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Book Review: The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st Century

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 16, 2020

The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st CenturyThe Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st Century by Parag Khanna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn’t a bad book. In fact, it’s pretty good. But I’m torn on what to rate it. On one hand, it could potentially deserve 5 stars for accuracy, a good overview, it being topical. On the other hand, I feel inclined to give it only 3 stars because it’s really rather late to the party, so to speak. It’s not like there’s much that’s new here, and tons of things have been written and published on this very topic for over the past decade. Indeed, some may argue it’s SO late to the party, the author may have missed some important signs. The CFR’s noted Director of Asia Studies, Liz Economy (whose own potentially more topical book, “The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State,” was released last year) has been writing and publishing articles in most of the major foreign policy journals that China is actually on its way down — and fast! I don’t know that I agree with her, but others do and it’s no secret that China’s economy is in the midst of a serious slowdown — there was no feasible way China could sustain that GDP growth. Indeed, it appears India is poised to leap into that position as China fights a huge aging population crisis combined with the additional population crisis prompted by its one child rule, so its workforce will be radically impacted over the next 20+ years. Thus, those who adhere to Economy’s viewpoint — and there are quite a few — might give this book only 2 stars. I’m giving it 4 because I think it’s still currently relevant and probably will be for the next decade to come with much up in the air over that time as India strives to attain regional hegemony status, and while people are making noise over Indonesia’s possibilities in the region — Australian leaders are already discussing forming defense treaties with that country should the PLAN push further into international waters to its south… The ECS problem could turn into a nightmare should the CCP decide to do more than test Japan over the The Senkaku Islands dispute while South Korea is busy trying to match the PLAN with carrier strength buildouts while continuing to watch its northern neighbors. So, yes, the future IS Asian, but it’s faulty to assume it’s solely Chinese or will remain so because yes, it’s no longer a unipolar world, but then when people refer to a multipolar world, they’re no longer necessarily referring to the US, China and Russia. In addition to India, Brazil is trying to ambitiously strive for southern hemisphere regional hegemony status, and Britain has just sent a new carrier to the SCS while committing to invest more in such ships. The CFR’s Sheila Smith published a book last year on Japan mobilizing militarily for potential offensive purposes for the first time since WWII, largely contrary to the constitution we wrote for them since our current US administration is apparently leaving its longtime allies in the East to fend for themselves. Can we say powder keg? I think we can. Geopolitical observation and analysis have become all the more “fun” again, just as it’s becoming all the more frightening. This book is good but I doubt it stands out from a crowded field very much, but for those watching the eastward shift, it’s another good resource to invest in and thus, recommended.

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Book Review: Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 30, 2020

Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military PowerJapan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power by Sheila A. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I say anything about this book, I need to confess I know the author (to whatever degree), highly respect her expertise on Japan (she’s the Council on Foreign Relations’ Senior Fellow for Japan), so this commentary and rating possibly may not be as reasonably objective as I try to make most of my ratings/reviews. That said, when she came out with this book recently, I was elated and dived in. It’s taken me a long time to work my way through because I have this horrible habit of reading far too many books simultaneously, which just slows everything down. And I’ve been meaning to contact her and give her some kudos for producing a great work here, but I’ve been too tied up to even keep up with people like I typically have over my life.

That said, I can hardly think of a more timely book. Particularly as it relates to the topic at hand. Millions (okay, maybe fewer, but still quite a lot) have been “China watchers” for years now and while it’s sensible, advisable, necessary, etc., to keep eyes trained on Beijing, and particularly as variables within the South China Sea become more clusterf*cked, more hostile, as the PLAN continues its progression into the India Sea, now being joined by Russia and Iran in a potential new axis of maritime adversaries, and as China has already tangled with the Philippines and Vietnam, and as India strives to become another possible regional hegemony, I think many of us in the west (understandably, perhaps) tend to lose track of some other states of import, most notably our longtime allies, at least one of whom is now feeling completely abandoned by the current US Administration and any defense agreements we’ve had since WWII (Australia), which I think is a travesty considering what a great and faithful ally Australia has been to the US over that time period, joining the US with only a couple of other states in fighting alongside us in the various “conflicts” we’ve found ourselves — unlike the vast majority of other, more “prominent” allies. Australia is so panicked that debate as been ongoing there on what to do regarding China, the Indo-Pacific region, and defense of their own country as they lack any form of serious navy, having built their defense doctrine on dependence on the USN. Which no longer looks like a sure thing, so major leaders are actually calling for the country to withdraw from the NPT and illegally go nuclear for survival’s sake! Which is a sad commentary.

Meanwhile, South Korea is facing its own challenges due to not only China, but their northern neighbors, whose leader seems cleverly insane. Plays a tough game. But the focus here is obviously the one that seems to get forgotten in all of these geopolitical games — Japan.

It’s great to see this major Asian/East Asian state that has been basically boxed into a corner it’s trying to get out of become the focus of some good new research and analysis produced and published just at the right time. Because for those caught up in the SCS BS going on daily, all too many people seem to neglect the games being placed in the ECS (East China Sea). Between China and Japan. Or more accurately, between the PLAAF/PLAN over the Senkaku Islands, or the Diaoyu Islands as the PRC insists on referring to them as, and the JCG and JASDF. And it couldn’t be any more stupid than this, but it is, and yes, it’s merely symbolic, but the fact that one state feels so aggressive about a group of small uninhabited islands that Japan legally owns, per international law and recognition, that it’s willing to take “testing” the much smaller and spreader thinned out JCG and JASDF by sending hundreds or even thousands of Chinese fishing boats into the contested waters or a larger number of aircraft buzzing the islands constantly, itching for an “opportunity” to do who knows what at the very plausible risk of a regional war that could spread once you bring contesting hegemonies into the equation … well, that’s either a sign of supreme confidence (maybe Pillsbury was right, but was too generous in his predictions of when the CCP would show its hand?), supreme stupidity if it actually is willing to risk a potential world war by hedging its bets the US won’t want to enter such a war merely because of decades-old defense commitments and treaties between the US and Japan (which is actually NOT a bad gamble on their part circa early 2020 as I write this), or typical CCP craftiness in pushing all as far as possible to get as much as possible by whatever means necessary — short of all out war. Which is my take on it at the present, but I’m willing to adjust that analysis as events transpire.

One may be a follower of issues, variables, geopolitical tensions, etc., throughout the greater Asian and East Asian regions, and they may be aware to some degree of what potential threat a burgeoning regional hegemony may present, but they may not possess the context Sheila provides in this book, such as how Japan has historically had its political and hence military hands tied when it came to defense spending, military building, etc., due largely to the constitution the US drew up for the country upon its surrender in 1945, and due to a combination of war guilt, the struggle to rebuild a country and economy, and to yes, abide by the constitution they now were governed by which has limited their ability and indeed desire to “go military.” And with China incessantly goading them eternally for the atrocities committed during the last century, the most famous of which was Nanking, those historically cautioning against appearing antagonistic in building up a (smallish) military for defense are now being countered by those who, like our other traditional allies in that area (such as Australia and South Korea), are getting sick and tired of Xi throwing his weight around yet fear if conflict comes, they’ll be on their own — hence the topic of the book titled “Japan Rearmed.” Frankly, there’s much more than simply what I’ve described or alluded to (and I’ve possibly even gone off track, inadvertently — a bad habit), but if I went into more, I’d be writing a book myself (another major element is merely the concept of an offensive militarized Japan with all of the possible regional implications that might entail…)! This is really one of the best books on the topic I’ve seen come along in a very long time. And again, so relevant and timely. I couldn’t urge people around the globe, let alone in the west and US, to read this more strongly than I am now, because I think it’s essential that we understanding the changing dynamics of a newly multi-polar world that’s been shifting to the east for over two decades. There are more variables than one cares to think about, but think about them one must (or should).

I feel like I didn’t do the book or the author sufficient justice in what I’ve written, but my health has sadly deteriorated to the point where I rarely write long, meaningful or in-depth book reviews like I did for many years, and I just don’t have the time and energy I once did. So my hope is the author will forgive any shortcomings in this review and will appreciate the overall spirit of support and enthusiasm I have for this book because I think it’s the best one I’ve seen published in the last several years amongst the Asian “experts” out there, no others being specifically named or mentioned at this time. Personally, there may be one or two experts out there who have very high profiles, and everyone seems to dote on every word they produce, but for my money Sheila Smith can think, research, analyze and write her way around all of them, and if this book isn’t proof, I’m not sure what would be. Most strongly recommended for those who are into international relations, Asia, East Asia, China, Japan, geopolitics, the growth of regional hegemonies, the global shift to the east, the dynamics being played out daily, etc. Literally one of the best of hundreds of books I’ve read over the past couple of years. Get a copy.

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Book Review: Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 4, 2019

Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic PlanningLosing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning by Andrei Martyanov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to admit I bought this book because the title and premise were intriguing, matching some of my own concerns about the recent, current and future state of the US military. But, wow, what a crazy scenario! I’m prepared to listen to and accept criticism regarding much about our military, particularly the state and status of many of our frontline weapons, a number of which are largely obsolete now, or have never been produced after throwing hundreds of billions away because of scope creep and countless other issues. Legitimate stuff, and some criticisms I’ve been making for years. And there are many reasons for this, which could probably fill a number of books. Fair enough.

What I did NOT like about this book was the author’s continual comparisons between US weapons and modern Russian weapons, ALWAYS gloating over Russian superiority, boasting how their navy could crush our navy like sardines, citing the fact that our most recent nuclear subs are, largely, ancient while Russia just produced eight new “state of the art” nuclear subs with “superior, world class” technology, apparently any one of which has such Superman-like powers, it could completely demolish our entire military in one shot, followed by wiping out the US with a second. Serious superiority issues, and a real attitude problem.

Okay, I lived through much of the Cold War. I’ve heard enough Commie propaganda over the decades, whether Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Cuban, North Vietnamese, etc, AS WELL as most of the Arab hardliners like Saddam and Libya’s and Syria’s typical leaders, among many more, and the boasting, bragging and chest thumping is something that any two bit junior college analyst could identify, define, etc, and moreover, ultimately, with many of these loud mouths, some put their money where their mouth is, and some are total bullshitters, witness Saddam, most of the traditional 20th century Arab powers, the beloved Kims, etc. And, yes, the Russians, because as has been found out in most military encounters between many US advanced weapons vs Soviet advanced weapons, typically through proxies, the Soviets have usually had their asses handed to them. And their house came crumbling down, the giant threat a house of cards. So I take it with a grain of salt when a RUSSIAN analyst starts boasting about how their few new ships could take out all of America’s, for all intents and purposes, and I’d love to see the author, via Putin, try to put their money where their mouth is.

Which is not to say his criticism of the reductions in our military personnel, our loss of experience in crucial areas, such as nuclear, our lack of producing virtually any new world class advanced weaponry since the Cold War, at least in quantity, isn’t entirely legitimate. It’s just his snarky and frankly very odd and suspicious personal circumstances as a person and professional that make this book and it’s whole “my penis is bigger than yours” infantile attitude so damn bizarre and frustrating! He’s a Russian, was in their navy, left Russia, immigrated to America, became an American citizen and somehow found gainful, if unspecified, employment with some unnamed … US defense contractor, I believe, possibly working on US weaponry, presumably naval. Now, think about that. The US lets some Russian ex-naval vet immigrate to America, magically become a US citizen, and then let him have freaking clearance to do defense work for our damn military??? Since when does THAT happen? I haven’t heard of such things since the Manhattan Project, and those were largely German JEWISH scientists, who had everything to lose if they stayed in Germany. Of course they’re working to defeat Hitler. But this guy is working to help the US and make our military better? All the while bragging about how much our military sucks now and how fucking awesome Russia’s is??? I mean, you should read some of his claims and assertions. They’re inane! He has a warped grasp on reality, particularly when bragging about Russian military technical superiority to anything the US has got. MAYBE THAT’S BECAUSE WE’VE ALLOWED GODDAMN RUSSIAN SPIES TO COME WORK IN OUR DAMN DEFENSE INDUSTRY AND SABOTAGE OUR MILITARY!!!!!!! What I want to know is, who the hell approved this, who approved his application for citizenship, was he fully, let alone adequately debriefed when he came here, how many polygraphs has he been given, is his work audited, who’s in on it with him, what’s his REAL motive, what’s his ulterior motive, who is he REALLY working for, and yet, if he’s so damn obvious, he wouldn’t be so damn obvious now, would he? So makes you wonder if this isn’t merely IW, put on by the DoD, if the author even exists at all and we’re merely playing at information warfare and propaganda games, and so many other options and possibilities. Frankly, I’m too busy with more important obligations, but if I had the luxury of time, I’d consider doing a little digging, because it seems to me that something’s rotten in Denmark.

Ultimately though, let’s assume the author is correct in his assessment of the wasting away of US military power, which has some truth to it. Again, fair criticisms to put forth. But the antithetical, virtually rabid, boasting, gloating, stiff dick factor for Russian military technology in its alleged superiority of everything American (which is frankly horseshit, in most cases), when he’s supposed to be a US citizen working in OUR defense industry to make our military better, all the while gushing about how damn awesome Russia is and we suck??? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? WTH don’t we deport him back to Russia if he’s got such a hardon for Putin and thinks his new country is pathetic? Why did he even bother coming here? Perchance another Oswald, a US plant? Just a thought, but then I like to conjecture all types of scenarios for most things.

Ultimately, right or wrong, propaganda or truth, the book is unreadable because the author is presented as having such a one sided superiority hangup, for the side he allegedly left. Which makes many Americans ticked off enough to stop reading the book. And so, possibly, maybe the project worked for the DIA or DARPA or RAND or whomever. It stinks too much and too obviously to be legit.

Work of fiction and not recommended. Two stars for amusement and creativity, as well as intended “mystery” scenario given to the author. Sadly, a waste of time and money.

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