Category Archives: Strategy

Joint Force and Baltic Defense

Using Joint Force the Baltic States can be successfully defended.  Though during the recent testimony before Congress, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley said that: “Yes … the ones in Europe, really Russia. We don’t like it, we don’t want it, but yes, technically [we are] outranged, outgunned on the ground.”  This makes it appear that the US Army would not be able to repel possible Russian aggression against Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia.  The statement also appears to be backed up by the Rand Corporation Wargame Studies which concludes that the Russian military would conquer the three Baltic NATO States in a matter of days.  The study estimates that 60 hours is the time required for the 450 Russian tanks and accompanying troops to enter three capitals and win the war.  However, the study does not address air operations as they would happen in the real world.

As JP 3-0 publication, Joint Operations, 11 August 2011 states: Although individual Services may accomplish tasks and missions in support of Department of Defense (DOD) objectives, the primary way DOD employs two or more Services (from two Military Departments) in a single operation, particularly in combat, is through joint operations. US Army would not operate alone in such scenario.  Both US Air Force and US Navy would be there to support operations and contribute to the fight.  Unlike the study’s assumption, the Air War between US and Russia would not be a drawn out equally neutral conflict, but rather a decisive US victory as it has been the case in every air campaign for the past 25 years. Following which, combined arms employment with emphasis on air power can stop any Russian military aggression in its tracks.

In order to assess the possible Russian moves against the Baltic States and the ability of US military and NATO to defend against them, several possible courses of action need to be examined.  There are two different ways the Russian aggression could unfold.  First course of action is an operation similar to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014; the second is a war similar to the invasion of Georgia in 2008.

An operation similar to the annexation of Crimea is unlikely to succeed against a state willing to defend its territory.  It should be assumed that the Baltic States will do so if threatened by Russia.  The reason for Russian success in 2014 was not that they figured out some kind of never before seen brilliant tactic and strategy that baffled the Ukrainians.  The reason for their success was that Ukraine gave up Crimea without a fight.  That same strategy, called “hybrid warfare” involves combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, was also attempted in Eastern Ukraine, only at that time the Ukrainians finally decided to fight.  Their resistance led to initial setbacks for the Russian backed forces.  Only massive Russian material support and commitment of Russian combat units prevented separatist defeat and provided some measure of Russian success.  The lesson there is self-evident; in order for any state to survive in face of aggression, it has to have the will to fight.

While initially, the same “hybrid warfare” could be used by Russia in the Baltic States, the solution to the uniformed soldiers without insignia suddenly appearing in country is simple; fight them.  No government could allow its monopoly on force to be challenged by foreign or domestic enemies and still maintain legitimacy in the eyes of its people.  As such, should troops in Russian uniforms without insignia suddenly appear in the Baltics, the right way to deal with them is through force.  However, NATO needs to be ready; as the force used against disguised Russian troops could lead directly to a full scale Russian invasion, similar to what happened in Ukraine.

According to previously mentioned Rand study, the following are the parameters of such invasion.  The US would have a week of warning.  The air war would be indecisive and the US and allied forces would be defeated in 60 hours.  The study devotes just a few paragraphs to combined arms operations, and focuses mostly on how the US Army could win if it had more ground forces at its disposal.  Therein lays the problem.  Without US air superiority, how would these additional troops be able to fight effectively?  Without air superiority how would they be supplied?  The US Army has not faced an adversary air attack in more than 50 years.  While the Russian Air Force is not the world’s premier, it has recently demonstrated some capability in Syria against ground forces lacking air defenses.  It is fallacy to think that the US armored and mechanized formations could operate in face of adversary air superiority.  The way to victory on the ground is control of the air above.

Given one week’s worth of warning, the US and allies, according to Rand, would have 18 squadrons of combat aircraft in theater against an estimated 27 Russian combat squadrons.  The study also concludes that given the Russian Surface to Air Missiles (SAM) combined with the Russian squadrons, the US and allies would be incapable of establishing air superiority.  Nothing is further from the reality.  The absolute number of airplanes means very little.  It would matter a lot if unthinking robots flew those airplanes, but not when people are involved.  What matters then are unit training, skills, experience, and the will to fight and win.  Even the numerically outnumber 18 Allied squadrons mentioned in the study would be able to neutralize the 27 Russian squadrons in very short order and while at the same time suppressing the Russian SAMs.  US Air Force is designed exactly for this kind of fight.

The ability to create an effective integrated air defense by the Russian Air Force is also doubtful.  More likely the Russians would lose a lot of their airplanes to friendly fire if they attempted to employ aircraft and SAM systems to contest the same piece of airspace.  Even the US military lost more fighters to friendly ground fire during the invasion of Iraq and it had complete control of the air during the invasion.

With the Russian Air and Surface defenses eliminated, Russian armored columns would be defenseless.  US and allied bomber and fighter aircraft would then find and destroy every Russian military vehicle moving inside the Baltic States.  As the Rand study mentions the Baltic region has good roads, but the off-road capability is difficult.  As such, the Russian armored columns, restricted to roads, would be an ideal target for US and allied air power.  Once stripped of their air defenses, the Russian armored forces would be quickly rendered non-combat effective, similar to what happened to the Iraqi army on “the highway of death” during the First Gulf War.  That result was accomplished with a 1980s air force, not a modern air force outfitted with precision weapons.  Today, precision fighter and bomber strikes against enemy ground forces traveling along predictable routes have only one possible outcome, complete destruction.  A more recent example of that effect was during Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011 which shows exactly what happens to an armored ground force attacked by aircraft.  With Russian armor destroyed, the 12 allied battalions, estimated to be present at the start of hostilities including indigenous Baltic infantry battalions, could round up the disorganized Russian troops and stop the invasion.

Despite the recent pronouncements, the Baltics can be defended.  If the US wants to make an even clearer point to the Russians that it is ready to repel any aggressive move against the three Baltic members of NATO, then more fighter squadrons permanently located in Europe is the answer.  However, the Baltic States can be defended with the current force structure.  The US Army could be theoretically outgunned if it operated in the world where US Air Force does not exist and has no ability to establish air superiority/supremacy.  Then again, it would be extremely difficult for the US Army to be combat effective if it had to fight in the face of established enemy air superiority.  To win against a near peer adversary such as Russia, air power is the decisive factor.  US Army will not be outgunned if called to defend the Baltic States because the US Air Force and US Navy will be there to contribute and shape the battlefield as part of a Joint Force as codified in the Joint Doctrine.

The Iraq Sinkhole

The recent news that the US will be sending another 200 personnel to Iraq to support the fight against ISIL is another indication of a strategy that is not working.  The Daily Beast has an in-depth article with regards to the fight against ISIL, “On the Front Line Against ISIS: Who Fights, Who Doesn’t, and Why.”  The article does a good job of summarizing the problems with the current US strategy in Iraq.

The main narrative of the fight against ISIL can be summarized in four points.  First, Sunni Arabs initially welcomed ISIL advance and still provide support to the organization.   Second, non-Sunni Arab forces such as Kurds and Yazidis do not want to lead the fight against ISIL, especially in the Sunni heartland.  Third, the coalition of anti-ISIL forces expects the US not only to equip them, but also provide continuous air support.  Lastly, an estimated 50,000 troops will be required to remove the 10,000 ISIL troops from Mosul, the city ISIL occupied without much of a fight in 2014.  All of these points taken together form a logical conclusion which provides a window into why the current US anti-ISIL strategy does not appear to be working.

The first and most important point is that Sunni Arabs support ISIL.  They provide the personnel and fighters for the ISIL military and civil institutions.  There is definitely a foreign fighter component in ISIL, especially in the suicide units, but the vast majority of ISIL fighters are Sunni Arabs from Iraq and Syria.  There is also a major presence of former Baath officials in the top ranks of ISIL as documented by multiple news articles over the past few years. In both countries, Sunnis support ISIL because it gives them a vehicle to redress the perceived wrongs perpetuated against them by the Iraqi and the Syrian governments. In addition, the Wahhabi strain of Sunni Islam supported worldwide by Saudi Arabia supplies a steady stream of recruits to ISIL.  Until these issues are solved, ISIL or its successor organization will have the capability and resources to survive and rebuild.

To reduce the Sunni anger at their governments, the only realistic course US can take is to support the division of both Iraq and Syria into parts that would allow for Sunni self-determination. Given the ethnic and religious conflicts that have wrecked both countries, it is impossible to see how either the Shia government of Iraq or Allawite-led government of Syria will allow full and equal rights to Sunni Arabs.  Until both countries are broken up to accommodate the ethnic and religious divisions already present there, Sunni Arabs will continue to support ISIL.  They might even do so after such division, but there is no question whether or not they will if Iraq and Syria remain as they are today.  The issue of Wahhabi Islam and Saudi Arabian support will also have to be addressed to prevent future ISIL-like groups from emerging.  As long as Saudi Arabia continues to propagate this intolerant version of Islam across the world, the Wahhabi led groups such as ISIL will continue to survive.  Only when that support is removed will it be possible to eliminate such Sunni organizations at their core.

The second point of Yazidi and Kurds not willing to lead the fight against ISIL in Sunni Arab areas only reinforces the necessity of breaking up Iraq.  They do not consider the lands they are fighting for to be their lands, so what is the point of keeping the country together?  Shia Arab militias can lead the fight against ISIL, but they will just unite the Sunnis in opposition once they begin to operate in the Sunni dominated provinces and cities.  Shiite militias and Shiite dominated military will not be welcomed with open arms in the Sunni heartland. None of the ethnic and religious groups appear to be willing to live in the country of Iraq and Syria with their current state of organization.  Dividing both countries appears the most viable way forward to stop the fighting.

The third point of expected US material and air support is also an indicator of a failed strategy.  The lack of equipment and air support is the direct result of incompetent and corrupt Iraqi government.  It is rated as the eighth most corrupt state in the world.  Is it any wonder then, that there is no equipment for the fighting units and there is no will to fight?  Who would want to fight and die for a corrupt government?  Until that problem of corruption and governance is resolved, no amount of US training and material support will provide a long term fix.  After all, why should the politicians in Baghdad try to figure out how to support their armed forces if the US will come in and do so for them?  They can just continue to treat each ministry as a base for patronage, power, and corruption. Not an institution of state.  At the same time, ISIL does not appear to have any problems procuring military supplies.  Are they geniuses?   How did ISIL grow so quickly in 2014, without multi-year training missions? Why can’t the Iraqi government do the same?  Are the Iraqis in ISIL that much smarter than Iraqis in the government service?   The answer of course is no.  The Iraqi government is simply content to let the US lead the fight for Iraq.  The unconditional US support and the never ending training mission only reinforces this behavior.  Until the Iraqi elites take responsibility for their country, the US will be involved in Iraq for long time; fighting a different iteration of Al-Qaeda/ISIL for the next century.

Lastly, the requirement of at least 50,000 soldiers to retake Mosul against 10,000 ISIL fighters is the easiest problem to solve.  There are approximately 655,000 Iraqi males reaching military age annually.  If Iraq institutes a draft, the manpower problems are solved.  If ISIL is truly an existential threat to the Iraqi state then this should be an easy decision; yet the government of Iraq has not done so.  Why?  There is no good reason.  As US demonstrated during the Civil War, WW I, and WW II, every time our national survival was at stake, we instituted a draft to provide manpower for the armed forces to ensure victory.  The fact that Iraqis are not willing to do the same now only reinforces the narrative that the fight against ISIL is not a priority for the Baghdad government.  Until they do so, the US strategy will not succeed.

There are a number of different reasons the fight against ISIL is not progressing.  The most important is the fact that the root cause of the Sunni discontent based on power and religion is not being addressed.  Until that problem is solved, no strategy we have in place will lead to a long term success.  The Iraqi army material and personnel shortages could also be easily solved by a government dedicated to fighting the war, not one focused on enrichment of the Baghdad elite.  Therefore, the current US strategy and unconditional support for the Iraqi state only allows such behavior to continue without addressing the root cause of ISIL success.

Syria Update

The recent gains by the Government of Bashar Al-Assad, supported by Russian Air Force strikes against the Sunni rebels, provide two interesting points of analysis.  One is the future of Syrian conflict and the other is our current doctrine of counterinsurgency.  The ability of Syrian government to retake and hold ground stopped the narrative of possible Assad collapse.  It appears that all the parties to the conflict at this time recognize that the stalemate between the combatants with no side is strong enough to win the war.  The recent calls from several foreign policy voices including Secretary Kerry with regards to the possible partition of Syria, so called plan B, could signal recognition of this fact and could chart a new way forward for conflict resolution.

As mentioned in previous posts on this blog, the country of Syria, just like Iraq, no longer exists.  It is a country in the name only.  To our detriment, it has taken a long time for our foreign policy establishment to come to grips with this fact.  The Syrian borders drawn after World War I simply do not reflect the facts on the ground.  To imagine such a diverse country ruled by the minority Alawites (that the majority Sunnis consider non-Muslim) could somehow survive as a country will always be a fantasy.  Once the ability of Syrian government to control the whole country was shattered, the only way forward was partition.

The reverse would also be true.  Even if somehow the majority Sunnis would be in charge, there is no doubt that the Alawites would be conducting an insurgent campaign to remain free of Sunni influence.  Simply put it is a miracle that Syria stayed together as a country as long as it did. The only way forward is to partition Syria.  In reality, this would just recognize the facts on the ground.  There is no feasible path for the country to remain together given the nature of the insurgency/religious war there.  As such, the US should push and make the current plan B, plan A.  Partition is the only plan that actually offers a path to peace.  There could even be a side benefit of Alawites getting rid of Assad once they recognize how badly he performed.  As mentioned in previous posts, partition is nothing new.  We have supported such events in Sudan and Yugoslavia.  There simply comes a time when the country that is not a true nation state is no longer viable.  When that’s the case the way forward is separation.

The second point of analysis is with regards to counterinsurgency and our current counterinsurgency doctrine.  The recent Syrian government gains have been possible because of the massive Russian airpower backed up by Shiite militias and Syrian Army.  Accordingly, it brings up an interesting point of analysis.  The conduct of the Syrian government and Russian Air Force is completely opposite of what FM 3-24 talks about.  There is no clear, hold, and build phase or emphasis on economic development per US counterinsurgency doctrine.  Specifically, Counterinsurgency operations ultimately support reintegration through the integration of the stability functions in planning and execution. The stability functions are security, governance and participation, humanitarian assistance, rule of law, and economic stabilization and infrastructure (INSURGENCIES AND COUNTERING INSURGENCIES, FM 3-24, May 2014).  Rather, just like the government of Sri Lanka in 2009 when it defeated the Tamil Tigers, the government of Syria is relying on massive firepower to suppress the Sunni insurgency.  And it seems to be working at least on the limited scale.  Perhaps FM 3-24 reexamination is in order.

Of the two points of analysis, the partition of Syria is the more important one as it offers a way forward for conflict resolution.  It won’t be easy or popular, but it is the only way to produce peace.  There is no conceivable way that the country could stay together given the scars of the past five years, therefore we should push and facilitate the partition of Syria into Sunni Arab, Sunni Kurd, and Allawites (plus others) states.  It has been done before and can be done now.  The longer we wait and pretend that Syria can survive as a unified state, the longer it will take for the scars of this conflict to heal.

Realistic ISIL Strategy

The attacks in Paris a few weeks ago brought to the front call from a variety of people to change the strategy with regards to operations against ISIL.  The calls are understandable given the number of people killed by the terrorists; however they are misguided on several levels.  For one, the calls for more troops and airstrikes are really just calls to use different tactics, while the focus on ISIL at this time is totally disproportionate to the threat it represents to the world.  What is missing from these discussions is the actual long term successful strategy that deals with ISIL or their successor organization which will inevitably spring up.

What is ISIL?

The first problem with our current strategy is that we really don’t understand what ISIL is.  The generic tendency among both press and analysts is to describe ISIL as a terrorist organization, while the reality is much more complex.  The problem is that we do not get to the root cause of what ISIL truly is.  It is true that ISIL uses terrorist tactics to advance its goals.  However the tactics should not define them exclusively.  ISIL is a Sunni Muslim state.  To deny them that label is to misunderstand what they truly are.

Right now ISIL run government controls on millions of people.  It runs education, collects taxes, and provides healthcare.  To gloss over these things and to focus only on the terrorist acts is to skip over the most important parts of what ISIL is.  It is a functioning state and as such any strategy that deals with ISIL has to take that into account.  It is also very important to remember that ISIL is a Sunni Muslim state, along the lines of Gulf Monarchies and Saudi Arabia.  Another thing that gets overlooked is that the religious beliefs in the ISIL controlled territory are also very similar to the Saudi Arabia propagated Wahhabi belief system.  They are actually so similar, that it is no surprise most of the support ISIL gets is from Saudi Arabia, both in terms of personnel and money.  Of note, both Al-Qaeda and Boko Haram are also Wahhabi Sunni organizations.

ISIL did not spring into existence out of nowhere.  It was the logical outgrowth of a number of factors.  First, was the decades long effort by Saudis and other Gulf Monarchies in spreading their puritanical version of Sunni Islam across the Muslim world. Millions of kids were indoctrinated in the Saudi supported madrassas to belief in the Wahhabi version of Islam.  As such, it is not surprising the barbarity displayed by ISIL towards non-Sunnis; it is what the Wahhabi version of Islam is all about.  The second factor that helped create ISIL is lack of true institutions of state in the Middle East.  There is no upward mobility possible to someone born in the wrong tribe or family.  The current social and political systems stifle any possibility of upward mobility, while at the same time ISIL offers a different way forward.

Lastly, the invasion of Iraq and the Syrian civil war both provided a cause for Sunni grievances to develop. In Iraq, the Sunnis lost the dominant position they held since the founding of the country and became a minority block, dominated by the Shias.  While in Syria, the Sunnis, long second-class citizens to the Allawites, were no longer content with their status.  The Sunni grievances both against current Iraqi and Syrian government are why ISIL is the strongest in the Sunni areas of both Iraq and Syria.  So when you combine long term indoctrination, with lack of future in the current political landscape, and add disaffection, the result is ISIL.  A Wahhabi Sunni state located within the borders of Iraq and Syria, which draws the disaffected Sunni Muslims from across the world.


ISIL threat to the Homeland

How much then, is this Sunni Muslim state a threat to the Homeland?  The answer is, very little.  Every year thousands of Americans die in auto accidents, falls, suicides, drownings and other instances that we accept as a daily fact of life.  While at the same time ISIL has had very little success in targeting US citizens.  It has been estimated that Sunni Islamic terrorism has been responsible for about 20 deaths in the US since 9/11.  And while every life is precious, 100 Americans die every day in car crashes.  You actually have a higher change of getting struck by lightning, then dying in a terror attack.  Therefore as stated before, despite the breathless reporting and panicky pronouncement, ISIL is not a threat we should really worry about.

Every point of access to the Homeland we control.  Hypothetically, what can ISIL do?  Build an aircraft carrier and then try to fight their way thought the US Sixth Fleet, land on the beaches of New Jersey, defeat the US Army and Air Force, backed up by the National Guard.  Go through Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies to cause Americans harm.  Of course not.  The only way ISIL can get into the US is by using a mode of transportation available commercially.  We control not only all points of access that, but also have procedures in place to safeguard against terrorists coming through.  Does that mean that there will be 100% guarantee that no terrorist attack will ever occur in the US? No.  But the odds of that are so small, that it is not even worth talking about.


So while ISIL is not a threat to the Homeland, it is a state that has to be dealt with.  We can tactically defeat ISIL within a very short time, but then what?  Without dealing with underlying causes of ISIL another Sunni Wahhabi group would just take its place.  The strategy to deal with ISIL long term should be focused on containment.  ISIL at its core, as mentioned before, is based on the ideology of Wahhabism.  As such, the first step of such containment has to deal with our “allies” in the Gulf that propagate that ideology.  To stop the indoctrination, the source of the Wahhabi funding has to be cut off.  Most effective would be sanctions against oil producers such as Saudi Arabia, unless they stop all financial support of Wahhabi religious establishment.  While it won’t eliminate the damage already done, the lack of finances would stop the future spread of Wahhabism.

To address the lack of governance across the region, the US should support all democratically elected governments, even if they disagree with us.  Policy of supporting autocratic regimes in the interests of short term stability comes at the expense of long term US interests.  It doesn’t mean that we should cut ties with every regime in the Middle East, but it does mean no support for countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt just to name a few.  Without this dramatic change in policy, ISIL-like states will continue to spring up in response to the failure of Arab governance.

Lastly, strategy should address dealing with ISIL threat and the territory they control.  The old borders set up after WW I should no longer be kept sacrosanct.   The people of Iraq and Syria, given their ethnic and religious composition, do not want to live together.  And we should not force them to do so.  We were able to accommodate the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, and can do the same for Iraq and Syria.  To pretend otherwise only perpetuates the conflict.  Syria and Iraq did not exist as nations 100 years ago and there is no reason they should continue as countries.  Right now the Shia and Sunni divisions are too great to allow for peaceful co-existence, therefore separation is the only option.

Once that is accomplished and we deal with ISIL as a state, there are more steps we can take.  As mentioned previously, ISIL is a Sunni Muslim organization.  As such, their biggest foes are Shiites in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Iran.  We should use that to our advantage.  Iran, the world’s preeminent Shiite power is our natural ally against the Sunni Wahhabi extremists.  They are the ones that should be leading the fight to contain the Sunni threat.  We can also rely on Kurds to provide a buffer against ISIL in northern Iraq and Syria and for that reason they should also be supported, up to and including the creation of a Kurdish state.  Both Shiites and Kurds will not defeat ISIL decisively, but that is really not possible anyway.  As described before, ISIL is an idea, born of the Wahhabi ideology and Sunni grievances.  Until they both wear themselves out, the best we can do is containment with Kurds and Shiites as our partners.



South China Sea

The US destroyer approach last week, within 12 nautical miles of Chinese reclaimed islands in the South China Sea, signaled a new phase of US-Chinese relations.  With disregard of the Chinese claim of 12 mile buffer for their reclaimed artificial islands, US accomplished two things.  First, if the Chinese government had any illusions that the US would acquiesce to their de-facto control of the South China Sea, they are now gone.  The second is the signal to the five other nations claiming parts of that same area that the US will not let the Chinese unilaterally change the status of that area.

Strategically, long term, the US moves mean that there is now a much higher likelihood of armed conflict between US and China.  The threat of conflict is not imminent, but there is a high probability of it occurring in the next five to seven years.  The contributing factors to this possible outcome are as follows.  From the Chinese side, the claims in the South China Sea are expressed in terms of righting a historical wrong.  There are claims from the Chinese leadership that the South China Sea is historically a Chinese possession.  The Chinese passports have had the “nine-dashed line” printed in them, signifying Chinese belief that the whole area belongs to them.  While lately, another line of justification for China’s aggressive reclamation activities in the South China Sea is that by not doing so is tantamount to “shaming their ancestors.”

History shows pretty clearly, that when a government uses nationalistic and historical language to justify action there is a high likelihood armed conflict will follow.  The examples of both WW I and WW II show how different nations used historic and nationalist argument to justify their aggression.  Whether it was Russian support for the historical rights of the Slavic people in the Balkans in 1914 or German desire to redress the wrongs of WW I defeat in 1939, the outcome is the same.  War.

In the Chinese case, there are additional contributing factors.  China is a country in transition, much like Imperial Russia of 1914.  The government is still autocratic, but some of the people are getting the taste of free choice and what it means.  The bargain that the communist party deserves to stay in charge, in return for economic success, is coming under pressure.  The continued slowdown of the Chinese economy could produce conditions ripe for social unrest.  The Chinese anti-corruption campaign is another factor that could create backlash against the central government.  Lastly, 2022 is when President Xi is supposed to step down after completing his 10 year term.  Will he?  That’s another question.  After arrest and conviction of previous Politburo members, what’s to stop someone from doing the same to him if he relinquishes power?

All of which means that in five to seven years a number of contributing factors will be coming together with a high potential for volatility in China. To deflect the blame, the government of China has a ready-made historical excuse.  Assert its rights in the South China Sea to demonstrate to the Chinese people that the communist party deserves to be in charge.

What can the US do to mitigate that potential armed conflict with China?  Unfortunately there is not much we can do to change the Chinese intentions, but there are some steps we could take.   First, continue to conduct freedom of navigation patrols to remind the Chinese government that they will not have a free pass in the South China Sea.  Second, dramatically reduce US involvement in the Middle East and use the savings provided to recapitalize both Air Force and Navy air power with more capable aircraft.  The Army and Marine Corps will also have to change the bulk of their training towards major combat operations and away from COIN.   As the Chinese government observes these future changes, there is still a chance that they would not use military action to enforce their claim of the South China Sea.  However, the contributing factors previously mentioned could occur in such a way that the only way the communist party could stay in charge is to appeal to the nationalist instincts of the Chinese people.  In that case, the Chinese government has a ready-made excuse for war based on perceived need to right a historical wrong.