Monday, May 28, 2007

New DoD report on China's military. (Yawn)

The Office of the Secretary of Defense published its 2007 Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China. As you might expect, the report confirms that the People's Liberation Army is still pursuing a standard modernization strategy -- better command and control, more precise and longer range weapons, better space assets, etc. There are also references to PLA interest in asymmetrical capabilities, with the typical mention of cyberwar (i.e. digital attack), as well as a few paragraphs tying January's ASAT test into the Navy's beloved "anti-access" theme.

The report does has have two points that I found particularly interesting:

1. DF-31 goes ITA -- If you're my age, you were in high school when the Intelligence Community developed the idea of "initial threat availability." It was the IC's response to the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission Report's apt criticism that their existent analytical approach to missile threat estimation relied too heavily on past patterns of missile development. As time passed, it appeared that the Rumsfeld Commission's fear of rampant "at any cost" missile proliferation was overblown, so the idea has mostly gathered dust on a self somewhere -- that is until the afternoon of Friday, May 23.

In a bit of classical bureaucratic salami-slicing, the DoD pulled out the term to punt on the question of when China will actually field the DF-31s. According the report implies that the Chinese tested the DF-31 sometime in 2006, but they do not have all of the support equipment, personnel and command systems in place to support the missile. I vaguely remember a missile test in the Ghobi last year, but I can't pinpoint the time frame -- I'll do some digging.

2. Shock and awe is alive and well in Beijing -- It seems that the U.S. military experience in Iraq has done little to tarnish China's interest in cultivating network-centric warfare capabilities. The PLA's book on Joint Space War Campaigns even mentions the idea of "shock and awe" preemption as a form of deterrence (bottom of page 21).

It appears that the U.S. experience in Iraq hasn't caused the Chinese to question the value of either concept. The report even calls this issue out in terms of China's deterrence posture towards Taiwan (box at the top of page 33). What would China do if it couldn't compel the Taiwanese government with its missiles and "non-war" operations? Even if it had the assets to launch a successful amphibious invasion, a native insurgency would grind their land forces up (subtext: especially if it was U.S.-sponsored).

Update: Tequila, Yathrib and a few of my readers have taken issue with my musings about insurgency in a hypothetical post-invasion Taiwan. If one assumes (1) that the invasion is a unilateral move by the mainland and (2) it takes 3-6 months for the PLA to control the entire island, I see the following factors contributing to insurgency:

1. A history of divise sectarian rule -- Taiwan has been a democracy for less than a decade. Before then, it was a repressive, corporatist oligarchy run by mainlander elites. I can see any attempt by the Kuomintang to cozy up with the People's Republic ripping open the social and political wounds between the mainlanders, Fujianese and Hakka that are only now healing. In a sense, the political divisions Tequila mentions would serve a predicate for resistance and potential sectarian violence -- all it would take is another 228.

2. The training and materiel is already there -- True, commercial access to guns and explosives in Taiwan is limited, but then again, I imagine they weren't widely available in Iraq prior to 2003 either. The intervening variable here is Taiwan's 1.3 million reservists and their access to the Taiwanese military's stockpile of weapons and explosives. I am seriously skeptical of the Bush administration's assertion that Iran needs to supply the Iraqi insurgency when 7 million tons of materiel was pilfered from the Iraqi military's depots. The same situation could easily come to fruition in Taiwan, especially when PLA tanks start rolling down the streets of Taipei and Kaohsiung.

3. The PLA's slow invasion -- The PLAN's amphibious assault capabilities are pretty limited, so I doubt they could achieve the same kind of maneuver that got us into Baghdad so quickly. PRC rule on Taiwan would not be a sudden fait accompli for the government, businesses or localities. The government would have time to distribute arms. Failing that, an extended lapse in public security could seriously undermine public confidence in governance like it did in Iraq.

This was merely an intellectual exercise designed to challenge the potential assumptions of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. It is by no means definitive or likely, but I would argue it is strong possibility with significant consequences for the mainland and Taiwan.

Second Update: I doff my hat to Tequila for all of his great comments. I'm glad to see that someone else is still interested in Taiwanese politics and society.

12 comments:

yathrib said...

An insurgency in Taiwan? C'mon, it's an island. They don't exactly have the porous borders that Iraq shares with Iran, Syria, etc, or that Afghanistan has with Pakistan.

For my fiction, I'm more entertained by "The Bear & The Dragon". There's a Russian joke about the possible Chinese strategies: "The Great Offensive, The Small Retreat, and Infiltration by Small Groups of One to Two Million Across the Border."

Seriously, I'm more interested in what was said (or not said) about cyber-warefare. The document covers actions on the battlefield, but what about something similar to what's being experienced in Estonia? NATO took no action other than to send observers. Would an information blockade of sorts against Taiwan be an act of war?

Back on 12/27/06, something like six of seven of Taiwan's undersea cables were taken of of commission by an earthquake, so we have a pretty good idea about what their physical link diversity is.

Tequila said...

Not to mention that the PLA is just about the last army that would ever have problems putting down a heavy footprint. For internal security, they could also turn to the PAP paramilitaries as well.

Also just about the last people suited for a grinding urban insurgency are the well-off urban population of Taiwan. There are few weapons or explosives available and bitter political splits within the population over the nature of the Taiwanese state.

Tequila said...

The Taiwanese are just about the last population ready for a grinding, bloody urban insurgency. They are comfortably well off and politically divided. There are also no weapons or explosives widely available, or difficult terrain suitable to guerrilla insurgency.

The PLA and the PAP are also the last forces in the world to have problems establishing a heavy footprint. They would have none of the problems that U.S. forces in Bagdhad have had with language and intelligence. There is something of a cultural gulf, but not nearly as wide of one as Taiwanese propagandists proclaim.

Tequila said...

Sorry for the double post, I thought I lost the original post.

Regarding the Taiwanese army's stockpile - not convinced. This would be a key target of any PLA invasion, and they would have the manpower to take and guard, unlike the U.S. in Iraq. The ROC military also is nowhere the size nor has the munitions store of the Iraqi Army and security forces. No ROC military personnel has anything like the combat experience accrued to Iraqi military personnel engaged in nearly 30 years of nonstop war and internal war against Iran and between Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis; nor is the population as inured to the hardships of war as the Iraqis were in 2003.

Regarding political divisions: the divisions between Hoklo/Taiwanese, Hakka, and mainlanders are growing worse, not healing. Regardless there is no unified Taiwanese population, and the CCP would surely exploit this dynamic just as the KMT did. Sectarian divisions cripple the U.S. effort in Iraq because it conflicts with the U.S. political goal of establishing a unified Iraqi government with control over all of its territory. Chinese goals in Taiwan are very different and sectarian divisions would aid rather than hinder a Chinese occupation aimed at absorbing Taiwan into China.

Assuming a successful PLA breakout that conquers Taiwan so there can even BE an insurgency, one would have to predicate that the PLA would be successful in onshoring large numbers of troops. Again, the massive footprint availabe to the PLA, along with the utter lack of any sort of safe refuge for insurgent forces, would result in the quick death of any insurgency.

Note that the PLA has a decent record in fighting domestic insurgency. The Tibetan insurgency in the 1950s had far more favorable conditions than a Taiwanese insurgency would face and utterly failed to gain any traction. Xinjiang separatism has failed in similar fashion.

Note that 2/28 did NOT result in an insurgency breaking out. It instead broke native resistance to KMT domination and resulted in the successful imposition of one-party rule.

Robot Economist said...

Tequila - I think we will have to agree to disagree for the most part. Our whole argument is so hypothetical that everything is really a matter of perspective.

Frankly, I doubt the PLA could ever capture Taiwan, even without the support of U.S. combatants. China is already in a pretty optimal political and diplomatic position, why would it want to jeopardize that with an invasion?

The only three points that I would offer in my defence are:

(1) True, 2/28 broke the native resistance back in 1947, but it is the memory of the incident and the 50 years of repression that followed could provide a crucial "never again" feeling that would fuel resistance. (Denny Roy would argue the opposite -- Taiwan has rolled over to occupiers throughout its history, just ask Coxinga and the Japanese)

(2) I think your comparison of the materiel and personnel situation isn't exactly fair. The experience of Taiwanese conscripts and the size of Taiwan's hardware stockpile don't have to be as large as Iraq's, they just have to be enough to make Taiwan ungovernable. A native insurgency doesn't have to win, it just needs to "not lose."

(3) I see the DPP's victory in 2000 as the culmination of a successful resistance to the KMT. I guess I just see them fighting harder for what they've earned.

Robot Economist said...

Oh and one would hope that the PLA will learn from the U.S. experience in Iraq -- particularly capturing Taiwanese military depots.

You never know though...

yathrib said...

An amusing story from a friend who went back to Taiwan to meet his military service requirement.

He described their target practice sessions, where the fellow next to him would regularly finish with six or seven holes in his target. Unfortunately, they'd only been issued four rounds apiece...

But I think the cyber-blockade scenario would be much more plausible, and I'm surprised it was not mentioned in the DoD report.

Tequila said...

RE - Agreed that an invasion will likely never happen, assuming things stay on the same path they are on now. All bets are off if Taiwan actually declares independence, though.

Most ROC Army officers and professional soldiers are still Blue, BTW. The Greens might fight, but they'd fight like the Mahdi Army circa 2004 rather than the Islamic Army in Iraq or Ansar al-Sunnah.

The lack of a safe haven and resupply, combined with the ability of the PLA to flood the zone, means that the odds of the domestic insurgency losing, and losing bady, are quite high. We often underestimate just how difficult it is to keep an insurgency alive. Support of the people and a just cause are not enough. Taiwan has historically rolled over (Koxinga is a bad example given the extremely different population of the island back then, but Japan is not) for very good reasons --- it's just a terrible place to try and run an insurgency.

Tequila said...

Sorry, but you wouldn't believe how often Koxinga comes up in Taiwanese political discussion ... far too often and far too seriously.

Robot Economist said...

Tequila - I completely agree. Some Taiwanese and Taiwanophiles are so desparate to find the "essential elements of a Taiwanese tradition" that they are constantly trying to work Koxinga into modern history.

One could easily claim that the Temple of the 18 Lords is more Taiwanese than a Ming irredentist like Koxinga.

Tequila said...

Funny, most Koxinga enthusiasts I know are Blues pushing the Taiwan-as-eternal-part-of-China theme. So the Greens are trying to mythologize him as well? Silly.

Robot Economist said...

Its easy to like Koxinga. He's part Ming Chinese official, part rebel-pirate. You can interpret him however you like -- which is probably why he is so popular.