FIRE on the


WATER

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FIRE on the

WATER
China, America, and the
Future of the Pacific

ROBERT H A DDICK

Naval Institute Press
Annapolis, Maryland

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Naval Institute Press
291 Wood Road
Annapolis, MD 21402
© 2014 by Robert Haddick
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form
or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording,
or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing
from the publisher.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Haddick, Robert.
Fire on water : China, America, and the future of the Pacific / Robert Haddick.
pages cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-61251-795-7 (hbk. : alk. paper) — ISBN 978-0-87021-060-0 (ebook)
1. Pacific Area—Strategic aspects. 2. Sea-power—Pacific Area. 3. United States—
Military policy. 4. China—Strategic aspects. 5. China—Military policy. 6. United
States—Foreign relations—Pacific Area. 7. Pacific Area—Foreign relations—
United States. 8. Security, International—Pacific Area. I. Title. II. Title: China,
America, and the future of the Pacific.
UA830.H34 2014
355’.03301823—dc23
2014020216

∞ Print editions meet the requirements of ANSI/NISO z39.48-1992 (Permanence
of Paper).
Printed in the United States of America.
22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 14
First printing

9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Maps created by Charles Grear.

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To Josh Manchester

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Contents

List of Maps

viii

Preface

ix

Acknowledgments

xi

List of Acronyms xiii
Introduction 1
Chapter 1

A Three-Decade Drive to a Collision

Chapter 2

It Matters Who Runs the Pacific

35

Chapter 3

America’s Archaic Military Machine in the Pacific

52

Chapter 4 China’s Strategy: Salami Slicing and
the Missile Revolution

7

77

Chapter 5

America Pivots to Asia, then Stumbles

101

Chapter 6

A Competitive Strategy for the Pacific

121

Chapter 7

A New Approach to America’s Pacific Partnerships

139

Chapter 8

The Future of Airpower in the Pacific

160

Chapter 9

The Struggle for Control of the Western Pacific

180

Chapter 10 A New American Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region

203

Notes

219

Selected Bibliography 247
Index

261
vii

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Maps

Map 1: Pacific Island Chains and China’s Crude Oil Import Routes

11

Map 2: Maritime Territorial Disputes in East Asia

17

Map 3: U.S. Military Bases in the Asia-Pacific Region

58

Map 4: China’s Anti-Access Capability

89

viii

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Preface

T

his book grew out of a research project I conducted in 2012 and 2013
for U.S. Special Operations Command. The resulting monograph,
available to the public at the website of Joint Special Operations
University, examined the future role of coalition special operations forces in
the context of the security competition in East Asia.1
As I completed that study, I concluded that the topic of East Asia’s
security, and America’s role there, required a much broader treatment, one
that included assessments and conclusions I had not read elsewhere. There
are many excellent books and monographs that address various aspects of
the security situation in the Asia-Pacific region, many of which are sources
for this book and which are cited in the notes. I saw a need for a book that
comprehensively explained the security challenges in the region, America’s
interests there, the shortfalls in the current U.S. strategy, and a description
of needed reforms. This book thus draws on the research I performed for
U.S. Special Operations Command, but goes further. That said, this book is
based entirely on open-source research, freely available in the public domain.
In addition, the views and conclusions of this book are mine alone and do
not necessarily represent the views of any part of the U.S. government.
The growing security competition in East Asia, sparked by the rapid
rise in China’s economic, political, and military power, is likely to be the
most consequential national security challenge the United States will face
over the next two decades. Indeed, the magnitude of the challenge may
exceed that which the U.S. faced during the Cold War, if only because
China’s economic capacity far exceeds that of the former Soviet Union and,
should current economic growth trends continue, could soon eclipse that
of the United States.
ix

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x PREFACE

The goal of this book is to raise awareness inside the United States
and elsewhere about the deteriorating security situation in East Asia, the
consequences if the current course is not altered, and why the U.S. needs
to make major changes to its military forces and policies for the region. I
have written this book to introduce East Asia’s emerging security problems
to a general audience. I have tried to minimize the amount of military and
security jargon, while keeping in mind why the technical performance of
military capabilities matters in a strategic context. Many readers will find
some of the conclusions in this book to be controversial. If so, a healthy
debate over America’s policies for Asia can only be a good thing, since the
stakes for the United States are so high.
Finally, this book will have succeeded if it sparks further research on
these issues and more discussion among policymakers and the public. An
open discussion by policymakers and the public on America’s role and strategy in the Asia-Pacific region is long overdue. It is my hope that this book
will make a contribution to that conversation.
Robert Haddick
Washington, D.C.
January 2014

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Acknowledgments

I

have received much support during the process of completing this project. I thank the staff at the U.S. Naval Institute Press for their assistance.
For over a century, the Naval Institute Press has published history, analysis, and reference books that have been critical to America’s security. I am
honored to join that long and distinguished line. I thank Adam Kane, senior
acquisitions editor, for taking on my project; Adam Nettina for improving
my manuscript and managing the project; Jeanette Nakada, copyeditor, for
getting the manuscript in shape; and Janis Jorgensen for assistance with the
photo gallery. I also thank Claire Noble, the Press marketing manager, and
Judy Heise, publicist, for their efforts promoting the final work. I thank
Charles David Grear for preparing the maps. The Naval Institute Press is a
remarkably efficient organization and this is due to the professionalism of
these people and their colleagues. Naturally, any shortcomings in the book
are my responsibility.
I have benefited from many professional relationships in recent years.
In 2008 Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle recruited me to Small Wars Journal
and arranged for me to become a military affairs columnist at Foreign
Policy magazine. I thank them for these opportunities. Over my years inside
the defense community in Washington, D.C., I have formed many friendships and associations from which I benefit professionally every day. I have
also benefited greatly from my long friendships with Dan Kingston and
Capt. Robert Peters, USN (Ret.). All roads lead back to my friend Josh
Manchester, who opened the first door for me, and to whom I have dedicated this book.

xi

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xii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I must thank my family for their support. Lois, Bob, Mark, and Barbara
have been great friends and supporters for decades. My wife’s family has
also provided friendship and support for many years.

Finally, my wife, Susan, was essential to the completion of this project.
Proficient in Mandarin and a student of China for over two decades, she
provided challenging questions and insights all along the way. To her and
everyone, thanks.

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Acronyms

ADIZ

air defense identification zone

AIP

air-independent propulsion

AMRAAM

Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile

ASBM

antiship ballistic missile

ASCM

antiship cruise missile

ASEAN

Association of Southeast Asian Nations

C4ISR command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance
CCP

Chinese Communist Party

CMC

Central Military Commission

CNOOC

China National Offshore Oil Corporation

CSBA

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments

DARPA

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

EEZ

exclusive economic zone

EMCON

electronic emissions control

EU

European Union

EFV

Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle

GPS

Global Positioning System

IAEA

International Atomic Energy Agency

ICBM

intercontinental ballistic missile

INF

Intermediate Nuclear Forces [Treaty], INF Treaty

JASSM-ER

Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range

JCS

Joint Chiefs of Staff
xiii

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xiv ACRONYMS

JOAC

Joint Operational Access Concept

JROC

Joint Requirements Oversight Council

JSOTF-P

Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines

LADAR

laser-radar

LOCAAS

Low Cost Autonomous Attack System

MEU

Marine Expeditionary Unit

MRBM

medium-range ballistic missile

NATO

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

NSSS

National Security Space Strategy

ONA

Office of Net Assessment

PLA

People’s Liberation Army

PLAAF

People’s Liberation Army Air Force

PLAN

People’s Liberation Army-Navy

SAM

surface-to-air missile

SLAM-ER Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response
(cruise missile)
TEL

transporter-erector-launcher

THAAD

Theater High Altitude Air Defense

TPP

Trans-Pacific Partnership

UAV

unmanned aerial vehicle

UCLASS Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike
(aircraft)
UNCLOS

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

VBSS

visit, board, search, seizure

VLS

Vertical Launch System

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Introduction

T

he risk of war in East Asia is rising. Nearly every week brings news of
another clash over islands in the East and South China Seas, disputes
over fishing and drilling rights, or accusations of armed incursions
into territorial waters. In response to these growing tensions, the region is
experiencing a leap in military spending, as countries scurry to defend themselves. Nationalism is ascendant, while old memories of historical grievances are fresh again.

This year is the centennial of the start of World War I, a catastrophe the
magnitude of which still shocks a century later. A few experienced statesmen are openly wondering whether East Asia might be reliving that disaster.

In his book Diplomacy, former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger
said, “The relations of the principal Asian nations to each other bear most
of the attributes of the European balance-of-power system of the nineteenth century. Any significant increase in the strength by one of them is
almost certain to evoke an offsetting maneuver by the others.”1 In 2013
former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd described East Asia as “a
21st-century maritime redux of the Balkans a century ago—a tinderbox on
water,” a comparison to the nationalist hothouse that sparked World War
I.2 Regarding the ongoing tensions between China and Japan over small
islands in the East China Sea, Kurt Campbell, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs concluded in 2013, “there is
a feeling of 1914 in the air. Just as with tensions between European armies
at the turn of the last century, both Tokyo and Beijing are absolutely certain of the rightness of their positions. More importantly, both believe that
with a little further pressure, the other side is on the verge of blinking and
backing down.”3 In 2006 China had its own public conversation about
1

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2 INTRODUCTION

Imperial Germany and the origins of World War I when China Central
Television broadcast a highly popular twelve-part series titled “Rise of the
Great Powers.”4

We can hope that the disastrous consequences of World War I, restored
to memory this centennial year, will draw attention to the ominous resemblances now accumulating in East Asia. Large historical forces proved too
much for statesmen a hundred years ago. Some of the same remorseless
forces are now placing stress on Asia. The region and the world can avoid
another tragedy. But doing so will require better strategies than those at
work today.
A change in the distribution of power is the source of today’s growing
conflicts in Asia. Over the past three decades, China has reemerged as an
economic and political great power, with rapidly expanding interests in the
region and across the world. China’s leaders perceive the need to protect
these interests, an unsurprising result with numerous parallels in history.
Unfortunately history also has recorded the many cases when a new great
power appeared and war was the result. The rapid ascent of Athens before
the Peloponnesian War, Germany before World War I, and Japan before
World War II are a few of the many examples of wars that resulted when
statesmen failed to adapt to the sudden arrival of a new great power.

In order to protect its growing overseas interests and gain control over
its links to the outside, China is now pressing previously dormant claims
for maritime territory in the East and South China Seas. If successful, China
would not only gain security for itself over vital lines of communication to
its economy, it would also gain control over vast hydrocarbon, mineral,
and fishing resources. But these gains would come at the expense of its
neighbors, most of whom are now resisting China’s increasingly aggressive
assertions.
China is also undertaking a rapid and well-designed modernization
of its air, naval, missile, and military space power. The U.S. Department
of Defense estimated that between 2003 and 2012, China’s real, inflationadjusted defense budget grew at an average rate of 9.7 percent per year.5 At
that rate China’s real defense spending will double every 7.5 years. By next
decade China’s military buildup will give it the ability to dominate the air
and sea lines of communication in the western Pacific. Although China’s
intentions remain murky, the emerging military capability is clear. Since
intentions can change rapidly, statesmen are forced to focus on threatening
capabilities. As a result China’s neighbors are now engaged in their own
arms buildups, with the military spending of China’s neighbors expected to
jump more than 55 percent during the middle five years of this decade compared to the previous five years.6 An open-ended and accelerating security

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Introduction 
3

competition in East Asia is under way, with dangerous implications for
peace and security in the region.
The stakes at risk in the region are immense. East Asia has long been
the most economically dynamic region in the world. A major conflict there
would cripple the global economy. For the United States, nearly a tenth
of its economic output and employment is tied directly to trade with the
region, with the second- and third-order effects of disruption likely as large.
In sum, millions of American jobs are tied to Asia’s security. From a strategic perspective, the United States has five security treaty relationships in
the region, which benefit U.S. security but are also a measure of America’s
credibility as an ally. Finally, since its founding the United States has relied
on, and has defended, the freedom of navigation and rights to the global
commons. Today’s disputes in the western Pacific, tied to China’s territorial
assertions in the region, place these principles at risk.

The U.S. government belatedly perceived the deteriorating security situation in East Asia and is now giving the region more attention.7 But this
book will show that the United States does not have an effective response
to China’s territorial assertions or its military modernization. Fearful of
enabling a confrontation over which it could lose control, U.S. diplomats
are standing aside while China increasingly bullies its small neighbors over
its territorial claims. This is leading to confusion, demoralization, and an
accelerating and likely destabilizing arms race in the region. America’s partners in East Asia are key to a successful strategy. But the United States will
need a new diplomatic approach if it is to achieve the cohesion among these
partners that will be necessary to preserve stability.
Meanwhile U.S. policymakers and military planners have underestimated the military potential China is on track to achieve by next decade.
Bureaucracies inside Washington resistant to change and policymakers
fearful of creating controversy have hampered an effective response to the
emerging political and military challenges posed by China. The United
States needs a reformed military strategy for the region. These reforms are
needed to convince China’s leaders that military coercion won’t work. In
addition, the present structure of U.S. military forces in the region leaves
these forces vulnerable to attack and creates a dangerous incentive for
offensive escalation during a crisis. Reforming America’s military force
structure in the region will be difficult and expensive. But it is necessary if
the region is to maintain stability as China’s military power continues to
expand.
Statesmen everywhere are aware of 1914’s harsh lessons. Yet in spite
of this forewarning, Asia now seems to be on a very similar path as then. A
century ago Europe’s statesmen were unable to adapt to Germany’s dramatic

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4 INTRODUCTION

rise and fashion a stable and mutually satisfactory balance of power. In this
era the United States, acting as an outside balancer, has played the central
role in East Asia’s security, a responsibility that has boosted the prosperity of
all. But just like Europe a century ago, it is doubtful that Asia, left on its own,
could shape a stable balance of power in the face of China’s dramatic rise.
America’s role as outside balancer is essential for the region’s stability. But this time, it is Washington—its policymakers and institutions—that
has been slow to adapt to the rapidly changing security situation in Asia.
Without a better American strategy for the region, the risk of conflict in
East Asia will continue to grow. Indeed, the next ten years may prove to be
a particularly dangerous period, as China’s leaders ponder what to do with
a strategic window that will open for them. Designing and implementing a
new U.S. strategy won’t be easy, but it is vital for America’s own interests
for it do so, and quickly.
This book describes a better U.S. strategy for the Asia-Pacific region.
Chapters 1 and 2 discuss the sources of conflict in Asia and explain why it
is in America’s interest to maintain its active forward presence in the region.
Chapter 3 discusses the history of America’s military presence in East Asia
and explains why that presence, as it is presently constituted, is increasingly
vulnerable. Chapter 4 explains in detail China’s military modernization program and why by next decade it will pose a grave threat to U.S. and allied
interests. Chapter 5 explains why the current U.S. responses to China’s military modernization are ineffective and possibly dangerous.
The remainder of the book lays out a new security strategy for the
United States in East Asia. Chapter 6 discusses the principles of strategy as
they apply to the problems the United States faces in the region. Chapter 7
discusses the role of America’s partners in the region and how the United
States should refashion its diplomacy and security relationships. Chapters
8 and 9 describe the major changes the United States needs to make to its
defense programs in order to cope with China’s emerging military power.
Finally, Chapter 10 summarizes a new strategic approach to the region and
the barriers U.S. policymakers will have to overcome to implement it.

The goal of a new American strategy in Asia is to prevent conflict while
preserving an existing international order that benefits all. The strategy proposed will call for the United States and its partners to implement specific
military and diplomatic reforms to balance China’s rising power. The strategy displays respect for China’s arrival as a great power, offers it a role in
the region’s security, and welcomes China’s continued economic and social
progress. The strategy discussed in this book is not a war plan. It is a strategy for managing a peacetime competition in a highly dynamic region. The
strategy’s success will be measured by the crises that never occur, the wars

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Introduction 
5

that are never fought, and the long continuation of the region’s prosperity
and development, including inside China.

The Asia-Pacific region has long been a challenge for the United States.
Over the past century, America fought four wars in the region and struggled with a dangerous, four-decade competition against the Soviet Union.
But with these challenges and tragedies have also come opportunity, trade,
wealth, and cultural enrichment for countless millions on both sides of the
Pacific Ocean. America’s ties with the region have delivered millions of jobs,
higher standards of living, growing investments, and cultural interactions
that have enriched all.
For all of these reasons, East Asia will arguably be the most consequential region of the world for U.S. interests in the decades ahead. But it
seems to only now be dawning on some policymakers in Washington what
the risks—and possible rewards—are that China’s rapid rise poses for U.S.
interests. For a general public distracted by other conflicts and economic
anxiety, the growing perils in East Asia have yet to meaningfully register.

This book explains why the region is crucial to the United States, why
current policies for the region are falling short, and what changes the United
States must make to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for Asia and
for America’s interests. Getting on the right course will not be cheap or easy.
But the rewards for doing so will be immense. The risk of war in East Asia
is rising. But the United States and its partners in Asia have the power to
prevent another tragedy and to shape a better future that will benefit all.

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