The security condition in the South and East China Seas has worsened over the past few years as territorial disputes have increased and mistrust deepened. China has grown increasingly assertive in each of the seas, which has caused suspicion among key states in the region. Moreover, regional institutions have had little impact, international law is being disregarded, and Sino-American relations appear increasingly driven by competition rather than shared interests.
The stakes for the United States in the South China Sea are high. Freedom of navigation through the sea facilitates $5.3 trillion in global trade each year, $1.2 trillion of which passes through American ports. The South China Sea is considered by many to be a “strategic bellwether” for assessing the future of American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to some analysts, whether the Western Pacific remains a peaceful maritime commons or a flashpoint for conflict between the U.S. and China, reminiscent of Cold War tensions, is likely to be decided in the South China Sea. The U.S., therefore, must preserve free access to these critical sea-lines of communication (SLOC) to maintain peace and prosperity throughout the region. However, the inability for the U.S. to project sufficient military power into the South China Sea would dramatically alter the state of affairs for the entire Asia-Pacific region. The balance that must be assessed is the ability of the U.S. military to project whatever military power it might require to prevail in a future armed confrontation with China. Equally, China’s ability to disrupt or deny U.S. force projection must also be assessed.
A cornerstone of U.S. defense strategy since World War II has been the ability to rapidly project military power worldwide to protect the nation’s interests. These interests include, but are certainly not limited to, spreading and protecting democratic governance, preserving access to strategic trading partners and resources, and reassuring allies and partners who cooperate with the United States in protecting common interests. Throughout the Cold War era, the Soviet Union presented a formidable military challenge to American power-projection capabilities. Fortunately, the superpowers succeeded in avoiding a major conflict. Even so, the U.S. military’s unrivaled ability to project and sustain large military forces around the globe was demonstrated in wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, as well as in numerous other, smaller conflicts. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s downfall the U.S. military’s power-projection abilities in defense of the nation’s interests were essentially uncontested.
This state of play is clearly coming to an end, with major implications for U.S. national security. With the diffusion of innovative military technologies to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, the U.S. military’s ability to maintain military access to the Western Pacific region is being increasingly tested. While China proclaims nonthreatening intentions, “it is an old military maxim that since intentions can change overnight—especially in authoritarian regimes—one must focus on the military capabilities of other states.”
Without question, preserving the U.S. military’s power projection capabilities will be crucial to maintaining military preeminence well into the twenty-first century. Since force projection remains foundational to U.S. defense strategy, the nation’s rebalance to the Asia- Pacific region not only revalidates this posture, but it also marks a shift that stresses the necessity for far-reaching naval and air force capabilities. This shift was made clear in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, which stressed that “U.S. maritime forces will be characterized by regionally concentrated, forward deployed task forces with the combat power to limit regional conflict, deter major war, and should deterrence fail, win our Nation’s wars as part of a joint or combined campaign.”
There were two events in the 1990s which served as the impetus for China to develop an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy. First was the overwhelming success of the U.S.-led 1991 Persian Gulf War. PLA analysts were forced to rethink their ability to fight an adversary armed with technologically advanced weapons. Operation Desert Storm did conform to the Chinese view of modern wars as being fast and intense. However, the effectiveness with which the U.S. military employed airpower and joint operations to destroy an Iraqi army that was sometimes armed with Chinese weapons caused worry within the PLA that it was grossly ill prepared (both in terms of technology and military doctrine) to fight and prevail in a similar kind of war. According to one Chinese analyst:
[w]hat PLA analysts saw was not a war of the future, but a war as it could be fought today by a post-industrial power. Little the PLA had achieved by reorganization, modifying its force structure, building a better educated officer corps, reconceptualizing the manner it planned to conduct future wars, and more realistic training could offset the impact of technology on operations by well-trained, properly organized joint forces exploiting the technological sophistication of their armaments and supporting systems.
The PLA study of the Gulf War devoted significant attention to the role of the U.S. military’s intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) assets. The role of airpower garnered attention for its ability to destroy air defense and command-and-control (C2) nodes, while the U.S. use of stealth aircraft and cruise missiles underscored the problems the PLA would have in defending against an attack from a technologically advanced air force.
The U.S. reliance on force projection and forward deployment to prosecuting that successful campaign was not overlooked by PLA planners. Should a technologically and militarily superior adversary such as the U.S. be allowed to “arrive in force and on time, it will almost certainly prevail.”12 Moreover, for the U.S. to arrive in force and on time, it must have the “ability to deploy forces into theater with little risk of hostile interference.” Likewise, should war occur with the United States, PLA planners have concluded that “The U.S. military deployment process must be disrupted or neutralized and [the PLA] have successfully developed and fielded military capabilities designed to fulfill this need.”
The second event motivating the development of A2/AD strategies was the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. Furious that Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui had been granted a visa to speak at Cornell University, China, fearing promotion of his nation’s independence movement, conducted missile tests in the Strait to deter the island nation from promoting its pro- independence inclinations. Consequently, the U.S. responded by deploying two aircraft carrier strike-groups into the area as a reminder of its commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of hostilities. The U.S. response “lit a fire under the Chinese military and civilian leadership,” which convinced them to develop “a variety of capabilities intended to target American aircraft carriers.” Therefore, China concluded that it was necessary to “limit America’s access to critical battlefield areas.”
The means for the United States to project sufficient military power in response to a new crisis in the South China Sea or anywhere else along China’s littorals rests largely on three pillars: carrier strike-groups, bases in Okinawa, Japan and the U.S. island territory of Guam. As China continues to invest heavily in new A2/AD capabilities, all three will become increasingly vulnerable.16 Therefore, it is worth recalling the warning issued by US Pacific Command (PACOM) in 2010:
China continues to develop weapons systems, technologies and concepts of operation that support anti-access and area denial strategies in the Western Pacific by holding air and maritime forces at risk at extended distances from the [People’s Republic of China] coastline. The PLA Navy is continuing to develop “Blue Water” capability that includes the ability to surge surface combatants and submarines at extended distances from the [Chinese] mainland.
Some ways to measure the balance
A. What are the long-term strategic goals of the U.S. and China in the Western Pacific?
B. Is it possible for both to achieve its goals short of armed conflict?
C. How has China’s A2/AD strategy developed since 1995 and how has the U.S. responded militarily, economically and politically?
D. What will the competition will look like in 5-10 years based on the previous twenty? Who has/will have the advantage?
E. How would the U.S. and Chinese fight? Knowing how critical force projection is to the U.S. military, would China attack preemptively to deny U.S. access to regional basing? Should the U.S. attack preemptively to ensure access to basing?
F. Have the Chinese embarked on a cost-imposing strategy vis-à-vis the U.S. by pitting inexpensive missiles against expensive missile defenses?
G. What is the role of U.S. allies and partners in the region?
The nature of China’s emergence as a strong regional power has presented the United States with a major challenge. Although China has been a great beneficiary of the U.S.-led international order in the Asia-Pacific, it has been reluctant to embrace all aspects of that system. Indeed, China perceives aspects of the system as threatening and objectionable, and because of its growing power it is increasingly willing to challenge the status quo – from unification with Taiwan to territorial claims and maritime rights in the South China Sea – make
China a formidable rival. China’s external objectives are clearly to exercise greater control over its periphery, achieve unification with Taiwan and to become the dominant power in Asia – objectives that will necessitate the diminishment of U.S. power and influence throughout the region. China’s achievement of these objectives would severely damage U.S. security by enabling China to become the first East Asian power to threaten the Western Pacific and the U.S. homeland since 1941.
The U.S.-China strategic competition is therefore driven by competing visions for Asia and how to achieve national security. The objectives of the U.S. are to preserve the post-war status quo in the Asia-Pacific. That is, a region that consists of strong, independent, democratic, and free-market states that are free from domination by China or any regional hegemon. Alternatively, China’s overriding objectives are to safeguard the Chinse Communist Party’s (CCP) hold on power; maintain domestic stability; sustain economic growth and development; defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity; secure China’s status as a great power and, ultimately, reacquiring regional preeminence; and safeguard China’s interests abroad. It has seemingly determined that these key strategic objectives are best served by completing its task of recovering territory lost in past wars, controlling its periphery, and slowly becoming the dominant power in Asia – for reasons of strategic culture China believes this is a position it should naturally assume.
Should China succeed in becoming the dominant hegemon in Asia the consequences for the U.S. could be quite severe. An Asia-Pacific dominated by China would likely develop economic and military spheres of influence where the U.S. would be essentially “boxed-out” – an outcome that would radically alter the international economic and security orders.24 The U.S. therefore has a vital interest in both preventing a hegemonically dominated Asia and in promoting an Asia “whole and free,” consisting of democratic nations trading among themselves and incorporated into the international economy. For the foreseeable future at least, the U.S. will need to maintain its role in preserving the status quo in the Asia-Pacific. For it to do so, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to develop new and innovative ways to continue to deter conflict and coercion, reassure allies, and to project military power into the Western Pacific in the event of conflict.
If the U.S.-China strategic competition is about competing visions for Asia, then it is also about access. China’s objective is to deny the U.S. access into many critical areas of the Western Pacific where the U.S. military will need to continue operating. The primary implements for the U.S.-China military competition will be maritime and shore-based forces with the ability to influence events in the Asia-Pacific. The Chinese have two mutually supporting concepts that appear to drive their strategic approach to areas on their periphery. First, the PLAN’s objective is to establish “control” over the waters extending 200 nautical miles out from China’s coast to freely conduct what it calls “independent operations.” These operations include the ability to attack Taiwan for the purposes of reunification and to secure and develop claims to maritime resources in those waters. Second, the Chinese have been shifting slowly to an “offshore defense strategy” meant to engage potential enemies at greater distances from its major urban areas along its coast. This strategy not only emphasizes the Second Artillery Force’s (SAF) missile-centric approach to both denial and coercive operations but also its so- called string of pearls strategy of establishing relations along the Indian Ocean to lay the foundation for greater control over the Malacca Strait and other critical transit nodes (air, sea and land) into East Asia.
Considering China’s aggressive military modernization plans and its stated objective to “contest” the “second island chain,” it is wise to expect that China will seek to develop capabilities that both deny U.S. access to areas within the Western Pacific and pose a credible conventional threat to the U.S. homeland to discourage U.S. intervention in a potential Chinese sphere of influence closer to China’s littorals.
Indeed, one of the key takeaways for China from the Taiwan Strait crisis was that “aircraft carriers [are] a key element of the U.S. ability to project power.” Therefore, considerable effort is being dedicated to ways of neutralizing the combat effectiveness of carrier battlegroups. Chinese analysts are studying what they believe to be key vulnerabilities of carriers and their supporting vessels. According to these analysts, carrier battlegroups are especially vulnerable when being redeployed, during resupply, transiting a narrow waterway, [such as the Malacca Strait] or during poor weather conditions. The PLAN has observed that the U.S. derives as much as 80 percent of its airpower from carrier based aircraft during combat operations in littoral areas. Consequently, the PLAN describes U.S. carrier battlegroups as “a great threat to anti-air operations in littoral areas and should be resolutely countered.”
Looking out to 2020-2025, the military competition will be characterized by increasing Chinese efforts to control its periphery for extended periods, to intimidate U.S. allies and attempt to weaken U.S. influence, and to project power to defend its increasingly widespread economic interests.The U.S. will work to preserve its position in the region, reassure allies of its willingness and ability to defend them, and complicate China’s capability to project power in ways that threaten U.S. interests.
Trends and asymmetries
China is making substantial investments in military programs and weapons designed to improve extended-range power projection, anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), and operations in emerging domains such as cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. China’s military modernization has already weakened the U.S. ability to project power into the Western Pacific, a trend that will be difficult to reverse given the prevailing technological, geographic, and financial constraints. Recent trends in China’s weapons development not only improve China’s capabilities to deal with contingencies along its periphery, such as a new Taiwan crisis, but will also allow the PLA to conduct a range of military operations in Asia outside China’s traditional territorial claims. According to one China analyst, “A key trend in [Asia-Pacific] is the shift from a traditional focus on territorial defense towards power projection – [t]his is new for the region and is likely to increase military-to-military contact between states.”
China’s defense spending is expected to balloon to $233 billion in 2020, up from $123 billion in 2010, according to a new report by IHS Jane’s. Important systems that either have been fielded or are under development include ballistic missiles (including anti-ship versions), anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, new surface ships, nuclear submarines, and an aircraft carrier.
The necessity to protect key trade routes, principally petroleum supplies from the Middle East, has driven the PLAN to conduct counterpiracy operations around the Horn of Africa. Clashes with Japan over maritime claims in the East China Sea and with several Southeast Asian claimants to all or parts of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea have caused increased tensions in these areas. Volatility on the Korean Peninsula such as the collapse of the North Korean regime could also produce a regional crisis involving the PLA. The CCP has also tasked the PLA with developing the expertise required for missions such as UN Peacekeeping Operations (UN PKO), Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR), and counterterrorism operations. These capabilities will enhance China’s options for using its military influence to support its diplomatic agenda, press regional and international interests, and resolve disputes in its favor. Simultaneously, China is surrounded by other regional powers that likely have an incentive to balance against its rise, many of whom are already U.S. allies or emerging strategic partners. Furthermore, even more so than the U.S., China is confronting a number of challenges (social, economic, demographic) that cast doubt over its ability to sustain its decades-long growth – challenges that could spark widespread internal dissent.
As of this writing U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump maintains that his goal of abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be his first order of business upon entering the oval office in January 2017. TPP (which excludes China) aims to deepen economic ties between its twelve member states, reducing tariffs and promoting trade to spur growth.
Members had also hoped to develop a closer relationship on economic policies and regulation. The agreement was designed to potentially create a new single market, something akin to the EU. TPP members have a population of roughly 800 million people (nearly twice the size of the EU market) and presently account for 40% of global trade – therefore the significance of the agreement is difficult to understate.
Although TPP is an economic agreement it is considered by some in the U.S. defense community to have significant security value. In a speech delivered on April 6, 2015 regarding the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter commented on the strategic value of the agreement to the U.S.:
[TPP] is probably one of the most important parts of the rebalance, and that’s why it has won such bipartisan support. In fact, you may not expect to hear this from a Secretary of Defense, but in terms of our rebalance in the broadest sense, passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier. It would deepen our alliances and partnerships abroad and underscore our lasting commitment to the Asia-Pacific. And it would help us promote a global order that reflects both our interests and our values.
In fact, Carter may be understating the strategic value of TPP in that the agreement is probably as important as several aircraft carriers. The collapse of TPP leaves a void in Asia that certainly undermines U.S. economic power and possibly its military power as well – a void that will certainly be filled by China. The objective of TPP was always partially strategic. The U.S. and others alongside it, from Australia to Singapore, hoped the agreement would allow them to shape the structure of international trade in Asia and beyond. It was also meant to signal the U.S.’s long-term commitment to the region – something that allies and China are now understandably questioning. Consequently, the collapse of TPP may represent a fait accompli for China in damaging U.S. power and prestige in the Asia-Pacific.
Asymmetries to Consider
Although it is outside the scope of this writing to provide a complete and comprehensive assessment of all the trends and asymmetries defining the U.S.-China military competition, the author believes there are two that are especially challenging to U.S. forces and thus deserve special attention. First, is the transformation of the Second Artillery Force (SAF) – the branch of the PLA responsible for most of China’s conventional and nuclear ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles – one of the pillars of China’s military modernization effort. China has rapidly advanced from a limited and vulnerable nuclear ballistic missile capability to one of the most imposing nuclear and conventional ballistic missile programs in the world. According to a recent U.S. Department of Defense report on the PLA, “China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile programs in the world.” In doing so China has managed to exploit restrictions placed on the U.S. under the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. As a signatory to the treaty, the U.S. (and Russia) is prohibited from producing nuclear and conventional ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 300-3,400 miles and was forced to destroy existing stockpiles. Chinese ground launched cruise missiles at the upper limit of these ranges have the ability to hold at risk or attack fixed bases and ships at distances well beyond the second island chain.
With the overarching goal of denying the U.S. military access to the Western Pacific in mind, the PLA has paid particular attention to acquiring systems with the capability to detect, track and engage U.S. carrier battlegroups at greater distances from its littorals – increasing the costs of entry for the U.S. at minimal cost to China. According to the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), China is “developing and testing offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading certain missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses.” To accomplish the goal of increasing the cost of entry China has embarked on a cost imposing strategy vis-à-vis U.S. carrier battlegroups. According to U.S. naval strategist James Holmes, the U.S. is burdened by a huge cost disadvantage in its maritime competition with China. In The State of the U.S.-China Competition, Holmes points to the estimated $10.5 billion cost of building the next generation aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford – not including its air wing or escort ships. He estimates that if the average PLA antiship cruise missile (ASCM) costs as much as a U.S. Navy Harpoon Block II ASCM (which he doubts) the PLA Navy could afford 8,750 missiles for the price of a single Ford-Class carrier.
This is clearly an unfavorable ratio and considering the cost of the USS Gerald R. Ford has ballooned to nearly $13 billion since Holmes’ writing, it is even more so.
Second, the Chinese have made significant investment in various types of antiship mines with an arsenal estimated to range from 50,000 to 100,000 individual weapons. Sea mines are growing more sophisticated and their development is outpacing countermeasures in mine detection and clearing technologies. Modern sea mines possess stealthy shapes and nonmagnetic materials to prevent detection, delayed activation timers, ship counters, rocket propulsion, and sophisticated multisensory detonators. More advanced versions will have the capability to bury themselves in the seabed and reposition after initial planting, while others will target ships with torpedoes.
The U.S. Navy has acknowledged the severity of the sea mine threat. According to the 2010 Navy Operations Concept (NOC), the sea mine is considered “the greatest area-denial challenge in the maritime domain … capable of constraining maneuverability from deep waters past the surf zone to the maximum extent of the littoral.” James FitzSimonds agrees. A research professor with the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, FitzSimonds posits that “among all the naval warfare areas, the mine versus mine countermeasures competition might represent the most radical war-fighting asymmetry and the most disproportionate offense-defense cost exchange ratio.” That is, a mine costing a few thousand dollars has the potential to achieve at the very least a “mission kill” against a U.S. aircraft carrier costing several billion dollars. Even so, U.S. and Chinese mine capabilities are moving on opposite trajectories as the U.S. has significantly underinvested in this area. Although the U.S. confronts a potentially severe mining threat from China, it has no comparable capability either to deter China or to divert China’s military resources. FitzSimonds concludes that the principal reason for this huge disparity is a culture within the U.S. Navy that has failed to embrace mine and countermine operations as a primary focus. Unlike surface ships, aviation and submarines, there is no officer career path in mine warfare and therefore no established body of expertise that is developed and maintained within the U.S. Navy officer corps. Consequently, it may require the outbreak of hostilities to incent the U.S. Navy to develop a competitive mine warfare strategy vis-à-vis China.
HOW CHINA VIEWS THE MILITARY BALANCE
The History of the U.S.-China Maritime Competition
Although the U.S.-China strategic competition dates back to the Chinese Civil War when the U.S. (1945-1949) directly supported Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces against Mao’s communists, the military competition as we understand it today began in earnest for the Chinese in the early 1990s. As was noted above, there were two events that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership regarded as pivotal to its long-term strategic competition with the U.S. – the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis – the latter event fully exposing PLA weaknesses vis-à-vis the U.S military. It was the Chinese response to these events a quarter century ago which largely defines today’s U.S.-China military competition in the Western Pacific.
The overwhelming success of the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War forced PLA analysts to rethink their ability to fight an adversary armed with technologically advanced weapons.
Although the war did conform to the Chinese view that modern wars were fast and intense, the effectiveness with which the U.S. military employed air power and joint operations to destroy an Iraqi army that was sometimes armed with Chinese weapons, caused worry within the PLA that it was grossly ill prepared (both in terms of technology and doctrine) to fight and prevail in a similar kind of war. Chinese strategists studied the failings of the Iraqi army in great detail and concluded that China must build a professional, mechanized, and “informatized” military to compete with the U.S. in the Western Pacific.
As surprising as the outcome of the Gulf War was to the PLA, it was the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis that set in motion today’s maritime competition. In an attempt to intimidate Taiwanese voters who were preparing to elect pro-independence presidential candidate Lee Teng-hui, the PLA Second Artillery Force lobbed several ballistic missiles into the Strait.
Consequently, the U.S. responded by deploying the USS Nimitz and USS Independence aircraft carrier battlegroups into the area to deter further Chinese aggression. The PLA found itself unable to detect or even target the enormous U.S. task forces patrolling the waters of Taiwan. The U.S. response “lit a fire under the Chinese military and civilian leadership,” which convinced them to develop “a variety of capabilities intended to target American aircraft carriers.” Determined to prevent a repeat of this humiliation, the Chinese military concluded that it must deny the U.S. Navy some control over its coastal waters and deter it from intervening in future crises. Therefore, from the perspective of China’s leadership, the long-term competition with the U.S. has already been underway for several decades.
How China Views U.S. Maritime Strategy
The 2007 U.S. Maritime Strategy, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, stresses that “U.S. maritime forces will be characterized by regionally concentrated, forward deployed task forces with the combat power to limit regional conflicts, deter major wars, and should deterrence fail, win our Nation’s wars as part of a joint or combined campaign.”
Although China is never mentioned specifically, many Chinese strategists, such as Lu Rude, perceive U.S. maritime strategy in the Western Pacific as part of a ploy for “implementing strategic encirclement of different kinds of maritime flashpoints and ‘potential enemy’ through military deployment in ‘chokepoints’ of navigation and strategic nodes.”
Furthermore, Chinese experts view the 2012 U.S. rebalance from Europe to Asia “as an offensive policy meant to contain the rise of China as a world power.”77 China’s 2013 defense white paper explicitly mentioned the U.S. in this way, indirectly criticizing the U.S.’s growing presence in the Asia-Pacific region as well as stressing the growing complexity of international relations:
There are signs of increasing hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism. Local turmoils occur frequently. Hot-spot issues keep cropping up. Traditional and non- traditional security challenges interweave and interact. Competition is intensifying in the international military field. International security issues are growing noticeably more abrupt, interrelated and comprehensive. The Asia-Pacific region has become an increasingly significant stage for world economic development and strategic interaction between major powers. The US is adjusting its Asia-Pacific security strategy, and the regional landscape is undergoing profound changes. ….
Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser. On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighboring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation….
Major powers are vigorously developing new and more sophisticated military technologies so as to ensure that they can maintain strategic superiorities in international competition in such areas as outer space and cyber space.
China’s media and population have also voiced apprehension over the US rebalance to Asia. China does not publish official assessments of U.S. military strategy and plans like those the U.S. Department of Defense publishes on Chinese strategy and military forces. At the same time, China does firmly dictate what its press is allowed to publish, and the following quotes – characteristic of many comparable examples – suggest that China’s strategic patience with the U.S. has limits that are important in considering how China may view the military balance:
Renmin Ribao, January 30, 2013:
The United States is boosting old military alliances, damaging the political foundation of East Asian peace, sharpening the territorial sovereignty contradictions between China and the countries around it, building a united front aimed at China, forcibly pushing the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, and disrupting the self-determined cooperation and regional integration process between the East Asian countries…in order for China to achieve strategic balance in the Asia Pacific region, it must greatly increase its military presence…. [China] should give full play to the strategic role of Russia and DPRK.
People’s Daily Online, April 10, 2013:
Ever since U.S. President Barack Obama proposed the high-keyed “return to the Asia- Pacific” at the end of 2011, the U.S. has begun to frequently organize joint military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region. For those exercises conducted in 2012 by the U.S. in the Western Pacific region alone, there were as many as 17 code names. Why is the U.S. so interested in Asia-Pacific region? Why does it frequently conduct such “exercises”? In a geostrategic sense, containing China in the Asia-Pacific region is the basic content of the U.S. policy toward China. There are three major means for the U.S. to conduct deep involvement in the Asia-Pacific region: first, wide alliance to win over various countries in the Asia-Pacific region; second, military forward deployment to realize strategic “rebalancing”; and third, occupy a “leading” position in the region to play “pro-active role.”
Scenarios and implications
Although it is beyond the scope of this assessment to cover the full breadth of possible scenarios in the U.S.-China military balance, this section will briefly examine one of the most persistent: a major conflict with China over Taiwan
Taiwan appears to represent an imbalance of sorts between the U.S. and China. For China the matter of Taiwan is clear – it considers Taiwan a breakaway province and it wants the island unified with the mainland. For the U.S. the issue is one of strategic ambiguity. Policy statements say little more than committing the U.S. to the peaceful resolution of differences between China and Taiwan. Therefore, an imbalance exists in how the U.S. and China view the value of Taiwan and to what extent each will go to achieve its objectives. For China there appears to be far more at stake, which would affect its decision calculus to go to war over the issue as well as the capabilities it may bring to bear in a war.
As the U.S.-China competition intensifies, however, it is possible that Taiwan could play a more prominent role in U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy in the years ahead. President-Elect Trump’s recent telephone call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen challenges the decades-long “One China” policy and it could mark the beginning of an increasingly confrontational U.S.-China relationship under the new U.S. administration. According to An Fengshan, a spokesman for China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, he has warned of more serious consequences should the U.S. alter its policy. Mr. An commented:
Upholding the “One China” principle is the political basis of developing China-US relations, and is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.”If this basis is interfered with or damaged then the healthy, stable development of China- U.S. relations is out of the question, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will be seriously impacted.”
The circumstances under which the CCP has historically warned it would use force have evolved over time in response to Taiwan’s declarations of its political status, changes in PLA capabilities, and China’s view of Taiwan’s relations with other countries. These circumstances have included:
• Formal declaration of Taiwan independence
• Undefined moves toward Taiwan independence
• Internal unrest on Taiwan
• Taiwan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons
• Indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-Strait dialogue on unification
• Foreign intervention in Taiwan’s internal affairs
• Foreign forces stationed on Taiwan
Article 8 of the March 2005 Anti-Secession Law states that China may use “non-peaceful means” if “secessionist forces… cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China,” if “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession” occur, or if “possibilities for peaceful reunification” are exhausted. The ambiguity of these “redlines” preserves China’s flexibility.
For U.S. allies and partners in the region, the forcible reunification of China and Taiwan could be seen as an advanced warning that China may also use force to settle other disputes. China scholar Dan Blumenthal suggests that an attack on Taiwan could be perceived as an attempt to alter the balance of power in Asia for four reasons. First, although U.S. policy toward Taiwan is intentionally ambiguous, allies in the region have long considered Taiwan an ally of the U.S. and the Taiwan Relations Act essentially as a defense commitment. A scenario in which China forcibly unifies with Taiwan may be viewed by allies as irreversible Chinese domination. Second, key allies such as Japan could view the prospect of Chinese control over Taiwan as a serious threat to Japanese security. Should China militarize Taiwan, it could pose a direct threat to Japan’s sea-lanes of communication and on the Ryuku island chain. Third, control of Taiwan would enable China to exert far greater control over the South China Sea. Lastly, China’s concept of operations concerning Taiwan may have the effect of forcing the U.S. into a war.
Although China could try to limit an attack to Taiwan, it could also carryout preemptive strikes against U.S. bases in the region and Japan to prevent forces from these countries from intervening. Indeed, China could carry out air and missile strikes on the Kadena and Iwakuni air bases in Japan, despite the escalatory risks of striking Japanese territory. Should China deem it necessary to engage U.S. forces to prevail in Taiwan, the PLA will certainly execute a sea denial strategy that threatens U.S. aircraft carrier battlegroups. China can use land-based attack aircraft to launch cruise missiles, attack submarines, and land-based ballistic missiles equipped with maneuverable warheads against ships at sea. The PLAN is likely to use submarines armed with ASCMs and torpedoes to attack carrier battlegroups operating within tactical aircraft range of China’s mainland. The PLAN’s submarine force could also try to execute a blockade that threatens commercial shipping in and out of Taiwan. In conjunction with its sophisticated mining capabilities, PLAN submarines have the capability to effectively cutoff maritime trade to Taiwan.
Because China has developed effective air and missile capabilities, the U.S. cannot rely upon purely defensive measures to end an air and missile assault against Taiwan. The U.S. Navy and Air Force would likely be forced to “shoot the archer” rather than the arrow to stop or at least limit those assaults. This scenario raises the risks of serious escalation. Shooting the archer requires striking a large number of targets on mainland China (command and control nodes, storage facilities, ISR, airbases and industrial facilities) that directly support PLA air and missile operations. Carrying out deep strikes against a nuclear China might represent the sort of risk that the U.S. may be unwilling to take.
For China to carry out a successful operation against Taiwan, it may have to inflict extensive damage on the U.S. and Japan. Successful strikes against U.S. bases and maritime forces would force the U.S. to project power from distances beyond the second island chain to suppress China’s air defenses and air and missile forces. For the U.S. to mount an effective
counterattack it may have no alternative to striking targets on mainland China.
Neither the U.S. nor the Chinese should assume a high nuclear threshold in such a scenario. Punishing strikes on the mainland or on U.S. bases and maritime forces that inflict heavy losses could increase the potential for miscalculation leading to potentially grave consequences.
Overall, the balance of power between China’s anti-access/area-denial capabilities in the first and second island chains, and the ability of the U.S. to project power into the Taiwan Strait to defeat a Chinese attack, has significantly shifted, and in a way that raises doubts about strategic stability. China has the capability to carry out devastating preemptive strikes against U.S. forces throughout the Western Pacific and on Taiwan. It can raise the costs of entry considerably for U.S. aircraft carrier battlegroups and other forces attempting to intervene in the conflict, conduct a blockade against Taiwan, and shield its strike assets behind a sophisticated air defense system. China may determine that these capabilities will prevent the U.S. from defending Taiwan. However, it is also possible that the U.S. will view a Chinese attack on Taiwan through the lens of increased Chinese assertiveness and a perception that China is attempting to dominate the Western Pacific. In this scenario, the U.S. retains several advantages it can leverage to sustain its power projection capabilities. Among the most important are its numerous allies and partners who share U.S. concerns about an aggressive and potentially hegemonic China.
Conclusions and final thoughts
China’s apparent goal of exercising military control over significant parts of the Western Pacific is certain to be the cause for increased regional tensions and instability in the coming years. China has invested heavily over the past two decades in order to challenge U.S. military dominance in the Asia Pacific. During this time the U.S. has been focused mostly on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has only responded in recent years to the shifting military balance. The overall assessment is that the military balance in the Western Pacific has shifted dramatically in favor of China and against the U.S. and its allies.
Although it is generally believed that the U.S. combined with its allies far outspends China in overall defense, this net assessment briefly analyzed two key asymmetries in the areas of ASBMs and sea mines that reveal a disturbing trend in the military balance – large U.S. defense expenditures may not translate into military effectiveness. Naturally this raises not only serious questions concerning the ability of the U.S. to maintain the status quo in the Western Pacific, but also to assure allies as well as defend U.S. territory in the region from attack. If over the next five to 15 years, U.S. and PLA forces continue on approximately current trajectories, “Asia will witness a progressively receding frontier of U.S. dominance,” one RAND Corporation report concludes. To shift the balance back in its favor, the U.S. must take measures to restore its historic advantages in power projection. To do so, it will have to develop not only more innovative alliance strategies that exploit both their growing capabilities and their weariness of China, but the U.S. will also need to develop innovative military capabilities to restore its dominance.
US Nuclear Policy Upgraded
Experts and politicians are familiar with several variants of the 2018 NPR. The Huffington Post published a draft in mid-January. On February 2, in the run-up to the February 5 deadline to meet the central limits of the US–Russia New START treaty, the NPR was officially presented in the Pentagon by representatives of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the Department of Energy. The full text of the document was then briefly deleted from the Pentagon website.
On February 6, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis personally presented the NPR to the House Armed Services Committee. Witnesses point out that this version differed slightly from the previous one. One of the main changes had to do with the appearance of a chart showing how the US is lagging behind Russia, China and North Korea in upgrading its nuclear arsenal (see Fig.1). In the first draft, the entire Korean Peninsula was shown in the colours of the North Korean flag; in the next version, the chart represented Taiwan as a Chinese territory; in the following one, Russia “lost” the Kuril Islands in their entirety. The latest variant of the chart appears to be true to life, but this minor incident may indicate a certain degree of inattention to detail on the part of those who compiled the document. It is worth mentioning that the NPR summary has also been published in Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French: this suggests that Washington believes it extremely important to inform its allies and adversaries about the US approach to nuclear arms.
The Russian Factor
The Trump administration’s nuclear doctrine specifically emphasizes the degradation of the system of international politico-military relations in the second decade of the 21st century, a process characterized by the quantitative and qualitative increase of challenges and threats to US interests. This situation resulted from the international activity of “revisionist powers”: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. The document repeatedly mentions this “revisionism”, so it is worth listing the nuclear-related accusations Washington is levelling against Russia.
The NPR accuses Russia of three main “sins”:
- breaching the INF Treaty by testing and deploying a long-range ground-based cruise missile;
- pursuing a “escalate-to-deescalate” strategy. This strategy implies delivering a limited tactical nuclear strike should the threat of losing a conventional conflict become imminent, in order to subsequently impose the terms of conflict settlement on the adversary. This concept belonged exclusively to the realm of journalism until recently, even though renowned experts did discuss it actively and aggressively, albeit somewhat sceptically;
- upgrading its nuclear arsenals, including via the development of various exotic delivery platforms. Everyone seems already accustomed to fantasies about hypersonic glide vehicles, but the mention, in this context, of a strategic intercontinental torpedo with a megaton-class warhead (known as Status-6) is puzzling and unexpected.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s reaction to the publication of the new US nuclear doctrine came in the form of a prompt and fairly apposite comment: “Russia’s Military Doctrine clearly limits the possibility of using nuclear weapons to two hypothetical defensive scenarios: first, in response to an aggression […] involving the use of nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction, and second, in response to a non-nuclear aggression, but only if Russia’s survival is endangered. The 2014 Military Doctrine introduced a new term, the ‘system of non-nuclear deterrence’, which implies preventing aggression primarily through reliance on conventional (non-nuclear) forces.”
The comment continues: “We are deeply concerned about Washington’s no-limits approach, under which it might use nuclear weapons in ‘extreme circumstances’, which are not limited to military scenarios in the new US doctrine. […] If this is not the doctrinal enhancement of the role of nuclear weapons, what then does Washington imply when it uses the term with regard to Russia?”
One may mock the lexical peculiarities of the Russian comment, but it does contain a commendably succinct and exhaustive description of the country’s nuclear doctrine. It should be stressed that the Foreign Ministry was merely reacting. Had it been proactive in explaining the country’s stance on nuclear weapons and their qualitative and quantitative parameters to partners, opponents and society, all questions regarding Russia’s conceptions and arms may have been resolved before making their way into the NPR and similar documents.
Such positive promotion of Russia’s strategic non-nuclear deterrence concept merits in-depth analysis. In his speech at an open session of the Defence Ministry’s Board in late 2017, General Valery Gerasimov, Russian Chief of the General Staff, provided an exhaustive description of the “non-nuclear deterrence components” being formed in Russia as applied to the weapons systems currently employed. These include the S-400 SAM system, the Bastion coastal anti-ship missile system, submarines and sea-surface ships armed with Kalibr missiles and also, with certain reservations, the Iskander-M theatre missile system (“operational-tactical”). It is worth mentioning that all the aforementioned systems are, to varying degrees, dual-capable, i.e. they can be tipped with nuclear warheads. The problem of dual-capable nuclear/conventional arms is growing ever more acute. In particular, one of last year’s publications by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, under the editorship of James M. Acton, is devoted to this topic.
The US Response
Washington is planning to employ a combination of the following elements in order to deter Russia:
- the US nuclear triad (intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers);
- non-strategic nuclear forces from the USA and other countries in Europe, i.e. B611 aerial bombs and the nuclear sharing concept, which Russia has been criticizing for many years;
- the nuclear forces of British and French allies.
This approach appears to be a serious obstacle to the future of bilateral strategic offensive arms reduction. At the same time, it may also prove instrumental in overcoming the seeming deadlock. Washington, in effect, is introducing its allies’ nuclear arsenals into the Russia–US strategic stability equation, meaning that Russia now has every reason to take these arsenals into account in future talks. Moscow will certainly have to introduce into the equation some of the Russian nuclear components that have until now remained outside the scope of limitation and reduction agreements, and were even excluded from the transparency principle. However, certain progress is possible here, provided that third nuclear countries (ideally China as well) are involved in the process.
Let us now discuss the materiel portion of the NPR: the assessment of America’s needs for nuclear delivery platforms.
The Trump administration believes that America is nowhere near being “great again” when it comes to nuclear weapons. This opinion is not entirely true. Nevertheless, the NPR calls for creation and deployment of new systems in addition to the new B-21 Raider bomber, LRSO air-launched cruise missile, GBSD intercontinental ballistic missile, new Columbia-class submarine (all effectively launched under the Obama administration), and the modernization/service life extension programmes for existing nuclear warheads, which are nearing completion. The document identifies the need for nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missiles and lower-yield warheads for Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The NPR also sets the rather vague objective of developing advanced nuclear delivery platforms and “alternative basing modes”, which may imply mobile ground-based (or airborne!) launchers. Sea-launched cruise missiles are meant to fill the gap caused by the INF-Treaty-related limitations, both in response to Russia’s “transgressions” and in other theatres saturated with missiles of nations not bound by the treaty. Notionally, low-yield warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles are meant as a deterrent against attempted use of tactical nuclear weapons in conventional conflict.
The NPR authors believe the US president will thus be able to deliver a nuclear strike that would not result in a full-scale nuclear war. It remains unclear how Washington’s adversary is supposed to distinguish an incoming low-yield munition from a full-blown first-strike weapon. The single-missile argument does not hold water, because a single launch from a submarine with subsequent air burst is considered a classic tactic for blinding enemy early warning and missile defence radars, to be followed by the multiple-launch application of the entire arsenal. Curiously, the UK had such sub-strategic submarine-launched ballistic missiles in its armoury more than 20 years ago. Discussions continue as to whether these munitions are effective. It would appear that the preservation of the “nuclear taboo” proves the usefulness of such munitions. On the other hand, the existence of “serious” strategic weapons in the arsenals of several leading world powers seems no less convincing a reason why nuclear arms have not been used in anger to date.
Apart from the aforementioned aspects of nuclear arms development, the NPR pays special attention to less publicly known components of the US nuclear arsenal: the nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) system and nuclear warheads.
The US NC3 system has long been in need of modernization because it consists largely of slightly modified Cold-War-era technology. At the same time, the NPR emphasizes the increase in, and qualitative changes to, the threats in outer space and cyberspace, the two key command-and-control arenas that apply not only to nuclear arms. To bring the NC3 system up to date and make it reliably stable, the NPR calls for massive reforms, the deployment of new subsystems, and the introduction of protection against all types of threats. It is in this context that the document contains the extremely controversial thesis stating that nuclear weapons may be used in response to a conventional attack on critical infrastructure, even a cyberattack against NC3 systems. The connection between nuclear arms and cyberthreats is becoming a particularly hot topic. It appears that within the debates involving the NPR, the sides would do well to at least reach a mutual understanding of the problem, if not work out common rules of the game.
The NPR contains detailed and tightly deadlined targets for the National Nuclear Security Administration (which formally reports to the Department of Energy but operates independently) to prolong the service life of existing warhead types until 2030 (this may require upgrades, as illustrated by the example of the W-76 warhead for the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile). Also by 2030, the USA must produce up to 80 plutonium pits, which are critical to the manufacture of nuclear charges. In fact, these targets were generally described back in 2007–2008, and their importance was reiterated following the signature of New START in 2010–2011. The USA is not planning to conduct any nuclear tests (with the exception of those required to ensure the safety and efficiency of the nuclear arsenal). On the other hand, Washington does not intend to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty either.
The new NPR pays somewhat less attention to non-proliferation, nuclear terrorism and arms control than the previous versions, and mainly focuses on the rivalry between the superpowers.
According to official estimates made public in late 2017, full implementation of the US nuclear modernization programme will require up to $1.2 trillion through the year 2046. Coupled with massive spending on missile defence (incidentally, the Department of Defense will shortly release a Missile Defense Review, whose title conspicuously omits the word “ballistic”), and the growing needs of all conventional military branches, the planned expenses might be streamlined by postponing the implementation of some projects and completely abandoning others, which is not unknown in the history of the US defence industry.
The Doctrine as the Catalyst of Discussion
The modernization of nuclear weapons is inevitable and even advisable for all nuclear powers. Russia, for one, continues to deploy and develop advanced nuclear systems. Universal nuclear disarmament remains a thing of the distant future; shiny new missiles appear to be safer to handle than rusty old ones, and they are better at deterring potential adversaries.
A number of provisions contained in the NPR make one reconsider the existing attitude towards the role of nuclear arms in the contemporary system of international politico-military relations and start devising new conceptual approaches. It would be an utter mistake to return to “escalation dominance”, the “missile gap,” and other antiquated Cold War theses, which are hardly applicable to the contemporary polycentric nuclear world.
Nuclear weapons as an aspect of great power competition were too quick to disappear from the international agenda (together with the very notions of competition and great power), with the focus shifting towards various global problems associated with sustainable development. The new US NPR clearly indicates the fallibility of this approach. At the same time the discussion spurred by the publication of this document gives one hope for the emergence of a new approach to building a stable multipolar world.
First published in our partner RIAC
Assessing United Nation’s commitment to “resolve conflict”: The need to re-strategize Peacekeeping missions
Numerous peacekeeping missions conducted by the UN “drastically” failed to “maintain peace and security” in the “conflict-rigged” regions. The article focuses on the peacekeeping missions conducted by the UN during the late 1990s, while carefully “assessing the operational mechanism” of the UNTAG in Namibia and its interaction with UNPOL and CIVPOL while keeping in mind the “geo-political” impact of a “failed intervention” and later providing “viable pragmatic solutions” to ensure a “successful implementation of peace-building and peace-keeping initiatives”. Peace-keeping mission’s success depends heavily on “regional political actors”, whereas to ensure a smooth “democratic transition”, support from international aid organizations, non-government institutions remains vital.
Although, “carefully preparing rehabilitation and restructuring programs” while “timely monitoring and evaluating its implementation”, coupled with a “viable pragmatic framework of the peacekeeping mission”, are some of the primary factors responsible for ensuring “regional political cooperation” in an effort to maintain peace.
In the last decade, the world witnessed formulation of various Peacekeeping missions especially strategized to re-vitalise “peace and stability in the region”. However, in the light of frequently increasing international and regional stakeholders such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), power countries such as the US, Britain, Japan, Germany, international institutions such as the European Union (EU), League of Arab States (LAS), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and African Union (AU), United Nations remains the principle agency whose participation in peacekeeping missions, is “vital”. Today, over 15 peacekeeping missions are deployed under the leadership of UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the principle agency of the UN, which inspite of “formidable expertise and experience” continues to face immense criticism for “fulfilling partial or fraction of expected results”. The criticism highlights two “significant facts”: UN has a habit of “repeating the same mistake in every new mission”, highlighting the “failure to achieve numerous objectives” stated in the “over-ambitious mandate” of UN missions particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Haiti. On the contrary, a large segment of “socio-economic development initiatives” remains “unachieved” as witnessed from its bitter experience in Rwanda and Sudan.
The article emphasis on the need for UN take a “responsible leadership role” in “resolving international conflicts”, disregarding the “pressure from international political arena” or “acute criticism received from military and security experts” on recent “unfavourable outcomes” from peacekeeping missions. The answer to these “unfavourable outcomes” lies within the successes achieved by the UN peacekeeping missions coupled with numerous successful “resolutions” passed the UN Security Council. The particular case of Namibia and the measures successfully implemented by the then UN Transition Assistance Group while ensuring“ peaceful transition of power” through “elections” and paving a way for a “democratically elected government”, are vital to assess and formulate future peacekeeping missions. The article’s focus is to “carefully understand and assess operational mechanism of the UNTAG” which made it a successful peacekeeping mission while understanding the factors responsible for making the mission a success and “simulating those factors in the peacekeeping missions of today”.
History of Namibia and UNTAG formation
To analyse the factors responsible behind UNTAG mission’s successful, it is important to understand the history of Namibia and the scenario which resulted in the formation of UNTAG. The question of “political stability in Namibia” is as old as the UN itself, perhaps older. Series of dialogues, discussion sand multiple responsible actors advocating for a “peaceful solution” in Namibia, were largely “responsible factors” of its success.
The political quest to control Namibia began with the invasion of British led South African Union forces defeated the then German troops during World War I. Although, the “disputed” Namibia came under the supervision of League of Nations “mandate”, the then British dominated troops of South African Union enjoyed “political and administrative” control over the region. However, during post-World War II, the International Court of Justice “over-ruled” the de-facto political and administrative control of South African Union forces on Namibia terming it “illegal and violation of all international laws”, brushing the judgment aside, South Africa continues to treat Namibia as its own “province”. In an effort to achieve independence from the then South African “occupation” of Namibia, a violent faction in the name of South Africa People’s Organization was formed.
Clearly mentioning the “international status” of Namibia, the then United Nations Security Council passed numerous resolutions between the year 1966 and 1968. Namibia was now under direct UN administration, whose responsibility was given to the then formed UN Council on South West Africa. After completing numerous “fact-finding missions”, the UN Council on West Africa agreed that “the South African occupation of Namibia was illegal” and in 1975 declared to “democratically conduct elections under the UN supervision”. While three members of the P5 countries plus Canada and Germany “debated for a peaceful independence”, the then “apartheid gripped” South Africa wanted to retain its “occupation” on Namibia. United Nations, then officially recognized SWAPO as a “responsible stakeholder and partner in peaceful discussions”, in 1976.
The official formulation of the UNTAG peacekeeping mission was complete in early 1978, whereas its mandate was completely “strategized” by the end of the same year, with a principle focus of “carrying out peaceful democratic transition of power while declaring Namibia’s independence”. However, the official deployment of UNTAG was delayed for eleven years only to be implemented after a temporary ceasefire between SWAPO and South African troops in April 1989. The time taken by UN to successfully deploy its peacekeeping mission was largely contributed to the Cold-War which will be significantly addressed in the later section of the article. The UNTAG peacekeeping mission lasted for one complete year and its formal closing came only when the state assembly received a formal declaration from then UNTAG Special Representative on 21st March 1990.
Essential elements of success
To draw an initial assessment of the UNTAG mission in an effort to compare it with other UN peacekeeping missions, it is imperative to first understand the nomenclature of its mandate. The Mandate not only states the “operational mechanism of UN troops on the ground, but also acts a framework strictly defining the actions of UN personnel”, including their “rule of engagement” while highlighting “objectives of the mission” with an interim timeline.
The principle discussion during the “formulation of any UN Mandate” largely rests on Chapter VI or Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Chapter VI explicitly states the use of military force only in cases when “fired upon” while explicitly mentioning a formal “ratification of all stakeholders”, meanwhile Chapter VII states the use of necessary military force without “formal ratification of any stakeholder”. Today, experts continue to argue on the successes achieved by peacekeeping missions implementing Chapter VII of the UN Charter, as the mission remains “independent” and free to initiate any formal military engagement while inducing “political pressure” if necessary, in an effort to “maintain peace and stability in the region”. The Rwandan genocide is a perfect example, as the mission received only the mandate of Chapter VI making it “impossible to initiate a direct confrontation” with violent factions. In this scenario, the mission failed largely because of an unmatched mandate.
Although, it extensively depends upon the “intensity of conflict and presence of responsible stakeholders”, the mandate including Chapter VI proved to be vital, in case of UNTAG in Namibia, and a perfect example to “implement successful peace and stability in a region” without the direct use of military action.
Furthermore, the responsibility to “build and secure negotiations” further increase the stakes of responsible parties, which can be highlighted from “extensive diplomatic engagements between SWAPO and South Africa.
However, no individual can predict the “the success of peacekeeping mission solely from either Chapter VI or Chapter VII mandates”. Although, the difference will be created when the “mandate is able to fulfill the operational requirements of a peacekeeping mission”. This “burden of responsibility” only lies with the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council.
Role of international communities
Experts have “traditionally” credited the success of UNTAG peacekeeping mission to “effective communication and coordination” between the then members of United Nations Security Council. This statement is essentially correct, as the global dynamics were “fluid” then, in the light of the Cold War. With “principle of uncertainty” hanging over the mission, the then member nations of the Security Council adopted the 1978 UN Security Council Resolution 435, while ensuring “legal necessities” of the mission and formally deploying the UNTAG forces by the end of Cold War.
In the light of Cuban troops withdrawal from Angola, the then policy makers at the UN were not willing to take any chance of “outgoing clashes” between SWAPO in Namibia and angered Cuban forces, thus delaying the deployment of UNTAG peacekeeping force for over eleven years, even after successful ratification of the then Resolution 435. In the meantime, South Africa was taking desperate “maneuvers” in an effort to retain its “colony” under the apartheid system, rallying behind the then Reagan administration through a strategic partnership agreement: South Africa, however “hesitantly” accepted the UN led leadership of Namibia while forming an alliance with the US to prevent communism from spreading from Mozambique to Angola and South Africa. South Africa made a “political maneuver”, establishing relationship with Washington in the light of the latter’s “involvement in South Africa’s domestic politics”.
Washington on the contrary, needed South Africa’s support, in an effort to address the issue of Namibia’s independence, needing a formal consent from South Africa under the Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Washington refrained to infiltrate militarily in Angola and Namibia, as these “geographies” did not hold much “political value”. Furthermore, Washington could not afford another proxy war especially when the “political and economic” stakes were high, after its recent “costly gamble” in Vietnam.
Taking the communist perspective, which were then Cuba and Angola, with Soviet Union supporting them, Soviet Union could not maintain a grip in Cuba. The winds of “communist politics” were drastically changing course. Moreover, South African military units along with forces of Frente Nacional da Liberaçao de Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) soldiers, financially aided by Washington, began “aggressive” military attacks on Soviet backed Cuban and Angolan troops within Angola. This resulted in “politico-military campaign” supported by both blocs. In 1984, the then President of Angola, declared the withdrawal of its troops, only under three conditions:
a)South Africa must remove all its troops from Angolan territory.
b)Implement Resolution 435, but only under the leadership of UN.
c)Immediately cease all US and South African intervention in Angolan domestic politics.
It remains a fact that, “Post-Cold War period brought a tremendous shift in international politics” which also ended the “stalemate in UN Security Council” making it “effective” to take decisions again. Furthermore, in case of Namibia’s independence, the role of UNTAG peacekeeping mission was vital and received a significant support from international communities (all actors) ensuring a “positive result”. The need for members of the UN Security Council and other international communities to support any UN peacekeeping mission, is absolutely vital, without which, the peacekeeping mission will not be able to deliver necessary progressive results.
Role of regional communities
The success of the UNTAG peacekeeping mission was not only possible because of an extensive support from international communities, the necessary support from regional and domestic cooperation remained vital during “electoral proceedings”. The theory to conduct elections in a conflict state has been “discussed and debated rigorously, many questioning the UN’s state building initiatives, however, in Namibia, without “opening the doors to free and fair elections, UNTAG peacebuilding successes couldn’t have achieved. From a point of “traditional analysis”, there are three key points policy makers must remember. Some may be unique for Namibia, while other case analysis can be “effectively used to reinforce on-going peacekeeping missions while formulate effective operations in the near future”.
a) To begin with, the “root cause of the issue” along with cooperation and coordination between multiple regional stakeholders at various levels provided strength to the “peacekeeping initiatives” right from the beginning. The “stance” taken by multiple stakeholders were “clear” highlighting the difference between “contested parties” and parties “voicing to achieve a same goal”, which separated the “two conflicted parties from other groups”. This eased the efforts taken by the UN military Observer units to monitor ceasefire. Moreover, bilateral communications between the “contesting stakeholders” through mediation from an international inspector, United Nations in this case, easily communicated between the two.
b) It would not be incorrect to state that, the issue in Namibia was “largely one-sided” especially in the context of “regional political turmoil”. Border skirmishes, violent ethnic clashes and resources distribution, did not affect the peace process. The incumbent peace-keeping missions in Sudan and missions in Rwanda, the threats to peacebuilding were extensive.
c) Moreover, the Namibian government institutions, before the deployment of UNTAG peacekeeping forces, were “structurally functioning”, as the institutions did not receive extensive damages in the civil war. With a large section of government institutions still functioning, across the country, UNTAG were able to “operate and carry out constitution election successfully” using such “institutional support”. It is important to note that, the supervision of UN mission in Congo largely failed because of absence of vital “institutional infrastructure”, which were decimated in subsequent civil wars.
While carefully assessing the role of “civil society in the success of UNTAG peacekeeping mission”, it is imperative for domestic entities to play a responsible role, to ensure the success of peacekeeping missions. These domestic entities included regional, local and national political organizations, the press, civil society institutions, non-government agencies, government entities and various minority groups. The responsibility taken by local masses during elections, changed the course of Namibian history. As a matter of fact, the voters appearing to cast votes outnumbered even the UN voting estimation exceedingly by 50:1. The total recorded turn out was at 97 percent.
Besides “cooperation and coordination” from international and domestic stakeholders, the objectives of the UNTAG peacekeeping mission followed by relentless efforts undertaken by its personnel, resulted in successful constitution elections. The mandate of the mission “coupled” the effectiveness and the efficiency of UNTAG personnel in Namibia, which gave desired results. It is imperative for the mission to fulfill “operational goals”, even overlooking the people’s “suspicions”. It is also important to note that, beside UNTAG, there were no “successful” peacekeeping missions that democratically conducted constitutional elections; “UNTAG was swimming in unchartered territories”. If the elections turned out to be a failure or “rigged”, would not only have dissolved the legitimacy of political institutions but could have raised questions on the ability of UN peacekeeping while “extensively” compromising UN position of “neutrality”. Besides South Africa, almost every stakeholder had “certain hidden agendas” forcing them to support UNTAG.
Apart from this “complex political understanding”, there was an “effective and efficient” cooperation and coordination between different military officers, advisors, civilian staffers and UNPOL officers. The mission was not only to observe a ceasefire, but it largely extended to “conducting free and fair elections” which needed the support of UNPOL and civilian staffers. The triggered an “intensely complex, integrated multidimensional response” coupled by “extensive and rigorous communication” within all sectors and command units within UNTAG headquarters. This indeed was a “complex scenario”, especially when the deployed troops hailed from different countries with different command structure and expertise.
Besides communication and integrated command structures, the mission responsibility largely depended on “skilful resourceful officers”, who maintained a direct communique with their headquarters in New York, will facing “numerous threats to peace”.
However, there were series of “frequent rigorous” clashes between SWAPO and South African military units, and fighting began intensive with every clash. This occurred during the initial deployment of UNTAG observers, in a time when the personnel strength was half. The peacekeeping initiatives were further reinforced with diplomatic communique, which resulted in a meeting between UN diplomat and the two “contentious” parties. SWAPO then began to actively participate in DDR (Disarmament, De-mobilization and Reintegration), only when UNTAG was in full strength. With complete in strength, UNTAG headquarters responded actively while establishing an effective communication with all UNTAG mobile and command units, in an effort to quickly resolve the conflict. The failure of timely communication resulted in loss of numerous lives during UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. Policy makers must note that, communication plays a vital role in de-escalating conflict.
The UNPOL acted as a bridge, connecting commanders in UN HQ directly with the masses. The observers deployed under civilian police units, were strictly instructed to not to take an action directly, rather focusing on the development of local police units, South African police, until the independence of Namibia.
The civilian police units were strictly tasked to maintain “peace, security and the rule of law ”while remain “unbiased” throughout the time. This was quite a difficult task. The local masses were not aware about the civilian police structure, new to their environment, building trust remained vital. Civilian police units conducted numerous peace building public centric initiatives, in an effort to gain trust. South Africa tried to portray a “negative image” about civilian policing, while strengthening their tactics of “guerrilla warfare” in an effort to counter police with an objective to create chaos. With an effective communication with UNTAG HQ and other command and mobile units, the UN successfully countered the insurgency through diplomatic means.
Furthermore, the success of the mission extensively depended on “winning hearts and mind”, the cooperation of the masses and their coordination with the UNTAG observers remained vital. As stated in aforementioned arguments, the mandate of UNTAG was strictly political; “free fair and democratically” conduct constitutional elections. In the past UN peacekeeping operations, “conducting free and fair elections” was no less than a nightmare for officers and commanders of UN. Indeed democratically conducted elections boosts the moral, but if the election fails, the domino effect created by the failure to conduct free and fair elections will instigate cataclysmic events. After the formal declaration of elections, the masses are “vulnerable to violence”. During this time, UN HQ discusses multiple challenges, especially those faced during formulation of a timeline, voter registration and counting procedures, selection of the electoral system, plus the availability of a suggestion/complain box. The responsibility is not limited to only “conducting elections” but ensuring that the electoral candidates do not violate any laws established or install dictatorial control over the government, remains vital for peacekeeping officers to address. UNTAG successfully addressed all the aforementioned “challenges”. Since, Namibian masses had no “electoral” experience, hence, the masses were given “extensive” electoral education. UNTAG HQ successfully distributed numerous multi-lingual pamphlets and distributed them throughout the country. The officers closely worked with religious establishments and local policy leaders in an effort to create awareness among the masses, while spreading the agenda and purpose of the UN mission. Despite facing serious financial challenges, UNTAG successfully achieved its mandate. Considering all stages (from monitoring to implementation), not one issue pertained. The UNTAG officers demonstrated highest “responsible behaviour and completed their task with outmost professionalism while maintaining timely and effective cooperation and coordination with command and mobile units”.
To successfully achieve the mission-mandate, timing was imperative. Timing played a phenomenal role in the success of UNTAG mandate:
a)UNTAG HQ maintained it separate timeline syncing it with the timeline established to conduct elections, which began on the day of its deployment. Furthermore, the role of the stakeholders and their presence were all accounted for, making UNTAG the only agency to conduct elections.
b)Most importantly, the time between the ratification and acceptance of the 1978 Resolution of 435 and UNTAG peacekeeping missions formal deployment in 1989, eleven years were significant for UNTAG to simulate and prepare.
Policy makers must note that, the actual deployment structure remained the same even after its deployment in 1989.This structure was further reinforced with “ready to support” stakeholders. This made UN’s image as a principle agency to carry out peacekeeping missions “concrete” as it relentlessly pursued the then members of the UN Security Council to ratify and adopt the Resolution 435, while “extensively engaging” with all stakeholders.
Moreover, a large section of UN peacekeeping officers, extensively worked on identifying viable pragmatic policies to conduct free and fair Namibian elections in these eleven years. This ensured a “constant flow of information, management of information while maintaining constant and effective communication between the stakeholders. In this case, the preparations were “exceedingly lengthy” and “available time was cautiously and judiciously” utilized in relation to the “mandate and operational mechanism along with personnel management and communique”, which ultimately resulted in the success of UNTAG mission.
Today, peacekeeping missions conducted by UN, continues to face “questions on its legitimacy”. Many experts, think tank policy specialists and political leaders world-wide not only “consider it as an intervention” but also raises questions on “moral and ethnic grounds”. Superimposed by past unsuccessful peacekeeping missions the perception of general masses have drastically changed. Some raises questions on the missions “sustainability”, while many questions the “dilemma of democracy or the rise of dictatorial regimes”.
Policy makers and expert military strategists continue to face numerous challenges in “devising an appropriate peacekeeping strategy”. Every mission is new and seek different approaches, especially in its complexities, stakeholder’s approach and superimposing mandates. Although, one factor that could determine the success of peacekeeping mission, “operational mechanism”, which certainly exists in every mission, if “harness effectively and efficiently” with a right mandate, has the potential to drive mission successfully. However, it will not be incorrect to say that, UNTAG did not face any “complex hostile environment” as compared to UN missions in Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia. However, the successes achieved during UNTAG mission in Namibia, highlights certain “facts” applicable in all future UN peacekeeping initiatives.
a)It is absolutely vital for members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to formulate a “mission centric mandate”.
b)The success of any peacekeeping mission largely depends upon cooperation and coordination at international, national, local and regional levels. This step should be further reinforced by “creating community centric development programs/initiatives”.
Then comes the “eccentricity of timing and pre-planning.
If the mandate is achieved before the estimated established time, the confidence of the people will increase and so does the missions/organizations authenticity and legitimacy. Policy makers must prepare thoroughly, assess and simulate all probable/possible scenarios, in an effort to increase their “effectiveness” to respond to “unprojectable situations”, which are always “possible” during UN peacekeeping operations.
Long way to common European Security and Defense
On 14-15 February, 2018 NATO Defense Ministers will meet in Brussels again to discuss the main threats the world faces nowadays. NATO consists of 29 member states but 22 of them are simultaneously the EU member states. Speaking in general, the decisions, taken by NATO, are binding on the EU. On the one hand, NATO and the US, as its main financial donor, and Europe very often have different goals. Their interests and even views on the ways to achieve security are not always the same. The more so the differences exist inside the EU either.
A European military level of ambitions has grown significantly in recent times. Decision to establish a European Union defense pact, known as a Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defense (PESCO) at the end of the previous year became a clear indicator of this trend. It is the first real attempt to form the EU independent defense without reliance on NATO.
Though the EU member states actively support the idea of closer European cooperation in security and defense, they do not always agree on the European Union’s work in this area. In reality not all the states are ready to spend more on defense even in the framework of NATO, which requires spending at least 2 percent of their GDP. Thus, according to NATO’s own figures, only the US (not an EU member state), Great Britain (leaving the EU), Greece, Estonia, Poland and Romania in 2017 met the requirement. So other countries probably would like to strengthen their defense but are not capable or even do not want to pay additional money for a new EU military project. It should be noted that only those countries that have a great dependence on NATO support and have no chance to protect themselves, spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense or show readiness to increase spending (Latvia, Lithuania).
Such EU member states as France and Germany are ready to “lead the process” without increasing in contributions. They have higher level of strategic independence than the Baltic States or other countries of Eastern Europe.
For example, French military-industrial complex is capable of producing all kinds of modern weapons – from infantry weapons to ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and supersonic aircraft.
The more so, Paris maintains stable diplomatic relations with the Middle East and African States. France also has the reputation of a long-standing partner of Russia and is able to find a common language with Moscow in crisis situations. It pays much attention to national interests beyond its boundaries.
It is also important that recently Paris presented the most elaborated plan of creating by 2020 the integrated pan-European rapid reaction forces primarily for the use in expeditionary operations to enforce peace in Africa. The military initiative of French President Macron contains 17 points aimed at improving the training of troops of the European countries, as well as increasing the degree of combat readiness of the national armed forces. At the same time, the French project will not become a part of existing institutions, but will be implemented in parallel with NATO projects. France intends persistently “promote” the project among the other EU allies.
Other EU member states’ interests are not so global. They form their politics on security and defence in order to strengthen the EU capabilities to protect themselves and attract attention to their own shortcomings. They can offer nothing but few troops. Their interests do not extend beyond their own borders and they are not interested in dispersing efforts for example through Africa.
The EU leadership and member states have not yet reached an agreement on the concept of military integration, the start of which was given since the adoption the decision to establish a Permanent Structured Cooperation on security and defence.
In particular, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, proposes a long-term approach to stimulating a closer integration of the European military planning, procurement and deployment, as well as the integration of diplomatic and defence functions. Such a slow progress is more comfortable for NATO officials, who are alarmed by the revolutionary French project.
That is why Secretary General Stoltenberg warned his French counterparts against rash steps toward European military integration, which could lead to his mind to unnecessary duplication of the alliance’s capabilities and, most dangerous, generate competition between the leading weapon manufacturers (France, Germany, Italy and some other European countries) while reequipping the European army with modern models to bring them to the same standard.
Thus, while supporting the idea of closer cooperation in military sphere the EU member states have no common strategy. It will take long time to come to the compromise and to the balance in creating strong EU defence system, which will complement the existing NATO structure and will not collide with it. A long way to common views means for Europe a long way to own European defence.
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