Kaplan responds

I meant to post this a while ago, but Atlantic journalist Robert Kaplan has responded to criticism of his recent cover story. He deals with some of the issues raised, that I mentioned here. It seems Kaplan was mostly responding to Thomas Barnett, as he deals specifically with issues Barnett raised. Kaplan notes:

The article has elicited some rants on the Web that express the following concerns. First, that in return for highlighting the military viewpoint, I am granted unusual access to the military. In fact, I am granted access because I am willing to spend six months yearly away from my family, out of e-mail contact for weeks on end, living in tight quarters with enlisted men, on deployments that the public would find fascinating but rarely gets to hear about because they often lack hard-news value. Any reporter, including a left-wing one, willing to do this would find many doors open for him in the military. Second, and related, is the criticism that I have bought into the Pacific Command-Navy view of the world. The PACOM view of the world is one that I judge to be worth knowing, especially as it constitutes one of the big blocks of the China story that has gotten relatively little attention from the media. The PACOM viewpoint offends those on the right who see nothing good about China because it is not yet a democracy, and thus believe that the whole concept of managing and constraining China’s military is doomed to fail without more hard-line policies. It also offends those on the other side of the political aisle, who define any reference to China’s growing military capability as war-mongering. Pacific Command, whatever its shortcomings and internal divisions, falls in the reasonable middle between these extremes. My conclusion is expressed in the article’s last “callout”: that China’s reemergence is natural and legitimate. But PACOM, as a military organization, is forced to think in worst-case scenarios, even as it chooses moderate Bismarckian methods to prevent their occurrence. I have internalized that outlook in my narrative.

Remember, we worst-cased the scenario in our original invasion of Iraq and got the best possible result. But we best-cased the occupation and got the worst possible result. Worst-casing China may be the way to peaceful outcomes.

This article introduces PACOM to the reader. That is probably the most important thing that it does, because I’m making a bet in this article: that PACOM is going to be in the news a lot over the next years and decades. Even if China emerges peacefully, there is going to be relatively more military activity in the Pacific. Yet PACOM is not monolithic, and will change. The new combatant commander, Admiral William Fallon, a carrier aviator, comes from a different tradition than the previous PACOM commander, Admiral Thomas Fargo, a submariner. Admiral Fallon may turn out to be more of a traditionalist in regards to China and other matters. Submariners—who have been very active in the post-Cold War off the coasts of the Balkans, Iraq, and elsewhere—can tend to be a bit more aggressive.

On the subject of aircraft carriers specifically:

We will have aircraft carriers or the equivalent of them through most of this new century. The question is, Should we invest in building even more of them? Or rather, should we just keep upgrading the ones we have in a slow gradual phase-out over many decades? This is something about which there are terrible fights that get very, very technical. The bad thing about putting all your marbles in carriers is that at some point adversaries will be able to penetrate their defense shield. The good thing about them, as you saw during the tsunami, is they’re offshore bases for all intents and purposes.

Apologies to those who have not been following this debate.