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Inside the Ring
Question of the Day
China 'A2/AD' threat
Wallace "Chip" Gregson, assistant defense secretary for Asian and Pacific security affairs, disclosed this week that the Pentagon has coined a new acronym for the threat posed by China's special missiles and other advanced weapons.
Anti-access and area-denial weapons are now called A2/AD arms and pose a major challenge to key U.S. strategic objectives for keeping stability in the Asia Pacific region, said Gen. Gregson, a retired Marine lieutenant general, during a speech Tuesday to the Progressive Policy Institute.
"These [weapons] are designed to deny access to the Western Pacific region or to deny the ability to operate within that vital area," he said. "A2/AD systems threaten our primary means of projecting power: our bases, our sea and air assets, and the networks that support them."
On China's overall role in Asia, Gen. Gregson warned that "it has become increasingly evident that China is pursuing a long-term, comprehensive military buildup that could upend the regional security balance."
The A2/AD weapons are not limited to a single weapon system or tactics but instead are "a series of overlapping capabilities across multiple domains," he said.
Of particular concern, Gen. Gregson noted, is China's new anti-ship ballistic missile, a precision-guided conventional missile that can hit aircraft carriers and other ships at sea. The new missile is one "we have been watching for some years," he said.
Others include advanced submarines, surface-to-air missiles, anti-satellite weapons, and computer-network-warfare weapons and techniques.
His comments are in stark contrast to those of many other Obama administration officials who have sought to play down China's military buildup as non-threatening.
Gen. Gregson said military modernization itself is not a threat but that "the U.S. shares the concern of many in the region that this type of military buildup far exceeds China's defensive needs."
"In addition, these kinds of weapons threaten to undermine the basic norms that have bolstered East Asian peace and prosperity, such as open access to sea lanes for commerce and security assistance," he said. "We call upon China to become more transparent regarding its military capabilities, expenditures and intentions. We are not asking for an unreasonable degree of disclosure - simply enough to allow all parties to avoid miscalculation."
Gen. Gregson criticized China for keeping its priorities and intentions "opaque and uncertain" and noted that Beijing's "willingness to act as a responsible major power is not yet fully evident."
On China's failure to press North Korea, he said, "China's role as a regional actor can determine whether the region retains its basic stability or drifts closer to conflict."
Korea war fears
Tensions continue to mount on the Korean Peninsula as pressure is growing on South Korea's government to take some type of military action against North Korea for its recent artillery shelling of a border island that killed two civilians and two marines.
Defense officials said there are concerns that any new North Korean military provocation will trigger a larger conflict on the peninsula if South Korean forces take limited military action.
South Korea conducted a nationwide civil defense drill on Wednesday amid unofficial signs that nonessential U.S. military personnel and their families are packing up and leaving the country, ostensibly for the Christmas holidays.
Pentagon spokesmen, however, said there are no directives or orders for people to leave the country.
Army Col. Jonathan Withington, U.S. Forces Korea spokesman, told Inside the Ring that "the normal transition of inbound and outbound personnel continues to include command-sponsored families."
Another sign of growing concern over a possible new conflict is the agreement signed on Monday between the Pentagon and South Korean military officials to bolster deterrence against North Korea's weapons of mass destruction.
A defense official said the committee is being set up amid concerns that the U.S. protective nuclear "umbrella" will not be sufficient to deter a North Korean attack using nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Senior defense officials formally agreed to the new Extended Deterrence Policy Committee during a meeting of the Security Policy Initiative in Seoul.
The committee is "a consultation mechanism intended to coordinate U.S.-[Republic of Korea] defense policies on issues related to extended deterrence on and around the Korean Peninsula," said Pentagon spokesman Army Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros, noting that the main focus is on "threats from North Korea."
Creation of the committee comes "at a time when North Korea's provocative attacks on [South Korea] and the unveiling of its uranium program highlight the need for closer alliance cooperation in assuring relevant and effective deterrence concepts and capabilities for the peninsula," he said.
However, the panel is "not a temporary reaction to North Korean provocations," he added.
The committee "will provide transparency and reassurance that extended deterrence for the ROK is credible, capable, and enduring, by fostering joint study of deterrence challenges and developing policy alternatives to respond to the changing threat environment."
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke in Tokyo on Dec. 9 and warned that Northeast Asia is "more volatile than it's been in much of the last 50 years."
"Much of that volatility is owed to the reckless behavior of the North Korean regime, enabled by their friends in China," Adm. Mullen said.
"The North's relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons - highlighted by the disclosure of a new enrichment facility - flies in the face of international sanctions, violates U.N. Security Council resolution and only contributes to further instability," he said.
Adm. Mullen reaffirmed the U.S. defense commitment to both South Korea and Japan during the visit.
China's support for North Korea's belligerent activities has had the effect of bringing the United States, South Korea and Japan closer together, undermining Chinese efforts to gain greater regional influence.
Mubarak on Iran
A classified State Department cable made public on Wednesday revealed that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's main worry is Iran and increasing Iranian-backed subversion in the region since the ouster of Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
The Feb. 9 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo is slugged "scene-setter" for the planned visit there by Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and it was aired by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.
"President Mubarak sees Iran as Egypt's - and the region's - primary strategic threat," states the cable, labeled "secret." "Egypt's already dangerous neighborhood, he believes, has only become more so since the fall of Saddam, who, as nasty as he was, nevertheless stood as a wall against Iran. He now sees Tehran's hand moving with ease throughout the region, 'from the Gulf to Morocco.' "
The report goes on to describe Egypt's "immediate threat" as "Iranian conspiracies with Hamas," which Mr. Mubarak regards as the "brother" of Egypt's "most dangerous internal political threat, the Muslim Brotherhood."
Hamas is stirring up unrest in Gaza, and Mr. Mubarak also is worried about Iranian subversion in Sudan and efforts to "create havoc elsewhere in the region, including in Yemen, Lebanon, and even the Sinai, via Hezbollah," the cable says.
"While Tehran's nuclear threat is also a cause for concern, Mubarak is more urgently seized with what he sees as the rise of Iranian surrogates (Hamas and Hezbollah) and Iranian attempts to dominate the Middle East."
Amos on gay ban
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos, who last month said now, amid two wars, is not the time to repeal the gay ban, has upped the ante.
Gen. Amos, President Obama's first appointment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a small group of reporters at the Pentagon Tuesday that lifting what is called "don't ask, don't tell" will cost lives.
"Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives," he said, according to the newspaper Stars and Stripes, in explaining his opposition. "That's the currency of this fight.
"I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don't want to have any Marines that I'm visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction."
The White House shrugged off his remarks even though Mr. Obama has made repeal one of his top priorities.
Gay rights groups took offense at the remarks, coming as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, tries to bring a repeal bill to the floor. Republicans twice have blocked the move.
"General Amos needs to fall in line and salute or resign now," said the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "He implied that repeal will lead to Marines losing their legs in combat. Those fear tactics are not in the interest of any service member. The General's goal is to kill repeal no matter the consequences, perhaps at the dereliction of his other duties."
In a Pentagon assessment of how to lift the ban, Marines were the most opposed, with more than 60 percent saying that would negatively affect combat readiness. Army soldiers in combat professions such as infantry and armor also expressed deep reservations.
Right from the start, Gen. Amos made it clear he wants the ban to stay.
In a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee at the time of his confirmation, he said: "The current law and associated policy have supported the unique requirements of the Marine Corps, and thus I do not recommend its repeal."
"My primary concern with [the] proposed repeal is the potential disruption to cohesion that may be caused by significant change during a period of extended combat operations."
- Bill Gertz can be reached at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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