviewer could have used less page count devoted to the individual histories of the units taking part in the operations. These were sometimes duplicative for those units (such as 1st Marine Division) that participated in more than one chapter’s events. It would have been better to provide a little more detail on the battles themselves. For instance, the four-day twin invasion of Kwajalein and Roi-Namur gets seven pages of treatment while Okinawa, which lasted 82 days, gets a scant nine. But again, the emphasis of the book is more on what came before and after each operation.
These are nitpicks regarding what is overall a quality effort. The author’s focus is on identifying the mechanisms whereby the Army and the Marines learned from their mistakes, adapted, and applied those lessons to future operations. She is clearly fascinationed with the way the American military successfully transformed itself during the war. Lacey is to be congratulated for not just lauding this flexibility, but also explaining clearly how it came about. For anyone with even passing interest in the topic of amphibious warfare in the Pacific, Pacific Blitzkrieg is highly recommend.
Intelligence and Surprise Attack: Failure and Success from Pearl Harbor to 9/11 and Beyond
Erik J. Dahl. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013. 277 pp. Notes. Biblio. Index. $29.95.
Reviewed by Rear Admiral T. A. Brooks, U.S. Navy (Retired)
The author, a retired naval intelligence officer who is now a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, has written a scholarly, well-researched, and thought-provoking analysis of why warning of surprise attack frequently fails, and conversely, what causes it to succeed. His approach is novel, as while dozens of books examine intelligence/warning failures, few look at the other half of the picture: what makes intelligence/warning of surprise attack succeed.
In examining a number of historic failures to anticipate (and thereby prevent) surprise attack and comparing them to instances where warning worked and surprise was prevented (e.g., Pearl Harbor vs. Midway), he concludes that the key ingredients to success are tactical-level (specific) knowledge of enemy intent and decision-makers who are “receptive” to the intelligence provided. In a great many historic instances of warning failure, it was not the failure of intelligence but the unwillingness of the decision-maker to be receptive to the intelligence that caused the failure. Such examples include the Chinese intervention in Korea, the Tet offensive, and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, among others.
The author’s observations in this regard are not new; a number of scholars have concluded that decision-making failures have been to blame at least as often as intelligence failures. Where this book breaks new ground is in the examination of warning of terrorist attack, an area where there is comparatively (and surprisingly) little in the way of scholarly research and publication. The author spends more than half of the book examining cases of terrorist-related warning failures as well as 227 cases where terrorist attacks were successfully thwarted. To the knowledge of this reviewer, no other scholarly work has attempted this sort of comparison of why warning worked in some cases and did not in others. Indeed, this comparison is the most valuable part of the book.
Intelligence/warning in the case of terrorist attack differs from warning of conventional attack in that many of our “national sensors” such as satellite photography have limited application. At the same time, law-enforcement assets contribute significantly to terrorist warning while normally having little input to warning of conventional attack. Yet the lessons learned from studying historic cases of warning of conventional attack apply to the terrorism problem as well.Both need tactical-level intelligence and receptive decision-makers.
The author’s research and analysis of both warning successes and failures lead him to some interesting observations. First, he concludes that the problem underlying warning/intelligence failures has not been the lack of strategic intelligence or inability of analysts to “connect dots.” Rather, it has been inadequate collection—failing to provide tactical intelligence of sufficient specificity to allow decision-makers to take action. Preventing future surprises will involve improving tactical-level intelligence collection. Emphasizing strategic-level assessments, reorganizing intelligence entities, or improving analysis might be valuable efforts in themselves, but they will do little to prevent surprise terrorist attacks.
In examining his database of examples of successful thwarting of terrorist attacks, Professor Dahl presents a fascinating analysis of what type of collection was primarily responsible for providing actionable tactical-level intelligence in cases where surprise terrorist attacks were thwarted. Of the 227 cases examined, in 108 one or another form of human intelligence (HUMINT) was the primary factor. Indeed, when you examine his database and analysis, it would appear that the number is probably closer to 140 instances, drawing one to conclude that rather than worrying about analysts connecting dots, the emphasis should be directed at HUMINT operations to collect the dots in the first place.
Doctoral dissertations seldom become best-sellers. But Professor Dahl has produced a well-written and thought-provoking book that provides well-researched analysis of what makes warning intelligence work. It is a worthy addition to the scholarly literature on indications and warning and “intelligence failure.” The serious student of intelligence and warning will want to read it.