American Enterprise Online
August 25, 2004
By Alan W. Dowd 

The US military is quietly winding down a massive set of war games known as Summer Pulse 04. Considered to be the largest US naval exercise in at least 20 years, Summer Pulse surged seven aircraft carrier strike groups (CSG) and their 50,000 crewmembers into five theaters of operation all around the world.  

The stated purpose of Summer Pulse was to test the Navy’s new Fleet Response Plan, which calls on the Navy to have six CSGs ready for simultaneous deployment within 30 days of the president’s order—and another two of the Navy’s 12 carriers ready for sea duty within 90 days. In other words, the Pentagon wanted Summer Pulse to demonstrate America’s ability to react with the kind of speed, size and scope of activity that puts friends at ease—and enemies on notice.  

The Ronald Reagan CSG cruised the western Atlantic before swinging to its homeport near San Diego; the Harry S Truman CSG spent Summer Pulse in the eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean; the Enterprise straddled the Med and Atlantic as well; the John F. Kennedy was also in the Med; the John Stennis patrolled around the Hawaiian islands; the Kitty Hawk prowled the western Pacific; and the George Washington surged to the Persian Gulf.  

With the Pentagon preparing to reorient its global posture and reposition its forces, Summer Pulse came at an ideal time. Once deployed for this summer-long exercise of exercises, the US armada conducted war games with 23 allied nations, making wakes in the Sea of Japan, Persian Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and Arabian, Baltic, Mediterranean, Red and North Seas. The sailors may bristle at the phrase “war games,” though. The Washington’s contribution to Summer Pulse, for instance, included 7,592 sorties, many of them in support of Coalition forces in Iraq, as the US Second Fleet reported. For a nation at war, there are no games—just training and fighting.  

Doubtless, Summer Pulse was anything but a game to its target audiences in China, North Korea and Iran. 

In late July, the IAEA confirmed what Washington had been warning the world about for months: Tehran had broken the protective seals the UN placed on Iranian centrifuges and had resumed its full-tilt push for nukes. This comes on the heels of Iran’s overt support for reactionary forces in southern Iraq and another round of missile tests. (Tehran tested the Shahab-3 in August, bringing all of America’s bases and friends in the Middle East into range.) 

Elsewhere in Asia, the other remaining fragment of the Axis of Evil called on the UN to shut down its peacekeeping operations along the DMZ separating the two Koreas. “War is almost unavoidable as long as the US hostile policy toward [North Korea] goes on,” screeched a July statement form the North Korean military.  

Yet when it comes to North Korea, humanitarian intervention may be as likely as combat for US forces: Defectors are streaming out of Kim Jong Il’s deformed country at an unprecedented rate. They come through China and Vietnam, and some even find their way across the heavily armed inter-Korean border. According to the British newspaper the Guardian, South Korean officials are bracing for 10,000 defectors in the next two years. To put this in perspective, before the 1990s, less than ten North Koreans defected to South Korea annually. This fearful flight southward is reminiscent of the exodus from Eastern Europe that foreshadowed the revolutions of 1989-1990.  

If we are lucky, North Korea will fall like a rotten tree rather than explode like a time bomb. But even then, even if we are lucky, the North will need lots of humanitarian help, and the US military will be leading the way. 

Also in late July, China’s foreign minister renewed calls for the US to end military-to-military contacts with Taiwan. Beijing punctuated its rhetoric with its own military exercises in late July. Some 18,000 Chinese troops conducted mock air, land and sea attacks against an island similar to Taiwan. The Taiwanese held their own exercises for good measure, conducting air operations from highways and freeways to underscore their ability to keep fighting even after Chinese missiles have taken out their airfields. A prudent step, given the fact that Beijing is adding about 75 missiles along the shoreline opposite Taiwan annually. The Mainland already has an estimated 500 missiles in the region.  

But Taiwan is only the tip of the iceberg. China is deadly serious about transitioning from a regional power into a global one: China just jumped to third in defense spending (behind the United States and Russia). Plus, as James Hoge detailed in the August issue of Foreign Affairs, China is beginning to sense that Taiwan is not its only nemesis: Japan is beginning to regain its sea legs in security affairs, India is flexing its muscle, and the United States is building bases in the very heart of Asia. From Beijing’s vantage point, Hoge reports, the purpose of these bases is not to wage war on terror, but to contain China.  

Rear Adm. John Stufflebeem probably didn’t allay Beijing’s worries during Summer Pulse. When asked if Summer Pulse was designed to send any messages to would-be foes, Stufflebeem coyly responded, “If others on the other side of a curtain want to take lessons from that, I think that’s advantageous.”