Following is the full transcript of the Hudson Institute event titled Defending Guam: Panel 2
Disclaimer: This transcript is based off of a recorded video conference and periodic breaks in the stream have resulted in disruptions to the audio and transcribed text.
Thank you all for joining us with this event at Hudson Institute. I have the privilege of being joined by distinguished analysts. We have Blake Herzinger who’s a non-resident WSD-Handa fellow at the Pacific Forum. We have Timothy Walton. He’s a colleague of mine here at Hudson. He’s a fellow at the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology. Mr. Peppi DeBiaso is a non-resident senior associate of Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Then, we have Dr. Oriana Skylar Mastro, who is at the center… She’s a center fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, where her research focuses on Chinese military and security policy, Asia-Pacific security issues, war termination, and coercive diplomacy. She’s also a non-resident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Thank you all so much for joining us.
We’re here today to talk about the strategic value of Guam and the threat that the PRC poses to Guam, especially in a potential military conflict of Chinese aggression towards Taiwan and how the United States might deter that aggression and then also seek to engage to defend our interests in the Indo-Pacific using Guam. And so, we will have a discussion here. I’ve asked each of the panelists to provide five to eight minutes of opening remarks, and then we will engage in a conversation after that. And so, with that, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague, Tim. Tim, the floor is yours.
Thank you very much, Rebeccah, for inviting me and having to join this sort of distinguished panel and I’m really looking forward to our discussion. To start off, I wanted to briefly reiterate the importance of defending Guam. I think our nation has a responsibility to protect our citizens from North Korean and now Chinese threats as we see Chinese state media broadcasting propaganda bombarding Guam, and the People’s Liberation Army improves its capability to do so.
In World War II, the United States failed to appropriately fortify Guam, the Philippines and other islands, which arguably encouraged Imperial Japan to think that it could strike the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor and sweep across the Pacific. We can’t afford to repeat the same mistake with China. I think World War II also illuminates another lesson. We have to defend not only Guam, but also the U.S. territory of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which is just 30 nautical miles to the north and other U.S. states and territory in Alaska, Hawaii, and minor outlying islands as China talks about being able to strike out to the Third Island Chain.
Then there’s a range of other fixed and expeditionary sites throughout the theater in compact states and in other countries where it would be important for us to have a defense capability. Each site will certainly not have the same level of defenses, but whatever work goes into the defense of Guam should yield goodness, I think, that could be appropriately scaled and extended elsewhere. Defenses on Guam are necessary to counter the sophisticated and increasingly sustained threats posed by the PLA. China can launch weapons from aircraft, surface launchers, naval and merchant ships, submarines, and perhaps even clandestine forces on Guam.
Analysis that Bryan Clark, Masashi Murano, and I have done suggest that even without counting the hundreds of ballistic and hypersonic missiles that could be launched by the PLA rocket force and is on track to doubling in capacity by 2030, PLA bombers are likely capable of delivering about 500 cruise missiles per day against Guam or targets at that distance and absent attrition, they could return day after day to deliver more.
I think an implication of this massive sustained capacity that could be brought against the Second Island Chain and then to an even greater degree against the First Island Chain is that previous trip wire defenses that were focused on discouraging adversary use of force or buying time for diplomacy or attack operations really aren’t good enough. Rather than stopping a small number of missiles, air missile defense forces need to be capable of defeating repeated salvos over protracted periods so that defended assets can sustain their operations at appropriate levels.
Essential to this new paradigm, I think, is ensuring that air missile defense assets themselves can remain in operation. Even if this paradoxically comes at the cost of some performance metrics, such as the level of protection provided to defended assets. In essence, DoD, I think needs to focus more on a protracted defense rather than a perfect one.
As we look to fortify Guam, the CNMI, and other locations, we should be emphasizing passive defenses to a much greater degree. Over the past few decades, DoD’s largely assumed that infrastructure and forces wouldn’t come under attack. If there was a modest risk of attack, air missile defenses could provide a near perfect level of protection against those. We’re no longer in that world and numerous analysis have shown that passive defenses have high payoffs in terms of raising the necessary salvo sizes of enemy forces and then sustaining friendly operations. Moving forward, DoD in Congress I think really should aggressively leverage the Pacific Deterrence Initiative and other approaches to rapidly enhance passive defenses such as greater distribution and dispersion, redundancy, hardening and then camouflage, concealment, deception measures and rapid reconstitution capabilities in forces.
Active defenses though are also vital because simply defending yourself or absorbing attacks isn’t enough and won’t pose enough complexity on the PLA. The proposed Guam defense system centers around a set of active defense measures, and I think there’s opportunities to build a credible defense architecture that could sustain operations and protect our citizens if DoD focuses on three key attributes I’m going to briefly cover.
The first is that the force should be lethal and should be capable of defeating different threats or raid against it. But second, and arguably even more importantly, the architecture should be adaptable. An adaptable architecture could rapidly incorporate new kinetic and non-kinetic effectors, passive and active sensors, and the ability to easily incorporate these new capabilities would enable a more functionally disaggregated and distributed defense design that could continually pose new dilemmas to the PLA. This suggests I think that the most important offering industry could provide to DoD for Guam defense system isn’t necessarily a better radar or missile, but rather new command control systems and software that allows the force to innovate through the integration of a diverse range of capabilities.
Then the third attribute is that the architecture needs to be resilient in the phase of adversary action. Some elements of the architecture likely should be fixed redundant systems or others could be hardened, but to boost survivability, a significant portion of the architecture should be mobile or at least relocatable within tactically relevant periods of minutes, not hours or dates. Coupled with some other camouflage concealment and deception measures, including decoys, I think this can impose lots of complexity on enemy targeting and make it so that it’s challenging for the PLA to comprehensively assess that architecture and be able to suppress or defeat it.
Some of these measures may make it so that the architecture has a lower level of performance in some metrics such as the number of leakers that may get through, but it can result overall in a force that can stay alive and can continue providing defense over a projected period of time, which I think would be more effective and would deter regression from starting in the first place. The good news is that I think MDA and DoD seem to be pursuing a more distributed and disaggregated architecture moving forward and with some of the right choices, I think there’s a major opportunity to field a new architecture in Guam that can not only defend the island, but I think more broadly serve as a fulcrum to advance our nation’s approach to air missile defenses. I’m really looking forward to hearing my fellow analysts and then having a rich discussion. Thank you.
Thank you so much, Tim, for getting us started. Peppi, if you wouldn’t mind, we’ll turn to you for remarks.
Sure. Great. Thank you, Rebeccah, for inviting me and appreciate kind of the nice overview Timothy just gave. Some of, what he just said will kind of mirror a little bit of my own thinking on this question. I’m going to bring the perspective of having fought a lot of these battles and OSD over 30 years on the policy side connected with missile defense. By the time I left DoD back in last fall, there was no more raging battle within the department related to air and missile defense than on the issue of Guam. I don’t know whether that will surprise people or not, but it was an issue really front and center, both in kind of where we were going with the MDR, but it actually had started back in 2017, 2018 when Mark Esper was the secretary of defense, but this issue really had become pretty significant and fairly contentious.
Let me just highlight a few, try to frame this issue out in a way that hopefully is helpful and won’t involve too much sort of throat clearing because I suspect there’s going to be a lot of agreement on some core issues. First, it’s kind of worth maybe just noting briefly kind of the shifting balance right in the Asia-Pacific region with regard to kind of the role of Guam. I mean, post Cold War period, I mean, we didn’t pay an awful lot of attention to Guam for a couple of obvious reasons, one, the nature of the missile threat to U.S. presence in that region was fairly modest, certainly coming from China and North Korea.
Secondly, for the most part, the United States had this rather benign assessment of Chinese military capabilities and military intentions, particularly with regard to their missiles, and sort of this kept Guam, at least in the post Cold War period, excuse me, kind of in the backwater of our thinking.
Of course, that started to change right around 2010 timeframe. In 2012, Secretary Panetta wrote, authored kind of, many NDS, the defense strategic guidance. That really made some important observations, which I would argue 10 years after the release of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance really clearly articulate the problem statement with regard to Guam in April 2022. Of course, he, noted or the Defense Strategic Guidance noted the rise of geopolitical and military rise of China and the U.S. is going to have to rebalance to Asia-Pacific, but he pointed out more specifically that an updated American defense strategy would have to recognize sophisticated adversaries such as China developing a wide range of capabilities, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, advanced air defenses, electronic warfare, cyber warfare, et cetera, et cetera, to counter American power projection capabilities across the region.
Accordingly, the U.S. military will invest as required to ensure its ability to operate effectively in an anti-access and area denial environment. I mean, that’s 10 years ago, and there’ll be lots of interesting debates as to whether the United States actually carried out the rebalance or the pivot or not, but the problem statement was pretty clear a decade ago and I think it’s kind of where we are today only, and I think more striking and kind of dramatic tones given sort of China’s ongoing modernization in wide range of military capabilities, particularly in the missile defense domain.
Again, from a U.S. kind of defense strategy and policy perspective as somebody who’s spent 30 years in OSD working his issues, I mean, I tend to think in terms of these referential documents. Certainly, the 2018 National Defense Strategy, of course, highlighted the aspects of China right in the context of kind of great power competition. Then in the 2022 National Defense Strategy, the Biden Administration Defense Strategy classified version isn’t out yet. Well, the classified version is actually on Capitol Hill. The unclassified version is not published. Clearly, everything the administration has said about it in the kind of recent public remarks sort of talk about China as the most consequential threat and challenge facing United States.
It’s pretty clear when you look at that context, one sort of sits kind of in the heart of this evolution of the kind of regional balance of power in the region. I know we have some renowned Chinese experts who can talk to this more, but from kind of a DoD military planning perspective, clearly what we’re seeing in PLA writings, I mean, they recognize the importance of Guam. They recognize that Guam plays a central role in this kind of growing American INDOPACOM strategy and their writings make pretty clear that it will be essential to kind of neutralize sort of American capabilities and this part of the world, particularly in and around Guam given its kind of increasingly important role as a springboard for so much of the activity that we intend to conduct in that region.
I mean, they clearly understand the strategic value of kind of disrupting American operations in the Indo-Pacific writ large, but they understand in particular the role that Guam will play in American strategy. I sort of won’t recount everybody here that understands the nature of the growth in sort of Chinese regional missile capabilities, more sophisticated ballistic missiles, more sophisticated anti-ship ballistic missiles, long-range sophisticated land attack, cruise missiles. They’ve got about a half a dozen different regional HGV programs that they’re pursuing.
I mean the sum total of all of this is it’s a pretty sizable complex multidimensional kind of offensive missile threat that they are acquiring 360 degrees all of these things that I think are sort of kind of well-positioned, they’re well understood. I mean, I guess the clearest measure of Chinese success in this kind of anti-access, area denial or counter intervention strategy depending upon the term you prefer is the U.S. has brought more and more of its capabilities sort of further south and Guam has just a whole host of these important capabilities, bombers and submarines and aircraft and host all domain communications.
That kind of brings us to the crux of the question. I’ll get to that really quickly because that is maybe where the discussion will go, sort of what do we do now that Guam is clearly within all of the threat rings as it were of China. I think Timothy actually laid out sort of what you want that defense to do. I mean, you want it to inject a level of uncertainty and complexity and confusion and reduction in confidence in Chinese thinking in terms of the deterrence equation, but importantly, if deterrence fails and there’s a conflict, you want to make sure that there is sufficient level of defense on the island to protect the assets and the capabilities that are key enablers of American military operations across the region.
I’ll say, it’s a sufficient defense and we’ll probably have to have a discussion on exactly what sufficient defense means. I’m not sure I’m in the same place that Timothy is about kind of how big and so forth, but I think maybe we’re at least on the same sheet of music.
I think lastly, I’ll just kind of highlight I think this range of options. Sort of in the near term as far as missile defense, there’s sort of the easy go-to things. I mean, we’ve got capabilities today that Patriots, there’s a THAAD there. There’s the Aegis ships that have a wide range of integrated air missile defense capabilities on the ships. On the near term, there is sort of an IAMD capability you can kind of bring to bear on the island to kind of help you at what I would call it the kind of terminal end of the defense. And so, that’s there.
They’re going to operate a little bit independently. There’s a question of integration that’s lacking right now. I think if you want to thicken that defense, there are certainly options available in terms of capacity, whether it’s Patriots and THAADs. The Army now has the Iron Dome. Iron Dome was on Guam in December. They were doing some testing. And so, it introduces perhaps a useful CMD capability. I think kind of in the near term as we think about terminal and a little bit of midcourse, there are things we can do I think the more permanent kind of capability, especially midcourse, we’ll have this discussion about Aegis Ashore versus other options, land-based options that might use SM3s to help you with the midcourse, but that are not directly tied to a big kind of Aegis Ashore construct like the ones we have in Poland and Romania.
I think over the longer term, last point in terms of how we might think about this kind of phased approach is you’re going to have to deal with Chinese HGVs in the next decade or so that’s going to pose a very significant capability. There’s some programs underway that MDA is pursuing that will deal with that. I mean, we’ll have to kind of look at that in the context that both the interceptor itself and the necessary sensors, but there’s programmatic activity there that might provide some of the tools to kind of stitch together I think a more effective long-term defense beyond that. And so, apologize for running over a little bit. Let me stop there.
Great. Thank you very much, Peppi. Oriana, the floor is yours.
Oriana Skylar Mastro:
Thank you. I think I’m not sure if this was done on purpose, but I think that was a really good setup for the previous two speakers to talk a bit more about the technical and operational defense of Guam, because what I want to do is talk about the strategic logic that impacts the POC. We know that the rise of China now presents the greatest challenge to U.S. and allied security interests since the Cold War. I’m currently 6 chapters done out of a 10-chapter book. I guess about halfway through a book writing about how China competes with the United States.
In particular, I argue that instead of imitating or emulating U.S. practices, for the most part, they pursue entrepreneurial strategies and then try to compete where competitive forces are the weakest. They’re really looking for U.S. vulnerabilities, and even in the military realm, if you look at their defense budgets and how they’ve tried to compete with the United States, internal Chinese writings articulate that one of the biggest errors that past rising powers have made have been to try to directly compete militarily. And so, instead, the best way to compete with limited options is to think about where the gaps are in the capabilities of the United States.
One of the sort of hugest vulnerabilities that the United States has, not just with Guam, but in general, is the protection of our bases in the region. The United States has tried to respond. China has also increased its regional power projection capabilities. They now have the largest navy, the coast guard, which they use basically for military purposes, which was somewhat of an innovation on their part. They have changed the balance of power in the region, but the United States has tried to respond with a number of efforts to enhance our deterrents, including changing our operations from the Guam. The United States Air Force had a continuous bomber presence of strategic bombers at Andersen Air Force Base from 2004 to 2020.
We have the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which was already mentioned that’s supposed to enhance force posture in the region, basing access and engagement because the bottom line is the United States is not a resident power in Asia in that we rely on access by host nations for the most part, and to be able to project power there and China just doesn’t have that same type of reliance. Most of the regional conflicts, all of the regional conflicts they’re planning on, they’re going to be projecting power from their own home country. And so, they see a primary weakness of the United States is if you just get rid of the access aspect, then the United States is going to be unable to fight a war the way that it wants to fight a war.
Within that context, China now has and has for a number of years, the most advanced cruise and ballistic missile program in the world, even more advanced than the United States, much more advanced than Russia as I have a couple of pieces that we shouldn’t be equating autocratic militaries just looking at how different and how better prepared the Chinese military is in the Russian military as the Russians have performed poorly in Ukraine. One of the big things is precision-guided munitions and Chinese writings talk extensively about how stingy the Russians are because their economy is so weak, they couldn’t afford to invest in the number that they need to have a real impact, but China has invested in that number.
And so, the first thing I want to say about the defense of Guam before I move into how to deter China, is that it’s impossible. We cannot completely defend Guam. Now, I think what we’re discussing here and we’ll discuss probably further is it is a matter of degree, reducing the impact of an attack on Guam, but it is not the case, it’s purely for technical operational reasons. The United States can have this 360 layer defense that the other speakers talked about and that’s absolutely necessary, things like Aegis and Patriot and THAAD and all these things, but in the end, there’s a saturation ratio and China has a lot of missiles.
As the United States pulls forces out of the other bases because those are even harder to defend than Guam because the closer they are to the PRC, actually the more system, the more missiles China has within their range, Guam’s going to become crowded and even harder to defend as more of our aircraft, more of our assets are in a smaller place. And so, the main thing I to think about is how do you then convince the Chinese that it’s not as worth their effort.
I think there’s a number of things that we’ve tried to do and some have been more effective than others. The first is there’s sort of three main different types of deterrence, deterrence by punishment, deterrence by denial, and a type of deterrence that I kind of invented but I like to talk about a lot called deterrence by resilience. Deterrence by punishment is basically threatening China that there’ll be severe penalties if they attack Guam. Now, this doesn’t mean you can defend Guam, it just means that what you’re saying to them is we’re going to hurt you so much more if you do this and therefore you should restrain yourself.
Now, there’s a lot of difficulties with this approach with respect to China. The main one, which I think also applies in this scenario is that the benefits of Chinese aggression to them are so high that it’s really difficult to counteract with a threat of cost that’s perceived as credible. I’ll just give you one really extreme example. We’re constantly trying to think about how to deter China from attacking our space assets, for example.
If they attack our space assets and we have no communication, we have no navigation, we can’t fight that war trying to rely as heavily on land based systems as well so they’re not as vulnerable in space. Now, we have threatened nuclear use in retaliation. That is a cost that’s high enough that China says, “It’s not worth a nuclear attack for me to attack these satellites,” but no one would believe that in response to non-kinetic potentially reversible attacks in which there’s no casualties to the United States would use nuclear weapons. This is the main problem we have with deterrence by punishment is that they have an ability to affect our operations to such a degree and what we threaten in response, if the cost is going to be significant, it’s hard to make it credible.
What have we tried to do with Guam? We have tried to convince the PRC that Guam is U.S. territory now. We have the technical, actual aspect of we do have, Guam is under U.S. jurisdiction and this is why it’s so strategically important is that the United States has more control over basing decisions than other things there, but we like to call Guam and the other U.S. holdings in the Pacific like the Marshall Islands and Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the U.S. Pacific Homeland. You think by using this rhetoric over and over again, this is the Homeland, this is the Homeland. This will convince China that we would see an attack on Guam as an attack on the United States.
But I think the bottom line is very few Americans see it that way. I was trying to look for some polling and maybe some of the other panelists had it of how many Americans even know that Guam is U.S. protectorate. Even articles and prominent news outlets incorrectly suggest that the only sort of US inhabitants in Guam are several thousand U.S. troops. They don’t even mention 160,000 American-born citizens there, or the type of relationship, the special relationship that the United States has with the island. And so, if we want to convince China like you attack Guam, then we’re going to attack Beijing, that’s a hard thing to make credible. I think we are far, we’d have to make significant changes in our narrative and our rhetoric to get that far.
The second thing we could do with China is deterrence by denial. This is when you basically prevent or limit an adversary’s aggressive actions by creating the perception that those actions would not succeed. In general, I think this is the most effective way of dealing with China. It’s hard to tell them the cost will be too high, but you could tell them, “We tried to do this, you will fail.” You try to take Taiwan, you won’t make it across the street. China definitely, especially with this military that’s relatively new after the monetization does not want to fail. But as I mentioned before, when it comes to the defensive of Guam in particular, the vulnerabilities of missile defense, I think it would be very difficult to convince Beijing that they could not successfully attack Guam.
U.S. countermeasures could mitigate the threat if adopted in their entirety. I do agree with the comments that Tim made about the need for passive and active defenses. Again, they’d have to be adapted in their entirety but this is unlikely in the very short term if we’re talking in the next two to four years. Even once they’re adopted, Guam is not going to be completely protected. If you look at China’s 300 intermediate range ballistic missiles, thousands of air launch cruise missiles, some of those are bound to get through. Like I mentioned before, as we move forces out of the First Island Chain into bases in Guam and they become more crowded, they’re going to become more vulnerable. They’re going to become more juicy targets.
And so, in my mind, this leads to the last category of deterrence, which I think is the most likely to convince Beijing to take it easy when it comes to their ability to attack Guam. That’s what I call deterrence by resiliency. This primarily concerns itself about how to shape an adversary’s perception of their own capabilities. The goal is not to create a fear of retaliation, but to encourage the perception that that attack, which again, we cannot defend against would have little effect on our operations. If they believe that by attacking Guam, right now, their perception in Beijing is you attack Guam and the United States can’t sustain fires over Asia for extended period of time, and therefore they win the war, that benefit is very high.
But if they think there’s limited operational benefit, they’re much less likely to pursue that path. This is about the U.S. ability to absorb costs, but also deflect costs at different levels of violence. This is frustrating to talk about resilience and I know this because Guam is supposed to be our way of creating viable alternatives to bases within the First Island Chain. It’s really that resilience that then has made us move towards Guam to begin with, but we have to pursue these different sort of avenues and these different actions if China is going to decide, for example, that Guam is not worth attacking.
And so, it’s not necessarily that we have different answers. Things like runway repair, all that rapid reconstitution, all of that is critically important. It’s about the messaging behind it that I think is necessary to enhance deterrence. We don’t tell Beijing, we have this dismissal defense, we have rapid reconstruction, we have redundancy, we have dispersion so that you cannot effectively attack us. We have those things such that we can absorb and attack and continue to operate in spite of it.
I think that type of narrative attached to the operational and technical capabilities that the previous speakers talk to would make it less attractive for Beijing to attack Guam. I think that’s where we have to be shifting some of our least strategic signaling in that area.
Wonderful. Thank you very much. Blake, we’ll turn to you now and the floor is now yours.
All right. Thanks very much, Rebeccah, and thanks for having me. I will now attempt to wind together the shreds of unaddressed material that I’ve still got left after three impressive speakers. I’ve got to say I concur with all three already with regard to the advantages and maybe limitations of passive and active defenses. I will kind of lean in a little more on the passive side. I do feel that the idea that we can maybe even blunt, we’d be lucky to blunt I think a massive strike at the outside of conflict with China and Guam.
I know we can’t completely neglect an active defense and missile defenses are certainly where our posture is and that’s kind of where our strategic community believes a lot of goodness lies, but I wish we had a stronger concrete industrial complex that was advocating for pouring more concrete, digging deeper holes, because I think that’s really what it’s going to take to make Guam more survivable. It’s not employing 18,000 Americans like that is, and that, of course, if you go to the THAAD product page, that’s the first thing you see.
It’s a bit of a narrative imbalance between passive and active defense I think. I think we could afford to think a bit more about the simple solutions that maybe we haven’t thought about a long time and if you go into modern Department of Defense buildings, even though you’re looking at maybe brick, but maybe glass facade buildings with drop ceilings, and these are not resilient structures. They’re not the types of buildings that we are going to fight a war from. They’re the types of buildings that you work in a cubicle from. That’s the long leave, the post Cold War piece that we’ve enjoyed and we’ve been able to sit in very nice glass fronted buildings and I’ve enjoyed them, but I just don’t know how practical they are going forward.
When we talk about things like aircraft shelters, these are relatively simple time-tested ideas that will be fairly effective. The one thing that I would like to really lean into is this idea of diversification. I couldn’t agree more with Oriana as far as the right narratives matched to Guam, what we can do to keep Guam in the fight should conflict break out, but the thing that I’d like to address is diversification away from Guam, which I recognize is maybe counterintuitive in a panel about defending Guam. But really, I think the best way to defend Guam is to get as much out of Guam as we can. It was designed as this fallback, this safe haven, but it’s not that unfortunately. I think there have been encouraging moves that direction, investment in Tinian, places like Wake Island. I think we should be doing more in that direction.
I think it really calls into question 10 to 20 years of alliance neglect in the Indo-Pacific. I think that’s one of the most critical issues that we’re facing is exactly as Oriana mentioned, this idea of access and we have failed to preserve access that we wanted. In fact, we’ve probably lost significant access that we want, and we’ve been relatively poor alliance managers in the Indo-Pacific and that’s something that the people who look at China is going to capitalize upon even in our alliance relationships. Alliances like Thailand, we still include it on the list, but do we think that we would have wartime access in Thailand? I would say that’s doubtful.
Philippines obviously has dominated a lot of headlines over the last few years during the Duterte presidency. We’ve tried to keep things going there with things like EDCA, but our access to Philippines is in question at best I would say. Places like Cambodia, which used to be defense partners at least, are now bulldozing the facilities that we’ve built them, and in theory, or a rumor, to be building Chinese bases on their territory. Then obviously, we’ve all seen the Solomon Islands in the headlines recently and Canberra and Washington both deploying diplomats and making statements about our concern, but this is what’s happening is we’re having allies and partners peel away and we are increasingly reactive and flailing.
Unfortunately, I think that approach, we’re aware that we don’t have that access, but I think the instinct to clutch these partners tighter is only pushing them further away because now everyone knows that we want these partners for wartime access and nobody to be the wartime access partner. They want to be a partner from 2001 till 2022 and gain economic benefit and they want to improve their own defense forces. You don’t shake hands and say, “Hey, we’d like to base forces here that might be targeted by a Chinese missile assault.
It’s, “Hey, we want to start out small.” And we build there. We have allies like Japan, where they recognize that that’s a possibility and we train together and we work to defray those costs, but you don’t open with that. Unfortunately, we are in the position where if we’re not opening with it, at least partners know that that’s on our lines. They know that’s what we want and they know that we’re on the back foot.
I would really like to see, barring outbreak of conflict tomorrow, we need to change the way that we interact with our allies and partners and we need to find a way to rebuild some of this access whether that’s through some of the more innovative ways that the Marine Corps is thinking about expeditionary operations, or even just more regular Navy port calls and opening new places that the Navy could operate from. I think these are the things we need to think about and really protect long by not being there as much. We’ll never get out obviously and we don’t want that because again, it’s American territory and there’s 168,000 Americans there and they are owed our protection, frankly, and they deserve it but I think one of the best ways we could do that would be by making them one of many targets rather than the irreplaceable hub among a handful of targets.
Great. Thank you so much, Blake. I think lot of good things to put on the table so we can talk about those too in passive defenses. I’m going to turn to you Tim, to respond to some of what Blake said. Passive defense is really important. I think all of us would agree with that, but maybe what do you see as some of the… and we have to talk about trade spaces. What we’re going to do? What comes first? What’s a priority? What do you think about some of what Blake said? Concrete, I think is kind of a sort of a brilliant way of just getting us back to basics to understand that we have to be resilient. Here’s one way to do it. Do you see some challenges with that? Maybe some agreement, or how would you respond to Blake?
Then, Peppi, I’m going to turn to you and talk a little bit about leadership since you’re coming out of OSD policy. Who should be the decision maker for the architecture, the timing and the sequencing of this, and do we have it right and how do we make sure that we don’t trip over ourselves whenever it comes to perhaps letting organizations like CAPE who’s really for focused on the budget maybe have the effect of driving policy, which they should not be doing and requirements. Tim, I’m going to turn it over to you first.
Thank you, Rebeccah. I think Blake made some excellent points on the importance of investing more in passive defenses, growing our capacity, dispersing the force, and I think I generally try to view that dispersion or distribution as how can we generate clusters of forces throughout the first, second and third sort of island chains or globally. No single place will be capable of mounting a perfect defense. How do we have resilient architectures where we can have reinforcement within clusters such is the cluster of the Marianas and then different clusters, sort of inter-cluster support among those island chains.
It’s critical because I think if we retreat from the First Island Chain back to the Second, and from the Second to the Third, each time we make a shift like that, we have enormous drop in the effective number of forces we can have forward. It’s to be critical to maintain access in the First Island Chain and leverage that and work with our allies and partners, continue to reinforce I think the Second Island Chain and it’s critical because it is U.S. territory, Guam and CMMI are U.S. unincorporated territories. They’re U.S. citizens there and it’s an area where we have the degree of access we would like, so I think it’s important to double down on that area.
Then also, continue to develop forces elsewhere. I’m all for more passive defenses and I think we need to expand our capacity in the region. Active defenses, as I think Blake acknowledges, are also critical though, because Oriana I think was articulating a bit too, PLA strike capacity is such that they have enough missiles or other weapons and enough launch platforms that a passive defense approach doesn’t impose enough complexity either in terms of opportunity costs or in terms of targets for an adversary like the PLA. We need to have passive defenses, that distribution dispersion, but we also need to have active defenses in terms of the areas like Counter-ISR and sort of active interceptor capabilities or active defeat capabilities to raise the costs of an attack moving forward.
That’s great. Peppi, do you want to take the question just about who should be leading this, how do we do this to drive it, because we are, and I’d be curious too, Oriana mentioned some takeaways that maybe we should not be learning from Russia’s war against Ukraine. Some things that maybe we should be taking away from that and applying, even in terms of the timeline and how we should be front-loading and sequencing some of this to get ahead of it so that we’re not on our back foot, so that we’re communicating, we are willing to deter and defend, but before we get there, Peppi, did you want to take the question about leadership?
Yeah. Great. Thank you. It’s a good question. Quite frankly, I mean, sometimes it’s the bureaucratic interplay with Department of Defense that really ends up being the dominant shaping consideration of these kinds of issues despite what might be well, good threat analysis or good strategic in intention and so forth. Sometimes it’s just bureaucratic politics in the building.
In Guam, I think it’s representative of that. I mean, there’s been criticism that the department has been very slow to respond, PACOM four stars now going back five, six, seven years have been coming into the building into Washington saying, “Please give us some missile defense and this is a really important asset. We’ve got virtually no defense.” I mean, the THAAD there is useful against North Korea, maybe a little bit against China, and the department really has been kind of unresponsive for a couple reasons I think. I mean, and this is sort reflected when Mark Esper was the secretary of defense there, and we were sort of working these issues, the Guam issues and how to respond.
Part of it turned on kind of this internal assessment about, well, when do you really need to worry about China? Is China a 2025 problem or is it a 2030, 2035 problem? That’s a really important decision. It’s both an important strategic decision about the nature of the threat, but it’s also an important bureaucratic decision, because if you can worry about China later on, then you don’t have to do… I mean, you can conserve resources. You don’t have to spend as much money defending Guam and go somewhere else. That’s kind of where the department of defense was at the end of the Trump Administration. It really, the senior leadership didn’t really sort of want to jump into the let’s go build a lot of active defense capability on Guam and spend a lot of money because it had a different set of priorities, number one. Number two, there was a legitimate debate about when you really needed to sort of worry about China.
That created kind of opportunities for a lot of disharmony and dissension within the building of competing agencies that really, I think, slowed down the process and provided no useful responses or architectural developments or useful guidance from the department of leadership by the end of the last administration. I think some of that carried over into the new administration. I think we made the Department of Defense may be at a point where given the focus it’s placed on China, that doing something about Guam in terms of kind of active defense piece of it.
By the way, I mean, we should come back to it. We are kind of artificially kind of focusing on the active defense, which sort of gives people thinking, well, we got to seek solutions outside of active defense. It’s not just… I mean, I couldn’t agree more. It’s just, I mean, we’re kind of constrained here on that, but other aspects, happy to talk about offensive capabilities and how we go after other ways to counter missiles. They all have big problems, but there’s a whole host of other things we should be doing.
It seems like this administration is come to a kind of consensus that says, “Look, we really do need to think about some kind of active defense for Guam.” They haven’t quite figured out how much, but that idea, it’s sort of starting to take shape and we were kind of getting a better definition of that kind of in the latter phases of the full timeframe. They said, “Look, you can’t defend Guam. The Chinese have 1,000 or 1,500 missiles. You can’t do that. You can’t have a defense for Guam for weeks and weeks and weeks, and accept salvo after salvo. Let’s figure out kind of how much defense for what purpose in conjunction with other things.”
I think there’s a consensus in the building now wrapping around kind of that concept. I think there’s goodness there and I think that there’s a more serious approach to kind of the what’s the missile defense or the active defense or the IAMD architectural component, along with other things like passive defense and resilience and so forth. I think the leadership is… Secretary of Defense Austin has made up some interesting comments about Guam being part of the United States. I know that the earlier comments were interesting rhetoric, but the secretary of defense seems to keep hammering that. He’s kind of building up the case that we’ve got to take more significant measures there.
And so, I think in that context, I think the department is kind of coalescing around an idea, but the secretary, he’ll have to launch forward on it because you’ve got a really fractious bureaucracy that is not quite centered on this. I think as far as the key agencies that ultimately have to be involved, this is an MDA, Navy, and Army. They’ve all got capabilities that they can bring to play when you want to start talking architectural trade space. And so, you’re going to have to kind of corral two services and a big defense agency to work in a integrated way across both system development and operations. That’s a pretty tall challenge. Again, it will require the secretary and the deputy to really kind of oversee this process with a lot of attention on a day-to-day basis.
Great. Oriana, too, I turn to that question. You had a really interesting piece, I think it was informed policy where you were really evaluating some of the lessons we might take away, what lessons we should not be taking away from Russia’s war against Ukraine. You made the comment that a lot of this kind of consensus developing this idea that the Chinese now might be thinking that it’s not going to be worth the cost because of this tough response. I’m very interested in your critique of that consensus that’s developing and how that would because Peppi said you made the great point that it matters how we evaluate what the PRC is thinking about timeline should be driving our responses and the sequencing of events. Can you talk to us about what we should be taking away from that?
Oriana Skylar Mastro:
A few things, I mean, the first one is 20 years ago is when we should have worried about China, 20 years ago. My first job at the Pentagon in like… I guess it was a long time ago, not exactly 20 years ago. My boss, my only job he told me was to go into meetings and say, “What about China?” That was my only job, because no one was focused on it and even now that we’re constantly saying that this is the most urgent threat, our leadership attention is not where it needs to be. INDOPACOM has been the supporting command for decades instead of the supported command as we deal with immediate other threats like what’s happening in Ukraine.
What happens is that people take these shortcuts in trying to understand in China, and in this case, there’s this view that all autocracies are created equal that because Putin didn’t have good information from his military, that means Xi Jinping, probably doesn’t. Because he failed to make some significant changes, especially in the human element and in advanced training and combined arms, that means that the Chinese probably didn’t, but we have a lot of information on this. Actually, what happened was China did experience the same deficiencies at about 10 years ago. When Xi Jinping came in to power, he evaluated the military and he very blatantly said, “You guys have a lot of fancy stuff now…” Of course, that’s the first step is the modernization of equipment, they went from 0 to 3% modern equipment in the late 1990s to now at least above 50% for everything like fighters, submarines, and et cetera. But he said, “You have all this fancy equipment, but I don’t think you can do anything with it.”
Then, of course, the Chinese, they love slogans. It’s like the two incompatibles and the three weathers, but all of them say the same thing, which is, I’m not sure that my military can actually fight a war. He pointed out two main issues, command and control and logistics. The two main issues that the Russians are facing right now. They completely restructured their military and the command and control structure had a joint logistic supporting force, all of these things and then conducted a level of complexity of exercises that we never have seen the Russians do. Xi Jinping has also been very blunt with the military that the way you get promoted, the opportunities for success are in communicating to him the failures of the military so that they can be fixed.
Of course, you can never be 100% sure, but at least, I would argue that the reason they haven’t taken Taiwan so far is a lot of these modernization efforts ended in 2020, but they still want to now practice, especially the logistics and command control aspects so they don’t have the same situation the Russians have in which lower level individuals don’t know what their orders are and don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing.
I would say that we can’t think in the same… China also is a professional military. If anything, they are looking at this to see if there’s any lessons learned. This is a really cheap learning opportunity for them and they’re saying, “Okay, we thought we’re ready in all these ways, but are we missing anything?” I don’t think this enhances deterrence against China what’s happened in the Ukraine. If anything, it’s better preparing them for future war. I know we’re really proud of ourselves for putting some economic sanctions on Russia, but we would never put those levels of sanctions on China. No country would and China could sustain it. They don’t have the economy that Russia has. They are the second, by some indications, the largest economy in the world.
We think that’s a very strong response, but this goes back to the deterrence by punishment that Chinese think that’s an acceptable cost. I mean, they’re planning for five years of tough economic sanctions and that’s it. I mean the last point I want to make and not to throw out a wild card here at the last minute, but one thing that I worry about when we think about competing with China is we’re always trying to do just a lot of the same stuff, just more of it. Is that really the right approach? I mean, you just look at something like how much the Pacific deterrence initiative is, and we’re trying to enhance and defend the places that we already have a presence versus really putting in the political clout to get presence in new more strategically important areas.
I mean, anyone would tell you that we would have a much better chance at fighting and winning wars against China if we had base in Vietnam and Burma versus Guam, but we think that’s too hard, but I just did a quick calculation. The GDP of Vietnam last year was $270 billion. We could take all this money that we plan on investing in hardening facilities in Guam and offer Vietnam over 10% of their total GDP in one year to host us.
I know that, especially people in this administration and the last administration, they’re not interested in really thinking more innovatively about force foster, but I think for dispersal purposes, for redundancy and also increasing… China doesn’t want to bring in many other countries into this war. Actually, and to what Blake said, trying to convince other countries to host us because of values, or it’s good, or because of the security relationship, we have to be offering some more tangible benefits to the relationship with the United States. Being the security partner of choice is no longer enough given what China has on offer.
Thank you. I hope one of the big points that’s going to come out of this panel discussion and in the previous one too is just the importance of alliance management. I’ve said, this is going to have to be the golden era of U.S. cooperation with allies and that’s going to have to be a major change if we’re going to be successful and prevail.
Blake, I want to talk to you too about this. One of the things that I’ve noticed with the way this administration has maybe, and maybe you can dissent and not even agree with this particular view characterization of it is that the U.S. response has been more timid in what the U.S. has been willing to do for fear of being deemed as a co-belligerent in the eyes of the PRC. And so, there’s just a lot of things that I would deem kind of reasonable lower levels of escalation, conventional, we’re not even directly sort of involved, but kind of often in the sidelines, but maybe it’s non-attributable, but people generally kind of know that we’re the ones that are providing realtime intelligence, that kind of thing.
That seems to be sort of a general approach to dealing with Russia, Ukraine. Now, some of the things that we’re talking about here, well, all of the things we’re talking about here in bolstering defense of Guam and just getting a more robust presence on the front end of this to have this deterrence by denial, deterrence by resiliency, it’s going to require some action now that some people might deem provocative. This fear of being provocative, if we start pouring loads of concrete in Guam, we just start moving in and we’re just there constantly bolstering and trying to make our infrastructure there more resilient, trying to get missile defenses deployed there. If we start doing that at a rapid pace, what would you say to those who would say, “No, this is provocative and we’re going to actually speed up the timeline?” How would you respond to something like that, an objection?
Sure. No, thanks for that question. I think it’s a great one. I think we often and maybe this is hubris and maybe it’s just a little bit of main character syndrome, but I think we often make the mistake of attributing adversary actions to what we’ve decided to do. I think China is one where we’re particularly guilty of that. I’m not one of the people who thinks that there’s a stake in the ground, that say, “On this day, we’re going to cross the straight and take Taiwan,” but how much do I really believe that our actions could affect that timeline radically in terms of moving it up or pushing it back? I don’t see that. I have a fairly healthy risk appetite in that respect.
For those that would say, “Oh, hardening Guam would be provocative.” I think you could pretty easily flip that on its head and say, “Hey, look. We’re dealing with an adversary whose state media is referring to their DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile as literally the Guam killer.” They’ve built a missile called the Guam killer. I think it’s probably pretty fair to put aircraft shelters in place at this point. They’re releasing videos of them bombing Guam. Okay, I think that’s pretty fair to dig some holes and disperse our force and that PR battle I feel like is fairly easily fought and I think we shouldn’t be too eager to take Global Times save a rattling at face value and say, “Oh, we’ve upset the CCP by what we’ve done. We’ve changed their threat perception.” I don’t think so. I think we have plenty of latitude that we’re not using.
Great. Tim and Peppi, both of you, I’d like to comment on this too. I appreciated it was brought up a couple different times and in the last panel too, about how Admiral Davidson and now Secretary Austin has referred to Guam as Homeland Guam. It seems like there’s two audiences. One, the audience trying to increase to communicate to the PRC that we view this as this is U.S. territory. We’re going to defend it as though it is in fact U.S. territory and it’s also sort of domestic communication that we need to understand that it’s a priority because there are Americans there and they deserve our protection. We owe it to them. And so, there is this great strategic value, but it is also literally our responsibility to protect it as though it is what it is, which is U.S. territory.
On that point, and there’s, Bryan Clark was on the previous panel and he talked about the importance of campaigning as part of deterrence. You want to see our adversary place this great value on this because it will further complicate their calculations about how the United States might respond. It might get at that proportionality question that Oriana brought up. Do we have tools where we can actually have incredible threat of a proportional response to any kind of attack they might carry out, but it has to convince them that that would place such a value on a particular item that we would respond in a way that would not be worth it to them, but in a way that is credible, that it isn’t nuclear, for instance.
Tim, can you talk about that? Can you talk about that particular piece, the signaling, the campaigning part of that and the value of Guam, and do you think there is some merit there in what Secretary Austin is doing in trying to elevate Guam as understood by the department, by Americans here, that it is part of the U.S. territory, part of our responsibility?
I think there certainly is, Rebeccah, and I completely agree that we need to distribute more across the Indo-Pacific and globally and gain access to new places and sort of more robust initiatives in that area will be important, but focusing more on Guam and the CNMI, and I tend to view these as sort of the Marianas, because it is a sort of an island chain of both our US territories. It’s sometimes a little odd when we talk about defense of Guam. It’s as if we only talk about defense of South Carolina, but we ignore North Carolina’s even there. They’re 30 nautical miles away from each other. They’re right next to each other. Both are U.S. unincorporated territories with U.S. citizens. I think we need to think a little bit more about defense of the Marianas, but the whole point of I think elevating the importance of Guam is important for operational reasons, but it’s also important strategically and stating the obvious that Guam and CNMI are U.S. territories and are the U.S. Homeland doesn’t turn them, I think, into targets that are off limit.
Similarly, we do have the Chinese Mainland isn’t off limit. The Chinese have built thousands of kilometers of hardened underground tunnels because they know the U.S. will attack in force. They have no expectation that because Chinese Mainland is their homeland, we won’t attack it. I think we shouldn’t expect the same. Ideally, there’ll be higher escalation threshold, but I don’t think it’s going to be invulnerable and we should take steps to defend Guam accordingly.
Then lastly, I don’t think we need a perfect defense. Sometimes I think the discussions center around well, can we defend Guam perfectly? It’s really not about a perfect defense, but rather a defense that can sustain operations at the levels that are appropriate for the campaign. I think that is a little bit more tractable. It’s more amenable to analysis and to Oriana’s point on resilience, it can convince I think China that we can sustain the necessary air and naval operations, communications, activities, space operations, out of Marianas at the level that we need, even if they can get large numbers of leakers through. Blake’s point on passive hardening I think is important to that as well. In sum, I think we’ve talked a lot about defense of Guam. There have been discussions on this for over a decade. Now, it’s time to I think, as Blake was talking about, poor concrete, deploy some active defenses and integrate a more diverse architecture.
Great. Peppi, you can comment on that too, and also just point out too. I mean, this was an unfunded requirement for INDOPACOM for a couple of years, and then finally, there was some money put to it, but it was still a lot less than what people think it should have been and then Congress still didn’t even fully resource it. Now, we have a nice big chunk in the budget, but it does still seem because of how this kind of has played out in the last few years that perhaps we have to look again at our requirements. Are we making our requirements such that it makes it so difficult to get an architecture planned so that it’s kind of we have us frozen so that we’re not willing to put resources where we need to and get going and sequencing?
For instance, this sort of zero leak standard. I think all of us have said at this point, that is just not feasible. And so, if that’s going to be the requirement, we are really shooting ourselves in the foot on getting adequate defenses to get at what we’re really trying to do, which is to convince that the PRC that what they want to happen isn’t going to happen, or it might not happen to the extent that they want it to. And so, today will not be the day again that they choose to carry out this military campaign.
Peppi, if you can talk about what Tim just mentioned and then also just the importance of Guam, Homeland Guam, strategic value and why the importance of that and how we think about it, and then also this zero leak requirement or standard and how that would get in the way of doing what might be just adequate or necessary.
I mean, the old adage applies here. Don’t make perfect the enemy of good enough when it comes to the question of missile defense. I agree with Tim’s point that, I mean, the missile defense debate oftentimes kind of gets distorted. Everybody kind of gets in their Kung Fu position and goes to their respective corner on either you got to go all out, it’s got to be a perfect defense or it can be overwhelmed. It’s futile, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Let’s not do anything.
I think Guam maybe was an example of the examination three, four, five years ago, it’s kind of centering around concepts that said, “Look, I mean, you got to have a really high quality defense and oh, by the way, we need it really fast.” There’s only one thing that will get you there fast and reach out really great distances, do midcourse intercept and all that, and that’s Aegis Ashore. Folks, a more careful look at Aegis Ashore suggested, “Look, that probably is not the right solution for a number of reasons.” I think even my own views on this sort of evolved over the past kind of four or five years.
And so, I think there is a consensus back to the discussion about distributed disaggregated defense. It’s not just BMD, it’s not just CMD, it’s not just countering hypersonics. I mean, you face kind of that integrated complex threat from China. And so, you’ve got to grow some capabilities to deal with each of those threats, but again, how much missile defense do you want for what purpose and for how long.
I mean, that is a question that kind of just simply went unanswered for a number of years in the department. I’m going to be sort of a glass kind of half full on this and say, I think there’s a little bit better definition to that to answering those questions in the department now. There seems to be a recognition, it can’t be just going against one thread. It’s got to be a more integrated kind of defense. Don’t expect this defense to last weeks and weeks and weeks against large scale threats, because that’s simply impossible, but make sure there’s enough capability there that both introduces a bit more complexity to Chinese kind of pre-war deterrence calculations doing the risk benefit about attacking saying, “Oh, if we go small and it’s limited, it might not achieve the benefits we want, we may have to go bigger against Guam. We go bigger against Guam, we’re going to run into the likelihood that may really precipitate a large American response.”
I don’t know that it would escalate into the nuclear realm, but there are other kind of deterrence thresholds that the Chinese would have to consider. You want to introduce enough doubt as to make them think twice about it and protect forces to get your military forces off the island and doing that. But the discussion about Guam is Homeland, there may be a… I mean, deterrence. Look, when it comes to deterrence, I mean, it’s all psychological for the most part. I don’t know if this is complicating Chinese thinking. They’re thinking, “Geez. I mean, will the Americans really treat an attack on Guam like an attack on Los Angeles?” I don’t know. They have to at least wonder about that. And so, maybe that’s a component.
I think the strongest contribution to deterrence is just making an attack on Guam look really unattractive. Whether that’s disaggregating your capabilities in your active defenses, passive defenses, developing more credible long-range strike capabilities, if you can proliferate your access as two of the speakers suggested, kind of proliferate the geopolitical springboards that the United States has in that region, that’s great. I mean, it’s a great idea. I mean, we all know it’s incredibly hard to do and getting access to that is tougher and the Chinese might chase you down anyway in those other places. I don’t know that that’s a silver bullet either to go to other locations and proliferate your access. It’s useful and helpful if we can do it. I think it contributes to complexifying. I use a Brad Roberts term, complexifying the deterrence and an operational problem that Chinese have in the region. I think from that perspective, that would be beneficial.
Great. You mentioned hard to do, all of this is hard to do, and I do want to give voice to the fact that I’ve been involved and I worked on the Hill, helped a congressman who represented Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, and it was always a big part of doing anything to improve the quality of Luke Air Force Base [inaudible 01:10:01] is working with the local community, environmental impact studies. Those are real, and those take time.
Now, Blake wants to pour lots of concrete. I can already hear the environmentalists are going to try to find him now after this event. There’s a lot of bureaucracy that’s built into the American system, which is part of… Good things about this, it helps us have higher standards and be good stewards of the environment, all that kind of thing, but it also slows us down for doing things that we need to do faster. We’re already behind the ball here on going at the speed and rate we need to go.
I’d love to hear, Blake, you kind of respond to that just in terms of just the bureaucracy, the environmental impact studies. Guam is a small island, and so, there’s already some resistance to what we want to do and what the Pentagon needs to do to harden Guam. Then also, Oriana, I saw you nodding when Blake was talking about having a higher risk tolerance. I think, I don’t want to… that’s right phraseology that he used for sort of moving faster and what the PRC response would be to us doing that. Are they going to start moving their timeline up once they start us getting very serious and in earnest? But I’d love to just hear you comment on that after Blake responds to this one. Blake, the floor is yours, the environmentalists and the bureaucracy.
Well, I’m originally from Idaho, so I am maybe more of a Theodore Roosevelt conservationalist, but we do have to do those things and it does slow us down. You’re absolutely right. I think Peppi made a great point that there’s no silver bullet solution. The fact of the matter is, and maybe we don’t talk about this enough out loud, we are way behind. We’re a decade to two decades behind. The right time to do all this was years ago and the best time to start is now, because these are hoops that we will jump through and they are things that we’ll have to do. The likelihood that we can expedite some of this is probably slim. Guam, obviously, we have our own… there’s more than bureaucracy there as well. I mean, it’s a place with a very complex history and we have the United States sometimes I think it would be healthy if we in the department of defense and across the enterprise grappled a bit more with the complex colonial heritage that we also share in the Indo-Pacific.
Some of these things are fraught issues. It’s not even just, are you paving over an endangered frog nest. It’s, “Hey, how many war forces do we want here?” We always joke about flipping Guam over and maybe that was a metaphor, how much is too much. People in Guam, the people of Guam, they feel that and they see that and it can be a lot. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the last decade and it can be a lot to deal with and putting more there is going to be sensitive across civil society. It’s going to be complex environmentally, but I guess we just need to be better. The worst answer ever, but we just need to be better at this stuff.
We can look at Red Hill, for instance, as an example of poor environmental stewardship. That kneecaps us everywhere, watching that debacle, the poor management, poor outreach to the community. We just did a bad job and these should be things that we’re actually fairly good at because it’s kind of like, “Hey, did you take care area of these tanks? Did you make sure they weren’t leaking gas into the water people drink and bathe their children in?” Because that affects things. Because now when we want to build more in Guam, people are going to say, “I don’t know about that. I just watched you feed people gasoline for years on end and deny that you’re doing it.”
Every time we have an incident like that, it just makes it harder the next time, but we do need to start now. I think the easiest thing for us to do is concrete. Unfortunately, the least complex. Then one thread that I think is maybe related to this question, but sort of has been a through-line for me across multiple speakers and some of Tim’s comments and some things that Peppi said kind of make me wonder if we are in Guam falling victim to, with the whole Guam defense system idea, solving problems with stuff. I think this kind of aligns with something Oriana said as well. Solving problems with stuff, hey, we’ve got a problem. Well, hey, we hear it. Name your defense prime, have the answer for you.
But what’s really the requirement for Guam? What is it in terms of missile defense and what do we really want to do? How much do we need to knock down? What do we need to protect? It seems like we’re just throwing a lot of whiz-bang at this right now. I don’t know that that’s the long-term right answer, and maybe it is because we’re on the back foot and we’re feeling re active and we do feel pressured to move now that we’re kind of developing these types of approaches, but I think it’s worth a real look at what do we really need to accomplish here to do right by Guam and to feel confident that we’re protecting the force.
Great. Oriana, I’ll turn it over to the risk tolerance.
Oriana Skylar Mastro:
The first thing let me say about risk, we can’t provoke China. I know people worry about this and they’re like, “Oh, what if we build more ships? Then China’s going to fight a war against us that they weren’t planning on fighting before?” I mean, the answer’s just no. I mean, China has certain campaigns. The only situation under which we don’t fight that war is because the United States doesn’t defend its allies and partners. Then it’s possible that the United States and China don’t come to blows over things or we can continue to push this down the line by enhancing our deterrence, so China says, “Okay, maybe next year, maybe next year, maybe next year.” But it’s not like all of a sudden, we start pouring concrete in Guam and then we can defend Guam better. Then they’re like, “Okay, we weren’t going to fight a war against the United States and now we are.”
I think the logic there is less about provoking. The question that some people bring up is do the Chinese have a window of opportunity logic? Maybe they’ll fight the war sooner than they would’ve otherwise? But even there, this is a lot of wishful thinking on the part of the US strategists. I hear this all the time. “We have resolved all of our problems. And so, the window of opportunity is closing for China.” I mean, as someone who studies this, I have no idea what these people are talking about because the United States still faces significant operational challenges. I mean, even if we do pour all the concrete that Blake wants to pour, it’s not like the Chinese, their calculus shifts and they’re like, “Oh, we could have won the war and now we can’t because the United States can better defend itself.”
I mean, we would have to have a fundamental shift, not only in U.S. force posture, but alliances, partnerships, the niche of the international system for China to believe that. I don’t think we have… Of course, we can provoke China if we declare Taiwan independence or something, but the spiral logic of arms building accidentally leads to war, that’s not how the Chinese think about these things.
Then the second thing I want to say is about, we talk about war is a big thing, but the stages of conflict are really important. The Chinese, they can’t win every war against the United States, but they’re only going to initiate wars under the most favorable conditions to themselves, the ones that they can possibly win, which is a small subset, but one of the biggest things is about the initial stages of the conflict.
They believe they can go and take Taiwan before the United States can even do something. If they think we’re 100% in, then maybe they take out some of our bases and then we’re delayed. In some cases, if we have defenses enough that they leave some sanctuary for the United States, maybe they say, “Okay, maybe Guam is a later target such that we can have an operational impact from deploying forces from Guam even for 14 days.” I mean, I’m talking about shorter timelines, 14 days, 21 days, that can change the nature of this conflict because if the PRC thinks they can’t win it in two weeks, then they might not do it at all, because they still believe that protracted warfare, the United States has the advantage. All these vulnerabilities we’re talking about are more of a short term issue.
For those reasons, I think we can say, okay, we can’t completely resolve everything, but if we just give them pause that they can move quickly and take what they want to take before we can mount a defense, then that might be enough as well.
Wonderful. Tim, I’m going to give you 30 seconds if you have anything loose end, and then I’m going to close this out unless Peppi has a burning last comment, but Tim, you have 30 seconds that you want to take, and then I will thank our panelists.
I’ll just share that I think it was a very rich discussion where we had an opportunity to cover I think some of these strategic dynamics, but also how they impact operational factors. Most importantly, moving forward, I think is we need to start work. We’ve talked about this for a long time. It’s now struck time, as Blake mentioned, there’s no better time than now to start shifting our force posture, which includes infrastructure changes in the region. Then it also includes, I think a range of active defenses that won’t, I think, provide a perfect defense, but can provide a defense to sustain operations at the appropriate level that we need to deter and if necessary, defeat certain types of aggression. Thank you very much for putting this together, Rebeccah.
Thank you so very much. We need to fight for Guam, fight from Guam and make sure that we’re doing everything we need to make sure that we have peace for another day and we’re convincing our adversary not to do what it is that they intend to do that is against U.S. interest. Thank you all so very much for your scholarship on this and for contributing to this rich discussion and thank you all for tuning in to Hudson Institute.