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Hear No Evil

The administration’s move to silence a Pentagon strategist.

Nov 18, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 10 • By REUBEN F. JOHNSON
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That response is illustrative of his thinking. Rather than being distracted by flashy proclamations of foreign politicians who try to score points with their populations, he looks at facts. He reminds you of the quotation attributed to every great military mind from Napoleon to Omar Bradley: “Amateurs think about tactics, professional military men study logistics.”

In September 2012, for instance, China’s PLA Navy put their one and only aircraft carrier to sea for trial runs, having spent more than a decade and untold piles of money refitting the ship. The carrier was originally built for the Soviet Navy as the Varyag, and was purchased by Beijing in 1999 in a half-completed state from the Nikolayev shipyards in Ukraine and towed halfway around the world to the PLA Navy shipyards in Dalian.

Aircraft carriers may be a necessity for a nation like the United States with a blue-water navy and the need to project power. But China likely only intends to use a carrier to extend its land-based air defense network and control vital sea routes, which will make it a huge sinkhole for money more effectively spent in other ways. The opportunity cost of owning it is likely to be very high. Once again​—​looking at these numbers​—​Marshall sagely observed, “Well, I am glad to see [the Chinese] finally have an aircraft carrier.”

In reality, the Office of Net Assessment looks at a cornucopia of future alignments of nations and interests​—​a conflict with an aggressive and hostile PRC being only one of many potential eventualities they consider, and Marshall is by no means fixated on a future in which the Chinese become our most dreaded and powerful enemy.

“The irony of the [Post] article,” he said just after its publication last summer, “is that we here are about the only institution in the U.S. government also looking seriously at the other side of the coin as well​—​that the weaknesses of Chinese national unity could cause the PRC to collapse and it could fracture into more than one regional power—​and how the United States would cope with that eventuality.”

Marshall’s chief sin, from the perspective of the White House, may simply be that he is an independent thinker in an administration that doesn’t value independence. Asks the U.S. military specialist, If you think that the Office of Net Assessment “paints an overly aggressive picture of the PRC and that that crowd in Beijing are actually such nice people, then why [did Obama call for] the ‘pivot to Asia’ that the U.S. military has been committed to?”

Good question.

Reuben F. Johnson writes frequently on defense issues for The Weekly Standard and IHS Jane’s Information Group in London and has also consulted for the Office of Net Assessment.

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