Black Swans and the Pacific Future

By Ed Timperlake

Nassium Nicholas Taleb has written an extremely insightful book on ‘the impact of the highly improbable.”

His title The Black Swan is an excellent metaphor-after all everyone knew all swans were white until they were not. It took a voyage of discovery to Australia find out this existing fact. Dr. Taleb is a very smart man but has also presented an intellectual conundrum in his powerful work. If one is to discuses the existence of any future “Black Swan” events is it not then probable instead of “improbable” and thus defined out of his intellectual construct.

Leaving behind the potential to get caught in a thought process with no end–either a wilderness of mirrors or thinking about circles within circles, it is fair to say Dr. Taleb has written a provocative, easy to read yet hard to understand seminal work.

The U.S. Navy had better pay attention and history suggests the challenges of anticipation.

The legendary Navy Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz in reported comments to his son by E B Pottter in his book Nimitz said in the thirties—

I do believe we are going to have a major war, with Japan and Germany, and that the war is going to start by a very serious surprise attack and defeat of U.S. armed forces, and that there is going to be a major revulsion on the part of the political power in Washington against all those in command at sea, and they are going to be thrown out, though it won’t be their fault necessarily. And I wish to be in a position of sufficient prominence so that I will then be considered as one to be sent to sea, because that appears to be the route.

Currently thinking about the next Pearl Harbor has had a dimension focused on a potential crippling “cyber war attack.”  Make no mistake the PLA. PLAN, PLAAF and 2nd Artillery are a rapidly modernizing  and provide challenges to the U.S. and its allies. Cyber war is just another battle domain.

The human mind will always take counsel of its fears and thus smart people will think and worry about this emerging, murky, ill defined and ubiquitous threat. The U.S. Government especially the Defense Department has awakened and is getting focused.

A recent article in Stars and Stripes by Chris Carroll captures the current effort:

From the history of my own service, Admiral Chester Nimitz once said the Naval War College fully prepared him for war, except for one thing — the kamikaze,” Masso (Rear Adm. Edward Masso, a cybersecurity researcher at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.) said. “That was a major step development in the history of asymmetric war, and cyberware is another step.

So for all the services, the key thing now is to be asking, ‘What is the next kamikaze?

DOD preparing to unveil overarching cyber strategy

A better question would have been what country will launch the next “cyber” kamikaze attack and the overwhelming evidence is that it will be the Peoples Republic of China.

Nonetheless, some of the analytical support, which the USN is receiving, misses the point. For example, the US Naval War College when it comes to China has been totally immersed in thinking that if the USN leadership followed their lead will experience a series of “Black Swan” events.

On May 26 2009 in an article for American Thinker I tried to capture “The First War in Cyber Space” by analyzing the Russian combat action against Georgia. It was obvious then that although it was Russian cyber attacks in that particular conflict a huge factor in any cyber war will be the actions of The Peoples Republic of China—as I pointed out in American Thinker.  (The First War In Cyberspace)

The Peoples Republic of China’s attacks in United States Cyberspace are well known to even casual-mail and Google users, where viruses linked by the media to Chinese sources circle and wait for openings. If George Washington and Thomas Jefferson could visit America in 2009 they would call the Chinese attacks Acts Of War.

In our 1999 book Red Dragon Rising co-author William C. Triplett II and I postulated an electronic “Pearl Harbor” with The PRC attacking Taiwan. Using all their military capabilities, for example airborne and seaborne infantry, tactical air, naval armada, other elements of the attack could include: Surprise attack, Internet attack (“Cyber Attack was not in the lexicon then), Psychological Operations, and all tools of attack. That scenario now is at the center of U.S. war planning.

The Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was able already capable in 2009 of launching a massive Cyber assault on Taiwan. Some command and control networks would be destroyed while others would be deliberately spared so they could be manipulated from the inside. Radio and television signals can be jammed and false images of calls from Political Leaders advocating surrender broadcast. Banking systems and specific accounts can be targeted. Information war could also deliberately leave some radar signals intact to warn of “virtual assaults” feeding the confusion and bringing command and control systems to a halt. Finally, Fifth columns at home and abroad can spread rumors and try and keep Washington confused.

Such a scenario now is at the center of U.S. war planning” but not for the Naval War College.

In the Autumn 2001 issue of The Naval War College Review, Andrew R.Wilson, a professor of Strategy and Policy Department, at the Naval War College. In a review asked  “WHAT ARE CHINA’S INTENTIONS?.”  He looked at two books Red Dragon Rising: Communist China’s Military Threat to America and China, Nuclear Weapons, and Arms Control: A Preliminary Assessment by Robert, Manning, Robert Montaperto, and Brad Roberts. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2000.

In the review, Professor Wilson first dances around “The Cox Report” –“The Report of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People’s Republic of China”  on the extremely successful PLA espionage attack on America by fogging up the actual facts presented.

While many of the claims made by that committee have yet to be substantiated, the Cox Report contributed to a fractious debate about the Clinton administration’s China policy and complicated an already difficult task of assessing Chinese intentions and capabilities.

Actually, hard evidence was presented in the report at the time. See my recent testimony to congress on Chinese espionage and the lasting consequences pointed out accurately by The Cox Report Espionage and the PRC Challenge).

Professor Wilson summarizes his conclusion in a paragraph that will last forever as being profoundly intellectually wrong.

While Timperlake and Triplett rely primarily on speculation “to accurately chronicle” China’s rise, neglecting readily available open-source material, Manning, Montaperto, and Roberts are forced to speculate, because the relevant material does not yet exist. However, given the prolific publishing records of all three authors, we can anticipate more detailed works to follow that will flesh out this preliminary assessment.

His conclusion that America and the Naval War College should “anticipate more detailed works” has became an embarrassing historical smoking hole since Dr Ron Montaperto plead guilty to a felony for being an agent for the Peoples Republic of China.

A huge oopsie moment for a Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College.

But one could let this pass as a temporary aberration, but learning seems not be going on at the center of learning for the USN.

For example, in 2006 the Naval War College stood up the China Maritime Studies Institute:

The China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) supports the research needs of the U.S. Navy and was established in 2006 to increase knowledge and understanding of the maritime dimensions of China’s rise. CMSI will conduct research along the following vectors:

  • Energy
  • Global commerce
  • Law of the sea
  • Maritime technologies
  • Merchant marine
  • Naval development
  • Naval diplomacy
  • Shipbuilding.

It looks like they overlooked “cyber.” So one should look at a recent conference agenda to see the analytical folks have corrected this oversight but first one should read their self-generated praise:

Based at the U.S. Naval War College (NWC) in Newport, Rhode Island, CMSI is located at the nexus of the academic, policy, and operational communities. NWC has pioneered strategic thinking about maritime issues for over one hundred years. NWC contributes a broad based, multi-dimensional research, analysis and gaming environment with significant linguistic and technological capabilities.

However, if their recent conference is any indicator they are still blissfully ignorant or willfully blind.

The objective of this conference (2010) was derived from the October 2007 Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower goal to “Foster and sustain cooperative relationships with more international partners.” The fifth annual conference of the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the Naval War College continued a dialogue among Chinese and American specialists regarding the development of cooperation in the maritime domain. In doing so, it drew heavily on the experience of the third annual conference (2007), which framed the issues under the theme “Defining a Maritime Partnership with China.” This conference sought to create the intellectual framework for further enhanced U.S.-China maritime cooperation.

In 2005-2006 Secretary Mike Wynne of the USAF stood up the USAF  Cyber Command. This generation’s Billy Mitchell paid a price for his audacious and visionary thinking and was fired by Secretary Gates. Meanwhile the Naval War College was trying to figure out how to work with the Peoples Republic of China in a friendly way.

But finally the fighting forces of the US Navy had the judgment and wisdom to set up the 10th Fleet Cyber Command in 2010—( U.S. Fleet Cyber Command, Navy Stands Up Fleet Cyber Command, Reestablishes U.S. 10th Fleet).

So while the fighting Navy is getting serious, the “intellectual Navy” is apparently still carrying on in a Black Swan mindset with their Plebe level PLAN analysis and pandering.  It is both a mistake and a strategic blunder of the first magnitude.

So to paraphrase what Admiral Nimitz said to his son —be a cyber warrior and part of the 10th Fleet not ‘Navel” gazing about China at Naval War College.

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One response to “Black Swans and the Pacific Future”

  1. Michael Wynne says:

    I understand that the US Chamber of Commerce, while preparing for a Group Meeting in China; was Cyber Hacked.
    Then we hear that in the opening of the US China Economic Conference, China; our largest Debt Holder; was subjected to a Harangue on Human Rights. This public verbal flogging concluded and the conference went on.
    In Washington; the Gala of the Year; the Opera Ball; was held at the Chinese Embassy. Attendees included many in Congress and the Administration.
    I juxtapose these seemingly disconnected comments to advise that the Orchestra played while the Titanic was sinking.

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