Thursday, November 8, 2012

China v Japan. Are the Senkaku Islands worth a war?

  China versus Japan sure would be a fun war.

  Fun, of course, being a relative term.

   For those who like watching the world burn, sure, it'd be an interesting fireworks display. At least until cheap Asian labor dried up, killing the world economy and suddenly Walmart has no cheap shit left to sell to subsistence consumers in the US. The world economy right now is married to the idea of backwater peasants, recently liberated from subsistence rice growing, getting subsumed into the brave new world of working for peanuts in concrete warehouses that fill western economies with cheap plastic shit and flashy tech goods. China, the ultimate population behemoth in history, has been rising fast ever since they ditched Maoism and embraced the idea that Marxism, while a nice idea in theory, doesn't work because of a fundamental law in evolutionary science:

   We're all greedy self serving assholes and nature seems to like it that way.

   China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon. There are many reasons why and all of them involve history. Even a quick scan of Chinese history tells you that the burgeoning new middle class in China (they bought more new cars in 2011 than the US) are casting a harsh eye on their own history and noticing how they've been screwed over by outside forces (white men) since at least the 19th century. Worse still, for western war planners, the Chinese people are angry and they've got money. It's a critical difference from colonial times. Poor natives complaining about life is par for the course when the Euros ran their empires. But when consumers complain these days, and that's what 300 million Chinese are today, consumers; then the whole equation is radically changed.

   Chinese history makes Chinese people very angry.

   And who would blame them? I mean, the 19th century British won a series of Opium Wars against the Chinese where they basically turned a huge segment of the Chinese fighting age population into junkies just so they could pay for sought after Asian goods in smack instead of silver. The demand for Chinese goods in Europe was so high that Euro treasuries were being depleted of precious metals so the colonials instigated the polar reverse of today's drug war. Heroin tastes nice. It makes life better... for a while. It alters human behavior. Seeing this, the British devised a "new plan". Let's let empire commerce dump tonnes of Opium into China, the country we seek to control. It'll render their population useless. Sometimes history gets surreal. Other times, it's hard to think of a modern equivalent outside of an alien invasion. Either way, try finding the awkward truth of a reverse drug war in your average high school history curriculum.

   The Japanese, on the other hand, are experiencing a 21st century existential crisis.

   Their economy is stagnant, electronics can be made cheaply elsewhere (unlike when they were kings of the business in the 70s and 80s), and they've got 1.4 billion people just across the water who hate their guts for the shit they pulled in Nanking in 1937. The aging Japanese population cannot process this. In truth, the Japanese have never come to terms with their actions in WWII, at least not to the satisfaction of the Chinese. The mayor of Tokyo, a neocon Dick Cheney on crack, worships at a tomb where at least twelve Jap generals buried there have been convicted of "war crimes". The Japanese sure have a sketchy record when it comes to their memory of WWII. Whereas the Germans have been dealing with guilt for the past 70 years and attempting to make recompense for it, the Japanese are classic Basil Fawlty about the whole thing and "don't mention the war".

   The Chinese want an apology for Nanking.

   Unfortunately, the Japanese do apologies the same way they do unconditional surrender. 

   That is, you have to detonate more than one nuclear weapon over a major population center before they'll consider the merits of your argument.

   For the rest of us, if the China v Japan conflict ever entered the shooting phase (ostensibly over these shitty Senkaku islands but really because both sides hate each other's guts), so many escalation events present that it'd be hard to see an end that doesn't involve a nuclear exchange. It'd be like India v Pakistan on bath salts. It'd screw the world economy so hard it'd make Israel's bunker busting dream strike on Iran's nuke sites about as interesting to the global public as Bono talking about Africa at a U2 concert.

   That's why China v Japan isn't going to happen anytime soon.

   Because nukes.

   Yeah, I'm one of these crazy fucks who is a big fan of nuclear warheads. Let's face it, the cost benefit analysis since 1945's "Little Boy" airburst over Hiroshima has been positive once you take into account the conventional war alternatives. Nukes are probably the best thing to happen to humanity since penicillin although it's not really a fair comparison because nukes have probably saved more lives. Without nukes, the Red Army would have stormed through the Fulda Gap and turned Western Europe into a mega death zone. Without nukes, there would've been no Cold War and instead a constantly warm endless Orwellian nightmare Eurasia v Americana conflict where war is continuous but never winnable. Nuclear weapons have this habit of cutting through the bullshit by defining the limits of human madness. The idea that "we all get to die" makes nukes the greatest peace keeping weapons ever invented. Sure, penicillin saved a lot of 19th century top hatted sport fuckers from syphilis but Western Europe under Stalin's policies would have wiped out the global economy.

   And that's a lot of dead people. Everywhere.

   Advantage nukes.

   Nukes rule out any immediate China v Japan war because Japan falls under the Pacific hegemony of the US nuclear umbrella. We're still a decade away from the time when the real noose tightens on the world economy (unsustainably high oil prices) and both China and Japan are majorly dependent on seaborne delivery of spice for right now. This makes them nervous. Without an Iraq in your back yard, you tend to seek out every oil deposit you can. Supposedly, the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands have offshore oil and gas deposits and that's when you know things are approaching a crisis point.

   Countries start fighting for the leftover scraps in the barrel.

   Even deep sea short term possible oil deposits are worth disputing. But not worth setting the world on fire for.


   How would this war play out if it did happen?

  Apparently, the US was concerned enough about the saber rattling that they dispatched the USS George Washington carrier group to the South China Sea two weeks ago just to remind all parties to keep their shit on the down low. Even though the Japanese navy could handle itself versus China's medium tech surface fleet and its as yet not ready for primetime second hand Russian carrier, that doesn't mean we can laugh at the Chinese Navy.

   We're talking, at least at the outset, a very interesting naval war not seen in the Pacific since Midway.

   Right now I see a rerun of the 1982 Falklands War with one side landing a token troop contingent on an island and declaring an exclusion zone (200km) around it while the UN shits major bricks and scrambles emergency sessions to prevent WWIII. Meanwhile, the naval blockade could be challenged because forum warriors are screaming for blood in both countries. It's funny how civilians ramp up fast to high level assholes once the shooting starts and then ramp down to cowering failures once the local 7-11 runs out of Tootsie Rolls. War works that way throughout time. It's a combination of trading self worth versus self preservation and sometimes it;s hard to predict a winner because people are prepared to die for stupid shit. Either way, the US dispatches three more carrier groups to the South China Sea to try to contain the new internet sensation: Cuban Missile Crisis Part II: Revenge of the Radiation.

   Sure, this is all hypothetical as hell but nobody can deny this war is "fun" to think about.

   Even though Japan might be superior in surface vessel tech the Chinese wouldn't be out of the battle by any account. Their sub surface fleet of diesel submarines is large. Sure, you might giggle at the mention of 'diesel' subs (conjuring up images of sweaty WWII Germans running around claustrophobic pipe laden interiors) but don't be so quick to discount the effectiveness of old 20th century piston and battery designs just because advanced nations have gone nuclear on sub fleets. The Soviet K-19 story is an object lesson in how these designs are dodgy even if everybody these days says technicians sleeping in close proximity to a nuclear reactor is about as harmful as licking the door of your microwave oven. Diesel subs still have a hand in the game especially when you consider the continuing stealthiness of modern diesel designs. Just ask the Germans (master sub engineers), Israelis, Australians, or, in this case, the Chinese. The Chinese managed to surface one diesel submarine undetected in the middle of a USN carrier group in exercises off Taiwan in 2006. The Chinese have a lot of these babies ranging from the useless to the effective but modern sonar technology has shown that even the AEGIS system is vulnerable.

   My favorite thing about this whole hypothetical war that won't be happening for at least 20 years is the cold eye it casts on naval power itself. Modern technology means 19th/20th century naval projection is losing its luster in the 21st century. Every admiral worth his salt these days knows naval warfare is a quaint idea left over from hardier times before today's missile technology. Naval warfare is great for force projection versus lower tech nations but for industrialized nation v industrialized nation, missile tech is so sophisticated these days that surface ships are really just large, floating, meat filled shipping containers, easy to hit hold overs from a different century when having a Dreadnought added inches to your nation's penis.

   The Russians and Chinese have expended years of R&D on satellite guided ways to sink USN carriers but that doesn't mean a carrier group off your shore is not force projection. A US carrier group offshore still means you're probably fucked. But force application these days is not just military. Global 'soft' pressure is economic in the post WWII era of nukes.

   These days it's economic war with a smiley face where the plebs glued to the TV watch where the multi national cola company that owns the politicians mixes feel good moments on TV and some irrigation project in Africa into their advertising campaign and suddenly the thirsty people safely far away benefit from you buying the correct sugar water. It's a different kind of warfare these days. It's you versus humanity. You versus everything you're supposed to want. The dream consumertopia amounts to the same thing. Either way, it's a lot of people working their asses off while the elite host parties in Monte Carlo and you're not invited.

   It's like the Roman Empire but with i-Phones.

   But that doesn't make this hypothetical war any less interesting.

   For one thing, Japans's version of the AEGIS cruiser/destroyer system, the Kongo series based on the US Arleigh Burke class, would go up against China's lower tech vessels spamming anti ship missiles and, if their subs can get close enough, torpedoes. Sure, the Chinese Navy is kinda funny with all their reverse engineered stuff, their dodgy stealth fighter but the newer generation Chinese destroyers do have modern radar and missiles from France and Russia. The fun part is how all these missile trading systems would hold up under the classic "fog of war" environment. Sure, in multi country war-games these designs have been billed as effective, intercepting at best X% [classified] of the incoming but all it takes is 1% of the incoming to get through and what happens if it lands in the nuke belly of a carrier?

   For fun, let's say two Japanese cruisers go down to Chinese torps because they strayed into the hypothetical "exclusion zone". It'd be like the General Belgrano incident on steroids. Instantly, the Japanese would be seeking to enact that clause of their mutual defense treaty with the US where the US comes to their aid in return for them not having a nuke arsenal and maintaining a "defensive" army. God, you gotta love us humans and our bullshit. No country on earth has so far gathered their forces under an "Offense Department"which sure must be some kind of divine comedy for the aliens... if they're watching as we squirm around the petri dish.

   There is no such thing as a defensive sub. They are primary attack weapons and the Chinese have a lot of them so yeah, the naval war will be fun. This is the point where the war must die because the next stage is trading missiles at 'military installations'. At this point world trade has shut down, the world is in emergency session and everybody with half a brain is stocking up on canned goods.

   It's a crazy world.

   Full of deceit, stupidity, genius, luck, madness and sometimes a little common sense. For right now, the Senkaku Island dispute stays irrelevant. Because we're not that desperate.



Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Syria: Fantasy war in the desert!

   Anyone watching the Syrian Civil War right now through the eyes of Western media is like some  guy who figures he knows what WWII was all about because he just watched Inglourious Basterds. Sure, it's a fun movie but it does fall a bit short on the historical accuracy front. Kind of like world popular media today. The Syrian narrative being presented on the nightly news is of brave rebel fighters battling oppressive dictator Assad whose forces go around shelling civilians and murdering babies. And while some of that is certainly true, the real devil lies in the details and omissions; truth being the first casualty of any war since the first shot gets fired. Hardcore war in the heart of the Middle East is complex and prone to lies especially these days when all the major powers are scrambling for the last easily tappable energy reserves on the planet; but that kind of big picture view never fits into a soundbite even if a foreign public wants to hear it.

  Which they don't.

  Still, for those who happen to care, the Syrian conflict is damn compelling in its wider implications for regional and global security in what's sure to be a very messy 21st century.

  Right now, the battle for Aleppo (Syria's largest city and the home of the business elites) is being billed as the make or break battle for Syria. It's hard to know what defector talk to believe but all of this final stand "talk" makes me think the Free Syrian Army are playing right into Assad's hands here. Let's face it, the major strengths of any guerrilla army since Spartacus are hit and run type tactics and not all out decisive battles against the enemy's frontline "teeth" divisions. Major battles involving light infantry versus heavy infantry, tanks and air power, even in urban areas, is not the kind of warfare that puts guerrilla troops to their best use. In fact, 'decisive' confrontations play mainly to the strengths of Assad's army where it's easier for him to motivate his government troops by telling them they're embarking on a big final push against the rebels. The alternative, years of attrition type warfare with no end in sight, is the kind of protracted war your troops may not think worth the paycheck.

The first casualty of the Syrian War is Photoshop!

   Another thing that's confusing is the Western media's constant insistence that the rebels are outmanned and outgunned. Sure, they're outgunned barring the occasional stolen T-72 or BMP but outmanned they certainly are not. If one fifth of the unemployed young men that make up 50% of Syria's angry youth can get their hands on an AK (and when has it ever been difficult to get your hands on an AK anywhere in the Middle East) that's a healthy dose of rebel fighters sending 7.62mm the Syrian Army's way. And that's not even taking into account all that Saudi money supplying covert arms through Lebanon and the plethora of foreign special forces running around observing the burgeoning mess. But nope, this Western portrayal of the rebels as oppressed freedom fighters fits with the whole Arab Spring narrative the West likes to push whenever there's energy in the vicinity. Democracy and all that other funny talk.

   These days, democracy is just a feel good word the suits on TV say when they want you to know who the good guys are.

   Democracy is likely to deliver up another theocracy like what's happening in Egypt in the aftermath of Mubarak. Let's face it, these rebel fighters (and they seem to come from all kinds of sketchy demographics including the Al-Qaeda franchise) are no saints. Setting up shop in dense urban areas among the civilian population, drawing artillery and rocket fire and then posting the inevitable parade of corpses on YouTube isn't exactly a Mother Teresa maneuver. Even she knew where to draw the line when shaking people down. Making the enemy look bad is one thing but hiding behind civilians and chucking corpses in front of news cameras is quite another. It's not exactly the honorable tactic of the good guys.

   Ooops! I just made myself spew beer all over my keyboard. Yup, I just said 'honorable' and 'war' in the same sentence. Perhaps it's just the romantic in me, hoping for an honorable desert war like maybe Afrika Korps v 8th Army in North Africa in 1942. But that kind of major army v army action on sandy terrain isn't going to be happening anytime soon in our desert proxy war timeframe. Unless of course if something really fun happens like Turkey invades Syria. That right there my friends is my secret little fantasy war in the desert that'll never happen. I'll indulge more in that later.

   Right now, if the FSA are serious about winning this thing they should stick to the tried and true tactics of guerilla warfare that have proven solid since time immemorial, that is, interdicting the enemy's logistics and supply routes with hit and run raids and ambushes. Instead, they seem determined to duke it out with frontline armored divisions using urban areas as cover. Also there's that old Mao maxim about controlling the countryside to control the cities but maybe that doesn't work so well when the countryside is a desert. In guerrilla warfare there's always the Sun Tzu tactic of trading land for time, a tried and true tenet of guerrilla warfare and time would seem to be on the rebel's side here because one thing seems for sure, the longer this war goes on, the weaker the Assad regime becomes. And then there's the whole atrocity factor that's playing in the FSA's favor when civilians start dying. That might be the whole rebel plan in the first place. Sure, it's a dirty tactic but clean went out the Mosque door a long time ago. It's a play straight from the old Vietnam playbook where the side with the big guns like the US (the Syrians in this case) drops an errant bomb that wipes out 40 women and children in some bamboo hut village and suddenly you've just recruited 100 peasant rice farmers into the Vietcong. I figure the FSA strategy here is that by fighting in the cities they can provoke Assad to naturally play to his strengths, artillery and heavy armor, thus racking up plenty of civilian casualties that'll swell the FSA with new recruits.

   It's dirty war and the dirtier it gets the bigger the FSA becomes.

   Maybe that's the whole crazy plan.

   The FSA could not hold the pockets they established in Damascus a few weeks back but Aleppo may be a juicier target to set up shop in. For one thing, Aleppo is primarily made up of Sunni middle class businessmen who have supported Assad up to now but only because he's left them and their cash alone. With the war reaching Syria's richest city it's a pretty good sign that the tacit agreement between Assad's Alawite leadership and the Sunni business class is cracking.  It's hard to say for sure what the Sunnis think now that Aleppo is on fire because polling a populace under shellfire ain't easy. With the FSA forcing Assad to level his business districts this means more Sunni refugees fleeing and more Sunnis recruited into the FSA with the added bonus of a small chance of foreign intervention. The Saudi's are already pumping millions into the FSA and there's also the Turkish factor which brings me to my favorite fantasy about this whole war.

  When the Syrians shot down that Turkish F-4 Phantom a few weeks back my war-dar started registering blips right off the scale and I got excited about the possibility of a regional war in the desert. But that's just the Rommel in me. I just got high on the possibilities for mechanized warfare in the desert not seen since El Alamein. Turkey invades Syria. That right there would make for an honorable tank duel in the desert.

  Truth is, who isn't tired of shitty heavy civilian casualty warfare where well equipped armies go up against guys with AKs? I'm talking the multitude of proxy resource conflicts where a bunch of goat herders go up against Predator Drones and find that their early warning radar (goats) are pretty shitty at warning early because no notifications get bleated when the Hellfire comes down the chimney pipe of the mud hut and wipes out four generations of Pashtun or Yemenis or Iraqis. Yeah, those bearded dudes in the graveyard of empires are resilient but that doesn't make the US mission in Afghanistan entertaining. Hell, you can IED a US convoy these days and not even make the nightly news. Let's face it, wars are pretty dull right now. Even the mainstream media doesn't give a shit. You know you've either lost or won a war when a war stops being news.  For the US, Afghanistan is kind of like watching your dog take a shit on someone's lawn. Do you walk away quickly and not give a fuck or stand there looking responsible while acting like you're going to pick up the turd with a Costco bag? That's the US mission in Afghanistan right now. Maintaining the illusion of responsibility. Sure, that war has always been ambiguous and mostly awful. But you know what would be less awful war-wise right now?

  Watching two equally matched modern nations going head to head in a wider regional war.

   That right there would at least be entertaining in the current sea of shitty heavy civilian casualty wars. Battles like Fallujah, Misrata and Aleppo suck because one side has all the heavy weapons. But proxy resource wars are par for the course these days as the planet gets increasingly overcrowded. With supply chains long, food resources subject to the vicissitudes of climate change and oil production pretty much maxed out, it's only a matter of time before the major powers clash directly for what's left. That's the scary future that makes this squabble in the desert a minor preliminary salvo.

   For the Turks, losing an F-4 Phantom wasn't exactly a major loss militarily. Sure, it's a bummer the pilot didn't bail out but Phantom's are basically Vietnam era flying double decker buses with the maneuverability of a cement truck in rush hour traffic. That Turk pilot never saw it coming and was probably sucker punched by one of Syria's Russian supplied S-300 SAMs (one reason NATO doesn't fancy a rerun of Libya over Syria). One thing F-4s always had going for them even in Vietnam, despite their lack of cannon was a pair of serious get-me-the-fuck-out-of-here engines that allowed the Phantom to run from any engagement it didn't fancy the odds in. To my mind, the Turkish F-4 incursion into Syrian airspace was a move designed to get the Syrians to turn their air defense radars on so they could be pinpointed for NATO airstrikes later on in the event Assad doesn't fall in a timely manner.

   Every time I think of Turks involved in war my mind automatically reverts to the Siege of Constantinople in 1453 when some Byzantine idiot forgot to lock the Kerkoporta Gate and allowed a bunch of Turks in to raise a flag on the battlements that sowed panic in the defenders; a ploy that ultimately led to the end of the last twinkle in the old Roman Empire's eye. Sure, the possibility of a Turkish invasion of Syria is practically zero but I'm not going to let that burst my bubble right now because I'm salivating on the idea of tank on tank action in open desert terrain which is a hell of a lot more fun than a bunch of rebels smoking hashish in a kebab joint getting shelled. Syria has a major beef against the Turks for water rights on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Those pesky Turks have big plans for hydroelectric power on those rivers and that pretty much sucks for the Syrians and Iraqis downstream who need that water for agriculture. The Turk's have a problem too with Syrian refugees spilling over their border possibly further destabilizing a region where their own ethnic Kurds are liable to stir up trouble. A limited invasion into Syria to create a refugee "buffer zone" might not be out of the question. It would also be a nice time for the Turks to redraw their southern border with Syria which is mountainous and difficult to defend. Still, it's unclear if they'd make such a ballsy move. Politicians in Turkey are wary of anything that might increase military prestige in a country where the military likes to throw its weight around the political arena.

   But this war is fun to think about.

   The tank on tank action would pit Turkey's modern arsenal of German supplied Leapord 1s and 2A4s  against Syria's aging but more numerous Soviet era T-72s, T-62Ms and believe it or not, T-55s (the most produced tank in history) but completely out of date. That'd make for a fun turkey shoot in the desert. Add in total Turk air superiority by way of US supplied F-16s and naval dominance off the coast and this war that'll never happen becomes even less fantastic. In fact, it'd get boring pretty damn fast. I see a rerun of the Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights where less than 40 Israeli tanks held off over 500 Syrian tanks. Maybe the Israelis threatened to bust out a nuke, maybe they didn't, either way, the Syrians retreated.

Rebel held areas of Syria are primarily border regions for easy resupply.

 Bashar al Assad's days in power are surely numbered. Ever take a look at the guy? He's like that tall awkward friendless guy that joined your second grade class whose dad showed up with lollipops for everyone in the hopes that you might like his dick son. Just because dad was alpha and bought off or murdered the competition doesn't mean those genes automatically pass down to your jizz. Maybe there was a predominance of pussies on mom's side of the family that emasculated junior but either way, this war wouldn't be happening if dad was still in charge. One thing is for sure, I don't see Assad Junior going out like badass Gadaffi in some high speed car chase pistol in hand. Nope, Junior will probably opt for some beachfront property on the Black Sea in Russia. If he's lucky.

   Even if Assad bails with a few billion in pocket change what'll be left in Syria is anybody's guess. Very likely we'll be talking partition along old sectarian lines with Alawites, Druze, Kurds and Sunni Muslims looking to draw lines on prospective new homelands. The aftermath could be just as ugly as the war itself. Meanwhile, the major powers all see Syria as part of the global energy chess game. Damascus, the gateway to the Middle East. It certainly was in T.E. Lawrence's day when the British and Arabs recaptured it from the Ottomans during WWI. But these days the prizes have shifted further south and east and the Wahhabis (who even Lawrence knew were insane in 1917) were sitting on the real prize on the sun fried lava of the Saudi peninsula

   Meanwhile, Syria turns into the kind of war zone with a level of destruction not seen in Syria since the crusaders holed up in their citadels and tried to fend off Saladins armies. Even the ancient fortress of Krak des Chevaliers has not been spared, shelled by the Syrian army because some rebels rightly assumed it'd be a good place to hole up. The Arabs sure built wonderful castles back then so much so the crusaders copied their designs. Even Saladin could not break the crusaders at that fortress but then again, Saladin wasn't packing 155mm howitzers. There are reports from all around the country too that ancient treasure sites and museums have been looted so, along with Iraq's Mesopotamian treasures, all will likely wind up on the black market somewhere. Perhaps even venerable Saladin's green silk tomb cover bestowed by Kaiser Wilhelm could end up in some nouveau riche Chinese billionaire's ritzy apartment overlooking the endless grey Beijing smog.

Krak des Chevaliers: Not immune to modern artillery.

   What a sad end to history.

   That, I fear, is a pretty good template for how the 21st century is plays out. Us dumb apes begin to feed on ourselves and our past in search of simpler times, times before the resources got scarce and the planet got too small.

   Along with Iraq and Libya, Syria is the last of the Middle East's low hanging fruit to be subsumed by larger empires. From here on in, things get hotter and direct competition by proxy war gets harder to control. Meanwhile, countries devolve into surveillance and police states as governments try to suppress populations who decry increasing resources dedicated to grabbing the last strategic energy, food and freshwater reserves. Exciting times for those who like watching the world burn.

   Meanwhile, the Russians and Chinese love to stymy any Western inspired peace efforts at the UN because bringing Syria under the Western sphere of influence through some brokered peace deal that would get rid of Assad would be just a little too disconcerting now that the West has successfully locked down Iraq's energy reserves and taken Gadaffi out of the picture.

   The Iranians too, who've provided plenty of bumbling covert assistance to Assad would see the last gate in the Middle East fall. They're smart enough to know that if the Syria question gets settled, then the battle lines in the Middle East will be clearly and inexorably drawn.

   Battlefield Iran.

   The Iranians, despite their crazy theocracy, are smart enough to know where the real cross hairs will aim and they'll have to wonder if they will be the next domino to fall.