Return to

November 14, 2013
Notes from the Pentagon

Danger of China conflict grows
As China steps up sovereignty claims over disputed waters in Asia, U.S. military forces face the growing risk of conflict with the Chinese military, according to a draft congressional report.

“Through its diplomatic actions and the rebalance to Asia, the United States has signaled its intent to strengthen its relationship with partners and allies in East Asia,” the forthcoming report of the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission states.

“However, China’s military modernization, coupled with the potential decline in U.S. power caused by sequestration, is altering the balance of power in the region and reducing the deterrent effect of the rebalance policy. The risk is therefore increasing that China’s coercive approach to its sovereignty claims will lead to greater conflict in the region.”

China is using its military forces to coerce Japan into giving up claims to the Senkaku Islands, and is also pressuring the Philippines to renounce its claims to the Spratlys in the South China Sea. Both regions are believed to harbor valuable undersea oil and gas reserves.

The report said the sovereignty disputes in the East and South China seas are not new. But it warned that “China’s growing diplomatic, economic, and military clout is changing the regional security architecture.”

“It is increasingly clear that China does not intend to resolve those disputes through multilateral negotiations or the application of international laws and adjudicative processes, but [it] will use its growing power in support of coercive tactics that pressure its neighbors to concede China’s claims,” said the report’s chapter on Asian maritime disputes.

The late draft is dated Oct. 21 and the final report is set for release Nov. 20. A copy of the draft was obtained by Inside the Ring. A commission spokesman said the final report could change slightly from the draft.

“The commissioners are very concerned about the way that the [Defense Department] budget and force structure is shaping up,” said a source close to the commission.

“We were pretty strong on the need to maintain a credible naval and air presence in the Asia-Pacific and to live up to the Pentagon’s shift to a 60 percent force concentration in Asia. Obviously 60 percent of 200 ships is less than 60 percent of 300, and it looks like the [People’s Liberation Army] is moving toward a 300-ship navy.”v The report said China is fueling maritime disputes domestically through “ardent popular nationalism” and by asserting its claims are “central” to national security.

Key triggers to a future conflict are the Chinese system’s weak crisis-management structure and apparent divisions between the powerful Communist Party-controlled People’s Liberation Army and government Foreign Ministry.

In January, the Chinese navy came close to triggering a naval shootout after a Chinese frigate locked its weapons radar on a Japanese ship. U.S. officials said it was the closest to a shooting incident since China began aggressive maritime actions several years ago.

The report concludes that “Beijing’s tendency to demonstrate resolve in its maritime disputes; its large and complicated political, foreign affairs, and military bureaucracy; and its inconsistent adherence to internationally accepted norms of air and maritime operations may contribute to operational miscalculations in the East and South China seas.

“Unyielding positions on sovereignty and nationalist sentiment surrounding these maritime disputes increase the risk of escalation from a miscalculation at sea to a political crisis,” it said.

To reduce the war risk, the commission will recommend that the U.S. Navy increase its presence in Asia to 60 ships by 2020 and rebalance regional home ports in Asia to 60 percent by the same year.

The commission also wants the Pentagon to affirm treaty commitments and strengthen ties with partners and allies in Asia and to bolster air and naval forces, specifically by improving intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance over the East and South China seas.

It also calls for a greater naval buildup.

“Congress [should] resource the U.S. Navy shipbuilding program so that the United States will have the capacity to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific, offset China’s growing military capabilities and surge naval assets in the event of a contingency,” the report said.

Abraham D. Sofaer, the State Department’s legal adviser during the Reagan administration, is calling for the U.S. government to adopt a targeted campaign of attacking Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Islamic shock troops since the 1980s have killed hundreds of Americans with no U.S. retribution, Mr. Sofaer says.

In his recently published book, “Taking on Iran,” Mr. Sofaer also correctly predicted the outcome of recent talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5+1.

“The distinct possibility exists that the P5+1 negotiations, like all before them, will fail,” he wrote.

Instead of limiting U.S. options for Iran to sanctions or military strikes, Mr. Sofaer argues for an alternative military and intelligence direct action program against the Revolutionary Guards, based on the internationally recognized right to defend U.S. forces, American civilians and U.S. interests from what he identified as 30 years of unchecked Iranian aggression.

The U.S. failure to respond to attacks, including its use of proxy terrorists like Hezbollah, is “a fundamental shortcoming of U.S. national security policy,” Mr. Sofaer said, referring to the Lebanese terrorist group closely aligned with Iran.

Mr. Sofaer in his book catalogs three decades of failures to respond to Revolutionary Guards aggression. He estimates that attacks by the Revolutionary Guards or sponsored by it have killed at least 1,000 U.S. soldiers and thousands more American and foreign noncombatants.

Inside Iran, the Revolutionary Guards is an all-powerful ideological, intelligence and military force set up to protect the Islamists who came to power in 1979. It also operates its own factories and businesses and is in charge of the nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Past Revolutionary Guards operations include the 1983 bombing of the Marine Barracks in Lebanon that killed 247 Marines through Hezbollah; the supplying of explosives, including armor-piercing bombs, to Iraqi insurgents; the training and arming the Taliban in Afghanistan; the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers that housed U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia; support for al Qaeda; and recently, working with the Revolutionary Guards‘ Qods force in a plot to kill the Saudi Arabian ambassador in Washington in 2011.

Every U.S. administration since President Jimmy Carter has failed to respond to Revolutionary Guards attacks, Mr. Sofaer said.

Among the types of attacks that could be used against the force are drone strikes on Revolutionary Guards leaders and headquarters; bombing weapons shipments sent from Iran to neighboring states, including attacks on arms convoys inside Iran; and targeting Revolutionary Guards fighters in Syria.

“The U.S. has long needed to send a clear message to the IRGC and its supporters in the Iranian government that its illegal conduct will no longer be tolerated,” he said.

The Pentagon continues to pursue the prosecution of a former Navy SEAL for allegedly disclosing secrets about the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters Tuesday that the Defense Department, in consultation with the Justice Department, is also considering civil legal action against the author.

“The department continues to assert forcefully that this individual breached his legal obligations by publishing the book without pre-publication review and clearance,” Mr. Little said.

The book in question is “No Easy Day,” written by Mark Owen, a pseudonym for a Navy SEAL who was part of the classified special operations unit known as Seal Team 6.

“We’re also poised to pursue civil litigation, if necessary, for the author’s breach. So this remains an ongoing process,” Mr. Little said.

The prospect of criminal or civil action against one of the heroes of the raid that killed America’s most wanted terrorist could prove problematic for the Pentagon.

Details of the raid have been reported widely and the Pentagon cooperated with filmmakers who revealed secrets of the daring, top-secret mission in Abbattobad, Pakistan, on May 2, 2011 — known as Operation Neptune Spear.

Navy sources close to the SEALs told The Washington Times last year there did not appear to be classified information in the book. One former officer said nothing in the book revealed any sensitive tactics, techniques, procedures or sensitive sources and methods.

The driving issue for the Pentagon is that the book was not submitted for pre-publication review, as required by secrecy of agreements of all those holding high-level clearances, as all SEAL Team 6 members do.

Mr. Owen has been shunned by most of the special operations community for breaking his silence on the raid, which revealed details of how the covert night raid was carried out and ended with the shooting death of bin Laden and the capture of large amounts of his al Qaeda files and documents.

Mr. Little declined to discuss specific legal discussions on the “No Easy Day” case and would not speculate when or if formal charges would be filed.

“It’s taking some time. But as you know, the wheels of justice don’t always turn quickly,” he said.

  • Bill Gertz can be reached at @BillGertz.

  • Return to