GUEST BLOG: Ben Morgan – Pacific Intelligence Update

A simple explanation of this week’s military and political developments in the Pacific

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US General Miley discusses China and deterrence

Speaking at the Senate Appropriations Defence Subcommittee on 12 May, the United States most senior military officer, General Mark Miley commented on United States military preparedness and on tensions with China.

Although he was clear that war with China was neither inevitable or imminent, General Miley was clear about the potential risks stating that “Chinese actions are moving it on a path toward potential confrontation with its neighbours or the United States.”  He also discussed threats posed by Russia, Ukraine and North Korea. However, as General Miley stated none of these nations “has publicly stated that it intends to be the regional hegemon in Asia within the next 10 years and to exceed the United States’ overall military capability by mid-century” or has the military potential of China.

The key observation though is that the United States is committed to deterrence; or to being ready to rapidly deploy military force to at risk areas.  General Miley discussing the United States current high state of readiness and stating “To do this, our No. 1 priority is readiness now and readiness in the future — and there is no other No. 1 priority.” Discussions of this nature are important indicators of future policy and need to be noted and considered by policy makers in the Pacific. 

For instance, during the Ukraine War the General Miley reported that the United States rapidly deployed the following army units to Europe:

  • A corps (approximately 30-50,000 soldiers)
  • Two divisions (approximately 20-30,000 soldiers)
  • Three brigade combat teams (approximately 15-20,000 soldiers) 

And; at the same time doubled the number of fighter squadrons, ships and submarines in Europe; all within about 35 days. Ukraine demonstrates that General Miley’s military is ready to deploy rapidly to deter aggression and support United States foreign policy.  The Pacific could see similar rapid deployments of troops, aircraft and ships if the United States seeks to deter Chinese, North Korean or Russian activity.  

Countering illegal fishing in Micronesia 

Illegal fishing is an issue throughout the Pacific, the remote and poorly policed region providing opportunities for countries with large fishing fleets to over exploit other nation’s fishing grounds. Recent Pacific Briefs discussed this issue and the steps that countries like the United States and Japan are taking to support smaller countries.

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Palau’s Maritime Spatial Plan is an example of a small nation in Micronesia taking control of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).  Supported by Japan, Australia and the United States; Palau has developed a plan to collect data and enforce control measures in its waters.  

Even though Palau relies on the United States for its defence, it is still an independent nation and this plan is an example of how larger Pacific nations can provide governance, technological and enforcement support to help smaller nations protect and conserve their resources. By supporting smaller nations to govern and manage their EEZs, larger nations support stability and help manage resources. 

In Palau’s case Japan, Australia and the United States provide command training and communication’s support to Palau’s enforcement agencies.  Further, United States Coast Guard vessels are now active in the region supporting enforcement.  Some large nation’s fishing fleets may be able to physically intimidate Palau’s enforcement agencies but are not likely to challenge United States Coast Guard vessels.  

However, always remember that the United States military benefits from supporting small nation.  In this example, Palau and Micronesia generally are important for containing China’s naval assets in any future conflict.  Supporting Palau to surveil their EEZ contributes valuable information towards the United States wider intelligence picture in Micronesia; and helps develop local human intelligence networks and relationships. 

New Zealand announces an increase in defence budget

In a small but significant decision the New Zealand government is increasing defence spending by about $747 million over the next four years. The increase is in operational expenditure and includes $ 419 million to increase wages and help retain staff.  Recent low employment rates mean that well-trained servicemen and women can easily get jobs and defence force wages were no-longer competitive. 

The remainder $ 328 million is being spent on renewal of housing stock and other facilities.  

This spend is important because the New Zealand Defence Force’s greatest asset is its people. New Zealand services personnel are well-trained, motivated and highly regarded internationally. In recent years the services have haemorrhaged personnel as people that joined the military to serve overseas; or perform combat roles were utilised to support disaster relief and the response to COVID 19. By improving wages and conditions the New Zealand Defence Force may counter this trend and stop the loss of valuable personnel. 

Upcoming Papua New Guinea and United States defence agreement 

President Biden will soon become the first United States President to visit Papua New Guinea on 22 May 2023.  The President’s visit is likely to include the United States and Papua New Guinea signing a Defence Cooperation Agreement.  

Specifically, the agreement is reported to include United States forces being able to use Papua New Guinean air and sea ports; including pre-positioning logistics support like fuel, supplies and maintenance facilities for both ships and aircraft.  Pre-positioning could also include building new facilities and infrastructure to better support United States personnel and their equipment. Further, the proposal includes opportunities for joint training and exercises. 

This agreement is clearly a counter to China’s 2022 security agreement with Solomon Islands. The United States and its allies are concerned about potential Chinese military bases in the Solomons.  A deal with Papua New Guinea provides the United States and its allies with opportunities to disperse their forces across a range of locations so they are harder to target but still close to Solomon Islands. Commander of the United States Pacific Air Force, General Kenneth Wilsbach, discussed this strategy in an interview with Nikkei stating “Obviously we would like to disperse in as many places as we can to make the targeting problem for the Chinese as difficult as possible.”  

Previous Pacific Briefs have highlighted the increased Sino-American interest in Pacific real estate; and this is another example of the race between China and the United States to acquire bases in the Pacific.  Further, this deal is strategically important for Australia a country aiming to keep conflict away from its shores; American bases in Papua New Guinea providing another layer of depth for Australia’s defence.  

Russian long range bombers exercise in the north 

Russia continues to flex its diminishing military muscle conducting a series of exercises over the Chuchki Sea.  This area is far to the north, above the Bering Strait.   The Chuchki Sea is important because if Russia was to attack the United States its missiles would likely cross the sea; and both countries devote considerable resources to monitoring the area. It also contains oil and a variety of other resources.

This week Russian long-range bombers exercised over the sea. The ancient aircraft conducted refuelling and tactical exercises.  An obvious taunt at the United States and although it is unlikely America is very concerned about the threat posed by 70-year-old Tu 95 Bear bombers exercising in the area, this activity is interesting for Pacific observers because it is an example of Russia continuing to try and demonstrate its relevance in the Pacific. A trend that if it continues could create more instability in the region.

Thai election – Progressives challenge the establishment… again 

Thailand is a key military power in the Asia-Pacific region.  Thailand has a long history of military intervention in government, generally by conservative juntas sympathetic to the United States.  In 2014, Thailand suffered its most recent military coup.

The 2023 election is currently showing the electorate’s rejection of both military intervention and of the authoritarianism that is often a product of military government.  The liberal Pheu Thai (For Thais) party is predicted to win a landslide victory; and could be accompanied into government by an even more progressive party – Move Forward. 

Pheu Thai was founded by billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra, who after winning an election in 2006 was deposed by a military coup. Since then, the party has continued to campaign, win electoral majorities but be prevented from forming a government by vested interests in the military and aristocracy.  

Real political power in Thailand resides with the senate, a body hand-picked by the military.

A Pheu Thai landslide in the upcoming election signals a generational political shift as younger people turn away from traditional power structures. Although inevitable, transitions of this nature are always a de-stabilising factor in politics. If the Thai senate, decides not to form a government and select a Prime Minister from the winning party it could lead to protest and violence; or even military intervention.  The key ‘take away’ for Pacific observers is that political uncertainty provides opportunities for outside influence and for unintended consequences.  

Perhaps a military ‘crack down’ responding to a new more liberal government is defeated by mass protests initiating a new Thai government that is not tied to the military and reduces the country’s military budget. Or; takes a more independent less pro-American foreign policy position.  Both situations potentially weakening the Thai-American defence alliance unbalancing the regional balance of power. Or; a military intervention heralds another authoritarian regime and further undermines democracy in Thailand.  People with an interest in the Pacific should keep watching this election because it will impact on the west Pacific’s security. 


Ben Morgan is a bored Gen Xer and TDBs military blogger 

20 COMMENTS

  1. Given their penchant for copying and atrophied original thinking, one wonders how much the PRC top brass are consulting the Hirohito’s Japan WWII playbook. Or maybe they have to ask Xi before they are even allowed to consult it?

  2. so when do we get to vote on who we want to be our “regional hegemon”? i vote for a country that has never invaded another country.

  3. US General Miley discusses China and deterrence

    Well actually,

    No he didn’t.

    Not in any of the above quotes anyway. Not once did US General Miley mention the word deterrence.

    Let’s get this straight: All sides are gearing up to fight a war for a redivision of the world.

    Talk of deterrence is bullshit

    If deterrence was a thing there wouldn’t be any wars. Both sides are armed with nuclear weapons which have been sold to us as deterring war. Nuclear weapons are said to be the ultimate deterrence to war.

    But wars still happen. And they happen for a reason.

    Follow the money.

    Economic global expansion and competition for resources for control of trade and domination of markets is an economic imperative.
    Known as a trade imbalance, every country wants a positive balance of payments which means more exports than imports. Everybody wants a positive export balance. Every country wants an export economy. (NZ is no exception). infinite expansion of trade on a finite planet is impossible. Sooner or later your economy is going to run up against trade barriers. Because every country wants to be a net exporter, not a net importer. If everbody wants to export and nobody wants to import. Sooner or later your economy is going to run up against trade barriers imposed by your rivals. This is what is happening now between the US and China. Negative export receipts means factory closures, mass unemployment and total economic collapse of export led economies.

    Co-prosperity Sphere anyone?

    From wikipedia:
    The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (Japanese: 大東亜共栄圏, Hepburn: Dai Tōa Kyōeiken), also known as the GEACPS,[1] was a concept that was developed in the Empire of Japan and propagated to Asian populations which were occupied by it from 1931 to 1945. It officially aimed at creating a self-sufficient bloc of Asian peoples and states that would be led by the Japanese and be free from the rule of Western powers. The idea was first announced on 1 August 1940 in a radio address delivered by Foreign Minister Yōsuke Matsuoka.

    The intent and practical implementation of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere varied widely depending on the group and government department involved. Policy theorists who conceived it, as well as the vast majority of the Japanese population at large, saw it for its pan-Asian ideals of freedom and independence from Western colonial rule. In practice, however, it was frequently used by militarists and nationalists, who saw an effective policy vehicle through which to strengthen Japan’s position and advance its dominance within Asia.[2] The latter approach was reflected in a document released by Japan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, An Investigation of Global Policy with the Yamato Race as Nucleus, which laid out the central position of Japan within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,[3]

    • Deterrence is Bollocks
      World War III has already started

      In 1931 Japan invades Manchuria.
      in 1935 Italy invades Abyssinia.
      In 1938 Germany invades Czechoslovakia

      With the German invasion of Poland these smaller wars became world war.

      Just as in the 1930s the super power blocs and their proxies are already at war, in Syria, in Ukraine, in Sudan. And it is extremely likely that with the Chinese invasion of Taiwan these wars will become world war.

      Deterrence is bollocks.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGxAYeeyoIc&ab_channel=63CAMART

      You see, Baldrick, in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other. The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other’s deterrent. That way there could never be a war.

      But, this is a sort of a war, isn’t it, sir?

      Yes, that’s right. You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan.

      What was that, sir?

      It was bollocks.

  4. Seems Ben and the pantheon of US centric warmongers want to prepare for war with China. Our biggest trade partner with whom we are economically entwined.
    So the answer is to be ready to throw rocks at one another.

    Very clever. We have a prediction for a Laurel and Hardy relationship with Uncle Sam. “That’s another fine mess you’ve got me into Stan”.

    • “Seems Ben and the pantheon of US centric warmongers want to prepare for war with China.” Nick+J

      And China is preparing for war with the West.

      In a conflict between the superpowers, only a simpleton picks sides.

      And just for the record: Historically, as growing market economies try to make space for themselves in a world already divided between the established economic and political global powers, it has been the rising powers that have been the aggressor in any conflict between the superpowers.
      Think Germany, Japan, Italy. They didn’t have an empire, but they wanted one. And the only way to achieve empire in a world already divvied up between the British, French, and US imperialists was through war.

      Infinite economic growth is an imperative of market economies.

      Infinite economic growth on a finite planet is impossible. Infinite economic growth on a finite world sees us shitting in our nest with climate change, plastic pollution, you name it.

      The lesson here, is that if we can’t stop climate change how can we stop war. And vice a versa, if we can’t stop war how can we stop climate change.

      You masters of war
      You that build the big guns
      You that build the death planes
      You that build all the bombs
      You that hide behind walls
      You that hide behind desks
      I just want you to know
      I can see through your masks…..
      …You lie and deceive
      A world war can be won
      You want me to believe
      But I see through your eyes
      And I see through your brain
      Like I see through the water
      That runs down my drain
      You fasten all the triggers
      For the others to fire
      Then you sit back and watch
      When the death count gets higher
      You hide in your mansion
      While the young people’s blood
      Flows out of their bodies
      And is buried in the mud
      You’ve thrown the worst fear
      That can ever be hurled
      Fear to bring children
      Into the world….

      Bob Dylan

  5. In a conflict between the superpowers, only a simpleton picks sides. Yes Pat. So who is picking sides?

    Correct me if I’m wrong but from the muddled diatribe I discerned that China is preparing for war, that capitalism must expand, so inevitably imperialist empires clash militarily over markets.

    Does that mean (as it appears) that you as a Marxist support one imperialist power (USA) over another (China)? Are you the simpleton who has picked sides?

    • My life long opposition to US imperialism since a teenager during the Vietnam war to opposing US nuclear ship visits to US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is verifiable and unimpeachable.
      The question therefore, is for you to answer Nick, not me.

  6. We can’t do much about the impending global mass slaughter between the rival superpower blocs. But we could opt out of it. Provenly ditching all military and spying pacts with foreign powers and applying to the UN for official recognition of New Zealand as a Neutral country.

    The League of Nations formally recognized Swiss neutrality on February 13, 1920. While the policy was not universally admired, it was respected by other countries. As a tribute, the world organization even chose Geneva as its headquarters. It also exempted Switzerland from military obligations….
    ….Swiss neutrality is one of the main principles of Switzerland’s foreign policy which dictates that Switzerland is not to be involved in armed or political conflicts between other states. This policy is self-imposed and designed to ensure external security and promote peace. Wikipedia.

    Switzerland of the South Seas

    The sooner we start the better

    5 Eyes has gotta go. (It was never any use to us anyway)

    Cancel Andrew Little’s plans to sign us up to the nuclear AUKUS military pact.

    No more joint military exercises with any foreign military power.

    Begin demolition of the Waihopai Satellite Communications Interception Station near Blenheim. Identified as being part of ECHELON, the worldwide network of signals interception facilities run by the UKUSA (UK-USA Security Agreement)

    Send a high level New Zealand diplomatic mission to the UN to apply for official recognition from the UN General Assembly of New Zealand as a neutral country.

    • Broadly in principle I agree, caution added as per Wayne’s comments that leaving our Canberra alliances could cause us issues, and that the US would definitely throw their toys out the cot.

      As a stated policy objective though it is spot on.

  7. “It might sound like twisted logic, but military forces everywhere argue that the greater the firepower they possess, the greater the chance of maintaining peace. In other words, massive weaponry is the best deterrent to war.” Weapons for Peace | 60 Minutes Australia

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0Qyp14sX_Y&ab_channel=60MinutesAustralia

    it sounds like twisted logic, because it is twisted logic.
    If deterrence was a real thing they you would think that nuclear weapons would do it. Both sides have nuclear weapons, but this doesn’t deter them from preparing to go to war against each other.
    The reality is, the huge build up of military forces on both sides has nothing to do with deterring the other side, and more to do with preparing to get rid of the other side militarily. War is not a choice but an imperative. Trade wars turn into shooting wars. Especially true for growth economies facing trade barriers. All capitalist economies that don’t have continual growth fall into economic collapse and recession. It is the rising powers whose growth is constrained by the existing powers that this imperative is often more pressing and desperate.

    All talk of deterrence is total utter bullshit to confuse the public on both side as to the reality during the build up to war.

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