Top US Naval Analyst Warns Of A Looming Naval Disaster With China

John Konrad
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June 15, 2018

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (June 7, 2013) Capt. James Fanell (now retired), then U.S. Pacific Fleet’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence and information operations, addresses the audience during a ceremony to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the Battle of Midway. US Navy Photo by David Kolmel.

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Early this month the House Committee on Intelligence held a panel to investigate China’s global plans for military expansion. Of particular interest to gCaptain readers are the comments by Captain James Fanell, a fellow at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, who warns that a major naval disaster looms on the horizon. 

Captain Fanel retired from the U.S. Navy in January 2015 concluding a nearly 30 year career as a naval intelligence officer specializing in Pacific security affairs. More recently Fanell served as principal reviewer for economist Peter Navarro’s influential book Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World, a book that won Navarro a seat in the White House as Trade Advisor. 

“I spent 28 years watching what China does with its navy, like Jane Goodall watching gorillas” Fanell told congress. “Every day, observing and recording their movements. Then I analyzed their activities and projected what they’ll do next.”

It is no secret to gCaptain readers that China has taken destabilizing actions that pose a threat to freedom of navigation and global security. These actions include China’s construction of naval air stations atop buried coral reefs, threatening naval actions at sea and an intense naval newbuild program. According to Captain Fanell these cumulative efforts are “clear empirical indicators of China’s future malign intentions and actions”.

“The Chinese Communist Party is engaged in a total, protracted struggle for regional and global supremacy.” said Fanell. “This supremacy is the heart of the ‘China Dream’.”

Forecasting that the 2020’s will be the “Decade of Concern,” Fanell also warns of the maritime assets which China has acquired. “Largely through ‘commercial transactions’ that are ostensibly part of the Belt and Road Initiative,” writes Bonnie Girard for The Diplomat. “(Fanell warns) China has been buying and developing ports worldwide, “employing a ‘first civilian, later military’ approach to port development.”

Captain Fanell concludes his written testimony with seven actions the United States must take to avoid geo-political defeat and, in his words, the “quite likely (event of) a major naval disaster”.

Those actions include:

  1. A fundamental transformation in the “culture” of how we deal with China.
  2. An unambiguous declaration by the U.S. that China relations have entered a new period of competition.
  3. Recalibrating Washington’s views of the “One China Policy”.
  4. The Trump administration must proclaim its commitment to a forward-deployed presence, especially of naval forces.
  5. The U.S. must commit to conduct more robust and more public Maritime Intelligence Operations.
  6. The U.S. must return to naval nuclear deterrence operations.
  7. The U.S. Navy must increase in size in accordance with Roger Wicker and Jerry Hendrix’s views expressed in their paper titled “How to Make the U.S. Navy Great Again“.

The bottom line, says Fanell, is that America “needs to get back to being a maritime power supported militarily by strong allies, something that has been sorely neglected since the fall of the USSR.”

While Captain Fanell is dismissed as a Hawk by some opponents there remains little doubt that he has the ear of congress and top Trump Administration officials. For this reason Fanell’s 64-page written testimony is an important read for analysts and planners – both military and commercial – working in the maritime domain.  

You can watch Captain Fanell’s testimony in Congress HERE and download his written testemony HERE.

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