Shadow Government

Growing concern down under

The past two months have witnessed a series of revelations regarding China's growing military power. In December 2010, Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of U.S. Pacific Command, declared that the aircraft carrier-killing DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile had achieved initial operating capability. Last month, photographs and video of the J-20 fifth-generation stealth aircraft, a plane considerably more advanced than observers expected of China, appeared on the internet.

On Monday, Ross Babbage, the founder of Australia's respected think tank, the Kokoda Foundation, issued a monograph, Australia's Strategic Edge in 2030 that examined the changing military balance in the Western Pacific and its implications for Australia. It is a report that demands the attention of policy makers in Washington.

Babbage argued that China's aggressive military modernization is rapidly undermining the pillars that have supported American presence in the Western Pacific for more than half a century. As he puts it, "China is for the first time close to achieving a military capability to deny United States and allied forces access to much of the Western Pacific rim." He catalogues China's anti-access efforts, which include cruise and ballistic missiles that can attack ships and fixed targets; a massive investment in cyber-warfare capabilities, with reports of tens of thousands of Chinese cyber intrusions daily; new classes of both nuclear and conventionally powered submarines; a substantial increase in the Chinese nuclear stockpile; a huge investment in space warfare; and a massive increase in fighter bomber and other airborne strike capabilities.

Babbage argued that Australia will need to take drastic action in order to protect its interests in a region increasingly dominated by China. These include acquiring a fleet of 12 nuclear-powered attack submarines (the report hinted at leasing or purchasing Virginia-class SSNs from the United States), developing conventionally armed ballistic and cruise missiles, increasing Australia's investment in cyber warfare, and hosting American forces on Australian soil.

Australia is one of America's closest allies. When Canberra expresses such concerns, Washington should listen and take action. Specifically, the United States should seek ways to shape Chinese military modernization in ways that reduce the threat Beijing can pose to the United States and its allies. It should also look for ways to strengthen its key alliances in Asia, including that with Australia. Babbage's paper offers useful ideas on both counts.

First, the United States should offer to lease or sell Australia Virginia-class SSNs. These submarines have the speed and endurance that Australia needs to protect its maritime interests. Moreover, such a move would offer a way to broaden and deepen the U.S.-Australia alliance. It's a bold, even radical, idea, and there are plenty of barriers to it, but it is one that is well worth pursuing.

Second, the United States should consider developing a coalition intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance network in the Western Pacific to reassure our allies and friends and generate collective responses to crisis and aggression. By networking together U.S. and allied airborne sensors, participants would build a common picture of activity in the region. Such an approach could also represent a significant deterrent to hostile action. It would be harder for an aggressor to act without being caught, and an attack on the network would amount to an attack on all its members.

Third, the United States should harden and diversify its network of bases in the Pacific. The United States should protect and defend its bases to deter an attack upon them. Moreover, the Defense Department should examine a much broader and diverse set of bases in the region, to include stationing U.S. forces on Australian territory, if the Australian government so desires.

Finally, as I have previously argued, there is more that the U.S. armed services need to do to posture themselves to compete with China over the long term. That includes bolstering U.S. long-range strike and undersea warfare capabilities.

As Babbage's report made clear, Chinese military modernization is reshaping the strategic environment. Safeguarding American and allied interests in the region will require concerted action, but we are fortunate to have allies who recognize the challenge.

LARRY DOWNING/AFP/Getty Images

Shadow Government

Egypt's orderly transition becomes a war of attrition

What seemed at first to be the beginning of an orderly transition in Egypt is starting to look more like a war of attrition.

As the worst outcomes in Egypt -- the violent suppression of demonstrations or anarchy -- seemed to recede as possibilities and a broadly inclusive negotiation between the main opposition camps and the government commenced, the relief from Washington was palpable. After all, the concessions offered by the Egyptian government -- the release of political detainees, a commitment to allow freedom of the press and refrain from blocking the Internet or mobile telephones, and the formation of committees to propose constitutional reforms aimed at allowing greater participation in the September presidential elections - would have seemed remarkable and most welcome just weeks ago. Furthermore, the government was taking actions which seemed to signal a break with the past -- in particular, the resignation of the deeply entrenched leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party.

But upon further inspection, the situation seems considerably less rosy. The opposition fundamentally mistrusts the government, suspecting that Vice President Omar Suleiman will renege on his pledges as soon as demonstrators leave Tahrir Square. They continue to demand not only the immediate resignation of Mubarak, but also perhaps of Suleiman and the entire parliament, as well as the suspension of the Constitution. Suleiman does little to allay such worries with his dismissive statements about the protestors, Mohammad ElBaradei, and democracy in general. So the throngs in Tahrir Square continue to swell, and Suleiman issues veiled threats against them.

Further complicating the picture is the likelihood that both sides are disunited. The opposition has coalesced around several broad goals, but secular groups are unnerved by the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and youth leaders who initiated the protests last month are wary of establishment business and political figures who now purport to speak for them. On the other side, the government is turning on its own, pursuing former cabinet ministers on corruption charges, and who precisely is in charge of the pro-Mubarak thugs who stormed Tahrir Square last week, or for that matter the military, is unclear. The Egyptian population appears solidly on the side of the demonstrators, but worried about the economic standstill and absence of tourists who by some accounts contribute ten percent of Egypt's GDP and one out of eight jobs there.

In the face of these complexities, historical analogies prove facile. Whatever lessons policymakers may draw from Iran in 1979 or other revolutions, such casual comparisons can be as misleading as they are instructive. Whether Iran in 2009, or Tunisia or Egypt in 2011, any unexpected turmoil is likely to catch Washington flat-footed, and the true test is how quickly amid the confusion the White House can forge a policy and a message that advances our values and our interests. In contrast to its perplexing response to the postelection protests in Iran in June 2009, in this case the White House eventually settled on the right goal -- free and fair elections leading to democracy. The trick is how to get from here to there.

The two chief worries amongst policymakers in Washington now are retrenchment by a regime reluctant to forgo its privileges, and of the imposition of religious rule by a radical minority on a relatively moderate majority. Averting both of these outcomes requires that Washington use its leverage and marshal that of its allies to push for real and irreversible changes which put Egypt unmistakably on a trajectory toward democracy.

First, the United States should present the generals, bureaucrats, and other elites around Mubarak with a sharp choice. Should they seek to rule through force or engineer an autocratic transfer of power, our friendship and assistance will be withdrawn. If, however, they work with the responsible opposition toward an orderly and democratic transition, then Egypt's alliance with Washington and the West will be strengthened. Egypt is not Iran or Syria; its prosperity is tied to good political and trade relations with the world, and its next generation of politicians and businessmen will be loath to sacrifice these ties.

In addition, the United States should push for quick steps that make clear a return to the old ways is no longer possible. The resignation of the NDP leadership was welcome in this regard, and the four steps outlined Tuesday by the White House -- ending the crackdown on civil society, immediately rescinding the emergency law, broadening participation in the transition talks, and working with the opposition on a roadmap and timetable for the transition -- should follow quickly. Each of these steps would represent a loosening of the regime's grip and the opening of political space, which are both essential if the next presidential election is to be truly competitive.

Finally, the United States, when the time is ripe, should support Egypt in quickly building a sound electoral process and the other institutions of democracy, and rally increased international financial aid toward this end. Egypt's leaders will need advice and technical assistance to ensure that an electoral system skewed to support the ruling party will not be skewed in the other direction to favor ideology over accountability and constituent advocacy. Egyptians rose up because they were frustrated by corruption and economic stagnation, and lacked the freedoms to address these frustrations via a political process. Any new political system must be responsive to those concerns and no mere vehicle for the Muslim Brotherhood and others to advance their agendas.

In the drama playing out in Cairo and across Egypt, each sundown has seemed to bring greater uncertainty, with some nights ringing out with jubilation, others with gunfire. Whether the Egypt to which we awaken is hostile or hospitable to U.S. interests depends on the choices we make, and those we press upon others.

PEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images.