A priority for President Trump: End China's power play
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Trump Priority – Addressing China’s Power Play

Imagine you are watching an ice hockey game, one team up on “power play,” which means that team has an advantage of one or two players. If the team down is defending two major penalties, the other side is outnumbered six to four; one penalty, six to five.

Even when regulation play ends, penalties carry to the next period. The team with an incremental advantage can experience a 30 percent increased chance of inflicting a score; if two penalties must be overcome, the percentage skyrockets.

The point? A principle: incremental shifts in tactical advantage can produce debilitating, long-term strategic changes, and a disproportionate shift in balance of power.

Pivot to national security, and apply the same principle. China’s emerging “power play” against America in the Far East is troubling, obvious, and significant. Gaps are emerging that must be met. Many affect the U.S. Navy.

With intent and resolve, China is creating disproportionate advantage through methodical, incremental shifts in the region’s tactical balance. America’s navy is on the leading edge of deterrence and response in that theater. They have not been well served by national decision making. The Trump Administration must direct attention to the issue, because China is now coming up on a power play.

Let’s be specific, since we can be. Earlier this year, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) leader, Admiral Harry Harris, made startling statements before Congress. Although barely reported, his candid observations were an undisguised request for help. He needs players in motion that have been sidelined.

Admiral Harris highlighted an immediate need for modern submarines, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, and anti-ship missiles capable of matching China’s breakneck modernization and militarization of the South China Sea.

The PACOM Commander pointed, without equivocation, to the absence of essential modern Virginia- or Seawolf-class attack submarines, saying “I don’t have the submarines that I feel I need,” adding they are the “stealth” and “asymmetric advantage” America needs now.

Conversely, their absence puts us at a disadvantage. America’s Navy presently fields roughly 40 submarines, 15 of which are of the modern design.

The PACOM Commander then highlighted rising tensions, which have risen further since his testimony. He affirmed the value of an added carrier battlegroup, but then added a need for forward basing of other surface assets, such as the DDG-1000 and DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class vessels.

Robust, nimble and no-nonsense warships, these vessels send deterrent signals, can protect themselves, assure freedom of navigation, and prevent further Chinese expansion.

Last, the Admiral reaffirmed a need for new long-range anti-ship missiles — effective, yesterday. The gap includes finding anti-surface mode for existing surface-to-air systems and deploying long-range anti-ship defenses. He made no bones about it. These three advances are required to defend against potential Chinese aggression.

His overarching objective? Deter China, because someone has to. What does all this mean to the incoming Trump Administration and transition, their foreign policy and our national security?

Simple. To re-establish an orderly, less tense, safer and more predictable operating environment across the Pacific. To return to stabilizing expectations for China and allies across the region, from Japan and South Korea to Taiwan. To reassure our uneasy, doubting allies, including the Philippines and Thailand.

To open a door to more settled, positive and clear relations with China, deterring adventurism and making clear our own capability and resolve. The new administration must make the so-called “pivot to the Far East” real.

This does not mean new intervention or some sort of parry and counter-parry in the Far East. It does mean sound, mature, credible, no-nonsense leadership once again. Our word must be our bond, and it must stick. It also means resolve to provide to the U.S. Navy new direction, assets, resources and attention, all of which have been sorely missing in that theater.

In a nutshell, time is now to step-up and to defend against China’s power play, address penalties the Trump Administration has inherited from an ending period, put the critical assets in play that will block shots from the point, and America back in the game.

Played well, respect will rise for America’s presence and policies, not to mention global resolve, reach and capacity to deter conflict. We will again be viewed as credible allies, present and eyes on the goal, which is — as it was under Ronald Reagan — “peace through strength,” or making America, and timeless principles we stand for, strong again.

Charles is a former U.S. Navy Intelligence Officer, ten years U.S. Naval Reserve, who served in the Reagan and Bush 41 White Houses, led congressional oversight investigations of the Defense Department 1995-1999, is a former litigator and served as Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell. He writes widely on national security and legal issues.

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