This is the first of three blogposts on Tom Clancy. This first post summarises the events of Clancy's novel Threat Vector, which covers a confrontation between the US and Allies and China in the South China Sea. Currently a very topical subject. The second post will cover my own personal history with Clancy's books, how I've mostly enjoyed them despite seeing his politics follow the path of right wing US opinion, evolving from Reagan Republican to far right neo-con lunacy. The third post will be a review of JACK RYAN, the latest movie adaptation of a Clancy book - or at least that is what it appears to be.
"Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said Japan and China should avoid repeating the past mistakes of Britain and Germany, which fought in World War One despite strong economic ties, according to his main government spokesman in Tokyo."
We should all be worried about current events in the South China Sea. This territorial dispute between China, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea seems to be driven by the Chinese military and a far right government in Japan which has the full backing of the United States. We have to hope diplomatic efforts in 2014 are more effective than 1914.
For Chinese and Japanese readers, in 1914 my country had completed a century as undisputed world super power, just four years and 1 million dead later it was a bankrupt client state of the United States.
One sense that this is 1914 all over again comes from the general acceptance that some confrontation will be inevitable. This is a satirical Onion headline from 2001 just after the China-US air collision of 2001.
First Chapter In History Of Sino-American War Of 2011 Already Written
based on recent events, this could be only a few years out. At the same time the reports and evidence of Chinese cyber attacks have increased, demonstrating their capability to disrupt and penetrate Western information networks almost at will.
Aside from being excellent with technical detail Tom Clancy had a talent for prediction, he famously depicted a terrorist crash a 747 onto the Whitehouse in his book Debt of Honour in 1994, predating the 9/11 attacks by six years.
According to Colin Powell
"Tom’s books were incredibly accurate. He didn’t invent impossible schemes. He invented things that could happen. Some things that have actually happened over years bore some resemblance to scenarios that he put together. Tom could sense things and see things in a way that others couldn’t. Even though he wasn’t writing nonfiction, some of the things he wrote became reality."
Here are some more Clancy predictions.
Tom Clancy's Threat Vector, co-written with Mark Greaney, was published in 2012 and covers the events in the South China Sea we seem to be able to see developing right now. Much as I enjoy the pace and detail of Clancy's work, the politics and most of the characterisation I find pretty nauseating (I will go into this in detail in the next blogpost). This isn't so much a review of Threat Vector as a summary of Clancy's view of how he thinks the South China Sea situation could develop, written for those who would laugh out loud and give up at the first exposure to some of the John Wayne dialogue.
The events of Threat Vector :
- Chinese land troops on disputed islands in the South China Sea
- US backs its allies and moves carrier groups into the area
- As a warning Chinese hack US military satellite uplinks and have start hijacking all the US military drones. A hijacked drone destroy a US base in Afghanistan - to cause confusion the Chinese make sure all this is traceable to Iran. This is intended to distract the Americans from South China Sea events and is conducted not by the Chinese military directly but by a group of military trained hackers hidden by Triads. In Hong Kong (?)
- US special forces (along with Clancy characters acting as President Ryan's private spy agency, The Campus) try a rather desperate grab for Chinese hacker assets in Hong Kong and it is nearly a fiasco.
- Chinese declare an exclusion zone over South China Sea and there is a dogfight over the straights between PRC and Nationalist Chinese and US pilots.
- Effects of Chinese action in SCS go beyond US involvement as the Indians are formally warned to keep their ships out of trading with Vietnam. Indians ignore this and Chinese attack the Indian aircraft carrier with anti-ship missiles.
- Americans take their Carrier groups out of range of mainland Chinese missiles (but not their ballistic Carrier Killer, which is mentioned but never used)
- US navy threatens to blockade oil through straights of Mallaca which instigates full on Chinese cyber war, severely comprising worldwide communications, transport and the safety of assets such as nuclear power stations.
- With US and China on the verge of full scale war US president orders American pilots secretly fly alongside Nationalist China forces in Taiwan.
- Having been relocated from Hong Kong, the Chinese cyber warriors are now all (?) headquartered in the Chinese Telecom building of a city near the coast (?). This is destroyed in an air raid by Taiwanese planes flown by American pilots.
- In the background a group of semi-independent Chinese special forces which will be disavowed by the Chinese are defeated by The Campus, a similarly independent group of (corporate) special forces, who stage the death of a militant Chinese general by blaming it on the Chinese death squad.
We all live happily ever after.
With more knowing immorality this would be a great book. (Covered in next blog).
Few write an action scene as well as Clancy and the air raid is as close as Clancy ever go to writing the end of Star Wars.
The future of warfare is would seem to be low level covert special forces raids to attack cyber warfare centres. Cyberwar makes conventional (kinetic) military action against semi-private (and probably dispersed) very difficult. Direct military action would probably be limited to special forces, and all of this probably very mobile and probably most of it very non-official. Perhaps the most believable events in Threat Vector are semi-private (perhaps corporate) organisations doing the work of secret services which today are not not so secret. Conflict between them is low level and could almost be mistaken for conflicts between crime gangs.
Clancy's non-official secret service is The Campus, which is basically Team America World Police - but even more offensive and ridiculous, as The Campus and literally paid directly by the finance industry (without inconvenience of it travelling through the political process, ironically one of the themes of his best early book, Clear and Present Danger).
I'm no more convinced that a team of elite Chinese assassins could operate in the US against IT centers than I am that a similar team of Americans (including the Presidents son!) can operate in mainland China. By the time you reach this in Threat Vector your sense of disbelief may be yearning to watch Thor 2 again.
When Jack Ryan Jnr, President Ryan's son (in a face mask) rescues a downed pilot from a Chinese mob in Rambo style after the bombing of the Chinese telecoms building - in China - he thanks the American pilot with words to the effect of
Those 8 ton of bombs you just used to flatten the China Telecom building may have just stopped a war!
which gave me my biggest laugh of January 2013. If the Chinese find some way to attack the Americans with irony they may be in trouble.
The destruction of this building somehow magically stops all the serious cyber attacks in a way that seems to work entirely without reference to how trojans actually operate. This is as much a cheat as it is fanciful, reminding me of those lame vampire movies where everyone returns to normal when the lead vampire is staked.
The effects of cyber warfare are seen entirely from the office of the President and amount to problems with infrastructure and connectivity. This is all disappointingly thin stuff from Clancy and probably obsolete 15 years ago. The recent worry that all IT hardware sourced from China contains built in back door access is ignored, perhaps because it leads to awkward questions about the relative importance Clancy's Republican "job creator" friends give to American national security compared to the god of the global market place.
This is the first the first time in a Clancy book we see limits to US Imperial power and if you've been reading him a while it is quite poignant, even if Clancy himself completely misses the chance to draw attention to this. The Chinese cannot be overwhelmed by superior technology and Clancy obviously has a healthy respect at least for their technical achievements.
The villian in Threat Vector, Dr. Tong Kwok Kwan, the head of China's cyberespionage and cyberwarfare militia, is a mixture of Dr No and Fu Manchu, revealing in every way Clancy's problem with the Chinese
"What should I do when I get to this address?"
"KILL EVERY LIVING THING"
I should note I recently gave up on Flemings DR NO after a reading a pretty shocking description of the uses of mixed race Chinese and Caribbeans so don't think I'm finding problem with Clancy alone. (Ian Fleming born : 1908, Tom Clancy born :1947)
The last real person I heard using the phrase 'Chi-coms' was Douglas MacArthur.
The Indian navy is directly attacked by the Chinese and - at odds with everything I know about Indians and Pakistanis - they take this lying down and then recede into the background to let the Americans take over the response. Interestingly the Indian's are still using the ex-Royal Navy Hermes (as Viraat) which, as I speculated in my carrier post, has outlived an entire class of Royal Navy replacement carriers which cost the British taxpayer in the region of £5-6 billion (Invincible Class)
In the ages it took to post this I was able to consider my own countries role in this. In that previous carriers post I speculated that the enormous Royal Navy super carriers being built now would have little real world use within flight range of Europe and would be dangerously exposed elsewhere without American cover. Maybe their long term use is not intended for home waters around the UK. I hope not.
Lastly I should say and Mark Greaney does a seamless job with (presumably) ghost writing Clancy's work and this could easily pass as a solo Clancy book in my eyes. If anything it seems toned down from the later silly excesses of Executive Orders and the Bear and the Dragon. I listened to Threat Vector as an unabridged audio book (see Ipods for Sleep) voiced by much maligned actor Lou Diamond Philips, who does a magnificent job keeping the cheese level down to a fresh Cheshire rather than decade old Camembert.
If only we could have Brian Blessed voice Clancy's Executive Orders we could have a comedy classic on our hands.