31 August 2015

Prof. William Murray Reviews “Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific” by Robert Haddick

William S. Murray; review of Robert Haddick, Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2014); The Submarine Review (December 2014): 145-49.

William S. Murray is an associate research professor and the Co-Director of the Halsey Bravo research effort at the United States Naval War College. He served on, and qualified to command, nuclear powered submarines. He is the co-editor of the United States Naval Institute books China’s New Nuclear Submarine Force and China’s Energy Strategy: The Impact on Beijing’s Maritime Policies. He has published articles in International Security, the U.S. Army War College Parameters, Comparative Strategy, and the United States Naval Institute’s Proceedings, Jane’s Intelligence Review, Undersea Warfare, and Naval War College Review.

In this book military analyst Robert Haddick, a former Marine officer, describes why and how the United States military should fundamentally change to prevent, or prevail in a war with China in the Western Pacific. The author’s derivation of why China’s military modernization and potential demands our respect and attention, and why the US military’s means of countering any future Chinese military aggression should fundamentally change, is very well done. In particular, his discussion of the limitations represented by the USAF’s and USN’s reliance on short-range air power, and how China apparently intends to take advantage of the factors is both compelling and sobering. Also quite good is his analysis of why the approaches described in the Department of Defense’s Air-Sea Battle (ASB) and the CJCS’ Joint Operational Access Concept (JOAC) are probably not up to the task of successfully deterring or defeating China. Completing this trifecta of valuable analysis is Haddick’s consideration and ultimate rejection of T. X. Hammes’s strategy of Offshore Control which argues for blockade options as a means of countering Chinese military aggression. Informed readers might not agree with Haddick on all aspects of his logic, but most will concede he makes his case well. …

One could make a stronger case arguing that preserving a U.S.-led order in the Western Pacific warrants taking larger risks. Yet even if that argument is made, it is far from clear that the best way to deter such conflicts is through a strategy that fundamentally relies on extensive mainland strikes. Other alternatives, such as the denial strategies forwarded by the Naval Post Graduate School’s Wayne Hughes and Jeff Kline (Between Peace and the Air-Sea Battle) and the Naval War College’s Andrew Erickson (Deterrence by Denial: How to Prevent China From Using Force) have the potential to effectively deter and do not rely on extensive mainland strikes. Such potential strategies therefore deserve careful consideration. …

A war with China is one that certainly must be deterred. But effective deterrence must be credible, as the Naval Submarine League’s The Submarine Review’s readers certainly understand. The great question then is “How can this deterrence best be established and maintained?” Unfortunately, the strategy proposed in Fire on the Water, and the forces necessary to support it, does not seem credible, at least to this reviewer. Despite this fundamental shortcoming, the book remains useful since the author explained clearly how the United States and China arrived at their current military state of affairs, why that condition is potentially unstable, and why current and many proposed military approaches for dealing with this issue are inadequate. These factors alone will advance the public debate on this important subject. Consequently, NSL Review readers will find this book worthwhile, whether they agree with author Robert Haddick’s recommendations, or not.

Here are two of Prof. Murray’s best articles. I believe that they’ve had significant influence over time.

William S. Murray, “Revisiting Taiwan’s Defense Strategy,” Naval War College Review 61.3 (Summer 2008): 13-38.

Gabriel B. Collins and William S. Murray, “No Oil for the Lamps of China?Naval War College Review 61.2 (Spring 2008): 79-95.

Note also Prof. Murray’s recent testimony:

William S. Murray, “Asymmetric Options for Taiwan’s Defense,” Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Hearing on China’s Relations with Taiwan and North Korea, 5 June 2014.